A Travellerspoint blog

Day 12 - The trip home

Train to airport, flight to Newark and then to Indy, finally home

overcast 14 °C

Our flight left Amsterdam at 1:30 pm. We decide to give ourselves one hour to get to the airport and then 2 hours at the airport. We had no idea how many times we would get turned around in the adventure to the airport so we wanted plenty of cushion.

We left the hotel at 10:30 for our odyssey home. The tram to Central Station went well. No problems. Our first Snafu happened at Centraal Station. I tried to buy tickets from the automated machine. What seems to be a pattern with automated ticket machines on this trip, it wouldn't take my credit card. So we went to the ticket booth around the corner and stood in the que. 10 minutes later we're on our way to platform 13.

The train to the airport is quick and painless. Not crowded at all. We did however sit by two Cris Kodiak's who were apparently out very late the night before and did up their last night in Amsterdam much differently than Megan and I. Cris would have been proud of them based on their stories. After 20 minutes of eavesdropping, we get to the airport and after a little wandering around, we find the Continental check in counter. Our bags are all under 50 lbs. this time. Megan apparently didn't buy too much stuff! So they take them without us having to repack.

We're at the gate plenty early and I have one 20 Euro bill left. Better spend it while we still can! I was feeling unusually generous with Megan so I took her to the little "grab and go" coungter and told her to get whatever she wanted. We grab !5 euro worth of sandwiches and various snacks. I then still have 5 Euros left and I bought Megan a small 2008 desk calendar for 4.95. I've got .05 Euros left!!

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The flight home is long. Each seat back has a TV in it with about 10 channels to chose from AND they recline!! We watch two movies and Friends reruns. Much better than our flight to London.

Our bags arrive in Newark. Good. We recheck them and head to our next gate. Along the way we stop in a bar / sandwich shop for some eats. We start a game of travel scrabble and try to kill 2.5 hours.

We land in Indy at 9:30 pm. In the process I lost another Scrabble game to Megan. I think she's cheating somehow.

Home by 10:30 pm. The house feels empty without the pups. We'll get her tomorrow. Now it's time to sleep. 10:30 pm is 4:30 am in Amsterdam. Megan needs to be at the office by 8am. We are tired but glad to be home.

Overall, the trip was excellent. We learned a lot about foreign culture and a lot about our travel likes and dislikes. Megan found that moving hotels every 3 days isn't so bad. She was worried that being in 4 hotels over the course of our trip would be a pain. It wasn't because I carried all her crap! I learned that our next trip will have a strict luggage policy. "You must carry and or transport everything you pack." That doesn't mean pack 6 suitcases and then give 5 of them to the husband to schlep across 4 countries.

I also learned that I like trying to learn other languages. My linguistic skills aren't very good but I try. The French would always cheerfully oblige my requests for, "How do you say......" Many Americans we observed weren't even trying to say please and thank you in French.

I learned that not all European food is bad. My last trip to Europe was a much different story. Of course that probably has something to do with Kodiak always ordering Paella containing some unknown crustacean with 4" tentacles and beady eye balls staring at me. I almost starved on that trip. This time was different and I'm proud to say that we never ate at McDonald's. (Full discloser.... I did get a McFlurry in London and Megan got one coffee, out of pure desperation!)

Finally, I like that it takes at least one week to miss home, and about 1 day to miss the puppers. All too often our vacations are just long weekends. That always leaves us wanting more. Not this time. Our Europe 2007 trip was perfect and as Cris Kodiak would say, consisted of many "best days ever!!"

Posted by mzimmer75 30.05.2007 18:54 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Day 11 - Amsterdam

Koster Diamond Company, Rain, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Historisch Museum, Rain, and Shopping

rain 15 °C

Our last full day in Europe. We both decided last night that we are ready to go home. I'm longing for Q-doba and Megan just wants her large bathroom and comfy bed. That doesn't mean we aren't still having fun, we just feel that our vacation has been the perfect length. Just long enough to make us ready to come home. I don't know if that has ever happened on a vacation before.

We head to the Amsterdam Historisch Museum which is very close to the hotel. This museum concentrates on the history of Amsterdam from about 1350 to the present. We get there about 10 am and they aren't open. We quickly realize that today is Monday and it is a Holiday. Not Memorial Day but the Pentacost. Not being extremely well versed in religion, we're not sure what the Pentacost is, but we can still work with it. Our travel book says that the museum doesn't open until 11 on Holidays.

