Belated Post from June 26/27

I began my final morning feeling pretty well rested, and the sun was shining beautifully, so I decided to go out for one last stroll. There was an area that I had passed on the tram several times but had not explored, so I decided to take the 18 min ride there. I walked around for about 45 min, took some photos, and took the tram back to the hotel.

Amazing Breakfast!!!

Bloemenmarkt (I assume this translates to “flower market”

I did not eat any of these baked goods. They were just so pretty

Just Amsterdam Amsterdaming

Fortunately, check-out was noon, so I just relaxed until about 11:45. I took the public transportation to the airport, which was super easy. The walk to the train station was 7 minutes, I bought a ticket, and then I was on the very comfy train. The ride was only about 10 minutes. I got to the proper terminal and through security easily, and I found my airport lounge, where I hung out for about 4 hours. I’m thinking ahead to my coming week, so I thought it best to just rest. They had a lovely lunch buffet with salads, pumpkin soup, and a couscous dish. I found a seat, had my lunch, did some things online, and took a short nap.

My new hobby is airport lounges. They’re all different, and this one was quite fancy.

I got to the gate for my KLM flight and asked if I could use the priority boarding lane since I’m always in Zone 1 with Delta. I wouldn’t care about that, but I was thinking of overhead space for my bag since I would need to get off the plane as quickly as possible. I was preparing for getting to the theatre to see Audra McDonald in “Lady Day.” The flight was delayed a few minutes. That wasn’t so bad, but then we taxied for what seemed like 30 minutes. I thought we were driving to London! Finally we took off. The flight was very brief, but they served a beverage, and sandwich, and a cookie faster than I’ve ever seen. As we were flying over England, we seemed to really slow down, and we had to circle London a bit before landing. That delayed us even more. I got off the plane very quickly, walked past everyone, and ran to border patrol. I couldn’t believe the line. It appeared that an entire Asian country had just arrived in London. I asked if there was any way to get through more quickly, and I was told that I could apply for a frequent traveler thing with the UK. I’ll think about that. I wonder if they would have helped me if I had explained my situation?? Oh well, the line moved constantly, and I was through it in a reasonable amount of time. I then started running again to Heathrow Express, which is supposed to get you to Paddington Station in central London in 15 minutes. I forgot that if you were at terminal 4, where I arrived, you had to take another train before you can get on the Heathrow Express. There was a 15 min wait for that train. It finally came and got me to the Heathrow Express that was departing at 7:03. The show was at 7:45, and I almost didn’t even get on the train since I also had to take a 20 min tube ride to Leicester Square and then walk to the theatre. I got on anyway, and we got to London at around 7:20 or later. I ran like a crazy person through Paddington Station and don’t even remember seeing the station. I had my Oyster Card (London’s subway card) in my hand and tried to enter, but didn’t have enough credit for the ride. There was a free machine, so I went to reload. My first three attempts at using my credit card didn’t work, but I finally got it to work, ran down the escalators, made it to the platform, and the train came right away. It moved pretty quickly to the station I needed, and I again ran out of the station. I wasn’t sure which exit to take, so I just chose one, which was a horrible choice. I ended up in the bottom of a souvenir shop and had to find my way out. Finally, I found my way to the exit and made sure (with my phone) that I was going in the right direction. That was not easy on the uneven, brick sidewalks of London. I had to stop and walk a few times to regroup. Also, it was pretty a pretty warm night in London, so I was really working up a sweat. Finally, I saw the theatre in sight, and I ran across traffic to get there right at 7:44. I had read that there was no late seating for people sitting on stage, so this caused more stress. Security at the door needed to inspect my bags, I had to pick up my ticket, check my bags at the cloakroom, and be escorted to my seat. The man who appeared to be the house manager was rushing me along, understandably. Finally, I was in my seat onstage, a hot, sweaty, shaking mess, and I was sitting with a lovely Canadian family. I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves, fanned myself with my ticket, and enjoyed the music that the combo was playing. I really needed some water, but there was no way to get it. The band played a few numbers before welcoming us to “the club” in Philly. Audra McDonald (Billy Holiday) came on stage, holding a drink. I have not read a synopsis (programs were £4, and I didn’t have any cash), but I believe this show happens at the end of Billy Holiday’s career when she was a heroine addict and an alcoholic, etc. I also assume that this was just supposed to be what one of her shows would have been like. She talked a lot about different things in her life. Sometimes the pianist would try to get her to sing a song. Sometimes she wouldn’t want to sing the song. As the show progressed, her condition deteriorated. She was drinking a lot, could hardly walk, would get emotional about certain stories, and at one point, she left the stage. She came back with a small dog but could hardly walk. From my vantage point, I sometimes was making eye contact with her, but sometimes I was watching her from behind. As the show ended, I was watching from behind, and I’m not quite sure what happened. She was singing a song, and the song continued, but she sort of stopped singing. I’ll have to watch the HBO special to see it all from the front. Then it was over. She bowed, I said “brava” as she walked by me, and I went to collect my bags. I told the person there that I was the crazy person who made it at the last minute. She said that she remembered me, but she had a bit of trouble finding my bags. I got them, though, and I stood outside the front of the theatre. It was much cooler, which was great, and I wondered whether she and the cast would come out to talk to the crowd. I didn’t see the stage door, so eventually I decided to walk around the theatre to see if I could find it. I made one left turn and didn’t see anything. Then I turned again, and saw it with a rather small line of people waiting! I was the last person in line, but when Audra came out, she came right to me (the last shall be first). I had met her once before about 17 years ago, so I wasn’t exactly star-struck. I told her how I had sent her a tweet to tell her that I was trying to make it from Heathrow and how I was a hot, sweaty mess after running through London to get there. She laughed at my story, thanked me for coming, and took a quick photo with me. That was certainly the icing on the cake. Of course, I desperately wanted to see her perform this role, but also I wanted to make use of the ticket that I had paid for, almost equally. She is a wonderful singer and actress, and it was inspiring to see her do this. The show was better than I expected, as I forgot that I was watching Audra McDonald on stage several times. I always say that things work out. This time I didn’t even fully believe that they would work out for me to make it on time, but that belief was certainly reaffirmed from this experience. Actually things more than worked out since I had the chance to meet Audra and take a photo!

