Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Amsterdam, Part 3

Hotel Keppler 11:32pm
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We're watching television, some show shot before a studio audience. I just looked up at the screen and saw a man wearing a large blindfold and a bulldog eating something off of a round glass platter. Seems like a happy show, sort of the French version of "Regis and Kelly".

Our hotel is very small and perfectly charming. We're on the top floor, and this means that we're able to see the very top of the Eiffel Tower from our little balcony.

We're happy to be in Paris. Amsterdam was O.K., but we'd had enough of it by this morning. We never got our bearings there, so every step away from the door of our hotel was an opportunity to become very lost, wandering along miles and miles of canals. Now this was quaint on the first day. We ended up in the Spui for dinner, after wandering through Leidsplein. Looking at this on the map, we found that we'd gon through the two nicest tourist areas in the city center, and we'd walked about half the map. We felt confident in our ability to get around the city. The tram, any tram from Central Station, took us to our hotel in less than three stops. The area wasn't that big, and easy to manage on foot. Friendly, English-speaking tourists and locals.

Things started going wrong immediately after dinner. We'd woven our way through so many canal streets, and crossed so many bridges that we couldn't find our way back to the hotel. We were walking down Rokin, and the only way that I knew we were going in the wrong directions was that the Kentucky Fried Chicken was on the wrong side of the street.

I think this lack of any sense of direction may have been due in part to our latitude. The sun was low in the sky, and I rely pretty heavily on its location for navigation. Anyway, we got lost and stayed that way until we left. Our landmarks became the casino (we've gone too far south), Rembrantplein (we've gone too far east), KFC (we've gone too far west), and the Samsung sign above the building across the street from our hotel ("Our hotel! Thank God!").

I've glued the map onto the next page here. Here's the tragic part. This map has landmarks on it, clearly marked. We did NOT use this map. By that same token, this map would not have been any more helpful than the map we used, provided by the hotel concierge. Here's why.

The Dutch are out to get us. No joke. It's like an economic schizophrenia. They need tourists. They get tourists through the sex and drug trade. A good 90% of the tourists are there to smoke pot.

So here you are, Joost the appleseller, and all these stoned tourists pour past your apple stand, porn in their rucksacks, having a great time but getting the wrong idea about your country. Does the girl in the halter top and lowrise pants care about your prosperous, industrious society? Your culture? No. She's looking for the hash bar. So are the tens of thousands of other young tourists you see every day. So you get bitter. Maybe at first you give people bad directions once or twice a day. Tha's enough in the beginning. But then it becomes the standard. You give nobody good directions. The flower merchants notice you doing it, and soon you're all in on it. The tourists try to get around using road signs and maps. Your misdirection is rendered ineffective. What to do? Rearrange all of the street signs. Ha Ha! And I swear it's true.

Take the Torture Museum as an example. The Torture Museum was 200 yards from our hotel. Looking on the map, our hotel was under the blob by the Muntplein. Follow Vijzelstraat down to Herengracht. The "2" on the map represents the sign pointing to the Torture Museum. The sign points the traveler farther down and then west. The absolute opposite direction. Unless you're walking to the museum via Eindhoven.

Yes, we blame the Dutch for the 20 miles of marching we were forced to do. Then there were the colored tram signs, which were just as bad as the people themselves for directions. We'd see a sign that said Central Station and an arrow pointing in a direction. Arrow points at the station, right? No! Arrow points at the tram, which will eventually make it back to the station no matter which way you go. It might go all the way around the city, out into the suburbs, across the Amstel and past KFC three or four times, but it'll get to the station eventually. We didn't figure out this bit of Dutch humor until yesterday morning. We laughed and laughed. Maybe we laughed because we were stoned. Maybe that was all that kept us from having a complete breakdown as we stood under a sign that looked like this:

Our entire experience in Amsterdam wasn't bad. It was just a lot of walking. The Rijksmuseum was wonderful, our hotel was in a good spot, and if the directions were bad then at least we were lost in a beautiful town.

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Retrospective -

I'm glad that my journal didn't capture the seething hatred I felt for the Dutch that night as I sat cross-legged on the bed and furiously scratched out my thoughts. It wasn't their fault, really. If we'd checked before booking our airline tickets, we would have known that the International Broadcasters Convention 2002 was in town and that we'd have an almost impossible time getting a good room as a result. I should have known to bring shoes with more padding, knowing that the streets were going to be cobblestone. We should have picked up a better map. We should have taken more cabs. It's not the appleseller's fault that we didn't do those things.

I think we simply approached Amsterdam with the wrong attitude. A.B. was used to France, and I was used to more luxury, and when the people weren't like Parisians and the hotel bathroom wasn't all gleaming marble and nickel, we were turned off. We're going back when we have the budget to travel again. I can't believe we didn't tour the Heineken factory.

The other thing to keep in mind is that A.B. is a foot taller than I am, and when A.B. doesn't know where he's going or what he's doing, A.B. walks. Fast. Faster than I can comfortably walk. You know in 'The Enforcer' how Tyne Daly spends a good part of the movie running behind Clint Eastwood? That's about how we look. However tired A.B. might have been at the end of the day, tack on another 50% and that was me. This was only four days into our trip, and I was already exhausted. And the worst hadn't yet happened.

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