Monday, September 18, 2006

Travel Post, Part III

Last of the three! If you haven't read Part I (Friday-Sunday) or Part II (Monday-Wednesday) yet, go do that first.

The conference started bright and early at 8am Thursday morning, which is 2AM east coast time. I hadn't slept very well the night before, maybe 3 hours total. We went to bed around 11PM and I woke up a little after 1AM, and could NOT fall back asleep. I tried having a snack, listening to music, saying my multiplication tables (which usually works like a charm). I think I managed another hour around 5-ish before we had to get up.

We had a full breakfast waiting for us in the hotel, which was nice. Europe seems to be the home of free full breakfasts, but charges 22 Euros for internet access. The conference this year was a joint meeting of "Perspectives in Melanoma," which is the clinical area, and "Melanoma Research Congress," which is the basic science ares, so there were over 700 attendees. There were sessions all morning, and then after lunch we walked down to the beach for a little while and took our shoes off. We had some pictures taken of us in the North Sea, which was really stinkin' cold. There were still at least a dozen little old ladies out there swimming though, which I found pretty crazy. Staci gave her presentation during the afternoon session on the first day. She was noticably nervous, but hardly the worst presenter of the week and I think overall it went fine. John came to the session to watch her talk, even though he had been as sick as a dog with a fever and such the day before (I think he eventually thought that he had an ear infection). They had a buffet reception dinner that evening, and a concert. Apparantly two of the people at the conference, John Kirkwood (one of the organizers) and Dave Fisher (one of the speakers) were quite skilled musically and played with John Kirkwood's mother and the hotel pianist. It was pretty nice. We walked a little bit around Noordwijk that evening, although it was a pretty small town so there wasn't much to see other than the main drag of restaurants and shops.

Friday was a pretty long day - very full of sessions, and even the lunch was a "working lunch" about immunotherapy. The afternoon was pretty clinical material about sentinal lymph nodes and stuff, so I skipped one of the shorter sessions to walk outside for a bit since I was feeling a bit drowsy - it turned out to be pretty helpful to my overall feeling. There was another reception that evening, but it turned out to only be drinks and appetizers. Dutch food is really nothing to write home about. The interesting thing though, was that we were apparantly befriended during the reception by Lex Eggermond, who was not only the head meeting coordinator but also the outgoing president of EORTC (European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer). He's pretty much the most powerful person in cancer research in Europe, and he declared that Rhoda and I were going to be his dinner guests that evening, as he was going to a drug company dinner. So, with a mite of trepidation, I was off to Iels Anders ("Something Different") for a dinner with the head of Bristol Myers Squibb's melanoma immunotherapy division, Lex, Rhoda, and about 15 other prominent melanoma researchers. It was simultaneously awkward and entertaining, and I was very glad for my dinner etiquette class at Sweet Briar. I had beef carpaccio, glazed duck, and white chocolate mousse. Oh, and fries...everyone in The Netherlands eats fried potatoes, even with very fancy meals. But man were they good.

Saturday was the last day of the conference, and it was pretty good on the whole. My poster had gotten very minimal traffic, being placed all the way in the back of the room, but I suppose it was okay because there wasn't much data on it anyways. We finally left Noordwijk around 4:30PM and got back into Amsterdam around 6PM, by the time we had checked into our hotel. This time we were staying in the museum district in the southwest part of the city, which turned out to be a pretty "happenin" area. We went out walking to find a place to eat, and there must have been 400 restaurants in this part of the city - pretty much any kind of food you could possibly want. We settled on an italian place, and settled into "American or Not American?" with the people passing by.

After dinner we went walking/shopping. Rhoda has a bit of an insanity when it comes to shopping - it was all "oh look another store!" and then "oh look an H&M!" Before I knew it, we had walked halfway across the city! We ended up at the Palace and National Monument before we turned around. Then of couse, we had to walk all the way back. By the time we made it back to the area near our hotel, the Leidseplein (pleins are like city "squares") was in full action. I thought the guy walking down the street outside the italian restaurant wearing a leather vest and leather butt-less pants had been eye-popping, but here was a 95% nude man doing some kind of street performance with a rope on a big pole (like a tetherball pole). No, we didn't stick around to watch.

Sunday morning we went to a little cafe for pancakes (mine had apples) before we had to leave for the airport. We ended up taking the bus back to Schipol, which ended up being waaay cheaper than the taxi+train combo, and had the added benefit of letting us see a little more of the city (the financial/judicial district this time). The first leg of the flight was again uneventful, and we had another free hour or so in Iceland. I bought some beautiful postcards that I framed along with an Icelandic coin for our hallway. Rhoda was ALL about the duty-free shops. I think she went to every single one in the airport. We had to go through additional security since we were flying into the US, and then on the plane again. I'd say that this was the least pleasant leg of all four; it wasn't terrible but it wasn't great either. The meal wasn't as good as the previous three (fried fish with some kind of curry sauce and what i thought was cole slaw but turned out to be fish salad). I had planned on taking a short nap, but there were FOUR fussy children (ranging in age from 2-10) in the row behind us, and the mother wasn't making much of an effort to deter their crying and kicking and such. I ended up watching the in-flight movie, which was The Davinci Code.

We landed around 6:30PM, made it through customs in like 5 minutes, and finally got our bags. Rhoda's husband picked us up from the airport and took me back to Hopkins so I could get my car, and I drove home. I got there around 9pm and was in bed about half an hour later, having been up for another 18 hours straight as I had at the beginning of the trip. I slept until about 9:30AM today and spent a pretty low key day at home doing all my laundry and picking up a few things - some one-hour photos at Wal-mart, frames for my postcards and pictures, and the new Virginia Coalition CD from the concert that Phil and I went back to in January.

So that's everything, I think. Again, the pictures from The Netherlands are here if you didn't look at them from the last post. Thanks for sticking with me through all the details!

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