The quiet, but persistent ringing of the alarm coaxed me out of my slumber. In a few hours I would be heading to my next destination. The apartment was dark and silent – everyone fast asleep. A deep breath coupled with a big, twisting stretch motivated me out from under the covers and off the futon to my feet. My iPhone’s flashlight guided each tip-toe down the hall to the shower. Time slowed as I soaked up every second under the comfort of the warm and soothing water. I was in no rush to end this momentary luxury that was not guaranteed in the near future.
A Clif Builder’s bar provided me quick but lasting nourishment as I packed up my belongings. I heard a distinct Swiss accent coming from the kitchen over the crunching of my breakfast. Although I had been living in the apartment, I had not been acquainted with its owner during my short stay in Bern.
I introduced myself to the gracious host who towered over me with a wiry, yet powerful frame. His kind eyes twinkled. A smile formed behind his cup of espresso, creasing the wrinkles earned over many years of outdoor adventure. Outnumbered amongst his two American guests, he inquired of our time in his country, listening with a genuine attentiveness as if he took personal responsibility for our experience. Despite his gentle demeanor, nondescript slippers and grey sweatpants, he struck me as a combination of Mr. Rogers and Jason Bourne; an impression confirmed upon learning the scrapes on his arm were from crashing through a barbed wire fence during a hang gliding accident.
A glance at the clock informed me it was time to begin the near hour long walk to the Bern Airport. I sought out the quickest route, but instead of receiving directions, I was offered a ride to the terminal. Although a simple stop on his way to work, this kind gesture afforded the precious gifts of time and conversation, not to mention saving me from the intermittent drizzle.
Off to the Homeland
The silhouette of my friend’s hand waved goodbye through the foggy hatchback window as he sped into the distance. I made my way through airport security without a hitch and settled at the gate. I killed some time journaling, pen in one hand and a fist full of almonds in the other. The realization that I was now alone began to sink in as I transferred thought to page. I knew I would be landing in Amsterdam later that day, but the other details remained up in the air.
The recent memories of laugher and joy experienced with my new Swiss friends provided solace. They were some of the most fun-loving, generous and inspiring people I had ever met. Would I see them again, or were our lives meant to intersect for this short time? Despite the duration, the connection formed was meaningful and whet my appetite for the relationships and encounters ahead. The trip was moving forward irrespective of my feelings, I could either fight it or embrace it.
Searching for the “Big Windmill”
The SkyWork aircraft pulled into the gate at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, its propellers decelerated, transforming from a uniform blur to three distinct blades. I made my way to the passenger terminal complex, feeling quite at home and camouflaged amongst a sea of blondes. I located a power outlet to charge my phone and began the waiting game.
I was expecting an e-mail from one of the folks I contacted through Couchsurfing, but had no clue if and when a reply would come. I perched myself on a stool and took in my surroundings. A strange, yet comedic sense of liberation came over me – I was sitting in the middle of an airport in Europe, waiting for a stranger to contact me, out of my element and without a plan.
Five minutes before the hour of Wi-Fi expired, I received a message with a phone number I could not call and an address that did not work on Google Maps. All I had to do was take bus 22 from Amsterdam Centraal to the “big windmill”.
A Father and Son
I arrived at the destination after a few wrong turns, salvaged by fortuitous unprotected Wi-Fi networks and locals pointing me in the right direction. My host’s son greeted me at the door, swinging it almost off its hinges with enthusiasm. The father gave a tour of the apartment and my living arrangements – the queen size bed, spacious layout and balcony overlooking the canal were over the top considering I would have been content with a wood floor to crash on. I was even given a bicycle to pedal around the city.
The physical provision and generosity was matched with relational abundance and depth. By the end of my stay, the boy’s father stood out to me as one of the most welcoming and passionate individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting. Our conversations ran the gamut from casual discourse to topics one would share in confidence with a trusted friend.
The Canal Boat and Canoe
He also had a knack for connecting and bringing people together, like a Dutch Kevin Bacon. I will always remember the night spent touring the Amstel with eight of his friends – the group had the diversity of a UN assembly with individuals from Argentina, England, Germany, India, Mexico and New Zealand. Our vessel was comprised of a canoe attached via twine to an over capacity canal boat, which powered our makeshift barge through the waters. We sipped wine from plastic cups, sharing stories and laughter until dusk with the edge of our craft an inch or two above the river. I felt at home, like I belonged.
A New Perspective on Provision
Seeing Amsterdam from the vantage point of the canals was an intangible experience, something that I could not put a price tag on. The provision of the evening was a byproduct of relationship, not purchased access like that of a guided tour. The pace, companionship and comedic nature of the situation created an incredible emotional backdrop to absorb the city and its people.
My next experience with the Amstel would occur elevated high above the river, rather than in the bottom of a fiberglass canoe. Unbeknownst to me it would result in the discovery of another aspect of provision, this time irrespective of the others around me.
A Five-Star Rejection
I had spent a full day exploring Amsterdam, and felt the urge for a refreshing drink. I happened to be in the “Times Square” of Amsterdam, a major city square known as the Rembrandtplein, the type of environment I try to avoid at all cost whether at home or abroad. Although the location was not ideal, I was willing to compromise for a cold beverage.
I scanned the congested scene and selected the best watering hole in sight. Despite standing in front of the hostess, my polite inquiry for a seat on the patio went in one of her ears and out the other as if I did not exist. Her gaze stared straight through me even after a second attempt to gain her attention. Bewildered, I retreated away from the bar to try my fortune elsewhere outside the noisy square.
What Will You Allow Yourself to Receive
As I was walking, still baffled by my new gift of invisibility, I thought of a beautiful building that had caught my attention whenever I passed by, the luxurious five-star InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam Hotel. I envisioned the strong, yet elegant stone balcony, and thought a glass of wine would be nice to enjoy as the sun lowered itself down over the river. This was the location and atmosphere I had been wanting all along.
After talking with the Amstel Hotel’s hostess, I found myself bypassing an hour long wait and sitting on the balcony that five minutes earlier had been a figment of my imagination. The cool breeze carried the music from the canal boats up to my table, where I savored a glass of red wine between bites of green olives and an assortment of other complementary appetizers. I was more than satisfied – smiling at the occasional wave of passing boat passengers and making conversation with hotel staff, feeling comfortable in my jeans, T-shirt and black Vans that contrasted with the cocktail attire of the other patrons.
Breaking (Self-Imposed) Limitations
I ordered a Dutch pilsner and sat hidden behind my Wayfarers as the sun sank beneath the horizon. The warmth I felt on my face matched the warmth of gratitude welling in my heart – I felt grateful for this adventure, overwhelmed by provision and how the details were falling into place. I chuckled as I thought about how I almost settled for a cheap beer in a noisy square, due to haste and a mindset that placed restrictions on what I could afford as someone without employment.
How often is provision correlated to our expectations, by what we think we deserve? What if we took a step, took action, pursuing our desires and trusting that provision will follow?