Thursday, September 3, 2009

We've Arrived!

72° Sunny with rain showers
By Claire
September 1, 2009 Camping Gaaspar, €23

It’s 12:20 am and I feel like Robinson Crusoe with my Eddie Bauer battery operated lantern trying to see in the dim light of the camper. It feels like the bulbs are 25 watts.

Today has been like my best and worst day on steroids. Long, long flying time but completely uneventful with good seat mates of which I am very grateful. It was very exciting arriving at Amsterdam Schipol airport. Everything went very smoothly there as well. I had taken an Ambien but still only slept about 5 hours and this was after no sleep the night before our departure—too excited and we got up at 1:30 am.

We made our way to the free ferry behind Central Station as instructed by Rene at BW Campers, found the correct ferry with a little help—the Dutch are so helpful!—then arrived in Amsterdam Noord only to find there were no pay phones to call BW to pick us up. Chuck caught the 5 minute ferry back to Central Station—again, no pay phones! He finally talked a woman into letting him use her cell phone, hereinafter called mobile. Eddie the mechanic picked us up in our camper! I think I fell in love with it immediately. After a long time at BW while Richard, who was sitting in for Rene, who is vacationing in the U.S., helped an Indian couple who were renting a camper for a 9 day whirlwind tour of all of Europe, he finally met with us. To make it up to us for having to wait, he told us to charge lunch to him. It wasn’t so bad since we spent the entire time inside the camper looking it over and getting to know it. I should say, him, since we have named him “Homer”.

Richard went over all the basics since we were completely fried by this time and anxious to get to IKEA (pronounced EE-KAY-A) to outfit Homer. Chuck got a very short “how to drive” lesson then off we went. He was truly amazing even if I was a wreck. I don’t know how he puts up with me as a passenger. I also don’t know how we would have made it without Susan, our trusty Tom Tom GPS voice of navigational reason.

We made it to IKEA but couldn’t figure out how to turn the engine completely off. The headlights and running lights were still on. We tried everything and finally decided to either shop for everything we would need VERY quickly (impossible) or try to find a pay phone again. Naturally, they didn’t have one, or so I was told by an IKEA employee. Frustrated, we went to Customer Service and here is where the humbling began. The room was not large and furnished with several comfortable leather sofas and had an almost intimate feel. We walked up and stood behind someone being helped. Almost instantly I could feel a vibe and it wasn’t good. At the same moment, a “ding” went off and an automated voice announced something in Dutch as a digital number sprang up on a big board. We retreated and searched for a ticket so we could take a number. Chuck noticed a digital board that was obviously for taking a number but of course it was all in Dutch. Soon, a young woman waiting for service came to our aid and we scored a number and a ticket. Suddenly, Chuck spotted a large wall phone with lots of buttons and started towards it. I was horrified. It looked like an in-house phone to me and I had visions of the worst kind of Ugly American trying to take charge in someone else’s domain. From the frozen look of fascinated horror on the helpful young woman’s face, I wasn’t alone. She actually looked stricken. Well it turned out to be a pay phone! Three attempts to place a call and €2.50 later we finally got an IKEA employee to dial the phone for us and it went through! a fax machine. At that moment, our number was called and I rushed up to the poor woman at the counter doomed to be stuck with us and poured out our tale. She made a call on her in-house phone at the customer service counter and managed to get someone to agree to let her place the call. She handed the connected phone over to Chuck who spoke with Richard at some length and finally the engine light, running lights and headlights problem was resolved. This probably took 20-30 minutes but it felt like hours.

We proceeded to shop like crazy through a haze of exhaustion and managed to pick out sheets and pillows, a super deluxe memory foam mattress topper and various other necessities for our comfort and enjoyment. Who knew that all the fitted sheets in all those gorgeous colors did not come as flat sheets but only in white. It was a dizzying experience of constant decisions, each forgetting what we had just said, yet determined to get this actually pretty fun chore done so we could get to the campsite and get organized. After spending a small fortune, we got to the check out to find that one of our thermoses was a demonstration model only and the two very large dish towels we planned to use as a makeshift tablecloth was not tagged properly so, tough shit, you can’t buy them. Next?

At this moment Chuck is asleep in our luxurious new bed with eggplant sheets and down pillows covered with a nice, warm, comforter. We have completely unpacked and are somewhat organized. There is a large pile of things on the dining table that need categorizing so we can figure out where to put them and then find them! I am so happy and in spite of the fact that it is 12:20 am and I’ve been awake since 5 am, I am full of energy and realize that this was the first day of our European Adventure! In fact, no joke, my face hurts from smiling.

