Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Quick Trip to Amsterdam

Spring break is a LOVELY chance to get away from it all...unless you are traveling "standby".  The problem is that EVERYONE ELSE has "real tickets", so flights tend to NOT have any open seats.  Duane and I had planned to fly to London last Friday.  Flights looked good...there were plenty of open seats in business class, so we went ahead and booked a hotel, and did something we NEVER do...bought advanced tickets to attractions in London (specifically the London Eye and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum).

I knew there was a problem when Duane got home from work Friday.  He had mentioned during the day, via e-mail, that seats were disappearing.  Other "non-revs" were listing to go.  As a "retiree", Duane is pretty low on the priority employees get on before anyone else.  I always joke that "retirees" have a lower priority than dead people, but it's not TOO far from the mark.  Anyway, he came home and was practically surly.  There were nine or ten people listed above us, and there were only nine business class seats available.  There were NO seats in coach.

So...we packed, parked the car at Duane's office, took the light rail to the airport, exchanged dollars for pounds, got through security, went to the gate, waited two hours...and...didn't get on.  They ended up with ONE open seat in Business class, and nothing else.  So...we left the airport, and came home.

Amsterdam had been another option, so Duane checked the flight for Saturday, and it looked good.  Because of the previous night, I said I wouldn't go unless it looked REALLY REALLY REALLY good that we'd get on.  It did, so we went back to the airport, exchanged pounds for euros (and lost $48 in the process because even though we'd JUST done the exchange for pounds less than 24 hours earlier, the exchange rate had changed...grrr...), and GOT ON THE FLIGHT!!!

We flew business class at 3:30 P.M., and got to Amsterdam at 7:00 A.M. Sunday morning.   It's always a challenge figuring out buses, trams, tours, etc. with two hours of sleep, and Schiphol airport being so HUGE.  Luckily we found a FABULOUS person at the tourist informaton office who set us up with round trip tickets to Amsterdam by train, two day tram passes for the city, and gave us the EXCELLENT advice to go to Keukenhof gardens directly from the airport.

Keukenhof is an AMAZING Dutch garden, only open for a few months each year (from what we can tell).  We were there a little TOO early in the year, as the tulips hadn't really opened yet.  There were lots of LOVELY daffodils and crocus, and the grass was green, so we were just HAPPY to see spring.  Back here in Minnesota, there are still about 4 inches of snow on the ground in spots, and some snow piles that will probably be here until July. 

Even though it was early in the season, the TIME of day we got there was pefect.  Not many people had arrived yet, so we had open access to some great scenery, and got some great photos.  Here are some of the best:

After Keukenhof, we went back to the airport, then caught the train into the city.  We transferred to the tram, and headed to our hotel, the Park Plaza Vondel Park. 

We took showers, tried to wake up, then headed back to the floating flower market area to look around.  The first day of a trip overseas is always're're're trying to figure out where things are...and you can't decide WHICH meal it's time to eat, but you're ALWAYS hungry!  We explored various shops, canals, and tourist spots, then found the bakery that we went to on our last trip to Amsterdam (about 8 years ago!).  We got guveldekoeken, my FAVORITE Dutch pastry (almond paste in the middle of a soft, buttery cookie, brushed with an egg white, and topped with a blanched almond...YUM!).

After a little more wandering, we went back to the hotel to "regroup", then headed back out for dinner.  Amsterdam is a very confusing place to navigate.  It's best to get from "point a" to "point b" by tram.  We didn't.  We thought it would be fun to explore the neighborhood, and see what was nearby.  Our hotel was near Vondelpark, a lovely, grassy, open space with a nice lake in the middle, so we found that (to return to later), then headed off in the opposite direction to see if there was a bakery near the hotel (priorities!).

We found one, and a nice cafe, and a bookstore, and walked a little further into the neighborhood.  We decided it was time for dinner, so headed toward the direction of the Rijksmuseum, on Museumplatz.  The American Hotel has an AMAZING restaurant, so, after lots of wandering, and turning, and weaving, and heading in the "general direction", FINALLY found the place. 

