Sometimes in life, things don’t go the way you’ve planned. The same goes for traveling. Ideas and goals change, but it’s the bigger stuff, too; the stuff you didn’t expect. When I was prepping for this trip, I knew there was much I hadn’t thought about, I just didn’t know how much. Turns out, there’s a lot.
I’ve had people tell me, “Oh what a wonderful vacation!” After what we’ve experienced so far, I have to politely disagree on that description of what we’re doing. Vacations are a relaxing time, a time to unwind and take a break from the world before diving back into your daily life. This trip is different; it’s an adventure, where good and bad things happen and you don’t just go home afterward – you have to keep going, and carry the mistakes and frustrations with you.
There’s more to backpacking, too. You don’t anticipate the sweat from walking to your hostel from the train station; if you experience one kind of weather, you’ll get sick of your clothing options in a week. You leave for the trip excited and resolved to keep up the blog, keep up the blog, keep up the blog – and then somebody asks if you want to go get a beer or late night pizza, and that’s the rest of your night. Or when you get to your bed at the end of a long day of walking – 5 miles, 8 miles? – and fall into bed to get the most amount of sleep possible before getting up to do it all again the next day. And unlike a vacation, when you know that all of the shit you’re going through is only temporary because you’ll be back in your comfy house and walking around in sweats and slippers to find the cereal in the cupboard, this doesn’t stop. We’ve planned on three months; the comforts are small and fleeting. Once you become relaxed, it’s off to the next stop.
Why am I going on and on about misfortunes and disappointments? Well, dear reader, it’s because we suffered our first travel mishap. Okay, more like… disaster.
We didn’t technically miss our flight from London to Amsterdam. When we got to Gatwick Airport, the bag drop had closed 7 minutes before. It wasn’t enough that we were tired – London is an extremely exhausting city – not to mention a little hungover, and sad to be leaving a place we’d fallen in love with. Add to that the crushing realization that because our bags couldn’t make it on the flight, we couldn’t either. After an hour and a half of scouring the internet for options that did not include buying another flight for over 200 pounds, we realized that there was no way we were getting to Amsterdam that night.
Fortunately, we were able to spend the night back at our hostel due to some overbooking we’d done months earlier. Knowing that we had to get to Amsterdam and not wanting to waste even more money, I turned to an app I had only heard about: Bla Bla Car, an international rideshare service. I had no experience with the app, but after searching London to Amsterdam I found a single ride for the next morning, leaving at 11am. He had two seats left; I booked them quickly, and only stopped to caution myself after. Everybody had warned us about being “Taken,” and I’m certainly not trying to prove anyone right on that one.
We met the driver and his friend the next morning, and picked up another guy soon after. It was squishy in the car, but our fears were dispelled right away. The three were Londoners on their way to a techno festival in Amsterdam for the weekend. Conversation slid easily from topics like travel to music to the things they wanted to buy in Amsterdam. These weren’t a bunch of creepy guys looking to kidnap us; they just wanted to take a lot of drugs and dance to their hearts content for three days straight. Personally, I think we got a great deal.
The drive took about 8 hours, as we traveled through 4 countries. We spent 1.5 hours in the car to the port of Dover, where we drove on to a giant ferry. Despite all of the disappointment about missing a day in Amsterdam, wasting the flight money, and generally messing up, this ended up being a crazy and wonderful alternative. As we left the port, we could see the White Cliffs of Dover fading away in the distance. It’s definitely not something I had ever expected to see, and it makes for a great story, right?
After two hours spent relaxing in the lounge and eating ship food, we got back onto land at Dunkirk, France. From there we spent about 4 hours driving through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands to finally reach the much anticipated Amsterdam. I don’t remember a happier moment than meeting up with Kassidy (Emily’s friend!) in the street and going up to the flat to set our packs down. By this time it was 10pm, and we went out into the streets. Giant pita with falafel has never been so welcome, nor scarfed down so fast.
As I write this, we have just finished our first full day in Amsterdam. After waking up late (it was the first morning I’ve woken up later than 6:30am, so yay!), we went downstairs to a highly recommended coffee shop called Bocca. Around the corner, we grabbed giant crepes filled with nutella, strawberries, and bananas; with nowhere to sit down, we found a dock floating on the edge of one of the canals and sat with our toes dangling over the water, trading stories all the while. The threat of rain had us grabbing our rain jackets, and then we were off into the city.
If anyone’s ever been to Amsterdam, or heard about the Anne Frank Huis, you might know that it’s always busy. Tickets sell out amazingly fast, and the line to buy tickets at the door is insanely long. We got there around 1:30pm today, and people can buy tickets at the door starting at 3:30. Not wanting to wait 2 hours in line, we decided to walk around the city, and try again later. We bought a hunk of goat cheese and a baguette, eating on the canal again; we took pictures of all of the many tree-lined canals and the beautiful buildings on either side. Completely by chance, we happened upon the Banksy museum; the three of us love Banksy, so we decided to pay the euros and go through. Safe to say I was in awe, and it was a fun museum.
For dinner, we went to Nes 41. Their menu changes daily because they get their food fresh, so we dined on a charcuterie plate followed by tender beef with goat cheese and a raspberry sauce. This was all accompanied by Fanta cocktails (shoutout to Auntie Lori and Omi! The fanta is just as delicious as it was 10 years ago, although the Spanish liqueur they put in it really added to it).
I took a walk through the city alone today to go back to the Tulip Museum we’d seen earlier. As I walked among the canals and the casually – but still fashionably – dressed people of all ages and creeds, I realized that within less than 24 hours, I had fallen in love with Amsterdam. The city is large enough to have lots of things going on, yet you can easily walk everywhere. The people are nice and the food is wonderful.
I bought myself a pink tulip from the museum today. As a sentimental traveler, I’ve decided to pick up one small memento from each city, my way of remembering what I most loved. The tulip will remind me of the quaint buildings squished together; the music as the Pride celebrations began Friday night and people began to dance; and the way the sun set as I stared down the length of a canal, watching the light beam across the water and set the trees on fire.
I don’t know how I’ll leave, but at least we have one more day.
Your wayward, but most importantly alive traveler,