27.04.2014 - 27.04.2014 12 °C
Sunday, 27 April 2014
Sofitel The Grand
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Yesterday was the official last day of our cruise, but today is the official last day of our vacation. And in case I forgot to mention it yesterday, I definitely think that cruising from Brussels to Amsterdam is the way to go: Amsterdam makes a great grand finale to the vacation…if we’d done it the other way, I think the rest of the trip wouldn’t have been able to compare to the grandeur of Keukenhof Gardens, King’s Day (did I remember to mention yesterday was the first King’s Day ever? They’ve always had queens before…I am definitely suffering travel fatigue.), the canal cruise, and the Rijksmuseum. And today, we put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae: the Van Gogh Museum and the floating flower market!
We started our day with our transfer from the riverboat to the Sofitel hotel, which is right smack dab in the middle of the central portion of Amsterdam. We trooped from the buses to the hotel with Joeri (turns out I’ve been spelling his name wrong all week!), one of the Tauck guides. We were supposed to have a hospitality room waiting for us, since our rooms wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon. Apparently, though, nobody told the hotel because they were clearly flummoxed as to what to do with us. And Joeri was NOT happy about that! They marched us into one conference room where they couldn’t get the lights on, then realized that must not be correct and paraded us down the hall to another one. Our only question before setting out for our adventures was, “Where’s the bathroom?” The one they sent us to was LOCKED! So we simply sashayed across their totally glamorous lobby (yes, I think Beautiful People stay here) and asked the concierge where the public restroom was. He replied that we had one around the corner from our hospitality room. Sadly, we had to break his little heart and tell him that it was locked. We almost got a spit take!
The demands of nature attended to, we set out for Dam Square, which is pretty much the Amsterdam equivalent of Times Square. Our goal was a department store whose name translates to “The Beehive” (sorry, I can’t remember the Dutch…like I said, I’ve got travel fatigue verging on travel fugue), which is the store the girls at the Pandora store had told us about for office supplies. It was tres chic, that’s for sure, with lots of high end stuff like Ferragamo and Longchamps. Sadly, their office supply selection focused primarily on the brand Paper Chase, which I can get at home, so for perhaps the first time in recorded memory, I left a stationery department without purchasing a single item! (I told you, I’m not well.)
From there, we decided to set out for the Van Gogh Museum, where we had tickets for timed entry at 1:00 pm (it was now about 11:30). And it was fortunate that we did. We experienced…navigational difficulties…we’ll call it. Our plan had been to walk to the museum, which we were informed was about 10 minutes from our hotel, have lunch in the café, then tour the museum as scheduled. It was 12:30 before we found the Van Gogh museum, which we are attributing to rain and a slightly iffy map. We still had time to put the lunch plan into action, but the line was of BIBLICAL proportions, and they wouldn’t let us into the museum through the timed entry line until our scheduled time. So, we wandered down the street to a restaurant (it was pissing rain, and the opportunity to stay dry was quite attractive) and sat down, but nobody came to wait on us. We made an executive decision and left, then went back up the street to a little sandwich stand and had sandwiches (tuna for me, ham and cheese for Julie) and shared a waffle with Nutella (oh how I’ve missed it—NONE on the ship!) for dessert. By then, it was three minutes to one, and so we sauntered up the street to the timed entry line and got to jump the line of BIBLICAL proportions and go right in! (Thankfully, I had gone online on the ship Friday night and bought those tickets, because I don’t think I would have waited in a line that long if they were giving away free boob jobs at the front of it!)
Interestingly, the Van Gogh museum was the first one we visited that has metal detectors and bag check, but the screener simply waved us through—we must have honest, non-art-vandalizing, non-terrorist-looking faces! I wish you could have seen the artworks, because they were as wonderful as you would imagine. But, unlike the Rijksmuseum, there is a strict no-photography policy—the Rijksmuseum would let you take pictures without a flash. And the docents/guards were enforcing it, too: one woman tried to sneak a picture of the explanation beside one of the paintings and the guard busted her. You know, of course, that I was not-so-secretly cheering! What did we see: irises, haystacks, several self-portraits, one of the potato eaters, almond blossoms, parts of his Japanese series, Van Gogh’s actual palette, his easel, some of his paints, and his perspective frame. If you want to know more, come visit me because I bought the museum guide and another book about Van Gogh—I will happily show them to you!
There was a REALLY interesting exhibit that talked about the color shifts that have occurred in Van Gogh’s paintings due to oxidation or photodegradation of pigments and dyes that he used, particularly the red ones. Consequently, many of his paintings that now appear blue were actually purple when he painted them (think “Irises” as a prime example). Now you KNOW I’m not going to leave that alone, so when Julie and I hit the gift shop, I looked for a book that talked about the chemistry of all of this. I didn’t find one, and was almost resigned to the disappointment, but when we came OUT of the gift shop, having paid for our purchases, I saw a sign that said, “Visit our bookshop on Level 3.” Since this entailed going back through the security screen, I ran back into the gift shop and asked a clerk if there was such a book. There was. So we went back through security and took the elevator to Level 3 (which is actually the 4th floor, since the ground floor is zero in Europe). I asked the clerk in the bookshop about such a book, and she pointed to a monster of a book. Sadly, I knew there was no room in my luggage for such a weighty tome, and I remarked as much to her.
