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Descending from the clouds, my first glimpse of the Technicolor fields of Holland’s famous tulips reminded me of Dorothy arriving in Oz. Unexpected but enjoyable, which would aptly describe most of my surreal overnight layover in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It began like that – before the plane ever touched down.

Before I wandered the streets, following winding canals to elaborate boat homes in the harbor. Before I admired the vast repertoire of strange and wonderful street art. Before I explored some narrower alleys and fine local shops. And long before my lack of advanced planning would combine with my ignorance of British vacation holidays, leaving me with zero hostel or hotel room vacancies in my price range, despite appealing to several impatient desk clerks.

It was an uncomfortable night, huddled on the sidewalk outside the train station (having been rousted out of an open-air metal bench in the train station proper). A privileged life I lead that this was the one night of all mine when I could find no option but to sleep on the street. Unlike a real homeless night – I knew I was relatively safe, I only had 10 hours to pass before my warm, comfortable bus departed, I wouldn’t freeze to death this late in spring, I would have a hot meal and coffee to look forward to as soon as shops opened up in the morning.

It did give me the very tiniest taste of panic, desperation, sleeplessness and deep cold that thousands of people fight against every day. For someone whose personality tends toward cynicism, sympathy is a strong teacher.

So my advice: If you fly to Amsterdam, try for a window seat on the plane.
You should probably book a room in advance of your arrival.
And if you can, donate some goods, money or time to a place that helps people sleep through the night.

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