Due to my commitment to the writing, producing, directing and starring in “Deep Brain Stimulation: The Sequel”, I thought you might like to read my Dad’s experience of our recent adventure to Europe. And who doesn’t like looking at pictures from someone else’s vacation?! Enjoy!
Perhaps the entry to Heaven looks like this…inky blackness with indistinct, black-gray shapes below a thin, brilliantly golden band stretching endlessly in a horizontal line. That is one of the random thoughts flowing through dad’s sleepless brain during the eight-hour flight from Minneapolis to London, England. The sunrise was spectacular; however sleep was really needed as daughter Allison and dad flew through the night arriving just after noon, local time.
Two years ago, dad’s goal was to have his daughter experience the wonder of discovery: new cultures, new foods, new ideas expressed in different languages. Being retired made the financing daunting, but an angel appeared to help with the balance on the trip accounts. And so they were ready for the discomfort of the flights across the United States and then the Atlantic Ocean. Daughter Allison’s health status was worrisome because of the Parkinson’s medications and her deep brain stimulator electronics. And so, the two of them planned to go early and allow some jet-lag recovery time before the formal tour began. With no tour director to meet them, a cabby charged 61 pounds to transport the pair to the Millennium Hotel in Chelsea. As they were to find out, everything they wanted to do was on the other side of London from where they happened to be.
It was a bit of a thrill to see the first red, double-decker bus and the first red, phone booth surrounded with little windows. Sunday, September 21st, was going to be a big day around the World, as concerned citizens gathered to send the message to leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York that we demand them to act to slow climate change. Allison and dad drew up their protest signs and figured out how to get on “The Tube” subway and most importantly, when to get off! They were two of 40,000 that showed up for the Peoples Climate March in London and 400,000 in New York. A hugely successful showing. Afterward, we boarded a ship, bobbing on the Thames River for a spot of lunch. After retracing their steps to the hotel there was time for a leisurely stroll through the Brompton Cemetery, where a fox appeared in the gathering dusk to pick up a few scraps left by a picnicker.
The Tube was waiting the next morning to rumble over to South Kensington station so dad could be wowed by the architecture and scale of the Natural History and Science Museums. The daughter smiled indulgently. After making an appearance for the official welcoming tour dinner, Allison and dad excused themselves to cross the city again, this time by cab. The destination was a neighborhood pub to meet local PD support group members, Tim, Victor and Iain. Great guys, but Thai food in an English pub?
And so, the formal bus tour begins. We have “little dangly bits” (receiver and earphones) to hear remarkable history and jocularity from Joel, our local color, tour guide. His grasp of history was remarkable and he taught us to speak proper English. The giant coach (bus) somehow was able to squeeze down the narrow streets to Buckingham Palace and the plaza where the Royals present themselves to the fascinated crowds. As a bonus some of the Queen’s Messengers clacked by in horse-drawn carriages. Deeper into the business section of London we illegally parked the coach to walk into a large plaza with sweeping views of the very new and very old buildings like the Tower Bridge and the infamous Tower of London (sorry Anne Boleyn.) Along our walk we saw blackened church walls, bell tower and empty, arched, windows staring out like the dark eye sockets of a skull. Remainders and reminders of the Blitzkrieg bombing of WW II. Nearly two months of nonstop bombing of civilians and cities must have been a nightmare to endure. Around the corner was the Postman’s Park with the tile monuments to ordinary people who performed acts of heroism. Back on the bus to see one of the very few buildings not burnt down during the bombing- St. Paul’s Cathedral. Two dozen volunteers lived there to put out fires while the city burned. Seeing the great dome each morning was a great inspiration to survivors. The tourists only had time to poke heads in the door.
