A Travellerspoint blog

5 Days in Amsterdam

semi-overcast 55 °F
View Europe - Autumn 2014 on buniconk's travel map.

5 days in Amsterdam just flew by! It’s an amazing city and it took us quite awhile to get our bearings. (Maybe we're not quite as adventurous as we used to be??) The city is very densely populated, with comparatively few cars and lots of walkers and cyclists. We knew it is one of the biggest bicycling cities in the world - and we came prepared with bike helmets and gloves, looking forward to the free use of the hotel bikes. However . . . after seeing how FAST people rode bikes on the rough cobblestone streets, alongside cars and motorcycles dashing every which way, not to mention pedestrians not looking and stepping out in front of cyclists . . . we turned cowards and changed plans. It is a VERY busy city - lots of traffic congestion and one-way cycling lanes that aren’t heeded -- so we put a lot of miles on our feet, walking very carefully to keep from getting hit by cyclists; and we found found the Tram system quite calm by comparison.

Amsterdam is full of tourists = as many tourists on any given day as locals. So we did the #1 Amsterdam tourist thing and visited a few museums. We found the “Resistance Museum” the most memorable; it is the story of the Dutch resistance to the onslaught of Hitler’s socialism and ethnic cleansing prior to and during WWII. Anne Frank’s story is part of this, so we also visited the house where she hid inside with her family for 2+ years. It is all very challenging - and sobering. I finished re-reading the book the night after we visited ‘the secret annex”; I was glad to have a fuller perspective.

They say the average Dutch person consumes 20 kilograms (44 lbs) of cheese annually. We didn’t make a dent, but we sure enjoyed some wonderful cheeses both in taste-testing at little shops, and at our hotel breakfasts. The 30 Euro/person ($38) breakfast was included with our room so we had wonderful breakfasts each day, and kinda filled in with snacks and a late evening meal after the 5-7pm complementary wine-n-crackers in the hotel “Library” every evening. Fortunately the hotel was almost free to us because of some well-placed hotel-chain loyalty points. We visited with other tourists who had fascinating travel experiences to share. Ironically, many people we visited with were on an Amsterdam stopover, headed for interesting cruises: Cross-Atlantic cruise via Scotland, UK, Ireland, Spain, ending in Maimi; Nordic Cruises through Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and into Russia; and The Viking River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest; we have several friends who have done that and have enjoyed it so much.

We had some time left on our Tram ticket yesterday, so we just got on and started riding. I had read about the free ferry cruises to some little islands east of Amsterdam, so we headed for central station, then selected the longest ferry ride (15 min or so) and made a fun little jaunt to a place unknown to us. There we enjoyed a nice waterside restaurant and our first taste of Dutch beer = Amstel (subsidiary of Heiniken).

Our first 3 days in the hotel were nice and quiet . . . and then The AMF (Amsterdam Music Festival) invaded the city and every hotel – and our hotel lobby and restaurant was a nonstop zoo. We never did quite figure out what the AMF was all about -- but there certainly was a lot of 'networking' going on there with mostly young, ambitious men from all over the world, connected in various ways to the music industry.

The sinus cold I picked up in Romania has subsided and I feel pretty good after really pacing myself and trying to get lots of rest. Unfortunately, now Dave has a zinger of a cold and he has been pretty miserable for a couple days. We were concerned about exposing friends from the north who came to fetch us today for a couple of days – but it turned out they, too, are hacking. Misery loves company, I guess. The connection with these fine Dutch folks is John & Janet Spomer – they hosted AFS exchange student Karin, from northern Netherlands, in 1991. The families have stayed in touch every since. Karin came to stay with us once on Roatan, and Dave has worked with both Karin and her father Ben a couple of times on Spomer’s Honduras dental-and-building projects. Ben and Gerda kindly invited us to spend a few days with them and drove 2 hours to fetch us this morning! Together we enjoyed a “castle” tour of the former king of Germany who was ousted after WWI and fled to safety in the Netherlands. Kathryn Hepburn’s mother (grandmother?) sold the mansion to him; and he arrived some time later with all his belongings in 57 rail cars. We thought we were overpacked . . . ! Years later, Kathryn was selected to play Anne in the Ann Frank movie, but she declined the role because she felt she would be exploiting the tragedy of the holocaust. Character shows.