From my seat on the stage

I figured, even if I don’t get a pic with her, I’ll have this…
Then I decided to walk around back and found this!
She’s so lovely

I eventually made my way to the tube, which was also a bit of a nightmare. It was hot in the station, and there were delays on the crowded station. Also, I had to go all the way back to the airport. I had booked a hotel room there since I would have to be at the airport at around 7 am for my 9:05 flight to JFK. I finally arrived at my hotel at around midnight, after a long train ride and a bus ride. Going to sleep wasn’t easy, and I didn’t sleep very soundly, after the drama and excitement of the evening. You only live once, though, and I would have plenty of napping opportunities on my two flights home.

My somewhat fancy, old-school hotel. The presidential suite was on my floor, but my key didn’t open it.

I woke up at around 5:15, had an instant coffee that was supplied in my room, got ready, and went to check out. I took the public transport bus to the airport, which was a quick, easy ride.

Bus to the airport

Then I found my terminal and breezed through security. TSA Pre-check definitely worked for me this time. I didn’t actually even show my passport to anyone until I got to my gate. Again, I found the airport lounge and hung out with a bit of coffee and breakfast until 8:05, when my gate was announced. I walked the rather long walk there, and I was able to walk right onto the plane. I was one of the earlier people onboard, so I had time to get myself situated in a comfortable way. We actually took off right on time, which was wonderful and boded very well for my change of flights in NYC.

