The Netherlands: Days 10.1 & 10.2 (the Great Volcano Standstill, 2010)

Day 10.1

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stranded still.  The volcano continues to spew, the European authorities in charge of their respective airspaces continue to freak out, many of our fellow passengers are growing irrationally angry, and it’s looking more and more like we’re in this for a longer haul than anyone would like.

We woke insanely early, determined to get to the airport even before it opened so we could be among the first in line, because we knew the forecast didn’t look good and we wanted as much time in the airport as possible to sort out our flight arrangements.  Sure enough, everything was canceled, and when KLM finally opened their ticket counter (almost a half-hour late and after a stern lecture from an angry—and, I think, showboating—man in line, I managed to grab the third number-ticket out of the machine, so our plan to arrive early paid off.

Unfortunately, we’d underestimated just how inconsiderate KLM was prepared to be.

We knew things were looking bad almost as soon as the KLM staff appeared from within the safety of their offices, and the crowd around us was getting unruly before the day had even got started, so, to be on the safe side, Jennifer had the bright idea to send me over to the Lufthansa counter and see if they could transfer us back to their airline.  Sure enough, after maybe 20 minutes, I got a text from Jennifer saying the crowd over there had gotten so angry and so vocal that KLM had called in security, closed their counter entirely, and refused to do any rebookings today at all.  I guess they figure everything’s going to be shut down all day anyway, so what’s the point in addressing their customers’ concerns if no one’s going to get out anyway?  And then they kicked everyone out of the ticketing area—we weren’t even allowed to wait in line in case they did reopen later in the day.  So Jennifer was bee-lining it for my line at Lufthansa, which was calm, orderly, and receiving all the help Lufthansa could reasonably offer.

Shortly after Jennifer found me, I made it to the ticket counter and got ourselves moved back over to Lufthansa.  They’ve bumped us from our Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi and put us on Lufthansa planes the whole way through, which we had been told yesterday wouldn’t be possible, but I suppose the volcano has forced everyone to throw out the rule books and do whatever they can think of.  Lufthansa all the way is fine by us—they’ve treated us extraordinarily well so far, and we’re just happy to be on a flight at all.  We’re now on a flight out on Sunday, which is the earliest they could book us, but they also warned us not to hold our breaths and to check back frequently (they gave us a phone number), so we’ll see what happens from here.

Meanwhile, we needed a place to sleep the next two nights, so we took our B&B host up on her offer and called her—for the same reason we’re not getting out, no one else is getting into Amsterdam, and she had a cancellation from the people who were supposed to be in our old room tonight, so she happily welcomed us back.  We caught a shuttle back out to the neighborhood, dropped off our luggage, and then realized we still had the whole day to while away—we’d gotten up so early and sorted out our flight problems so fast, we’d managed to get back to the B&B a little after 10 am!  With nothing to do but wait, we decided to squeeze a little more use out of our Museumkaart and headed into town to visit the Rembrandthuis.

The house was interesting—a little small for a museum, and the audioguide mostly just repeated the information written on the plaques—but it was quite cool to see where and how the artist worked:  Among the exhibits are a restoration of his studio, with easel and some of his models, as well as his collection of source material, a big room absolutely stuffed with skulls, marble busts and old pieces of broken columns, taxidermied animals of all sorts, weapons and armor, pieces of furniture, and so on.  It reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s description of his cluttered office and how he would use the jumble of junk in there as inspiration for details in his stories, or how Tom Franklin used the Sears Catalog to add realistic details to his historical novel Hell at the Breech.

Afterward, we hopped a tram north to the KNSM Eiland, a manmade residential island in the IJ that boasts some distinctive architecture.  With its quiet, leafy streets and its carefully planned layout, the neighborhood there feels almost like a small residential college campus (Jennifer and I amused ourselves by deciding which would be the “dorms,” which the “married student housing,” which was the “science building” and which the “campus art gallery”).  But the docks do a lot to dismiss that impression, with the houseboats and small yachts docked in long rows.  Overall we weren’t as impressed as we thought we ought to have been, but then, we’re distracted with thoughts of getting home or (dare I say it?) what to do if our flight can’t get out on Sunday.

Which is why we came home early, opted for take-away pizza from that excellent little pizza place in our neighborhood, and settled in for an early night.

It’s going to be hard to sleep with my fingers crossed, but I’m certainly going to try….

