Archive for the Amsterdam Category

Delta Airlines Amsterdam (AMS) to Boston (BOS), April 2011

Posted in Airlines, Amsterdam, Delta, Global Entry, Trip Report with tags , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2011 by getgowing

The previous posts of this quasi-‘Round the World adventure:

Delta Airlines
Flight #231
Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) – Boston Logan (BOS)
April 12, 2011
Departure:  11:04 (Scheduled 11:10)
Arrival:  13:20 (Scheduled 13:00)
Duration: 8’16”
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 12A (Economy class)
Miles flown including this flight: 7,139

View from my window. Those turbine engines look REALLY big from here.

This was a fairly standard economy flight.  There were individual TVs for each seat, but because I stayed up all night, I was using this flight as my time to sleep.  So when I woke up at around 1pm in Boston, for my body, it would be like sleeping in late.  Even though the other two slept, they were pretty tired too and we all pretty much slept the whole way.  The main thing that I remember from this flight is the food service.  I think it was lunch.

Bread & butter, salad, balsamic vinegar, cheddar cheese & crackers, chocolate chip & vanilla biscuits

Main entree: Chicken and rice with yellow sauce and vegetables

I feel I’m a pretty adventurous eater.  This entree was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten.  The vegetables were fine, but the sauce had this weird taste that made it difficult to put the food down.  I was soooo hungry though that I did eat almost all of it.  (If you’ve ever had a meal with me, I HATE wasting food.  Even if its something I don’t like, I’ll still eat it.  If you have some food left on your plate, I sometimes eat that too.  I used to be a waiter, and it sucked throwing away almost full plates of food.)  If you’re ever flying Delta trans-Atlantic, you may want to steer clear of this food choice.  Take the other.  Thankfully I was able to fall asleep again after eating that horrific meal.

A few hours later, I was nudged awake to be served our pre-arrival snack.

Pizza and ice cream

Of course, the pizza sucked.  They were microwaved warm, so the crust was chewy.  But after that awful chicken and rice, this was a 5-star meal.

The plane arrives at the gate a 20 minutes late, but its alright.  Our bus that takes us to New York leaves at 3:30pm.  We get herded to immigration, and its here where I get to try out Global Entry.  (One of the benefits of being an American Express Platinum card member.  Read about that benefit in this post.)  I go straight to the Global Entry kiosk, give my fingerprints, and voila I get my immigration & customs ticket.

Global Entry ticket

I don’t have to wait in line, no answering any questions, almost no interaction with any Border Patrol.  After I pick up my luggage, I just hand the customs agent this ticket, and I keep walking.  If you don’t have to wait for your bag, you could off the plane and out of the airport in less than 15 minutes.

For those that have never traveled internationally, as you exit the plane in a new country and are not connecting to another flight, you have nowhere to go but to immigration.  After that, you pick up your luggage, then wait in line again for customs questioning.  

Global Entry is definitely worth its 5-year fee of $100.  Even if I only flew internationally once a year, I would feel that $20 a trip could be worth it.  Maybe not in Boston, but arriving into JFK or LAX you could easily wait 30-60 minutes for immigration.  After a long haul flight, that’s the last thing I want to do (like we did in the Fast Track lane in LHR).

Getting home from Boston, we used Bolt Bus.  One way, its about $15, and takes 4 hours, more or less.  The seats are all leather, there are plugs at every seat, and there is wifi onboard.  Throughout the “flight” the wifi connection was pretty slow, but still better than nothing.  Definitely one of the best options if traveling between the major cities in the Northeast.  And its price is so much better than flying or Amtrak.  Transferring to Boston South Station is a 15 minute commute on the Silver Line on the T, and only about $2.  What I didn’t know was that the Silver Line is a bus, not a subway/metro.

Well my attempt to stay awake for the rest of the day failed.  Oh well.  After I arrive home, I have about 24 hours before I leave for the airport again to start my 11-day portion in Asia!


Amsterdam Schiphol KLM Crown Lounge (April 2011)

Posted in Airline Lounge, Airlines, Amsterdam, KLM, Trip Report with tags , , , on May 15, 2011 by getgowing

April 12, 2011

Previous posts for my quasi-‘Round the World trip:

On Delta, if you are a Gold Medallion or higher, you get Skyteam Elite Plus status, which allows you access to many partner lounges around the world even if you are flying in economy.  You are also allowed one guest in addition to yourself.  But I have two guests?  What should I do? A few possibilities came into my head:

  1. Elite pluses have access to both KLM lounges in AMS, so I could guest one of my friends in the first lounge, leave them there, then my other friend and I go to the other lounge, and we stay there until our flight leaves.  That separates us, but it would guarantee access for all of us.  The other problem is that the lounges are really far apart from each other.  The only way to get to both is by walking, and it was at least a 10-15 minute walk.
  2. I could try negotiating with with the lounge agent to see if I can guest both of them in.  But I would need to be really persuasive and charming.  And after staying up all night, I wasn’t feeling it.
  3. Or I could stand near the entrance and eye up somebody who looks like another Elite Plus member, and ask them if they could guest my 2nd friend in since we were only allowed one guest.

