It was now December 1986 and the train had dropped us in Venice so we could catch a ferry to Athens. When we were buying the one way passage we were faced with the box “Married or Single”. It seems that in Italy were the Catholic church had a lot of influence, single people of the opposite sex were not allowed to stay in the same room at youth hostels and on things like ferries. Geez, I really was not wanting to get married that afternoon so reality of it was that the only choice we had was to lie. It was totally a economic decision to lie as we could not afford 2 staterooms on the ferry.
As we were boarding the ferry I was feeling a pang of guilt for my small lie. But it was too late we were approaching the threshold. The Italian man at the door said “passport” so I handed it over then he pushed us ahead. Oh shit, he has our passports and didn’t give them back. When I protested he just dismissed me with a wave of the hand. Everyone else was handing them over as well so I knew we were not singled out. I also knew I did not check the married box on my passport application. We were done for!
As we made our way in to the belly of the boat to where only the lowest class of people could be found, I was still having a panic about the passports. Sean was all “its okay, don’t worry” But I was worried after all my mother’s last words to me were “What ever you do, don’t lose your passport!”
So as we were settling in to our honeymoon suite an announcement came over the PA: “Susan Philippson and Sean Madill report to the main office”. Now it sorta sounded like our names but I was pretending it was just my imagination. Until the knock at the door. Not a gentle knock, but the kind that makes you not want to open the door. But I did and the angry man said ” PASSPORTS”.
What do you mean Passports? You have our passports! Now we had been in Italy for about 72 hours, so my Italian consisted of adding Os to french words. But this strategy was no longer working. The angry little man hauled me up to a office and yelled at me in Italian. Standing in front of the tiny pursers office I could see that the desk had 100s of passports on the counter. There was every possible nationality imaginable. Oh my, we are in trouble! Suddenly the 2 staterooms issue seemed like a much better problem.
There have been moments in my life that I have thought going POSTAL would solve the situation, but this was not one of them. With a deep breath I managed to communicate with one of the men that had a bit of English. I sat down and explained my method of solving this situation we found ourselves in and he actually listened. The two of us sorted the passports into countries after opening them and making sure there was just one. Every so often I would look up from my station and see Sean chatting with the men on the other side of the glass. I couldn’t tell if he was adding Os to his french words but they seem to be all getting on. Then I had this flash of the situation we were in. Oh my gawd, would we be sent to some Turkish prison to live out the scenes in Midnight Express because we tried to enter a country illegally?! So much for frolicking naked on the beach on Crete! After what seemed to be hours we finally found both passports. After lots of hugging we were invited to have dinner with the crew. It was that moment I went from a traveler with a lot of sunshine in her head to a seasoned veteran.
Our meal with the crew introduced us to pork on a stick. It was seasoned with Rosemary and garlic served with roasted potatoes and lemon. Something we both loved. It was all followed by what tasted like the sap of a pine tree. This would be the last good meal we would have for a long time so it was a damn good thing we enjoyed it.
When getting off the train in Amsterdam Sean and I notice immediately how different it is from London. Amsterdam is sunny, young and bright, the commuters on their clickity bicycles are wearing colours! Turquoise and yellow, with their blonde hair flapping behind them. This place is cheerful and bright and everything London was not.
When we left London we could not help but notice how everything was so grey. The people wore only grey, the skies were always grey, the buildings were all grey and no one ever smiled. Mrs Thatcher seemed to have affected the soul of her countrymen and women and the weather as well.
As we stepped out of the train station, me with the giant neon sign over my head that said TOURIST and skinny Sean with his ginger 'fro and omnipresent Rugby shirt, we were approached by a young girl about our age. Sean would go on to refer to her as bouncing Betty. She notices our Canadian pin and tells us she is from Abbotsford. This is great, we are from BC as well and she is working for a youth hostel and would like us to stay, she even has the free tram tickets and instruction to get us there. Sounds good and after all she is Canadian, who's more trustworthy than a fellow Canadian?
Upon arrival at our new accommodations the first thing we notice is that the people that work there are all dressed in maroon coloured robes, and there is a photo of a Indian man on the wall. Oh shit! Where are we?
Against our better judgement we check in. After all it was clean and cheap. But we know we have checked in to the cult of the Rajneesh, and this is the Rajneesh hotel. We both had heard about this cult and decide not to spend much time hanging around during the day or night. After all they are surely after our non-existent trust funds.
But how will the brain washing take place? We were really curious, all we knew of brainwashing was Patty Hearst. I notice the air ducts, maybe they will leak gas into our room? Yah, no, that is stupid, but they are going to try something and we were ready. We check the place out looking for clues. I notice the showers are co-ed which is fine with me because we have just spent several months tree planting and co-ed showers were the norm. Sean, however, is not okay with this. So I offer to stand at the entrance like Helga the protector to defend him from any groups of 5 tall blonde dutch girls that come to use the shower while he is. He thinks about it and decides the showers will be fine after all!
We head out each morning and eat our bread and mustard on a cold bench, they are not going to trick us! We noticed that the building next to the hotel is called a "Mystery School", clearly this is were you end up after the brain washing is done.
Nevertheless, Sean and I love Amsterdam. The museums and art galleries are amazing and the food is fantastic.
We decide that the coffee shops are off limits just in case it affects our futures as diplomatic envoys. But what seems to evade us despite looking very hard is the Red Light District. We can't seem to find it. Finally I risk embarrassment and ask for directions. Yes, I actually asked for direction to the prostitution zone. Sean is pretending not to know me but is thankful for the help as we are and have been for days, just meters away. As a kid from Prince Rupert, it's a strange thing to witness groups of Japanese tourists taking photos of scantily clad young women standing in red lit windows.
It is our last night in Amsterdam and our new friend John persuades us to join him at the pub in the Rajneesh hotel. We are reluctant, but go and have a great time and start to regret our suspicions . He also can't believe we have not come for the morning breakfast we are truly nuts in his mind. Okay fine we will give up our cold street bench and day old crusts for a Rajneesh breakfast. The breakfast room is the pub from last night but set up for breakfast. As we load our plate with the yummy offers of chocolate spread and sprinkles, (Yes I could have been eating chocolate spread on my bread instead of mustard) I get to the desk and its Bouncing Betty, she gives me a little cup and says "help yourself!"
It is the biggest punch bowl I have every seen. Even bigger then the one my aunt uses for her eggnog at Christmas. It is full of a rainbow of pharmaceuticals, uppers, downers, in-betweeners, "Bennys", Quaaludes. You name it, it is all mixed up in there for the taking and yes, free...No thank you!
In unison we eat and leave. If we had a high five ritual we would have done that in the street. We had done it, we uncovered the mystery. We had a whole new swagger to our step and our non existent trust accounts were still intact.