Tuesday, August 24, 2004

London, England—Amsterdam, The Netherlands—Day 206

I arrived in Amsterdam early this afternoon from London. I arrived at the main terminal at the airport, was thankful to find all my bags had arrived with me (I’ve now got two smaller bags which are more suitable for trains) and made my way out to the main area in hopes to find a taxi to the hotel. I was happy to realize that I won’t have to be on a plane again for another two months, which is nice. I’ll be seeing the rest of Europe via train.

So I went to find a taxi so I walked up to the taxi counter knowing already that there was probably some other better way for me to get to the center of Amsterdam considering the airport was also connected to a train station. Hmmm. I decided to go for a taxi to see how much they thought it would be to get into town and before I knew it I had agreed to a taxi before even really thinking about getting a train. The taxi guy adamantly told me that it would be the same price either way, but again I wasn’t so sure. And, as he said, why would I want to bring all of my luggage on public transportation of all things?

He made it sound like public transportation was this eerie, gross thing that I would want to avoid at all costs.

So I got into a cab and a ridiculously large fare later, I was at the hotel which, I might add, was perfectly situated RIGHT NEXT to the zoo. A first and hopefully not the last. I was so excited to be right near the zoo. I could just cross the street and go in! How perfect.

So I checked in and checked out the guy working at the desk, shamelessly flirting my way up to the fourth floor where I put down my things, sorted a few things out, and then headed back out of the hotel to the zoo.

On my way (this is across the street, mind you) I almost got killed by a speeding bicyclist and passed through a cloud of smoke that was clearly NOT tobacco smoke (if you know what I mean) and I had not a faintest idea on where it came from. Ahh well, my first taste of Amsterdam.

So I found the zoo and got my ticket and headed in to the hippos. A light drizzle had started and I found the hippo enclosure before it started turning into full on rain. The hippos were not outside, so I moved inside to a large hall that had not only the hippos (or hippo as I found out) but gorillas and other animals. Turned out to be just one hippo, Tanja (her name was actually posted! What luck!). Tanja is the last remaining hippo at the zoo. Apparently her mate died of a heart attack in the late 1990s and now Tanja is sort of “waiting out her twilight years” as the brochure suggests. Basically they are just waiting for Tanja to pass on as there are no plans for the zoo to get anymore hippos due to lack of space. Fair enough, but I feel sorry for poor Tanja who is surely lonely.

I got a few pictures but decided it would be best for me to return in the morning to perhaps catch Tanja outside. I grabbed a sandwich at the nearby food area and sat down under a tree just as it began to pour. Luckily I was pretty well protected from the water but I still got pretty wet.

I checked on Tanja after I finished my sandwich and decided for sure to come back in the morning and headed out of the zoo—the rain had let up a bit at this point. I started to walk down the road towards the main center of Amsterdam (or at least, where my map pointed to where it was—I wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction really) and made it a fair way down from my hotel when it honestly felt like the sky just opened up and it began to POUR. Like, POUR. I’ve never seen so much rain all of a sudden ever, let alone standing in the middle of it. Then the lightning and thunder began. I dashed under a small overhang from a building but even that and my umbrella couldn’t stop me from getting sopping wet.

Then I almost got struck by lightning.

Ok, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but I was standing there and BAM! Lighting and thunder all at once. No time in between. Nothing. Just this huge bolt of lightning right in front of me. I jumped back (into the building) and my heart almost stopped from being so, and sorry for the pun, jolted from it. I looked up into the dark grey sky that was thundering away and ready to strike anything underneath it and also realized that I was standing RIGHT under some power lines for the tram. Nice.

So I decided, hey, this isn’t such a good thing to be standing near, so I raced out to find different cover that was further away from power lines but couldn’t run very far before getting SOAKED. It was so funny—almost hilarious—to go from completely dry and walking along to completely drenched and running for cover from lighting bolts. Anyways, I stood near another building with a little bit more overhead cover this time and smiled at the man down a bit who was doing the same thing. There were a few people riding along on their bikes in the rain—undoubtedly soaked to the bone but not minding it, or at least, riding home to change clothes—but the streets had basically cleared and there were people all along huddled in doorways and in shops.

The rain finally let up a bit and when it got to just a drizzle I decided to head back to the hotel, wait for it to all pass, and then go back out. I did just that and walked into the hotel trying to avoid eye contact with the cute desk guy.

The rain finally cleared up and I changed my clothes. I went back downstairs and decided to buy a ticket for the tram instead of trying to walk this time (it would have made more sense to hop on the tram while it was raining but never mind) and I got a three day pass so I was set.

I got on the tram near the hotel and went down town where I spent the afternoon wandering around Amsterdam, visiting the Anne Frank house (where she lived for just over two years in hiding and wrote her famous diary) and basically acting the tourist. It was nice to walk around a get a feel for the city. I got dinner at a great Indonesian place and then took a canal tour on a boat around Amsterdam which was really gorgeous.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.