Sunday, November 5, 2017

August 2017 Australian Family Trip

Melbourne - Uluru - Cairns - Cradle Mountain
2017 09 Sep.jpg
Tuesday 15 August
After an interesting beginning (delayed flight from JFK to LAX resulting in a missed connection to MEL, change to LAX to Brisbane to MEL) we arrived in Melbourne Thursday morning, 11:30am, only 4 hours late. Ultimately, it meant we arrived at the same time as my dad who was flying in from Perth, so we met him at luggage and brought him into the city with us. Gen had cleared the day in preparation for our arrival and was there to greet us with a sparkling house and her usual generosity. Dad is staying 15 mins away in a big old house (The Toorak Manor) and Charles shuttled him back and forth.
Dad had inadvertently left one of his bags, the one containing those special things he had brought for me from Perth, at the luggage carousel. Charles drove him back to the airport calling Qantas luggage on the way to claim the bag. Luckily it was there and they arrived back at Gen’s very happy.

Thursday-Sunday 17-20 August
The next few days were purely family days, walks to the local park, a trip to Bounce with the kids, relaxing at Gens, and a lovely dinner at Lisa’s Port Melbourne home (which made quite the impression on our boys. Her husband Graham has an impressive eclectic art collection and gave the boys a ride in his Ferrari). Yesterday, mum visited for a while and stayed for a family meal.

Monday 21 August
Today we are driving down to The Great Ocean Road. The weather started out as dismal, but the car was cozy, and the music of angels (Brahms choral music) quietly added to the awe and beauty of Australian landscape opening before our eyes at every turn in the road. Dad is with us. Max slept and Riley read. This is a rare moment creating memories for us and the boys to treasure.
Riley entertained us with his Aussie accent which is very good. As we neared the ocean the sky cleared somewhat and the yellow brilliance of the blooming wattle trees against the green of the fields was on display. When we got out of the car at the first stopping point (the Gibson Steps) it was windy and cold. We bundled up and walked the 100 meters down the path to see the stunning view of the blue blue ocean crashing with white foam against the yellow limestone cliffs and promontories. How gorgeous!
We saw London Bridge which fell in the 1990s and several arches which hadn’t fallen. The limestone columns are called the 12 Apostles but there aren’t 12 anymore. New ones are being cut and others are collapsing. Riley and Charles hiked to a series of blowholes which are about 500 meters inland from the shore. They hopped the fence and walked closer to the edge of them -- not very smart -- but they got some good photos and video. We drove back to Gen’s and made in time for another delicious dinner. Tomorrow we fly out early to Uluru.

Tuesday 22 August
We rose early, wheeled our bags out to the car, had a quick brekkie, bid Gen and the kids a temporary farewell, and headed for Tullamarine airport. Our 3hr flight to Uluru arrived early on the Yulara airport tarmac. We hired a car and drove directly to Uluru National Park.
We arrived at the base of Uluru to find the climb closed due to high wind at the summit so transitioned to plan B. The walk around the base which took approximately a 2 ½ hours was a fun but rather hot and windless! As luck would have it, when we approached the end of the circumlocution hike, the climb was open. Although tired, we were eager to climb so we refilled our water bottles and Plan A was set in motion. Both plans were accomplished in 1 day. Not bad at all.
Charles and I are perhaps not the spritely mountain goats we were 20 yrs ago, (perhaps I should only be speaking for myself. I made it ¾ of the way there, whereas Charles made it all the way to the summit with the boys). I never would have dreamed in a thousand years that we would be climbing the rock again in this lifetime, let alone with 2 magnificent boys. It was a true challenge and privilege. Moments we can only cherish and be eternally grateful for.
Riles and Max scaled the rock in record time, but not without making sure their parents were Aok the whole way up AND down. We were supposed to be taking care of them, but quickly it's becoming apparent that they are assuming the role of caretakers and protectors. They are fast becoming fine young men, thoughtful, sensitive and genuine (true blue, through and through), we couldn't be more proud.
The climb took roughly 2 hours, with a few pit stops along the way. I stopped to meditate at MY summit, and the boys went on to theirs. Charles misstepped on the way back from the summit and toppled over. He twisted his ankle pretty badly and skinned his knee. Luckily they were still out of my sight otherwise I would have flipped out! When they arrived back at MY summit Charles was limping and bleeding. He put on a good show that everything was ok but his ankle swelled up like a cantaloupe by the time we arrived back at the hotel.
The subject of discussion on the descent revolved around whether we found the ascent or descent more challenging. We all had slightly different views, Riles found the ascent more challenging, Max, the descent, Charles the ascent and I thought both were difficult.  
It was a tired, elated family to arrive back in the car that afternoon. We wove our way out of the National Park and toward our hotel (The Pioneer Outback Lodge), checked in, found food in the only supermarket in town (tucked away in the funny little town and by no means easy to spot), bought muffins, water, energy bars, and various supplies, headed for the hotel, gobbled down meatless burgers (bought by mistake!), and cheesy cheesy pizza, then flopped into bed, lights out, eyes closed, deep in slumber by 9pm. 4 tired puppies indeed.

Wednesday 23 August
Having completed 2 of the chosen walks yesterday, we dragged ourselves out of bed, (Charles had gotten up early and watch the sunrise from a viewing point near the hotel) somewhat replenished and VERY sore. We headed for Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) to walk the “Valley of The Winds” (roughly 5 km). 2 ½ hours later we had completed the spectacular trail which had us oohing and ahhing at the bold contrasts in color, (bright blue of the sky, laced with mackerel clouds, deep oranges and reds in the rocky landscape and olive greens of the Eucalyptus trees.) There was natural beauty around every twist and turn. Simply gorgeous.
The Valley of The Winds kept us interested and challenged without totally overtaxing our very tired legs. It also provided a plethora of opportunities for excellent pictures and videos. The cleverly positioned pit stops providing drinking water were very welcome along the way and the weather was extremely kind.
Our final destination presented a comparatively easy walk through a very impressive Gorge, with the added bonus of befriending Logan, a young boy age 7 from Wangaratta. He adopted us for the journey (he was way in front of his parents) and we had a good Aussie chat pertaining to everything from the boots he was wearing to the place he lived. Riley had been using the name “Wangaratta” in his Aussie monologues so it was serendipitous that this boy lived there. What are the odds of making friends with a young boy from Wangaratta at Uluru?
Charles and Max took the opportunity to refresh themselves in the pool when we arrived back that afternoon. And refreshed is putting it mildly. The temperature wasn't all that warm, probably about 65°! Riles and I opted for the room and legs up, devices on. We viewed the setting sun at 6:30, dined on outback burgers (with meat and the rest -- egg, pineapple, beetroot, a true Aussie burger). Back at the hotel we played a game of pool, attempted to view The Milky Way a 9pm (not visible due to cloud cover), and tucked ourselves in at 9:30pm.