We decide to walk to the Van Gogh museum and then come back. Along the way, we pass the Koster Diamonds building. They offer free tours of their diamond cutting operation. What a joke! First they ask you for a bunch of information so that you're on their mailing list. We decline. Then they let you into a room where there are a few people working. This was midly interesting as there wasn't much information detailing how or what they are doing. Then our tour guide arrives. After a quick speech that was given with almost no enthusiasm or interest, we are hearded upstairs into a room. The door is shut behind us and this is where the sales job starts. Diamonds and rings are brought out and we are encouraged to look them over. We're told that some things are 25% off for a "factory special." Yeah right! Megan and I became bored very quickly. We left even before the tour is over.

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The Van Gogh museum was right across the street so we duck in there. As you can probably guess, the museum was full of Van Gogh's works. We do the audio tour which makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. Hearing the background information on various featured works is a lot better than simply strolling by painting after painting.

My belly is ready to be fed after the museum so we find a lunch spot. On our second try we end up at a crepe/pancake house. Decent pancakes but they only took cash. I'm running low on cash at this point so I wasn't real happy about that. On the bright side, it was fast. We were in and out very quickly. That's the first time that has happened on the whole trip. Usually it takes 15 minutes just to get the bill after asking for it. Americans and Europeans have very different dining schedules.

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It's raining at this point so we finally got to use the umbrella Megan has been carrying with her for 11 days. The rain is actually a nice change of pace. We haven't had any rain, just sprinkles, on our trip up to this point.

After getting a candy bar, we decide to split up. Megan wants to shop a little. Mark doesn't. Mark wants to go back to the Historisch Musuem. Megan doesn't. We agree to meet at the hotel at 5 pm. I set off with Megan's Leopard print umbrella. Megan has her North Face Shell for rain protection. (She us bragging that for once, she was more prepared for the weather than me.)

The Historisch Museum was interesting. Plenty of artwork, models, artifacts, and interpretive signs. I liked it. Megan probably would have been bored.

Now let's get back to the Leopard print umbrella. I bought my ticket for the museum and went inside. I noticed a coat rack and lockers where people had hung up their wet coats and umbrellas. I decided to hang my umbrella behind a bunch of coats so it would be inconspicuous. I didn't think about it again until the end of my visit. I arrive at the coat rack to find all of the coats gone from the corner where I left my umbrella. So was my umbrella. I searched around without luck. Someone stole my umbrella. I was not happy. I'm not very proud of my next move but I decided to pick up someone else's umbrella. I spied a green one in the corner that was the same size as mine (Megan's). I grabbed it and left. It was still raining so I quickly disappeared into the crowds on the street with my "lifted" umbrella. Again, I'm not proud of this maneuver.

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I made it back to the hotel shortly before Megan. We decided to make a reservation at a restaurant we tried to go to the night before. When we got there last night they said they were out of food. Granted it was late on a Sunday evening but we've never been told by a restaurant they were out of food.

Dinner was excellent. Vegetarian. Not for everybody but we liked it. The only problem was again, they only take cash. While Megan stayed at the restaurant, preparing to wash dishes, I tried to find an ATM. On my second attempt, I did manage to find a working one. Plastic is so much easier.

On the way home from dinner we run into a group of people drinking beer around an interesting vehicle. It's a pedal powered car that has seats for 18 around the outside. The driver stands in the middle with a beer tap at the ready. Basically you drink and pedal while you cruise around the city. We find out that the group is a college basketball team from the UK. They were definitely having a good time. We got information from the driver about the car. Legal in Amsterdam. Probably not legal in the US.

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After the talking to the Brits we headed back to the hotel to watch some TV. BBC and bad movies. We kept saying, "This is not how Cris Kodiak would spend his last night in Europe." But we're older and don't need to party every night. At least that's our excuse.

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Posted by mzimmer75 28.05.2007 09:29 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Day 10 - Amsterdam

Anne Frankinhaus House, Bloemenmarkt, canal ride, exploration around the city

overcast 17 °C

We decided to go to the Anne Frankinhaus house and museum first. It's a short walk from our hotel. We get there at 9:50 am to find a long que (that's British speak for a line). 20 minutes later we're inside. The house is very plain and preserved just as it was in 1944. We got to see Anne's original diary and other memorabilia. It is a very solemn experience. Even though Megan's mom tried to get her to read the diary numerous times while growing up, it wasn't until we were in the gift shop that Megan got motivated. We are now the proud owners of an Anne Frankinhaus "only sold in the museum" diary! Great!

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From there we walked to the Bloemenmarkt. That's Dutch for the flower market. A street along the canal has floating merchants offering an extremely wide variety of flowers, bulbs and seeds. They even offer Marijuana starter kits for those who feel they have a green thumb.

