Monday, March 31, 2014

A Rose by any Other Name

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."      Romeo and Juliet,  Act II, Scene ii

There are few people past the age of 13 or 14 that haven't read or, in the event they sat gazing in the vicinity of their 9th grade literature book without actually reading the words as their class read aloud one day, heard that line. Of course, we all know that Juliet is saying that what a thing or person (in this case, Romeo) is called isn't important; rather, she claims, what matters is what a thing or person is.

I bet you're thinking, "Oh, wonderful! An English professor in England. Here comes the post on Shakespeare and a visit to his Globe Theater or Stratford-on-Avon." Sorry to disappoint you (or happy to make your day, depending on your feelings for Shakespeare), but that isn't the case. I will eventually be writing about my visit to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, but something else is on my mind today.

Language.

I've always been crazy about words. I love how they sound, how it feels to write them, their meaning, and generally everything about them. In fact, what I love most about writing is the way a writer selects and arranges -- manipulates, really -- words to create a piece of text that will . . . I'm sorry, I tend to go on and on when I get started on this topic (just ask my students). Trust me, I love words, particularly the written word.

Back in December, a colleague thoughtfully gave me an American English-British English (and vice-versa) pamphlet, and I enjoyed picking it up several times a day and reading the various entries. Of course, when I read the British English words and phrases, my mind automatically used my version of a British English accent, based primarily on what I've picked up from watching more than a few Hercule Poirot movies over the years.

You can use google to find a similar list, I'm sure, so I won't bore you with examples from it. Instead, I thought I'd share just a few of my favorite words and phrases. Before I do, though, I need to explain a few things.

1. First, while I did watch some high-brow British television programming (the news, documentaries on WWI and WWII and gardens, etc.) I quickly became enamored of British dramas and shows in which comedians serve on "teams" on game shows built around current events. To get an idea of what I'm talking about, watch "Mock the Week" or "Have I Got News for You" or "Q1 XL" on YouTube or via Netflix.  Anyway, the next few points on this list reflect this broader range of television programming.

2. British television programming demonstrates a more relaxed standard regarding language than television in the states. I routinely hear words and phrases that I rarely hear at home, and then only when riding mass transit or on one of my rare (and hated) excursions to a mall when teenagers are present. The f-word is quite common, for example.

3. Fairly graphic (again, by American standards) references to body parts and sex acts are also quite common on British television.

4. Two young men who I have gotten to know while in Canterbury (colleagues at the university here) have helped me navigate the interesting path of acquiring new vocabulary. "D" and "S" were my sounding board about any newly-heard word, and my standard for acceptability went something like this:

 

Me: I heard another new word! I need to know if it's okay for me to use (optional) and what it means.

D or S: {grinning} What's the word?

Me: {lowering my voice in case the word is "dodgy"} It's insert word.

At that point, the reaction inevitably varied. Scenario 1:

D or S: {bland face, somewhat disappointed, I think} Oh, yeah, that word is fine.

More often, the reaction went something like this. Scenario 2:

D or S: {big grins} Oh, repeat word, that's a good one!

Me: {either} What does it mean and is it okay to use? {or} I know what it means, but is it too slangy?

And then came my question that became somewhat of a joke between my 2 new friends and I.

Me: Could I say it at tea with the Queen?

 

So with that in mind, here are my favorite new words and phrases. Some aren't really appropriate for tea with the Queen, but they're all no more than PG-13 rated according to D and S (but remember, they're British and young). I've put the favorites of my favorites in bold.*

arse; arse over elbow = the first is probably very clear; the second means something like "head over heels" but not necessarily in the way we mean it (i.e. in love), more like confused, I think

blimey = an expression of surprise

bloody = an all-purpose quite mild swear word, typically used as an adj before a noun

blow me = (get your mind out of the gutter) used when surprised; we might say it when we mean "I was so surprised you could knock me over with a feather"; as much as I like this one, I know I will not be using it :)

bollocks = (not to be used when chatting with the Queen) rubbish (but technically it refers to a piece of anatomy)

brassed off and cheesed off = ticked off

bugger all = nothing ("I got bugger all in exchange for all my work")

chat up = try to pick up someone (as in a bar)

cheeky = brassy, saucy, smart-alecky

cock up = (see blow me) make an error, mess up

dodgy = not on the up and up; questionable

git = (again, not around the Queen) an idiot; quite insulting

honking = throwing up

knackered = worn out (perhaps after a night on the town)

letterbox = mailbox (in which you receive your mail)

the mutt's nuts = fantastic  *this is my all-time 2nd favorite; alas, I only heard it once or twice

nibbles = hor d oeuvres (I will never have to google how to spell that again!)

