Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Day 2

It's weird that my second day was a continuation of the first, but that's what happens when flung against the time zones.

My body was vastly confused as I didn't sleep on the plane so my body didn't really know if it was time to wake up or go to sleep, but when we landed it was time to face the unknown. I had been to this airport several times but never out of the international terminal so I was about to embark on the journey and challenge awaiting me.

I worried about the Passport control section because each time I go to Canada there are many questions to answer such as, "Where are you staying? What are you doing? What's your profession?" but there was none of it. In fact, of all my international travels this was the easiest. It was literally hand the guy the passport, he stamped it, move on. So much for that challenge I was expecting.

My bag got stuck trying to go three wide on the carousel so I had to wait several minutes for an employee to climb up and get it unstuck, and after that it was off to the taxi stand. I had directions on how to use the trains, but it required several transfers and having my suitcase I figured it wouldn't be a good idea.

I entered the taxi and just like my annual ride in Vegas for the SKUSA Supernats, I simply stated where I wanted to go and the taxi driver confirmed it and off we went. I was now in awe as I was on foreign soil by myself. My senses were picking up everything from the billboards I couldn't read, to the types of cars on the road, to the buildings on the horizon. With each international trip I've done, I will often say a few years later that I wasn't old enough to appreciate the place and time I was in. I was going to make sure I didn't have these regrets again.

We arrived at the hotel and my jaw dropped at how much a 12-kilometer ride cost, but it seems every taxi here in Amsterdam is a Mercedes, or a Tesla, which would account for higher rates. Anyway, I walked into the hotel and the front desk lady greeted me in what appeared to be Dutch and I said hello in, well, my English.  Her language instantly switched to flawless English. I was taken aback as to how fast she could change languages and as she was helping me, there was a customer to my left that had committed a hotel no-no (smoking in the room) and the lady helping me would talk to her coworker in Dutch and then immediately respond to me in English. It was most impressive.

After getting the room key, I went to the elevator and experienced a feeling I’ve only felt once. When I was writing Finding Kansas there was a chapter that I wrote that I thought would get me onto the speaker scene and I envisioned traveling to Europe, by myself, and staying at a hotel. Now granted I wasn't here to present, but I still had made it and as I put the key to the door and the door opened my breath went away. All the struggles, the pain, and the misery I endured before I started writing, and even after I wrote and before I became a speaker, was put into perspective. I came here to sort of take a break from my personal life, but when I walked into the room I realized that running away is impossible because a person will always be the person they are. My memories will always be and no one, including myself, can take those away which made that moment such a elating experience because I remembered that one moment I dreamt of, that I'd have the means to go to Europe on my own.

It was 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon and I looked for places to eat via Google maps using the hotel Wi-Fi and my first bit of culture shock hit as there were no places open. Most everything opened at 5:00 or even later. Coming from America that is simply unheard of. Eventually I found a pizza place about two miles away that opened at 3:30 p.m. so I took pictures of the map and embarked on my first journey out of the hotel.

When I got to the sidewalk I put my earphones in and started listening to music. Then I said aloud, "What am I doing?" It is so natural for me to cut out the world by listening to music but that wasn't the purpose of this trip. I'm here to listen, to learn, to observe, and to cut my hearing off would be cutting out a big part of this trip, so quickly I unhooked the earphones and continued on my way.

You may have heard that there are a lot of bicycles in Amsterdam and I can confirm this firsthand. My goodness, there are a lot of bikes! More bikes than cars and they have their own lane and as each bicyclist passed me I wondered what their life was like. I know mine, I know the place I come from, but what is it like here?

My walk continued on and I realized I should've done a better job with directions. Either that or maybe I should've paid more attention to road signs, but how could I? I was walking the streets of a city where I didn’t know the language, or the streets names, and I was more interested in the architecture and the density of the homes and businesses.

My walk, or perhaps I should say my wandering, continued on and I passed a canal, then another, and I realized that I certainly took a wrong turn on a street name I'm not even going to try and type. However, with this course correction I now knew I was on the right track and I looked up and on the side of the building it was the name of the street that I wanted.

The journey continued and even still I listened intently to all that was around me, like the noise at crosswalks made by the constant chatter of bicyclists. At one point, a father and a really young daughter passed me having a conversation. I'd have given anything, in that moment, to know what they were saying. I may not know the language but I was enthralled with my surroundings.

Finally, I made it to the pizza place and thankfully the names of the pizza were easy to pronounce (salami, not that hard in any language I would think) and of course a Coke is always a Coke. As I waited listened to the employees and I marveled at just how natural this was. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting anything abnormal, but to be so far away from home, well, let me put it this way. When one lives in a place for a long time it is easy to get accustomed to the way things get done. It's hard to envision that there are people all over the world having daily experiences like the one I was having.  Maybe our brains were wired not to be able to think this way because it would be overwhelming, but whatever the case, I was downright giddy being in the pizza place that had no tables and a soccer match with two teams playing I had never heard of before.

Sadly, with no tables I had to walk my pizza back two miles back to hotel so I wasn't going to get a warm pizza, but that was okay and just added to the experience. On the way back, I passed a church that was having a service and I could hear the organ playing, a choir singing and this too was just a moving experience to be in that moment at that place. I may have been a foreigner and not understood any of the words I heard, but when I walked back into my room I knew this was all for something.

In just my first day I experienced so much, saw much, and learned a lot. Just in these two posts, I know my ability to write with emotion is back and that was the purpose of this. Here's the thing though, I still have five more days!

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