Thursday 24 August
Charles woke us early for the sunrise on Uluru and The Olgas in the distance. Gorgeous, peaceful, with pretty pinks and blues. We checked out early (around 8) and headed for what we hoped would be another climb to the summit of Uluru. Alas, it was again closed due to windy conditions at the summit. We can't pretend to have been a touch disappointed but also filled with a sense of gratitude at having had the good fortune of climbing it the first day. Here, in the middle of Australia, you are at the mercy of the winds and the weather. And, as a gentleman, who had climbed the rock with us the first day had pointed out “you've got to take advantage of the moment, as you never know when the climb might be open next.”
With hours to fill in, we meandered around the base, took a 2km walk to the Cultural Center, purchase a real Aussie Pastie, a Mars Bar, some pressies for Amy and Natalie, admired the Indigenous art, headed back to the car, and on to the airport.  Goodbye Uluru. Hello Cairns.
Our flight from Uluru to Cairns took 3hrs. It was smooth and had us arriving 15 mins ahead of schedule. We exchanged our “wee car” for a slightly bigger one Truly, WEE 243 was our car’s license plate number and it was way too small for the 4 of us and had passers-by literally giggling at our not so lucky rental. We headed for Trinity Beach just as the sun was going down. Charles navigated the left side of the road with great aplomb. We really were just following our noses with a tiny bit of help from Google maps. We stopped for groceries and supplies at a huge shopping complex bookmarked by Woollies at one end, Coles at the other. Our main mission was to purchase washing powder and a chickie for Riles. Both were most difficult to acquire, for different reasons. The last of the chickie was gone from the spit (the new ones not ready for another hour), and the washing detergent we almost forgot to buy. A last minute duck back into Woollies and a quick stop at Dan Murphy’s for beer and wine, and we were heading north in direction of our apartment.
A 10-minute drive took us into the gated driveway and to the teenie #15 car space. We lugged our MANY bags (luckily there was an elevator) to the 4th floor and into our extremely palatial Belleview apartment. What a Belle view it had. The boy's excitement upon opening the door and exploring the rooms was priceless. They thought they had struck Aussie gold.
The huge spacious apartment had an ocean-facing bedroom with ensuite bathroom and enormous jacuzzi, a huge living area with full kitchen, two more bedrooms, another bathroom, and the crucial laundry with washer and dryer. It really did seem like gold after our very long travel day. We gobbled down our chicken, the scrumptious sushi, chocolate, and magnums, and began to settle in. Charles made headway with the wash (and boy were our clothes dirty), the boys showered and we all crashed into bed around 10:30 exhausted.

Friday 25 August
We woke up this morning to the sound of waves breaking, a gentle breeze, and warm sunlight creeping in through the cracks in the blinds, needless to say, we were very pleased that we had no place to go. Today was a rest day. A swim in the pool, a soak in the jacuzzi, and a stroll along the beach was all the energy we could muster. Tomorrow we will be up bright and early for our drive to Cairns pier and our boat excursion to the reef.

Saturday 26 August   Snorkeling on The Great Barrier Reef
What greater thing can a person do when visiting the Northern coast of Australia than take a day trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth, The Great Barrier Reef. Today we did just that, and not surprisingly, had the time of our lives. We rose early, and by 6:45am we were on our way into Cairns, boarding the Seacrest and heading out of the bay around 8am. The sea was calm, the sky was blue and the temperature perfect. Our crew of 7 were young, informative, and enthusiastic (clearly, they love what they do). Most importantly, they were reassuring. We were treated to tea and muffins then fitted with wetsuits, goggles, and flippers. Jana, our German crew member, gave us an idea of how the day would run.
Our first stop was (Michaelmas Cay). A little tidbit of information, we discovered that a Cay is different from an island. An island is made up of sand and vegetation, whereas a Cay is composed of Parrotfish poo formed over time on top of the coral. Amazingly, this was something Charles knew but did not tell the boys for fear that they wouldn’t want to walk on the sandbar made from fish poo.
At the end of the day, we all agreed this was our snorkeling place of preference. We were taken to the Cay in a glass bottom boat where we donned flippers and demisted goggles, and then, when comfortable, navigated past the baby sharks (harmless as puppies) out to explore the reef with our snorkeling guide. After an hour or so we were back on board the SeaCrest and on our way to Hayman Reef. We had lunch on board and were amused by a Brit who removed wet electronic car keys from his swimming trunks (oops) then accidentally dropped his silverware into the ocean. The crew gave a presentation on the reef so the time passed very quickly.
Upon arrival at Hayman Reef, we were given another quick safety briefing and got back in our wetsuits. This time we had to launch off the back of the boat, in contrast to the Cay and the waves were bigger and ocean deeper. It was a little more disconcerting so Max and I decided to give this snorkel a miss whilst Charles and Riles headed out to the reef with our guide. While they were snorkeling Max and I took the glass-bottomed boat tour. We saw lots of enormous clams, giant fish and a great deal of coral, ranging from antler coral (which grows the fastest but is the most fragile), to brain coral, plate coral, and various other types, obviously named for the shapes and likeness. The homeward bound journey was pretty rocky due to a change of tide and winds, There were a few seasick passengers including the luckless Brit.
We were pretty tired when we arrived back at the apartment. Charles had excelled in his planning of our spectacular day. He had achieved his goal and couldn't be happier with the result. The general consensus for dinner was for a quick burger meal. The conveniently situated Hungry Jacks on the drive north towards Trinity Beach provide the necessary requirement. We left without ketchup so had to make a whirl around the roundabout back to the Hungry Jacks and the drive-thru to the surprise of the clerk.