After discussing our best option, I decided to try to find another passenger to guest one of them in.  If that didn’t work out after a few minutes we would go with option #1.  Luckily, I saw some briskly walking to the lounge, and politely negotiated him to guest one of my friends in.  SCORE!!!

They both slept in the airport that night, I stayed up all night in the hostel, and we were all dying to take a shower.  Soon after check-in, we put our names on the list for the shower rooms.  We had to wait 2 people before it got to the 3 of us.  No problem.  Give me time to enjoy a mimosa or 4, and check out the lounge.  This lounge was ENORMOUS.  It could easily be the same, if not bigger, than ALL the Delta Sky Club’s in Atlanta put together (There are 8 lounges in ATL).  I should’ve checked the capacity, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it could easily accommodate 500.

Area to the right of check-in

First area to the left of check-in

Researching a little bit after writing this post shows the capacity of this lounge is 840.

There were 3 large areas, two to the left of the check in desk, and one to the right.  If I remember correctly, going all the way to the end of the area on the right, there was a whole other section that was closed for cleaning or something like that.  We camped out next to the window in the farthest area to the left of the check-in desk.

View of the tarmac from our camp

Each of the sections to the left of the desk had their own food and drink set up.  The one to the right had the showers and bathrooms there, and the closest food/beverage station for them would have been the closed section.  We were only there for their breakfast set up, but of course there was still a full selection of drinks.

One of the food/drink stations

Other side of food/drink station

"Pasta salade pesto en rucola...Pasta salad pesto and rocket"

Cream of Tomato soup and Beef broth soup. Some green onions for garnish. Was a little excited, until there was no tomato soup available.

Hard boiled eggs & French toast. They didn't provide any syrup. 😦 The toast only had some sugar on it.

Eggs, toast, a banana, and a mimosa. Breakfast of champions.

When we first arrived in AMS before seeing the city, I did swing by the lounge quickly to check it out and use the internet for a minute.  So I was able to take a few pics of what they served for lunch.

Didn't get the exact names, but the top was like mashed potatoes, and the bottom was a rice dish.

After my 2nd mimosa, it was my turn for the showers.

Shower room

The amenities weren’t that great compared to the LHR (London Heathrow) Skyteam lounge showers, but large rain shower head definitely made up for it.

Amsterdam follow up (April 2011)

Posted in Amsterdam, Europe, Trip Report, Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 by getgowing

I missed a few wrap-up points in my last post about Amsterdam.  If you haven’t read that, or any of the other posts from my quasi-‘Round the World trip, don’t read this yet.

About the Anne Frank House:

Definitely a must see while there.  My eyes definitely watered a little bit reliving what Anne went through.  I had a similar, but nowhere near as intense, feeling after visiting the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima, Japan.  I felt a little better though since we weren’t the ones doing the damage this time.

The Icebar:

I was so wrapped up in my conversations with people around the world (the alcohol didn’t help) that I completely forgot about going to the Icebar!  The fact that I forgot to go didn’t even hit me until about a week later.  I was so in shock already from the sights and experiences from London and early Amsterdam that I wasn’t to bothered by the fact.  So its also on my list of priorities when I go.

My next list of things to do while in Amsterdam:

  • Listen to a concert in the most perfect sounding hall in the world, the Concertgebouw.  The orchestra isn’t half bad, either.
  • the Van Gogh museum
  • the Heineken Experience
  • rent a bike and bike around for a day, or the whole time and use it as my main mode of transportation
  • play poker in a casino, specifically Omaha & Omaha hi/lo.
  • read a book/have a picnic in one of the parks outside the city
  • sample as much Dutch cheese and chocolate
  • try and enjoy all the menu items from a coffee shop (not in one sitting)

Amsterdam (April 2011)

Posted in Amsterdam, Deals, Travel Tips, Trip Report with tags , , , , on May 11, 2011 by getgowing

Destination #2 of 6.  Read my previous posts to catch up on this journey.

A little background

This destination was actually not in the original plans.  Neither was London.  My original trip was only to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing.  But a really cheap fare on Delta popped up (from NYC to London), I post about it on Facebook, some friends say, “LETS GO!”, and after an arm twist later the tickets were booked.  

