Wow, sensory overload. I’ve been on the ground about 12 hours and have definitely been experiencing Holland. I almost experianced Rotterdam, but that’s a different story.
So we landed, the dentures of the woman ahead of me having failed to puncture the skin of the aircraft, and with pressure therefore intact it was a pleasant landing in Sliphjiiit (or something) airport outside of Amsterdam.
I meandered around gathering up my gear (backpack w/neutronium, saddlebags for bike, bicycle (in box, disassembled, sleeping bag, etc)). I spent about 10 minutes putting the bike back together in the airport before heading towards customs, where three large bored Dutch men and one small bored black Dutch man asked me if I had anything worth declaring. Forgoing the obvious (WAR!!) I said no, they looked at my bike, decided it was more of a menace to me than a import problem, and waived me through.
As I got into the main airport I found a tourist office and walked up, declaring myself to be a stupid American tourist who didn’t want to end up sleeping in a ditch tonight, and could the nice gentleman direct me to Amsterdam? He set up a hotel room in a small hotel (I decided to go for a hotel on the first day, in part because I want to get settled before I leap into hostels and in part because I’m still sick). He then told me to go out the doors and take a left, and there would Amsterdam be.
I went out the doors and saw lots of airport, and no Amsterdam. I asked a man in a bright yellow vest (figuring he was either an airport employee or some sort of really bizarre Dutch leatherboy) how I could get to Amsterdam. He answered in an Australian accent that I should get on the bike, point it towards Amsterdam and peddle madly.
HA! Funny Australian man!
So as I wandered around in the direction indicated I could not find anything that looked like good bike country. It looked like runways. That’s great bike country, but the traffic sucks. So I stopped a Dutch Police Officer, who seemed to be relieved that I did not mention marijuana once. He got a confused look, stratched his head and told me to take the ramp just over there that went over the main road and follow it till I saw signs.
I looked at the freeway onramp, looked at the bicycle, looked at the cop, and decided that Dutch people do not like me.
So I headed towards the ramp hoping that there was something I was missing in terms of a bicycle path.
Do you have any idea how menecing a Mercedes can be when it’s decided to hurry you along? HAVE YOU EVER RIDDEN A BICYCLE UP A FREEWAY ONRAMP??!?
The cop was trying to kill me. Of this I have no doubt. But alas, I got wise and escaped the onramp, eventually finding a small road with signs of a bicycle on them (after a trek through open grass and field).
The Dutch do not so much have bikepaths as bicycle roads. Two lane affiars that go pretty much everywhere, have their own traffic lights at intersections, and are in very good condition. Kinda like what Eugene would like to be, but serious. Once I was on one of these I started following it in random directions and asking Dutch people which way was Amsterdam.
Did you know that Left and Right are reversed in Holland? Which is odd, since they call it Linx and Rex, as do the Germans, but Linx apparently means Right and Rex means Dog, or so I understand from the handsignals they make at the time which point in totally opposite directions from what I would tend to assume.
So 30 minutes later I saw the sign that said “Rotterdam, 50” and realized that, whatever it was 50 of, I probably didn’t want to go there right now. So I went back to the airport and looked for a Dutch person who would not try to send me to Belgium,
So, after I found myself wandering into a hanger area at least once, I finally found a nice Dutch woman who did not want to se nd me to Belgium, or was bad at directions. Whichever, she got me moving towards Amsterdam which is a mere 15km away (about 9 miles). The bike paths go all the way in style, and at one point pass under the runways through a long and well lit tunnel. Did you know that motorscooters can also use the bike paths?
I was beginning to feel like Frogger.
The trip to Amsterdam took about two hours, mostly because the Dutch, fearing another German invasion, name all their streetsigns the same thing, which is (roughly) Einderhooovenpoot-106. This wasn’t too onerous since Amsterdam is stunning. First off, it’s GREEN. In a way that even places like Seattle and Eugene can’t match, with parks literally everywhere and trees everyplace but the roads. Second, there are canals all through the place, all clean and all fringed by parks further out and shops further in. The bike paths parallel the canals in places, in other places meeting up with roads and having bike lanes.
