An Odyssey of the Low Countries



The Walled City 

My very first premier level event was Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010. But this will be more than a tale of Bloodbraid Elves and Booster Drafts.  

The day following the event, I left Amsterdam, heading south in order to meet up with some of my extended family, who also happened to be on holiday at the time.  

After a handful of pleasant and uneventful days in the Dutch countryside, it was time to think about my flight home. This came with two small complications. First, I would be traveling alone, since my family members weren’t returning home yet. Second, I had an early morning flight out of Amsterdam Schiphol, which would require taking the train the night prior in order to be on time.  

I studied the transit schedule, packed my bags and planned to take the last of the Monday night trains. I’d cruise into Amsterdam around 2 a.m. and have a few hours to kill before boarding my 7 a.m. flight on Tuesday morning.  

Calypso 

Among many interesting qualities of the rural hotel we’d been staying at, there’s one in particular which I happen to remember. It was staffed almost exclusively by tall, blonde women - each one more stunning than the last.  

On the day I was to leave, I walked up to the reception desk and the two attractive 20-somethings who were working there. I needed to ask if the hotel offered any taxi or shuttle service to the local train station.  

“I’m sorry, but unfortunately there’s no shuttle service,” the receptionist told me. I thanked her and turned to walk away; this was going to make things more complicated for me.  

“But…” She looked at her friend, “We’re leaving work in about 40 minutes. We could drive you there.” 

“Wow! That would be great,” I told them. 

“That is, if you don’t mind squeezing in between our friends Mina and Penelope. It’ll be a bit of a tight ride…” 

The First Voyage 

I didn’t mind, and some time later I arrived at the train station, no worse for the wear. I sat down on my duffle bag and waited as the last rays of daylight faded out of the sky. I’d be transferring once at Hertogenbosch station, and then heading straight into Amsterdam.  

“Hertogenbosch, Hertogenbosch,” I said to myself. That was the one thing I needed to remember to make my transfer and have the trip go smoothly.  

All was going according to plan as I listened to the conductor’s announcement. He spoke in Dutch, but I knew exactly what I was listening for, and I distinctly heard Hertogenbosch, so I knew I’d be getting off at the next stop. 

I stepped off the train, confirmed “Hertogenbosch” on a sign on the platform, and watched as the train whistled and pulled away. Only when it was gone did I realize how dark and quiet it was at the station.  

And the station wasn’t much of a “station” at all, it was just a small platform with a staircase leading down to a desolate parking lot. I looked around, calmly at first, for any place that I might possibly transfer trains.  

“Hertogenbosch. Hertogenbosch. There’s no way I could’ve made a mistake.” I glanced back at the sign on the platform. 

Hertogenbosch-Oost 

Somehow I’d gotten off at some kind of remote outer stop instead of the busy station where I was meant to transfer. “I’ll just wait for the next train,” I thought to myself, but quickly debunked that plan. There was no “next train,” as I’d purposely taken the last one of the night. 

I scanned the platform for signs of life. No information desk, no people, not even a map. For the second time, I walked down the stairs off the platform into the dark parking lot. There was exactly one parked car - silent as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. The mouth of the parking lot led to an even darker wooded road with nothing visible in either direction.  

I walked back to the platform, and in an act of ultimate futility, took my phone out of my pocket. I hadn’t paid for international data, and it was utterly useless for phone calls, internet, navigation or any other purpose. Hell, it hadn’t even updated to local time! It showed 5:53PM. That was the time in New York, and the home I was starting to doubt getting back to.  

Land of the Dead 

Having exhausted all reasonable options, I now moved onto the unreasonable ones. I presumed that Hertogenbosch-Oost must be an outer stop near (relatively, at least) the main Hertogenbosch station. And the railroad tracks would lead me there. I shouldered my backpack, picked up my duffle bag, and started walking in the direction of the train that had deserted me 10 minutes earlier.  

The tracks led me into pitch darkness. To my right was a 10-foot chain link fence. To my left was a forest that stretched for god-knows-how-far. I walked for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, the dead silence was broken by some sort of animal howling. It was distant at first, but was soon joined by a second, and then several more howls closer to where I stood. 

Now, to this day, I’m not sure what (if any) flesh-eating beasts they have in the Netherlands. But I swear they have something that’ll scare the piss out of you if you find yourself alone in a strange forest at night. I slung my duffle bag over my shoulder and started running down the tracks.  

