Thursday, 25 June 2015

Amsterdam - Arrival, Stay and Departure

One more night on board, tomorrow we would dock in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam – our final port, our disembarkation port.

But not before some final sightseeing and one more exquisite meal.

After breakfast we went to the lounge to listen to all of the important information about our time in Amsterdam, disembarking, paying any bar bills or for any on board souvenirs etc. We were staying in Amsterdam for 3 nights, at the same hotel as Ralph and Hanny so put our names down to share a taxi to the hotel tomorrow morning. Then it was time to start packing. We headed down to the dining room for lunch and then at 1.30pm we set off on the coaches for a 5 minute drive to the point where we would board the 'glass topped boat' for a tour of some of Amsterdam's many canals. 

It was very, very busy on the canals, lots of Sunday drivers and learners which made for some hilarious situations, especially when you add some teenage girls on a pedalo.
After the one hour cruise we got off the boat, which was now on the Amstel river, and taking our life in our hands walked behind the guide toMunt Plein and the Flower Market.

Pedestrians are easy targets in any city, but in Amsterdam the cyclists are out to get you as well as the cars, buses, trucks etc. We had been warned that the pink road sections are cycle paths and bicycles have right of way – over EVERYTHING. Any accident involving a bicycle, the other vehicle or person is always in the wrong. There has not been a case which has gone to court where the bicycle was found to be in the wrong – always not guilty.
Add to this that scooters and low powered motorcycles are allowed to use cycle paths and it becomes mayhem.
Yes there is (sometimes) a paved pedestrian path, but this is used to park the hallowed bicycles so it becomes a single path, obstacle course.
Being a pedestrian in Amsterdam takes skill and guts.

So... we had and hour's free time to wander around the Flower Market and neighbouring area.
The flower market was mainly selling bulbs and souvenirs and after a quick perusal we hastened into some quieter side streets. We found ourselves in a square with some art works for sale and then I realised that at the other end of the square was one of the things on my list of 'to do in Amsterdam'. The 3D Nightwatch, under the statue of Rembrandt – we were in Rembrandt Square.

We strolled back to our meeting point and then followed the guide back to the coaches and were driven around Amsterdam's outer areas to an area where we could see a beautiful old windmill. In the little pond opposite the windmill there was a post with a nesting stork, and chicks, on top. There were a few sheep, a couple of cows, chickens, geese and a rabbit. I think our guide was a little bemused at the interest in a few sheep.

That evening we managed to get tables together, so that all of us who were on the coach trip around Croatia could sit together. We also managed to be in the area served by our favourite waiter – Mihal.

It was always fun to be in this area of the restaurant and tonight was very jolly. It was also Hanny's birthday so after dinner the head waiter and staff brought around a Birthday cake and sang happy birthday.

What a lovely last evening.

The next morning it was time to disembark – the cabins had to be vacated by 9.00am so we were up, down to breakfast around 7.30am.
We had a taxi booked for 9.45am and put our bags out by 8.45am. Some people had early flights, some had in fact left before 6.00am, the rest of us sat in the lounge and as people left there were hugs, kisses and some tears.

Our taxi arrived and we discovered that we had been organised to share with another couple as well as Ralph and Hanny. They were going to an apartment for a week. Our taxi driver (the most glamorous taxi driver that Michael had ever seen, a very attractive lady), obviously knew her city because there were lots of road work blocking off streets and she had to detour time and time again. We dropped off the couple at their address and then continued on a short way to our hotel – Hotel Van Gogh.

We were far too early for check in but I had emailed a query earlier about leaving bags, and sure enough we were able to drop the bags and then go for a wander around.
Armed with our tourist maps, the four of us, walked a short way to Vondel Park and then up to the Leidseplein.
We sat outside at a little cafe / pub by a canal and soaked up the ambience. Michael tried to locate places from his previous visits but we worked out that the last time we were in Amsterdam was 1994 things had changed.