One of the optional tours was a visit to one of the Queen’s residences- Windsor Castle. As the castle came into view, the stony walls looked majestic atop the sweeping hill. The outer walled area is very large and the castle interior is resplendent with an eye to impress visiting heads of state. Our tour guide challenged us to find a small display and Allison was able to spot it- the rifle ball that killed Naval hero, Lord Nelson. All the weapons, artworks and gold were impressive; however, dad kept finding his attention taken by the landscaping of waterfalls, ponds, rocky outcrops and flowers. Our guides urged us to be sure and enter St. George’s Chapel and when we pulled open the door the giant sound of an orchestra swept around them and a soprano singing in German filled the space wonderfully. We were treated to a practice session of the best kind. After stomping on Henry VIII’s gravestone on the floor, they left the chapel to join the be-deviling of the stoic Queen’s Guard who wear the tall, bear skin hats. Dad bought a couple of sweaters from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill store. Returning to the hotel they had a yen for fish and chips and were pointed across the street to Butcher’s Hook, which was wonderful and had smoking Wi-Fi for Allison to connect to her Facebook page.
The free day in London was put aside for a lunch meeting at U. K. Parkinson’s Foundation. After departing The Tube they decided to enjoy touring the neighborhood (i.e. got lost) before meeting up with manager Luis. Allison and dad met some of the 400 employees and he was very proud of her as she captivated attention in each department visited. Some were familiar with the “Perky Parkie” from her blog page on the Internet. Dad snapped some pictures and then the two of them headed for the Andrew and Victoria Museum to view various period furnishings, clothing and articles of beautiful craftsmanship. As the saying goes, ‘It’s good to be the King’. They returned to Butcher’s Hook pub again, but the mood was decidedly animated because of a football match across the street. The fans get very noisy about their teams. Dad didn’t sleep well and it was an early start the following morning.
The 200 mph Eurostar train lived up to the hype. Since they were leaving the U.K., entering France and losing another hour, it was required they arrive early to clear customs. After the time lag at the train terminal nothing else was slow about the trip to Paris. It was as if the train car was floating on air and then they were under the English Channel. Popping out the other side the only feeling of speed was passing a train going in the opposite direction. In just seconds the long trains passed with a whoosh. The group transferred to a bus for a tour en route to Oceania Porte de Versailles. The hotel room was not what the daughter and father had hoped for: twins beds pushed together next to a bath with clear glass walls and doors. Was this the honeymooners suite? A 40 Euro per day upgrade got them into a two-room suite, but dad ended up on “the rack,” a lumpy, pop-out couch. Maybe they should have drawn straws.
Friday, the bus arrived with the spunky tour guide, Isabelle. She pointed out pockmarked buildings from bullets fired in the battles the Resistance fighters had with German soldiers. They cruised into Paris stopping at Napoleon’s Tomb, the Eiffel Tower, ending at the Arc de Triomphe. Dad remembered vintage newsreels of the German soldiers and Adolph Hitler marching through the memorial arch and was eager to see it up close. It was a very powerful place. The Metro subway zoomed the two tourists over to Notre Dame Cathedral, an ancient site for churches clear back to Celtic times. A huge, mounted statue of Charlemagne or King Charles I stand near the entrance. Allison and dad quietly entered the darkened interior of the working worship center. Soaring columns with stained glass windows framed several smaller chapels around the perimeter. This was not a gold and jewel covered cathedral for the rich; however, it was still awe-inspiring. Our tourists also tried to see the Prison museum, closed for modifications. And so, back on The Metro for supper at Le Versailles Restaurant where we pointed on the menu for the dishes we wanted.
Forty-four years ago when dad was a student, he was fortunate to travel to Paris for college credit. Somehow the day students were to visit the Louvre Museum it was closed. Since that unhappy accident, dad has been eager to return when the museum was open. Now it is a huge facility with underground bus parking and big groups crowding through the facility. The crowds and malfunctioning audio tour equipment took a lot of the magic out of the museum. Perhaps there should be a limit placed on the number of people in the museum? Everything shouldn’t be about money. The pressure was relieved by a stroll through Tuileries Gardens, the modern version of the palace gardens. Along the way Ally and dad broke off to visit the Orangerie Art Museum, full of impressionist paintings including Monet’s, Water Lilies. This is a special place to visit. The tourists marched back underground to catch The Metro back toward Notre Dame for a classic Parisian, sidewalk lunch and people watching. We put another notch on Allison’s frozen yogurt spoon by finding Chacun Ses Gouts in a narrow, picturesque, side street.
