Ah, Europa. Where to begin?
In case you hadn't noticed, I'm kind of cynical and sarcastic, but despite my crusty, and at times irascible nature, I was more than pleasantly surprised by how fucking cool the whole thing was. It was a downright magnificent experience and it exceeded most of my expectations. All the places we went were clean, most of the locals spoke English fluently and were delighted to assist the tourists. More than one person advised us that if asked, we should tell people we were Canadians, but we didn't have to resort to that. All of the Germans and Dutch with whom we interacted didn't seem to hate us when they discovered we were Yanks.
On that note, Amsterdam is a beautiful and amazing city. It's impressive to be smack in the middle of a town with so much history. A lot of the buildings were built in the 1800s, 1600s, 1400s and earlier, so you get a real sense of... permanence, for lack of a better word, even though, like New Orleans, Amsterdam is below sea level. Tons of bicyclists, and they take no shit from motorists. They took us to a little village with windmills and a wooden shoe factory -- touristy, but cute -- and then we went to another little village and walked around. That night we went out to dinner at an Indonesian place (??) and then the group walked around the Red Light District. No, I didn't smoke any dope or hire any hookers, but they really do sit in the windows waiting for customers. Watch out if they make eye contact. Also, most of the prostitutes? Were pretty fucking hot. I'm just saying.
Next day, Wesel, a little town on the Rhein River. Beautiful scenery, beautiful hotel, which makes the stay more pleasant. I managed to find a Simpsons rerun dubbed in German (it was the one where Principal Skinner ditched Miss Krabappel at the altar) -- a good omen. We walked into town and bought some Diet Cokes, which tasted a little weird, but what are you gonna do? There were activities arranged for me and the other three spouses; one day we went to a mall, which was about as exciting as it sounds, but I did snap a few photos of strangely-named household products.
One night they took us to Köln (Cologne) and we saw the Dom (cathedral). Had dinner at an authentic German pub with the wurst and cabbage. Lots of the local variety of beer, which is called Kolsch or something and by law can only be brewed in Koln and blah blah blah, still tasted like every other beer I've sampled, i.e., crappy. Sorry, I know, I'm a Philistine. Spent Thursday night at the hotel bar doing shots of Jagermeister with a crazy Rumanian and a Frenchman, both colleagues of my wife. No, I don't know what got into me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Final day, München ("Munich" to us Yanks). I thought the city looked really cool. For starters, they had an IKEA and the world headquarters of BMW and its Mini Cooper subsidiary (GOD, do I want a Mini Cooper of my very own!). Anyway, we went to Oktoberfest, but I was very hungover -- see above -- so I was pretty wobbly until I got some food and non-alcoholic beverages in me. Fun fact: They don't serve water in the tents.
Again, I sampled the special beer that can only be had at Oktoberfest and it too tasted like ass, as far as I'm concerned. They have these big-ass buildings (they call them "tents," but they ain't tents) that seat 10-12,000 people elbow-to-elbow. Oompah bands blast out German folk songs and they really do link arms and sway back and forth with their one-liter beer steins, and the waitresses all dress like the St. Pauli girl, though they're not all quite as hot. Jen polished off a full liter by herself. She's more macho than me. Regardless, it was something to witness, that's for sure, but I probably wouldn't go again.
We made it back to the hotel around 6:30 p.m. and after a little bit of chill time, we decided to explore the city a little bit. The fraulein at the front desk suggested a district that had the word "Freihaut" in its name, so we had a cabbie drop us off there. Again, it was hella cool, with many shops and cafes and a subway station every two blocks. And yes, the public transportation in Germany is top-notch, something America might have to emulate more if gas prices stay as crazy as they have been.
Anyhoo, I drank no alcohol that evening, as the mere thought of a transatlantic flight while nursing a hangover made me sick. Everything after that was pretty much typical, although once again I must tout the superiority of the German and Dutch airports to their American counterparts, although to be fair, the Munich airport just underwent a full renovation, so it was pretty much brand-new.
One last tidbit: On the flight home, I was seated across the aisle from a German family that included a mother-father pair, two grandparents and two small kids. The kids looked to be about 3 and 5 years old. I was afraid that we’d be in for nine hours of whining and crying or hyperactivity (or even worse, some combination of both) but I was pleasantly surprised. These kids were so well behaved it was a little creepy. Whenever they spoke to Mom and Dad or Granny and Grandpa, the whispered in their ears. The older one watched both in-flight movies (Herbie: Fully Loaded and Monster-in-Law – give him a break, he was too young to know any better) and the little one had a coloring book or something. Maybe their parents threatened to beat them unconcious if they acted up on the plane, but whatever they did, it worked.
Contrast that scene with what greeted us back in Louisville: two rotten kids shrieking at the tops of their lungs, climbing on the conveyor belt that sends your luggage around, wrestling on the ground and otherwise embodying every “spoiled brat” cliché you can imagine. What made it especially galling was that in between their obnoxious antics, they would glance around at everybody with these “Aren’t I just adorable?” little smirks on their greasy faces. Walking advertisements for abortions, these punks. Even better, their father was standing right there, blithely ignoring his demon spawn as they terrorized a bunch of people who just flew in from halfway around the world. Welcome home!