A trip promised to my twin daughters in 2020 finally came to pass. After graduating their nursing program, they were to tag along for a business trip and see some countryside in the Netherlands and Germany.
The pandemic had put the initial plan on hold and over two years after that promised spring getaway, we landed last week in Amsterdam and travelled to Cologne, traversing geography familiar to their great grandparents before they emigrated to Canada.
Cologne is known for hosting people attending conferences in that region. During the Second World War, most of the city was razed, leaving only a cathedral. At the time it was claimed to be the tallest structure of that era in the world.
Upside down after part of a day’s travel, we’d break the ice with other travellers asking where they were from. What else might you ask at 4:30 in the morning, bleary eyed from a long flight, almost a four-hour train ride and a six-hour time change.
The furthest traveller we met hailed from Australia – a consultant on shipping no less. With some familiarity of the topic, we were able to chat a little more and agree it could be another year and half before the supply chain perfects itself. A typical maritime inefficiency rate of 3% for shipping in normal times grew to almost 30% at the height of the pandemic, brought on by a lack of ships, not enough crew hands and many vessels stuck in ports unable to unload. He seemed to believe prices would abate during that time and the glut of goods finally entering the market would result in better prices for consumers. With that tidbit of optimism we headed upstairs and proceeded through a labyrinth of corridors we Canadians might consider a maze. He, however, with an Aussie accent, described it as “quite a rabbit’s warren” which provided a chuckle. A time or two and the puzzle became easier.
English and its different turns of phrase (depending on which continent the speaker resides) prompted a chat within our group of five about Latin and its linkage with languages around the world. The Romans were conquerors in most parts of Europe and the influence of that age continues today in language.
Day trips and tours allowed our party to have a quick break and often a late afternoon nap, before heading for dinner.
Choices for English broadcasts were slim, flipping between news from France and the BBC. One such session the countdown began for the exact moment the world would reach a population of eight billion. Although the meter clicked along in the right-hand upper corner of the screen, it would be after an extended evening dinner at the Brauhaus when the counter hit its mark. Upon our return to Canada friends indicated coverage of that milestone was similar here or at least word of it on the newscasts. The significance of course is the rapidly increasing pressure on global resources.
Thursday afternoon the trek to return to Amsterdam by train started. As a point of interest, Germany required masking on mass transit, while the Netherlands did not. Most new visitors to Europe are quite impressed by the trains and how they connect with neighbouring towns, villages and cities. Regrettably, geography, minimal population densities and a lack of long-term vision has stymied that option for much of rural Canada.
After settling in at the INK hotel, a boutique accommodation with a newspaper theme, we set out on foot, passing canals and dodging cyclists to reach our scheduled time at the Anne Frank Museum. The Diary of Anne Frank, now published in over 70 languages, chronicled her life as a Jewish girl hiding with her family in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Although the Allies were so close to freeing all people in the Netherlands, her family was discovered and taken to Bergen-Belsen where she perished at the hands of her captors. A night-time canal ride after that exhibition brought some levity back to the evening, but the impact of such a moving experience loomed.
The interconnectedness of today’s world, the hopes of people of all nations to peacefully raise their families, worries about affordability and challenges facing the generations that follow are quite a rabbit’s warren, too. The twists and turns of life are far easier to handle when you know where you are and where you have been.