“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” ― Bill Bryson

How To Lose Yourself (and Bike) In Amsterdam Part 2

How To Lose Yourself (and Bike) In Amsterdam Part 2

There’s a certain process that begins when I do something wrong, or make a mistake. It starts with an incomparable sense of shame and guilt and continues with an unstoppable urge to repair or apologise. These two unbearable sensations remain intertwined until the situation is rectified.

No matter how kindly Anouk assured me that it was ok and not to worry, nothing but having that bike grasped firmly in my hands would make me feel right again.

I immediately began scouring the Internet for information about missing bikes that same evening. I was fairly certain that the bike had been taken away, rather than stolen, seeing as a) I’d been illegally parked and b) there was nothing I was more careful about than locking the two bike locks every time I stopped (if only I’d applied that same attention to where I parked the damn thing…) but alas, here we were, one bike down and one crushingly guilty conscious up, and a desperate desire to rebalance the scales.

Eagerly, I read through a website that mentioned that bikes parked illegally were taken to a place called The Fietsdepot, in the outer suburbs of Amsterdam. It also mentioned that bikes needed to have an identifying stamp, which our bike didn’t. Chances were slim that we’d be able to collect the bike even if they had it without an identifier, it is Amsterdam after all, and I’d already noticed that there were many green bikes with two wheels and a handle out there. Things were not looking good.

The Topsy Turvy Day that Followed…

The next morning Anouk went out for a special occasion with her boyfriend and I was due to just relax (an impossible thing for me given the situation). I’d given her the information for The Fietsdepot and their phone number and while I was leisurely making breakfast she texted me some great news: They have the bike.

11.20am: Absolute ecstasy. It’s palpable. Relief and peace start flooding through me and I feel the beginnings of resolution kicking in. I’m so darn excited. Eagerly I text back that I'd read that they can deliver the bike to us, straight to our door. Anouk says she’ll call them to check.

11.35am: Oh no. They are fully booked out for deliveries this week. And they’re closed tomorrow. And Monday. And they’re only opened until 12.30pm today. I can’t leave Amsterdam without rectifying the situation and make poor Anouk deal with my mess. I tell Anouk that I'm going to retrieve her bike by myself. I can do this.

11.39am: Anouk tells me that the last train that will get me to The Fietsdepot leaves at 11.53am. Okay, right. The train station is a 15 minutes walk from where I am and I need to buy a ticket. I look down at my pyjamas. This is a minor obstacle. I brush the crumbs of toast from my mouth and run upstairs to change. The adrenaline starts kicking in.

11.41am: I throw on some pants, a singlet and jumper, hurriedly squeeze my feet into my shoes, grab my handbag and the keys. With only moments of Wi-Fi remaining I take a look (and a screen shot) at the directions Anouk has sent through. I need to take the train at 11.53 to Sloterdijk then hurry to bus 82 and take it to Westpoortweg, cross the road, turn down a street and walk 150 metres until I reach the sign that says “Fietsdepot” in big red letters. All before 12.30pm. I send out a short and sweet ‘Leaving now!!!! Bye!!!” to Anouk and run out the door.

11.43am: Oh my god. I think I’m dying. This must be what death feels like. And I’ve been running for not even two minutes. This is actually humiliating. I’d probably be really embarrassed if I hadn’t already left my dignity back at the house. I look like what happens when you slip out of the house to check the mail in the early morning and realise you've locked yourself out. I’m devastated because I’m scared I won’t make it on time. I’ve never run so fast in my life and I am not a runner. My heart is thumping in my chest, my breath is fast and erratic and I can feel a stitch forming in my side. The train station is in sight but it's still a long way off. Why did I always insist that running was not a thing I needed to be able to do?? Why did I always choose the bike and the cross trainer at the gym?? I make a mental note to try to take up running in future, so that in the event that I need to hurriedly retrieve a bike from the Amsterdam bike jail again/outrun a serial killer, I might have a fighting chance. I give myself a 15 second slow down to catch up on my breath. Okay, I’m going to run and I’m not stopping until I reach the train station.

11.45am: Oh god I can’t do this! I stop running and take up a fast walk. A really fast walk. In fact it’s so fast it may be even more impressive than running...May as well just run then. Okay I’ll run. The station is getting closer and closer, the end is in sight. I'll be there in moments.

11.47am: Nooo! I can’t do this. I’m gasping for breathe and am no longer running or walking. You can’t call this jogging either, it’s more like a fast paced hobble. My legs feel like jelly and just want to collapse underneath me. The train station is like a mirage, I feel like it's not really real and I'm not getting any closer. But I must be! I can’t give up.

