We’re Gonna Take a Trip Across the Sea; Everybody Come Along With Me

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I’m sorry, sir, it says on my screen that your membership has been revoked as of June this year.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…

Live long and prosper

Today’s Reading:

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.


Above The Planet on a Wing and a Prayer

For as long as I can remember (which is a much better way of saying, ‘for the last couple of weeks’) I have always believed that you shouldn’t run away from anything. That is not to say, you shouldn’t run; running is probably priority one in a number of scenarios (fire; tiger escape from zoo; free cheesecake). You should never run away from anything. Everywhere you run should be towards something instead, even on days when it seems like you’re heading right back where you started.

And we run. We are always running – from the second we open our eyes in the morning to the very moment they close again at the end of the day. Sometimes the only way to take a pause (perhaps rather counterintuitively) is to pack a bag and escape a while.

Every journey starts with a single step. If anyone else were to make a journey they would have probably considered the first step more than a little carefully, and pondered over what the first single step should be. I, however, can’t remember exactly which single step I made was the first one, the one that led me to the plane I’m currently sat on (yes, at the time this is published, I am on a steel bird about 30,000 feet in the air). It isn’t that I haven’t thought through exactly what I’m doing here, rather, I’ve thought rather too much about it. So much, in fact, that I never really thought I’d get here at all. So I sat and considered until my mind had to make a pit-stop from the racing it was doing.

Imagine a toddler, on a picnic blanket looking up and around at everything going on around them having nowhere particular to go, but knows full well that they are not sure they want to be where they currently are. The toddler does not really consider the step, and definitely doesn’t consider the route, but, with great effort albeit without much eloquence, they pick themselves up and toddle. Not one step, but several uneven lurching steps with no ideal destination. Probably in search of cake.

Perhaps, a better analogy is the drunk student ejected from their usual haunt and is keen to find another place to wind away the hours. Spoilt for choice, and yet with no focus on where to end up…and far far too early to call it a night. One step forward; three to the side; a twist and shuffle – something more closely resembling a dance notation than a plan. But even dance notation has a clear and unambiguous meaning, despite not being clear to everyone. Perhaps not even to the drunken student making the moves.

A drunk toddler dancing unsteadily into the dark night towards a night club which may or may not have cake. That is probably the easiest way of describing how I have come to be where I am now. The hard work has been done already; from this point, all encounters are down to chance, despite being masked as meticulous detail.

So I’m going on an adventure. I have little, if any, hopes and expectations, which will either be the making or the breaking of this mini-tour. It is, by no means, a grand expedition but a fun one nevertheless. My chief weapon is fun…and peacefulness. My twweapons are fun and peacefulness…and the unexplored….

It has had its moments, but I’ll be temporarily putting down the pen which has written the zombie-horror that has been 2016. Instead, I’m running head first towards a blank page I intend to fill using a set of brightly coloured felt tips (or anything that can produce a vivid, abstract contrast to what has come before).

Onward to peace and relaxation

Today’s reading:

Easyjet Safety Card.

Playlist for today:

Bo Burnham – Left Brain, Right Brain. The man manages both thought-provoking and comical. Plus, I’m deciding which side of the brain I need to switch off… probably both. (Note he can be quite colourful in how he speaks…)

Within Temptation – And We Run. I will be arriving in Holland in about an hour from now; the home of this band. In a world where many opinions are stated as facts: Symphonic Metal is up there as one of the best genres of music.