Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mommy Goes to Amsterdam

What a wild weekend. This trip seemed less about exploring Amsterdam and more about taking a break from mommy-ness, building new strong friendships, and finding as much patience as possible. Oh, and I fell in love with Amsterdam in the process...although, I managed to see very little of it, it was still pretty fantastic.

So, yes, I spent the weekend in Amsterdam. That statement alone is bizarre to see written. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to the fact that I live in Europe and can say, "thought I'd spend the weekend in Italy," or "we decided to take a cheaper family vacation and just spend a week in Austria." I mean, seriously? Yeah, I really never thought I'd say those things. It's really pretty freaking cool.

Big R thought I could use a break. I suppose I didn't really notice that I needed one, but he was probably right. My sweet little man is a cutie pie, but no matter which way you cut it, a toddler is a lot of work, especially when you are a stay-at-home-mom. Yes, I guess a break was definitely on my list of "needs," I just never expected one.

The MWR is the Army's way of boosting morale for its soldiers and their families. I think it stands for "Morale Welfare, and Recreation." They put together these outings to provide some adventure and to get people off the post and discovering the places where they live. Most of the trips are pretty awesome. I went on my snowshoeing trip back in January through MWR, and that was great fun. So, when Big R saw that they were doing a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam for super cheap (it was only $250 for a weekend including everything - bus ride, hotel, and a few other entry fees), he immediately thought this would be a great way to get me a break and let me spend some time abroad with friends. And ultimately it really was great. Next time we'll leave the bus behind though, and plan a fabulous trip on our own.

MWR is great, but frankly, I'm getting a little too old for this crap. We caught the bus at 1 a.m. on Friday night with the goal of arriving in Amsterdam around 10 a.m. Have you ever tried to sleep on a bus? Yeah. Also, I wasn't ready for the patience involved with group travel. Well, group travel by a fearless leader that was fearfully unorganized. It took forever to get anywhere, the bus driver was constantly lost, and the itinerary was ever changing. We also had the added benefit of having arrived in Amsterdam on the day they had a nasty train accident on the line between the airport and Amsterdam Central Station. Aside from being a frightening tragedy for those involved, it also created a public transit nightmare for tourists and locals alike. We stayed near the airport. We spent most of our weekend on public transit. Something we were told was definitely not the norm for Amsterdam, so we filed it away and didn't hold it against the beautiful city.

All that aside, we somehow managed to really enjoy Amsterdam. I went with my friend, Meg, who is another JAG spouse that lives near Schweinfurt. She is absolutely fabulous. We traveled incredibly well together and both took all the craziness in stride. Technically we were in Amsterdam for about 36 hours and we managed to see close to nothing. What we did do was take in the city, walk the canals, eat amazing food, and take pictures of pretty flowers. It was great!

My photographic talent is greatly lacking compared to my husband's, so try not to be too terribly disappointed that the pictures are no where near on par with what you are accustomed to seeing from our adventures. I tried to capture the essence of Amsterdam...well, as best I could :)

When we got to Amsterdam (finally!), the group took a canal cruise. It was very cool. Unfortunately it rained the whole time making picture taking more challenging, but the canal boat was fully equipped to keep us dry, so we really enjoyed the trip.

I took several pictures of this building while we were in Amsterdam. Guess I liked it - haha.

The weeping willows along the canal were really pretty.

Meg and I had a great time. Here's our super cheesy picture:

Although we didn't get to benefit from what I'm certain is beautiful summer foliage, we did go at a really pretty time of year because the spring buds brought so much color to the canals. And the lack of too much foliage also gave us a peek at buildings and views we wouldn't have otherwise seen.

After the canal ride, we piled back into the bus to head to the Keukenhof that sits just outside of Amsterdam. The powers at be thought it would be really cool for us to experience this flower heaven during the annual flower parade. Yes, the ANNUAL parade! Not much thought went into this planning, however. Take note that when you visit a world famous attraction on a day where they have an event that happens only one time a year, that means A LOT of people will be there. Holy cow, it was bananas!!! I thought the bus drivers were going to kill our "leaders." We sat in traffic for nearly three hours trying to get into the place. Once we finally got there, not a single one of us on the bus even watched the parade. Funny how that happens. Well, the Keukenhof is a beautiful place. I think tulips are quickly becoming my favorite flower. They had rows and rows of colorful tulips. My pictures of the tulip farms didn't turn out very well, but here are some of the flowers within the facility.