11.51am: I made it! I quickly put my coins in the machine and collect my ticket. I rush through the gateways and head towards the platform which is…right up the stairs. Cruel world.

11.53am: I’m still trying to recollect myself when I step on the train. I actually can’t believe that I made it and I’m reeling from the excitement of it all. I sit down quietly and try to breathe normally so I don’t look as though my lungs might capsize at any moment. Act normal, act normal, act normal. I’m not fooling anyone. I look and sound ridiculous.

12.01pm: I get off the train at Sloterdijk station and run out immediately looking for the bus stop. Anouk said I’d need to be quick to make the bus so I’m starting to panic. Not an unreasonable amount of panic, but the right amount required when you have a limited opportunity to right your wrongs that you'll never have again. So maybe it's a slightly elevated level of panic. I find a sign (thank you Amsterdam signage!) pointing towards the bus ranks which are down some stairs. I run down.

12.02pm: How are there so many bus stops?!?! Who needs this many buses anyway!? Seriously! I mean, this is just excessive. Unnecessary. You could remove probably half of these, I'm sure nobody uses them anyway. I’ve done a full circuit and I can’t find the stop for bus number 82. I’m starting to panic.

12.03pm: If I didn't look crazy before I certainly do now, I'm spinning in circles and quickly jerking my head around looking for the stupid number 82 stupid bus. Still no sign of the correct bus stop and there’s hardly anyone here, and no one working, it's completely deserted.

12.04pm: A tram just pulled up at the tram stop. Maybe I can try asking the driver where the stop is for Bus 82.

12.05pm: Okay she doesn’t know where it is, but if I keep looking, I’ll find it she says with a smile. Right. Okay, great. I proceed to run around like a mad person again.

12.06pm: Okay, found it, found the correct bus stop, and heading in the right direction might I add. Now I just need the bus to arrive as quick as possible because I have 24 minutes to make it to the Fietsdepot.

12.07pm: Where is the bus?!!? I’m not going to make it!!!

12.07pm: Okay the bus is here. I’m going to make it. I hop on and check with the bus driver that it’s going to the Westpoortweg stop. He says it is. I take a seat and wait patiently. If patiently means shaking my legs, checking the time every 10 seconds and compulsively watching the upcoming stops. My heart skips a beat every time I check because I’m certain I’ve missed it everytime. I re-read through the directions.

12.09pm: Still on the bus. Read through the directions for the hundreths time.

12.09pm: Right, still 12.09pm. Okay, cool. Why is this bus so slow??

12.10pm: Okay I have these directions down, they are very clear, I've got this in the bag. “Take Connexxion bus number 82 from Sloterdijk Station in the direction of IJmuiden.” Done. Excellent. “Alight at the Westpoortweg bus stop.” Coming along, slowly but surely. Very slowly. How long is a minute?? Seems much longer than 60 seconds. “Walk back to the zebra crossing. Cross to the other side of the Westpoortweg and walk into the Australiëhavenweg. The SkyNetbuilding will be on your right-hand side. Bornhout is the first street on your right. The depository is 150 metres further on, on your left-hand side.” Coming right up. Assuming this bus makes it there before tomorrow.

12.16pm: Okay, the bus has stopped at Westpoortweg. I can do this, I’ve got 15 minutes. I just need to cross the Zebra crossing, walk along the street until I pass SkyNetbuilding on my right, then I’ll see Bornhout street on my right, and the Fietsdepot will be 150 on my left. I see a young man walking across the crossing ahead of me, maybe he also had some issues parking his bike. I suppose I could just follow him. I mean, this area is full of factories, theres nothing here but big buildings and wide roads. There are no people either. He couldn’t really be going anywhere else. I consider how my previous expedition into stalking went...I’ve got plenty of time, I should probably just try to find this on my own. No need to rush. I mean, I could probably just stroll along leisurely, I’ve got so much time...Better not risk it.

12.17pm: I’ve broken into a run, if you can call it that. My lungs have never been more mad at me and my legs are threatening to strike, I placate them both with the promise that if they agree to continue functioning, I won’t ever do this to them again. They agree, begrudgingly, and I continue to run until I pass the SkyNetbuilding on my right.

12.18pm: I’m running fast and then I see Bornhout. Right, so the directions said I would see Bornhout Street and then go 150 metres. 150 metres down Bornhout? Or keep walking past, 150 metres passed Bornhout? I hardly have time to go down both ways. What do I do, what do I do?!?