At JFK, I found my airport lounge, had a snack/light lunch, and relaxed until my final flight home. While there, I made a reservation with Enterprise for a cargo van for cleaning out my house in Demorest (more on that soon). The flight to Atlanta was right on time, and I took an Uber home. The Uber driver was pretty rude but got me home quickly. I dropped my things at home and drove to Enterprise to get the cargo van before they closed at 6 pm. I then got a quick bite for dinner at Tin Drum and drove to Demorest to spend the night. When I got there, I put a few things in the van but decided to inflate the air mattress and go to bed around 9:30. I had a decent night’s sleep and got up the next morning around 6:00 to completely empty the house. I had the van returned to Enterprise in Atlanta by 11:30. Then I finally took a shower, had some lunch, and got ready for a choral gig at GA State at 1:30, which I would be doing the rest of the week. No rest for the weary!

Empty house ready for new owners!

As I’m sure you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. I didn’t just write about the good stuff. It was almost all good stuff, and I’d happily do any of it again!

Day 12: Just look at the pretty pictures

This is the time late in my trip that I don’t feel like writing about every detail, and you might not feel like reading them either. 🙂 I’m going to post a bunch of photos and make comments when needed. It was a good, full day of squeezing in as much as possible in a sort period of time. The main thing is that I absolutely love this city and the people here, and I definitely need to return to explore more of the city and the rest of the country!

The morning. A stroll through Vondelpark and The Van Gogh Museum:

The Heineken Experience. Like Guinness in Ireland, Heineken is very important to Amsterdam. They did a lot to build the city and make it what it is today.

Lunch at a place recommended by someone at my hotel. It is a place where locals go to hang out. They don’t even have English on their menu, and I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I loved it!!

I read that the Dutch love this thing called “gezellig.” It is sort of just hanging out in a cozy, warm place, and I think this place is very typical of that.

Friends waiting to surprise someone for a baby shower
My table
Salad with quinoa, beets, and feta. It was delicious!!

A few other things from the walk before or after lunch:

Really interesting architecture!
People boarding a river cruise. #goals

I had free admission to The Eye Film Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they happened to have a huge Martin Scorsese exhibit. Kind of odd to see that in Amsterdam, but it was very interesting. Scorsese was definitely involved in putting this together, since many of the things are just his personal belongings:

The museum is the oddly shaped building on the left
The family’s dining room table from Little Italy
Dress from The Aviator
Boxing Shorts & Gloves from “Raging Bull”
Some of Scorsese’s record collection
On the ferry from The Eye, going back to Centraal
Really famous ice cream place. It was time for a snack. Only 1 Euro for a small cone!
It was described as “unbelievably good vanilla ice cream.” It was good, but I thought it was sort of like Chic-fil-A’s Ice Dream or Dairy Queen Ice Cream.
Last stop before nap time
There are hooks at the tops of gables for hoisting things up to the top floors!
Pigeons near my hotel

I was overdue for a nap, so I returned to the hotel. I wasn’t sure where to go for dinner, but I remembered that Amsterdam has a pretty new Food Hall. Just like I am a sucker for a rooftop, I am a sucker for a food hall (Ponce City Market & Krog St Market!). My hotel friend confirmed that it would be a good place to go, so that’s what I did! After that, I decided to take a canal cruise, which was for free with my iamsterdam card. Finally, before going home for the night, I got some fries. Fries with mayo are a big thing here, so I needed to have some. I actually walked about a mile to find a place that was supposed to be the best, but they had closed at 5:00 (I was there at 10:00). Oh well…

A few more pictures from my evening:

The house boats were amazing!

Day 11: Hamburg to Amsterdam

Today I woke up around 6am and got ready to leave for my 9:45 train from the Hamburg Hauptbanhof to Amsterdam Centraal. Re-packing my suitcase is a pain because of the way I pack, but it works. Basically I pack my clothes like a burrito. They’re very compact and have minimal wrinkles. I had four water bottles to return to the grocery store, which got me 90 cents back, so I got a salad and a bottle of water for the train ride. The weather was a bit misty, so I decided to take the metro to the train station. Again, I wasn’t quite sue which platform to go to, but it wasn’t too much trouble to figure it out. The train route oddly went sort of around Hamburg with only one stop between HafenCity and Hauptbanhof, but it only took about 10 minutes. I was the only person in my car, so I sang a bit along the way. In addition to keeping my body in shape while I travel, the other thing that concerns me is my voice. It is certainly well-rested when I travel, but I need to vocalize occasionally when I am in a place where I won’t bother anyone. I was pleasantly surprised at what came out at 8:30 in the morning after a few days without singing.

