26 August 2009

Maps? We don't need no stinkin' maps!

I see that Lee has gotten into the spirit of misadventure and willful ignorance. Well done, sir! I look forward to getting lost with you, starting in a matter of hours.

As it turns out, maybe we really don't need maps. Maybe.

I arrived in Amsterdam around 5:30 p.m.yesterday. I stepped off the train from the airport--the blissful, relaxing "silent" car, to be specific--and into the most packed station I have seen in my life. It was a human traffic jam, and all I could do was inch forward, hoping that the tide of humanity would eventually leave me washed up near an exit, and paranoid, in the meantime, at every bump and justle (of which there was a constant barrage), continually patting my pockets to make sure the contents hadn't been spirited away.

Eventually I found myself at a door. I strode outside, where the crowds were only slightly thinner but had been joined by a deluge of honking cars and dinging bicycles.

And here was a problem: I had no idea where I was. Not the tiniest semblance of a clue. Arthur says that the Hotel Van Gelder, where we'll be staying for the next few nights, is near the railroad station, but he doesn't think to include it on the map. The map also does not contain the train station or the major street on which the hotel is located. Or any landmarks that might be of interest or use.

Because, for some reason, there is no map of Amsterdam. For nearly every other city, Arthur includes at least a one-page, hand-drawn map of the center of town. In most cases, there aren't many streets labeled, but the big ones are typically there, along with a few of the better-known landmarks and maybe some restaurants and hotels. If you wander around enough, you'll find probably eventually figure out where you are.

In Amsterdam, however, I'll be relying solely on my wits--never a promising proposition. These next few days could be rather interesting. There may need to be some cheating if we're going to get anywhere or see anything other than that which we accidentally stumble upon. That said, there do seem to be some kiosks with maps here and there, and I think that using these is within the rules of the game, since we won't actually be seeking them out. (Google Maps or a new guidebook would be definite no-nos).

And maybe my wits--or at least my luck--are more fine-tuned than I thought, because somehow, astonishingly, I found the hotel right away, even without a map. It turns out that the street it's on, Damrak, originates right in front of the train station. It was a tremendous relief: I won't be sleeping in a dumpster! Really, you have no idea the scenarios an anxious, neurotic mind (oh, and jetlagged--can I still use that excuse?) can cook up as its scared-shitless owner realizes he's in a sprawling city filled with windy roads, narrow canals into which top-heavy backpackers can fall way too easily, and all manner of Big Scary Things, and he has no idea where he's going. Hypothetically.

That street sign was possibly the most assuaging, reassuring sight I'd ever seen. And I have to say, as those worst-case scenarios began to fade, the street itself looked for all the world like like the yellow brick road, coyly beckoning with the unspoken promise of adventure. Follow.

I breathed a sigh of relief . . . which was quickly followed by a cough of agony as the singular smell of Amsterdam hit my lungs. I carried on, with shallow, cautious breaths, and eyes wide at the crowded, neon-sign-filled spectacle before me. A rush of giddiness swept away all coherent thoughts, replacing them with one-word exclamations of delight: Wow. Gosh. Whoa. AWESOME.

So, Lee, I know you won't read this before we meet up, but here's how you get to the hotel:

It's in the first block on the other side of the Soomthiing-Or-Ă–ther Canal, just across from the station. Walk past the Sex Museum (yep) and keep going until you get to the corner, then realize that the numbers are now too high. Double back, keeping a closer eye on the numbers, and get distracted by the sight of the Vodka Museum (indeed); get further distracted by your snickering thought that in all likelihood, the opening of the Vodka Museum directly led to the erection (!) of the Sex Museum, and that, following the natural course of things, the next attractions will be the Shrieking Toddler Museum, the Surly Teenager Museum, and the College Tuition Museum. As you snicker, proceed past the Sex Museum again. Realize that you've walked past your destination a second time. Turn around once more . . . and this time, focusing, focusing, you'll see it, right next door to the Vodka Museum: the small doorway of the Hotel Van Gelder.

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