The Netherlands: Days 10.5 & 10.6 (the Great Volcano Standstill, 2010)

Day 10.5

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Success? Relief? I hope so.

We spent all last night checking trains and buses, but nothing we could find was getting us anywhere any faster. Our B&B hostess found a train to Istanbul that would take only two days, but some legs of the journey were unavailable for online booking, so we weren’t even sure it would work. We tried Morocco as well, but most of their flights are booked through next week. So, same problem.

Then I saw that our Lufthansa flight — the one we were scheduled for today and which we’d been told had been canceled — was, in fact, leaving for Abu Dhabi. Today. And I almost lost it.

What is most frustrating is that Lufthansa, which at first was taking such good care of us, has gone and mucked everything up. When they finally got permission to start sending out flights, they apparently decided the best way to get people rebooked was erase all their original bookings start from scratch, so despite the fact that we had a booked ticket and had been bumped four times in as many days, we didn’t make the cut for getting out. Which is why we got pushed back a full week before we could get on a plane.

But that’s not the worst part. The Lufthansa ticketing guy explained on the phone that he could book us on the April 26 flight, but Lufthansa could not issue the ticket until I called Etihad and asked them to “process” the ticket, because Etihad was the original airline for our trip out of Frankfurt. This is precisely what I’d been afraid of days ago when Lufthansa first bumped us off the Etihad flight. I asked about it at the time, but they swore it wouldn’t be a problem. No, it’s a problem. What’s more, the guy claimed he couldn’t just contact Etihad and fix the problem (which Lufthansa has caused) himself; he insisted I had to be the one to call.

So today, I called Etihad. I told the woman on the phone that we’d been rebooked through Lufthansa but there was a problem with the Etihad side of things. I mentioned that she needed to “process” the rebooking, but she had no idea what I was talking about. Then she explained what I’ve suspected all along: Lufthansa never should have switched our tickets in the first place. They weren’t allowed to do that and shouldn’t have been able to do it, and as far as the Etihad system was concerned, they never had — as far as Etihad’s records showed, we’d simply missed our flight from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi.

Which had, in fact, flown out.

But like me, she was willing to blame Lufthansa for the mistake, so she simply reissued our original tickets and booked us on the first available flight out of Amsterdam, just like we’d originally been scheduled to do way back on last Thursday. We are now due to leave this Friday, April 23. Not April 26 or 28, as Lufthansa had told us. But April 23.

So. Finally, progress. We hope. At this point, I don’t know who to trust, but at least we are finally getting answers along with our rebookings.

With that settled and a little bit of hope in our future, we decided to spend the day coping with stress but making the most of our Museumkaart. Thank goodness we bought this thing! When we first decided to get it, we did so because we’d planned to visit enough museums to make up for the cost of the card (and then some), and at some locations — like the Van Gogh Museum — it would allow us to skip the long lines, so it seemed a wise investment. By now we’ve visited enough museums to buy the same card twice more, and we still have places we could visit for free if we wanted to. Aside from our excellent friend/host Irene, the Museumkaart has probably been the biggest reason we’ve managed to remain relatively calm throughout all this mess.

So today we drifted into town to visit FOAM, a photography gallery, and the Allard Pierson antiquities museum. Both were very cool and a terrific way to escape from the stress of travel. The Allard Pierson is absolutely packed with relics from the ancient world, a truly amazing collection given how small the museum is, though that’s probably because it’s attached to the university. The best exhibit, though, was a special multi-room journey through the Egyptian afterlife, and I was proud of how much I remembered from my own studies into the subject for my dissertation novel — at several points I was even able to elaborate on some of the details for Jennifer.

The FOAM was probably the highlight, though. Some of the photography was fairly plain, at least for my tastes, but there was an extensive exhibit by Amsterdamer Ari Maropoulos that was extremely cool. Photos ranging from `80-era New York hip-hop culture and street rappers to skaters from the `90s and 2000s, intimate portraits of his family and friends to professional portraits of celebrities, even a surprising (and surprisingly convincing!) “Self-portrait as Egon Scheile,” after Schiele’s own “Self Portrait With Arm Twisting Above Head.” Marcopoulos’s coolest piece, though, might have been a short film of him and a friend skateboarding down steep and winding streets from a hilltop into town, wearing matching gray suits and passing the camera back and forth between them as they flew along as frightening speeds. That’s all the film showed, really, but it was mesmerizing.