12.19pm I’m running down Bornhout, I see a street sign that says Fietsdepot! Hurrah! I chose the right way! I am a genius! Okay, great, and it will be on my left, perfect!

12.21pm: How far 150 metres? I’m doing my running hobble, my chest is about to explode, my breath is coming out in noises that would scare small children and I cannot see that Fietsdepot anywhere! And there's not a person in sight to ask, just factories and buildings. Does noboday work on Saturdays?!

12.22pm: It’s ok, I still have 8 minutes, I try to placate myself. 8 whole minutes. 480 seconds. So long as I walk through the doors in the next 8 minutes then everything will be fine. I wish I had credit to at least call them so they could know I was on my way! I make more sweet promises to my legs, if they keep moving we’ll get apple pie afterwards - they trod on. My lungs keep mumbling something about speaking to the union over maltreatment. It can’t be that much further.

12.23pm: Okay seriously, how far is 150 metres? I know I’m not particularly good with measurements (or directions, or doing head checks when driving, or 7s and 8s time tables, or speaking slowly, or staying calm…) but I have a bad feeling that I’ve gone well passed 150 metres…

12.24pm: But wait! I see a big building ahead of me! I can’t see a sign, but it’s definitely large! Looks perfect for storing rebel bikes! That must be it. I pick myself back up and run faster towards it.

12.25pm: No!!!!! It's not it! I let out a rather loud curse, a defeated whimper and turn around madly trying to work out what to do.

12.25pm: What’s the point?! What was it all for!? I’ve come all this way, sans a shower, lungs aching, sweaty from running. Why did I get so close only to fail? Oh god, I think I’m going to cry…

12.25pm: “Hey!!!!!” I yell out loudly. I spot a man across the road standing near a truck behind a fenced in factory area. I run over and he makes his way over to me.

12.26pm: Now, I’m not particularly fond of asking for directions but in my current state with mere minutes remaining I have no option. The man curiously makes his way over to me (I can only imagine what he was thinking, perhaps ‘what on earth is this crazy English speaker wanting and why does she look as though she’s about to reacquaint herself with her breakfast) and I wait in eager anticipation at the fence separating us. Now to be fair, I hadn’t spoken to a single person since this madness began (except to say ‘is this the right (insert bus, bus stop, place etc)?’ and so perhaps I had forgotten a few things, like how to behave like a sane human being rather than a completely irrational one that spills her life story to anyone foolish enough to indulge her with a hello/a quizzical expression.

Me (in a speed that would put Busta Rhymes to shame): “Hi! I’m sorry I don’t speak Dutch! I lost my friends bike, the Fietsdepot have it and I need to find it and the directions said to come here but I can't see it anywhere and do you know where it is? They close in five minutes don’t they?’

Kind gentleman: “Oh no, the Fietsdepot is right at the end of the street. You have to go right to the end and turn right” (indicates to the very beginning of the street where my 150 metre (oh let’s be honest I went way further than 150) sprint (I really shouldn't offend proper athletes with such a statement) had begun).

*Face drops instantaneously*

Me (panicked voice) “Are you serious?!!?!? Do you think they’re closed already, do they close on time???” (At this stage I obviously was not thinking particularly clearly. Looking back I can see that it was a little presumptuous of me to assume that this kind gentlemen knew the operating hours of every factory/business in the area).

Kind (amazingly understanding) gentleman: “I don’t know, but it’s all the way right down the end”

12.27pm: “Thank youuuuuuu” I yell over my shoulder as I run away. I’m running fast, I’m in physical pain now and can feel the cold sweat dripping down my face. I have three minutes. I start doing those heavy heaves that children do, the ones right before a dramatic tantrum of crying and screaming, kicks in. I can’t possibly make it on time, it took me 9 minutes to get this far, it’s impossible that I can get all the way back to the beginning in 3 minutes. I start to mentally prepare myself for disappointment and what I’ll do next. I can’t believe I’m not going to take the bike back with me. All of this for nothing.

12.29pm: Omg omg omg omg! I see someone standing in front of a building loading a bike into their car. There’s a sign on the gate…it says something… “Fietsdepot”. Omg I made it! I made it! There’s a bell on the gate to receive assistance. I press it. I’m feeling really nervous, I can’t see any workers around, maybe they’ve closed up already.

12.30pm: No one's come. I pressed the button again…and again. I look around for someone, a door, a button, something. There’s no one there, no other doors. My head drops and I’m staring at my feet. My breath fastens, my heart is sinking, my chest is heaving, my face is flushing. Here come the tears, no stopping it now. No matter what, in situations such as this, when all seems lost, I revert back to something of a child and immediately feel like sitting on the floor hugging my legs to my chest and sobbing miserably because I’m so disappointed. I resist the urge, in all honesty only because the couple are still there loading the bike into the car and further humiliation at this point would be just too sad.

