Day 1- Friday March 10
Sale is good! 30 % off sale from Wow Airline for LA to Amsterdam at $321 RT in early March is ridiculously good. It was either London or Amsterdam and the latter choice won out, so heaved on the backpacks and off we went. This was my second time flying with Wow Air and loving it– for the cheap price and no frills set ups. Planes were on schedule but stopovers at Reykjavik were irksome with long queues at custom. People are catching on to Wow low fare secrets I think.
Landing at Schiphol Airport, we followed the signs for trains, attempted to purchase train tickets at the yellow NS kiosk but the machine rejected our credit card so we bee-lined to ticket office for our 3-day Amsterdam and Region Travel Ticket at €33 each. It covered trains, trams, bus, including Connexion and EBS buses. We would put this in good uses traveling in Amsterdam and nearby Haarlem and Old Holland.
From Schiphol, we got off at Sloterdijk station and “tram-ed ” our way to our AirBnB on Reinier Claeszenstraat. Amsterdam public transportation is impressive. Everything runs on time and squeaky clean. We followed everyone swiping in and out as we entered trams and trains. Our chip card even survived washer and dryer cycles and kept on beeping. Trusty Google maps helped guide us to our destinations. Thank goodness for international data from Project Fi which transitioned seamlessly in Amsterdam.
Our AirBnB was in area called Amsterdam West, about 15-min tram ride to Centrum. It’s mostly residential consisting of row houses with bay windows looking very much like San Francisco–except instead of homeless people there were lots and lots of bike leaning against the houses. The pictures of the living room and the kitchen of the AirBnB sealed the deal for us. Albert Heijn and Aldi grocery stores around the corner provided ingredients for our puttering in the well-stocked kitchen.
The weather God was good to us this whole week so our schedule was on queue. First thing we did after checking in to our AirBnb was tram our way to Dam square for Sandeman Free Tour of Amsterdam –but not before tasting our first Dutch fries at Vlaamse Frites. A short wait in line and for €3.50, smothered in mayo, the fries tasted like… any good french fries. Together with the free tasty treats from nearby Starbucks, our hungers retreated and we were prepped for the walking tour.
Seven miles and 2&1/2 hours later, having seen major sites of Amsterdam, taking in weedy whiffs as we passed by the many coffeeshops, we agreed that this is the way to do it from now on in every major city that we will be visiting. We were spoonfed many interesting factoids and saw many sites in a short time. We learned how the Dutch lost Manhattan to the British, traded for a South American colony called Suriname. Holland flag’s three X’s is NOT linked to triple X rating or of the Red Light District. Orange color is no where in the Dutch national flag , yet it is flaunted with pride by its citizens. Why? Dutch Royal Family dates its lineage to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange) and the mass adopts it. And why clog? Because it allowed for walking on muddy swampy ground. Etc..ect…The only negative thing about the tour was the large group size making it hard to hear our guide and maneuver through the narrow streets. Otherwise, it was a treat at a cost of small tip at the end.
Although March is still winter and considered slow season, Dam Square and everywhere in Centrum was crowded. It was the weekend after all and everyone was out enjoying the city. The quaint narrow streets near the Red Light District were full of shops, restaurants and tourists. We made a mental note to return in early morning hours to appreciate the neighborhood better but no chance. The historical architecture made us crane our necks in admiration but it is diminished by the presence of fast foods restaurants, cheap souvenir shops and department stores located on the ground floors of these impressive buildings. And of course, lots of bikes everywhere! We think it’s great that bike is king here. This system should be adopted by all countries. It does take some getting used to. One does not step onto the street without looking out for cars; so is the same way for bike lane, we look for bikes before stepping onto bike lane. Never had a near-miss.
The weather was lovely so after the walk, we hopped on the canal cruise near central station for a tour of the city from a different perspective. We floated on canal gazing up at the beautiful façade of gabled houses and arched bridges. The audio guide were on but didn’t make much of an imprint on our brains as the visual one. The sound of the boat engines and the bobbing waves were lulling us making it hard to stay awake. The boat took us to different canals and after a while all the row houses seemed alike. Blame it on the jet lag. But we were not finished yet for the night. We had a date with Van Gogh.
Tickets bought ahead on line breezed us through the entry but offering no advantage since there was hardly any line. We proceeded upstairs but was stopped mid stride. Must check-in bags and coats! It’s a small museum and uncrowded that night so we finished fairly quick. My favorite painting is Field over Stormy Sky showing vibrant colors in bold strokes. One can sense the swirl of air in the atmosphere. Although known for his colorful pieces, Van Gogh did other paintings of brooding dark tones such as the Potato Eaters. And he seemed to enjoy doing lots of a self portraits. Self doubt or self discovery? There are paintings that paired up back to back and displayed mid air enclosed in secured glass. But the orientation would be strangely off for one of the pair…by 90 degrees! All in all, Van Gogh museum is worthwhile visit. Nice art in a cool setting and manageable in size and time.
By now we should collapse in heaps. Long travel day followed by nonstop activities. It’s not for everyone but that’s how we usually travel. Luckily weather and mind permitted it. With no dinner reservation, we headed to Aldi to shop for dinner to cook at our AirBnB. Just enough reserve left to cook our first meal in Amsterdam–salad and frittata.
Perfect day 1!