Europe | Netherlands | Amsterdam – A Cast of Characters
Even though I was bumped from US Airways to Continental thanks to a delayed flight, I managed to get a window seat and have the only spare seat on the plane in between me and my seat mate. We felt like upgraded ticket holders! He was an economic journalist who spent most of the flight busy at work, analyzing something that looked really boring to me. But as we descended to New York, he told me about the years he lived and worked in Czech Republic as a news correspondent, saying much to build my anticipation and excitement for the coming journey.
During the layover, I met Anna from Rochester, NY, a woman on her way to Norway for an audition with the Norwegian Philharmonic. While waiting for our flight to depart, we suddenly and mutually moved towards each other and began chatting. I hadn’t realized until that moment how quiet the day had been. Talking felt like such a gift and I dove right in. She, too, seemed uplifted to have some chatter. She’d been wandering the airport for 8 hours, thinking and worrying about her oboe audition. At the end of our conversation, she said, ‘Thanks, I feel human again.’ And we parted.
Within seconds of checking into the International Youth Hostel, the cast of characters in this adventure expanded as it is wont to do at youth hostels.
Brian, a Philadelphian techie guy, with an unfortunate but surely warm sweater, immediately started chatting with me about, of all things… The States! It’s inevitable. You leave your country to get a break from it and you spend most of your minutes in conversation having to talk about it. Even before leaving home I anticipated spending many hours on the topics of Bush politics and the perceived excitment of Arnold in California, but so soon, within minutes of my arrival? Brian asked if I’d like lunch. I was hungry, sure, but I also wanted to put my bag down, for goodness sake, so I told him I’d meet him within the hour.
Upstairs in my female dorm room, I met Lena. A German girl from Berlin, we immediately traded stories and seemed fit to be friends. How quickly relationships emerge while on foot in a foreign land… She was to meet an Egyptian guy for lunch, a guy she’d met the day before at a sandwhich shop in the city. She invited me along. The buffer syndrome at work. If you haven’t heard me expound on the buffer syndrome before, it goes something like this: two people have plans and one of those two people invites someone else along without telling the other party. This person is invited along to somehow smooth out whatever perceived awkwardness there is. I am often a buffer, but I don’t mind too much. Lena needed a buffer because she was afraid this guy thought it was a date. And I wanted a buffer for Philadelphia Brian, so we merged our plans and viola! all was fine.
We met Ashraf at his family’s store and walked to the Chinatown area of Amsterdam for a delicious lunch of Suriname cuisine. Ashraf was pretty quiet, perhaps upset that his chance to talk with just Lena was dashed. Brian was busy asking all of us tons of Wh- questions, those who, what, where, and when questions. For the second time in the last 24 hours I was asked my opinion of Arnold, etc. I hope this isn’t a daily conversation. I must perfect my schpeel and harden my cynicism.
After lunch we said goodbye to Ashraf and the three of us ventured back to the hostel. I’d been nodding off into my curry chicken and decided I’d better grab a catnap or suffer terribly. I was starting to feel a bit distorted and unable of making important decisions. Some time during lunch, Brian mentioned European chocolate, and I chimed in with my chocolate snobbery bit. So, on the way back to the hostel as we passed a Leonidas (the Belgian chocolate makers I first discovered in Ireland), we had to stop. Lena and I, on the same wavelength so easily, bought just a piece each and were ready to proceed home. Brian, leaving for home tomorrow, decided he needed to buy a gift for all of his co-workers. He decided to buy the biggest box of chocolates available, which cost well over 150 Euros. It included 90 pieces, which ordinarily I suspect the Leonidas chocolate expert selects quickly. But Brian was adament that he needed to select each piece himself. All 90 pieces! A queue developed. My jet lag kicked in severly, and the minutes dragged.
Back at the hostel, I found setting my alarm clock, unlocking the locker door, and even taking off my shoes, suddenly, to be difficult tasks and it was a good thing I listened to my body and mind scream for sleep. 45 minutes later, I was back to the normal Jill, a more alert and somewhat mechanically-adept version of her jet-lagged self. Luckily, I’ve been quite coherent when I deboarded the plane at Ski Pole (it’s just fun to write it that way). I’d arranged my ticket for the Anne Frank house at the airport and so was ready to go as soon as I woke up from my nap. I was glad I’d planned ahead because the line was around the block. Instead, I was able to go to the side entrance, flash my ticket, and go right on it. I began reading the Diary of Anne Frank on the flight over and am about halfway through it. It has not only given me more insight into the events of WWII but also prepared me and deepened my experience at the Anne Frank House. What a brave girl, with such depth and mature analysis. I found that Anne reminded me why I want to teach teenagers: they are fully capable and insightful, but adults often don’t pay them nor their thoughts a second look. I’d like to listen. Anne also re-inspired me to keep writing. I do hope, that you will not be a victim of my Anne Frank Diary Syndrome, in other words, my propensity to go overboard, to tell too much.
Ha. The boy next to me at the cafe just told me in Dutch that I type fast. Or I think that’s what he said! He was telling his friend to listen to my speedy fingers. I better JET at that…