Kwakkenberg

It was quiet in front of the imposing gate at the front of this ominous piece of 19th Century architecture. Its high stone walls and symbols from an ancient people stood like a secret hushed in the close, warm summer evening air. I put the key in the lock and turned and was almost surprised when it clicked open. I shouldn’t have been, yet it felt forbidden, like I was intruding. But my cousin had asked for this key from the proper authorities, and then she had given it to me because I would be in Nijmegen first. It was okay. We were designated survivors.20180701_191039

I stepped quietly through the opened gate, and carefully locked it behind me. I needed to see this, to find him, but I didn’t want to disturb anyone, especially the dead. I moved into the entrance area and could see the graves just beyond. What is the correct way to proceed, I wondered. To my left I found a listing of the graves. He was there, but listed incorrectly as Elias-Schaap, Emanuel. Elias was his middle name, his father’s first name. It should have read Schaap, Emanuel Elias.

There was also a grave number, but where was it counted from? The front or the back? The left or the right? I’d never been in a Jewish cemetery before. Were the religious customs very strict? Should I be wearing a kippah? Should I wash my hands with the silver cup left there? I started to venture into the graveyard to begin my search, when the door to the side building opened.

“Can I help you?” a grey-haired, middle-aged woman asked. I gave my story. I had a key from my cousin as we were the great-grandchildren of Emanuel Schaap, buried in this Jewish cemetery in the fall of 1916. I had come from Canada on a visit to my grandmother’s old neighborhood on the nearby Groesbeekseweg, had realized the cemetery was very close, and I would like to have a look.

“Ah yes! Glad to help you. So you have nothing to do with that white van that was parked out front? We have to be somewhat careful these days.” I asked if I needed a kippah, and she told me they were fairly relaxed about those things, but if I really wanted one, they had lots in a room whose door was beside the grave registry listing. I picked out a blue one from the pile and put it on somewhat awkwardly. It was a bit small for my large head, and considering I’d never worn one…

Keren was the teacher of the children’s school associated with the Nijmegen Jewish community and had a small classroom at this site.

“So! Row 6, grave 12. They are counted from the back and the left,” she stated as we walked to the end of the graveyard. “Some of the older ones can be hard to read.” Yet quickly enough we found the grave and, although weathered greatly by time, the writing and his name were quite legible. The first part was all in Hebrew, but beneath was stated:

Hier rust
Emanuel Elias Schaap
in leven agent de H.Ij.S.M.
Overleden 22 Cheswan 5677 (18 November)

Here rests
Emanuel Elais Schaap
in life an agent for the railway (H.Ij.S.M.)
Passed away on 18 November 1916

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I was surprised how emotional it felt to actually stand at Emanuel’s grave. All of this family history, and so much of it well hidden. I thought of his widow, Vrouwtje or Flora, as she liked to be called, and his children: son Maurits, along with daughters, Klara (my oma), and Regina and Sofie. At one time or another, they probably have all stood here, the exact place where I was now standing. But so much happened after his death. So much was darkened, especially by the evil of the war years and the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

I told Keren the details of the story. The ones that my cousin and I had pieced together over the last years since my mother passed away. That my grandmother, living in this quiet Dutch neighborhood through the Nazi occupation had somehow kept her Jewish roots a secret…that the family, including my mother and the parents of my cousins had all continued to live with this secret for the last 70 years, unbeknownst to our generation until my cousin, Claire, and I found incontrovertible evidence through genealogical research and the help of Holocaust websites that Oma’s family was indeed Jewish.

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Emanuel Elias Schaap, agent for the Hollandsche Railway (ca. 1915)

Emanuel had been the stationmaster of Nijmegen, a city in the eastern Netherlands close to the German border, at the turn of the last century. He raised his family there, and a generation later, Oma raised her family there. Oma was quite proud of her father. A picture of him in his railway agent uniform had been proudly displayed right until the end of her days in a nursing home. I wonder how she managed to avoid talking about his religion, hiding it from all discussion, especially in the war years. I puzzle over how the authorities never discovered her heritage, even if there was some tampering with the population register to remove the religious affiliation beside the family name. Wouldn’t some past friend or acquaintance have turned her in, or even simply said the wrong thing at the wrong time with the wrong person listening? The tight-lipped nature of my oma’s family lasted long after the war.