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Leaving the flower market we walked south to Wagamama for lunch. We've been wanting to eat at one side London. It's a chain that serves asain noodle and rice dishes. It was actually pretty good. We left with very full bellies. The restaurant was filled with children though, making it a very loud experience. We should have just gone to McDonald's.

We headed North to a canal behind our hotel. That's where the hotel attendant recommended we catch a canal boat tour. For 7.50 Euros, we boarded a very long and narrow boat. It had a glass top with just a few windows that opened. Once the sun came out it was hot. We cruised around various canals for an hour. This tour wasn't as scenic as the one in Paris. Once you've seen one or two canals in Amsterdam, you've pretty much seen them all. Again, the boat was filled with children. We felt haunted all of a sudden....kids screaming at us, kids poking us, kids wanting to close the window when all "Uncle Mark" wanted was some fresh air, etc. We finally got off the boat an hour later wanting peace, quiet, and fool proof birth control!

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After the boat tour, we wanted to go to the Amsterdam History Museum. However we had barely more than an hour before it closed. We decided that wasn't worth it. Instead, we walked around some of the streets known for shops and eateries. Along the way we popped into a diamand and watch dealer. They carried plenty of Swiss watches including: Omega, Longines, Auduimars Piguet, Jaeger Lecoultre, Rolex, Tissot, Chopard, and Cartier. Megan browsed the diamonds while I picked out a Jaeger Lecoultre. The one I liked was about $9000. I decided to ask for it for Christmas.

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With tired feet, we headed back to the hotel for a siesta and a couple of cervesas before dinner. The race was on.....that's right, the Indy 500 in Dutch!! Wrecks are multilingual, so it didn't matter what language you speak. The entertainment is all the same.

Posted by mzimmer75 27.05.2007 09:55 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Day 9 - Paris to Amsterdam

Rental car return debacle, Thalys train to Amsterdam, Red light district

overcast 20 °C

Our train from Paris to Amsterdam left at 3:55 pm and we knew it was about 3 hours from Honfleur to Paris. Working backwards, that meant we needed to leave Honfleur around 11 am to give us enough time to catch the train.

We woke up late and took our time packing and getting ready. We left the hotel just before 11 am. After buying some pastries at a local shop, we hit McDonald's for some coffee. We weren't proud to stop in McDonald's but it was the only place we could find that served coffee to go.

Pedal to the metal back to Paris, well at least for 1 km before I made a wrong turn and had us headed west to Caen instead of east to Paris. 10 minutes later we were headed in the right direction with Megan's Ipod blaring a random selection of tunes.

All went well until we got off the Peripherique onto the local Paris roads. The downhill slide started at the gas station. Have you ever been in a traffic jam at a gas station? I can now say that I have been. With a little patience, we were able to pay and get out. I pulled a semi-legal u-turn out of the station and we were off again. We quickly ground to a halt. The streets of Paris are like Belmont in Chicago at 5 pm on a Friday. No movement. 45 minutes later, we were finally close to the train station.

Problem numero dos, we didn't know where to return the car. I knew where we exited the garage when we picked up the car. I wrongfully assumed that you would return it in the same spot. Bad assumption. When you make a wrong turn in Paris, you don't just circle the block. The one way streets and traffic make this a blood boiling experience. If it wasn't for Megan making a quick decision to turn right on some unknown street in front of the train station and her spying the National rental car sign, I would probably still be circling the station looking for a return sign. "Look kids Big Ben." A European Vacation movie quote is very appropriate here.

The rental car debacle continues..... We are now it the parking garage and the signs point us down to level -6. No problem, until we get to level 6. There's a gate that won't go up. I back up and park the car in a nearby spot so we can figure out how to get the gate to go up. We call the parking attendant on the nearby machine. He tells us to put our ticket in the machine. Great, I have a ticket, but the machine won't take it. We try again. No luck. We call the attendant again. We finally decipher his English enough to realize that the machine won't work unless the car is next to it triggering the in-ground sensors. Success! The gate opens when the car is next to the machine and you insert the ticket. (stupid Americans) We quickly drive through and park in the National return spots.

One might think our troubles ended there. Oh no. Now we have to exit the garage. We are on the -6 level. The rental car return counter is on the -1 level. We have 3 large bags. All we can find are staircases. I'm not a fan of lugging 125 lbs of shit up 5 flights of stairs. Every sign that points to an elevator is wrong. No elevator. We eventually find an elevator that takes us to level -2. What elevator doesn't stop on the ground foor? We exit to find more stairs. Shit! I'm not happy and I'm cursing the French profusely at this point. After more wandering, we find a wheelchair ramp that leads to the return counter. What an ordeal. I'm sweating and it's a 100 degrees in the train station. I just want to get on the train.

