Amsterdam – Day 3 (Sat – 11/27)

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

Unfortunately, our bodies had not adjusted to the 9-hour time difference so the day started early at 3AM.

Since I was unable to force myself to sleep, I decided to use the wee morning hours to take a few pictures of old Amsterdam around our hotel. TB was having no part of it and opted to lounge in the bed. After getting dressed and gathering the photo equipment I was off.

The early morning air was brisk but not too cold. Since it had stopped raining just a few hours earlier everything was still damp. Traipsing around a foreign place alone during the late night/early morning I was somewhat concerned for my safety. The otherwise tolerant Amsterdam community was still reeling from the murder of Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, and the anti-Muslim backlash in its wake. However, as an aspiring photographer, I was determined to begin capturing parts of our trip that would otherwise go unseen. Also, since I was armed with my tripod I figured I could mount a solid melee attack if provoked. :shocked:

Hotel PulitzerFor my first shot, I decided to photograph the Hotel Pulitzer’s façade. The first thing I noticed was the number of people out and about. Pairs of women on bicycles, groups of guys on foot, the occasional taxi, I was never alone which surprised me given it was an early Saturday morning. I guess New York is getting some competition for its billing as “The City that Never Sleeps.” I setup the tripod low to the ground (the center of the lens was about 18” from the pavement) to capture the brickwork leading into the hotel in the foreground with the hotel’s main entrance in the background. This required that I sit on the damp ground to take some meter readings and compose the final shot.

The shot to the right actually consists of two separate images blended together using Adobe Photoshop. The first photo was taken after metering the highlights & midtones. The second photo was taken to bring out the shadow detail. This is the digital equivalent of taking multiple exposures on the same negative in film photography.

The second item on my photo to-do list was to capture one of Amsterdam’s famous canals with some combination of a bridge or landmark in the background.

Westermarkt TowerWestermarkt Tower Close-Up As luck would have it, Hotel Pulitzer is a block away from Westermarkt (“western tower”) located on the corner of Prinsengracht & Raadhuisstraat. You may recognize Prinsengracht as the street on which the Anne Frank house is located (one block north of Westermarkt). I took the shot to the left which shows Westermarkt and the Prinsengracht (“prince canal”) just outside Hotel Pulitzer. I took the photo to the right shortly thereafter to better showcase the architecture and grandeur of Westermarkt.

I had to do the “double exposure“ trick for the photos above as well. Doing so allowed me to capture details in the tower and its surroundings. Such is the expense for taking pictures before sunrise with minimal natural light and insufficient artificial illumination.

Amsterdam Side StreetThe last photo I took on this outing is to the left. It’s simply one of many secondary thoroughfares running radially toward the city center intersecting Prinsengracht. It gives a feel for the density of the homes and shops typical throughout Amsterdam. It also highlights the quantity and quality of masonry found throughout this historic harbor city.My hands were starting to get cold so I headed back to the hotel to kill some time processing the photos and beginning the day’s blog entry. It was now about 5:20AM.

By the time TB was ready to start our day of touring I had already been awake for 7 1/2 hours. We decided to head down to the Pulitzer restaurant for a “full American” buffet-style breakfast. Apparently, “full American” adds eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes and other cooked foods to the pastries, cereal, juice/coffee/tea of the continental breakfast. Since we were in Amsterdam we decided to do as Americans do (uhh, wait a minute). Thankfully, they also provided smoked salmon and fresh-squeezed orange juice which made the €25,00 per person (~$33.00…for breakfast!) price tag infinitesimally less shocking. We Americans have been hearing the market reports stating how the U.S. dollar is lagging other major foreign currencies (particularly the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen). Well, nothing drives this home quicker than a European vacation. Look at it this way: Things cost roughly the same in Amsterdam as they do in the U.S. For example, the hotels here also attempt petty larceny charging €4,00 for the bottled water in the minibar. The kicker is $100.00 in U.S. currency currently converts to about €77,00 (before commissions) so that bottle of water costs us poor Americans about 30% more in Amsterdam. Expanding ones geographical & cultural horizons through foreign travel isn’t cheap but it’s worth every cent.