We walked around, and walked some more. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe and enjoyed a fabulous, enormous sandwich and a terribly delicious hot chocolate. It wasn't cheap but it was delicious.
Then it was time to head back to the hotel and check in. 

We walked back to the museum district and walked through the pedestrian / cycle route under the Rijksmuseum, into Museum Square. 

There were lots of families and tourists enjoying the park and the art displays. We sat on the wall at the edge of the pool and enjoyed people watching. Then we walked a short way along Paulus Potterstraat to our hotel.
We deliberately chose an hotel away from the busy nightlife of Leidseplein and chose the Hotel Van Gogh, which is opposite the Van Gogh Museum in the Museum district. Reasonably quiet both day and night. The hotel is situated in a side street, opposite a school. The playground is the pavement between the two.
Some people on tripadvisor found this a nuisance, we found it delightful. The play time screams were not a distraction and they won't be doing it at midnight. 

                                        (our hotel room wall)

We checked in, opting to pre book for breakfast each day for only 5 euro each. (6.50 euro if paid on the day). We found our rooms, opposite each other on the first floor, and all decided to unpack and have a rest before meeting up later to walk back to Leidseplein for dinner.
Around 3.00pm we heard a faint fire alarm going off, looked out of the window and saw all the little kids trailing out of the school. It was obviously a school fire drill. The youngest were in a line, holding on to hoops tied together, all very well behaved. Not intrusive or annoying at all.

We walked back to Leidseplein and immediately selected Mr Tong's Bistro.
The full menu had meals around 13 euro but the daily special was a Wok meal for 5 euro (select the meat, the sauce, and whether noodles, plain rice or fried rice.)
The drinkers amongst us had a lovely, local beer. The meal itself was great, and we sat next to fellow diners from Melbourne. The waiter, was Indian and had lived in Melbourne and Darwin.

On our way back to the hotel, we were surprised when a cyclist fell off his bicycle in front of us – for no apparent reason.(we think his front wheel may have touched a rubber wrapped chain lying on the ground in front of a bicycle hire shop). He had been riding along, smoking a cigarette, and talking on his mobile phone one minute and the next minute he's on the ground.
Michael and Ralph took a few moments to check out bicycles in the hire shop, then we all walked on. Just as we crossed the road a bicycle rode past, then we heard a crash – same cyclist, same place, same accident.
Stoned! Was the unanimous verdict.

We walked back through the Rijksmuseum passageway, through museum square and back to the hotel, bed and a nice quiet night's sleep.

The children started to arrive for school around 8.30am, gentle noises.
We went down to breakfast, expecting just cereal and croissants but we were pleasantly surprised to find fresh fruits, cereals, pastries, cold meats and cheeses, bacon, mushrooms and beans. Fruit juice and coffee machine.
Incredible value for 5 euro.

Ralph and Hanny had not spent time in Amsterdam before so headed off to 'do' the Rijksmuseum. We walked northwards to Waterlooplein market. We loved wandering around and couldn't resist lunch at a little stall – frites mit mayonnaise (chips and mayonnaise), a Dutch tradition, lovely.
(The only thing that we bought at the market was a folding emergency triangle for 2 euro).

That evening we met up with Ralph and Hanny and again walked into Leidseplein and after walking around a few streets headed back to Mr Tongs but elected on a banquet for 4, and a couple of beers each.

Are we jinxed, or are we lucky? We were just about to cross the road near the Rijksmuseum when two cyclist collided. No one fell off or was hurt but it was another night's entertainment.

The next morning we were off to another market, Albert Cuyp Market. Hanny fancied joining us, so they postponed their visit to Madame Tussaud's until the afternoon.
We walked down some quiet suburban streets to the market. It was a good market too. Hanny bought some shoes, and we bought a new sportsbag.

There was a little sandwich bar near the end of the market and we all enjoyed a hearty sandwich.
Ralph and Hanny caught a tram to Madam Tussaud's and we walked back through the market to the hotel.

