The city of Canals and Houseboats.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
1
8
18
Trip End Sep 29, 2011


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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

11 Sept. 6 – Tuesday

This morning I wanted to get breakfast over with early so that I'd be ready to leave at 07:50. Unfortunately, I was a few minutes late.  We made the short walk to the Bus and proceeded to our first stop of the day, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, which is located in the city of Aalsmeer. This is the largest auction site for flower and plants in the world, and is housed in an enormous building of about 10.6 million square feet!  About 20 million flowers are sold each day, and these are shipped to locations all over the world (usually via air, in order to ensure freshness).

Our group proceeded up stairs to reach walkways which are mounted about 10 meters or so above the work area.  These seem to extend the length of the building which is probably a kilometer or more and are at least two metres wide.  On the operating floor below, there are huge numbers of wheeled metal racks containing flowers and plants of every description.  Some are just sitting in position and some are connected in small "trains" and towed behind electric tractors.  The entire process is somewhat of a “symphony” of coordination, with trains travelling back and forth up the various aisles.  On the same floor as the walkway, there’s an automated conveyor system which is designed to pick-up the carts and automatically transport them to locations determined by the central computer.  Of course there was a wonderful potpourri of fragrances floating up to the walkways.

As the walkways progress, two very large rooms with university-style tiered seating come into view. These are located behind large windows so that visitors have a clear view of the proceedings inside.  These are the auction centres where buyers place bids to purchase various floral products.  Each of the rooms had dozens of Brokers, all sitting in cramped seating with a Laptop in front of them.  They were all facing large monitors at the bottom of the room which contained a display similar to a clock, in addition to segments which indicated the flower type (with a photo), quality rating, country of purchase and other details.  Small carts with flowers passed in front of the screens and then disappeared into the back.  These are presumably the items that are currently being auctioned.  Periodically, the hand on the clock would rotate quickly, and I’m assuming this is when the purchase was made.  Buying is done on a “Dutch Auction” basis, with the price decreasing from the opening price.

During my stroll along the walkways, I was approached by an individual with a name tag and carrying a small hand held computer.  I first thought he was an employee of the Flower Auction, but it turned out that he was a representative of the Dutch tourist board and asked if I’d be interested in taking part in a survey.  We completed that as I continued my walk. Towards the end, we encountered our Guide and the rest of the group.

After a very enlightening tour of the commerce of Flowers, we boarded the Bus again for the short trip to our next stop, the Zuiderzee Museum.  After a  walk through the Museum building, the group exited out the back to a waiting boat.  After a short cruise, we landed at the site of the open air Museum, next to two large Brick Kilns.  The appearance was of a typical 19th century village, with small shops and businesses (Pharmacy, Cheese shop, homes, Shoemaker, etc.).  As we began our exploration, the weather took a decidedly nasty turn, with strong wind gusts and driving rain.  This continued intermittently for most of the afternoon, and I was glad that I had brought my jacket, but sorry that I had forgotten the water cover for my Camera and my rain poncho.

After a brief exploration of the village, we met at a small restaurant on the site for a group lunch, which today was a selection of four different types of Dutch Pannekoeken.  This included vegetarian (with tomatoes and onions), bacon, a plain type with only icing sugar, and finally one with apples and raisins.  I had syrup on the last two selections but not on the first two.  Our Driver had syrup on all of them!  They had opened the restaurant solely for our group, so once lunch was finished the Server and Cook got to go home.

After lunch we all continued to explore the open-air museum individually or in small groups, but the weather continued to worsen.  My main focus was no longer on touring, but finding some shelter from the wind and rain and keeping my Camera dry.  I snapped a few photos with my small Camera, but this was not good weather for capturing great photos.  At one point I ventured into the Cheese museum to get some cover, and was surprised to find that this was actually real aging cheese rather than “fake” displays.  The odour is difficult to describe, a combination of wood, an old canvas Army tent and paraffin.

The group started to congregate at the designated meeting point just before 14:30 but there was no shelter so we eventually found an old barn on the property, which was perfect.  Two of our group were missing, as the Wife was down with the Flu so they made their way back to the Bus before the rest of us.