In America, we have this wierd thing where, when a road ends for some reason, or it is no longer legal to drive in a particular direction or with a particular vehical, we try to put in an alternative to get the person off the damned road and on to better things. The Dutch do not do this. They simply place a sign there saying “No more bikes, on penalty of Belgium!” and let you figure out what the fuck to do next. It’s like having a freeway end in an empty lot with a sign that just says “Get off.”
Despite this I slowly made my way into Amsterdam, confirming in my mind two things. 1) The way to explore a city is definitely by foot or bike if you want to really experience it. 2) My backpack is loaded with collapsed matter. Did you know that about every 10th bicycle in Amsterdam has a motor of some sort tacked onto it?
Despite getting lost every two blocks I found that the City Dutch were more than happy to give me directions that did not take me into the Atlantic. Eventually, by which time I looked like a madman on a bike running from wild dogs, a little old man on a motorscooter took pity on me and became my native guide. He directed me to a park that lead directly to where I wanted to go (yes, I had a map. no, it did not help), by which I mean he rode there ahead of me on his scooter so that I could follow him. I thanked him profusely and headed off, arriving at my hotel (a bed and breakfast) around 11am (I landed at 7am).
After getting checked in by the only taciturn Dutch person I’ve met (an American girl), I started wandering In Search of Food. I went the wrong way, I later found out, but even then I was pleased with a beef sandwhich that was greatly flavorfull and totally uncooked as far as I could tell. The proprieter was friendly and informative, and did not try to send me out of the country. Like pretty much all of the Dutch so far he was amused and tolerant of the friendly (befuddled) American, and was happy with the tip of several dozen Dutch Gonads (or whatever).
So I went wandering towards downtown through a pub-shopping district. Most of the roads here are one lane, some are two, and many are ped only. The shops are crammed everywhere, are mostly quite small, and many advertize that they sell real Amerikan Stuff™. And everyone is speaking a foriegn language, which I find mildy confusing, but it seems churlish to ask them to stop.
It’s crowded, but not New York crowded, just like a moderately busy mall on a moderate day. There are motorscooters (AAIIEEE!!) and bicycles everywhere, and cute trolleys that actually seem to carry people and don’t even run down stupid tourists.
Dutch women seem to be generally tall (though some petite women are in evidence) and tend towards either curvy, broad hips, or very slender and svelte. Those of you who know me realize that I am stÉ arting to become a navigation hazard at this point.
So I napped (I’m still sick, which is moderating my activities) for a few hours and wandered out to eat … pizza. Shaddup.
Anyway, after this I went looking for a coffee shop. No, I really just wanted a good latte. I’m sick. Shaddup.
It should be noted (redundandly for the most part) that I’ve no problem with soft drugs. In the case of soft drugs I put it in the same catagory as anything else that you can have fun but hurt your body with (such as alcohol). Go for it if you like it, but remember the costs and dangers. I have more trouble with hard drugs, but that’s largely because the costs are extreme (and not confined to the original victem) and education on the subject is sadly lacking.
And lo and behold the first coffee shop I wandered was playing reggie. The walls are mock-coral, with gigantic dolphins in purple with stars and leaf-prints painted on them hang from the ceiling. I genuinely shocked the proprieter when I told him that no, really, I JUST WANT COFFEE. Everyone around me is stoned and smoking a joint (bongs are availible, but pot is cheap so they aren’t as neccessary). This includes some Americans, but is mostly Dutch. I watched a man in front of me, a business type, cleanly dressed, buy a baggie and inhale deeply of the bag (not lit) with a blissfull look on his face before going into a rather well rehearsed ritual of rolling his joint.
Smoking is legal anywhere now, but it is considered very rude to smoke outside. Hard drugs are strictly illegal, though having taken them is not (the tense is important; they will help someone who is having a bad trip without legal ramifications, but will arrest someone for possession if they have unused material on them. the intent is clearly to allow them to help someone who’s screwed up, but discourage use otherwise). As with so many things, this seems to have become not-such-a-big-deal once people stopped making a big deal about it.
At this point I’m getting a contact high, and so will be taking off (really guys, I -am- sick). I’ve found internet cafes (cheaper than in the US believe it or not), and may be getting a cell soon as well (phone is cheap, time is .90 per minute). Dunno when I’ll get to send this off, but I’ll keep writing. The chicks dig the keyboard….
Mmmm … thhhipppitpt… heebaddabeebaddbumpbumpbee! … hokaydobybaby, time to go now….
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