Things do look up from there. We grab some lunch and wait for the train. With 10 minutes to go before our scheduled departure time, the platform number is posted on the departure board. We hurry to the platform and find car 12. We get situated and within a few minutes the train leaves the station. They sure don't give you much time to board.

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Now things really start getting better. We are in first class. That means snacks, beer, cola, and food. What a score! The attendant just keeps bringing stuff. I can't help myself, it's free. I actually get full from the train food. That has never happened on any of my plane rides. I really like the train.

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The train stops at several cities along the way. At one point, we think the train has stopped at Amsterdam. Megan looks out the window and says, "Yes, the sign says Amsterdam." We get our things and step off the train. I ask the attendant if this is Amerstam. He says no and so we quickly get back on the train. It's a good thing I asked because we would have been stranded in some random Belgium town.

4 hours after leaving Paris we arrive in Amsterdam. The tram ride to our hotel was uneventful. Our hotel was wonderful. Right on the canal and we have a view.

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We headed out for a little exploring before it got dark. We wound up in the old city center. Then we decided to check out the red light district because it was close. What an experience. It is really hard to describe. There are paraphanalia shops, porn shops, and prostitutes everywhere. The streets are packed with men. Not too many women but a few couples. We cruise up and down the street once and then head to our hotel. We were exhausted from our travels. Tomorrow we are going to see the Anne Frank house and some sights.

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Posted by mzimmer75 26.05.2007 15:01 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Day 8 - D-Day Beaches

Honfleur, Normandie, and the D-Day beaches

overcast 22 °C

For those of you paying attention, yes we slipped in a picture of Maddie in yesterday's blog. We miss the puppy and have seen a ton of dogs here. I'm sure she is having a good time at the Farmer household while we are gone.

Today, we slept a little later than normal or as planned...depending on your point of view.

Grabbed some snacks and pastries at the local market.

Drove to Caen to visit the Normandy Museum. Along the way, our 4 wheeled chariot needed some essence sans plomb (unleaded gas). I pumped 8 gallons which rang up a $52 bill. Now that's expensive gas! I'm glad I don't have to fill up my truck at those prices.
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With a full tank, we managed to find the museum. It wasn't well marked from the street even though the building was massive with multiple flag poles in front. We just couldn't tell. Clueless Americans.

We walked around for over 3 hours inside. There were numerous WWII exhibits and movies to view. It was quite interesting to read actual WWII letters, study the invasion maps, and learn about Hitler's attempts to take over Europe and the USSR.
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From the museum, we drove to Gold Beach which is one of the D-Day beaches where the actual German fortresses were still intact as part of the Atlantic Wall. It was hard to imagine the time, energy, and inginuity that went into building these massively elaborate concrete fortresses. It was said that Hitler's armies started building them almost two years before the US and British attacked. As we drove around the little towns, we imagined what it must have been like to live there during the war amongst the German armies. It's harder to imagine that it was less than 65 years ago when it was all happening. We realized how lucky we've been in our lifetime to have never had to live through a war on US soil.
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We then grove about 17 kilometers to Omaha beach, where the US National D-Day Cemetary is located. The cemetary was Megan's favorite attraction of the day. The grounds were green, lush, and immaculately maintained. The graveyards held over 9300 white crosses and Stars of David. The cemetary spanned over 170 acres above the ocean and the beach. It was a very moving experience.
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From the cemetary, we decided to head back to Bayeux for dinner. Bayeux is a classic French town with narrow streets, buildings crammed together, and myriad street shops and eateries. Bayeux was the first town liberated by the D-day troops and it was captured with little destruction. Despite 200 choices, we picked a Cafe. The food was really good.

After dinner, we headed back to Honfluer. I wanted to avoid the Auto-route and take a more scenic road for our return trip. That didn't really work out. I took a wrong turn somewhere and got disoriented, but not lost, because as Dad would say, "I know I'm in Northern France roughly 70 km west of Honfleur and the deer trails always run North and South in these parts." I spied a sign for the Auto-route and so I gave in and headed to the toll way. About this time Megan arose from her slumber to pipe in with, "Why is it taking so long to get home?" I wasn't happy.

Once we hit the toll way, we were home in no time. Our trusty Hyundai Getz cruises along at 130 kph without complaint.

Just before dark, we walked along the harbor in front of our hotel. I liked the rotating bridge with wooden planking. Megan wasn't impressed.
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That left us with a few moments to blog and surf the internet before sleepy time.

Posted by mzimmer75 25.05.2007 14:39 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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