How did that happen?

When looking at our calendar for the coming year, we discovered a narrow window of time in early June when we could possibly travel- once the dates of some other things were firmed up in May. We were not sure this would be possible at all – but did an initial assessment and found early June was a good travel time for our destination (not too busy), weather was okay, we were still far enough out that airline tickets were priced where we expected them to be priced, and we could get hotel reservations.

With that information in hand, I began planning the trip.

  • First, read Rick Steves’ book, Europe through the Back Door. An absolute ton of relevant and helpful information for first time travelers to Europe.
  • Our destination: The Netherlands.
  • Why the Netherlands? I had read a book “Why the Dutch are Different?” describing Dutch history, culture and modern life (it’s a good book!). Perhaps 90% of residents in the Netherlands speak English as a 2nd (or 3rd) language – many/most speak excellent English and those that are not as proficient speak enough English to make communication easy. This makes it easier for those of us who do not speak Dutch – particularly with this being our first time in a non-English centric country. We did a quick check of typical June weather – always plan for rain in the Netherlands! (We were lucky – had rain just 2 days and mostly sunny weather the entire trip!)
  • I watched Youtube videos that gave me a familiarity with the train system, the airport and various attractions. You can even find videos on how to purchase an OV-ChipKaart to use the train system.
  • Initially we identified places with things we wished to see. In this phase of planning, I was somewhat random and inefficient – a better approach for the future would be to mark out attractions on a map. This can help in planning the sequence to visit them in an efficient way. For example, in many areas there are historic districts – and it makes sense to visit 2 or 3 museums all located in the same general area, so you spend less time traveling between sites. I used local visitor web sites, TripAdvisor and other services to identify potential destinations of interest.
  • From this we made a first guess to stay a number of days in each location – 4 nights in Utrecht, 4 nights in Leiden, and then 3 nights in Amsterdam before departure – based on our likely seeing one or two things each day.
  • A very important step is to visit the web sites of each attraction and determine their opening hours and days! Something we wanted to see in Leiden was open only on Saturdays! We discovered several places were closed on Mondays. Hours of attractions (such as museums) can vary considerably – some are 9 am to 5 pm, while others may be 10 am to 4 pm or even 1 pm to 4 pm. The first step is to make sure you organize your plan based on when things are open! In this process, we found 3 museums were to be closed for months while they underwent major renovations. Better to learn these things now!
  • Recognize you may only have time to visit two things per day due to the limited hours. We created additional options for each day, just in case something did not work out, or perhaps there might be rain on a day we planned to be outside. This gave us options.
  • Related: Some attractions might be busy, and you may need to reserve tickets days to weeks in advance. Similarly, many attractions encourage ticket purchase online and to show them a QR code for entry once you arrive.
  • Thus, the key in this step is planning – ensure that the places you wish to visit will be open, and whether you need tickets in advance.
  • Create an outline of the plan. I used MS Word to write up an outline of our proposed trip. I then went through and thoroughly detailed each activity – identifying name, address, times, prices of admission – and sometimes a map print out to help us stay oriented to locations. The plan also had a “To Do” section at the beginning – things we thought of were added to the “To Do” section until we could research those items. Things like “notify credit card company of travel” in advance (to deal with their anti-fraud detection systems).
  • By the time we were done, our plan was about 30 pages long. The plan included our flight information and hotel addresses and contact information. It literally had step by step information from using Uber to go from our house to the local airport, to flight information, and then upon arrival, reminders to visit an airport ATM to get Euros, then buy some food, then purchase a train access card, and how to set up my phone for international high-speed data. We knew we needed to stop at a laundry about halfway through the trip. Initially we planned to do that in Leiden, but in checking maps, the nearest laundry was a mile away from our hotel – and not open on the Monday we had set aside to do laundry! Instead, we found a laundry about 1/3 mile from our Utrecht hotel – and did our laundry there on Friday morning before leaving for Leiden. We also learned the laundry was cash only – so we needed to be prepared with Euros. This is why you want to plan ahead! Do not assume your local laundry is open without checking!
  • Be flexible with the plan. Things happen that can change plans. By having several options pre-planned, this made choosing alternatives easier. For example, we planned to spend an entire day at a castle on our 3rd day, with a huge outdoor land area to hike in. But the weather forecast called for rain on that day – so we instead went there on day #2, and made day #3 into indoor museum visits. The plan is not meant to be followed precisely – its a guideline to help us and keep us on track.
  • Having the plan made the execution of the trip pretty easy. It was a LOT of work to put together this plan taking many dozens of hours of time. But having it made travel easy and less stressful.

That is how the planning process was done. I highly recommend buying Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Back Door book. His book is super detailed and helpful in the planning process. Highly recommended.

With the plan completed, airfare purchased, and hotels reserved, everything looked good …

The Amazing Prelude to the Trip

I will write up a separate post about the actual trip itself but first, the trip prelude… where nearly everything went wrong.

On April 30th – about 5 weeks prior to departure, I contracted hepatitis, which knocked out my energy levels and I had to sleep, sometimes twice each day. I was told it could take 1-2 months to recover. Because of this we were not sure until about 10 days in advance if this trip was even possible.

But there was more: I also underwent a pre-scheduled routine colonoscopy under general anesthesia. Coupled with recovering from hepatitis, this slowed me down more.

With just one week to go, my left ear blocked up completely and I could barely hear. The next day, the gum inside my mouth swelled up. My dentist put me on antibiotics and arranged for an endodontist specialist to see me on Friday morning (2 days before travel). The diagnosis was my wisdom tooth was cracked and had to be immediately extracted. The root of the tooth was cracked the entire length! This led to infection and massive inflammation. The tooth was pulled Friday morning – I had to hold a compress in place all day Friday until the bleeding stopped. If complications did not occur by Saturday morning, we were okay to go. Literally, this go/no go decision was made about 24 hours before the trip!

I had to avoid chewing on the left side of my mouth. I was worried about a complication called “dry socket” (which fortunately did not happen) but just in case, I found an emergency, cash-based dental clinic a short distance from our hotel in Utrecht. Having that clinic identified in advance brought piece of mind!

At start of week 2, I damaged my right knee after walking 4 1/2 miles and doing too many stairs. The next morning, my knee could only bend between about 135- and 180-degrees. The pain was intense. The next day, I could barely walk. Fortunately, I was able to contact my doctor remotely and he had me take medication I have for severe food allergies (prednisone) and diclofenac tablets which are available over the counter in the Netherlands (prescription only in the U.S.) The combination was a miracle. I went from thinking we’d spend the last few days sitting somewhere, to 3 hours later bending my knee to 90 degrees, and then about 6-7 hours, restoring most flexibility and nearly pain free!

In spite of these challenges, we consider the trip a success and look forward to a future trip that is less eventful! We loved the Netherlands and would love to visit there again. Seriously.

Afterword

But the trip had one more surprise in store – we brought back an unexpected souvenir!

On the plane flight back, as we descended into Seattle, I had minor nasal sniffles and swallowing of mucous, with a handful of coughs to clear it out. That was it. But it happened each time we had pressure changes (we had a connecting flight too).

After returning, I did a rapid test – and yep, positive for covid-19. In fact, both of us (my wife too) tested positive. A day later, my main symptoms were a few hours of fatigue and light headedness, and a tiny, tiny bit of nasal drainage. I was not coughing.

But still – an interesting souvenir to being home, huh? And what a bizarre way to end this past 6-7 weeks of crazy health stuff. I’ve had more interaction with health care in the past 7 weeks than I typically had in about a 3-year period!

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