Amsterdam – Final Day

It was quite sad getting up on the last day, knowing we were leaving and would probably never see Chaira, Mendel or Flash again. They’d been part of our lives for such a short time but had touched us and it will be a long time before either of us will forget. Although I think Efan will remember the cat for longest.

We had a lie in and left ourselves plenty of time to get to the station and have something to eat before we got on the train. Everything went smoothly, maybe a little too smoothly for me, until we’d gone through the barriers at the station and realized all the restaurants, cafes and shops were on the other side. With more than three hours to kill, we had nothing but a muffin between us, and I was way too thirsty to eat the muffin.

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That was an… interesting couple of hours in the blazing heat on a plastic seat, watching trains and people come and go.

Finally. finally, our train arrived. Thank goodness it comes in fifteen minutes before leaving time. We had plenty of time to find our seats and store our stuff. I actually think, that after all the dehydration I’d shrunk just enough to fit into the seat a bit better.

When we started moving, I send Efan foraging. When he came back, he wasn’t impressed. Apparently, despite the train announcement that the dining car had hot food, and all the notices that said there was hot and cold food available when he got to the counter it was to discover there was no food. He came back with a coffee, two bottles of water and a packet of popcorn. Not the best forager ever.

The journey went well, and yes, it seemed much quicker on the way back.

When we arrived in Brussels, we had 50 minutes to change trains. I foolishly thought we had enough time for a pee, so I trotted along, confident in my knowledge on how to work a Dutch toilet. I even taught a confused American lady how to work it, and it was the best 60c pee I have ever had. On the way out, I found the American lady explaining to more confused peers and it gave me a warm glow to know my wisdom was already cascading.

We got utterly confused looking for the platform until a helpful shopkeeper (actually he was grumpy git who seemed to think we were mentally retarded – ok he could have been right there) pointed out it was on the other side of the station.

I have not run for years, but this was the closest I’ve come in a very long time. It was such a long way and I was in tremendous pain when we got there, not to mention working myself up into a meltdown.

The line for security and passport control was enormous. We joined the end and meandered through the maze. I was okay until time started to get precious. The line didn’t seem to be moving much.

I was relieved when we got to security with still ten minutes to spare. The line split into four which ultimately resulted in us ending near the end of the line instead of near the middle where we’d started. This was partly to do with the fact we were pulled aside by security and had to empty our cases. Whatever the issue was turned out to be Efan’s Nintendo Switch.

By the time we were through security, I was having an anxiety attack and doing everything I could to distract myself. Breathing exercises, rocking, tapping, biting my nails. Efan was surprisingly calm which is good because I really don’t know what would have happened if he’d started to panic too.

Once through security, the line for passport control was even longer. It turned out there was only one booth open. In the end, they opened the business class line, just to get through passport control.

I thought the passport checker was going to haul me off for being a suspicious character because, by the time I got to her, I was frantic and crying. However, things went smoothly, although there was a hitch when I went through and there was a bit of confusion when he waited to come behind me rather than going to the next stall and the guard thought he was trying to get through with me and not show his passport. (it’s a weird machine where you put the passport in and see yourself on a camera then the gate opens)

By this time we were ten minutes past the time when the train was due to leave. There were rumours flying from “they’re holding the train” to “we’ll be put on the next one” to “we’re stuck here unless we buy another ticket.”

I was freaking out. When we finally got through we were motioned toward stairs to the platform. Thankfully as EU citizens (for now) we went through the faster lines for customs etc, and were finally on the platform. The train was there, but the guards were waving and I continued to have the biggest anxiety attack I have ever had.

We were in carriage ten. The carriage next to us was twelve. I looked in one direction and there seemed to be only one carriage, so I figured it would be the other way. I called out to Efan with the result he stopped and I then proceeded to trip over the corner of the case and fall. Fortunately, I managed to take a few quick steps before my body finally succumbed to gravity and crashed down, landing on my knee and him. If I’d fallen from standing with my whole 22 stone coming down on my knee, I think I would have ended up in hospital.

As it was the pain was indescribable, not only in my hip and knee but in my back, which is not good at the best of times.

Generally speaking, if I’m on the floor, the only way I can get up is by crawling up the furniture. Even then it’s touch and go. When my back is in spasm it’s a drawn-out ordeal. I could not afford that here. In a blind panic, I somehow managed, with Efan’s help, and a post like one of those in the picture above, to get upright. The only possible upside was that I probably made a pretty good show for the people looking out of the windows – a grey-haired, fat lady going arse over tit then trying all ways to get up while clutching a sheaf of papers and yelling “we’ve got to get on the train” over and over. It was a shit experience for me but it would be nice to think it helped someone else’s journey to start off a bit happier because we were ALL stressed.

