"Have you ever had an honest to God near death experience?"
"Am I about to?"
As it turns out, this exchange would be more relevant than I could have even anticipated over the course of the next few days with Joël - who I met when he was studying abroad in California. In this specific incident, we were about to get into his car for the first time, which gave me a pretty clear indication of the type of driving I was about to witness. Spoiler: We both made it through the weekend, even if only by the skin of our teeth. Joël and Leon picked me up from the airport in Amsterdam with big smiles and even bigger levels of sass. We spent the hour and a half drive to their village (Notter) catching up in Joël and I's case and getting to finally know each other in the case of Leon and I (we've got a group chat bc of Joël but we hadn't actually met yet). We got back to Joël's around 11 and the boys had a few beers while I took in the beauty that is the Altena's home before we all headed to bed.
The next morning, I was supposed to wake up early and work out with Joël but bc of who I am as a person, that didn't happen. I came down for breakfast and to meet his dad, Erick, and his sister, Stephanie - his mom was already at work. Due to the fact that apparently everyone in the Netherlands can speak varying levels of English with relative ease, we had no problem communicating and getting to know each other a bit before I headed upstairs to get ready for the Amsterdam Winter Market Leon had gotten us all tickets to. I was too slow for Joël's taste so he came and kept me company while I did my makeup in the bathroom (and by that I mean he laid in the bathtub and made smart remarks), and then Leon's dad took us to the train station nearby so that we could make the two hour (and several train) trek into Amsterdam. Two hours doesn't sound like much, but when the sky is gray and the temperature is freezing and you have as many train connections to wait on as you have fingers on your hand, it gets a little rough. Especially if you're me, and you handle the cold about as well as Olaf from Frozen handles the warmth. It works as an analogy if you don't think about it too much. Anyway, a few train rides later and we arrived at the market, where we quickly found some food and drinks to warm us up and give us the energy (and willpower) to get back outside. After some quality (bunless in my case) burgers and fries with a delicious cup of gluehwein, we were ready. We did everything from ride the ferris wheel to shooting the pellet guns at mobile inanimate objects, something Joel excelled at to such an extent that he ended up winning us a fidget spinner, some handcuffs, a bottle cap plastic gun, and an emoji keychain. Thrilled with our winnings, we headed back into the indoor part of the event to gain the feeling back in our limbs and enjoy being in an area where the wind didn't hurt our faces before riding the ferris wheel one more time for good measure (bad idea on many counts bc it was much colder in the air than on the ground and also the boys thought it was hilaaaarious to shake and spin the carriage we were in, as if they wanted me to have some sort of heart attack) and heading to the grocery store to grab ingredients for dinner, which we cooked at Leon's before getting ready to go out for the night.
So, listen. We were not in any particular mood for going out - in fact I think if someone had suggested we watch a movie instead then we would have done so, but that was not the case. Instead, Leon broke out the whiskey and Joël bet me that he'd pay my cover if I could down my bottle of wine (which was full) before we got to the club. Mind you, we had to bike to the club. So 20 minutes later I'm on a bike in the middle of nowhere in the Netherlands with a bottle of wine in one hand and an unsteady grip in the other. Fast forward a few hours and I'm back on that bike but that wine (and a lot of other wine) is long gone, along with my ability to balance on a bike. I have come to the conclusion that the Dutch are intrinsically capable of cycling while drunk - Americans are decidedly not, and I have the bruises from falling to prove it. Suffice it to say, I didn't have to pay my cover. However, that 18 euros I saved came back to bite me in the *ss the next morning when I woke up with the hangover from hell and some hilarious memories that I couldn't actually laugh at for fear of throwing up. Joël and I spent most of our day asleep (or wishing we were) but he came up and kept me company in my room so that we weren't suffering alone, which I appreciated more than I could actually physically say at the time. We did make it downstairs for dinner with his family - at which time his mother met the American girl who'd been staying in her home for two days now and spent the last 10h trying not to die of a hangover (I'm reaaaaally good with first impressions). His family was the essence of charm and hospitality, they were truly so kind and thoughtful and it was easy to see where Joël gets it. Dinner was all I could muster before crawling back up to my room - pathetic, I know - but Joel was back up to keep me company soon and we chatted about everything under the sun until exhaustion hit us and we headed to bed.
