Thursday, September 15, 2011 Amsterdam!

Traveling from Iceland to Amsterdam was basically hassle-free...except it was quite an early morning. Our flight departed the Reykjavik airport at 8 in the morning, so we had a 5:30 pick-up from the shuttle that would take us to the bus terminal where we would then catch a bus to the airport. Another great thing about Iceland: because it's so small, all your tours, even the shuttle to get to the bus station, will pick you up right outside your hotel. I guess I'm just used to having to schlep myself and all my crap miles to get anywhere, so it's quite nice having door to door service. However, because I am a worrier and having the bus shuttle come pick me up seems like such a foreign thing, I spent most of the night worried that the shuttle would be late or just not show up, but at 5:29 there it came, right around the corner, and picked us up in front of our hotel. God, I love Iceland.

Here are some final random pics of Iceland:

This picture was taken at about 9:30 at night. Sun still going strong!

This was the name of our street in Reykjavik. Please don't ask me to try to pronounce it.

Our second morning in Iceland it was rainy and cold (about 40 degrees). I told Kent I would give him some Icelandic krona if he would run around the street with his shirt off. Clearly, he did it.

We had no problems at the airport or during the flight, and it seemed like a good sign that the breakfast in the airport cafe cost the EXACT amount of Icelandic currency I had remaining. From there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Amsterdam! Well, a 2.5 hour hop, skip, and a jump but you know what I mean.

After our arrival in Amsterdam we ran into a tiny problem concerning money. In Europe, they use debit cards that are called a "chip and pin" card. So called because they contain a microchip and a PIN number, but they work just like our debit cards--allowing people to pay for purchases or withdraw money from an ATM. The problem is that American debit cards don't have the chip, so they are not usable in the European machines. After striking out at an ATM and being unable to use our cards to purchase a train ticket at the self-service kiosk or teller, we tried a second ATM and success! We had Euros and were ready to head into downtown Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is fascinating and beautiful city--the whole thing is below sea level and is built on wooden pylons to keep it from sinking into the Amstel River. The river itself is channeled through a series of canals throughout the city, and despite what I had heard, the city does not smell weird because the canal water is flushed out every several days.I was kind of afraid the whole place would smell like pee.

The city's hey day was in the seventeenth century--when the Dutch ruled supreme economically thanks to the East India Company. This Golden Age led to a huge boom of building in Amsterdam (as it became the banking center of the western world) and many of the houses and other buildings in the city date from this period. Lining the streets and canals are tall row houses with ornate decorations, gables, and beautiful details. Think Old Town Alexandria but bigger and better.

Typical Amsterdam street---houses line the canals with one-way streets (going opposite directions) on each side.

The starting point for every tour and city center itself is the Centraal Station, the central train station. From this point you can catch trams, buses, or boats anywhere into the city and the main streets (including the Dam--pronounced Dahm) end at the central station. Upon our arrival we hopped on the Number 4 tram and rode about 2 miles down the Dam to the stop nearest the management office of our houseboat.

Did I mention we rented a houseboat?

We figured you can stay in a hotel or apartment anywhere...but how many places can you actually rent a houseboat?

The management people assured us that the houseboat was only a few canals (i.e. blocks) away. But it's not just a true vacation until Chris makes me drag my luggage halfway across a European city (remember, we did that in Reykjavik too). And due to map-reading snafu (we were heading down the wrong canal), it took us about 30 minutes to get to our houseboat. We were hot, sweaty, and irritated, but when we finally arrived we couldn't more pleased.

The houseboats in Amsterdam are almost all converted cargo ships, so they are large, spacious, and have cement floors. Ours was decorated in a pseudo-Moroccan style with low to the ground soft couches, cool wrought-iron lamps and chandeliers, and an open floor plan. Oh, and portholes of course. It couldn't be more comfortable and the extra bathroom was a welcome surprise.

Centraal Station

Our houseboat on the Keizersgracht canal.

Interior of the houseboat...not too shabby!

After settling in, we decided to strike out and check out the neighborhood. We walked around and discovered we were in a quiet but charming area surrounded by funky shops and a cafe on every corner. We were scheduled to go on a tour of the Red Light District that night, but since it was pouring rain, the tour got canceled and instead we did a bit of wandering on our own and stocked up on groceries for the houseboat. We might have have made a quick stop into one of the famous Amsterdam coffee houses and indulged in a bit of local fun...but that's a story for a blog that my family doesn't read.

Coming up next: The Anne Frank House, the Jordaan neighborhood, and high tea at the Museum of Bags and Purses!

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