Rotterdam central is within easy reach by Eurostar. The advantage of rail – other than the carbon saving – is you can take a comfortable amount of luggage, not have to spend hours or days refining your choice down to what that just-flight-legal cabin bag will hold without breaking its zip. In February I’d really struggle with that for a three nighter.
Had an embarrassing incident at the St Pancras terminal after I’d forgotten to zip my bag’s back pocket. Travel passes and a spare phone fell out seemingly just after I’d walked the few metres to the queue with it on my back, I only realised when other passengers had picked them up. I must have been distracted by the surprise announcement, and lost in some discussion on streamed radio.
Embarrassed at my carelessness, I decided part of the problem was with my cheap eBay bag – I now would always associate with that embarrassing incident, so decided to buy a new one. Spent half an hour or so looking through sports discount store rucksacks. Well, it passed some of the time. After dark, the journey really dragged. No sense of the 200+km speed cross country. Still, one train journey from London to the Rotterdam central can’t be bad.
Only one night in Rotterdam before moving on to the capital. Glad to arrive late enough I wouldn’t feel the need to go out again since that meant notifying the hotel proprietor on return. How different from the capital!
Next day it was chilly, breezy, and not much sun; the kind of coldness just enough to be uncomfortable in the one jacket not too warm to wear inside a station. Hours before my bus was due. Much cheaper than train if you book in advance. Relieved to get out of the cold rain. Then at the destination I climbed out and made for the luggage area of the bus, and could not understand why it was closed. No one else taking their luggage. Then opened and shown to me it was empty. I was baffled, until he pointed out my bag was behind me. But how had I not noticed it? Surely it hadn’t been there the whole time? I know my peripheral vision is not the best (I’ve passed by a friend on the street completely unrecognising more than once). But to not see it at all. Still baffles me. It was as if this luggage bag had developed some power to make me seem foolish beyond its cheap appearance. My dislike of it became hatred. It was definitely going get dumped for another.
The budget XO hotel turned out to be impressive, other than its dimensions. Though it was away from the city centre. I could have upgraded to a double for under 2euros but that somehow seemed unnecessary. The room itself was impressively well-equipped with tech, for a 3star: a coffee machine, huge TV and luxury shower.
That evening I searched for a Lidl, hoping to find some cheap vodka. But nothing more than beer. Carrying basic supplies I headed back, still hoping to find an off-licence near the hotel as most shops were closing before 7. I ended up in a ‘night shop’. The cheapest bottle of 70cl was 21euros! Normally a discount supermarket in Belgium or Germany would sell the same for no more than €9. It had to be tax. I’m happy to pay loads of duty on spirits in the UK, but on holiday it leaves me feeling exploited. Nevertheless I bought it. I drank nearly a third that night.
That night I took a train into the notorious city centre. After drinking over a third of the vodka it seemed like a good idea. But it was getting late, approaching nine. The old town was crowded despite it being a cold winter Tuesday night. Somehow the red light district eluded me. But that night was, you might call it, a dry run, though I was there too long given my ticket only lasted an hour. No choice, it seemed, but to walk the entire 5km journey back. This is when you are glad of the alcohol in your system.
Second morning in Amsterdam, slightly hungover and tired-legged I set out to buy my new luggage bag. Train fares are way simpler than most other countries, not least the UK. I got one ticket that lasted 24hrs for 8euros. Amsterdam Noord Park first, where I went for a walk, yes, around the park. With the sun it felt pleasant to eat my grated cheese sandwich and cereal bar.
On to Noord town. I headed for a Decathlon store and picked up the rucksack I’d thoroughly perused online. I think I’d had a quick check of the zips before taking it to the counter to pay in cash, rather than self service. There was a queue so I had a look around and picked up a cheap bottle. Another embarrassing incident followed. The cashier asked me: ‘Is their anything inside?’
‘I’m not sure,’ came my honest response. Somehow I hadn’t noticed how it was filled out.
He unzipped it to look inside. And I can’t remember his exact words. But I remember the word ‘shoplifting,’ said both for me and his assistant who had suddenly appeared. He then started pulling out these little boxes, and commented: ‘Those would set off the alarm.’
But soon he realised they were just empty boxes, mostly flattened. Though he still seemed perplexed. I pointed out they must have been used to fill out the rucksack. At this point, I don’t know who was the most embarrassed. I hadn’t fully processed whether he was seriously suspecting me of attempted shoplifting, more concerned was I about making up the right cash. After I’d paid he said, ‘have a nice day.’ And I left with the burgeoning realisation that I’d been suspected not only of attempted theft but of being a rather stupid thief.
…to be continued.
Read the full unexpurgated version from the UK