€ is the symbol for the euro which is the new currency adopted by the majority of European countries (with the notable exceptions of Great Britain, Denmark and Sweden) which began circulating in 2002. I should also mention Europeans use the comma the way we do the period and the period the way we do the comma when numbers are involved. I guess this is inline with driving on different sides of the road and using different units of measurement. On the last issue, I actually wish the U.S. would convert to metric (we all know “two liter” and “400 meter relay” so we’re practically there, right?) but I digress.

Immediately following breakfast we headed to our first destination, Centraal Station, to depart on a canal tour. We made a quick stop at the AVH supermarket near the hotel to buy a strippenkarten which is basically a multi-trip tram ticket that can be used multiple times on the same trip by different people. The price for the “strip card” was €8,50 and would get us both to Centraal Station and back following our canal tour in addition to getting us back to Centraal Station on Sunday to catch a train to the airport. We had already confirmed with the concierge that we needed to catch the #13 or #17 tram to reach Centraal Station and we only had to wait a short time before the #13 arrived. The Amsterdam public transportation system, like other European cities, is top notch. The electric trams are modern with displays showing the next stop, news and weather information. The entire process of boarding and unboarding the tram was highly efficient save for the ticket clerk who sits in a small booth onboard the tram and validates tram cards, stamps strippenkarten, and even sells tram tickets for passengers who come aboard unprepared. Having a single person responsible for all these activities at each stop tended to create a logjam whenever large groups boarded the train.

We arrived at Centraal Station without much fanfare in under 10 minutes. From there, we had a short walk to the Holland International ticket booth to purchase our canal tour tickets for €8,50 per person. We then queued (European for “stood in line”) with about 40 other people to wait for the next vessel. Our tour was scheduled to depart at 11:45AM so we had about a 20-minute wait.

Once we got situated on the tour boat and things got underway the one-hour tour was pretty uneventful. We toured each canal enveloping the city center and also cruised along the Amstel river for a bit. We learned about the different types of gables present in Amsterdam architecture (both homes and warehouses) and how every home (new and old) has a hoisting hook at the top to provide a method for getting furniture and supplies to the different levels. Apparently the stairways within the homes and warehouses are built narrow and steep to save space which makes it impossible to carry large items up them. The last interesting thing we learned is Amsterdam was originally a marshland so all the buildings sit atop wooden and concrete piles that go 30-40 meters down through the peet to firm sand. In fact, Amsterdam got its name because a dam was built on the Amstel river to protect the early inhabitants from flooding. The settlement became known as “Amstel Dam.“ I’m not sure how the L became an R but that’s how Amsterdam got its name, so we’re told.

At the end of the tour we decided to take a walk around the area and just started wandering aimlessly. Our walk took us past restaurtants and shops including a sex museum which we didn’t bother to explore. In some bizarre way we ended up doing a big circle back to Centraal Station. It was around 2PM. Since we planned to visit the Anne Frank house at 5PM we decided to go back to the hotel to rest beforehand. We proudly boarded the #13 tram with strippenkaarten in hand. We noticed there seemed to be a lot more people traveling by tram at that time and things got crowded pretty quickly. We waited patiently for our stop (Prinstengarcht/Westermarkt) to be announced as the tram whisked us away. Several minutes passed and TB asked me if I thought we had been on the tram that long on our way to Centraal Station. It did seem we had been on the tram longer than before but I wasn’t sure and, always the patient one, said things were probably going slower due to the increased traffic and tram occupancy.

After several more minutes we still didn’t recognize any of the areas, landmarks or stops so I asked TB to look at her map. By the time we realized we’d missed our stop the tram had gone beyond the area covered by the map! As it turned out, our stop was about 4 stops from Centraal Station. We were 10+ stops beyond that. We casually strolled off the tram at the next stop to avoid looking like lost tourists as we proceeded to catch the next tram back. We both kicked ourselves for making such a rookie mistake since we pride ourselves on having detailed information and flawlessly navigating directions during our travels. Of course, one positive is we briefly saw other parts of the city that we had not planned to visit. We boarded the inbound tram and were disheartened to learn, since we overshot our stop by so much, we actually went outside the zone limit usually covered by 2 of the 15 available stamp slots on the strippenkaarten. The inbound trip would require 3 slots per person which meant we would only have 5 slots remaining to get us to Centraal Station when we departed Sunday on our way back to the airport. We didn’t know if 5 would be sufficient for the both of us.

