Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 7 -- Time to hit the road

And so it was time to head back to the US! After a very nice breakfast at the hotel, we made our way back to Centraal Station and took the quick train ride back out to the airport. We made it through security with no problem and took off on our 9 hour flight back to Seattle.

It was a great trip, and Amsterdam was a lovely city to visit!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 6 -- Flower Time!

Today we decided to go see some flowers. The first order of business was catching an early bus to a flower auction in a nearby suburb. It was going to be an hour-long ride, but our bus scraped up against a double-parked delivery truck, so we were forced to go to the next bus stop and await the following bus. Since we'd been in the area the day before, we were able to find the next stop, and about 10 minutes later, we were back on our way!

The flower auction is held in the largest commercial building in the world, so we didn't need to look too hard to determine which bus stop was ours! After going inside, we saw millions of flowers waiting to be purchased and hauled away. I took a video of the action:

In the middle of all of this were several bidding rooms where people were buying all different kinds of flowers. It was very interesting to see how all these flowers get sold!

Back on the road, we took another bus back to a bus terminal where we switched to a bus that was supposed to take us to another bus terminal near the airport. However, this bus stopped just shy of the airport, so we had to hop out and jump on a different bus to take us the rest of the way. Once we got there, we saw the bus we needed to get to the Keukenhof (a large flower exhibition).

Finally, we arrived at the Keukenhof. The flower displays were very nice, and we certainly got a chance to see all the tulips we had been missing during the earlier part of the trip! Not counting kids being dragged there by their parents, I'd say we were the youngest people there by about 30 years! Gangs of wheelchairs clogged most of the pathways as we tried to make our way around.

After seeing our fill of flowers, we took another couple of buses back to the city and walked back to our hotel.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 5 -- Back to the big city

Today was a leisurely day: we stayed at our hotel in the country until check-out time and enjoyed a nice walk around as well as breakfast on the front terrace.

Taking the bus back to the train station, we arrived and ran up to a train leaving for Amsterdam, but it started moving before we could hop on. Then, the same thing happened with another train! Now out of trains to chase, we had to cool our heels in the station for next train to Amsterdam...which was in about 25 minutes :)

Back in the city, we dropped off our bags at our new hotel along the Singel canal. It was a very nice setting, but our room, number 13, was 4 windy, narrow, and steep flights up from the ground level!

We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the city, this time going down to the Museum park, which was being prepped for Queen's Day.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 4 -- Off to the countryside

We got up early, bid farewell to the houseboat and took our last ferry ride across to Centraal Station. Out front, we discovered the bike parking garage featured on the last season of The Amazing Race! We purchased tickets for our train ride to Arnhem and enjoyed a smooth one hour trip in a non-smoking car.

From the station, we took a quick 15 minute bus trip up to our hotel, which resembled a country manor house straight out of Wuthering Heights (minus the foggy moors and a sulking Heathcliff). We dropped off our luggage and set off on foot for the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Since it was such a nice day, the 4km walk was a nice stroll. At the gates of the park, we picked up our free white bicycles that are for general use by all park visitors.

It was about a 12km ride to the park's visitor's center where we took a break to grab a snack and check out the park information. Then we went to the art museum located in the middle of the park. There was a very nice sculpture garden, so we strolled around the grounds before heading inside.
There was quite an impressive collection of Van Gogh paintings, as well as other famous artists. Then we hopped back on our bikes for another leisurely ride to the park gates.

That night, we had dinner at the hotel's gourmet restaurant. I had a very tasty duck dish, while Jon opted for the roast beef. Our table at the front of the restaurant had a lovely view to the well-manicured back lawn, and it was nice to be able to sit there as the sun set.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 3 -- Exploring

Today we had a full day in the city. With map in hand, we took the ferry with some local commuters back to Centraal Station and continued south on foot. We ate breakfast from a local coffee shop, and then we were off to the Anne Frank House.

The house looks like any of the million houses lining the canals of Amsterdam, aside from the line of tourists out front. We were told to go early to beat the crowds, but as it's not yet peak season, there wasn't too long of a wait. The house is very well-preserved, and it had some nice exhibits in the front house before you head to the hidden annex. All of them were available in English. Just before entering the secret staircase, there is a model of how the annex would have looked when Anne lived there. I appreciated having this view to get an idea of what I was looking at, but I think I would have preferred to see it at the end after having been in the rooms. Then, we entered the annex. I was shocked at how small all the rooms were, and to think that these people were there for two years constantly trying to be quiet so as to stay alive is a very sobering thought. Beyond the annex there's a video of Mr. Frank talking about the discovery of Anne's diary. The exhibit was done nicely, and the visit was a very moving experience.

In the afternoon, we took a spin through the famous flower market floating along one of the canals. As noted in our guide book, it's not a fantastic attraction, as most of the merchants just sell flower bulbs for you to plant once you get home. Aside from the wooden ones being sold here, we still had yet to spot any tulips (or windmills, for that matter)!

The streets were abuzz with preparation for Queen's Day which would occur the day we left. Everybody buys bright orange clothing and wigs, and there were carnival rides set up in Dam Square.

Then, we decided since we couldn't beat 'em, we'd join 'em! We rented a couple of bicycles from MacBike and hit the streets. Luckily, our guide book provided us with a nice route along the Amstel river. Although we made one wrong turn, the ride was very nice and took us out of the city and into the countryside. We took a quick stop at a windmill south of the city, which was soon mobbed by tour buses. Biking back into the city was fun, but it was rush hour, so the bicycle lanes were a bit crowded!

Here, Jon makes the mistake of forgetting exactly where he parked his bike:

That evening we were back at the houseboat for a relaxing night. I even managed to catch an episode of "Peking Express," which is the Dutch version of The Amazing Race. The show was in Dutch, but the contestants were in India, so they spent a fair amount of the episode communicating with locals in English.

We went to bed early, since we'd be up early on Saturday to catch a train to Arnhem.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 2 -- Arrival

We landed in Amsterdam at about 7am local time, fresh from the long flight and eager to check out the city. After going through passport control, we bought train tickets at the nearest electronic kiosk and rode the rails to Centraal Station. It was about a 20 minute trip, and the train was not very crowded.

Once on foot, we stored our luggage in a locker at the station and went off exploring. There wasn't much going on at that hour, but it was nice to explore all the canals and dense network of streets with the occasional bicyclist whizzing by!

At around 2pm, we went north to our houseboat. From the back of Centraal Station, we took the first of many free, 5 minute ferry rides to the north part of the city. Once there, we walked down the quiet, more residential streets to our houseboat, number 34N. There, the owner's son met us to show us around the place and the operation of the appliances. While it rained for the rest of the afternoon, we took a nap.

That evening, we wandered around north Amsterdam looking for a decent restaurant, and not finding one, we took the ferry back across for a nice dinner at small "brown cafe", named because their walls are stained from years of tobacco smoke. The meal was nice, although a bit pricey. Afterwards, we took our time strolling back to the houseboat, being careful to watch out for pickpockets!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Amsterdam: Day 1

Today we left Seattle on our way to Amsterdam. We had a nonstop flight on Northwest, which offered very nice service for the 10 hour trip "across the pond." I worked for part of the morning to ensure I wouldn't fall too far behind at the office during my absence.