Amsterdam - April 19-21, 2008
19.04.2008 - 21.04.2008 53 °F
The last few days abroad the Oceanic II, aka, The Scholar Ship, were very hectic. We had two days to de-construct the entire library and pack it in such a way that it could be readily reassembled for the next TSS voyage in September of 2008. In the interim it will be sailing as the “Mona Lisa,” carrying regular cruise ship passengers on a more typical and usual cruise ship itinerary.
It was strange to walk past what had been my “home away from home away from home” and see it festooned with Lancôme and Chanel signs for merchandise I never got to see. The computer, which had caused so much strife earlier in the voyage were boxed up and the desk which served as the LRC’s nerve center was disappeared as well.
Meanwhile the goodbyes became pretty dramatic for more than a few. Even before our heavily programmed “graduation” and closing ceremonies, students and staff could be seen clutching each other in tears and promising to stay in touch via Facebook. Though my eyes remained dry, I can’t say I had no emotion – only that I had very little. Mostly, I hankered for my freedom and a chance, at long last, to relax unmolested by the needs or requirements of others. I looked forward wholeheartedly to Amsterdam, and though I still felt a desire to chuck it all and go to South Africa to see my dad, I felt it was more important to respect his wishes and thus carry on.
Our morning arrival into Amsterdam on April 19 was slightly delayed, but I made no haste in getting off the ship as soon as I could. Of the many who had planned to meet me in Amsterdam, only Marie made good. Though she had booked a hotel room, I suggested that for budgetary reasons we share an apartment with a few folks from the ship. This idea was partially promulgated by N. who approached me near the end of the voyage. She and B. were trying to avoid rooming in a hostel. In the end, N., B., S., Marie and I shared a place I found on Craigslist.
Located in the DePijp neighborhood, it turned out to be a nice location with easy access to public transportation. It was turned out to be much smaller than I expected. Marie and I wound up taking a room with bunk beds; S. and B. traded off on the couch in the main room, and whoever was left over duked it out for the two full size beds in the master bedroom, which required ascending a very narrow and steep stairwell with the feel of an attic trapdoor at the top. Nonetheless, the place suited our needs, and though I was originally skeptical, I found the shower to be amazing. My only real complaint was that the owners’ dog had clearly spent time in the apartment as evidenced by the many hairy surfaces. So much for the €55 cleaning fee.
At this point I had no desire to see any “serious” museums or take in anything even remotely edifying. All I wanted was to unwind, which took a couple of days, for sure. That process was a little complicated for me by the fact dealings with the apartment people. For starters, everyone was somewhat concerned about handing money over to strangers – yet all went along with no coercion. Still, when there was a mixup with the €120 deposit that B. had submitted via Paypal, I felt responsible and covered it. When S. and I showed up at the apartment, “John” was expecting the rest of the apartment fees in cash. I explained that I wasn’t willing to handover the rest of the monies until we had cleared up the discrepancy about the deposits – the first sent by B. and accidently cancelled on the receiving end and the second from me, also via Paypal. He agreed yet demanded our passports as collateral, and thus I was trapped between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t find it wise to hand my passport over to a stranger and yet the others would be arriving and I didn’t want to deal with five of us on the streets. S. pulled out her passport but I put my hand out and gave up mine only, which turned out to be an unwittingly bright move.
When Marie arrived from the airport, the first thing I did was to give her a hug. The second was to announce that “I might have done something stupid,” and I proceeded to tell her about the passport situation. Although I didn’t really think anything untoward would happen – and nothing did – I told her I wouldn’t really be able to begin decompressing until I had my documentation back. N. and B. spent the first night on the ship, so I had to wait until the next day to collect their monies and then call John. He came promptly, and we discussed the money situation to everybody’s satisfaction. But when I asked for my passport, he shook his head and said “not until you give the keys back on the last day.” Foiled again!
