October 5, 1993
Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
We've been here a little over a month and I'm finally getting around to writing the newsletter I promised ya'll back in Canada and other faraway places. I hope this will be the first in a series, subsequent copies of which will be delivered to those who reply in some way to this inaugural issue.
Before I tell you about Abu Dhabi, let me take a step back and fill you in on our week in the Netherlands at the end of August...
The flight was delayed out of Mirabel (Montreal's embarrassment of an international airport: ugly, inefficient, crowded, poorly designed, dirty, smelly, and hours away from civilization), so we arrived in Amsterdam about an hour behind schedule.
We picked up the luggage (seven bags worth, each one stuffed to the max 30 kilos), secured a the rent-a-car, wove our way carefully through hundreds of city cyclists, found our little hotel (about 20 minutes outside the city), and crashed for the next six hours. Zzzzzzzzzzz.
The Ipenhove hotel is located in a wealthy village-like area called Bloemendaal, reminiscent of well-to do suburbs such as Mount Royal and Elbow Park (in Calgary) and lower Westmount (in Montreal). Beautiful homes on quaint and quiet little streets all cobbled and flanked by bicycle paths in the Dutch tradition. The hotel itself was nice enough on the outside, but nothing special within.
Bobby chose it based on a guidebook picture, which showed a rambling old hotel fronted by a small lake with willow trees at its banks and ducks paddling prettily in its waters.
As it turned out, the photograph was taken from afar (damn those advertising agencies!), and there was a major thoroughfare running between the lake and the hotel. They must have air-brushed out the traffic. The windows of our room faced the street so we awakened to the grinding gears of large trucks and buses instead of the sweet sounds of songbirds.
Why oh why do we allow guidebooks to ruthlessly build our hopes and expectations to such heights when we know they will surely be dashed upon our arrival at the...dum, da, dum, dum...tourist hotel? Anyhow, we spent a couple of days there doing some sightseeing, and hey, it was O.K.
From our base in Bloemendaal we made a couple of day trips: one to the seaside at Zandvoort which is a popular tourist town complete with a lonnnnggg beach, casinos, large hotels, quaint shops etc.; another to the bulb growing area although there were no bulbs to see at the time.
The roads around Bloemendaal wind through some beautiful old-growth forests and are quite picturesque. We also visited Kinderdijk, about a three-hour drive south, to see Holland's largest collection of working windmills. We toured one of the 18 and were fascinated with the innards of the shingled structure.
The windmills have three or four floors with room enough for a small family to live in very close quarters. In fact, families who work in the nearby town currently occupy the other 17 windmills we didn’t visit. We also walked along the canal and spotted some fishermen - they have special little platforms amidst the marshy grasses, which line the banks - as well as some herons and other interesting birds.
After Bloemendaal we traveled a bit further north to a little place called Wik an Zee located at the southern tip of a small national park in "the dunes." We stayed at a great family-run inn on the edge of the village and about a half a kilometer from an incredible North Sea beach that stretched for miles. Our second-floor room had a huge balcony, which we could have used for tanning during our two-day stay if only the temperature had risen above 12 C and the wind and the rain had held off...
Cool Weather & Canals
Actually, the weather was poor throughout our stay in Holland - I wore my sweats the whole time despite having a carry-on bag filled with shorts and bathing suits in anticipation of warmer climes. I think it was sunny one day. Abu Dhabi has more then made up for it though: today marks our 36th consecutive day of bright, cloudless skies and hot temperatures, but more about that later...
We were able to walk along the beach at Wik an Zee despite the cool air. On the second day we rented a bicycle built for two from John the innkeeper and pedaled 20 km up the coast and back. Lotsa' fun but tough on the tush!
Our dune days were followed by four nights in Amsterdam, home of the infamous red light district, a plethora of museums and art galleries, and of course the canals. We took a bit of a roundabout way there in order to see more of the countryside. Our path took us north along the coast through some lovely farmland: lots of green grass, cows and cute farmhouses.
There are canals everywhere and it's quiet normal to see a heavy barge or sizeable sailboat making its way through what appears at a distance to be an ordinary field. The illusion is enhanced by the prairie-like flatness of the land and we caught ourselves doing double takes on more than one occasion. We drove within a few kilometers of a large lake where hundreds of sailboats bobbed across the horizon, but so help me, it looked like they were sailing in a field of wheat.
Along the way we drove across an incredibly long dike, which created a huge freshwater lake from what was once a bay of the North Sea. In addition to the amazing engineering feat of the dyke, which took five years to build, the Dutch have managed to reclaim hundreds of hectares from under the waters of the lake to create new farmland. Amazing.
Sights, Shops and... S*x?
Of course we didn't confine ourselves to sightseeing. We did the shopping thing too and purchased some antique tiles at Makkum, a small Friesland village known for its beautiful hand-painted ceramic dishes and tiles.
The scenic route took us the better part of a day but it was well worth it. We arrived in Amsterdam in the late afternoon and were able to locate our hotel in the heart of the city without too much difficulty, as Bobby had been there before on his way back to Canada in July. I'm not much of a big city person and I found this one particularly dirty, noisy, and expensive. We did some shopping, gallery hopping and, of course, strolled the best-known "stroll" in the world.
The visit to the red light district felt, at least to me, like an evening at some kind of bizarre zoo that had been dreamt up for a science fiction movie - kinda' like the bar scenes in Star Wars. Thousands and thousands of people walk by double-door-sized plate glass windows, above which red neon lights shine, and behind which black-lit women in various stages of undress undulate suggestively at the passers-by.
I wondered, as I do when I visit the zoo, what the inmates must think of the strangers who stare unabashedly as they pass by. When a potential client stops and shows interest, the prostitute opens the door to her bedroom and adds verbal persuasion to the public seduction.
If and when a deal is struck, the man slips into the room, a curtain is pulled down over the plate glass, and the real business begins, unseen by the walking throngs just a few feet away. Aside from the window women, there are live sex shows and shops selling the most astonishing array of pornographic videos and sexual paraphernalia. Everything is very explicit. Despite having worked in a sex shop in my youth, even I was amazed!
I don't know that we'd visit the Netherlands again, but I'm glad we made the stop this time around. Although we enjoyed the scenery, we were certainly disappointed by the quality of the food, no matter the reputation of the restaurant or the price range. We had consistently poor meals - some for under $10 a person and others for over $100 a person. It made us both long for France where we dined like royalty throughout our three week stay two years ago...
Our KLM flight was delayed again on our way out of Amsterdam. The Schipol airport is large, modern, clean, and efficient by the way, even as they near completion of a major renovation that will almost double the airport's size with the addition of a whole new wing. I don't remember now why we were delayed, but at least we suffered the hour-long wait on the tarmac in comfort as we had been upgraded to business class.
More about our arrival in Abu Dhabi the next time…
Love & hugs,