When my son was about 14, prime adolescent mortification age, we did a bit of a jaunt around Europe. Amsterdam was the last stop on the journey before heading home. We only had a couple of days there, but it was lovely.
When visiting a city for the first time, I’m a sucker for the hop-on/hop-off bus tours. They give you a nice lay-of-the-land and usually you can go around again and get off where you want to explore. So, our first morning in town, we did the Amsterdam equivalent – a boat tour on the canals. It was great. We met some nice people, the tour guide was pleasant and informative. We marveled at the fabulous canal houses, the incredible number of bicycles and had a little nip into the Zuiderzee – a bit of serendipity for us because of a favourite folk song by Michael Smith called The Dutchman.
We got off near the centre of town and started meandering. Another of my traveling tricks is to create a list of restaurants from guidebooks and sites that look interesting. No commitment to go, but if we’re looking for something, I have a list. It was feeling like lunch time when we happened upon one of the places on my list – Pata Negra. Now, clearly, I had not been paying too much attention when I added this to my list because I had marked it as Italian and it was not. It was a Spanish tapas restaurant. Tapas was fine with us, so in we went.
The restaurant inside was formal, quite dark and a bit shabby, but intentionally so; kind of grotto-esque. Quaint and unusual. It was a beautiful day so we chose, instead, to be seated at a table outside on the patio. A perfect spot; slightly tucked away but with a perfect view of a lively main street.
We soon discovered there was one little catch – the menu. It was in Dutch and Spanish. Only. But when traveling, this is a good sign, right? All the best travel guides warn you to stay away from restaurants with menus in multiple languages as they are likely tourist traps. The only problem was of course that we could read neither Spanish nor Dutch. Sure we could pick out ham (jamón) and olives (olivas), but the rest? Not so much.
Soon another challenge revealed itself – the staff were also Spanish and spoke Spanish and Dutch. No English.
Our genial waiter came to ask us for our order and cottoned on to our dilemma immediately. He called over a couple of his co-workers and the group of them began to explain the dishes in mime. There we were, yes, in the side alley, but right upfront of it on a main street, with this trio of waiters in formal white shirts, black pants and the traditional long white aprons playing charades off the menu. Thumbs tucked under armpits, elbows flapping, strutting and poking heads forward – chicken. Nose pushed up, and snorting to indicate pork. They were making a great show of it, having fun and being tremendously charming. Well, to me at least. I was applauding and laughing thoroughly enjoying the effort and the spectacle. My son unfortunately, was, to put it mildly, embarrassed. I think he would have happily starved rather than continue to sit there and witness his mother so publicly enjoying such shenanigans.
For me, this was proof positive, yet again, that mothers are put on this earth to embarrass their children. No harm, no foul. It’s rarely done with intention. It is effortless and oh, so very sweet. One of the little things, one of those moments in life that makes you smile. Maybe, just maybe him, too. Later.
p.s. The food was excellent. The service? Perfectly lovely. Very entertaining. 😉
Do you have a favourite travel story? Or an out of the ordinary moment that made you smile? Share your story in the comments below. We’d love to hear.