Pravin Gandhi’s People and Places, of Amsterdam and the Trader of Trinkets
He was in the next bunk in a hostel in Amsterdam, Hotel Adolesce. I was starting off as a vagabond traveller on Frommer’s “Europe on $20 a day” and a Eurail Pass. He was Australian, stocky and confident. I was small, and diffident lad, covering the land mass between USA where I had studied, and home to which I was returning. His name was Steve.
Noticing my obviously Asian origin, he asked me where I was from, and when I told him that I was from Mumbai, his face lit up. He had been to Mumbai. He described some of its spots which were off the tourist-circuit. He knew about Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar (thieves market), a mesh of lanes where old stuff, and new-stuff-converted-into-old were sold in little shops. Sailors to there and sell ship parts, brass fittings, compass, horns and other gizmos for cash to spend during their stop overs. I asked Steve why he was in Amsterdam. “Oh, I trade in trinkets”. He knew where to get them from in Mumbai and sell in European countries. In between, he would take up odd jobs in a European city to get by.
Over the next 2 or 3 days, we developed a good friendship. He would go off to do his trade, and I to walk the length and breadth of Amsterdam, and ride a bicycle to see windmills. We would meet in the evening, and go to a restaurant called The Buddha, which was a long walk from the nearest Tram halt. The restaurant itself was a small room with 3-4 tables, a very limited menu (even more limited vegetarian menu). A very soft-spoken, sombre woman would take the order – same, Mulligatawny soup and rice for me, a chicken and rice for Steve. The journey back again would be a very long walk and it would be with very weary legs that we would hit our respective bunks at Hotel Adolesce which allowed its guests to come in late, after taking in the night life of the famed city.
We parted with a big hug and shared addresses of our respective homes – I to leave for Denmark and he to move to another town to trade his wares.
On the aside, on my 2nd day in Amsterdam, I spent the whole day sight-seeing, visiting museums with a female co-traveller. In the evening, she wanted to go to the information desk at Centraal, the main railway station for help with accommodation. I suggested to her that Hotel Adolesce was a decent spot. The lady manning the desk said it was not on their approved list! We bid goodbye there, I quite embarrassed!
Over the next 3 months, I would meet a lot of interesting, plain people on the Continent, with whom I would spend 1, 2 or more days. I would take this very short-term friendships in my stride. I made a good beginning with Steve.
Other posts in the “people and places” series:
Of Pravin Gandhi in Tawang, Nano, a kick and a slap
Pravin Gandhi’s people and places: Ram Singh of Narkanda
Pravin Gandhi: A Beautiful Music – in the Paris metro
Pravin Gandhi – Brrrrmaur: People, places and perceptions
Lal Singh of Hillay, Kanchenjunga in Sikkim- Pravin Gandhi’s people, places and perceptions
The Babu of Darjeeling – Pravin Gandhi’s People, Places and Perceptions
Pravin Gandhi’s People, Places and Perceptions: Mandu
Pravin Gandhi is the author of “One at a time – short stories to muse by”