All the world is my homeland. – Erasmus
There’s nothing like discovering that a nearly 500-year-old philosophical dude has put one’s life experiences perfectly into words. Feeling at home in a foreign land is an enchanting experience. Referring to a map is less important than exploring the city. Getting lost is a good thing. Letting your feet lead you to incredible views, interesting people, and intriguing history is the purpose of the visit. My hope is that, after giving this a read, you’ll be entertained and inspired to get lost in foreign culture too. Even if it’s ten minutes from your house.
After many years of pining, I recently plucked up the nerve to book a solo trip to the Netherlands and London and I’m impatiently plotting my return. The day I bought my plane tickets, a surreal, hazy excitement fell over me. My entire life had been lived ‘going with the flow’ and letting others steer the boat. So this was my first big opportunity to do something I had longed to do – and to do it my way. Was I a little anxious? You bet. But it wasn’t the prospect of traveling alone that made me hesitant. It was the idea of having to plan all that travel! What a wonderful dilemma. I chose late February for off-season prices and fewer crowds to battle. Winter cold clings but the first signs of spring can be spotted if you look carefully. It’s a perfect in-between time, in my opinion.
I hadn’t been outside the US in a while and it was blatantly obvious when I tried interacting with my new flight mate in the middle seat beside me. Trying to make friendly small talk, I tapped the armrest between us, smiled, and said,
“This belongs to you. It’s never easy being in the middle seat.”
At this, he replied with a long, “Yeeeeaaaa….uh….yeah,” and averted his attention back to the screen on the seat in front of him.
Was it my breath? Did I have something in my teeth? Then I realized: he might not speak English. It dawned on me that as soon as I stepped on to the plane I wasn’t really in America anymore. This was international territory and, silly American, not everyone speaks English. The meaning suddenly shifted perspective as I replayed our little conversation in my head:
I tapped the armrest between us, smiled, and said,
“This belongs to me. Don’t test my patience today, pal. I’m in no mood.”
Perhaps this was closer to the truth than I wanted to admit. That armrest remained unused the whole flight.
I arrived in London just as my connection to Amsterdam was boarding. Even before the plane taxied, that feeling of, “Well, better just roll with this” had already sunk in. Oh how I wish I could watch the surveillance video of me rushing through the security check at London Gatwick airport, then on through kilometers of departure gates in half-undone sneakers while juggling my plastic bag of allowable liquids back into an overfull backpack. I stumbled into the gate just in time to wave goodbye to the plane. But it wasn’t a total loss. That was the best cardio I did all month.
Luckily, there was another flight just a few hours later. With the help of a flight attendant who was scheduled to work that hop, I got a backstage tour of Gatwick, a quick wave through customs and a fresh ticket on the next flight out. With what seemed like barely enough time to buckle my seatbelt, we landed at Schiphol airport just as evening closed in.
A kind woman at a kiosk set me up with a new SIM card for my phone and a friendly cabbie ushered me to the fanciest sci-fi-looking taxi I’d ever seen. A sleek black Tesla Model X beckoned to me with open falcon-wing doors. I swooned right into the backseat, feeling much like a passenger preparing for a ride on Star Tours at Disney World – but way cooler. And cleaner. Seductive city lights streaked across the tinted windows. Cars packed in around us on the highway, heading to a large festival just kicking off for the night. The possibilities that awaited me on this trip struck home. I was infatuated with the potential.
It was nearly eight by the time I arrived at the B&B I’d booked for the night. Ineke was a most warm and gracious hostess. She even received a package on my behalf when my Eurail pass would not ship to the US in time for my trip. She led me up several flights of narrow wood stairs, passing by unique antiquities and pictures mounted on the walls. The apartment was on the third floor of a hundred year old, traditional Dutch row house with an amazing rooftop garden. Spotlessly clean, comfortable, and utterly charming, it was the perfect landing pad after a very long day of travel.
If you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend BB Ginkgo.
After a refreshing sleep, I woke early the next morning and walked to Centraal Station. With a firm goal of packing an average-sized backpack for a ten day trip, I debated for many weeks on the one set of shoes I would bring. No amount of space saver bags were going to magically allow room for ten days of bulky winter clothes and two pairs of shoes. Ultimately I decided on a comfortable pair of sneakers and suffered being chastised by my ego for my middle-aged sensibility throughout the entire trip. Boots would have been way more chic…who cares if my feet fell off my ankles on day two, right?
Venturing out of the quiet neighborhood and into the city center, there was a distinct divide, like two Amsterdams living side by side. During this seven-ish hour, Night Amsterdam moved slowly, as if in a twilight, hypnagogic state of sleep. It had the feel of a tired owl fluffing up and settling in to its nook after a long night of activity. Day Amsterdam awoke slowly. Little dogs off their leashes tumbled and yapped in a frosty park. Streaks of sun broke through the early cover of gray. Food stalls with coffee and stroopwafels sent steam signals into the cold air that they were open for business. Sightseers trickled in from side streets, congregating for selfies at an iconic I AMsterdam sign. While the energetic odor of ‘tourist trap’ gets heavy in the stretch by the Rijksmuseum and Centraal Station, to pass by this is to miss part of the experience. A tight train schedule didn’t allow time for a pop in to the ‘Rijks’ or the Banksy exhibition at the Moco Museum, but I vowed to explore them on a return visit.
Stay tuned for Part 2 appearing next Tuesday!
By: Erica Ruhe