Here are a few memorable sights, sounds and realizations from today:
Man riding his bike with a German Shepard sitting in a large plastic tub attached to the front of his bike.
A car so tiny it drove onto the passenger ferry and through the pedestrian entrance.
Going into the bathroom stall at IKEA and hearing a little girl crying “ne, ne”! (no, no in Dutch).
Being in the same bathroom stall and while pulling my pants down, pulling the money belt down too. Not so bad until I pulled up my pants and felt the money belt around my knees.
Coming out of that stall to find a man cleaning. Never would have happened in the U.S.
Everyone carries seriously waterproof panniers on their bikes.
Interacting with approximately 20 people, from my Dutch seatmate to the IKEA customer service person and the very cheerful campground reception and the woman on her bike sent to lead us to our campsite. The Dutch people are amazingly happy and friendly.
Not being able to hold a thought for more than 10 seconds.
Finding my mini binoculars after rushing to buy a pair on our last day, thinking I had inadvertently packed them away in the attic.
Packing about 3 times what I need.
Reconfirming that Chuck is the most flexible, adaptable, unflappable person I’ve ever known, rising to the occasion and a man with great ideas. Our closet organizer is a prime example.

Davis Airporter, $38
Breakfast, $10.62
Water (2), $4.80
Unmemorable Dinner, Dulles Airport, $25
Total in dollars: $78.42

Hot Chocolate from Star Bucks (2), Schipol Airport, €7
Train tickets to Central Station (2), €7.60
IKEA, €407.29
IKEA restaurant (two drinks and a chocolate bar), €3.67
Camping, €23
Total in Euros: €425.81

Total: €537.95
Running Total: €24,764.52

Best thing: Being together in our new home
Worst thing: Jet lag

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. ~Dutch Proverb

September 2, 2009
70° Rain/sun/clouds/rain/sun, repeat
Today was another long day but very satisfying. We’ve probably already put 60 miles on the camper. Chuck is really a pro although backing up in a tight spot has not yet been attempted. Twice we have had Eddie from BW Campers take care of that for us when we have visited for more customizing of Homer. Today we got it all finished and we are almost completely organized, including a place for all our guidebooks. We even went grocery shopping and have food in the house! We had a great dinner of Hongaarse Goulash Soup, a bit like the old Knoor soups. This was only €.67 and we have enough for another meal. With that was some great bread and cheese and of course, beer.

We now have:
custom shelves in one closet
all shades and screens working well
extra security features including a double dead bolt on the rear entry door
tie down straps to secure the front doors
snow chains, just in case
brand new outdoor chairs
insulating front window coverings for evenings in Homer
one bicycle (for Chuck), and,
We have been fully versed in how everything works.

Coming home and feeling pretty proud of ourselves we made our first blunder of the day -- the road split and before we knew it we were in a “bus only” lane. We arrived at the bus stop shelter and were forced to stop at a red light when a guy sitting there reading glanced up at the sound of a large vehicle. I burst out laughing at his eyebrows, raised almost to his hairline in a look of extreme confusion. When he saw me laughing he figured it out and joined in. I thought the light would never change and just had to look away. The good news is, Homer has Dutch plates so no American was harmed in this episode. Next we ended up in a neighborhood street so narrow I thought we would rip off the tiny cars’ side mirrors parked on each side. Chuck was a master of control and soon we were back on the freeway headed to the campground, putting Homer to rest for the rest of our time here in Amsterdam. Tomorrow we plan to take the metro into the center of the old town and wander around. We hope to find a bike shop with a used bike for me. We also hope we can bring it back on the metro which is about a block from the campground. I don’t mind riding the 13 miles or so but I’m not sure I could figure out how to get there by myself.

Shared breakfast from the campground grocery, €6.10
(chocolate brioche, chocolate/custard twist, apple flappen, yogurt with berries)
IKEA (again), €9.06
Two deluxe outdoor chairs, €89
Groceries, €31.58
Total: €158.74
Running Total: €24,877.08

Worst thing: Driving
Best thing: Driving in the bus lane

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. ~ Robert Frost

September 3, 2009
Quick update: Woke up this morning with thoughts of the honey almond yogurt we bought yesterday. Found the fridge warm inside. Oops! Forgot to press the correct button. Milk, yogurt and cheese all warm. Just another bump in the road. We’re having tea and soup instead.


Paul King said...

What an incredible thing to be able to share all this with you guys. Good looking rig! I love your comments about Chuck. What a great companion. You both are radiant!
Till next time.

My expenses leaving comments so far:

Love to you both. Have fun. Paul

tanialil said...

So excited for you both! I'm looking forward to every new post. Have fun!

Pat in Santa Cruz said...

So glad to know you've arrived safely and are employing your problem solving skills! Rick Steves should be impressed with your bookshelf. Homer looks great. Thanks for providing this "virtual tour." Really looking forward to future updates!

Anonymous said...

It truly sounds like an adventure! Challenges, frustrations, but new awarenesses and joy in experiencing them all.

I don't need to wish you a great time--because youa re having one.

Love Rich

Toni said...

I loved your first entry and the two of you look great in the picture. Well done! Can't wait for the next installment.


Chuck and Claire said...

Thanks so much to all of you. We are sooooo happy!