Our last weekend in Europe had a cast of six. My darling wife Raquel, the Israeli Ukrainian Alex, the perpetually stoned Dutchmen Eric, his infinitely optimistic Japanese wife Nolico, and our begrudgingly kind tour guide, Eric’s friend Seger. After a night of drinking jaegermister in Utrecht and a morning exploring this picturesque town in the Netherlands we set out for Amsterdam.
We arrived in Amsterdam around the serendipitous time of 4:20, and set out to find a coffee shop. Our brains addled, we set out on what Seger contemptuously described as a time honored tourist tradition of Amsterdam: wandering aimlessly in search of food.
To our credit it wasn’t entirely the fault of the tetrahydrocannibinol, there were factors working against us. The first pizza place we went by had a long line, the middle eastern shop had decent enough falafel for a snack but lacked ambience, the burrito place was sold out of everything except grisly beef, the slew of Italian restaurants we passed didn’t have room for six, and the two signs for Indonesian restaurants were inexplicably hung over either empty boxes or a brick walls with no windows. An hour later, to my delight and Seger’s dismay, we ended up at a restaurant three doors down from the coffeeshop that we’d started at. We dined on mediocre pizza that our munchies made into something amazing.
Fed and thirsty we set out for a bar. Again, indecision is the enemy of the stoned, yet we managed to find a string of bars quick enough. Fearing that we’d end up walking in circles on the sidewalk, I tried to lead the group into a spot boasting craft beers, but Eric intervened.
“We are in Amsterdam! Why do you want to drink Brooklyn Lager?”
I stammered some lame excuse but followed Eric into the place he described as punk-rock with little argument.
Inside, I realized for the umpteenth time how great it is to visit someone instead of somewhere. The bar was called “Ruig,” Dutch for “Raw” and it was amazing. It had exposed wiring on the ceiling, plywood for a front door, old exposed brickwork and 4 hipsters arguing over which funky piece 80’s vinyl they were going to put on next. Bless that Dutchmen’s sense of smell.
“All they need is an old Japanese man and this place would be perfect!” Alex declared.
We ordered Belgian style trippels from the oldest brewery in Amsterdam and proceeded to party. Before too long we found the couch, and half lounged, half danced with skills so hot we lured the whole damn city to come party Ruig-style.
We drank and smoked and drank some more. Laughing and reminiscing and just generally making me realize how important friends are on this great big planet we all call home. Here we were, people from Texas, Isreal, Japan and Utrecht, all laughing and dancing our hearts out because we were with people we loved enough to feel at home.
So comfortable were we that Nolico fell asleep with her arms wrapped around Eric’s belly. Try as he might, Nolico could not be revived from her slumber until he told her it was time to go. We did our best to hide our tears and hugged our goodbyes to the people that only need good music and a couch to make us feel at home anywhere on the planet.
With half of our party departed, Raquel, Alex and I kicked it up a notch. We kept the beer flowing and the dance moves bumping. So notorious were we with the bartenders that they made a point of putting more of our precious trippels in the fridge for us.
“There’s only two left, don’t worry, we’ll bring ‘em to you once they’re cold,” they said and we felt all warm and cozy.
“Do we need to close the tab before we run across the street to the coffee shop?” Alex asked.
They looked at him as if he’d spoken Japanese.
“You’re coming back right?”
“Yeah! this place is great!”
“You can pay later of course,” the thought of us bailing on the bill never crossed their minds. They must’ve known we liked the music too much.
Across the street we wandered and proceeded to do the exact opposite of what we’d been told to do.
We’d just met a man named Willem, a Scottish Dutchmen, who’d assured us that yes the coffeeshop was open, but that for the love of Bob Marley don’t get that “tourist-hairspray-stoned-off-your-ass-shit” He swore by the stuff mixed with tobacco, and told us that the green stuff would knock us on our ass and end our party.
But when confronted with a menu including the likes of White Widow and Purple Haze, I couldn’t bring myself to make my darling wife imbibe more tobacco, so we got the green stuff, went back to the bar, lit up, and realized Willem had been 100% correct.
“You guys kinda got a going home vibe,” he told us and we shook our heads no and told him that we weren’t going anywhere until he turned his back. We giggled while we paid the tab and got the hell out.
We wandered home through the red light district, lingering just long enough to sense the unmistakable charge of sexuality the ladies of the night exuded, yet not long enough to be nauseated by it.
The next morning we set goodbye to Alex and wiled our day away lounging in the park, going to Van Gogh museum and thinking about our two month adventure through Europe, and our year abroad.
So now’s the time I should say my grand realizations about life, the world, and everything, but alas doing so feels too grand a task for one as ignorant as I, so instead I’ll quote that woman of infinite wisdom, that muse of magic and lover of life, my darling Raquel.
Raquel loves travelling and hates to travel. She says there’s no better feeling than running for a train or the moment when she first sits down on a plane and knows that she’ll soon be somewhere she’s never been and can’t possibly imagine.
But arriving is always a disappointment.
Travelling is expensive, exhausting, and the big stuff’s always a let-down. The monuments are smaller than you thought, less garish than you’d expect. The lines are only worth the wait because there’s nothing else to do. Raquel says that what really matters about a place is the people and the food. If you’re fed the food that they’d feed their mama, life is good, and if they do it with a smile and share a drink with you the meal’s all the better.
I think she’s awfully jaded for such a young beautiful woman, but then again, I can’t really say a thing. My experience is different from hers for every dish I taste, every joke I crack, every monument I photograph is made sweeter by her smile, her laughter, her presence. For me travelling with My Babe is effortless because everywhere we go is an adventure of amazement or the absurd.
Are there places I still want to go? Of course, but as long as she’s with me, it doesn’t have to be any farther than the grocery store. At least until she wants to run for another train. I’ll be racing to keep up.