My father's hip pain continued as we left Paris. His gait reminded me of my 85-year-old grandfather. Slow, uneasy. He would often state, half jokingly, "may the good lord take me". I hated hearing this but I was not in a position to judge. I was only watching cancer eat away at someone well before their time, not experiencing the physical, mental and emotional pain of having it firsthand. It was for this reason that I had an idea: it wasn't officially on our itinerary but I felt my father could use a diversion…to Amsterdam.
He had told me previously about my grandmother, Beatrice, and the pain she endured during her own battle with breast cancer. I was too young at the time to remember this but after his diagnosis last fall he wanted me to know the realities of this situation, that life wasn't always pretty and could get very, very ugly at a moment's notice.
My grandmother died on New Years Day, 1981, at the age of 50. During the final stages of her life, she was prescribed medical marijauna to ease her suffering. Despite this, my father has always been staunchly opposed to narcotics. I did feel however that this could perhaps be a better remedy for his ills than the oxycodene that was prescribed to him; a drug that has since taken a life of its own on the street market where it is often referred to as "hillbilly heroin". He wasn't receptive, but I had a few days (and a few countries) to persuade him to perhaps give alternatives a try.
If we got out of Paris first.
I have a tendency to write about foreign washrooms. It can be an icky subject but considering how much time we, as human beings, use them, I feel like I'm prepping/warning people as a gesture of good will. So here it is: do not under any circumstances use the washrooms at Montparnesse Train Station. Just pee your pants. Trust. Despite having enough first-hand knowledge to know better, I still expect that if I have to pay to use facilities that they will be (relatively) clean, contain at least one square of TP and have a water source to clean up with. Nope. You get that maybe 50% of the time in Europe. Even stranger are the urinals that are out in the open. No one needs to see that. Nothing - NOTHING - could top Montparnesse Train Station though. I'm sure there were germs and viruses in there not yet identified by science. Damn my love for iced tea.
We picked up our rental vehicle at Montparnesse Train Station on Sunday because the streets of Paris are relatively quiet then. Our drive within her boundaries was pretty stress-free but that all changed once we got on the Boulevard Périphérique. Bumper to bumper. Vehicles taking up multiple lanes. Those damn motorcycles that seem to come within millimetres of sideswiping everything in their unpredictable path. Despite having a GPS, we had no idea where we were going. We eventually were forced to turn off near Disneyland Paris and within a few hours made it to Belgium (coincidentally where my grandmother's side of the family is from).
Belgium is an interesting country in the sense that I know nothing about it beyond their ability to craft great beer and chocolate. Perhaps that's all the reputation they need. Achieving perfection in two of the world's favourite exports is quite the feat. We stayed overnight in a town named Mons which I've also never heard of, the vacancy sign on the IBIS being the main draw for our stopover. Mons has a large, beautiful public square wherein instead of a hot dog stand, there's a small trailer selling escargot and champagne. Posh. The next day we drove through Brussels and Antwerp. I'm none the wiser about the country after visiting these cities, but the nation is very pretty.
Soon enough we were in the Netherlands. Everytime I saw an Amsterdam sign, I dropped the hint that I wanted to go there. My father kept complaining about potential pickpockets, scams and "druggies", failing to to see the irony of where his life was heading. He carried a baggie full of medicine, at least three different prescriptions just for pain relief. Security at the airport didn't even question him; when he mentioned that he had cancer, they just looked on in pity. Everyday at some point, the refrain of "may the good lord take me" carried on.