I might as well have titled this posting ‘Lessons learned’ or something like that, because, as big cities (or indeed any strange place) are wont to, Amsterdam has a lot to teach.
For instance, if you try to walk from the bus station to the city center and someone tells you that “it’s quite simple, really, you just need to follow that canal,” stop for a second and remember that there’s slightly more than one of those canals. In other words, what would have been “literally a one-hour walk, are you sure you don’t want to take the tram?” quickly (or rather, lengthy) turned into a four-hour walk. Which we didn’t even notice, because it was pretty and sunny and we were enjoying ourselves and didn’t have much in terms of luggage. Might have been even longer if I hadn’t accidentally spied a clock somewhere and realized we must have taken the occasional wrong turn, at which point we fell victim to a random act of kindness by a nice lady we asked for directions, “oh, you’ve come to the right person, I work as a tourist guide, here, I have two tickets for the tram which I don’t need anymore today, they are still valid until 2pm tomorrow, the tram you want is over there, enjoy your stay,” which gave me goosebumps all over and left me with the almost uncontrollable urge to hug a stranger. I managed to restrain myself, though, if barely.
The next day brought us Jan, the hop-on-hop-off bus driver, who told us interesting things like that life is like a penis, sometimes hard, and always too short, and who went (or rather, drove) out of his way to show us a few extra sights that weren’t part of the regular route. We also owe him juicy bits of knowledge, “see those brightly colored doors on all those houses that all look the same? They painted them that way so the drunken sailors wouldn’t end up with the wrong wife after months away from home,” or, “this part of the city used to be just a small strip of land where they’d hang pirates and other criminals, to deter any ships coming by, and in winter, when the surrounding waters were frozen, people would come skating over to do a bit of corpse sight-seeing.” He also enlightened us to the fact that the term Yankee might or might not have derived from the Dutch names Jan and Kees.
What else did we see, hear, learn? Well, cheese, I guess. Lots of that, with my favorite being the honey-thyme variation. Also, it takes 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilo cheese if you have a Holstein cow, but only 7.5 with a Jersey cow. As regards cows, I suppose we learned more than we ever thought possible…
Did I find the inspiration I was seeking? Oh, yes. Somewhere between the broom-closet-like onboard facilities of an overnight bus, a guy playing Volare on a saxophone at the feet of Madama Tussauds and another playing Stand By Me on a contrabass in Rembrandt Square, a hailstorm in a bus stop hut, and bare feet in the sand outside a little fishing village, random story strands starting flickering around in my brain. I might get them straightened into something worth reading. Wish me luck.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering… there’s no need to actually enter any of the famous coffeeshops. Passing one by and taking a deep breath will do the trick just nicely.