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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Miss Ginger's Amsterdam

Miss Ginger promised a full recap of her recent vacation, so here she goes with here insightful opinions of some great European vacation destinations. These are her opinions, and her recollections- no statement of fact should be expected to be accurate!

That said, here we go with Miss Ginger's Amsterdam!

ARRIVING:
Obviously most Americans will arrive in Amsterdam by plane, although cruise ships do call on Amsterdam as well. From Schiphol Airport
it's easy to take the train directly to Amsterdam Centraal Station, the transportation hub of the city. You can also take any number of high-speed trains into Amsterdam from other European gateways. The Thalys train serves Paris, Brussels, Germany and London and is clean, comfortable, and fast! At Schiphol, after clearing passport control and customs, follow the signs that say "to trains" and purchase your ticket from one of the bright yellow electronic kiosks. One note about these kiosks: they will accept American credit cards and debit cards, but will require a PIN code for both. Since most Americans don't use their credit cards with a PIN, and therefore don't know it, just save yourself some time and use the debit card! You'll purchase a one-way trip from Schipol to Centraal Station on NS, the Dutch National Railway, and once you arrive at Central Station, you're in the middle of it all!

If you want to cover more distance once you arrive in Amsterdam, purchase an Iamsterdam card for unlimited use of the GVB trams, subways, and buses that move people around the city. These cards, known as "chip cards" throughout Europe, are available at Schiphol, in Arrivals Hall 2, in the Centraal Station, near Track 2, and at the Stationsplein, across the street from Centraal Station. We bought ours at Stationsplein and had quite a long wait in line, so if you know you want one, check the lines at Schiphol and Centraal on your way in. If you're only there a few days, you can probably walk everywhere you'll want to go and won't need a chipcard at all!

Many of the nicest hotels are within walking distance of the train station, so unless the weather is bad or you've overpacked, walking will be the quickest way to get to most hotels.

ACCOMMODATIONS:
Miss Ginger has stayed twice at the Convent Hotel on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, which is the street leading out of the train station. On Miss Ginger's map above, the "H" indicates the location of the hotel, and her little pink path is noted. The hotel is perfectly situated within walking distance of everything, and a tram line runs right in front if you need to venture farther. As a part of the European Accor hotel chain, which also runs Sofitel, it is a first-class property, well-maintained, well-appointed, and comfortable. The staff is courteous, efficient, and pleasant, and the rooms are spacious by European standards. Miss Ginger gives the Convent 4 lipsticks!

Across the street from the Convent is the Avenue Hotel, which is listed in Damron's Guide for gay travelers. Miss G has not been inside the Avenue, but she can certainly vouch for it's location, and from outside it appeared to be clean and neat. Also in the same vicinity is a Crowne Plaza, if you are collecting points from their particular loyalty program. No one is a bigger point whore than Miss G, so stay where you can get 'em, I always say!

DIVERSIONS:
There is so much to see and do in Amsterdam, Miss Ginger can't imagine that anyone would ever get bored! The city is so imminently walkable that it's fun to just amble along the streets and alleyways, exploring the stores, cafes, and coffee shops along the way. Just remember, if you want coffee, go to a cafe. Coffee shops sell marijuana. If it were called Gingerdam, we would sell coffee in the coffee shops, and joints in the cafes, but I guess that would confuse the French too much! Anyway, smoke if you have them, but do it in the coffee shop; technically, that's the only only place it's legal to partake.

The other remarkable legal diversion in Amsterdam is prostitution, and no trip to Amsterdam is really complete without a trip to the red light district, indicated roughly by the big red star on Miss G's map. It's truly another world, where girls in bikinis ply their trade behind glass doors, occasionally opening it up to negotiate a deal with a potential client or perhaps attract the attention of one she thinks looks particularly lucrative. Two comments Miss G feels compelled to make about the RLD: first, if those girls have been "enslaved" or forced into this world, then they are the greatest actresses on Earth, because the all seem to be having the time of their lives! Secondly, it just goes to show there's a market for everything! The girls are neatly arranged by house and street, supermarket style, depending on what you want. Of course, the main street along the canal features buxom Eastern European girls, with blonde hair, long lashes, and lots of makeup. You want Asians? What flavor? Along that street, we have Thai, Chinese, Philippine, and lots more! You like them plump? Black or white?... we've got a street for each! Get drunk before you go, put your wallet in a secure place, and check your judgement at the door! It's there, it happens, so see it!