Sunday 27 August
We had a lazy start to the day. It was definitely well earned. There was no reason to rush out of bed. Instead, we had the luxury of sleeping in, watching the sun rise slowly on the horizon, enjoying coffee and muffins on the balcony and time to reflect on our trip thus far. The general consensus, AWESOME.
After tossing around a few ideas, we decided on a visit to Hartley’s Croc Farm, about a 30-minute drive north toward Port Douglas. We spent a full day with enormous (and I mean, enormous) crocs, cute koalas, wallabies, and cassowaries. The highlight of the day was definitely the crocodile feeding and the “Croc Attack Show”. For the boys, it was especially fun to hear the true blue Aussie accent and good ‘ole Aussie lingo.
Back at the apartment, we spent time swimming, resting and regrouping. The time has come to pack our bags and sadly bid farewell to this beautiful part of the world. Tomorrow we head for yet another, equally beautiful and wildly diverse part of Australia -- Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

Monday 28 August  Travel Day --destination -- Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.
We were in the car and on our way by 8am and motoring south towards the Cairns airport. After delivering the rental car we checked our bags, went through security and waited for our flight. We had to stop in Melbourne and change planes. Max was delighted that we were on a propeller plane to Launceston. That was a short flight but was delayed which unfortunately got us in just at sunset. Charles was hoping to have daylight for the 2-hour drive to Cradle Mountain but that didn’t happen.
The evening before Charles had written out specific directions (the roads don’t have numbers only names, and the names change along the way!) and had sent them to my phone. I acted as navigator as we twisted and turned our way higher and higher. Luckily it was just above freezing so we didn’t have any ice problems. We did see quite a few wallabies hopping about, however.
We arrived at the Cradle Mountain Lodge about 7pm, got our cabin and unpacked. There was a lovely fireplace in the room that made it very cozy. The rooms only sleep 3 so we got a rollaway for Riley. (The deal had already been made.) The rollaway support was hammock-like so we put the mattress on the floor and put the frame in the hallway. We all were very comfortable, if cozy.

Tuesday 29 August   Charles Birthday
We woke early, gobbled down a huge delicious buffet breakfast (eggs, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread, pastries, muesli, yogurt, juice, pancakes, fruit, tea, and coffee)  Charles surreptitiously made several sandwiches and snagged some fruit and other goodies for our hike that day. Proteined up and ready to go, we jumped in the car and headed for Dove Lake parking lot. We had to pass through a gate which allowed only a certain number of cars in at a time. Luckily we were early and got right in. What we hadn’t done was by a park pass at the headquarters both because we didn’t know we had too and we didn’t see the headquarters because it was dark when we came in the night before. So we just took a punt. We parked in the lot right in front of a sign that said, “Display Your Park Pass”.
We got our gear on and headed down some stairs, across a wooden bridge and up along the east side of the Dove Lake circuit (Truganini Track). The path was sometimes a rocky trail and other times a wooden walkway to protect the foliage. There were many magical rainbows all along the way. They were so close, vivid and bright that we had to stop often to wonder at them. We followed the trail to the southern end of the lake then turned further south and up through the magical Ballroom Forest. This “rainforest (Riley said technically it was NOT a rain forest) was right out of the film Lord of the Rings. It
was dense with moss-covered trees, giant ferns and strange looking plants growing out of stark jutting rocks. As we were on the leeward side of the mountain and walking up we got warm very quickly. Charles took off his jacket and sweater and just wore his rain jacket for the rest of the hike. We passed Lake Wilks and kept ascending on the trail which wasn't without chains. The climb did raise my level of anxiety just a touch, but once past the chains, I was fine.
The weather had altered again (it changed about every 15 minutes or 100 meters of altitude) and it was now snowing. We were walking through icy slush. The track was snow covered and challenging in places, but nothing we couldn't handle, we are hiking pros after all. We had a fun snowball fight (Charles said he'd never had a snowball fight on his birthday before!) and got a bit wet breaking through the ice and stepping into the deep slush. A Canadian and Dutch couple came up behind us so we knew we were not the only crazies out. However, they had no idea where they were! We led them to the junction of the Summit trail
At a junction, we flirted with the idea of veering left and climbing to the summit of Cradle Mountain, but given the weather and the 3 feet of snow cover, we decided to continue straight ahead. We came to another junction which had a sign pointing south saying “Overland Trail”. This was the trail we needed to take back to the car park but it was pointing in the opposite direction of the car park. We discussed with the other couple which way to proceed and after much indecision, Charles took off heading north and we followed.  We walked past the “kitchen hut” (a rest spot) along the Overland Trail, navigating 6-foot drifts of snow, ever-changing weather conditions (pockets of wind, heavy snow, light snow, and sleet) to Marion's Lookout. At the lookout, we got an amazing view of the area with all of its lakes and jagged rocky scenery. There was still the occasional snow shower to obscure our vision but it was gorgeous. We deliberated upon which route to take home, the one with chains or the one without. We took the alternative route back to Dove Lake (a small battle of wills, 3 boys to 1 girl, with mom winning the battle) then onward passing Wombat Pool, and Lila Lake and finally back to the car park (16km and 4 hours later).
We returned to the cabin around 4pm and chilled for a couple of hours before heading to the restaurant for Charles’ birthday dinner. The restaurant was pretty swish as was the food. I think Charles would have been happy with anything. This birthday was particularly special for him. He had planned such an adventurous vibrant dynamic vacation with his family and it's obvious he has achieved and accomplished everything he set out to do. I awe at how much energy and enthusiasm he has for life. On the way to dinner, we saw quite a few wombats feeding in a large open field. They were fat and happy. There were also many wallabies hopping about.

Wednesday 30 August   Half day at Cradle Mountain and flight to Melbourne
After another sumptuous breakfast, we drove back to Cradle Mountain car park. We still hadn’t gotten a park pass (no ticket the day before!) but today Charles left a note on the dashboard saying that we promised to buy a pass on the way out of the park. That seemed to work fine as we didn’t get a citation and bought the pass later.
At Riley's suggestion, we decided to take the track to Hanson’s Peak for a magnificent view. We actually had blue sky for short periods and the boys were happy to have climbed to a summit. It may not have been the Cradle Mountain summit,  but it was very majestic. The weather was still changeable but it was less moist so no rainbows. On the way back, Max slipped and bruised his thigh, luckily no broken bones. And so, we were in the car and on the road again, heading to Launceston airport.
Charles hired yet another car in Melbourne and in no time at all, we were on our way to Gen’s. She had prepared a tasty pasta meal for us upon arrival (she truly is the most generous of sisters). Then it was early to bed.

Thursday 31 August
Free day. Relaxing at Gens. A little time with mum to help her pack for her trip.

