Published: May 23rd 2012May 23rd 2012 Day 1: The journey: Tucson - Philadelphia - Amsterdam
Celebrating New Year's Eve & New Year in Amsterdam
I joined my travel friends to celebrate New Year 2009. My journey began from Tucson; I drove to Phoenix on the Arizona Shuttle as early as 7:00 am. even though my flight was not scheduled to leave until 13:00 hrs. I really do not like waking up early since I'm a night person. Nonetheless I settled for the early morning shuttle since the later options would not suit my departure of 12:59 pm. MT. As we drove past Chandler towards Sky Harbor International Airport, my only worry was how cold it was going to be in Amsterdam. It had been five years since I actually traveled during winter to Europe. My friend Toon had kindly advised that I go shopping for warm clothing at a ski shop since it would be the best option seeing as I live in the desert (smile!). The night before my journey, I had diligently packed anything that was twice the ordinary warmth not to mention all the long sleeved tops that would act as layers against the mean cold. My bag weighed a perfect 50 pounds, the required weight. The shuttle dropped me off first
At Cafe Casablanca during the Pre-meetup
at terminal 4 the international terminal. I headed straight to the check-in counter and was greeted by a pleasant US Airways associate who checked my bags in and advised me of my departure gate and sent me on my way. I went upstairs to the lounge and decided to have an early lunch at the Shanghai restaurant. I wrote a few blogs while I was at it leaving me plenty of time to go through security fifty minutes before departure.
I arrived at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam at 11:15 am after delays out of Philadelphia. I was glad Toon had decided not to pick me up because he would have had to wait for a little over an hour at the train station. I took about thirty minutes just sitting at the arrivals people-watching, then eventually through immigrations, got my luggage from baggage claim and sought information on the train and train platforms. Once I was done with the long queue for tickets, I bought a one way ticket at central station ticket for as little as 4 euros and change. The train was coming and going every 15 minutes, I jumped on the next one to Central
Dinner at the Chinese Restaurant with Edwin
station Amsterdam. The hotel I reserved through my travel agent was Amsterdam IBIS central hotel right next door to the station and all accesses to and from the city center. My hotel was literally 5 minutes’ walk to the Red Light District.
The Netherlands is a land of fascination and unbelievable beauty. Even though Holland is actually the western region of the Netherlands, the name Holland is commonly used to refer to the whole country. It is the only country in the world where illegal drugs are actually legal, so is prostitution. You probably know it only as Amsterdam since the name is synonymous with all mankind's evils, made legal and acceptable. The Capital city is Europe's playground. The history of Holland intrigued me as a child, so I followed it through my history class and majored in history at university level. I remember it as the land of the windmills and land reclamation, the land where man defied nature. The Netherlands consist of three large international cities namely Amsterdam, Rotterdam (home to Europe's largest port), and The Hague (the seat of the International Court of Justice) and of the government.
Located right at the mouth of the
Arrival at the Party Boat, me taking a photo of the boat
Rhine and the Maas water bodies, it is the maritime region. It is popular for its many canal systems and waterways. Holland for many years was below sea level and the historic windmills were used to drain water out. Currently the lowest point is near Rotterdam and is about seven meters below sea level. The people of the Netherlands started land reclamation, turning marshes and lakes into what they call Polders. A polder is a low lying land surrounded by dikes/ embankments that keep water off the land. The drainage has been improved since and machines do the job that the windmills so graciously did in the earlier centuries. The windmill is the symbol for Holland as you can imagine, rightfully so. Amsterdam is the formal capital city of the Netherlands. The formal language is Dutch, but you will find many Dutch people also speak English pretty well. An interesting historic city of the Netherlands is Maastricht located in southern Holland and has quite a few Universities which also render it and educational city. Day 2: Arrival at Ibis Hotel Amsterdam:
I checked in immediately and was given a rather disappointing room with twin beds and no room
Fireworks on New Years
to move around; no place for my luggage and the shower looked like child's play. I returned to the reception and had it changed. Once the room and check-in was sorted out, I began to think about the pre-meet up at Cafe Casablanca in the evening. Toon came in from Den Bosch to meet me and was surprised to find me standing right at the check-in desk two hours after our appointed meeting time. Well my flight had been delayed, I spent another 30 minutes people watching at the airport and I had just had to change rooms. I was glad when they finally gave me a room on the 9th floor, two elevators to get there but the view from atop was great.
My girlfriend Agnes arrived from London thirty minutes after I checked in to the new room which wasn't that big either but definitely more comfortable than the previous one. With Agnes and Toon around to help keep me smiling and chuckling, we made our way down to the Zeedijk to locate the Cafe Casablanca, our pre-meetup location before it got dark. Toon was kind enough to show us the way and guide us through the
first section of the Red light district. I was sad that he could not stay to join us for the pre-meet up. He was scheduled to go on a trip to Brussels the next morning, so he had to return to Den Bosch the same day. We dined at a Thai restaurant after a short tour, Toon called it an evening and was gone by 6:00 pm.