When everyone was assembled, we started the hike back to the location where the Bus was parked.  Although we had arrived at the site by boat, the Museum was on a peninsula so we were able to walk to the main part of town.  Unfortunately, the high winds and driving rain had increased in intensity, and we were pelted with rain that was driven horizontally at high speed, which felt like needles hitting the skin.  I had my Camera tucked inside my coat but it was still getting a bit wet.  I was only able to use my Umbrella intermittently due to the strong winds.  It had already been “turned inside out” a few times that afternoon.  One of the other group members had his Umbrella turned into a few strips of tattered clothe hanging on a twisted metal frame, so that will provide some idea of the intensity of the wind.

After what seemed like a long 15 minute walk, we finally reached the dry and warm refuge of our trusty conveyance, a large Heidebloem coach with our driver Huub at the wheel.  Everyone was soaked in varying degrees by that point, some worse than others.

This was to be our last stop of the day, so the Bus departed for Amsterdam which will be the last city we’ll be visiting.  The tour will unfortunately be over in a few days.  Part of the route to Amsterdam was across a 12 kilometre Dike which had been constructed in the 1960’s.  The construction of the Dike allowed more land to be reclaimed from the sea, creating at least one new province in the Netherlands. During that part of the drive, our Driver made an announcement on the PA system and thanked us for travelling with him and hoped that we felt safe in his care.  After dropping us at the Hotel in Amsterdam, we’d be saying goodbye to our comfortable Coach and exceptional driver, and this part of every tour always seems a bit sad for everyone.  I think Huub also felt sad to be saying goodbye to us.  I had a couple of occasions to sit down over a Beer with Huub, and it was interesting to hear some of the details of his life and his work as a Driver.  At the end of his comments, he played the song Time To Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.  Although I didn’t look at the rest of the group (I was sitting at the front as usual), I suspect it was a somewhat emotional moment for everyone.

When we arrived at our Hotel in Amsterdam, the luggage was unloaded from the hold very quickly as the Coach was partially blocking the street, and our Coach and Driver disappeared into the sea of vehicles and Trams in the busy Amsterdam streets.

Apparently, the Holland & Belgium tour usually stays in another Hotel, but unfortunately it’s fully booked at this time of year for a large convention so we’re staying in an alternate Hotel.  The Hotel Acro seems a bit “dated” but it appears that renovations are in progress. The room I was assigned seems to have been recently refurbished as all the fittings and furniture are brand new.  The double bed was covered by a large white Duvet, and the fixtures in the bathroom are all a modern chrome style.  The room is VERY small though, which is of course the case with many single rooms.

We had a short time to rest before going out for our group dinner at an Indonesian restaurant.  I took the opportunity to watch some TV and charge my phone and iPod Touch for a few minutes.  I also did a small laundry (underwear & socks) as I’ve just about run out of fresh clothes.  I’ll have to find a Laundromat in the next day or so, and do a “proper” laundry before I leave for Berlin.

At 18:30 the group met in the Lobby for our trip to the restaurant.  We’d be taking a Tram this time rather than walking, probably due to the weather.  The Tram stations are only a short walk from the Hotel and prior to boarding the Tram, our Guide provided everyone with a three-day tranist Pass which covers the local Trram and Bus systems.  The cards are fitted with an RFID chip, so it’s only necessary to place them next to a Reader on the Trams and that registers that the “ticket” is valid.  We were also told that Trams No’s 2 and 5 were the appropriate ones to get back to the area of our Hotel.

The ride to the Kantjil & de Tijger restaurant only took about 8-minutes and it was a short walk from the Tram stop.  The restaurant was moderately busy when we first arrived, but became considerably more busy as the evening progressed.  We were seated at a long table in the back, and started with Beer & Wine.  Before long the food started to arrive in “waves”, with many small dishes each containing a different type of food.  These were shared by everyone at the table and when one dish was empty, another would be provided.  It didn’t take long for our group to consume a small mountain of Indonesian food, and I found that I was "full" fairly quickly.  rather than lingering over coffee, I decided to head back to the Hotel right away.

It was still raining lightly when we left the restaurant, and the ride back on the Tram seemed to be very quick.  Everyone headed straight for their rooms, as I imagine they’re as tired as I am after our busy day.  I did go to the Hotel bar for a few cups of coffee while I checked my E-mail (a new Wi-Fi system is presently being installed in the Hotel, so there’s no signal available in the rooms yet). While I was in the Bar, some of the members of the group came in and sat at the Bar for a drink and we chatted for awhile.  As I prepared to leave, I had a short conversaton with an older man and two girls who were seated at the next table.  They asked about the tour, so of course I provided a thorough description of the Rick Steves tours.  The man had been born in Holland, but he and the girls have been living in Australia for a number of years.

