Saturday, April 14, 2012

Amsterdam in a day...

An extended layover in Amsterdam on the way home from Cape Town gave way for an interesting few hours of making our way through the train stations and canals of Amsterdam.
As I was standing in the walkway waiting for the Amsterdam security agents to check passports as we all exited the plane, I was longing for the 80° and sunshine Cape Town had given us as a going away present just a few hours earlier...and knew I was in trouble.  The list of pros of only taking carry-on luggage goes on and on.  However, there is a short list of cons, too.  One of the items on my short list would be no room for tennis shoes.  Although tempted to squeeze them in as I packed for the trip, I told myself I could tough it out in Amsterdam with only my sandals.  "It's only for a few hours.  How bad could it be?" I remember telling myself in a convincing tone.
Um, yeah...it was more than bad.  It was harsh.
March 8th, 2012 weather in Amsterdam:  maybe 40° F, windy, and 100% chance of rain.
There was no going back now, though, so off we went to see what we could see.
First task was finding the lockers in the airport in order to store our bags while in the city.  Having done that with relative ease thanks to the airport being marked very well, we went to an ATM to have Euros in hand for the adventures awaiting us.  Task two down, there was one last thing to do in the airport - train tickets to Centraal Station.  Again, it was so easy to find the ticket station, and there was no line; things were going so smoothly.  The gentleman told us what "train" to look for and off we went.  Little did we know the numbers he gave us were for the station not the train itself.  It was a minor mistake that ended up okay in the end.  We had a luxurious ride on a train through town with a gracious attendant who took pity on us and did not charge us any extra and kindly directed us to the stop we needed in order to get on our correct train back to Amsterdam Centraal.  As we exited the train, she even stepped out and caught my attention and reminded us of the new number we needed to look for at this station.  Such a kind lady.  She's probably still laughing...
After a few minutes of standing there becoming aware of our surroundings and chuckling at our rookie mistake, we come to realize that the number we need is literally on the other side of the tracks.  We couldn't get there from where we were without going down the escalator and back up on the other side.  Making our way as quickly as we could, we still managed to miss the first train by seconds.  We rechecked the schedule and asked an attendant where the next bus to Centraal was and waited a few more minutes.
All this time, it was easy to notice the people bustling by were all wearing black/dark gray...everything, head to toe.  Maybe I noticed because due to the contrasting colors of my wardrobe.  I was wearing a white shirt and jacket, lavender skirt and white sandals.  Trust me when I say that I was the only person in the entire city wearing anything white.  I might as well had a neon sign on my forehead that read, "Tourist".  It was humorous.  They were bundled up tightly, too.  I was cold, trust me, really cold, but for those who were locals, they seemed a little overdressed for March.
Or maybe not.
Once on the correct train and headed toward our original destination the game plan became our focus.  Part of me, my toes especially, wanted to just call it an adventure and head back to the airport.  It was warmer and drier there.  But, we were in need of lunch prior to returning, so we exited the train at Centraal and did a quick-see of our options: walking around the streets of Amsterdam in the pouring rain or taking an hour tour on a covered, heated boat ride through the canals.  "Alex, I'll take canal ride for $200."
Two steps away from the train, I knew why all the locals were wearing layers upon layers.  The windchill was crazy cold.  And, away from the buildings, the rain pelted you with little, tiny individual stings with each drop.  I was ever so thankful and grateful for the boat that saved the day.  At my feet was direct heat, thawing out the frozen phalanges.
The tour of the canals was a great way to see and learn alot about Amsterdam in just a short amount of time.  The arhictecture and design of the canals, bridges, and the homes/apt. buildings makes the city beautiful.  Otherwise, at least on a rainy winter day, the city seemed very industrious looking.
My favorite things of the entire day were seeing people's "houseboats"...literal homes on the water...and the fresh cut tulips in the flower shops.  The tulips spoke my language...SPRING!
A woman had her two teenage grandsons with her on the boat.  She grew up in Amsterdam and was giving them the tour and a personal history of places along the route.  Once I realized she was very familiar with the territory, I asked her about where to find a good lunch spot once docking.  She was very helpful in directing us to an area that held many dining options.  So, after our canal ride, we went as directed and searched for a genuine pub experience of Scott's choosing.  We found a quaint little place with a great name...Cafe de Ster.  The print on its awning out front says it all..."the real Dutch pub experience".  I had a wonderful bowl of piping hot tomato soup (one cannot go wrong with tomato soup on a cold and rainy day) which warmed me up quite nicely.  Scott had some kind of "wurst" something or other.  Let's just say, from the food menu options they did offer, I am thankful the soup of the day was tomato.  :)  No one else in the pub was eating...only partaking in their pub beverages.  The food was good and warming and the service was courteous and welcoming.  That's all that mattered to this underdressed-for-the-weather tourist from America.
After milking the lunch hour for as long as I could, off into the streets of Amsterdam we went.  I knew from a friend who lived in the Netherlands for 5 years, that bicycling was the preferred way of transportation in the city, but seeing it in person was incredible.  Bikes here, bikes there, bikes everywhere!  They even built a parking garage near Centraal Station only for bicycles.  It holds around 9,000 +/- bikes so I'm told.  Crazy but cool.
Amsterdam's store window displays are unlike any other I've ever seen.  Its reputation speaks for itself loud and clear as you stroll down the streets.  I am thankful that looking down at the ground to avoid the water puddles was taking alot of my attention as to distract from what was right before my eyes.  
There were a few window displays that drew me inside.  The sweet tooth in me needed some attention and I was glad to give in as we strolled along.  The desserts (yes, that is plural) that I enjoyed in the few hours we spent in the city were well worth the Euros and calories spent on them.  Captivating to the eyes and scrumptious to the tastebuds!
After one last stop at a quaint cafe for a cup of coffee and crème brûlée, back to Schiphol we went.  This time on the right train the very first try!    Not nearly as luxurious as our first train ride of the day, but comforting in the fact that we, indeed, were heading in the right direction for the plane that would take us home.  I was so ready for some Georgia sunshine and hugs from my boys!

3 comments:

  1. Stopping by from Back Home Again in Indiana. I'm jealous, South Africa and the Netherlands!

    It's such a small world. I'm originally from Northeast Indiana, but went to college in Southern Indiana and now live in the same city where I went to college.

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  2. What an adventure! I once made a similar mistake when I traveled to California. I packed for L.A. weather, which was hot, and when we drove up to San Francisco, it was freezing! I had to buy a sweatshirt when we were there!

    Thanks for stopping by Lemon Drop Pie for UBP12!

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  3. Oh my goodness- I would have a great time with all those pastries & the flowers. Just makes me happy!

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