Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport was a hub for the now-defunct Northwest Airlines, and was the first stop on over 90% of my trips to Europe from the US.
A grand airport it is, too. The nicest I have ever been in, and I have been in a few. This blog post is not about the Amsterdam airport, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it not only has a casino, but a resting area that I would pay to visit.
There are the typical first class lounges, restaurants and fast food joints, of course, but just a short walk down the 2nd floor corridor, and a dark and peaceful opening to the quiet waiting room unfolds. There are ergonomic lounge chairs, and the lights are dimmed for perfect sleeping, if you so wish, but the entire far wall has been turned into a movie screen.
I was slightly afraid of snoring and ruining the peace that oozed from the relaxation area, even the babies snuggled in their carriages cooed quietly. I did manage to doze off, as I watched through a virtual car window as the dirt road rambled through the country, past cows in pastures, and other farm scenery. After my nap, I was able to shower and get refreshed before my next flight.
Now, on to Amsterdam itself. Even though we were taught that Amsterdam was in Holland, they prefer to have it properly addressed as The Netherlands. I expected tulips and windmills, of which I saw neither. (But if you get the chance to try a fresh stroopwafels, do so! They are made to be placed on top of your warm coffee cup to soften them, and enjoy as a treat. The most fabulously delicious cookie ever!)
It was so cold as I exited the train, I thought I was going to freeze to death. I had packed a full length wool coat, a stocking cap and a scarf, I was dressed in the warmest outfit I owned, thick socks, boots, gloves and everything that a Louisiana girl could think to buy for a winter trip abroad. I was still cold. I wrapped my scarf around my face, trying to keep my nose from freezing off, hoping that my eyelashes didn’t form icicles. It felt like they already had. Then I saw my husband, and forgot about the cold.
He was working abroad, and we only got to see each other for a couple of weeks, quarterly, and we had flown in from different corners of the world.
I had wanted to see Amsterdam, alright, but just didn’t realize how cold it could be. Having Arick to hold my hand and make the journey exciting, instead of cold and scary made all of the difference in the world.
I had rented us an apartment, as was the usual for these trips, I am obsessed with having a kitchen…especially when meeting up with my husband….that whole “the kitchen is the way to a man’s heart” thing just might be true, you know!
Anyway, I had learned to pack small (remind me and I will share my packing secrets for 2 weeks in Europe in a backpack, without looking like a back-packer!) so we wheeled our bags to our apartment, which was way farther away from the station than it seemed in the online description.
Arick was less than thrilled when we arrived, we were about to spend two weeks in what felt like a poor man’s bachelor pad. After we climbed the 3 narrow stories to reach our tiny love nest, we opened the door to find the mattress to the full size bed was on the floor, the not-so-clean-looking covers thrown across it haphazardly. The kitchen was a pretty bare 6 x 8 space with curtains for cupboards, a coffee pot, a dorm-style refrigerator, and a hot plate. I was excited to go scout out a grocery store, and Arick just wanted to see the city.
See the city we did. Over the next couple of days, we did all of the touristy things. Well, most of the touristy things. Some of the “things” I felt awkward to even try “not” to look at as we strolled by.
It is true, Amsterdam has a red-light district, and there are typical downtown storefront windows, but in these windows sit scantily clad women in all white rooms that glowed red from the lights above them. We walked pretty fast through there, trying to experience the place, yet not look at what we were taught should not be seen. We quickly took the next side street and headed back to the more appropriate-in-our-eyes streets.
There is not a district for “coffee shops”, though. They are as “everywhere” as Starbucks in Seattle.
Now, I knew, sort-of, that marijuana was legal in Amsterdam, and that they called the stores coffee shops, I just didn’t realize that the looked like what we think of as diners, cafes, and well, coffee shops.
Some hang banners outside listing varieties, and you know that is one of “those” coffee shops, but others just have a coffee shop sign, a bar to belly up to, and tables to sit and enjoy your “coffee.”. We made our way into one of these, thinking we were going to get an expresso for me, and a coke for him, until we received the menu. Yep, they have marijuana menus. We laughed so hard, you would have thought we had partaken in the coffee, but alas, we did not. Off to the next spot, a beer and a burger, much more our style.
They have water taxis there, like public bus transportation would be in a city that size in the US, but rather than riding along the streets, you have boat stops and ride along the canals. Perfect for a tourist, and a local alike. I really enjoyed the scenery, all of the old architecture, buildings standing stately attached to one another, only the changing colors differentiating between one and another.
On another note, it was funny to see all of this beautiful centuries-old scenery be littered with the occasional Hard Rock Cafe, but it happens, every old town, every time. And yes, we always stop in for a meal and a look. Amsterdam was no different. I can only imagine what they must pay to rent some of the buildings in these historic cities.
After a couple of days in Amsterdam, we went to an Internet cafe, which was the popular way to get a feel for the younger population in the area, and Arick bought us tickets to Lisbon, Portugal, and I rented us an apartment, of course.
We left the apartment that we had rented for the next two weeks, and flew to Portugal for a week, which I will detail in another post, and flew back to spend our last couple of days in Amsterdam.
We were surprised during one of our strolls through the city by a team of Clydesdale horses pulling a carriage making beer deliveries. In the states, it is rumored that Budweiser owns all of the Clydesdales, hence the holiday and football commercials hi-lighting them. In Amsterdam, however, the beer was Heineken. It was a joy for us to see, but to the locals, it was just a normal beer delivery.
We also walked up upon a weed-mobile making deliveries. Other than the oddities that go along with that statement in itself, it was the tiniest delivery truck that I had ever seen.
There were very few cars in this walker-friendly city, but the “ring ring” of bicycle bells was everywhere. They must be the healthiest people alive, at least athletically. Everyone rides bicycles everywhere. There were entire parking garages and parking bridges just for bicycles. If I took all of the bicycles that I had ever seen in my life and put them all together, they would not fill up one of the bicycle parking areas. There were literally thousands. Businessmen and women in their suits with shoulder bags and sneakers riding bicycles. There were not locks, but in some areas there were parking meters. I was very impressed with the ecological aspects of reduced air pollution from auto exhausts.
How they rode those bicycles through those slick streets in that cold, I don’t know, but it was very impressive to me!
All-in-all, Amsterdam was a great trip. From the moment I landed at the fabulous Schiphol airport, walking directly to the train departure center in the airport and arrived in the city proper, it was an amazing trip. One I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to enjoy a jovial city and see some sights that are not the norm in the US.