I’ll get some pix posted maybe tomorrow when I have a stronger internet connection . Time for some zzzs - and to turn the light off so Dave can sleep better.

Posted by buniconk 14:29 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Munich Miracle & Romania Wrap-up

semi-overcast 60 °F
View Europe - Autumn 2014 on buniconk's travel map.

What happens when you are in a large airport and lose your vest that contains your credit cards, debit card, and $1000 in cash?

We figured it was a goner. Here’s what happened: When we passed through Munich on our way to Romania, we needed to claim our luggage because we were overnighting in Munich to visit our former translator. As you might recall, our checked luggage didn’t arrive there with us (both pieces did show up several days later in Romania – Thank You Jesus!).

But I didn’t tell you the rest of the story. The next morning we decided to go to the Munich airport 3 hours prior to our flight, hoping our luggage had arrived on a later flight. With a special pass to go inside the secure area, we hurried, (pulling our too-heavy carry-ons) back to the lost luggage area. It was a long walk, and we were both overheated when we got there. Dave removed his vest and laid it on top of his jacket, on top of his carry-ons - and we waited for staff to come on duty. Considerable time had passed, and after learning there had been no update on the lost luggage, we left the secure area and rushed to our departure gate which was even farther away than the first hike. After the Passport checkpoint we started to unload for the security inspection drill. Dave was white as a sheet when he asked me if I had his vest; it was obvious I didn’t have it ((... I’m usually the one who can’t find something)). We gathered everything together and bailed out of line, telling the guards that we’d lost something. We hastily decided to split up and to meet at our boarding gate: I would backtrack on the outside, and Dave would backtrack on the inside because he still had the special pass to get back in the other gate. I covered the outside area twice in the time he was able to get all the way around on the inside. I wrote notes to the gals in the lost luggage area on the inside - holding up my queries scribbled on my boarding pass as they read through the glass. No vest was there. I went to lost-and-found; the guy just shook his head and gave me a dismal “good luck” look. I checked several kiosks outside the baggage area, and they all said it was probably hopeless if it hadn’t been turned in to lost-and-found. Dave hadn’t shown up after my 2nd circuit, so I went through security again and proceeded to our boarding gate. I was beginning to fret because it was getting close to boarding time and Dave was still out searching. We hadn’t subscribed to international cell or text service, so our phones didn’t work and we had no way to contact each other. And then he appeared, pulling his carry-ons, with his coat over his shoulder, wearing no vest. My heart sank. And then he lowered his coat and revealed the vest. I had a meltdown as Dave related the story: He had retraced his steps twice also and ultimately got lost near the lost-and-found. (No pun intended.) He was looking around, trying to get reoriented while he was walking back where he thought he had come from. Something caught his eye hanging on a door knob. You know the rest of the story . . . someone probably picked it up, didn’t have time to take it to lost-and-found and hung it, like a lost hubcap, on the nearest ‘hook”. We had each walked past that area 2 times and not noticed it! Truly it was the Lord that caught Dave’s eyes and made him look back -- and it absolutely was the Lord that kept his vest intact. Nothing . . . NOTHING was missing! Our hearts still skip a beat when we think back over that panic attack and what a miracle it was that some an honest person found it and hung it up for Dave to find. We’ve showered that unknown person with prayers of blessing. (Replacing the lost credit and debit cards would have been an inconvenience, but it really would have stung to have lost the $1000 which would fund 2 Romanian food programs.) I don’t know why we are still amazed . . . I guess it is because God is amazing!

