Paintings on parchment paper doubled as window coverings and all I kept thinking was, "This is how horror films start." Before I could get my reis wafflen out of my carry-on, a slender tall man appears before me in a wheelbarrow-motorcycle hybrid donning a leather mask with thick goggles slamming on his brakes before hitting the side of the building.

"What the fuck!"

The nice thing to do is to get up and greet him; however, my ass is frozen. I have no idea what the fuck just happened. Not many things render me speechless. Yet, my fears began to dissipate and I made the conscious decision to roll with it and see where it would take me.

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travels

Noord Holland Part I: Amsterdam

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls. ” — Anais Nin

Why did I wait last minute to download the GVB app? I’m caught between looking out the window and enjoying the sights, and trying to figure out where the hell I am supposed to get off. Thanks, T-Mobile and your slow ass interwebs. I’m clutching my luggage, holding a phone, and looking like an addict in search of their next hit.  Once the GVB app was on my phone, it was completely useless (well in comparison to the Deutsche Bahn app, yes.) These live updates are about a station and a half behind.  Plan B: Google Maps.

What a difference!  I typed in what I could make out of Jay’s address and what do you know, I chose the correct train. The universe was on my side. Wait! Why aren’t we stopping?! Stations zoomed by and I couldn’t move. I attempted to enjoy the train ride for about 6 minutes or 3 train stations. My antennae were locked in and when I heard Lelylaan called over the loudspeaker, I raced towards the doors as if I was going to win a medal. I was simply going on instincts. It’s all I had since I hadn’t eaten or had any coffee, yet. Amsterdam greeted me with a gloomy and chilly embrace. Nonetheless, I was sweating and completely regretting not opting for my Swiss Gear backpack instead. At that moment, I wanted to punt my small rolling, black and white striped suitcase Beetlejuice.  From almost missing my flight in Schönefeld to nearly busting my ankle on the escalator at Schiphol, the second half of my trip was one mishap after another.

The turnstiles were thin glass (or possibly plexiglass) doors with chrome fixtures and lovely designs etched into them. There’s that Dutch aesthetic! Clean lines and “beep.”  I look down at the card reader and the screen reads tot ziens or goodbye.  How quaint! Glancing down at my phone and taking one last look at the station before heading out, I head east and say to myself, “Well, here goes nothing.”.  According to Google Maps, I should be there in 15 minutes. Walking through the neighborhood striving not to do any sudden moves that scream, “TOURIST!”;  my suitcase wheels have other plans, clicking and clacking against the cobblestones announcing my presence to all in the early morning. I come to an intersection where at least 10 bags of garbage have exploded.  Diapers, old furniture, and pizza boxes adorn the streets, while a group of garbage collectors begrudgingly dispose of it, intermittently stopping to take a puff off their cigarettes.

A river runs through it.

Where the hell is this place?!  

I’m starting to wonder why there isn’t a tram or bus stop of some sort. What sane person walks all of this?  Hold on, how the heck am I supposed to get on that side of the street when there’s a freeway right there?! Going through an underpass, then an overpass, past the pizzeria, a pub, and a Halal market.  I briefly stop to catch my breath and check my phone.  I am going the right way, but this is longer than 15 minutes. My feet are starting to ache, the gut is spazzing out putting itself through the wringer, and the upstairs neighbor is playing, “The Girl from Ipanema.” I look and feel like the dog droppings on a small patch of grass overlooking some apartment buildings.

Amsterdam is beginning to open up like a flower when it’s caressed by the sun.  As I’m trekking, the city is coming alive before my eyes.  Shopkeepers greeting each other in languages that are not Dutch, Vespas try to keep up with traffic, the tram, THE TRAM, suitcase wheels shaking their maracas and me internally letting out a primal scream. Now I’m starting to believe that I must be part of a couch gag skit on The Simpsons. Up ahead, three city blocks have been excavated beyond recognition and I refuse to go around the construction site.  Instead, I grab my suitcase kicking dirt along the way, with my scowl deterring anyone within 10 feet (3.048 meters). As I look over across the street, I see the same apartment buildings I came across 10 minutes ago.  I would later find a shortcut, the tram station that takes me to Centraal AND Lelylaan, and a flirtatious Dutchman with a pitbull. “D’oh!

