Damnsterdam! Day 1

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.

Day 1
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 Oh, and my guidebook was a bit out of date about how the public transportation there works, so when I stopped at an information desk to ask how to buy a tram ticket, the man looked at me as if he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.

Fuel for my wandering: Vlaamse frites! Their generosity with mayonnaise is one of many things I liked about the Dutch.

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.

This salad looked so pretty on the plate I had to pause before I tore in. Hidden among the fresh veggies were two pancakes--a Dutch favorite, akin to but not quite the same as French crêpes--rolled up with a tender delicious mayonnaisey chicken salad. The beer was called Dulle Griet.

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.



4 responses to “Damnsterdam! Day 1

  1. i have always thought that dutch sounds like alien language, and it’s extra confusing how it kind of looks like english, like if you see someone reading a dutch newspaper, but then you get up close and you’re like “what?!” also, KLM airlines has the most beautiful flight attendants. and they wear lovely cornflower-blue uniforms.

    • I kind of liked how it looked like English because I felt like hot stuff when I figured out what signs meant, like “ALLE HOV PRIJS” (sp?) means “Everything half price.” It does sound alien, though.

  2. Netherlands, bikes, lovely citizens, pomme frites(sp?)Kroller Muller, coin op showers, aged gouda, flower markets….circa 1981. Still sounds rich.

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