Monday, 12 December 2011

Amsterdam Diary - The Search For Narnia & Home

I haven't flown over every city in the world - just a few in several countries - USA, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, Israel and Turkey. At night, they all look the same, no matter how hard you look out from the window of a plane. By day, you can pick out the contours of the Irish coast and the English coast, east and west, and I was sure I reconised the landmarks, wadi's and mountains when I passed over Israel on my way to Turkey. Holland is easy - I know the landmarks now, but I was amazed how many other countries had windmills you could see on a clear day from 30-38k feet up in the sky. I reckon Portugal has as many windmills as Holland, though I never did an accurate headcount!

I left Dublin last week flying out to Amsterdam (Schiphol) and admired how beautiful my city of birth looked with its orange lights against the blackness. The weather for the trip was poor, and for most of the way, the cloud cover hung low, so it wasn't until we approached our final descent that we broke through the cloud and saw the lights of Amsterdam for the final few minutes of the flight. It looked like Dublin again, only someone just rearranged some of the lights on the Christmas tree. All I know is that there is a lot more steep, right, rights into Schiphol, Amsterdam than there is with Dublin. Schiphol is a big airport and the pilot seems to have to do more a ring of the Amsterdam area as he approaches than the pilot who approaches Dublin who coming in off the North coast of Dublin over Howth/Portmarnock.

It's only when you get below a thousand feet of landing at Schiphol do you appreciate how much more developed the infrastructure of the city of Amsterdam is. From the Ajax Stadium to all the other places. I pointed out the Ajax Stadium to one person on a previous trip, and they corrected me by saying it was actually the stadium of a second of a second division team, and pointed out the real Arena and three other stadiums as we passed over the city to land. There's no way Richmond Park or Dalymount Park would stand out like the Aviva (Landsdown Road). I reckon had we headed back home, the Aviva lights would have been switched off anyway due to the recession. 

Structurally the Dutch transports system is laid out the way the Germans want everything to look and work. It looks and works perfectly as long as we operate in a perfect world. Most people don't live like the  Germans. Shit happens. And it did on Friday night when we got the train to Amsterdam Central. Looking for an onward train to Zaandam, like lemmings we scurried from platform to platform listening to the announcements alerting us to the problems on the local track into Zaandam. Dutch transport scares me because it changes by the minute. You can go to a platform and wait for a train, but then the Sprinter can get usurped by the lone International train, or a cat or leaf on the track and you are in a spin from one platform to another. The PA announcers know as little as your iPhone can tell you.

After 45 minutes on Friday evening, it was late, we were both tired, but still we dodged platforms. The PA announcers declared trains at platforms that didn't exist, and announced ghost trains at other platforms no one dared to get on. It became clear after 45 minutes that Zaandam was a city of the damned, and all of Holland had forsaken it. Municipal city clerks were probably already wiping all records the city ever existed and the people in it. Several platform clerks began to wheel out wooden wardrobes on wheels appealing to the 'Harry Potter' in all of us. I suggested we could consider Hogwarts as an alternative, but Erica was adamant that we were heading home one way or the other. It was only when the attendants said it wasn't Hogwards but Narnia that in desperation, I broke loose from the crowd  and charged toward the assembled wooden wardrobes lined up on the platform. As I went for it, I heard a voice scream, "It's a waste of time without the wand." That was it. I wasn't doing Potterland. I could deal with Narnia!

Eventually, we took a risk. We half believed what the PA announcer was saying, and stepped on another train with all the other passengers who hoped it would take them home. We were united on one platform for a while. Dutch people who did the journey every evening and who where lost, and casual travelers like me, who just crossed their fingers and hoped we were on the right train. We whispered as we got on, "Zaandam?"

We got home. It scares me when you are in a foreign city, but no more than it scares me when I was at home in the centre of Dublin and someone decides that Narnia and Hogwarths should be in a different place for a change. It's like when you get stupidly drunk. Silly, almost childish, but somehow you get home. Someone takes your hand so you might learn the steps home.      

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