Back at the hotel, TB took a nap and I worked on the blog entry and picture processing until the time came for us to head to the Anne Frank house. The Anne Frank tour is a must-do for anyone visiting Amsterdam the first time. The lines have a tendency to get long as the tour is a self-scheduled, self-paced stroll throughout the house in which Anne, her family and 4 others hid to avoid the Nazis. The tour cost €7,50 per person and, indicative of its popularity, its program was available in 8 languages. It took us about an hour to complete the tour. The most memorable parts for me were seeing the small quarters the 8 people were restricted to for 2 years and being able to read (actually “look at” since I don’t know German) a couple of Anne’s actual composition books which comprise her diary.

We returned to the hotel at around 5:45PM and just hung out in the room watching The National Geographic channel. We ordered room service at around 9PM and watched more TV. TB went to bed around 11PM and I stayed up until almost midnight working on the pictures, editing the blog and tinkering with the camera.

Dutch vocabulary word of the day: huis (HOOSE) which means house.


Amsterdam – Day 2 (Fri – 11/26)

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

We arrived in Amsterdam around 10 am on Friday. Schiphol was something else. The airport is fairly large and quite overwhelming with all the people. Going through customs was quick. I’ve seen stricter screening going across the border from Canada back to the States. After exiting customs you enter the Arrivals section of the airport. Again, there were people everywhere. Trying to be self sufficient, we looked for info on getting to our hotel. We found a sign that listed the prices to the city via the 3 alternatives: train, airport shuttle, or taxi. The train was the least the expensive so we attempted to purchase tickets using the kiosk. We couldn’t figure it out, so we nixed that plan and decided to take the shuttle, 2nd least expensive alternative. We left the airport for the first time to find the shuttle. I was struck by the smell of fried dough and the dreary sky. The shuttle was just wrapping up boarding when we arrived. We were told there were a couple seats left and quoted the price. We discovered they didn’t take credit cards, and we hadn’t exchanged money yet. Oops! Of course they said they’d take our dollars with an idiot tax added in. We paid the shuttle fee (and the idiot tax) and were on our way.

The trip to the hotel was cramped, but it allowed us to see different parts of Amsterdam as the shuttle dropped off passengers at their hotels in various neighborhoods. The shuttle driver stopped on a narrow, unassuming street and said we were at the Pulitzer. (Pulitzer Hotel is part of the Starwood family’s Luxury Collection. It was a recommendation from the travel agent who booked our honeymoon.) We proceeded to check-in. Given that it was only 11:30 am or so, I was expecting the receptionist to tell us there were no rooms available until after 2 or 3. To my surprise, she said there were roms available, but they were courtyard view. She could upgrade us to a better room, but we would have to wait to check-in. We decided to take the room they had available because we were ready to be settled. Our room was quaint and nice.

We rested for a minute before we left back out for lunch. Keith talked with the concierge for a recommendation, and she made a reservation for us. As we left out of the hotel, I asked Keith where we were going for lunch. He mentioned the Blakes Hotel. I said, “Umm, that’s an expensive hotel.” (It was one of the hotels that the travel agent recommended. But, it was about twice the price of the Pulitzer. So, I passed on that one.) Once I explained the hotel to Keith, he said since it was too expensive to stay there at least we could enjoy the hotel by having lunch there. I guess that’s a good point. The walk to the hotel was a good opportunity for us to venture out and soak up the scene. The hotel was very nice, and lunch was good. After lunch we strolled back to our hotel. We chilled out for a bit, and I took a nap.

Around 5 pm we decided to go back out to do some sightseeing and grab some dinner while we were out. Unfortunately when we walked out the front door we realized it was pouring down raining. So, we decided to nix that plan and ended up going to the concierge to plan out our day on Saturday.

