I had arrived in Amsterdam with no more than a name and a phone number of a Couchsurfer in the city that would put me up. I called him.
Stephen’s flat was in an area of the city called Jordaan, which he had told me was within walking distance of the station. It was raining heavily and I didn’t want to be walking around aimlessly, so I asked Tourist Information for directions. Unlike in other European cities they were unable to give me a map because they sold for 2 Euros. No free maps. And I was under the impression that the Dutch were the friendly guys of Europe. The guy behind the desk did tell me that it would be wiser to take a bus to where I was going though, so I went out and stood to wait under the bus shelter. My bus soon came in but I had to let it leave without me, as getting on and past the driver without a ticket was as good as impossible. I then asked a bored-looking policeman for directions.
“You will be better off taking a tram,” he told me.
“Can you just give me directions for walking, please?”
He laughed. I didn’t take this as a promising sign.
“It will take more than half an hour, you know? Are you sure you don’t want to take a tram?”
“Quite sure. Thanks.”
The officer pointed me in the right direction and sent me on my way. The rain was coming down heavier and heavier by the minute and I started wishing for a coat. Everyone that passed me on the busy streets was English. Northern English. It was more like being in Leeds than the image I’d had in my head of a cool, relaxed Amsterdam. After about 15 minutes of walking I came across another Tourist Information centre and popped inside to check that I was still on the right path. The girl behind the desk was young, pretty and bubbly. Already I liked what I had found in Amsterdam. The girl had no idea where the street that I was looking for was, but she wasn’t going to let this stand in the way of sending me away happy. And so, with a steely determination, she took one of the 2 Euro maps over to a desk, spread it out in front of her and set about scanning the entire piece of paper until she came up with a result.
“Aha! Here it is. I knew I would find it!” she exclaimed after a couple minutes, picking up the map and bringing it over to where I was standing.
And then there was silence.
“So? Where is it?”
There was more silence as the colour in the girl’s face got darker.
“I’m sorry. I’ve completely forgotten already.”
This girl is useful, I thought to myself.