By the time I make landfall in the Netherlands, I have not slept in my own bed for seventy-five nights.
My last city was New York. A hotel room overlooking Times Square. So many floors up I couldn’t even see the people. The music of the city was sirens.
As glamorous as this may seem, I’ve spent these recent weeks of transit washing my underwear in ensuite bathroom sinks with complimentary soap. Replacing meals with bags of salted nuts and Hersey bars. Wearing the same pair of battered brown suede boots everywhere I go.
I am not well prepared for this trip. In a stopover before Schiphol, the airport grants me two hours of free Wifi. In the frantic final minutes, I google the Dutch for DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH and THANK YOU. It delights me to find that the word for SORRY is SORRY. I expect I’ll be using this one rather a lot. Apologising for my monolingualism. For being one of those ignorant English-speaking people who speaks only English.
The first thing I see in Schiphol is a Starbucks, which is slightly disappointing. On the station platform, I examine a vending machine, trying to identify cultural differences. In the Netherlands, they have some kind of waffle in a lurid pink packet. Otherwise, Dutch snacks appear to be much the same as American ones.
I catch a late train to The Hague. There’s something gloriously poetic about encountering a place for the first time in the dark. I try to puzzle the city together out of prancing shadows and winking lights. The first thing I meet on arrival: another Starbucks.
In my hotel room, through a miasma of jetlag, again, I look for cultural differences. On a tray alongside the electric kettle, I note the inclusion of three varieties of herbal tea. I think: Dutch people must be healthier than Americans. In the bathroom, I note a sign which encourages me to reuse my towels. I think: Dutch people must be more eco-conscious than Americans as well.
I open my window so I can listen to the music of a new city as I fall asleep. The whirr of passing trams. Voices on their night walk home. The grumbling wheels of a suitcase. A bizarre jingling which might actually have been the jet-lag miasma infecting my dreams.
In the morning, the chambermaid’s tapping reminds me of my Iowan woodpecker. I get up and stand at the window and search the street for birds. I find the poetry of the city has been bleached away by daylight. My room faces office buildings, apartment blocks.
I’ve never been so elated to spot a jackdaw. It stands at a pedestrian crossing as if waiting for the lights to change. They don’t have jackdaws in America. I haven’t seen a single crow since I left Ireland, seventy-five sleeps ago.
The green light appears and the jackdaw begins hopping across the street. Entirely oblivious to how happy he has made me.