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

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