I left off in the last blog saying we were going to try to find Petre, the 10 yr-old boy our foundation brought to the States for plastic surgery. We were amazed to find the unpaved mountain roads had been paved about 3 years ago (thanks to EU money infused into Romania), and the steep drive up there was still a grind but lovely! We weren’t certain we could find our way without a dependable map or GPS signal - we’ve gotten lost more than once up there - and we ended up picking up a man who was thumbing a ride just as we left the main highway. When we confirmed we were going the route he needed to go, we told him (in our hobbled Romaneste’) who we were looking for. His destination was the next village up the mountain after Petre’s -- and you’ve probably already guessed the rest: When we described the boy’s burned face, the man knew him, recognized the family name, and even showed us where to turn to get to Petre’s house! We parked the car below the house because we were afraid to try the rickety bridge (only to find even the bridge had been fixed). After locking everything in the car, we walked on the cow-trail to Petre’s houses (one house to cook in, one to sleep in, which is quite ethnic there), hollered from the gate, raised no one, then picked our way towards the houses, hoping no surprise dogs would meet us. We were trying to decide which house to knock on when 2 barking dogs came out at us from the other porch. Didn’t take long to decide which house to go to! It turned out no one was home; the dogs appeared well-fed (though lousy guard dogs), so we figured the family was probably working in the mountains somewhere and came occasionally to sleep and eat. Eventually a neighbor came out to see who we were and what we wanted. After he warmed up to us, he told us Petre was a big strong young man (he would be around 22 now), was a shepherd’s assistant somewhere in the mountains, and indicated he could be in any direction with the sheep. Then he wanted us to come have a bite with him: typical Romanian hospitality – and difficult to talk your way out of without offending. Petre’s house and yard were pitiful; the house was never well kept, but now even the yard was untended. Normally all mountain homes have gardens to sustain the family through the year; it was evident no garden had been planted by that family for a long time. We drove on up and around through the next village’s winding streets, found it another charming walk-back-in-time experience, then headed on home. We spotted a herd of sheep on our way down the mountain, but it was so far from the road we only considered it for a moment. We laughed at the muddy mess on the car when we pulled into one of the new department stores --- the wheel areas were plastered with cow manure from the village streets. (Good fertilizer for our host’s yard where Dave rinsed it off.)

Tears were shed as we departed from our good friends/hosts Family Taban. After we turned in our rental car, a former translator met us, took us into town, showed us several interesting improvements, and spent time visiting over a gourmet mint-lemonade and 2 Romanian beers (all for about $5) at an elegant coffee house. The Romanian economy hasn’t recovered from the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, and it is still an economical place for foreigners to visit and invest. Hotels (with breakfast) average around $50. For the average Romanian, it is even harder to survive because prices continue to rise while wages stand still. One young Romanian woman commented that if you have money, you can live very well in Romania. Indeed it is true - but so few fit into that category, while the majority of people live in austerity.

So with that chronicle, I will conclude by saying our too-short 9 days in Romania were outstanding and hugely successful. It was such a blessing to us as we were able, through many of your contributions to our foundation, to bless many others. We have sufficient supplies there for several good projects that take willing volunteers to help – so time will tell what the next trip will be.

Tomorrow we press on to Amsterdam. With bike helmets and gloves in our luggage, free-loan bikes from our hotel, and a favorable weather forecast, the region has the makings of a very interesting stopover.

I hope you can locate the blog photos I’m including: subtitle explanations will expand on various bits I haven’t taken space to include here. This blog entry is already too long . . . !

Posted by buniconk 01:53 Archived in Germany Tagged lost_luggage lost_vest Comments (0)

2nd Lost Luggage Arrived Intact

semi-overcast 60 °F
View Europe - Autumn 2014 on buniconk's travel map.

We retrieved the 2nd missing luggage today at the airport. Hoorah!! (( Just a week late . . . )) God is faithful!
Everything is intact; and we cleared customs without a tax & without anything being siezed. It was touch-and-go for a few minutes because the agent wanted to know what was in the footlocker. Hmmm -- toys for children, snacks, clothing, reading glasses . . . "How many glasses?" ((Uh . . several . . . )). He wanted to have a look - Dave's clowning stuff was on top along with some stuffed toys - and there was a bag of reading glasses in the corner. (We had long since forgotten how important it is here to put the valuable things on the bottom of the cases, with the frivolous un-interesting things on top.) Dave said the clowning stuff was for working at the orphanage. "Where?" We told him. Not impressed. We told him that the glasses were for some of the workers at the orphanage. The agent said we could not distribute reading glasses without a license (optician). We protested nicely -- we've had permission to do it many years ago, and nothing has changed . . . Then he pulled out 2 large bags of Jerkey and Pepperoni from Costco and didn't seem very pleased . . . he poked around a little more on the side without the glasses. . . then he told Dave to put everything back in the case. Just like that the interrogation ended, and you can imagine how relieved we were when he asked Jean to sign off. We were blessed that he didn't actually pull out the bag of glasses, because there were many layers of bags of glasses underneath. I guess we aren't surprised at the inspection; a footlocker is far more likely to arouse curiosity than a large suitcase. (But it is SO handy to pack!) Nonetheless - all is well, and we don't have to mess with replacing things & seeking reimbursement. Next time we come, we will be more careful how we pack the suitcases tho.

