OT:True confessions-A cruise to nowhere-23

This will likely be the penultimate post in this series as there is only a bit over a week left to the trip.

Note: The sections on the cities visited are frequently cumulative (updated) descriptions written during multiple trips. In some cases, we have arrived or left by different methods during different trips (ship, plane, train, car or whatever), so each of the options has been left in order to assist regardless of how we/others show up the next time. Similarly, some of the descriptions include sightseeing which clearly would take more than a day. The easy explanation is that we have, over time, spent a number of days (or even weeks) in some cities.

Jeff

It’s been a busy week. We spent another day in Honfleur, France, so the current write-up has been slightly tweaked. While I’ve omitted a number of the major city pieces in the interests of brevity, since we’ve missed a number of ports this week due to lousy weather, I’ve compensated by including the piece on Amsterdam which covers it in detail.

As I write this at the end of the week, COVID continues to infect passengers and crew faster than they recover. Our meal in the ship’s specialty restaurant took 2 ½ hours last night and my chicken breasts were sliced a number of times – and then over-cooked – I guess by a chef who wanted to make sure they were fully cooked. The lounge pianist is now locked up and there are again questions of “hey it’s been days since we saw …” about passengers. It’s only a bit over a week left, so let’s see if we can actually cross the finish like without joining the vast majority of the ship’s passengers who have caught COVID.

The weather is flip-flopping. In Honfleur, France the temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit (about 32 degrees Celsius) and the sun is shining. The next day we’re in Tilbury/London and it is cloudy and the temperature is 58 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14 degrees Celsius).

This week, one of the round-the-world passengers had a birthday party where champagne was shared with over 70 guests in one corner of the “observation/bar deck” (Horizon, on this ship) for what amounts to a super-spreader event. A few days later, a cadre of those who had avoided getting infected for nearly six months have entered isolation rooms.

Today’s newspaper reported two separate COVID stories; first being that 98.5% of the US population over 16 years of age has either been fully vaccinated or been infected. The second story indicates that previous vaccinations and/or infections don’t provide nearly the original protection against the newer variants and breakthrough infections can be expected prompting continuing multi-valiant boosters starting in the fall.

Well, it’s less than two weeks to go and we are beginning to think about the logistics of how we are going to depart. I am playing bridge as the partner of a woman whose husband is in COVID isolation as the cruise line continues to reduce the flow of information to the passengers (they were the “masked couple” in the bridge room, but had attended the birthday super-spreader party). Over the next few days the crew will be tested and it will be interesting to see who drops from sight. While we have somehow dodged the bullet so far, it is becoming the norm to see groups of both passengers and crew where, at one time or another over the past few months, nearly everyone had been quarantined for five or ten days.

A few days later and here we go. A few of those passengers who have not yet succumbed are now confined with infections and the ship has closed one of the specialty restaurants as crew members, many who work in the kitchen, are being confined with COVID infections and the head chef is now walking around with food splattered on his apron as he is cooking at a stove. It took about 2 ½ hours for us to get and eat dinner in one of the restaurants. The total number of passenger and crew members quarantined now exceeds 75. Our paying extra for a veranda cabin so that we would have access to the outdoors if infected, was a waste of money as those who are infected are relocated to veranda cabins if not already in one – and, in fact, the cruise line is compensating them $250 for each day of confinement.

That means that, if you take a cruise, you have a significant chance of catching COVID. On a short cruise, it will accompany you home, on a longer one you’ll have to deal with it aboard, but I am now surprised that neither of us has caught it, regardless of the care we’ve been taking, over the past six months aboard.

The bottom line is that we, as a society are now stuck with a disease which, while potentially deadly to a relatively small portion of the population, seems to be able to be easily tolerated by most and I guess we are nearly at the point of treating it in the same fashion as other endemic diseases by being vaccinated/boosted at appropriate intervals (once or twice a year seems to be appropriate) and getting back to a more normal existence. I can see the rational societal change to be people wearing masks if they are ill or near others who are, in order to keep from spreading disease, but otherwise pretty much ignoring it.

In what I hope is the last port change of our itinerary, high winds are preventing us from tendering at Waterford, Ireland and the town of Cobh (pronounced “Kove”) which has a cruise dock. It’s a short train ride from the larger city of Cork, but since the weather is threatening, we’re probably going to hang around here.

And there goes our stop near Dublin. Due to the cruise line electing to save money by tendering at Dun Laoghaire, a few miles from the city, rather than docking, high winds and waves have caused the captain to cancel the port at the last moment. This also messes up the opportunity to file for recovery of EU VAT taxes. This filing has to be stamped by customs at the last EU port – which we can see as we sail off. We are scheduled to hit Belfast (with a change of currency from Euros to Great British Pounds) tomorrow as the last port before we head back across the Atlantic for North America.

There are now new quarantine rules that, rather than staying locked up for ten days, if there are two consecutive days of negative COVID tests after the initial five day isolation, the patient is released (and released after ten days, regardless of testing status).

So, here we are in Belfast and it’s Sunday, so with the exception of the seriously interesting St. George’s all the stores are shut until 1pm in the afternoon. In a traditional Irish welcome, the morning started with near-rain and stayed overcast all day.

NORMANDY – DAY 2 Honfleur

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

Honfleur is a city in the department of Calvados, in northern France’s Normandy region. It’s on the estuary where the Seine River meets the English Channel. Nearby is 15th-century St. Catherine’s Church, a vaulted timber structure erected by shipbuilders.

We started the day with a special prix fix breakfast offered by a local shop: for four€, a hot drink (we chose cappuccinos), a croissant (or chocolate one or a buttered baguette) and an orange juice.

Because the Rouen daily market is closed on Monday, we decided to head out of town and drive through the forests and farms which line the series of meanders the Seine River takes between Rouen and where it enters the English Channel at the town of Honfleur.

Along the way along the southern bank (the left bank/rive gauche) we stopped at the very picturesque town of La Bouille, full of centuries old half-timbered houses with slate roofs (warning: the road down to this town is very steep and twisty, so make sure you either have an automatic transmission car, be very familiar with driving a manual transmission or be born with three legs) . It is hard to verbalize what you see in a town where the buildings have not changed much since the days when the King of England ruled Normandy. While virtually everywhere we went today seems prosperous and well maintained, we did see quite a few very elderly waterfront buildings for sale in this town. There was a small cider shop which was giving out samples of Calvados, the local apple flavored brandy (more like whiskey).