10:10 pm


Day 10.2

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Things are getting ridiculous.  Our flight has, again, been canceled.

I called Lufthansa and spent a LONG time on hold before finally getting a guy to rebook us.  The earliest he could get us out was Tuesday, though it’s unclear at this point if that’s because they’re overbooked with people like us, stranded and rebooking and rebooking, or if it’s because they’ve simply given up on Monday already and aren’t bothering to book anyone till Tuesday.

So now we’re stranded for an additional two days, not counting Tuesday–if we get out when they tell us we’re getting out (this time), we’ll have been here four days longer than we’d planned.  With all this worry and nowhere to go, we decided we needed to try to de-stress by getting out to a few more sites we’d missed during our actual vacation.  (Well-meaning friends keep telling us how “lucky” we are to be stuck in Amsterdam, and it’s true that we are far more fortunate than all those thousands of people camping out in the airport, broke and desperate—we have a little extra cash, we have a place to stay and a wonderfully accommodating host.  And the weather is frustratingly pleasant—no sign of an ash cloud anywhere, no indication of any chaos at all except the eerie absence of contrails in the clear blue sky.  But believe me, this is NOT a vacation any longer.  This is purgatory.)

Today we headed to the Vondelpark to try and relax as much as possible in the morning sunshine, then we walked north to the Jordaan, a quiet neighborhood on the west side of the city known today for its quaint canals, pleasant narrow residential streets, and its many trees, flowers, and home gardens (one theory on the name is that the Jordaan is a Dutch adaptation of the French jardin).  We actually didn’t see many gardens, but the streets in the Jordaan are mostly named after flowers, including several streets and a canal named for the eglantine, which has long been my nickname for Jennifer.  So we hoped it would help us unwind, and despite getting turned around a few times and wanting apple pie or ice cream but never finding any (the cafes were absolutely PACKED today, and we didn’t want to brave the crowds), we did indeed have a wonderful afternoon.  We bought Jennifer a jaunty fedora, toured a houseboat, and watched the final moves of a giant outdoor chess match, then returned to the Museumplein (our other favorite park) for waffles and ice cream at one of the outdoor cafes.  Then it was home to update family and eat yet another pizza (the guy makes good pizza, and it’s cheap and makes good leftovers).

Not much else to do now but wait.

11:01 pm

Day 10.1:  16 April 2010

Stranded still.  The volcano continues to spew, the European authorities in charge of their respective airspaces continue to freak out, many of our fellow passengers are growing irrationally angry, and it’s looking more and more like we’re in this for a longer haul than anyone would like.

We woke insanely early, determined to get to the airport even before it opened so we could be among the first in line, because we knew the forecast didn’t look good and we wanted as much time in the airport as possible to sort out our flight arrangements.  Sure enough, everything was cancelled, and when KLM finally opened their ticket counter (almost a half-hour late and after a stern lecture from an angry—and, I think, showboating—man in line, I managed to grab the third number-ticket out of the machine, so our plan to arrive early paid off.

Unfortunately, we’d underestimated just how inconsiderate KLM was prepared to be.

We knew things were looking bad almost as soon as the KLM staff appeared from within the safety of their offices, and the crowd around us was getting unruly before the day had even got started, so, to be on the safe side, Jennifer had the bright idea to send me over to the Lufthansa counter and see if they could transfer us back to their airline.  Sure enough, after maybe 20 minutes, I got a text from Jennifer saying the crowd over there had gotten so angry and so vocal that KLM had chickened out and called in security, closed their counter entirely and refused to do any rebookings today at all.  They figure everything’s going to be shut down all day anyway, so what’s the point in addressing their customers’ concerns if no one’s going to get out anyway?  And then they kicked everyone out of the ticketing area—we weren’t even allowed to wait in line in case they did reopen later in the day.  So Jennifer was beelining it for my line at Lufthansa, which was calm, orderly, and receiving all the help Lufthansa could reasonably offer.

Shortly after Jennifer found me, I made it to the ticket counter and got ourselves moved back over to Lufthansa.  They’ve bumped us from our Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi and put us on Lufthansa planes the whole way through, which we had been told yesterday wouldn’t be possible, but I suppose the volcano has forced everyone to throw out the rule books and do whatever they can think of.  Lufthansa all the way is fine by us—they’ve treated us extraordinarily well so far, and we’re just happy to be on a flight at all.  We’re now on a flight out on Sunday, which is the earliest they could book us, but they also warned us not to hold our breaths and to check back frequently (they gave us a phone number), so we’ll see what happens from here.