TIP when booking flights:  For international itineraries, a layover/connection time of up to 24 hours is legal.  Meaning it doesn’t count as a stopover.  (A stopover counts as visiting more than one location.  On a layover they assume you’re just waiting at the airport.)  Requires a little bit of research, but if you can find flights that make you connect in an airport for a significant amount of time (in our case, our layover was about 22 hours long), you can visit a new city/country for free!

Using this tip, I created an itinerary that had us in London for 2 nights, and in Amsterdam for 1 night.  The only downside is that we would be flying into Boston (BOS) instead of a NYC airport.  But luckily there are a plethora of buses that run Boston-NYC direct for $15-20, so we took that.

Going into this new city, I had a few goals:

  • Stay in a hostel
  • Drink local beer
  • Drink absinthe
  • Eat as much local food as possible
  • Visit the Red Light District
  • Visit the Anne Frank House
  • Walk around the Jordaan
  • See an actual Dutch windmill
  • Visit the Van Gogh museum
  • Check out the Heineken Experience / Museum

For only a 22 hour trip (probably only 16 hours after you take into account time at the airport, commuting time, and clearing security), all of these things aren’t possible.  But oddly enough, for me, staying in a hostel was the #1 priority.  Amsterdam is an easy city to visit, especially using the tip above.  So I know sometime in the next few years I’ll be able to see it again.  But I really wanted to see what it was really like staying in a hostel.  I don’t personally know anybody that has stayed in one, and my only experience with them is the movie Hostel.  Obviously, not a great first impression.

Schiphol Plaza / Arrivals Hall / Ground transportation

Getting from the Amsterdam Schiphol to downtown is really easy.  There is a train that goes from the airport and ends at the Amsterdam Central Station, so you won’t miss your stop, and the trip only takes about 20 minutes.  Tickets go for about €8 ($11.50) roundtrip, so not that bad.  FYI: we purchased 2nd class round trip train tickets at the Tourism office in the airport.  HOWEVER, we didn’t have to show our tickets to any engineers or put them through any turnstile.  Basically, we bought them for nothing.  I’m not sure if we were lucky, or if it was some holiday I didn’t know of….I think I heard somebody say that the train is free on Mondays?  or maybe that Monday?  I dunno.  If you want to try your luck, you can just buy a one-way and hope for the best.

Double-decker train to Amsterdam Central Station

View from the front doors of Central Station (the station is behind the camera)

And now the trek begins.  I want to be a backpacking hosteler, partly due to Nomadic Matt’s travel blog.  Through his recommendation I’m off to search for the Flying Pig Downtown hostel.

Another travel tip:  Don’t be afraid to ask for directions.  In the US, my typical male ego takes over and I don’t ask directions for many situations.  When I’m abroad, I’m the complete opposite.  I ask how to get somewhere several times en route to the destination.  Just in case I was given bad directions by a previous person.  And in general, when in a foreign country, people tend to be much nicer than Americans (at least compared to Americans from the Northeast).  They will be glad to help however they can.

When I get there, they are all sold out of dormitory rooms.  The only thing available is a private room with 2 beds, for something like €50.  Nuh uh.  The check-in girl gives me a map of other area hostels and I start to head in their direction, looking for a place to stay.  After running into another fully booked hostel, I luck out with The Bulldog Hotel “The first five star hostel in the world.”  They only have one dormitory bed left.  €30.  PERFECT!

I had the top bunk.

View from the window

Many hostels, including this one, provide wifi (though reception in the room was nonexistent), towels, and lockers (usually use your lock, or buy one from the front desk).  They also had their own bar (exclusive to hostel patrons only) with really late hours, a pool table, a living room type area with a TV, and tables for dining in.  If you want to save money on alcohol, hostel bars usually cost less than drinking out at a standalone bar.

One of the specials at the Bulldog hostel bar.

Breakfast was also provided in the dorm rate, held in the bar.  The whole time there, I didn’t feel uneasy.  There is somebody at the front desk 24/7; you can’t even go through the door without showing your Bulldog passport.

My dorm room had 1.5 bathrooms, and only 9 beds in it.  And the room lock was keycard access like a hotel.  The Bulldong’s location couldn’t be beat either.  It really is dead smack in the middle of all the action in Amsterdam.  So from now on, unless I’m traveling with friends who refuse to stay in a hostel, I will choose to stay in them from now on.  They’re cheaper, and the best part is that its easy to meet up with fellow travelers and make new friends in a strange place quickly.  Later that night, I met a few Scottish university students on holiday also staying here, and we roamed the streets as 2 of the guys wanted to go “window shopping.”  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll find out soon.

