Amsterdam


This was a great stop over on the way home from India…. a very different pace of life.  We touched down about a half hour early exited the plane and headed off to the arrivals hall.  Customs was a breeze – we got our passport stamped with little more than a cursory overview.   After this we picked up our luggage, and I went to go hunt down a customs form to find out you don’t need one.  We went out to the curb and in less than a half hour we were at the hotel () by 10 A M.   We checked in and stowed our luggage and the hit the Guest Services desk for some sightseeing advice. 

The lady that helped  us (Bronwyn) was great… We told her kind of what we wanted to do and she offered some suggestions and the worked with us on a game plan.   She got a map, gave us the good tour operator names and the train numbers to catch  between stops.  She walked us over to the concierge desk to see if he could give us recommendations on lunch spots so we did not get gouged in a tourist restaurant… that was a nice touch.   Not only did we get a couple of lunch spots, but he had tickets to all the attractions we wanted to see, so we did not have to stand in line to buy tickets and he billed them to my room (€ 7.50 all day train pass, € 15.00 100 Highlights cruise, €15.00 for RIJKS) .  Bronwyn’s recommendations were spot on for us… Amsterdam in a day.

The first stop was the … this was a one hour cruise and was departing just down the street from the hotel ().  There was a one and a half hour cruise that she also recommended; however, she felt based on our limited time that the one hour trip would be better – and she was right).  We passed several awesome churches, the , and the .  Here are some pictures from the ride:

We got off the boat and walked across the bridge and looked for our (#4 or #16).  We watched a couple of trains of trains go buy before that we realized there were two stops close buy and the one we wanted was just down  the road a piece.  We walked over and were greeted by our preferred train to go out to the market (#4).  We got the all day (24 Hour) pass for an extra two Euros… you tap your card on the pad when you enter and again when you get off the train.   The announcements are in Dutch so you want to have a good idea on where you want to get off (the name of the stop).  Otherwise you end up playing the where in the world are we game a lot Smile.  This is first hand experience talking here.  The road signs are hard to see because they are back from the road and on a building.  They also split the street names so they wrap onto a second line if they are too long (and most are too long).  The was great about a mile or more,  fish, meat cheese, bread, pastries, and clothes all out on the street.  It was kind of an extension of the shops that were there along with other stuff…. a good time.   We ate lunch along our market journey at Moos Café’.  We went in and found a table and ordered some cokes… they came in tiny bottles.  When we got our drinks, the waitress put her fingers in the classes (to pick up all three at once) and put them on the table with the bottles… I’m just so glad she did not pour them into the glass.  We looked over the menu for a few second and figured out what we wanted and the sat for about 20 min while the waitress went in and out cleaning tables and etc.   We thought we must have surely offended her somehow because she was ignoring us (even when making eye contact).  After we finished our cokes, we figured surely she would come over…. but that was not the case.  We went to the bar to settle the bill four our coke and leave for another place.   The owner asked if we were going to order food and we said yes, a half our ago, but we were now ready to leave and go somewhere else…. she got upset at the server and spoke to her in Dutch.  We found out that they were short handed and that it is customary to say that you want to order something when you place your drink order.   The manager was apologetic and took our ordered and brought us a round of drinks on the house.  While I think there was a little misunderstanding, .  Below are my market pictures:

While we had issues getting service at , the food was excellent and we had a good laugh with the owner when it was said and done.  We left the pub and headed to the end of the market and then walked over to the .  Along the way we took in the buildings and sights along the canal. A word of caution here, Amsterdam is loaded with bikes… and they have bike lanes in between the road and the sidewalk… you need to pay attention to the as you are looking around (or you could accidently get run over).  The building that houses the museum has a street level tunnel running through it that has bile lanes in it as well as sidewalk.  We walked through and saw the “I Am Amsterdam” letters.  There were all kinds of people crawling up on the letters to get pictures while a drummer and a sax player played in the park area in front of it.   we sat and enjoyed the cool sunny weather and watched the crowed for a bit before heading into the museum.  On the way in we passed the “Real American Hotdog Cart”, kind of a funny thing to see. 

