His weight against by side was reassuring. As the airplane took off, I leaned in. I hate flying. Not much scares me more. But it’s a small sacrifice for the opportunity to see the world. Even though Paul didn’t say it, I think he was afraid too. We sat like that for the next hour, subtly leaning into each other over the armrest. He offered me gum. I tipped my book –The Kite Runner–so he could see the cover. “Have you read it?” He shook his head. “Here, it’s yours,” I said, placing it on his tray table. His eyes lit up and he instantly flipped to the first page to start reading. “It’s sad,” I warned him. He asked me to write my name inside the cover with the date and where i bought the book. I grinned. We are similar…both whimsical. He promised to add his name and pass the book on to another stranger. I wonder how far the book will go.
At the Amsterdam airport, Paul showed me where to buy my train ticket, but when i tried my card, it was rejected. I went to the ATM..no luck. My visa was rejected again. Thankfully, Paul bought my ticket and then we said our goodbyes.
I got on the wrong train and had to backtrack to get to the Central Station. My friend had given me two addresses: one for his friend’s shop where i could pick up the key to his place, and then the address for his flat. It was dark and half past 10pm when i finally stumbled out of the train station onto a busy night street in the heart of Amsterdam. A couple i had befriended on the train gave me concerned glances; “Do you know where you are going? Is anyone meeting you?” the girl asked. I tried to look confident, “Nope it’s just me and I don’t exactly know where I am going, but I’ll find my way.” But the truth was, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was hungry, exhausted, disoriented and had no money since my card wouldn’t work at the airport.
First things first, never walk in a designated bike lane in Amsterdam; You will get mowed down! I narrowly escaped that fate and learned my lesson quickly. Thankfully, London taught me to look both directions before even stepping off the curb, and i needed to recall that skill, or i might not survive this place. i took a deep breath and snapped into the moment, my senses suddenly heightened as I wove through the crowd of drunk people beneath a dark, starless sky.
If I had known that the first address was in The Red Light District, I might have thought twice about stumbling around in the most notorious neighborhood in the city, alone, with all my belongings hanging vulnerable on my back. About 40 minutes later of trying to read street signs in Dutch, and not having much luck finding the one I was looking for, i realized i was very lost. I stopped in front if a bar and asked two men for directions. “Sorry, No espeak eenglish”. I must have worn my bewilderment on my face, because he reached a big hand to cup the side of my face. I smiled, grateful for the gesture, and trudged on down the street, my shoulders burning under the weight of my pack. If things couldn’t get any worse, I heard a clap of thunder and the clouds opened to dump torrents of rain. I laughed, spread my arms out, and surrendered to the moment. I am in Amsterdam alone at night. Lost. No money. Drenched. Hungry. No phone with which to call a cab and no way to pay for it. Finally, I spoke to a bike taxi driver and he pointed me in the right way. Beneath flashes of lightning and a rumbling sky, I dragged my tired feet to the first address. I rang the bell and no one answered. I was at least two hours late, what did I expect?
I stepped back onto the street, trying to come up with a plan. What options did i have? Staring down the red-lit alleyway where prostitutes in high heels and flourescent colored lingerie led drunk clients into their cubby rooms, a grim thought hovered in my mind. i might have to stay on the street tonight. Discouraged and cold, i walked into the nearest club to find an internet signal. Just as i was connecting to the internet and my shoulders were celebrating the release of their burden, the barman came over and told me I had to buy a drink or leave. But…i began, forget it…why would he believe me that I arrived in this city with no money? I felt like a fool. That’s when a kind man came over and offered to buy be a drink. Once again, I am rescued by the kindness of a stranger! I sent a desperate ‘SOS’ message to my friend and he wrote back that he was on his way. I have never been so happy to see a familiar face in my life!
Since that first night, Amsterdam and I have gotten along very well. The culture is friendly and relaxed. The architecture is breathtaking. People wear crazy patterned pants and bright colors. Everyone bikes and the full work week is 32 hours. People here live life like tomorrow won’t ever come.
Traveling and experiencing all that I have is so good for my soul. I am truly content.