Letter from Amsterdam: Hallo!

Hallo Friends,

The Eurolines bus from Paris to Amsterdam leaves every ninety minutes, and it’s possible to get a round-trip ticket for less than a blazer at Zara. It’s true, for less than seventy euros one can exit the land of lights and love and enter the land of tulips and dams.

Well, it’s not quite that easy. This morning at Gallieni bus terminal, there was “suspect baggage,” so all the passengers waited and waited, and waited some more to check-in. Forty-five minutes after we were to leave, we were still at Gallieni watching the police and other officials saunter off to check out the “suspect baggage.” Please note that that I chose my verb with much care, because the police were sauntering; there was absolutely no sense of urgency in their behavior. God forbid, that “suspect baggage,” really was dangerous.

One thing I must say is that the French, without a doubt, really are the most civil people I’ve ever encountered. Sure, there’s tons of rudeness simmering under the surface ready to be unleashed at any moment, but strangers and friends are always acknowledged with a nod of the head and a “Bonjour,” or a “Bon soir” in the evening. Each and every policeman greeted the security guards with a handshake and a hello before heading off to check the “suspect baggage.” One passenger had the nerve to say to the security guard, “How long will this be? My bus leaves in fifteen minutes.” To which she responded, “I don’t care.” You better believe that twenty minutes earlier, she had greeted this man with a “Bonjour,” so her “I don’t care” wasn’t personal.

At 11 something, we finally left Paris. Friends, can I tell you that I had no idea that so many stops were scheduled en route. We made one stop in France, two in Belgium, and two in Holland. We drove so long, we drove in and out of rain showers, past fields the third color of green in the Crayola box (not lime, not forest), my mind dove in and out of fantasies where I wore a black and white sundress, past dams and canals and trams, fat cows in Belgium (the cows in France are so skinny), men in business suits on bicycles, women in high heels on bicycles, families trailing each other on bicycles, and we still weren’t there. The bus took so damn long, I felt like I was on my way to Hong Kong.

* In Bruxelles Nord (train station): I wish I could’ve gotten a photo of The Toilet Guard manning the toilets in her housecoat, but I know she would’ve smacked me.

Then, we were at Centraal Station, and I grinned because I had made it to Amsterdam. But, y’all are not gonna believe this– we weren’t in Amsterdam, we were in Utrecht! Eight hours later, there was still an hour to go. Every bus terminal in the Netherlands is named Centraal Station, I’m convinced.

Finally, an hour later, we reached Amsterdam. My hotel, The Tulip Inn Amsterdam, is approximately thirty-five minutes from the bus station by public bus, and since there was no way in hell that I was getting back on a bus… or even a tram, I jumped into a taxi and reached the hotel in fifteen minutes.

On www.booking.com I found my hotel for a steal (the hotels in Amsterdam are very expensive). I was close to checking into a hostel, but I just couldn’t share a room with five strangers and my laptop (my laptop needs her space). The hotel, though not in the center of town, is twenty minutes away by tram, and only six euros more per night than the hostel. Best of all, my room is huge. Huge. The young lady at the front desk showed real surprise when I said that I was checking in alone, and when I saw the room I knew why. My room, 404, has three beds– two pushed together as a double, and a single bed off to the side. Maybe the hotel gods are sending me a message?

Friends, I know I say this often, but I’ve fallen in love with this town and I’ve only seen it from a bus window thus far. It may be my seasoned mushroom burger and pint of beer that has me feeling this way… or the thought of sleeping with cable television watching me. I can’t wait until tomorrow, because Amsterdam has already hooked me.

Take care,

Val

p.s I’ve found that it’s not customary to see a woman dining or traveling alone, but as I sat at the hotel restaurant enjoying my dinner, I noticed three men dining alone. How could I not notice? Ladies, it’s easy and good to be a woman (and, it’s more than ok to explore new places alone)… until tomorrow.