Story and photographs by Charlotte Herrold. Originally from Toronto, Charlotte is pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing at the University of Edinburgh. She will be sending us dispatches from the Scottish capital, but her first post is about Amsterdam, where she was stranded due to the Icelandic volcanic ash.
“Ey-jaf-jall-a-jö-kull!” My mother is enunciating as I struggle to hear her over a bad connection in the middle of the tourist-crowded Dam Square last Thursday night.
“What?” I can’t really believe what she’s saying—a volcano has erupted in Iceland and now I might have to take a ferry back to Edinburgh? Joey and I laugh at the prospect as we huddle against the cold and run into the nearest pub for another drink. We’ve been all over the city, from the Museum Quarter to Jordaan to the infamous Red Light District, scouting out the most authentic bars in each neighbourhood—“Listen, people are speaking Dutch here, this is a good place.” For tourists ourselves, we are oddly particular about avoiding spots that look like they might be listed in a Lonely Planet guide. This next place is presided over by a black-and-white cat who sits sleepily on the bar top, while three blond men fill glasses with Bavaria. Perfect!
“I doubt the flights will be cancelled,” Joey says, as we clink our glasses. “And if they are, well, it’s another day or two in Amsterdam. Great!”
It was great. We saw all the museums and galleries that would have been impossible to cram into our originally scheduled four-day trip, and I even made it to the Muziektheater for a stunning performance by the Nationale Ballet (highly recommended). But when my flight was cancelled a second time, I started to get anxious: I was running low on Euros and clean clothes and feeling like we’d exhausted everything there is to do in Amsterdam.
After a deep breath, I realized that there was still a silver lining to this volcanic ash cloud: once you’ve experienced all the usual attractions of a city, you can begin to live it like a resident rather than a visitor. We slowed down, spent time in each neighbourhood—entire mornings shopping Dutch and Danish designers in the picturesque Nine Streets district, and afternoons picnicking on gouda and broodjes bal (meatball sandwiches) in the Vondelpark.
But the best part of being “stranded” was it gave us the opportunity to explore nearby towns as well. After convincing Joey that he wouldn’t be totally bored, we hopped on a train to Lisse to visit the Keukenhof tulip gardens. The park itself was beautiful, with its manicured gardens and swan-spattered ponds (albeit crowded with the tourists we had been trying to avoid). But the real highlight was seeing the flower farms that surround the park. Some of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen, they reminded me of a Paul Klee artwork—rows upon rows of hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips, with colours so vivid it’s hard to believe that someone didn’t paint them.
A flower farm at Lisse (above), and Fire in the Evening by Paul Klee (below).
Standing there with my camera at the ready, any lingering anxiety about getting home to my laptop and yoga classes melted away. I breathed in the warm honey scent and was thankful for an extra few days in a beautiful country with a dear friend.