The journey there began with a "lift" to Birmingham from one of our neighbours who owned a car (Dad rode a motorbike.) At the station we waved goodbye to Dad and caught a train for the long journey to London. In the late afternoon we got a taxi to a different station in London and boarded the "boat train" to Harwich, the port on the east coast, from which we would travel overnight by boat to the Hook of Holland, (or Hoek van Holland,) a short car ride from Rotterdam, our final destination.
We would wake up at dawn and peer out at a land so different to England that our young senses absorbed the many different sights, sounds and smells and they were imprinted on our psyches forever. For me these became ever after associated with deep happiness. A whiff of cigar smoke, the sound of a ship's horn in the distance, or a couple conversing in Dutch is enough to stir my heart.
En route to Rotterdam we stared from the back seat of an uncle's car at flat, clean, cobbled streets and throngs of people riding bikes to work; as synchronized as flocks of birds in the sky.
Both sets of parents were excited, a little apprehensive, and wished they could come too. The girls were just excited, or so I thought. It was only as the plane rumbled and shook with engines roaring, at take off, that I turned to Tori, sitting next to me (because I knew that she preferred not to sit beside a stranger,) and saw something else. One immaculately manicured hand was under the armrest and the other over it; gripping it as though her life depended on it. Her knuckles were as white as her cool nail polish! I realized that she was bravely and silently working through a fear of flying, and having inherited the same way of coping as her Omie, she wasn't talking about it. :)
In the morning we landed in Heathrow and caught a connecting flight to Amsterdam for the first leg of our vacation. The first thing we did before anything else was have breakfast at Schiphol airport--"poffertjes" , or mini Dutch pancakes. They were declared delicious!
In no time we were at our urban apartment in Amsterdam, and surrounded, as Rob and I once were, by what seemed like millions of bikes. Not the sleek, sports bikes of Canada, but old work horses with personality. We heard the whir of wheels; the squeak and creak of saddles; and the whoosh of air parted. And I felt again that old deep and abiding happiness.