At 5 a.m. the alarm interrupted my midwinter dreams and awaken me to the practically perfect day ahead. After tiptoeing through the morning to get ready while not waking my wife, I hopped on my bike to pedal through a still sleeping Leiden. Once my bike was parked in the jumbled stacks at Central station, I found my way to platform 4 to take the 6:28 train to Schipol where I would find the 7:35 Thalys train to Paris. With a warm kaasbroodje and a cold Coca Cola in hand, I jumped on the train and settled in for the three-hour ride across Holland, Belgium and France. Somewhere between Antwerp and Brussels a deep pink sunrise emerged across the frosty fields on our left. After a brief train-car change in Brussels, and little more than an hour later, I stepped off the train in rainy but ever beautiful Paris. A quick Uber ride to Notre Dame brought me to the cobbled Rue de la Bûcherie where a warm vegetarian restaurant had set a table for the surprise déjeuner with my daughter.
Absolutely priceless was look on her face as she realized that the woman standing in the doorway who looked like her mom was in fact her mom! We dined with delight surrounded by hugs and tears and laughter and champagne and friends and falafel. When we could linger no longer around the sumptuously set table, we made our way to the rented flat where Z was staying with the family who loves and looks out for her back home in the States. After a bit of truffle cheese generosity smeared on a baguette, a crisp glass of white wine and off again we went to enjoy a walking history lesson that revealed and reveled in both the opulence and downfall of French nobility.
Soaked to the bone with cold rain, we made one last pub stop, sipped a beer or two more, shared sweet hugs and kisses and said our goodbyes. Off again I went to catch the 17:35 train back to Amsterdam. Because parting was practically impossible, the rather late return Uber ride was a mad blur through the rain drenched, rush hour streets to Gare du Nord. With a slippery dash along platform six, lungs near to collapsing, I plopped down in carriage 15 for the ride back home surrounded by delicate French children ranging in ages from eight to fourteen, all possessing the sweet understanding of the etiquette and electricity of whispering among adults sipping wine and pouring over maps of Amsterdam.
Three hours later I was extracting my bike from the tangle of handlebars and spokes that is a Dutch parking lot. A city that was sleeping when I left was now wide awake and sparkling with the remaining nights of the holidays. The fragrance of sweet and savory food trucks wrapped around me as I coasted along the bustling streets of little Leiden. And what to my wandering eyes did appear as home drew near? The most beautiful, drafty 100-year-old home, warmly lit with candlelight and Christmas tree, my partner puttering in the kitchen, presently plating her homemade chicken paprikash.
With stories shared, dishes done, pups cuddled and a heart overflowing with the unmerited blessings that are mine, dreams of my practically perfect day welcomed me to sleep once more on a cold winter’s night in The Netherlands.