Rather than take the high speed AutoRoute (based on the German Autobahn system, but limited to only 130 km/hour – least legally), we wandered down the local roads to the small towns of Aizir and then to Vieux-Port. These were meticulously manicured and the old half-timbered houses had incredibly complex thatched roofs.

Our trip to Honfleur took a bit over two hours instead of the hour it would have if we had taken the AutoRoute, but was filled with the vistas of French farms populated with haystacks, cows and crops as well as river views of the Seine.

We started our wander by picking up a map from the tourist information office which maps out three different walking tours.

Honfleur is wonderfully photogenic. It has hundreds of seafood restaurants, is known for its art galleries and has both a new and an old harbor. It is busy and, full of tourists from all over the world. But it is such a compelling place that it is worth putting up with the crowds and the art students trying to capture the views on paper and canvas. It has winding streets of half-timbered houses which shame movie sets of medieval times.

The scenic quays beacon you to walk past the fishing boats and the 18th century tall, narrow slate-roofed houses that line the Vieux Bassin (old harbor). It was built it 1681 and necessitated destruction of part of the city’s ramparts in order to enlarge the old port. On the north side of the harbor, the former governor’s house, the imposing Lieutenance, dates from the 16th century. The Vieux-Bassin has been a subject for artists including Claude Monet and native son Eugène Boudin.

When we got off our ship’s shuttle bus (at the town’s main parking lot) on June 6, 2022, we were greeted, not by celebrations commemorating the freeing of Normandy on D-Day 1945, but rather by a procession of hundreds of people. Yesterday, was the “Blessing of the Fleet” and all of the ships docked in the town’s various harbors and marinas cruised in a line with all of their flags and decorations flapping in the wind, past the towns assembled priests and were blessed with wishes for a coming year of safety, prosperity and good luck.

Today, the town streets were decorated with strings of ships’ alphabetic signaling flags. Groups of children were carrying wood platforms on which stood model boats ranging from about a half a meter to a meter in length – each with its own registration number on the bow. Larger boats (the size of miniature row boats) were carried by groups of four men (resembling pall-bearers) and generally had a small bored-looking child or two aboard. Interspaced were drum/bugle marching bands, bagpiping bands (typical of this partly Celtic portion of France) groups of marine emergency squads and priests.

At 9:15am, the procession started walking the hour-plus climb up to the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Grace, at 80m elevation on Mont-Joli, only to make the return trip, appearing again in downtown around 12:30. While at the church, the ship models, each with the registration number painted on its bow of a boat in the marina or harbor are blessed by priests.

On Saturdays, there is a large street market which winds its way around most of the downtown area and includes booths selling (generally new) clothing, tools, food and all sorrts of household gadgets – definitely worth browsing through.

The town is full of art galleries – some quirky and some pretty serious. One (of many) worth taking a peek at for home decorating items is Les Artisans d’Art (7, quai Saint-Etienne) which has some pretty good tapestries (jacquard) of Klimpts.

Honfleur boasts France’s largest wooden church, Eglise Ste-Catherine, place Ste-Catherine, was built in the 15th century to replace a stone church destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War, the Saint Catherine’s Church was built entirely in wood, gathered in the nearby forest. Its original form of overturned double hull boat is due to Honfleur’s workers excellent knowledge of shipbuilding and the church is decorated with model ships. Its separate bell tower made of oak is visited as an annex to the Eugène Boudin Museum. The church is open July and August daily from 8am to 8pm, September through June daily 8:30am to noon and 2 to 6pm.

We stumbled on an alleyway which led to a stream (I suspect formerly an open sewer at some time in the past) flowing through the backyards of a number of homes that had been turned into an eclectic series of fountains and gardens – called “Le Jardin du Tripot”. A bit of research indicated that this area was used by tanners because of the confluence of two rivers at the spot. Their usage of excrement to tan hides probably created an aroma in this area to compete with the worst of cesspools for the hundreds of years they were based at the location. The new park was completed in 2003. It is very worthwhile to search out the entrance if you visit the town as it now forms a lovely ravine comprising statues, flowers, a waterfall and so on surrounded by ancient walls with lots of “character”.

We elected to eat at a restaurant called “L’Escale” where my wife had a fixed price lunch of salad, chicken with potato gratin and dessert and I had a massive cold platter (suitable for a small army) of all sorts of seafood and critters on a bed of ice and seaweed. These were accompanied by a bottle of “hard” cider (about 5% alcohol).

A bistro we’ve eaten at is “Relais des Cyclistes”, (10 Place de la Porte de Rouen, Phone: +33 2 31 89 09 76) a friendly and warm restaurant located near the port of Honfleur and its city center. The wait staff can be pretty brusque. A good value for money and the menu is very varied (I had a great fish and chips, my wife had a tuna/mushroom/egg galette and our companion had a “pretty good” bowl of mussels. Reservations are recommended as, especially on weekends, this place gets packed with locals.

During our stop in 2022, we ate at a fancier restaurant, “L’Endroit” (5 Rue Charles et Paul Breard, Phone: +33 2 31 88 08 43). A 3 course set meal costs 38 Euros excluding beverages. This place’s food and decor deserve their Michelin listing. Some suggestions: Don’t opt for the large glass table with the “large” chairs – it is awkward. I would call their gorgonzola mousse dessert an acquired taste. Also, ask for a decanter of “tap” water (they keep it refrigerated), rather than bottled water. The tap water is fine here and all the locals were drinking it (as did we).

Normandy is famous for its Calvados and Pommeau, apple-based alcoholic drinks that delight all the taste buds. Cave Normande and the Compagnie des Calvados de la Cave Honfleuraise can supply these as a typical souvenir of the region. A large assortment of these are available at reasonable price at the local Carrefour supermarket (46 Rue de la République) located a few blocks from the center of town, as well as at a number of specialty shops.

After lunch, we wandered through the old town, showing some interest in some paintings (but resisting temptation) and eventually drove the one hour AutoRoute trip back to Rouen. Frankly, lunch was big enough to cover dinner as well.

Tilbury, England

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

The Port of Tilbury offers nearly nothing of interest to the tourist. It lies on the north shore of the River Thames, 25 miles (40 km) below London Bridge, at a point where the river makes a loop southwards, and where its width narrows to 800 yards (730 meters). The loop is part of the Thames lower reaches and within the meander is a huge area of marshland. There was also a naval dockyard at Northfleet. The new deep-water docks were an extension of all that maritime activity.