Unfortunately, the inside was closed for brunch (even though it was 6:00 P.M.), but LUCKILY the wait for an outside table wasn't long.  It was COLD, and we ended up wearing our earmuffs during dinner, but it was LOVELY to sit outside and watch people pass by the patio.  If you like people watching, Amsterdam is DEFINITELY the place to go!!!!

After dinner, we TRIED to stay up and see more, but, the 32 hour day caught up with us, and we ended up going back to the hotel, and going to bed by 8:00!!!!

Monday we got up, got ready, headed to the cafe that we found (Biscuit), had a cappucino, then took the tram to the Jordaan district to look around.  I found walking tours on, so we TRIED to follow "tour #4".  It was the most FRUSTRATING tour I've ever tried to navigate. 

We started at the tram stop, expecting the "statue of Theo Thijssen, a Dutch author", but wandered the area for 45 minutes before deciding to skip that part and move on.  As we were looking for the third or fourth street on the tour (did I mention that it's REALLY difficult to navigate the streets of Amsterdam?), we FINALLY found the statue, and realized that the tour wasn't especially specific on where things started, where to go next, or how to get to anything, so gave up, and just wandered around.  We found a flea market, walked along some beautiful canals, and saw some GREAT Dutch architecture.

We ended up back at Centraal Station, which is a busy, chaotic, crowded intersection of trains, trams, buses, and the embarkation point for people coming into the city.  We had been there the day before (when we got there), but didn't spend much time there before catching the tram to our hotel.  I was glad, because it really was chaos, and I was eager to get back to "our part" of the city.

We went from there to Dam Square and did a little shopping.  We'd seen signs for the apple/pear shake at McDonald's, and I'm embarrased to say this, but I really wanted one!  So...we found a McDonald's for lunch.  It's actually pretty cool to try "chain restaurants" in other countries.  Their menu is usually WAY different.  Duane had a chicken foccacia sandwhich, and I had the McKroket sandwhich (a croquet on a bun with tarter sauce...quite good!), and that shake, which was SOOOOO SWEET, I couldn't finish it.  Good flavor, but I don't think I've come down form the sugar high yet!

After Dam Square we went to the Hermitage Amsterdam, a museum of Russian Art.  I'm not a HUGE fan of Russian Art, but Duane really likes it, so we spent a couple of hours there, looked around the neighborhood (the GORGEOUS opera center was nearby), and then headed back to the museumplatz.  We found a GREAT pizza place for dinner (our four cheese pizza had a bunch of salad greens on top...which is apparently the way the Dutch serve their pizza.  A little strange, but good...!).

We then went back to the hotel, but, not ready for another early night, headed back to the Museumplatz to take "touristy" pictures on the "I Amsterdam" sculpture.  

We followed that by walking along one of the canals, and, at the last minute, decided to take a candlelight canal tour.  When we got on the boat, the tour guide was asking where people were from, and we heard the people at the table next to us say "Minneapolis", so we spoke up and said that we were from Eagan, and talked for awhile...small world!

The canal tour was lovely.  It got darker and darker as we were touring, and most residents of the houses along the canal don't have curtains (something about the belief that protestants have nothing to hide, since they live a clean, sober life, so they don't need curtains).  Whatever the reason, it was GREAT to be able to look into various houses and see what the inside looks like.  We were also able to see inside many of the houseboats along the canals...very cool.

Tuesday morning, we got up, went back to Buscuit for cappucinos, walked a bit through Vondelpark, and packed.  We then checked out, took the tram back to Centraal Station, took the train to Schiphol airport, and flew back to Minnesota. 

It was FABULOUS to be able to get away for awhile, and AWESOME to see spring...since we are still about 6 weeks away from it here.

Here's hoping YOU were able to "get away from it all" recently!!!!!