Call me adventurous, but I decide to do a carpool from Amsterdam to Belgium, via this hip little website called “blablacar.com”’. Lift all squared up, I go off on an advance reconnaissance mission to find the meeting place under Amsterdam Central Station, three days before the appointed departure. Organisation and punctuality are important. (If only I could uphold such standards in the real world, my life would be a breeze.) Having found my rendezvous location, I remember that 3 day unlimited Bus/Tram and train pass for the value price of Euro12, burning a hole in my pocket. I need to put it good use because nothing ever, ever beats a good deal, EVER!
My keen eye spots the main bus departure platforms for Amsterdam and I spontaneously decide on an instant trip, to anywhere really. So, eyes closed I stand and pick a bus, any bus will do. Bus 86 looks good. I like 8s and 6 has never been a number to caused mortal injury to me either. I should visit an ATM first, I’m clean out of cash, but decide that this can easily be done once I get off the bus at my destination.
I’m not sure where we are going, but it can’t be far. Part of the adventure with traveling should be a trip into the unknown. We move past the old-world charm of Amsterdam’s centre, and slowly trundle our way through the central business district, and ever more slowly the roads become wider, the traffic thinning. Amsterdam is cluttered with the eye soar of ugly monolithic high rise apartments, tedious with the same neutral colours that litter all cities. Finally though, even these ugly specimens of architecture are eventually extinguished and replaced by ever wider roads, and finally green pastures, windmills, and farm houses with their razor sharp A-line roofs.
I really cannot believe my luck, what a great find to be on this bus. Finally, I’ll see the real Amsterdam. I’m just disappointed that I trashed the white and blue pinafore from the day before; I would have looked like a real live local now, in the ‘real’ Amsterdam.
Let me just say that the wheels on the bus went round and round for a very, very long time. I’m still secretly congratulating myself on this bargain bus deal I’ve snaffled. – BARGAIN big time. Finally, finally, we stop. It’s not a busy bus and I’m the only passenger left littering the aisle.
I do a lot of waiting and study the landscape in peaceful solitude. Maybe the driver is tired. Whilst I am enjoying the peace and beauty of the Dutch countryside, I eventually feel forced to ask how long before we reach our destination. The driver seems stunned to see me, and slowly says in his carefully pronounced English, with his Dutch accent in toe, “The last bus stop, was 15 minutes ago. I am breaking now, and enjoying the countryside.” Meanwhile, I just tell him to let me out and I’ll walk back. (I’m a bit worried now. This ‘last’ stop is on a big road with lots of fields on either side.) Apparently I’m now on a freeway and am not allowed to walk on it. Suddenly, I feel like a three year old child. I’m told to sit on the seat and not move. I don’t add that there is nowhere else to go to, and it seems pointless stating the obvious.
Finally those wheels on the bus start back up and I’m dropped off at a nearby stop with specific instructions from the driver that I need get on any yellow bus, which will take me to a civic centre.
I get on the little yellow bus that turns up a few minutes later and now my ticket doesn’t work. The new driver tells me I can’t use my ticket on this bus, it’s not valid. I explain that the nice lady at the tourist office sold me this and said that I could use this on any train, metro or bus in Amsterdam. The driver stuns me with, “But Madam, you are not in Amsterdam! This is many, many miles and hours from Amsterdam!” I agree with him profusely, I have been riding on the bus for a long time. I’d really like my morning coffee. Then the bombshell arrives, I’m asked to cough up 9 Euro for a single ticket. I open my purse and offer the driver 1.50 Euro and an IOU, because it’s all I have until I get to a bank. I even try to make my eye well with a single tear, an attempt to curry up a bit more pity, by explaining that I don’t have a map for here & I don’t know where I am. The driver’s final remark is, “That’s a bit stupid, sit on the seat and don’t move!” Nothing is worse, than being told what you already know. I’m still not sure where he thinks I’m going to go. I’m not a bird, I don’t have wings and I’m not wonder-women. I’m stuck on that bus until he lets me off!
By the time I’m finally returned to civilisation (or a form of it) by the bus driver, he and I leave as firm friends. I’ve told him how good his English is at least a half dozen times, and how pleased I am to be in a city where everyone is so well educated. I might add, I still have no idea where this civilised bus driver has dropped me off at either. Although, I have now enjoyed a beautiful stroll around this traditional Dutch town. I even manage to grab cash, refuel with decent coffee, and remember that my eagle eye spied a train station on the way into the town. My escape plan is mapped!
And I must say, that big adventure on the bus was worth every single moment of worry. I fall onto a little town square, decked out with charming stone buildings and small intimate beer houses, cafes and restaurants. I only wish now I’d found this place at night. Then the big discovery, one lonely Christmas cart with its wares for sale, but what a cart. I discover something uniquely Danish. I think it’s a Danish equivalent to the donut. A, perfectly, round fluffy dough fried to perfection and tossed with snow white icing sugar. It is absolutely delicious. Whatever it is, I want another. I only wish I hadn’t patiently waited and savored the treat seated on the train trip back to Amsterdam.
