Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day Three: On the Road to Belgium


  1. Pack for entire trip
  2. Hop on The Tour Bus (our trusty(?) Ford 8-seater van) for a road trip to Brugge, Belgium
  3. Stop by Madurodam on the way
  4. Take an initial tour of Brugge upon arrival

Today was a lovely day and could have been that much more lovely if we could have just gotten packed and out of the house! It is normally my mother-in-law and her multiple bags of cosmetics, hair styling equipment, and drugs,vitamins, or first aid for any calamity which we may meet that keep us waiting in the idling van, but today it was the unprepared family who needed to sort through the freshly laundered piles of cloths and cloths which Grammy had brought over for everybody and get them either on the kids or in the suitcases. I ran from room to room grabbing things out of the hospital bag, from this drawer, from under the couch, from out of the toy box and shoving them into one suitcase or another. In all the confusion I found my passport, which I had fortunately remembered was in the pocket of my jacket, and ran it upstairs where I specifically remembered setting down next to my husband who was printing out all the trips maps and details for me and told him to put it with everybody else's passports because he had the special wallet we kept them in hidden somewhere in one of his many bags. Confused yet? I must have been because we were packed and loaded when we realized my passport was MIA. I again ran from room to room of the house searching, even went to far as to search the refrigerator and freezer. I felt so bad not knowing where I could have laid such an important document, but in the process I found even more important items we were forgetting: the baby crib, hats, swimsuits, sunscreen. I tell you, I've never been so unorganized for a trip in my life and here this was to be the trip of my lifetime. I had so drastically failed my own standards of order and timeliness that I began to wonder of the success of the entire trip. After someone found my passport packed in one of the bags I had packed (who knows which one because I packed them all) I leaped into the van and secretly wished for an Enterprise transporter room; I knew we probably could have already been to Madurodam by that time. It is of no coincidence that we named our captain Fearless Leader (aka Pa) as he always waited with the utmost patience next to our craft as each straggler came and went again with each days scramble to embark. He would calmly grab packed bags and load them into the back of the van as they arrived, his having been the first packed, and would give those who were lagging behind the nudge they needed to move a little faster to keep us on schedule, but never with the air of one who could wait no longer and threaten to leave them behind. I wish I had those qualities. Next to him sat Mr. Navigator who felt his occupation was predestined due to his ability to navigate our previous Tour Bus in and out of Germany within the proper days (give or take a few hours here or there) without the aid of a proper map. I was the only passenger to let known my fears of his qualifications, as I was the only adult present who had experienced that journey. I will leave the rest unsaid.

Fearless Leader and Mr. Navigator pulled the Tour Bus into the parking ramp of Madurodam with daylight to spare. The kids were not yet willing to leave The Bus without bribes as they were still enjoying their backpacks full of toys too much, so we convinced them they'd be able to play giants in this tiny world.

I was not exactly sure what to expect. I had only seen a few pictures of Madurodam; the one which stood out the most in my memory was that of a politician standing in a suit with one big leg standing in the middle of a miniature Dutch town. I doubted they would let us walk the streets of these miniature cities, but I figured I'd best set my mothering sensors at critical. I needed not have worried too much. There were displays the girls could reach out and touch easily but the world was so full of displays I doubt their minds had much curiosity left over for touching and feeling. Instead of wandering tiny streets lined with buildings we walked along guided sidewalks from one numbered building or village to the next. Each was so rich in detail I could have stood for hours to admire, just as I might had I been standing in front of the real thing. There were railways and highways with cars, trucks, and trains which ran the route of the entire miniature world. I've always had a thing for miniature trains or, actually, just their tracks and the worlds which you can set them up to travel through, so I was very jealous of the person who got to set up several train tracks to run through this huge world of bits and pieces of the Netherlands. What a treat it must have been.

There were modern buildings and ancient buildings, people and vehicles, and my favorite of all were the trees. The trees were perfectly sculpted bonsai's to look just like the real things in miniature. You did not just look at a replica of a building, but of the building in the midst of its landscape complete with detailed flowerpots in the courtyard to the meandering stream. At each display things were in motion as you might find them in real life. Boats navigated the rivers and canals, bridges raised for them, cars traveled parking lots, semi-trucks docked and undocked with loads for various businesses (those of which we figure probably paid a large sum to get their name or building into the city of Madurodam), and you could even drop a coin into some displays to witness the more spectacular events. For example, a wedding promenade, the band playing in town square, the rides move in an amusement park, or a car go through the car wash. Supposedly you could stay until dark to view the entire place lit up with tiny little street lamps and lights from the windows of the houses and buildings. It would have been beautiful I am sure, but we were on a tight schedule. There was still hope that we may get to Brugge in time for the evening glow of a real live village, but first we needed dinner.

None of us having seen any possible dinner on the road through Den Haag we stopped at a map just outside the entrance of Madurodam. It listed every McDonalds you could find within a 50-mile radius! None of us having set out on this adventure to try McDonald's we tried to spot the most likely cluster which would bring us into an area of eats and treats. I suggested the beach. There was a cluster of streets next to the beach just a few kilometers away and was bound to have a café or two overlooking the ocean waters. Why waste our opportunity of a beach walk when we were so close?

