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Friday, March 27, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Day 5

After thinking I had slept the entire night, I looked at my iPad and saw that it was 12:02 a.m. Great. Not again. Thankfully that was the truth as I closed my eyes and then I looked at it again and it was 6:00 a.m. Finally, a full night's rest! However, there was some angst as I realized I didn't know if I'd even have a flight much less when. I checked my email and had four different emails regarding travel but they all said the same thing; I did indeed have a seat on a KLM flight and I'd actually be getting back to Amsterdam a couple hours earlier than originally planned.

Wil came by with his dog and we walked back towards his place. It was then that I finally realized just how much people in Europe walk. I've walked more in the last four days than a very long time over three times the time span (or more.)

Whilst walking and passing people who were also walking, I once again became entranced in the notion of wondering who all these people were. I was an outsider getting a small, seemingly negligible glimpse into the life of people that live thousands of miles away. With each person that passed, whether they look like they had taken two hours to do their hair, or the 3/4ths of people that had headphones listening to music, or in the midst of a phone conversation I had this deep yearning of simply wanting to know what their daily life is like. I know my life, I know my routines, but what's it truly like to be elsewhere.

These thoughts were quickly replaced by the sensation of hunger so we went to a pub for breakfast (who knew?) and we both ordered the "traditional breakfast" which was one fried egg, bacon, toast, baked beans, one sausage, and an oddly placed tomato. It was all delicious.

We did a quick lap of some sights and then hopped on the train to get to the airport because the emails implored me to get there early, which I did, and I was fearing this long process of talking to Lufthansa agents, then KLM, then back to Lufthansa in an never ending back and forth game. Thankfully this didn't occur as when I went to the self-check in kiosk of KLM and put in my confirmation number and it worked, I got a boarding pass, and that was that.

Wil and I said goodbye and he was a most gracious host and I will be thanking him for a long time for his time and generosity on my journey to England, but now it was time to return to Amsterdam.

Or was it? First off, the Birmingham airport lacks a lot of essential things that I'm used to such as informative departures board. There's only one, but to get to it one must pass through a conveniently placed duty free mall where the people there are more than willing to squirt cologne or perfume whether you recalled wanting it or not. Once through that there is one, count them, one board. At least that I saw. My ticket said what gate I was at so I went to the gate where there were no workers and the video board had a generic uninformative message so I waited. My flight was supposed to leave at 1:40 p.m. and it became 1:00 p.m. and still there were no employees at this gate. I was now concerned because I'm used to the boarding process beginning at 40 minutes prior to departure, but still nothing. I went to the highly informative boards, which I forgot to mention DIDN’T EVEN GIVE DEPARTING GATE NUMBERS, and it said my flight was boarding in "Ten minutes".

Ten minutes? I started to panic and I checked my phone to make sure 13:40 was 1:40 p.m. (I'm new to the 24:00 hour system) and I was right, which meant the board was right which meant, "Where was my gate?" I remember Wil telling me KLM doesn't have a major presence at this airport. I came to the conclusion that the only gate must be the one with the KLM signs.  Ok, I was waiting but where was everyone? Were my fears from yesterday coming true? Would I not be able to get back to Amsterdam? My panic was now at full acceleration.

As with the day prior, communication was minimal. In the US, when there's an agent at the counter who says something. With the jet bridge thing in Amsterdam, and now this it leaves a lot to the imagination as to just how bad the delay is going to be.

At 1:50 p.m., ten minutes past scheduled departure time, an agent finally opened the check-in desk and I went up and showed him my boarding pass to ask if I was at the right gate and he said, "Yessir, the plane is 40 minutes behind." Whew! At least I now had an answer, but why did it get to this point? I saw a sign on the wall that said, "Announcements are not made at this airport please consult signage boards". Okay, yes that would work IF THERE WERE PLENTY OF BOARDS! Sorry to shout, but it was all so frustrating. Sadly, my day was about to get worse, which means good for you because I've got my entertaining stuff to write about.