nick = steal

on about = talking about (as in "What are you on about?")

piss up = drinking session

potty = crazy      NOTE: I noticed that when the British say my name, they pronounce it "potty"; that is purely a coincidence!

ring = call

shite = (I think you can figure out this one)

sod = an all-purpose word that is used in a wide variety of ways; just to be safe, I would not use this when talking to the Queen

sod all = nothing  (as in "After I paid my taxes, I had sod all left.")

a spot of = a bit of

stonker, stonking = huge  ("That stonking hamburger fed 4 of us!")

take-away = carry-out food

top off = put more in/on  (pay-as-you-go phones get topped off, for example, as do glasses of wine)

twat = hit ("If you do that again, I'll twat you on the head.")  I do not ever plan to use this, but I almost choked when I heard a mom tell her child that on the bus the 2nd week I was here! lol

wanker = D & S both laughed hysterically when I asked about this one, and it most definitely cannot be used in the presence of the Queen; it means jerk ("that guy is a jerk"), but it is quite crude. Sorry to offend, but I can't help it --  I like this word -- it makes me laugh. Alas, I don't imagine ever using it out loud.

wonky = off-balance

*This list is not all-inclusive. Take that as you will.   ;)

Backpacking through Europe -- Day 4 (morning only)

One line from my journal entry for February 17 perfectly sums up day 4 of my journey: "A heavenly day in every way -- I love Wien!"

Yes, day 4 found me disembarking an overnight train and arriving at 6:15 at the train station in Wien (Vienna). What a difference a day makes! I wandered to the main area of the train station and found several large seating areas with 30-40 tables (with 4 chairs each) in each area. Welcoming the opportunity to get my bearings and check my map to find the best route to walk to my hotel, I shrugged off my backpack and sank into a chair in one of the seating areas. No sooner had I sat down than a lady with a cleaning cart arrived; the four other men in the area quickly gathered their things and left, and I began doing the same. The lady smiled at me and indicated that I should/could stay. Ahhh . . . I'd been in Vienna less than 5 minutes and had already received a welcoming smile!

After a short rest, I walked the 5 or so minutes to the hotel, where I got another more-than-pleasant surprise. It wasn't even 7 a.m. yet, so I knew I was arriving over 7 hours before check-in, but I hoped to be able to drop off my backpack and return later. As soon as I walked into the spacious, well-lit hotel lobby, I was met by 3 smiling young men and women working at the front desk. When I explained that I had a reservation but knew it was too early to check in but had just arrived, one of the young men smilingly assured me that "madame is welcome to check into her room now" (at no charge) and "rest before venturing out for the day". He also pointed out that the breakfast buffet (free, which is not necessarily the norm in Europe) was still being served and offered to hold my backpack at the front desk while I went to eat. Wow!

I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast, settled into my room and even took a short nap, and then returned to the front desk to get a map of Vienna and to figure out how to get to the first site on my walking tour. A different, equally-pleasant and polite young desk clerk gave me the map, showed me how to get to my starting point, and then offered a suggestion that I add to my itinerary a visit to a group of buildings that have become very popular with tourists. He showed me how I could add it to the end of my walking tour and end up very close to the hotel. Armed with a (free) underground day pass that would take me to my first stop (which was quite a distance from the hotel), I set out to explore Vienna.