Friday 1 September  Day at the Australian Ballet Centre
This morning we went to St Kilda in hopes of walking around my old apartment. But the code to the gate had been changed, so we settled for a quick squizzy from the outside then took a walk down Acland St to Luna Park and The Palais Theatre. Next stop was 2 Kavanagh St and The Australian Ballet. Lynne McDougal met us at the front desk. And we made our way through the corridors, watching a little of the end of class, chatting to people in the cafeteria, Olivia Bell, Fiona Tonkin, David McAllister, Liz Toohey, Val ( my dresser), David Hallberg, and Gillian Murphy who were guesting with the AB.
After an hour or so Fiona took us over to the theatre where we watched a stage call of Christopher Wheeldon's Alice, then into the city in search of the perfect stuffed koala for Riles to give Natalie and a few souvenir tea-towels. We took the boys through the decorative Block Arcade, then a walk around the Tan before going back to the theatre for the 6pm performance of Symphony in C and a few other short works. Max was impressed with the company, we all were. At the interval and at the end of the show we went backstage. It was fun to walk the same hallways I had traversed, time and again in my ballet career, a trip down memory lane and an opportunity to share a little of it with the boys.

Saturday 2 September
Another restful day. Lisa popped over for an impromptu coffee, I went to mum's to spend some time with her, the boys enjoyed Bounce one more time, then a tasty Thai meal, family photos and an early evening.

Sunday 3 September  Homeward Bound
We were up at 6am, in the car at 7, and boarding the Qantas A380 direct from Melbourne to LA. What an amazing few weeks we have had. Perfect planning from Charles in every way. We have spent time with family and friends, hiked, climbed, and snorkeled, in some of the most gorgeous places in Australia. The boys have been such excellent travelers and Charles an excellent tour guide, leader, father, and husband. We are a fortunate family indeed. I hope there are many more family experiences for us to share in the future.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Oman Ophiolite

The Oman Ophiolite: an amateur’s journal April 2017; with special thanks to
Carol Frost and Peter Keleman

Disclaimer: my geology may not be 100% accurate and will likely be edited. Also the zoomable photos are best viewed on a laptop or desktop. 

Over a year ago when we were planning to hike Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon I was reading about the tectonic plate shifts that formed the American West Coast. Something called the “ophiolite sequence” caught my attention. Unfortunately we weren’t going to see it around any of the canyons, in fact, it exists in relatively few places on earth and the very best example is all along the north coast of Oman.

“Ophiolites are on-land exposures of igneous mantle and residual lower crust formed beneath submarine spreading ridges.” At certain tectonic plate boundaries, miles under the sea, magma pushes up and breaks through the crust forming a cleft or a ridge along the sea floor spreading the plates apart as it continually pushes up more molten matter. During this process several specific formations come into existence.

The mid-Atlantic ridge that long north/south volcanic crack along the middle of the Atlantic ocean floor that is slowly pushing the Eurasian plate and the North American plate apart is a good example. There is footage of lava emerging on the ocean floor looking like big tubes or pillows. Those lava "pillows" are the top of the ophiolite sequence. Beneath the pillow lavas (basalts) are sheeted dikes--vertical wall-like forms that harden under the pillows and spread the plates apart as more lava rises in the opening to the ridge. Beneath that are gabbro, dunite, harzburgite and peridotite. This extends down through the crust to the mantle 20-50 miles beneath the sea.

Ophiolites hardly ever come above the seafloor consequently we rarely see them. Mostly they are subducted beneath the lighter overriding plate and subsumed back into the mantle or covered over with sediment miles under the sea. Around 90 million years ago the Arabian plate pushed against the Eurasian plate. The ophiolite that had formed wasn't subducted but obducted.  A 30 mile deep, 30 mile wide, 15o mile long chunk of ophiolite dislodged beneath the Tethys sea floor, flipped up and over, folded on itself, and was emplaced on top of 250 million year old Permian limestone. Then all of that sunk again beneath the sea in the Eocene 45 million years ago and was covered by more sedimentary stone mainly limestone. It was pushed up again and eventually become Oman.

Take a look at Oman in Google maps and you'll see the dark brown mountains running along the coast, that’s called the Samail Ophiolite. It starts with pillow basalts (igneous rocks formed on the seafloor that look like pillows or huge tubes), then sheeted dikes (giant perpendicular wall structures), gabbro (subterranean solidified igneous rock), then rock with various amounts of olivine and pyroxene - harzburgite (dark brown), dunite (light brown) mostly veined with magnesite (white) or another crystallized liquid and peridotite. So this massive formation that took millions of years to be formed deep under the ocean is now above ground, crumpled, folded and flipped upside down. It extends all along Oman’s north coast and inland for about 30 miles. Driving up any road into the mountains you're bound to come across some or all of these features just off the road.

ABT was performing at the Royal Opera House Muscat in early April and during some time off I took two separate trips, the first to see Permian limestone formations near Muscat and the second to Wadi Al Jizzi, about 2.5 hours from Muscat to see the ophiolite sequence. On Wednesday 4 April, I drove south from Muscat to see the Permian limestone. This limestone was fantastically deformed, folded, bent, twisted and pushed upwards in all directions.

At Speedy Oman car rental which conveniently was located in our hotel I rented a car and headed up through the ophiolite via the Muscat-Al Amerat road. There were very deep and severe road cuts along the way which gave a good look at what's inside the rock. I continued on to Al Hajar exiting there onto a gravel road and through some amazing sites. I stopped a half dozen times, hiked up through a wadi (a valley, riverbed, canyon, gulch, etc) and photographed the warped disfigured limestone.  The Muscat Geological Society had placed discreet signs near some of the formations which was helpful as I had misplaced my notes for this day trip. Synclines, anticlines, concentric folds, mini-folds and a massive “eye” fold were some of the sights.

I kept hoping to bump into a geology student or eco-tourist but I saw no one. I spent several hours driving and hiking between the sights.  Eventually, as I neared the coast the pavement appeared again . I followed the road out of the Permian limestone and back toward Muscat into the ophiolite. In some places Eocene limestone (45 million year old) was on top of the ophiolite and the unconformity in texture and color was striking. When I reached Mutrah, Muscat’s original seaport and marketplace I parked across from Riyam Park in a small dilapidated market area.
The trail that goes up into the ophiolite has no marked entrance, in fact the entrance was in between two buildings in a little strip mall. I saw a few laborers having lunch in the shade between the two buildings and as I approached one of them signaled with his thumb that I was going in the right direction.
Just behind the buildings was a makeshift stone pathway. There was no vegetation just jagged stone. After climbing about 20 minutes there were some beautiful views of the sea and harbor but what was most striking was the rock all around. It was a mix of dark harzburgite and lighter dunite streaked with white veins of magnesite.

