After executing our backup to the backup plan and making it safely to Holland via planes, trains and automobiles, with a ferry added for good measure, it was time to meet up with the rest of the gang in Amsterdam. It was finally time to start our actual vacation!
I didn’t activate any international calling on my phone for this trip, so we made contact via iMessage with everyone else when they were in Boston boarding their flights for Amsterdam. We agreed to meet in front of the main ticket area at the Amsterdam Central Station at a particular time. So, Col and I left the boat behind and hopped on a train headed toward Amsterdam. We had to transfer to get on the line into Amsterdam, but we weren’t sure of the correct city to do so. We followed some others who we knew were going to Amsterdam and it turns out the train we ended up on made a stop at the airport station. As we pulled in, I commented to Col how funny it would be if we saw the rest of our travel group among the hundreds of passengers waiting to board. Right after I said that I looked out the window and saw Jer and Jeanne standing on the platform! I jumped up and ran down to call out to them, and for a second Jer’s face didn’t register recognition since he wasn’t expecting to see me in that place and time. We had a good laugh and enjoyed our good timing.
With the whole group reunited, we made our way into Amsterdam. Our apartment would not be available for check-in until late afternoon, so we stored our bags at the train station and set out for a day of sight seeing. First stop was a cafe to enjoy our first beer in Amsterdam! We found a nice spot on Dam Square and paid typically inflated tourist prices for a round of drinks while we made a plan for the day. The weather was beautiful, so we decided to do a canal tour to get a nice overview of the city. We found the boats at the dock and chose a smaller, slightly more expensive tour to get a bit more personal experience. We enjoyed a couple more beers while we waited for our tour time, then boarded the boat of about 20 passengers for the tour.
Of course the weather turned colder as soon as we were on the canal in our open boat, but fortunately it didn’t rain during the tour. The tour lasted about 90 minutes and we saw quite a bit of the city, enjoying the colorful commentary from our guide. I think this was a great way to get introduced to the city. After the cruise, Jeanne attempted to make contact with the owner of our apartment with no luck. We killed some time grabbing a bite to eat and retrieving our bags, but she still couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone, email or text messages. She called the agency we booked through and after some back and forth we found out the owner had double booked the apartment and it was no longer available to us, even though we had a reservation and had paid a deposit months in advance. Jeanne and I both had some heated words with the rep from the agency, and eventually they found us an alternative that was supposedly nicer than our original booking for the same price. We’ll never know if that was true since we never actually saw the original apartment. But, we weren’t homeless, which was the important thing!
We dragged our bags the two miles or so to the apartment and got settled. The apartment was nice, and it was in a great location. It also came with an additional guest…a mouse who made appearances in the living room over the next couple days. Once we dropped our bags, we headed to a nearby grocery store to pick up items for breakfast and, of course, beer! A 24-pack of Heineken was on sale for about 6 Euro. Amsterdam rocks!! We ordered pizza in that night since everyone was exhausted from travel and time changes, and we planned an early start the next day for sight seeing, eating, drinking and shopping.
Over the next two days we explored Amsterdam, including a visit to the Heineken brewery. It was a typically tourist experience, but we had fun with the gimmicks and even got “certified” in the proper Heineken pour! Now we have another certificate to add to our bar wall at home.
We visited the Rijksmuseum for some culture, which was not my favorite part of the trip. It’s not that I don’t appreciate art or the experience of seeing it. I just don’t appreciate the hundreds (thousands?!) of other people pressed up against me while I do. It’s no secret I can’t handle crowds, so I pretty much breezed through the museum, sticking to the more open areas.
Our most somber day included a visit to the Anne Frank House and Museum. I’d read the book version of the diary and seen several movie adaptations, but nothing really prepares you to actually see the place involved. Someone can describe the conditions and how small the space is to you a million times, but until you stand in it you really have no concept of what it meant to have so many people hiding in such a small place. And, for such a long time. Other than that, trying to put it into words seems so…insignificant.
I know I shouldn’t have been surprised about the bikes in Amsterdam, but I was. It’s well known the Dutch enjoy their bikes and that they are a key mode of transportation, but it’s still somewhat overwhelming to see for the first time. Bikes are everywhere, and it takes some getting used to in terms of building an awareness for them as you’re walking around the city. Several times I glanced to see no cars and proceeded to cross a street only to disrupt and anger several bikers. It seems the pecking order in Amsterdam is bikes > pedestrians > cars.
We enjoyed a nice variety of food in the city, and while it was all decent, nothing really struck me as exceptional. Prices varied, and we went from meals spending very little to meals that could easily break the bank. What struck me is the expensive meals were really no better than the cheap meals. None of us are particularly food adventurous, so we stuck to pretty basic fair, which was easy in a city this size. We did enjoy a nice Indian meal on our last evening, and it was probably the best meal we had during our stay in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, despite all the bikes, is a very pedestrian friendly city. We walked everywhere and never took any transportation during our stay. From our apartment we were able to easily walk to Dam Square, as well as the flower market and many other tourist spots. Since we had several days in the city, there wasn’t a need to rush from activity to activity, so we were able to really enjoy and explore at a nice pace. We took advantage of that and sampled all the fun Amsterdam had to offer.
On our last day, we cleaned up the apartment to reclaim our deposit and headed to the Central Station to make our way to Belgium. The station ticket employees were not particularly helpful, and there are many options for traveling by train to Bruges. We ended up on a cheaper ticket, but with two connections, which meant a long day of travel ahead. But, weary travelers that we were, we still had several days of holiday and the beers of Belgium were beckoning us forward for the next stage of our adventure!