Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Aspie Traveler, Lost After Midnight: Day 6 Part 2

So, I'm going to a soccer game, but first I had to figure out the logistics of getting there. I've been intimidated by the public transit system thus far (intimidated meaning I'm afraid of getting on the wrong tram and I didn't know how to buy a ticket) so I went to the hotel front desk to inquire. An awesome man behind the counter was more than willing to help out in every way, describing the tram, and the subway, and he even said the hotel sold the tram/subway tickets. I wish I had known that sooner, but then again I wouldn't have had the exercise of walking many, many, many miles.

One thing that was a complete 180 from the earlier part of the day, which was yesterday's post, was that coldness I experienced on the street was not found at the front desk. Maybe it was because I wanted to be visible, maybe it was that I wanted to stretch my social abilities, but as we talked I asked about the game experience and as he answered he mentioned that “away” fans have to stay in their own area, take their own buses, and use special gates and sections to not allow fans to come across each other. This was a stark contrast to what I'm used to.

The conversation was probably ten minutes and he was a big help with getting my tram/subway pass bought and then I waited for the time that I would make the journey to Amsterdam ArenA.

I had purchased a tram and subway pass but I was unsure of where, exactly, to board the tram so I just walked to the subway station. Here's the thing though; I knew the direction of the subway/train but I didn't know exactly where it was. When I got where I thought it was, I looked and saw nothing. Where the ramp should've been, it was closed due to construction. There were plenty of signs but one is at a disadvantage when they don't speak the language. I was hoping someone would just tell me to, "go that way" but that, of course, would be too easy.

The building I was under was the Amsterdam World Trade Center so I walked towards that building where there was a security guard and I asked sheepishly, "Do you speak English," which I need to just quit asking that question because it seems everyone here does, but he affirmed that he did and I asked him how and where the train to the stadium was. He explained I was rather close and I just needed to go around the building. That was simple enough, but when I got to the trains I had a problem. The guy at the front desk had given me a map that had the name of the train. I did have a map on me but it wasn't the right one. I now had a 50/50 chance at making the right choice and since I knew which way the stadium was I figured it'd be whichever train was coming from the opposite direction. It came and I got on and soon I could see Amsterdam ArenA in the distance.

I was early, way early. Kickoff (is that's what it's called?) was at 9:05 p.m. and it was just nearing 6:00 p.m. I splurged on my ticket and got a package which included an amazing seat, a souvenir, and a three course dinner. Now you would think something like that, if I said splurged, was very costly. Surprisingly not! Well, I guess value is in the beholder of the item but there are many NFL games and NHL games that you'd only get a mediocre ticket at the price I paid, and if I traveled all the way from America to watch a team I had somewhat heard of and a team I had never heard of, then I was going to make sure it was a memorable experience. There was only one problem; where do I pick up the tickets?

Amsterdam ArenA is massive and is actually built on top of a busy highway (or in this case low way?) and I once again was asking, "Do you speak English... Okay, where do I go?" I eventually found gate E and was informed that I could pick the tickets closer to 7:00 p.m. I was hungry and couldn't wait until then so I walked back to the train station and ordered Burger King, which I was surprised because it tasted identical to an American Burger King. I remember McDonald's years ago tasting starkly different.

With my pre-dinner done I walked back towards the arena and tried to go back into the area. I was told I could pick up the tickets but there was security guard there now and he said I could only enter if I already had a ticket and that I'd have to go to the container booths around the other side to get them. I did so and these booths weren't open so back I went to the security guard and he said, "You're just going to have to wait then." So back I went to the booths.

Dinner was supposed to start at 7:00 p.m. and now I had to wait for these booths to open. As I waited, I stayed calm because, after all, how often does one wait in line far away from home? When the booth opened I showed the lady my e-confirmation and she said I could only pick up the tickets from the place where the guard wouldn't let me in. So, back I went back and the guard apologized profusely.

