First Day in Europe

Our first morning in Amsterdam, we'd arrived from Bombay to the sparkling safety of Schipol Airport. We bought tickets on the train (it only took five minutes to get done!) and then hung out on the platform waiting for the train that would take us to Amsterdam Central. Using the knowledge we had gained in Japan, we knew we only had seconds to get on, so as soon as the train pulled in we jumped on the first car we saw.

We wrestled to our seat, throwing our packs down and settling in before any head-bobbling peasant could slither in. The train took off and we began to notice our surroundings. This was not a third class sleeper car with rusty hinges or un-closeable windows. There were no snoring beggars and no flickering fluorescent lights. In fact it wasn't even a second or first class car with swinging beds, unwashed windows or vomit-yellow vinyl seats.

It was an empty car with clean windows that locked the freezing air out, and huge, lush seats that you sunk into. It was painted in sweet hues of purple and pink and appeared to have just come off the line, a special edition railcar made for Queen Beatrice or someone of regal standings.

The conductor came through the door. We panicked.

"You know you're not in the right car?" he said, thumbing through our tickets.

"We're sorry! We just came from India! We didn't know! We've been in Asia for five months! Did we tell you the youngest is sick? May be Malaria . . ." we pled.

"It's no problem. You only have a fifteen minute ride and it looks like you could use a nice first class trip. The way to tell next time, though, is by the big '1' on the side of this car. You get on the one with the big '2'." He said teasingly.

"Okay sir! Yes sir! We will sir!" We settled back into our plump chairs. We kept alert like we had learned to do from the trains in Thailand, and watched for the name of our station to appear. A large white sign with black, Roman letters passed by. Suffering from severe culture shock we almost missed it, but we were still in that stage of reading everything (whether it was in Dutch or not). "Amsterdam Centraal" it read, the train stopped. We hustled our packs back on and charged to the door.

The doors didn't open, there was no platform. But remembering our lessons from India we knew this didn't matter. You throw your chickens out the window and jump off. We jiggled the handles and shoved the doors. No luck. We panicked (the second time in fifteen minutes) and became violent with our only escape, like rats in a cage, pacing between the doors.

Dad disappeared to beg the conductor for help before the train moves on to Berlin.

"Don't panic," he said, " we're not there yet."

"But the sign . . ."

"Don't you know? There's always a platform!"

And that was our Dutch train lesson.

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