At the top of the climb there was an abandoned village that was nothing more than a few stones and a dry well. The way down included some rock-scrambling which was fun. The features of the stone changed subtly as I went down. There were several pools of water which showed rings of dissolved and dried magnesite that resembled salt rings as water evaporates.

At the bottom of the wadi was a 40 foot tall dam with no way up, over, around, or through--humm? I retraced my steps and found a way out over a ridge and down into a cemetery! At first it didn't register that it was a graveyard because it was littered with stone like everywhere else. Eventually I recognized that some of the  8" square and 12" tall stones were headstones on burial mounds. I felt as though I might be trespassing but I asked later and found out that there is nothing disrespectful about walking through a Muslim cemetery. I wound my way through an Omani neighborhood to the coast road and back around to the car. The ophiolite hike took about 2 hours but involved quite a bit of climbing and rock scrambling.

The major highways in Oman are excellent.  They are well marked by destination, but they have no numbers! So highway #1 on Google maps is really “Muscat-Sohar”, there is no sign that says Highway 1 etc. There are a few 4 or 6-lane highways and the speed limit is 120 kms about 75 mph.  However, out of the main part of Muscat people cross these interstates on foot, jumping over the guard rails and running across carrying their groceries. It's incredibly dangerous! Also, there are goats feeding along the side of the highways. There are quite a few police cruisers patrolling and every 4-6 miles there's a speed camera! On Saturday, my free day, I rented another car from Speedy Oman at 8am and drove straight to Sohar then turned inland on the Sohar-Al Batinah road (#7) and drove about 20 minutes up into the mountains to just passed the Al Jizzi  power station. (I've learned that it may actually be a huge copper smelter but Google says it a power station!)

In a road cut on the left-hand side I could see the outline of pillow basalts. I took the next exit (Suhaylah), turned under the highway and was immediately in Wadi Al Jizzi. At this point it is several hundred meters across but there’s not much water. A creek-size stream flowed down the middle but it was easily traversed by stepping on stones. A sulfide mining road continues across the wadi and goes further up into the mountains. I stopped at this site three different times. I was facing several outcrops of exposed pillow basalts but at 10:30am they were not in direct sun so I explored it a bit then I kept on driving on the Suhaylah road which follows the course of the wadi.
I stopped on a bridge because I saw pillow basalts all along the wadi, some were fully exposed others were encased in sediment. As I drove across a bridge something off in the distance caught my eye. It turned out to be a Hawasinah formation -- more on that later. I parked on the side of the road, lept over the barrier and walked down into the wadi to inspect the pillow lavas. They look so unnatural and mysterious yet in this area they are everywhere. I had to cross over the stream several times and at this point it was somewhat more than a trickle so I had to hopscotch across on rocks and luckily didn't slip. As I was walking up the creek bed I came to the spring that feeds the stream. The wadi was completely dry above it but out of the ground flowing downstream was quite a bit of water. Had I been adventurous I would have tasted the water for its salinity and mineral content but decided to drink my bottled water instead.

I walked over to this wacky and colorful formation wondering what in the world it was. I emailed a photo to Peter Kelemen, a geologist specializing in the Oman ophiolite and he wrote back, “this looks like the Hawasinah formation, which is a rumpled rug of allochthonous, deep-water sediments that were thrust onto the Arabian continental margin beneath the ophiolite”. So, far beneath the sea under great pressure millions of years ago somewhere else these were formed then thrust up here.
I climbed back up the embankment to the car and continued on the Suhaylah road. I passed many examples of unconformity, limestone on top of ophiolite on top of limestone, etc. Eventually I got back on the highway (there were only a few cinderblock houses, perhaps abandoned, on Suhaylah road) and went back to the first pillow lava site. The sun was a little higher so I took a few more shots. About a ½ mile further down river there were two other outcrops of pillow basalt standing independently in the middle of the wadi.
They were fascinating because of their independence from their surroundings. I hiked over and climbed up on top of one and was amused to see that the power company had stuck a telephone pole right in the middle of it. It must have taken some heavy drilling to open a hole deep enough to set a telephone pole. On the walk there I had to cross an attractive expanse of dried mud. It made for an interesting photo.  
I drove southwest again just to look around the exotic landscape. After I crossed the state line I turned around and headed back to the northeast. I stopped for the last time at the pillow lava site and now the sun was shining directly on them so I took more photos and climbed up on top. I had brought to Oman my hiking shoes, “Darn Tough” socks, and leather gloves and was glad I did. A plastic bag had been blown up into a thornbush growing on top of the pillows so I carefully dislodged it (the thorns are intense) to make the site look more respectable. There was quite a bit of litter in the dry river bed. I guess it's just part of contemporary life. I saw a few lizards zooming along the rocks but no other wildlife.

I got back in the car and drove on another mining road past light yellowish fungal looking stuff growing on black cinder piles which Peter later told me was by-product of local sulfide mining.  Incidentally, Peter is working on a carbon dioxide sequestration project which happens to be a property of the ophiolite. The rock can absorb CO2.

When I got back on the highway to head home there was a police checkpoint with cones set up and a big stop sign. Yikes! Luckily the police officers were either on break or had gone to the restroom because their cars were there but no policemen. I slowed down and looked around but kept on going. Whew!  

I filled up the gas tank in Sohar. Everybody in Oman was remarkably friendly. The guys at the gas station, and everywhere else, were very kind and helpful. The freeways here don't have overpasses at major junctions, they have roundabouts.  You drive along at 75mph then occasionally you must slow down to circle a roundabout.  It seems to works here.

Oman was a wonderful experience in many ways. The Omanis I met were all friendly, interesting and polite. The drivers on the highways were courteous and respectful. I always felt perfectly safe, day and night. The Royal Opera House Muscat was first class and the audiences responsive. Food, clothing and gas prices were low and the scenery amazing. I hope the company goes back, I'd love to spend more time exploring.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

2017 February London Amsterdam Trip

Saturday 18 Feb 2017
Today, we embark on our week long vacation. A whirlwind trip to London and Amsterdam. Charles and I are hoping to squeeze in as many trips as a family before the boys grow up and are independent. Not that far away. Only 4 years until Riley is in college.

