Did you, by any chance, click for the title? Then spoiler alert: the post is just about my first visit to Amsterdam, which, by chance, happened to be a night landing, 2 years ago. Nothing more! 😉
See Journée à Paris (A Day in Paris) for the account of the day! Evening and Night account follows –
The talented pilot touched down at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam braving the bad weather. It was way past 8 p.m. and the Hotel Address and the metro stop names were my only bet in this foreign land – all alone.
I waited forever for my bag to come on to the carousel and don’t think I am exaggerating but mine was the last one to come on, after a full 20 minutes. It was becoming dark fast, unlike the usual summer day in June that has sunlight till about 10-11 p.m., thanks to the rain and thunderstorm. My prolonged wait at the carousel eyeing each and every bag sparked a suspicion on me at the customs counter. As I collected my bag and walked past the desk towards the exit, a tall lady (Dutch are on an average the tallest people on the planet!) in uniform blocked me. She said she wanted to check my bag. Patiently and meticulously she unpacked everything. Clothes, shoes, toiletry kit and food! I had taken a couple of MTR ready to eat packs (Jeera Rice,Pongal and Upma) and she was keen to know what they were and why had I brought them along. I told her that it was my first time there and these food packets are a backup in case I don’t find anything vegetarian around. Her next question was why only 3 packs for a stay of 20 days? I told her that I thought I would find a veggie serving place in 2 days. She was again curious, and asked if my veg list included Fish. I said No. Then she asked if it included Cheese (She thought maybe I was a vegan, which I intend to become someday soon!) and I said yes. And my yes brought a big grin on her face and she bid me a goodbye saying “Ah good, you will enjoy the dutch cheese”.
The best thing about the Schipol Airport is that it has an integrated public transport system – right outside the arrivals, there are the Train and Bus Stations.
My hotel was 1 train stop and 2 metro stops away. Had I come during the day or had I known that Amsterdam is one of the safest places in the world, I would have hailed a taxi but unfortunately neither was the case. I was apprehensive and the night was falling dark and wet. So I trotted down to the train station and asked a fellow passenger if my pre-bought travel card (Known as OV-Chipkart) would work on the trains. He nodded affirmatively and I swiped it across the small machine on the platform and got onto the train.
In came the Ticket Checker and I showed him my card. He looked at me, then at my trolley then back at me.
“New to Amsterdam?”
“I swiped this card at the platform.”
“My dear, this works only on Metros, Trams and Buses, not on Trains”
“But I understand that mistakes happen and you are new here. In the future, don’t travel without buying a ticket. For now I will let you go without a fine.”
“Thanks a lot Sir and I am sorry, I didn’t know”
“Hope you like Holland, Fijn Avond (Nice Evening)!”
And Yes, I liked Holland from that instant.
Another integrated station. I hopped off the train and went to the Metro Station. Now, I had a problem. I knew which Metro to take and where to get off but I did not realise that it was necessary to find out which direction too.
Metro 50 towards Station Gein or Metro 50 towards Station Sloterdijk?
I couldn’t find a metro route map immediately. So I asked a person next to me. He said take the platform on your right and he dashed off. I am seriously dyslexic when it comes to left and right. I can assure you that I always get it wrong, at all times, in all cases. But I was determined that this time I won’t get it wrong. I looked down at my hands and was perfectly sure which was the right platform, on the right.
Ten minutes later I was onboard. Mine was the 2nd stop from there. As the metro came to a halt at the next stop I was horrified. Of all the people in the world, I chose to ask a Right-Left dyslexic guy or did I mix-up yet again? Whatever was the case, I was going in the wrong direction. The route map inside the metro confirmed my fear. By the time I could react to the revelation, the metro chugged off from that station. I got off at the next stop, heaved my 20 kg bag down the stairs and up the stairs to the opposite platform. It was quarter past nine and was getting darker. I had 4 stops to cover now. Plus, I just have a mental picture of the route from the Metro stop to the hotel. Darn, why did I not print out the google maps image. If it was in India, I could easily spot people on the roads to ask for directions when in doubt but here I don’t see anyone at all, the stop is deserted and I had growing doubts if the metro will ever come… There it is.
Again, my destination was also deserted. I got off and started walking very briskly towards the hotel. I could spot absolutely no visible living organism what-so-ever. I just hoped against all odds of my right-left problem that I’d make it without getting lost.
My pace quickened with each step. And an inherent fear of the implication of my recklessness stood before me. Why did I have to opt for a 6 p.m. flight and not an earlier one? Why did I not check for the weather forecast? Why did I even take a detour to Paris in the first place? No person on the Earth knew where I was right now. My phone’s dead and I was last seen with known faces over 20 hours back. Folks back home must have thought that I must have flunked on the bed by now, all exhausted. Because, you see, I don’t have this habit of calling up home once I go somewhere/ reach a destination. I have seen many people do so. They would have gone only a few blocks from their home and as the first thing would call up mom/ spouse/ boyfriend/ girlfriend saying, “Hey, I reached”. I never do that be it when within the city or when I go to Bangalore from Chennai.
So people back home will find it perfectly normal of not receiving a call and they themselves will conjure up all the usual (but practical 😉 ) excuses that I give them – I was tired, Battery drained, No local Sim, No Wi-Fi, above all – Why do you want me to call at unearthly hours? (I usually take the train to Bangalore that reaches at 4:30 a.m. – a perfect excuse for not calling. But basically I forget and that’s the only reason but that is not accepted by people and so I have to give other excuses.)
So, finding the Hotel in one piece was my only option. Walk straight, take the left at the Round-about Junction and then the first right. I did just that but all I could see on this road were apartments and a few shops (closed, of course. Shops in Amsterdam close down by 6 p.m. except on Thursdays when they are open till 9). And I could see a small horizontal stretch of darkness across the road caused by an overhead bridge’s shadow. My heart thumped in my mouth. I am shit-scared of the dark. I walked ahead and stopped just before the bridge. Looked around. No one around or beneath it. Coast is clear. But if I don’t find the hotel on this road then I don’t know if I can summon up the courage again and dare to walk through this stretch for a second time.
I reasoned out to myself that my lefts and rights were right (Fingers Crossed!) and I am on the right track. I can’t stop, I need to proceed. I obviously can’t spend the night on the road. I don’t have a choice. Fear only weakens. Face it and destroy it. Even if this is the wrong road, I at least can be sure that I tried. Trying and failing is better than not trying. Worse- not trying because of a small, insignificant fear. Even worse – fear of the mind ,not of any physical hazard. Shame on me!
In a fleeting reflex I ran straight ahead. In less than 10 seconds my bag and I were out of the shadow of the bridge and on my immediate left, nestled between the branches and trees stood a lonely, old board, “Hem Hotel, Amsterdam”.
I pushed my heart back to my chest.