Getting out vs Staying in
By: Toyah Hardick
Eek... this is an awkward moment.
Seated on a coach, heading west out of Amsterdam, and en route to England, I gaze out of the window and try to concentrate on the Dutch landscape; a pleasant view of long, flat green fields, spotted with sheep and cow, quaint homes and the occasional windmill…yet, the background noise of grunting, moaning and sexual sighs that emit from the speaker overhead, just don’t allow me to fully appreciate the outside serenity.
As the bus slows to a halt, the driver allows us a small coffee break and he reaches to the tiny TV screen to pause our XXX-rated on-board entertainment. I never thought myself as a prude, but I did get the giggles as 18 pairs of eyes blink uncomfortably, watching the 30cm screen at the front of the coach, while two actors frantically get naked, and frantic, over, and over, again.
Another passenger confirms that it’s not just me who’s straitlaced here, and urgently calls out to the driver, “Dat is niet goed voor de kinderen! Alles nokeren! Nokeren , nokeren, nokeren!!” (Not missing an opportunity here, I swiftly pocket the word “noker” to my limited Dutch vocab…)
As an Australian, I am only too aware that my exciting home of Sydney, an international and spectacular city, is founded on a beautiful, sunburnt land that is far, far away. Here in Amsterdam, it is quite another story - by plane, train, car, coach, boat or bicycle, I can be not only out of the city, but also in a completely different country. While I’m living and working in Amsterdam, I am dedicated to collecting as many European stamps in my passport, as the ink and pages will allow.
This week, I’ll be detaching myself from the land of kaas and bitterballen, to visit London; and I have decided, this time, to travel on a coach. I really am quite excited for the cheapie route, despite warnings from friends that the 12-hr bus-ride is torturous. But I’m equipped with books, food and so far, it has actually been entertaining!
Having safely reached Calais, I am welcomed, ever so rudely, by an English customs official, as I hand over my passport. He is clearly having a bad day and has decided to use me as a vent for his frustration. An elderly passenger from the bus looks at me and offers a sympathetic smile, saying sincerely in her soft Dutch accent, “Perhaps he is scared of you… you know, because he sees the Australian Passport … those convicts he thinks, hmm... Maybe he thinks you’re a criminal.”
I bite my tongue, to stop myself from laughing, as I am not quite sure if she is serious - not a trace of a cheeky grin or twinkle of humor in her eye… I suppose if I am more open-minded and forgiving, then I can see her point; it might just be possible that the old English customs officer was indeed unnerved by little ol’ me, a 24 year old Australian visitor, back in Europe and seeking revenge against the British for the deportation of my convicted great-great-great-grandparents those 200 years ago…
After 3 days in the UK, I hand over my return ticket and eagerly board the coach heading east, back to Amsterdam. The driver, who doesn’t appear the type to share any porno material with us on this journey, does a quick headcount, and like sardines all squeezed in, we navigate to the wharf, an estimated 1.5 hr drive from London to Dover….
… four hours later, and we are, somehow, still on British soil.
Despite the unexpected delay, it is still only early hours – like, 1am in the morning - and we sardines are now numb to frustration and impatience, staring blankly ahead, waiting to board the ferry… will we ever make it across the sea from Dover to Calais?
I make mental notes to have the KLM booking number set permanently on speed dial in my mobile phone from now on, and think of all the wonderful things I could be doing in Amsterdam this weekend…
If I was not trapped in this delayed convoy of hopelessness and stuffy air, I’d like to be sauntering from my home in Amsterdam Oost to De Pontaneur, the nearby eclectic and cozy neighborhood café by day and restaurant/bar by night that attracts friendly locals. I also picture my colleagues, stopping for one or two beers after work before heading to Paradiso tonight, watching friends DJ and dance around the endless rooms and levels of the club.
In only a few hours, people will be waking up to a sunny day (I will still be stuck on this bus, hopefully on the other side of the Channel!!) and Amsterdam will come alive again; market stalls will be set up across town and thrifty shoppers will be rifling through the fresh food and great deals at the Dappermarkt, or the Albert Cuyp Markt in De Pijp! Personally, I’d be inclined to check out the antique & vintage bargains at Waterlooplein!
Regardless of the weather, the Vondelpark will be busy with parents on their bicycles, balancing their 2.5 children on the front. Pet lovers will be taking their loyal dogs out for a morning stroll and the mad people in the world (healthy folk) will be taking in fresh air and jogging like true athletes in their Nike gear. Oh, to be them.
Looking very sadly at my legs now, they are folded in a ridiculous cramped position that would unnerve a Yogi!! I imagine them, free from this torture, and peddling on my junkie bike, navigating through the cobbled straten (streets), being surrounded by tall and slightly crooked buildings, their facades so characteristically Dutch. I imagine casually breezing by on my bike, enjoying the charming view of other new and used bicycles, by the dozens, hundreds, THOUSANDS – leaning against street lamp-posts, or along the railings of elegant bridges that arch across Amsterdam’s shiny canals – a perfect start to the day, exploring this quaint city that is sinking, or reigning, over water.
Heck, while I am fantasizing, let us imagine I have a Platinum American Express, and that I am working my way, and the credit card, from Dam Square along Kalverstraat, stopping finally for a fresh, healthy brunch from the smorgasbords at La Place. I’d have to traverse through Spui, picking up tulips and sunflowers at the Bloemenmarkt, then jump on the Tram 2, to arrive minutes later at PC Hooftstraat (my imaginary credit card should be properly introduced to the likes of Cartier, GUCCI, Louis Vutton and the gang.)…
The blasted coach is still sitting idly. If I just close my eyes, ignore the whining child seated behind me, and concentrate in my un-natural cross-legged pose, I pretend that I am really seated on the comfy, spacious lounges in the trendy restaurant Nomads, waiting to be served a delicious supper of Moroccan flavour and spices. Or, if my imaginary credit card is passed its imaginary expiry date, then I might opt for the alternative, Bazaar.
Actually, if I’m not mistaken, I think Brad Pitt has a house somewhere in Amsterdam, so he can play a lead role in this fantasy too… and Brad takes a seat across from me at the bar…
Before Brad Pitt can even glance in my direction, my imagination bubble bursts and I am jolted back into reality - the coach engine splutters back to life and finally rolls onto the ferry!
Traveling by coach, in my opinion, is a cheap thrill, but definitely not a quick thrill. In fact, the only thrilling part on this trip out of town was that risqué DVD, thrown on by the first driver. I suppose he had grown accustomed to whining passengers, who lapse into boredom and frustration and found a way to spice things up a bit – quite creative really.
While I did say that I love to have the freedom to visit and explore neighboring countries of The Netherlands, it is actually Amsterdam that has won me over. A city with so much on offer and happening within, and one where the Dutch word gezellig is so apt - there is no exact English translation of gezellig, but if I understand correctly, it is likened to cozy or fun, in a more intimate sense.
That said, my gallivanting and weekend escapades throughout Europe will surely continue. But, if anyone thinks that I will tackle another 14hr (delayed) coach ride - they can get nokered!
©Toyah Hardick 2008
Having done her time in the colonies of Australia, Toyah stashed as many loaves of bread into her knapsack as possible, and boarded a ship to sail across the oceans, leaving Sydney to sample the world's many diverse cultures. By tracking the scent of her ancestors, Toyah finally disembarked and began a new adventure, on land, in Europe.
Toyah is presently based in Amsterdam, where she is drawn immediately to the warm hospitality of the Dutch, the creative and energetic work / life balance and the gezellig ambience that only Amsterdam can provide!