The landscape is starting to transition from apartments with rugged exteriors to houses that could grace the cover of magazines.   It’s going on 40 minutes and the Google Maps pin drop is finally telling the truth.  I take the time before my arrival to admire architecture when my sightseeing is interrupted abruptly by a Ford F-150 truck blocking half of the street. What asshat…oh nevermind. I take the remaining few steps and don’t know where to go.  One side is lined with townhomes and this can’t be right, this is a school.  I frantically dial Jay’s number as I’m sure I have walked for 45 minutes only to end up in front of an elementary school.  It’s recess time and the screaming is piercing through every nerve in my body. Luckily, Jay picks up rather quickly and starts to mumble in Dutch.

“Hey, it’s Elizabeth.  I think I’m lost.  I ended up at a school.”

“No, no, you’re at the right place.  Stay there, I’ll be there in 10 minutes. Relax.”

“Where?”, I thought to myself.  Looks like these cold hard cement steps will have to do. Anxiety is starting to get comfortable and that’s when I decided to text my husband and friend back in the States the address of where I’d be calling home for the next week, including directions. This was going to be my first Couchsurfing experience and I already had one foot out the door before setting one in.  Seeing the school didn’t ease the tension. Paintings on parchment paper doubled as window coverings and all I kept thinking was, “This is how horror films start.” Before I could get my reis wafflen out of my carry-on, a slender tall man appears before me in a wheelbarrow-motorcycle hybrid donning a leather mask with thick goggles slamming on his brakes before hitting the side of the building.

“What the fuck!”

The nice thing to do is to get up and greet him; however, my ass is frozen. I have no idea what the fuck just happened. Not many things render me speechless. Yet, my fears began to dissipate and I made the conscious decision to roll with it and see where it would take me.

“NOW THAT’S AN ENTRANCE!”

Music:  The Universal Language.

Once inside, I see what looks like an art collective more than a school. Weaving through several hallways and stairwells, my brain records landmarks just in case I have to make a run for it.  Cluttered and colorful, the sound of children becomes louder. Jay’s loft is located behind the schoolyard. His windows let every ray of sunlight in and I’m basking in its warmth, happy to be inside and sitting on something cushy. Right away, he strikes up a conversation and we get the introductions out of the way.  I don’t give away too much, but he gets familiar and I feel like a long lost cousin more than a vagabond crashing on his couch. As my eyes wander around to find any similar interests, I remain fixated on his vinyl collection.

“No fucking way!!  You have Batdance on VINYL?!”

It appears that I have piqued his interest. He flips through his records like a courthouse file clerk, pulls out more Prince vinyl and then asks, “Would you like some coffee?” Vinyl? Coffee?  What’s next, cheese? I might not want to leave. Jay tells me about the last Prince concert he attended in London with a group of friends.  Reminiscing about his life through Prince’s music catalog, he tells me about his divorce, a little girl caught in the web of the court system, and his undying passion for gardening. Coffee presents itself in a tiny porcelain vessel and saucer along with an orange frosted cookie with a crown on it.

Thrifted and €30.

“You just missed King’s Day.”

I hadn’t had great coffee in over two weeks.  Here I was enjoying high grade octane, with “Starfish and Coffee” playing in the background in Amsterdam no less. I felt my engines revving up and anything before this cup of happiness didn’t matter anymore. Jay was genuinely interested in enhancing my Amsterdam experience.  He asked me a series of questions, that ended with me eating a piece of gouda purchased from a local farmer’s market (if this is gouda, what the hell have I been eating?), borrowing his Museum Card, and planning out my first day in Amsterdam all within two hours after landing at Schiphol.  He advised me to just get on a tram and head into chaos.

“Bikes rule here. Be careful.”

Before I could head out one of his friends at the compound came to say, “Hello.” In other words, he was being nosey since he heard a female voice coming from Jay’s loft. He playfully interrogates me (“Oh you’re Couchsurfing?”), and then hands me his phone, asking me if I could change the ringtone for him.  I thought it was an odd request considering I didn’t even know his name; however, before he could finish his next sentence, I handed the phone back to him and smiled. Rather than taking the hint that we were in the middle of making dinner plans, Jay proceeds anyway.

“I’ll meet you there at 4pm.”

“Where is there?” There was anywhere.  It wasn’t defined and was probably better that way. He wanted me to go out exploring (possibly get lost, in a good way) and where we would meet at 4pm would be at my discretion. With the caffeine firing on all cylinders, I reapplied lipstick, put my stuff to the side to not disturb the flow of his space, and was ready to hoof some more. This new found confidence and sense of adventure was due in part to being recharged by an eccentric Dutchman whose love for the city reminded me of why I booked the trip in the first place.

Take five.