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E.E. Schaap, my great-grandfather (my maternal grandmother’s father), fourth man (seated) from the left as a member of the Jewish board of Nijmegen (May 1, 1913)

A couple of years ago in my explorations, I had found a picture of Emanuel as a member of the board of the Jewish community of Nijmegen taken a few years before he died. Apparently, he was involved in building what was then a new synagogue on Gerard Noodstraat. Abandoned by the decimated Jewish community at the end of the war, my sister, cousin and I visited this synagogue in 2015 when it housed a natural history museum.

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Nijmegen “New Synagogue” of 1913

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Gerard Noodstraat Synagogue in 1941 (WWII)

Klara Schaap and Fredrik Alberts

Oma and Opa (as her boyfriend) in 1916; possibly in mourning for her father’s death

Emanuel died fairly young, at the age of 59 when Oma was a tender 17. As I related in an earlier post, Emanuel’s family did not fare well during the German occupation. Emanuel’s widow, Vrouwtje (Flora) Schaap Calo, moved to Amsterdam in the 1920s and was taken from her seniors pension to die in Auschwitz in February 1943, days before her 79th birthday. His son, Maurits with his wife Rachel and their three sons moved from Kleve, Germany, to Amsterdam once Hitler rose to power. They were sent to the transit camp of Westerbork in the spring 1943 and then were gassed in Sobibor on April 16. Maurits’ youngest son, Alfred, died in Auschwitz in September 1942 at the age of 18, probably having been deported in the mid-summer wave of deportations that had swept up many young people in Amsterdam. The Nazis started with the young and healthy first of all, under the auspices of work camps for youth. Maurits’ two elder sons, went into hiding. The Dutch use the expression onderduikers (under-divers). They managed to survive the war. Two of Emanuel’s daughters, Regina and Sofie, were married and living in Indonesia. They had the Japanese occupation to deal with but managed to survive.

My Oma, Klara Alberts Schaap, lived out the war with her two daughters, my mom, Clara, and her sister, Willy, under the noses of the German occupiers. Hiding in plain sight, but under a constant pall of fear.

But my generation never knew these details. Until recently. All of it was kept secret, except for the occasional hint about “distant Jewish relations probably having died in the Holocaust”. And to think this cemetery was no more than a 15 minute walk from Oma’s house on Groesbeekseweg! Perhaps that was a reason why she and Opa bought into that neighborhood in 1936, twenty years after Emanuel’s death. Yet, due to the long-practiced secrecy, none of my cousins were taken to visit this cemetery, even though we all visited Oma’s house countless times through the 1960s and 70s.

If I needed further confirmation about my family’s Jewish roots, it came back with my Ancestry DNA test results this year, which showed I am about one quarter European Jewish—a number that makes pretty good sense when one of your four grandparents was Jewish…and lived in Europe.

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Keren was amazed at the story, even though it is similar to many she has heard before. It seems more and more people of my generation are finding out about mysterious branches of the family tree that were never really talked about after having been cut down in the 1940s. She took down my contact information and welcomed me to come back any time. Northern Europe was having an unusually hot, arid summer, and she kindly offered me a glass of water from her classroom.

So here I was thousands of miles from home, more than a century after Emanuel’s grave was dug, and with all that intervening history, standing with tears in my eyes and a kippah on my head, the cemetery grass dry and prickly at my feet. After seeing all sorts of family tree information online, Holocaust memorial listings of their names, and my own DNA results, nothing brought it home to hard reality as standing at the Jewish grave of my great grandfather, knowing I was literally standing in the footsteps of his family, of whom I am one of the survivors. One of the few survivors.

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Ian at the grave of E.E. Schaap, Kwakkenberg, Nijmegen

My mom never came out and made the Jewish past of our family clear and plain to me, which is not surprising when she must have been taught from an early age how deadly and dangerous the truth could be. Old habits die hard. Very hard. As children, my cousins and I were shielded from the facts of our family history. In the back of our parents’ minds was the possibility that a time may come yet again when railway cars would be used to carry people to camps from which there was no return. And yet, I think there were times when she left clues, perhaps leaving it up to fate as to whether we would discover the whole story. Perhaps there was even part of her that wanted us to know. Perhaps to know without knowing, without being implicated in the tragedy. She did of course give me the line about “some of our distant relations may have been Jewish and may have died in the Holocaust.” It just took me over twenty odd years to remove the italic emphases from her statement.

