Evening Flight to Amsterdam connecting through Heathrow
Of course we arrive at the airport way too early for our flight. Pete is paranoid about being delayed by security, traffic, or anything you can think of resulting in him missing a flight so we are always at the airport at least 2 hours before boarding time. At least Logan has a Starbuck’s! We buy a venti iced Americano with hazelnut and soy milk to drink with our snacks from Trader Joe’s until it is time for us to board. I have a lot of books to read over the summer so I try to get a head start on that too. But with Pete coming over every few minutes to tell me how big our plane was and contemplating whether we were going to leave on time or not, I didn’t get much reading done.
The plane is a huge 777. We had great seats right in front of the bathroom. I like not having anyone sit behind me because that means no kicking of my seat as I try to nap. The sound of the toilet flushing is much less annoying. Plus, it makes it easy to know when it is a good time to use the facilities without having to stand around in the aisle waiting for your turn.
We enjoy the in-flight meals. The strict vegetarian meals are always way better than the regular meals they serve anyway. We are served a dinner of rice and vegetables with some fresh fruit and then a breakfast of bagel chips as well. It is a very long flight. Pete is preoccupied with the television built into the headrest so I actually get some reading done.
Connecting in Heathrow is a real pain. The terminals are literally miles away from one another and the whole place is a construction zone that rivals the Big Dig. After over an hour of walking, waiting for shuttle buses, and walking some more, we finally make it to the gate for our short flight to the Netherlands. This flight goes by quickly. I am able to see the rolling green hills of Ireland below us after we take off. Very pretty! Maybe we can visit there next.
May 7, 2005 - Saturday
Arrival in Amsterdam, Lunch at Juice Bar, Dinner at Maoz, & Red Light District
Our internal clocks are already messed up. How can it be Saturday already? It definitely feels like we are missing a day. But we are now in this great city so we need to wake up and take in some sights.
We take the commuter train to Amsterdam Central which is walking distance from our hotel. Unfortunately, we cannot use our credit or debit cards to purchase train tickets from the automated terminal so we end up paying an extra charge to purchase tickets from a person. The train is super clean and quiet even though we only paid for second class tickets. I wonder what first class is like.
It is raining when we arrive at Amsterdam Central. This is the first time we have been outside in over a dozen hours so it is nice to get the fresh air anyway. It is a little tricky finding the Renaissance Amsterdam because Pete can’t read the directions he wrote down. He has his doctor father’s handwriting and he can’t even read it himself. Everyone speaks English here though so I am able to ask for directions from a store clerk. I am surprised by how helpful people are here as well. They are rally nice and go out of their way to make sure you understand their directions, even when the store clerk is simply telling us to cross a canal and head straight for the large flags that denote our hotel which happens to be right in front of us when we finally ask for help.
Along with some other very wet visitors to this city, we check in to the hotel. The front desk has a basket of cute chocolates with an image of a tower that is located next to the hotel so I take some to bring back for Jen. She loves souvenirs. Once we get to the room, it is tempting to just crash and catch up on some much needed sleep. Instead, we shower and get ready to do some walking while we look for a place to have lunch.
It is only drizzling when we return outside. The streets are cobblestone and lined with the most beautiful townhouse buildings. We notice that each building has a hook off the uppermost peak which they use to attach a rope pulley in order to bring in furniture since the doorways and stairways in the houses are so narrow.
We walk in a big circle starting out towards Central Station, then heading down Nieuwendijk and turning down a side street that intersects it near Dam Square. I can’t believe they have a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum here. It is located right in Dam Square. We visited the one in New York City twice so we decide not to spend our money on it here. However, we do decide to walk through the Sex Museum which is packed with people and pornography. Some of the exhibits are pretty hilarious though. Too bad Pete wouldn’t stand next to the giant penis for a picture.