I woke up a new woman the following morning, which was convenient bc I also woke up to Joël reminding me that I had suggested that we go on a run while I was visiting (something I regretted immensely in that moment). As my mother's daughter, I can't say no to a good workout opportunity - plus the previous day warranted some compensation in regards to my activity levels - so it wasn't long before we were out in the -2*C sweeping Dutch countryside. Holy CRAP is it gorgeous. Joël lives in an area known for its farming and there's land and greenery as far as the eye can see - not a damn hill to be found though. It made a fabulous backdrop for our run, during which we crossed a bridge was more or less a barge that you had to physically crank to get across the body of water (effectively an arm workout during your run). Granted, we wouldn't have gone that way if Joel hadn't mentioned the bridge and I hadn't been curious about it and his pride hadn't demanded that we go see it, even if it lengthened our already energy-sucking run. I kinda played myself on that one. It doesn't help that Joël is longer than me by a decent amount - but so is everyone in the Netherlands which is why I freaking LOVE IT HERE, but I digress - and even though he "doesn't have any stamina" he sure as hell didn't have any issues keeping up with me. I get the feeling it was one of those "play down your abilities so you impress rather than play them up so you disappoint" situations, but it didn't do my self esteem any wonders, let me tell ya. Though he is a lot more sore today, and he keeps saying that our run was my revenge for him getting me drunk, so I guess we're even.. but not really. After our run we had a relaxing snack in the living room, an area lit with almost exclusively natural light that draws you to it as soon as the sun comes out. Eventually we went to pack our overnight bags and get ready (back to the whole I'm too slow and he came and kept me company thing) before driving to Zwolle, a town nearby where Joël had friends he'd made plans with so that I could see a little more of the country. We enjoyed dinner at a burger joint that served their burgers on gluten free buns bc everyone was beyond considerate about my gluten allergy, and then we piled into the car (which felt like a clown car with all of us inside bc Europeans are not known for their large vehicles, but rather their efficient ones)** and headed to an Escape Room.
For those of you who don't already know, an Escape Room is where you gather a group of friends and pay to get stuck in a room with them while solving clues that will slowly get you to the room's seemingly nonexistent exit. Just a note: Escape rooms are difficult. Escape rooms where everyone in the room is speaking in rapid Dutch and your German fluency can only carry you so far iiiiis a bit tougher. Don't get me wrong, they spoke plenty of English too, but like when you're excited or trying to hurry of course you'll speak your native language so it was super entertaining for me in and of itself. We did end up being successful in our room - we made it out with 37 seconds left of our one hour time limit - but that's not to say there weren't a few hangups. And by a few, I mean several. Namely when we solved the clue for the boys to get out of their side of the room and they neglected to notice (FOR TWENTY FREAKING MINUTES) the latch that said "OPEN" so that the girls and I could ALSO exit our room and help with the next clues. We were sufficiently irked... But we didn't kill them, and if you ask me, that's rather impressive. Like I said, we made it out, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone involved. We made our way back to Lennart's house where we played "30 Seconds" and "Who Am I" until around 2am, which is when we realized it was getting a little late if we ever planned to go out. We brought it to a vote and it was decided that we would go check out a local bar and see if it was worth the trouble (it's a big decision when it's freezing outside and the last few days have been a little rough on you). We ended up really enjoying our time at a bar called the Flying Horse - Joël and I more or less abstained from drinking due to our recent history, but that didn't stop us from dancing like the cool kids we are while being beyond annoyed at the DJ's inability to transition from one song to the next.
We passed out in the early hours of the morning only to wake up a few hours later to drive home from Zwolle to get me packed and meet Leon for lunch. Well, we tried waking up early and then agreed that an extra half hour of sleep would be to both our benefit, but the point is we made it out. I packed up my bags while Joël laughed at me as I sat on them to make them close - I guess it would have been more entertaining if it wasn't such a familiar occurrence at this stage. After a quick goodbye to his precious family who so graciously welcomed me into their home, we grabbed lunch with Leon - who took a long lunch from work just to say goodbye to me bc he's so freakin' nice - at a cafe nearby. It wasn't long before Joël and I were back on the road to Schipol Airport talking music and serendipity and everything in between. We agreed that we needed to see each other more often bc we get along way too well not to, so I see the Netherlands in my future a little sooner (and more often) than previously thought, but we'll see what happens. If nothing else I have to head back quickly bc I already miss the absolutely life altering gluten free brownies sold in Dutch supermarkets - I know it sounds ridiculous but I'm pretty sure they were laced with some kind of addictive narcotic bc damn.
But for now, and with that mouth-watering thought in mind, I'm making my descent into Milan where Fede is waiting for me at the airport and I couldn't be more excited to spend a few days in the city and the Italian Alps. It was an absolutely incredible 5 days in the Netherlands and I can say with certainty that I'll be back to visit soon.
Until then, Milan is calling and I think I'll answer!
** Not that I'm complaining about Joël's car bc he's very sensitive about it and I plan to visit him again and I want to be allowed to ride in the car - it is a lovely vehicle with incredible horsepower and looks very sleek/top of the line/sporty @Joël.
PS. Joël's SWEET AND ADORABLE AND KIND AND WONDERFUL AND INNOCENT mother found the handcuffs he won at the Winter Market when she came to drop something off in my room and now thinks I'm a kinky sex freak who brings handcuffs with her everywhere she goes. I am not that. I sent him a distressed audio message upon realizing the emergent issue - which he thought was hysterical btw - and he (reluctantly bc he was enjoying it) remedied the situation. He says his parents loved having me, but between the hangovers and the handcuffs, I'm not sure I can believe him.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
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