One other subtle clue exists on the back of a photograph taken of her in the late 1940s after the war. The back of the photo is simply labelled “Kwakkenberg, Jan 1948”. The expression on her face looks secretive, maybe even one of subterfuge. Perhaps she is just glancing away from the winter sunset. The Jewish cemetery faces west on Kwakkenberg street in Nijmegen.

Clara at Kwakkenberg 2

Clara Alberts, “Kwakkenberg”, Nijmegen, January 1948

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Heathrow Hell

When I saw its image in a Guardian article last week, I broke out in a cold sweat. I started to feel slightly nauseated, and my pulse raced in a flutter as flashbacks of the fear, anxiety, and physical distress flickered in my mind. What hideous monstrosity had been depicted you ask?

Behold:

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Heathrow passport control. ALAMY stock photo.

What? you scoff. The everyday hassle of customs in a major airport causing such bad memories?! How can it be?

In my defense, the line up at passport control at Heathrow on the last Friday in June when I passed through the exact scene above was much worse. You see that cordoned snaking line? It was full right up to the front of the picture. Imagine that, and then triple it…Yup it was busy. Very busy.

Really, I should take you right back. I need to give you much more context as to why my mere handful of hours in London’s major airport hub was something out of Dante’s Inferno. What I had done to deserve this tour of hell, I will never know. At least Dante had Virgil to guide him through, but I, I was alone.

Canto 1: Introitus

As mentioned in my previous post, my wife, son, and I traveled to Europe at the end of June. As they had a strong inclination to see Iceland, and I did not—something I somewhat regretted in short order—I bid them a fond adieu after we breakfasted upon our arrival at Iceland’s Keflavik airport. Things had gone most flyingly in our travels from Vancouver, Canada, to that point, but as I arrived at my gate for my onward flight to Heathrow where I was to catch a connecting flight to Amsterdam-Schiphol, the first sign that things were about to go much less flyingly was already on the departure board: “FI450 to LHR DELAYED 40 MIN”. As Keflavik has become a very busy airport and lacks seats for waiting passengers, folks there seem to just naturally line up at the gate about one hour before departure time. I was still nonplussed at this point, and simply joined the queue.

The 767 filled up slowly, however, and we were one hour late in departing. I still wasn’t concerned as I had a huge buffer of a 4-hour layover in Heathrow. I should arrive just after noon and my flight to Amsterdam wasn’t until 4:05 pm.

The weather in Iceland had consisted of low-misty clouds and cool temperatures, but shortly after takeoff, we were up above it all and in the sunshine. Woolly white puffs of cotton blanketed the North Atlantic all the way to the British Isles, which appeared about halfway through the 2.5 hour flight. Northern islands off the coast of Scotland jutted their dark scruffy chins through the low white blanket, and soon the clouds dissipated altogether. Britain looked hot and only slightly hazy in the early weeks of its 2018 heatwave. I was able to take some video of our passage over Manchester and could even make out Old Trafford far below.

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Manchester United’s Old Trafford Stadium far below

Canto 2: Descendio

Soon we were approaching London, and I wondered if we would make the great spiralling loops of descent that I remember as a 14 year-old flying with my parents into Gatwick, a long, long time ago. Indeed we did.

We first made about 3 or so racetrack loops as we waited for a landing window, and then we descended in a series of low and sometimes bumpy spirals over the farmland of southern England. I can be a bit of a nervous flyer in turbulence, so these sorts of jolts while spiralling downwards in a large aircraft were slightly off-putting. As we came to a somewhat jarring landing at LHR, the idea of taking an ocean cruise liner back to North America entered my head.

Yet, here I was in England, the land of my father! And it was sunny and very warm looking. And instead of a boring 4-hour wait for my next flight, I merely had a 3-hour stint ahead of me. Still plenty of time but not too much, I thought. I could probably find an airport pub or lounge and take it easy for a couple of hours, perhaps even wander through WH Smiths. So I thought.

