Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weer op de weg

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On the road again, as Willie Nelson’s song goes, and so am I.

I’ve got a one-week / five-city tour on tap, spanning two continents from the UK to the Netherlands, Germany to the US.  It begins at the train station, as all good journeys do.  It also begins with the DLR down for maintenance, passengers filling the alternate-bus and wondering whether the diversion is cover for a security threat.

The events in Paris have unsettled people more than usual.  I think people make an easy equivalence between UK and French capitals: one a target, both a target.  This event, in particular, leaves an uneasy feeling that any innocent night out could end in tragedy.  Dinner discussions of What To Do lead to heated debates DSC06675 (1024x683)about immigration, then to meta-conversations about whether this is an appropriate topic for dinner.

And the signs in the subway are starting to feel a bit surreal.

For my part, I’ll stick to my keeping a low-profile life and avoid crowded public markets, stations, and events.  I favor some sort of sanctuary zones as an alternative to having migrants flow randomly across the Med and between unwelcoming train stations.

On immigration, I worry about the right-wing groups ramping up competing rhetoric, as they are in the US.   But the solutions from the left are too weak: quota systems to allocate refugees can only account for a fraction of those coming.  I think that the Schengen free-passage rules may soon be changed.  Geert Wilders is reasonably asking for a vote on the matter and Sweden is tightening its borders.

Finally, I don’t know how people can avoid talking about events once they buzz into someone’s smart phone, although turning off  the news during dinner is appropriate.  I disagree with those who feel that if it doesn’t affect them directly, they shouldn’t be bothered with it. is   feel like I need more than my usual precautions, but I can feel Europe stirring to protect itself.

DSC06681 (1024x679)London City Airport, and my flight  is delayed for two hours by gales over Amsterdam.  Everyone is checked in, sent back, checked in a second time, blowing eddies of families around the airport.  The hop over is finally, uneventful, I drop into the Netherlands, Christmas displays already lit across Schiphol.

Daily commuting by train between Maastricht and Dusseldorf makes no sense, the border crossing at Venlo always takes an extra hour each way because of the little spur route that connects the NS and DB systems.  I start searching for a rental car, and find one on Avis that is 95 euro for three days.  A steal.

The counter attendant tells me that they DSC06682 (669x1024)can’t beat the price: in fact, there are no cars for rental no matter what my computer says.  I place the order and watch my new booking pop up on their terminal.

Would you like an Upgrade to a bigger car?  Now there are extras; I’ll stay with what I have.  The clerks start an animated discussion in Dutch about the stupidity of computers and tourists, than smile and ask (in English) for my driver’s license. 

I give them my Dutch one and smile sweetly.  ‘Gotcha.

DSC06685 (1024x683)I’m actually given a lovely car, all the trimmings, and head south on the A2.  It’s been years since I used to do this regularly when I worked for Corporate.  The road is wider and faster than it was then, the construction projects around Utrecht and Eindhoven all completed.  To the south, though, the roads are closed for new projects, routing me an hour around to the east to arrive in Maastricht very late.

DSC06689 (672x1024)But Bert’s open, there’s a good Bier van de maand, and weather along the river is surprisingly warm.  The bicycles drift past, the conversations flow around me, it’s all familiar and personal again.

‘nice to have you home, offers the ober in Rantree, smiling. 

“Good to be back,” even if only for a few days.

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