My encounters with delightful people continued after I walked to the underground station, validated my ticket, and boarded what the desk clerk had informed me was "just the train for madame" (aka me). Almost immediately, a tiny elderly woman sat across from me and began speaking to me in (I assume) German. I responded that I spoke only English; her smile grew even larger, and she continued to talk to me, but she slowed her speech and spoke louder, as if I could somehow follow her if I could just hear her better. I didn't have a clue what she was saying, of course, but I smiled and nodded. Heaven only knows what I was happily agreeing to! When we both rose to get off the underground at the same time, she laid her hand on my arm and led me off the train; on the platform, she began asking me questions and showed me an appointment card. I could tell she was asking for help, so I looked around and found a pleasant-looking younger person who I hoped would speak both English and German. I got lucky. The young lady spoke both, and when I explained the situation, she thanked me for helping the elderly lady and then explained both in German and in English where the lady needed to go. My new friend (the elderly lady) and I exited up to street level, she gently holding on to my arm, and I walked with her the 2 short blocks to her destination. She reached up and patted my face, said something in German, and entered the building, glancing back to smile and wave at the door. I hated to leave her; for a moment I felt as if I should come back and pick her up later!

I retraced my steps the 2 blocks to where we had exited the underground and stood outside my first stop, the stunning Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral), one of the tallest cathedrals in all of Europe and home to many of the most important events in Viennese history (according to my notes). Located in the Stephansplatz, the square at the geographical center (again, according to my notes) of Vienna, the cathedral dominates the area, and I stood for a few minutes snapping pictures and watching the bustle of people around me. I entered the church and paid a small fee (a few Euros) to visit via elevator the top of the south tower of the Cathedral. At 445' tall, I had read it would provide a wonderful panoramic view of the city, and it did. Fortunately, the sun was shining, and I was able to get some wonderful pictures of Vienna from each side of the tower.

Eventually, though, I returned to street level and walked to the Ringstrasse (the Ring Road), a wide thoroughfare that circles   the Innere Stadt district (the Old Town). The Ringstrasse was built in 1857 by order of Franz Jospeh I, who ordered that the original city walls (built in the 1300's) and moats be demolished and a road built in their place. The Ringstrasse is considered a landmark, and every guide I consulted before my visit suggested walking its entire distance to see the high points of Vienna, so that was my plan.

Goodness, but this entry is incredibly long, and I haven't even arrived at my first start on the Ringstrasse! I hope you'll join me as I continue my day in Vienna in my next post.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Backpacking through Europe -- day 3

Between visitors from the States, teaching, and my other normal activities, blogging has been put aside for a few weeks. I'm glad to be back!

At 7:25 a.m. on day 3 of my trip, I stepped off a Eurail train in Prague, the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. I checked my backpack at the Left Luggage counter and set off to see the city. Rather than provide a site by site account of my day, I've decided to simply list my experiences and impressions of Prague and the people I encountered there.

My first experience concerning Prague occurred while I was still in Canterbury when I began making plans for my trip. The lady at the train station suggested a city whose name I didn't recognize at all. Embarrassed by my lack of geography skills, I asked her to show me her suggested route on the map. According to where she pointed on the map, my 2nd stop was "Praha"; when I got back to the flat, I googled "Praha" and discovered I would be visiting Prague*. I can't quite describe how she said it, but if you google "pronunciation of Prague", you will find audios. This was definitely not the only time I was to discover that how we in the states pronounce the names of cities in Europe is not the same way they are pronounced in Europe. And now, for my thoughts on Prague.

1. Prague is a beautiful and very interesting city. The variety of architectural styles and detail is amazing, and everywhere I looked, I saw another beautiful building of one type or another. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Old Town Square, The Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock (pictures do not do it justice), The Charles Bridge, and the Prague Castle.

2. The Czech currency, the Koruna (crown), is weak. I noticed right away that a small, inexpensive item such as a candy bar cost 18 - 20 Koruna, so I asked a lady at a currency exchange office what the rate of exchange was. The day I was in Prague, 1 Koruna = .05 USD. In other words, 1 Koruna was worth an American nickel. I'd done my homework before leaving England and learned from reputable sites that, as a member of the European Union (EU), most places in Prague accepted both the Koruna and the Euro. Unfortunately, I found that wasn't the case; only two of the attractions, restaurants, or shops I stopped in accepted the Euro. At least, that's what the signs said . . . 


