Years ago when I first traveled to Europe while on leave from my military duty in the Middle East I saw it through the eyes of an innocent young adult. Europe was nothing like imaged from all my prior reading in books on the continent.
I flew into Germany, quickly purchased a dress, Birkenstocks, backpack and finally a train ticket. I stuffed my military uniform into a locker on the American Air Base and headed out on an adventure.
I had an experienced travel partner with me and we rode the overnight on a train to Italy to stay with his brother. I then jumped on a train alone, travelled on to see an Air Force friend in eastern Italy. Everything was new and exiting. The old buildings, the landscapes, the crazy mopeds driving on the busy streets.
I have retold tons of stories of that trip over the years to friends and relatives. The newness of Europe to me was full of adventure and I thought it would be my only opportunity ever to visit the continent. From where I sit today that newness and sharp edges are worn smooth with experience there are things I just don’t see of my adopted country of The Netherlands anymore.
This week the Hubby and I are hosting one of my best friends from my home town in Minnesota. Yes, there is a threat of war on our continent and most of us have gotten little sleep as prices rise, refugees are now entering the country and the news is constantly repeating the play by play of the war in Ukraine like some sports show.
It is hard for me to see things as exciting and new. But, my friend is seeing and experiencing Europe with and through the eyes of an innocent child. Everything is new for her, the old Amsterdam buildings, the windmills, the Dutch countryside and the wonderful robust transport system we have in this country and it has lifted the shadows of the overhanging news of the war.
We have nearly forgotten that a terrorist is holding us all hostage with his threat of nuclear button pushing or super sonic weapons. Life is going on even if it is more expensive each day.
For Americans to explore the past locations that our ancestors came from since the birth of the USA. It will be harder, as this war lingers, to do such things without anxiety. My hope and wish is that there will be a quick and peaceful resolution, but from my professional background, old fears whisper “it will be a long and difficult road” before peace.
My advise to all my readers, come to Europe, live the experience, don’t let a terrorist win! Experience the continent and Carpe Diem!
We all want tourist from other places to enjoy the European continent in freedom and to see it for the diversity it holds.
Today is my last day in the Dutch wilderness (a empty campground cabin) without the Hubby. He will join me for these next few days.
A huge storm blew in overnight dumping tons of rain and brought howling winds. At some point I did wonder what would happen if we got enough water that I would float off into the lake while I was sleeping.
Then it cleared. The sky had a million stars. The Weerribben is maybe one of the few places here in the Netherlands where there is minimal light pollution, making it an excellent place (when it is clear) to see the night sky.
I started the day by biking to Oldemarkt, a small village about 3 kilometers from the campground.
The winds gusting to near 25mph I wasn’t sure I wanted to bike but I did need a few items. So I bravely packed my gear and set out.
The thing about biking in The Netherlands is that wind is almost constantly a factor. Knowing that can be more a mental state of self motivation.
“I will have a headwind going, so I will get there faster. Maybe, while I am shopping the wind will magically change direction or disappear.”
We all tell ourselves these sort of lies in order to make it easier keep going.
So, I am sure this is why I saw several stickers today along my route.
As I entered town I saw that the bakery was closed, won’t reopen until 5 January. I saw all the other businesses along the one Main Street were also closed per the national lockdown. So… maybe not everyone in this village believes these stickers.
As I entered into the small village grocery there were a few customers it not anything like I experience in the busy area where we live close to Amsterdam. People were like anywhere these days, some half way made an effort to wear a mask, others not at all. Some people kept their distance, some not at all.
I made my purchases and made my way towards the cabin.
No, the wind did not change magically while I was shopping. So I window shopped some more before tackling the flat expanse. I walked slowly with my bike along side. Noticing things I haven’t seen before on other visits to this village.
There are three churches. An antique store. Two knitting/craft shops (mental note must visit next time I am here). A garden with a miniature train track. What a cool find!
Did they exist all this time? Of course. I just needed to slow down an really pay attention. These items and places are real. Appreciate.
Just because we don’t see things doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Fake or real we all must determine it for ourselves. Oldemarkt is real, the virus that no one sees is real. Media is real. Sometimes what we see or experience can be fake.
I know the wind was real for my ride across the flat Dutch fields!
