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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sunshine Blue Skies – Amsterdam Day 2 and Beyond

Yesterday, I woke up and had breakfast (peanut butter and jam on toast, hardboiled egg white, OJ and tea).  The weather was beautiful, which is apparently unusual this time of year, so I decided to wander around.  Turns out, wandering around is the only thing I really enjoyed about Amsterdam, except talking to people.

I discovered I have a special knack for missing places that are right in front of me.  For example, I walked almost directly to the Ann Frank museum, didn’t see it, and then wandered around for an hour or so until I found it again.  This time, it was easier to spot because there was a line around the block.  I’d had enough queuing in the U.K.

So, I moved on to my next activity – a visit to Vondelpark.  My feet were already starting to bother me from all the walking I’d already done, but I wanted to see how big the park was.  It was big.  How big, I may never know because I never made it across.  I smoked some of my leftover hash from the night before and blew some harmonica for a bit while watching the fountain.  I took a picture of it, which is in my photo album on FB, but then I remembered my phone has a panorama feature, which I’d never used.  It is way cool how it auto fires the shots as you pan and stitches them together perfectly.  I was able to put the shot on my wall, but not in the album for some reason.

I was getting ready to leave the park and I saw an exit that I hadn’t used before.  I came out of the park and started wandering.  After a few blocks, it dawned on me I was “off the map.”  By this, I mean the map they give to all the tourists, which excludes portions of the city that are intended for the locals.  I was back tracking to the park, so I could have some chance of finding my way back to the hotel eventually, when I had a realization.  People in Amsterdam have almost no personal space.  I tested my theory by walking very close to people.  One inch.  That’s how much space they need.

Later, when I was eating a vegetarian dinner at an Indian restaurant (brownie points for me), I asked Jurav, the owners’ son about it and he confirmed my one inch theory.  He said that people don’t get upset if you bump into them when it’s an honest mistake.  Suffice it to say, they all live in close quarters around there.  I had a nice chat with Jurav.  Apparently, the cook wanted to get in on it, seeing as how I was the only guy in the restaurant, so he came out and we chatted too.  He’s from Nepal.  His family is from up in the mountains (Annapurna, I believe).

By the time I finished dinner, it was back to raining in Amsterdam.  I wandered some more.  Stopped at the Bulldog coffeehouse for some…ahem…coffee.  Riiiight!  I got something called “cheese.”  It was pretty good.  I wandered some more until I was getting too wet because I left my umbrella at the hotel.  Fortunately, my rain jacket has a hood, which kept me dry a good 10-15 minutes.  I eventually found a Couple Moroccan drug dealers.  They shared some whiskey with me and I gave them the remainder of my drugs since I couldn’t take them with me.  One of them was a native of Amsterdam.  His parents were “brought in” to do domestic work for the Dutch.  Now, the Dutch don’t want them or their children, but, too bad because Holland is their home.                                                                 

Day 3:  Today, I travelled.  I woke up, packed, checked out and took the train to centeral station.  Next, I took a train to Rotterdam Central and from there to Hoek Van Holland, which is where I caught the ship.  I had a salad and some fresh fruit and took a nap.  When I got up, I decided to have a look around outside.  I met three British chaps from the southern region, who had been on a bicycling trip through Holland.

We started drinking some beer and found out we have similar musical tastes.  John, Richard and Paul all make electronic music.  After a few beers, I busted out the harmonicas and we had a bit of a romp (singing, dancing and banging on things).  Being a minstrel is a great way to make friends.

When we arrived in port, we all said our goodbyes and it was off to central London on the train for me.  The train takes a long time and there are numerous stops.  One was unscheduled as apparently someone had chosen our track, combined with the front end of a preceding train to terminate their existence as we know it.  I guess some concepts are universal.

When I arrived in Liverpool Street Station, I was hungry, so I stopped at the now familiar pasty stand.  I enquired about which Underground train I should get on and then promptly got on the wrong one.  After two stops, it was clear that I had erred.  I got off and stood there with a bewildered look for five minutes, finally changing platforms so I could get on an actual train going somewhere.  A nice young woman of Indian decent (okay, I could have asked a guy, but where’s the fun in that?) helped me figure out the best route to Heathrow near where my hotel was.

Things would have gone famously had it not been “tipping it with rain,” and the London transport system was fully functional.  It was and it isn’t.  I could not carry my pack the whole time and the floor of the trains were soaking wet, so my bag got wet too.  That would have been a minor inconvenience.  Add to this: after I transferred to the Heathrow line, the train went a few stops and…well…stopped.  It continued to stop for some time until the conductor announced that “this is now the end of the line for this train.”  And then he said (I paraphrase here), “get off.”  We did – all of us.  What I learned here is that if a train sits in the station long enough, it will fill.  It was full.  As we waited for the next Heathrow train to show up, more people came.  When the train did show up, I got a chance to experience what it must be like to be a sardine packed in spring water.

We were back on our way.  Several stops later, the conductor informed us that the train we were on was no longer going to Heathrow, rather stopping a few stations up.  Fortunately, we were told, the train on the tracks next to us was going to Heathrow.  This sort of thing must happen all the time because I swear some people switched trains without discontinuing their reading or looking away from their iPhones.

I finally got to Heathrow, thinking my journey was almost over.  Wrong!  More queuing.  The taxi stand had many customers, but was missing one essential ingredient – taxis!  I waited the 15 minutes that the attendant told us it would take.  Then, I waited another 15 minutes.  The taxi driver asked if I was paying cash or credit card.  I said cash and he said something I didn’t understand at first, “cash sterling?”  I’d heard “pounds sterling” before, but not only was I unfamiliar with the term, I couldn’t understand why he was asking the question.  He explained that many Americans try to pay him in dollars.  Geez!  People like that give our whole country a bad name.  Everybody I talked to thinks we’re overly self-centered and then we go and assume that not only is English the universal language (which more or less turns out to be true), but the dollar is the universal currency.

When I got to the hotel, the queue at the registration desk was only two deep, but it was after midnight and I really had had enough of queuing for one day.  The room was very nice, with many amenities.  I used exactly three:  a power outlet to charge my devices, the toilet, and the bed.  I was too tired to care about the rest of it.

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