Living to eat as we always do, our next mission is to find food. We find lunch at a little vegetarian juice shop near our hotel. As is our custom, we get two sandwiches and split each. The hummus sandwich is really good but the toasted vegetable sandwich tastes a little strange to me. Unfortunately, it makes me very sick that night. After walking around some more, we get dinner at a falafel place called Maoz that is a chain in Europe. The falafel sandwiches are great. Plus, they even have a little salad bar with tons of toppings you can add to it. For less than 3 euros, it’s a great value.
We decide to walk through the Red Light District since everyone we know who has been here has said it is a must see. We find some red-light windows before we even reach the official district. Since it is still early, most of the windows are empty but there are women in lingerie and underwear in some of the places. I can’t bring myself to look directly in the windows so Pete gives me a description of some of the women we pass. He is obviously not impressed and can’t believe they are not more attractive. As we pass one window, a man who appears to be homeless actually knocks and starts a conversation with one of the women. This has been enough walking for the day so we head back to the hotel to crash.
May 8, 2005 - Sunday
Village Bagels, Van Gogh Museum, Flying Saucer, & Anne Frank’s House
We end up sleeping later than we had planned. By eleven, we leave the hotel to find some food. There is a Village Bagels across the street from the hotel where we find our new favorite breakfast - a toasted sesame bagel with hummus, capers, and purple onion slices. We can’t wait to start making our own each morning back home.
After checking in with the concierge, we decide to walk down to Museumplein where the Rijk Museum and Van Gogh Museum are located. This ends up being a pretty long walk for Pete but he doesn’t complain… much. Of course, he does not want to give in and pay the expensive tram (trolley) fairs so he stops vocalizing his torment when I present that as an option.
The Van Gogh Museum is very nice. Well, at least I think so. Pete likes the displays of Van Gogh’s work and history but he hates the installation piece from a modern artist being exhibited on the lower level. It consists of sleepwalkers, nude models, and glass boxes with precariously placed used footwear. He is a little out of his element here so we do not stay for the 4 o’clock showing which is to involve live nudes rolling around on the museum floor. On the way out, we stop in the museum gift shop. Pete buys me a print of Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom painting for Mother’s Day.
Now we are off to find The Flying Saucer which was recommended to us by Barney and Nancy Hoop. It is a small hole in the wall place that has great food. You definitely have to look for it to find it since it is located in a side alley. Once we get there, we place our order at the counter and find a table where we can rest our soar feet. A cute little cat joins us and hops onto Pete’s lap while we wait for our dinner. Our first course is an avocado salad. Pete mistakes the ‘or’ on the menu for an ‘and’ so he thinks this appetizer consists of both a salad and guacamole with chips but the salad sans guac and chips is nonetheless enjoyable. For the main dishes, I have a Goulash that is to die for while Pete has some bean burritos. My dish is by far superior but Pete is nice enough to let me have it. Usually he makes me share the good dish and eats the entire bad dish. I have a fresh mango orange juice to drink while Pete has his usual “sparkling water with lime no ice please.”
We still have a walk ahead of us to get back to the hotel. Along the way, we find Anne Frank’s House. We had been told it would be closed for renovations but it is in fact open. Still, we decide to forgo the line and just take pictures of the outside for Jen. She loved reading Anne Frank’s diary so she had made us promise to take pictures of the house while we were here. The rest of our walk is pleasant as we enjoy the beauty of the side-by-side houses, cobblestone streets, flowing canals and bridges. Pete poses for a picture next to a car that has been booted, i.e. if you do not pay for parking your car is booted rather than ticketed by the Amsterdam police.
Back at the hotel, I plan my activities for tomorrow while Pete looks over his work presentation before heading to bed.
We have breakfast at the hotel this morning since it is included in the price of the room. It is an expanded continental breakfast buffet. There are great sautéed tomatoes and mushrooms to go along with my corn flakes but I am longing for the hummus and caper bagel that we had at Village Bagels yesterday.
Pete has to speak today. We walk together to Central Station and then part ways until the afternoon. I have a long day of walking planned in order to visit the Flower Market, Rembrandt House, and one of the diamond factories.
