The 9/11 terror attacks on the United States in 2001 made air travel, particularly international flights, unappealing for many people.
So it was an absolute miracle that my fourth, and final, ‘supporters’ tour went ahead in October, 2002.
I had taken Kangaroo rugby league supporters’ tours away in 1990 and ’94, and another tour, based on league in the south of France, in 1998. Many of those people wanted to go again in 2002, rugby league component or not, but most got cold feet after 9/11.
Albatross Travel (the company I dealt with) were patient, but the cut off point was 15 people, and that’s how many went, including my wife and I.
The ‘rugby league’ people on the trip were Brisbane Easts’ stalwarts, Brian and Elaine Smart; former Brothers’ chief executive, Don Munro; Carmel Drysdale (widow of former QRL chairman, Tom Drysdale) and Redcliffe stalwart, Ray Ebert.
I covered the Roosters v Warriors NRL grand final (for ‘The Courier-Mail) on Sunday, October 6 (the mighty Roosters beat New Zealand Warriors 30-8), and two days later my group flew out of Brisbane, (on Singapore Airlines) bound for Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
My heart sank as I left Schiphol terminal and saw a 30 seater coach, with a wheel missing. I knew straight away, that was OUR coach.
The driver, Marc Kollwelter from Luxembourg, was full of apologies, and true to his word, had us on our way in double quick time.
We had a local guide for our first day – Jacqueline – – who was pleasant and entertaining. She took us to all the touristy spots – Edam, Marken and the Zuidersee open air museum.
When we arrived at our destination, (Old Dutch Hotel, Volendam), Jacqueline stayed for a while, no doubt expecting a tip, which is fair enough.
I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t give her one. Marie and I were on a tight budget, and the 13 other members of the group had been told everything was included. Jacqueline undoubtedly thought we were tight Aussie bastards.
At dinner, in Restaurant Le Pompadour, we met a lovely lass from Zurich, who had been staying with a family at Hamilton, in Brisbane.
On day two, our group visited Floriade, a once in a decade floral expo near Harlem. This leading showcase of Dutch horticulture, covers 65 hectares. In Amsterdam, I took our group ‘window shopping’ in the red light district, before leaving them to their own devices. I went to a corner bar and had a few beers with hard working policeman, Robert Prins, whose lady was working at nearby, Croissanterie de Oude Brugge.
Robert, mocking the perception it is ‘all systems go’ for drug dealers in Amsterdam, was keeping an eye out for these people, and at one stage left the bar to ‘chase’ a few of these shady characters. Robert was a Netherlands Rugby Union official, and was fascinated to learn about rugby league in Australia. Naturally, I told him all about Penrith’s Colin van der Voort!!! Robert even gave me a Netherlands Rugby Union coffee mug. As I left the bar, I think I heard him remark to another drinker: “Who was that masked man?”
That night, our hotel dinner was plaice and chips.
The next day we headed into Germany, the country which was the main focus of our journey.
More at a later date.
Photo 1: Marc Kollwelter (right) and Steve Ricketts.
Photo 2: Marie Ricketts at Floriade