Monday, October 15, 2007

Metros, buses and trams...oh my...

What exactly does one have to do to play some tennis around here?

As shall be made clear momentarily, I apparently don't have the answer. But I sure gave it one heck of a try this morning.

I recently was invited to join a pool of tennis players for an ongoing Monday morning session. This morning should've been my first match.

The operative word here being "should've".

I left appropriately early this morning for what I believed was my destination...the Amstel Park, which is only a five minute walk from the RAI stop of metroline 50. Piece of cake. I got to Centraal Station, treated myself to a magazine, and boarded the metro with plenty of time to spare.

Seven stops, two articles and one severly disturbed co-rider later, I got out at the RAI as planned. Looking forward to a light walk before hitting the courts, I approached the park.

Amstel Park is absolutely beautiful. I had never been there before, but will look for a reason to go back soon. There is an enormous kids' playground that is tempting even to a 33 year old, a rose garden, a small zoo (believe it or not), and a lovely cafe.

Hmm. What about the tennis courts?

A nice park ranger informed me that the tennis courts were at the OTHER Amstel Park. (Oh right. The OTHER Amstel Park. Good thing we've got two in this city.) Bus line 62 - the nearest stop being a five minute walk away - should take me there. Just stop at the main entrance of the Amsterdamse Bos.

[Love-15, Amsterdam public transportation.] (I'm down, but we've only just begun.)

Ten minutes later, I'm riding comfortably on the bus, having informed the driver where I intended to deboard.

Now...I must say that trams and trains have seemingly become a part of my transportation vernacular, but every time I board a bus in Amsterdam, it's gets the best of me one way or the other. Don't know what it is. You would think that with public transit being in my blood, this wouldn't be an issue. But for some reason, it always is. The stop I think I should get out at is never the right one.

However, most bus drivers I have encountered seem to break out of their driving-induced comas to help a non-Dutchie out when approaching the intended stop. (That amounts to a glance in the rearview mirror, possibly followed by a slight nod of the head.)

So there I was...listening for clues and watching the stops go by. Time was passing and I texted my friend to inform her that I was still on my way, although now a good 15 minutes behind schedule.

[Love-30.] (Quiet in the stands, please.)

I guess I should've gotten a clue when signs in the distance pointed to the Bos in the direction opposite of where this bus was headed. But I experience a strange phenomena as an ex-pat in these situations. There's some kind of paralysis involved when it comes to highlighting (a second time, in this case) the fact that I'm a foreigner and I don't know where exactly I'm going.

So there I sat. Realizing with each passing minute that I was headed somewhere for sure, but definitely not The Other Amstel Park.

[Match point. Advantage bus driver] (who at this point represents every other public transportation driver in Amsterdam, for that matter.)

A drawn-out 47 minutes later and all sorts of southerly regions of Noord-Holland passed, I swear I never once heard or saw the name of the stop I was looking for.

From my experience driving around Los Angeles, it seems that if you just keep going on what you believe is the due course, you'll either get there or find your way eventually. After what seemed like an eternity, I caught a dose of familiarity at 62's final stop.

Aha! Lelylaan Station. I know that trams 1 and 17 leave from here and go back to Centraal, where my adventure began well over an hour ago.

[15-40. Match point.] (Please remain seated)

I boarded number 1, which stops at Niewezijds Kolk - the stop nearest our house - before going all the way to Centraal. My strippenkaart (the general ticket card you use for all manners of public transport, trains excepted) looked like it had been to war, having amassed a whopping (yet ultimately ineffective) seven punches in one morning. It's bent in four different directions and feels soft in my hand now that's experienced my wicked Herculean forehand grip for the last hour and a half.

By this point, in spite of the victory of figuring out where the HECK I was, it was time accept defeat and text message my apologies to my friend and tell her I'll see her next week. The next stop on my journey would be home.

Well, friends...One small victory for unfamiliarity. But one big victory for the itch of curious exploration that lives - in big or small ways - inside the heart of every person willing to live in a foreign place.

Because truth be told, I think I was just as satisfied getting lost for a few hours as I would've been swinging a racquet at The Other Amstel Park.

1 comment:

pianoarthur said...

**BRILLIANT** I was riding along every stage of your story and loving it, along with the "hmmmmmmmm when am I s'posed to get off" feeling. Thanks for the ride.....arthur