First, I head down Nieuwendijk past Dam Square towards the Flower Market. As it starts to rain again, I dart into a hotel to ask for more specific directions than my little map can give. As luck or irony would have it, the hotel is located right next to the Flower Market so the concierge gives me a sideways glance as she points out the window to the market I have just passed. It is smaller than I imagined but the flowers are even more beautiful than I could have pictured. There are trinkets and various imitation royal delft souvenirs to choose from but I just browse for today. I keep any eye on the prices of the items I like so I know where to come back to if I want to make a purchase before we leave. Plus, I am still on the look out for a remembrance of Amsterdam to bring back to Jen.
After walking up and down the Flower Market, I head in the general direction of the Rembrandt House. I stop in another hotel when I feel like I am lost. The receptionist hands me a new map with a path drawn straight to my destination. She also tells me about a popular flea market by Waterlooplein that I will pass along the way. Outside of the hotel, I am perusing this new map to get my bearings when a man approaches me to offer assistance. I am thinking again about how friendly people in Amsterdam are to tourists when he tells me that he is living on the street and wonders if I have some change or a cigarette to spare. Unfortunately, Pete has given me exact change in euros to pay my way into the Rembrandt House and find myself a small lunch so I offer him a dollar in U.S. currency. He politely refuses and again asks about that spare cigarette. I tell him I do not smoke. But he does not seem too disappointed as he thanks me anyway and heads back to the park across the street.
I find the flea market next. It is just opening up and there is an apparently homeless man walking the aisles. One vendor playfully kicks at his behind as he starts to sit on a blanket on which items being sold have been placed. This same homeless man sees me and starts yelling that I touched his pocket. I keep walking and he does not follow me. There are not many items of interest to me at this flea market but I could see it as a useful place to visit if I actually lived in Amsterdam. Many of the items being sold are household items or second-hand furniture and the like.
Around the corner from the flea market, I find the Rembrandt House. I look around the gift shop for the reproduction Rembrandt etchings that are so popular here. Many of the tourist web pages and books I have read about Amsterdam espouse the value of picking up one or more of these etchings. They are made from reproductions of the original plates used by Rembrandt to create the identical works. Since the museum offers almost a dozen exhibitions of the etching process each day, these etchings are the by-product of the demonstrations. Thus, they sell them for only 35 euros. I choose an etching with two lovers hidden in the bushes behind a canal with a windmill in the background. I feel it is appropriate since this trip is supposed to be our pseudo-honeymoon. In addition to the etching, I purchase a Rembrandt House silver souvenir spoon and my admission ticket to the museum. I am able to put it on my credit card so I now have some extra euros to spend on lunch later.
In the museum, I start by watching a movie about the Rembrandt House. It seems Rembrandt went bankrupt later in his life. Because of this, a list of all of his possessions was made before they were auctioned off to pay his debts. This has allowed for the museum curators to rebuild his house with the items that he owned during the majority of his life. It is interesting that this museum is a combination of Rembrandt’s actual house refurbished to look as it did when he lived here and many of his original works that are on display in the gallery portion located next to his house.
My favorite part of the museum is the printing press room where a man dressed in the attire of Rembrandt’s time offers demonstrations of the etching process Rembrandt used. I spent over an hour in that portion of the house talking with this docent and watching his demonstration. We spoke about President Bush having been at Amsterdam Central on May 7th and the protesters who were there. I told him I agreed with them and that just under 50% of Americans had not wanted him re-elected. He shook his head in wonder that our democracy had elected this fool not once but twice despite the majority vote against him the first time. At least, the people of Amsterdam, despite skull and cross bone paintings with Bush’s head on them and Stop Bush posters, seem to understand that not all Americans support the President’s points of view.
After finishing my tour of the Rembrandt House, I set out to find Gassan Diamonds, one of the diamond factories for which Amsterdam is well-known. The Gassan factory is located down the street from the Rembrandt House and has a Royal Delft making workshop. When I arrive there, I watch as an artisan creates the blue and white porcelain pieces. After a complementary cup of tea, I head into the factory for a tour. This turns out to be a bad idea and a waste of time. They start by showing me a workshop where they grind diamonds. Then they explain the Carat, Cut, Color, and Clarity measurements. Finally, I am locked in a small room with the tour guide and bunch of diamonds that are for sale in an attempt to force a sale. After an hour and a half, I finally make it out of the factory. Phew! Of course, I had to promise to bring my husband back the next day to look at a 2.5 carat diamond but needless to say we didn’t return.