One of our favorite parts of Keukenhof was the food. We had these sandwiches made with sauteed ham and curried mustard (YUM!), and our favorite were the Poffertjes, which were mini pancakes. They were delish, especially with a side of a warm cappuccino (it was super chilly that day).

Here's a snapshot of how crowded it was. I'm telling you bananas, it was absolutely crazy bananas.

Our hotel was out by the airport and somewhat affiliated with a rest area. It looked hokey on the outside, but it was really pretty and rather elegant inside and the rooms were huge. Too bad our bus driver couldn't figure out how to enter the hotel parking area. We drove in circles for an hour. Fun times.

After a 1.5 hour canal cruise, three hours on a bus sitting in traffic, another hour driving in circles, being stood up by a shuttle bus, pulling our hair out in the airport train station (and we travel often, this is supposed to be easy, right?), and multiple transfers due to the train accident, we FINALLY made it to Amsterdam after 9 p.m. and found our fabulous restaurant. We took a recommendation from our buddy, Rick Steves, and found dinner at a romantic little gem called Restaurant de Luwte. A couple glasses of wine and a delectable meal later, and we were feeling relaxed after a crazy day.

We closed down the place, which is easy to do when you order dinner after 9:30 p.m. The serving staff was great though. They didn't seem to mind that we were there, so we were not rushed or pressured to leave. They let us sit and enjoy our meal AND our wonderful desert.

Knowing that the last shuttle from the airport to our hotel was far behind us at this point, we just took our time strolling along the canals and taking pictures. For some reason I like the grainy retro feel of this photograph. Yeah, I'm weird that way. I'm sure Meg's fancy camera captured some finer pictures.

Our only glimpse of the red light district. It's true, we didn't even have time to get lost in the world of the risque. Instead we walked the edge of the district and we were hit on by a group of drunken Englishmen. Awesome.

We didn't make it back to the hotel until nearly 2 a.m. Because of the train accident, there were no more trains heading from Amsterdam Central to the airport by the time we got to the station. Instead we were directed to take a bus, to a tram, to a metro, and then we shared a taxi with strangers to get to the hotel. We made it though. Our fearless leaders scheduled a wake-up call at 6:45 a.m. (still want to strangle them for that one), so our day started much earlier than we wanted it to. Yet, despite finishing breakfast at 8:30 a.m., we didn't make it back to Amsterdam until nearly 10:30, and we had to meet the bus to head home at 3:30 p.m. That's not much time, and we somehow managed to have the worst luck with public transit, museum tickets, and anything else we tried to plan. So we threw our hands up and decided to just take it all in. We walked along the canals and photographed the beautiful architecture. We found a cozy cafe and drank tasty warm beverages while we wrote post cards and watched people go by and interact in their daily lives. It turns out Amsterdam is a great city to do just that - take it all in.

The Damrack, or downtown area, was full of people enjoying a festival. Carnival rides, good food and drink, and loud noises. It was wild!

So, we didn't stick around long, and instead started trying to find other areas of the city to explore that weren't quite so overwhelming. It wasn't a difficult task...

We had lunch at a sweet little cafe run by two women that made everything from the freshest ingredients, including freshly squeezed orange juice. I think we saw her make thirty of these while we sat there and ate our lunch. Here is a picture of our amazing sandwiches. I'm still dreaming about mine.

We had to run through the flower market and the most bustling part of the city where all of the shops were located. Maybe this is a good thing... we really would have loved to have had more time. This is the last picture I took in Amsterdam. It was hilarious. Look hard past the reflection in the window and you'll see why I just had to get a picture...

Sadly, the trip was over and it was time for us to get back on the dreaded bus to head home. We are all smiles from our lovely day in Amsterdam (and also because the bus driver stocked the fridge and we were enjoying a cold German beer!).

Thanks for a great time, Meg, and thank you, Big R, for giving me the opportunity to sneak away for a weekend. Next time I think we'll leave the bus behind and do things a little more our way. We came away with a lot of memories though, and I recovered fully after a three hour nap and a full night of sleep. Maybe I'm not too old for this afterall :)


  1. Okay, I give up. WHY did you have to take a photo of that storefront? Was it the Groucho Marx glasses the mannequin was wearing? :)

    1. Aside from the truly bizarre costumes, take a gander at the chicken and the snake :)