We did get up a little earlier on Wednesday (the 11th), not early enough for the hotel breakfast --- or to use the laundromat almost across the street to do laundry, which we could have used --- but early enough that we did get to a sports bar (based on the TVs) for some pancakes (based on the menu) which were roughly the size of manhole covers (based on only slight exaggeration) and thickness of a sheet of paper (only slight understatement) and delicious (more understatement). And we set out to take care of a few things.
While wandering around the night before we'd run across a store called The Otherist, with a full stock of curios, based on what we could see through the closed and locked door. We tried to remember just where it was, and better, we were able to find our way back. The store is ... stuffed full of curios: skulls and preserved insects and a globe of the Moon showing the results of the first couple Lunik probes but nothing since then; portrait plates of cat-headed men in Victorian evening dress and bird-headed women in Regency costume; teaspoons with bird-foot handles; anonymous skeleton keys and empty glass jugs with obsolete names of chemicals; drawers full of glass eyes and metal sculptures of jungle men; all the stuff you need to set up a slightly mad furry steampunk tinkerer's study. It was even arranged in that overflowing-study style, in a cramped split-level store with a tiny open-air patio frozen like amber between building walls out back. We knew just who of our friends by all rights ought to live there. We also thought about how this is the sort of shop you're supposed to buy some exotic mystical trinket from and then find three days later that it's vanished and the vacant storefront's been gathering dust for years. We picked up a postcard, as I recall --- mundane, I suppose, but safe enough --- and just wondered that there should be a shop like this.
Less exotic would be the supermarket. We were to get on a ship and ferry off to England later in the day, and knew that shipboard prices started at obscene and got worse, so we wanted to load up on snacks and soda (particularly soda). I'd spotted what sounded like a supermarket in our wanderings, and what I thought was correct, in this case. Although we were looking for simple and portable stuff we did wander around and consider questions like, why does every other country have a greater variety of interesting potato chip flavors than the United States has? We got a pack of wafer sandwiches, the kind always made with vanilla around here, but with a cheese filling, which would turn out to be so good we could probably be satisfied eating nothing but them for a couple of years. We also got a pack of adorably tiny cans of Coke Zero which threatened to be some kind of cornucopia-ish magic plastic bag of caffeine: we were getting little cans of soda from it for the next seven days and for a while it didn't seem we were exhausting it.
Since we had time before the bus ride to our ferry, we sat at a coffee shop, looking over the courtyards with various performers (musicians, magicians, people dressed as Darth Vader, Neptune, a Roman Centurion, someone else just standing there dressed as the Grim Reaper and posing for photographs with tourists --- it's hard to escape the impression this part of Amsterdam is the theme park version of itself, really), and in trot a polar bear. Well, someone in a (quad) polar bear fursuit, wearing a banner protesting Shell. I don't know what Shell is up to particularly, although I have my suspicions, and also a photograph of an adorable little girl cautiously setting her hand on the bear.
To get the bus to the ferry, we had to find the stop outside the Victoria Hotel. Finding the hotel was ... a bit of a mess, though I did vaguely remember seeing it and we even found it in a reasonable time. What we didn't find was the bus, although bunny_hugger saw it in motion, just in time for it to vanish when our attention was distracted. We waited a while and then went inside to ask; they said the bus would get there before 4 pm. Sure enough, it did come, and it didn't even charge us for the ride to the seaport even though we'd expected it to.
At the seaport we got our passports stamped for exit from the Netherlands --- with a square and arrow pointing out of it, and the outline of a steamship on it, meaning that the entering-the-Netherlands passport stamp we'd gotten, with an arrow pointing into the square and an outline of an airplane was more meaningful than we imagined. (And far more meaningful than the British, Singaporean, or Indonesian passport stamps.)
I had never been on a boat for any extended time before --- just long enough to ferry from one shore to another, really --- and this would be an overnight cruise, taking us to the north of England, where bunny_hugger could ask around to see if anyone knew Trevor Horn when he was growing up. (I kid.) (A little.) (See the report regarding Sunday, to come.) bunny_hugger knew she was susceptible to seasickness; I had no reason to think I was --- I've only been motion sick a handful of times --- but didn't know I wasn't either. My parents have talked up how great cruises are as a vacation thing, and I was willing to consider it, but wanted to have some idea how shipboard life treats me before committing to a major excursion. Overnight, I imagined, I could put up with even if it did disagree with me.
