Thursday, March 3, 2016

Two Nights in Amsterdam (to the tune of One Night in Bangkok)

by Tony Morris

In case I haven’t mentioned it, I am second generation Delta.  My father was a pilot.  He hired on in 1950 and took an early retirement in 1977, so I could join the Delta family.  Back then, Delta’s anti-nepotism policy prevented both of us from working there at the same time.  Although my father has passed, my mother is still hanging in there (she’ll be 96 in April).  Because she is the un-remarried survivor of a retiree, she still gets passes.  AND she can name a travel companion.  My two brothers take turns each year, being her travel companion.  Truth be told, she doesn’t travel any more (see “96 in April” above) but that doesn’t stop them.  I have travelled with one brother, Terry, before but never with the other, Tim.  And this year is Tim’s year as the companion.
Anyway… I’ve been travelling a lot since 1977.  Sometimes BJ and I will just grab our passports and head to the airport to see where we can end up. (A slight exaggeration but it’s close enough to true).  I was ready to get on a plane and the flights to and from Amsterdam over an upcoming weekend looked pretty good.  I asked Tim if he’d like to go and he jumped on it.  As often happens, as we got closer to departure day, the outbound flights looked less and less “makeable”.  On departure day, I dropped off Tim and BJ (and Lucy) at the airport and headed off to park the car.  BJ and Lucy were on the way to Jacksonville, but had time to accompany Tim out to F Concourse for our Amsterdam departure.  By the time I got back from parking, and through security, Tim and BJ were at the departure gate, and Tim was holding the last seat on the plane (in Business Class).  As mom’s travel companion, Tim’s seniority trumps mine!  He was unsure about going by himself, having only been out of the country once before.  They had checked the later AMS flight at it didn’t look particularly good either, but it’s easier to get one person on plane than two.  Anyway, Tim decided he’d wing it and I would meet up with him at the hotel (DoubleTree next to Centraal Station) sometime in the future.  I figured I had about 3 hours before the next AMS flight, and it was getting near time for BJ to head to her gate so we headed off towards her gate.  A moment of inspiration had me checking the Brussels flight and lo and behold it was wide open… but left only 15 minutes behind the AMS flight and it was in E Concourse.  I held Lucy while BJ modified my PNR and tried to put me on the standby list.  Too close to departure to be added to the list, I gave her back Lucy and took off running like OJ though the airport.  I got to the gate out of breath, explained my situation and was given a nice seat on the BRU flight. 

Nine hours and one movie (The Intern) later, I cleared customs and immigration in Brussels, found the direct train to Amsterdam Centraal (3 hours away) and settled in for the ride. When I got on the train, I wasn’t sure how long the trip would take, so around 2 hours in, I got my backpack off of the overhead rack.  I took out my “winter raincoat”, the only jacket I was taking on this trip and tossed my bag back overhead.  As it turns out, we had another hour before Centraal, and unfortunately, in that last hour, I nodded off.  As we passed Schiphol airport, my original Delta destination, I woke up, looked up, and discovered my backpack was gone.  Crap.  A quick search of the nearby train cars, and a glance up and down the platform revealed nothing.  Twenty minutes later, I was at Centraal with my passport, my phone, my wallet, my winter raincoat and the clothes that I was wearing.  Five minutes after that, I was at the DoubleTree, where a warm cookie eased my distress.  Tim and I discussed strategy, and then decided, “What the heck.  We’re in Amsterdam.  Let’s go be tourists.”  AFTER I go back to Centraal and file a police report regarding my backpack (complete with laptop, kindle, clothing, keys and toiletries).

