Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Leaving San Fran, Arriving in Amsterdam

We had another of those rather long and confusing days yesterday, whereby the entire day consisted of signficantly more than 24 hours.  Actually, thinking about it, I think we had 2 days yesterday, but still they totalled more than 48 hours.  San Francisco seems such a distant memory already!

Well, we started the day (Sunday) by wandering down from our hotel to Powell St station again.  This seemingly shortly and therefore surely uneventful walk was anything but.  I have no idea what was going on in San Fran (must check), but we saw zombies, birdmen, walking booths, catgirl, people in their PJs and all manner of oddities!  Ok, just checked, and it must have been Bay to Breakers - a fun run where people dress up, or apparently down (naked).  We didn't see any of the latter costumes!

We managed to get on a train car that was packed with people making their way to the run which made for a fairly festive atmosphere for the first leg of the train journey.  Again, I was interested to watch the architecture and the neighbourhoods on our way to the Airport.  I was surprised by the long lines of connected wooden houses, many of which looked terribly run down.  More exploring is required in San Fran, but that was always planned for our return visit on the way home.

After checking our bags in and getting boarding passes for the next 2 legs of our journey we grabbed a late breakfast / early lunch at a little bar at the airport.  One of the things I love most about food in the US is that you can reliably get a good, fresh and generously sized salad no matter where you are.  My garden fresh salad with chicken and the most garlicly garlic dressing I've ever eaten was enormous - I'd have put out a similarly sized salad as a side for a meal for 4 people at home.  Simon's burger and fries by all accounts was also pretty good.

Our flight was on Lufthansa's new A380 (started flying from SF last Tuesday!).  I can't say we had much more room than usual, but it was nice to once again have touch screen AV units, and we both felt we travelled much better than usual and that the flight did not feel the full 11 hours long - I think it was actually a lot quieter than I am used to on the plane, although I did still use my noise-cancelling headphones for the whole flight.  The last 20 minutes of this flight were a little tense as I had noticed a situation developing about 5 rows in front of us where a women was not conscious, and the crew were not entirely sure what to do - there were about 7 of them conferring in panic-ed tones for some time before eventually putting an oxygen line on her.  This was all occurring as we were beginning our descent in earnest and in fact preparing for landing.  We ended up all remaining seated for quite some time even after taxiing while they managed the situation.  I have no idea of the outcome, but it certainly added a bit of adrenaline to our arrival in Frankfurt. Perhaps this contributed to the flight feeling shorter than it was.

We walked for well over 20 minutes through Frankfurt airport to casually have our passports stamped (I mean seriously casually, I know this is called a formality, but there was nothing formal about the procedure!) Eventually we wound our way to our departure gate about 20 minutes before boarding.

We sat next to a Melbournian who lives in Hanoi and had a tour group of Vietnamese people coming up to Amsterdam later in the week.  We spent most of the flight discussing Outrageous Fortune with him, which he obviously really enjoyed - good to know the show is as well received by non-kiwis.

I thought this flight was meant to be 1:50 long, but it turned out to be a very brief 55 minutes.  Approaching Amsterdam was absolutely lovely - albeit brief, in that there was a massive bank of cloud to descend below, and by the time we had actually cleared it there wasn't a lot of approach remaining!  But the outlook, whilst obviously wet, was also lushishly green, and the canals and brick buildings were a wonderful welcoming glance at our home for the next 8 nights.

Did we go through any form of customs at Amsterdam? Not that I can recall.  I know we taxied further than I've ever been before, to what Simon appropriately observed as 'the arse end of the airport'.  So once again, we walked for miles, well, at least a kilometer, to collect our bags and clear 'customs'.  This involved walking through a door titled 'nothing to declare'.  Literally.  Just waltz on through.  I always find that so odd, being so used to the very detailed and thorough checks at NZ border control. One thing that immediately struck me at the airport - all of the official airport signs and directional signs were solely in English.  There were a couple of billboards in dutch, but that's about it.

Train tickets from Schipol to Centraal were stupidly easy to buy, although it was good to confirm that Simon's credit card (chip card) actually works in the machines here.  Mine wouldn't have.

On arrival at the insanely busy Centraal station we eventually located Tram 2, bought a couple of tickets from the conductor and promptly got off at the first stop (I hadn't realised it was quite that close, but still, it was worth it to avoid dragging our suitcases over the cobbled streets).  The conductor spoke perfect english - just like pretty much every single person we have encountered since.  I don't know if I'm insulting people when I ask them if they speak english or not, but on the otherhand, I don't like to assume!  Still, most shopkeepers have instantly conversed with us in english anyway, and if not, I pointedly ask Simon a question or make a remark to him and they fairly quickly catch on and switch languages from then on anyway.  I feel so bad not making any effort at the language, but it seems to be unnecessary and acceptable.

Moving on - we jumped off the tram and wandered through a couple of little alleyways and over a couple of canals to finally arrive at 86 Sous, our below-road-level apartment for the next 8 nights.  Edwin was on his balcony ready to greet us with a friendly wave as he saw us approaching over the bridge, then gave us the tour of the apartment, instructions on using the TV, the Mac, the Nespresso machine, to text him if we needed the underfloor heating adjusted from upstairs, and then through his fabulous list of bookmarks online with many recommendations for places to eat, for both lunch and dinner!  A splendid host if ever there was one!  I've been excited about staying here since I first found it, and arrival has well met my expectations!  From the old original beams in the ceiling, to the orchid murals on the bathroom doors, the industrial wall lamps, the boat window to the eclectic range of furniture.  Oh! And of course the electronic adjustable bed!  Home sweet home indeed!

Once we'd settled in we wandered out to get some supplies - water, bread, cheese, soap, shampoo.  We didn't however bother to find out where a supermarket was before we left and took quite a while to eventually find one.  But that's all part of the charm of travelling and exploring as far as I'm concerned.  We did eventually find a place up near Centraal station and got what we needed and had a look at all manner of things we've not seen before.  I especially appreciated the number of pure fruit drinks you could buy that had nothing but fruit in them - not a hint of added sugar anywhere.  I chose a cranberry and raspberry smoothie that we later really enjoyed.

On the way back, we popped in to Kaasland, which we had passed on the way - a fabulous little cheese shop with all manner of cheeses on display.  We bought a small wedge of truffle gouda and a lovely soft white goats cheese.  Home again home again, and then past home for another block and a half to find a bakery and buy half (yes half) a loaf of bread to have our cheese with for breakfast the next day.

We had planned on heading out for a cheap and cheerful dinner later, but both fell asleep for a couple of hours and when we woke at 8pm-ish we were both absolutey shattered and instead elected to keep ourselves awake for timezone adjustment purposes, but to finally go to bed at 10pm. It was a thoroughly good night's sleep I can assure you!

Finally, a few 'local' photos - from across the road immediately outside our door, and then about 20 meters away looking away from the canal (Herengracht).  The ubiquitous bicycles, and a typical canal view.

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