“Oh, but we ship! Just take this book downstairs and they’ll ship it home for you.”
“You mean I don’t have to pay for it here?”
“No, you can pay for it downstairs and pay for the shipping there, as well.”
So I simply walked out of the bookstore, back down the elevator, back through security, and back into the gift shop, thus proving that the guard’s belief in my honest face was justified, because I could have simply kept walking right out the door with that book. And it was not cheap! But, as my friend Robin says, character is what you do when no one is looking, and I took the book back up to the shipping desk. I explained that I wanted to pay for the book and the shipping. (Can you guess where this is going?)
“I do not think you can pay for that book here. But let me get my boss.”
Boss: “I am so sorry, but this book is not in our system, so you cannot pay for it here. You must pay for it upstairs.”
“Can I pay for the shipping up there, too?”
“No, they do not know how to do that. You must bring the book down here for shipping. I am very sorry.” (And she really was apologetic.) This was the point where Julie retired the field and told me she’d wait for me in the café. (For your reference purposes: gift shop = outside security; café = inside security; bookshop = inside security.)
The supervisor escorted me upstairs (thereby bypassing the third security screen), where I paid for the book. Then I went back downstairs with the book and my receipt, exited security, and went back to the gift shop and paid for my shipping. Then I went back through security—this whole process having become a farce at this point—and met Julie in the café, where we shared a lovely pastry they called a profiterole cake. I’m going to have to hunt down that recipe, because it was YUM-O! And Julie says to tell you that only Pepsi products are available at the Van Gogh museum, which is sorely disappointing. And by the way, the already-well-traveled book will arrive in Delaware in two weeks.
Having adopted a slightly better map mid-trip, our return from the museum to the hotel took the as-promised 10 minutes, not including our significant stop in the middle: the floating flower market, or Bloemenmarkt. These are bulb, plant, and flower stalls that are actually housed in house boats (or would it be store boats?) along one of the canals. They had hundreds of different types of tulip bulbs, amaryllis bulbs, cut tulips, flower and vegetable seeds, cacti, and grow-your-own marijuana kits (seriously!). It was a flea market-like atmosphere but with bulbs, not junk. We didn’t buy anything because of a) the aforementioned space problem and b) we weren’t sure if the bulbs were agriculturally certified for export. (I know there are rules, I just don’t know what they are.)
From the Bloemenmarkt, we started walking toward the hotel to drop off the rest of the days haul, with the intention of wandering the Red Light district for a couple of hours. Then, in an act of serendipity that proves God is a woman and She takes care of her own, I glanced over and saw it: a STATIONERY STORE! (And even better—across the corner was a Waterstone’s bookstore—Nirvana!) I got some really cool new highlighters, but was trying to behave so I didn’t buy any of the wonky A4 sized paper (really, it would kill them to switch to 8 ½ by 11?). We made it to the hotel, where we had to be led to our room (this hotel used to be either a palace or a prison…we can’t remember which, and it is majorly confusing). By the time we got in our room, we decided we were too pooped to hit the Red Light district, so we went downstairs and got a recommendation from the concierge for dinner. He sent us to an Indonesian “rice table” restaurant, which is a type of cuisine apparently very popular here in Amsterdam. The best way I can describe it is Indonesian tapas. And it was all good: chicken satay kebobs, shrimp kebobs, hard-boiled eggs in a curry sauce, a whole cooked mackerel in sauce, pineapple and mango in peanut sauce (way better than it sounds) beef curry, green beans and corn (spicy!), and some condiments, like papadum crackers. It was all delicious—well done concierge! For that, and for your high speed internet that is actually high speed, we forgive you for the fact that you gave us a room with one king-sized bed and that we need GPS to find our room!
So here we are, watching “CSI” on some English-language channel—and are grateful to be watching something besides CNN International—and hoping this hotel room will quit rocking! Bags have been weight-redistributed, and I am sure that I will briefly regret all the books I bought, since I put them in my carry-on so my suitcase won’t be over weight. Not that I don’t trust Jeremy’s calibrated lift, but I’ve added more stuff since yesterday! It has been a fabulous trip—we met lots of nice people (even if they do walk slow), saw lots of amazing sites, ate way too much great food, and even enjoyed the atypical stretch of dry weather. But now it’s time to come home, and I think we’re both ready—my cabinet installers are coming on Thursday, so I have something to look forward to. Thanks for following along on our travels—hope you enjoyed your trip!
Love from Amsterdam….