Tostis, Trams and Tulips: Our Week in Amsterdam

As a self-proclaimed expert in all things travel, I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing  tourists into two distinct groups : Box checkers and Absorbers. 2a17imBox checkers are busy. They visit 12 countries in 15 days, stop at every Rick Steves’ recommended tourist trap they can find and constantly harass the concierges with statements like, “we want to go where the locals eat.” Their primary objective is to put a completed stamp through every item on their bucket list including their hand-picked list of destinations without taking the time to actually experience what each place has to offer. This group has also been known to interject their travels into every conversation, think that a pair of Merrells and khaki socks will help them blend in and come home with an annoying habit of saying they had a great “holiday” instead of vacation.

The absorbers are the more laid back, enjoy the scenery, smell the roses type crowd. Their approach to travel is to soak in as much of a destination as possible; really trying to get a feel for every place they choose to visit. Snapseed copy 2This, of course, is the group I more identify with and why I’m not spending a paragraph making fun of their quirks and habits! This trip took my wife and I to Amsterdam, the canal covered, leaning house, jewel of the Netherlands that should absolutely be on the destination list for box checkers and absorbers alike. It’s charming scenery and friendly atmosphere made it a great place to visit; even for pessimistic and overly sarcastic travelers like me!

Alright, let’s get the annoying part over with: No, we didn’t smoke weed nor did we solicit services from the “ladies of the night” while in Amsterdam. I know…weird, right? Who wouldn’t want to travel halfway across the world to use a drug that is readily available everywhere else on the planet and potentially contract a venereal disease. emma-stone-wayfarer-sunglasses-easy-aIt’s a true shame that when you mention that you are traveling to or just returned from Amsterdam, the aforementioned activities are the first things asked about followed by a series of IQ lowering puns and chuckles. Much like the unsuspecting high school girl whose notoriety is sealed after just one back seat handy during the homecoming parade, Amsterdam suffers from a reputation that just never seems to go away. Even if the distinction is without merit (yeah right Nancy…you two were just “talking”), clearing that stink off and starting with a clean slate is a tough thing to do.

All that aside, Amsterdam exceeded our expectations on all fronts. Not that we had bad impressions going in, it’s just been my experience that this city is mostly a stopover on a long European itinerary and never a primary destination. The good impressions started at the airport (of course, I would mention that!). Schiphol Airport is an amazing facility. E8C0974E-5A4F-4617-84C0-B55905412BA2-420-0000001B057EFCA9It’s basically a shopping mall, train depot, supermarket and corporate business park all rolled together with a few hundred planes flying in and out in the background. Even the taxis were impressive. We rolled into town in a brand new Tesla Model X driven by a well-dressed, an extremely efficient chauffeur. It actually makes me feel bad for the Dutch people who visit America only to be met by taxi fleet made up of beaten up, old Buicks and minivans that smell like cigarettes, body odor and bad decisions.

 

I’m not going to bore anyone with every tiny detail of our trip but we our plan was to explore, experience and see as much of the city as we could. We opted out of the over-crowded, mass produced tour boats and instead took a nighttime tour on a private cruiser operated by Leemstar. hdrThis was a great way to see Amsterdam while also learning a good amount of history from our very charming and knowledgeable captain, Arnout. Not only did he point out the various interest spots, he dove into the rich heritage of the city with little anecdotes we never would have picked up on our own. As much as I would have enjoyed being packed in to a glass-topped, floating oven with a hundred of our closest friends, going the route of a classy and very much more pretentious private tour is more my style!

Coming from a car-centric part of the world, I’ve always enjoyed the public transit options in Europe. Amsterdam was no stranger to this and have many to choose from. Buses, trams, trains and even an underground rail (which is hard to believe since the entire country is basically underwater). Snapseed copy 5The trams were definitely our favorites. Think above-ground subways cars, hovering through the streets and completely ran on electricity. They were fast, efficient and you could count the seconds between one taking off and another one approaching. We learned quickly not to be in a hurry to catch the tram…sometimes they were actually sitting on top of each other.

The other transportation phenomenon in Amsterdam are bicycles. Oh my! Bikes were everywhere. They had dedicated lanes all throughout the city just for bikes (and mopeds) which were really where you had to pay the most attention when crossing the road. mr beanFor the safety of everybody in this city, we didn’t even dare rent bikes and try to navigate around. Within the first five minutes I would have caused a massive pile up that would have ended in nothing less than an international incident. The bikes definitely ruled the road and cars would yield to them on demand. That is so much different than in America where we have an unwritten points-system for how many cyclists you can take out on your daily commute!

When we booked the trip, we were ignorant to many things. One, it was the spring holiday season including May Day (the EU’s version of Labor Day) and the week leading up to Liberation and Remembrance Days. These are times the country celebrates the end of WWII and pays homage to those who lost their lives. Snapseed copyThis was also the height of tulip season which we learned the Netherlands is the largest producer of tulips in the world. We therefore took a day trip to Keukenhof Gardens and were blown away the grounds. Over 7 million bulbs make up the garden and are arranged in very unique and and varying displays which seem to have no end. As beautiful as it was, I think I’ve had my fill of flowers for the next few years!

