One of my long-distance friends wanted to know about how JD’s and my trip to Europe a few weeks ago went, but she didn’t feel like asking a bunch of questions, so she asked me to write her an email describing the sights and sounds. Here’s the full text of what I sent her (why reinvent the wheel for a blog post, right?):
Things started off very excitedly! Our flight out of Chicago was at 4pm and we were going to land at about 6am in Amsterdam, so JD had the good idea that we should wake up suuuuuuuper early on the day we left, to ensure that we’d sleep well on the flight. It was supposed to help us get a jump-start on the jet lag. So we got up at 5am. What ended up happening was that we barely slept at all on the way across the Atlantic. We tried, we really did, but we were too excited and too cramped in our seats to make it work.
So we arrived in Amsterdam, dropped off our bags at the hotel, and set off to explore, because we couldn’t check in until late that afternoon. No problem, we had kind of a second wind at this point and we were hungry. So off we went. Our first stop was at the cafe where we’d had our first meal of our honeymoon, which I hold like a treasure in my mind. That time, two and a half years ago, I had a delicious hot latte and a fresh baguette with brie and butter and lettuce, which was incredibly simple and delicious. I got the same thing this time, and it was good, but as I’m sure you can understand, it didn’t QUITE hold up to the memory I had of last time.
Actually, I think that’s how Amsterdam felt for me overall. Still a lovely city, still a place I could see us moving to eventually. But not the magical new world it was before. And obviously, how could it be? Last time I went to Amsterdam, I had been married for about 30 hours. It was my first time anywhere in Europe, never mind that city in particular. I had a brand new husband. I got like ten inches of hair cut off. Nothing’s ever going to match the state I was in back then.
Which is fine (preferable, even) when you’re talking about a city that you plan to return to again and again. It should always be a little bit different, and it should be real and even a bit tedious occasionally, the way any place can be. It should be comfortable, not an emotional roller coaster.
But anyway, I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. JD and I wandered around the city a bit more, stopping here and there for more coffee and snacks, growing increasingly sleepy. An hour before we were allowed to check in, we slumped ourselves into the hotel bar and ate fries and had beers just to stay awake. That hour went on forever. Finally we got into our room and collapsed for a few hours of sleep before dinner.
The next day was kind of weird. It was Sunday, which meant that nothing was open, at least not until 1pm or so. We tried to go to the Van Gogh museum but ended up standing in line in the cold for about 40 minutes before giving up. It was back to wandering from cafe to bar to cafe to bar. Oh! I think that was the night we tried Indonesian food for the first time. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the restaurant we went to ended up being one of the best in the city, and we were the jerks who swaggered in without a reservation and somehow it was fine.
Probably the most touristy thing we did was to visit De Poezenboot, which is a cat rescue on a boat in a canal. We got to go on and say hi to the cats and pet most of them. We also ate really delicious Spanish food (most of this is going to be about food, I can tell you).
Okay! Then after like three days it was time to go to Venice. This is a weird detail, but the flight there (90 minutes or so) was so pleasant. I had extreme amounts of legroom and the flight attendants gave us cake.
We arrived in Venice, where the airport smells like mildew, probably because everything is a little bit damp all the time. Then we had to wait around for a while for our taxi, AKA a boat that takes you to the island. Oh, right, this is the part about Venice that I didn’t fully understand before: EVERYTHING IS A BOAT. No one has a car, because where would you drive it? YOU CAN’T. Most of the streets are about the width of a sidewalk or two. If you’re not walking to where you’re going, you’re taking a boat taxi or a bus taxi. We saw an ambulance go by twice, and yes, Venetian ambulances are literally speedboats with sirens. There are police boats, package delivery boats, every kind of boat. HILARIOUS.
We got to our hotel (literally the boat pulled up next to the building and we got out), and when we got into our room I cried, because it was so PETITE and CUTE and there were about three mismatched chandeliers, and we were on the corner so we had two big windows. I opened them up and we had canals on both sides to admire. I cried some more, because I’d wanted to come to Venice for 15 years or so, and it had finally happened.
Then we went out to lunch at this little outdoor restaurant and I got a giant plate of mixed seafood and admired the fancy Italian businesswoman at the table next to ours. She had fancy hair and fancy nails and she kept talking meanly into her cellphone and ignoring her lunch date. I was very impressed by how serious and rude she was. When we came home I got a manicure to match hers. Also there was a cat at that restaurant!
The next several days were a blur of getting lost in the streets (easy to do, the Venetian address system is very inconsistent and anyway you’re always surrounded by buildings or canals, so things start to look the same). We did the usual stop here for coffee, stop there for Aperol spritzes, get gelato or pizza at this little hole in the wall place. I kept trying to speak Italian. The thing is, Venice is such a touristy city and probably a majority of its tourists are English speakers, so most vendors speak it too. I was kind of caught in this battle of–“I should speak Italian because I am IN ITALY and it’s the polite thing to do, to put a teeny bit of effort into communicating with the locals in their language and not be a conceited American who refuses to learn a new thing,” and also “they speak English all the time and they’re busy helping lots of customers, wouldn’t it be easier on them for me to speak English rather than wait for me to struggle through a request in Italian?” Mostly I split the difference and spoke simple English with healthy doses of “grazie” and “si” thrown in.
Some memorable scenes from Venice: the early-morning fish markets, where you’d find things like an entire swordfish head, sliced off at the neck and displayed on the table vertically, so that its spear was sticking straight up; two middle-aged Italian men yelling and gesturing emphatically at each other, which seemed very stereotypically Italian; watching the end of Flash Dance in Italian one night in our hotel; getting utterly swindled by a man selling roses on the street (they do this thing where they hand a woman a rose, like they’re giving it to you for free, and then when you thank them and take it, they demand money. Yep, I fell for it, and I was too embarrassed to hand it back. Why am I telling you this? I could have avoided telling this embarrassing story but here you go).
Then Saturday morning we got back in a boat taxi and headed across the water to the mainland, where there were trees and flowering bushes. We got on the plane and I watched La La Land on the flight home, which I give a solid B.