When I finally made it back to my room, I finished updating my Diary and then got organized for the next day, as it’s going to be a busy touring day!  Hopefully I’ll have time to get to Amsterdam Central to buy my tickets for the train trip to Berlin.

11 Sept. 7 - Wednesday

I was up a bit earlier this morning, partially due to the fact that I received several texts from "home" at about 06:00.  The messages weren't urgent, but there was a bit of a “text conversation” for a few minutes.

I went down for breakfast at about 07:35 and a few members from the group were there.  The Hotel seems to be busy at the moment, and there were other travellers there as well.  The selection was much the same as other locations in this area.  The Dutch father and two daughters from Australia came in just as I was leaving so I stopped to wish them “Good Morning”. Our group met out in front of the Hotel at about 09:00 and we left for the Anne Frank Museum via Tram and walking.  The Museum was located right next to a Canal, and there was a bit of a queue forming even at this early hour of the morning.  It turned out that “The Bunker” in Edmonds hadn’t made the reservations for our group, so our Guide had to take care of that.

When we got inside we were told by the Guards that NO photographs are allowed.  The atmosphere was somewhat somber, as might be expected in a Museum of this type.  The route went through the house and the hidden annex, with displays that described the history of Anne and her family and their life in hiding.  Looking at the photos of Anne, I was very moved by her courage and spirit, and saddened by the fact that such wonderful young woman never had the opportunity to live her life, or enjoy the simple pleasures that she so treasured, such as just singing and dancing in the sunshine and fresh air of the “outside world”.  She died in the dreadful conditions of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp just a short time before it was liberated.  She would have been gratified to know that her Diary was published.

Following our tour of the Anne Frank house, we proceeded to a well known local “Coffee Shop”, which of course in the terminology of Amsterdam doesn’t have anything to do with Coffee at all.  Prior to the tour, the owner, assisted us by taking a group photo using my Camera.  When we were all seated inside, he provided an excellent description of the benefits of Marijuana (as he perceived them), and I think the group really enjoyed and appreciated hearing his perspective of the drug situation.

There was one “unfortunate incident” though.  Just as I was entering the shop, one of the “regulars” was leaving, no doubt feeling no pain after smoking a few joints.  He had two Dogs with him and I reached over to pet one of the dogs as he seemed to be nervous around the group.  The owner snapped at me in a very angry and threatening fashion and said something about “no photos” (I had my Camera hanging around my neck and wasn't even holding it at the time).  I pointed out that I wasn’t taking any photos, but he angrily mumbled something in Dutch and then disappeared.  So much for Ludo’s theory about pot smokers not being violent – I had the impression this a$$hole was about to start swinging!  Several of the others in the group noticed the altercation also.

After this somewhat unusual tour experience, we proceed to Dam Square (yes, that’s what it’s called) and Hilbren provided some details about the history of the city.  Horse & Buggy rides were being offered in the square and there was also an individual dressed like Darth Vader, offering photos for a price.  We eventually ended up the a very busy street with many restaurants and shops, and had a very brief look at a small Church in that area.

By this time it was well after noon, and we finally ended up at a restaurant that had a HUGE buffet selection on several floors.  There was everything from salads to a grill which would make custom meals on demand.  Several of the others were stopping there, and I had thought of dining there also, but it was too big, too crowded and would take too long.  I walked to the McDonald’s down the street and had a Big Mac meal and was on my way in 15 minutes or less.

I took the Tram back to the Hotel, dropped my large Camera and collected my Itinerary.  The ride to Amsterdam Central only took about 15 minutes and when I arrived there I wasn’t quite sure where the entrance was, due to the many construction barriers in place around the station.  I discovered that the first ticket area I tried was only for local tickets.  They referred me to the “Service Center” at the far end of the station. When I first entered, I didn’t realize that I’d need to “take a number” but I quickly clued-in.  Unfortunately, my number was C325 and they were only servicing C289 at that time.  It took me the better part of an hour to finally get to a ticket window!