Kind stranger still loading bike into car: “*Calls out something in Dutch*”

Me: “I’m sorry, what? I don’t speak Dutch”

Kind stranger: “You need to go around!”

Me (Heart pounding so loudly in my ears I'm partially deafened): “What?”

Kind stranger: “This is not the entrance! You need to go around! Right at the end and go right!”

Me: “Really?!?! Thank youuuuuuuuuuuu!”

12.32pm: A sense of hope is ignited in me. I’m running towards the point the gentleman indicated. This unfamiliar running motion has become so repetitive to me that the legs carrying me feel like completely foreign objects, no longer legs but some sort of jumping instrument beneath my upper body. I realise that the Fietsdepot is technically closed but I can’t just give up yet, not until I see a door with a closed sign that is securely locked and imbreachable.

12.33pm: I reach another gateway and a car is driving through. The vehicle stops and the driver winds down his window. He yells out four small words that near send me into a nervous break down:

Stranger: “The Fietsdepot is closed”

Me (Voice shaking and defeated) “Are you serious?”

Absolute devastation. It was well after 12.30pm at this stage, I was aware that it could be closed but hearing it stated, point blank, after my last shred of hope had just been reignited? I’m crushed.

Stranger: “They closed at 12.30pm” he said.

Me: “I can’t…oh my…”

There’s absolutely no holding back, I turn away so he won’t see me tearing up. The car starts to pull away and then stops.

Stranger (Sticks head out of window): “Look, maybe if you ask them really really nicely…”

*snap back into focus*

Me: “Where do I go?!”

Stranger: “Keep going round!”

12.34pm: I run through the gates a short few metres. I come upon an intercom. I press the button and received a Dutch reply.

Me (wildly erratic and only vaguely coherent) “I’m sorry! I can’t understand you! I need to get my friends bike! I parked it and it’s here but I just don’t know what to do or where to go and I don’t speak Dutch.” (At this stage I’m just lucky I haven’t been arrested for suspicions of substance abuse.)

Some more Dutch follows my rant and then yet another kind stranger approaches me.

Kind stranger: “The office is around the corner. Right over there”

Me: “Thank youuuuuu” I yell over my shoulder as I race in the direction. This is it, I won’t stop until I see a door and people and bikes.

12.35pm: The front door! I see people moving and working, some sitting and waiting. I take a deep breath trying to compose myself, (I’m hoping to give off the pre-tense that I am the calm and sane person that under usual circumstances, I am). I walk inside, take off my jumper now soaked through in a cold sweat and stand patiently (read: impatiently) waiting for a representative to free up so that I can put an end to this nightmare once and for all.

12.36pm: The gentleman behind the bench finalises the transaction with a customer and looks over to me with a quizzical expression on his face (my desire to appear like your Average Joe, patiently waiting, was obviously not so good as I was hoping - acting really isn’t my forte’). He motions for me to come over and says a Dutch hello. The flood gates open.

Me (ramblings words together so fast they sound like one big drunken slur): “I’m so sorry I don’t speak Dutch and I know I’m late, I know you’re supposed to be closed but I went the wrong way and I would’ve been on time but the directions seemed like had to go 150 metres that way. So I went down the street and I just got here and it’s my friend’s bike. I have a reference number, it’s “9860005768” her name’s Anouk and I borrowed the bike for one day. I guess I parked it in the wrong spot because it’s here now...and”

My wobbling voice trails off as I realise that I’ve just given this gentleman my life’s story for the past 24-48 hours in 5 seconds or less. He’s quickly typed the numbers I spieled into the computer and looks up at me again with recognition crossing his face.

Fietsdepot gentleman: “You’re the one who called through on the intercom?”

Me (flushing with embarrassment): “Ahh…yes that was me”

*I have a sudden realisation of the full height of my delusional behaviour. I’m still heaving from the run, my face is red and flushed, I’m wearing a singlet while everyone else is layered up in jumpers and jackets and my words are rambling together faster than they have in a long time. The first notes of embarrassment start setting in.*

Fietsdepot gentleman: “Sorry I couldn’t respond through the intercom properly. Don’t worry, we’ll get your bike,” (watching me carefully), “why don’t you have a glass of water and relax” (points to the drink machine behind me).

