This is the first in a series of essays.
We’d never cruised.
We would sit at an outside bar in places in the Caribbean and make fun of the people pouring off the ships with name tags and swore we would never be them. Never say never, and there we were – staring up at 13 levels of the unknown, watching our carefully packed worldly goods being whisked away to who-knows-where and staring at our Sea Pass, which would be our most prized possession for the next 12 days.
Weeks earlier I had been crazed with doubts, bombarding the Florida travel agent with emails filled with questions. I renewed my passport and went along with all the excursion decisions my travel companions chose, including two days in St Petersburg, Russia, which required special and pricey visas. I obsessed about packing for twelve days on a ship with so many activities and felt I needed my entire closet. Because we would be on the Baltic Sea, we were encouraged to layer, layer, layer – so I manically grouped my outfits by color. How formal was formal? How casual was casual? Why do women do this?
The real test came at O’Hare when we needed to check in at the International terminal. My enormous suitcase weighed in nearly 10 pounds over the 50-pound limit and I emptied all my outside pockets into my husband’s underweight (of course) bag. It wasn’t enough, so I gingerly unzipped the main section, expecting it to explode like a Pillsbury biscuit can. Perspiring like a weight lifter, I pushed it over to the very patient attendant and smiled wearily at her. I must have looked pathetic, because she waved it through at 2 pounds over. I whispered, “Merci,” and then realized her accent was slightly Germanic.
“Er, danke,” I mumbled sheepishly.
We’d been overseas a few times, so the flight was uneventful and customs in Amsterdam fairly painless. However, our driver was nowhere to be seen. We took turns going to the two different meeting spots and squinted at bold printed and handwritten signs, IPads and even iPhones, searching for our name. We sneered in envy at those who were whisked away and eventually gave up and joined the lengthy cab line for our first foray into notorious Amsterdam. The airport also housed the train station, which explained the chaos exiting the area, but not the plethora of bicycle riders.
The driver noticed my widened eyes in the mirror and said, “There is little parking in Amsterdam.” Trolleys and buses, yes, but few cars. I watched women in skirts and heels maneuvering bikes on cobblestone streets and children astride special handlebars or rear seats. “Charming,” I said aloud. “No way,” to myself.
We arrived at our boutique hotel, with an interesting outside elevator for my oversized luggage and a few of the hundreds of steps we would climb on our tours of Baltic Sea towns. Our travel companions from southwest Florida greeted us in the tiny lobby filled with their luggage – all waiting for rooms. We hustled off to tour the Ann Frank house and the Van Gogh museum with sleep-deprived brains before our morning embark on the massive Brilliance of the Seas.
Yvonne Ransel lives in Bristol and occasionally writes essays for The Elkhart Truth.