After spending a beautiful weekend in Sisters, chasing fires and climbing rocks with K, and a fun night stay with Mr. Motiwala in Portland, I was off to Europe – for the first time.
First stop was Amsterdam, for the crucial reason that Netherlands embassy was the easiest to get a visa appointment for. I had a layover in Reykjavik, Iceland, and that was where I went through customs instead of Amsterdam. Which was a brilliant idea because, who cares about immigrants in Iceland? And it took 4 minutes, which is a record for me by 3 hours.
I arrive at Amsterdam airport not knowing that the customs in Iceland was the last check before I was free to roam the EU. 4 minutes was too hard to believe. I was expecting the usual welcome, the long immigration lines and the escort to the interrogation room that I get in the U.S. I kept walking to the baggage claim but saw no signs for immigration. When I saw the baggage belts and the exit doors and nothing between us, my walk automatically got faster out of excitement.
I picked up my tennis bag, exited the doors and stepped into Europe. I thought it’d be an amazing moment but I was actually quite annoyed, caught up in my phone not connecting to local cellular networks. Addict. Got on the shuttle to the hotel, checked in around 9pm and started trouble shooting my phone’s connectivity issue. Before I knew it, it was midnight. I wanted to go to Amsterdam city center but I doubted that I’ll make it without internet and directions on my phone. So I spent another 2 hours on it – wasted I should say.
At 2 am I decided it was enough, I’m not this much of an addict, I shouldn’t be so reliant on my phone, I need to get out of bed, get a map, use my senses and go do what I’m here to do. It was a bit late but everyone I asked said, ‘It’s Amsterdam, it’s always crazy’. I thought why not, I had nothing better to do, I had slept 11 out of the 13 hours of my flights so I was as awake as an owl.
I had my trip all planned out, had taken screenshots of the bus route and charged my useless phone. I headed out at 2:30 am. It was a 5 minute walk to the bus stop and even in that I had to ask two people for directions. Luckily, and amazingly, literally everyone in Netherlands speaks good English, which was convenient.
There was not a soul at the bus stop obviously, but there was no sign of a bus either for 20 minutes in any direction. Finally a bus arrived from the opposite direction and one young man walked out. I approached him, hoping not to scare him, as we were the only ones at the stop at 3 am. He was helpful and friendly, told me exactly where I needed to be, asked where I was from, what on earth I was up to, and wished me a good trip. One thing he didn’t tell me was the time the bus would come.
After waiting in the right spot for another 30 minutes, talking to myself and trying to make sense of the Dutch on the bus map, I decided to cancel the plan and head back to the hotel.
I hadn’t eaten since San Francisco as I was too busy sleeping on the flights, trying to find wi-fi at Reykjavik airport, fixing my phone at the hotel in Amsterdam and partly because I had gone vegan for about 10 days now, which was slowly killing me, reminding me of Ramadan in North America.
The only source of food at that ungodly hour was McDonald’s right next to the hotel. I would never give my money to that company but that was the only option for survival, so I went. Restaurant was closed but the drive through was open and it is allowed to walk through a drive through in Netherlands apparently. As I was walking to the window, a young brown guy like myself was right behind me and asked if it was open. I told him to follow me to the drive through and we started chatting.
As we were waiting for our food by the pick up window, I couldn’t help but ask him where he was from. Normally we can tell if someone’s Pakistani or Indian from the looks or accent but in this case I wasn’t sure if he’s Indian, Paki or even Nepali or Bengali. Turns out, Minnesota undergrad, Paris MBA, and born, raised and working for Uber in Lahore. Just to be clear – works for Uber, doesn’t drive an Uber. I couldn’t believe I had run into a Lahori at a McDonald’s drive through on my first night in Amsterdam. We both lost it when I told him I’m a #PindiBoy.