Heathrow Terminal 2 is the big international part of Heathrow. This is the terminal where the Beatles left and returned for their North American tours of the 1960s, or so the signs said on the moving sidewalks as we passengers left the gate and went on our various merry ways. As I went deeper into the airport, I realized that I would have to go through customs to pick up my small item of luggage that I had checked-in when leaving Vancouver. In retrospect, this was my major sin and was the root cause that led to my punishments just ahead.

Just ahead, the corridor branched in a T, and the signs told me to bear right and go through Passport Control and the Baggage Claim area beyond. As I didn’t have my bag, I could not continue on the straight and narrow path directly ahead for passengers on connecting flights.

Canto 3: Portia e Baggagia

As I completed that turn to the right and came into that large, unfortunate plaza of pain, my anxieties notched up a level. Perhaps not anxiety but despair…My God! I thought. I have never seen so many humans packed into an indoor area, except for perhaps a sports stadium or arena. Although I could see the passport control area shown in the picture above, I was perhaps three times further back, and between me and the entrance to the baggage claim was a sea of sad looking humans. On the beachhead was a gathering into two or three different streams, depending on whether you held a British passport, an EU passport or ID card, or the lowly-privileged papers of Other Countries. As a Canadian, of course I found myself in this last and longest of lines. The line that wound up and down this plaza of pathos in the shape of a serpent but crept forward at the speed of a snail.

I looked at my watch. Still 2.5 hours before my plane was to leave. I’ll be fine. Other than the discomfort. The airport was hot and stuffy. In fact, it was 28 degrees Celsius (82 F) outside, and it seemed only slightly cooler in this shuffling line of suffering.

I looked at my customs form that I had filled out on the plane. Hmmm….”How long will you be staying in Britain?” it asked. “List the specific address(es) where you will be staying while visiting Britain,” it demanded. I left those blank. “With any luck, I’ll be out of here by nightfall, sir,” I imagined myself smiling to the customs officer good naturedly. I stuffed the form back into my pocket along with my favorite pen. I didn’t notice the tiny clatter the top cover of the pen made as it hit the floor and was lost forever.

I looked at my fellow travelers in the slow, snaking line. I recognized my seatmate from the plane every so often, as her part of the line folded up against my part. I was at least 3-4 minutes ahead of her, I thought to myself while saying, ” Are we having fun yet?!” with a goofy smile.

I looked at my watch again. God! I’ve been in this line an hour already…The minutes passed. The line shuffled. The sweat spread underneath my arms and back.

Amazingly, like a child who has waited for Christmas for endless weeks and the day actually dawns, I came to the front of the line and the customs official was a reasonable fellow. “Happens all the time!” he noted about the need to slog through customs and claim baggage when on a connecting flight. “You’ll need to take a train to the next terminal, though, and I don’t know if it’s free.”

I practically staggered out from the passport control area. Perhaps it was the natural light coming from the exit area just past the baggage claim, or  just the ability to walk faster than the snail shuffle pace of the last 90 minutes. A tiny bit of luck: I quickly spotted my bag on the Iceland Air carousel, and I was off. I just wasn’t sure to where. At this point, the airport kind of ended in a large sunlit atrium which encouraged you to go into London. How do I find this train to Heathrow Terminal 4? I wondered, stumbling through a huge portal named EXIT.

heathrow-terminal-2-exit

A laughably empty baggage claim exit LHR 2, from the blog MummyTravels.com

Canto 4: Transitio

Then I noticed signs by a set of large elevators: “Down to trains for London and Terminals 3, 4, 5” with another sign confusingly stating, “Free ticket transfer trains to Heathrow 3, 4, 5”. Hmmmm. Does this mean I need a ticket, which I don’t have? Well, there was nothing for it but to go down in the elevator with the rest of the thronging hoards and see where it took me.

It took me to a long underground moving sidewalk that joined another moving sidewalk, and then another. With all the hustle and bustle down there, wrestling with my modestly sized luggage but sweating like a pig, I wondered how close I was to keeling over from the long-promised “cardiac event” my doctor had so often cautioned me about. Then I walked through a bit of a tunnel and came to yet another moving sidewalk, and then another. After 15 minutes or so, I came to a ticket plaza where luckily the tickets to the Heathrow Connect train were dispensed and, indeed, for free. I obtained one, from a security guard standing by the machine and handing them out to us confused travelers, and scurried into a platform area marked for Heathrow 4 and 5.