Tim had gotten to town a few hours before me, so he had already taken a walk around the area near Centraal Station.  On his stroll, he learned that the ferry across the busy shipping channel was free, and that there was reputedly an artist colony “over there”.  So we jumped on the three minute ferry, along with about 50 cyclists, and headed across the water.  A quick search revealed nothing artsy, but there was a nice bar/restaurant (The De Pont) with warmth and wifi.  Time for a beer!  (Tim’s a bit of a beer aficionado, so this step would be repeated throughout the trip).  We spent some time in De Pont, then took a quick boat ride back to more familiar-to-me turf.  Tim wanted to see the, uh, culture around Amsterdam so we made our way over towards the Red Light district.  It was Thursday noon-ish, and there wasn’t much going on there (Not a complaint.  Just an observation).  We strolled around the area with no real destination in mind.  We’d both heard of “The Bulldog CoffeeShop” (wink, wink) and here we found 3 on one street!  Popular destinations, it appears. 
We stopped in a couple of them, just to see what the hubbub was all about. (And why there were 3 on one street.)  Inside each was an interesting collection of people.  The rules in the “coffeeshops” were a bit confusing, but provide SOME explanation for the number of them.  Tobacco smoking isn’t allowed in any “hospitality venue”.  Tobacco smoking’s a no-no, but pot smoking is tolerated. Hey, it’s not tobacco.  The Bulldog (and other bars) even supply what they call an “herbal mix” (non-tobacco), so you CAN light up… just no tobacco.  Additionally, if the shop is a “coffeeshop” (meaning they sell marijuana) then they can’t sell alcohol.  One of the 3 Bulldogs on this street (the Bulldog CafĂ©) is simply a bar.  We stopped in there as well.  As the afternoon was winding down, we stopped off at Busters, on the edge of the district for another beer or two.  The publican (publicaan?) at Busters was an interesting fellow; a Brit ex-pat, in fact, who’d funded the purchase of the bar for a friend, then ended up taking it over and running it himself.  Finished with Busters, we headed back to the DoubleTree and completed the evening with wine and snacks in the Executive Lounge.
Friday morning, we leapt out of bed at the crack of 9 and went for breakfast. Over breakfast, we laid out plans for the day.  Tim had researched “beer bars” on Trip Advisor and had picked out 5 that he really wanted to visit.  Additionally, there was a “FoodHallenthat was well reviewed that we thought we might lunch at.  We mapped out a route, including the RijksMuseum and the Amsterdam Museum.  We’d begin our day buying an all-day tram pass and then taking the ferry over to the artsy area we had tried to find yesterday.  It turns out, we had just taken the wrong ferry.  You need to be on the one that goes to the NDSM Wharf.  We found the correct ferry this time and took the 15-minute ride over to the Wharf.  It’s an interesting area; two huge old ship fitting warehouses are being converted into booths and studios.  Perhaps in the spring or summer it will be a good destination.  But in February, it was a bit empty, and still under construction.  It’ll be something to do on the next visit.  We took the ferry back to Centraal and headed for the #2 Tram line, which would take us past both the Amsterdam Museum and the RijksMuseum… which is what we ended up doing…going past both of them.  Neither of us (in fact, NONE of our normal travelling pals) are “museum people”.  At least, not art museums. 

We walked around the Fashion and Museum district for a bit and stopped in to the Magna, which is like a mall, built into an impressive old building.  After consulting our city map, we struck off in the direction of the FoodHallen and located it in short order.  Walking in, you are immediately surrounded by a multitude of smells.  It resembles a mall food court, but the choices are much more diverse; Iberian, Vietnamese, Italian, Thai, “American”, Indian and several others.  And there’s a bar!  That’s something you won’t find at the mall food court.  Anyway, I chose Indian and Tim went with a hybrid; a sausage served on a pretzel roll.  After lunch, and a visit at one of the other retail stores in the “Hallen”, we struck off for the first of Tim’s five “beer bars”.  Closest to the Hallen was the Craft & Draft so we dropped in for a pint.  There were perhaps 40 beers on draft, and another 50+ in bottles.  I went with a German pilsner and Tim went with his preferred hoppy IPA.  Unfortunately, I failed to note what either of us was drinking so I’ll just say “I had a pilsner and Tim had an IPA”… everywhere we went.  Get used to it.  We went to a lot of places.  Looking about in the Crafter & Draft, Tim noticed a flyer for “Do 4 Bars in 1 Day and get a free T-Shirt”.