I return to the hotel at about 3:15 to find Pete catching up on work email. He had just walked in the door 5 minutes before me. After a few more email replies, we set out to find an early dinner since we both skipped lunch to save our precious euros.
On my way back from my afternoon jaunt, I saw a Chinatown section of Amsterdam so we head there to find a good meal. We eat at a place called Eat Mode that specializes in Asian fusion. The food is magnificent. I have a Japanese style curry with vegetables and steamed rice that is like nothing I have ever tasted before. Pete has a crispy Chinese noodle dish with Japanese stir-fry vegetables. There is a young boy with wild red hair with a couple seated next to us. They appear to all be from Ireland based on their accents. Anyway, this adorable little boy has a stuffed panda and he comes over to play hide and seek at our table. Unfortunately, he bumps his head while hiding so he has to return to his table for a little cry before forgetting all about his injury and laughing at the funny faces made by his father to cheer him up.
Back at the hotel, we spend a half hour planning the destinations for the following day before getting some sleep.
May 10, 2005 - Tuesday
Zaanse Schans, Zaandam, Liquor Store, Restaurant Kilimanjaro CLOSED, Albert Cuyp Market, Metz, Begijnhof, Amsterdam Historic Museum, & Green Planet
Our last day in Amsterdam is already here. We still have three restaurants we want to try before we leave so we pick two and leave out the other. Again, we start our day with breakfast in the hotel. Pete gets a freshly made bagel from the hotel chef after complaining to at least three waiters that there are no bagels left. I have the same breakfast as yesterday and still dream of a hummus and caper bagel from Village Bagels.
We have a lot to do today. I want to see windmills and tulips before we leave. Plus, I want to visit a famous flea market in the southern part of Amsterdam not to mention returning to a liquor store across from the Anne Frank House.
We start out by taking the train to Zaanse Schans. According to one guide, “The Zaanse Schans is a typical residential area along the river Zaan with green wooden houses and windmills dating from the 17th and the 18th century. What makes the Zaanse Schans so special is that it is both a museum and a living and working area.” After getting off the train, we head down a very quiet street lined by more modern looking houses than we have seen in Amsterdam. As we turn one corner, we begin to smell…. chocolate. There is an overwhelming cocoa scent in the air that smells delicious. As we keep walking, we find that the source is a cocoa factory located on the water in this little town. Further down the road, we come to a bridge that leads to the area of Zaanse Schans we want to visit. Before we can make it across, a boat comes down the channel and the bridge is raised. It is interesting to watch half the road shoot straight up into the sky and then lower back down. In the village, we find souvenir shops, homes, windmills, miniature canals, and even a Psychologist’s office. There is also a cheese factory and a wooden shoe factory. We take some terrific pictures of the landscape, windmills, and tulips before heading back to the train.
We stop in Zaandam on the way back to Central Station. However, we quickly realized that this industrial city is too commercial for our liking. We use a McDonald’s restroom before hopping back on the train for Amsterdam Central.
Once we are back at Central Station, Pete asks to return to the hotel for a few minutes before we start our long walk. From there, we head over to the liquor store across from the Anne Frank house. When we were coming back from dinner at The Flying Saucer the other day, we had seen a beautiful porcelain liquor bottle that looked like it would make a nice souvenir. We change our minds today when we learned the price of 60 euros. The store owner showed us a full grown pear in a small liquor bottle and explained the interesting process that allows this to take shape. In Mexico, the growers place the bottle over a small pear bud. The pear then grows inside the glass bottle until the day it is picked and the liquor is added so it can be sealed and shipped off for sale. This is another very interesting item but out of our price range at 30 euros. Though we leave the store without a purchase, it was still an interesting stop.
