|Stranger in a Strange Land
||[May. 17th, 2005|10:24 pm]
Even though I had finally reached my destination, now was not the time to rest. Oh no. Kathelijn suggested I should get myself a bike. It was pretty obvious on the way into town that bikes were a major mode of transportation. I had read that this was the case but I was in no way prepared for the extent that this rang true. Young children to old ladies were seen biking up and down the special streets that ran along the streets for cars. There were even special traffic lights specifically for bikers. The entire infrastructure of this country is geared towards the bicyclist. So hey, when in The Netherlands do as the Dutch do. However, I really wanted to take a shower before I did anything. I felt incredibly dirty after my trip and I’m sure I didn’t smell all that great either. Kathelijn suggested I grab a shower and she would go and buy me a bike. Sounded like a good plan.|
So after what could have been the most needed shower in the history of the world, Kathelijn returned but without a bike. She thought it would be a better idea if I went down and picked out one myself. First order of business however was my empty stomach. It was time to buy some groceries. Kathelijn led me to the supermarket which is not too far from my building. I soon found that buying groceries would be a bit challenging. There were some familiar foods of course such as McCain French Fries which I spotted right away but many of the things I did not really recognize. I picked up a half loaf of bread which was easy enough but then went for some bananas. Kathelijn showed me how to operate the scale that I had to use whenever I was buying produce. Just put the item on the scale, hit the picture of the item on the panel, and hit BON and the machine would spit out a sticker with the price and a bar code for the scanner at the cash register. Different but not too complicated. I then headed to the meat section and picked up some sandwich meat. Not really sure what it was because I couldn’t read it but I tried not to worry about it. As we walked around I noticed that there were walls and walls of different kinds of yogurt. Dutch people really really like their yogurt. Yogurt in cartons, fruit flavored milk, yogurt desserts, yogurt everywhere. It was a bit of job just to find plain old milk for my cereal. Went into the dry food section and picked up some penne pasta and sauce which was easy but then went to buy a box of Cup of Soup and found it more difficult. I couldn’t really read the flavors but then I saw the word tomatte on one of them and settled for that. Picked up a frozen pizza and some Paprika flavored chips and decided I was good to go. Kathelijn grabbed me an old cardboard box to carry my groceries out with. I guess people are really big on reusing which is good. Went through the cash register and got the final total. I didn’t understand what she said but a quick look at the monitor told me how much I owed. I dug out the right amount of euros and we were on our way.
We got back to my place and were unpacking my groceries when I met the first of my new roommates, Roel. He helped me find some cupboard space for my food but then we had to take off again. We had to get me a bike. So we walked a few blocks to the house of this elderly gentleman who made a hobby out of fixing up old bikes. Nice guy, but I had no idea what he was saying the whole time. Luckily I had a translator with me. After a quick search I settled on an old red mountain bike. On the frame was the name Scott written in yellow letters. Scott just happens to be my middle name so it must have been destined to be. From then on I would refer to my trusty steed as Scotty. Maybe not out loud or to anyone in particular, but to me he would be Scotty. So after some seat adjustments, a new bike lock, and 85 euros we were heading back home.
Kathelijn had to be somewhere for 4pm so I said I would grab a bite at home and head over to the AIESEC office when I was done. She marked the place off on my map and I headed back upstairs. Upstairs I met a few more roommates including Adrienne, Natalie, Simona, and Hillebrand. They were all very nice and welcoming but I couldn’t stay long to get to know them. I wolfed down a banana and some chips headed back down stairs to where Scotty was chained up. Don’t want a precious machine like Scotty being carried away. So I hopped on and we were heading downtown. After a few wrong turns and some map checking, I more or less accidentally stumbled onto the AIESEC office. Inside I met Percy, Jesse, Rianne, and Cecile all of whom were very nice. I was told that the office got free international calls so I asked to call home and let everyone know I got in alright. All I got was voice mail but I left a message to let them know I made it ok.
I was then informed that there was a ceremony being held that evening to honor the veterans of WWII at a cemetery not far from town. So I decided to head home to rest before hand and would meet them all back here later. I was still confused by the street signs here so I got home after a few more wrong turns. I’m sure I would pick it up soon enough. I lay down for about an hour and then I was back up, back downstairs, back on my bike, and heading back to the AIESEC office again. Already this was more biking than I had done in years. Met a few more AIESEC members and we were all pedaling our way to the ceremony. It was a little frustrating because I found that the switch that would let me go into higher gear was broken. I couldn’t really go that fast. Everybody was passing us. I was like the slowest biker in the country. After awhile though we got to where we were going, chained up our bikes, and walked up the hill to a place where many people were gathered. I couldn’t see much but I could hear speeches being given, all of them in Dutch. Still it was pretty cool to see so many people, especially young people show up for something like this. It’s rare to see such a turn out back home. Once the ceremony was over we got back on our bikes and headed back to town. I managed to figure out a way to reach in around and switch the gears so I could go faster. I was now a speed demon. Well not really, but it was an improvement. The group decided to take the scenic route so I could get a look at the Rhine River. Sure sounds good, or at least it did right before it started to down pour. I’m not really sure how I even made it back because I couldn’t see a thing with the rain going into my eyes, moving my contact lens, and blurring my vision. However, make it we did to Rianne’s house where we all went upstairs, completely soaked, to have some hot coffee. We sat around for a few hours and talked about school, Canada, and Wageningen. I showed them some pictures on my camera and then my website on the computer. Soon though, the 30 straight hours of no sleep finally caught up with me and it was time to head home.
Laura was nice enough to bike with me to the AIESEC office since I knew how to get home from there. Or at least I thought I did. I guess things look a lot different in the dark. I soon found that I couldn’t remember where my turn was. Fortunately I could see my big tall building from a distance and just pointed the bike in that direction and pedaled on. I got to the parking lot, chained up my bike and went through the revolving door into the lobby. It looked like they had fixed the cracked window that I had noticed earlier that day. I went to the elevator and hit the button and was looking around when something occurred to me. This was not my building. The colors in this lobby are totally different, and the posters are all different, and of course they didn’t fix the window in the door. It’s not the same door. This is crazy. The buildings are absolutely identical on the outside. Even the place for the bikes and the little building out front was the same but it was definitely not mine. I went back out, unchained my bike and went out into the night to try again. I found a map on the back of a bus stop that said you are here. If I was reading this right I just had to follow this road to get to my building. So off I went, and before too long I was back in front of the AIESEC office, right where I had started. Alright, nobody panic. It’s 12am, I’m in a strange city, and I have no idea where I live, but hey let’s not lose our cool. I checked my map once again, picked a new heading and tried again. By this time my body hates me. My back aches, my legs are like lead, and I’ve been up for 32 hours straight. Suddenly I pass by the grocery store where I got groceries that day. This is it for sure. Around the corner I go and there is my building across the street. I chained up Scotty yet again and headed for the revolving door. There was the cracked window that made me sigh with relief. I was home.
I got ready for bed and fell asleep quickly knowing that tomorrow was The 5th of May Celebrations and would be another busy day. The important thing was that I had survived my first day in The Netherlands for the most part, unscathed. However it was certainly a day I would always remember. I could only look forward to what the next 364 days had in store.
To be continued…….