It didn’t help that I was by now utterly convinced this was the wrong train. I sought out a guard and thrust the ticket in her face. She was very concerned about my fall, and probably my mental state. She ushered us onto the train, in carriage thirteen and suggested we walk through the aisles so I wouldn’t have to get off the train and panic about missing it anymore. That was an interesting journey.

I didn’t start calming down until we were sitting in our seats with everything stored, and I could hide my face and crack up. Not that I did because Efan was distressed and I had to be the responsible adult now.

Finally, we got underway. I calmed down and Efan went on another foraging trip – to a dining car with no food, but at least I got a coffee, even though it was shit.

The journey to London was uneventful, as was the journey from the train to the underground and through the underground to Paddington. There was a slight hiccup when we got to Paddington because we couldn’t find the trains. Yeah, I know, but this is me right.

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We found a cafe where two lovely ladies directed us to the trains and we stopped for a coffee and calm down. They too must have thought we…okay I…was completely barking mad, because I was stressed and babbling, but they were really lovely and I managed to calm down a lot.

We found the trains without too much trouble, except that I’d made another major boo boo when I’d read 19:00 as 9 o’clock, and we had a four-hour gap between arriving in St Pancreas and departing Paddington.

Anyway, we found somewhere to eat, which was sadly healthy, then located our train easily. We gave our last euros to a homeless boy, which broke my heart because I only had 4 left and no English money.

I could have cried when the train pulled out of the station and we began the last leg of our journey home. While waiting in the rather nice waiting room on Paddington station there’d been an announcement to say there were no reserved seats because the printing machine had broken. As there were hardly anyone on the train (it was 22:45) we had our pick of seats and were very comfortable. As we were also almost alone in the carriage I felt it safe to doze (snoring!) so the journey passed very fast.

We were lucky at Cardiff station to find a taxi immediately (after taking money out of the cashpoint finally) and were transported back to our car. I could have cried when I set eyes on her.

The driver gave us a bit of an odd look as Efan took the cases out of his boot and loaded them into ours, but he didn’t say anything and almost as he was driving down the street I was safe inside Sarah-Petunia again and finally felt like I was home.

It was a difficult journey thanks to my injured knee, but thankfully uneventful and we made it home in about 40 minutes. After that, it was nothing but dump case, remove clothes, climb into bed and…it’s tomorrow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with us. We’ve got a few trips planned over the summer and I’ll be sure to take plenty of photographs to share.

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Amsterdam or Bust. The Conference

After the luxury of an amazing shower, we set off at around seven thirty on a perfect day. Even though it was so early, it was very warm, but not yet hot, so in my books, perfect.

We strolled down to the tram stop (pause here because what I thought were trams were in fact busses and I didn’t figure it out until the last day. As Efan helpfully pointed out, busses have wheels and trams don’t, which is something that normal people would have noticed. Although I’d obviously seen the wheels, they had just as obviously made no impression on my psyche). Trams (okay busses, but that doesn’t sound nearly as exotic), run every few minutes to Central Station, so although there was some confusion with the first one, we were on board within five minutes.

Due to extensive research beforehand, it was easy to purchase tickets and sign in. Of course, it would have been better to get a 48 or 72 hour card but that would have been too easy! At the end of the journey, we completely ignored the driver and the many signs reminding us to sign out, so I’m not sure what that actually did. I hope it didn’t blow up the bus. (as an aside this was not a deliberate act, and I hadn’t even noticed until Efan mentioned it about ten minutes later)

Our luck held when we got to Central Station and we managed to buy tickets to Schiphol airport, and find the right platform very easily. The train was lovely. Not as good a Eurostar, obviously, but soooo much better than we have in the Valleys.

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We passed through somewhere called Lelylaan (pronounced lay-lee-lahn) and something about the way the announcer pronounced it really caught my attention and made me smile. It just sounded so happy, like a song.

Anyway, we arrived at Schiphol airport and found our way to the stand where the shuttle bus would pick us up and take us to the hotel.

 

 

At this point, due to the fact that one of the plug converters we’d bought was faulty and we didn’t know, Efan’s phone had very little charge. Mine, of course, was still at home in Wales.

Why, in the name of all the gods, I thought there would be one airport hotel and one shuttle bus I couldn’t tell you. When I saw how many buses and how many hotels there were I freaked the heck out.

Conversations with various shuttle bus drivers resulted in utter confusion, and probably dinner-table stories about crazy foreigners who thought there was only one hotel in Hoofdorp.

Yes, it would have been better if I’d written the name of the hotel on my itinerary, but I had not a thought in my head that whispered I needed to. How could there possibly be more than one hotel, right?

