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Super Mary Catching the Utrecht Train

We’re back in Amsterdam for a few days before flying back to the USA. We woke up this morning to hear some disconcerting news: talks had broken down between the operators’ union and Deutsche Bahn, the German national railroad. The operators could go on strike at any time, stranding us in Munich and causing us to miss our flight. That would have thrown a monkey wrench in our well-oiled “travel machine.” We made our way to the train station with great trepidation. When the train finally rolled out of the Munich station this morning we heaved a great sigh of relief. (We haven’t heard anything about the strike but now that we are securely in Amsterdam we couldn’t give a hoot. Funny how that works.)

We had taken the Amsterdam-Munich train ride a month ago when we returned our rental car. That time, we went second class and, I believe, “excrutiating” would adequately describe that nighttime journey. It was also cramped, uncomfortable and boring. We went first class this time and we agreed it was well worth the 20% extra cost: luxurious, roomy, uncrowded.

The ICE train rides like a Cadillac. We were zipping along watching the scenery when I asked Mary how fast she thought we were going. She thought maybe 70 MPH; I thought 80. A little while later the train was running parallel to the Autobahn. Strangely, we were going faster than even the fastest cars and anyone who knows anything about the Autobahn knows that cars in the fast lane regularly reach speeds approaching 100 MPH. Then I noticed a monitor at the front of our train car with some numbers on it. I walked up and this is what I saw:

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284 km/h. That’s 176 MPH! We were in contact with the ground and going nearly 200 MPH! I watched the monitor for a while and the speed fluctuated between 295 km/h and 270 km/h. The crazy thing was, the ride was so smooth, it didn’t feel faster than about 80 MPH.

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Lief and Mary on the ICE train to Amsterdam

Mary and I have different styles when it comes to boarding airplanes or switching trains. She likes to get on board with plenty of time to spare. I prefer not to wait in line (at the airport) any longer than necessary. I wait until all the other passengers have boarded. When switching trains, Mary has a near-pathological fear that she will be late. So it was today when we switched trains in Frankfurt. Our schedule called for a 25-minute layover between trains. We arrived about five minutes late into Frankfurt. To Mary, this was prelude to missing the Utrecht train and disaster. She took off at a high rate of speed with me in pursuit. Someone got between us and slowed me down. By the time I got back in the clear, Mary had opened up a 50-ft gap. There was no stopping her. I called after her

“Mary, we’ve got at least 15 minutes!”

To no avail. I had to break into a run to keep her in sight. We got to the train a full ten minutes before it left.

On the short train ride from the Utrecht station to Schiphol Airport we had conversations with two pleasant young Netherlanders; one young man and one young woman. Like everyone in Holland, they spoke English. The young man was trying to explain where he lived and he came up with this surprising statement:

“Where I live is under the sea.” Then he sheepishly added “Perhaps I don’t explain it so well.”

At first I thought he might live in some kind of Jacque Cousteau submersible but I think what he meant is that the part of Holland where he lives is some of the land that has been reclaimed from the sea by dikes and pumps and is actually below sea level (but not the sea!)

The “submersible” Dutchman had to leave us but a young woman took his vacated seat. There was a newspaper lying nearby with a headline containing the word “spook.” I asked her what spook means in Dutch. It usually means a ghost-like entity (as in English,) she explained, but in the case of the headline, it referred to bicyclists who ride on the wrong side of the road.

The conversation provided a convenient segue into this blog so I handed her one of my Chelan Traveler cards. Seeing my name (Lief,) she told us “Lief” is Dutch for “Dear.” The concierge at the hotel, seeing my name on my passport, told us the same thing. This, they both found amusing. To them, my name, “Lief Harry Carlsen” reads “Dear Harry Carlsen.” Or, as I explained to the young woman, Mary’s new term of endearment with me should be “Lief Lief.”

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