Max has ballet at 890 Broadway this morning and Riles has a piano lesson around midday. Our flight to London is at 8pm, so we plan to head to the airport around 4pm this afternoon. According to the weather forecast all looks good for the entire week. In the 50s most days. Charles has created a full, challenging schedule brimming with walks, museum trips and evening performances, so as usual it looks as though we will not be wasting any time. (Click for more photos)

Sunday 19 Feb
We arrived at Heathrow and light as  feathers and with only 4 backpacks we made our way to the tube, but not without first stopping for a couple of strong coffees and some muffins. We decided to purchase Oyster travel cards which meant we could travel with ease on trains and buses without any stress. We swiped our cards and entered the station. The Piccadilly Line train ride to Covent Garden lasted about 45 mins which gave us an opportunity to sleep a little. Riley and I hadn't slept a wink the whole trip over, so we were pretty delirious for most of the day.

Check in to the Travelodge was noon, so with some time to spare we dropped our bags off and hopped on a double-decker bus and headed down the Strand and Fleet Street toward the Tower of London. Instead of going into the Tower we had another coffee break and bite to eat, then took a windy walk across Tower Bridge and back before another double-decker bus trip back to Trafalgar Square.

The boys climbed on the lions in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square; that was a huge hit and we got some fun photos. We headed to the National Gallery for a quick stop to see the Wilton Diptych, the final of the 3 Uccello Battle of San Romano (we had seen the others at the Uffizi and the Louvre), the Piero Baptism and played “Find the Pickle in the Painting” with all of the Crivellis they have.

IMG_4325.JPGWhen we finally arrived back at the Travelodge, Riley and I took a nap while Charles and Max (who had both slept on the plane) wandered off to explore. We could have slept for a year! Charles and Max were quite adventurous and enterprising. They had found a Vodafone store in Covent Garden and set up a pocket wifi for us which in hindsight, was a real blessing.

After we woke we set out for an early evening (5:45pm) organ concert at Westminster Abbey. To get there we walked along the Thames and past Big Ben which gave us a number of wonderful photo opportunities and an excellent introduction to London. The concert was short but the organist was excellent. We sat in the nave of the Abbey so didn’t really see much of the church that night. Afterward, we walked up Whitehall past 10 Downing St to Trafalgar Sq and stumbled across a great burger cafe in Covent Garden and wolfed down 4 large burgers and some fries.

Monday 20 Feb
This morning we rose late, had an English breakfast at the hotel and took off for our first destination, the British Museum. It's worth a visit just to stand in awe at the majestic architecture, but then there’s the incredible collection of artifacts inside. Our favorite part was definitely the Elgin Marbles (which became a running source of conversation, as we discussed the fact that the British had “stolen” them from Greece and when they might be considering giving them back). We saw the Rosetta Stone (which holds the key to decoding hieroglyphics) and many Sumerian and Assyrian friezes and sculptures. One highlight was the Gebelein Man, a 5,500 year old naturally mummified figure (sand dried) found outside Alexandria decades ago. He was curled in the fetal position.

After the British Museum, we bought some touristy things and made our way back to Aldwych Court but this time walked along the Strand and Fleet Street to St Paul's. We passed Dr. Johnson’s house, the Royal Courts, the original Twinings Tea Shoppe, the Temple Church, 400 year old pubs, and lots of Christopher Wren churches including the “Wedding Cake Church” (so named for its tiered layers at the top) and down the famous Fleet St. with a lovely view of St Paul's.  

We climbed all 528 steps to the cupola at the top for a view which we couldn't help comparing to the views we had from various other cupolas on our Italian trip. It was unanimously agreed that the Italian churches had the most glorious views of all, hands down. But, it was still on the top of Riley’s list of British fav's so far.

Charles asked an attendant where the tomb of Wellington was located and she replied condescendingly, “The big hooorse, in the front”. We did find the tomb but the horse was up so high that it was impossible to see. The imposing tomb is out of proportion in its position in the church. We made an excellent decision to take a break just across from St Paul's in Paternoster Square and noshed on tasty toasted sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and thirst quenching lemonade. While we ate the boys played ping-pong on conveniently placed tables in the square. The weather was sunny and warm so off came the jackets and they enjoyed the physical activity.

We made our way across the Millennium Bridge to Southbank to view Shakespeare's Globe then took a very quick look inside the Tate Modern to note the architecture and interior space of the old Battersea Power Plant before crossing the Waterloo Bridge and heading back to our hotel for a rest. At 6pm we headed back across Waterloo Bridge, our destination--Royal Festival Hall, to see our second concert Berlioz La Nuit d’Ete song cycle performed by Sarah Connolly and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. They are famous for their use of original instruments dating back to the early 1800s. It was a delightful evening. The boys were captivated, as were we by the mastery of musicians and Sarah Connolly's angelic voice. The Mendelssohn Italian Symphony closed the program. They performed a version of the symphony that Mendelssohn revised but never put into circulation because his sister, Fanny, didn't like it!

Charles couldn't have made a better choice. It was perfect in every way. High on art, we made our way to the river's edge to snap a few night photos and videos, then back to Covent Garden and some dinner. The boys leap-frogged all the way back to our hotel and eventually fell into bed.

Tuesday 21 Feb
This morning after breakfast we headed out on foot through the theatre district, Leicester Square and up to Piccadilly Circus, eventually ending up back at the National Gallery. This time we looked at Rembrandt, Bosch, El Greco, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Bronzino, Ingres, Turner, and Impressionist artists Seurat, Pissarro, Van Gogh, and Rousseau.

Upon exiting the Gallery we paused to greet our friend atop the column (Horatio Nelson, or ‘Neal’ for short, as named by Max), and the 4 majestic lions which we had climbed our first day in London. Today, unfortunately, the lions were fenced off and no one was allowed the pleasure of climbing them.

We made our way down Whitehall Street towards Westminster Abbey and passed 10 Downing St, home to Prime minister of Britain (Theresa May), taking a photo next to the horse guards along the way. Due to our forward thinking, excellent tour guide Charles, who had bought tickets in advance, complete with audio guides, we waltzed right into the Abbey. Before leaving, we stopped for tea and scones, sticky date, lemon slice, and brownie slice at the Abbey cafe.

At Riley’s suggestion, we headed for the Sherlock Holmes Museum on a double-decker bus. It was the most wonderful ride up Regents Street.  Once again, smooth sailing having purchased our handy Oyster cards. After Sherlock (which Riley thoroughly enjoyed), we headed back to Aldwych Court, Covent Garden and our hotel, on another double-decker bus down Oxford Street.