Now we walk all the way across Amsterdam to find a restaurant called Restaurant Kilimanjaro which had been critiqued in a magazine article on Amsterdam Pete had found. The restaurant is down the street from Nemo, a building shaped like a beached ship that is located near Central Station. Unfortunately, we had trouble finding the restaurant despite several inquiries with the clerks at a police station and a parking boot man. Once we finally got there, it was closed. By this time, nature was calling Pete something fierce so he found a port-a-potty that wasn’t locked and made use of it. We made our way back to a small Jewish restaurant that had a sign offering avocado and hummus sandwiches. We buy one of each and spit them as usual. Of course, Pete claims I ate more than my half of the avocado sandwich but I swear I only had my fair share.
Now for the longest walk of the trip. It seems like it takes forever to get to the Albert Cuyp flea market. Pete threatens to jump into one of the canals at one point just to give up on it all. When we finally make it there, we find that there is nothing really interesting. Again, it is more a market for bargains that locals could use. There is everything from clothing to suitcases to fresh fish and fruit. We walk the entire length of the market without stopping once. At the other end, I make use of another McDonald’s restroom. Unfortunately, this restaurant has caught on and requires .20 euros for the use of their bathroom.
As we make our way back towards the hotel, Pete finds a small bakery with a pizza-sized piece of fresh bread for only 1 euro. He is sold and it keeps him too busy to complain about his feet for the rest of our walk. Soon after, I find a small locket box in Royal Delft design with Amsterdam written on it. I decide this will be the perfect trinket to bring back for Jen.
We stop at Metz & Co. department store so I can take some pictures from the 6th floor cafe. The café is surrounded by walls of windows that offer a spectacular view of the city below. Even though it is still grey and cloudy from periodic showers, the sight is amazing. I take some pictures and enjoy a cup coffee which comes with a complimentary piece of almond biscotti for 2 euros before we ride the elevator back down to the street.
We had planned to stop at the Kalvertoren which is said to have a tower view of Amsterdam but we can’t see it and don’t feel like walking around to look for it. So we keep going and walk through Begijnhof. In about 1150, a group of women came together to live in this religious community, primarily to look after the sick. The buildings are magnificent, especially the church. And the courtyard has some cute statues such as a boy being chased away and a dog walking away with his tail between his legs. The inspiration for these statues came from the story that until more recently, males other than priests and dogs were not allowed in Begijnhof. Unfortunately, we are not able to find the not so obvious gate that leads to the courtyard and front-view of the buildings of Begijnhof so we walk on. A block or so later, we stop at the Amsterdam Historic Museum to look around the gift shop. Then it’s back to the hotel to rest our feet before dinner.
We decide to eat late in an attempt to re-set our internal clocks back to home time. Due to the time difference, this also allows Pete to get in many hours of work. At around 8 o’clock Amsterdam time, we walk to Green Planet Restaurant. Located just down the block from our hotel, this vegetarian restaurant came highly recommended by a vegetarian dining guide Pete found online. Unfortunately, they only take cash so Pete has to leave to find an ATM after we order. Pete has the Italian Saffron Risotto with Green Asparagus and Smoked Tofu while I eat the Asian Wok Stir-fry with vegetables and marinated tempeh. For drinks, Pete has his usual and I have the fresh juice of the day. We decide against desert because we are so full from lunch.
After eating, we walk down the Nieuwendijk again. I pick out an imitation Royal Delft vase I have been eyeing. Unfortunately, we are short .50 euros. After asking the shop owner nicely, I am able to purchase the vase with our remaining euros. I think this has worked out nicely since we don’t have to search out a place to exchange left over euros for American dollars but Pete doesn’t seem as pleased as I am with my shrewd purchase. Oh well, we really didn’t spend a lot on our trip overall so at least Pete has that to be happy about.
May 11, 2005 - Wednesday
Stranded in Amsterdam and Finally Arriving Home
“Well, we’ve missed our flight,” Pete exclaims from in front of the television in our Amsterdam hotel room.
