Last night I was looking at photos from my trip to Europe. I have been craving a trip so hard lately but life has kept my mind in other places. In an attempt to relive some of my European adventures, let me tell you a tale that is basically the scariest and funniest thing that has ever happened to me.
Amsterdam June 30, 2015
I could start this story anywhere. I could tell you about my drive to my friend’s house and her parents greeting me with hugs and smiles and offering me so much fruit (seriously, they love offering me fruit). I could tell you about how, even though there was no line, the airline ticket attendant gave us soooo much sass about how little time we had before our flight and that if we had arrived earlier we could have gotten seats together but she had some vendetta against us fashionably late globetrotters… or the flight was full – I can’t remember. I could tell you about the adorable Dutch couple I sat beside or the obnoxious and drunk Albertans in the seats behind me. I could tell you how when we arrived at Schiphol Airport outside of Amsterdam, my friend and I felt like greasy post-flight slugs happy to have received our clunky luggage in one piece rather than gather its exploded contents off the carousel (my greatest travel fear is seeing my not-so-cute period granny panties and too many tampons sprawled all over the luggage carousel because I have the worst luck with suitcases and I will prove this to you). I could tell you about how we were surrounded by sophisticated and beautiful Europeans gliding about the airport knowing exactly where to go and which train or bus to take and how much to pay… and how we were the exact opposite.
But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to tell you the story about how we arrived at our accommodation.
My friend, Sal, and I were doing a tour booked with Contiki but before that started, we had a few days in Amsterdam to ourselves. We booked a room through Airbnb, which I would totally do again, by the way. Our criteria for picking the perfect place to stay in Amsterdam included cost, location, and Dutch factor. The place we picked was perfect. It was near Vondelpark and Museumplein and the canal haven that is the Amsterdam city centre was accessible via transit. It was also very Dutch. The shower didn’t even have curtains! That is me assuming that squatting in the tub while awkwardly spraying yourself with a shower head is very Dutch… The stairs were so steep I didn’t trust myself to use them at night or in an under-rested state. The whole place seemed to be decorated by someone who was a cross between a hippy, an interior decorator, and potentially your grandma. Then we saw her name, Henriette. We had to stay there. Think of all of the cheese she would feed us! Would she let us ride her bicycle? Would she show us Amsterdam by way of a three-person tandem bike? Would we become best friends? Would we become cheese pen pals? Do pen pals still exist? Oh, the excitement!
Henriette had given us clear directions. From Schiphol you could take a train or a bus. We decided to bus because we thought it would be less busy plus it included a shorter walking distance to her home than the train route.
When the 197 bus pulls up, we struggle to get our suitcases, Sal’s bright pink and mine black, into a secure position. For the first stop, I am right in front of the door but it’s fine. The Dutch are so incredibly chill. If they were annoyed with my big ass and my big ass suitcase blocking the entrance/exit, they didn’t show any facial or temperamental indication at all. Eventually I find a seat but my friend and I are separated, once again. The bus ride is kind of boring and we’re tired from our 9-hour flight from YYC to AMS so it’s a surprise when I hear “Haarlemmermeerstation” over the bus speakers. This is our stop. We need to get off the bus but Sal doesn’t realize it. So I get up and start yelling “Sal, Sal, this is our stop.” In a second, I am standing up with my suitcase and walking off the bus. When I turn around, my friend is pulling her suitcase but it is stuck. Then I see the doors closing and I stand in awe. She is yelling for the bus driver to wait but she’s so soft-spoken that he doesn’t hear her.
The doors close between us and the bus drives off with my best friend and her big fucking pink suitcase.
But it’s okay. Because I have my running shoes. And I can recall from the bus screens (thank you slightly photographic memory) that the next stop is Museumplein. I also have Henriette’s address. And I know Sal is smart. I know she will wait for me to show up at her stop. That’s what I would do. So we will find each other, I assure myself.
As soon as the bus drives off, I chase after it. I mean, how fast can buses really go?
Fast. Fucking fast.
I see the 197 turn around the corner and I already lose sight of it. I still follow it. Museumplein is on the same street that the bus turned onto (thankfully I had looked at a map before the trip). It’s also a huge square with three museums (Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Stedelijk Museum) situated around it so I’ll know when I’m there.
As I’m doing my speediest speed-walking, I feel like a huge idiot (no, sadly not because of my speed-walking). I just watched the door close on my best friend. I didn’t get back on the bus. I didn’t yell at the driver. I didn’t do anything. It was such a fleeting moment but as I was replaying it in my mind, I felt as though I had unlimited time and could have prevented this whole fuck-up. I begin to mutter “Fuck Brandi” to myself repetitively as I race with my suitcase down a residential street, likely giving locals more reason to think tourists are complete tools and a little bit crazy.