That was when we checked up on the Epc group to find we were unable to locate any mention of the name of the hotel, either in the group or on the website. The only thing we found was a banner from last year mentioning the Hotel Berlin, which caused hilarious confusion for a while until we realized it was last year’s banner.

With Efan’s phone on its last legs we messaged Marc and Dani and eventually got the name of the hotel, just at the hotel bus was pulling in. Thank the gods we were on our way at last.

By the time we got to the hotel, which was called the Van Der Valk by the way – dut dut duh, dut dut duh, dut dut dutututut duh, dut dut duh dut dut dutdut duh. Duh dutut duh dututututut duh dutut uh duh dutut dutut duh – Van Der Valk Theme – I was strung out, freaking out and worn out.

Dani was great, and settled us both down with our lanyards and coffee. We hid behind a pillar and Nora Phoenix gave us our first smiles of welcome, and that steadied me no end.

 

 

Having arrived over two hours late, not entirely the fault of our tussle with the shuttle bus – we’d missed the opening and dived straight into a panel on diversity. It was very interesting and something that came into my mind a lot over the course of the weekend. We all think of ourselves as embracing diversity, being a welcoming and supportive community, but are we? Labels can be bad, but they can be important too. We all need to find where we fit, and in order to do that, we have to find the labels that fit. Once we’ve done that, we tend to hold on to them. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not so good.

One of the things talked about was that we have a responsibility to the people who are still lost, still seeking, young and old. It took me over fifty years to find where I fit, and I’m still learning about it. Part of the reason for that was because I never felt welcome enough in any community to explore. People seem to feel more comfortable saying “you don’t fit here” than “let’s see if we can help you fit here.”

Another panel both Efan and I thoroughly enjoyed was the research panel. I never realized my fellow authors would go to so much trouble to get research absolutely right. To be honest, I don’t think I would ever find the courage to contact the FBI or write to scientists or the military, to answer a question for my story. I think it goes hand in hand with my persistent nagging doubts about being a “real” author.

One of the first things that happened at the first break was meeting up with Kia (aka Rosa and Emmy), whom I absolutely adore and love to bits (that’s a weird saying but I’m going with it). That she was actually looking for me was everything. You’ll understand more about why later, I think.

I have to say that I loved Kia’s table best of them all. You could buy lovely, inspiring words and phrases, then colour them in rainbow colours. And then, of course, there were the books. I had a present and a rainbow dedication on Her Elysium. Spoilt 😀

I could talk for a long, long time about lunch. It was buffet style but like no other buffet I’ve ever been to. Oh my gosh, so much food. Hot food, cold food, green food, creamy food, fishy food, fruity food, delish chocolatey food. As much as you want as often as you want, with am-a-zing coffee. So smooth. Was the food the highlight of my weekend? Er…mayyybeeee.

After lunch, we found some plug sockets downstairs and Efan settled in to charge all our electrical equipment. I sat with him for a while, feeling overwhelmed, but it was the book fair that afternoon, so I had to make an effort. Why? Let me explain.

One of the reasons I decided to attend Epc as a reader and not an author was because of my experience of books fayres at previous meets. Having spent a lot of time and energy planning tables and treats, little touches to entice and work as talking points, it destroyed a little bit of my soul when no one came. On one occasion, I shared a table with a popular author. Her side of the table thronged the whole time, but only one person talked to me, even though I did all the really hard things, like smile and try to make eye contact.

That might sound like whining, but it was a reason. A reason why I didn’t attend as an author, and a reason why I’d promised myself I would attend the book fayre and somehow find the courage to talk to every single author who didn’t have anyone at their table. I tried really hard, and I think I did manage to talk to most, although “talk” might be a euphemism. I suffer from acute social anxiety and when I talk I babble the first thing that comes into my head, which is usually a load of bollocks.

I did, actually, have some good conversations. In particular, it was awesome to speak to Blaine Arden, who I adore. She’s an amazing person and I’m comfortable enough to almost not babble with her.

I’m aware that when I’m in social situations, especially when I’m trying to speak to new people or be courageous in what I say or who I speak to, I come across as very stiff and probably quite odd. That’s because I am – odd that is, but I have to admit that I ticked a box in the social interaction category that afternoon, and felt rather pleased with myself.

It’s strange how many authors have issues with social interactions. I had a lovely meal with Olivia Helling being terribly socially awkward with each other.

There were quite a few times over the weekend when I felt safe enough to approach other authors. Some, I still feel safe with, others not so much. I don’t blame them, because they’re probably struggling with the same things, but it is as it is, and it’s the reason I’ve decided not to attend any more conferences or get-togethers. I know networking is important, but so is my mental health.

