Posts Tagged ‘Amsterdam’

Living on the edge – not my favorite thing

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

July 30, 2010:

Our day started out something like this…. It was 1 am on Friday in Amsterdam, and we were leaving this cool little local bar we found. We enjoyed our rare night-out and ended up staying for a lot longer than we should have and consumed a little too much beer – given we are supposed to catch a train in 6 hours (to arrive in Koblenz, Germany around noon, pick up our rental car at 1 and drive down to a hotel in a small town called Oberwesel… then our week-long road trip in Germany would begin..) It was also our last night in Amsterdam so we got carried away along with great beer (finally got access to Belgian Trappist beer Westvleteren!) and fun company.

The next morning, we did not make it on the 7 am train. We also missed the next (almost) direct train at 9:40 am by 5 minutes! So we got on the next train to Germany at 10:40 am, which involved 4 connections! We ran from one train to the next to make sure we didn’t miss any connections. We also got to catch up on season 3 of Mad Men whenever we were on the train – best part of these train rides 🙂 We would’ve ended up in a different city on one of the connections had we not moved to the “right” side of the disconnecting train. Apparently, trains sometimes split and head in different directions. Of course, most people on the train are aware of this and it is announced (in their native language and very rarely in English) before it happens, but it is not much of help when you’re new to the train system and are in a foreign country. Luckily, we overheard another English speaking couple talking about it and got on the right side just in time and arrived at Koblenz Lutzel station at 4:30 pm.

With the google map walking direction and lots of asking around, it took us another 30 minutes to get on the right street, 15 min of bus ride, and 15 min of more walking to get to the car rental. Every bit of walking is hard when you’re lugging around all your stuff (our rollies and backpacks) in 85 degrees heat and humidity. I really don’t know how backpackers do it!! So the car rental, which was only 2 km away took us 1 hour to get to!

It was already 5:30 pm and we were just crossing our fingers that they wouldn’t close early on Fridays…. We had no way of checking since we are traveling without voice/data plan on our phone. We were happy to see that they were still open! However, when we got to the receptionist after waiting in a long queue, she told us that our reservation had been automatically cancelled because they have a two-hour grace period and we said we would pick it up at 1 pm. Thus, they already gave away the car we had booked and they were sold out for the weekend! I just wanted to cry when I heard this and walked away. The calmer Frank explained our need to get to another town that night, and the not-so-helpful receptionist said sorry, but there may be more cars available on Sunday. Then she told us that there are a couple more car rentals nearby, but she was not able to call to ask them whether they had any available cars….because why? So all we could do was pick up our bags once again, and continue walking to another car rental shop. Luckily, one place still had a car available for a week. Although much much more expensive than the deal we had booked at the first rental place, we were grateful that we could get to our hotel that night. However, they didn’t have any more GPS left, which meant that I was going to be a navigator since I cannot drive a stick-shift. Bad news! At least, we had the driving directions from Google maps that we had looked up in advance and saved on our laptop.

Navigating in a foreign country takes some time to get used to. Not only are the signs in a different language, but it’s not as clearly marked as in the U.S. Oftentimes, they don’t bother posting the highway number/name (e.g. 5 south); instead, it only states the destination city (e.g. Los Angeles). This doesn’t work very well when we barely know the name of town we are heading to, let alone the lay of the land. Naturally, we missed a lot of turns and exits because we couldn’t match the highway signs with Google map directions. Anyhow, a few hours later, we finally arrived at our hotel Schoenburg (a unique place that was built in a real castle) in a small town by the Rhine River. We were famished by then, and just made it in time for the last serving at a local restaurant.

I have a feeling that this won’t be the last time that things don’t go as planned and/or miss our trains on this trip (we still have five more months to go and numerous train rides ahead of us), but hopefully I will learn to cope with surprises and deal with it better each time. And I will continue to pack my backpack with plenty of snacks so we are not lost and hungry at the same time 🙂

Amsterdam

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

July 25, 2010 (Sunday) – July 30, 2010 (Friday)

“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Solvang anymore….” Where are the windmills? Where are the colorful tuilp-lined hillsides? Where are all the blond ladies with pigtails wearing wooden clogs? This is definitely not Solvang. This is Amsterdam. Home of the canals, home of the bike-riding populous, home of the famed red-light district, home of amstel light. And of course, home of many people’s favorite herbal lady, MJ (and I’m not talking about my MJ….correction, MK)

I don’t know what I quite expected of Amsterdam, but in some ways it was what I expected (the canals; the bikes); and in other ways not what I expected (marijuana smell was not pervasive; windmills didn’t litter the city).

