Thursday, June 3, 2010

Travel: Amsterdam & Italy - Day 2

We crossed the international dateline during our flight so it’s now a new day but we haven’t been to sleep yet. I was able to sleep maybe an hour on the flight. We watched the movie Invictus which was very very good and I watched an episode of house. Also notable was the food on the flight, it was very yummy which was a pleasant surprise! We could only imagine what the food was like in first class…maybe one day we will see for ourselves. 
After the 6.5 hour flight, we landed at Schipol airport in Amsterdam at 8am (2 am home time). We were dragging at this point but our bags were first off the belt (yay, we have our bags! I always have a nightmare that I won’t get my bags when I travel internationally) and well, customs was easy as pie. We simply showed our passports and got the stamp. And with our 50 lb bags and carry on’s in tow we were free to enter Amsterdam.
We made our way to bank to get some euro’s ($1 USD = .74 euro’s) and to the info desk to find out the best way to get to our hostel which we found to be by train. We purchased our train tickets and a map and headed to the platform (where the train departs from the airport). By the way, I love trains. I think it’s because we don’t really have them in the US but it’s such a great way to get around. It’s fast, cheap, and usually safe. When we bought our tickets the lady said either platform 1 or 2. We took that as we could go on either train…
But in fact the one we got on turned out to not be right. We weren’t confident we got on the right train so Dean asked two young guys if the one we were on went to Central Station and they said no. We thought they were joking, but in fact no they weren’t. We had to get off at the next station, go back to where we started and get on the other train. Now let me paint a picture for you…Dean and I both have 50 lb suitcases, another bag on our shoulders and I have my camera bag too. And there are 2 steps to get on or off the train AND the doors only open for about 10 seconds. Needless to say, it’s not much fun to just get on and off this thing. And after 14 hrs of traveling, I was not in the mood for this either. I felt dirty, hadn’t slept, and it was 9 am. The city is waking and I want to go to sleep.
It was about a 10 minute ride to Central Station and following our handy map, it was about a 10 minute walk to our hostel. The city here is so interesting to the eye because the buildings are so old, they look antique. Many of them date back to the 1600’s and earlier! Most buildings are 4 stories, not many are higher. And canals are built throughout the city as well. Also, in case you’re not familiar with a hostel, I will explain it. A hostel is different from a hotel. In a hostel the majority of the rooms are shared by 4, 6, 8 or even 32 people. They’re full of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. Our room has two bunks and sleeps 6. We have a double bunk (double size beds). Hostels are very popular for backpackers and single travelers, and well anyone on a budget because they’re cheaper than hotels. The hotels are very expensive here. We don’t mind the hostel because it’s actually a great way to meet people.
We found our hostel, The Flying Pig – Downtown, checked in and found our room #206. Check in time was @ 10:30 am so we were a bit early. We dropped our bags in the room and took off back to the streets to find breakfast. We found a quaint little cafĂ© around the corner that was perfect. Dean ordered and omelet and I had a traditional Dutch pancake and this thing was ginormous! It had apple, pineapple, and banana. It really was delicious. After breaky we walked around a bit, in and out of shops, the grocery store and a convenient store. We had to get some travel size shampoo, conditioner and body soap. Interestingly, not all the products had English writing so it took a while to figure out what was what. And because the jet lag was really set in at this point, we headed back to our room to try and get some rest.
We napped for several hours and woke up about 5 pm (11pm home time). The sleep was decent considering these beds aren’t the most comfortable (not the worst either), it was broad daylight, and the room window stays open because I don’t think there’s AC. We met three of our roomies – Lisa and Simon a couple from Australia, and Suge a guy from Canada. We all talked about our travel itineraries thus far and future. The couple is on a 6 month adventure covering literally all of Europe – they both quit their jobs to do this and they’re carrying everything they need in their backpack. So cool. I’m jealous.
Now it was time for the long anticipated shower…it’s ity bity but I couldn’t wait. I wouldn’t even care if the water was cold (well maybe). Actually it was a great shower. It was nice and hot and the pressure was good. Minor inconvenience though that you have to press the knob about every 30 seconds or the water will turn off. It is just like those faucets in places that you press and the water never runs long enough for you to wash your hands before you have to press it again. And the light goes out every few minutes too but hey, it was a hot shower. I cannot complain.
The second minor inconvenience is the fact that we didn’t bring an electrical adapter. The US electric plugs will not fit in the outlets here. No way no how, they’re circular. And we knew this already but totally forgot. So I had to forgo washing my hair until we get an adapter. After we got ready, we headed out with our roomies to explore and get dinner. Lisa suggested Indian food and we all agreed to it. Now there’s a restaurant every 10 feet so we didn’t have to go far. We found a restaurant that looked good so we went in.
And yay for English on the menu! I forgot to mention this earlier when we had breakfast but it’s a great relief to see not only Dutch but English as well on menus. I ordered Butter Chicken which is one of my favorite Indian dishes and Dean got Chicken Vindloo which is his fav and is VERY spicy. We ordered garlic Naan too. That’s always good. The food was delicious and the company was great. We all shared stories of our travels and life back home. After dinner we wandered to the Red Light District and went into a few coffee shops. Believe it or not, by midnight we were tired again and we ended the night. Back to the Flying Pig to catch some z’s.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Travel: Amsterdam & Italy - Day 1