 

 

On Sunday, we arrived without lanyards because we’d both forgotten them. Bless her, Dani didn’t bat an eyelid and provided us with new ones straight away. We took the opportunity to pretty up our names with rainbow colours.

We missed the readings, so the first panel we went to was the polyamory panel. It was fascinating because we had a friend who’s polyamorous and we’ve heard about it from her perspective, which is different to that presented by the panellists, so it was good to get another facet to the diamond.

My favourite panel of all – the 3D art panel – took place that afternoon. I loved every minute but I’m very worried about the DAZ suite because I’m so tempted to dive into it and so afraid I won’t find my way out for a very long time.

I have to say that my least favourite part of the weekend was the raffle. I hate raffles. I usually sit frozen in fear, praying my number won’t be called, because that walk from my seat to the prize table with everyone looking at me is excruciating. This time, there was no escape because everyone got a prize so it was just a matter of waiting for the axe to fall. I survived though.

Did I enjoy myself at the conference? Yes. Was I glad when it was over? Yes. Will I go again? No. Not to this one or any other. As conferences go Epc truly is amazing, and next year will be their 5th anniversary so bound to be special. I would not, under any circumstances want anyone to be put off by my experience because that was just my experience as someone with extreme social anxiety and lots of communication issues. All around me people were meeting each other, chatting, eating together and getting to know each other. I’m sure that’s the more usual experience.

Anyway, on Sunday afternoon, we hugged Dani and wandered out of the hotel to wait for the bus. it wasn’t as hot as the previous day and it was pleasant to sit in the shade listening to the people around with all their different accents.

 

Arriving back at Central Station, we couldn’t find the right tram back, which was because it was a bus, and this was the point at which I realized that. Well no, the point when I realized that was after we’d had a really nice meal in the restaurant attached to the information center.

As an aside, it struck me as odd that the information centre at Central Station, attached to a small museum about the history of Central Station, did not sell so much as a postcard with a train on it. One of our friends’ son loves all things train related and we really did have a good look around but there was absolutely nothing here, or on the station itself that bore any relation to trains. In fact, there was nothing in the whole of Amsterdam that was train related. Plenty of trams and board, but no trains. Oh well.

The meal, by the way, was amazing. Efan had a burger and I had a poke bowl, which I thought had something to do with Pokemon but was actually a bowl of rice with lots of raw vegetables – shredded carrot and beetroot, soya beans etc. It also had raw tuna which I discovered I hate.

 

 

 

On the way out of the restaurant, we met a beautiful dog that made Efan’s whole day, and I also found an interesting option for a cruise next time we come to Amsterdam

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By the time we got home, we were exhausted so we had a shower, put our pyjamas on and just lazed around for the rest of the evening

Amsterdam or Bust – Part Two

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Day Two

Breakfast at The Belgrove was, like the room, basic but quite nice. The dining room was sunny and bright, in the old servants quarters of the old Victorian townhouse. We were below street level with quaint white wrought iron steps and a tiny little garden outside the french doors.

After breakfast, we headed back to the station and located the correct platform for the Eurostar train. It was absolute chaos. People were queueing for security and passport control, a train was holding for some of the passengers who were still in the queue, people were panicking and staff were frustrated. My anxiety hit a level where I nearly had a panic attack. 

Fortunately, I was able to go to the assistance desk and ask for help. The response could not have been more different to what Cardiff and Paddington had to offer. A beautiful lady in a smart uniform, immediately reassured me that she would take care of everything, then radioed for someone to take us through the fast-track. An uncommunicative (I think he was French and didn’t understand our Wenglish too well) but extremely efficient young man, directed us through security, then sailed past the crowds to show our passports and before we knew it we were through and in the departure lounge. He settled us, showed us where to go when our train was called and checked we were fine and didn’t need anything else before leaving us with instructions to text our assistance number if we were worried about anything.

 

Absolutely nothing went wrong and we were able to locate our carriage and seats with no problems at all. I was feeling quite smug as we settled into our seats. Being completely honest here, as two large people, with me in the outside seat, there was some hangover, and I had to have the armrest up. I was making some last minute adjustments just as the guard/driver walked past. Sad to report but his balls were given an intimate, and quite unexpected, introduction to my elbow. He was very nice about it, but it had to hurt.

I can’t honestly say it was the most comfortable journey I’ve ever taken, but that was hardly Eurostar’s problem. Two extremely large people, on a terribly hot day, with outbreaks of social anxiety and a claustrophobe trying to cope with 75,000 feet of earth and a whole load of water over her head, make for interesting travelling at the best of times. At least I didn’t try to castrate anyone else.

