Europe 2019 Part One: Jetting Off to Amsterdam

It’s June of 2019 and time for another trip. Gregg and I have decided to make the most of our current health and the relative independence of freelance work (artist for him; writer for me) by traveling. This year, we’re setting off on a six-week road trip from Amsterdam to Lisbon. Our travels are chronicled in the following ten blogs.

Flying Has Its Challenges

June 10: As usual, we’re ridiculously early for our flight from Vancouver International Airport, but that’s because we’re laden not only with suitcases but also with two boxes of paintings. As we have many times before, we’re taking Gregg’s work to an exhibition. For many years, we shipped his paintings and drawings, but recently we’ve taken to packing and transporting them ourselves to save money for more exciting things like nice hotels and an upgraded rental car. Wrangling two large boxes along with two suitcases and carry-on luggage is not easy but thank goodness for luggage carts.

We’re the first in line at the KLM check-in counter and soon divest ourselves of our suitcases before trundling the boxes over to the special luggage area for inspection. Always fun is the post-inspection re-taping of the boxes. Gregg is armed with plenty of duct tape, but the helpful airport people provide us with tape stamped with “Inspected” to ensure the boxes are not opened when we land in Amsterdam.

By the time we get through security into the international terminal, we still have two hours left to kill before the flight. The waiting area near the gate is empty, which means I’m able to snag one of the few power plugs.

Note to YVR—install more. People have electronics; people need power—why make them fight for it?

The flight is excruciating for two reasons. First, when we booked, we were unable to get the few available seats with extra leg room together which means Gregg is on the aisle on one side of the plane and I’m in the middle of three on the other side. To the bemusement of both myself and the flight attendant, I sit elbow-to-elbow-to-elbow between a husband and wife who talk across me for nine hours. The flight attendant asks them before we take off if they’d like to sit together, but the wife informs her, in unnecessarily snippy terms, that they’ve deliberately booked the aisle and window and that they prefer it. The unspoken part is: Tough beans for the poor sod stuck between us. We’ll just ignore him/her as if they are little more than a lump of quivering flesh, a non-sentient being we will deign to share our air with, but nothing more.

I consider engaging one or the other of them in conversation but decide not to bother. At the end of the nine hours of being talked across, I spit out “have a nice trip” but receive nary a grunt of acknowledgement in reply. Sigh—the glories of modern air travel. I can’t help comparing this flight with one we took in 2017 when we splurged on first class. Ahhh—it was glorious.

Like long lost souls, Gregg and I meet again in the jetway. His flight has been even worse than mine. He’s pale and shaky with nausea—not a good start to our trip. To add insult to injury, we wait for ninety minutes (I do not lie) to get through passport control. One—count him—one passport control person is on duty for sixty of those ninety minutes to serve several plane loads of cranky people. Phalanxes of serious-looking blond-haired, machine-gun-toting soldiers march back and forth nearby which leads me to wonder if a security incident is going on that has taken the border officers away from their duties. The only bright spot is that my seatmates have somehow melted into the sweating masses and I never spot them again.

Getting a SIM Card at Schiphol Airport

Finally, we emerge into the swirling chaos of Schiphol airport—a place we’re very familiar with, since we pretty much always land in Amsterdam, and very often take off from it. We also have frequently stayed at or near the airport and eaten more than our fair share of food in the surprisingly not-awful eateries overlooking Schiphol Plaza. Three hotels I can recommend from personal experience are the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol* (super convenient), citizenM Schiphol Airport* (quirky and a bit cheaper; also super convenient) and Steigenberger Airport Hotel Amsterdam* (very comfortable in an attractive location a short bus ride from the airport).

We have two chores to accomplish before we can find a taxi into the city. First, I need to pick up a SIM card for my phone, and second, we have to store the two boxes of paintings in the Left Luggage area. We’ve decided that schlepping the paintings into the city for just two nights is stupid considering we’ll be returning to the airport to pick up our rental car. With Gregg dying on the vine, I manage to find the right place to leave the boxes (in the bowels of the airport, of course) and pick up my pre-ordered SIM card.