The nearest shopping mall on its side of the river is at Lakeside which is a 20 minute (20 GBP) cab ride away, but Gravesend on the opposite shore had long been a port of entry for shipping and the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers and is easily accessible by 5 minute (4 GBP round-trip) ferry from next to the cruise ship dock. They leave every half-hour (currently from Tilbury at 15/45 after the hour), but have an hour break at 9AM and 2PM, so check the schedule.

We immediately blew off Tilbury and took the ferry across the Thames to Gravesend (costs 4 pounds for a “return”). One of the first things you see when you walk into town is a massive church with a large bronze statue of Pocahontas, the famous American Indian who married English sea captain Smith. who was buried in the church yard.

A bit further on is a series of pedestrian shopping streets which include loads of hair salons, mani-pedicure places, a number of banks, individual shops and a couple of pawnbrokers – all housed in buildings which look to be at least a couple of hundred years old and a couple of fairly modern shopping mall). The novelty shops were full of commemorative items celebrating the Queen’s Platinum jubilee (last time we were here, they were filled with the 2012 jubilee and Olympic stuff).

A walk outside of this area brought us to a street with a store selling woman’s Islamic head scarfs, “Indian” tandoori restaurants and so on.

Last time I was here, I tried buying a pair of sandals at Clarks and found out that they couldn’t process my credit card in their machine because it did not have a microchip embedded in it. Fortunately, the ensuing decade has seen chips become standard on all credit and debit cards (along with wireless “tap” capability).

For those who want to go to London (but it’s nearly impossible to see a city that size in a few hours):

The easiest way to reach London from the terminal is, as you exit the terminal, to the right there is a bus stop visible where two bus lines stop.

The double decker bus that takes you to the Tilbury Rail Station, costs 1.50 pounds.
(The other bus is a single public bus also the same price that takes you into Tilbury town center, where there is nothing of interest.)

Take the train from Tilbury station (about a mile from the cruise terminal) into Fenchurch Street Station or Charring Cross Station in central London.

Once in London, I guess you could book a hop on-hop off bus for a bit of a ride and then head back.

Ah, but our 2022 trip saw us take another option. We bought front row, enter-stage tickets to a West End show which got good reviews on Broadway (The Play That Goes Wrong – a slapstick comedy which is entertaining for children of all ages), paying the same per ticket that we would have paid for nose-bleed/binocular-range tickets in NYC. After evaluating taking the train to King’s Cross, since six of us were going into town, we took a van from the cruise terminal to the theatre (ABWZ Taxi, +44 1375 391 500, 110 pounds for the 6 person van, 80 pounds for a four seat car – this was for a weekend and weekday “congestion” prices may be $15 higher) ). The ride was about 45 minutes.

Unless briefly driving past a few iconic spots is what you are after, Greenwich is only about an hour away by train, by way of Limehouse. The train for the first leg leaves every 30 minutes and the train for the second leg every 10 minutes at a cost of around $25 each way. Greenwich offers tours of the HMS Victory, the lighthouse on the prime meridian and so on. Not London, for sure, but a bit splashier than Tilbury.

London, United Kingdom

Incidentally, petrol in the UK costs about 1.40 GBP (or about $2.10) per liter – making this the most expensive country that I think we have been in for this commodity. Prices in London are much higher than the States. As a rule of thumb, I usually consider prices in continental Europe to be about the same number of Euros as the price would be in US dollars in the States – or about a 30% premium. Likewise, prices in the UK tend to be about an equivalent number of GB pounds for each US dollar – or about a 50% premium.

This is our first trip to London in a number of years. We are spending a couple of nights at the Sofitel. The hotel is a block and a half from the National Gallery (most of London’s museums are still free – rather than the embarrassing $25 NYC museums frequently charge for entry), nearly on top of Trafalgar Square and a block down Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus. We are also a few blocks from the Turkish coffee shop Kahve Dunyasi (at 200 Piccadilly) which has the best Turkish coffee in town as well as an assortment of fabulous chocolate delicacies (though I still think Jacque Torres’s shop in Brooklyn is better – for chocolate at least). The flags on Westminster (down the Mall from the hotel) have been flying at half-mast and we just found out on the TV that Margaret Thatcher has died today.

For those who have never been to London, the city has a “feel” that is dramatically different from any other. New York and Shanghai have a tall modern speed about them. Rome has the feeling of ancient empires mixed with the renaissance. Paris has a sense of curves and style, Tokyo has hard bright edges and much of Barcelona looks like it’s melting. But London looks like the city that Washington D.C. wants to be when it grows up. The streets curve with a majesty of ornate buildings which lead into stately parks. Where the style of Rome has flair and that of Paris has the appeal of eye candy, that of London is the stately 250 GBP shirts of Pinks on Jermyn Street, the marmalades and perfumes of Fortnum & Mason (on Piccadilly since 1797), and the real safari clothing from Beretta (on St. James Street since 1527). It seems that the investment bankers, Arabs and Russians (as well as what’s left of the aristocracy) have a broader range of overpriced items readily available in London than we can even find in New York City. It appears that the ritzy neighborhoods of Belgravia and Mayfair are populated by absent owners of multi-million pound apartments (many of these guys also have apartments in New York, Monaco, Hong Kong and their home city of choice (Moscow and Abu Dhabi being favorites).

We spent the afternoon at the National Gallery museum which ranks among the world’s finest.

Considering that the alternative is a common event in the US, it is a bit interesting to find that the vast majority of the ethnic Asian and Afro/West Indies people you find serving you in stores speak with flawless educated BBC accents, while it is the whites who have either local or foreign accents.

I took the liberty of picking up a couple of tickets (over the internet before we left on this trip) to The Book of Mormon “Broadway show” playing at the Prince of Wales Theatre on the West End. We got great seats (sixth row center orchestra) for a small fraction of the price they would have cost at the scalpers a subway ride from home. The play is very entertaining and the large theatre was packed with clapping, hooting and laughing Brits. The audience was about 1/3 kids who were South Park fans, 1/3 straight adults and 1/3 gay couples (I suspect almost none of the audience had ever met a Mormon or knew what LDS meant). After watching the play, I don’t think there will be a road show heading to Utah any time soon.

