Friday, November 19, 2010

Amsterdam! (Day 1)

We arrived at Stansted Airport (London) v. early in the morning. We browsed the duty-free shops a bit before settling down to have breakfast before our flight took off. I bought a sandwich from Pret for the plane before getting breakfast. We ate at Wetherspoons, a chain of pubs that serve breakfast foods (and are known for their sausage or something). I ordered the children's breakfast (which is basically the same as the adult's except for one less piece of sausage, two less hashbrowns, and no mushroom) and John ordered the grown up's breakfast. Our flight to Eindhoven Airport from Stansted was only 35 minutes! We spent more time taxiing than we did flying. We landed around 9:00 and went to the information desk to figure out where to catch the bus to Eindhoven city center (so that we could then in turn catch a train to Amsterdam). I had done the research and everyone had said the train was better because it was quicker. However, when we'd landed, the lady informed us that the next train wasn't going to be for another hour but that there was a bus to Amsterdam available in 10 minutes. Some quick math told us that buying round trip bus tickets would be on par with the round trip cost of a bus + train so we decided to fork up €42 (per person, round trip) for the bus. We had to tell her what time we wanted the bus back to the airport and she printed out our tickets accordingly and stamped them. Oh! And we had to pay in cash because the credit card machine was broken, so I ended up using all the cash I'd designated for Amsterdam! Boo.

The bus was pretty full so we had to sit in separate seats, which made me sad, but I slept pretty much the whole way there, so it wasn't a big deal. The worst part though was that the driver was really slow! Everyone on the road was passing us! We prayed that we wouldn't get the same guy on our way back. The bus dropped us off at Amsterdam Centraal Station around noon. We spent a little time getting oriented and then tried to figure out what would be the best option for transportation. After looking through some brochures, we figured out that we could get chipkaarts (cards) that allowed us 24-hr, 48-hr, and 72-hr transportation around the city! It wasn't like in London where a day pass meant you could only travel for the date printed on the card. This card meant that after your first "check in" you could use it for the duration designated! Cool! So we opted for the 48 hour, since we'd need to be back at Centraal Station by noon to catch our bus back to Eindhoven airport. Perfect!
Amsterdam Centraal Station
The next issue was waiting in line to purchase tickets. There was a ticket queue system, sort of like a supermarket deli counter, where you pull a ticket from a machine and wait until your number is called. We ate my sandwich (that I'd bought at the airport) while waiting. Once our number was finally called, we ran into a little trouble. We'd used up all of our cash on the bus tickets and the machine they had only took cards with PINs. John tried his card, but he had a 6-digit PIN so that didn't work. So I tried my debit card and it worked because I had a 4-digit PIN. Yay! The lady told us it was very important to check in and check out. Checking in was more important, though I don't know why it mattered that much. We'd paid for 48 hours worth of travel anyway.

Just to clarify, "checking in," just means that we had to hold our cards up to a scanner when getting on the trams and buses (we didn't take the metro at all), and it would beep and light up green to let us know we were good to go. I think inspectors patrol some trams (and there are cameras) that make sure people are being legal. John tried to put his card in his wallet, thinking it would scan through the leather. I warned him not to, because I'd seen a bunch of locals get on the tram and pull their cards out of their wallets/purses but I knew he wouldn't heed the words until he experienced it for himself. He almost got left stuck on the tram after I'd already gotten off! Luckily, he was quick enough and jammed himself through before the doors completely closed.

Oii! This post is getting so long and verbose; my apologies!
reflecting pool in front of Rijksmuseum
Tall John!
Anyway, we got to our hotel and still had an hour before we could check in so we decided to explore our neighborhood. We walked towards the Museums and snapped a few photos with the "I amsterdam" sign before getting some Heineken at a bar. Refreshing!

I'd brought my Amsterdam travel guide with me (Lonely Planet one) and I started looking up places to get dinner. I looked for places right around our hotel and found Cafe Loetje (site is in Dutch) which advertised the best steak in Amsterdam! The guide recommended we make reservations for dinner because it is customary in Amsterdam and places could fill up quickly, and since we didn't have a phone, we stopped in at the restaurant itself. They let us know they didn't take reservations. We had to just come when they opened and we had to put our name on a list.

After we were able to check into the hotel, we took a nap (as was the custom on our trip after arriving at a new destination). We woke up in time for dinner at 19:00 and headed to Loetje. It was packed! We were told we could either put our name on a list and wait, or there were some tables available but that people needed them at 20:00. This confused us as we thought people weren't allowed to make reservations, but maybe these were celebrities or something. We decided an hour was plenty of time to eat, so we opted to take one of the free tables The menu was in dutch, but we recognized that there were two steak dishes on the menu. We inquired with our tall waiter who said one had a spicy Indonesian seasoning and the other was plain. John got the plain, I got the seasoned one. Both were excellent. The steak was cooked perfectly; it was tender and yummy. The Bali seasoning was SO GOOD! It wasn't hot spicy, it was just full of spices. In addition, we ordered beers, salads, and a side of fries. The fries came with mayo (which made Baby Boy v. happy) and they were really good. The dressing on the salad was refreshing and yummy, and reminded me of a sweeter version of the mustardy vinaigrette we'd had on all of our Parisian salads.

Dam Square
De Wallen
After dinner, we went exploring around the city and De Wallen (Red Light District). We first stopped off in Dam Square. Didn't take any photos of the Palace though, as its entire facade was under construction. It's rude to take photos of the "ladies of the night," but we did manage to capture an alley with its red lights. After wandering around for a bit, we heard Riverside coming from a bar, so we decided that we should spend some time there. The place was called Wonder Bar. We got some coca leaf liquor shots (because I was curious, though it turns out there's no traces of the drug in the liquor) which turned out to be surprisingly refreshing. This place offered hookah but didn't sell any green. However, the bar owner made it very clear that if we wanted to, we could bring our own stuff and use it.
coca leaf liquor
After finishing our drinks, we decided to get some rest since we had a full day ahead of us to explore the city in day light, so we headed back to the hotel.

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