All board the high speed Thalys Train to Amsterdam. The trip would be about 3 ½ hours with brief stops in Antwerp and Brussels. Upon arrival the tourists “schlep” their bags through the bustling station and of course a half dozen women must stop us all to use the bathroom, even though they just left a train with bathrooms. Just one of the joys traveling with groups. Finally the coach is located, double-parked between an expressway and a busy bike and motorcycle road. Very dangerous place to load bags. Be-Be the local guide immediately launched into a city tour, shoe-horning the giant coach into the narrow streets. Twice the tourists were let out to trail the guide through Benjijnhof a retreat for single women started by Catholic nuns and the Floating Flower Market where they saw the largest flower bulbs ever. Sunday (and a sunny day) brought out the locals and the bike paths as well as the canals, were extremely busy. At last Allison and dad were dropped at Hotel Movenpick located right on Het Ij bay with a continuous procession of sea-craft for entertainment. There is also accommodation for docking two enormous cruise ships at a time.
Monday’s buffet breakfast was stupendous and the group mounted up to head into the beautiful, green countryside. The destination would be the former fishing village of Volenham. The trail leads up a dike to reveal the misty, Markmeer lake. Recreational boats sail from the harbor now, but the old fisherman homes and buildings house fishermen that catch tourists nowadays. Dad spotted a photography studio that provides period clothing for an old-timey portrait. Allison became a Dutch girl from the 1800’s and dad became a prosperous famer, complete with wooden shoes. Somehow the portrait is hilarious and sweet at the same time since our Pflueger ancestors came from Hannover, a day’s drive to the east and likely dressed in a very similar style. Ally was a good sport about it. Around the lake the bus stopped at the Henri Willig Cheese Farm, where the group did a cheese tasting and dad bought cow, goat and sheep cheeses to bring home. If the Willigs had a vineyard, the bus may never have left! But they had a date with windmills, and so, on the bus went, stopping at Zaanse Schans, which is a working community that still uses windmill power and also has a wooden clog factory. This is dad’s kind of place and very enjoyable.
In the evening Ally and dad were excited to have a dinner cruise around the canals. The food turned out to not be good (should have guessed with an open bar) and there were some very noisy folks in the group. If the boat had been opened to the air it would have been much pleasanter… darn. During the following day the two tourists tried out the biking scene into town, but the fast pace, mixed in with motorcycles and cars made it pretty dangerous going. Occasionally, they would come upon a quiet ride along a canal which would be bliss. On our free day Allison and dad took a cab to queue up for the Anne Frank House Museum. It was a powerful experience and spoiler alert… she died in a concentration camp two months before Liberation.
During the time on the tour, Ally recorded they had been walking 5 to 6 miles per day and so they took off for their next objective, The Van Gogh Museum. It proved to be a challenge; however, locals would see us staring a map and graciously stop to direct us onward. It was well worth the effort, as the museum and paintings were extremely interesting and the museum did limit the number of tourists. His works were arranged chronologically and it was intriguing to see the progression in his painting style over time and as he met other artists. Amazingly, Van Gogh considered himself a failure.
After all the planning, finances, arrangements and anticipation… the trip was over. The group gathered for the farewell supper and ate the last fabulous breakfast before heading for the Schiphol Airport. Unfortunately the transport was not in the new Tesla Taxis. Twenty-four hours of travel faced daughter and dad. Just the leg from Amsterdam to Atlanta was 10 hours. Allison and dad enjoyed iconic sights, met wonderful people, examined finely made and fantastic historical items that belonged to nobles and artisans. They hopefully had a positive impact on both the climate rally and U. K. Parkinson’s. But best of all Allison and dad enjoyed sharing the wonderful experience.