“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. We have a very big problem. Please evacuate the train. Immediately.”
On my “List of Ways I Like to be Awakened in Foreign Countries” the previous phrase is certainly not at the top. In fact, it it’s on another list entirely, a list entitled, “Things I Never Want to Hear at 7am.” However, when the loud speaker crackled to life on Saturday morning and I was forced to leap from my bed (it was a night train so, yes, I actually had a bed), grab my belongings and wait in the cold for over half an hour with a train full of people somewhere in the German countryside, I decided to try to make the most of it. After all, I like a little adventure as much as the next person…
Three trains and four hours later as I bounced along in an overcrowded train with my luggage at my feet (yep, I was standing, because when you put a train full of people on another train that is already full of people, there tend not to be any seats left), my spirit of adventure began to decline rapidly. I hadn’t brushed my teeth in ages, I hadn’t slept well the previous night and I was so confused as to my current geographic location that I didn’t even know if I was in Germany or the Netherlands.
By the time I reached Amsterdam, my destination for one last weekend trip before returning to the USA in a few weeks, I was ready for a shower and a change of clothes. Unfortunately, my room at the hostel was not ready and, according to the look the receptionist gave me, it wasn’t going to be ready any time soon and I was a fool for asking. Instead of a refreshing shower, I was directed to a closet-sized bathroom down the hall.
Deciding to make the best of a less than ideal situation, I changed my clothes, brushed my teeth, pulled my hair into a terribly attractive ponytail, tossed my backpack in the “luggage room” (please read, closet underneath a staircase) and set out to explore the city they call The Venice of the North, all the while thinking, “Amsterdam, you’d better be worth it.”
And, as corny and clichéd as it sounds—it was worth it. I was instantly charmed. After all, who wouldn’t fall in love with a city that boasts more canals than Venice, more bikes than people and the largest public library in Europe?
I honestly can’t say which sight was my favorite. My tour of the Anne Frank House definitely tops the list (in spite of the fact that I knew Anne Frank didn’t survive her time in Auschwitz I kept hoping for a happy ending and was struck all over again when I read of her death). I also loved the Van Gogh Museum, the Flower Market, exploring the Jordaan neighborhood and shopping to my heart’s content in the Nine Streets area. The canals and bridges were beautiful in spite of the cloudy winter weather and even the cold, crisp air seemed more like an exhilaration than a nuisance. By the time I left on Monday morning I had decided that if I ever win the lottery and have no need for a real job, I will spend a summer writing wonderful stories and riding my bike in Amsterdam.
Now, maybe my love of the city, in spite of all the pains it took me to get there, has something to do with the fact that this was my last trip within Europe before going back to the USA… and since it may be many years before I am able to return to this continent, Amsterdam became somewhat of a final adventure.
|I swear I'm smiling under all those layers|
After years of European travels I am heading home to “settle down” (though, let’s be honest, I do not settle) and while I still plan to travel as much as I possibly can, I am thinking there are other continents and countries which I will choose to explore before I make it back here. And I am okay with that because it’s time for a new string of adventures in a new land. But, that being said, Europe was my first international experience and my first travel love. It will always have a special place in my wandering heart. And the next time I see someone riding a black bicycle down the street, I will think of Amsterdam and smile.