The Clerk was very efficient and had my ticket arranged in a few minutes.  She suggested I take a train to Hilversum about 30 minutes before the one I had originally planned, in case the train was late.  The original schedule only allowed four minutes for that change.  One thing I noticed was a sign at each window stating that they now ONLY accept "Chip & PIN" credit cards (two young Backpackers had discovered that fact earlier when they tried to pay for their tickets with an older Magnetic Stripe credit card – they had to find an ATM and then return with cash to buy their tickets, after waiting in another queue).

After buying my ticket, I took a walk through the station to locate Track 10b, which is the one I’ll be departing from.  It’s easily accessible, an Elevator is available to track level and there are lots of small food bars on the way to the platform, which will be helpful if I don’t manage to get breakfast at the Hotel.

I took the Tram back to the Hotel and got organized, and also had a short nap.  At about 18:30 I went down to the Bar and had a few cups of coffee.  A group from the U.K. was there also.  I then went across the street to the Park in the next block and found a small stand selling sandwiches.  I bought a Ham & Cheese Baguette and a fresh orange juice and then walked back to the Hotel.

At about 19:00 the group departed again for Dam Square, where we were to meet our local Guide for the tour of the Red Light District.  We were introduced to Albert, the Guide, and the tour began.  We first passed a somewhat unique Condom shop and then proceeded through a small street with girls in windows (there were only a few).  They were usually wearing Bikinis, and their "window" was illuminated by various colors of lights. The tour progressed through several different parts of that famous part of Amsterdam, including one location that advertised “Live Sex Shows”.  We eventually passed more windows, including some that had blue lights and the Guide explained those were transsexuals.

Several times during the tour, I noticed the unmistakable smell of Marijuana floating through the night air.  The area was VERY busy, and there were other tour groups including one from Spain that had a very “animated” Guide who was using naughty gestures to enhance the presentation of his tour.  There seemed to be a lot of Chinese food restaurants in one part of the District.  There were many shops selling souvenirs and other sex-related paraphernalia.

Our tour ended back at Dam Square and the group dispersed.  I was getting hungry so the Guide took a few of us back to the entertainment area on the Tram.  There we dispersed further and one of the couples from the group and I decided to go to an Irish Pub.  I ordered a pint of Guinness, a Chicken Burger and a Salad.  It was really good!

One or way back to the Hotel, we boarded the wrong Tram (#1) and ended up in a completely different part of the city.  I checked my GPS and it turned out we were only 600 metres from the Hotel so we decided to walk instead of waiting for another Tram.  The GPS led us right back to the Hotel.  I updated my Diary and got ready for bed.  It will probably be another busy day tomorrow.

One additional note is that I used my new ScottEVest all day rather than my Tilly Vest, which needs a wash.  The ScottEVest worked great!

11 Sept. 8 - Thursday

I went down for breakfast about 07:30 this morning, and only oneperson from the tour was there at the time.  However, the breakfast room seemed to fill up quickly.  The group of Brits that I had been talking to the previous day in the Bar came in shortly after I did.  They were in Amsterdam for a large INC Satellite convention, which takes place every year.  The Dutchman originally from Nijmegen and now from Australia and his two daughters weren’t present this morning.

The group met at 08:50 in front of the Hotel for the short walk to the Rijksmuseum.  The weather was still quite miserable, with intermittent periods of heavy rain.  When we arrived at the Museum, our Guide spoke with the security guards at the front and although there was an airport style security scanner, we were just ushered right in.

We toured the exhibits on the bottom floor of the Museum on our own, while our Guide walked down the street to the nearby Van Gogh Museum to buy tickets for the group.  When he returned he provided a short guided tour of the artwork on the top floor of the Museum, which lasted the better part of an hour.

At the conclusion of the tour, most of the group headed to the Van Gogh Museum for a self guided tour.  I decided this would be a good opportunity to get my laundry done, so went back to the Hotel and collected it.  The desk clerk showed the route on the small map, but I beyond a certain point I found it a bit confusing and was getting so frustrated that I was almost ready to go back to the Hotel and have the clerk call a Cab.  Fortunately, fate intervened at that point when an attractive young lady rode up behind me on a bicycle and noticed me looking at a Map with a puzzled look, so she asked if you could help.  She clarified the directions considerably, which made all the difference.  I had assumed the bike path past the Rijksmuseum wasn’t the correct route as it wasn’t a “road”.  However that turned into a major street and after a short walk with a few turns, I spotted the Laundromat on the left side of the street. There was a beautiful and authentic-looking Irish Pub right beside it (Bonus!), so I knew where I was having lunch!

