Have you ever had something happen to you that was so incredible that you still can’t believe it actually happened?
I mean like something that just seemed to fall out of the sky or a Fairy Godmother showed up and granted your wishes…wishes you didn’t even know you had. Yeah, that’s kind of what happened to me this month. It was the best of times and yet the worst of times but I’m home now and safe, and not sick and I have so many incredible memories and of course…a story to tell.
On March 9, 2020, I left the USA on Delta Airlines / KLM to go on an adventure in a foreign land. We (my cousin Millisia and I) were aware of the Covid-19 virus but were under the impression since flights were coming and going that we’d be fine. We took every precaution possible to assure our good health and to be able to enjoy ourselves without worrying about catching anything. We stuck closely together and planned a protocol to stay safe.
Here’s how this all came about…
Ten days prior, she had messaged me on Facebook to ask if I was busy from the 9th until the 16th. I thought she needed my help with something and immediately told her I would make myself available for whatever she needed. Little did I know she was asking me to go to Europe with her for a week, as her sister in law who was supposed to go, had to cancel due to health reasons. She informed me everything was already paid for and all I would need was spending money. I started to tremble, and then texted my boss to ask if I could go, he said yes and the rest is history…sort of.
I will be adding an additional blog of outtakes from this trip. Believe me…there just isn’t enough room here for the insanity, silliness and oh my fucking God moments that happened in between!
We arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday morning March 10th at around 10:30AM. Our driver wasn’t there. Apparently there was a mix up with the time of our flight arrival. First snag but we were as they say, just happy to be there so after a half dozen phone calls, Millisia was able to get the tour agency to get a driver to us by 12:20pm. We had a coffee and walked around a bit and at 12:30pm or so, we were in a Tesla on our way to our hotel. 😳 Neither of us had ever been in a Tesla before so what a treat!
We stayed at the Meininger Hotel. It’s more like a really big, fancy hostel than a hotel. You can check the link for the details. We stayed pretty much to ourselves where other guests were concerned but did make fast acquaintance with most of the staff–both bartenders and front desk. They were all absolutely lovely and so helpful. The only negative aspect was…it was raining. We’d checked the weather prior to going of course and knew that it rained quite often this time of year.
However, we already had a tour booked for that evening, something Millisia said she did not normally do but we bit the bullet, donned our waterproof jackets and got an Uber to meet our tour guide, Lorenzo, at Amsterdam Central.
Did I mention this was a walking tour of the notorious Red Light District?
So there we were, cold, wet and a bit tired after the 10 1/2 hours of flying, hardly any food for hours and pretty much a cat nap, waiting on a guy whom we had no idea what he looked like, to walk us through those narrow, dark back streets of Amsterdam’s seediest area. Then, to our surprise, up popped a pleasant looking tall young man of perhaps his late twenties-early thirties, with blond dreadlocks, a head scarf, a backpack and a wonderful Italian accent. After a few moments of getting our names and exchanging hellos, off we went in the rain to explore. He was very nice and patient as well.
Lorenzo had extensive knowledge of the area and answered every question we had, including personal questions which I won’t go into here as to whether or not he himself had partaken in the offerings of the area. Part of our tour was to include the sex museum but due to a few unpleasant incidents which I’ll explain in a moment, the fact that we were soaking wet and starving from not having time to eat dinner prior to our tour, we passed on that attraction and cut the tour short. We did get to see the highlights. There were women in windows, scantily clad in lingerie either swaying seductively or just gazing out onto the dark street awaiting customers. These ladies appeared quite surprisingly here and there 👀. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this “open market” but quickly understood this is their life and I have no right to judge their choices. Photos are forbidden and will be met with rage and disdain for obvious reasons. They’re human beings doing a job and it’s more than impolite to intrude like that.
While stopping on one of those narrow side streets for Lorenzo to share a few historical facts about the area, a rather gangly and wild eyed man approached Lorenzo and began speaking to him whilst bouncing around a bit. We guessed either he was high on something or perhaps even a bit mentally unstable. However, he turned out to be mostly harmless, despite his scary demeanor and only advised Lorenzo to encourage us to keep our bags in front of us at all times while in the area for safety reasons. He did ask Lorenzo for money and he kindly gave him a couple euros.
Our second encounter was for a lack of a better term, frightening. A little while later, again while standing and chatting, a man rushed up and into me, grabbing me about the shoulders and I immediately spun away and shoved him, exclaiming a few things towards him. I do believe I shocked him as much as he shocked me as he looked quite startled and shaken. I strongly advised him that it was very ill advised to not only rush up on someone but to touch them…I’m from Baltimore as most of you know. In Baltimore, in a dark ally, on a dark and rainy night, if someone were to do that, they could end up shot. Yeah, we said that to him. I was a bit shaken for a few minutes but Lorenzo seemed confused by our reaction. He wasn’t surprised at all it seemed and said the man was a drug dealer trying to sell cocaine. Millisia and I quite sarcastically replied, “Oh! Was that all?!”
After about an hour of walking in the rain, we looked at each other and decided we’d seen more than enough.
