Before I left town, I made a pact with some friends. We agreed that the theme of our February is Step Up Your Game. Thanks to Amsterdam, I’m off to a good start. As promised, here is Part I of several about my experience.
Or, A Series of Minor Failures That Ended Well
Because I’m from North America, where you can take a five-hour flight without leaving a broad swath of English Only, it messed with my head that a mere four-hour train ride could take me to a place that uses an entirely different language. It was weird to be surrounded in a Germanic language. When I bumped into someone, I said “Pardon” by reflex and immediately realized that French doesn’t necessarily work in the Netherlands. I’ve met a number of Dutch people who all spoke flawless English and I had always heard that they’re language sluts, so I was a bit surprised that signs weren’t printed in English. I briefly felt the exciting kind of overwhelmed. Oh, and my guidebook was a bit out of date about how the public transportation there works, so when I stopped at an information desk to ask how to buy a tram ticket, the man looked at me as if he couldn’t decide whether I was a nuisance or an idiot. (Probably both.)
I was infatuated with Amsterdam within minutes. I was so happy to watch millions of bicycles pass by that I didn’t even notice that the tram was stopped. Having spent four months in France, where no one is ever wrong and nothing is ever the speaker’s fault, I was pleasantly stunned when the driver apologized profusely and repeatedly for the delay.
I was also immediately struck by how much I liked listening to the Dutch language. French sounds like “[hacked up R][string of vowels][honking nasal finish]” but Dutch sounds like “Duh DA duh DA duh DA ya!”
My hostel was a block from Museumplein so I headed straight for the van Gogh museum but decided against it when I realized that tickets cost 14€. (That’s $19.02 US.) In my brief experience, I found Amsterdam even more expensive than Paris. A one-way tram ticket costs 2€60 (!) and student discounts at museums weren’t as generous as they are in Paris. I decided to see if the adjacent modern art museum was any cheaper, but it was closed for renovation. After failing at two museums, I decided to walk toward city center. [Cue foreboding music.]
For years, I convinced myself that I had a good sense of direction even though I had no evidence in my favor and quite a lot against me. I have only recently come to terms with the fact that I actually have zero sense of direction. I can, however, usually read the hell out of a map and make that work. Sometimes I don’t even bother, though, because getting lost is one of my favorite things to do in a new city.
I was so thrilled to be in Amsterdam that I didn’t even consider myself Lost for about two hours. I was Exploring. Amsterdam’s concentric horseshoe shape layout was far beyond my capabilities and patience, though, and as the sun set and the temperature dropped, I had to admit to myself that I was utterly, hopelessly, completely lost. I could read street signs and I could read my map, but I could not make them correspond to one another. (I still don’t understand how I walked at least half a mile the wrong direction down a canal after triple checking my map.)
I was cold and I was getting hungry, so I was really eager to find Melkweg, a café my friend Caitlin had recommended because she drank and ate Fudgsicles with the owner. After wandering in something I later determined to be something of a squareular spiral, I decided to splurge an astounding 7€ ($9.51 US) on a 24-hour tram pass. I simply couldn’t bear to walk any farther. From the tram stop, I found the correct street easily enough and then began to feel that I was trapped in a Theater of the Absurd when I saw a big sign for Melkweg with no apparent way to get up there. (Turns out Melkweg was a small empire and the entrance to the café part was a long block away.)
My lostness labor was rewarded with a delicious salad and the best beer I’ve had in Europe. I chatted with my server, a Scottish guy seated beside me, and with the owners, Mary Jo and Eric, originally of Milwaukee.
Mary Jo was very interested to hear that I was in Amsterdam to meet up with a friend who had just done Peace Corps. “I tried to do Peace Corps years ago,” she said, “but I only had skills that would help the rich.”
Next time on Classy Broad Abroad: from the sad to the sublime, the Anne Frank house and my joyous reunion with Cassie.