Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Belated Goodbyes

Dear me. It seems that I managed to complete my trip to Amsterdam, travel back to the United States, and celebrate Christmas--all without blogging even once.

In my defense, I was extremely busy, and then extremely jet-lagged.

Let's go over some of the highlights, shall we?

I had no intention of getting a tattoo in Amsterdam. It was not something I'd planned. But then, sometimes spontaneous tattoos are the best tattoos.
During my two months in the city, I practically lived at Volkshotel, drinking tea and using the free wifi in their giant Werkplaats. So when I saw that they were bringing in local tattoo artists for their Winter Market, I knew I had to have one. I decided on a small tulip behind my left ear. It's a classic Dutch souvenir that I simply carried out in an unusual way. 

I nearly convinced Erin to get one with me. Instead she became my official head-holder. 

Things really got weird when we returned to the apartment. Rembert--who is not a tattoo guy--saw that the artist had given me a signed copy of his biography. 

"Wait. Henk Schiffmacher gave you a tattoo?"

"Um...I guess?"

Turns out Henk Schiffmacher is quite famous in the Netherlands. He even had his own reality TV show at one point. In the past, he has tattooed the likes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kurt Cobain, and Lady Gaga. So not only did I get a spontaneous tattoo--I got a spontaneous, famous-person tattoo. Such is my glamorous life. 

The next evening was the much-awaited celebration of pakjesavond, when Sinterklaas completes his whirlwind steamboat tour around the country and delivers presents to the Dutch children, complete with long, humorous poems about their lives.

Yes. Poems.

Rembert's brother and his wife hosted the party at their beautiful lakehouse, and much to my surprise, Sinterklaas brought me some presents, along with poems in both Dutch and English! I must have been very good this year.

And/or Rembert's family is far too kind.

On my last weekend in the city, one of Willem's friends invited him to a birthday party. Not wanting Henry to feel left out, Erin and I brought him and Matthijs to the Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis, a charming fire trap in which they sell delicious Dutch pancakes. Seriously--this place would not be allowed to exist in the United States.
The restaurant is on the second floor of a building that dates to 1539, and to access it, you have to climb what might be the steepest set of stairs I've ever seen. Once inside, you can dine at one of exactly four tables. Hundreds of teapots dangle from the ceiling.

The next evening we took a canal cruise to view the vivid sculptures of the Amsterdam Light Festival. With warm cups of gl├╝hwein in hand, we floated beneath arched bridges and past narrow canal houses, their windows glowing between brightly-colored shutters. I thought it was gorgeous, but the boys were not quite as entertained. They mostly just screamed and crawled beneath the table.

On my last day in Amsterdam, Erin and I had a nice lunch. I said goodbye to Rembert and the kiddos, who I miss very much. Especially Matthijs, who had essentially become my puppy over the course of the trip. Almost-two-year-olds and puppies are essentially the same.

Backpack stuffed with stroopwafel cookies (much to the amusement of airport security at Schiphol), I began my trip back to the United States. The first leg of my journey took me to Oslo. I arrived late at night and walked to the airport hotel, where I was met with a green glowing headboard. It looked like something out of a Kubrick film. Luckily I had the option of shutting it off and falling blissfully asleep.

I didn't have much time before my second flight the next day, but I did manage get my butt up early and squeeze in a trip to Oslo proper. I took the express train downtown. It was around 8 a.m., but the sun had still barely risen. I guess that's just life in the Arctic Circle. I had oatmeal and a tea at a little cafe, which cost 88 krone. I don't know whether Norway has high inflation or simply a strange way of doing things. The ATM wouldn't let me take out fewer than 500 krone, and the smallest denomination of coin that I noticed was 1--no fractions. Their coins have holes in the center.

I took a short walk, staying close to the train station. I stood at the edge of the sea, watched the gulls balance single-footed on the black ice. The opera house rose jagged and white at the water's edge like a giant glacier. Inside, women wearing white dresses and lights in their hair sang for St. Lucy's Day. My eyes matched the sky.

Had I known that my flight to Las Vegas would be delayed, I would have spent more time exploring the city. Unfortunately, I was unaware of that development. Instead I spent several hours in the Oslo airport, which looks like it was decorated exclusively with IKEA products. My flight took off almost three hours later than expected, and then I just sat back and tried to enjoy the next ten and a half hours in the air.

International travel is exhausting, but there's something fun about losing so many hours in the clouds, only to relive them once you reach your destination. It's a pleasant reminder that time as we know it is completely arbitrary.

Upon my arrival in the city where this blog began, I immediately ate an In-N-Out cheeseburger animal style, because America. Later I was able to reconnect with friends at good ol' Atomic Liquors--although I was so jet-lagged that I can't have been much fun. I'm not even sure I was making sense. I'm glad so many people came out and put up with me anyway. It was wonderful to see everyone. I'll have to make a much longer return trip next time.

I flew back to Chicago at 8:30 the next morning. When I arrived, the ground was snow-covered, brilliantly white. We do give the Arctic Circle a run for its money.

And now I need to figure out what comes next. New Zealand? Perhaps--but I don't have any nice cousins to put me up there, so if anyone has tips for inexpensive living in Middle Earth, please let me know. I need to go somewhere I can write. Babysitting three small children is fun, but not particularly conducive to finishing a novel, especially when you have to do other work on top of it. My goal is to have the novel ready to send to agents by next summer. Then I can look for another stable, boring-person job.

Or maybe not. You never know. This stage of my life is a bit unpredictable. 

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