3. For a fee of 100 Koruna, a person can climb or ride an elevator (I'm not sure which, as I didn't get that far) to the top of the tower of the Old Town Hall (found on Old Town Square). I joined the queue (line) outside the Old Town Hall, Euros in hand. The line inched forward until I was second in line at the ticket booth, right behind 2 young ladies who spoke rapid French. When one of the young ladies stepped up to the window, she pointed to a small sign on the counter that read "100 KORUNA -- NO EUROS" and in accented English, she said, "But we have only Euros. You do not take Euros?" The young man behind the counter said, "No Euros" but motioned for her to lean closer. "Wait a moment," he said quietly, and then said something in (presumably) Czech to his equally-young male coworker, who immediately scuttled out of the booth. The first young man then furtively said, "Yes, Euros. 10 Euros each." The young lady handed over 20 Euros, which the young man slid to the side of his cash register, and she and her friend moved forward. I left. I'm not all that great at math, but I knew that 100 Korunas did not equal 10 Euros. I checked later, and 100 Korunas = 3.65 Euros. It appears that the young man at the Old Town Hall had a quite little side business going on!

4. The Prague Castle is well worth the walk, and considering the steepness of the walk, that's saying quite a bit. Do not pay any attention to the websites that say things like "The walk to Prague castle is a little steep for the last few minutes but well worth the effort" or "Some more elderly walkers may find the walk to the Prague Castle slightly challenging". Trust me -- the walk is more than a "little steep", it lasts more than a "few minutes", even young walkers were pausing to pant and rest. In short, that climb is a killer, but it IS "well worth the effort". The courtyard and buildings are beautiful; even more stunning, though, is the view of Prague from the castle grounds. I wanted to take a tour of the cathedral and of the castle, but trying to decipher the various tours and combinations of tours and the various prices -- none of which were posted in English -- was impossible, and none of the 4 people working in the ticket booth spoke English. I later learned (via an online discussion group) that even to a Czech speaker, the pricing system and combination of ticket options is confusing, and the tours are pricey.

5. Tea at the Municipal House Cafe is a real treat! First of all, the Municipal House is a stately, imposing building, and the Cafe is stunningly beautiful. Secondly, Euros are accepted. Most importantly, though, the tea was outstanding and very reasonably priced. For only 5 Euros, I was treated to a pot of Earl Gray tea (with milk and sugar, of course), a huge piece of some sort of chocolate cake with decadently-rich chocolate icing and a huge dollop of light-as-air whipped cream, 3 "sweets" (candies), and a glass of some sort of delicious alcoholic beverage. I have no clue what the beverage was, and asking my waiter did not lead to an answer as he did not speak English. But it was very, very good!

6. Another site in Prague that should not be missed is the Lennon Wall (aka the John Lennon Wall). In the late 80's (1980's), young Czechs who were unhappy with the communist regime in power and who admired John Lennon for his fight for peace and equality for all, began writing anti-communist messages on a long wall across from the French Embassy. The original messages, written under cover of night because of the stiff prison sentence imposed on those who were caught, have long since been covered up, as over the years the wall has been repainted and new paintings and messages added. When I visited, a large painting of Lennon's face, a 3' x 5' painted British flag, and drawings dominated the wall, and Beatle lyrics and messages of love and peace from visitors filled every space; still yet, visitors that day were adding their own messages. It may not seem that a graffiti-filled wall would be all that impressive, but somehow this wall is quite moving.

7. I know that others who have visited Prague may disagree with what I'm going to say next, and I both understand and respect that, but  Prague is, without a doubt, the most gloomy and depressing place I have ever visited. I arrived at 7:25 a.m. and left at 23:42 (11:42 p.m.); in the 16 hours and 17 minutes between my arrival and departure, I saw a smile on the face of only 1 person that was not obviously a fellow tourist (i.e. was not speaking a language other than Czech and/or taking copious pictures of one or more people posing in front of something). I smiled at everyone I met; only fellow tourists smiled back. Most people remained stony-faced, some grimaced, and one man actually growled menacingly at me. Now, please realize, I didn't speak to these people, reach out to them, or approach them in any way. I just smiled. Even my waiter at the Municipal House Cafe, despite his very elaborately polite service, never smiled. Not once. Everyone looked grim, weary, and downtrodden. I was despairing of seeing a happy Czech when, just 15 minutes before I was to board my train to Vienna, a man with a Czech newspaper sat down next to me on a bench in the train station. He accidentally bumped me with his backpack and said something which I took to be a "sorry". In response, I smiled and gestured that it was okay, and miracle of miracles, he smiled gently and ducked his head in response. That one smile made up for the gloom of the day, and I wished there was some way for me to thank this gentleman for bringing a very long day to a pleasant end.