After Hendersons left on Monday, Dave and Jean did another food distribution in this little village of Orlat and the neighboring village, Popolaca. Photos are in the album on this site. Our hosts do such a good job of identifying people with critical needs! Old, ill grandmothers raising children; true orphans who are living with relatives who are extremely poor; parents raising multiple handicapped children, widows just getting by, etc. etc. Most people are managing adequately well in this overburdened economy, but those who are in need are really in need! A small bag of food doesn't seem like much - but we know how much it is appreciated & we just ask God to multiply it like the loaves and fishies.

Today we visited the first child that we brought over for Shriners surgery (for hip displasia) back in 1993. Andrada was 3 then . . . and now she is a gorgeous 24 year-old who has completed university, currently works as a paralegal, and is studying to be a judge. Her parents have many times hosted us and others who have come with us, including Jean's parents who came in 1995 for a week. We had a lovely 3-hour visit over lunch at their home, catching up after so many years. It's been 11 years since Jean was here, and 4 years since Dave last came. In many ways it seems that time has stood still.

Today Jean rigged up her Apple wireless router so we could get a stronger wireless internet signal. She doesn't understand why it is working with the setup she ended up with - but what matters is that it IS working. The host family's router evidently can't put out a strong enough signal to access most websites so now we're in business. (She just hopes she can get it all plugged back in correctly when she gets home . . . it was hastily disconnected as an afterthought just before departing; we knew the host had internet, but we doubted they would have wireless. It took her a week to figure out how to boost their signal. When Mike was here he found Google Translate app for our phones (using WiFi) -- and we have had some delightful conversations in depths we haven't previously been able to go. We have managed well with our sketchy language skills - so this has been really fun.

This morning Dave inventoried all our remaining supplies that have been stored in the host family's attic. (When we sold our apartment in '06, he brought the usable supplies to their home and told them to feel free to distribute them as needed.) He found some amazing things up there -- supplies for some really fun projects that we didn't get around to and had long since forgotten about. We don't know when we will be back, but there's enough stuff here to keep us and several other helpers busy for a long time! Our hosts are so lovely and accommodating; but nonetheless, we do miss our apartment and our own vehicle. However, remembering how burdensome it was to manage security, taxes, utilities, licenses and permits, etc., we are glad we don't have that responsibility. And the unexpected profit we made from the apartment funded our Hermiston Scholar Athlete Scholarship program, so the value of the apartment lives on.

Tomorrow we head for Petre's village, hoping to be able to get up there, and hoping to find him. We can't locate any extended family in the main town here, so it's a long shot just showing up. We're taking a couple food packets, assorted diopter glasses, and some amazing work clothing that the host family was given from friends in Switzerland. We'll dispense those items along the way if we can't reach Petre. Stay tuned for that saga.

Posted by buniconk 12:34 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Lost Luggage Update: PLEASE KEEP PRAYING

semi-overcast 65 °F
View Europe - Autumn 2014 on buniconk's travel map.

We retrieved ONE bag today . . . but it wasn't the one we expected.

We understood this first recovered piece was to be the trunk with 250 prs of glasses & other project supplies that we intended to use during this trip. However, when we picked up the bag this morning – to our surprise, the returned bag was the OTHER checked bag = our little checked suitcase with odd bits of Dave’s warmer clothing for Amsterdam, plus some yummy treats, snacks and gifts for host family.

And the trunk with all the glasses? There is ZERO tracing information about the trunk – so that's not looking good at this point. We had hoped to do a glasses distribution while Mike and Diana Henderson (friends from Hermiston OR) are here with us, but this is day 6 of that missing luggage & they are leaving tomorrow. Rats!

Yesterday Jean replaced her missing coat, on Air France's nickel (they got by easy – we had about $250 allowance to replace essentials, and the grand total was $36 for an adequate lightweight parka (not an equal to her missing GoreTex coat...), a pair of leather gloves and a matching scarf. She can get by with these in Netherlands, but we are still hoping for the trunk's return for obvious reasons (and it would be lovely to leave this nice clothing behind for our host's wife).

