Lost and Found
In Japan he lived in Nagano, Kanagawa, and a small Okinawan Island. Island life sounded interesting. Often times the school would tell him that there was some program going on that day so they didn't need him to perform his English-teaching duties. Instead, he took one of the school's sailboats out to sea and explored hidden beaches.
We got to talking about snakes and he mentioned that there was some brightly colored (orange and yellow?) snakes native to the island. One of them ended up in his house. His friend informed him that the snake was not harmless and, in fact, that they are good because they scare away the poisonous snakes. So the boyfriend, whose name I can neither pronounce nor spell, just let it stay in his house...forever...!!
Okay, so the early morning didn't go so poorly. In fact, it was quite enjoyable. I said goodbye and headed out in the early morning for the train station. This was around 9am, when the sky was just beginning to light up. The air was cold and there were not many people seen on the streets that Sunday morning. But as I crossed through the center of the village, I saw an ice rink bordered by a hundred undecorated Christmas trees. In the rink, at this early hour, were parents and children skating around. It was also across the street from the church, so perhaps people went skating after mass.
I walked through neighborhoods, ostensibly wealthy. They looked like traditional Dutch houses, something out of Hansel and Gretel, and quite huge. One yard was covered in trees and bushes. Upon closer inspection, I saw a swing hidden underneath the laurels of a large tree, and little chairs that perhaps were the furnishings of an imaginary house. I wanted to play there.
Upon arriving to the train station, it seemed as though a curse had been placed on me. Everything from there on out was to go wrong and only some secret weapon could lift the spell. The damn Dutch train system only allows one to pay for train tickets with coins or credit card, no bills allowed. I was short 2 euros. It was 9:30am and the only place capable of giving me change, the station convenience store, opened at 10am. I realized that I would be late for my 10:30 meeting with my next Airbnb host in Amsterdam, but only about 15 or so minutes.
Finally I received change, bought my ticket, and waited on platform 2 for my 10:24am train. 10:30 rolled around and, to my dismay, I realized that I was not, in fact, on platform 2. The next train came at 10:40am. Great, now I was going to be 30min late.
The good thing about Amsterdam train stations is the wifi--almost everywhere! I emailed my host at the Amsterdam Centraal Station and said I would be there ASAP. I found the pin for my Airbnb, plugged it into Google Maps, and set off on a 30 minute walk across town in search of a docked boat, where I would be staying. By the 2nd mile, my back was in serious pain. I had a large backpack loaded with winter clothes and souvenirs, plus my smaller backpack in front of me, which kept sliding off my shoulders. My feet weren't faring much better.
I finally reached the pin, or what I thought was the pin. Google Maps was failing me and it was quite unclear exactly where I was and where I should be. Part of the reason was because the area was under construction and virtually no one lived there. I wandered around for 45 minutes, asking people for directions, and wandering among the construction projects. On the verge of tears, I went to the nearest dock I could find and saw what looked like the boat I was looking for. It wasn't.
I asked the neighboring boat for help. As I was frantically pulling up maps and pictures of the instructions to my Airbnb, I came across one instruction that said the location had changed to a new address. This address was different than the pin they have posted on their website. The lady informed me that the dock I was in search for was an hour's walk across town. I gave an emphatic thank you, turned on my heel, and could at this point no longer hold back my tears.
"Why the HELL are there TWO freaking addresses on that STUPID, DUMB WEBSITE?!" I was thinking to myself. I was so upset that I almost didn't hear the lady call out behind me, "I can take you on my scooter, if you like!"
Without even pretending to be modest or consider the trouble it would give her, I said "Yes, please. Thank you so much!!" She reached out her hand and shook mine, introducing herself as Gwenyth. I told her my name was Emily as I looked at the ground and apologized for introducing myself in my flustered state of tears.
Gwenyth saved my day. She was the secret weapon that lifted the curse. I had never been on a scooter before and, although no motorcycle, it felt infinitely faster than walking with my suffocating luggage. The day was brilliant: blue skies, people on bikes, cool, but not freezing. We passed Amsterdam's signature townhouses, Amsterdam Centraal's stately turret's, ships slowly floating down the canals, some with smoke winding out their stacks. Along the way Gwenyth asked about myself and told me about her life. She has lived on a boat for 12 years with her husband. It happened by chance: she and her husband couldn't afford a nice apartment and she was pregnant. Their friend knew someone who was selling a boat for cheap, so they purchased it and it ended up being one of the best investments. They now own multiple boats and sail around in the summers, sometimes down to France. She speaks many languages including Dutch, French, English, and some German.
We finally arrived to my ship. She refused any money, even for gasoline. I told her she made a terrible day become a good one. She smiled and then she left, her red hair waving behind her as she zoomed down the street.
The ship was nice, but not as great as I expected it to be. First of all, it was securely docked so it didn't rock in the water or seem remotely like I was adventuring out at sea or down a canal. I'm not sure why I thought staying on a docked ship would feel adventurous. I also maybe holding a slight grudge for having gone through all the trouble of finding the damn ship.
I dropped off my bag, walked 20min to Amsterdam Centraal, and caught a tram to the Van Gogh museum for 2,90 euros. Before waiting in the 30min line, I went to a cafe down the street called Small Talk and ordered hot cocoa (with the biggest pile of hand whipped cream on top!) and the Fried Egg Special. The fried egg special was exactly what I needed after walking around Amsterdam lost and confused with a massive backpack on: three pieces of toast with Dutch butter, roast beef, cheese, and three fried eggs. It came with a side of potato salad and regular salad, topped with two orange slices. It was SO delicious. (See pictures below).
The Van Gogh Museum was fantastic. I ordered the headset, which gave some background on Van Gogh's life and paintings. There was also a special exhibit on Van Gogh vs Munch (pronounced "Monk"). The headset was great, given that I didn't know anything about art, brush strokes, perspective, or how to create atmosphere in paintings. The Munch and Van Gogh display was interesting. Both were the same age, had mental illnesses, were inspired by similar painters, moved to Paris around the same time for inspiration, and yet they never met. They also had some similar pieces. At least, the subject of the painting was similar, but the interpretations were different. There were, of course, some moments when I thought "This commentary is pretentious and makes zero sense," or "I'm pretty sure I could have painted that." But for the most part, the museum was a big hit for me.
On the way home I took a picture of a beautiful scenery of Christmas lights surrounding an ice rink in the park outside the Van Gogh museum (see below). I took the tram back to Centraal, walked back to my ship, and visited the grocery store with my Airbnb host ("Wow! A real Dutch grocery store!"). Tomorrow I wake up early to catch an 8:05am train to Switzerland.