At 7:30 we were dressed up to the night, we took a cab to Café Casablanca located on Zeedijk 24 at the North end of the Red Light District for the cost us 7 Euros. Lucky for us the location was close to our Hotel (Ibis Central) right next to the Central Station Amsterdam, in fact we could have walked there, had it not been for the freezing temperature. Thomas was at the door when we arrived, he recognized we were part of the Travbuddy group because he had me saying ‘this is the place’, there was a sign Travbuddy sign at the entrance. We were here, let the music begin, smile! Day 3: Touring & Sightseeing Amsterdam
There is no feeling like that of cold burning against your skin
and your nose feels like you can't breathe. If you have read any of my blogs, you know by now that I do not particularly care for cold weather. I love warmer climates. I must admit it was very hard to do much of the sightseeing with temperatures way below zero degrees with a wind factor of less than 5 miles an hour. Today we are doing some sightseeing with Margie and her girlfriend both from Philadelphia. The four of us started off to the Red Light District with no plan other than to see as much as we could. The cold claimed the day with no mercy for the many souls walking the streets. Nonetheless people walked by as if it were ok to be out in such cold temperatures. Prior to my journey, I had packed all kinds of warm clothing, but none of them measured against the cold. We braved the cold like all the other visitors and residents walking the street. We managed a coffee break at the Dam Square before deciding to go to Madam Tussaud’s; it was closed for renovation, what a shame. This day happened to be New Year’s Day too; we had
a boat party to bring in the New Year. It was freezing bolzzz outside . . . but the dance floor was warm, the music resounded in celebration and the drinks were flowing, what more could one ask for? This was my first European meet-up but certainly not the last, as I have been to more than ten since then. NYE/ New Year Party on the Boat:
The party on the boat was nothing short of exciting. Travbuddies came from all over the world, 19 countries were represented with a total of over 100 buddies in attendance. We lit fire cracker at mid-night and welcomed the New Year shouting and jubilating. It was past 3:00 am when we finally returned to the hotel. Margie and her girlfriend had a flight to catch in the morning; I did not envy them at all.
Well, since we did not know the exact location of the boat, we had asked Edwin, one of our Dutch Travbuddy friends to pick us up at the hotel that evening. Edwin did better than just pick us up; he took us to dinner at a Chinese restaurant behind the Dam Square. He had picked
up Agnes, me, Margie and her girlfriend, Marina and Grace his partner, so dinner was cheerful with one man and 5 women. The food was delicious, service outstanding. The ladies received each a red rose after dinner, which was quite charming. We left the restaurant in plenty of time to put us at the boat before many others; it did give me time to navigate the boat’s rather shaky ramp. There is little to be said about the night’s activities as the photos speak for themselves.
Night Life in Amsterdam
This is not your typical night-out venue/bar or club. Not a regular store and does not have the typical items found in a liquor store nor beer that one expects out of a brewery. It was a chilly, windy winter's night in Amsterdam, Manuel decided to treat us to a special, traditional Dutch taste. He took Agnes and I, for a night out after the big NYE Travbuddy Meet-up ended. It was right about dinner time, Manuel insisted we did not want to go to diner first otherwise we would miss out on the delight of Wijnand Fockink. They do not open late: it is an
extremely small store with room enough for roughly 15 people to socialize comfortably. Located in the surrounding area of the Dam, it offers a great opportunity, a window into the past tradition of brewing in the Netherlands.
It was crowded only because the room was so small, there were barely 15 people and we were rubbing shoulders. This distillery has been preserved in it's original state since the 1600s I, was told. Manuel was the historian for the night and seemed to comfortable with his knowledge of his home town. He said we would not find Jenever like we find here, anywhere else in Amsterdam. Wijnand Fockink is actually a distillery in the early years it was a tavern. Manuel ordered the special drink(Jenever) which turned out to be a special gin brewed right here since the 1670s when the distillery was opened.
This gin is stronger than John Walker's Black label whiskey only with a similar taste and smoother taste. Agnes afraid to try something new went with a familiar glass of red South African wine while Manuel and I, took the gin. I, downed mine as if it was a shot of patron tequila (bad idea!,
please do not do what I did), it burned like crazy and I was instantly tipsy. Well I was not warned or told how the drink had to be taken until my first glass was down in my tummy and the heat rising in my body (smile!). Manuel and Agnes later told me that I, was happier and more conversational after my first glass of the gin.
Manuel ordered the gin with a glass of special beer called De Ryck, you have to try this, he said he was in the habit of drinking Jenever with De Ryck, so I did the same thing he did. At this point Manuel told me there was a special way to drink the Jenever; I had to bend down at the table and drink the top of the gin from the glass that had been filled to spilling point. Incredible experience I, had and the feeling was great, the happy mode instantly began and I felt like I was on a high I had never been on (smile!).
If you find yourself in Amsterdam, you must go to Wijnand Fockink, it is the true taste of Amsterdam and a window into
another time, and another place. As I always say, why leave for tomorrow, what you can do today?
There are more photos below