Note:

This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I thought I'd comment on the things I loved most about my vacation...and the things I didn't like...

The Good:
Food – all meals were amazing; some more memorable than others. My first meal in Amsterdam was wonderful: the carpaccio, with pasta and salad. Simple but oh-so-divine.

My steak dinner the same evening, at the bar adjacent to the first bar, was also great. It was super tender but also included a savory sauce atop it that was so, so good but have no idea what the sauce was.

The other item that stands out was a tosti that was simply a sandwich, cheese, sliced boiled eggs and sliced avocados. Amazing. Of course, the key to these sandwiches: tostis and broodges, is the bread. The bread, the breads, the breads! All over the place and so many different types – it's heaven and if you're on the Atkins Diet, shame on you – you're missing out on one of life's greatest creations: BREAD.

The other simple snack: cheese slices on top of buttered bread – open faced (one slice of bread). Again, the key is the bread but the other main ingredients is the cheese (it's Holland, of course) and their butter is quite different than the butter we buy here in the U.S.

Bathrooms – public bathrooms are the bomb. They take up very little space, but what they do take up is very private. The stalls have floor-to-ceiling doors, so you feel nothing but privacy, which is quite handy when you, well, want that privacy.

The bathrooms that I visited, and I visited many throughout the city – and I'll include London here too – were CLEAN. Not spotless clean, but definitely clean and not at all “icky”. That says a lot, to me, about the people who use these bathrooms: they take care not to make a mess, or clean up their mess, or both. The bathrooms also provide essentials to keep it clean: toilet paper always available, little baggies for ladies' personal trash, and trash cans. Sinks are clean and paper towels were always available. Well, one bathroom did not have paper towels but provided a towel. Not my idea of germ free drying BUT the establishment made an effort to provide something instead of hanging us out to dry (pun intended).

Restaurants – just the sheer number of them is a gourmand's delight...but it's just not the number, but the variety! Every ethnic food type you can imagine is prevalent throughout the city and to see people in them, well, they are of different nationalities. So if you pass an Ethiopian place, you don't just see Ethiopians eating there – well, at least it doesn't appear to be just Ethiopians. There are caucasians sitting in every ethnic type of restaurant, speaking Dutch, or whatever language they are in the know of. This makes me proud for them – no hiccups about eating outside their domain. And I think it's probably not even a thought to them...it's just eating good food.

Most offer alcohol, of course...alongside their awesome coffees.

There appears no interest in 'flipping tables', trying to get people in-and-out. The places we have been, people come in groups and are jovial, and take their time eating, drinking, talking and smoking.

The wait staff and cooks seem to be a part of the restaurant, not hired help. There is pride in their work and to me, every person we met at every place we ate at, owned the place. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, but service was top-notch without being catered to (I hope that makes sense).

Pets Are Loved – dogs and cats everywhere. People love their dogs and take them everywhere: on the tram, in the grocery store, alongside their owner's bikes (or in them, if they're small enough), throughout the city's shops, and by golly, I saw one at Schipol Airport! Within the restaurants – dogs come and go, some belong to the people who work there and for the time I was there, no one complains and actually, most pay no mind, I think, because they are so used to it. We saw cats at nearly every restaurant we ate at. Um, this would not happen in the U.S. Someone would report a health violation and complain about their stupid allergies...

Bike Paths – These are everywhere and to call them a path is misleading...they are bike roads, most in cobblestone, wide enough for many bikes to pass one another. It is obvious that biking in the Netherlands is a means of transportation and there is no 'attitude' from drivers...mainly, because there is room for bikers. Note you asshole drivers in Raleigh: the cars DO NOT us the bike lanes at all, so there is no bad driver behavior of using a bike path as a turn lane.

Bikes, Bikes and More Bikes – I mean, the number of bikes you see anywhere is countless. And amazingly, bike theft in Amsterdam is pretty high. Why? I mean, they are everywhere whether parked or en route. These lanes go on outside of Amsterdam, so it's not just a city feature. Technically, you can ride your bike from Amsterdam to the outskirts of the city.

The other cool thing? Kids are on the bikes with their adult riders – even infants. Some bikes are equipped with a small windshield in the front of a small seat that sets in front of the pedaler – this is where a baby or small child can sit. Others have wooden “trays” on the back, where small children can sit.


The Bad:
Picky Eater – Although CJ did try a few things outside of her comfort zone, for the most part, she ate like a mouse. In countries that had the most amazing food, I felt frustrated and disappointed because, in my mind, she was missing out in so much of the adventure. She is certainly not a gourmand and yes, it is commonplace for children (especially American?) to be picky eaters but I would prefer to have one that is NOT.