Me (smiles awkwardly and makes a more concerted effort to hide the adrenalin (read: crazy) from my voice: “Oh yeah, thank you, that would be good”

12.40pm: I attempt to fill up my glass with water from the machine. The first one comes out scalding hot (who knew ‘heet water’ means hot water?), but with the second one I cool down my body and calm my pounding heart as I try to settle down.

12.42pm: A different gentleman approaches. He’s going to take me to my bike.

Me (gushing in gratitude): “You know I’m so glad you guys are helping me out, I really appreciate it. I know you’re supposed to be closed. Would you believe I had this bike for one day? Only one day! I borrowed it from my friend you see, I’ve only been here a few days and I just felt so terrible that I had it impounded.”

Kindly and patiently he listens to my spiel while nodding sympathetically at appropriate intervals and walks me over to my bike. He tells me these things happen and it’s not a problem to get my bike for me even though they are technically closed. He also mentions that they’d had to cut the bike chain when they took it and because he feels sorry for me he’s giving me a new chain.

My gratitude is indescribable for the kindness everyone is showing this emotionally exhausted wretch. When I catch sight of the bike connected to all the other miscreant bikes I feel a flutter of joy in my chest that expresses itself in the most sincere exclamations of ‘thank you’ and smiles that might cause next-day cheek cramps should they not stop soon.

??:??pm *Does it even matter anymore?*

I walk the bike back to the office with the gentleman and place it in the bike stand out front. “Don’t forget to lock it up or it will actually be stolen” he warns as I start to walk away (oh yeah… duh Lara). I lock it up, go inside to pay my fine (a measly 10 euros – I’ve paid more for a parking fine where they didn’t even take my car away) and with a heart full of happiness, a new chain for the bike and exuberant smile I pedal that bike out of there.

Huh. I just realise that I don’t know how to get out of this area. I approach the area near the bus stop and ride back the way I came. I spot something beautiful. A big blue sign with an arrow-pointing north ‘Centrum’. Oh I love the Dutch and their signage. I followed the signs cycling in these frigid temperatures in a singlet and jeans with the cold air whipping my face and a feeling of accomplishment tucked safely under my arm.

I stop at the bike traffic lights, peacefully aware that for once I'm heading in the right direction, when a fellow cyclist pulled up beside me.

Kind stranger (in English): “Are you cold??”

Me (excitably): “Oh no I’m fine! I don’t think I’ll ever be cold again. See, I just went to the Fietsdepot to get my bike and I was running all over the…”

Kind stranger (smiling): “Yes I know, I saw you”

Me: (laughing nervously): “Oh” (realise how truly mad I must've appeared)

Kind stranger (concerned): “Are you sure you’re not cold? I have a jumper you can wear,”

I am overwhelmed by this incredible act of kindness. I have given off all the signs of someone you ought to steer clear of and yet this complete stranger is offering me her jumper. So touched by the selfless act of kindness, I’m nearly brought to tears…again.

Me: (genuinely grateful): “No really I’m fine, I have a jumper, but thank you so much”

We rode off in the same direction until eventually we changed paths. I headed onwards to the city centre and felt at ease when the familiar architecture crept up upon me. As I continued to ride, I cycled upon a market place only opened on the weekends. I parked the bike walked through the market, bought a book and stepped into a nearby café. I sat down at a table, ordered a coffee and a slice of warm apple pie, just like I promised those legs (who am I kidding, I'd have bought pie even if my legs had decided to detach and walk off without me), and I let my body rest and appreciate the break after the 30 minutes cycling session from the Fietsdepot.

Markets in Amsterdam

I can't help but wonder, does the euphoria you feel after correcting your errors make the errors themselves worthwhile? I honestly couldn’t answer that question the same day. But more than two weeks later and I can say with absolute certainty that it does. I made a mistake, but I've learned to trust my instincts and ask questions where necessary, I corrected my mistake and I have an amusing anecdote to share with whoevers wanting to listen. And maybe even some forewarning for anyone considering indulging in a biking jaunt in Amsterdam, Bike impounds exist…who’d have thought…

Overview of the best ways to find your way (in ascending order)

  1. Ask for directions (tends to be a winner)
  2. Follow the signs (very decent method)
  3. Use a map (hmmm)
  4. Use your innate sense of direction (questionable)
  5. Follow a stranger (Proven unsuccessful)
The bike finally returned in Amsterdam
Lake Bracciano – Do as the Romans Do

Lake Bracciano – Do as the Romans Do

How To Lose Yourself (and Bike) In Amsterdam Part 1

How To Lose Yourself (and Bike) In Amsterdam Part 1