Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Teensy Tiny B & B in Amsterdam

Me - in front of our B & B - only two windows wide

Waiting for breakfast - 8.30 am.

When you live in a broad, sprawling country like South Africa where we have loads of space to build and where homes are typically one-storey,  it's quite an eye-opener to got to Amsterdam and find that your on-line booked B & B is only three yards wide and boasts only three double rooms, one on top of the other.  We later found out that when the city was built, home-owners were taxed according to how much 'canal frontage' they occupied. Ours was run by two charming, if slightly disorganized brothers, who lived on the top two floors. The first morning, we arrived downstairs at 8.30 to find the breakfast room deserted with only the pristine white table cloths on the tables.  Thinking that we were perhaps too late to eat, we sat down to plan our day and suddenly heard feet thundering down the narrow stairs and one of our hosts arrived, dishevelled and embarrassed (still buttoning his shirt!), to apologise profusely and say that they had thought breakfast to be about 9.00. He then proceeded to run up and downstairs to the basement kitchen, bringing all the necessaries for our continental breakfast, though not necessarily in the right order. Thus we had coffee, then yoghurt, then ham, salami and other cold meats and bread, followed by cereal (he forgot the milk, which meant another trip downstairs). While chatting, he then remembered he had croissants in the oven for us and hared off to get them. Sadly, they were so burnt we had to pass on those. Still, he was so charming, we couldn't be cross: we hadn't after all clarified the times for breakfast the night before. Later, while walking the streets, we discovered that shops and markets don't open 'til 10.30 - 11.00 am. and that Amsterdammers rise late and go to bed late - at least in summer. That we learnt to our cost by foolishly leaving our window open overnight, so that we were kept awake by revellers well into the small hours.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Cloud over Cruise

I'll talk about our cruise in another post but today I just want to share the tragic news that reached us on the second day of our holiday.  We were just unpacking, having arrived in Amsterdam, when we received a phone call from my daughter: my youngest brother-in-law had shot himself earlier that day. To say that we were devastated is an understatement: we had left our hotel details with small son just in case we had bad news about my father.  The worst thing was that we were helpless, half-way around the world and it was impossible for us to return.  The best we could do was keep in touch on the ship's internet, and compose some kind of a message for the memorial service which took place on the last day of our holiday - when we were somewhere on the North Sea.  Ironically, one other sister-in-law was away in Australia on a long-awaited trip to visit her children and grandchildren. So many questions, so much guilt, shame and pride.  We knew they were having a hard time but no-one could have guessed it was this bad. Heartbreakingly, not an unusual story: I have told three people (apart from writing this post) and I was astonished to learn that each had a family member or friend who had taken the same decision to end their lives - though for different reasons. This post is not the place to discuss the theories that rack the family.  Suffice it to say, we are such a big, loving family, surely we could have helped? He was only 51.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Ship Ahoy! A day of surprises

We're off tomorrow - hand luggage bulging with medicines (a sign of age no doubt). However, note to self not to book another holiday ever again which coincides with our change of season from summer to autumn. It started with the grandchildren, colds/bronchitis, then moved on to their mothers, then me and finally - yesterday, with demon-like precision - onto my husband, who is now prostate, doped up with the strongest anti-biotic, hoping to get better before tomorrow morning.  Let's be positive.  After all, it's not every day that one jets off to Amsterdam, to board a cruise-liner for a 7-day trip to the Norwegian fiords.  We are determined to have a great time.  Usually, an organised person, I had planned my last day at home in fine detail, packing etc.  and even including time for the insurance people to come and quote to repair our burglar alarm system and replace safety glass over our bathroom, both knocked out by a nasty storm - last Friday - a Public Holiday preceding a long week-end. Little did I know however, that my thoughtful daughter also had plans:  she told me she and her brother were taking me out for breakfast for Mother's Day - as we would be away on Sunday. That was great but then as a surprise she had booked a facial/back and neck massage for me afterwards as a special treat.  This caused me great anxiety as I had a last-minute plan of my own to squeeze in at the bank, which had just messaged my phone to tell me they were cancelling one of my credit cards which they consider a fraud risk. I thought of taking a rain-check at the reception desk, but my attentive daughter decided to stay with me until I actually had my clothes off and was lying (really tense now) on the treatment bed.   An hour and a half later, I rushed off, face now nicely scrubbed and bare of make-up (I never go out like this!) to get through my long to-do list. It was also Book Club tonight: well, there is no way I could miss that.  Anyway, so far, so good.  My suitcase is packed, documents checked:  hubby's is not - he is a last-minuter in that respect. Besides there are still three hours in the morning before small son takes us to the airport.  Then it's chocks away!  Wish us luck! Can you remember being young when 'health insurance' was something you'd never heard of, much less worried about?