We stopped in the part of town which looked the most active and made our way towards the smell of sea breeze and dinner and found ourselves plopping down at a Surinamese restaurant. I cannot say the service was great, kind of a laid back Jamaican kind of atmosphere, but the food was out of this world! We couldn't stop eating, even after our tummies were full and the sea breeze was tickling our fantasies. I'd observed a steady flow of foot traffic making its way through a hole in the wall towards what must be the beach and Mr. Navigator had come back with reports of wonderful smells and an ocean view after parking the van up the same direction with Fearless Leader, so off we all went.

As we came into view of the beach I knew in an instant I had certainly led us in the right direction. Before my eyes was the view I had only witnessed in travel books and my Dutch textbook: Scheveningen Beach. It was hard to mistake the notable esplanade and long double-decker covered pier. The first time I heard of this beach was in my Dutch Language class last year in Minnesota. My instructor told us that during WWII the Dutch used the name Scheveningen to find out German spies as only the Dutch could pronounce the "Sch" with the proper spitting, hacking, and scratching sound. He he he, I'm just poking a little fun at the Dutch language there, but my instructor did use this as a proper example of how difficult it is to properly pronounce some of the more complicated Dutch sounds. Though today the beach is better known for it's soft sand and long stretch of beach.

We did not get to spend as much time on the beach as I would have liked and I made my husband vow to bring us back there again some day. Even the sands of Barcelona could not compare; though I cannot say the same for the water. We all waded in the water and the girls got downright drenched. I would have likely swam also if it didn't mean I had to be stripped down upon arrival at the van, held up by my arms naked in the cool breeze, shaken, and rubbed down with a beach towel to rid me of the last grains of sand in front a long line of traffic waiting for the vans parking space. After that the girls were tossed into the van, dressed in their PJ's, and buckled while the van sped away towards it's next destination.

Traveling from one country to the next in Europe does go by quickly, but it seems the mathematics to figure out kilometers per hour differ from that of miles per hour. Our estimated 1 1/2 hour trip was really a 2 1/2 hour trip and we pulled in after the kids had all drifted off to sleep. We had called ahead to let the hotel know we were coming in late (something we've learned you should never forget) so we had gotten the security code and the keys were waiting in an envelope in the foyer. Our bedroom was a beautiful room with a sofa bed for the girls and a corner just big enough to put the fold-up crib into which took up the entire front of the second floor of the building. Did I mention it was beautiful? Our parents got the "two-person room" which was up another two flights of stairs to the fourth floor, or should I say the attic garret room? My husband saw it first with Pa and when he came back down while was tucking the girls in bed; he sounded a little concerned. His mother had just gone upstairs to their room and he was a bit afraid I'd made a mistake while I was reserving the rooms. I told him it was impossible to tell what we'd get; they just listed off the different sized rooms by how many people were to sleep in each and stated I trusted they would be nice as the hotel had gotten really good reviews. He said, "It's really cute, but I wonder if they'll think it's a bit too small?" Naturally I had to run up and inspect since it was I who had booked it. Upon entering I found his mother charmed by it's uniqueness and it's beautiful view, so I was requested to run back down and grab my camera for pictures. So, there we were taking time-lapse photos of the view and trying to find the best angle on the room to get as much of it in one shot as possible while the guys were packing the huge suitcases up those 5 flights of stairs. Note that these were not just any stairs either. These were stairs which had been around since the mansion was built in the early 20th century so they were a little narrow, leaning a tad, with a few wobbly rails here and there, and no light. By the end the men were carrying flashlights in their teeth to light their way, so I can't say whether or not the men liked the place, but us women loved it.

W.C. Report:

As I stated in the last chronicle, I wasn't so sure the quantity of available toilets would meet Grammy's demands, yet I was unprepared for the drastic measures which would be taken to accommodate those needs. After our leisurely wade along the Scheveningen Beach we had packed into the van assumedly prepared for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Brugge. Fearless Leader and Mr. Navigator had just figured out how to navigate the one-ways streets to get us out of the town square and headed towards the right interstate when Grammy spotted a Burger King. One might think of Burger King as a source of fast food, but Grammy obviously relates it to "Available WC". We had been stopped in the left-hand turn lane for the last two light changes and the call of the available toilet was just too much for Grammy to ignore. Just as the light changed again and we were ready to roll out of town she leaped from her seat, slid the van door open, and ran across the other two lanes of traffic calling behind her "I just have to go use the Burger King restroom! Come back around for me!" While the rest of us where in shock that Grammy jumped ship, her son was on his feet and running after her calling back, "I've got a cell phone! Call me so you can find her!" Being Mr. Navigator, he knew we were in the worst spot in the road to try and reroute, but reroute we did while the girls anxiously peered out the van windows in hopes of spotting the lost passengers. Find them we did and after they reboarded her son had to reprimand her not to jump ship again, especially without her cash as he had to bail her out at the cue. He found her crossing her legs and begging at the entrance to the WC with a stern faced cleaning lady refusing to let her in without paying the dues. And since this occasion we begged Fearless Leader never to bring the Tour Bus to a halt in front of a Burger King again.

Tragedy Report:

None today!

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