Our second morning in London was spent wandering up and down the local streets.

First we went westward on Piccadilly to the Costa coffee shop (a large chain of these in London with very good coffee) for a light breakfast.

Then we backtracked east across Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square (where, if we had more time in London, we would buy ½ price theatre tickets at the TKTS kiosk set up for the purpose).

We kept heading straight ahead until we reached Covent Garden. This covered market is full of eclectic shops and buskers entertaining the kids (who are still out of school for the Easter holiday). One store that was impressive was named “Carat” - which sold extremely high quality simulated knockoffs of fancy jewelry (it makes you wonder why one should bother with the real thing when something that looks like world class bling only costs a couple hundred bucks). The streets outside are lined with camping/climbing/hiking equipment suppliers.

The next jump was to The Strand and a pop into the Strand Hotel – one of the fanciest (along with The Ritz in Mayfair) in London. Theoretically the high tea here is supposed to be special – but then so is the one in the Ritz – or even the Sofitel for that matter.

A couple of blocks further down The Strand, we hit St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church (no longer in the fields - but then Covent Gardens is no longer near a convent). There is now a restaurant in the Crypt.

We then swung past Charring Cross and Nelson’s Column and ended up in the National Portrait Gallery. It’s likely that every picture you have ever seen of a British monarch is hanging somewhere within these walls (along with hundreds of other portraits).

We picked up lunch at a sandwich place off the corner of Orange and Oxendon Streets. I noticed the place had pasta de nada pastries stacked up and I asked if the owner was from Lisbon – it turned out he was from Madera, but the pastries are made there as well. We walked a block and a half and had a picnic lunch at our hotel.

In the evening some good friends of ours took us to a lovely dinner overlooking the Thames at the Skylon restaurant at the Southbank Centre (London’s performing arts center - equivalent to NYC’s Lincoln Center). The food was good, the view special and the prices here reflect that. After dinner we headed to an exceptional concert at Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing Brahms including the wonderful Second Piano Concerto and “Piano Quartet No.1” with orchestration for the full philharmonic by Schoenberg (as well as one of Schoenberg’s works).

Well, it is the end of our stay. We are flying back on Virgin Atlantic for the first time (in their “Upper Class”). We had decided to splurge and have Cunard arrange for us to fly back in business class (which while it costs a bunch, lets us take our luggage without quibble and stretch our feet without complaint). They elected to put us in what amounts to First Class – reclining beds and all. We got to the airport early, but stood on the tax rebate line for 45 minutes (not realizing that there was another empty one after airport security. Security took my carry-ons apart (presumably because of the number of electronic gadgets I travel with). We showed up at the Virgin Atlantic lounge a little over an hour before the flight. This limited the time we had to enjoy the breadth of services available for our enjoyment. The plane however was a Boeing 747 and the ride/accommodations exceeded our expectations.

The NYC cab driver “forgot” to turn on his GPS, so this became a cash only trip (he was ticked off about the amount of luggage we had – forcing him to put a carry-on on his front seat). The weather in NYC is hot, so I guess we are back into summer.

Our apartment building lobby has not been repaired since Hurricane Sandy hit (maybe the landlord is waiting for an insurance settlement?).

The normal day or two fight against jetlag awaits.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport”. – George Winters

Well, it’s time to head from Brussels to Amsterdam by train (normally about a three hour ride, but we’ve paid a premium to take the high speed train, so the trip should take about an hour and a half) to our starting point for the “land” portion of our trip. The train didn’t travel particularly fast over much of the route. Apparently the construction of the high speed tracks were delayed by KLM, but now that Air France owns the former Dutch airline, the tracks are being built), but skipped stations to make up part of the difference in time. We’re staying at the Hotel Pulitzer again (where our heavy “cruise luggage” has been in storage for a couple of months). I can’t believe how much luggage I now have. They busted the handle on one piece, so repairing that (and picking up a bit of wine) will be morning projects. We’ve contacted (through a site called cruisecritics.com) a fellow traveler on the next cruise who lives in Amsterdam and who has invited us to a guided walking tour all day and a nighttime canal boat trip.

Like most European cities, Amsterdam’s Tourist Bureau offers a number of discount cards to tourists. One is the MuseumKaart card (https://www.amsterdamtourist.info/tips/amsterdamdiscount-car…), which allows free access into five museums of your choice in the Netherlands (not just Amsterdam) within a 30 day period – and can be a bargain if you fully utilize it. Another is the more comprehensive “I Amsterdam” card (https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/i-am/i-amsterdam-city-card) which is available in varying time durations. The I Amsterdam card, besides offering free entry into most of Amsterdam’s most desirable museums, includes comprehensive mass transit fares (except train/bus to airport), a one hour canal boat tour, a “panoramic” bus tour, discounts at a variety of restaurants and shops and so on. As in all such cards, while they offer tremendous convenience, it would make sense to compare the price of the card to the price of the services you intend to use it for to see if it’s a good deal for you.

Transit fares (for one/multiple rides within a one hour time frame) are 3.60 Euros, so if all you are going to do is a round trip, single tickets may make sense, but since a 24 hour duration multiple fare card is 8.50 Euros, you come out ahead at three rides or more with a day pass. This can be bought aboard most trams, some tram stops, from red vending machines in the Central Station as well as at metro stations and works on trams/metros/buses. Make sure to touch it to the validation tool both when boarding and leaving a tram/station/bus.

Incidentally, if you buy tickets (or use the IamAmsterdam card) on one of the many one hour canal tour boats with the glass roofs (they are pretty much interchangeable and the tours are all clones), try to sit on the port (left) side at a seat where the window can slide open for the best photos.

We have begun “de-emphasizing” southern Europe during the summer months as the crowds rival NYC’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve and the heat rivals that of Hades, but, while Amsterdam also suffers from masses of tourists, at least it tends to be around ten degrees cooler than, say Italy. Also, the massive increase in the number of tourists (who have to be fed) has caused restaurants and cannabis joints (pun intended) to push the “working girls” out of the red light district (substituting gluttony for other vices).

