In the gleam of florid neon, every street began to look the same, and my mother kept telling me not to look around anyway, so I had no idea where we were. I think everyone else in our party was in the same boat. We were lost in a foreign city. More importantly, we were lost in Amsterdam. In the red-light district. With my grandparents.
Yup. This, folks, is the stuff legendary family stories are made of.
The summer of 1997, the summer I turned 12, my grandparents came over to Europe to visit us while my family lived in France for language school. (It’s a rough life, but somebody’s got to do it.) Since we were all on summer break anyway, we took the opportunity for a whirlwind trip through Europe. We visited five countries in two weeks and raced through innumerable museums and cathedrals. This, in turn, prompted me to grow bored with Empress Josephine’s crown jewels in the Louvre and pull out my Gameboy for a quick level or two of Donkey Kong instead. Oh the death glares I received that day”¦
Overall, it was a fantastic trip, albeit exhausting. I saw all kinds of places that ranged from religious (Mont Saint-Michel, the Vatican) to historic (CathÃ©drale Saint-Pierre, Versailles) to tragic (Dachau, Anne Frank’s house). In the end, that trip was certainly memorable, even life changing, and I hope to keep my memories of that time for many years.
My family retells stories from this trip often, especially since my grandfather is no longer with us and so many of those stories revolve around him. For instance, there was the time that he needed to leap from a moving train in order to get off at the right station in Caen. There was the time that his pocket was picked in the Gare du Nord. There was the time that he insisted on drinking the sparkling water in Venice that we had purchased and then refused to drink it because of the carbonation. And then there was Amsterdam.
In all fairness, the Amsterdam story isn’t entirely my grandfather’s fault, but he definitely contributed to the story. For whatever reason, when we were in Holland, my grandfather decided that Chinese food was what he was craving for dinner. (The stomach wants what it wants. I don’t judge.) Being tourists, we decided that we ought to ask a local about where we could find some good restaurants and were given some rough directions.
Directions in hand, we set off into the darkening twilight, stomachs rumbling and eagerly awaiting delicious orange chicken or wonton soup and”¦oh my. Why is there a woman in that window?
I looked to my (conservative Christian) mom for an explanation, and her only response was to instruct my sister and I not to look around and to pull us closer to her. As we wandered awkwardly, trying to find out where we were, I’m sure we drew all kinds of stares. Here we were, a full family of grandparents, parents, and wide-eyed prepubescent munchkins walking around the red-light district in the dark. I’m sure people laughed at us. By the time we found a restaurant – not a Chinese one, sadly – we were happy to get inside and sit down. And then we laughed. Oh how we laughed!
Later, when we got back to our hotel for the evening, my grandma was looking through her guidebook and came upon the following advice that Amsterdam offered several wonderful Chinese restaurants”¦all located in the red-light district.
Although it was awkward at the time, that story has become a family favorite, and I love telling it to people. Have you ever had a similar, awkward or epic travel story?