Shortly thereafter, we decided to go our own way and find something to eat. We came upon one of the countless steak houses in Amsterdam, Steakhouse La Maria. Our waiter was adorable and friendly but as with most of the places we chose, there weren’t many people inside so we felt social distance would not be an issue. The food was outstanding and not only because we were starving. After our meal, we carefully made our way out of the Red Light District and into an Uber. We pretty much collapsed into bed and slept like two exhausted tourists.
The next morning, Millisia did some checking to find us the closest thing to an American breakfast. We are both big breakfast lovers but oats and nuts and bread aren’t our idea of breakfast food. Melissa got a bead on a place called the Breakfast Club which boasts several American breakfast options and they did not disappoint! The food was cooked perfectly, although Millisia is really funny about her eggs being the least bit scorched lol However, she even raved about her omelet. I chose the English Breakfast without the beans. It was delicious.
I need to add that almost everyone in Amsterdam is wonderful. They are so kind and open. We loved them and fell in love with this city! ❤️
From there, we hopped into an Uber and were off to our next tour. We were meeting our guide at the Jewish Historical Museum…again, in the rain. However, it soon let up and the day, although gray with both clouds and the tragic history of the treatment of the Jews in Amsterdam, the tour was both emotionally draining and yet very educational.
Our tour guide was excellent, professional and obviously had a deep connection to the history she shared. Having only within the last two years found out through DNA testing that we are both a percentage of Jewish decent, this tour meant quite a lot to us as well.We walked a good bit and I could see Millisia’s arthritis was getting the best of her so we decided to catch an Uber to take us to the Anne Frank House part of our tour. I honestly don’t know what to say. The way the tour leads you from Anne’s life and family before they went into hiding right up until they were discovered and captured and the circumstances of that capture and her ultimate death were captivating and yet heartbreaking all at once. Chills, racing hearts and sadness filled us both as we climbed those stairs until we reached Anne’s room. That’s all I can really say about that.
At the end of the tour, we went to the gift shop where Millisia picked up several copies of the Diary of Anne Frank and few other books for her sister in law who couldn’t make the trip. We had a latte machiatto in the coffee shop and caught up on messages and what nots back at home in the USA and then made our way again onto the streets of Amsterdam. We were hungry so we found a hot dog stand and shared some of our hot dog rolls with the pigeons. I told Millisia I could get one to land on my hand and I did. I told her I was an animal whisperer. It flew right up and landed on my hand and took the offering of bread to which she said, “I can’t believe I didn’t get a photo of that!” Truth is I recognized these birds were extremely comfortable with people and trusted that at least one would land on my hand. 😊
After all that, we needed a little comic relief. These were the only bikes we rode in Amsterdam lol
From there we found a couple gift shops and explored and then we came upon something that drew us in like a magnet! A chocolate shop! It was a little shop named Urban Cacao. They had so much Easter candy and eggs both large and small made of pure delicious chocolate. Everything smelled so amazing and we of course bought a bunch of chocolate bars to bring home for family.
A little more strolling and at last, we hopped in an Uber and went back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner.
Our next stop was a place I’d seen while watching videos about Amsterdam named the Pancake Bakery. I knew if we did nothing else, we’d definitely have to try Dutch pancakes. Again, this idea did not disappoint! These pancakes are more like crepes and we chose the banana and chocolate with whipped cream. I cannot explain how good they were. They were drool worthy and the whole place smells so amazing. We had latte macchiatios again and couldn’t even finish our meal. Basically, we had dessert for dinner and it was oh so worth it!
After dinner we strolled a bit and then caught an Uber back to the hotel. Little did we know as tired as we were, we had a long night in store. At about 3:15am Amsterdam time, I was awakened by Millisia on the phone with her sister in law and husband back in Maryland. The President was doing a press conference and she was trying to get the details on a travel ban from Europe. Thankfully, US Citizens would be able to go home but this was our real first sign of what was to come in the world.
Here we were, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, alone in our hotel room wondering what would happen next. We had already been diligent and followed every safety protocol we knew: social distance, hand washing religiously, we even carried antibacterial wipes in our pockets and never touched a door handle or even an elevator button without some barrier like our jackets or a wipe. We even wiped down our tables in restaurants before we sat down. We did get a few odd looks but we didn’t care. It was then we decided we would NOT be cutting our trip short. We were in for the long haul come what may.
What did come next was the news that when we returned to the USA, we’d have to be in home quarantine for 14 days. Thankfully, she owns her own business and I am able to work from home. We decided there would be many people who were far worse off than us so we stuck it out and continued our vacation. Unfortunately, not all of our vacation would continue FOR us.
On our schedule was a trip to Cologne, Germany the next day or rather, that morning. Thankfully, it was not cancelled. We decided to go for it and called to make sure it was still on. It was! We were excited and running on coffee and adrenaline at that point since we’d had maybe the equivalent of 3 hours sleep. We did get a cat nap on the 3 hour road trip and our driver was kind enough to stop at a McDonald’s so we could get an egg mcmuffin and a coffee. Unfortunately they do not have hash browns so if you’re ever in Amsterdam; you’ll have to settle for a breakfast sandwich alone.
To be continued…