So ended the 3rd trip of my week-long journey. I boarded my train, found my sleeper car, got ready for bed, and fell asleep to the rhythm of the train.

 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Much-Needed Attitude Adjustment

Well, I certainly got a much-needed wake-up call this morning. Today's reading in the chronological 1-yr Bible I'm using in my morning quiet time is Numbers 11-13. The Israelites are grumbling about their diet -- no meat, no variety, just manna. They're focused completely on what makes them unhappy, and they've taken their eyes off their miraculous delivery from slavery, survival in the desert, etc.

Well, that certainly sounds familiar. Far too often, I know, I take my eyes off the many blessings I've received in just the past few years and focus instead on the aspects of my life I'm not overly pleased with. Instead of focusing on my children's good health (particularly in light of some very serious scares these past 4 years) and my own, my eyes see only my aging body and lack of good physical health (more on that in a bit). Instead of enjoying my lovely home in a beautiful neighborhood, I fret about the high cost of home ownership. All too often, instead of being grateful that I am employed and work in a department (and campus) filled with fantastic people and have wonderful opportunities as an educator there, I whine about the negative aspects of my job (they all have them, of course) and fret about solvency after retirement. Instead of being thankful my daughter lives nearby (or even with me, as she has at times) and that I see my son several times a year and that I have wonderful neighbors, I focus on my loneliness. I'm no different from the Israelites.

But the story -- today's reading -- doesn't end there. God tells Moses he's going to give them more meat than they can eat, and Moses -- who walked with God -- questions His ability!

At first, I'm incredulous that Moses, the man who met face to face with God, who saw the Red Sea part, who  knew God in a way few mortals ever have, doubts His ability to do provide more meat than the Israelites can eat. Of course, when you consider the huge Israelite population (as Moses does) and the amount it would take to feed them (Moses raises that issue, too), he does appear to have a point. And I have to admit, I do the same thing. I fret, for example, about whether or not I will be able to survive financially when I retire. I read the missives from financial experts and watch the news, and I wonder how in the world I'll be able to afford retirement and health care expenses. I question whether or not God -- the God who has since before time done uncountable things that are far beyond my understanding -- can provide for me. I'm no different from Moses.

I love God's response: "Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not My word will come true!" I can almost hear God's angry roar.

Oh, how tired God must get of my whining and my pity parties. How much I must aggravate Him when my lack of gratitude causes me to question instead of praise Him. How tempted He must be to roar at me and let me know Who is in charge and is perfectly capable of taking care of me, thank you very much!

Furthermore, unlike the Israelites, I actually can change some of the very circumstances that make me unhappy. High cost of home ownership? Sell my house and buy something less expensive (to be fair, my house is on the market, and I plan to do just that when it sells). Don't like my lack of optimum health? Eat a more healthy diet and stick to a good, healthy exercise plan. Lonely? Attend some of the activities I've been talking about attending, join a ladies' group at church, and get back into volunteering. And through it all, trust God to keep His promises!

I don't know about you, but I needed today's Scripture reading and the attitude adjustment it prompted.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Backpacking through Europe -- days 1 & 2

From the moment I first heard the phrase "bucket list", I didn't like it; on the contrary, I do like the idea of a "100 Things" list. I first heard about such a list over 10 years ago from a group of scrapbookers, and I began my own list. I don't have a clue what this says about me, but even now (over 10 years after starting my list), there only 34 items on my list of things I'd like to accomplish in my lifetime.

Last week I was able to check off another item on my list -- "backpack through Europe". I'm not going to get too picky about what constitutes "through" Europe. Over the course of 7 days, I traveled through 8 countries (and stopped for at least one day in 4 cities), and that's good enough for me.

