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food,  travels

Side Mission: Amstelveen and How I fell in Love with Albert Heijn

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” — Napoleon Hill

After waking up with more rashes on my arms, legs, and neck, I started to feel the onset of hyperventilation. As I was on the futon trying to calm myself down, coaching myself through breathing exercises, I took 5 minutes to assess the situation and then immediately looked through AirBnb for a room. To make matters worse, my legs feel like they are going to break off from the rest of my body and the throbbing pain is not exactly something I needed in a country where the main form of transportation are bicycles.

I couldn’t find anything in Amsterdam, so began to look in Haarlem. I shook my head and thought that it was crazy that I would fathom the thought of being a 30-minute train ride away from where I wanted to be. I searched near Schiphol without any luck.  Since my thumb was taking a break from pushups, I figured I would start getting my clothes for the day together and shower kit. Pacing up and down the loft, I messaged other Couchsurfing hosts only to come to the conclusion that I might as well stay.  I was trying to remember street names and neighborhood names to give me a better idea of where to look. Searching for rooms only brought back expensive results.  Coming to the realization that Imay need to spend the rest of my budget on housing, I let out a huge sigh and started to meditate.

For five minutes, I sat at the edge of the futon repeating affirmations. Remembering the time I rented a room hours before arriving in Orlando, writing my most convincing sales pitch I crossed my fingers and gave it one last go.

Cosy room for short stay.

Always check other GPS options.

“Where is Amstelveen?”

The price was right, but this wasn’t an instant booking.  That is, I would have still wait for a response and sometimes a response takes days.  This is all while trying to figure out the best way to get to Zaanse Schans! I’ll spin the wheel and hope to get the grand prize.

There is still the issue of how to leave the keys since there is only a common mailbox in the lobby. I go through my backpack in search of stationery (I always carry cards with me) and pull out an orange thank you notecard. I’m not even sure what to write because I can’t tell Jay, “Hey thanks for the coffee, but the bugs on your futon had me for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” I can’t recall what I scribbled down before placing it on the suitcase since I was interrupted by a push notification followed by an email message from the host and then another notification telling me my credit card has been charged. YES! I have exactly an hour to get there or else I’ll have to wait until 7pm when she gets home from work. Grabbing my toiletries, I rush to the communal shower to get my day started.

Upon my return,  I grabbed the rest of my belongings hoping that I wouldn’t need to have an uncomfortable conversation with Jay. I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving a friend behind. I take one last look around ensuring I have all of my belongings and have a moment of silence.  With the loft keys and notecard in my hand, I say to myself, “Quel dommage.” Then, I placed the keys at the door, pushing them through a small crevice using the notecard until both items were secured inside. The GVB didn’t help me the last time, so I put my trust in Google Maps again. It failed me miserably.

Where am I going?! Flustered at the Amsterdam Zuid station.

According to Google Maps, I should skip the Amsterdam Lelyaan station and walk to Heemstedestraat. Fuck you, Google. Because of this error, I ended up walking for 20 minutes in the heat, hungry, tired and with luggage. If it weren’t for the crap I was lugging around, I probably would have enjoyed the leisurely walk while singing People in Your Neighborhood. I made it to the station just as my train to Amsterdam Zuid was departing.  I was too exhausted to scream so instead I took pictures.

Boy, they’ve got ‘our’ number!

Ok, which train do I take next? It looks like I have two options according to the GVB app. I’m exhausted, and each minute counts. Now I’m sweating, and this bag lady is fighting off confused stares from other train folk. What I don’t want is to have to lug all of my stuff around for another 8 hours.  I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m going to drop. The host is texting me asking for my current location.  She’s started her lunch break sooner than expected, so my allotted time has been slashed by 20 minutes. I look around and see a billboard for Boom Chicago and a show called Angry White Men: Trump Up the Volume.  I chuckle a bit and can’t help to think that even miles away from home I am still haunted by U.S. politics. There’s no escaping it. Why am I worried about this now?

51 Westwijk

The chariot was clean and while I looked like I just rolled out of bed, everyone else was done to the nines, reading their newspapers and minding their own business. Surprisingly quiet, my eyes fixated on the GVB app, while trying not to miss the rhythm of life outside of the window. I text the host, Siri to apologize profusely and give her my coordinates.

“I’m about 10 minutes away.”

That’s the elevator to us Americans.

