On a train

This might be one of those stories where you just had to be there…but anyway:

Last summer, I hopped a train from Brussels to Amsterdam for a day trip. In my pocket, I had a ticket, a few euros, my cell phone that was in the “off” position because I’m too cheap to pay roaming charges, and my passport, which was mostly unnecessary unless I was planning on going to the slammer.

That’s it. I didn’t even carry strawberry lip gloss in case I met a random Pierre who wanted to kiss me under a cobblestone bridge.

If I was smart, I would’ve had a multi-lingual traveling companion or at least a Dutch-English dictionary, but I’m wild about adventure. Or at least, I like to watch it on the teevee. Adventure is why I have six kids. Actually, I’m more of a big picture, concept person who likes to delegate details and worry about the particulars later. Pesky details are for the house help. (I do not have house help.)

On the way to Amsterdam, a French nun sat down next to me in the second class cabin. At the next stop, a dark-haired woman boarded the train and took the open seat on the other side of me. She was a prostitute. So there we were– one, two, three – quite the traveling parody.

My husband later asked me how I knew both of their occupations since none of us knew how to speak the others’ language ( <--subtle nuance alert), and I said, “There were both in uniform.” I was in uniform, too, with my sale-priced JC Penny pink v-neck sweater and kicky little gold hoops.

Well, this was just too dreamy. Maybe this was a movie. Irony is delicious to me. Do you ever feel caught in the middle of two extremes? I was feeling sure God had a sense of humor. That maybe the angels were teaching a lesson on superlatives -- clothed, clothed-er, clothed-est -- and they had to line us up to make the lesson easier to understand for the concrete thinkers in the group. Or maybe someone was just messing with me. Or maybe this is normal and I need to get out more.

I toured the city by foot before getting into a cab, fighting with the driver for stealing my money, and then getting dumped off in the Red Light District.

I don’t know how or why it happened. I just know that there was a nun, a housewife, and a prostitute sitting in a row on a gray train one summer in Amsterdam. As it turned out, the nun’s train ticket was for the wrong day. Since I was paying attention, I looked at us all and smiled.

18 Responses to “On a train”

  1. 1
    Janet

    So did you see any nuns or prostitutes in the Red light district? And were there actually red lights? I love to travel but have never been outside North America. The thought of being on a train in a country in which my limited knowledge of English or French or Latin would not be useful sounds exciting to me.

    Did you eat in restaurants or how’d you manage buying food?

  2. 2
    Amy Scott

    Red Light District = no nuns. And I don’t remember if there were red lights, per se. I could tell it wasn’t a place I ought to be alone as a female.

    As for how I got around alone in Paris and Amsterdam, I simply paid close attention to my surroundings. For example, the train had a delay, so I deducted that the stop I needed to get off was going to be 10 minutes later than planned. (The signs in the station are sometimes preceded by words like, “Next stop: xxx” so you don’t necessarily know if the word you’re looking for is this one or the next one. Also, in Brussels, they switch between Flemish and French without notice, so it’s super tricky.) In Paris, I rode a city bus and got off when the driver yelled at me. (I was the only tourist.) And I learned “exit” pretty quickly in all the languages since I went to a ton of train stations, bus stations, and museums.

    Restaurants: I pointed to the stuff at the Muslim diners. In Germany, we guessed. And in French speaking countries, I just ordered the “poulet”.

  3. 3
    Jo

    You make me think back to my 19th summer in Florence when I attempted to make it to one of the few protestant churches for worship. I spend the day trying to get to town (what should’ve taken ½ an hour) and ended up all over the map. The following week I did fortunately get it right and ended up at a protestant church where I listened and worshiped in a setting w/o understanding anything but “Cristo” & “Dio”. They did weekly have a church lunch in the back room and the Pastor spoke to me slowly in elementary Italian. It was awesome.
    Eight years ago my parents took me to Switzerland. We were fortunately bumped a day and received a free Air France ticket as compensation which enabled me seven years ago, one month before I met my husband, to take a similar trip to yours: Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam. It’s crazy to look back at that trip. Right before I embarked on my present life…I think international trips are probably not on my horizon again w/ our current budget.
    I went w/ a girlfriend who was a new Christian. She had a past and definitely did set out to kiss a Pierre, though it was in a café and she did leave it at that. For her that was major restraint. We went to a nightclub in Paris where we watched Brazilian acrobats do a fantastic and crazy show in honor of Mardi Gras. It was PG fortunately. We picked up a traveling companion along the way, another single young Texan who was working for the Gore campaign!!! and he accompanied us to A-dam. He stayed on, to visit the red light district I suspect, though he politely avoided it till we were on our way back home. Highlight was eating Belgian waffles on the main square in front of the fire while watching it snow outside. This Texas girl had never even seen a real snowfall. Good times and a world away from my present life where my husband doesn’t like me going in the car at night alone!

