Across Northern Europe: A Coda to Travel Love in Amsterdam

Sometimes I walk to the southeastern corner of Central Park and watch the tour buses respire tourists. I walk by slowly and try to pick up an accent or language. For a while I thought of stopping and offering to show them the city, to take them for a drink or walk through the park. But I never did.

One nice thing about New York is that there are always plenty of travelers to watch and I like watching them more than I like looking through my own photographs because they are living something current and exciting and photos only remind me I was doing that at some other time but not now.

If there is one honest to goodness reason not to go on a long trip it is because coming home is so impossible. A married friend of mine e-mailed me while I was away saying how much he still misses that time in his life – now fifteen years in the past – when he went traveling in Asia. At film festivals, after the Q&A, someone always comes up to tell me about the trip they took two years or two decades ago and still think about always.

I’ve sometimes compared travel to a dangerous drug, which makes you feel high in a new and fabulous way and then becomes necessary just to feel normal. And I think that’s true.

But just now I’m thinking that high is more like a first love.

First, with love, you find yourself with a certain kind of new-found freedom. In high school or maybe university you start to become your own person and its flush with possibility and uncertainty and innocence. And then you meet someone who makes you feel high in a new and fabulous way.

When it ends, if you’re lucky, you’ve learned something about finding the right person but certainly you’ve lost the innocence of caring so much so quickly so blindly.

Isn’t that how it felt on your first week out alone? Wasn’t it like a new kind of freedom? And wasn’t it filled in by making connections to people that were much stronger and faster than they had any right to be?

If you are unlucky, when the newness has warn off, you’re left looking at pictures. You are too jaded or scared or cynical or bored to make new pictures that mean anything.

“Hell,” Dostoevsky wrote, “is the suffering of being unable to love.”

I have no idea where I’m going with this.

But its worth reminding myself that I’m in the apartment of the girl who filled up my innocence when I left home more than two years ago. The thing about love when you’re traveling is that you can always blame the road for the split. You don’t have to learn what’s wrong with being together, because itineraries split you up before you find out. So its like the magic of that first love in high school, but without the kick-in-the-gut first break-up. What a dangerous little thing.

“It’s really good to see you,” I said when we touched glasses tonight, my last in Amsterdam.

“Is it different seeing me in my real life instead of the other times when I was traveling?” she asked.

“It’s very much the same but its very different too.”

“I think its very different,” she said.

“Yes, but you are the same person.” And that hung in the air.

What I meant is that in the bar in Amsterdam with the warm red light and the white, leather benches I saw the same face I met at the World Bar in Sydney 31 months ago. I heard the same voice inflecting the same way.

At most museums and some monuments they have benches in just the perfect place. You have a very good view and can rest your legs. You don’t wait in line to sit on them, of course. You maybe mill around hoping someone will get up. Or you stand there looking at the paintings while someone else sits. And when someone gets up the bench is immediately filled.

There are certain people like this too, who when they become available will always be made unavailable by the next passerby. The passerby might truly love the view or only know that it is a good seat and they should take it. But if you ever fall in love with such a bench and then leave it to go to Asia and Europe and South America you can be certain if you drop in for a few days it will not be empty. And if you’re very unlucky that won’t even hurt because all those places will have made you almost unable to love seeing new things or unable to do other things. You’ll only be reminded that something current and exiting is in a 31-month-old picture.

That’s not hell, it’s Amsterdam.


Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival
  8. The Elusive Dutch Drivers License
  9. Terror in Berlin
  10. Authentic Belgian Beer
  11. Two to a bed in Bruges

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.