Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Europe 12

Holland and Spain     10-27 May 2012 1.15pm NZ time. First entry 2 hrs after boarding a delayed flight from Christchurch to Singapore.  Back to back: Chc-Sing-Amsterdam-Gouda-Tilburg-Brussels-Biarritz-San Sebastian - Bilbao - Seville - Granada - Malaga - Valencia - Barcelona - Sing - Chc trip.  With my 84 yr old mother in law in tow, we departed Christchurch at 11.45am (55mins overdue).  Joanna took the delay in her stride being the seasoned traveller after sixty years of to-ing and fro-ing between Holland and NZ as a necessary evil for the emigrated.  My husband of 23 years paced the departure lounge panther like, unused to unproductive downtown.  I fought with the snack machine and lost; the second bag of prized Kettles fries.  Singapore airlines is an Asian fantasy.  Perfectly coiffed women and overly groomed men efficiently delivered food and drinks while we grappled with the technologically retarded inflight entertainment system.  Two cabinet savignons later, I was cocooned in an alcohol enduced nirvana viewing Johnny Depp on screen, ensconced in my polar fleece blanket anticipating my Kung -po chicken about to be served.  Nek minut, Changi airport, Singapore.   "Why walk when you can legitimately travel in a wheelchair?" I suggested to Oma. She took up my offer and we pushed her through the many kilometers of two out of the three terminals.  Tour stops included a dip in the outdoor swimming pool, the butterfly garden and a underwhelming Chinese meal at the ridiculously named 'Peach Gardens'. Back on board for the second and final 13 hour  leg to Amsterdam we fought off soporific urges until after the dinner was served, then welcomed sleep aided with chemical assistance.  Thirty physical hours later we were delivered to the open arms of Amsterdam airport.   11-14/5 Family time in Holland was enjoyed by all. From being greeted at the airport by cousins and reunited with our oldest after five months apart, to reunions and catch ups, we swam gaily within the gene pool.  First stop, a trip to beautiful Gouda, hosted by the Ant's first cousin Frank and his wife Sylvia.  A sanctuary 75km from Amsterdam, complete with winding roads, cows, lush farmland and of course, windmills. We were wined, dined, shown the local cheese haven and ensconced in five star residential service, second to none.  Two morning runs with their dog Dot, and a twilight cycle ride around this idyllic area ensured we captured all the serenity we grasp.  Second stop for Ant, Georgia and myself was a train ride into Amsterdam for the day to meet up with our host's daughter Suzanne for a day out. A quick look around her city apartment, reminiscent of Kiwi student accommodation but more erratically constructed, then off in search of hire bikes to explore the city.  Cycling within our five strong (picked up another cousin) peloton through the city streets was an unmissable experience.  Cars, trucks, motorcycles and other cyclists  melded magically through the maze of cobbled streets with only two accidents witnessed along the way.   Flea markets picked over, we stopped at a roadside cafe.  After double locking our hire bikes we joined the urban sprawl dotting the sparse outdoors tables drinking in the spring sunshine,  local wine and beer.  The afternoon spent we returned to the train station, farewelling our wily city slicker and made our way back to Gouda for one more night. Reluctant to leave but excited to continue, we all drove in Franks VW to Tilburg, 115km south to the familial heart of Holland.  More excited greeting ensued with our dear cousin Ans and her husband Leon.   A linguistically confused Oma met up with  us again as she switched unnaturally between Dutch and English amongst the crowd.  After another gourmet spread at Ans we made our way to a Tilburg city cafe and met another 30 family members for the official Cruissen family reunion organized by Ans.   People aesthetically familiar and genetically linked mingled happily for hours in the sun while I frantically tried to record how they were actually linked for posterity (and Harriet) in my travel journal.  Farewells and many triple kisses later we left with Ans and Leon for a quiet mother's day dinner at a tasteful restaurant close by. A night in Oma's brothers apartment in his absence, for Ant and me while Georgia took her last opportunity  to be spoiled by Ans.  Transported  in Audi A5 style the 119km to Brussels was much appreciated.  A lunch in the Grand Place enjoyed with 'Mrs Bucket' and her loyal escort before we tearfully parted company for this visit. 15/5 Charleroi, Brussels sounds prettier than it looks. So does the airport Ibis hotel.  Both are seriously average but a necessary evil for transition from Holland to France on this trip.  Biarritz is our next stop departing happily from this place at 10.40am today. Brussels was a blast. Not a must visit, but if you have to, the highlights are; mussels, beer, waffles, Manneken Pis, The Grand Place and of course chocolate. Mussels were consumed in prime position at the Grand Place, cocooned in the seven hundred years of market history, beneath the magnitude of the town hall, Breadhouse  and other grandiose buildings worthy of their UNESCO world heritage ranking.  Beer was chosen and downed from the over 2000 choices at the Cafe Delirium alongside other young and old revelers.  We were drawn in by the one euro waffle sign and left with a 4.90 euro waffle stacked high with fresh strawberries and dripping in flowing Nutella atop a sugary crunchy sensation worth every euro and potential future artery blockages.   Manneken Pis, like the Mona Lisa was a smaller than expected. So small we passed it once unwittingly before returning to the site. A cast iron version of its four hundred year old self stood on the side of the street surrounded by tourists while the original lay far from the thieves in a nearby museum.  Legend of the little man  peeing (literal translation) varies from his saving certain city destruction by  bombing, with his pee flow on the fuse,  to him taunting marauding invaders by showering them.   Chocoholics beware. You have arrived at your Mecca. Drawn inexplicably into the 'Mary' branded shop of Belgian chocolatiers, I marveled at the range while the haughty purveyor extolled the virtues of their hand made, preservative free, made to order delights. They had us at, "official suppliers to the Belgian royal household". Having farewelled the hospitality and convenience of our Dutch family we were left to navigate ourselves and 60 kgs of luggage to our next stop. Charleroi airport en route to Biarritz, France.  Following our seasoned traveller daughter like puppy dogs we watched her skillfully negotiate temporary storage, train tickets and taxi options.  15/5  Georgia spends her downtown (airports, taxis, trains ) catching up on sleep.  I use it to play on my i-Instruments  and Ant to pace amiably.   Our flight to Biarritz, France included an interlude at Charleroi airport.  Our proximity thanks to the budget Ibis, afforded us  a relaxed transfer.  After dining on expensive brekky foods at the monopolized Paul Cafe, I got a free full body pat down after setting off the security buzzer with my stylish silver cross necklace. 

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