Lost in Wonderful, Crazy Amsterdam

I don’t post as often as I used to on this blog, which is a shame, so I figured I’d make this one count with something that will neither depress or dishearten, but encourage, enlighten, and, perhaps, inspire. After several weeks in the making, this is my log of my recent trip across the pond to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

We began our descent towards Amsterdam; the morning sun glistened off the right wing as the 787 banked gently to the left. It honestly felt surreal. “How could it be morning?” I thought. It was a bit of a startling moment, considering we had left Victoria, B.C. at 10 a.m. When I looked at my watch, I noticed ‘local time’ was marked as 10 a.m., Amsterdam.

Oh good, I chuckled. I didn’t have a wink of sleep throughout the entire journey, which was premised by a barely-four-hours sleep the night before. Frankly, I didn’t quite know when or what I was by this point. 

At around 5,000 feet I could see wind farms dotted not far from the shoreline, followed by countless iconic Dutch farms as far as the eye could see, each one sprawled across beautiful green fields that were irrigated to absolute perfection. To top it off, the sun above gave the farms a sort of halo I couldn’t quite explain; and after so many grueling hours of travel, and after a hellish week of preparing and planning, it was difficult, if not for a moment, to tell whether I had died or that this was actually happening – that I had, at last, arrived in the Netherlands. 

The ethereal shine from countless farms below was truly mesmerizing

It was around 10:15 a.m. that we touched down at Schiphol International Airport, just as the air brakes were in full flap, working hard to slow the big Boeing down to walking pace. Tired, but eager to reach our hotel, we (my colleague and I) navigated the airport’s long and crowded corridors until we managed to grab our luggage and eventually flag down a taxi. 

Grab the Tesla, my colleague, a Tesla owner and fanatic, frantically yelled as I ran towards the taxi station near the arrivals entrance. “Novotel Amsterdam, please” – I said to the driver, just as we packed our bags and got in the car. He zipped along with swift forward motion. 

As my colleague made small chat with the driver, I watched the outer part of the city of Amsterdam unravel in front of me; maybe it was the jetlag, or the total lack of sleep, but I was instantly blown away by the city’s infrastructure; tall and bold skyscrapers, wide and modern highways, all filled with countless electric cars of every size and class. It was as if I stepped 10 years into the future. 

We arrived at Novotel at half-past 11 a.m. or so, beginning what was, surprisingly, a very long check-in process. First, my other colleague and his family couldn’t check in. Then my room turned out to be booked with a triple bed, then the hotel staff for some reason  thought I was Bulgarian. After what felt like an eternity of mix-ups and errors, we all finally got our keys to our respective rooms. Upon the suite door closing shut behind me, I took a deep breath and collapsed on the bed, allowing myself for the first time in several hours to process where I was and how far I had traveled. 

It was at that moment that I remembered what I was doing in Amsterdam in the first place; for it was not a vacation, nor a getaway, but strictly a business trip. Specifically, it was for a trade show called Intertraffic, a major worldwide expo focused on traffic safety technology that didn’t happen for at least two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a traffic camera manufacturer, our company couldn’t afford to miss the opportunity to meet new faces and introduce a boost of fresh clients. My role as marketing director was to see the success of the company booth at this event; this meant display, presentation, décor, features (i.e., videos, a TV, interactive elements, etc.) as well as all the marketing bundle that comes with such a large display, such as brochures, swag/giveaways and spec sheets. 

Needless to say, the weeks and months leading up to this point were filled with sleepless nights, nail-biting deadlines and hair-pulling moments that I would be more than happy to put behind me. 

That’s when it hit me. It was 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday. If I didn’t take the day and explore, who knows if I’d get another crack at it again on this trip. So I shook off the travel dust and jumped into the shower. I felt an inexplicable hunger to explore my new surroundings and see what’s out there; it was a dark energy I couldn’t quite explain, but I decided to just roll with it. 

I headed out the door and joined my colleague for a quick breakfast at a nearby all-day breakfast restaurant (for some reason, the Dutch LOVE these things, as you run into one every 10 steps in Amsterdam) before being on my way. Frankly, I was happy to be rid of him and his face; I didn’t want to see a single soul from work; this was my day, and I was gonna make the best of it, even if it killed me. 

