Back to A'Dam

By Tuesday night I’d decided it was time to go. My finances were taking a gruesome beating, the check situation was still totally screwed up, and I figured I’d go back to Amsterdam for a few days before I headed south.

I did another hectic bicycle ride through Northern London from Camden/Kings-Cross area to Liverpool Station. Because no street in London runs in a straight line for more than 200 meters and does not keep it’s name for double that, I rapidly went off course and found myself heading out of the city towards the North, perhaps to Scotland. When I asked a Bobby for directions, he and his partner argued for a couple minutes (not comforting), but eventually, by accident or design, gave me directions that took me where I wanted to go.

Several hours later I was on a catamaran ferry crossing the channel for Hoek Van Holland. I’d write more about the ferry trip if there was more to write, but both ways visibility was a few miles due to haze and the ferry itself was like being in a particularly nice airport waiting area. About the only thing of note was that we averaged 50 knots in this sucker, which translates as “Fucking Fast” in boat lingo.

I got into Amsterdam around 6pm and beelined for The Pig. The guy working reception recognized me but reported no vacancies. The Flying Pig has a sister Hostel on the coast and runs a shuttle bus out there once a day, so we arranged for a couple of days for me in A’Dam and one night on the coast. By now I was again down to my last $20 or so because of the check problems, so I was ok with something cheap that might conceivably allow me to sleep on the beach if I needed to.

The Beach Hostel was quiet and friendly. It’s managed by a very mellow Australian dude names Shane, and staffed by some very relaxed bar/reception people. Lise, the Bored Bartender, works there, though as I write this several days after the fact (the 27th actually) she’s sitting in the Amsterdam Flying Pig and harassing me about the Palm Pilot.

I really didn’t do much that day or the next while waiting for my shuttle ride back to A’dam aside from sprawling on the beach for many hours and watching clouds go by. I have with me a small 8 power monocular and used it to watch ships and such. At one point I noticed something odd just on the horizon, and when I zoomed in it turned out the be the topsails of a three-masted sailing ship. The Dutch seem to have allot of these, which is very cool to watch. This allowed me to get an idea of what it was like to spot a sailing vessel on the horizon when most of it was still below the horizon. Which lead to some interesting thoughts….

Hey, the Earth is round! Really! Obviously, aside from those occasional moments when I find myself clutching the grass and screaming in fear of falling off the planet, I rarely think about this. But watching these ships brought home something interesting.

In the distance I can see the top of a ship. I know this particular ship, a tanker, is probably about 850ft long. I can see how much of an arc of the horizon it takes up and by this say to myself that in about 15 minutes or so on a motorcycle I would be there, and walking would take most of the day. Makes sense; the horizon is what, 14 miles away at sea level?

Ok, great so far. But think about it for a second. When you see something that is partially obscured by the horizon what you’re noticing is that the Earth curves away by dozens or hundreds of feet in that distance. And it keeps doing that obviously until it comes back around. So when I look at this it becomes clear that I’m seeing a small but measurable percentage of the planet just from where I stand, and I can mentally project out how many more of these horizon curves I would be looking at in total. By doing this you can get a peek, just a tiny quick mental snapshot, of what the dimensions of the planet we live on really are without thinking in terms of pu rely abstract numbers, or seeing it from 40,000 feet.

And really, it’s not that big.

When I mentioned this to one of the Australian girls she thought about it for a moment and said, “Yeeah, but I woudn’t want to paint it.”


So as I was in the middle of this mental masturbation I noticed something flying in the distance. It was a military plane obviously, and when I got the monocular back out it looked like a P-3 Orion. Obviously Dutch, possibly a P-3 or equivalent aircraft. The P-3 and planes of similar layout specialize in hunting down submarines and dropping torpedoes on them, as well as general maritime patrol duties.

This (we’ll call it P-3 for the sake of argument) P-3 was heading for the three-masted sailing ship. After few moments it got to the three master and buzzed it at pretty low altitude, then came back around and did it again. For about 5 minutes it kept coming back around and buzzing the sailing ship, which clearly was not a submarine, or at least not a very good one, but perhaps was Belgian. Though I haven’t heard much about the Belgian Navy, I don’t think they’re quite down to bronze cannon and a hearty hi-ho just yet. So whatever was going on I never figured out, but eventually the patrol plane left and headed off to harass someone else, probably a wayward Greek trireme or something.

Anyway, I eventually made it back to the Amsterdam Downtown F’ing Pig and got settled in. I realized it was nice to see most of the staff again (there being some quite cool people here) and the Pig is something of a safe haven/known entity for me now. Money finally came through on Thursday which even enabled me to eat.

Remember the cute redheaded bartender I mentioned some time ago? Heh. Ahem. Yes, well, as I’d departed the Flying Pig for London, never expecting to be back so soon if at all, I’d mentioned my opinion of her to one of the other staff member who I was getting along well with (a terminally cool English woman who is dating an equally cool Aussie), and had asked her to convey those same complements on to the woman in question for me.

Oh, hoho, ha ha ho… nicely done Duri. Well, what the hell I figured, it was true and harmlessly intended, Of course, there was something of an awkward moment when I first ran into her upon my return….

I’m not sure I’d ever seen someone actually freeze in place before outside of boot camp. Ever watch someone try to figure out what to do when they don’t quite know how to acknowledge your existence but don’t want to be insulting or totally blow you off?

Ich bein Schwanzekopf!

Moving right along….

So I started looking at finances and timing, my own increasing angst level, and the entrails of a particularly loud frat boy, and decided to see about working at The Pig for a couple weeks while my money situation sorted itself out. I spoke to the manager of the place and ended up getting work as a part-time ‘volunteer’, which is the local way of getting around bizarre employment laws. The deal is that I get free bed and compensation for up to 70 guilders in food a week in return for 28 hours work cleaning things and throwing food at people at breakfast. So far I’ve particularly enjoyed the breakfast part, since I’m the guy handing out the breakfast options to the stoned or hangover backpackers at 9am.

“Like, what can I eat?” “You can have eggs or cheese, or cheese and eggs.” (pause) “Huh?” “Would you like a unfertilized chicken ovum? Perhaps some congealed milk substance?” “I … uh ….” “Or you can have three slices of bread.” (holding up two fingers) “Can I have the bread?” “Sure. Would you like fries with that?” “Yeah!” “Yeah what?” “uhh…. fries?” “We don’t serve those here. What are you thinking? Now what do you want?” (stoner looks forlornly at the packets of jelly)

Really, it’s great fun.

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