"We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction."
- Malcom Gladwell
So I've had this quote on a sticky note on my computer for probably about 6 months now (not a real sticky note, but a digital sticky note, of course. otherwise I would have lost it.), just waiting for the appropriate moment to finally use it. And I think that moment has finally come. (Also I think I'm starting to forget English capitalization rules. What on Earth am I supposed to do with the sentences in the parentheses above?)
It seemed like it would be okay when I discovered the night before my trip to Amsterdam that my phone was not only failing to make calls and to text, but the internet was also no longer working. After all, I could still receive calls from my Mitfahrgelegenheit on my old phone, and when I got to Amsterdam and met up with Devin and Braden, I wouldn't really need my phone anyway. Amiright?
Totally right. That is, totally right IF everything goes according to plan. But sometimes things don't exactly go according to plan.
My Mitfahrgelegenheit (to be referred to as MFG from here forward) to Amsterdam apparently texted me to tell me that we were not going to meet at the Hauptbahnhof in Stuttgart, but a different train station. But due to my spastic and unreliable crazy German SIM card, I did not receive the message, and I waited at the Hauptbahnhof. So there I was, bright green backpack, bright pink shirt, looking like a strawberry, standing outside of the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, incapable of calling my MFG, and kind of freaking out. Then my phone rang. Due to my shitty phone quality, a bit of a language barrier, and a hint of a lisp, it wasn't immediately clear that we were at completely different train stations. Luckily, though, after we did figure this out, my MFG was kind enough to come pick me up at the Hauptbahnhof.
Note: MFG is a really cool platform, but it is kind of a hippie attraction. And that's cool with me, except for that this means that I'm always kind of risking the chance of having to ride with a SuperHippie - You know, like one of those people who thinks deodorant is just a socially constructed necessity. Yeah, well she sat next to me on the 7 hour trip to Amsterdam.
Besides SuperHippie Girl, everything seemed to be going perfectly well. My MFG arrived in Amsterdam just before 5:30, when Devin and Braden were supposed to get into Amsterdam Centraal. I promptly found my way to the track they were supposed to be arriving on, 8b. As I ascended up the stairs, I slowly discovered that there was, in fact, no train on track 8b.
Double-check the track number.
Check my watch.
So I paced back and forth on track 8 for like 15 minutes and then decided that I wasn't making any progress. To the information desk I went, and I was unlucky enough to be helped by literally the only rude Dutch man in all of Holland. (Truthfully, he was at least a little justified in being frustrated with me, given that I didn't know anything about the train Devin and Braden were supposed to arrive on, except that it was probably coming from Germany, and it was supposed to arrive on track 8b at 5:30.) He searched the system and found what he thought was the train I was looking for, and told me it was supposed to arrive on track 5a at 5:30.
This was our conversation from that point forward:
"Was that train delayed, though?"
"But could it be that the train was delayed?"
"It is possible-"
"5a. 5a. 5a. ...5A-5A-5A-5A-5A.."
So off I went to find 5a. Much to my surprise (and raging anger slash frustration), track 5a was under construction and there was -200% of a chance that any train would have arrived at that platform.
As I stood looking over the construction site of track 5a, tears welling up in my eyes, feeling completely helpless, I heard the sweet familiarity of "InterCity Express" mumbled across the loudspeaker. Koeln, Bonn, Frankfurt. Track 2b. It would be arriving 1.5 hours after Devin and Braden were supposed to arrive, but this HAD to be their train.
This is exactly what I wrote in my Axor journal during this sad, pathetic moment:
"Right now I'm just crossing my fingers that this train, which is arriving 1.5 hours late, on the wrong track, and from what cities I just guessed were likely points of departure, is actually the train that Devin and Braden are arriving on. If not, it looks like it will be a lonesome weekend in Amsterdam."
...Nope, that wasn't their train. After roaming around lost, frazzled, and helpless for nearly two hours, I made a last attempt at trying to find them by having Devin's name announced over the loudspeaker...