Meanwhile, we needed a place to sleep the next two nights, so we took our B&B host up on her offer and called her—just as we’re not getting out, no one else is getting into Amsterdam, and she had a cancellation from the people who were supposed to be in our old room tonight, so she happily welcomed us back.  We caught a shuttle back out to the neighborhood, dropped off our luggage, and then realized we still had the whole day to while away—we’d gotten up so early and sorted out our flight problems so fast, we’d managed to get back to the B&B a little after 10 am!  With nothing to do but wait, we decided to squeeze a little more use out of our Museumkaart and headed into town to visit the Rembrandthuis.

The house was interesting—a little small for a museum, and the audioguide mostly just repeated the information written on the plaques—but it was quite cool to see where and how the artist worked:  Among the exhibits are a restoration of his studio, with easel and some of his models, as well as his collection of source material, a big room absolutely stuffed with skulls, marble busts and old pieces of broken columns, taxidermied animals of all sorts, weapons and armor, pieces of furniture, and so on.  It reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s description of his cluttered office and how he would use the jumble of junk in there as inspiration for details in his stories, or how Tom Franklin used the Sears Catalog to add realistic details to his historical novel Hell at the Breech.

Afterward, we hopped a tram north to the KNSM Eiland, a manmade residential island in the IJ that boasts some distinctive architecture.  With its quiet, leafy streets and its carefully planned layout, the neighborhood there feels almost like a small residential college campus (Jennifer and I amused ourselves by deciding which would be the “dorms,” which the “married student housing,” which was the “science building” and which the “campus art gallery”).  But the docks do a lot to dismiss that impression, with the houseboats and small yachts docked in long rows.  Overall we weren’t as impressed as we thought we ought to have been, but then, we’re distracted with thoughts of getting home or (dare I say it?) what to do if our flight can’t get out on sunday.

Which is why we came home early, opted to take-away pizza from that excellent little pizza place in our neighborhood, and settled in for an early night.

It’s going to hard to sleep with my fingers crossed, but I’m certainly going to try….

10:10 pm

Day 10.2:  17 April 2010

Things are getting ridiculous.  Our flight has, again, been cancelled.

I called Lufthansa and spent a LONG time on hold before finally getting a guy to rebook us.  The earliest he could get us out was Tuesday, though it’s unclear at this point if that’s because they’re overbooked with people like us, stranded and rebooking and rebooking, or if it’s because they’ve simply given up on Monday already and aren’t bothering to book anyone till Tuesday.

So now we’re stranded for at least two more days, not counting Tuesday.  With all this worry and nowhere to go, we decided we needed to try to de-stress by getting out to a few more sites we’d missed during our actual vacation.  (Well-meaning friends keep telling us how “lucky” we are to be stuck in Amsterdam, and it’s true that we are far more fortunate than all those thousands of people camping out in the airport, broke and desperate—we have a little extra cash, we have a place to stay and a wonderfully accommodating host.  And the weather is frustratingly pleasant—no sign of an ash cloud anywhere, no indication of any chaos at all except the eerie absence of contrails in the clear blue sky.  But believe me, this is NOT a vacation any longer.  This is purgatory.)

Today we headed to the Vondelpark to try and relax as much as possible in the morning sunshine, then we walked north to the Jordaan, a quiet neighborhood on the west side of the city known today for its quaint canals, pleasant narrow residential streets, and its many trees, flowers, and home gardens (one theory on the name is that the Jordaan is a Dutch adaptation of the French jardin).  We actually didn’t seem many gardens, but the streets in the Jordaan are mostly named after flowers, including several streets and a canal named for the eglantine, which has long been my nickname for Jennifer.  So we hoped it would help us unwind, and despite getting turned around a few times and wanting apple pie or ice cream but never finding any (the cafes were absolutely PACKED today, and we didn’t want to brave the crowds), we did indeed have a wonderful afternoon.  We bought Jennifer a jaunty fedora, toured a houseboat, and watched the final moves of a giant outdoor chess match, then returned to the Museumplein (our other favorite park) for waffles and ice cream at one of the outdoor cafes.  Then it was home to update family and eat yet another pizza (the guy makes good pizza, and it’s cheap and makes good leftovers).

Not much else to do now but wait.

11:01 pm

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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