Regarding the SIM card, getting one is super easy, which I wish I’d known for previous trips. Usually, I pay an exorbitant daily fee to my service provider in Canada to use my phone for international travel. For a month-long trip, the cost is $225—$15 a day for fifteen days out of thirty. Since we’ll be away for six weeks, the total bill will be $450—a trifle high for this girl. Instead, I hop online and find a 12GB SIM Card good for one month for 54 euros. Even using my phone for GPS over the course of 6,000 kilometers, I will have more than enough data. I order the SIM card a few weeks before we leave and pick it up at the Airport Telecom shop in Schiphol, located just past the luggage reclaim area and customs area between Arrival Hall 1 and Arrival Hall 2.

Click www.three.co.uk for more information.

When my month is up, I pop into an Orange shop in Seville and buy a two-week SIM card for about 25 euros. Total cost for pretty much unlimited data use for six weeks? About 75 euros, which is around $110 CDN. That’s 25% of what I’d pay with my own provider.

I do like a bargain!

Our Fabulous Digs in the Center of Amsterdam

Back to our arrival in Amsterdam. Usually when we stay there, we find a hotel on the outskirts because hotels in central Amsterdam are ridiculously expensive. As a result, we’ve spent more than a few nights sleeping in borderline drab and/or depressingly modern Amsterdam suburbs that are a long tram ride from the much livelier Centrum. This time, I’m determined to get the full Amsterdam, inner-canal experience.

I find it in the form of Mokum Suites* on the serene and typically Amsterdam Herengracht canal. The place is a Bed and Breakfast without the breakfast (but a fridge and shared kitchen) located in a typical Amsterdam narrow house. The stairs up to our suite on the first floor overlooking the canal resemble a carpeted ladder so getting the suitcases up is an exercise in brute strength and balance—no mean feat after nine hours strapped into a 777. But once we make it into the tastefully renovated space, we’re as happy as our weary bones and reeling heads will allow. The shower portion of the bathroom is the same size as my bathroom at home; and the bathroom as a whole is bigger than my living room. Here’s the view from our window over the Herengracht canal.

Gently, We Explore Amsterdam

After a long shower and a short nap, we’re refreshed, revived, rejuvenated and ready to explore our new ‘hood. We stroll between canals and end up in a place we’ve never seen before—the bustling Rembrantsplein. Basking in the afternoon sun is a massive sculpture of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. Each individually sculpted iron figure stands guard in the middle of the plaza for tourists to photograph and children to climb on. We snag a bench and enjoy the show.

Since we’ve visited Amsterdam often, we feel no obligation to “see the sights”. Instead, we spend our first evening wandering along the quiet, canal-side streets past flower boxes spilling with petunias, inhaling the old stone smell of Europe, and appreciating with the slightly dazed look of the jet-lagged the long June evenings. Along one of the canals is a flower market.

The next day, a highlight is a free lunchtime concert at the famed Concertgebouw Hall across from the Museumplatz (home of the van Gogh Museum). The concert features two men on vibraphones playing a varied program that includes a stellar rendition of the Mikrokosmos by Bartok. I’m entranced both by the music and the price. How come we can’t have free lunchtime concerts of classical music at home? The place is full to bursting, mostly with locals and a smattering of savvy tourists.

We emerge in a music-induced euphoria from the concert to a suddenly grey afternoon with spots of rain. At the beginning of a trip, I’m always keen on keeping a tight hold on the purse strings so I decide that we can easily walk the forty-odd minutes back to our place. A little rain won’t hurt us. Five minutes later, the rain is pounding down in sheets that obliterate my glasses and soak us through. A vision of us coughing and hacking for the next six weeks brings me to my senses. We head for the nearest busy street and hail a taxi.

Sometimes, budgets are made to be broken.

Here are a few more shots of Amsterdam–our B & B Mokum Suites from an adjacent bridge at dusk and me standing on yet another bridge while an aptly named canal boat sails past.

 

 

*This blog post contains affiliate links from booking.com to hotels we actually stayed in and recommend. If you click one of the links, I could be rewarded credit or a commission of a booking. You don’t pay any extra. Please know I have my readers’ best interests at heart and only list places I’d recommend to my best friend.

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