Finally, I've arrived in Amsterdam on Thursday, September 13th. The flight from Little Rock was not so bad. My mother took me to the airport a good 2 & ½ hours prior to my flight's departure. I didn't sleep well the night before, if you can imagine. I was concerned about arriving late to the airport; that I would have over-weight-sized bags; and that the NWA flight would be delayed, or worse yet, cancelled. Worry, worry, worry, all for nothing. Everything went perfect. I couldn't have ask for better. First off, the weather was wonderful in Little Rock, Detroit, and in Amsterdam. Sunny and cool in all cities. And the NWA agents could have cared less about the weight of my bags (of course, it's highly possible that the weight of my bags weren't really an issue anyway). The 2 & ½ hours at the airport flew by so quickly and before I knew it, I was off to Detroit. The plane ride there did, however, leave a lot to be desired. We were cramped like sardines. I've never been on a plane so small. It held 50 passengers. The woman next to me was a New Yorker. And could she talk. Almost as much as me. The 2 & ½ plane ride there went rather quickly, due to her company. She put me in the mind of Elaine, on the Seinfeld show, all the way down to her mannerisms and curly hair. She had that very unique accent and was in Little Rock doing business with Dillard's. We mostly talked about her career, 9/11, New York, her children and husband, and, well, you get the picture. But thank God for her, because if not for her, I would have focused on that small plane and tight seating, bringing on unnecessary anxiety.
The flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was delayed by about 30 minutes. But the delay was no problem. I enjoyed people watching. As we boarded the plane, I reached my row first. As is the case with a lot of people, I was in anticipation of who would be seated next to me. As I was waiting, a lady down the line caught my attention, indicating that she was assigned to one of the seats beside me. Her husband followed behind. He was all of 6'2" tall and around 250 lbs. Because I'm heavy myself, I thought, oh no. But in all actuality it wasn't bad. What could we do. His wife was not so small herself. Had I been next to a smaller person, the trip may have been more miserable. I actually felt comfortable with these folks. Wisconsinians they were. Another pair of interesting accents—for a southern gal like me. I slept no more than ½ hour the entire flight. The rest was talking to my neighbors, watching the movie "Next, "and listening to my iPod. Well, there was an incident in the seat in front of me that made the flight a little more interesting. The woman in front of me apparently passed out from taking an Ambien tablet and drinking two glasses of wine. When the flight attendant requested a doctor on the intercom, at least 3 came forward. Funny. After a while, she was okay. All in all, the flight was not too bad. There was occasional turbulence, but I managed to block out the fact that we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean in the dead of night.
When I arrived in Amsterdam I certainly knew I wasn't in Kansas (the AR kind) any more. What a culture shock in so little time. Although there were many signs in English, I felt completely lost. Things were not a simple as I thought. First I needed to find a bathroom (which is simply "toilet" here.) Once I found it, there was a line. The toilets were a little different than I'm used to seeing. No water covers the bottom of the bowl. I found this to be true here at Simon's home too. No problem though, it still works fine. But it's just not something I was expecting. Later I searched for the baggage claim without realizing I had to first go through customs. But it didn't take long to figure that out either. I eventually got my 2 huge checked bags and made my way to the waiting area.
There I saw my dear friend Simon. He greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. It had been almost 4 years since we'd seen each other. The sight of his kind eyes made me forget the lost feeling. I suddenly felt relief and felt like a wimp for being overwhelmed in less than hour with my first trip overseas. We took my bags to the driver's van and he drove us out of the airport and onto the "Motorway" that took us to Delft. Upon arrival to Simon's apartment, I immediately felt at home. It possesses the same warmth, friendliness, and charm, as he does himself. The room he put together for me is so inviting. I would not have been more happier in the town's most exquisite hotel.
I slept for several hours shortly after arriving. I did experience the Jet Lag syndrome. I have been so turned around, but apparently I've adjusted already. Last night I was actually feeling the same as I feel at home when it's 11:00 pm. Tired and sleepy. My body seemed to have no care that in actuality it was 4:00 pm in the afternoon, the time I am normally leaving work for home. I guess I don't have the internal clock I always thought I had. I went to bed shortly after 12:00 am and woke up at 7:00 am. My body is definitely on Delft time now.
Last night we ate dinner at the Wereld Zaak (the World's Affair). The food is cooked by students from a cooking school across the street. The menu consisted of dishes inspired by several countries, such as India, Vietnam, Spain, Italy, and Indonesia, for example. The food was nouveau style. Apparently an instructor judges the students on what they cook—reminding me of Chef Ramsey on Hell's Kitchen. Simon had prawns and I had delicious pork loin, seasoned potatoes and stewed apples. The flavors were wonderful. I forget by which country my food was inspired, but who cares, it was great!
