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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021

One of the great joys of going to Europe for me is the chance to meet up with old friends. I will do almost anything to make it possible. Huseyin is a teacher and scholar of Islamic sciences who has been corresponding with me about my research on al-Razi for almost 15 years.

In the short time I had in Amsterdam we kept messaging each other about where and how to meet, but by the time John, Christo, and I boarded the ship Tuesday afternoon, it was beginning to look impossible. The three of us kept on schedule and kept hoping.

At 9:00 the next morning we were on a canal boat, cruising past houseboats and rows of old houses in the misty rain. The seating was arranged in about ten rows with a central aisle. Every other row was blocked off with a strip of red and white tape for distancing. Thinking that the tape meant the seat had been sanitized, Christo boldly ripped it off and sat down. John and I sat in a row without tape, thinking we were meant to avoid the blocked rows. Just another confusing COVID moment.

Sitting in the not-taped row

Not surprising, because the rules change daily. During our orientation to the excursions Wednesday afternoon we caught up on the latest changes. First, Baden-Wittenberg requires an antigen test if you haven’t had a booster or a short within six months. So some passengers needed to get tested on our next stop in Cologne. People who still needed the Swiss or EU QR code will be shown how to get it today in a Cologne pharmacy. But at this point, France does not require an antigen test. Confused?

Gringenbach and Freiburg Christmas markets on our route have now been closed. We will just catch the Christmas market in Speyer on Dec. 18, but it closes on the 19th. Christmas markets usually open the last week of November and close just before Christmas. Last year they were closed completely. So this year’s abrupt schedule changes are unprecedented and reflective of the uncertainty that renewed case surges plus the new Omicron variant have brought upon us.

Several people on our cruise were originally scheduled to cruise on the Danube through Budapest and Vienna instead, but those cruises were cancelled when Vienna had to close its markets due to COVID surges.On the other hand, some who had booked our cruise first backed out after news of the Omicron variant came out. Still there are river boat cruises on the Rhine beside ours. Two were docked next to us in Amsterdam.

Three river cruise boats docked in Amsterdam

I have to compliment our cruise manager for keeping us on track with changing regulations and almost making it look easy.

Our ship

And Wednesday at noon my plans came together! About 30 minutes before my ship was set to leave Amsterdam, Huseyin and I met face to face in front of Amsterdam Central Station. It was almost a Hallmark moment. For half an hour we talked like old friends and I gave him a copy of my book in Razi, the culmination of the research he had encouraged me on for so long.

Huseyin and Gail meeting at last

And I must have been a good girl because I got a chocolate St. Nick in my slipper this morning!

John got a Krampus.

St Nick came!

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world cri

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