I continue on for a while with no sign of a bus stop or a square lined with museums. It’s a hot day for Amsterdam at about 30 degrees celsius. I am wearing all black because that’s how the celebs travel. Again, I am rocking the post-flight grease look and am now sweaty from what seems like the most determined self-directed workout I’ve ever experienced. I know my arms and calves will benefit from this. I think to myself, “maybe I’ll be skinny when Sal and I meet again.” Just maybe. But that will only be true if I find her. And I begin thinking that perhaps I won’t find her.
Both of our phones are dead and won’t have service anyway. I don’t know if Sal has the address to Henriette’s because I am normally the number one navigator when we travel together. I have never been in this situation before. We had never discussed an emergency plan before. Part of me starts thinking that I wouldn’t see Sal until our Contiki tour starts in a few days.
But I snap out of it.
And I continue walking down this same street. I stop and pull out my map to figure out how far away from Museumplein I am but I can’t even find a street sign and my map is in a guidebook (yes, I am a nerdy tourist) and sort of sucks. I stopped a very tall lady, which is saying something in the Netherlands, and asked her if I was headed toward Museumplein. She happily assured me I was.
Finally, I see it. The green square. The Rijksmuseum at the far end of the square. People all over. I can also see the bus stop in front of the concert hall. But what don’t I see? Sal and her big pink suitcase.
Now I’m confused. Did she miss this stop too? I don’t know what the next stop is but I’m sure she wouldn’t go that far. Maybe she went back to Haarlemmermeerstation (hardest thing to say, by the way). So maybe I will do that too.
When the walk light turns green, I begin to roll my suitcase across the street to take the bus in the opposite direction. There are three parts of the street I have to walk across. The middle section has tracks for the train to travel seamlessly on its way to the city centre. But these motherfucking train tracks had a different plan in store for me and my suitcase. I roll my suitcase over one set of tracks and hear this horrible scratchy dragging noise. I also realize it’s now very difficult to pull my suitcase. I turn around and see that my 40-some pound suitcase has sacrificed one of its two wheels to the Amsterdam public transit system. Grunting, I pick my suitcase up and carry it across the remainder of the street. In a moment of hesitation, I run back to the tracks and grab the wheel. Maybe I’ll MacGyver it back onto my suitcase with chewing gum. Maybe I’ll use it in some sort of voodoo scenario. Maybe I’ll just take it so the fucking train doesn’t go off the tracks because I don’t know if trains can be set off the tracks by suitcase wheels but I also don’t want to find out.
Do you see those train tracks there? They are not innocent, my friends. They are my suitcase wheel stealing culprit. That is also the bus I stranded my friend on.*
So to recap: I am alone. I have a suitcase with one wheel. I am tired. I am sweaty. I want to sit down. All I am thinking is, “of course, this would happen to me.”
Do I wait for the bus with my freshly handi-capable suitcase? Fuck no. I see a taxi near the concert hall and I basically hug the driver when he nods at me. I catch him up on my current sitch and tell him I want to go back to Haarlemmeerstation bus stop to find my friend and her big pink suitcase. I also think to myself how much better I am getting at saying Haarlemmermeerstation.
The taxi driver and I do this super cool and slow drive by of the bus stop. We both conclude that there are no pink suitcases in the vicinity. This mission has failed. Please take me to Henriette’s house.
Except the taxi driver is not the best with addresses so he kind of gets us lost and turns down the wrong end of Valeriusstraat. Once he turns around, we head west, in the correct direction. The buildings are made of brick with petite balconies and remind me of New York City. But then I remember that New York City was once owned by the Dutch and called New Amsterdam and I totally get it. Thanks History Class! We’re looking for the apartment number Henriette gave me when I see it. The big pink suitcase. Strolling down the street attached to Sal, of course. I exclaim, “That’s my friend! That’s her! Stop!” The taxi halts and my door swings open.
“You must hate me.” I say.
She laughs, which means she doesn’t.
I pay the taxi driver. I feel like I want to be his friend more than he wants to be mine so we do not exchange addresses to be cheese pen pals.
Sal and I are reunited… 5 doors from Henriette’s place.
We catch each other up on our excursions. She had gotten off at Museumplein and then taken a train in the opposite direction but it didn’t go back to Haarlemmermeerstation. She had asked about 8 friendly people for directions and all of them helped (because the Dutch are awesome). She had been walking for quite some time when I arrived valiantly to her rescue in my Volkswagen taxi steed. She had known Henriette’s address all along.
This story has a happy ending. Henriette and her friend Leo were great hosts and Amsterdam was such a cool city to get to know. And we really got to know it over the 5 days we stayed there. Sal and I learned to establish a meet-up place if we ever got lost but we also made this unspoken promise to never ever leave each other’s sight. But most importantly, I purchased myself a four-wheel suitcase, so that even if one of my wheels gets stolen by foreign train tracks, I will still have three reliable and rollable wheels instead of one.