Eurolog II: Stairway to Heathen

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We did indeed arrive in Munich, both of us feeling not too shabby thanks to our sweet spots up in business class.  With a four-hour layover to endure we headed straight to the lounge, combed lightly over the food available, poured ourselves some drinks and dug in for some comfy downtime.

It was my first time stopping over at the Munich airport so I did a walkabout in search of a mini-building to add to my vast collection of mini-buildings.  I found one.  I have no idea what building it was a miniature of, but it was unquestionably a miniature of some authentic building in Munich, and with no magnet nor built-in pencil sharpener attached I deemed it worthy of joining the hundred-odd other minis I have arranged on a trio of shelves back home.

Back in the lounge I found Al sprawled out across the cushioned bench having a nap.  I grabbed a bowl of potato chips and a glass of whiskey and slid in quietly beside him.  Soon enough he woke up and rubbed his eyes open, and shortly after that it was time to board our last leg to Amsterdam.  Finally!

Our seats weren’t so luxurious on the final trek but that didn’t matter; we were barely an hour in the air.  At Schiphol Airport we whisked right on past the luggage carousels pulling our carry-ons behind us and headed straight towards the “Nothing To Declare” tunnel.

I turned to Alan and said, “Watch this.”

When we emerged from the tunnel and into the public section of the airport Al turned to me and asked, “What?”

“Well, that was us going through Customs,” I replied, smiling.

Al looked back at the empty hallway we had just walked through.  The only international borders he had ever encountered before were either American or Canadian.  I doubt that he had ever crossed one without seeing any border guards or Customs officials present.

“You’re kidding…” he said, shaking his head.

We went up to a kiosk and quick-as-anything printed ourselves a pair of train tickets to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station.  We checked the signboard, found the next departure and made our way to the appropriate platform.  Minutes later we were sitting on an older but comfortable train, whisking through the graffitied countryside towards our destination.

Alan was already craning his neck to look at the cars driving along the highway beside us.  “That looks like a Toyota but it doesn’t look like any Toyota I’ve ever seen before…”  This was the type of statement I was about to get very, very much accustomed to hearing.

Arriving at Centraal Station, we disembarked and headed straight outside and into a cloudy day.  Our hotel was just over a kilometre away and I was pretty confident I could find it.  I suggested (with a little trepidation) that we walk there and Alan was 100% on board.

It took a while for us to get away from the station and on the the Damrak towards our hotel because Alan was twisting this way and that trying to take it all in.  “Look at that train station…” he said, and I don’t blame him.  Amsterdam is a remarkably beautiful city, and their castle-like main train depot is quite a site to behold.  

And it’s big too.

Eventually we got on our way, but again the going was slow, for the same reason: Al was looking around at everything.  No worries at all, I was happy to be patient and very, very pleased that my brother seemed to be having a great first impression of Europe.  Besides, I had acted exactly the same way when I landed in Hong Kong a year earlier.

By the time we arrived at the front door of our hotel (found it first try!) it was already clear that bringing Alan to Europe was a great idea.  Then we opened the door.

Half of our ascent

Not that I’m saying that the stairway up to our room detracted from the trip at all, but it was pretty ridiculous.  I’ve seen some tall, steep staircases in Amsterdam but this one was a doozy!  I mean it went straight up, and our room was on the top floor.  That meant seventy-three steps of sheer ascent every time we went home for the next four days.  

The first time we went up – with our luggage in tow – we almost had a couple of heart attacks.  At least I almost had a couple of heart attacks; Alan seemed to fare pretty well.  Suffice to say, we quickly adopted a habit of taking a nice liesurely break at the halfway point.

By the time we sat ourselves down on our little narrow beds and officially ended of our trans-Atlantic journey it was almost 5pm local time.  It had been a solid twenty-four hours of traveling for Al (what with his extended layover in Montreal and all), and just about nineteen hours for me.  I walked across the street to a store to buy some Cokes and poured us a couple of well-deserved drinks from my Duty-Free bottle of Jack Daniels.  This ain’t my first rodeo.

Soon enough we were back out on the street (the stairs were much more manageable on the way down, but you wouldn’t want to traverse it after too many Jack & Cokes.  Not without ample training at least).  With nothing at all in mind we walked aimlessly through the streets, having a great time taking in the sights despite an on-again off-again (but mostly on-again) drizzling rain.

Al was constantly pointing out things that were different from back home, and they were mostly things that I wouldn’t have otherwise paid much attention to.  Aside from all the cars – and my goodness, every single car was different than the ones Alan was used to and thus worthy of attention – he mentioned things like the style of the hinges on the bathroom stall at the train station, and different construction crew procedures and other things that just wouldn’t normally jump immediately to my eye.  He took a bunch of pictures with his phone, including the window display at a very explicit S&M shop, which he got a big kick out of.

He also got a pretty big kick out of the comical postcards that lined the racks outside of every giftshop in town (of which there were many).  I had no idea he was into that kind of humour.  Later on we came across a professional busker doing his thing in Dam Square.  He was a juggler/unicyclist who – like others of his ilk – spends 95% of his time building a crowd and cracking well-tested jokes and only 5% of his time actually performing his “big trick”.  As a former professional street balloon animal artist myself I’ve seen this type of act a thousand times.  

But clearly Alan hadn’t.  He stuck around for the whole thing and really seemed to enjoy it.

One thing’s for sure, he was already having a great time on this European Experiment, which meant I was too.

We walked for hours, circling this way and that until we finally stopped at a small food kitchen near our hotel, where we each ordered burgers and fries.  We wolfed them down proper and retired to our room by 8pm.  

Tired but excited, we stayed up and talked over JD & Cokes for a few hours, managing to stay awake as late as 10pm.  Which was pretty admirable, all things considered.

A sliver of this building housed our hotel

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