Amsterdam And Back

I’ve always found waking up to the sight of trees and birds seem to help me start my day very well. That also is something I find increasingly difficult to experience. Our Bangalore apartment is a characterless concrete block surrounded by equally characterless concrete blocks, all of them painted a depressing brown colour. At Hoofddorp, it was a pleasure waking up as Sandhya’s apartment has an abundance of greenery around. Probably because it is in Netherlands, they also have a canal just outside with some ducks playing in the water.

Angad was a bit reluctant to get up from his bed initially, probably feeling shy at seeing new faces. Shashank, though, switched on the TV and played the Muththe Ponne song from Action Hero Biju, and Angad, or Angu as we call him, jumped out of the bed to go watch that. From that point on, he started getting more friendly with us, showing us his toys and even playing with the ones we got him from Bangalore. In fact, I guess it was only half an hour before he managed to detach a wing from the airplane model we got him.

While Angu is someone who loves to walk around all the time, he is quite content sitting in the pram when they have to go out. Shashank had taken a day off work, and we all set off for a quick tour of Amsterdam and its sights. We caught a train to first go to Zaanse Schans and see those famous windmills. Angu got quite excited inside the train, pointing out trucks and cars and cranes to us. He is a huge fan of Thomas and Friends series, and a train journey gives him so much of joy.

Walking from the railway station at Zaanse Schans towards the windmills, we were treated to a rare (to us) sight of a drawbridge in action. We waited as it was drawn up to let a vessel pass by. We passed through a quiet neighbourhood before we arrived at the spot having all those old windmills. It was as if we had travelled back in time, with the old Albert Heijn store, and those wooden windmills painted in bright colours. It provided wonderful photography opportunities, but it also seemed a bit too touristy. While our limited time meant we couldn’t have a detailed tour of those windmills, we did step into one of the stores selling different cheeses and picked up a couple of varieties of them.

From Zaanse Schans, we headed towards Amsterdam Central. Our first target there was the Heineken Brewery. Thanks to Angu’s presence, we got a box of snacks apart from the customary couple of tokens for beer that grownups get. History and science behind Heineken’s beers were explained as we moved from one room to another. There were also some entertainment areas, where we could either pose with the UEFA Champions Trophy or appear to be cycling through the lanes of Amsterdam. Angu managed a kick for goal on the virtual rugby pitch while I managed to pour a perfect mug of beer. After more than an hour, we finally presented ourselves at the beer counter to collect our booty. Ranji not liking beer made it even better for Shashank and me.

After the Heineken experience, we debated about visiting the Anne Frank museum but realised that the queue was pretty long, considering we hadn’t booked the tickets in advance. We then decided to skip it and just go have our lunch.

Post lunch, it was time for us to go the canal cruise. The boat we got into reminded me of the one from An Evening In Paris where Shammi Kapoor stalks Sharmila Tagore as he sings Deewane Ka Naam Tho Poocho. It was a gentle glide through the waters, looking at the lakeside houses, some museums and also moored houseboats. I am not sure I would want to live in those houseboats, apart from a small matter of not being able to afford them, with all these tour boats constantly going past.

Once the canal cruise was done, it was time to explore another one of those iconic Amsterdam sights — the red light district. Shashank stressed repeatedly to us that this was one area where we shouldn’t be taking photographs, so we chucked the cameras and phones inside our bags. As we entered that area, which looked like any other area in Amsterdam except that it had a red light in front of all the houses and had scantily clad women standing in front of the windows. We were initially hesitant to enter the area pushing a pram with a 2-year-old in it, but we saw lots of others pushing prams and with kids that decided to be a bit irresponsible ourselves. Another interesting thing was that the red light area had a good number of Indian restaurants.

