Friday, May 10, 2024

Thursday, May 2, 2024. Amsterdam.

 Originally, I had thought about visiting three cities on this trip to Europe - London, Paris, Amsterdam. Looking at dates, time available to be off work, costs and travel options, Paris got cut from the lineup. But I had one bucket list item to take care of and that was the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I researched hotels in Amsterdam and flights in to either Amsterdam or London and out of the other, but that doubled the cost of the flight. I also didn't love the idea of schlepping suitcases to multiple cities during the trip, and adding travel days, so Amsterdam became a day trip.

 There are several trains to Amsterdam from London in the morning and there are return trains at night. I booked us on the earliest train out, at 6:15 AM. That meant being at the train station at 5:15 and waking up at about 4 AM to get dressed and to get to the train station. Cynthia was already sick of walking (and in pain from her broken toe), and there had been thunderstorms overnight, so she ordered us an Uber to St Pancras Station early in the morning. It probably took about as long as the walk/Tube combo would have taken, but we didn’t have to walk at all.

We got to the station in good time and got through customs. They stamped my passport here! Hooray! The London airport, like I said, didn't seem to care who was entering the country via the airport. No stamps, no people. We sat in the waiting area with people who were also waiting to head to Paris and who were very early for the next couple of trains to Paris and Amsterdam. I got a tea and chocolate croissant at Pret a Manger. There was another slight language barrier at Pret. I ordered a tea, and so didn’t recognize my order when the woman called out “tea with milk.” I was the only one standing there, so she asked me directly if I ordered a tea with milk. “I didn’t order milk.” “Did you order it black?” “I didn’t specify. I assumed it would be black.” “This is yours. Tea with milk.” I’m fine with tea with milk, so it wasn’t a problem. I took the tea but I'm still not convinced I didn't drink someone else's tea. My sister ordered a muffin, which was also undercooked. Is this some cultural thing? Undercooked pastries at Pret? I think she threw hers away after one or two bites. I ate the croissant. It was pretty good.

 Just like on the Heathrow Express, I booked us first-class train tickets to Amsterdam. What a good idea! The car we were in was half empty and we could change our seats after they were sure everyone had boarded. We moved to seats facing each other in the front carriage of the car and had no one near us. The first-class seats also included a meal and a snack, and seemingly unlimited drinks. The car attendant put out trays of drinks, including wine, so we could help ourselves. Such a better travel experience than British Air.

(Our private car.)

(View from the train.)

(Train breakfast.)

 We arrived in Amsterdam a little late because of some delays on the tracks, but our museum entry wasn’t until 2:30 PM/14:30, so it was fine. Amsterdam uses 24-hour time, though, which is confusing when you aren’t used to it. I changed the settings on my phone so it would display in 24-hour time, but my UK SIM card didn’t work. We only had my sister’s phone to rely on. And Apple Maps sucks!!! It felt like we were walking forever before we found the museum. 



(Amsterdam, various.)

By this time, I needed a toilet. We went to a nearby cafe and I walked down the scariest stairs in the world to use the men’s toilet because the woman’s toilet had no light! We ate caprese sandwiches in the cafĂ© to pay them back for letting me use the toilet, and so we wouldn't have to wander around finding somewhere else to eat. We walked back over to the museum and Cynthia sat and listened to the buskers while I went souvenir shopping. I needed a few postcards and had seen some wooden tulips along the walk that I wanted to grab.

(Am I looking up or down this staircase? Up. I'm looking up.)

(Wooden tulips.)

I didn’t do any research about Amsterdam before traveling there, so I still don’t know what was up will all the rubber ducky shops. There were only a few tulips in the mostly cobblestone and pavement city. And bicycles. There were so many bicycles and pedestrians… I was ready to scream from all the people and bicycles. I hated the general vibe.





(Tulips in planters in Amsterdam near the Van Gogh Museum.)

Anyway, it was time for the museum. We had traveled with carry-on type bags, to hold shopping and, it turned out, our coats. Those larger bags had to be put in free lockers before we could go up to the exhibit. You typed in a code and picked a symbol on a keypad and a locker popped open. You needed to remember the same code and symbol to open the locker when you were leaving, so they suggested using your birthday. Our bags safely locked up, we went up into the exhibit area. 




Here are my observations. The paintings were dark. The museum lighting was terrible. It seemed like there wasn't a lot of actual electric light inside, just ambient light coming through the windows. The paintings were all covered in glass, too, probably a result of things like climate activists throwing paint and soup at the art. The result was that all of the paintings had glaring reflections of the windows in them. You couldn't really see the paint. Wow, it was disappointing.

 The internet age has also ruined lots of things. The number of people turning their backs to the more famous paintings to take selfies with them was crazy. Prove you’ve been there some other way! I also don’t understand taking pictures of the art when you can see it on your computer, in a book, on a poster or in many other ways in better circumstances.

 The museum was crowded and people are annoying. I did love the Giant Peacock Moth and Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette. I was able to eavesdrop on a few of the tours at different stations. I was more moved, though, seeing Irises at the Getty in Los Angeles. I’m glad I went to the Van Gogh Museum, but I didn’t react how I thought I would.

 I took the stairs up the several stories of the museum and my sister took the elevator, so we didn't go through the floors together. After going through the museum, we went to the giftshop and bought lots of things. They were cash only, so the Euros I had left over from lunch and souvenir shopping were still burning a hole in my pocket. After the giftshop, it was back to the basement to retrieve our bags from the lockers. My sister's bad luck continued and her locker wouldn't pop open when she entered her code. I found a museum worker and he was able to open the locker from a table he carried.

 We left the museum and Cynthia summoned an Uber to take us back to the train station. There was a mall inside the train station, so we bought some Simon Levelt tea to use up some of my useless cash. I still left Europe with about €10, so I guess if I ever go back I've got more than enough cash for the trip. Then there was some confusion about how to find our train. I asked a man in a yellow vest, who I'm pretty sure worked at the station, where to go. We found our platform and went back through customs, getting another stamp in our passports, and waited for the train.

This time the first-class car was fully booked, although not everyone was starting out at the Amsterdam station. We had stopped at Brussels and Rotterdam on the way out, but just to let people off of the train. Now people were boarding at Rotterdam, Brussels and Lille, so even though it looked like there were empty seats, they were spoken for. Cynthia and I had to remain in our side-by-side seats this time.

(Train dinner.)

Dinner was served, which was a spinach frittata with couscous and a mango-passionfruit tart for dessert. Excellent! We got a snack a few hours later, a granola bar. There was a slight mystery on the ride back when a male passenger across the aisle got up and left his seat. He came back about ten minutes later, grabbed his laptop and charger, and left again. He didn't return to his seat for the duration of the ride. It was weird. On the plus side, I stole the mango-passionfruit tart from his abandoned food tray. Was that a good idea? I haven't died, so yes. Lola would be proud of me.

 Cynthia Ubered us back to the hotel from St Pancras in London and we fell asleep still feeling the gentle rocking of the train.


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