I would like to come inside, please.
Are you a member?
Yes! *holds up EHIC* I’ve been a member my whole life.
I’m sorry, sir, it says on my screen that your membership has been revoked as of June this year.
There must be some mistake – can you check again?
I’m afraid there’s no mistake. If you would like to follow me to the non-member’s lounge. Everything is the same, except far, far more expensive…
Topical…and a bit of a mis-truth. Passport Control was all automated! I didn’t even have to answer any awkward questions about why I’m visiting as I have had to do every time I’ve visited anywhere. They are clearly prepared to let just anyone in, which is good news for me, at least.
Needless to say, perhaps, part of what I wrote yesterday was also a lie. Not that I knew it at the time. As the blog was being published I was not in the afore promised steel bird thirty thousand feet in the sky. I was a mere six foot and one inch above the ground, in a pen at Gatwick airport awaiting a delayed flight. Not that is caused any great angst, but I’m ever one for accuracy in the detail. I only know one person who works for Easyjet so I will lay the blame at their feet until they buy me a beer.
When I was a child my dad built a bagatelle board; it’s a mini wooden pinball game where you fire a ball bearing into a board and you score points depending on where the ball comes to rest. The power of your shot (and luck) determines where the ball ends up as it follows the curves of the board. It was a wonderful feat, second (in my mind) only to the Scalextric track he built into the kitchen ceiling. This memory struck me when I was wandering the streets of Amsterdam, strangely enough. The city is a large-scale bagatelle board. (Punctuated by the canals), with the added attractions of a Tulip Museum and many coffee shops (as crazy as the 90s were I can forgive my dad for not thinking to add these in).
With a low to medium amount of power (4-5 mph) and relying more on luck than anything else, I fired myself out of Amsterdam Centraal station in search of something story-worthy. No matter what direction you head off in, the canals will herd you back to the centre until you either arrive back at Centraal (zero points) or a (not so) hidden gem (fifty points at least). Even on my first night I saw things I’m not sure I can even transcribe (although I’ll give them a hundred points).
In preparation for my visit, many of my friends had suggestions on what I should get up to. All of which gratefully received and gave me a hard choice about whether to spend more time doing one thing or another. Even though I’m not here for long its not something worth agonising over. I don’t want to try and do everything; if I feel I’ve missed something, I’ll just have to come back again.
I probably missed an awful lot to be honest, but I covered, pretty much, the whole city on foot and saw some awesome sights. The weather was perfect throughout. As I say, though, the goal wasn’t to see and do everything – I made sure I got some quality reading time in underneath my designated favourite tree. The Rijksmuseum is a fantastic collection of Dutch object d’art and paintings. Even I, who normally struggles to appreciate these things, was mesmerised at least once or twice. If that would not strike your fancy, I also visited Artis Zoo, where – for the first time ever – I saw a lion (that’s only notable really if you consider I went on safari, to see lions, and didn’t see a single one).
I marched off towards Museumplein without really any concrete idea as to where it was…but I knew I’d find it eventually – and it didn’t actually take all that long, which gave me more than enough time to explore the museums. Ditto the zoo in the afternoon. My sense of direction is something I’m starting to get quite proud of.
Everyone cycles here. If you hate cyclists you will hate Amsterdam. They will try to kill you if given the opportunity. I know not so much of the Olympic cycling events, but a photograph of Amsterdam is probably strikingly similar to an MRI of Bradley Wiggins’ brain; every traffic light is like the opening stage of the Tour de France. I like to think I put myself in others’ shoes, I fear that Pavlov’s dog would have some sort of nervous breakdown.
There are many coffee shops here, and they got busier and busier as the night wears on. There must be some pretty hardcore coffee drinkers here as there were bouncers on the doors too. I am not a coffee drinker (I was offered it once and always politely decline nowadays), nevertheless, I am still familiar with that clawing scent it has – I am always intrigued when I happen across a new one. Amsterdam is a very green city.
It is only Day Two and they have already come to accept me as one of their own. I was sat in a cafe and was approached by a stranger who spoke to me in full and free-flowing Dutch (gold star to me for not looking like a tourist). After I explained I was a bit clueless, they explained they were offering me their crisps as they were not going to eat them and thought I may appreciate them. A grand act of kindness, that is probably the norm; as a Londoner though, it took a lot for me not to eye them suspiciously.
I haven’t learned as much Dutch as I would have liked, but I am trying where I can. Plus everyone speaks English,even when I speak (what I think is) Dutch. I’ve come to the opinion that in most passer-by interactions it’s a good opportunity for me to practice my French. The only one thing better than having people think that I am a doughnut Englishman who couldn’t be bothered to learn the language…
Up with the sparrows tomorrow to make my merry way to Brussels and onward home. It has been a whirlwind, but for a solo tour, I think it’s just about right (for me, anyway). I have enjoyed each minute of this, but I’m ready to tackle the challenges of home again with a renewed vigour – or find new ways not to need to tackle them at all…
The Sign of One by Eugene Lambert: Dystopian fiction about twins. What’s not to like?
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett: There were no public health laws in Ankh-Morpork. It would be like installing smoke detectors in Hell.
Playlist for today:
Steve ‘n’ Seagulls – Thunderstruck: For those who like Finnish Bluegrass. I prefer to the original. They also do a good cover of Nothing Else Matters, which is well worth a search.
Neu! – Isi: Timeless krautrock (I had to look up the name of the genre…) to reflect on a good day had. Some easy listening as I sit in the hostel bar and write this.
Tulip Count: 3
Clog Count: 5 (…pairs, not individual. That would be, and is, in fact, odd.)
Windmill Count: 0. Disappointed.