The plan had been hatched long before. It had come like a dream, and as the plan formed out of the ether of my mind I saw that it was not only possible, but very, very likely to come to fruition.
And finally it was all happening and I found myself sitting right up front on one of Air Canada’s many daily flights from Ottawa to Montreal, waiting for takeoff.
I love to travel and I always have. Even as a little kid my greatest memories were those few times that I was allowed to accompany my dad on trips in his 18-wheeler. I believe it happened twice, both times from Moncton to Toronto. Man, did I love those trips. Just me and my dad and the excitement and mystery of the open road.
Halfway through my university education I started travelling in earnest, first to South Korea and Thailand, then to Taiwan and Vietnam, then Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Ghana, South Africa, Peru…I suppose I’ve visited about thirty countries so far, and more keep getting added to the list all the time. Likewise, my mother is a big travelling aficionado. The two of us have travelled together a couple of times (first to Zambia and Namibia, then to Romania), and we had a great time.
But for some reason my brother Al (or as I call him: Alan) never got bitten by the travelling bug. Sure, he likes going back and forth between his home in Moncton and his winter house north of Tampa, but when it comes to international travel the farthest he’s gotten has been Hawaii, and in a North American sense that’s not really international travel is it?
(My dad never liked travelling either. Mom dragged him to Europe once a long, long time ago and he hated it before he even left home. I guess criss-crossing the continent countless times behind the wheel of his tractor-trailer gave him his fill of travel.)
Anyway, I figured it’s not that Alan doesn’t like travelling, he just hasn’t really done it. Hence, the plan.
When I’ve questioned my brother as to why he doesn’t travel, he pointed out a couple of reasons right away: 1) he had no interest in walking around looking at boring museums all day, and 2) that time he went to Hawaii he wasn’t too pleased about sitting in the little airplane seat for all those hours.
Well, I had an answer to that (and that). 1) In The Hague sits the Louwman Museum, the oldest (and in my experience, greatest) automotive museum in the world. When I visited the place several years ago I hit the gift shop and purchased a coffee-table book containing their entire collection. I gave it to Alan for Christmas that year and I just knew he would be astounded if he were to actually visit the Louwman Museum himself someday.
And 2) as we share a very generous mother who seems to collect an inordinate amount of aeroplan points, I figured if I suggested Alan and I go to The Hague together that she might just sponsor the trip by giving us enough points to fly business class – where the seats are large and the service is comfortable – and I was right.
As a matter of fact, when I told my mom about my idea to lug Alan around Europe for a couple of weeks she thought it was a great idea, which – as I just mentioned – was part of the plan.
So Christmas came around, I placed copies of The Diary Of Anne Frank (“Is that the lady who refused to sit at the back of the bus?”) and Lust For Life, The Van Gogh Story under the tree for Alan (each with a twenty euro bill inside, which I thought was pretty nice of me), mom gave us not only the necessary points for business class but $500 spending money each besides, and we started ignoring making plans.
Finally, I decided to stop ignoring making plans and we made them. I had wanted to go on the trip in the Spring, Alan wanted to go in the Fall. Okay then, I wanted to go in the late Fall, but Alan wanted to go as early as we could in September, specifically because he wanted us to rendezvous with his Florida golfing buddy who actually lives in Belgium.
So I booked our flights to leave on September 5th. Alan would have to wait about eight hours at the Montreal airport for his first connection, but we would be flying together from there on out.
I got busy booking the hotels and did a pretty great job. When I described the bookings to Alan he was quite surprised that the rates were so high. Admittedly, Amsterdam is a notoriously expensive city to stay in, but when I rechecked rooms a month later I found prices at least 50% higher across the board. Checking again a month before we left everything had at least doubled in price compared to the rates I had managed to snag, and most places had tripled.
So the whole thing was booked and booked pretty well – we wouldn’t be staying in any castles but we wouldn’t be bunking down in any hostels either – and I was left with nothing to do but to wait patiently for September 5th to come around. And summers being summers, it came around pretty fast; out of nowhere it was already time to get to the airport.
It had been a hectic time for me leading up to the trip. It seems I’m always saying that at the beginning of these travel missives but it’s true (as it always is: if I write it, it’s so). Just two weeks previously I had all but bought a beautiful house on Random Island, Newfoundland. M’lady and I departed for a Phish festival in upstate New York on the official closing date, though we had gotten word that the actual closing date would be backed up by a few days.
After spending one night at the festival the whole weekend got cancelled. We ended up with a superb Plan B and had a great impromptu weekend at a friend’s godfather’s lakeside cottage with a dozen others, and we arrived home on Sunday only to discover that the whole house deal had fallen through. We were crestfallen. Then we had another cottage to visit and an Insane Clown Posse concert to attend before flying straight to Denver for five nights for some more Phish concerts (ones that actually happened this time), only to arrive back home on September 4th, the evening before my European departure.
So like I say, things had been a bit hectic, and I was pretty happy to finally be on my way. If a bit sleepy.
I was later getting to the airport than I intended and as a result I had only a few moments in the business class lounge before boarding my flight. Time for just one drink and a quick bowl of soup, the heartiest food they had available. After a turbulence-filled journey that pre-empted any and all cabin service I met Alan in the Montreal airport’s business class lounge, where he had spent the whole day casually drinking Bacardi and Cokes and reading the Diary of Anne Frank that I had given him. (If he enjoys it I think I’ll get him a book on Rosa Parks next year.)
I found him surprisingly sober.
I had forgotten how shaggy he had let his hair get, and he had doffed his beard too. Funny, I had just got a haircut that morning. I wonder if I look as much like our dad as he looks like our mom?Probably.
Which is a bit strange, I suppose.
(I mean, with his long hair Alan looks pretty much exactly like mom. It’s weird. But then, sometimes when I look in the bathroom mirror I’m shocked to see my dear old dad looking back at me with a shocked look on his own face, which is also pretty weird.)
We spent the next couple of hours chatting about our vacation plans in between bouts of reading, while I busied myself to catch up with him in the Bacardi department. Eventually our Lufthansa flight was called, we boarded and sat ourselves down in the very comfortable but not over-the-top business class section. The seats weren’t super-amazing like what you’d find in Air Canada or Air Ethiopia’s business class but they could fully recline, which is all that really matters, especially on an overnight flight such as this one.
I plugged myself into the new Star Wars movie as quick as I could, enjoyed a splendid dinner that came an hour later, and fell sound asleep about twenty minutes before the film ended, which was perfect. I had already seen it four times.
I slept much of the rest of the trip to Munich, where I knew we would be waiting almost another four hours before catching the last leg of our journey, a short jaunt that would have us arriving in The Netherlands at about 2pm local time. As our plane touched down on the Germanic tarmac I was already raring to get to the ‘Dam.