Vacation travel in these times takes more planning and is more stressful than in the period prior to the COVID era. Our most recent vacation to the small village of Ojen, Spain was planned months ago and travel remained in question until the day we stepped onto our flight.
Most low cost airlines rely on the gloomy winter weather in Northern Europe to shuttle sun seekers to the Spanish coastal regions. This yearly migration of Northern Europeans to the warmer winter weather zones with possible sunny conditions has kept the Hubby employed for 35+ years. We booked a flight on Transavia Airlines to fly into Malaga, Spain in August not knowing if we would ever get off the ground.
I had a difficult trip to the US in September so I was not excited about this trip. Travel inside the EU is easier as we don’t have to pass through customs or passport control, COVID testing prior to flying is not required inside the EU. Travel between countries has gotten tricky with a raging virus and the constantly changing rules, regulations, vaccinations, and additional paperwork and possible testing adding to any lingering travel stress or anxiety. Notice, I didn’t mention excitement? I used to feel excited going on vacation.
We filled in our paperwork for the Spanish authorities online. Which is similar to a health visa. Answered all the questions on our symptoms (lack there of). Received a QR code, printed it off (old school paper copy as we don’t trust a computer to be actually working 24/7/365 as advertised).
Then the announcement of a new variant of COVID had hit our Dutch shores. Was our vacation at risk?
Would we now be required to get a PCR test prior to flying?
What would happen if things changed while we were on vacation and needed to quarantine in place?
Eye roll and a large sigh, please.
We determined that if a PCR test was needed we would cancel our trip. We discussed the plans for getting out of Spain if the countries decided to place restrictions on air travel. I proposed hiking back to The Netherlands, which instantly was countered with “We can take the train or rent a car…” by the Hubby. I had to laugh as I didn’t even consider those options.
Once we got through security, flight into Malaga, a line of COVID paperwork checks, and finally rental car secured, we headed down the coast to Marbella, Spain. We would head a short ways inland to the small village of Ojen where we would meet the manager of the rental house on the edge of town.
The sun was shining on this bright whitewashed village that has been built on and in the hills of this valley outside of Marbella.
It looked warm and inviting.
As the rental house manager wound through the small streets on his moped and I grabbed the “ah crap bar” above my head on my side of the car as we came within inches of parked cars and fronts of buildings. I wondered how anyone could drive or build a village on the side of a mountain.
What were they thinking?
We suddenly took a sharp right turn and went down towards the center of the city then another sharp turn to the left (nearly missing oncoming traffic and several parked cars), then the street keep going down into the valley away from the village.
The moped turned off the street into what looked to be an unmaintained driveway, only big enough for one car and very steep hurdling us towards the valley.
Suddenly we were at a gate and the house was revealed. Stark white against a clear blue sky. Our home away from home for the next two weeks.
Vacation is all about relaxing for us. We spent our days looking out at the wonderful views from the rental house. Walking up the steep road into the village each day to the bakery or grocery. Each time thinking the next trip would be easier for us, each time realizing it wasn’t. Taking joy in how fast the downhill walk to the rental was with our full shopping bags.
We only ate out twice during our vacation. Both times opting for outside seating. Practicing our horrible Spanish mixed with English we managed fine even through our masks.
The sky in the evening would turn beautiful colors and those colors reflected off the Mediterranean in the distance. The hues of reds and oranges reflecting off the whitewash houses was spectacular.
For the first time in a very long time I felt relaxed, not on alert, not in fear of a virus I could not see, but know is everywhere. I felt safe with the sunny sky and vitamin D hitting my skin from our rooftop terrace. Ahhh… vacation.
When I didn’t think our vacation could get any better, it did! I received a text message from my daughter-in-law that my oldest son had made it home to St Louis from his long deployment in the Middle East. Finally, I could really relax knowing he was safe at home with his wife. They could now enjoy this Christmas together.
We returned to The Netherlands just before the total lockdown. Happy that we enjoyed our time in Southern Spain. Now we hopefully have new energy to tackle the coming months.
We wish each of our readers a safe and healthy holiday season. The Netherlands is in total lockdown until 14 January. Only essential shops for groceriesand pharmaciesare open. Travel in the EU has changed since I wrote this blog several days ago, if you are planning travel please check on restrictions prior to traveling and please follow the recommendations suggested for your travel location.