austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

An obsessive fixation for cheap decorations

(By the way, happy birthday, skylerbunny and Marissa Picard!)

Airport luggage carousel: remember them? And the most mysterious thing about them: how the same couple bags can go around and around and around endlessly even as the crowd of passengers dwindles to nothing, and go unclaimed. We spent a lot of time noting one odd-colored shell-type suitcase with the Dutch version of ``East-West-Home's Best'' on it. It got to be a friend among all those other identical-looking bags that weren't ours that all had the identical luggage strap wrapped around. But our own particular bags? Where were they?

They were on the luggage carousel, of course. This pair of PhD's managed to fail to recognize them for multiple complete circuits of the conveyor belt. Possibly we were more tired than we thought. I note my suitcase was face-down, so the side that looks more generic was up top, other than the sticker reading HKIA from the last time it flew through Hong Kong. But we got through Customs by our not having anything to declare and we don't think there was anybody there anyway, but they did stamp our passports with a logo that would turn out to be loaded with meaning, we would learn the next Wednesday.

Now we were off in a rather large combination airport/train station/bus station/probably other stuff where neither of us read or spoke the language. Except that's not so, since, bunny_hugger can read German and even I can make out many of the Anglo-Saxon word roots, and it turns out pretty much everyone in the Netherlands speaks English better than network news anchors over here do. Where we did have trouble was finding an ATM so we coud get some euros. We were getting up to speed on the icons yet, and recognizing bank names.

We were in Amsterdam, and we needed to get to Utrecht, which bunny_hugger's research determined could be done by inter-city rail. We just had to figure out which rail, and where to buy tickets, and what platform they might be leaving from. Here we kind of stared at monitors and asked at information and then somehow managed to buy tickets from an automated machine. I say ``somehow'' because later in the honeymoon we'd try to buy an inter-city rail ticket by vending machine and couldn't make it work. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

(I remember worrying we were going down a closed-off escalator, based on the metal columns outside it, but bunny_hugger believed they were there just to keep people from bringing carts full of luggage onto the inclined-plane moving sidewalk going down, which could produce disasters.)

The train ride was brisk, and quiet, and none too crowded, and it gave us plenty of chance to look at the landscape. It's lushly landscaped, beautiful, at least least beside the train tracks, and I couldn't help admiring the beauty of it all. And we got ever-closer to the Utrecht Central Station, too.

We got a taxi to the hotel, since we figured it'd be way too far to haul our luggage --- very true --- and too complicated to navigate the streets --- more true than you can imagine --- and for a bit I thought even the taxi driver wasn't quite sure where he was going, although since we got there in pretty good time maybe I was just impressing my fear of dramatically non-grid-based cities onto him.

It was a pleasant hotel --- we were in for a string of pleasant hotels, this trip --- in a sternly modernist style, very clean, very orthogonal, with plenty of wood. It was a bit like sleeping in an Ikea display, but lovely for that. They even had something quite like a Murphy bed, although it folded out sideways, along the longest dimension, rather than folding up to trap people in the wall. And we had a patio, as well, looking out on the pond, and ducks, and the large patio where people could take breakfast or dinner. We went to sleep.

bunny_hugger had a professional conference to attend; that's what sent us to Europe for our honeymoon, really. It would start Wednesday, but on Tuesday evening they were having a reception in the University of Utrecht Academic Hall. We wanted to rest for that.

bunny_hugger got directions from the hotel to the hall, and they seemed to be near enough to walk. But they were also fourteen pages long, because the streets in Utrecht are about twenty feet long and turn into between three and seventeen other streets, each with different names, at the ends of those stretches. We were able to follow the trail to the Academy Hall for two intersections before we felt ourselves hopelessly lost --- we were only out of sight of the hotel by the technical point that a highway overpass obstructed it --- and got a taxi.

The Academy Hall is where the Union of Utrecht was signed, in 1579, one of the critical events in the creation of the Netherlands, and really, the modern world. At least it's somewhere in there, according to the people telling us about it. I'm not positive. But I did recognize many of the symbols and the decorations from their later appropriation by Rutgers University (which began, in 1766 and again in 1770, as a seminary for a branch of the Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey), and to be in a gorgeous Renaissance-era academic hall and seeing touches of my alma mater and realizing that I was someplace with specific history was ... well, overwhelming. Plus they had food.

Just snacks, though. After the getting-together and the nibbling and our meeting the first of quite a few people who'd be wowed to hear we were over here on our honeymoon --- and some pictures, including one clearly showing me not very far from a world-famous philosopher, even if we were not in any way interacting --- it was getting surprisingly late considering it was nowhere near sunset and we were a little hungry.

This is when we discovered that Utrecht is wonderful in many ways, but among them is not its abundant restaurants open after 9 pm. Possibly after 6 pm. Maybe after 2 pm. We also had one odd encounter with an ice-cream-and-coffee shop which had no coffee; the cashier told us, as best we could figure, that they wouldn't have coffee for two months. bunny_hugger later reasoned out that they probably had a seasonal menu, switching from ice cream over to coffee when it gets colder.

So we were beaten, ultimately, in getting something particular to eat. However, we tried walking in the general direction of the hotel, to see if we could figure out the path between the Academy Hall (a pretty good approximation of just being downtown) and the hotel, and we found our way back there before we got lost. It wasn't long, and if we'd known the streets well enough we could have walked to the hall in the time we had before the reception's start. Good to know.

The hotel had free-to-guest Internet, with a quite reasonable just-agree-to-the-terms-of-service-once-every-24-hours scheme and so we were able to catch up on all our necessary Internet stuff before going to bed. And we went back to sleep.

Trivia: The United States Treasury provided fifteen thousand tons of silver to make electromagnet windings for the Oak Ridge facility during World War II. (Making them of the normal copper would have used too much of the more needed metal.) Source: How the World Was One: Beyond The Global Village, Arthur C Clarke.

Currently Reading: Flat Earth: The History Of An Infamous Idea, Christine Garwood. It's much more about zetetic astronomy than anything else I had expected, and I had no idea Alfred Wallace had, sadly, set foot in the crazy. (I do appreciate the egression-style starts, though, where it's not clear how much of this is hoax or gimmick.)

Tags: honeymoon
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