(Also, in case you're wondering, there no payphones in Amsterdam Centraal, because, according to the kind Dutch train station attendant, they all have cellphones. And they also won't let you use any phones at the train station. And everyone in the train station is a tourist whose cell phone is not working in Holland. So it's just really screwed up.)
Defin Merloo from England, please repoort to ze Infoormation Desk.
Even if Devin had been at the train station, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have guessed that Defin-Merloo-From-England was actually him. But I didn't want to lose faith completetly, so I convinced myself that there was at least a tiny chance this final effort would be successful. After about 20 minutes of repeatedly hallucinating that every old man in the train station was actually Devin walking toward me (I was really losing it by this point), I decided that there was nothing left to do but go to the hostel. It was getting dark, and I didn't want to deal with travelling through a foreign city at night.
Luckily the hostel was in a really nice part of Amsterdam (actually, I don't know if there's even a part that isn't nice. it's a magical city.) so I wasn't sketched out when I got out of the cab. I had finally reconciled with the fact that I would be spending the weekend alone. All I wanted to do was get into the hostel, hopefully get a room, and go to sleep. But I couldn't figure out how to open the door. I tugged. And then knocked. And then looked back at my cab in despair. And then wondered if it was safe to sleep on the street. And then a man on a bicycle across the street yelled at me and told me to "push the button." Thanks.
Reception buzzed me into the hostel. As I turned the corner into the main room, my senses were completely unresponsive to anything besides the familiar voice coming from the right side of the room.
I felt like a lost puppy who just found it's way home and didn't expect it's owner to be there, but unexpectedly heard it's owner calling it's name, and then ran up to it's owner and licked their face. In my hopeless and frazzled state, I ran to Devin and hugged him (but did not lick his face, such as the puppy) and cried a little bit for dramatic effect.
Then we spent like 10 minutes talking about how awful we were at communicating our travel plans. And then we laughed and decided to begin our Amsterdam adventures. Like in a movie.
Let me just say that Amsterdam isn't a real place. The people are too beautiful, the language is too ridiculous, the streets are too clean, the architecture is too gorgeous, the freedom is too pure. The city is too perfect to be real.
Friday night, post-disaster, we found a really cool pub that had the most magically delicious beers. (Yes, the beer was too tasty.) It was actually better than in Germany (meiner Meinung nach). So it couldn't have been real.
Then, as all tourists must, we went to see the fully regulated Red Light District. Honestly, I was slightly hesitant about this, imagining a narrow street with bashed in windows, full of drunken and drugged-up, stumbling people. But this is Amsterdam. Let's get real. The Red Light District was just as refined as the rest of the city (okay, maybe there was a little more trash on the ground), except there were prostitutes in the windows. It was quite fascinating, really.
Saturday, we went on a canal tour and saw lots of sights from the canals of Amsterdam. After that, we walked around aimlessly, exploring the big streets and the little alleys of the city. Sometimes the "attractions" aren't really what is exciting about the city - it's the city itself. We accidentally stumbled across the house that Anne Frank hid in. It was so surreal. Then we laid on this really cool grass/roof/building thing right before we went to the Van Gogh museum, which was, again, absolutely unbelievable.
The weekend ended much too quickly, and I bitterly departed the hostel Sunday morning to find my MFG back to Deutschland. We were supposed to meet at this train station a bit outside of the city so that we could avoid the traffic of Amsterdam Centraal. However, the station was kind of in the middle of nowhere and I didn't know where I was supposed to wait for my MFG. A tram driver kindly let me text my MFG from his cellphone. Then I waited on the street flashing my bright green backpack and trying really hard to look like a traveler (not difficult) so that so that my MFG would be able to find me easily. And they did. (I was a little disappointed because I really didn't want to leave.) And back we drove to the unquestionable reality of Germany
Now, I realize that this particular post provides numerous reasons to be concerned about my safety. But like Malcom Gladwell implies, the experiences you have are how you learn. And whether they've been good or bad or scary or hopeless or magically surreal experiences, they are, in the end, all equally important and valuable.