And I would be less frustrated if she would at least taste things and then decide whether she liked it or not. But no, the flat refusals came at the sight of the food. And let's see, if you put butter on a piece of bread, then a piece of cheese on top – and you like bread, and you like butter, and you like cheese, then why wouldn't you try it? Please, someone – do you have a logical answer to this mystery?

Meltdowns – By the children, especially Mi-Mi. First of all, I don't want to hear that this is not a child-friendly place to take your children. I am DONE with Disney World. My children go where I go and experience what they can, alongside me. And to me, taking your children with you to these types of places is much more enlightening than Disney World.

Second: yes, children get tired and go nuts. So I understand that BUT even as expected as it is, it is still irritating.

Mi-Mi had two major meltdowns on our trip: one was Thursday evening, when I wanted to stroll through the hood. She would not put on her shoes without help. Well, first it was socks. Even CJ was trying to help and Mi-Mi responded with “nos”, or “i don't like those” but wouldn't find any for herself. So out of impatience, I told her to simply put her shoes on. Easy enough? No, she wanted help...and since I was pissed, I refused to put them on. My threats of leaving her were undaunted: her head, sadly, is harder than mine. And I pouted for a good 20 minutes waiting, patiently through the loud cries, for her to put her shoes one. She did not.

The second was the next morning, this time over brushing her teeth. Again, she flatly refused to brush her teeth without help and again, the competition between who gives in first was underway. Lots of tears, lots of LOUD CRYING (this time, by only Mi-Mi), and again, Mi-Mi wins.

The Ugly:
NWA Stewards/Stewardesses – coming to Europe was not an issue. The stewardesses were quite lovely. Going back was not the same. I was so annoyed with these assholes, treating some of the people on the plane like baggage.

Forms were handed out for immigration and customs. In English, each steward/esses asked folks if they were U.S. citizens. Um, exsqueeze me, we are leaving Amsterdam where most people are NOT ENGLISH SPEAKERS...and yet, when someone didn't understand, I would hear the steward/esses respond rudely. A couple of rude their rude statements to non-Americans:
'Either you are a U.S. citizen or you are not. Which is it?'
'I asked you if you were a U.S. citizen and you said yes. Now you are saying no. Which is it?'

Of course, I can't relay the tone in writing, but it wasn't nice.

The man behind me had a difficult time filling out his form. He asked the 'lead' steward, who looked like popeye, for help and popeye gave rushed comments about what each field meant. He was obviously irritated with having to spend any time talking about this form. When he was done, he left in a rush and when he came back, the man behind me asked for help again. This time, popeye responded with a quick, rushed answer and then said 'i have a job to do and i need to get to it.'

Detroit Entry Point – since this is my first time traveling outside of the U.S. as an adult, I haven't had to deal with landing on U.S. soil for the first time and going through U.S. customs.

First, it was a queue to pass through immigrations/U.S. citizens. The signs point us in one direction but instead, we had a grumpy security guy barking at foreigners and U.S citizens to form different lines. And he yelled with exasperation that no one was following his 'orders' efficiently.

Two things didn't allow this to go nicely:
1)There were people deplaning from two directions. Immigration queues were in one direction; U.S. folks were in another direction.
2)The signs pointed differently than ONE SINGLE HUMAN BEING. For us coming from Schiphol, where everything is outlined nicely by signage (in Dutch and English) and no human intervention is necessary BECAUSE IT IS WELL DESIGNED, this was confusing. And people's first instinct was to follow the signs and this irritated the single human asshole even more, hence the barking.

This was just the beginning. Once one clears the queue to show your passport/visa/immigration papers, the next queue comes along to pick up your luggage. Even if one is connecting to another flight, we have to grab our luggage and cart to another long queue to reach the luggage x-ray thingie-ma-bob.

So we reached the line for the x-ray thingie-ma-bob, which wasn't as bad as the other endless queues, but the agent there was barking at people too. She was exasperated at how people placed their luggage on the conveyor belt and would yell directions to these folks...many, foreigners.

Once you pass through this line, we have to pass through another line to have our luggage placed back on the plane for our connecting flight. This wasn't too bad for us.

But once the luggage line is passed, we pass through another line to go through security. Why? I was deplaned in a secured environment and passed through half a dozen secured points and yet, I have to take my shoes off and all my shit out of my bags and go through a security line again?

WELCOME TO THE U.S. of A.

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