I’m safe. I am returned to Amsterdam with my sanity in tack. I think it might be best to just stick with the trams from now on, that way I know I can’t remove myself from Amsterdam’s centre.
After the days adventuring, I’m back at Café Leffe, a small intimate and tiny Belgium beer house with wide wooden floors, high backed stools and a wide oak bar. Heidi the barmaid and I greet each other like long lost friends. She’s been trying to get me to drink all 50 beers stocked by Café Leffe before I leave for France. I’ve finally met someone with a more optimistic outlook on life than I have, rare indeed. I lament to myself, because so far, I’ve managed to sample only three since arriving in Amsterdam.
Suddenly it’s hushed murmurings, and Heidi tells me in whispered excitement, that a company Christmas party is finishing their night at Café Leffe, with – a Trivia night. I gush, “no problem.” I can scarcely contain my excitement, I love Trivia nights. It can’t be that large a crowd, the place can barely fit 30 people and we’d all have to be standing in neat little rows to fit in.
Finally the moment arrives, (with Christmas just around the corner) and the party crowd slowly starts rolling in. I’m expecting a hoard of drunken louts to turn up. Instead I’m greeted by immaculately dressed men and women! It’s impossible to engage in any sort of gossip with Heidi, so I quietly remove myself to the rear of the room and find myself nestled on an oak window seat.
The excitement is building, I’m excited. Playing Trivia in a foreign country – what could be better. The six teams are gathered around their individual tables, in huddled secrecy. The last table has a team member missing – only 5 on that table. I mutter, and shake my head. I dislike uneven numbers – they unnerve me.
The questions come thick and fast. Name the Amsterdam American Football team that played in the Amsterdam Arena? The river that runs through the city of Amsterdam is? Name the Mayor of Amsterdam in 2001?
Finally my moment of fame arrives. “Name an indigenous, Australian animal that hops? The room is silent, I can’t help myself, my moment has arrived, finally. I’m stretched like a cat ready to pounce, and standing on the edge of my window seat, as I raise my hands in the air and shout, “A KANGAROO”!!!!! Wow. Even I’m stunned by the reaction. The crowd roars with cheers and clapping. The uneven team of five, gives me a high five that would have stopped Ghengis Kahn in his tracks. They hug and kiss me like a long lost friend and suddenly I find myself in a team. I privately congratulate myself that I have created balance on a table, by evening the number to six.
Now, it would seem that all is not well in the ‘house of Leffe’. It would seem our master of ceremonies was not impressed with my enthusiastic outburst, and suddenly he switches to Dutch. Never, ever let a bit of a foreign language barrier stop you from playing a game of Trivia.
My new team, quietly translate the questions to English for me. I’m no help. These are very European questions that I have no answers to. Finally we move to history, because the final and last question ends with “Toll, Opple, Orrow.” I can’t speak a word of the language, but I just know we are talking about William Tell, the Apple and the arrow. Deep down in my bones, I know they want to know where the apple was when William Tell shot it with his razor sharp bow and arrow. I urgently whisper that the apple was on a man’s head. Suddenly, Hendrik speaks. He’s tall, has beautiful large eyes, deep blue sapphires and hair a deep rich blond, the colour of the sun dabbled through it. His eyes, widen. “You, speak Dutch, why didn’t you say?” I have no answer, I can’t lie. So I just smile, my bright winsome smile. It works, suddenly the conversation starts back up around the table. Our table doesn’t win, but I am pleased that the last answer received a nice Red tick of correctness.
Then I find myself hemmed in and I’m playing twenty questions with Hendrik and Helga. “How long have you worked with us for?” “Not, very long at all.” Well, I’m not lying, am I? “What do you do?” My next quip, is “Sales.” That’s not a total lie either. I did work in Real Estate for five years. Finally, “Why, haven’t I seen in you in the office?” Well, my next come back is, “I’m really not sure, maybe we’ll bump into each other on Monday.” “Yes, let’s. Maybe we can do coffee?” Says, Hendrik.
I’m sitting on the bus to Paris.
My ride to Belgium, who was decked out in a slick Audi ‘forgot’ to tell me that he’d smashed his window screen and couldn’t drive to Belgium. Thank god I cyber stalked the guy to confirm the pickup, or I’d still be waiting patiently for my lift to turn up.
I just want you all to know that my throat is raging sore. My head is feverish, and aching, and I just want my bed, my cats and a decent aspirin. I emit a long silent sigh of long suffering. Only eight hours to PARIS by bus!
I wonder fleetingly, how long Hendrik is going to pound the floors of his office for, while searching me out on Monday morning, so that he can knock back that coffee.