As we drew closer to Brussels my anxiety ramped up. This was the part that made me most nervous. Changing trains in a completely different country in just under an hour. Sure, an hour seems like a lot of time, but when you walk like I do it’s not much when there’s a lot of ground to cover. I had tried to arrange assistance, but there were problems with the online application forms, and I’m not able to telephone.

When it came down to it, however, it couldn’t have been easier. The announcer on the train, who could either have been a woman or the man I’d emotionally and physically scarred, (adding another octave to his voice range) told us which platform the ongoing train would be leaving from, as well as the number of the train. We got off the train, followed everyone down an escalator into a sparkling white concourse, then easily located the signs for the platform. A short lift journey had us on the correct platform in plenty of time.

In fact, there was so much time to spare that, feeling brave, we went back down into the concourse and had great fun buying bottled water from a vending machine that took debit cards. (I might not have had quite so much fun if I’d realized that every time I used my credit card I was charged a transaction fee. Something to note for future European trips)

It was just as easy to find our carriage and seat, which were slightly larger than those on the Eurostar train (This one was Thalys) so were even more comfortable. As we were settling, a gentleman in uniform came up to us and asked our names. Rather startled, I told him and he apologised that he had not been able to locate us sooner and show us to our seats. Apparently, the application for assistance had gone through after all. After more apologizing for something that was definitely not his fault, or anyone’s really, he left promising more assistance in Amsterdam.

The journey was pleasant, and I dozed until I woke myself snoring, then didn’t dare to do it anymore. I learned my lesson the Christmas I dozed off after lunch and had my own flesh and blood post a video on social media.

When we arrived in Amsterdam Central Station, two ladies were waiting for us when we got off the train. The gentleman from before must have radioed our description, because they came right to us and helped me off the train, which was lovely because I was stiff from all the traveling (We got on the train in Paddington at 9 and got off the train in Amsterdam at about 3).

They asked us where we wanted to go then took us straight to the taxi rank. After checking out our destination (which I’d written out on the itinerary, they gave instructions to the taxi driver, then shook our hands before we got in. They’d smiled the whole time. They were so lovely and friendly and approachable. Well done Amsterdam Central. The award for the best assistance goes to you with stars on.

The taxi took us straight to the apartment where we would be staying and offered to help with our cases, but I volunteered Efan, because he’s a big, strong boy and could do with the exercise. I might not have been so quick to rope him in if I’d known about the two flights of stairs that were so narrow I almost touched the sides. Somehow, however, we both made it in once piece.

We were renting a room through Airbnb. Our hosts Chiara and Mendel were absolutely charming. I can’t express how lovely they are. They’re young, sweet, in love, and have a beautiful home and amazing ginger cat called Flash. Flash and Efan instantly fell in love with each other and Efan had a constant companion when we were at home.

Our room was light and airy, with a balcony we could walk out onto, and a rail that was more than big enough to hang all our clothes. There were very few rules, but tons of helpful tips, hints, and recommendations. The flat was beautiful. It had hardwood floors throughout, a massive, curved balcony in the main room, and a very calming ambience. I have to wonder though by what magic they managed to get the solid furniture up the stairs.

We soon discovered they have their ways. On our first venture into town we saw police and ambulance cordoning off part of a road. At first, we thought there’d been an accident, but finally worked out that someone was moving into an apartment on the third floor, taking the furniture up by winch, onto to the balcony and through the window.

After introductions with Chaira, Mendel and Flash, we went out in search of food, and conversion plugs in order to charge our electronics. We’d have been properly in the shi…er…in some difficulty if we hadn’t found one. Yeah, there were some ways, more of which you will discover later, where my meticulous preparations were pathetically incomplete.

We had intended to wander a little way to find somewhere to eat.  However, I cannot express enough how hot it was. It was so hot my nose melted. Well, maybe not melted but burned enough to shine and peel like crazy. Not far from the apartment, we found a small square with the kind of fountain that has no bowl, just little jets of water shooting out of the pavement. The fountain was skirted, on one side, by some large trees shading wooden benches. We decided to find something to take away, then sit under a tree, watching children have fun in the water.

Fortunately, as I was melting at every step, we found both a phone shop that sold conversion plugs, and a pizza place with the most am-a-zing takeaway pizza within a very short distance. I also had my first taste of ice-cold Lipton’s Iced Tea, which was beyond amazing given what a damn hot day it was.