The “Wasserette” offered both service wash as well as self-service.  I wanedt a quick “turn around” so chose self service, and the cost was €7.25.  While I was waiting for the wash to finish, I walked to a nearby plaza to find an ATM to replenish my cash supply.  On the way back to the Laundromat, I accidentally dropped my Civita Pack, but quickly discovered this and found it when I re-traced my steps.

As the wash cycle was finishing, I had a short visit with a nice young couple from New Orleans.  They had been in Paris and were now heading to the Rhine and Black Forest areas.  They used Rick Steves books to plan their trips, so we chatted about that.  After they left, I put my clothes in the Dryer for 30-minutes.  I've found in the past that most Dryers in Europe seem to operate in 10-minute cycles, which is not long enough to dry clothes.  Several cycles are usually needed.

When my laundry was done, I went next door for a much anticipated lunch and ordered a Club Sandwich and of course a pint of Guinness.  The young lady working there was very pleasant, and it turned out that she was from Estonia (we had more of a visit after I finished lunch).  There was a group of four Japanese tourists seated at the next table, and they were enjoying small glasses of Guinness.  They didn’t seem to be conversing too much as one had an iPad 2 open on the table, two were playing with their iPhones and one was sitting there looking at the wall.  The Pub had Irish music playing, and for a moment it almost seemed like I was back in Ireland.  I was tempted to make a toast of Slainte.

After lunch I headed back to the Hotel for a much needed rest and to put my laundry away.  I had a short nap and woke up about 16:00.  Some in the group had asked the Guide if it would be possible to have another boat cruise in Amsterdam, so he arranged that (at extra cost, as we had already taken a canal boat tour in Ghent).  We met in the Hotel bar at 17:00 and then walked to the boat cruise at 17:15.

It was a short walk to the Blue Boat canal boat docks, and the boat was lightly loaded so we had lots of room.  There were a group of German students from Leipzig on the cruise as well, and I had a short visit with them.  Myself and a few of the photographers in the group congregated on the open back deck, as that provided a better vantage point for photos.

The cruise lasted over an hour (probably a bit longer than expected) and at the conclusion the Guide had to go back to the Hotel to collect two members of the group that had chosen not to take the cruise.  The rest of us were given directions to the Café Americain, where we’d be having our final farewell group dinner.  When we arrived there, I took the initiative to get things organized and got seating arranged for the few of us that were there at the time.  The restaurant had two tables reserved for us in the back of the room.  They initially thought that I was the Guide so asked whether we wanted drinks (I didn’t know if these would be covered by the tour, so asked her to wait for the Guide).

Eventually the rest of the group arrived and the dinner commenced.  I had Prosecco to start with.  We were offered a choice of three or four appetizers, and the same number of entrees.  I chose the Salmon in Fennel sauce to begin with and Pouisson (chicken) with Polenta for the Entrée, along with a few glasses of a very nice French white wine.  As usual, my dinner was concluded with coffee.

After dinner we were told to gather at nearby tables which now had Champagne Glasses set at each place.  We were treated to several glasses of Champage, and our Guide presented each tour member with a small Delft Egg Cup as a memento of the tour.  The group slowly disbanded, a process which is always a bit sad, and made their way back to the Hotel.  Some had flights VERY early in the morning, and I’d also be departing fairly early.  The Guide, a few members of the group and I were the last to leave, and walked back to the Hotel together.  We said goodbye in the Lobby and I headed for my room to get organized for a long trip the following day.

It’s hard to believe that eleven days has passed already, and that I was now saying goodbye to these people who had been strangers only a short time ago, but now felt like friends.  I knew that breakfast the next few days would be a bit melancholy.  I’d be expecting to see the same familiar faces in the breakfast room, but would be faced with the reality that I was now alone.  That’s something I’ve dealt with after past tours, and it always takes me a few days to “adjust” to the new reality.

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Comments

Grier on

I'm enjoying your blog, Ken.

eagle10
eagle10 on

Grier,

Thanks for the kind words! The Blog is somewhat of a "work in progess" and I try to make the entries interesting.

londonpenguin
londonpenguin on

I like that you used your free time to do a recon of the train station so that on the day, when it really counted, you'd know exactly where to go.

I do hate the moment when the "Last Supper" has ended!

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