“Very funny,” I think to myself as I try to rub the sleep from my eyes. “I’m getting up. Don’t worry, I’ll hurry.”
“No, really. It’s 6:50. The front desk never called us for our wake-up call and our flight leaves in 30 minutes. We can’t possibly get there. I am going to call to see what happened.”
I jump in the shower while Pete makes frantic phone calls to the front desk, British Airways, and American Airlines. Once I am dressed, I use the room phone to call the front desk and ask for the manager while Pete continues to use his IP phone to argue with American Airlines. Gita, the hotel manager, apologizes for my plight and says she will look into the situation and will see me at the front desk when we come down to check out. I bring Pete his deodorant to put on, toothbrush with toothpaste and a cup of water to brush his teeth, and his socks so he can finish getting ready while he continues to argue with American Airlines.
I take my suitcase and head down to the front desk. Gita is in her early thirties in a navy hotel uniform with her straight brown hair pulled back in a low ponytail. We shake hands as I introduce myself. Then she stands patiently, almost bowing her head, as I start in with my outrage at the position the hotel’s mistake has put us in. She is so sincere in her apology that I can’t keep berating her so I ask what happened to our wake-up call. I am shocked when she admits that the clerk who took our request last night made a mistake. He wrote down the wrong room number so they called the wrong room this morning at 4:30 a.m. She asks for a business card that she can give to the District Manager so he can be in touch with us about reimbursement for any additional charges we may incur as a result of this error. She is not promising that we will be reimbursed but it is a start and all we have time for now anyway. I check the bill as Pete joins me at the front desk. He starts to go through the same description of anger and disappoint him while I tell him that they have already heard the same from me. He signs the hotel bill and we are on our way to Amsterdam Central.
The train ride to the airport is very tense. We are really stressed out not knowing how we are going to get home. American Airlines told us to head to the airport because there is nothing they can do. As far as they are concerned, we missed our flight and our tickets are null and void because they are non-refundable.
We head to the British Airways counter once we arrive at the airport. A representative calls American Airlines on our behalf. Unfortunately, we learn that our connecting flight has been cancelled as well since we missed the first leg from Amsterdam to Heathrow. This means that even if we can get to Heathrow in time for the second part of our return trip, we no longer have tickets for that flight. They will not offer to allow us to fly standby on a later flight nor allow us to pay a transfer fee to get home. Their only offer is for us to pay full price for last minutes fares home. The British Airways representative is equally aghast at what we are told by American Airlines.
Instead of paying their hijack fares, Pete calls American Express business travel who booked his tickets to Amsterdam. While the travel agent at AmEx was not able to do anything about American Airlines refusal to help us in any way with our return tickets, she was able to purchase the cheapest possible round trip tickets from Amsterdam to Boston. Since roundtrip tickets are cheaper than one way fares, we were able to get home for just under $1300. The cheapest tickets available were on Northwest and happened to be direct so at least we would not have to connect in Heathrow again.
While we wait the almost 4 hours for our flight to Boston, we contemplate whether the hotel will actually make good by refunding the cost of our new tickets home. We still can’t get over the fact that they admitted their mistake but paying out almost $1300 is another story. Of course, we don’t expect the Northwest flight will have special meals for us and there is nothing to eat at this airport but cheese and meat so I am out of luck for dinner today. We just can’t believe that Pete’s worst nightmare has just come true. At least we now have a way to get home even if it does leave us broke.
We watch Coach Carter and Hotel Rwanda to pass the time on the long flight to Boston. I am able to eat the rolls served with the meals while Pete eats the cheese calzones. When we finally land, we are exhausted. It is great to be back in Boston and to get back home to Jen and the pets.
Update: By the time we got home, we had an email from the General Manager of the Renaissance Amsterdam. After a reply telling him of the cost we incurred, he responded to confirm that the hotel would reimburse the additional cost. We could not be happier with the way he and the hotel staff worked to resolve this issue for us despite the turmoil our missed wake-up call caused. American Airlines, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired in the form of service.