Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan
The Eurospoor 2003 AdventureZ
Report #2: On the road to Eurospoor! Saturday, October 11, 2003, 2003Saturday, October 11, 2003
- This was the first breakfast at Maes B&B. It was a rather intimidating climb to the third floor to join the Sutfins at the smallish breakfast table. Our host, Vlad, was busy stacking cold cuts, cheeses, jams, croissants, juices and sundry other items on the table. Of course, after such an adrenaline-generating climb, our first priority was a cup of French-press coffee. Vlad's coffee was very popular between the three of us and Vlad shared the secret of his fine brew. You have to use coarse ground coffee in the press. Espresso grind is too fine. Well, there you have it, the secret is out.
Helen had already put together an itinerary for our first full day together in Amsterdam. After breakfast, we took in the local market which was located about two canals further up Herenstraat and a couple of street corners over. We arrived just as the last stands were being set up. The first thing one notices about a community market is that they tend to look the same no matter what the continent. There is always a bakery present, a flower shop, knitted clothing, crafts, used appliances and tools, second-hand books, cassettes, tapes and CDs etc. What made this market special for us was the large assortment of cheeses (naturally) and sausages. There was also a sculptor who had placed a man-sized creation that looked like it had been made for a Star Wars movie set. Terry and Helen posed for a photo with the creature and it's daddy. As we were making the turn to head on to our next attraction, we were serenaded by the sweet sounds of a classical trio, dressed in 18th century attire. The music was very well played and the quaintness of the sight made for a great picture opportunity.
At our return to base camp, Jean-Philippe was waiting for us following an all-nighter at work then the flight over from London. He was happy to join us for our next activity. We headed downtown with Terry in the lead to have lunch and collect our tickets for the canal tour. Terry had found a shortcut to the downtown core, at least that is what he told us. It was a more direct route than I had followed the day before. It took us along side the imposing bicycle garage, past the taxi stand and up to the Centraal Station terrace. While Terry and Helen stood in a long queue to pick up the canal tour tickets at the Tourist Information Centre across the square from the station, I rented some time on the Internet at the adjoining coffee-shop computer terminals. It seemed oh so civilized to me to be able to relax with Jean-Philippe, sip my caffe latte while sending a message off to Marthe that our son had finally shown up. I also informed her that she made the right decision to skip the trip to Amsterdam. She would never have been able to climb the stairs in the B&B. Soon my colleagues joined Jean-Philippe and me with the tour tickets, city maps and various tour info brochures. It was decided to purchase day passes on the canalbus which would take us around the major canals and gave us an overview of the city core. Our canal bus tickets seemed a little on the expensive side but the selling point was the opportunity, or so it seemed to us at the time, to get on and off the boats at marked docks around the circuit.
It was time for something to eat. I have never found continental breakfasts very filling and I was ready for something substantial to eat. We walked up Damstraat, the major artery that divided Amsterdam into two halves, until we found an acceptable menu and a comfortable terrace. We were seated in the street side window so we had a good view of the other tourists passing by. People watching is such an informative activity. So many different sizes, shapes and styles. Lunch consisted of an overcooked ham, cheese and mushroom omelette but it did the job of filling the void in my stomach.
It took us 3 attempts to find the correct dock on the correct side of the canal. The slow pace of the tour was great for Terry, Helen and me but for poor Jean-Philippe, who was basically walking in his sleep, it was too much. He managed to keep his head from banging too hard against the table for about half of the ride but he finally had to accept defeat and he headed back to the apartment to catch up on his "ZZZZZs". For the remainder of our canal cruise, we enjoyed the descriptive commentary and marveled at the extraordinary sights outside our windows. I was immediately impressed by the skill with which the canalboat driver maneuvered his craft around impossible turns and under all sorts of bridges. We were struck by the variety and uniqueness of the hundreds of house boats along the way. It was hard to imagine that people actually lived, some actually worked, in these house boats. We were informed that the city provided electricity, gas and water hookups. I didn't see any waste water pipes so I came to believe that sewage from these boats went directly into the canals. No wonder they were "flushed" with water from the diverted Amstel River 3 times a week. Imagine the smell if the canals were left to drain on their own!
The tour took so long that finally there was no time left to make use of the 'get off, get on' flexibility of the day pass. We later found that the tram system was by far the most convenient and fastest way to get around town. We did, however, spot several of the major landmarks and museums that we wanted to visit later.
We connected later that evening with Jean-Philippe for supper at the Thai restaurant next to our apartment. We ordered one plate each "to share" and ended up with a huge quantity of leftovers. We decided to walk along the canals in order to help digest our overindulgence. We admired the extraordinary lights in the lofts of the gabled houses and tried to take low-light pictures with our digital cameras of the various monuments. Terry had a new Nikon Coolpix 3400 which he was just becoming acquainted with. Of course his camera blew my Canon S100 out of the water when it came to good night-time photos.
It wasn't hard falling asleep when we finally got back to the B&B. This would be my last night in the ground floor apartment. Jean-Philippe would be returning to London the next day so I had made plans to move into a single room for the rest of my stay in Amsterdam. Smart thinking. Too bad that the move proved to be a little more complicated than I expected!
Stay tuned. The Eurospoor Adventure continues...
Stay tuned for Report #3 of the Great Eurospoor AdventureZ | Return to Eurospoor 2003 Home.