I left England (I'm counting it as one of the 8 countries, by the way) very early one morning and traveled through Belgium to The Netherlands, stopping to spend one night and the entire next day in Amsterdam. I arrived late in the afternoon, checked into my hotel and put my backpack in my teeny-tiny room, and went back out to explore a bit before nightfall. I had intended to at least venture into the Red Light District; my travel consultant back in England had assured me I'd be perfectly safe by myself after dark in that part of Amsterdam. However, the 2 very nice, helpful young ladies at the hotel's front desk expressed such dismay when I asked for directions to that area that I asked them if I should wait until the next day and listened to their advice that I should.

Instead, I strolled around the streets near my hotel until well after dark, stopping in a nice diner for a wonderful dinner of calamari, and then went back to my hotel room to watch the winter Olympics on television. The commentators were speaking Dutch, of course, and I had to laugh at myself when I realized that I had turned up the volume and was listening intently, as if somehow if I could just hear well enough I'd understand something! I finally muted the sound and enjoyed the images of the various graceful and daring athletes.

Day 2 dawned gloomy and drizzly, and I walked from the hotel to a busy dock area near the hotel to take a 90-minute canal boat tour. I was fortunate to get a front-facing seat next to the window of our glassed-in boat, and as the tour progressed, I realized I was also on the "best" side of the boat. Fortunately, the audio tour was given in at least 4 languages (English being the 2nd one in each segment), and I thoroughly enjoyed the many, many interesting places and buildings we slowly passed and the interesting tidbits of information that were shared.

For example, adjacent to the train station is a huge, multi-level bicycle garage that looks exactly like one of the large car garages in downtown St. Louis. According to the audio tour, it's one of the largest bike garages in Amsterdam, and it holds 2,500 bicycles! I had passed it the previous evening on my walk from the train station to the hotel, and it was as full then as it appeared to be that morning. The number 2,500 came up again -- there are 2,500 boat slips for business and residential boats along the canals of Amsterdam. The city will not issue any more than that number, and there is quite a waiting list for occupancy.

After the boat tour ended, I started out on my walking tour. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had researched online and come up with a walking tour for each of the 4 cities I would be visiting. Each tour had a starting and ending point; between the two were lots of "walk north until you get to ___" types of instructions. As both of my children will gladly tell anyone who asks, I am directionally-impaired, so I knew heading out that morning that the day could end disastrously. I was, quite frankly, not too confident of my ability to find the first item on my list, much less all 12 places!

I asked (by drawing a compass and circling the word "North") the canal boat ticket saleslady which direction was North; she asked the teenage boy stocking the postcard rack, and he in turn went outside and asked a man working on one of the boats. He returned, pointed in the direction of my hotel, smiled, and said what I think may have been "good luck". I thanked both him and the saleslady and headed out.

Street names were not posted on every corner as they typically are in America (I've found that to be the case everywhere I've been here), and that presented some challenges. Also, I had the English version of the name of the places I was looking for; that wasn't at all helpful. I found the first two places on my list almost by mistake. I stopped to reread my instructions, looked up and to the right, and there was the Magna Plaza, the former post office and now a shopping plaza (#2), which meant that directly across the street and on my left was Dam Square and the Queen's Palace (#1).  I stopped in the Magna Plaza and visited a few shops before circling around to the back and continuing on to find the Torensluis Bridge (#3).

I walked for awhile, crossed a bridge, and continued walking about 200' more before deciding to stop in a very cute shop that I thought sold items sold by local artisans (4 years of high school Latin helps me read some foreign languages). The lady in the shop spoke English fairly fluently, and when I told her I was looking for the Torensluis Bridge, she explained that if I had just come from "that" direction (I had), I had just crossed it. I bought a pretty delft blue bracelet (very reasonably priced) and backtracked so that I wouldn't miss the house at Single 166. I found it and was taking a picture of it when 2 young men of about college age strolled by. I asked them if they'd take my picture by the building, and they were happy to do it. When I explained to them why this house was of interest to me, they were shocked; they told me they lived 3 doors down and never realized they lived that close to the narrowest house in all of Amsterdam. Both immediately got their own smart phones out and asked me to take pictures of them by the front door of the very narrow (not much wider than 4') house.

