Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Europe Day 1: Amsterdam

One of the many canals in Amsterdam

Amsterdam had me worried. It was supposed to be easy to get around, friendly, and fun, but I was anxious. I think the apprehension came from the fact that Amsterdam was my first stop on this solo trip, and I wondered if I could really handle being on my own in a foreign country. Before the journey however, my distress manifested in my indecisiveness in choosing a hotel, loosely figuring out how to get from and to the airport, and not doing much in the way of research.

I dragged my feet on every aspect about my brief stay in Amsterdam. Hotel wise, I wavered between using a Marriott certificate and staying outside the city, but closer to the airport; and spending money on a room in the city. Eventually, my hesitance paid off (or so I thought), and it turned out that I had enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a night at Hotel Europa 92.

This forced my hand with figuring out what to do in the city. I knew I could rent a bike (yikes), visit the infamous red light district (sort of intriguing), tour the Heineken Museum (yuck), look at the canals, etc. But, I just could not figure out what to do. I had a book on Amsterdam, and it seemed like the best thing to do, given my limited time, was to visit the Van Gogh Museum, and enjoy some Dutch beer.

So, when I got off the plane in Amsterdam (after traveling from LAX to SEA to CDG to AMS), I bought a ticket to get from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station. The train employee said to get on Train 2, which left in three minutes, which I thought I did. Apparently not. Luckily, another American woman was also on the wrong train, and the helpful conductor told us where to exit the train, and what platform to go to, so that we could wait 10 minutes for the proper train.

Waiting on Platform 6 for the proper train is when I realized just how cold it was in the Netherlands. Eek.

Eventually, I made it to Centraal Station, and found yet another transportation employee to tell me where to go. He said to get on Tram 1, 2, or 5 and talk to a worker on the tram to find out exactly where I should exit to get to my hotel. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, not so much.

It turns out that really, you should get on Tram 1. I got on Tram 2, asked for help, and was yelled at because my confusion caused me to ask more than one question. Essentially, I needed to get off of Tram 2, and get on the very next tram (Tram 1). Thankfully, the employee on Tram 1 was very friendly and patient. However, by this time, I was completely flustered. I started walking in the direction I thought I should go in, but could not figure out where I was (it would have been good to know that street signs in many European cities are on buildings, and not on separate posts as they are in the US), so I turned on my cell phone and made use of the $40-40MB international data plan I had purchased from Sprint. 

Finally, my hotel.

My hotel was almost exactly what I was dreading. The room was extremely small, so I had to lift my suit case above a desk because it would not fit in the spacebetween the wall and desk. The bedding seemed clean, but the room itself gave me the creeps. At this moment, I just wanted to sleep through my time in Amsterdam, wake up early, get back to the airport, and head to Copenhagen. But, I forced myself to go out and explore.

My room at Hotel Europa 92

Too bad the girl at the front desk sent me to the most touristy section of the city - the Leidseplein. Before I got there, though, I got lost. What I thought were little alleyways were actually roads. Something I only figured out when I saw cars driving over what I thought were sidewalks. I actually  did not know I was lost until I accidentally ended up in Museumsplein.

I forgot to mention, that prior to talking to the Hotel Europa front desk, I had wanted to find the Museum Quarter because that is where I would also find the Van Gogh Museum. That idea was nixed once I found that the museum's collection had been relocated because the museum was under some sort of construction. Of course, since I no longer wanted to go to the Van Gogh Museum, I found it.

My travel fail in Amsterdam

I made my way back to my hotel, consulted a map, and went off in the direction of the Leidseplein. What a let down. Sure, the canals were cool, but the whole area was a giant tourist trap, and I felt like I was shopping the US (Nike, the Body Shop, and more). So, I took some pictures, stumbled upon a Rembrandt statue in a square, and decided to go back to the area around my hotel and find some food.

Rembrandt Statue

Food and beer were found at a place called ZOUK, chosen because it seemed more like a neighborhood hang out than a tourist trap. There, I enjoyed a glass of Brouwerij't IJ zatte, and some food (more on the food later). 

Brouwerij't IJ zatte beer, as served at ZOUK

The next morning, I headed out for an early morning flight to Copenhagen. I opted for a taxi since it was about 5:00/5:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I know the cab driver ripped me off by charging me more than he should have, but what was a solo traveler to do? I paid him his money, but did not tip him. This seemed like the appropriate way to end my stay in Amsterdam, and I was quite happy to be on my way to Copenhagen and my friends.

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