Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Day 3

The experience I had in all my previous international trips hit hard at 2:00 a.m. with severe jet lag. I was tired but my body's internal clock was flashing 12:00 and there was nothing I could do. I've learned fighting jet lag is even worse than just staying up so I did just that. Besides, breakfast would be open in just three hours.

Three hours came and I rechecked the schedule and I was wrong, breakfast would be at 7:30 a.m. This was awful because I was STARVING, but there wasn't anything that could be done about it.

When breakfast finally came, I walked in and was seated. It was a buffet and I didn't know what to expect. I'm used to the buffets we get at most hotels during race season that are usually dried cereal and maybe a waffle maker. However low my hopes were turned out to be false because I was about to be in culinary heaven.

Take bacon. Take the best bacon you've ever had. Now take the best waffle you've ever had and heck, take the best croissant and even hard-boiled egg and toss them aside because what I had was certainly not what I expected for a breakfast. This isn't a culinary blog, but truly what was on my plate was a work of art. Now granted, travel and being in a new place can increase the perception of how good food is, but in this case it wasn't and I had seconds and was thoroughly amazed at the meal I had just had.

I was planning my day long in advance before breakfast because what else is there to do at 4:00 a.m.? Several people told me the Rijksmuseum is an absolute must see and it was only a 20 minute walk away so I ordered my tickets online and headed that way at 8:30 a.m.

When I got there, the museum still wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes but just the architecture of the outside alone was impressive. I also couldn't believe that I, of all people, had just paid to go to an art museum because art is something I had never been exposed to nor ever had any thoughts about it.

The museum opened and everyone in line headed to a premium section of Rembrandt's later paintings so I was left alone in the galleries. It was odd to be amongst artwork dating back to the 1200's and to be alone. It was as if I was intruding on sacred ground. There was an occasional museum worker and each time I passed one I expected to hear, "Sir, you can't be here!" That never happened and being able to take in the work by myself allowed me to take in what I was seeing. I've been to the Saint Louis Art Museum but it's always crowded and it's hard to stop and fully take in the art the way the artist intended, so here at the Rijksmuseum I was being given a real big gift to walk the halls and galleries by myself.

As I mentioned, I'm not the biggest art buff but to see the actual works of art that I've heard about, or seen in papers or school, or even the works of art that I've had questions about in Trivia Crack were to the superlative. I turned a corner and there was a stationary guard. I learned that wherever a museum worker/guard was there tended to be a major work and there it was, a Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait. From there I went up and I noticed three workers at one piece and it was Rembrandt's Night Watch.

About an hour into my journey into the history of Dutch art, the feeling of being a lone traveler started to vanish as school field trips were there along with many different guided tours in many different languages. Unlike when I first arrived, Night Watch now had maybe fifty people viewing it. Quickly this museum, which had been an oasis of solitude, was now a bustling place and it's no wonder; it's the 19th most visited museum in the world with over 2.4 million attendees for the last reported year. If you are ever in Amsterdam I implore you to get there before it opens and be one of the first people inside because it's an experience that will be with me forever.

I was now exhausted. It was only 11:00 a.m. and I had already been up for nine hours. That's a rarity for me, but since I was out there was no reason to go back to the hotel so I walked towards Vondelpark to just go. Now I must say navigation was extremely difficult because I don't have a data plan and I didn't bring my map with me. Not that the map would help me because I'm used to street names such as Elm, Main, and First Street. Here, the road I often look for as a landmark is De Lairessestraat which intersects with Van Baerlestraat. Yeah, I'm never pronouncing those in a hundred years, but thankfully my photographic memory works great because I can see a map and then hav
e an almost perfect batting average of knowing where to go and I have an uncanny ability in most places to always know which way north is.

At the park I was amazed at how many dogs were running around. I've never been to a dog park so maybe this is normal, but what I found fascinating was that owners would walk and their dogs would meet another dog, or would look at a bird and the owner would keep walking and maybe even get 50 yards ahead and never once did I see an owner look back to check on their dog and every time the dog would eventually run really fast to catch up with the owner. I had several dogs greet me without any owners in site. When I had pets, I think I'd be way overprotective to ever let them run free like that, but those dogs were certainly having a great time.

Halfway through the park I noticed something; not once did anyone make eye contact with me or say hello. In Saint Louis this is rather common, but this had the same feeling I get in New York City in that even though there's people everywhere, one is alone since there's no interaction. I did expect this because at last year's Supernats I was talking to a person from here and she said, "The people of Amsterdam are warm yet very cold. The population density is very high so we just kinda of get tired talking to people." I don't think she speaks for the entire town, but there was that feeling. Of course, maybe I stuck out as a foreigner and I was just ignored.

My tour of the park ended so I headed back to the hotel and now my entire body hurt from exhaustion. No, it's not that I'm that badly out of shape, it's that every cell in my body was yelling at me to sleep, but I was once again hungry so I walked across the street to an Italian place at the Hilton. I was in a hurry so when the waitress was going over the menus and my choices of a one, two, three, or even four course dinner, or that I could order a la carte, all I knew was that I wanted food now. When she mentioned one of their specialties I said, "I'll take it," to which she looked at me in a confused manner. Okay, I did have the tone as if I were buying something after someone had given me a sales pitch, but the order was placed and when it came out I looked around for a fork and she said, "You may be wondering where the fork is. There is no fork. With this pasta you put the whole thing in your mouth and when you bit you'll experience. I don't know the English word for it, just try it." Just try it? Hmmm.  I was unsure about this because in my book, pasta is noodles, red sauce, and maybe a meatball or two. This was different. This was way different, but the purpose of this trip has been to expand my horizons and to push myself so I tried it and WHAM! I too didn't have the English words for what I tasted. It was an explosion of cheeses and other flavors and I couldn't help but just roll my eyes back and cringe at every bite because with each bite came one less bite to cherish.
After lunch I went back to the room and I was now to the point of barely being able to function. Jet lag was giving me the one-two punch and when my eyes kept crossing automatically I figured I'd take a nap. It couldn't be too long or I wouldn't be able to sleep and I've got a flight to London in the morning (more on that tomorrow.)

When I awoke I was once again hungry (maybe I do have a culinary blog) but before I would eat I had to figure out how I'll get back to the hotel the day after I leave for London. You see, the cab ride to the hotel was €50 ($54 USD)! That's just too much, so I looked at the email the hotel sent a week prior before I got here about transportation and saw that there is a shuttle. I booked one and they sent me an e-ticket. I was unsure if it'd scan on my phone so I went to the lobby and inquired to the concierge on if this would work. He was unsure but he said I could send an email and he could print it. It was as easy as that and I had my ticket. When I left I was unsure if it is customary to tip in such a situation so I felt bad, but then I thought just how amazing it was that I, of all people, asked for help. I don't ask for help. A big chapter in my book is "If I were dying of thirst would I ask for a glass of water?" because I would not. Or would I? I was able to speak up in a foreign land and ask for assistance and there, in my hand, was exactly what I needed.

So that was my day. It's an early bed time because of jet lag and having to leave the hotel at 4:45AM in the morning, but I don't know if this will be that big of a deal because I'll probably wake up at 2:00 .m. tomorrow. But tomorrow, England awaits on this great adventure I'm on.

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