I finally got in and the man behind the VIP desk as well apologized and called his coworkers a not so nice name. I was then within the depths of the stadium finding my way to dinner. I was given directions but with each floor I had forgotten exactly where I was supposed to go. When I got to level three the lady said, "Yes, you need to take about four steps left and five right steps in that direction." I stared at her blankly as my brain was about at its end of being able to think after such a busy week, and when I tilted my head, kind of like a Pug, in a manner that implied I had no idea what she was talking about she said, "In other words sir, you're looking right at it!" and then I realized her first statement was a joke, and a clever one at that, and I walked in.

Stadium food in my mind is nachos, hotdogs, and if you're at a baseball game Cracker Jacks. I looked in disbelief when my first course was smoked salmon because this wasn't the stadium experience I was used to. Then came out an amazing salad in a cup, and finally this plate of beef. It was an amazing meal and it felt as if I were cheating the system. How? Because surely this meal would've been €75 and on top of that I have a 3rd row ticket at the corner flag. Seriously, was there some sort of clerical error that allowed me to have such an awesome experience?

In the run around I had earlier, I stopped into the team store and bought the home jersey for the home team, AJAX (pronounced IAX in case you're wondering) which was the first piece of sports team apparel I’ve ever bought in my life! Anyway, I had that on and in this place where I was eating I was so out of place as everyone was dressed rather formally. I didn't mind this because I was the foreigner as it was. The two guys to my left gathered I wasn't from around there and they asked in perfect English, “Where are you from?”

It's amazing, and I think I've used the word "amazing" too much this week but do understand the word is appropriate, that I was able to respond with no hesitation. Once I mentioned that I was, in fact, from America they asked me what I was doing at an AJAX game and I said, rather simply, "For the experience." They then wondered how I got these amazing seats and I said, "Online" which made me wonder if they had set a few aside for people from America? Don't know, but they then asked me, "So Aaron, what do you do for a living?" It was like being on the flight that brought me over here when I talked about autism and the follow-up question they asked was, "So you're a researcher?"  I said I had Asperger's. They instantly knew what that was and they both said, "Good for you!" Then I explained what I do. They followed up by asking if I would ever want to present in Amsterdam and I replied, "Oh yes. Very much so." I explained that this trip was booked in haste after a break-up, which they then both understood. The conversation went to sports thereafter and what soccer is like in America and why the talent pool just isn't there. I tired to sound intelligent and explained that many, many youth play soccer but it seems once high school rolls around the amount of people that play soccer decreases. Whether or not this is true I don't know, but it did sound like I knew what I was talking about.

The time came; it was time to go to my seat. Wow, I was in the 3rd row. The atmosphere, even 30 minutes before the game, was simply electrifying. A section across from me, on the top level, was singing, jumping, and chanting and they would be doing so all the way through the completion of the game. This was 100% different than the experiences I've had in US sports. Go to a baseball game and see if “electric” is a way you'd describe the moments leading up to a game. I can't fathom how a person from here in Amsterdam could go to a MLB game, or NHL, or any other sport and feel as if something important is going on. From the singing to the jumping, there was no forced musical chants from the PA leading songs like, "Here we go defense here we go!" It was all amazingly fluid.

The game started and I was amazed at the sport. Some say auto racing isn't a television sport because it doesn't give justice to the speed, the sounds, the smells, and the spectacle of color. That might be true. But with soccer, you can’t really appreciate the athleticism happening on the field on television either. It was amazing.

From my seat, I got one of the best videos ever recorded on my phone of a corner kick when the ref took a header that he wasn't expecting.

AJAX led 1-0 after regulation, which this was a two legged match so even though the scoreboard read 1-0 the game was actually tied. Early in the first of two halves of extra time Dnipro scored, then AJAX scored. But this now meant the game wasn't tied. Say what? Yeah, I was as confused as you probably were but then I remembered from playing EA's soccer game a decade ago that away goals have more merit than home goals, so even though it was 2-2 overall AJAX didn't have any away goals, Dnipro did. In the end the score remained the same and the hometown fans left disappointed. One thing though, people didn't leave until the end unlike US sports and as the AJAX left the field, ahem, the pitch the home crowd all was cheering. In many US cities the home team will be booed after a loss, but instead there was a chorus of cheers and the dejected players the held their heads high clapping along. As I headed out, that's where the real meat of this story begins.

