Our alarm clocks went off far too early the morning my friend Amy and I were to depart Paris for Amsterdam last October. But up we got, dressed warmly and happily found a taxi just steps outside my brother Ryan’s apartment.
Off we went through the darkened streets to the train station, Gare du Nord, unloaded our bags, and found a spot by a bright pink heater that gave us huddled travelers a distinctive fuschia hue. We were an hour early, but we didn’t mind. Better safe than sorry. Besides, it gave us ample time for people watching, fashion observing and getting the lay of the land. We were intrigued by the number of people wearing Hammer Pants, those voluminous, mid-shin atrocities in bright colors, as well as the military posted around the building, AK-47’s at the ready as they strode through the station, eyes roving the crowd for miscreants.
Our train was delayed several times, but finally it was ready. We joined the milling passengers on the platform as frosty winds tossed skirts and hair. We found our First Class cabin and I couldn’t help but grin to myself in a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming sort of way. For as long as I can remember, back when I first became enamored with the idea of train travel through black and white movies and Agatha Christie books, I have longed to travel First Class on a train. I know it’s a silly thing nowadays when such things are easily accessible to all travelers, but for me it was special. We had plush, comfy seats with oodles of legroom and places for all our luggage to fit comfortably. Free Wi-Fi enabled us to upload pictures and Facebook Notes while we hurtled along through the French, Belgian and Dutch countryside. A young African man in an immaculate gray uniform with red trim served us breakfast – lovely creamy cheeses, peppered ham, croissant, fresh ruby red grapefruit and figs with coffee for me, an assortment of sweet cakes with tea for Amy. Deeelicious!
He followed shortly with another basket of croissants for the truly famished. An hour or so later a different man brought us lunch – pasta parcels with white wine from South Africa for me, a cheese sandwich and red wine for Amy. It was such a peaceful, happy way to travel. No stress, no worries, no screaming children or rowdy teenagers or drunk Germans.
We arrived in Amsterdam to brilliant sunshine and oh-so-blustery winds, and made our way to Ryan’s wonderful apartment on the Prinsengracht Straat.
We got ourselves situated then headed out for some afternoon exploring, wending our way along bumpy, cobbled streets over canals and down twisting side streets. Since Amsterdam was not on our initial itinerary we had no maps or guidebooks to chart our path, but we managed to find a Tourist Information booth and Amy secured a map and vague directions to the Rijksmuseum. Sunshine shone coldly down through the still-leafy trees, lending an illusion of warmth but much beauty. The museum was smaller than we’d imagined, but well worth the price of admission. I’ve long been a fan of the Dutch masters, loving their ability to capture exquisite details of feature, attire and expression. I am not so entranced by baubles and knickknacks, but the paintings were fantastic.
After the museum we emerged to the rare combination of being rained on with the sun shining, but we braved the weather and happily wandered charming alleys, squares and streets.
If I can’t have a Hobbit House of my own one day, I want this door, please. 🙂
We stopped in at a bakery and loaded up on amazing bread and pastries. I’m so glad they’re starting to get bread like this around here! 🙂
Content with our initial explorations, we headed back to Ry’s place for a relaxing evening of pjs, popcorn, pastries and old movies like Laura. It was a splendid first day in Amsterdam. 🙂