Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bikes and Dikes

July 22, 2012
Renaissance Amsterdam

My flight from Amman to Amsterdam was quite nice with a 5-hour flight time and some quality breakfast items and no one sitting next to me... what else could I ask for. We arrive in Amsterdam around 11:45 and I had a quick 20 minute ride into the city on the airport train.

Amsterdam is a tourist mecca built among a series of canals which are regulated by dikes throughout the city. People of all ages and nationalities descend on this city built around hundreds of canals. Some come for the very liberal drug policies, but most come for the charm that the city offers it's visitors. Upon arriving at Centraal Station (note: Dutch spelling), I had a 1/4 mile walk to the hotel... if I follow the directions. I went north instead of south and that 1/4 mile turned into 1 1/4 miles, but after my 5 mile walk in 105 degree weather yesterday in Petra, walking in 60 degree weather didn't faze me one bit.

Amsterdam isn't easy to navigate as there are very few landmarks, other than the canals and most of the time you are in these alley ways just looking up at buildings thus you tend to get turned around quite easily and are never quite sure what direction you are heading. But I finally found my hotel, the Renaissance Amsterdam.

Although not part of my "free night" promotion that I've had this trip (I booked on Priceline), I was still eligible for my Platinum upgrades since this was a Marriott branded property. Although not as good as Beijing, Shenzhen or Amman, I did get an upgraded room (basically a nice view) and club level access where I would eat breakfast and dinner each of my two days.

After checking in and getting settled I decided to explore. It's nice arriving in a city where you don't need to rely on any taxis, trains, or boats to get around. Amsterdam is one of the most pedestrian friendly cities that I've encountered and today I just scratched the surface of what there was to offer.

Amsterdam is also ranked #1 in the world (my ranking) of most bicycle friendly cities as well. There are literally bikes everywhere, they have their own lanes, their own stoplights and they run the town. You are constantly dodging them as you walk about, but as long as you are alert you won't have any accidents... like the one I saw later in the day when an American girl ran over a local... no ambulance, but she's going to wake up sore in the morning.

I was worn our from the time change, flight, change of weather and just being on the road for 2 weeks so I went back to the room early, had my dinner in the club lounge and called it an early night. Sun doesn't set until 9:50pm, so I'm happy I at least didn't beat the sun to bed.

Day 2 started out with a continental breakfast in the lounge. No bacon here... much to my chagrin as it is my favorite food... but plenty of bread, cheese and pastries. I had my fill and then went on my super 5.2 mile walk all along the canals, alley ways and tried my best to hit up all of the touristy spots for the obligatory photos. Success was apparently in the cards today... I didn't get lost, saw everything I needed to see and survived the constant whiff of marijuana that permeates from every coffee shop in town.

Amsterdam has a huge "drug tourist" business that as of late has taken a huge hit. For many years, foreigners would descend on Amsterdam for the liberal rules on marijuana usage. "Coffee Shops" around the city could legally sell and thus people from all over the world, young and old... must mostly young would camp out, smoke out and then pig out at the various ice cream, french fry and fast food joints all over the tourist area.

This past winter however they changed the law and now foreigners are NOT legally allowed to purchase and smoke in these coffee shops and thus it's "locals only". I don't think this is really followed as I saw many non-Dutch speakers filtering in and out as the smoke did the same. The Dutch theory was that legalizing soft drugs prevents many of the problems associated with them (selling, violence, etc.). Who knows... all I know is the smell isn't on my top 10 list.

I made it back to the Renaissance, just before the sun set and called it a night... the trip is now 18 days old and I've spent the last 14 nights in hotel rooms which never gets old!

My flight to Budapest is scheduled for 8:40pm. My goal was to get to the airport early and try and fly standby on the 2:30pm flight. My walk from the hotel to the train station was much quicker than it was upon arrival. It took me 3 minutes this time and my train was boarding within 3 minutes of my arrival at the train station. Thus from the time I left my hotel to my arrival time at Schipol International Airport it was 26 minutes. Most convenient airport of the trip thus far!

I arrived and was told it would be 170 Euros to change my flight... that's over $200, so I politely told them no thanks. I now had 7 hours to kill and I'd do my best to make the most of them.

After a trip to the supermarket (that was in the airport) for a quick lunch of french bread, cheese and salami I made my way outside to the park adjacent to the airport. It was 74 degrees and I parked myself on the grass, took off my shirt and enjoyed some Dutch Sunshine... which sometimes doesn't always show itself.

After about an hour of that I headed to an airport hotel, the Sheraton, where I mooched some WIFI and had a "Heiniken Extra Cold" which is served at 0 degrees Celsius, which I didn't really like as it seemed to pull some of the carbonation out of the beer. And now I'm watching Tiger Woods try to catch Adam Scott in the British Open. Only three hours until departure and arrival in Budapest and my first hotel-free night in quite a while.

Amsterdam is a very cosmopolitan place. It seems as though everyone is there for their own reason and all parties mesh cohesively. There are tons of back packers, stoners, families and older travelers all taking advantage of all of the cities offerings. The Dutch are very friendly people, they all speak flawless English and it's one big happy family that I was happy to be apart of for the past few days...Almost 20 days on the road and I've spent less than $200 on food... gotta love those complimentary hotel lounges!

Off to Hungary I go !

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