So we ask you to keep praying -- time's a wasting here. We leave the 10th, so if it's not here in a couple days, we will have no use for it till next trip. We don't want it returned to USA because we'd just have to bring it back again . . . so let's hope it gets here sometime and stays here. I'm not even certain that our hosts can claim it without our passports . . . hmmm. Houston, we might have another problem . . . Well, God will sort it out -- he always does! Thanks for your continued prayers.

We did a partial food distribution yesterday - Diana & Mike helped Dave shop for food & assemble the packets. Diana was such a blessing to the old/poor/sick people who received our food packets - she offered the bags with a greeting in Romaneste’ ("A little gift for you"), and visited with such compassion. Mike also visits with the people so easily - it's fun to watch them just fit right in. "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven". Truly both Diana and Mike were the hands of the Lord yesterday = “Jesus with skin on”.

We are all still kinda jet-lagged (turning 10 hours around is just plain difficult!). This trip we had planned to do 3 primary projects:

  • 1- Glasses Distribution. Here’s how it works: We just open our trunk filled with reading glasses of various diopters, and ask someone on the street if they need glasses. We fit them with a Snellen eye chart (in Romaneste) - and the crowd gathers. Build it and they come. But without any glasses . . . that project is on hold. We had so hoped Hendersons could participate in that - it’s really fun, valuable to the locals, and fascinating to watch the dynamics.

2 - Food Distribution. We spent approx $300 on 30 food packets. Food was a little cheaper this year than we expected, so there will be more (or larger) packets distributed at Christmas. We leave enough $ for the same kind of produce: salami, pate, noodles, sugar, flour, cookies, oil. It’s not a lot, but the staples do bring a little practical cheer to the very poor who are either elderly, disabled, widowed, or long-term unemployed.

3 - Visit Petre. We brought this illiterate peasant boy for facial plastic surgery when he was 10. His face was fried on a stovetop when he was an infant -- parents were drunk and he fell out of his little crib onto the stove. Village teachers would not allow him to attend school because he was “too ugly”. The surgeries were marginally effective because he was a poor healer (keloids) - but he can at least now close his eyelid and smile. The big work was done in his heart, with people to love and care for him. He’s in his 20‘s now and we would love to see him. It’s a full day’s trip up to his very remote mountain village: a steep drive on a very poor stone road which we would only attempt if the roads are acceptable. We’ve been afraid to try it because we had a little rain the other day, but we might still be able to go if the weather stays clear.

I was amazed to find WiFi here at our host home, but we’ve been unable to access all web pages. That explains the abrupt blog posting the other day = it was a work in progress when I lost the connection and therefore lost my composition. The neighbor has an excellent connection, but we don’t want to bother them – but after walking around the property searching for his signal, we finally found we could sit in the barn doorway and get on his signal. The turkeys are a few feet away and chatter off-and-on. Of course it doesn’t smell very good right there, but it works! People everywhere seem to have cellphones -- even the almost-illiterate peasants driving the horse-and-cart! And I’m surpised how many smartphones we see; and most homes of younger people seem to have internet.

I’ll try to get a good enough connection to post some photos today – IF I can figure out how to post photos, that is . . ..

Please keep praying for our lost luggage -- we really do need that missing piece! Thank you!

Posted by buniconk 02:28 Archived in Romania Tagged food distribution Comments (0)

We're here but our luggage is not . . .

semi-overcast 62 °F
View Europe - Autumn 2014 on buniconk's travel map.

Dave looked back in his past journals and confirmed this is not the first time we've lost luggage with Air France. Arghh......

We had a delightful journey -- good connections, nice lounges for reasonable layovers, and good flights. The over-the-water lie-flat seats were the highlight. We had enough Alaska points to fly business class, so that was money well spent for us, personally. We didn't really think much about losing our luggage this trip -- but in thinking how many connections we had, I guess we aren't surprised. And put Air France into the mix, and I think we are doubly not surprised!

We always pack our carry-ons for just such a lost or delayed luggage situation -- so other than not having a few creature comforts -- (( and our coats which were too bulky for our carryons)) -- we are personally fine. The 100 Euros late/lost luggage compensation will be more than sufficient to replace those here. The the real issue is that our 2 pcs of lost luggage is packed with everything we needed for here for projects (plus gifts for host family). It's day 3 of trying to locate luggage - and Air France doesn't know anything about it's whereabouts. So we wait . . . impatiently.

Posted by buniconk 02:29 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 »