From there I walked through down a busy street -- lots of bicyclists and pedestrians strolling the sidewalks past buildings housing restaurants, bars, and shops -- past the Theater Museum and to the Westerkah, the tallest church in Amsterdam. I had planned to pay 3 Euros to go up in the bell tower for what was touted as the "best panoramic view of Amsterdam", but scaffoldings surrounded the tower and a sign on the church door indicated the tower was temporarily closed for construction (well, that's what it appeared to say, and the door was locked).

I continued on my way and saw several more sites before seeing a long line of people and realizing that, without knowing it, I had arrived at the Anne Frank Huis, which I had wanted to visit but thought would be impossible. I had tried to purchase a ticket online (as advised), but tickets were sold out by the time I made my travel plans. I asked a lady in an official-looking uniform near the front of the line if it was possible to purchase tickets at the door, and she said it was, but that the wait was about an hour. I followed the line back to its end and joined those waiting to see the Secret Annexe.

To my delight, a family of 4 (dad, mom, 2 teen-aged sons) from Massachusetts got into line behind me. After 2 days of not hearing an American voice, I was overjoyed to hear them talking, and I introduced myself. The father and the 2 boys went off in search of a bite to eat, and the mother and I had a wonderful chat while the line slowly moved forward. She told me their family loves St. Louis (and told me a heartwarming story I'll share at another time), and we talked about America, traveling, children, and the normal stuff that moms talk about. I barely noticed the blustering winds, dark skies, dropping temperatures, and wait.

Finally, we all entered the Anne Frank Huis. In several respects, it was not what I had expected. The rooms are empty except for a few pictures in every room showing what they looked like when the Franks, et al were in hiding. I lingered in each room, imagining each one filled with furniture and inhabitants. As I paused for a bit to stand where Anne's desk chair would have sat, I thought of the young Jewish girl who had sat where I stood and written the diary that has been read by so many people around the world. I thought back to when I first read Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl when I was in 5th grade, and I remembered how I had lain on my bed and tried to imagine being Anne, hiding in the Annexe. I had always wanted to see the Annexe for myself, and over 40 years later, there I was. On the wall to the right of the desk, and over the spot where Anne's bed would have been, were still some of the "movie star" pictures she so loved.

After slowly wandering around the rooms within the Annexe, I spent a considerable amount of time in the museum housed in the rooms that are (as best I could tell) what were the offices and work areas of Mr. Frank's business. The rooms are filled with artifacts from the lives of the Franks and the others who shared their hiding space. The actual diary is on display, as are the "admission cards" that were filled out when each of the Franks entered Auschwitz and numerous documents, photos, pieces of clothing, etc. The museum was as heartbreaking as it was interesting.

By the time I left the Anne Frank Huis, I realized I didn't have time to finish my walking tour. As I looked at the items that remained, I saw that I had seen each of them while on the canal boat tour that morning, so I didn't feel bad about abandoning my plan and finding a place to eat. I found a charming restaurant and enjoyed a pastry and a cup of rich hot chocolate topped by an amazingly-light and refreshing whipped cream while I jotted some notes in my travel journal; then I collected my backpack and walked back to the train station.

The Amsterdam train station is very impressive. Busy but well-organized and very clean, with large arrival and departure signs with train number, destinations, departure times, and platform number. After a short wait, I boarded my train (destination: Prague), and found my sleeper cabin.

The steward informed me that I had the cabin to myself for the night and that he would make up the bed whenever I was ready. I settled into my cabin, which was comfortable and roomier than I expected, and relaxed with my journal and a pot of tea. It was a delightful end to what had been an absolutely wonderful day, and my only regret was that my children weren't with me.

As I sipped my tea, I thought about my day. Four things stood out to me. First, the beauty of Amsterdam -- the city itself, the buildings, the canals and boats. Second, the fact that almost everyone I had seen that day was smiling and friendly, and the atmosphere of the city was very positive and cheerful as a result. Of course, I couldn't help but think about the Anne Frank Huis and the emotions it evoked.

I also reflected on the fact that I hadn't gotten lost a single time. Amazingly, language issues and either a lack of a street name on my list (some cases) or the street names not being posted (the remaining cases) had not been a problem. I had double-checked -- by showing the next destination on my itinerary to a passerby -- where I was several times while I was walking from place to place, but other than the one time when I bypassed the street with the narrowest house in Amsterdam, I hadn't had to backtrack a single time. What a great start to my trip!