Later that evening we made our way to The British Library to look at some of its most treasured items; original scores of  Bach, Mozart and Debussy, Bibles dating back to the 6th Century, the Gutenberg Bible, and the famous Magna Carta. Truly inspiring. We found a terrific burger cafe, for dinner. Their huge burgers, milkshakes and fries had us waddling back to the hotel  (that is, all but Max, who with his endless boundless energy leapfrogged all the way back over every pole he could find.)

Wednesday Feb 22
Today we viewed the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. We stayed for most of the very long procession thinking that at any stage things would become more exciting. Sadly, not much gave us reason to stay to the end so given our limited time, we headed to The Tate where we knew we would be see some incredible art, some gorgeous luminous Turners and a variety of famous British painters, and we did.

Charles dropped us at the hotel and met with Lars Payne, a music engraver with whom he has been working over the last couple of years. They were just finishing up a reduced orchestration for a production of Giselle for Julie Kent in Washington. Then we met up at the Royal Opera House where Charles had organized for Elizabeth Ferguson to take us for a tour through the ROH.  She was so generous with her time. We wove our way through the back corridors of the theatre, up to the rooftop cafeteria, across the “Bridge of Aspiratins" that links the Royal Ballet School to
the theatre, out into the auditorium and we even went into the Queen's Box (complete with dining room and LOO. How many people can boast of seeing the Queen of England's Royal Opera House private bathroom?) and finally out into the busy streets of Covent Garden.

Not quite ready to eat, we took a brief walk through Chinatown. We dined Italiano style at the Spaghetti House (Charles wasn't too happy that we were ushered downstairs. He wanted a table with a view of the street and bustling Covent Garden goers). We were glad just to find a restaurant with food that appealed.

Happy and well fed, we returned to the hotel. Charles went off to meet his friend Peter Manning who is concertmaster with the ROH orchestra.  We met them both at stage door around 6.50 for a 7.15 show. The show was splendid. There was a change of casts, which we felt was to our advantage. Lauren Cuthbertson (Aurora) wasn't dancing due to illness. Her replacement (Yasmine Naghdi) had just had her debut as
Aurora on Saturday. She was truly gorgeous,
very confident, assured and technically seamless. Our seats were very close to the stage, with a view into the orchestra pit too. Right across the way from the Queen's Box which we had been in earlier in the day. I couldn’t stop thinking about her “loo” as we glanced around the auditorium during intervals. The boys were excellent audience members. Both had many thoughts and comment to share about our evening out. Tomorrow we leave for Amsterdam. Our bags are packed and the boys asleep as I write. It has been a wonderful few days, we have covered a great deal, and had a ball doing it, truly wonderful memories and experiences for the boys to dream about and sleep on.

Thursday Feb 23
After an early breakfast we checked out of the Travelodge and headed for the Covent Garden Tube station, caught the Piccadilly Line 3 stops to Green Park, and transferred to the Victoria Line for Victoria Station. From Victoria Station it was smooth sailing all the way to Gatwick Airport via the Gatwick Express. Once checked in, our flight was delayed an hour. Time for a little catch up on diary entries and brushing up on Amsterdam touring. It should be a breeze, but you never know.

We are finally in Amsterdam after an eventful trip over. Winds of 60 miles an hour caused lots of flight delays, ours being one of them. We were on the tarmac for 2 hours before taking off and it was a bumpy descent into Amsterdam, but the pilot was  great. He informed us every step of the way as to weather conditions and how long before take off etc.  The  train ride into Amsterdam was eventful too. The trains were running with long delays and VERY very crowded (not unlike Times Square on a VERY busy day). Our arrival time of 2pm slowly became 5.30pm, pushing our arrival into Amsterdam Centraal station and Lelie Canal View House in the Jordaan neighborhood to 6.30pm.

It was yet more eventful navigating from Centraal Station to our House. There was no obvious taxi rank, and we were unprepared to catch a tram as we had planned on arriving during daylight, and making our way along Damrak, the main street, toward Dam Square  veering right to Leliegracht 34-B, our house. It was dark, windy, rainy, not as we had imagined it would be, but, Charles was a calm, composed tour guide from beginning to end. Even when we found our house, contacting our host did require some patience. The boys were real troopers.
It's still windy outside, but at least, now we are inside, and stocked with supplies for the next few days (thanks to Charles and Riles) from the local store. Best of all, we have wood fired pizza from the cafe right downstairs. We are staying in the top 3 floors of a traditional Dutch house that we found via AirBnB. It sits above the pizza cafe in the Jordaan area and has a lovely canal view, or so we are hoping. Hopefully tomorrow we will wake up to a lovely sunny day and a beautiful canal view.

Wild day. It was a travel day that became chaotic because of a violent storm that had 60+ mph winds blowing through England and Holland. The plane did take off 2 hour late and made record time to Amsterdam because of the wind! However, unbeknownst to us there is a football semifinal here this weekend and there were many "hooligans" who had come from England at the airport train station. The train officials cancelled several trains because of either the weather or overcrowding. The hooligans were frightening, without affect, eager to hurt and fight, loud, obnoxious and disrespectful (interesting that we don't really have that syndrome in America). Poor Max was beside himself, he can't even stand a smoker much less disruptive mobs. The platform finally cleared and we took a less crowded train into Amsterdam (cabs were nonexistent). The weather was still rainy and blustery and there were still NO taxis at Amsterdam Centraal. We walked to our AirBnB (as we had planned, but not in a storm!) and arrived several hours late to find that all had gone. It took a while before we managed to get in but finally did. It's the top three floors of a fantastic Dutch house on the intersection of two canals, the Keizersgracht and the Leliegracht. However, the wind was so strong that it had blown out two of the windows on the top floor. It was pretty cold and drafty up there as one could imagine. Within an hour there was someone here to fix it. That was nice. We eventually had dinner (there’s a pizzeria on the ground floor), got supplies, did the wash and are ready for the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh tomorrow.  Never a dull moment! cb

Friday Feb 24
Ahhh, how lovely it was to wake up this morning to a windless day, a quiet attic bedroom, and sunshine. We took the opportunity to sleep in this morning. Downstairs, the living area of our apartment was filled with light. We had a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea, some toast and cereal in the sunlight flooded room overlooking the Canal. (Not such a bad way to start our first real day in Amsterdam) We headed down our very steep spiral stairs out onto Leliestraat, through the quiet Jordaan neighborhood, passing interesting shops and quirky cafes to our ultimate destination, the Rijksmuseum. It is situated on the Museumplein and shares its location with Vondelpark, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and the Concertgebouw--a feast indeed for the avid art lovers.

