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Friday, 24 June 2011
Friday morning I woke up feeling miserable due to a headache and sinus issues. With the day´s weather looking terrible and the German course still working on introductory phrases, I decided that I would be better off staying at the canoe club for the day.
Later, with a few more hours of sleep and a strong dose of medicine, I set about finding a hostel for our weekend trip to Amsterdam. Given the terrible weather forecast, the late hour of our arrival that evening, and the fact that no one besides me had ever been to the city, I would have preferred to have a place to stay before setting out, but it wasn’t to be. On a summer weekend, Amsterdam was booked solid.
After a quick discussion with Blayze, Ryan, Clo, and Meru when they returned from class, we decided to take our chances and set out for the Duisburg Hauptbahnhof. Snacks in hand, we boarded our 6:26PM Intercity Express (ICE) train and settled in for the two-hour ride across the Dutch-German border. We’d reserved cheaper 2nd class tickets and were fortunate enough to have facing seats with a table so four of us could sit together while Meru’s ticket placed her across the aisle from us at another table. The journey was uneventful, save for a chance encounter with a young dancer from California who was traveling with her mother after touring Central Europe with her dance company. Katie, or ‘KT’ as she preferred to be called, chatted with us most of the trip, departing at Utrecht.
Around 8:45pm we disembarked at Amsterdam Centraal the city’s main train station which for some bizarre reason known only to the city’s planners was built on the harbor, cutting off the city from its own waterfront. This, combined with construction on the canal fronting the station, made for a less-than-ideal arrival in this famously picturesque city. However, as we crossed the maze of Centraal’s tram lines and entered the bustling streets just off the plaza, there was no mistaking where we were.
|Our first canal!|
The city planners may have bungled the design of their train station, but they got the rest of the city center right. Amsterdam’s famous concentric rings of canals were added in the 17th century to assist with transportation, defense, and water management, and unlike Venice, Amsterdam’s canal system leaves room for streets on either side. While this means that distracted tourists do run the risk of being struck by a passing car or tram, the real danger comes from the bicycles. Amsterdam has an extremely well-developed bike path network complete with stoplights, and the locals have no patience for any bumbling tourists too busy admiring the high, narrow houses lining the canals to heed the warning bells.
|Pretty nice for a shopping mall, am I right? You can see all the tram and bike paths in the foreground.|
The scenery was nice, but we still needed a place to sleep. Knowing that hotels in the city center would be expensive and crowded, we purchased 48-hr. tram passes and proceeded down Damrak, a wide boulevard lined with tourist shops and restaurants offering late-evening discounts. At some point we stumbled into a tourist center where, after a long wait, we were able to book two rooms in a 4-star hotel for only 80€/person for the weekend. The normal bus station was closed and a large sign had been posted in Dutch. Dutch is near enough to German and English that I could discern that the stop had moved down the street, but I couldn’t tell where. I used the old trick and asked the nearest hotel doorman for directions; problem solved.
We found the bus stop and rode 20 minutes out of the city center to the Dutch Design Hotel Artemis (artemisamsterdam.com). Our group of five checked-in around 11:30pm and found our rooms only to discover that one room was already occupied! We caused a scene in the lobby, received a refund for the already-occupied room, and crammed ourselves into the second. Thus, our hotel expenditure was slashed to only 40€/person. 5 people + 1 four-star room = Good Times!
|The Dutch Design Hotel Artemis. A very nice place though a bit removed from the city center.|
Not wanting to miss out on our first night in the city, we ventured out to Leidseplein, a large square to the southeast of Centraal with a busy nightlife scene. We eventually ended up at a quieter, albeit crowded, bar off the square called The Saloon. The bar was situated in wedge-shaped building where a long pedestrian street intersected a canal path at a low angle; the narrow interior enhanced the crowd, but the patrons were friendly enough. Apparently, it was more of a local bar because the Dutch were surprised to see foreigners there. Happy to avoid the tourist crowd, we stayed awhile before continuing along the canals and returning to the Hotel Artemis around 2:00am.