We were to be in Amsterdam for five days, so we wanted to get the obligatory museum / tourist sights out of the way in the beginning. So we spent the first two days visiting the Van Gogh museum, Rijks museum, couple of the main churches (Oude Kerk and Nieuwe kerk), and the Anne Frank museum (technically I visited this later in the week, but for the sake of fluidity of my blog posting I’m lumping it in together here). The Van Gogh museum was quite fascinating as it exhibits Van Gogh’s works spanning the whole of his career. Side note: interestingly, when I first learned about Van Gogh in elementary school, the teachings highlighted that Van Gogh cut off his ear as an act of passion towards his love (and if I recall correctly, a female). But in the museum, there was no mention of this. But rather, that he cut off his ear after a fight with his friend. So, either our elementary schools are once again massaging history to get kids interested in learning art by making up some romantic story, or, I day-dreamed all of that, perhaps as a glimpse into my own soul and romanticized delusions. At any rate, Van Gogh ended up with only one ear, and I still have both of mine.

Rijks museum housed Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch. Impressive, indeed. To experience firsthand the sheer size and detail of the work was alone well worth the price of admission. And considering that they’re renovating most of the museum for another few years and The Night Watch was the highlight piece on display in the temporary exhibit, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate statement.

Anne Frank museum. I went in alone because Miriam doesn’t like Anne Frank and her plight. Just kidding. Miriam didn’t go because she’s been already the last time she was in Amsterdam. She said that I should go to learn some compassion and tolerance. Psh….good luck. Anyway, after reading the Diary of Anne Frank in 8th grade, it was great to actually see firsthand things I remembered from the book, not exact details, but things like the bookcase hiding the secret stairwell, or being in the room where the families had to hide day and night, or being in the house and seeing some of the preserved walls from how it was when Anne Frank and her family lived there. Quite an eye-opening experience.

Okay, enough of that, let’s talk happy. Unlike Vincent from Pulp Fiction, we did eat at Burger King. And also witnessed that at McDonald’s in Amsterdam, there is in fact, a quarter pounder with cheese. Food in Amsterdam was surprisingly quite good (fast food chains notwithstanding). Led by our trusty guidebook and recommendations from my former coworkers, we experienced the exquisite low-priced, but tasty Van Dobben croquettes, Jonk herring, and Dutch pancakes (mix between a crepe and omelet); excellent Indonesian food and Argentine steaks (it’s hard not to try when you’re inundated by Argentine steakhouses literally on every corner); and nicer establishments such as Envy and De Kas (excellent fresh vegetables and edible flowers).

In between all this eating and museum-hopping, we did manage to take in the city, separately by both bike and canal. We spent a morning trying to blend in with the locals (despite our obvious differences in hair and skin color) by riding our bikes around town and through Vondelpark. Miriam is becoming quite the hell-on-wheels “bikeress”, confidently ringing her bicycle bell at approaching, unsuspecting pedestrians. What have we created!

And last, but not least, the bars. This is becoming a bit of a too common mention, the bars. But honestly, we are not alcoholics (yeah yeah, step 1). Anyway, the first bar worth mentioning, my friend recommended, and I’m glad he did. We finally saw a windmill!!! This bar, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, was great. Not only did it have the aforementioned windmill, but it had a great outdoor seating area, and the beers were cheap and good. A welcome combination on these warm weather days here in Amsterdam. The second bar, which we enjoyed (perhaps a bit too much) was Gollem. We found this “locals” joint after a day spent wandering around De Negen Straatjes (“The Nine Streets”). This bar was small, but with a good crowd without too many tourists. And, they served an extensive selection of Belgian beers (including all the Belgian trappist beers). This is where we capped off our Amsterdam trip: into the wee hours with good beer, good friends we met at Gollem, and 3 hot dogs at 3am. All this fun, and we didn’t get high once.

To view more pictures from Amsterdam, visit the Photos.