Well, at least for the sort of travel this was, with reasonably calm seas and the sort of boat big enough to ferry people between Newcastle and Amsterdam, we're good. I suppose this proves the idea that we could take cruises, if we're looking for vacations in which we sleep in incredibly tiny rooms. That's fine with us in principle, since we treat hotel rooms as a place to sleep and check e-mail anyway, and the bunks were large enough to sleep and we could go a night without checking e-mail (although this would be three nights without it, a slightly irritating case, due to the Amsterdam hotel's issues.)
The ship's system made announcements in English, Dutch, and German. As the ferry ran between Newcastle and Amsterdam the first two languages made sense; but German? Well, it's a German-owned company, even if it doesn't seem to have direct service from those ports to any German ones. We did trace out the graph of its services, though; there's ferries all the way into St Petersburg, if I remember rightly.
Wikipedia offers the assertion that German speakers find Dutch inherently funny, as a language, due to it having so many words that sound like a little kiddie speaking German. This was largely lost on us, since we don't speak Dutch and while bunny_hugger understands German tolerably all I can make of it is words with obvious relatives in English. But one of the announcements gave us that moment of, oh, yeah, this would be why Dutch sounds funny: the announcer explained how they had available at the bar alcohol, soft drinks, and snacks; and then it went through the Dutch version, where the same patch came out ``drunk, fizzdrunk, en snacks''. With ``snacks'' pronounced ``shnaks''. We giggled. We'd giggle about this for days. (The German version had nothing so silly as ``fizzdrunk'', and was a lot shorter than the English or Dutch counterparts.)
The announcer --- by the way, they played ``Anchors Away'' and some other songs as the boat started, and we wondered what song they'd play to wake us in the morning --- told us of the movie selections (we had thought Top Cat: The Movie, which by the way exists, would be the first feature, but it turned out we read the flyer wrong and that was the first movie on the way out; on our voyage back, I forget what was first but Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows and The Iron Lady were second and third) and that there was a talk about the ocean life that we might see if we were lucky. So we explored the ship enough to find the wildlife center, with a talk that was --- I thought --- surprisingly under-attended. I counted a total of 19, I think, who came for any part of it. On the other hand, it was in the middle of the most normal dinner hour. And we later estimated the number of people on board to probably be around two hundred people with a capacity somewhere around six hundred (apparently the ferry mainly serves weekend day trips, to our bafflement), so considering, that's not a bad turnout after all.
We couldn't get to Sherlock Holmes since our dinner reservation, at the buffet, cut into its opening times. The buffet was really good, though, and quite kindly labelled everything, including with tags to make clear what was vegetarian and what wasn't. That was one of the things we didn't expect but were happy about in Europe: it's incredibly easy to eat very well vegetarian there. I mean, yes, you can find a vegetarian option even in Burger King these days, but, they get multiple options. I am trying to eat more vegetarian meals, and this sort of spread makes it not just really easy but really attractive. (That said there were squares of some odd-looking meat pate which looked like the infamous Mary Worth salmon squares which were not vegetarian.) Also they had a cheese buffet, hidden at the far end, so that after you spent all that time picking out all these wonderful things to eat --- oh, my, you need another tray full of cheeses to eat.
We spent time on the observation deck, both before supper and after. We didn't see any evidence of porpoises or dolphins or whales or anything around the ship, but maybe we just weren't observant enough about this sort of thing. It was also staggering how late the sun stayed up, even after all the time I thought we got used to the sun not setting until 4 am the next day in Utrecht. bunny_hugger and I aren't people used to thinking of getting to bed around sunset, or while still in the twilight glow, at least not when we aren't sick or don't have an airplane to catch at 3 am.
But the ship was to arrive at Newcastle at 9 am, and we had to get to sleep in time to get up and shower and change and all that; it'd be challenging enough considering the wake-up call was to be at 8:30 (when would we find time? --- and if you're sharp you maybe already spotted how we could). So we got to our modest beds when it wasn't really dark out, and also missed the third movie of the night.
Trivia: Spain's athletes won 22 medals (13 gold, 7 silver, 2 bronze) in the 1992 Barcelona Games. In Spain's entire history of Olympic participation prior to 1992 it had won a total of 26 medals, four of them gold. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.
Currently Reading: Continuum 4, Editor Roger Elwood.