The Gallery of Honor, a grand room, houses many of the works of famous painters of the Dutch Golden Age. We were particularly captivated by the Vermeer collection which has such beauty and stillness, depicting everyday scenes of Dutch lifestyle. We poured over Vermeer’s Woman reading a Letter, wondering what was in that letter, and how she might be feeling), we admired The Love Letter and took time to ponder over the color of the shutters and the everyday activities of Dutch life in The Little Street; View of Houses in Delft. Unfortunately, The Milkmaid was off on tour somewhere.

We viewed some paintings by Frans Hals and Jan Steen. We spent quite a bit of time with Rembrandt pouring over his famous Night Watch which lies at the far end of this imposing and spacious gallery. We compared the figures in this painting to another to its left and unanimously agreed that the Night Watch had much more life and movement in it than the static very posed painting occupying the adjacent wall. Apparently, this famous painting earned him no money at all. They stiffed him! Max (the money man in the family) couldn't believe that.

Continuing on, we wandered through the rooms which held some of paintings of Avercamp. We all agreed that his joyous winter ice skating painting was amongst our favorite. We combed the painting, pointing out birds, broken spikes, and even bare bottoms. We took time to admire the very luminous Dutch still-lifes (which gave us inspiration for a “let's see who can count the most bugs competition”) and passed through other rooms detailing Dutch history from 1200 until 2000. A self portrait by Van Gogh and Dutch countryside scenes with windmills and cows captured our eyes and our imagination.

The Museum cafe looked pretty inviting at this stage, a welcome rest for the legs and something sweet for the belly. The museum shop also had many a tourist temptation. We purchased a few small items and exited the Museum.

Since we hadn’t had the opportunity to walk the Amsterdam “City Walk” the day we arrived, we wove our way back toward our house incorporating some of the sites along the way. We passed the flower market (no flowers yet obviously due to the season, just a plentiful supply of tulip bulbs ready to be bought and planted in the spring), stopped for pancakes just opposite, walked down Klaverstraat (one of the main shopping streets), peeked into the tiny Catholic Church (De Papegaai - Petrus and Paulus) tucked away, almost hidden between the shops, and out into the Dam Square (Centre of the historical city). This is where the fishermen settled upon the marshy banks of the Amstel River in 1250. They built a ‘damme’ blocking the Amstel river and Amsterdam was born.

After a brief rest at our house, we headed for the Van Gogh Museum around 6pm. It was fairly crowded when we arrived, we think partly due to it being Friday and partly due to a singles night at the gallery. We fulfilled our mission and were treated to some of the most wonderful Van Gogh’s imaginable. An impressive collection for sure.  Unfortunately, the Wheatfield with Crows was in restoration, a great disappointment. Our premature exit can be blamed on what Riley and Max described as obnoxious, loud, raucous, head banging music, that started up soon after we arrived and didn't stop during the length of our visit.

Once outside, we paused briefly in the Museumplein to enjoy the view at night, saw a shooting star, and took a quick pic. We meandered back through the cobbled stoned streets, across bridges and canals, enjoying views of cosy Amsterdam apartments, fancifully pondering a possible Dutch lifestyle, (could the Barker family live here? How would that be? What if we owned one of these lovely Dutch homes overlooking a canal? What if we spoke Dutch? What if...?). It's fun to dream and imagine, to have this pleasure and good fortune, a wonderful vacation, an opportunity to view and sample this culture outside and quite different from our own.

Tonight we pretend. We are Dutch residents. We live in this lovely Dutch home overlooking the canal. Tomorrow we return to being tourists and our last day in Amsterdam to visiting the Anne Frank Museum and enjoying a performance of the Dutch National Ballet.  

Saturday Feb 25
We visited the Anne Frank Museum this morning, which was very moving. Needless to say, we didn't leave feeling elated. Quite the opposite. It's hard to comprehend that time in history or the fact that we as humans have the capability to perform such horrendous acts. We are fortunate to be staying but one block from the museum, and in fact not far from any of our chosen tourist destinations.
We have decided to spend a relaxed afternoon inside, watching the people go by on foot, bike and in boats along the canal. It really is lovely having a view. Thank you Charles. You are simply a No. 1 tour guide and the very best of room gods.

Later this evening we walked to the area around the Theatre in search of food. Riley wanted a burger, Max sushi, and Charles and I--Wagamamas. In the end Max won the lottery. We found a conveyer belt sushi restaurant which was to all of our liking then home to rest before the show.

At 7.30pm we headed back towards the theatre, to watch the Quadruple Bill that began at 8.15pm. Two of the pieces had familiar choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon. Both pieces, were new to us. The other two, were completely foreign. Max has very specific taste, and also great allegiance to ABT. For him, nothing came close to Alexei’s piece. We all unanimously agreed. Alexei’s piece was musical, human and moving. The 2nd piece choreographed by a British choreographer was themed around ‘The Little Prince.’ It was interesting and the male dancer wonderful, infact, all the dancers were wonderful, strong, flexible and versatile. We hope this vacation has broadened Max’s views on the dance world. He has had a taste of some different companies, different theatres, different programs from the one he knows and loves. It can only broaden his thoughts on dance and be of value in the future when he is perhaps deciding on making dance his vocation.
Sunday 26 Feb
This morning, the journey from Centraal to Schiphol Airport was a breeze. We caught an 11.20 train, and had plenty of time to go through security. Our plane departed Amsterdam at 1.45pm with an estimated arrival time into New York at 3:55pm. Tomorrow life goes back to normal. The kids are back at school and Charles is off to Washington early in the morning to conduct for Julie Kent’s first big event (her own version of Giselle) as Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet.
Looking back on these past 7 days, we have certainly squeezed an awful lot into our vacation. The boys have yet more memories to treasure and a broader understanding of another part of the world. When they next look at a map, a photo in a book, a piece or art, a form of transport pertaining to London or Amsterdam, they will be seeing it through new lenses and eyes. Their view of the world just became a little more interesting.
These family vacations are precious indeed. Soon, only a few years from now, our boys will be on their way, forging paths of  independence, and rightly so. And so, we have, we hold, we cherish, and we let go. We are rich in life, love and memories. We are fortunate indeed. (Click below on Max for more photos)
 Click on the photo for more London Amsterdam Photos