A Night in Amsterdam

The final leg of my journey included a stopover in Amsterdam on my way home to Atlanta.

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The color and exuberance of Amsterdam was a sharp contrast from Moscow.
About three hours after taking off from Moscow, our plane landed in Amsterdam. I was in a satisfied mood as I exited the plane and headed after my luggage. My adventure was drawing to a close, and maybe I was feeling a bit like some sort of modern day conquerer. The doubts, anxieties, and apprehensions, many fueled by the naysayers back home, had been vanquished. I was returning victorious.

I had gone to Russia and survived; I found ATM machines, good restaurants, authentic hockey jerseys, and rode the famous Moscow Metro from one end to the other, without being able to pronounce the name of a single station. Genghis Khan may have covered more ground than I, but I'll bet the farm he couldn't have navigated Russia's immensley complicated bureaucracy of visas, passport checks and ever changing exchange rates with the flare that I did.

After grabbing my bag I headed to the KLM help desk to locate a nearby hotel before heading out to explore a little of Amsterdam. The Citadel was located just a short walk from the last stop on the train in the heart of Amsterdam. Perfect.

Armed with a map and a reservation number I headed down to the train platform. When the train arrived I was surprised to see it was a double-decker, with another floor of seats on top. I headed for these to enjoy the view as the train made its way from the airport into town. I was immediately impressed with the sleek, modern design of the train, and how quiet it was. After weeks in Moscow riding the incredibly noisy and stifling metro, this ride was one of luxury.

And the people! The people on the streets were so friendly that I found myself asking beautiful women for directions, even though I knew exactly where I was going, just so I could talk to them. "Excuse me, Miss? Do you happen to know where The Citadel is?"

"Yes, of course, there it is right in front of you, across the street. Are you enjoying Amsterdam?"

"Oh, yes, thank you very much." And then I'd just look down the street for someone else to chat with.

Architecture reminiscent of St. Petersburg.
I went up to my room and immediately turned on the shower. Hot water! We didn't have any hot water the whole last week I was in Moscow, owing to the traditional yearly scheduled maintenance. I was really going to enjoy this.

After cleaning up I headed out to find dinner. What a beautiful city! Amsterdam is clean and bright, with tourists and natives out everywhere. The small alley way/streets don't feel cramped at all, but give you plenty of room to peek into pubs and shops, and check out the menus outside of restaurants. I wandered around a bit just taking in the sights, traded some money, and picked out a barbecue place with a nice window view of the street.

I was a bit apprehensive about ordering barbecue in an unfamiliar land, but was in a great mood so I thought I could risk it. I couldn't have made a better choice; the food was great.

I also usually like to read when I eat, so I asked the waitress if they had an english language newspaper anywhere around. She said they didn't, but told me she had her own english copy of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one of my favorite books. So I sat there for about an hour, reading and having dinner.

After some of the best barbecue I've ever had anywhere, I wandered the streets and sidewalks around my hotel. I didn't have to go very far at all to find some really terrific pubs. I shot pool and played foosball with a few locals, had some wine outside a little place and talked about my travels with a couple of Americans from San Diego, and generally just breathed in the charming atmosphere of Amsterdam.

I have to admit, though I have permenantly been instilled with a love for Russia, this place was a welcome relief from the oppresive gloom and dinge that blankets so much of Moscow. Of course, there are the bright spots that make a trip to Russia a wonderful experience. Sharing dinner at someone's home and comparing our lives, the fabulous museums with some of the word's greatest art, and history that surrounds you always, these things make a trip to Russia an experience that will affect you dramatically, and one you'll remember all your life. But the current situations tend to weigh heavily at times, even as a tourist, and the day to day difficulties can be frustrating.

One night was not enough time in this beautiful city.
I ended up staying out quite late, going from pub to pub, and meeting a lot of really interesting people. Too late, as a matter of fact. The next morning I woke with a start exactly forty five minutes before my plane was scheduled to take off. I have no idea what happened to my wake up call.

I took the fastest shower of my life, crammed everything back into my bag creating a bulging mess, and literally ran down the street to the train station. The next train was not coming in for twenty minutes, so I ran back out to the taxi stand and jumped across a man's legs as he was climbing out of a cab. I implored the driver to do everything his conscience would allow to get me to the airport, and apparently the man had a very liberal conscience. He drove like a maniac.

I gave him twice the amount of the ride; he thanked me, and I sprinted into the terminal. After checking in and doing all the other relevent stuff, I boarded the plane, the very last passenger to do so. I had just made it. Maybe another evening in Amsterdam would have been fun, but I think missing a plane and buying a one way ticket to Atlanta would have spoiled the extra time.

It's a long way back across the Atlantic Ocean, so I had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences. I thought to myself, "Where did all the time go? Is the trip really over already?" I had this strange feeling that everything had happened so fast, that maybe it didn't really happen at all. But there were too many memories and strong impressions in my mind for it to have been a dream; I still had the dirt of Moscow on my sneakers, the mud from St. Petersburg, and I liked it. Being a bit of a souvenir buff, and preferring the unusual, I swiped at the grime on my sneakers and wondered if I should hang them by their laces in a special place somewhere in my apartment. Maybe with a sign that said, "Walked down Nevsky Prospekt in these." Well, even I'm not that sentimental.

There was plenty to be sentimental about, though. I had left Atlanta almost a month before, full of apprehension and, I don't mind admitting, fear. I had left home alone, but now returning, I felt as though the whole of a country was returning with me.

When the plane landed in Atlanta I had an almost continual smile on my face as I made my way through customs, the airport, and then onto the train heading for my neighborhood in Midtown. I walked up my street from the station, past Piedmont Park, said hello to a few passing neighbors, and arrived at my apartment.

My dog began barking uncontrollably and rolling around at my feet when I came in the door; it was great to see him again. I immediately dropped my bags and grabbed his leash and together, as we do almost every day, we headed over to the park. Friends were already there and welcomed me back with smiles and questions about my trip. I was home; and it felt really good.

My city had never looked quite so beautiful, but as I gazed across the park at the beautiful Midtown skyline the world was truly a much smaller place to me. The short distances between our hearts had made insignificant the long journeys of airplanes, and just over that next hill, there in Piedmont Park, lies my new beautiful city and country, Moscow, Russia.

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All contents and photos © 1997 by Skip Evans