It’s April already, and I haven’t had the time to upload a playlist for March. I come armed with excuses, messieurs et madames. World Travel! Week Long Meetings! Whirlwind museum visits! Whoosh-hit-and-run nephew visits[ref]I did not just use the words “hit and run” and “nephew” together, did I? Oh dear.[/ref]! Washing dirty laundry after said world travel! Woulda-coulda-shoulda! Whiplash from alliterative phrasing!
Long story short, a day after I am back from my month-long trip to India and the UK, I found out that I had to leave for Europe again – Amsterdam this time – for work. I know, I know – work and Amsterdam, scoff all you want, but here was the charmer: I had to get a Schengen visa. And that is always an adventure when there are deadlines involved. The other point to be noted was that like the British visa, this one also was not issued in Los Angeles, but in Washington DC, even though there was a consulate in Los Angeles, thankfully. So I was not holding my breath. The available appointment date that I got was for 3 days before the journey – and just before giving up, I tried two things: to apply separately to the Belgian consulate, which had open appointments the same week, and sending an email to the Netherlands consulate in LA explaining the situation.
Jumping ahead, there was this common theme of my travel this time. The fact that the Dutch are misunderstood by many – and yes, I am generalizing. They get flak for their unsophisticated cuisine, their failed attempts to take over the world in the eighteenth century and their lack of concern about unrestrained drug use and general immorality[ref]Sarcasm. Thank you. [/ref]. Everybody fails to notice that – the Dutch are fun, friendly, helpful and very very helpful. I said that twice, just to emphasize my point. [ref]Ironically enough, this is a generalization too. After all, it was a Dutch guy that nearly pinched my phone at Schiphol airport three years ago.[/ref] The lady at the consulate looked at my application, looked at the ghosts of Schengen visas past, hmm-ed and clucked [ref] The clucking was at the sight of the Belgian Schengen from last year, which was a single-entry visa lasting for 3 weeks, the exact time period of my travel. It was like the Belgian authorities refused to believe that anybody would stay three weeks in Belgium for any reason but nefarious. [/ref], and then gently wondered if it would probably be more beneficial – hem? – to have a visa until 2017? I gaped for a bit, and vigorously agreed. She asked me to add a note to the top of my application form, which I did. (“and maybe also write thank you, just to keep them happy, hem?”) My mind, already having been blown at this invigorating concept that someone actually read additional text on an application form and responded to polite gestures, tried to adjust to the fact that this lady wanted me to get a long-term visa. And I got one! I am now mobile in the USA, the UK and all of the Schengen area until 2017, and that makes me feel very, very powerful.
Also: later, when I realized that I had to change something on my rental car reservation, I called up the service desk from Los Angeles, dreading the whole European service experience that everybody talks about. The lady who picked it up heard me out for about a minute, and asked if she could call me back since she was busy. And she did, even though it was 11 PM for her, and did all that was to be done, and told me her name so that I could personally speak to her at the counter when I landed. I asked for her as I was picking up my car, and even as she was helping out someone else (and was on the phone at the same time), she looked at me and exclaimed “Los Angeles!”, and wished me a good trip.[ref]She was from Sixt Cars, and they are really good. I tried EuropCar before, and they were good too, but I would definitely go with Sixt next time. Although if you are renting a car in Amsterdam, you are going about it wrong. I have an excuse – I had to drive to Brussels and back.[/ref]
Despite this being a work trip, it proved to be a lot of fun. I met everybody I was supposed to, and also someone I wasn’t, but was glad to meet after a four-year absence from each other’s lives. I managed to spend time playing a rabbit-and-carrot board game with my nephew (and at least one reader is smiling right now) where he tried to get me to RTFM before playing, except the FM was written in French, fergoshsakes. I made it in time for a birthday – making it two years in a row, and we will try to do it the third year too. I visited Gent finally, with a friend whose name sounds remarkably like the city, and he took me to a fascinating museum that was part of a psychiatric hospital, with exhibits on death, depression and melancholia that made me wish I had more than a few hours to spare. I had my fill of Dutch Indonesian food and fruit beer, and took my annual walk through the American Book Center, the bookshop that made me appreciate bookshops again.