Monday, August 20, 2012

"I will call the police! And the Army!"

The past week-and-a-half has been a complete whirlwind. Friends from back home were here for six days and we went to Amsterdam, Valkenburg, Maastricht, Cologne, Brussels, Aachen, Tongeren, and, it seems, everywhere in between.

First stop: Amsterdam. My friends arrived early Friday morning in Dusseldorf. After a brief nap we took the train to Amsterdam. When the conductor came by to check our tickets, he raised an eyebrow as he handed mine back to me and said, "Amsterdaaaaaam." He repeated the gesture with my friends' tickets and as he continued down the aisle he laughed heartily and exclaimed, "Three wild women going to Amsterdam for the weekend! I will call the police! And the Army!" I thought that was a really good beginning for our weekend.

Our hotel was the Botel on the Amstel River. Since there were three of us, we had to find a triple room at a price that wasn't going to bust our wallets. The Botel was the best option and I thought it would be interesting to stay in the floating hotel. Interesting isn't quite the word I would use to describe it in retrospect.

Bunk beds in the Botel.
First of all, we took the wrong ferry across the river and ended up really far away from the Botel. After walking around aimlessly for a few minutes we asked a kind passerby for help and he directed us back over the river to another ferry. Once we were on the correct ferry, a 10-minute ride across the murky river brought us to the Botel. Emblazoned upon its side was a large banner advertising the cheap rooms ("Free TV!"). We checked into our room and were surprised to see bunk beds... I got the one on top. The bathroom was the same size as the one you'd find in a small motorhome. Showers were spent dodging the alternating scalding hot and frigid bursts of water from the shower as you desperately tried to keep the dingy shower curtain from rubbing up against your body.

But who goes to Amsterdam to spend the entire time in the hotel anyway? All we did was sleep there and it actually wasn't too bad (aside from heat and humidity inside the room and being kept awake all night by the desperate cries of swans outside the cabin window).

We missed our dinner reservation for Friday night because of the ferry debacle but we ended up at a nice place that served excellent fondue and decent wine. We called it in early so we could begin Saturday bright and early.

The last time I saw Amsterdam was in the winter and I thought it was beautiful then but it was magnificent in the summer sun. All of the outdoor cafes were open and boats filled with people sipping wine and eating cheese floated on the canals. It was truly lovely.

This was my third time at the Anne Frank House. While I do think it's an important stop for anyone visiting Amsterdam the first time, I don't think it's necessary to see it more than once. And especially not three times in nine months. August was much more crowded than back during winter and as we weaved our way around inside I found myself wanting to snap my fingers and hurry people along as I shouted, "Yep, there's the bookcase. Here's the kitchen. This was her room. Keep it moving." Next time I'm entertaining friends from back home, I think I'll sit it out and wait at a cafe.

We spent lots of time walking around the city and stopping for photos of the scenery. Lunch was eaten beside one of the canals and we also took a stroll through the Red Light District (during the afternoon) and window-shopped in the Jordaan neighborhood.

We happened upon an amazing tapas place called Manzano and that's where we settled for dinner. The courtyard was charming and the price was right for two liters of sangria, six or seven tapas, and a huge dessert tray we shared. We also threw in some mojitos for good measure. It was a little off the beaten path but definitely worth the walk.

After some Belgian beers at another cafe, we retired to our floating hotel with full bellies and slightly dizzy heads. Those two attributes made it a little easier to fall asleep to the swaying of the river and the  squawking of the swans.

We left early Sunday morning and spent the rest of the day relaxing at home, planning our itinerary for the rest of the week.

Monday's destination was Aachen. It's a quick drive from here and we spent a pleasant day walking around the town and admiring its beautiful cathedral (still one of my all-time favorites). Dinner was closer to home, in Sittard.

We were only on Day 4 with much more ahead, but I'll leave those adventures for next time!

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