Remember that part where I said that not speaking the language is a disadvantage? It's even more so at midnight with tens of thousands of people all going to the train station. I knew which way I wanted to go but I didn't know the line so I had to guess. In the train car I looked at the routes and I knew if I saw the words Van der Madeweg on a sign outside I was on the wrong line and sure enough I was on the wrong train so I got out to try and minimize the damage and try and find the right line. Sadly, the next train, according to what the sign said, was 20 minutes away and it was now 12:20 and I didn't want to be alone at a train station. So I figured I'd exit the station and catch a cab.

I had purchased a 24 hour pass on the public transit system but the demagnetizing ways of my wallet struck again (hotel keys never last as well) and as I used my card on the device that opens the doors the doors didn't open.  A red light began flashing. There was a drunken woman behind me that was getting aggravated and I turned to her for help because I couldn't read the message that was being displayed and then someone else exited and she followed him through the doors. I thought, "That can be legal," and then I waited. And waited, and waited. I couldn't find a place to purchase a ticket and the station office was closed. I was stuck in a prison of sorts.

A few more people passed and they all got out with no problem and here I was stuck. I had to use logic because the last thing I wanted was to be a law breaker, but this card said it was good for 24 hours after first usage so should I have been nabbed for breaking the law, records would show the card still should've worked. So once again I waited, and waited. FINALLY a person came along and when he used his card I snuck out behind him. Then I heard an alarm but I wasn’t going to stay to see how the story was going to end and I started walking.

It's now 12:30ish and immediately I walked into a bike lane not knowing it was a bike lane. It was a close call but I was now in a bit of an overwhelming situation. I have NO GPS, no phone, I barely know where I was, but I did know the general vicinity of the hotel. I did have a map on me but at this time of night the last thing I wanted was to look like was a lost tourist just in case someone thought of doing something not so nice.

There were still many bicyclists out and I was walking behind two people that seemed as if they were not the type that would mug me. Now I'm not saying muggings happen here, but I also don't have evidence that they don't and when you're fully cutoff from everything you know and it's past midnight in a foreign city on the other side of town, well, one's imagination can get the best of them.

The walking continued and there were some high-rise buildings in front of me. So I figured "Find a cab, Aaron, find a cab." This was the mission. A cab would be the answer, but as I passed the first set of buildings there wasn't a cab to be seen. I was alone now. I was walking alone well past midnight. Thankfully, I didn't panic. I had a mission and I was already thinking about writing this most epic of adventures so I couldn't allow myself to think of being mugged, or losing my passport and the procedure of getting home without one.

I walked past a clearing and I looked to my left and there it was! A cab! I walked, no, I ran to that cab and as I got to it the driver rolled down the window and I asked "Are you for hire?" He said, "Oh no, my shift just ended and I'm waiting here for someone who owes me money." The dejection on my face had to be obvious and he said, "You're lost, aren't you? Okay, I'll do this, I'll drive you to Amstel Station where there are plenty of cabs." I got in and he told me his money could wait because the guy would still owe him in 15 minutes, or the day after, and I was lost so he could do this for me.

When we got to the station I asked, "How much?" He informed me that his shift was over and he did this to just do it. This wasn't a good enough answer for me and I took out a €10 note and handed it to him, but he didn't want to take it but I said, "This is for being nice, thank you! You deserve this!" He finally took it and I caught another cab and was headed back to my Amsterdam home of the Bilderberg hotel.

What a day! What an amazing day it was. Once again I got the adventure I craved as well as experiencing a European football match. Tomorrow starts my last day, but this day contained in this post will be one I won't soon forget.

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