This may seem like an odd title for a post recapping our recent SIBSAB in Amsterdam but there is a reason for it. And it is not the dysfunction that may occur when middle-aged siblings who infrequently see each other get together for almost a week. As I have written before, we all love each other and get along very well together.
Actually our trip started out quite well. The plan was for me to meet my two sisters in the Atlanta airport, having arrived from different connecting cities.
We met up without incident and had a nice long visit together while we waited for our flight to Amsterdam. As we talked, we were in contact with our brother who was flying direct from his hometown to Amsterdam. We boarded our flight and after a not so restful night in coach, landed in Amsterdam.
There the difficulties began.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I have been to Amsterdam more than two dozen times so I felt well prepared to act as tour guide for my siblings.
As soon as we got off the plane, I saw that major construction and renovation was underway in Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport. Hidden behind huge plywood panels were all of the normal landmarks that I knew so well for easily traversing the airport. Even the large, centrally located bank where I always exchanged money was gone. After asking for directions, we made our way to a small two-window bank where we had to wait in line to exchange money.
That taken care of, we queued up in a very long line to go through passport control. After standing in line for a while, I noticed that the sign overhead indicated we should have our passport and boarding card ready. Then it hit me that we were in the wrong line as this checkpoint was for people flying to non-EU countries. We stepped out of line and started to make our way back to the concourse when we were asked where we were going. Turns out with the construction, we were in the right place and so had to get back in line, losing our place in the process.
Once we made it through the checkpoint, we went to baggage claim where my sisters picked up their luggage. I don’t normally check my bags so the exit we went out was not the one I normally take. Upon leaving the baggage belt area and entering an unfamiliar part of the airport, we scanned the waiting crowd for our brother but he was nowhere to be seen. I pulled out my phone to text him when I realized for a second year in a row, my phone was not functioning properly in spite of adding an international plan before my trip (The previous year I had had to go to the local Apple store to get it working properly). As we began to wonder how we were going to find our brother, he thankfully strolled up pushing a luggage cart with his bags. It was a joyous reunion and group hug, not just because it had been more than a year since all four of us had been together, but since moments before, we had no idea how we were going to connect with each other.
Our next step was to purchase train tickets to take us to Amsterdam Central Station. I thought I had enough coins to feed the ticket machine (they don’t take paper money) but another change hit me; now instead of paper tickets, the train ticket was upgraded to a magnet card that added an extra euro to the price of each ticket. Fortunately between the four of us, we scrounged up the 20 euros in coin we needed.
With ticket in hand, we next had to find the correct spoor (track) where we would board the train to Central station. Having much experience at this from previous trips, I knew to ignore the final destination listed for the train and simply look for the one that included “Amsterdam CS” as one of the interim stops. Activating our new tickets, we descended to the track we needed. After waiting there a few minutes, all of a sudden, all of the next trains listed on the electronic board for our spoor disappeared. As typical after an unexpected event, an announcement was made over the loud speaker first in Dutch, and then in English stating:
“Due to the previous power failure, service is seriously disordered.”
After all of the unanticipated twists I had encountered, I was feeling quite seriously disordered myself and a bit discouraged that my tour guiding skills were being ineffective. We found a train agent who explained that a severe power outage had occurred—in March—and was still disrupting the normally, highly reliable train service. She then told us we needed to make our way to a different spoor.
I thought all our challenges were over once we had successfully traveled by train to Central Station and then took the correct tram and correct stop to our apartment—that is until I misinterpreted the instructions to our apartment getting us lost and having to ask someone for directions. Eventually we found our apartment only to be faced with four flights of skinny, spiraling stairs to lug our bags up to our accommodations for the week.
Having survived all of the trials of just getting from the airport to our apartment, we began our SIBSAB in earnest by lunching on a canal…
…with some traditional fare.
Followed by a visit to the Begijnhof (hidden courtyard)…
…the Amsterdam Museum, and a canal boat ride.
Over the next four days, we almost completely knocked out our brother’s aggressive itinerary getting up early and getting back late each night. The only complicating factors were the 2.5-hour wait in the cold before entering the Anne Frank House…
…and our oldest sister getting separated and lost from us, twice.
We thoroughly enjoyed the diverse ethnic foods available in Amsterdam eating Argentinian steak…
…Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), a must…
…and Ethiopian where we ate with our fingers using the traditional sponge bread.
We each saw our number one or number two attractions—the Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh museum, the Rijks museum, and the Stedelijk modern art museum—but I think the real highlight for all of us was the day we went to Keukenhof gardens, the main reason for scheduling our trip when we did.
This was the latest in their brief two-month opening that I had ever been but the gardens were still spectacular.
Sadly, before we knew it, we realized our time together was coming to a close. But not before getting one of our traditional family shots.
Prior to me parting ways with my siblings who would be travelling to Belgium while I taught my course, we met up with my wife and her sister, who had just arrived that day and whom I would continue to explore Amsterdam with when I wasn’t teaching.
All in all, I must say it was the best SIBSAB ever. As usual, before we said our goodbyes,
…we began discussing where we might go in 2016. We knew it would be hard to out do this trip; without doubt, the grand slam family get-together so far. But even though it was sad for us to separate early that Sunday morning, we all knew we would be getting together again next year to enjoy each other’s company and to create new memories in our tenth annual SIBSAB. On our first night in Amsterdam, I had toasted to our loving but deceased parents for bringing the four of us into this world. Standing on that sidewalk and watching my siblings drive away, I knew Mom and Dad were smiling down on us.