I looked forward to Amsterdam; meeting up with my friend Laura, and attending to unfinished business.
We met at Schiphol Airport, or shit pool, as she called it. It was a relief to see Laura. The last five weeks of traveling, had been a challenging, and I longed for familiarity, and people who spoke English.
Before I left for Amsterdam, I got an email from my mother. "Dani, have fun and don't smoke too much dope." Where do I begin with that?
I first visited Amsterdam when I spent a semester abroad studying in Paris, when I was in college. School was a breeze, and it didn't require a great deal of studying, so I was able to travel every weekend. For six months I took full advantage of my time in Europe. One weekend I decided to go to Amsterdam.
I arrived at the architecturally impressive train station in the city of legal drugs, legal prostitution and cheese. I stayed at Bob's Youth Hostel, which at the time was a popular backpacker hangout. By coincidence, I ran into a couple of girls from my program back in Paris. They invited me to hang out with them, or I invited myself, I can't remember. They were partiers. I was not. They wanted to lounge in coffee shops, and smoke dope. I did not. I wanted to go to the Van Gogh Museum and to The Anne Frank House--they did not.
Actually, I didn't either but my father sent me off to Europe with a list of recommended places to see, and I didn't want to disappoint him, so I made sure that I ticked each and every one the list before I returned home. Taking the list literally dispels any mystery as to why I spent a good part of my entire adult life in therapy.
I went out to dinner with the girls, and ate a space cake. The details are foggy at best, but suffice it to say that the girls continued on to other coffee shops, and I went back to Bob's to throw up. I hurled all through the night, which must have been a real treat for the forty other fellow travelers sharing the room with me.
I felt better in the morning so I went to the Van Gogh museum. When one acts for the sole purpose of checking off a list, chances are, one is not going to remember much, as it was in my case. I have zero recollection of what was in the museum; I assume some Van Gogh pieces.
I was still feeling okay, so I walked over to the Anne Frank house. I waited in line, bought my ticket and went inside. Just as I was midway up the attic staircase, a sudden wave of nausea washed over me. Please, no. Any place but the attic! I quickly did an about face, and bolted down the one-way staircase the wrong way. It was too late. There wasn't time to find the actual exit.
I sprinted outside, ran across the street, and heaved the last few remnants of that evil space cake into the canal. Moments later I found my way back to Shit Pool Airport, and caught the next flight to Paris.
Eighteen years later, I was back at the Anne Frank house with Laura. I wanted to make it up to the attic. And I did. Anne's story was indeed an incredible example of a triumphant spirit. I only wish that I didn't see two young guys running through the house laughing and carrying on as if they were at a keg party.
The other part of Amsterdam that I missed all those years ago, due to my drug induced state, was the Red Light District, which inappropriately enough was also on my father's list. Laura and I walked the streets. It was both sad and fascinating. Women were on display like ducks hanging in a Chinatown food stall. They peered out of their tiny windows at throngs of passerby's. There was a fine line between giving an innocent look and staring. I didn't want to be impolite and not look, but I didn't want them to think that I was in the market, and get their hopes up.
The rows of windows looked like dioramas that I used to make in grade school. I think I expected the girls to be naked. They weren't. Most of them looked despondent, hot and bothered. I expected them to be a bit more proactive. They could've tap danced or juggled, something to get the people's attention. I'm sure it was a competitive business.
I saw one man writing a woman a check. Huh? Most grocery stores don't take personal checks. One woman was watching television; that would've been me. Two girls sat in one window. I think one was visiting because she was fully clothed and holding the local Multiplex schedule under her arm.
Laura and I entertained the idea of knocking on one adorable Asian girl's window so we could have a chat. I had a lot of questions, and as hard as she tried, Laura just didn't have the answers. Do you have to pay for your window space? How come you're not naked? Do you take Traveler's Checks and credit cards too? Do you ride a bike to work? Is there central air and heat in the room?
As we were leaving, I saw a man walking into one of the dioramas with a smile on his face and dream in his heart. I ticked both The Anne Frank House and the Red Light District off of my list.