An Almost Christmas Vacation: Amsterdam

Part 1: Intro + Travel to Amsterdam
Part 2: Amsterdam
Part 3: Cologne
Part 4: The Rhine + Trier
Part 5: Luxembourg/Belgium
Part 6: Paris
Part 7: Return Home

Saturday, December 8
On arrival to Amsterdam, I made my way through the crowds of passengers in the halls and headed straight for the KLM Crown Lounge.  My plan was to grab a little bit more for breakfast and to take a shower before heading into town.  Upon entering the lounge at first, KLM tried to deny access to me, as apparently Delta was no longer paying KLM for arrival access if the passenger is traveling in Business Elite (which I was) or has SkyTeam Elite Plus status (which I have by way of my Platinum Medallion status on Delta).  The agent refused, until they asked if I had a Sky Club card, which of course I do have, just I leave it at home.  There isnt much use to carrying it since domestically I use Delta lounges and internationally I haven’t been denied access before based on traveling in a premium cabin or frequent flyer status.

Luckily I did get granted access, and quickly put my name on the list for a shower.  I went and grabbed a coffee and a few things to munch on and found a place near the windows to sit for a bit while also making sure my phone worked and check up on a few things.  After sitting there for a little over an hour, I decided to give up on getting that shower and decided to leave the lounge.  I wanted that shower badly, but now it was eating into my time for Amsterdam and that just wasn’t worth it.  As what seems to be the case with the Netherlands, Immigration and Customs was quick and painless and I was off to buy my train ticket into the city center.  While getting my ticket, I picked up an OV-chipkaart, which is an RFID-based electronic fare card for all public transit in the Netherlands, including services run by the national railway operator, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS – Dutch Railways).  This system was just beginning to be rolled out when I was last in the city of Amsterdam in 2008; at that time one could still use a strippenkaart, which was a paper ticket that was a long strip and portions of the ticket would be cancelled out depending on the respective fare.  Regardless, the strippenkaart I had at home with a ride or two left of it, was now no longer valid.  As almost always, there was a fee to get the card, but I’m sure I’ll be back in Amsterdam within 5 years to get some more use out of it.

Always A Good View From The KLM Crown Lounge

Getting back on track. with my ticket in hand I made my way down to the NS platforms that are underneath the main shopping plaza at Amsterdam Schipol.  While I missed one train right as I got to the bottom, another one was along shortly and I was on my way to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Stepping off the train I made my way through the halls that seemed no different than back in 2008.  It seemed that everything was in the same place, or at least as much as I could remember.  First order of business was to secure my suitcase in a locker so I could go see some sights before checking into my hotel that afternoon.  From there I walked up Damrak to Dam Square, which aside from the large Christmas tree, it too was pretty much the same.  After looking around and just walking down a few of the side streets, I boarded a tram and headed a few stops down the line to the Heineken Experience – which I had thought was the actual brewery (and maybe it was), but when I was last here in 2008, it had been closed for renovations.  Probably to make it what it was today.  Really the place is a museum of Heineken; there’s exhibits on the history of the brand, the process of brewing, as well as a “ride” where you “experience” being brewed into a bottle of Heineken.  Overall, it was a bit interesting, given if anything the number of Heinekens I have drank over the years.  At the end of the visit, as with all beer-related tours, you get to drink some beer!  I had the option of using my two tokens to get two beers, or use my two tokens to learn how to pour the “perfect glass” of Heineken and get one beer + a certificate.  I decided that since I already had one beer earlier in the museum, I would go for the certificate.  It took a few times, but I finally got it…or at least close enough…I’m now a Certified Pourer!

Moving on, I headed back down to Dam Square, not really sure where I would go next.  Most important though, was that it was now late enough that I could check into my hotel for the night, the Hotel CC.  Located on the edge of the Red Light District, I had picked it for being centrally located and a 5 minute walk to the main train station.  You know, just in case I was running late or it was raining or something else.  Now that doesn’t mean that the building next door to me had, well, Red Lights or anything…being on the edge meant that there were a few ‘coffeeshops’ which sell nothing of the sort.  At check-in I was given Room 1 which is ground level room facing the street.  In fact I think it was the only ground level room that faced the street in the hotel.  That meant that I got all the sounds and smells of the outside world in my room.  Could be worse, but it sucked that it meant that I wouldn’t be able to even have the curtains open without being on display.

Hotel CC – Entry

Hotel CC – Bed

Hotel CC – Front (My Room Was The Two Large Windows On The Right)

Heading back out I found myself out in front of the train station again and I decided to get on one of the canal tour boats.  I know that it is rather touristy, but it’s something that I have not done and it does give a different perspective on the city, plus some of the history that I didn’t know.  I timed it just right too, because it would get dark-ish while I was out on the canals and I could watch the city light up.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was about the three times where the guide program was interrupted to tell us about other fantastic deals that Gray Line offered in Amsterdam.  I hate ads.

Canal Boats Lined Up Along Damrak

View From The Canal

After the tour I went in search of dinner, which I thought I would go for herring, since that seemed like the Dutch thing to do and I had seen a place from the tour boat that I figured I would walk to to try.  Unfortunately, they must close up at dark as all that was at the spot now was a hot dog cart, and I certainly didn’t fly all the way to Amsterdam to eat a hot dog.

More aimless wandering followed and not finding anywhere that looked promising I was back in Dam Square.  At this point I was getting pretty hungry and I did not feel like wasting much more time so I opted for a place right on the square.  Now, the place looked like it might be a little pricey, but at this point I didn’t care.  It had all those hip and modern design elements and a rather varied menu.  I was looking for something unique and different and went with something called the Dutch Trio.  It was essentially three different stacks consisting of meat, biscuit, different takes on mashed potatoes (I think).  There were some interesting flavors, but hopefully this wasn’t what Dutch cuisine was.  The price wasn’t horrible, but at the same time I could have just gone to McDonald’s and been just as satisfied.  I had a few beers while there, but neither of them really stood out much.  One was just called white beer and the other was something else which I cannot remember.  Oh well.

Aimless Wandering

Dinner – Dutch Trio (Horrible Cell Phone Camera and Lighting)

I decided from there that I would wander into the Red Light District; not to partake in any of the activities that are offered there, but just to walk around.  The tolerance the Dutch have for the activities that go on inside this area is interesting to me as a foreigner – I think that is what draws a majority of the visitors to this area.  Honestly, I saw very little in the way of “transactions” occurring, although they certainly do try to lure you in.  I think a large number of the visitors, judging by the composition of groups are more just doing the saem thing as I was…walking around in awe.  Of course there are plenty of those who are there also partaking in the activities otherwise, the area wouldn’t be there. The rest of the evening was spent really just walking around around and at one point grabbing a few beers at a bar (of the regular variety).  It was a little before midnight before I returned to the hotel and decided I would try to crash. I had not got much sleep in the past two nights, with probably 4 hours the day before I left and about 4 hours on the plane, so I was pretty wiped.  Of course I also had a 10:35am train the next morning that I definitely did not want to miss…

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