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Heathrow stock photo

It was pretty much a subway station, deep and dark beneath the hurly burly of the airport above. I rested against the cool wall, thankful for a breather and chance to avoid, at least for now, my cardiac event. I had to pay attention, though, because they kept announcing to take care which train you got on. “The next train is to Terminal 5. It does not stop at Terminal 4. If you are going to Terminal 4, wait for the next train….” Probably sage advice for me at this point.

After the Terminal 5 train departed, the Terminal 4 train soon appeared and I took the short (3 min?) hop over to said terminal. Again, more elevators, more moving sidewalks, more stress, but eventually I popped up onto the ground floor and found the check-in counter for my next leg on KLM 1020. I glanced at my watch and was relatively happy to note that it was just before 3pm; still more than an hour before my departure. Maybe WH Smith was doable after all.

The ticket agent was friendly enough, but was unable to tell me which gate my plane was leaving from. Apparently this is fairly common in Heathrow, and he simply told me to keep an eye on the departures monitor for the gate listing, which should come soon. Interesting, I thought. Never had that before: my plane leaves in an hour, but I don’t know where from exactly…

Anyways. On to security!

Canto 5: Liquidi Proibiti

Here my fellow travelers and I were greeted by a somewhat terse security agent, explaining until she was hoarse that, “ALL LIQUIDS 100 mL AND LESS MUST BE PLACED IN ONE OF THESE SPECIAL (LHR APPROVED) BAGS. NO EXCEPTIONS! YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED TO TAKE ANYTHING OVER 100 mL” She held up one of these clear ziploc type bags, one in each hand. They even sorting bins and tables at which you could repack. How thoughtful!

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And here, I sinned again. I scoffed to myself, “I always carry small (<100ml) amounts of liquid just in my toiletry bag, and I’ve never been stopped in North America because they were not in a clear plastic, resealable bag. Not a problem last time I flew in and out of Schiphol too. Why should I open this troublesome, tightly packed bag to start rearranging and separating out these items now? In fact, they are separated because they are all in the toilet bag. Pfff!” After only the briefest of hesitations, I plowed ahead into the line and somewhat confidently placed my book bag and suitcase into two separate trays, marched through the scanner without a beep, and came to the other side to pick up my bags. There I could see my suitcase, a sickly green color that probably matched my face at this point, behind a glass barrier, sitting sadly and lonely in its tray, waiting for an inspector…

The inspector who questioned me was actually quite nice. He started by asking me if I was familiar with Britain’s 100 mL liquid travel ban. “Probably not as much as I should be, ” I admitted shamefully. “Well, your bag was determined to have several various liquid containers scattered throughout.” Hmmm. Although I had thought of my toiletry bag and its obvious contents: shampoo, toothpaste, shaving gel, I realized now I had completely forgotten about the sunscreen and 4 novelty bottles of Canadian maple syrup I had brought as gifts for relatives in the Netherlands.

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Image from The Great Canadian Gift Company

Yes. Out they came, as his hands ruffled through my underwear and found the secret maple syrup compartment of my suitcase in the back zipper extension. One after the other, like a litter of puppies from an unspayed mongrel, they popped out into the daylight.

“Right…” he asked. “Waziss maple syrup then. A sorta Canadian delicacy?”

“Yup. Pretty much,” I stammered.

“Me partner is Canadian actually. Nice country. ‘eard lots about it, of course. Never had the syrup though…Whattya do wid it then?”

“Usually pour it over pancakes for breakfast.”

“Well, they’re all only 50 mL, so that’s fine, then…So, you’re Canadian? Fine country!” He was starting to take a shine to me, thanks to his positive experiences with another of my countrymen…or women. “Britain used to be a great country,” he continued. “Now it’s rubbish!”

“Oh?! Why?” I ventured.

“Just for the rich, this ‘er place now.”

