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

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