31 October 2010--Plenty of time to pack up this morning; I have a midday flight to Amsterdam. When I was planning the trip, I had a
choice of a 6:00am departure and a short layover at Schiphol, or a late departure and a 23-hour layover. An evening in Amsterdam is bonus
as far as I'm concerned, so it was a no-brainer. The clocks went back an hour last night, as well, making this about as civilized a
departure as I've ever had. Of course, I run into some sort of snafu at the airport check-in, and am fortunate to get to the gate in time.
I'm not so sure about my late-checked luggage, but it doesn't matter--it will stay at the airport in Amsterdam, anyway, and could as well
come on tomorrow's early flight.
The plane has a 3-3 seating arrangement, and I have a middle seat on the left. A pretty blonde Dutch woman, six feet tall if she's an inch, arrives at the aisle seat and asks, "Do you mind to change places with my husband?" She gestures toward the fellow at the opposite aisle seat. Why no, not at all--I'm sure my mom will love him. I guess that's not really the offer...I get an aisle seat out of it, anyway.
I catch the train from Schiphol to Amsterdam's central station, carry-on over my shoulder. Wander a bit before finding my hotel just outside Dam Square. It's already 5:00pm, and I wander some more along the canals before finding dinner in a pub in Rembrandt Square. Then more wandering.... I'm actually worried about getting lost, but I stumble into Dam Square again, quite by accident. There's a carnival going on, and I weave through that, soaking up sights, sounds, and smells.
Out the other side, I meander along until I chance upon a handsome bar with a pretty barmaid, and I sit with a few beers. It's my last evening away, and it seems a good time to look back at the events of the past weeks. The travel snafus at the start have faded some in my memory; likely my vow never to pass through JFK again will be forgotten. On the whole, it's been a great trip, with a good mix of new and familiar. Coldstream, Denholm, Berwick, Wick, Lochinver, Acharacle, Iona, and Tobermory were all new stops for me, and I got fresh looks at Northumbria, the Borders, Caithness, and Sutherland. Many of these places are earmarked for return visits and further exploration. The familiar loop of Edinburgh, Inveraray, Plockton, Fortrose, Craigellachie, and Stonehaven was experienced anew through first-timers' eyes, with Win and Scott along. There were old friends--Teresa and Willie and Mark, and of course Scott and Win themselves--and new--Andy and Ross--along with many brief encounters. Abbeys, priories, castles, standing stones and circles, tombs, beaches, islands, towns, villages, distilleries, pubs, drams, and many many marvelous pints of Deuchars, Landlord, Trade Winds, and others. Craster kippers, Cullen skink, too many meals at Wetherspoon's, but lots of good food elsewhere, including a highly memorable dinner in the George in Inveraray. It's good I keep a journal, to remember it all. I can relive it in my mind throughout the year, and for years to come...or over a last glass of La Chouffe in a canalside pub in Amsterdam.
The carnival is still in full swing when I pass back through the square on my way to the hotel. It will go on for some time without me. I'm in bed at midnight.