I commiserated with him that this seems to be the common man’s situation in most countries, as he gathered all my liquids under 100 mL into one of the ubiquitous plastic bags, and which, he stated ominously, would have to be taken for testing. Testing! I thought with visions of lab equipment in a special department flashing in my feverish brain. Oh God! How long will that take? Fortunately, it was only a minute and the ordeal was all over. My Canadian Maple Syrup was deemed unexplodable and granted entry into the rest of the European continent. Unfortunately, I did lose my shaving gel, hair gel, and sunscreen as they were all packaged in bottles larger than 100 mL, even though they were more than half empty. I was left to repack with 50 minutes until my flight departed. Or so I thought.

When I finally glanced up to see the departures monitor, I now noticed that KLM 1020 still did not have a gate assignment, and was now DELAYED UNTIL 4:45 pm. “Well,” I thought. “I have an hour and a half wait now. Time for a break of some sort.” So I found a restaurant pub called The Prince of Wales, and treated myself to small dinner of grilled ham and cheese, chips, and a pint, which was most welcome by this time.

Canto 6: Attesa Indeterminata

While sitting at the table in this bustling little pub, with its frantic, yet friendly waiters delivering meals at breakneck speed to their customers, I found that KLM had sent me a text message with a couple of updates on the flight. The latest read, “KLM 1020 FURTHER DELAYED UNTIL 5:20.” After all that stress and rushing, I was finally going to have some time to kill, but was this good or bad? Even after dawdling over the remains of my beer and sandwich until 4.15,  there was still no gate posted on the departures monitor back in the terminal hall, which displayed the 5.20 pm departure time and teased that the gate would be announced at 5pm. The stress and anxiety crept back again.

I killed some time in a Boots drugstore, replacing the toiletry items that had been unceremoniously confiscated in security. I thought back fondly of the days of my youth , when Boots had been an active chain in Canada, or at least I did until I saw the price for a tiny 60 mL shaving gel and sunscreen totaled almost £5 or about $10!! Yikes! Britain sure was expensive. I wonder if the security outfits got some sort of kickback from the airport stores, which seemed full of customers like me buying mini-sized toiletries.

I took a seat in ready view of a departures monitor, foolishly thinking that the gate would be assigned any minute now. Extremely tired and half afraid I’d fall asleep, I kept one eye on the monitor. 5 pm came and went, but no update arrived. At this point, my anxiety and frustration edged higher yet again. My flight potentially leaves in 20 minutes, and I don’t even know where to catch it in this foreign airport terminal, where the signs provided guidance times to get to some gates as 15 or 20 minutes…To make matters worse, I also noticed a KLM 1022 flight that was departing at 5.20 just like my 1020, and my sleep-deprived brain immediately jumped to the nightmare scenario that I somehow had a misprinted or fraudulent ticket and that KLM 1022 was my 1020!

I walked to the nearest information counter, and as luck would have it, a young east-Indian fellow was asking the lady there my exact question: “I have been waiting for 2 hours for the gate announcement, but KLM 1020 still hasn’t posted one with the flight leaving in 15 minutes. What am I supposed to do?” I sheepishly cut in and remarked that I had the exact same question. The lady, of course, had no idea of the actual gate number, but advised us to go to the gate that was boarding KLM1022 and ask the ticketing agents there, who would be associated with KLM, if they knew. So, my newfound ally and I took off towards the gate in question, happy to have found another who shared their insane fears of a duplicate or non-existent flight. However, we were both so scattered and stressed, we had trouble finding this gate. At one point, I almost led us down a corridor that warned its destination gates were a 10-15 minute walk away, which potentially meant we would miss our flight if the gate wasn’t there or if they told us the actual gate for KLM 1020 was back from whence we’d come. Luckily, we thought better of it, and one further look around a corner found us at the departure gate for KLM 1022, the mystery doppelganger flight, which by this time had completely boarded.

The agents there were surrounded with a group of about a dozen puzzled and somewhat hostile-looking passengers and everyone was on their phones trying to find out what the devil was going on with KLM 1020. At this point an overhead announcement came on stating that, “Passengers awaiting KLM 1020 should now proceed to Gate 17.” East-India and I looked at each other in relief, and off we trudged with the entire herd to Gate 17, just another 5 minutes up the corridor, where we immediately and naively formed a line in hopes of boarding our long-sought flight. However, I was so tired at this point, and looking out at the window at the gangway and seeing no KLM aircraft in sight, I hobbled over to a seat in the nearest waiting area. At this point, I had been up for 26 hours straight, had crossed 7 timezones and was about to embark on my third transoceanic flight of the day. I could have burst into tears, if I had had the energy.