There was an exit at both ends of the train platform, and neither one said where I needed to go. I just chose one, and when I got to the exit, I was outside and across the street from the train station. I’m not sure if I could have done better but at least I got a nice photo of the station. It’s a nice looking station, although it’s kind of dark. Once I got inside, it was pretty easy to figure out where to go. My train was to leave from platform 14 at 9:46, and there was another train scheduled to leave at 9:24, so I had some time to kill. I went to one of the shops in the station and bought a pre-lunch snack for the train ride.

I had bought a first class ticket, and I found out that I needed to go to the far end of the platform to be in the right place when the train arrived. There was a Spanish or Italian group next to me who asked if I spoke English, and we all confirmed that we were basically in the right place for the train to Osnabrück. We would have to change trains there for the rest of the journey to Amsterdam. When the train arrived, we boarded, and I found my compartment pretty easily. the compartment has six seats, three facing forward and three facing back, with a table in the middle. It’s very nice and comfortable. A family, who appeared to be French Canadian joined me in my compartment. I gathered this because they were speaking French that didn’t quite sound French, and they had maple leaves on their luggage tags. I wasn’t away enough to attempt conversation. I typed the previous day’s blog, had my snack, and went took a lovely nap. As we approached Osnabrück, they started to seem a bit worried that we were about to stop, but they weren’t sure if we were at the right station. The older man asked in German if I was going to the same place, so I said, “Yeah, I’m American.” We all sort of laughed and then had a nice conversation about where we were from, where we’d been, and where we were going. We finally arrived at the station and sort of walked together to the correct platform for our connecting train. We waited together until we boarded the train, and then they were in a different compartment. Since it was about noon, I had my lunch of a Greek salad, which was pretty tasty and healthy. I got a cappucino from the food car, but I still fell asleep again–not a problem. As I awoke, we were soon in the Netherlands. The conductor came on over the loudspeaker and welcomed us. The landscape and architecture changed, as well as the language of the conductor. I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually heard someone speak Dutch, but it sounds more like the Swedish chef than German, which surprised me.

Things I noticed are huge, double-decker bike racks at the train stations, canals, and lovely gardens. The landscape was also more flat, as one would expect.We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal at 3:00, and with a bit of trial & error, I figured out where to go and what to do. I tried the ticket machine for public transportation, but it wouldn’t work for me. I gave up and walked outside. Then I spotted the iamsterdam booth. The iamsterdam card is the sort of thing that gets you public transportation and entry to a bunch of museums for one price. Someone had suggested it, so I bought one for two days. I then found that the tram I needed to take to my hotel was just outside, so I went to the stop and get on. It was about a 30 minute ride to the hotel, and then a 5 minute walk. I checked in and went to my room, which was very nice, especially the strawberries and chocolates left for someone. Maybe I should have called the front desk, but I didn’t. I just hope Mr. & Mrs. May got their welcoming gift.

I had made a reservation for a place called Ron Gastrobar for dinner at 6:00. I read in more than one place that it was a great place to go. The chef has some sort of recognition by Michelin, and everything is 15 Euros or less, or something like that. It was a 20 minute walk there, and I got there right on time. Rather than explaining every detail, I will just say that the service was fantastic. The server was so friendly and guided me through each thing I ordered. I was there for 2.5 hours and had no idea that much time had passed. All of the food was interesting, creative, and delicious. The thing that really blew my mind was the dessert! This is what I had:

Pickled onions, caramelized butter with bread

Squid ceviche with passion fruit 

Halibut with curry and apple & chicory tarte tatin

Pan fried goose liver with apples, rhubarb, and Madeira 

Coconut with black pearl caviar and white chocolate foam

I had also read about the Sky Lounge near the Centraal station, so I worked my way back there for a great view of the city.

And a few more pics as I was on the way back to the hotel: The busy, touristy shopping area

some of the famous “red lights”
One of the main town squares
Canal near my hotel