Dinner that night was going to be a rice table at an Indonesian restaurant (it was my birthday) but when we asked if we could just have the banquet for 2 between the 4 of us they said no. We were not hungry enough to eat a full banquet so moved on. We walked along the streets that we had walked that morning. We spotted an Ethiopian restaurant but it looked deserted and each dish seemed to contain minced beef and cottage cheese and be served with flat bread. Just down the road was a Thai restaurant. It was busy, which is a good sign.
The place was almost full, but we got a table for four. There was just one poor waitress, running her legs off. Her mother was behind the bar but seemed only to be allowed to fill bowls with prawn crackers. The food was delicious, tasty without being too fiery. Although almost full we splashed out and had dessert – lychees and ice cream. A splendid birthday meal with friends.

In the evenings museum plein was nice and quiet, we were able to enjoy the beautiful Miffy the rabbit art works without lots of happy children cuddling them.

The next morning saw an end to our stay in Amsterdam – we were off to UK. (Ralph and Hanny were travelling into Netherlands then on to Finland and Poland).

The next morning  we said a bientot to Ralph and Hanny as they were off to get a train at 10.30am we would be getting a later intercity train to Brussels. 
After breakfast we. Then we went checked out and as we had a couple of heavy bags we opted to get a taxi to the station, not a tram. There was a taxi stand outside the Van Gogh museum, opposite the hotel so Michael went over to grab a cab. The driver seemed to know where he was going but when we were in north Amsterdam and had been in the cab for quite a while we started making anxious noises. His reasoning was that it would be a long walk for us if he dropped us at the front  of the station so he was going to set us down at the back of the station, closer to the trains. Unfortunately there was not set down or stopping at the back of the station so we had to join heavy traffic and make our way to the front of the station. The driver kept making different excuses for the long non-direct journey and eventually just pulled up opposite the front of the station and said he'd let us out there, and gave us a discount on the fare (meter read 29 euro, he said 20 was okay! We'd anticipated a direct taxi fare would cost around 18 - 20 so paid him his 20 euro).
We dragged our bags across 3 road junctions into the front entrance of the station. It was only a short walk to the intercity platform and there was only a 12 minute wait for a train. This train would get us into Brussels a coupld of hours early for our Eurostar train, but we were so unhappy after our taxi ride that we didn't want to stay in Amsterdam any longer. We boarded the next train.
We considered leaving our bags in the area between carriages but decided to bring them into the cabin with us, leaving them on the seat next to us.

It wasn't a fast train (because when I booked our Eurostar ticket back in Aus, the tickets for Thalys were not open and I wanted to get a good Eurostar discount price) and stopped at Schipol airport, Rotterdam and Antwerp, and a couple of other places, eventually pulling into it's last stop - Brussels midi. We were very happy that we had followed our instincts and kept our bags close by because there were a couple of announcements on the train warning of pickpockets at the stations and on the train!
We couldn't check in, as check in is only for the next train departure, and to change our ticket to an earlier train would mean paying over 3 times the price I'd paid for the ticket - we sat at Sam's Cafe and had a coffee. We read the paper, and had another coffee. Then we could check in and go through immigration and security. All done very easily, then we could board so we walked down to our carriage and found our seats. Thank you 'The Man In Seat 61'. 
When I booked the tickets I read all the notes and hints by The Man in Seat 61, one important tip being that the seating plan on the eurostar website was back to front. We had good seats, with an unobstructed window and we were facing forwards.
Soon we were pulling into St Pancras International Station. 
We weren't sure where we caught the train out to St Albans so I sat Michael down with the luggage and wandered off to find 'information'On the way I got some money out of an ATM, still no euro in UK - back to pounds and pence. I spotted the Thameslink sign, and a sign for St Albans. Next to the barrier were to ticket machines so I bought 2 tickets and headed back to collect the luggage, and Michael.
The next train was not an express train but we didn't mind and were soon walking out of the station, into a taxi and within 10 minutes we were outside Michael's brother's house.
A lovely welcome and a nice cuppa tea.

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