Belgium is a small country. When I say small, I don’t mean, you sneeze and you reach Antwerpen from Brussels (or Bruxelles, or Brussel or the tiny minscule capital of the EU); it’s not THAT small. But it’s quiet, and well-behaved and if you’re a 22 year old on the streets of Bruxelles, you’re bringing down the average age of its residents by around 0.015 years. That’s how small it is.
So, we decided to do what any self respecting twenty something would do during the weekend in Belgium: head for Amsterdam!
Now, also being good li’l Indian interns who have to at least make a pretence of working, we left making plans for our Odyssey till 7 pm on Friday when our boss very nicely told us “Get lost, kids.” Eight thirty saw us on the R-0 out of Brussels to go to the Vice city of Western Europe (no, it’s not Hamburg!): Amsterdam. My cointern had stars shining in his eyes, or it must just have been the headlights of the vehicle behind us. “Amsterdam!”, he said, “Beer, babes, err… some other vice beginning with B. Woohoo.”
Sure. We’d be in Heaven (also known as Amsterdam) if we found the way. We got lost. Not the argh-I’m-in-the-wrong-country kind of lost, but lost enough that the Lonely Planet and ViaMichelin I was consulting (Damn! Where’s my GPS?) told me I was off-track by some 20 km on the Antwerp Ring Road. Damn all ring roads to eternal confinement in Pit 70-B in Hell.
After a three hour drive, my co-intern relinquished his spot on the hot seat to me. I was not relishing the thought of driving on the freeway as BMWs and Audis and even Minis zoomed past me at 150 kmph. But I finally gritted my teeth and closed my eyes and VOILA! the car started.
After a few false alarms, I touched this:
I knew I was breaking (not braking, mind you) all sorts of laws (more on that later, but I had a need, baby. A NEED FOR SPEED. Woohoo!
So after 4 hours of driving, we reached Amsterdam. And there ensued one hour of trying to find the city centre. Don’t get me wrong, but Amsterdam at midnight is SCARY. And you still find people merrily bicycling around. At 1 am. And the river meanders along with a lot of debris floating in it. And you are clueless.
Actually, any new place is scary at midnight 🙂
I hear the question, “Four hours of driving on the freeway, did you need sustenance?”
Of course, we did. So off we jumped from our car and headed towards a coffee shop nestled in the midst of tall buildings and headed for our addictive dose of COFFEE!!
The moment I got in, I did not jive the groove of the place. It was painted pink and yellow and had a 70’s style TV over a jukebox.
I did not have a good feeling about this.
This was confirmed when the long haired man at the counter placed a pot in front of us, and asked us what we wanted.
“Uhuh”, I thought and then said out loudly, articulating every word, “Can I have a can of COCA COLA, PLEASE?”
Meanwhile, my innocent cointern had decided that he needed to stay awake for the revelries later that night and asked the man to bring some coffe. The man was taken aback.
“Coffee got over at 4 ‘o clock. We only have fresh right now.”
My cointern was puzzled, “So, can I have the menu please?”
I whispered furiously, “DUDE, this is NOT a coffee shop.”
The poor guy thought I was mad, “They said it was a coffee shop outside. Didn’t you read?”
“Oi, look at the…”
The man shuffled to the counter and came back with a red menu. Giving it to him, he gestured, “Pot on this side, Hashish here.”
There was flabbergasted silence from the other end. And then…
“Uhm. I think I will have a can of Coke.”
“Good choice. Let’s scoot.”
Behind the two Indian interns, there was pin drop silence in the Coffee Shop.
You think, that would be enough craziness at Amsterdam for us? No sirree.
Of course we got lost en route to every place we wanted to go. Of course we saw kinky shops in Rembrandtsplein, of COURSE we saw the floating flower market and debated whether to go to the Torture Museum or Madame Tussauds. The latter won the day.
But what happened next was even worse. We trotted back to our car exclaiming how small all the wax women looked, when we saw a nice yellow clamp on the car.
DAMN. This was a pay-n-park. So where the HELL is the meter? Why can’t I speak Dutch? Why is this place so crazy? You pay 4 Euros an hour for space, and get adult channels aired on cable. (No, FYI I did not watch them. This is second hand information), you have a land of milk and honey and the entire place smells vaguely cheesy. You have beautiful flowers growing everywhere and empty packets floating vaguely in the canals.
I want to go home, Mommy.
We called the number on the ticket that said we had been slapped with a 50 euro fine. Oh great. What a wonderful week to start your internship at Europe. After that we decided since we already had a fine, we’d visit the environs of the city, en route almost getting mowed down by a tram because we were walking on the left side of the road. Sigh.
After 3 hours, we could not postpone it anymore and returned to the scene of crime. And there she was, our car… with a nice yellow clamp on her rear right tyre.
We sat in to wait it out for the rescue car to come. Meanwhile, people came up and showed passers by what happened when you did not pay for parking in Amsterdam.
Yes. We’d become a General Knowledge lesson now.
After half an hour, a lady came, took the money from us and told us that she could not remove the clamp, and we’d have to wait for 15 minutes.
So we waited.
For three hours while people tapped on the windows and informed us, “Oh, by the way, do you know that your car has been clamped?”
“Yes, thank you. We really love sitting in the afternoon in a sweltering car.”
Finally the lady came back and unclamped us, after apologising profusely for her nincompoop colleague who came, checked and left, and oh, if we complained at the address given, we’d be reimbursed 50 euros.
“Sure,” we were happy we’d get our money back.
But… but… the address was not REALLY a physical address. It existed only in letter boxes. And we never DID get our 50 euros back.