|Thalys high speed trains in the background|
I was getting kind of sad that our trip was almost coming to an end but really excited to see Amsterdam. We were off dragging our luggage through the city streets again but our hotel was fairly close to the metro so it wasn't that bad AND thankfully there was no rain. We boarded a 12:20 pm Thalys high speed train for a 3 hour train ride from Paris Nord to Amsterdam Central station. We booked this in advance because it was very essential to our trip itinerary and on these high speed trains you actually buy tickets AND reservations where seats are pre assigned. Mj booked us in 1st class Comfort. It was a little more expensive but it might be my only chance to ride in 1st class anything so that was cool. Train rides are so much simpler then airplane travel. You just get on and it's a smooth ride. The seats were wide and roomy with a really nice recline. In 1st class you get WI-Fi, food AND free wine. The meal was a little strange because it was all cold. It was Chicken Pate, Salad, Grapes, Potatoes and Cous Cous and carrot salad and bread. They came around again a couple stops later and offered us another snack which I happily accepted.
|I think this was my favorite hotel room|
We arrived at Amsterdam Central and it was only about a 5 minute walk to Westcord City Centre Hotel. The cobblestones were outta control even more so then any other city so it was a little bit harder to wheel our luggage but we made it just fine. We checked into our 4th hotel of the trip and once again I was very pleased. Clean, modern and a great location. It even had a fully enclosed shower!!! Then we set out to explore another new city. Mj was feeling congested so we stopped at a Pharmacy and he was able to buy stuff that would normally require a prescription right over the counter pretty cheaply so that was good. And yes, we did smell the odor of marijuana throughout the city now and then.
|Anne Frank House the next day; long line|
We'd heard that the line for the Anne Frank house gets really long so we went over there to see if we could go in that night or buy advance tickets for the next day. They didn't close until 7pm so had time to go in right then and there was no line. Tickets were 9 € Euro each. They didn't allow cameras. It was pretty cool to see the actual area where they were all hiding out. All the original furniture was removed but they had replicas set up of how it looked. There were pictures, videos and her actual diary was there. It's a good thing we got in there because the next day there was a long line.
|Top left: Windows where they ladies wait for business. Right in the heart of the district at night|
|The Red light District is actually Post Card Pretty|
I have to admit I was pretty interested in seeing what the Red Light district was like. I'd heard about women in shop windows basically for sale and that's exactly what it was like. And the "red light" part of the name is for real. There is a red light above each window and throughout the area there are red lights on short posts. The women are inside wearing lingerie and waiting for business. Some were on their cell phones and others are standing inside the window looking out. I tried not to stare too hard. There is a no camera symbol on the window but it would have been rude to take unsolicited pictures of women in underwear anyways. I took the pictures of the windows they stand in above the next day. The area didn't feel as scary and seedy as I thought it would. Maybe because everything in Amsterdam is so darn cute. There are a lot more small, dark and dank looking pubs and bars in that area and it's where the strip clubs are but for the most part it looked just like any other part of the city.
|Out to dinner|
After that we headed out of the red light district to find a place to eat. There are a lot of Argentinean restaurants in Amsterdam (and Chinese massage Parlors too for that matter) and Mj picked one called Le Pot Au Fe for us to eat because he was in the mood for Steak. I wasn't that thrilled with the menu so I ordered steak fries and garlic bread and it was really good.
|on the canal :: there are bikes everywhere you look in Amsterdam|
|Dutch Pancakes for breakfast|
The next morning we took our time getting up and stayed in our hotel pretty much right up until check out. We left our baggage at the hotel and went for Breakfast. Mj wanted Dutch Pancakes. He found this adorable tiny little restaurant for us to eat at. Dutch pancakes are thinner, bigger and crispier then American Pancakes. They were so good. I ordered dutch style with Bacon baked in and Mj ordered one with Lemon and Powdered Sugar on top. His didn't even need Syrup it had so much flavor.
|Enjoying Vondel Park|
|Exploring Vondel Park|
Amsterdam is so quaint and so beautiful! there are people on bikes everywhere. It's the #1 mode of transportation there. People cart their kids, dogs and everything else along with them on their bikes so we saw all kinds of extra seating and giant baskets and boxes attached to bikes. After that we spent hours walking around Vondel Park. This park is beautiful and huge. The sun was shining although it did dip behind the clouds as the day wore on but I think we really caught a break that we didn't get rain.