Without hesitation, I was hasty in my pace, with my mental compass firmly pointed towards a single destination: the Heineken Brewery; yes, the brewery, the very same that has stood the test of time since 1873 and remains one of the world’s most successful beer producers. To me, it was Mecca; the beginning of what is one of Europe’s most satisfying lagers. Damn this jetlag, I thought – I was going to get to this place one way or another. Along the way, I noticed two things: colourful trams ferrying people from station to station in every possible direction, and bikes. Tons of bikes. More specifically, bike lanes crafted on every street and road, with countless hurried riders zig-zagging in-between. It was a sort of wonderful organized chaos, because no one seemed to get killed.

Colourful trams everywhere!

After a good 30 minutes of walking, my existing ailments began to peak their heads; my sore back and sore legs were an issue for sure, but not ones that could quite dissuade me from my mission. I continued on Scheldestraat Street, taking in the daily life of Amsterdam’s dwellers and meanderers; cyclists, people sitting out in cafes having drinks and laughing, groups of people from every possible nation I can think of – it was all surreal and beautiful all at the same time.

No idea what this building was, but the old part of the city was starting to show its face

I eventually managed to stumble my way to the Heineken Brewery, where I was greeted by several cheery Heineken employees. I just knew, beyond all my doubt and tiredness, that I was in the right place at last.

The Heineken Brewery, as it has stood the test of time for a century and a half

Packed in with a large group of people, I entered the brewery tour in what felt like a wonderful hallucinogenic trip into the art of making beer.

Visitors also get to have not one, but several drinks of the local beer, so getting full-cut is not only an option, it’s guaranteed. Mixed with no sleep and a jetlag high, I certainly finished my Heineken Brewery tour very happy.

I took a moment to take in this somewhat-chaotic, but beautiful, peaceful city. It was the final breath before the plunge into a week of soul-crushing 10-hour days and foot-numbing walkarounds.

Amsterdam’s canals are not only fully functional, but quite busy as locals and tourists use them to get around the city quickly

Setup day was chaotic, as expected. The whole team was jetlagged, a situation which wasn’t helped by the fact that none of our booth’s components had assembly instructions. Needless to say, after six grueling hours of consistently fucking up and rebuilding everything over and over again, we finally had a booth.

In full swing the following day, Intertraffic felt a lot like the world Olympics, but on an industrial scale. There were so many countries involved, all fighting for the same gold medal – in this case, potential customers. Robbed of more than two years of action in their respective markets, curious vendors and customers alike scoured the show floor for the latest – and cheapest – technology and product that could further advance their brand and prospective horizons.

Around 99 per cent of the booths were, frankly, quite boring. The same crap I’d come to expect from any trade show – but – there were some exceptions. One had the Bluesmobile from the Blues Brothers; I even sat in it! It was great. Still have no idea what the company that presented the car actually did, and frankly I don’t quite care.

The freaking Bluesmobile… in Amsterdam! Who’d have thought?

Others went fully-childish with their displays since we also know most men (who make up majority of the traffic enforcement tech industry) are still five years old on the inside. So fuck it, let’s bring out some bumper cars, yeah?

Yup. Bumper cars. At a traffic safety trade show. BRILLIANT!

It wasn’t easy, or simple, of course. By far the most intense part of this strange sport – the standing – takes its toll on one’s feet. Mix that with the second part of the Intertraffic Olympics: jetlag. The ones who come from within Europe were well in the lead in terms of rest and cognitive ability, whereas those from further away, such as the Americas, were at a significant disadvantage, as they dragged nine to 10 hours behind them.

Mind you, one moment brought it all into perspective for me. As I was meandering throughout the booths, I came across a blue and yellow-themed booth. It was a company by the name of Avtovin, a Ukrainian company that uses state-of-the-art machinery to manufacture license plates from scratch. What struck me even further was that they were based out of Chernivtsi, a city around 60 km away from my hometown, Dorohoi, Romania, but on the Ukrainian side. I had the pleasure of meeting two of Avtovin’s representatives, simply the sweetest people I had met thus far at the entire event.

My feeling of excitement of meeting people so close to my old home was temporarily put on hold when the grim reminder of war came into my mind; the same war I have painstakingly followed since day one.