In conclusion, any chance you get to spend time in Amsterdam…take it and take it all in. History, beauty, good food (tosti’s are the perfect light lunch) and, yes, the ability to sin on multiple levels are all available in one amazing spot. A big thank you to all the great people who helped make this trip a success and we hope this is not the only time we’ll spend time in your city. Until we meet again!

-DPW

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Vacationers (VAC)

The days of the annual family trips are upon us and airports are filled with small platoons of sun-seeking travelers dressed in their best polyester, Hawaiian print shirts and loud, obnoxiously colored flip flops. hawaiian shirt dayThe air reeks of coconut and sunscreen and the giggles of the overly tanned moms and daughters can be heard has they sip from their virtually virgin Pina Coladas. The family vacation which is a tradition that dates back to  after WWII is as American as gun ownership and apple pie. However, for those of us who still have to use the skies as a place of business, the Vacationers (VAC) can be nothing less than wolves in khaki-colored clothing!

Although the vacationers share many similarities to other groups on this site, they have enough unique traits that make them a separate category and therefore open to analysis. Also, not all vacationers are families and can consist of couples, friends, large tour groups and even loners who choose to see the world on their own. But because of their lack of airport experience and general disregard for anyone else around them, they are open to scrutiny and ridicule alike!

There exist two types of vacationers in the airport universe: Outbound and Inbound. batman two faceBoth of them are the same people, on the same trips, with the same ugly and out-of-date luggage, but they are completely different personalities when they hit the terminals. Outbound vacationers are usually upbeat, full of hope and excited at  even in the most stressful parts of flying like security lines or baggage claim. They glow with enthusiasm as their destination is something they’ve probably been looking forward to for a long time and its finally upon them, just a few hours away. Outbound vacationers spend money like its water. Snacks for the flight, souvenirs at the airport and they even splurge on the inflight booze just to keep their heads in “vacation mode” at 30,000 feet.

Inbound vacationers…well, they’re a little different. The depression of knowing their time of leisure is over and they’re heading back to the hell that is a meaningless and mundane job casts a huge shadow on this group as they move through the airport corridors. after vacation 2The smell of desperation and aloe engulf them as they stride with a thousand-yard stare leaving a trail of sand and misery. They watch every dime and are known for violent outbursts when the slightest delay keeps them from making it home right on schedule. Any relaxation that this group accumulated on their trip immediately evaporates the minute they hit the tarmac. The only reminder of better days comes in the form of slightly out-of-focus, iPhone photos and the temporary tattoos that are slowly fading away from their sunburned skin.

Vacationers can be further divided by sheer numbers. friends 1Couples are easy and are barely noticeable outside of the obnoxious honeymoon bound, newlyweds who insist on holding hands throughout the entire flight and feverishly try to talk gate agents into an upgrade (BTW, that never happens; thanks a bunch “Friends”). Loners too can be incognito with the exception of the chatty, world traveler who insists on peppering anyone who will listen with their endless stories of being chased by a pack of Baboons in Africa or swimming naked in the Danube with some fellow hostel guests who don’t speak English (why do all their stories involve naked people?). Families have been thoroughly covered (see the Griswolds) but vacations do bring out another whole dimension of insanity. The sheer thought that packing up a herd of children or teenagers, putting them on an uncomfortable, ear-popping, recycled-air, flying minivan and thinking they will by some miracle behave, makes me want to sprint to the near Urologist.

Tour groups have emerged as the new cluster-fuck of humans to avoid if it all possible. In fact, tour agencies now make up the third largest segment in the travel industry behind air transportation and accommodations. Imagine hordes of geriatrics or foreigners, wearing matching T-Shirts and large, straw hats, strolling at a snail’s pace as you race to make a connection. walking_dead_what_lies_ahead_zombie_hordThese groups come in like clowder of cats, wandering off into oblivion, needing constant herding and all wholeheartedly unprepared for any process regarding boarding a flight. There is usually a guide of some sort trying his or her best to keep them as a cohesive unit but themselves rendered with a look that makes you believe they have just rethought every decision they’ve made since college. If you get behind these groups in the security line, then go ahead and pop open your in-flight entertainment because you’re going to be there for a while. Hopefully their disruption of the airport force means they are getting ready for an experience of a lifetime which is little solace to those left in their wake.

Vacationers do mean well and enter the airports usually in a good mood which is nice to see amongst the crowds of annoyed frequent fliers. They’re stimulating the economy (or economies of wherever their heading) and for the most part are trying to inject a little joy into the world one trip at a time. So in essence, throw on your best floral prints and Jesus sandals and go out to find your own little piece of heaven. The rest of us will watch and judge, while planning a time soon enough where we will join you for a vacation of our own.

-DPW

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