So we can satisfactorily move on to what followed, I want to go back and talk about what I did after my arrival to cat sit….. which basically was a lot of pastoral hanging out, punctuated with some day trips after my work was done.
The first Sunday Abdul delivered me to the house at 41 Waver I was glad I’d had the foresight to bring a train-station-purchased sammich along just in case, as there were, in fact, nothing but ice cream stands and bars open when I took the unnaturally top-heavy bike from my hosts’ home and ventured into the nearby town of Ouderkerke aan der Amstel.
As much as I liked Laura and Gray, I have to admit I hated their bike in equal proportion. It had a braking mechanism activated by both reversed foot and typical hand brakes, preventing one from getting started easily again after stopping as the pedals could not be turned to a proper kick-off position. It also appeared to weigh about 60 pounds at the front of the bike alone, which exacerbated the ‘getting started’ issue and made careful balancing while slowly attempting to squeak one’s way between other bikers/strollers/delivery trucks/tractors/road repair equipment/sheep damn near impossible. I have, in fact, added a horrific bruise the size of an orange to my already oppressed, fire-ant attacked legs after ill-advisedly attempting to fire off one quick photo while straddling the bike at a dead stop. Always unwilling to actually balance cooperatively with its inordinate weight on the seemingly unusually small kickstand (I always had to use the kickstand then completely reverse the front, using the backwards front tire as an additional structural support), the bike tangled around my leg mid-shutter click and toppled unstoppably over, wrenching my calf painfully between the frame and the front tire. Anyway, I hauled this behemoth into the local town on Sunday afternoon only to find I would be going hungry unless I wanted chocolate ice cream and local beer to tide me over. (Not exactly a hardship, but I was looking to lay in some groceries for the week.)
A Monday trip went better, and I was able to accrue some lovely produce, a selection of Dutch beers (which are sold individually and can be plucked like apples from the store shelves), and other noshables to keep me fed during my stay.
Tuesday afternoon, between bouts of torrential rain, I chanced a short trip into Leiden – a really lovely, laid back yet cosmopolitan university town about a half hour’s train ride away. The most difficult part of this trip was paying for my ticket, as the little town I got on at was too small to warrant a ticket agent, thus one was forced to use the machines which only take coins (not bills!) or cards (with chips, which U.S. cards do NOT have). Knowing this idiosyncrasy, I was prepared to pay in coins and had laid in an ample store, but my pocket full of jangling change was useless since the little door to the coin slot was shut tight, presumably out of order. After frantic consultation with a couple of helpful Nederlanders back on the train platform (the tix machines were outside the station back by the bike and car parking lots), one woman suggested I just approach a conductor if one appeared to punch tickets and throw myself on his/her mercy, hoping they would not wallop me with the hefty ticket fine used to punish those criminally riding the train without having paid their proper fare.
I resolved to take my chances and just go to the next main station that would have a ticket counter (2 stops away), disembark and pay properly, then resume my trip to Leiden. Which is what I did. Only the machine there also had a non-working coin door, dammit! I went to plead for assistance of the little man at the info booth, who patiently instructed me that one had to select the payment method of cash or credit, then, if applicable, the coin door would open sesame to gobble my little Euro offerings….. ohhhhhh. Damn, that would have saved me some heartburn had I but known – and shaved about a half hour off of my journey, interrupted as it was to try to procure tickets.
I had gotten a late start anyway that day and wanted to be sure to get back before dark as I wasn’t sure if The Foul Bike had a headlight, and the route to the [absolutely stinkin’ adorable] little town where one catches the train – the most charming place, perhaps, I saw in my entire trip, called Abcoude, all twisty streets lined with whitewashed, thatched roofed cottages bejeweled with teensy riotously colored gardens – was basically a long stretch through a completely agricultural area, which would be pitch black at night without some source of accompanying light.
I made my quick trip, and as the light started to go, hoofed it back to the train station. As we sped back toward town, the sky went Wicked Witch of the West black and the train windows became suffused in so much water it looked like we were on an amphibious train diving through a canal. ‘Oh boy,’ I thought, steeling myself for a swampy ride home. When we were nearly to Abcoude, I realized my ticket, bought at the stop two away from where I’d gotten on, was actually not valid to take me all the way back to where I started. At the moment of this realization, a conductor burst through the coach door, and everyone started fumbling to present their tickets for validation and stamping. I froze – I was a criminal, and about to get slammed with a hefty fine, mere meters from my destination, through no fault of my own. (Well, okay, from being a dumbass about the nuanced workings of the Dutch train ticket machines, but that was definitely not the same as premeditated ticket thievery.)
Thinking fast, I channeled my inner James Bond. I casually arose, stretched, looked out the window, slowly fastened on my trench, and sauntered down the car away from the offending conductor. I paused again, adjusted some things on my backpack, and strolled another twenty feet down the car. As my salvation station slowly rolled into sight, I stepped another few feet away to offer help to a mother with a baby-filled stroller waiting to disembark. We ground to a halt and I leapt off the train – noting that although the neighboring towns on all sides were cowering under black clouds streaming rain, Abcoude was dry and lighter (without the cloud cover) and I clearly had ample time to huff and puff my way home on the bike before darkness descended. I paused to marvel at my good fortune, especially for someone not normally thought of as ‘lucky’, but I just had been, and triply so – dodged the conductor, kept my ass dry, and made my way home without having to feel along in the dark!