Amsterdam & Italy 2011: Day 15 - The journey home & reflecting back 29Apr2011

The flight back to Vancouver gives me no shortage of time to look back on our trip, review the highs and not-so-highs, and avoid doing work things that have been piling up in my absence. We left our Rome B & B at 0600 hrs, flew to Amsterdam, transferred to our flight to Vancouver then landed at YVR at 1400 hrs (but add 9 hours for the time zone change) to give a total of 17 hours of mostly sitting around after a very active couple of weeks. So, here come the highlights, not-so-highs, things I’ll try to carry on and things I won’t carry on after getting home.

The highlights:

Amsterdam by day (including bike ride)

I’ve wanted to visit Amsterdam for a long time. I think the one time I was there in the past was when I was 11-years-old, the same age Daniel is now. I remember a few things from back then but mostly that I really loved it and wanted to come back one day. Last year when Daniel and I were travelling to meet up with Laura and Dena in Israel, we were going to have a layover in Amsterdam but as many know, that trip did not turn out as planned, the least of which was not getting to Amsterdam. Just wandering the streets of Amsterdam during the day was really being in a different world and I would still like to go back there again.

Dena, Laura and Daniel at original Anne Frank House entranceIt would also be impossible to talk about Amsterdam without including the Anne Frank House. When I had visited it as a child, it was just a house and there were no crowds. Today, just the sight of never-ending line-ups made that visit special. The idea that so many people are interested in seeing the Ann Frank House is amazing. The addition now of an attached museum, dedicated to spreading the awareness of hatred in this world, was one of those unexpected surprises of this vacation.

Biking outside Amsterdam with Mike’s BikesOne of the biggest highlights of the entire vacation was the family-friendly bike ride with Mike’s Bikes. Yes, souvenir wooden clogs and overpriced cheese graters were a bit of a rip-off but that was definitely one of the best things we did during the whole two weeks.

Venice by night

Venice by nightVenice, another canal city, is very different from Amsterdam. Whereas we didn’t really get the sense that we were amongst tourists in Amsterdam, in Venice, at least during the day, it felt like being trapped amidst thousands of tourists in a never-ending shopping mall. By night though, Venice’s natural charm could not be beat. With day tripper and cruise ship people gone, the streets seem to be devoid of tourists and it was just like strolling through quiet little neighbourhoods.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience in Venice was the Passover Seder. Although we gave up keeping the annual tradition for the eight days that followed, the celebration with so many others from all over the world in one place was special and should count for extra days! This was also when we bumped into the family originally from South Africa but now living in Australia whose mother, also Laura, grew up with my sister-in-law Ruth in Sea Point. We would never have imagined bumping into them again inside the Colosseum in Rome. It makes you wonder whether some things happen for a reason.

Cinque Terre

Vernazza classic photoThe main reason for this trip was my desire to go to Cinque Terre (five lands) after so many other people we know have raved about it. Our family likes active holidays and the chance to hike along a coastline for a few days was something we could not resist. As we started the hike, I didn’t really expect to shed a tear but I did; the idea of wanting to come here with my family and then being there was overpowering. The hiking was more challenging than expected but in a good way. This was in part due to one section having been closed due to a landslide that may keep it out of commission for one or more years until it is repaired, leading us to do an upper route instead of skipping to the next village by train. Also, the extra hike we did to Levanto was as steep as the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver but with far more rewarding views.


Michelangelo’s Pieta at St Peter’s BasilicaOne name says it all! Seeing his David statue in Florence gave me goose bumps and was the only other time I was moved to tears on the trip. The Pieta at St. Peter’s Basillica and of course the Sistene Chapel were all incredible and have to be seen to be believed. It would be a tough call as to whether the David statue or the Sistene Chapel is the greatest work-of-art of all times but we saw them both. Michelangelo went on to become an architect in doing the original work in designing the Basillica. Pure genius that would even top Steve Jobs.

Gelato all over Italy

Gelato in Rome and everywhere else!Just the idea of eating our way through Italy on a budget was fun but we hardly went a day without trying gelato from a different place even if we were still in the same town. The top flavours over the course of our trip according to everyone else in my family were tiramisu, hazelnut, strawberry, yogurt, and grapefruit. My personal faves were chocolate hazelnut, banana, and pistachio.

Red wine cheaper than water or soft drinks

The best wines were in Venice and Cinque Terre, both in taste and value, which made them taste better! It’s hard to argue with 4-5 Euros for a half litre in a restaurant. Each town in Cinque Terre grows their own grapes to make their own wine. 

Food on KLM!

KLM food on the flight homeEven after eating some great food in Italy, which should not go without being mentioned, the food on the return flight with KLM reminded us how KLM is a cut above any airline we’ve ever flown on. Who would ever think anyone would talk about airline food in Economy Class as a highlight?

The not so highs:

Smoking everywhere

We’re really not used to this in Canada anymore. Everywhere we went, including just walking on the streets or sitting on a bench, second-hand smoke would blow into our faces. We probably each smoked a pack of cigarettes in the past two weeks from second-hand smoke. I know, people like the freedom to smoke where they like but public health as a whole seems to be ignored in the places we visited. Thankfully there was no smoking indoors. In addition to all the smoking, seeing people not wearing helmets when riding bicycles and some crazy driving competing with bicycles in Amsterdam, and with motor scooters in Italy, lack of red lights to cross on, were also threats to public safety that make Vancouver seem safe.

Gold foiled religious paintings

After the first thousand or so religious paintings of people with gold foil haloes around their heads, you kind of get the idea.

Things I’ll try to carry on after getting home:

More things to learn

Reading up on history, especially how the religions were founded, in relationship to where Christianity veered away from Judaism. If anyone has good suggestions on where to begin to learn more, I’m open to suggestions! Especially if they are available on Kindle or!

Try not to work every single day of the week

Try not to do work-related things every single day. That’s going to be the toughest thing and I’m not sure I can pull that one off. There is rarely a time, even when outside the office, that I don’t have a million work-related things on my mind and it’s going to be the death of me.

Things I’ve been doing already

Well before this trip I already had the good coffee, aqua minerale frizzante, and red wine everyday tradition going on strong. Since I was brought up with a love of coffee that I’ve taken to my own obsessive levels by home-roasting organic beans, I’ve already been getting great coffee everyday. A glass of red wine each night has been just what the doctor ordered since my heart attack in 2005 and Sodastream has been keeping me in homemade soda water every day. Wow, no wonder I liked Italy so much…I’m so Italian!

More whole family activities!

Hard to argue against that one. We managed to stay together without getting on each others’ nerves despite close quarters, and in the case of some places, REALLY close quarters, for 15 days. We are fortunate that we get to do lots of family activities but there is always room for more with me not always lured away by just one more thing to do for work.

Things I won’t carry on after getting home:

Unhealthy breakfasts

The Italian unhealthy breakfasts of too many sweet carbs are not a tradition that I’ll be making any attempt to carry on. Given that we all walked more than 20,000 steps per day for two weeks, we were able to get away with some high carb eating, but walking only half that each day back home, this kind of eating won’t work. In fact, I am very tempted to return to a bit of the Israeli tradition of salad and fish at breakfast time.

Stopping motorists to cross the street

Another trick I won’t be doing, especially since it is not legal in Vancouver, will be to look the motorists in the eye and using an outstretched arm with open downward facing palm, bringing traffic to a stop in order to cross the street. The first day in Rome was a bit of a challenge but by the end, it became routine and empowering…especially since I never got hit!