We took a taxi to our home for the next couple of days – the Hotel Pulitzer on Prinsengracht (which architecturally looks like a string of 17th century town houses – which were retained as the hotel was built out to comprise much of a city block). This is a pretty ritzy joint in central Amsterdam, located where the Jordaan and De Negen Straatjes areas meet. We got a decent price on the room, but while it had every imaginable bathroom amenity, it was basically a small garret (though the bed was comfortable). The floor plan requires a GPS to navigate as it wends through the corridors of the former canal house buildings which were used to create the hotel and the concierge’s attitude makes the word obsequious an understatement (most Americans associate concierges with teenage kids who are in training for the front desk and can use Google rather than “real” concierges who wear the crossed golden keys – but this place has the real deal).

Once (well, actually thrice) more in Amsterdam, we have decide to use the locations of two different hotels to our logistical advantage. We are flying in from NYC and, after spending a night, flying off to Tanzania for ten days. Then returning, spending two nights in Amsterdam and then trotting off for over a month before returning for a night on the way to NYC. So here’s what we did:

On the first stay, we utilized the Hyatt Place Amsterdam Airport hotel. This was reasonably priced, after figuring in the half-hour potential wait for their airport shuttle, only about 20 minutes (5.50 Euro) by train to central Amsterdam or about the same cost by bus to the museum district. After some emails, the hotel agreed to hold our suitcases for the ten-day trip to Tanzania (their usual limit is one week). Even though we arrived early in the morning, the hotel was able to give us a room right away (OK, not the room they had reserved for us, but a second floor one overlooking the garage roof – but who cares when you’ve missed most of a night’s sleep). They even allowed us to partake in their excellent buffet breakfast on our first day as well. The place is new, well kept (of course, not overly fancy – say like a Hampton Inn or a Marriot Inn – but with a better breakfast), and the service is far better than I would have expected.

On our second stay, we are spending the first day at the Hyatt Place Amsterdam Airport hotel and the second night in-town at the Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre, which is located as close as we can get to the cruise port that the river cruises (or next leg) leave from. We booked the Mövenpick on a low-ball quote from a Hong Kong on-line site called Trips.com. It had spotty reviews on-line, but the reservation was confirmed nearly immediately and everything worked out OK (just don’t expect any help in changing one of their reservations).

We have checked with the Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre in advance and, in case we purchased anything of size while in Tanzania, they agreed to hold it until our return, so that’s our choice for our return to Amsterdam as well (and it is a short distance from the Central Station which conveniently gets us back to the airport at the end of our stay.

Coming back to Amsterdam (after the Tanzanian Safari/European River cruise trip), we’ve elected to switch our two-day reservation from the airport hotel to the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station (Oosterdoksstraat 4), as a way to compromise in a way to save time shuttling back and forth to the airport and by shuttle to the hotel. The good news is that the hotel is about a five minute walk from the station where the airport train comes in – oh yeah, and they give you a warm cookie when you arrive. The front desk agent was surly, the room small, the TV was a 24” Apple desktop, and the soap was in a dispenser attached to the wall. This is the hight of the season, so this was far from a budget stay. There are probably other better options.

Another hotel we’ve stayed at is the “INK” Hotel which is part of Accor’s MGallery (boutique hotel) Collection. This eclectic hotel opened in March 2015 and is a conversion of a newspaper printing plant. Its decoration is “cool” and I would place it above Starwood’s Loft, but below their “W” hotels (and way below the ultra-cool Mamillia in Jerusalem). Our room is on the small side (but includes free Wi-Fi), and coming from a cruise ship cabin helps us deal with small rooms ?. There is more than ample storage in the room, a slew of tiny amenity bottles and the hotel’s location is perfect. I would say that the hotel is better than average, and since nicer hotels are generally much more expensive, it’s a good value. While the service in the restaurant where we had breakfast was pretty poor, the advice and assistance given by the front desk (especially by Plony) was excellent. Its street, the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, was originally a bastion wall on a canal, built to protect the city from invaders. In 1884 the canal was filled and it became a busy with cars sharing space with bicycles and trams and the neighborhood became crowded with commercial printers. Nowadays it is a very busy thoroughfare and you take your life in hand to cross the street.

Our second day at the INK started with an included decent (not the vast array of choices of an Israeli hotel, but everything looking fresh and tasting delicious) breakfast at the hotel. I’d say the only issue with the hotel is that some of the front desk and restaurant personnel don’t seem to have been trained in how to keep customers happy – no big deals, but I guess as a new hotel they’ve hired everyone new rather than transferred experienced workers into many of the positions.

The other hotel on our short list of our original choices was the venerable Kraznapolsky directly on the Dam Square. We had stayed there a number of years ago and the hotel was looking a bit shabby back then, so we opted for the INK (at about the same price). We dropped in and found that the Kraznapolsky has been renovated since it was taken over by the Spanish Hotel company NH and looked great. Maybe next time we’ll try it again.

From a food standpoint, while I’m not overly fond of most Dutch food (which is pretty heavy and resembles German food), I like Indonesian food and the rijsttafel version common here (about a dozen appetizer sized plates of different dishes) is great. We had ours for dinner at a place called “Puri-Mas” on a side street off the Leidsestraat and I think it was a good choice (cost was about 40 euro with drinks, but rijsttafel is almost always overpriced). The dishes are lined up on the table from the blandest to the spiciest (though, by true Indonesian standards, even the spiciest is pretty tame and the style is designed to be palatable by Dutchmen who are merely mortal). This week was the beginning of the herring catch and the marinated raw fish are sold as snacks at a kiosk on Raadhuisstrat, next to the Westerkerk (they were to die for). Despite my attitude towards Dutch cooking in general, I find their split pea soup great, as are their “French Fries” – generally served with mayonnaise in a conical cup (try the ones at Manniquin Pis on Damrak 41, near the Dam Square which commemorates their Belgian origin).

Another excellent Indonesian place goes by the name of Indrapura at Rembrandtplein 42. We decided to order a la carte and ended up with a large platter of lamb chops and a bowl of lamb in curry and coconut milk accompanied by about eight small dishes of vegetables. After tip, this ended up costing about 30€ each (and various rijsttafel versions would cost between 30 and 46€). The food, while tasty, had about ¼ the heat of authentic Indonesian food in Indonesia (still prudence should be practiced, just in case as the spiciness of Indonesian food can be greater than authentic Thai food). Another good Indonesian restaurant is Long Pura at Rozengracht 46, near the Ann Frank Huis.

For those looking for a cheap, but decent vegan lunch near the Dam Square, there’s Moaz at Damrak 40 (also at a couple of other locations). Falafel is 6.50 Euros and a make-it-yourself large salad with falafel is 5.50 Euro.