After I got settled in and readied myself to roam Amsterdam, it was already about 7pm.  Most of the museums close at 8pm, except for the Anne Frank museum which closes at 9.  Actual times from the Anne Frank Museum website:

September 15 through March 14
Daily from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm (in 2011 Saturdays from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm).

March 15 through September 14
Daily from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm, (Saturdays from 9:00 am – 10:00 pm).
In July and August the museum is daily open till 10:00 pm.

Last Admittance
Thirty minutes prior to closing.

The hostel had a few maps for free, and I asked where the museums were.  The clerk circled all the locations, and all were within walking distance, though the Van Gogh and Heineken were a little bit of a hike.  The map also had a few locations to visit, and another one that perked my interest was the Xtracold ICEbar Amsterdam.  I saw something like it featured on the Travel Channel once.  Its a bar that’s completely made of ice;  the bar, the seats, the walls, even the glasses!  It now became a priority to go have a drink there.  I had also heard that the Anne Frank house usually has long lines wrapped around the block to visit and pay homage to the amazing resilient girl.  Wait times could be upwards of 1.5-2 hours.  So my plan of attack was to pass by the Anne Frank house, at least see it if the line was too long, then continue on to the Jordaan.  Again, another recommendation from Nomadic Matt, the Jordaan is one of the older sections of Amsterdam, with old buildings and beautiful architecture, little specialty shops, restaurants, art galleries, and bars.  After that, I would shoot over to the Icebar and enjoy a few beverages in -10º Celsius.  Ready.  Go!

Almost there

Museum entrance

Rest of the building adjoined to the left of the Musem

Nameplate to the right of the door

TIP:  If you plan on visiting the Anne Frank Museum, I suggest going in the last couple hours before closing.  When I got there, there was barely a line, and I waited no longer than 20 minutes to start the tour.  The museum isn’t like ones in the US, where if you tried to read everything, it would take you days.  Some of the rooms only have one or two things on display with a short nameplate & description.  You only need about an hour to read everything and sit through all the videos on display.  

One of the canals bordering the Jordaan

Many of the old house complexes in the Jordaan have a central courtyard.  I wandered into one.  Not sure if I was allowed to be there or not.

Reminds me of my old apartment in Baltimore


About to have my first beverage in Amsterdam

Inside the bar

Bar menu

Heineken & sausage. The bartender told me this snack is a "very Amsterdam food". On the menu, I think it is the Portie Ossenworst. Ox sausage.

The dip was horseradish.  The sausages weren’t that bad.  It looked and felt raw, though not sure if it actually was.  Not a bad taste, definitely different than beef/pork/chicken/venison.  Next time I’d make sure I had somebody to share it with.  The 10 slices were too much for me, but I forced them down.  I should’ve ordered a cheese plate, or some other little dish too.  Oh well.  Next time.

And Heineken does taste different in Holland than in the US.  At home, I don’t really like Heineken, but in Amsterdam I could have it as my go-to beer.

I finish up my snack and continue to wander around the Jordaan for a little while longer.  Almost everything I walked by were closed already so I head back to the Bulldog.  On the walk back home, I finally see with my own two eyes what the Red Light District is all about.

Red Light District windows

For those of you who don’t know, the area is filled with windows like these with a red light shining signaling that it is a place for sex.  There would be a girl usually in a bikini, or underwear, or lingerie in the window calling for you as you pass by looking for business.  Apparently its a huge business there, as its regulated and the girls even have their own union.  I would have taken more pictures and video, but I heard that’s verboten there.  So I didn’t.

I make it back to the hostel and head into the bar to check it out.  I take a seat at the bar, get a Heineken and start chatting it up with a couple on holiday from Barcelona.  I think they were both municipal architects.  During our conversation, I remember that I have to drink absinthe traditionally, with the spoon and the sugar and the whole kit and kaboodle.

The sugar cube was on fire, but I couldn't take the picture fast enough.

Man is that stuff strong.  And you end up burping it up for hours.  Not my first choice for alcohol, that’s for sure.  But out of the super strong liquors, it would have to be the best of the bunch.  My chaser was the Heineken, and it felt like drinking water after the absinthe.

A few more conversations with other travelers pass, a few more beers gets drunk, and I decide its time to take a tour of the Red Lights.  On my way out, I hook up with that group of Scottish students and we “shop.”  We continue sharing stories, drinking on the street, all while a few of the guys look for one they like.  Surprisingly, many of the areas where red light windows are placed close.  The lights turn off and a there is a gate so you can’t even access the alley that they are in.  At 2am.  But I’m guessing because its a Monday night, and not a weekend night.  I’m sure its a different story then.