I ran as hard and as far as I could, but with the combined weight of my backpack and duffle bag being easily over 50 pounds, I doubt I covered more than a mile before I was utterly exhausted 

My theory of outrunning a pack of rabid wolves was flawed for a number of reasons, one of which is that there were probably no wolves chasing me in the first place. But that didn’t stop me from wanting desperately to get out of the woods and off of the railroad tracks. So the new sound which reached me when I stopped to catch my breath was music to my ears. Cars!  

Scylla 

I knew there was a road somewhere on the other side of the chain link fence, so I heaved first my duffle bag, then my backpack over the fence. Then I set to climbing, which was easy enough, except that with no top bar to help leverage myself over the fence, I ended up with a pointed metal barb digging an inch into the heel of my hand. I clumsily flopped over the fence, tearing my jeans on another barb as I fell, and crumpled onto the ground on the other side. 

I gathered my things, limped towards the sound of the road, and found myself at a reasonably-trafficked four-way intersection. I parked myself in a corner and set the goal of hailing a taxi.  

This took some time, since it was only every couple of minutes that a taxi would drive by in the first place. The first half-dozen were in use and didn’t stop at all. The first driver who did stop took a good look at me and then drove away without taking my fare or speaking a word. I can’t say I blame him given my bloody hand, ripped clothing, and ravings in a foreign language. But with great patience, I succeeded in finding a driver and directed him with the word I’d committed to memory so many hours prior. Hertogenbosch. 

Favor of the Gods 

Finally, I arrived at the correct station. It was a major junction, albeit fairly deserted at that time of night.  

The ticket counters were closed, so I tried an automated ticket machine, which quoted me the price of 22 Euros for a ticket to Amsterdam. I took my 50E note out of my wallet, only to find that the machine had no place to insert paper money, only coins. Next I tried my American debit card, which was not accepted due to not having the proper chip-read technology.  

I approached the only person working at the station, who was a single night watchman on his patrol. “Yes, the ticket machines only accept coins or cards,” he told me. I explained my dilemma. “Well,” he said, “You’ll need to find 22E worth of coins. Your best option will be to ask the taxi drivers outside for change.” 

This I did, to miserable results. Most of the drivers, annoyed that they weren’t getting a customer, immediately rolled up their windows and locked their doors. One offered to drive me to Amsterdam, and quoted a price that was far more than my entire net worth at the time, even had I been able to access my bank account. The friendliest driver let me get as far as telling my whole story, and said he would’ve helped if he could, but a 50 was far too large of a bill to change, as he would’ve had no coins left for the remainder of his shift. 

Soon I’d exhausted every car at the taxi stand, and even waited for a few more to pull up to the line, only to get the same results. 

Disheartened, I went back to the ticket machine and tried my debit card again. No luck. Maybe if I kicked it or blew into the credit card slot like an old Nintendo cartridge, I could fix whatever was broken. Three times and then a fourth I tried my debit card, but I was beaten. I’d run miles through the woods, been chased by a pack of wolves (maybe), scaled a 10-foot fence and found my way to the station without the help of GPS navigation. And now, as an honest, paying customer with money in my hand, I was denied.  

I slumped in the corner. I was going to miss my train, miss my flight and have to wait until a ticket counter opened in the morning before I could even begin to make a new plan.  

“Ah, you again.” It was the night watchman. I told him that I’d tried everything. The taxi drivers wouldn’t make change, and there wasn’t so much as a dive bar open in the whole town at that time of night. He shrugged and walked by, continuing on his patrol. But after a few steps, he paused, turned around, and came back my way. “Alright, come with me, maybe I can help.”  

The Voyage Home 

He took me to a platform, where we waited 10 minutes for the next train to pull in. While I remained sitting, he stepped onto the train, and through the window I saw him talking in low tones to the conductor. A minute later, he walked out and gestured for me to come over.  

“They’ll take you. This one time, you can ride without a ticket.”  

I could hardly believe it. I thanked the watchman and the conductor profusely, found a seat, and determined that I would be no more trouble to anyone for the rest of the evening.  

Being so far behind schedule, I didn’t have the several-hour buffer I had planned for, but I did make it to the airport in time to wash up and board the plane. Once there, I gratefully accepted a cup of water from the flight attendant, put O Brother, Where Art Thou? On the seatback TV screen, and fell into a deep, restful sleep.  

Author: Reid Duke

Magic the Gathering Hall of Fame, Member of Team CFB UltimateGuard

Magic runs in the family for Reid. When Reid was five, his mom came home one day with two Magic starter packs for him and his brother Ian. They both hardly knew the rules but they muddled through as best they could with the rules inserts. 26 years later, Reid’s now one of Magic’s most successful and respected players in the world. Learn more about Reid.