Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 12: Amsterdam (Sept. 28)

Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

So apparently they're serious about this whole reservation thing. It's like The Amazing Race where you go up to the counter and buy the earliest ticket to the destination if the direct route isn't available. Since I didn't make a reservation on the 8:25 Paris to Amsterdam train, it was sold out (who knew that it would be a popular route on a Wednesday morning?), and so they booked me on the 8:58 to Lille, Flanders, arriving 10:00 with a 5-minute layover to catch the next train, the 10:05 to Antwerp, Belgium, arriving 11:55. From there I had an 8 minute layover to catch the noon train to Amsterdam, arriving 14:09. If I miss any of the trains, there's another one an hour later. However, I planned on arriving direct at 11:43 so I'm already thinking of how I'll have to rearrange my 2 days in Amsterdam schedule.



The train from Paris stopped in Lille and Gent (which is pronounced "Yent", I had no idea) before arriving in Antwerp Berchem. Wait, I was supposed to go to Centraal, not Berchem. Apparently nobody told me I have to take another train one stop to Centraal. And with the delay in leaving and this extra ride, there went my 12:03 to Amsterdam. Turns out there was a 12:31 Thalys that I could have taken, but the lady in Paris at the ticket counter didn't make a reservation for me and I got in too close to the departure time where they stopped selling tickets. (Antwerp at least had a nice train station, and of course they sold diamonds in stores just outside the train station.) Ended up on the regular 13:00-15:09 train that stopped in Rotterdam, Schipol Airport, and 3 other cities. If I waited til the next high-speed Thalys at 14:30, it would get in at 15:45 and I'm late enough as it is, so that's the one.

It took me some time to get oriented in Amsterdam and to figure out where I needed to go. It also didn't help that I had the info in email but of course there was no wifi at the station to look it up. Had to go to the Tourist Information booth for that. Finally made it to the apartment around 4:30pm, and I wasn't going to have enough time to see any of the museums I had planned for the day since they close at 6. So instead I did most of Rick Steves' city walk, from Centraal Station down past Dam Square (but not all the way to the museums), and ended at the Majestic in the Square for dinner. For Hoofdgerechten (main), I had "3 verschillende stamppotten met een gehaktbal, gebakken spek & Hollandse worst met jus" which is "3 typical Dutch mashes with a meatball, bacon, and Dutch sausage with gravy". Very good! Along the way I stopped to buy tickets for a bus tour, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and a canal ride, all for the next day.

I took a guided tour of the Red Light District from Randy Roy's, and it was a fascinating look at how the system operates there, from which alleys are cheaper (because the women are older) and which are the African/Asian/Eastern European alleys, how the windows work, the marijuana culture and history and how the shops work here (hint: if it says "coffee shop", that's not their main product), and how the sex industry in general works there (from health care to taxes to rent). There were hordes of tourists there, the vast majority just to walk around and gawk. Lots of women, too, in pairs or groups, and lots of couples of all ages. Quite a place. The tour ended in a bar with a free beer; during WWII, Nazi officers often met at this former gay bar which was also used by the Resistance at the same time to hide weapons.

My Amsterdam apartment is very interesting too. You walk up a few steps from the street level and use one key to open the front door. Then you walk up a very steep staircase to the first floor, then another to the second. Inside there you use another key to open the door to the apartment, and on the first floor there is the kitchen, living room, dining room, and a bedroom, and up another set of stairs is the bathroom and two other bedrooms. Mine has a balcony, but it's the shared balcony for the apartment so while I was gone the 3 guys who live there sat outside (for the first good weather in a while). With the steep narrow stairs, I can see why it's often easier to lift the furniture from the outside and bring it in through a window.

After I got back I had to figure out what my plan was for the next day since I had 2 days worth of stuff to condense into 1.

Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

(Originally posted on 10/2/11 at 2:36am, Copenhagen)

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