|In the Sex Museum|
|Homes on the canal|
After that we went to the Sex Museum. This was Mj's pick! What can I say? It was only 4 € and we were in Amsterdam so what the hell. It was pretty interesting. It was my turn to pick a restaurant which took forever because I'm really bad at that. I can never decide. I found us a very Dutch restaurant called De Vergulde Lantaarn and like everything else we'd eaten in Europe it was really good. I got a Ham Tosti which is basically like a ham and cheese grilled panini and Mj got Schnitzel. We split another bottle of wine. In case you lost count that's SIX bottles of wine not counting the one we had on ship! We were only in Amsterdam for 1 night but we got there early and left late so it was plenty of time.
|Back to the train station to wait for our night train to Stuttgart|
|CNL Night Train :: Bunks on the left sink on the right|
After that we were on the move again for our final long train ride. The City Night Line sleeper train left out of Amsterdam Central at 8:30pm and we'd arrive in Stuttgart at 4:17am. The train pulled up, we showed the conductor our tickets and went inside. It's so tiny!! Tinier then I even expected but it's functional if you want to rest while traveling unlike on an airplane. We prepared by having our toiletries and clothes for the next day near the top of our luggage because we knew we wouldn't have much space to work with. It took some organizing but we finally got our luggage wedged up onto the top bunk and I went to take a shower down at the end of the hall. It's a public shower and it's kind of like taking a shower in an airplane bathroom. I'm very finicky about these things so I wore flip flops and that worked out fine. It was even harder taking a shower on the train then on a ship. I got bumped into the wall several times. In retrospect we probably should have opened up the 3rd bunk up top and put our luggage there so Mj and I could each have our own bunk. We were literally sleeping on top of each other. We managed, but we probably would have been more comfortable in our own. I had to wake up once in the middle of the night to use the bathroom which is no easy feat. It's pitch black and I had to climb over Mj. The train ride went really quick. We got our wake up call and then got up to get dressed. The train guy gave us take away boxes for breakfast and coffee for me. For our own car it was 269 € which is $299 USD....ugh everything just sounds so much better in Euro's doesn't it? We had to fly out of Stuttgart because that's where Mj originated from on his Military orders making Amsterdam quite a bit out of our way so traveling overnight was the best way to fit it into our trip and make an early morning flight out. It was worth it though and I'm glad we did. We got off the train and then went to wait for the metro that would take us to the Stuttgart Airport. We were both out of Euros so Mj went to the ATM and bought our tickets which were only 3,50 € each.
We were so early to the airport that United hadn't even set up their ticket area yet so we couldn't even find the area to check in. We were told where they would be and about an hour later they started setting up their signs and ticket counter. Our flight left at 9:30am. It would be a long 9 hours. I watched 3 movies and Mj watched 5! We had a hot meal of beef and potatoes not too long after boarding and then we were offered a hot sandwich for a snack a couple hours before we landed. We had a layover in Newark and then it was 5 hours 45 minutes until we got home. Our plane left at 9:30am Europe time on Thursday and we got home at about 5:30pm Pacific time the same day. You technically gain time coming back from Europe but in real hours the travel time by plane with layovers was 24 actual hours. If you count the 8 hour train ride overnight that was a total of 32 hours of traveling by the time we got home!!!
Even though we did so much on this trip I didn't feel as worn out as I thought I would when we got back. 10 cities in 15 days (13 if you count the tiny port towns that we just caught trains out of) is a lot! When I look back I still can't believe how much we did. It's fast paced. You really have to be willing and ready to go, go, go and we both were. I don't know when we'll be back so it made sense to me that if we are going to go to Europe we should fit in as much as we could. We got back on Thursday, had a nice break and then went back to work on Monday. I swear; I seriously couldn't believe that I had a job. It was like, what? I have to work? That's what traipsing around and eating your way through Europe for two weeks can do to you. What an awesome, amazing, fun, exciting, exhausting, relaxing whirlwind of a vacation! I loved experiencing so many new adventures with Mj. We were together every single minute of every single day and it was great. It was worth every single penny. I will never ever forget how much fun we had together and all the amazing things we got to see and do. I definitely have wanderlust now. Right now I feel like traveling anywhere else is going to feel like a let down but I'm sure that will fade. I don't know when we'll go back but I am certain that we will. Too bad I can't wait!!