We took our pizza and drinks back to the square and sat under a tree. That was when I discovered my melting nose and that the top of my head was also beginning to burn. We therefore decided not to stick around for long. I’d promised Efan an icecream from a little kiosk in the square, so I went to raise some euros because I only had twenties. I thought if I rose fifty I’d get a ten, because who pays for ice cream with a twenty? Not even that was easy because the cashpoint gave me fifty. What bloody cashpoint does that? The ones in Amsterdam apparently. As it turned out, the whole exercise was wasted in any event, because the kiosk sold seafood, not ice cream. Not even seafood ice cream.

After we’d eaten, it was about half-past four. We had a boat trip booked for seven, so we decided to take a taxi to dock, then have a stroll along the canal until it was time to board. When we got there, however, it was too hot to stroll anywhere, so we sat on a bench for two hours, stressing about whether we were in the right page, and whether we should go across the bridge to get something to eat from one of the restaurants on the other side.

 

In the end, we procrastinated for so long it was too late and it was time to board the boat.

We’d originally booked for a pizza dinner cruise but I’d received an email while on the train that morning, that the boat had overbooked, so we booked a different one that didn’t include dinner but had a historical narration. In the end, I’m glad we picked this one because it was fascinating.

It is very tempting to go into some of Amsterdam’s fascinating history, but this is going to be a long post as it is. Maybe I’ll do a separate post later. In the meantime, here are the photographs.

It was a great trip and we finally managed to relax after all the tension and anxiety of the trip. It helped that I got a free glass of wine.

After getting off the boat, we decided to check out the restaurants. Efan was immediately drawn by the sushi restaurant, so we headed over. A glance at the menu had me shaking in my shoes. A light lunch was 25 euros and  a five-course meal was 58 euros. I figured that would sit a modest dinner with drinks at around the 35 – 40 euros each, and I just didn’t have 80 euros to spend on dinner the first night. I hated to disappoint Efan, but that wasn’t happening.

We looked around half heartedly, but everything was so busy. In the end, we decided to walk back toward the apartment and see what was going on. Bad move. Walking is not something I do. Pain is not the word to describe what I was feeling after five minutes.

Efan spotted a Japanese restaurant, but we couldn’t cross the road. I know it sounds simple, but when you factor in trams, busses and bicycle lanes it’s a dangerous endeavour without a designated crossing. Actually, even walking along a pavement can be dangerous, as I demonstrated aptly by almost killing at least two people by knocking them off their bikes. One of them, a small but wiry Japanese lady was definitely not impressed. Trust me, if I could have I would have run.

In the end, we found our way to a little cafe. I had no idea what food it served, but it was close and there was space inside, so we went in. It turned out to be a Turkish restaurant, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

It’s called Fifty Cafe in Overtoom 85, Amsterdam.

We took away some chocolate Moofins (which I thought were some kind of special Turkish cake, but turned out to be muffins with a really cute accent). I confused the poor waitress constantly. I mean, fair play, not only did she have to cope with me speaking English, but it was actually Wenglish, warn it butt?

After a fabulous experience in Fifty, we took a taxi home and collapsed into bed. Day 1 was pretty eventful, for sure.

Amsterdam or Bust – The Journey Begins.

The Event

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I write LGBT+ books, mainly for young adults (13 – 18) or new adults (18  – 25). the difference is YA had no sex and NA has a bit of sex. Although all my books are published through publishers, they are small “indie” presses which mean I effectively have to handle marketing and promotion myself. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what publishers do for us once the books are “out there”.

I have no shame in saying that I am completely clueless and useless at marketing and promotion. I try soooo hard, but most of my efforts go down the tubes because I’m not directing my energy in a focused way, in the right direction. I know this, and that’s why I keep running off in different directions, trying to find “the one”, which isn’t easy given a) I’m broke and b) I am still frightened of technology and basically clueless as to how it works. I guess the same can be said of marketing and promotion as a whole.

One thing I did pick up was the importance of networking. The LGBT+ writing community runs various conferences through the year which are effectively networking conferences. Most are unavailable to me because they are in America but there is usually one in the UK and one in Europe that are accessible to me. I have now been to three UK Meets, so I decided this year to try the European once. Hence Efan and I headed off to Amsterdam for Euro Pride Conference 2018).

The Preparation

I am a complete control freak. From the minute I passed my driving test I was the designated driver. First, because I don’t drink much (I don’t like the feeling of being drunk and out of control), and secondly I always had the car to ensure I was able to go home when I wanted without having to rely on anyone or public transport. When I go on any trip I have to plan ahead and make sure I know the route, where to park, have the hotel reservations confirmed etc. I’m very good at making spontaneous decisions to travel, but only if it gets planned the hell out of once the decision is made.

True to form, I arranged the accommodation, in Amsterdam, spoke with the person we rented off, google mapped it and logged everything from address to distance from Central Station to local landmarks.

