Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beavers Exploring the 'dam For a Weekend

Thursday April 7, 2016. After waiting the whole day, we finally caught the bus to the airport at about 4:15pm. It felt like we had scheduled this trip an eternity ago because it was the first official trip we had scheduled, despite it being in April. We made it to the airport with plenty of time (felt like almost TOO much time given how many close calls I've had missing flights) to catch our 7pm flight. After making it through security, we were informed that our flight had been delayed until 7:30pm. After a few more delays, we were finally able to board the flight at about 8pm and took off around 8:30pm at which I point I captured this sweet panorama of Dublin at night. Maybe I'll send it into Ryanair so they can use it as a promo picture given the plane wing snuck into the picture.
We arrived in Amsterdam at about 11pm, a short 1.5 hours flight plus the time change of 1 hour. I couldn't believe how BIG Amsterdam Airport was...when we landed, the plane had to taxi about 15 min just to get from the runway to the terminal. On top of that, the airport was huge once we got off the plane and walked to the exit. I was in awe because I think airports are fascinating. Upon leaving the airport terminal to get transportation to our hostel, we were approached by a large bearded man asking if we wanted an "official taxi". At first he seemed legitimate but then realized he seemed a little sketchy so I politely said no and continued to walk away with my three friends. He continued to follow us pestering us about a taxi as we continued to ignore him. Eventually we got to the transportation desk and requested an official taxi...the man pointed us in the right direction outside to where a lot of taxis were lined up. He even said we could take a Tesla Model S taxi for the same price as normal. My jaw literally dropped to the floor upon hearing this. Given that I am a big car guy and worked at a country club the past two summers where I'd see one of those cars a day and had always wanted to ride in one, it was almost a dream come true.
 To think we rode in a $80,000 car as a taxi for the same price as a junky 5-seater in Dublin was a great feeling. I got to ride shotgun, of course :). Our taxi driver drove the car like he stole it, zooming under the dimly lit streetlights weaving in and out of cars on the freeway. He must have been just as excited as we were to be in the Tesla.  After getting to the hostel, we checked in, put our bags in our rooms and my friend Laurel met up with a friend from home, Lauren.
We went out in town to get a bite to eat and boy was it rowdy for a Thursday night, just as busy as a Friday in Dublin and we were on the outskirts of the city, about 20 min from center city. We found a place that looked good and ordered traditional Dutch food right off the bat. Erin had researched places to go and things to eat, one of which included "bitterballs" which were basically a deep fried meatball. I ordered a different type of traditional meatballs and gravy and they were delicious (slurp slurp). After this satisfying meal, we headed back to our hostel and went to sleep.

On Friday morning, we woke up bright and early at 8am. After going to bed around 3am, it was definitely a struggle. By the time we were all up and moving, it was about 9:30am and we headed towards to city. We had a few places here and there that we wanted to see but no real plan of which way to go; rather, just walk around and act like tourists. The first place we went to, given that it was about 10 minutes from our hostel, was the "I Amsterdam" sign. Luckily, there weren't too many people there so we were able to get great pictures from climbing on the letters.
The Amsterdam Crew from Left: Me, Erin, Kelly, Lauren, and Laurel

Representing my family (Roda) on top of the letter r
Right as we were about to leave, a group of about 200 kids ran towards the sign like a pack of monkeys trying to find the last banana on earth. After about a minute of them starting to climb on the letters, their group leader made a motion for them to go somewhere else and all at once, they continued the stampede in a different direction while I captured this all on my GoPro. Speaking of stampedes though, the bicyclists and moped riders of Amsterdam are INSANE. There are dedicated bike lanes which they do a good job of sticking to but if you step foot in the bike lane for a few seconds, your head better be on a swivel or you'll get hit in a heartbeat. It wasn't much of a concern for me as I am a bike rider myself and can think like the bicyclists but as for the girls I was with, one of them were bound to get hit by the end of our trip. And Laurel did get hit later on that night and it wasn't too pretty; no injuries luckily, just an embarrassed look on Laurel's face and a lot of laughs.
We continued on into the city, taking in the picturesque views and of the canals running along the roads. There was no shortage of sweets bought in Amsterdam by our group and by the end of the day we probably had purchased five desserts each. Also, being in Holland, an area known for their cheese production, we stopped by the Amsterdam cheese museum to sample all of the cheeses from gouda to goat's cheese to kinds I had never heard of it. It was all delicious but no one ended up buying any cheese at this time; we would later though.
Yes I actually took this photo, no it isn't from Google :)

Anne Frank House (didn't have time to visit; 2 hour wait consistently) 
After a long day of walking around, we headed back to the hostel to nap and get ready for dinner. At around 6:15 we all got up from napping and got ready to go Gijs downtown at a nice restaurant. Gijs was a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands to my cousins 6 years ago and we've kept in touch since so, from the beginning since I had accepted the study abroad program in Dublin, I knew I had to take a trip to Amsterdam to visit him. The restaurant we were going to was on the exact opposite side of the city from where our hostel was so I knew it was going to be a hike to walk there. As the navigator (with no cell service which meant no GPS as most people from our generation are used to finding places), I had mapped out the route before hand. After a long (but scenic) walk through the city for 45 min, we finally arrived at the Eastwood Restaurant which stood on the bottom floor of a Hilton Hotel.
From left: Me, Gijs' cousin, Lauren, Laurel, Gijs, Kelly, and Erin
The best part about this restaurant was that, because Gijs worked for a different branch of the Hilton at the Amsterdam Airport, he got 50% everything at this restaurant. So Kelly and I splurged and got the 800 gram steak that Gijs recommended for 50 Euro which was to be split between Kelly and I, still giving us a 15 oz portion each. Therefore, we only paid 12.50 Euro each for this incredibly tasty Tomahawk steak. After a filling dinner, we headed up 11 floors to the SkyLounge which overlooked the north end of the city. It was a bit chilly outside but we each bought a beer and talked outside listening to the live music.

After spending about an hour here, we went downtown to a few of bars that the locals attend, something we wouldn't have been able to do without the help of our trusty tour guide Gijs. We called it a night around 1:30am because everyone was tired from a long day of walking around the city.
On Saturday, we woke up around 10am and had decided to take on a daunting task not many tourists should: rent bikes to ride through the city of INSANE bikers. Gijs' cousin who was at dinner with us the night before had given me some areas outside of the city centre that we should bike to and I was very eager to try it out. The girls...well they were eager to ride bikes as long as they had a fearless leader; that was my claim to fame. It was only 12 Euro to rent the bikes for 3 hours which was the prefect amount of time before we had to leave for the airport around 3pm.
Leading the pack while balancing the camera for an action shot

We rode around for a while towards the west side of Amsterdam, the less crowded more wealthy areas. It was a nice place to ride bikes because there was a lot less hustle and bustle which meant less of a chance of an accident occurring. We stopped by the Noordermarkt which was an outdoor flea market with tons of yummy food stands. I had quiche for lunch and bought a block of authentic Holland cheese for the road, vacuum sealed so it would make it back to Dublin!

We rode back to the bike rental place, returned the bikes, and bought another dessert to eat in a park near the "I Amsterdam" sign. We collected our bags at the hostel, called an Uber, and got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
It was a 'dam good weekend for sure
Amsterdam sits nears the top of my list with Lisbon, Portugal as one of the best places I've visited while abroad. From the entrĂ©es to the desserts to the picture perfect canals, it didn't fail to disappoint in the slightest. 5 trips in 5 weeks coming up and trip 1 was a huge success. Bring on the next 4.


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