Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Like a Circle in a Circle

Amsterdam is a wonderful city, especially good for people-watching. We did our share of that today.

The day began with the Dance of the Passports. Continuing passengers were to meet in the Ocean Bar at 9:30 to go through Dutch immigration. Dutifully, we and Roxanne and Ed reported as instructed. By the time our ‘friend’ Richard collected everyone and paraded us to the terminal, the Dutch officials had left and we were dismissed to go on our merry way.

On the way out of the passenger terminal, MA saw some Delft-style canisters she wanted to buy but decided to get them on the way back so we would not have to carry them all day. We followed the instructions we got from the Information kiosk in the terminal and walked to Centraal Station, the main railroad terminal in Amsterdam. We dodged bicyclists and trams [light rail] on the way. Even with the traffic, the walk took less than 15 minutes. We wandered like lost souls until we found signs for several Hop On-Hop Off boat tours. With nothing to guide us, we picked the kiosk with the shortest line. We paid 20 euros apiece for unlimited trips for one day and set out to find the boat.

We were expecting a boat like the one we rode at the Falkirk Wheel [was that really almost three weeks ago?]. Of course, we were disappointed when we discovered that the seating was in U-shaped banquettes around small tables. The boat was crowded when we boarded and we were lucky to get two seats in the same banquette. Unfortunately, we had to share with strangers who seemed to take their share and some of ours, especially when he twisted to take pictures. MA ended up riding backwards, which she hates, and both of us were very uncomfortable.

This version of the bateau mouche had some explanation of what we were passing but it was given sequentially, so we had to wait through 4 or 5 languages before new information was given. On many HoHo buses passengers use ear phones and choose their preferred language; this method allows for more information in a shorter time frame. Anyway, many of the passengers and all of the children departed at the stop for the zoo and we followed shortly thereafter.

The City Hall stop was a transfer point to the other route this company used [All of the tour operators seem to follow a similar pattern]. In order to stretch, we decided to transfer to the other route. The new boat would pass the Anne Frank House, Centraal Station and several museums plus the Heineken brewery before returning to City Hall. We had a half-hour before the next boat came and went to the first café we saw and got Cokes. What else? We were among the first on the next boat thanks to a little insistence on our part.

This second boat was bigger, had bench seats which faced either forward or backward, separated by a table. Better still it was not crowded and we and Roxanne shared a forward facing seat. Ed sat farther forward so he could get better pictures which we plan to steal later. At the next stop, a family with two little girls sat with us and we divided our time between watching Amsterdam and the girls. D took as many pictures of the children as he did of the city.

The canals form rings around and through Amsterdam. There are many bridges and short tunnels to allow automotive traffic to pass overhead; there are also a number of small draw bridges. We saw canals of all sizes and widths. Some were narrow enough that only small boats could traverse them. Others could accommodate large barges two abreast. Everywhere we went, there were bicycles and outdoor cafes. It is a lively place.

Of course, some areas were more crowded than others. Just as families got off at the zoo on the first leg of our adventure, lots of passengers departed at the Anne Frank House stop. As we cast off, we could see a long line of tourists waiting to enter the best known house in Amsterdam. Barbara and Marvin were planning on visiting today, but they had reserved timed tickets before leaving the US.

We stayed on this bateau until it returned to the City Hall stop. By now, it was 1:40 and we had been loose in Amsterdam more than three hours and were hungry. By design, we returned to the same café where we had stopped earlier and got lunch. Both couples chose the same things to eat – a plate of “snacks, Dutch style” and Cokes. The drinks arrived first and we were dismayed to discover that they were not Coke but were Pepsi. Horrors! We asked for, and received, lemon slices to hide the Pepsi taste and all was right once again.

Our snack plates held more food than we could eat. There was a dish of both green and black olives smothering several garlic cloves; mixed nuts; fried cheese; chicken tenders [sort of]; the Dutch bitterballen which are fried with something gooey inside; cheese cubes and sliced wurst [sausage]. We could not finish all of it despite how good it all was.

We returned to the quay to get the first boat back to Centraal Station and arrived just as the boat pulled up. The four of us were the only ones to board this boat which had a different seating configuration from the other two. This one was just rows of forward-facing seats. We were comfy but confused. What had started as a very unpleasant tour had become a wonderful day. The fact that it was warm and sunny made it an even better way to spend our day.

Once back at Centraal Station, we made our way back to the Prinsendam at 3:45. By the time we came through the terminal, looking for the canisters from the morning, we found that the vendor had closed up at noon and the open stall had nothing like what we wanted. When we boarded the ship, we were hot, tired and happy. We found a surprise waiting in our cabin – two plates of chocolate candy surrounding a marzipan rose – a thank-you gift from the ship to those continuing on to the Baltic.

We couldn’t relax, though. There was a mandatory boat drill at 4:15 and we were afraid that we would fall asleep if we lay down to rest. Instead, we went to the Ocean Bar for ice water while we waited. Our boat drill supervisor was Syarif, the headwaiter who chose us for dinner with the Hotel Manager. He walked through the bar while we waited but said we had to come outside even though we were sitting in plain sight of the life boat. We didn’t want to create a fuss, so trooped outside when it was time. He didn’t even call our cabin numbers as he was checking attendance since he knows us and Roxanne and Ed so well by now.

The ship started out of Amsterdam harbor at 5:00 and headed toward the North Sea and, eventually, the Kiel Canal [more on that in tomorrow’s entry]. The captain expected to reach the Amsterdam locks to the North Sea around 7:30, so we hoped to see the process begin while we had drinks in the Ocean Bar. .MA went for a nap and D went to the Ocean Bar to “oopdate” the journal. He also went to see the Dining Room table assignment officer to arrange for a good table in the morning so we can see everything as we enter the Kiel Canal.

Once again, the captain was early and we entered the locks around 7:00. We watched some of the process from the room and Ed and D took pictures before we went to the MDR. Dinner tonight [eggplant cannelloni/prime rib] was quieter than the last three weeks without Barbara and Marvin. We have kept the same table and wait staff, so it could have been worse. After dinner, we went back to the room and read before going to sleep. Tomorrow won’t be such an early morning, but we have to be in the MDR at 9:00 to watch as we enter the Kiel Canal.

Tomorrow – The Kiel Canal

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