I decided to let it go. But 20 minutes later he was back, this time with his boss or partner or wife on the phone. She was the one with whom I had exchanged email from the ship. She was angry because John had told her we had five people staying in the apartment, not four. This mattered because we had to pay per person. I had already given her the names of the four of us who would be staying. S. was a last minute addition about whom we decided to keep mum, so balked and told her that John was mistaken. S. was just visiting but staying elsewhere. She immediately apologized, and thus it was that I was glad I hadn’t let S. give up her passport. If she had, we would have been caught in a financially necessary lie.
Feeling like I’d pulled some minor victory out of my ass, I was ready “to party.” Well, that might be extreme, but yes we did go out and try some of the offerings at the Amsterdam cafes. It was a lovely experience. I hadn’t felt that free about it since Cali, and CA is nothing by comparison. On the other hand, I never got truly stoned. If we’d wanted to, it was possible, but for me, the fun of that is walking around, and it was too cold for a proper walkabout during our visit. Instead S., Marie, and I walked until we could no longer stand it, then we’d go inside any place that seemed reasonable – like the Sex Museum, for instance. Maybe the Van Gough Museum would have been more cultural, but the Sex Museum was €3 and right next to a Belgian fry place. Who could turn that one-two combination down? Our grand plans for cooking at the apartment fell by the wayside once I saw the size of the kitchen, so we ate “on the road,” as it were. We had one especially incredible meal at a Thai restaurant called The Bird or something like that. It was recommended to us by the doorman of a hotel. We knew he wasn’t off in his recommendation because when we got there, there was a line out the door. I wasn’t sure I wanted to wait and suggested we try the empty Vietnamese place across the street, but I was thankfully outvoted. The food and service were well worth the wait.
I’m a bit ashamed to say that the first two evenings I culled Marie into doing something I normally would never do: we showed up at one of the several Bulldog hostels, where people from TSS were supposed to be meeting up. I think I went along with these little reunions for two reasons. One was that it was freaking cold outside, and in lieu of going back to the apartment early each night, it was a way to go inside and get warm. The second reason on the first night was a mixture of sentiment and curiosity. Those reasons evaporated and were replaced on the second night by the desire to see one person who never showed up. I was hoping, at the very least, to find out where she would be hosting her birthday party, but the crowd at the Bulldog didn’t include any of her friends. I suppose it’s not a big deal, but when we were packing up on the final morning, I mused about how kinda … dumb it was that we had lost a few hours where and how we did.
No biggie though – that last full day was a pretty nice one. Marie and I struck out on our own – enough of TSS nonsense! – and wound up finding our way to the Anne Frank Museum after a circular and rather hilarious goose chase. I can honestly say that the Anne Frank Museum was one of the best museum experiences I’ve ever had. Both Marie and I walked out feeling like we’d gotten close to at least some small taste of what it must have felt like to have suffered what the Franks – and thousand of others like them – experienced. It was really intense. We also enjoyed two great meals that day, one at a place we stumbled upon before the museum called Pancakes. I LOVE pancakes, and the two muesli cakes I had were delectable. I know it sounds dumb, but they were really good. I don’t remember what Marie had, but she liked hers too. Later that evening we ate at a dive-y looking Indian place that only caught our attention because we were exhausted from all the walking and too cold to make the last few blocks. I think both of us were shocked by how good the food was.
The next morning we packed up. Marie went to hide at a diner down the street, and then I called John. I turned over the keys and he handed me my passport. The odd thing about the exchange is that he almost seemed sad to see us go, and I wished that I'd actually taken the time to chat with him. On that morning of our arrival, he just seemed like some squirrelly guy, possibly on drugs, who'd made off with the most important thing I had on me. But he was actually an alright guy. But I didn't have the means or the time to rectify the situation. He shook my hand and called us cab, which we shared a cab with B. who was flying back to the U.S. I had the cabbie pick Marie up, and we were on our way to Athens. Oh the fun that awaited us!