The Museum  was an awesome place. from art work (by the masters) to religious relics to contemporary pieces.   It is kind of like the Smithsonian in DC.  The museum closed at 4 PM so we did not get to see it all.  My camera (cell phone) ran out of gas in the museum so although there were many more pictures to be had I only got a few.  We walked a while and saw the Hard Rock Amsterdam (we also saw the one in New Delhi, India).  We caught the train and went for ride to find a neighborhood in old Amsterdam that the hotel thought we would find interesting.  Again, we were challenged a bot by the train announcements in Dutch only.  But we were able to figure it out after a bit

We walked along a street taking in the architecture.. fun fact (we learned this on the canal cruise) each home in Amsterdam has a hoist bar off the peak to get furniture in and out (even newly built homes) due to the steep and narrow staircases.  Along with this, the façade of the structures slant out towards the street.  So it you hung a rope from the top it would be further away from the building at the sidewalk.  While this was hard to see from the boat, it was more than obvious when walking the streets where the near the old houses.  There were some corner houses on the corners that had this on two sides and you felt like you were in a fun house attraction.  As we got close to the hotel, we realized that even outside of the “red light district” there are still working houses in other parts of Amsterdam with their wears for sale in the window. 

We dropped our purchases at the hotel and the went in search of a restaurant for dinner.  We found an Italian guy outside a Mexican Restaurant () and he chatted with us on the street a bit.  We decided to give it a try and had a great time (we have friends in Amsterdam now).  We ordered steaks with Arginine sauce and Heineken beer.   After going three weeks with no beef, this was a welcome meal.  We talked to our waitress she was shocked we did not order Mexican food; and we explained our trip experience in India.  She wanted to know if we had good Mexican food in the US… so we explained Mexican and Tex-Mex (they were fascinated).  She wanted to know how often we went to Texas for good Mexican food.   We then had to explained that it was just not around the corner from PA or MI. 

When we dropped our purchases off I was able to get enough charge on the phone to take two more pictures.  At the end of the meal, they brought us passion fruit shots.  They were very smooth and tasted like peach schnapps… but what do I know, that might be an unofficial passion fruit.  Never complain about free drinks!   

After dinner, we went for another walk leaving the hotel in a different direction.   Amsterdam at night is beautiful.  I would like to see it in the winter at Christmas time.  We walked a couple of miles in a big loop looking at all the buildings.  we went in a number of souvenir shops (disappointing) and went in a mall of shops in an old building.  Then on the way back we stopped and had a waffle with coffee ice cream (yum) and talked with the shop owner for a while.  he was an interesting character.. son of a rabbi that decided not to follow into the religious life (but had opinions) and opened and cream shop instead.  He said a few years back when business was slow he was thinking he might need to close his shop…. he invested in a 66 Euro waffle maker and has been doing great ever since.  He said people don’t buy ice cream in the winter but put it on a hot waffle and they go crazy for it.   I must admit it was the waffle that got me in the store.  After some “interesting” conversation, we headed back to the hotel for some rest.

The morning came too soon… it was raining (hard) with thunder.   I packed up and headed down to the executive lounge for some coffee and breakfast.   Like in India, they have machines that grind the coffee beans and filter the water (glad I had time to figure out how to use these in India).  I sat and watched it rain wondering what the ride to the airport would be like…. turns out not bad.  We got a break in the rain and were able to get loaded up and to the airport.   I have a feeling like I’ll be back, but these are the parting images…

Final thoughts on India


In India “anything is possible”, is more than it seems.  There is prosperity and growth alongside abject poverty… I have never been some place where the gap was so vast and out in the open.  The people that I met there are awesome and really cared about us as guests in there country.  They shared whatever they had with us and were always looking out for us.   You can (and we did) see on the same street a Roles Royce, ox carts, bikes, trikes, scooters, motorcycles and pedestrians all trying to get somewhere.  What seems like a disaster about to happen is a improvised ballet of sorts with honking, walking, cycles weaving in and out of cars (and pedestrians).  Smells that are wonderful to smells of things cooking out of doors and  that are horrid putrid smells of sewage all within a block. 

There is buildings going up almost everywhere… and the construction goes on day and night.  The construction workers live on-site in shanty’s or under tarps and bath, wash clothes and things with a hose.  There are areas that are very green and others that are brown and dessert like.  When it rains, it comes down in buckets…. and the bikes, scooters, motorcycles, and pedestrians go on like nothing is happening..

Poser outages are routine and happen three or four times a day.  You can be in a meeting and the power go out and the conversation will go on like nothing happened (unless you are not a local – then your brief pause will give way to someone else’s point of view).