While wandering through the area, I told Shashank that I would like to experience another of those Amsterdam specialities — drugs. So, we stepped into one of the shops (and these are available in most of the shops in that area, I believe) which had a bust of Buddha flanked by some vibrators. A bearded guy, who seemed rather high on the stuff he peddles, sauntered over to us to help us with our purchases. He took out the price list (yes, a printed one) with items having names which had no connection to whatever it contained. Upon knowing I have never tried it before, he suggested something called Atlantis (probably it was supposed to help me see the lost city). Almost conspiratorially, he told me not to take more than 10 g before dramatically pausing and continuing to tell me not to take less than 10 g as well. Ranji too expressed interest to try it out, so we decided to purchase 20 g of it and share between Shashank, Ranji and myself. Seeing this, the guy tried selling an additional 10 g to us, even offering a discount of €1.50. We decided to go against his expert advice and settle for just 20.

Once back home, we were quite eager to try out the last purchase. This was the magic mushroom-variety, was dried and broken into small pieces and tasted quite bad when I ate. Very soon, Ranji and I felt like throwing up. For Ranji, though, it stopped with the feeling while I actually ended up throwing up the entire thing even as I fought to retain at least a tiny piece to see what the experience would be like. Ranji declared that she felt sleepy and, against Shashank’s advice to not be alone, went into the bedroom to sleep.

Even as Sandhya, Shashank and I were discussing about my bad luck, Ranji called out my name from the bedroom in such a manner that I knew something was not right. She was sitting up in the bed and was having a terrible high. She kept asking me to get her out of the high, but I had no clue what was to be done. I suggested trying to throw up but that didn’t work for her. Shashank then told her to not be alone and told her to come sit with the rest of us in the sitting room. He also asked her to keep hydrating herself. Sandhya got a bit worried by all this and quietly went off to their bedroom. For me, the misery compounded seeing Ranji experiencing a high while I had thrown up all my share. At that moment, I didn’t care whether the high was a happy one or not, I just wanted to experience something. In the end, all that I experienced was staying up later than usual as my wife walked to and fro in the sitting room, finishing a litre of pineapple juice!

We finally went to sleep after Ranji felt comfortable enough to return back to our bedroom. She apparently then experienced a happy high, floating through clouds and meeting all those lovely angels. At least, that is what she said, and not having experienced anything myself, I will have to go by her account of it all. Around 2:30 a.m., she woke up all fresh and alert and very hungry. The dinner she had shunned earlier in the night was finished then before she came back to continue sleeping.

The next day, Shashank was going to work and told us he’ll come back before we had to leave to the airport. Ranji seemed perfectly fine after highs and lows of the previous night. We decided to take it easy and not really go anywhere. We did go to Hoofddorp town centre to pick up some chocolates while Sandhya wanted to send something for her sister’s daughter in Bangalore. That was done in a couple of hours before we came back home and set about packing our bags for the long return journey.

Soon after Shashank came home in the evening, we left for the airport. Angu seemed in high spirits until we reached airport and he realised that only Ranji and I were going while he was having to go back home. His face fell and we felt so bad seeing that. Before emotion could completely overwhelm us, we hurried to the airline counter.

Inside the airplane, it was all calm and quiet before a group of Indian tourists boarded the flight, all of them carrying bright yellow cabin baggages. What seemed like the insides of an airplane until then suddenly seemed like an Indian passenger train. There was loud talking, people frantically searching for seats even as others tried to push their bright yellow luggages into the overhead compartments. In between all that, one member from that group removed their shoes with a nausea-inducing smell spreading all over the area. It even prompted a lady from the group loudly requesting the person to put their shoes back on to save us all from slow death. One of the cabin crew had to come and empty a full bottle of air freshner before we all could breathe.

Our journey from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi was uneventful. We had a long layover at Abu Dhabi, and Ranji and I spent the time walking through the airport and doing some liquor shopping from the duty-free shop there. We now just wanted to get back home and hoped there would be no further delays. Thankfully, our flight back to Bangalore started on time, arrived on time, and we were able to even exit the airport pretty quickly. As the taxi we got into came out of the airport area and joined the traffic moving towards Bangalore city, we were happy to see cars cutting lanes, drivers honking like mad and general chaos overall. We were happy we were finally home!