Tonight we eat at the “de Kas” restaurant (Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3). This place is about a 20 Euro cab ride from the Dam Square, is housed in a greenhouse within a public park. The food is organic, fresh and imaginative. The dinner is fix prix (at 63 Euro for four courses and 71 Euro for five courses) and consisted of some very imaginative dishes (I thought the fish was too “fishy”, but otherwise excellent). The service was a bit spotty as it seemed like we had four or five servers who seemed to come on a semi-random basis. Overall, I’d rate it very good. Other restaurants which were in consideration were d’Vijff Vlieghen (Five Flies), Zaza and Daalder. We had the restaurant call us a cab for the ride back.

We tried to find a table at De Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60), but it was booked and we continued on to Bistrot Neuf (Haarlemmerstraat 9) where we had a very nice meal of steak and monk fish. If you order a gin and tonic, they sell you the gin (different prices for different brands) and then sell you a bottle of tonic water (different prices for different brands) in a fair, but unusual format. Other restaurants in contention tonight were Savini (Italian), Max, Seasons, Plego, Casa di Dano (Italian) and Lieve (Belgian).

It was time to give our legs a rest and we stopped at Broodje Bert (Singl, 321 on the corner of Wolvenstraat) near the Nine Streets”. My wife had a wonderful pair of open-faced goat cheese, walnuts and honey sandwiches and I had a massive a tuna fish sandwich masquerading as a delicious salad plate (at 7 or 8 Euros). The hole-in-the-wall restaurant is serviced by a large family of Turkish immigrants and every dish they produced looked delicious. Omelets are also huge and fried eggs have incredible orange yolks. Tracking this place down again in 2019 (and again in 2022), we were still amazed at the quality, size and value of the portions.

Volendammer Vishandel J.C.M. Koning (Eerste van der Helststraat 60, 1072 NX Amsterdam, https://volendammervishandeljcmkoning.business.site/) is a great place to get a fresh raw herring sandwich as well as other seafood items for an inexpensive, healthy and unusual lunch. Across the street is Laffa (Eerste van der Helststraat 47), an Israeli style food place for lunch.

After exploring this peaceful oasis in the midst of the city, we headed up another string of three of the Negen Straatjes and made a right turn to the Westerkirk (West Church). Alongside the church, there is a stand which sells freshly made herring fillets which have just come into season (one of my favorite street noshes, when seasoned with chopped raw onions and pickles at 3 Euros a portion).

Another favorite for a moderately priced dinner when we are staying near the Central Station or the cruise port is the “Grand Café 1884” at De Ruijterkade 105 (www.grandcafe1884.nl, TEL; 020-8467418). The imaginative dishes are dramatically presented at a neighborhood restaurant’s price.

There is no shortage of good restaurants here.

We had a couple of waffles for snacks on the way back. They don’t make them from batter here, but rather from dough and it seems to make a difference. We picked up 600 grams of Hopjes (a Dutch coffee flavored hard candy my wife is mildly addicted to.

Lively and lascivious, Amsterdam has a unique atmosphere that makes a mockery of the caricature of the ‘conservative Dutch’. Radiating out from Dam Square, the historic center of the city is ringed by quaint canals and cobbled streets, and throngs with bicycles, tourists, houseboats, students and street performers. Amsterdam wears two faces: on one, it smiles and beckons hedonistic youth with its notorious Red Light District and liberal view of marijuana use; while on the other it offers discerning travelers some of Europe’s finest museums and art galleries. While we have a Starbucks on each corner, Amsterdam has unique and iconic coffeehouses instead. These include “brown” cafes which serve coffee and “green” coffee shops which cater to those who want to partake in some marijuana or a pipeful of hashish. We had our breakfast each day (for example a tuna/cucumber/tomato on whole wheat roll, or another with salmon salad instead and a couple of good coffees, all for about 13 euros – much less than the hotel would have charged) at a brown coffee shop on the corner near the hotel.

For the tourist, one of the joys of Amsterdam is its compactness. The old part of town is a pleasure to explore on foot, strolling across ancient bridges and down narrow lanes past gabled houses, and dropping in to browse inviting souvenir boutiques crammed with blue and white Delft china and wooden clogs and tulips. Pavement cafes and cozy bars offer rest and refreshment. An alternative is to take a circular canal-boat cruise and see the city from the water, peering in on the lives of the locals who live on houseboats lining the waterways. When wandering around, expect the unexpected such as the Kalver-Toren flower market on Singel or the Speiglkwartier (Mirror Quarter) antique district along Niew Speigelstraat. (Speaking of mirrors – we found an incredible shop showing hundreds of gilded 18th and 19th century French mirrors by the name of Anouk Beerents at 467 Prinsengracht, www.AnoukBeerents.nl).

We took another of the, now familiar, free three hour walking tours guided by a student organized by Sandeman: (http://www.newamsterdamtours.com/). I find their tours (available in many of the Western world’s cities) to be generally thorough and entertaining. The business proposition is that the tour guide buys each attendee from Sandeman for a couple of€ and tries to make a profit by collecting tips. The tips tend to average 5-15€ a person for a 25 person tour (presumably not reported to the tax man, so these guys can do pretty well for themselves). The tour covers churches, neighborhoods (such as the Red Light District), samples of food, takes about three to four hours and is very comprehensive. The lunch spot the tour guide picked was “La Place” at Kalverstraat 203 which I highly recommend as a reasonably priced cafeteria of all sorts of fresh foods. Another place we’ve eaten lunch at in the past is at the 16th century “Weighing” House at Nieuwmarkt (originally a fortified tower at the end of a jetty in the harbor, then a customs house inland, after the harbor had been filled). There was a large flea market today in its market square.

Another option for a tour is to head to www.hungrybirds.nl and take their popular street food tour.

After lunch, we continued our walk to the hidden entrance to the Begijnhof on Spui (the street name Spui means “filled in canal”) one of the dozens of almshouses hidden in the city (this one is an enclosed compound of about fifty nice homes surrounding a park which are rented out to single women or widows who have an attachment to faith and where the rent is about 100 Euros per month, rather than the 3,000 it would normally cost). This hidden doorway opens into a compound where religious unmarried Catholic women, who did not want to take the vows of a nun, could live in peace in Protestant Amsterdam during the 16th-18th centuries. While the last of the Begijnof women died in 1971, the houses are still rented exclusively to single women.