I heard that Eurostar (the train that goes through the Channel Tunnel are now running to Amsterdam, so with my fear of flying, it seemed the logical conclusion to travel by train. One problem was that there wasn’t a direct train at the times we wanted so we had to take one that changes in Brussels. That complicated things.

With Efan and I both suffering from extreme social anxiety travel was always going to be a nightmare so I tried to minimise it as much as possible by planning ahead, with assistance. The journey was in four legs. Cardiff to Paddington (train). Paddington to Kings Cross/St Pancras (underground). St Pancras to Brussels Midi (train). Brussels to Amsterdam (train).

With the help of the inimitable Zara, my amazing support worker, we arranged support at Cardiff Station to help us get on the train, Paddington to help us get to the underground, Kings Cross to help us board the train, Brussels to help with the connection. I wrote a detailed itinerary of train times, assistance numbers etc etc. Amsterdam TripAmsterdam Trip Back With all that done, we were as ready as we were ever going to be.

Day One

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The day started well enough with a lie-in and a leisurely lunch at our favourite Deli. We dropped the dog off at the animal hotel (their words, not mine, although it is a very nice kennel, which is why we always board Bella there). As usual, she was all bounce getting in and out of the car, couldn’t wait to get down to reception to meet her human friends there, but as soon as she started to walk toward the kennel block she planted her ass in the dust until I walked with the handler into the block, after which she trotted off happily.

 

We had arranged to leave my car outside my cousin’s house while we were away, so there was someone to at least check it hadn’t been stolen every day. Because we were due to return in the early hours of the morning, I handed over a spare key to the car and took the main bunch with us. I would then simply drive off the car when we got back without having to wake them. I had the spare key tucked into a plastic folder in Efan’s messenger back which I borrowed for the occasion. Along with the keys were our itineraries for each day, all the tickets (Eurostar ones I printed off), booking confirmation for the hotel we were staying in that night, and our accommodation in Amsterdam, oh and our passports.

Things soured a little when we hit traffic to the point we were almost fifteen minutes late getting to my cousin’s house and late getting to the station. This wasn’t a problem per se, as we had been asked to be there half an hour early to meet the person who would be assisting us.

After a tense drive through rush-hour traffic, we arrived at the car park to find most of it blocked off. We got permission to go through the bollards, because of my disabled badge, and finally got out of the car and into the station. We asked first a surly ticket seller who seemed only to know how to grunt and head-point, who head-pointed us to a much nicer lady in a smart uniform with a walkie talkie. She summoned our knight in shining  armour a bright orange reflective vest.

Oh my goodness. From the moment I first saw him lumbering toward us, I was intimidated the hell out of there by him. To be fair, I’m pretty sure he had no idea of this, and while he was not exactly friendly, he wasn’t unkind in any way. He rushed us through a tunnel, telling us he had someone else to help so we should hurry. It was while I was running hell-for-leather limping at a snail’s pace along the corridor, that Efan’s phone rang. My cousin informed me I’d left my phone in the car. Our assistant wasn’t best pleased but finally conceded that Efan could go back for the phone if he hurried. Efan was so flustered he had a mini meltdown so, long story short, we headed off on our adventure without my cellphone. Just great!

The station platform was hectic and I panicked straight away. We were led to a platform filled with people waiting for a train to Plymouth, then abandoned with the promise he would return before the train departed. I’ve had promises like that before and ended up almost stranded, so I wasn’t about to depend on this one. I therefore stressed out, checking and re-checking boards, trying to hear conversations, and straining for the tannoy, all while trying to be calm and cheerful for Efan.

A message came over the tannoy that the train everyone was waiting for had been changed to a different platform, and they all made a run for it, which left me panicking about what would happen if they moved our train. I don’t do running.

Something came over the tannoy about our train but I couldn’t understand it, neither could Efan. The board was showing that the train was due but there was no sign. I was getting more and more frazzled, searching for our assistant who was nowhere in sight. Finally, the train pulled in and the assistant arrived just in time to show us to the right carriage – something we would have been capable of doing ourselves. I can’t help but think they misunderstood the meaning of “assistance” in this case. It wasn’t about hauling a case into a carriage, it was about not leaving us abandoned on the platform freaking out about the crowds and not knowing what was happening with the train. Not the best start.

When we got to our seats there was someone else in one of them. They were table seats, so there were four seats in all. We were supposed to be facing each other across the table, next to the window, but there was an elderly gentlemen in one of the window seats. No way was I ever going to tell him he was in the wrong seat, so we sat down next to each other and stressed whether the person whose sat I had taken would show up. Thankfully, they didn’t.

