Sunday, August 8, 2010

Family Trip to Abu Dhabi Via Amsterdam

July 2010

(Tom in regular type; Lucy in italic)

Wed 21, we arrived in Schiphol Airport at 8am, took the train to Centraal Station and took the #9 tram to the Rembrandt Hotel in the Plantage neighborhood.

Our room was ready in half an hour, so we had a chance to unpack and lie down before starting off again for our 11:45 tour of the Anne Frank House. After a block, Rebecca was crippled by back pain and went back. After three blocks, Tom and Lucy gave up finding tram tickets, and returned to the hotel room, where we all gave in to jet lag and slept until 6pm. Puck was thinking that she should cancel her trip to Abu Dhabi and rebook to return to Albuquerque tomorrow. We had a four star dinner at a sidewalk café around the corner, watching the bicycles go by.

Thurs 22, Puck knew she had to fly home. We returned to Schiphol , where a wonderful KLM agent made the arrangements. Rebecca flew to Atlanta that afternoon, slept in an airport hotel (which gave her back time to recover from the flight) and continued to Albuquerque Friday morning. We were distressed she felt so bad.

Schiphol Airport was a large presence in this trip. We spent many hours there in the six times we passed through. Funny, Tom chose for us to make Amsterdam instead of Paris our intermediate stop because he liked the airport. We got to try out its many amenities: two-story Rijksmuseum and gift shop, sleep chairs, supermarket, jet engine for kids to crawl into, massage area, even sightseeing tours into Amsterdam for those between flights.

Tom and Lucy returned to Amsterdam and began walking the tourist zone. We saw the outside of the Anne Frank House, bought a 2011 calendar of quilts, visited the Bible Museum in a canal house, found the English Church where the Pilgrims worshiped, walked the flower stalls, bought a hashish cake, identified the Stiller hotel where Lucy had stayed in 1966 and took the tour of the diamond factory. By the time we got to the bicycle rental, it was closing. We had a rijsttafel supper.

Fri 23, we remaining two took the plane to Abu Dhabi. Our plane came in over the Persian Gulf (I think I saw offshore gas rigs off the pier) and swooped in over the (totally uninhabitable) desert of the Arabian Peninsula.

Peter drove us to the One To One Hotel, where we ate a simple Lebanese dinner of cold mezza at the Sahriye Restaurant at the hotel and smoked an apple-flavored shiska in the Ramadan tent in the garden at the hotel, where he stayed the night in our room on a rollaway bed. Tom gave Peter a little green tomato from his garden on Woodcliff Road.

Sat 24, Peter had to shake us awake at 9 AM because we had just 20 minutes to make the tour of the Grand Mosque. I used the time to take my first long shower.

Next we had lunch atop the 20-story Mariner Mall, a walk around the Heritage Village, back to Peter’s apartment, then to the vegetable market, one of his work sites, soon to become a media center, where we bought dates, and finally a visit to Saadiyat Island, where Buro Happold is helping engineer the Louvre Abu Dhabi. We all had room service supper.

Sun 25, Peter picked us up to visit his office in the Al Mamouna building and meet his co-workers.

We were still sleeping when Peter called at 11:15 to say he was coming over to pick us up for lunch. An hour later, we were having sandwiches at his usual place -- Joe's Groceries – elbow to elbow with British expats talking business deals. Could have been Manhattan. Next door is Peter's office at the Urban Planning Council. We went up and met everybody. It is an entirely international staff -- Jordanian, Trinidadian, and two Emiratis.

That evening, we had a sumptuous dinner at the Diwan L’Auberge Lebanese restaurant in the Emirates Palace Hotel with Rima Al Mokarrab, who was disappointed that her high school classmate had not made it that far.

It is date season. Peter had gone to the date festival at the Liwa oasis before picking us up on Friday. There are date palms all over town bursting with clusters of dates, which the owners often wrap them in a sack even while they're still hanging.

Mon 26, we hit the hotel gym and Peter met us for lunch at our hotel’s 24-hour international buffet. We tried to do some sightseeing in downtown Abu Dhabi on our own, but the cab driver dropped us five blocks from our destination which was closed anyway.

Peter drove us to the airport in the evening. He tried to drive us to Yaz Island on the way, but there was too much construction.

Peter and Tom tried valiantly to find the exit for Yas Island. With “only” three hours left to our midnight flight, we gave up. People watching was wonderful at the airport. Most of the flights were going to cities in India and Pakistan, where the guest workers are from. Once past security, the travelers broke apart their large knotted bundles and repacked them, leaving rope and cardboard pieces scattered in the waiting area. Our midnight flight was nothing special: there were flights scheduled every 10 minutes throughout the night.

Tue 27 we flew out of Abu Dhabi just after midnight and arrived in Amsterdam before 5 am. Lucy napped in the downstairs reception of the Rembrandt Hotel until our room was ready at noon. Tom took off to see the Rijksmuseum, which is undergoing renovations but has a small gallery of sample masterpieces open.

Before taking that nap, I walked around the neighborhood waiting for the city to wake up. At 7:30AM, I found a tiny aromatic bakery with Rob the Baker himself selling hot rolls. I ate sitting on stairs outside the day care center by our hotel and watched the parents on bicycles dropping their tots and pedaling to work..

Wed 28 our KLM flight back to Boston was cancelled, so we quickly rebooked on a 747 full of Africans and Indians going to Toronto.

The package claim was such a mess -- carrousel 4 bags deep, and suitcases so heavy that people couldn't pull them off to make room for new ones. Customs, similarly. So we missed our connection, and many hours later -- in fact 24 hours later from when we started, we got home.