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Alone in Amsterdam for the Third Time! (Part 1)

While it is always nice to be in Amsterdam, particularly during tulip season, sadly this is the third year in a row I have been alone in Amsterdam.  The occasion for my visit, my 30th, was to again teach my Analytical Method Validation course.  But this year, the decision to run the course was made so late, that airline ticket prices were outrageously expensive and so it wasn’t economically feasible for my wife to accompany me.

And for a while, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it.

For the second time this spring, I got a text message from my airline the day before my scheduled departure that my flight might be impacted by winter weather—in the middle of APRIL no less!

I was supposed to connect through Minneapolis since that was the least expensive flight choice available when I booked less than three weeks out.  I quickly checked their weather forecast and found a blizzard was predicted with 7 to 15 inches of snow and whiteout conditions.  I followed my airline’s recommendation and tried to rebook online but found very limited options still available the day before I was to fly.  Fortunately I found one through Atlanta but when I went to complete the change, was informed it would cost an additional $5,000!  And that was for a middle seat in an almost completely full overnight 8-hour flight.

Fortunately after contacting my travel agent (which I probably should have done first), she was able to get the change made with no additional fee.  I was still a bit concerned about trying to get some sleep in a middle coach seat but the next day, once I got down to my gate for the connecting flight to Atlanta, I was glad I had made the change as I saw my original Memphis to Minneapolis flight did in fact get canceled.

And the stars even aligned properly for me as when I landed in Atlanta, I found that a single window seat on that Amsterdam flight had opened up during my flight from Memphis and I was able to snag it quickly using the app on my phone while we were still taxiing up to our gate—thus no middle seat.  When I boarded that plane, a roomy and comfortable A330, I was pleased to find adequate overhead storage space for my bag and my backpack giving me ample legroom to stretch out my tall six-foot frame for sleeping.  This no doubt because many Americans travelling internationally use suitcases that, by European standards, could double as small mobile homes and which obviously would never fit in an overhead bin.

I always like to read whenever I fly and for an overnight flight it typically helps me fall asleep. Interestingly, the book I chose to read on the flight over was The Flight, by Dan Hampton, the story of Charles Lindbergh’s Daring and Immortal 1927 Transatlantic Crossing.  What an incredible story!  As I read the challenges he had to overcome and the length of time he had to stay awake (although I was hoping to eventually fall asleep on my flight), I happened to glance up at the in-flight tracker and saw that we were closely following Lindbergh’s actual flight.  It gave me pause to think just how far we had come in the ninety years since Lindbergh completed that flight.  Now we don’t even think twice about a transatlantic crossing of that distance but for Lindbergh, it had never been done before.

And once I deplaned in Amsterdam the next morning, I was glad to learn that I had landed at an airport where you could still see probably the most easily recognized airplane in the world, at least the most easily recognizable following Lindbergh’s own Spirit of St. Louis(Delta, the last US passenger carrier to fly the Boeing 747, retired their last iconic plane in December 2017).

With just a few weeks notice that I would be travelling to Amsterdam, I had a difficult time trying to figure out what I was going to do, considering the number of times I have been to Amsterdam.  I would have about 2.5 days before I taught and a half-day afterwards.  I contemplated hitting all of the familiar museums I have been to but when I checked what special exhibits were showing, none caught my fancy.  I then considered making a day-trip to another country but given how hard it was just to get here, I couldn’t image what challenges I might face getting back to Amsterdam.

This reminded me of two previous occasions when my wife and I had traveled by train to other parts of Holland the day before I was supposed to teach and met with extreme difficulties getting back.

Like the time we went to explore the Cheese Market and Museum in Alkmaar and such a gale force storm arose, that the train system was shutdown throughout the country because of the potential for trains to literally be blown off the track.  But checking the weather for this trip, I found it would be much more pleasant than our last attempt and so settled on that. Plus I found near the Cheese Museum there was also a Beer museum.  What better combination than to explore the history of cheese and beer together?

The train ride was uneventful given the nice weather this trip and in no time I was in Alkmaar.

The Cheese Museum is in the old weighing house at the Alkmaar Cheese Market, which in 2018 is celebrating the 425-year of the cheese carrier’s guild.

Although not a large museum, it has a number of historical artifacts from the days when cheese was predominately produced on individual farms and it provided a complete story of both the old and new ways of making cheese.

Cheese making tank

It was interesting to learn that making cheese from milk and just a few other ingredients is a fairly simple process, but one that produces a highly desirable product.  Most of the cheese produced in Holland today is exported throughout the world earning Holland the well-recognized reputation for being a huge cheese producing country (their #1 cheese is Gouda).

As I left, I decided to capture a shot of the museum door that my wife stood by 16 years ago in 2002—our only souvenir from that previous ill-fated trip—a door we found locked indicating the museum was closed shortly before the storm hit.

To be continued…

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