About ten minutes into a three hour journey there was an announcement that the air conditioning in our coach wasn’t working and we were advised to find a seat in another carriage. Given that our tickets say they are only valid if we sit in our assigned seat, we both suffered great stress and anxiety in deciding whether to go or not. In fact we were so stressed we were hilarious. I kept thinking of the three crows in Dumbo. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”, “I don’t know, what do you think….” We finally moved and it was, indeed, much cooler.

Upon arrival at Paddington Station, we had no clue what to do.

Fortunately, we found a large button that said “press for assistance”, which I did. A loud voice boomed out, scaring the crap out of me, asking what we wanted. I was completely tongue-tied and didn’t know what to say. I burbled something, he couldn’t understand me, I couldn’t understand him, he got cross and I started to cry. He said “hold on”.

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We held on for a while but when nothing happened, we decided to just try to find our way to the underground by ourselves. The crowds had thinned a bit and I was feeling braver. We were about to head off when our knight in shining armour yellow reflective vest, arrived, mounted on a mighty steed  golf cart.

 

By this time, I was more or less unable to speak, so babbled like an idiot until he loaded us on board and we headed off, in what I hoped was the right direction.

After a few weird twists and turned, we were turned out in a quiet, empty corner and our strong but silent driver disappeared off into the sunset up a ramp.

Fortunately, the empty corner wasn’t entirely empty in that it contained a set of turnstiles into the underground. After a moment of blind panic that our tickets wouldn’t work (they did) we were through and a very nice (and exceedingly cute) young man with the most amazing waist-length dreads explained exactly where to go and what to do, which we immediately did and within minutes found ourselves on a subway train, heading around the Circle Line on our way to King’s Cross. It was much easier than we’d been led to believe, which is always so much better than being harder, and in no time we were on Kings Cross station.

Our plan was, to find a taxi to take us to the hotel we were staying in, in order to break up the journey. Of course, we couldn’t find a taxi rank and realized that even if we did, we had no money to pay. At this point, all our cash was in euros. We decided to have something to eat and locate a cashpoint to raise some paper money. (Actually, I’m not sure we can still distinguish paper and plastic, because even the paper is now plastic, but hey)

As we left the station, a very sweet, older gentleman approached us for change. Ordinarily, I would have given, especially as we were off on an expedition I’d spent enough on to feed the poor guy, and probably his family too, for a year. However, as previously mentioned we were penniless and I doubted he would have taken plastic. I asked him to wait and hurried into a nearby shop to get him some hot food. Of course, the shop was about to close and had no hot food, so we grabbed some snack food and a few bottles of water. By the time we came out the man had gone. Great.

For some reason, the disappearance of our homeless friend sent me into a panic. We were abandoned in London, unable to locate a taxi and with no money to pay for one if we did.

Spotting a HSBC bank across the road, next to a Burger King, we decided to take some cash out of the bank, then have something to eat at Burger King then book a taxi online while we ate. Yay. We had a plan.

The cashpoints were all out of order. Panic sets in. Let’s cure it with burger and cheesy bites. Oh, and I’m bursting to pee too. Joy, layered upon joy. The toilets were locked. Worst of all, there were no milkshakes.

Our luck turned with the arrival of the cheesy bites which were delayed a little. We learned from the man who brought them to the table that the toilets were open for customers, they just had to press a button to let me in, which they did. The door was opened by a delightful young man who said it was his pleasure to hold the door open for such a lovely young lady. Yeah, alright, put the sick bucket down. It did lighten the burden a bit though.

When I got back, we returned to the task of booking a taxi. It seems that all black cabs accept plastic, and so do Uber. We weren’t, however, able to work out how to book either, not without trying and filling in my details about a hundred times. Eventually, I asked Efan to look up how far the hotel was to walk, because it hadn’t looked that far on a map. Google maps said 5 minutes. After mulling it over, we decided to walk. Or rather, Efan walked, I hobbled because of course my stick was still in the boot of the car, along with our coats.

We followed the little line of dots on Efan’s phone to the corner of the street and…um…okay, the hotel was MUCH closer than we’d thought and wasn’t in fact 5 minutes walk, even for me. Not that I’m complaining, even though I’d acquired quite a few more grey hairs over the whole taxi thing. At least we had some snacks to eat in our hotel room.

I won’t lie, it was pretty basic, but it was as clean as an old house can be, and the bed was very comfortable. In any event, I was so tired I would have been happy to crash anywhere.

Of course, I’d forgotten to pack our nightclothes and the clothes for Day 2 separately, so we had to rummage, then Efan dropped the open case off the end of the bed. Sod it. We stuffed everything back in temporarily, had a shower (I HAD to, just because it was there) and went to bed.

Day Two to follow shortly