As it turns out, four of the five bars Tim wanted to see were on this flyer!  The problem was, in order to get the t-shirt, you had to end up at Craft & Draft, where we were starting.  We quickly decided that neither of us needed another t-shirt, so we stuck to our plan.  Leaving Craft & Draft, we made the 15 minute hike to stop number 2; the Proeflokaal (which means “Tasting Room”).  After a short but diligent search, we found it and swung in for another round. With another 50+ choices of beer, I had the pilsner and Tim had an IPA.  Finishing up there, we jumped on the #1 Tram towards Centraal and our third stop, the aptly named Beer Temple.  Since it was Friday afternoon, and many of the locals were getting off work, it was starting to get a little more crowded.  The Beer Temple offered yet another 30+ choices so I had the pilsner and Tim had an IPA.  It was dark by now, and we had one more beer bar on schedule for the day.  In our minds, we would earn that t-shirt anyway.  It was a short hike to the 4th stop on our pub crawl; Arendsnest.  Apparently that means “Eagle’s Nest” and is named that because the owner is bald… like an eagle, or so it was explained to us.  This place was hopping but we found a two top and settled in for a beer.  I had the pilsner and Tim had an IPA.  We would save the 5th beer bar for tomorrow.  We took the short ride back to Centraal on the #1 Tram and swung by the hotel to drop off Tim’s backpack.  I didn’t have a backpack.  Have I mentioned my backpack loss?  We headed back out.  Tim wanted to make one more pass through the red light district; this time at night.  We headed off in the general direction and then followed the crowds.  After all the beer I’d had, I was suddenly struck with the need for a bathroom break.  We ducked into The Tapvreugd where I found the WC… and had the pilsner.  Continuing our walkabout, Tim finally got to see what the district is all about; the women in the windows.  We don’t understand the draw but to each his own.  After one more quick stop for a pilsner and an IPA at Busters, we headed back to the DoubleTree, took a trip to the top floor to check out the Sky Bar (beautiful, but crowded and noisy on a Friday night) and then called it a night.  When we got back to the room, I decided that three days in the same clothes, without a toothbrush or my blood pressure meds, was probably enough.  I told Tim that I was heading home Saturday, on the 1pm flight.   That way we could have breakfast together and plan out Tim’s Saturday (since he had decided to stay) before I had to head to Schiphol.
Saturday morning, I woke up around 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I guess I was ready to get home.  As I was getting dressed Tim woke up.  I explained that I would feel stupid if I waited around for the 1 o’clock flight, and didn’t get on it, if I COULD have gotten on the morning flight.  I left the hotel at 7:30 and was through security and customs and at the gate by 8:30. When I checked in for the flight, I was really glad I had bothered to fill out some paperwork at the police station.  The police officer had given me a copy of the report, in Dutch, which was meaningless to me.  You see, when you check in for a flight and don’t check a bag, and you aren’t carrying ANY carry-on baggage, you apparently trigger an alarm.  Supervisor please!  Anyway, the paperwork got me past the security questions and earned me a good bit of sympathy from the screeners. At the gate, I dropped off my boarding card with the agent, who asked me if I was willing to ride in coach if business wasn’t available.  I was.  Around 0930 she let me know that I wasn’t likely to get on the flight at all, so I switched over to the AMS to BOS flight. Interestingly enough, when I checked in, that agent also asked if I was willing to ride in coach, if business class wasn’t available.  Apparently this is standard practice at AMS.   About the time I realized that I wouldn’t get out of Boston Saturday night, BJ texted me to tell me that Tim had changed his mind as was on his way to Schiphol to go for the 1pm flight.  I changed back over to the afternoon Atlanta nonstop, went through the security questions again, showed my police report once more, and told THIS agent that I would sit in coach “if I had to”.  Although it was close, Tim and I both got on the nonstop to Atlanta, in coach, and made it home.  I watched The Martian, Spectre and the Paul Newman racing story, among other things.  I was glad to be on the plane and headed home… but I must admit, I prefer business class.  J.

Until next time…