Friday, 20 May 2016

europe 2016, day 5: amsterdam (may 2)

Horrendous start to final day in Amsterdam this morning - I was seized with debilitating cramps in the shower and completely unable to function for the following hour. It took a Herculean effort just to get myself from the shower back to our room, where I alarmed Judy by immediately flopping onto her bed with groans loud enough to wake the dead, or at least our next door neighbours if they weren't already up. I couldn't move at all, but lay there whimpering helplessly and feeling sufficiently miserable.

Fortunately, a certain blessed individual about a hundred years ago came up with the genius invention of the hot water bottle, and the blessed souls of Lucky Lake Hostel happened to include these in their list of amenities, so Tiff and Judy filled a couple for me to ease the pain. They also somehow got me to eat a banana and swallow an Advil, a hard thing to do when you're curled up in the fetal position trying not to think about the pain destroying your lower abdominal region and desperately cursing your second X chromosome with all the foul words your brain can conjure up. Thankfully, it passed, after a while, as it always does, and I slept it off for a bit, before regaining strength enough to join Tiff and Judy at the bus-turned-breakfast-bar for a quick bite.

They also made sure to tell me afterwards all about the lovely, relaxing breakfast they had had while I was in the trailer sleeping off my cramps. Very nice of them to keep me looped in on their activities, in case I felt like I was missing out. I have such thoughtful friends.

First stop of the day was Rijksmuseum, which I was stupidly excited for. Though not an informed art history student by any means, I've always loved art museums and I've always loved art. All the biggies: the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Met, SFMOMA, Art Institute of Chicago - could easily spend days inside them without venturing outside. And Rijksmuseum looked like it was going to be no less amazing than any of these.

Once we got to Rijksmusem - and also once we had finally learned how to pronounce it - we decided to make it a split-up-and-do-your-own-thing-until-2pm deal, so we could go off and enjoy the museum in our own respective ways, which suited us all perfectly. Judy did two of the museum's audio tours and followed them to the letter. Tiff made a beeline to see the library and Yves Saint Laurent's iconic Mondrian shift dress, and then spent some leisure time sitting outside in the gardens. I started out doing the highlights audio tour before impatiently abandoning it only a few paintings in when I realized I had too much I wanted to see, and then set off to conquer all the most interesting exhibits at my own brisker pace. (There's a personality psych analysis just waiting to be dug up here on the three of us, I'm certain, but I was an English and Media Studies major, not a psych major, so I'm not going to pursue this.) A one hour and forty minute whirlwind through Rembrandt, Vermeer, the Hague School, the Dutch Impressionists, Van Gogh, Monet. Absolutely gorgeous treat for eyes and mind. And the museum building itself was beautiful as well, so even just walking from exhibit to exhibit was an experience.

We met back up at 2pm and swapped briefs of our solo adventures before heading outside to embrace our touristness by taking pictures at the "I amsterdam" sign. Impossible even to attempt to get a picture without fifty other tourists in the background of your shot. People were swarming over every surface of the sign like ants on a log. Oh what funny beings we are. Many entertaining exchanges overheard there as well, among all the groups taking pictures of each other. One girl climbed on top of the first "a" so her boyfriend could take a picture for her. Once that was done he came back to watch-slash-help her get down.

"How do I get down?"

"Same way you went up. Just come down."

"I can't just come down; it's too high."

"Well maybe you should've thought of that when you climbed up." Tsk tsk. Bad move.

"How is your saying that going to help me right now? Can you say something that will actually help me?"

I wasn't sure who I sympathized with more in the moment, but once I had climbed up myself and was pondering how to get down without breaking an ankle, I understood the girl's struggle. And then ten seconds later I had clambered down fairly easily - with Judy's coaching - and my sympathies shifted the other way.

Once we were done taking pictures we walked over several blocks to Albert Cuypmarket, an outdoor market reminiscent of Portobello Market in Notting Hill in London, and equally as interesting, if not as pretty. Lots to look at, and we finally had our Amsterdam stroopwafels, fresh off the waffle griddle and chewy, with hot caramel in between the two layers and the top half covered in melted chocolate. Heavenly.

I asked the man making them - who looked like a blonde Benedict Cumberbatch - if he could come to California with his stroopwafel cart.

"But why do I need to go to California, when all the Californians come to me?" he asked, gesturing at the three of us and smiling.

"Fair point," I conceded. He had me there. You win, blond Benedict Cumberbatch stroopwafel man.

When we had contented ourselves with the main food item we had come to the Netherlands to eat, we made our way to the airport to take a bus to the main attraction we had come to the Netherlands to see: Keukenhof, or, in English, the tulip fields with rows upon rows of bright tulips that you always see pictures of online in listicles with titles like "21 Places You NEED to See Before You Die."

Anticipation was high, to extreme, dizzying heights. This was what we had been looking forward to seeing for months, since the whole notion of a Europe trip was first conceived back in September.

Tiff and I knocked out on the bus from the airport and woke up to dazzling sights of tulip fields out the window, and were immediately alive with excitement. There's only so much I can say to describe Keukenhof. Tulips everywhere, a huge garden with endless beds of the flowers - and who knew there were so many different varieties of tulips! - everywhere you turn, inspiring the giddiest frenzies of admiration and excitement and constant spurts of futile picture-taking - futile, because none of them will do justice to the bright colours and unfathomable expansiveness.

I was a little disappointed to find out that we couldn't get any closer to the giant fields that are just endless rows of tulips - unbroken red, pink, yellow strips as far as the eye can see - but it was still breathtaking all the same, even from a distance. It reminded me of the second Anne of Green Gables book, Anne of Avonlea, when Paul describes to Anne his voyage to the land of the sunset with the oldest Twin Sailor, telling her how the sunset is actually made up of flowers - yellow and gold and pink and orange flowers, rows and rows of them.

It was also just a lot of fun, goofing off and being total children, riding the zipline/swing in the park and racing each other through a little maze and taking poorly choreographed videos of ourselves jumping around the tulips. It was a day that really cemented how glad I am to be traveling with Tiff and Judy - they are, together, a lovely mix of fun and sassy and goofy and responsible and plan-ahead-y and prepared and chill and flexible and spontaneous and patient and good-humoured. I am seeing more and more of their good qualities with each day of travel, and today is day five. Which means nine more days of fully discovering how great they are. Or of discovering how mistaken I was in the first five days. But hopefully the former.

After spending a couple of hours at Keukenhof satisfying an excited anticipation that had been built up over months, it was back to the airport. We arrived at 8:15pm, and should have made it back to the hostel by 9:30 after a quick bite, but as I have already established, we are completely incapable of getting back home when we say we will, so we ended up not getting back until 10:30. Dinner itself was speedy, but we are such an ADD group - distracted by a supermarket, then Tiff wanted french fries (I am learning rapidly on this trip that Tiff and Judy's favorite food group is french fries), then I wanted a soft cone from Burger King, then we had to go to an ATM, then buy metro tickets back. If we ever do get anywhere by the planned-for time, it will be a miracle. But back we made it at last, and Tiff and Judy are now cosy in their double bed on the bottom bunk, and I am eager to climb up onto my single top bunk with a hot water bottle, so - goodnight. I will be sad to leave Amsterdam tomorrow, but looking forward to Brussels, and to not having to go outside in the cold to get to the bathroom/shower.

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