Over the decades, the art collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia has outgrown its buildings and the museum has opened annexes in various other cities. The Hermitage-Amsterdam is in the Plantage area – home to one of Amsterdam’s botanical gardens and adjacent to Waterlooplein. The building selected to display the collection is the Amstelhof, a former 17th century nursing home and one of the largest buildings in Amsterdam from that period (and which houses exhibits in its own right of the House of Orange, the old kitchens and elegant regentesses’ rooms.

To get from the Amsterdam Cruise Terminal to the Amsterdam-Hermitage, we took the #26 tram to the Central Train Station; buying 24 hour transit passes for 8.00 Euro each aboard. We will have to use these cards at the beginning and end of each leg of our transit journey by placing them on the validation box’s sensor. At the Central Station, we went underground to take the Metro two stops to Waterlooplein Station. The Hermitage is about a block away. Other sights accessible from this station are the Jewish Cultural Center with its museums and synagogues, the Rembrandt House and the large flea market that stretches down the street. (Important note on Tram #26: This tram runs on a circular route. At the Central Station, the stop you get off (currently along the sidewalk in front of the station) at is the same stop you take it from to return to the ship).

The current special exhibit (running from June 18 – Jan 15, 2017) costs 17.50 Euro, including an audio tour (free with the “I Amsterdam” card and 2.50 Euro with the “Amsterdam Museum Card”). The exhibition describes the life of Catherine the Great of Russia by means of hundreds of items selected from the troves of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia – including the fabulous “Great Imperial Crown of the Russian Empire”, studded with diamonds and topped with a ruby the size of a jumbo hen’s egg (a copy I suspect, as no country is likely let a bauble like this outside of its borders).

Catherine’s unbelievable story is of a 14 year old German princess who, through a coup against, and assassination of, her husband, became the most powerful Empress of her time. She ruled Russia for 34 years and modernized it into a superpower. She built her St. Petersburg Hermitage 250 years ago to house her art collection (much of it acquired as payment of a debt from the man who had assembled it for sale to King Frederic of Prussia). Her tale has been portrayed on the silver screen by the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Keira Knightley. Returning in 2019, the exhibit had changed to comparisons between parallel pars of treasured items across the ages – very different exhibit, but no less incredible. (Free Wi-Fi: Hermitage_Public, PW: hermitage).

After leaving (we spent a couple of hours in the Hermitage), we took the tram (either the #9 or the #14 would work) to the Dam Square and walked to the Baroque-style Royal Palace. This large building, which was hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it was completed in 1655, is built on 13,695 pilings sunk into marshy soil. Originally the municipal center of the richest city in the world, it became the residence of Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother who was assigned to rule Holland in the early 19th century. Currently, it is sporadically open to the public, but is otherwise used for State functions and as a royal residence when a member of the ruling family stays in Amsterdam (they generally live in Der Haag). The interior of the externally drab building is lavish on the interior and the museum displays cover the history of the rulers of the Netherlands. The entrance fee of 10 Euros includes an audio tour.

Afterwards, the same #9/#14 tram was taken back to the Central Station and the #26 tram taken back to the pier.

After dinner we went for a walk through the Red Light District. Anyhow, for those of you who are curious, the young ladies (and, yes, a few are men as some have that preference) who work in the red light district rent their window (yes, window shopping is generally, but not always, a manly sport in this neighborhood, and each occupied window has a red fluorescent tube attached to the lintel) for 100€ per eight hour shift – up from 75€ last time we were here (pimps are against the law, as is street solicitation, but some landlords act “pimpish” we were told). The working girls charge 50€ per 15 minutes for their services. They are registered as individual contractors, pay taxes and generally get a health checkup once a week. There are also a number of “clubs” where the costs for the young ladies may be cheaper, but the liquor prices seem to make up the difference. Photography of the ladies is not appreciated. The neighborhood is filled with the display of these entrepreneurs, shops selling sex toys – some of which leave the mind grasping at their purpose, bars, “green coffee shops” (which sell marijuana) and food places.

The local church (the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in the city) found out that sailors would spend all their money in the Red Light District and have nothing left to contribute. The church’s answer was to offer a discount to buying dispensations in advance for sins not yet committed. This way the sailors would donate money to the church before they ran out of funds playing with the young ladies.

Amsterdam is a very tolerant place. As long as you spend money here and don’t hurt anyone, you can pretty much do almost anything. The city is packed with hundreds of thousands of transients (and the subset called tourists). Most are young (teens and twenty’s), many are drunk or on drugs and most seem to be slobs. The city has a massive campaign of street-cleaning going on, but it’s like shoveling against the tide and the central city is pretty filthy, noisy, crowded, risqué and crude. Dangerous as well as the various illegal maneuvers of cabs, the right of way of literally over a million bicycles and the charging of bell ringing trams can make crossing the street take on the flavor of crossing no-man’s land between trenches. That said, it is a quaint and beautiful city crisscrossed by antique canals and bridges, plagued by these problems only because the people are so tolerant.

The city of Amsterdam has always had strong ties to the water. Spread out over 70 islands, this wonderful cosmopolitan city boasts 60 miles of canals. As early as the 13th century, small ships would set sail from this port into the challenging Zuider Sea. However, it wasn’t until the 15th century that Amsterdam gained fame when it became a major trading center. This is the place where the modern corporation as well as the stock exchange was invented. The old Dutch East India company headquarters where the idea of selling shares in an enterprise was first cooked up is now a business school.

It was also the place where tulip bulbs, imported from Turkey, first rose to stratospheric prices and then plunged as the bubble burst, taking many fortunes down with them and providing MBA programs with something to talk about until this day.

While spoken Dutch is difficult to understand (for me, at least), it’s frequently possible to decipher words in written Dutch as it is like poorly spelt English. The same is sometimes true of most Germanic and Scandinavian languages.

There are 165 canals spanned by 1,281 bridges in Amsterdam, the city is built on 11,000,000 15-20 meter long wooden pilings (an average of 10 per house, (but the Central Station is supported by nearly 9,000 houten palen), the airport is 4 meters below sea level and there are 1,515 bars and cafes. There are about 881,000 bicycles (in the city with a population of 799,400) of which about 100,000 are stolen each year and another 25,000 are thrown into the canals each year and about 8,000 pulled out to be refurbished and resold. This explains the number of bikes which look like they are worth 10 euros, secured with locks and chains which cost 100 Euros. The city attracts about 20,000,000 tourists per year, or about 20 times as many tourists as residents.

