Friends are the Best Part of the Trip

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We are on the final full day of our trip to Europe, in Amsterdam one of our favorite cities. The Dutch people are a lot of fun, open and friendly, and they laugh a lot! While there is nothing that can compare to Aachen the show, it is our friendships and the people we get to spend time with which is the highlight of our time here. At the end of our two week stay with Raf and Astrid, we shared a taxi dropping off Astrid and Raf at Eindhoven, as they were headed for a short holiday to Tuscany. We travelled on to Amsterdam, to settle into the Bilderburg Hotel, near the Museum District for our last two days in Europe before heading home on Wednesday. Good suggestion Astrid. This is a lovely hotel on a quiet street near the high fashion district.

We had almost 2 full weeks at Raf and Astrid’s ( JJ and Raf had a lot in common with their passion for dog training. JJ even did some manual labor helping Raf with the new stables he is building on their 15 acre property. Raf has a business training dogs for individuals, called Dogs and Me. He travels to their homes and works on issues owners and dogs are having together. A graduate in psychology, he understands both aspects of the interactions between humans and canines.

The nights were totally quiet and dark, just like home in Kentucky. Astrid’s retired pony and dressage mare live on the farm with of all things a quarter horse mare and foal, which was born just before we got there. We have been friends for many years, since 1998, and we have seen Astrid grow from a shy young girl to an accomplished writer and journalist who recently earned her doctorate in English literature.

Their farm is near one of our favorite places to go at night for dinner, in the town of Valkenburg. We have told several stories before about our travels to Aachen and our stay at the Kasteel ter Worm, a castle in Heerlen and very close to Aachen. From the castle Valkenburg is a short drive, and the cobblestone streets which rest under the gaze of the ruins of another castle are lined with restaurants, bars and shops. It is a festive town where there is always a happy energy. After a short visit to ter Worm where we had drinks in the outdoor bistro next to the moat which surrounds the hotel, we headed to Valkenburg for dinner, and our final evening out before the last day of Aachen.

But there was not much time to sleep once Aachen started. We drove in each morning with Astrid, travelling through three countries in thirty minutes: Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. We learned about “Flisters” the speed traps on the auto way. People call in sightings to the local radio stations to warn listeners travelling along the road. Good thing as you could very easily get a ticket in the mail when you return home. We did on out last trip.

When I first attended Aachen of 20 years ago, I became friends with a young German girl who was an attendant in the ladies’ room near the Dressage stadium. We began to write, and since then Marion and her Father, Manfred have been to the USA to visit us, and we have stayed with them in the past in their apartment in Aachen.

Now a longtime secretary for a collection agency, Marion still works at Aachen along with her father. They have the best job of the entire show. They are stationed at the ingate for the main arena and know every show jumper rider who has galloped past them. Marion struck up quite a friendship with USA Showjumping coach George Morris. Maybe it was her pink hair that attracted him. We were all too busy for a visit except to hang out together while they were working at the gate on Sunday. We gave them WEG pins, and Marion brought me some wonderful German face cream.

Bye bye for now dear friends. Thanks to the internet we are always in touch, but there is nothing like big hugs and some face time!