Thoughts On Travel and Amsterdam

Eleanor Roosevelt quote

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

November 27, 2015

A mid-November telephone call from my son yielded a huge surprise: he’d booked an airline ticket for me and one for my daughter, who would join us in Amsterdam on Thanksgiving Day. I’d last visited Europe in 2013 with a two-week visit to Vienna, Austria with my best friend. I was anxious to pack my bags, and return to the continent where I’d spent thirteen years with my children, and to Amsterdam, where my son currently lives.

As my departure date approached, the excitement of seeing my son after six months was close to deliriously happy, but there was huge glitch: my son hadn’t known that my daughter’s passport had expired and although she’d applied for a renewed passport, it was possible it wouldn’t arrive in time for her departure…not good.

Days later, a Russian airliner was blown out of the sky, and shortly afterward, Paris was brutally attacked. Like most everyone I know, I was glued to the horrifying news and subsequent updates. Frantic, we contacted my son, hoping he hadn’t traveled to Paris during the attacks. He was home in Amsterdam. For days, we watched news broadcasts and breaking news, worried for all the victims and their families. We asked my son about Dutch television coverage, and what his Dutch friends were saying. He replied that from what he’d heard, Holland had done a good job integrating Muslims into society, and that ISIS probably didn’t have a beef with the very tolerant country. I was convinced and satisfied, but my daughter wasn’t as convinced.

When her passport didn’t arrive on my departure date (we were on separate flights, different airlines), we spoke about Plan B: rescheduling her ticket to the following weekend since I would still be in country. But it was a big gamble on top of the $400 fee to change the date on an already high cost ticket seemed too steep. After long talks, my daughter’s ticket was cancelled, which was a damn shame, but we knew my daughter was dreading the flight in light of bombings in Syria, Mali, Paris, and worldwide threats that week. No judgement on our part for her cancelling her ticket despite feeling badly about not spending Thanksgiving as a family in Amsterdam. I know she felt worse than we did about our first holiday apart. We would miss my daughter, and thankful she would spend the holiday with my sister and her family as we’d done since 2007 when we returned from Europe.

On my departure date, I won’t lie, I was scared spitless about the prospect of hanging around the Dulles Airport, waiting for my flight, and even more frightened of take off and landing in Frankfurt, and then again to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. I said my prayers, wrote out my will–yes a will–and handed it to my sister as she parked at the Metro for me to start my journey to Dulles Airport. It was a hand-written will because my printer had conked out, and like I told my sister, “It’s better than nothing!’.

Well, going through security at Dulles is always challenge, and it was no different when I went through, and flying Lufthansa is always a dream. I sat with a British university student, a lovely Tunisian mother and her four children seated behind us, and a Sikh with blue eyes. A global aisle–beautiful.

All three airports were packed with passengers rushing to their flights and greeting their loved ones after collecting their baggage. Everything seemed ‘normal’ during my flights and when I saw my son after six months, my fear and anxiety disappeared. He was a sight for sore eyes and I know my trip meant a lot to him. I patted myself on the back for overcoming my own fear of flying and traveling during this troubling time, and I smiled inside: no way in hell anyone is keeping this mother from seeing her kids!

Amsterdam, always one of my favorite European cities, was much like I’d left it–a crowded, rush-rush, bicycle-crazy, a gorgeous canal city with friendly people, too much fried food, great beers and cheeses, loud tourists, and pungent-smelling coffee shops. Sipping a cappuccino at a charming outdoor cafe after our market run for the ingredients of our Thanksgiving meal, I smiled and turned my face to the sun. Pure bliss.

To date, my daughter’s passport has yet to arrive. That’s life. She even paid extra to expedite the passport; it just didn’t happen for us. Only God knows why. As for me, I can now picture my son’s new life in Amsterdam. In future emails when he says he went to the movies, I know where that theater is. I know which market he likes, and which market stand carries his favorite thing to order in a bakery–Ollieballen with powdered sugar. I’m happy I mustered all the necessary courage to fly. Will I muster the courage to travel to Brussels to visit with long-time friends and to visit Paris before I fly home, which I planned to do? No idea yet…

but for today, I thank lovely, peaceful, charming Amsterdam. Thank you for not changing too much since my last visit, and for offering us a safe place during a turbulent time.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.


About Eleanor Parker Sapia


elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s best selling debut historical novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Book club members across the United States have enjoyed the story, as well. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. She is the mother of two awesome adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.


A Much-Needed Blog Detour

IMG_7086The book, THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, a birthday gift from my step-mom a year after she married my dad, sat on my book shelf for nearly a year before I opened it. I knew why it took me a year to read the book-I didn’t want to get to know my step-mom. I was still grieving my mother’s unexpected death in 1992. Although R was nice enough, and she and my dad were happy in their new home in South Florida, I wasn’t ready to form a relationship with the lifelong Floridian who I felt sure would keep my dad in Florida. That was my grief speaking. No one could replace my mother in my mind, and after a few years, I realized R wasn’t trying to take her place, and they weren’t moving back to Northern Virginia, either. Then, the Army sent my husband to Belgium, and we moved abroad.

I saw my dad and step-mom during our family home leaves to the US, and we grew closer. In 2006, I moved back to Northern Virginia with my children after 13 years abroad, and knew their decision to remain in Florida would mean fewer family visits, and hardships all around if one or both of them became ill. I was now a single, working mother on a limited budget, I couldn’t fly down at the drop of a hat, and neither could my sister, also a single mom. Despite the distance between us, we finally managed to become a family.

My step-mom has taken wonderful care of my father over the years as he battled colon cancer, and she dealt with her own cancer scare. She remains a courageous, loving, and committed caregiver as they both deal with my father’s advanced Alzheimer’s. Just this week, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor growing in my father’s skull, so my step-mom and 84-year old father are looking at a tough end of the year. His surgery will be extremely delicate because of his advanced age, and the location of the tumor. I’ve been told putting my dad under anesthesia could speed up his dementia or cause a stroke, so I’m headed to South Florida with my youngest sister in early October to care for our father, and give R a much-needed break.

I had all intentions of writing today’s blog post about THE ARTIST’S WAY, a book that changed my life and helped birth my writing career. I wanted to tell you how I read a chapter a month for a year, and discovered the world of  words and journaling. I wanted to share how passionate I am about this book (actually, all of Julia Cameron’s books), the impetus for inviting six friends to ‘do’ the workbook with me the following year, and many years after that. Julia Cameron is one of the reasons I wrote A DECENT WOMAN, and why I write full time today…

but after writing the seventh word in this blog post, I knew I was going a different route, taking a healing detour I needed. I realize what’s on my mind and heavy heart today are my dad and my step-mom, not The Artist’s Way, not Julia Cameron.

I’m thankful to have you in my life, R. I love you both. XO

Ellie XO