Doing the Blitzkrieg Bop across Europe

By John F. Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 10:14 PM

If everything went according to plan, I am back in the United States today, Tuesday. But right now, on Sunday, I'm sitting in The Hague on the last full day of my first visit to My Lovely Wife's new apartment.

I understand it was sunny and warm in Washington last week. It wasn't here in the Netherlands. I'm sure one of the reasons the Dutch built an empire across the East Indies was to get away from their winters.

Not that I spent all that much time in Holland, actually. This is the time in my younger daughter's life - and thus in the lives of those closest to her - that all waking moments are consumed with thoughts of college. We literally cannot go 15 minutes without talking about college: Where she might get in. Where she might go, depending on where she might get in. Where she might live, depending on where she might go, depending on where she might get in. I'm not proud of this, but that's the reality.

It's also a reality that Beatrice at the last minute decided that applying to about 300 colleges up and down the East Coast was insufficiently complicated and so snuck in a few applications to universities in the United Kingdom. Which is why, 24 hours after arriving in The Hague, we found ourselves on a plane to Scotland. If there was any chance Beatrice might spend four years at a school in a village that clings to a rocky, windswept outcropping somewhere on the North Sea, shouldn't she visit it first?

The rental car company at Edinburgh Airport had run out of rental cars. I thought that having enough rental cars is pretty much the central aspect of running a rental car company, but I guess I was wrong. On the plus side, they paid for a cab to take us the hour to our destination, which allowed us to be entertained by the Scottish taxi driver and his tales of Las Vegas. He goes there with his buddies every April for his birthday.

"What do you do there?" I asked. "What don't I do there?" he said coyly, before offering that one year he and his mates had an all-night drinking contest with a professional basketball team.

"Who won?" my daughter asked.

"No one," he said with a shudder.

Thirty-six hours in Scotland and we were on to London. I had booked all these flights myself, on one of Europe's budget airlines. Call it Jets R Us. You can pay something like 10 bucks for a flight, but the airline charges for everything else. I swear there was a coin slot next to the drop-down oxygen masks.

Thirty-six hours in London and we were on our way back to the Netherlands. The Hague is the Washington to Amsterdam's New York, but unlike in Washington everybody in The Hague speaks English. They have to, since . . . well, have you heard Dutch lately?

Even so, My Lovely Wife has already signed up for a Dutch class. Ruth is good at languages. I'm not. I try to justify it by saying that I speak English so well it's ruined me for other tongues. Really, it's just that I'm shy. The only way you can be successful with a foreign language is to throw yourself into it with abandon. When Ruth speaks Italian, she sounds like a caricature of an Italian, which, it turns out, is exactly what Italians actually sound like.

I was content to let her order at restaurants.

What will I remember most about our frenzied trip to Europe? The sign in a butcher's window that read "Probably the best haggis in Scotland"? Probably? The mad, lung-searing dash for the 4:14 to Luton Airport, fearful that if we missed that train Beatrice and I would spend the rest of our lives begging on the streets of London? No, I think it will be the blister on my finger. Ruth rented an unfurnished apartment and filled it with Ikea furniture. Some of it she put together herself, but when Beatrice and I arrived, the mattresses for all the beds rested on the floor, crash-pad-style. Shrink-wrapped boxes of pine kindling were propped in the corner: the bed frames.

What is a husband for if not to put together Ikea furniture? That Ruth had thrown away the assembly instructions just made it more interesting. The blister is from turning that little Ikea hex wrench again and again and again: happy domesticity in the bifurcated bosom of my family.

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