Water travel is a way of life in a city of concentric canals, so a canal tour is a must. Long glass topped boats replace the familiar red "hop off" buses one sees in most cities, so if you take a tour on one of those you can get on and off at your leisure and see what you want to see. Miss Ginger found the maze of street and canals quite confusing until she took a full 1 hour tour on a canal boat... after that, the map made sense in her head!





If you go to the Netherlands you simply MUST see a windmill... while you can!! Whereas windmills were once as common as tulips in Holland, and in fact allowed the creation of the country, there are only about 1,000 windmills still intact in the country, and only about 400 of those are still operable. There are a couple of windmills in and around Amsterdam proper, but if you book a bus tour near the Centraal Station, you can go out to the countryside and visit a working windmill. Miss G was fascinated to learn that each mill had it's own purpose, from pumping water, to sawing woods, or grinding grain. The mill she visited was actually a mill for grinding pigments, and was used to create the pigments that the Dutch Masters mixed with linseed oil to make their paints! The blades of the windmill are actually like giant sails, and when the sailed are furled, like this one, the mill is idle. But when the miller unfurls the sails and turns the top of the mill into the wind, the rotary motion is transferred to enormous mast down the center of the mill, transferring the wind power down to the business end- silently, gracefully, and effortlessly! Truly, truly amazing!



FOOD AND DRINK:
As one of the primary crossroads of Europe, Amsterdam boasts a very diverse assortment of restaurants and cuisines. Typical Dutch fare is simple country food, and the Dutch claim meatballs as their own over the Swedes, and pancakes are served morning, noon, and night. Most of the food we had was good, if not exceptional, and no specific meal stood out as noteworthy.

As far as drink, everyone knows that Amsterdam is extremely liberal, and expects a huge gay scene. Miss Ginger was no exception, and like most American tourists found herself sadly disappointed. She found that most gay bars in Amsterdam are there for the tourists, as the Dutch are so liberated that they don't feel the need to isolate themselves to "gay" bars. That said, there were a couple of establishments that Miss G particularly enjoyed, and a couple that she located, but never entered!

Her favorite is "Prik", indicated by a "P" on her map. In Dutch, prik means bubbles, and Miss G assumes the establishment was so named because of the Italian prosecco they serve on tap. It's a cute little place, with friendly- though not Dutch- staff, a nibbles menu, and delicious specialty cocktails. Aunt Tonya found the raspberry mojitos particularly enchanting- at least until they returned for a visit at 3am!!

Another fave is the "The Queens Head", shown as a "Q" on the map. It's a cute little place, on a really neat little street near Amsterdam's Chinatown. Along this little drag is another place called "The Angel" ("Engel" in Dutch- not to be confused with the "Eagle", which is down the road!)

Speaking of the Eagle, there are a number of leather/fetish bars that Miss G chose to avoid, but all are in the vicinity of the Queens Head. She assumed Getto, Dirty Dicks, the Sleeze Pit, and the Web to be aptly named and chose to avoid them. Enter at your own risk!

WHEN TO GO:
Miss G would venture to say anytime, although she has only been in August. For Miss G, Amsterdam in August is a perfect opportunity to escape the infernal Texas heat, as the temperatures there are a delightful 70 degrees Fahrenheit, even in midsummer! While the city is crowded with tourists that time of year, it handles them extremely well.

The other reason to go in August is Amsterdam Pride- a gay pride parade like no other on Earth! The "floats" truly float, as they are built on canal barges that moves through the canals! Because the streets are high above the waterline, there are numerous places along the rather long parade route to find a spot, and Miss suggests staking out a spot on one of the bridges. Better yet, do what Mee Maw did this year, and reserve a canal boat in lieu of a hotel room! From our little spot on the water, we were truly in the midst of it all, and had the time of our lives!! Just check out Miss G's snapshots of it all!
Don't miss Amsterdam- if it's not on your bucket list, add it! Everyone there is bi- or tri- lingual, at least, and unlike their neighbors to the south, will happily speak to you in perfect English!

For most Americans, it's a little hard to wrap your tongue around the Dutch language. In order to simplify things, Miss G and the gang developed their own little anglicized names for the streets, in order to gives each other understandable directions! We knew "straat" was street, and we assumed "voorburgwal" was bloulevard, so Spuitstraat became "Spit Street", and Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal became "New Weeds Boulevard"! I'm sure to the Dutch, it was "the Lost Language of Queens" but for us it was a necessity! MeeMaws Mississippi accent just couldn't handle "Voorbugwal"!

Have fun, and happy travels!



3 comments:

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Absolutely on my bucket list :O)

Wonder Man said...

amazing

mrs. miss alaineus said...

you need to be a travel writer!

xxalainax

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