The canals of Amsterdam are incredibly beautiful and there’s nothing like seeing the city from a boat. You could book one of the big canal boat tours you see around the city or a “hop on/off one or you can hire a private boat tour for less (complete with guide) around the Red Light District. Or you can rent a foot powered peddle boat and drive yourself around. Another view of the water can be had by boarding one of the free ferries located behind the main train station. We took the far left-hand one to IJPlein which gives you a 15 minute run through the harbor (and another back – stay on the boat as they run every half hour and you’ll end up waiting – ask me how I know?. There is a cafe’ by the name of Wilhelmina Dok nearby with a deck facing the cruise terminal. It’s a great place to sit and have a cup of coffee and a brownie. There’s not much to see at the other end (well, unless you find a graffiti covered submarine interesting like I did), but the harbor is littered with tall ships, antique steam vessels of all sort and assorted other unexpected naval paraphernalia.

Amsterdam, as a city, was shaped by the damming of the Amstel River (hence its name) and the pursuit of its most labor intensive project – the re-routing of the river into a series of semi-circular canals linked (like a half bicycle tire) with a series of spokes. It is these canals which allowed easy transport of goods to bring the city to its apex in the 17th century. Every house along the canal has a boom with a hook for a hoist sticking out from their roofs (which are still used to lift large objects into the windows of the various floors). The Dutch have always shown a great deal of tolerance for religions, ideas, drugs or whatever – just as long as each group brought money to the table and increased the general prosperity.

While the majority of the population is still characterized by the tall, blonde and blue eyed Dutch, a large portion of the population consists of Indonesians (which run the ethnic gamut from Malay to Chinese), north Africans and sub-Saharan blacks.

Amsterdam, as a city, was shaped by the damming of the Amstel River (hence its name) and the pursuit of its most labor intensive project – the re-routing of the river into a series of semi-circular canals linked (like a half bicycle tire) with a series of spokes. It is these canals which allowed easy transport of goods to bring the city to its apex in the 17th century. Every house along the canal has a boom with a hook for a hoist sticking out from its roof (which is still used to lift large objects into the windows of the various floors). The Dutch have always shown a great deal of tolerance for religions, ideas, drugs or whatever – just as long as each group brought money to the table and increased the general prosperity.

Historically, Holland was finally humbled by the ganging up of her enemies – who included just about everyone as they had not only out-traded everyone else, but had a tendency to use their superior numbers of ships in a way that was indistinguishable from state sponsored piracy. They got involved in a triangle trade for slaves and ended up swapping New Amsterdam for Surinam (apples for eggs?) with the British. Anyhow, we all thank them for their legacy of inventing tradable corporate shares and the wealth generated four hundred years ago is still evident.

The Dutch are also known for building their own country (hence their name of The Netherlands or Low Lands). The method used by the Dutch to build new land involved building a ring of dikes in the ocean adjacent to land and then pumping the water of the “swimming pool” created (originally using windmills) leaving a dry below sea level area called a “polder”. It is said that some of these are haunted by ghosts known in Dutch as poltergeists. Anyway, more than half of the Netherlands have been “manufactured” this way. Amsterdam is built on marshy land which has been reinforced by forests of wooden pilings which have been hammered into the mud hundreds of years ago (and many buildings are tilted outwards or to the side showing that that foundation scheme is showing wear and tear over the centuries).

Historically, Holland was finally humbled by the ganging up of their enemies – who included just about everyone as they had not only out-traded everyone else, but had a tendency to use their superior numbers of ships in a way that was indistinguishable from state sponsored piracy. They got involved in a triangle trade for slaves and ended up swapping New Amsterdam for Surinam (apples for eggs?) with the British. Anyhow, we all thank them for their legacy of inventing tradable corporate shares and the wealth generated four hundred years ago is still evident.

Holland has the highest per capita ownership of bicycles in the world (there are supposed to be more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people). You can’t believe how many there are until you look at the tens of thousands of them at the parking lot near the ferry. Apparently theft is a big problem as the locks and chains used to secure them look like they are worth more than the bikes. It is said that the canals are six meters deep. The first two meters is mud, the top two is water and the in-between two consists of bicycles. Every year, about 20,000 bikes are pulled from the canals, cleaned up and sold at auction for 5-10 euros and many (most) of the bikes on the street seem like they have been cycled through the canals at least once. Stealing and re-stealing of bikes is apparently some sort of sport and bikes are chained to any object or fence that hasn’t moved in the past hour. Crossing the street in Amsterdam is not a source of terror because of cars (though these seem to back down streets as often as going forward, at least they are careful), or the multitude of trams (though while getting hit by one of these would be a show stopper, at least they are predicable), but what makes the hair stand up on my head are the swarm of silent two wheel killers whose large (the Dutch, on average, are the tallest of any European nation with an average male height of about 5’ 10” (1.78 - meters - and the women not far behind) pilots are too busy taking on a cell phone to control their bike effectively with their other hand and whose brakes are probably non-existent because of spending a few months under water.

For those who are early birds (we opted out this time around), there is the daily flower auction in Aalsmere. I highly recommend this to anyone who can get up this early without becoming homicidal. The bus from Amsterdam Central Station leaves at about 6:30 and the current price is about 3.50 Euros per person each way. Entrance to the Flower Auction is currently 5 Euros. 7 Billion cut flowers and 150 million plants pass through the facility each year and the self-guided tour is extremely well done. Photography is definitely allowed. There is also currently a once per decade flower show going on elsewhere in Holland, but it would take too much time out of our short stay, so again we will be missing it.

The easiest way to get to the Museumplein from Schiphol Airport, or one of its hotels is by using the #397 bus (from airport bus stop B17, but tickets must first be purchased from the red transit ticket van in front of the main terminal – 11.50 Euro, round trip or 6 Euro one way). This is faster and cheaper than going into town by train to the Central Station and taking the 2 or 5 tram back to the museums).

The Rijksmuseum is located right next to the Van Gogh Museum (and is my personal favorite).
There was no queue. The price is 17 Euro per person (if you are going to hit a number of museums, then buy the 55 Euro Museumkart which gets you in free to all of them for a year – but it won’t get you ahead of the line at the Anne Frank Museum). The building is vast and dates to the 17t

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