  4. 4
    Nonna

    Sounds like the beginning to a great joke, “There was a nun, a prostitute and a housewife on a train…” You can’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

  5. 5
    david t. in fayetteville, ga

    My husband later asked me how I knew both of their occupations since none of us knew how to speak the others’ language ( <–subtle nuance alert), and I said, “There were both in uniform.”

    FUNNY! (They…)

  6. 6

    I LOVE this story! It is your storytelling at its’ best (and I love how you observe life).

    I call these the Goldilocks scenarios (too hot, too cold, just right…). ;)

    There are three houses on our little gravel road and we sit in the middle. To our right is a PhD type professor who can be quite snooty (but we like him), to our left is the proverbial redneck woman and her live-in love (we like both of them)… we are just regular folks for the most part although one of us does have a Master’s degree.

    I always thought of our little neighborhood in the country as the Goldilocks scenario. By the way, both neighbors talk to us but they hate each other.

  7. 7
    Betty hewlett

    Did the story stop there? Got to love Amsterdam, we lived there for two years and really loved it. So easy to tour Europe from there.

  8. 8
    Amy Scott

    The story doesn’t stop there. I’ve got a lot of them, but I didn’t want to be like that person who shows family vacation movies to people who don’t care. (And then there’s the aspect of reading this again this morning and seeing all the problems with it and wanting to crawl under a rock with a grammar book.)

    In fact, this is one story (of hundreds like it?) that would normally end up in the trash because I have zero inability to critique my own writing, unable to discern what is self-indulgent and what is simply interesting. My filter is pretty much this: Does this embarrass my husband? Because he is smart and distinguished, and I don’t want to ruin his reputation.

  9. 9

    . My filter is pretty much this: Does this embarrass my husband? Because he is smart and distinguished, and I don’t want to ruin his reputation.

    I snorted my coffee at that.

    Keep telling those stories, Amy. Those of us who’ve never been outside of the continent in which we live want to “travel” with you and enjoy your experiences.

    You do have a way with words.

  10. 10
    Lois

    Yes, to Janet’s “keep telling those stories” –and those of us who have lived outside the US enjoy them just as much. Brings back memories, you know. (as Jo)

    I enjoyed this so much this morning, and have enjoyed all the comments plus yours.

    both in uniform

    was superb.

    Don’t question. Just write! (Reminds me of listening to Christian radio as a little girl years ago and the storytime would start with “Aunt Theresa, please tell us a story.” “What kind of a story?” “Any kind!”)

    So, tell us a story, Miss Amy, any kind!

  11. 11
    Betty hewlett

    Don’t worry so much about your husband! I saw him try to put together a volleyball net some years ago in N.C. And I won’t say anything more. Love you and your musings, keep it up.

  12. 12
    JenS

    I’m so very glad you’re back, Amy. I’ve missed the stories that make me smile, like this one. I’m not sure I know anyone who tells stories the way you do. Thanks for coming back.

  13. 13

    I have a similar filter for my blog. . . I love this story. Hey, why don’t I ever tell foreign travel stories on my blog?! It’s just about impossible not to have some kind of adventure, however tame.

  14. 14

    Yeah, that was my though exactly – so glad you’re back!! Muse on, girl, muse on.

  15. 15
    Jawan

    Kind of made me wonder how the other two ladies were “sizing you up” as! HA!

  16. 16
    Andrea

    Yes, Dear Amy,

    God *does* have a sense of humour!

    And he shares it with you to share it with us.

    Like the comments ahead of me, I quite enjoyed this little anecdote and am soooo glad that you are sharing again here on your blog.

    Andrea
    in Germany.

    I’ld love to show you around if you do end up back over here :)

  17. 17
    Pam

    Thank you for making me laugh out loud!!!

  18. 18
    Whitney

    Honestly, I didn’t have to be there to laugh so hard I cried. Amy, you are a special & gifted writer. Glad to have you back. So sorry for the loss and sadness that has kept you away.


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