She’s understanding and I have a good feeling about this listing. Amstelveen feels more metropolitan than Amsterdam and this is just the vibe I’m getting from being a passenger on a commuter train. That is, Amsterdam has an endearing quality about it and is like taking a trip back in time with its maze of canals and tiny side streets; yet, in Amstelveen, I see fewer folks on bikes and more cars. As I’m pulling up to the Zonnestein station, I see the number 5 tram going in the opposite direction which reads Centraal Station. I’m quite familiar with the number 5 tram as it is the tram line I have been using the entire time here. Who’s playing these cruel jokes on me? Lesson learned: Drink coffee before trekking out. I tap my metro card, the doors open and I struggle to get Beetlejuice and the blue Albert Heijn bag out but eventually do so without spilling the entire contents of the bag all over the tracks.

The apartment building is located 2 blocks from the station on Eleanor Rooseveltlaan. It could not have been a better fit.  Sitting above a business center, I become worried as I do not see any restaurants or bistros in sight. There are three different intercoms and I get to play the mystery door prize game. I look like a fly desperately trying to get out, but keep getting smacked by a window.

I gravitate towards the 2nd intercom and I’m trying not to look like a creeper as people enter and leave the building. This seems like an episode of Seinfeld. I type in apartment number on the numerical keypad and await my fate.  Siri answers and she buzzes me in; although, I can’t seem to understand how this works and she has to do it once more before a lightbulb goes off and I pull on the door handle. Her apartment is located on the top floor.  That’s the 10th floor, by the way. I take a moment to take in the views from the top floor balcony before ringing the doorbell.

Amstelveen Swingin’

Siri greets me with a huge smile on her face, and kindly asks that I leave my shoes in the foyer. I thank her for her patience and she quickly shows me around the apartment.  She explains how she has to go back to work and that if it is possible to leave the key in the evening. Also, I won’t see her for the remainder of my stay as she’s off to India to visit her family and then to London for a business trip.  Her roommate is in the room next to mine, and there’s another AirBnb traveler, an older woman in the room next to the dining room. Zaanse Schans is definitely penned in for tomorrow. I can feel the rest of my energy slowly depleting.

Right after I took this picture, I passed out for the day.

After meeting the rest of my roommates for the week, I entered the bedroom locking the door behind me. The weight of the world is no longer on me and I head outside for some fresh air.  From the balcony, I see a shopping center right on the other side of the building, technically in the back the building, which has me wondering how in the world do I get to it. To my right, there is a bright blue sign with the initials AH that makes my little heart jump for joy.  I discovered Albert Heijn the night before after returning to Amsterdam from Haarlem.  Instead of going straight home, I wanted to enjoy Amsterdam at night.  After leaving Centraal, I started to walk east only stopping at Stach for another delicious cheese tray. I didn’t have a set destination, although I did want to get away from tourists. After 10 blocks or so, I started to feel hungry and having forgotten all about the cheese tray my eyes and my nose were on the lookout.  I kept seeing people with large, bright blue shopping bags with the initials OH, or so I thought they were OH. A group of girls almost got impaled by a BMW driving too fast right in front of me, and my stomach was less than sympathetic. The store location was about the size of a typical liquor store back in the States; however, it had Whole Foods quality items at Trader Joe’s prices.

Albert Heijn + Stach = Happy Meal for Lizzy

Once I had an idea of my surroundings, I took a picture and then passed out for 8 hours. I abruptly woke up, hungry and thirsty. I grabbed my wallet and reusable shopping bag hoping that Siri had left the key for me somewhere. The first person I saw when I opened the bedroom door was Siri who handed me the key before whisking herself away to the laundry room.

Albert Heijn was just around the corner and less than a 5 minute walk. While there were restaurants around me, I just wanted a quick meal.  Something I could take with me back to the house and enjoy in peace. I ended up with jamón Ibérico, Medjool dates stuffed with cheese wrapped in prosciutto, a fruit salad, orange juice (sinaasappelsap), mint and lemon infused water, croissants and soap.  I would have purchased more items, but unlike in the States, I was asked nicely to take my items to the counter as they were ready to close.

It was nice and cool outside. Also, I would have been a fool to let the evening go to waste. Instead, I found a nice park overlooking yet another canal, sat on wet grass and ate dinner. I left the fruit salad and one of the croissants for breakfast the next day and scarfed down the jamón, dates and a croissant.  I ended up going to Albert Heijn almost every night I stayed in Amstelveen selecting different cuts of meats, breads, fruits and sweets. Not only was it cost effective, I ate pretty damn well, too. I never bothered with the restaurants on the other side of the building.  Albert Heijn had me covered.