As its really early now, and things are closing, I head back and think of my next move.  Its now about 3:30am, and I have my flight at 11am.  I think the earliest train is at 7:30am which would give me plenty of time to shower up and eat a decent meal in the KLM lounge in the airport.  So do I sleep?  or do I stay up?  I decide to stay up; I certainly don’t want to miss my flight from oversleeping, and I can be a pretty heavy sleeper.  Even if I have somewhere important to be at.  I stay up the rest of the night in the room, doing something on the computer, though I can’t remember what.  I was partly delirious I was sooo tired during that time.  Anyway, 7:00 rolls around and I grab all my things and go downstairs grab a small bite to eat before I leave.  As soon as I get out of the elevator, I see 2 Scots I was hanging with earlier in the evening with about 10 empty cans of Heineken in front of them.  What troopers they are.  The breakfast pickings were pretty sad, consisting of sliced bread, ham, turkey, cheese, cereal, OJ, milk, and coffee.  Though I guess its better than nothing.  I make my sandwich, say my goodbyes, and head off to the airport.

Forget Vegas, next time I want to find a party destination, I’m dragging my friends here.

PS – I know that Amsterdam is also known for its coffee shops, where you can order and smoke weed.  I’m not really into that scene, and though I probably should have done it anyway just to say I did, its probably also a much better experience when you do it with friends.  I wasn’t about to roll up and smoke a joint by myself.  I had higher priorities at the time.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight 1010 (April 2011)

Posted in Airlines, Amsterdam, KLM, London, Trip Report with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2011 by getgowing

The previous posts of this quasi-‘Round the World adventure:

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Flight #1010
London Heathrow (LHR) – Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS)
April 11, 2011
Departure:  11:56 (Scheduled 11:45)
Arrival:  14:07 (Scheduled 14:05)
Duration:  1’11”
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-900
Seat:  16A (exit row, Economy class)
Miles flown including this flight:  3682

This is my first time flying in a Boeing 737-900.  I didn’t really get that close a look, but I guess its just a little longer than the more common 737-800 Delta flies.  Wasn’t expecting much, just a quick flight (I think actual flying time was around 38 minutes or so).  As we leave the LHR SkyTeam Lounge, we see a long queue again.  Let me tell you….elite status is a blessing and a curse in disguise.  I almost never have to wait in line traveling anymore, but its amazing the hook that status can put on you.  I spent money on Delta I normally wouldn’t have just to maintain status.  But that’s another post for another day.  We take our row 16 exit row seats and wait for the plane to fill up.


My plan for the flight was to grab whatever kind of sleep I could, since I anticipated staying up all night in Amsterdam to take the earliest train back to the airport, around 7am or so.  One of the most amusing things about this flight was the safety demonstration put on my the steward  for the back half of the economy section.  Check this out!

Didn’t get his name, but he loved the camera.  Now that’s something you’ll never see on a US-based airline.  We taxi up, and again, similar to our arrival flight, we have to wait for the “heavies” (big planes going long distances full of fuel) to take off.  While I would normally hate this waiting time, I got to see some amazing planes take off.

Singapore Airlines A380 taking off

More crazy traffic. At least they're fun to watch, if you're a flying junkie like me. (click on me to see it in original size)

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 747-400

British Airways Boeing 747-400 taking off

Qantas A380 taxiing

We finally take off after waiting for all those flights to get off the ground.  Another thing that you’ll never see flying in the capitalist USA…..complimentary beverage and snack service on a flight with a flying time less than 40 minutes.  We had the standard beverage selection and the choice of a sweet or savory snack.  I was already mid-nap when they woke me for the snack, so I was in a little bit of a daze when choosing.  I just grabbed the first bag, which was a savory bag.  The savory snack was a cheese cracker-like thing.  And I believe the sweet snack was mini chocolate chip cookies?  I stuff it in my backpack and try to get some more sleep.  Unfortunately before I knew it, we were already on final approach.  At this point I give up trying to sleep.

Some Dutch windmills, though not the cool kind.

The interesting thing about the Amsterdam Schiphol airport is its runways.  It has its bank of runways near the terminal, then there’s the remote runway.  My guesstimation is that it is a couple MILES away from the terminal.

Of course we landed on THAT runway.  I timed the taxi; it took 9 minutes 40 seconds.  There was no traffic, we never stopped sprinting along the taxiways.  Looking out the window, we assumed we were moving around 30-35mph.

That was definitely the most interesting 71 minute flight I’ve ever taken.  We deplane, thanking the steward one more time for his performance, and begin our Amsterdam adventures!

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