21 May 2011

I AM-sterdam!

Day 8

We've mastered the trains!  We cabbed it back to the Bruges train station, got on the correct train to Brussels, and linked up perfectly with our Thalys train, enjoyed lunch and drinks, and arrived in Amsterdam at 186 MPH right on time.  Well, we *did* slow down to about 30 a few of minutes before arrival at Amsterdam Centraal.

Yes, they spell it with two A's.  Speaking of spelling, they have more English-invalid letter combinations in Amsterdam than I have ever seen.  Pick any permutation of J, K, L, and T, toss in a vowel or two, repeat at least once, and that's a perfectly good name for a street.

We cabbed it to Hotel Amistad, and began our Amsterdammer adventure.  This is gonna be fun!  We walked around the area, as we always do when arriving in a new city.

It's Friday, and tonight is "disco night" at the Van Gogh Museum.  Our host at Amistad, Jost, suggested that we buy tickets ahead of time so we don't have to wait in the ticket queue; excellent advice.  We got to bypass the 15-minute queue for tickets.  The museum is open until 10:00 on Friday nights, so we arrived around 7:00 PM.  DJ, bar, energy, and art.  What a great combination!  I noticed that their audio tour headsets only have one earpiece.

We ended up at dinner across the street from the hotel at a Portuguese spot, which was great.  It's a family-owned and -operated spot that serves great fish dishes.

Day 9

Today is "tour day".  We follow Rick Steves' walking tour and learn lots about the city.

Another aside here...  European floors are numbered from zero.  So the ground floor (what we'd call the first floor in the U.S.) is floor zero.  That means the basement is negative one, and if you're on the third floor (as is our room at Amistad sans lift), that's the 4th floor in the U.S.  We will have very shapely legs by the time we get back to Dallas.

Because of Amsterdam's renaissance tax history, buildings are skinny and tall.  They used to have to pay taxes based on the size of their plot and the height of the entry stairs; servants used a ground-level entrance, and elites ascended several steps to the front door.  Our hotel building was only as wide as our compact queen-bedded room.  Our room was street-facing, 3 flights of stairs up.  Thankfully, Jost was better fit than we, and hauled our 2 carry-ons up for us.

We learned the lay of the land (which used to be marshland) and scoped out some potential eateries.  Amsterdam is much like the U.S. -- there really is no "native" food, as, say, Italy or Spain.  (Sorry, France.  Y'all know how to dramatize food, but there didn't seem to be anything really "native".  We love you, though!)  There is a lot of every cuisine here.  And since Holland used to own Indonesia, there is a lot of that here.

Dinner was at De Kas, a large organic spot southeast of the city center that grows much of its own veggies and herbs.  It was good, but I think its hype is bigger than its bites.  Its prices certainly are.  But my dinner was free!  My fish was WAY over-cooked (mushy, not flaky), so I reported that to our head waitress.  I was comfortably full on the house-grown organic veggies, which were grilled to perfection, so I didn't need the fillet anyway.  Tom and I shared the cheese plate for dessert.  The bill arrived one "menu" (my 4-course meal) short, and the waitress explained [in perfect English as they all speak] that the chef appreciated my comments and complimented my meal.

Day 10

Mothers' Day at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of The Netherlands.  Rick Steves was right again -- Dutch art is "meat and potatoes" compared to the rest of Europe's stuff, and way more up my alley.  We did the "approximately one-hour" audio tour, and 2-1/2 hours later were glad we did.  The main museum is closed for renovation until 2013, so all the stuff we saw was in The Phillips Wing, which was added recently in 1890 (yes, eighteen-ninety).  The "meat and potatoes" exhibits are like a U.S. fireworks show -- start with some bravado -- a 1/12 scale dutch war ship model --slow it down with a bunch of still life paintings, then have the grand finale -- Rembrandt's "The Night Watch".

After the museum, we had a late lunch at a chic Indonesian restaurant, sharing "The Indonesia Plate for Two".  It was a selection nice of small dishes, each of which was great.

After lunch, we toured the red light district, which, as you might imagine, is not terribly active on a Sunday afternoon.  Still interesting, though.  And it's really a pretty small area.  From there it was back south toward the hotel and happy hour.

We didn't know about Sunday happy hour; we just came upon it.  We found a "friendly" [as if not all bars in Amsterdam aren't "friendly"] neighborhood spot near the hotel called Taboo.  There were lots of vacant sidewalk tables, so we parked at one and had a glass of wine.  Within the hour, the place filled to capacity and spilled into the street.  It was orchestrated almost like a flash mob.  (See pictures.)

Day 11

Today's plan was to take the bus out to Keukenhof Gardens, a renouned botanical garden open only two months each year in the spring to show off their spectactular tulips.  A colleague had told me about it.  (Thanks, Julie!)  RAIN.  So instead we made this our "lazy day", which every vacation needs anyway.  Shop, sip, and savor.

Day 12

It's our last full day on the trip. We figured we'd do Keukenhof today since we had rain yesterday.  Well, today, more rain.  We don't really want to tour the tulips in the rain.

So instead, we did a canal tour on a boat and a walking tour of Jordaan ("yor-DON"), a great quiet neighborhood (except for canal maintenance -- see the pics) where the Franks hid during WWII.  We had an hour before our boat set sail, so we found a sidewalk cafe (imagine that) and enjoyed a salad and some wine.  I'm sure Grand Island, Nebraska, is close, but I'm pretty sure I should have been born into cafe society.

The boat tour was fun,  if not predictable.  It lasted an hour and took us on a large loop around the city.  We learned several tidbits about Amsterdam.  For example, this is the only city that built a multi-deck parking garage for bikes.  (See pictures.)  And they've already outgrown it!

Sushi seems to have taken Amsterdam by storm, so we decided on a sushi spot for the last supper.  I hope that the restaurant we chose is not representative of Amsterdammer sushi.  It was adequate at best.

We returned to the hotel and asked them to book us a taxi to Schipol (they call it "skipple", but everyone else calls it "shipple".  Since they own it, we should probably go with their pronunciation.) at 5:00 AM for our 7:20 AM flight.

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