Despite everything happening in Ukraine, Avtovin’s employees were determined to show what their company could do at Intertraffic 2022

An unexpected burst of empathy came from within, driving me to ask, “how are you guys, how are you holding up?” to which their response was simple, yet humble.

“Well, we’re here, we’re alive and making the best of it,” said one of the reps.

Suddenly, my jetlag, nor the numbing pain in my feet or my back mattered anymore. These people were here, representing their company and their country in the best possible way their could in the face of outmost darkness and destruction. It was an honor to meet such brave people, to say the least.

So if you’re in the market for some sweet, sweet license plates, give these guys a call.

Last day in Amsterdam

It was hard to believe that an entire week had dissolved so quickly, but then again, 10-hour work days with little breaks in-between will do that. After a lot of negotiating and hustle, I managed to escape again into heart of Amsterdam; the old, old part of town.

A long walk and a swift cab ride later, I found myself in a totally-different part of town. Unrecognizable, yet strangely familiar.

I looked up and the street sign instantly clicked the name from the deepest parts of my brain. Anne Frankhuis. As in, the Anne Frank? Well, holy shit. The place was, unfortunately closed by the time I had arrived, but it was neat taking in the scenery nonetheless. I couldn’t help but feel somber, accentuated by a silent but still noticeable memorial by the water to someone, or something.

By this point the numbing pain in my feet had turned into fully-realized pain, which I had no choice but to ignore, if I was to see more of the city of course. The setting sun was also a reminder that I had a limited amount of daylight left, and that I had to use it wisely.

Even in midst of Amsterdam’s hustling and bustling life stand subdued messages of support

I carried on deeper into the city, slowly making my way towards the last destination before retiring back to the hotel: the Amsterdam Lego store. Along the way I came across some beautiful old buildings, albeit I haven’t the slightest clue what they were. This was kind of a shotgun-style kind of tour, where you take in what you see, as quickly as you can; no time for in-depth explanations.

I missed this, I thought. Europe’s old buildings as they’ve stood the test of time for centuries over and over again – the same Europe where it all began. I took in the street scene as it came; the crowds of tourists, the police sirens, the laughter and chatter from waves of people passing by.

Following a week of testicle-crushing work, I finally understood what Atlas was on about.

By the way, did I mention the bikes? There are so many bikes in Amsterdam that you quite literally trip over them. Countless more are dropped wherever their riders decided to leave them, unchained and unsecured. When I first saw this, I immediately thought of how an unattended bicycle is dealt with in Victoria; the answer to which is simple: turn your head for a minute or two and it’s gone, poof. An abandoned bicycle in Victoria is prime scrap metal and parts. There is, however, something to be said about the sheer volume of bikes in Amsterdam; prospective thieves have no desire to steal something that is overwhelmingly abundant and relatively useless on a black market. It’s like stealing a penny, or a fallen branch.

Bikes, bikes everywhere!

Ironically, the Dutch seem to value their vast city-wide road network more than their own bikes. This is evident in the severe manner of which they react, should a clueless passerby accidentally step into, or cross their path. And the reaction is always the same: how dare you cross into my path, you bipedal human scum.

Seriously, I have never seen such asshole behaviour on two wheels before. They’ll curse in Dutch or English (if they can), gesticulate in disgust or ping their stupid little bicycle bells incessantly until those unfortunate to be in their way eventually move aside (sometimes pushing them out into traffic or other pedestrians).

Anyway, I digress. Gist of the story is, Amsterdam is a busy place. If you don’t pay attention where you’re walking and crossing, you’ll have your head fucking torn off – by a cyclist or otherwise.

I had finally made it to the Lego store – and it was as beautiful as I had hoped it would be. Two floors of sheer brick joy, filled from floor to ceiling with every possible set in Lego’s lineup.

Satisfied, exhausted, somewhat-drunk, and laden with enough Lego to fill a Christmas tree, I finally called it quits and took a cab back to my hotel.

Upon arriving in my room, I pulled up a chair towards the window overlooking the city and I reflected upon a week of hard work, of meeting some amazing people, and seeing some truly extraordinary sights. The show was finally done, all that effort had paid off. I had seen all I wanted to see and then some. I hope to experience Amsterdam to its fullest potential next time, as should anyone who visits this place.

Thank you Amsterdam, and good night.

My view from Novotel
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