Friday, April 07, 2006

Amsterdam, My Beloved City

Off to Amsterdam, I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. this morning to be ready for the airport shuttle at 4:30. By the time I had showered and finished gathering last minute things, there was no time for coffee, let alone breakfast. Ron irritated me first thing by not getting up like he said he would. I thought coffee would be waiting for me and he would be up to see me off. I went to grab my carry-on from the bedroom and forget it was not zipped. The whole thing emptied on the floor. With swear words in whispers, since there is a guest in the other room, I flung the lights on not caring if it disturbed Ron’s sleep or not. After all, he had promised to be up with me. I refilled the case and I was out the door.
The shuttle came, but was five minutes late, unusual for them, so I was getting nervous even with time to spare. When we arrived at the airport, I still had time for two cigarettes and a coffee, before going through security and Customs. My ticket and the agent stated I was number 47 to board. However, it is a cattle call to climb aboard a bus to get to the plane, so what difference did it make that I had a number?
I was able to be one of the first ones on the plane, so I was able to get a front seat on the aisle. It was fairly full and two young people chose the seats next to me. Wizz Air is not bad. They left on time, the seats are leather fronts, and there is sufficient legroom to stretch a bit. The flight was only one hour and 40 minutes.
There were only two lines at Customs open: EU passports and all others. The ‘all others’ line was moving fast, with people getting through within thirty seconds. It did not immediately occur to me that there was a black man ahead of me. He was with a white woman who zipped on through. I knew he would be delayed. It literally took him seven minutes to get through. The agent looked at every page of his passport, which I seem to think was a German passport, then looked at the photo page, and thumbed through again. I was embarrassed for this young man and wondered how often he has to be subjected to this scenario. When my turn came, even with a U.S. passport, it took a good three minutes for me to get through.
It seemed like forever for the luggage to arrive, but finally I was able to grab my bag. I found the ticket machines to buy the train ticket to the Central Station. There was a line. I thought they were slow, until it was my turn. The sign next to the machine said the ticket was 3.90 Euros. I had the exact change, which did not do me any good. The machine only took cards. It refused my Mastercard twice, so I gave up and left in search of others. I found a ticket office, but was warned they charge an extra Euro for using a person. To the left were more machines. One of them took cash, so I tried it. As you go through the choices buttons light up and you choose one option. When the class was lit, only the 1st class button lit up. I thought there were no choices since 2nd class was dark. I hit 1st, put in my 3.90 and then there was another choice. I hit one, since there was no English translation, I had to take a guess. There were a bunch of young guys behind me getting rowdy and in English with an Aussie accent, said “Just choose one, mate.” I did as commanded. My ticket appeared and I went to the train.
Although I had a 1st class ticket, I was sitting in 2nd class. I did not care, it was only two stops and I was charged being in the country again. The conductor came around first thing and I handed him my ticket. He said ‘Thank you’ and then something in Dutch. When he realized I did not understand, he said “English?” He asked if I had a discount card. When I said that I did not, he showed me on the ticket where I had bought a discounted ticket. I explained what happened and he very nicely told me that I could pay him the balance of 5 Euros and a 37 Euro fine. When my face turned red, I could feel the heat rising from my toes, he said he would let me get off at the next station, but I would have to buy another ticket. I chose that option.
On the ground floor of the station, there is a store that sells tickets. I went and purchased another ticket for 2.10 Euro and .50 Euro cents handling charge. Okay, not too bad considering I did not have to spend 37 Euros for a fine. I only had to wait 15 minutes for the next train; the sun was shining in spite of the prediction for rain, so my mood was still upbeat.
When I arrived at the station, I immediately went to the transportation office to buy my 72 hour transit pass. From the outside it looked empty, but when I entered, it was full of people. I took my number 245 and looked up to see they were helping 222. It would be awhile, but I am in Amsterdam. Who cares? It was relatively quick and I was walking out with my transit ticket in hand. Wanting to feel the city again, I walked half way to the hotel, the Golden Bear . I knew my way since I had stayed at the same place two years ago. Half way there, I hopped on a tram and my ticket was validated. The clock is ticking. When I arrived at the hotel at 11:00, I was checked in, but my room would not be ready until 1:00. They gave me a 10% discount due to our B and B connections. I left my things and took off walking.
It seemed like I had walked for a half a dozen hours, but when I looked at my watch, it had only been one hour. Still another hour to go before I could check in and take a nap, the question was whether or not I really wanted to. Being here is so uplifting, though like everywhere else it seems, the stores and shops that I had once been used to are now different names and merchandise with only some staying the same.
At 1:01, I did check into my room, on the second floor. It would not be so bad, but the Dutch build up, not out due to tax laws hundreds of years ago. Therefore, the steps are short, steep, and curvy. They seem to be made for someone with feet like a cat, the balance of a gazelle, and the fortitude of a mountain goat. My room is larger than expected with a double bed, closet, sink, and desk with a TV and DVD player. I share the shower and WC with one other room only and it is just across a small hallway.
After a two hour nap, I was out again walking. I cannot believe how much walking I am doing with a transportation pass in my pocket, but it feels good. I went down to Rembrandtplein where I had noticed life size statues of The Night Watch. I went back with my camera this time getting there before mobs surrounded statues posing. It was done by two Russian artists on their own, without a commission for the work. It took them six years to complete it. There is also a large statue of Rembrandt behind them that I do not remember seeing on previous trips here.
Walking another six blocks, I jumped on the number 4 tram to see where it would go in the direction opposite the train station. When I arrived in a residential district, I got off again and hopped one in the other direction. I took it to the station, went to see if the tourist office was still open, but it was not. I went to St. Nicholas Church and went in since the gate and front door were open, but the door to the church was closed. It is a Roman Catholic Church with masses in Dutch, Latin, and Spanish. This is the St. Nick of Santa Claus fame.
Hours of walking around later, I headed back to the hotel, but stopped at a coffee shop close by a la Starbucks. I sat in the window and took some pictures of interesting people as they walked by. Then I went back to the hotel, dropped off the camera and went to dinner at 9:00. I had noticed a restaurant close-by that had an all you can eat special on ribs. Loving ribs as I do, I could not pass that up. Thus far, my day’s sustenance had been fries with peanut sauce and a latte coffee. I was due for some food.
As I entered the restaurant, there was a young man by himself seated near the door. He had a large glass in front of him like is used to serve fancy coffee drinks. He still had his hat and coat on. When his phone rang, I could identify him as a Southerner from the U.S. He told the person on the other end that he was getting something to eat and would meet ‘them’ at the place they were staying. Food orders were coming out for other guests, but he still had none. After about twenty minutes, he got up and headed out the door. The waitress told two of the guys who went chasing after him. While he was gone, the waitress had cleared his table, which would turn out to be a mistake. The young man returned and sat down again, but not quietly. He kept insisting he ordered a steak, but never received it. The waitress insisted he had never ordered a steak, but had ordered and received an Irish coffee. He swore he never ordered, received or drank any type of coffee, but only a steak. They went back and forth. I was tempted to jump in since I did see the glass, but thought better of it. He finally dropped a five Euro note down and walked out. He did look like he had partaken of goodies at some of the ‘coffee shops’ that serve more than coffee.
When my ribs arrived, there were two huge racks. I did not know any animal could have that many ribs connected, but they were good. The Dutch love their mayonnaise. That was the dressing for the salad and also the topper for the fries. After the first plate of ribs, I had had it. I could not order any more. I did have to rush back to floss my teeth though; I hate that feeling of needing major toothpick excavations. It started to sprinkle on the way back, but the day was almost perfect other wise.
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