Monday 5/31/10
We’re off on a two week adventure to Amsterdam and Italy!
And so the journey begins! Like usual, we were up late last night finishing up our last minute preparations for this trip. Dean was in bed just after one and I followed at about 1:30am. We arranged to have a town car pick us up at 12:45 to be at the airport by 1:30. Our flight was at 3:30 – bound for Amsterdam with connections in Chicago and London.
Surprisingly, I awake before my alarm that was set for 9am. This is good because there was still a list of things to do this morning before departing. This includes giving our house a quick cleaning as it is for sale and there are a few showings while we’re away. We cleaned, packed the last second items, and were ready just in time when Marshall (the driver) arrived. We load the car and lock the house. And so the journey really begins!
While Marshall’s driving was less than impressive (he almost ran off the road twice), we got to the airport right on time. We were worried that being a holiday, the airport may be a bit busy but actually it was quite the opposite. Relieved, we went to the American Airlines check-in kiosk. Just moments after putting our flight info in, we found out the first flight was delayed and delayed to the point that it would make us miss our connecting flight. Fantastic. To the check-in counter we go with hopes there were other options. After this experience now I know why some people stand at the counter for 10-15 minutes…people in line were definitely eyeing us and likely thinking “what in the heck is taking them so long – I have a plane to catch”. Well, if you’ve ever wondered that, this is a perfect scenario. The gentleman behind the counter was very friendly and realized our concern and after literally 10 options that were ‘no good’ and several phone calls later, we found another flight…but it would mean changing airlines, getting to the other terminal, and getting through security in less than 45 minutes. All at the expense of AA of course, not ours.
We ran from the north terminal to the south where Delta is. We received some good help here too…we checked-in via the kiosk then we became “those” people that everyone loves to hate. A Delta employee opened a lane just for us to check our bags as it was unlikely that we would make the flight if she hadn’t. And of course in the middle of the rush my bad was 2 pounds overweight (50 is the limit) so I had to remove some items from my bag and toss them into my carry-on to avoid the $50 charge. Dean’s bag weighed 50 exactly. Of course.
Security was quick and painless, thank goodness. And we arrived at our gate in the nick of time…only to find out this flight was delayed too. You’ve got to be kidding me. At this point our itinerary has already changed once – we were originally going from Atlanta to Chicago to London to Amsterdam. Now we were going from Atlanta to Boston to Amsterdam.
The flight from ATL to BOS was pretty quick once we finally took off – about an hour delayed. I can rarely sleep on planes and this was no exception. Dean and I chatted and surfed the net on the in-flight wifi. We landed at 6pm and our next flight was taking off at 6:50. It was going to be close but we stayed positive about it. We were finally de-planed at 6:15 and had to RUN to the next gate which was just a few gates down from where we were. Dean ran ahead of me to let them know we were coming and thankfully he did! The last few people were boarding the plane and we were the last on board but we made it. They made last call just as we arrived. We didn’t even have time to catch our breath! And it just so happened that we had the very last seats on the plane – row 44.
This flight is 6.5 hours (less than we expected!) which was a pleasant surprise. So now we’re in real time. We are about mid-flight now as I write and Dean and I watched Invictus (great movie) and had a great dinner. He had a chicken with veggies and I had pasta. A few hours remain before we land. It will be about 8 am in Amsterdam which is 6 hours ahead of home (EST). I’m thinking I may need to try and get some sleep now because once we arrive in Amsterdam we are going to hit the ground running…