Monday, July 30, 2012

Vampire Hunting

"We can't visit Romania without seeing Dracula's Castle," my mom reasoned.

She was right. We couldn't travel all the way to the land known for its human blood suckers without seeing the castle that started it all.

So into our suitcases went the essentials: crucifixes, wooden stakes, holy water, and wreaths of garlic. We had to be prepared, you know.

Bram Castle, as it is known, lies near the heart of Transylvania.  The three hour drive from Bucharest to Bram transforms from a near barren wasteland dotted with Nuclear Power plants, communist buildings and giant, black, water-slide sized tubes stretching alongside the highway which occasionally dive into the ground only to break free on the other side, to a wonderland of green mountains jetting out of the earth, fresh water streams, and roadside gypsy fruit stands.

Once inside the village of Bram, the skies dramatically grew darker the closer we neared the castle. The entire local felt gloomy and foreboding. The only light came from torches which blazed alongside the pathway leading to the castle doors. Having already exited the car, we gripped our vampire protection kit a bit tighter in our hands and walked so close together that our shoulders touched. (Well, that's not entirely true... my mom is a few inches shorter than me so it was more like her shoulder touched my arm).

But wouldn't you know it! It wasn't until after murmuring chants in every room of the castle that we were told that Bram Stoker made the whole thing up!

Vlad the Impaler, known as Dracula since he was from the House of Draculesti, never lived in that castle. He only visited it once... in the dungeon... as a prisoner. On top of that, he never sucked human blood. He may have sucked the blood of the giant rats who roamed around the dungeon floors with him. But blood-sucking was not his specialty. No, no. His specialty was to shove a spear up his victim's rectum until it burst through the base of the neck. That caused the victim (or multitude of victims) to dance, as the body is inclined to slump over but can't due to the spear holding it up. (On that note: it was Vlad who really came up with the dance moves to Michael Jackson's Thriller, but I don't see his decedents getting any royalties). Plus, Dracula doesn't even mean vampire. It means devil.

Meaning: you can save room in your suitcase.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

non-commissioned travel agent

As tradition dictates, my mother and I were overdue for our annual holiday adventure. Included in the custom is the not-so-anticipated pre-planning. In normal circumstances, planning for a vacation is a reasonably enjoyable undertaking. Holiday planning when paired with my mother, however, (bless her heart) isn't always so.

Thankfully, after the two weeks it took us to decide on which countries to visit - having narrowed down the list of ones neither of us have been to, she let me take control.  Sort of...

"We are going horse back riding, right?"
"Oooh, can we go white water rafting too?"
"Do the beds look comfortable?"
"We can't go there without visiting..."
"Why don't you see if..."
"Well, it's up to you Claire. You're the one planning it after all."

She should have stopped with "why don't you see if...", since she told my brother upon our return: "We saw about a hundred churches. I was traveling with Claire after all."

Yes, there really is a benefit to being placed 'in charge' of holiday planning!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In search of Brad Pitt.

The French Riviera was all abuzz. Not just because of the 65 annual Cannes Film Festival, but the Brad Pitt was there... alone. (Queue the high pitched screeches and fainting women). Since I wouldn't have to compete with Angelina, I flew down to ask him out for drinks. Because, really, why would he say no?

With friends who had first hand knowledge of the area, having moved there a few month's prior, I knew I couldn't fail. So our search began.

We scoured Cannes.

Walked up and down the Nice coastline.

Looked around every corner in Antibes.

Climbed the highest mountain.

Traveled down to the lowest valley.

And we even border-crossed into Monaco.

But he stealthy evaded my invitation by steering clear of me all together. Obviously it was his loss, right?


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Birds

There he sat, unaware of being watched, eating fresh green leaves that glimmered in the sunlight. I jumped for joy and ran to the water gun which lay unopened in its box. The skies had poured down  heavy rain for two days since its purchase. Frantically ripping the gun from its bindings I rushed to the bathroom to load it with watery ammunition. It couldn't fill quick enough. Once the gun was ready though, I hurried back to the window, lifting it open in a single motion and narrowed in on the perpetrator.

"Die sucker! Die," I exclaimed as I started squirting the pigeon with water.

A friend of his, whom I hadn't seen lunching a few branches below, immediately flew away. The one I targeted, however, surveyed the situation. His gaze met mine; then, in almost a sigh of resignation, flew away.

I was overjoyed. I set down the gun and started dancing around my apartment while singing "whoop, whoop, it worked, it worked, the water gun wo-orked". Thirty minutes later, my elation having died down, I sat reading at the dinner table.

BANG! The noise jolted me from my chair. Flipping around I turned towards the window where the sound came from. My heart  skipped a beat. For there, on the windowsill, stood the two pigeons I had just shot 30 minutes prior. I could hardly believe my eyes, yet, I was afraid to even blink.

We had a stare-down, the pigeon and I. His friend stood at his side playing wingman. For twenty solid seconds we held our positions, until I could feel his red beady eyes boring into my very soul. I cautiously moved forward, still in disbelief of the situation before me. By my third step they fled as quickly as they had arrived.

There I stayed, looking at the window, praising the heavens I had shut it after my surprise attack on the tree-eaters. Had I not, my mind wandered, I would have surely had my own rendition of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. And that's a battle I may not have won.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gekke Duiven

"They're like flying rats," David comments.
"What type of pigeons eat leaves, anyway?," adds Anouschka.

We sit outside the B&B restaurant for our regular Saturday brunch; omelets on wheat bread - theirs with cheese, mine with bacon. A large group of Italian tourists bike past us on their way to the city center from the Vondelpark. The sky is blue, spotted with a small handful of fluffy white clouds. Sunshine; a rare occurrence these days, and one we're taking full advantage of.

"Dutch ones, obviously. Psychotic Dutch ones," I respond.

Pigeons circle us in the air and on the ground, eager for our food. I shoo one away with my foot. They're not afraid of human contact. Not where we're sitting, not at Dam Square where tourists point their cameras downward instead of towards the Queen's Palace, and especially not on my tree.

Living in the center of Amsterdam, the tree just outside one of my three large windows has become an oasis of green in a desert of asphalt and varying shades of red and black brick buildings. To watch flying vermin destroy what little visual serenity I have leaves me in a craze. I've banged the window and waved my arms wildly to only watch the pigeons look at me as though I'm a mad woman before returning to their meal.

"So when that doesn't work, I grab a glass of water from the kitchen and try splashing them with that," I muse.

It must be senior citizens discount hour at the Holland Casino, because one elderly person after another shuffles past us into the casino's doors on our right.

"Then, one day the Godfather of all pigeons sat on a branch eating the leaves off my tree. I banged, I waved and I even tried splashing water. I swear I saw him look at me and roll his eyes."
Anouschka and David laugh.
"BB Guns aren't legal here are they?," I ask.
"No, sadly," Anouschka replies, "you have to get them in Belgium or some other country."

We stand to leave, exchanging hugs instead of the traditional Dutch three-kiss greeting, as they like the American way better than their own. I watch them walk towards the Stadhouderskade canal where they left their bikes, and then turn the opposite direction. I walk through the pigeon studded Max Eeuwenplein and glance at a group of people clustered around the square's large chess set. But I don't stop. I'm on a mission. I cross the street to Leidseplein, squeezing my way through hoards of tourists watching hip-hopping street performers. My pace quickens. Trams ring their bells at pedestrians walking too close to the tracks on Leidsestraat's narrow shopping street. Then, I see it. The neon "Intertoys" sign shining even in the daylight. Upon entering, my eyes zero in on exactly what I had set out to buy: a high-powered water gun. Let's see if any pigeon rolls its eyes at me now!