We ordered room service and ended up calling it an early night.


Amsterdam – Day 1 (Thu – 11/25)

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

On Thanksgiving morning we left home for Amsterdam. We assumed it would be smooth sailing as everyone would have been where they were going. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We pulled into our usual MasterPark airport parking lot and quickly discovered they were full. They were only taking cars that had existing reservations. Who knew you had to make reservations to park your car?! We were directed to another MasterPark lot down the street. Upon pulling into that lot, we noticed orange cones blocking the entrance and several cars in front of us driving in and back out. Again we were informed the lot was full and if our name wasn’t on their clipboard of existing reservations we didn’t have anything coming. They directed us to another company that still had parking spots available. Unfortunately, that lot didn’t have “valet“ service. So, we had to make our way through the maze of cars to find a spot. They had just a handful of spaces left in their roughly 2,000 car lot. After getting parked, we caught the shuttle to the airport…a little off schedule, but still ok since we checked in online before heading to sleep Wednesday night.

By the time we got to the gate, they were just about to board our USAirways flight to Philadelphia. We were surprised to learn that the flight was going to be full. ugh. 🙁 (Where are all these people going? Didn’t they want to spend Thanksgiving camped out in front of the tv with a plate of food, and not on a plane?) The flight boarding was pretty uneventful, except for the guy who boarded at the end and threw a tantrum when he discovered there was no more overhead space for his bag. The flight attendant politely told him he could check the bag. That didn’t go over with the man and he still kept complaining. The flight attendant said, “You can either check the bag or get off the flight.” Of course the guy checked the bag. And then we were off. Having not flown USAirways in several years, it was quite an experience compared to United. Everyone knows the airlines are operating on thin profit margins and several are trying to emerge from bankruptcy, but it was evident that USAir is running on bare minimums. After takeoff, we ended up watching two movies on Keith’s laptop, Shrek 2 and Elf. (Shrek 2 was hilarious. If you haven’t seen it, rent it today.) By the time we finished those movies, we were about 45 minutes from landing.

We arrived in Philadelphia, and had a 4.5 hour layover. We went to the Marriott hotel connected to the airport to find a “real” meal. They did have a pseudo Thanksgiving dinner. I got the Thanksgiving fixed dinner which included butternut squash soup, dinner of turkey & gravy, cornbread stuffing with cranberries, mashed potatos, roasted vegetables of sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes, & onions, and pumpkin mousse with candied walnuts for dessert. Keith got the butternut squash soup, seabass for dinner, and apple crumble with carmel ice cream for dessert. All the food was quite tasty. We were both stuffed. The best part was dinner ended up killing about 3 hours of time.

We headed back to the airport security to make our way to the international terminal. We decided to hang out in the international USAirways lounge for an hour before boarding. Surprisingly there were quite a few people. We had enough time to make our ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ calls and charge Keith’s laptop. After about 45 minutes an announcement was made that boarding for our flight was beginning. We packed up and headed to our gate.

Again the boarding was pretty uneventful. The USAir seats were pretty much on top of one another. You would have expected a little more leg room for international flights, but that was not the case. It was a Boeing 767, and we had the middle three seats to ourselves. So at least we had a bit more arm room. After settling in, we took our Ambien sleeping pills which were prescribed for jet lag. (It was about 3 am in Amsterdam, so we were hoping to get on their schedule as quick as possible.) We were warned by the travel medicine doctors that we should only take a 1/2 pill the first time so we could get a handle on how our body reacted. We were expecting to take the pill and be knocked out like Sleeping Beauty. After about an hour Keith and I looked at each other confused. We both ended up taking another pill, and sleeping for a few hours. We wrapped up Thursday, November 25 somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.


We’re Live

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog.  I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005.  The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward.  Enjoy these older stories.

We finally got our blog up-and-running after a couple fruitless attempts at integrating the “alpha” release of CommunityServer::Blog.  Luckily, .Text is still an excellent alternative and readily available.

Now that our blog is online, we’ll be filling it with observations, thoughts and pictures from our adventures, near and far.

Stay tuned.  Visit often…