The 40 minutes was more like 70 minutes and we started boarding. When I got to my seat I fully misjudged the clearance of my head to the ceiling above the seats and I slammed my head with full walking force into it. The impact knocked me down and I instantly had a headache, but also five different people saw it (yay self image!) and I heard in five different languages, "Are you okay?" or that's what I assumed they said. I was and I sat down and after the pounding headache ebbed I got out my iPad and started to write the conclusion to yesterday's blog as well as the start of this one. There was a problem though, I was three wide in the middle and the seats left no elbowroom. While I typed I kept brushing up against my row mates. The guy on my left didn't care because he had fallen asleep and was resting against my shoulder, but this businessman headed to Shanghai was getting a little aggravated as he tried to finish his Sudoku puzzle.

The snack cart came by first and here's another observation about Europe compared to the US; in America drinks come before food, but here it's the opposite. Also, when a soda is ordered at dinner you're given a glass that is 300mL or 11.5ish fl. oz., which is a stark contrast to your 20oz bottle or you free refills. I'm used to taking a drink after every bite, which simply does not work over here with the prices of drinks. Anyway, the snack came but I continued to write until the drinks came and when they came the businessman was borderline irate so put the iPad away and as I got my drink I thought I'd do a good deed. This good deed went horribly wrong.

When opening a can one usually has to move their arms outward, or at least I do. To prevent this, I figured I'd have the can partially in the cup and open the can while it was tilted a bit. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, have you ever seen a victory ceremony like a podium presentation in F1 or anytime a baseball team clinches something and champagne is sprayed? Yeah, if you have you'll know what I'm talking about because when I pulled the tab an explosion of soda flew everywhere. Thankfully none got in my eyes but my glasses were covered, but not only that I managed to drench the businessman, the sleeping man, and all three occupants in the row in front of me. The flight attendant simply said, “Sir, I'll get you a napkin. Or two." (Haha, humor at my expense.) I deserved it, however, but the fun wasn't over. When it came time for the trash to be picked up, I wanted to be real careful as to not touch anyone when I handed the cup and can to the lady. So I put the can and napkins in the cup, which made the can wobbly, and when I lifted it up to hand it to her the can fell out and it was only a few drops but the sleeping man once again had soda on him.

For the two people beside me, they will always have it in their minds as the worst flight they ever had and the worst passenger they ever sat by. Not the distinction I wanted but each thing happened so innocently. When we landed and I deplaned it was a sense of pure liberation and I'm glad I will probably never see them again because they will probably just give me the evil eye for making a one hour ten minute flight much more interesting that it had to be.

I caught a shuttle this time to save money and got back to the hotel and had one of the best tasting burgers ever (Amsterdam is totally going to ruin food for me when I get back) but after that I was finished. It was only 7:30 p.m., but after all the days of walking and the minimal sleep my body had given me every sign in the world that it was, indeed, exhausted. Besides that, I needed my rest because tomorrow could be a long night as I live out a dream as I attend an event. What event is that? You'll find out tomorrow; but I can say I'm bursting at the seams waiting for it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Aspie Traveler (Put to the Test!): Day 4

(NOTE: This post was written on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. While Lufthansa had no control over the pilot strike, my heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones in the recent crash in France.)

Once again my day started early. way too early. My flight was scheduled for 7:00 a.m. and I had reserved a cab for 5:00 a.m., but as I looked at my phone it was an astoundingly early 12:01 a.m. Blah! I tried to go back to sleep and it took a while, but sleep was achieved until 1:30 a.m. Double blah! Would this jet lag please loosen its grasp on me?

Sleep was achieved once again, this time until 3:30 a.m. I was now at the point of not even trying to go back to sleep so I got up and got ready for my trip. What trip? I'm glad you asked because I haven't explained it yet.

For over two years now I've been a commentator with Wil Vincent on iRacing for various races. I primarily do the color analysis on the Indycar coverage and he's one of the few people who knew where in the world I was going. He then offered to give me a tour of London, which I have always wanted to go to England and I checked airfares and I was astounded. To fly from Amsterdam to London was $85 and then tomorrow I'll fly back to home, ahem, Amsterdam from Birmingham, UK for just $99. I wish airfare was that cheap back home in the States! I wanted this trip to be me against the world solo, but this was a once in a lifetime chance to do something cool like this so I allowed for the two days. Thankfully I did because as luck would have it an interesting thing happened on the way to London.