The other interesting exhibit was from Paul Graham, whose exhibit “a shimmer of possibility” shows strikingly mundane scenes (alone, they might even seem boring) but in sequence, in an effort to tell some sort of story. Every art piece, then, consisted not of one photograph but of a series spanning a wall, meant to be seen together. Some worked better than others, but one in particular captivated me, the exquisite “New Orleans (Woman Eating), 2004” series. In the wall plaque describing his work [and in the online video discussing this exhibit], Graham claims to have been influenced by Chekhov, which was another reason I found him so interesting. Coolest of all, Jennifer remarked halfway through his exhibit, “You know, if you wanted to, you could do this. Your pictures are as good as these.” I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I figure at the rate I take pictures (I’ve taken something like 2,000 this trip!), sooner or later some of them are bound to be decent.

For lunch we decided to head over to the Rembrandtplein and try De Kroon, which our guide books raved about for its hip setting and Art Deco design. They’re renovating it (what else is new) so the paint fumes were a bit heady come up the stairs, and the main room was almost deserted when we dropped in, but that turned out to have been fine with us — we sat by an open window overlooking the plein and enjoyed the sun and the breeze as we sipped our coffee.

So all in all, today was just what we needed to unwind.

But we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

11:17 pm

Day 10.6

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I feel like we’re running a countdown now, and all these things we do to fill up our purgatorial days are just to make the time pass quicker. When we go to a park or a museum, we’re not really going to a park or a museum — we’re just stopping by on our way to the airport. Day after day.

They are nice diversions, though, these little “side trips” of ours. Today we visited the Museum van Loon, a 19th-century canal house preserved in its original stately glory. It belongs to the descendants of one of the founding members of the Dutch East India Company, so the potential for opulence is vast, but actually, the canal house is rather modest both in size and in furnishings, at least, the parts we could see. There were only a handful of bedrooms, for instance, though some of the rooms on the lower floors were being used as museum offices, and we didn’t have access to the servants’ rooms. Most of the flourish and indulgences are in the architecture, actually, such as the carriagehouse windows painted black and detailed with fake curtains to keep the servants there from spying on the back garden, or the bedrooms and corridors being fitted with false doors just to preserve the illusion of symmetry. But the highlight was without a doubt the introductory video, narrated by the late Professor Maurits van Loon. His slow, guided tour through the house, during which he explains his memories visiting his grandparents in the house, are fascinating, but better still are the delightful moments of comedy in which he tells an anecdote about some distant relative or — hilariously — surprising actual visitors to the museum and simply pausing before quietly saying, “Oh — hello!” and moving on. A charming way to begin our day, really.

Afterward we made our way across town to the Tropenmuseum. It was a long hike (we’ve stopped buying transit cards to save money, so we had to walk the whole way there), and the Oosterpark, while offering one pretty little resting spot, was far less cultivated than our beloved Vondelpark, and the day has been fairly windy and overcast, so the walk through the park was quite gray and a bit forbidding. So we were glad to get to the Tropenmuseum, a vast museum documenting the cultures the Dutch encountered as they traded with and/or colonized various cultures around the world, particularly tropical island cultures (hence the name of the museum). It was actually a much larger museum than we’d expected, and while all three levels were absolutely packed with loads of cool interactive multimedia displays, it was almost too much to take in. Plus, the long exhibit on Middle Eastern cultures only reminded us that we need to get home, so by the end of the day we were emotionally as well as physically tired, and now, after another dinner at “home,” we’re ready to tick one more day off the calendar and move closer to home.

10:01 pm

[I can’t help but add this to the post: The Museum van Loon video we watched is available online! I loved this dear old professor so much I have to share him here. Enjoy!]

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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