At this point a grandmotherly little old lady shuffled towards me in a Heathrow-staff uniform. “It looks as if you’ve had a long day,” she said. I half expected her to whip out a cuppa tea and crumpets from her smock, but it turned out she was doing a customer survey of travelers’ experiences at Heathrow, and she actually was most interested in hearing my story. She admitted that there had been terrible problems recently with large volumes of transferring passengers having to go through customs, and she sympathized with my story. I good-naturedly answered all her questions, and it helped pass the short time before our plane was ready, and we boarded. Perhaps it was fortunate that I’d had someone to discuss the last 5 hours of hell with. Doing the survey was almost like therapy.

Canto 7: Lezioni Imparate

Once we boarded, the pilots themselves were eager to get underway. They explained that the previous aircraft and crew had been stranded in Spain due to a labour dispute, and they had literally been called from home about an hour earlier to get to LHR and set up a replacement flight. I must admit, KLM is a pretty good airline. They apologized profusely for our inconvenience and the delays and, once airborne, handed out free wine and drinks along with a small sandwich. This helped me enjoy the end of this trying afternoon in Britain’s largest airport. The cabin crew barely had time to distribute all this and clean up, for it was a very short quick flight, and in 25 minutes we were flying over the Dutch coastline.

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Crossing over the Dutch coastline at Noordwijk

It is amazing how we can change our spirits so quickly with some nice food and a beautiful view, knowing that the day’s trials are behind us and, in my case, vacation time is truly beginning. Perhaps I also learned a valuable lesson, not just about Britain’s 100mL liquids law, but about having faith that whatever problems arise, I will make it through. A lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again in many aspects of my life. When traveling, and in life, we sometimes need to let go of our anxieties and go with the flow. Today’s disaster is tomorrow’s great story and a memory not soon forgotten.

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Travel and inspiration

Rutted Road in the Okanagan

Flickr photo by Dave Monk

I seem to get into habits in my workaday life that may appear to some as ruts in a well-worn country road. Take my lunches for example.

Monday is Sandwich Day,
Tuesday is Pizza Day,
Wednesday is Chicken Katsu Day,
Thursday is Sushi Day,
and Friday is Hamburger Day.

Week after week. Month after month. So it goes.

Yes, perhaps I am a creature of habit. I have three coffees in the morning and one after lunch. The number of the morning coffees shall be three! No more, no less shall the number of the coffees be. Three shall be the number thou shalt drink and the number of the drinking shall be three. Two is a number being insufficient to the fullness of caffeine, whilst four is much too fulsome of consequences dire. Five is right out!

Yes, perhaps I do need to vary my work week a bit more, and not just for coffees and lunches, but for life in general.

I should probably watch less Monty Python too…

I find that travel seems to shake things up for me. In a good way. Whether it is just a long-weekend road trip or a several week adventure in a far away location, the change always does me good, even if it is not entirely restful. As my mother used to say, “A change is as good as a rest.” This summer, I am glad to say, I had such an opportunity to see my world change due to a fairly lengthy adventure.

My family and I took a major 3-week vacation to Europe. My wife and son spent a week in Iceland, whilst I went on immediately to the Netherlands to spend time with my cousin and relax a bit before hitting full holiday stride. Wife and son then met up with me there for another week to tour Amsterdam, and from there we three went on to London for the final week.

Although not all was a picture of holiday bliss, there were some very trying times around airport transfers for example, I do seem to get a new lease on life through these flights of freedom from the regular routine. Perhaps my soul learns anew that other people in other places lead very different lives from my regular routine. They live in different scenery and in different languages. They live in different smells, sights, and sounds.

They live in different possibilities.

The brain’s neural pathways need to reroute, at least a little bit, to process it all, and suddenly there is an opening. You realize that you don’t have to abide by the same daily routines. You can do things differently. You can have new thoughts and new ideas. And…for me, the struggling blogger, I finally have ideas for new writings and fresh posts…

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Dawn flight to Iceland, by the author

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

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