I arrived at the airport shortly after five. It was dark outside and even though I have been here for three days now I still have a sense of awe of my surroundings. I made it to security where I botched the "hold still for three seconds" as I noticed my feet weren't on the right marks so I moved as it scanned which resulted in the system thinking I had objects all over my body. When I stepped out the security official spoke to me but I didn't respond because I didn't understand a word he said. I think he then spoke another language and I was stuck processing what to do. which meant I did nothing but stared at him blankly. This was unique because I talk about processing delays with hearing words, but I didn't know how to respond when I couldn't even understand the language. Eventually he spoke English and mentioned that he had to do a full pat down because the system said I had objects everywhere. I again just stared at him. He then again mentioned it and it was the second time I realized his statement was a question because he was asking permission to go ahead with the check. I finally realized this and said yes to which I passed the test.

While walking to the gate I connected my phone to the airport Wi-FI. I was able to use Apple's FaceTime audio feature to call my mom. I don't have international data or calling so I can't just phone my family any time I'd like, but it was an almost bizarre feeling walking the terminal talking to my mom eight time zones away. While I was getting ready for my day, her's was coming to an end but we talked for 30 minutes on what I had seen, done, and just had a great conversation. I then sent her yesterday's post (remember, I'm writing this as it happening but you won't read it until a week later) and then said goodbye.

After saying goodbye I got to my gate and I marveled, just as I did in 2005 when I went to Kenya and got to the Amsterdam airport, at how an almost empty place earlier begins to bustle with life as dawn gets closer and closer.

The time of departure was nearing and the schedule board time was 6:20 a.m., but it was now 6:30 a.m. I began to get concerned and I looked out the window and saw several men in orange coats with the words "technician" and "operator" on their coats. This was not a good sign and I picked up on this before anyone else. I watched for a while, a long while actually, and when I looked at the clock again it was 6:50 a.m. We were scheduled to depart at 7:00 a.m. and there was no way this was happening. My anxiety spiked because I only had a fifty-minute layover and Wil would be waiting for me in London. So what would I do if I missed my flight and say, the next plane out was that evening? Panic? Oh yes, there was lots of panic flowing through my body.

To compound the panic there had been no announcements. I was watching the mechanics talk to the gate agent, and go outside, and come back in. I approached the ticket counter and at this point others were realizing something was amiss. I listened to their conversations but I couldn't understand a word they were saying. From arm gestures, I gathered the problem wasn't with the plane but with the jet bridge. I hoped I was right because a plane issue means a new plane is needed and that can take all day.

At 7:05 a.m. the agent gave an announcement I couldn’t understand. Now, don't get me wrong. It's right that I don't understand. I'm not complaining about this because this is what I wanted on my journey; to experience the unknown and be thrust into a situation that is new to me and will challenge my ability to handle it. When the lady ended the message I finally heard words I understood! It was, indeed, a problem with the jet bridge and the alarms were stuck in an armed position and while there was no danger, protocol would not allow anyone to board the plane whilst alarms were blaring. And then that was it. There was no more; there wasn't an estimation given on the possible departure time.

I watched the clock like a hawk. I had a fifty-minute layover in Munich, Germany but that time was quickly evaporating. It was now 7:15 a.m., then 7:30 a.m., and finally at 7:40 a.m. we boarded the plane. I've had enough airport experiences to realize that catching my next flight was slim to none and I was quickly starting to loathe Lufthansa.

In the air, I tried to take my mind off the race that was about to take place. Would I have to compete in the 10,000-gate dash? Would I be stuck in Munich all day? What was going happen? It's rough being in a race that I had no control over. I couldn't hurry the plane up. I couldn't find a shortcut. This was 100% out of my hands and despite knowing this I was trying to mentally hurry the plane up. This, of course, did nothing but make me more anxious.

Every five minutes I'd check my boarding pass and check the time. The boarding pass stated that the boarding time was 8:50 a.m. and it was now 8:55 a.m. as we started our approach to the airport. The departure time was 9:15 a.m. and we weren't on the ground yet as it neared 9:00 a.m.