Among this life goes on… a group of deep rich cultures coexist side by side in this microcosm.

While almost everyone speaks English, communication is not always straight forward.  when having a conversation in the US understanding is signified by a nodding gesture (front to back) or an ok something like that.  With Indians you get at side to side motion (the head wobble) that means “I’m understanding you”.  If they don’t understand, they will stop and ask… but its good to have them to play back what you said in their words to confirm things you have discussed.   It there is a disagreement, you will bet, It’s not like that” followed by and explanation.

The statement that India is a land of contradictions where even the contradictions have contradictions… in a weird way this makes sense to me.  I enjoyed my time there immensely; however, going home is good.

New Delhi – Monuments and Temples


Last Saturday was all about seeing Delhi….  We started our day around 7:30 AM… humid but not extremely hot yet.  We stopped by to pick up a co-worker who was going to show us around.  We waited for her for a few min at the end of a busy street in an older area of Delhi.

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We drove to a monument close to her house called and it was awesome.  We were there early and practically had the place to ourselves.   There are two towers there that you just have to see to believe.   To think that these were built in Mogul Times is impressive.   The king that was building the a second tower died before it could be completed… so work stopped.   Now you can see the construction in its rough form before all the intricate finishing work and carvings were added.  If you are traveling to India and like history…. this should be on your must do list.

After our visit to the Qutub Minar, we were went on to so and see the shrines and temples of the different faiths of India.   These are all places that I would not have gone to see probably would not see in the U.S.  Our first stop was the …. This is a Hare Krishna temple. We got a quick introduction checked our shoes in at the boot station and then went inside the temple.   There was a group sitting on the floor singing Krishna chants while worshipers prayed. , We were allowed to observe, walk around and look at the artifacts and take pictures.  There was lots to !

After seeing ISCON, we went to the of the Baha’i Religion.  This is a (or Persian Religion).   The temple grounds are beautiful as is the temple structure…. again a must activity.   As you walk up to the temple you will find a boot station to leave your shoes.   following that you start to climb the steps up to the temple.   They are not open after sunset, so make sure you visit early.    There is not a lot of cover, so in the afternoon this could be challenging from a heat and sun perspective.

Following this visit we went to the temple of shopping in Delhi…. .  My impression is that the mall and movies are the things that Indians like to do on their down time. ,It a place you can go to get out of the heat and visit friends.   This mall was very large (like three or four malls joined together) and was very upscale.   They had a nice mix of western and local foods to choose from.  One interesting note, you cant use cash or credit at the food court stalls.   You must buy a food court card (cash or debit card) and then get your food… they swipe your food card and deduct the amount form there.

After lunch we went to the and the government complex.   It amazed me how much like Washington, DC this felt…. if you replaced the reflecting pool with a road it would be close.    India Gate is on one end and the parliament houses and the Presidential Residence are on the other end.   Security around the capital was very tight on Saturday and most things were closed (you could view from a distance but not get up close,like normal).

We then pushed on to the which in itself is a sight to see.  They have a reception center for visitors and they explain what is important to their beliefs and what you are about to see.  They provide a head covering and make sure its on correctly before you enter.   You can check your shoes (and socks) at the boot stand as we did or you can leave them in the visitor area.   You must wash your feet before entering the temple area.   They have a trough area that you walk through to do this.   Then you proceed up the stairs to the temple.   The chanting inside is very hypnotic if you were to listen to it for any period.   When you leave the temple you touch the threshold out of respect (like touching the feet of God someone told us later).   We stopped at the pond / pool next to the temple and watched the fish before moving on to our last stop for the day.

They saved the best for last…. the is another MUST SEE place.   They don’t allow pictures inside… all cell phones, usb sticks, cameras, or other electronic devices are not allowed in and must be checked at the cloak room.   You must go through a security screening (metal,detector and pat down before entering – not uncommon here in India).  I forgot my fit bit in my pocket and was convinced they were going to confiscate it during the screening.   Another guard came over and examined it and he passed me through after determining it was a step,counter and not something else.   You could spend hours here… besides the temple (impressive and elaborate sandstone carvings) they have a history of India boat ride and a museum that you can visit).   In addition, the have a light and water show at night for 20 rupees that is worth the wait.  The temple is free, but the other attractions are at a cost.   The combo, Boat Ride, Museum, and light show is like 1,200 rupees a person…. but you need about three hours to see the other items and we did not have enough time before the light show.