Today we spent time in the local mall and Delft's City Center. It is huge and goes on for blocks and blocks and from canals to canals. Around every corner is a shop, pub, service or restaurant. I am in love with this city already. It is so beautiful, charming and in it's own way, quite Cosmopolitan (at least to an Arkansan like me). My observations and experiences so far (in no particular order):
• The legal age to buy liquor in Dutch convenience and liquor stores is 16 years old. Smoking is allowed almost anywhere it seems. There seems to be a lot of smoking, young and old. Observed a boy and girl about 16 years old casually smoking in McDonald's. No one asked them to put it out. It's not against the law.
• People walk their dogs into some grocery stores to shop and restaurants to eat
• There are more bikes than cars (and people too)
• The cars that are here are in good shape. I haven't seen one that is beat up (Simon says it's against the law because certain criteria must be met for inspection. My car would fail without hesitation.)
• There are so many nationalities and races here. Definitely international.
• The people are quite tall. Some I've seen have to be near 7 ft.
• The young people are so beautiful. They're like pages from magazines. The Somalians are absolutely gorgeous. Breathtaking.
• The food is cheap. The deli in the grocery store fixes BBQ Ribs (1/2 rack) and serves it to go for .72 cent euros.
• Diet Coke is Coca-Cola Light
• The billboards at intersections are all electric
• Throughout grocery stores are huge flat-screen tvs advertising the food items or commercials
• You can get killed in a bike zone. So you must be careful at all times to walk in the walk zone
• People seem to appreciate when you attempt to say words in Dutch. I got a thumbs up from the post office guy when I said, "Dank u weil."
As well today we visited a Supermarket. It was so large and the variety was excellent. I was under the impression that there was little to choose from in Dutch supermarkets. I guess that's what I get from reading ex-Pat sites. I don't know where these people have been, but not the place I visited today. Simon did point out that the store in the City Center was not typical of all Delft stores, but certainly of that one. But walking through the store I felt like an alien that had landed on another planet. There was so much and it all seemed very fresh.
Anyway, we bought a variety of cheeses (so inexpensive and so many to choose from), crackers, and deli meats. At supper we had a great-tasting red wine and ate these items. These were cheeses with which I was not at all familiar. My favorite was a Dutch cheese with cumin seeds. Delicious! And finally I've eaten mincemeat. I've seen this in American supermarkets but had no idea of the taste. This was like a sausage. We also had Black Forest ham from Germany and French and Italian breads, including a European rye.
All in all, I saw a very modern, fashionable, and high-tech city with so much old charm. This co-existence is quite a sight for an Arkansan like me to observe. It has about 100,000 inhabitants. Most people were so friendly and helpful. Again, I can't over emphasize the different nationalities. Today a woman who came by Simon's home was Afghanistan. Later I met a woman from Rwanda, the Tutsi tribe. She fleed from there in the early 90's when the genocide was going on. So many Middle Eastern, African and Asians, many of whom who live in Simon's building. I have yet to learn how integrated these immigrants are outside of their own cultures, but they are very visible and part of this society.
Did I mention the bikes? Bikes, bikes, bikes everywhere. In addition to being more bikes than cars, the statistics say there are more bikes than people.
Oh, we also sat at a McDonalds and had a drink. Young people galore. If it weren't for the unique language and many different nationalities, it was like being in a Mickey D's in Little Rock.
I really like the Dutch way of thinking. They've thought of everything. It's quite different. And I'm not comparing it to American life , because there's no right or wrong way to do anything, when it comes to a society. But the Dutch are so organized and ingenuity is seen all over the place.
Well, day 2 is over and tomorrow we will tour more of Delft and then go into The Hague (Den Haag). I'm not quite sure when we'll get to Amsterdam, but I'm sure we will. But for now, I have been very content to explore Delft.
I thank Simon for this exclusive insight into Dutch life as an American visitor. It's been unique to get this experience. I've enjoyed looking at Dutch life from the inside and not through an outside window. I know as a regular tourist I would not have got to do the grocery shopping, visit the community post office—which was hidden away, taken advantage of all of the shortcuts, and met so many of the local people who are friends of Simon.
One last thing, we went to a church today with so much history. I'll have to place the name at a later time. But because Simon knew one of the men there, we got a private tour. I wasn't allowed to take pictures because of the automatic flash function. It's open to the public during certain times, but it wasn't today. This church was exquisite and the details so precise. Just an amazing day. Thanks! Simon