The taxi time wasn't that long and we rolled to the gate at 9:02 a.m. At this point I relinquished any hope I had of making it to London at all. Have I ever mentioned I'm a catastrophic thinker? If you didn't know it, I am. Things can go from all's well to the end of the world faster than you can snap your fingers.

At 9:04 a.m. the airline opened the rear exit to expedite the deplaning process. I found it curious because what about a jet bridge and when I got to the door I uttered, "uh-oh" as there was a bus awaiting all the passengers. Whatever small bit of hope I had, and I had some, was stomped on and lit on fire. I got on the bus but the a man holding a sign saying "connection to London" walked by and I rushed to him as if he were a family member I hadn't seen in a decade. He asked for my passport, and once verified he rushed me and another man to a van and when we were seated he slammed the throttle and we were off. To where I didn't know but there was now hope.

He zoomed towards a police checkpoint for a passport check and this officer did this with a hesitant haste, much more thorough than when I arrived in Amsterdam, and once the passports were stamped we were rushed back to the van, and I do mean rushed. This was the 10,000-gate dash with a hint of the Grand Prix of Germany mixed in.

A few turns later we arrived at a gate and we were rushed towards an elevator that our driver had to unlock with a special key. Speaking of special, this did, I must admit, make me feel as if I were some sort of celebrity, and when the elevator arrived we went up and there it was, we were already in the jet bridge and the other man and I thanked our driver and we got on the plane at 9:14 a.m. with one minute to spare. I was elated but the looks on the passengers that were waiting patiently to leave certainly were of disapproval. Travel note: try not to be the last person on a plane in order to avoid the leers, sneers, and a genuine look of disdain. So with Lufthansa now back on my good side, I was at ease and en route to a city I thought I'd never see in my lifetime.

Going through immigration took a good half hour but after that I took the Heathrow
Express to Paddington to meet Wil. The train I was on had to Wi-Fi, which was great to be able to communicate with Wil to know where I should meet him once at Paddington. I met up with him and the walking tour began.

It was great, just as if being in an alternate world. I've seen plenty of videos and the like of London but to be walking the streets, and to have to be wary of crossing the street because of the alternate flow of traffic was a most enjoyable new experience.

We walked past the US Embassy, towards the Queen's palace, and many more places that I can't remember as it all went so fast. Eventually we grabbed a burger at The Clarence and thinking back to what I wrote earlier in this series about, "wanting to appreciate every moment," I already am a bit sad because we did so much, saw so much, and I was so exhausted that I don't know if I was even capable of fully appreciating this tour that Wil was giving.

Time ticked on and we had to catch a train to Birmingham, which left at 4:00 p.m. and I was hoping to take a nap on the train but how could I? It isn't every day I'm in England and it isn't every day I get to talk to Wil, much less in person, so between talking racing with Wil and watching the English countryside go by there was no sleep to be had.

In Birmingham, when we arrived, the sun was just starting to set and we did a little walking around, went to a shopping mall to see if they had a certain sports team's jersey (They didn't. More on that later in the week) and then proceeded to go to a place that served fish ‘n chips because how could one come to England and not have fish n chips?

Wil booked me a room in a hostel, which I at first was worried, but the place is much more like a hotel than the college dorm party atmosphere that comes to mind with the word hostel, and the room was quite nice. I connected to the Wi-Fi and immediately my eyes were met with these words, "There's been a major change in your itinerary. Please call us immediately as your options may be limited." I think these are the worst words any traveler wants to see, much less when I had no ability to call.

Remember at the start of this when I said I'd have to deal with things myself if something came up? This was something that was beyond what I could do. I had no way to call. The hostel didn't have a phone and my cell phone is not set up for international calls so I could only do one thing and that was to forward the email to my dad.

He called and found out that 750 Lufthansa pilots went on strike and that meant my flight had been cancelled, which also meant whatever good side Lufthansa got on from the race in Munich had now been erased. It took hours of being on the phone, but it looked as if I had been booked on a KLM flight the next day. It wasn't 100% sure, though, but exhaustion won out and I went to sleep not knowing what the next day would hold.

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.

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!