Day 8. From here to there.
Today is travel day. It shouldn't be too stressful, hopefully.
We didn't have to check out of the apartment until 11 AM, but we were packed and had cleaned up the place by 10 AM. We've enjoyed a week of clear skies other than one midnight thunderstorm a few days ago. As we're preparing to leave, we started getting rain.
Rather than haul our bags through rainy streets to get on a bus and then transfer to a Tube and fight the crowds, I opted for an Uber XL car to come to our door. Ten minutes later, a man named Raj stopped by in a Ford Galaxy minivan. He helped us load our bags in the back and off we went. The cost of a 20 minute drive that would've been an hour on the bus and Tube cost £16. Normally, traveling aboveground in London is not quicker by car, but on a Sunday morning there were very few people or cars about.
When I'm traveling, I'm a fan of Uber. It has forced taxi companies to rethink their previous models and actually try to accommodate the passenger who is paying them for the privilege of riding in their cars. I understand they don't like that an Internet app is displacing their profession, but if taxi companies hadn't made their product so horrible, consumers wouldn't have looked for an alternative. US cities where Uber has been banned or controlled are ones that would be at the top of the list of most corrupt.
While I stood in the queue to get our tickets for the train, Jackie and the kids found a bakery in the train station for a pastry and coffee. We are taking the Eurostar, the train that goes under the English Channel between Dover and Calais, France.
We had an hour to kill in the station so we walked about, looking in the shops and trying to spend the few remaining Pound Sterling left in our wallets.
We had to go through a passport control and security scan to get on the train, but it was nothing like the horrible process at a US airport. It was almost leisurely other than the fact that there were 500 people waiting to do the same, most hauling big roller bags.
As we got on the train platform, our tickets pointed us to Car 17. We walked and walked past people getting on other cars. Eventually the crowds thinned out and we were at our car. We loaded our bags in the bin at the end of the car and stepped into a train car with about 60 seats. Sixty seats and no people. We found our seats and 10 minutes later the train started to move. In that time, nobody else got on our car. I looked at the car ahead of us and it was full, but ours was empty.
About halfway between London and the Channel Tunnel one of the porters stopped by. He was friendly and spoke with French-accented English. He asked for our tickets so I handed them to him.
He asked "When did you get these tickets?"
I told him only an hour before. He hmmmmed to himself and then said, "The air conditioner in this car is broken and so we moved everyone to other cars. Your ticket should have your new car number on it"
"Oh," I said, "would you like us to move?"
He felt the air coming out of the vents and said, "I think it feels very nice in here. You should enjoy the quiet. I may join you later."
The time from London to the Tunnel was perhaps 25 minutes. Under the tunnel is pretty anti-climatic as it's just dark outside. The entire time under was perhaps 15-20 minutes as we had slowed down. Going into the Tunnel, we were doing 145-150 MPH (230-240KPH) and in the tunnel perhaps 100 MPH (160 KPH) based solely on my perception. When we came out of the Tunnel and into the French countryside, we sped back up. For most of the trip toward our only stop at Lille, we were usually traveling about 185 MPH (300 KPH). The highest I saw on my GPS was 192 MPH (310 KPH). I envy our European friends for their fast and mostly efficient rail network. The train is so much more civilized than an airplane and moves fast enough most of the time to be useful. The fastest US train travels at barely 80 MPH (130 KPH).
We switched trains in Brussels. Not much to say about the event other than we are no longer in a private coach. The train stopped at Antwerp and Rotterdam, just long enough to let passengers off and on. Then into Amsterdam Central Station.
Getting into a new city and adapting to new conditions is hard, especially when you are toting 30 pounds on your back and 40 pounds in a rolling bag. But we found the main plaza outside the station and I purchased cards for the public transit system. Ten minutes later, we were walking down one of the canal streets, looking for our hotel.
We were greeted at the door of the hotel by a young woman who led us to the checkin. The interior of the hotel is very swanky. After 6 days in an a hotel apartment on a noisy street, this little oasis of peace is wonderful.
The room is a nice large suite, with a deep bathtub in it's own space. It feels decadent. By this time, it's 9:15 PM and the young woman at the desk says most of the restaurants close at 10, if not sooner. So we stopped at a burger joint on the corner.
We walked over a few canals and into the middle of a large street party. Jackie saw a flashing red light in the middle of the street and asked if we were already in the infamous Red Light district. I didn't think we had walked that far, and it turns out we hadn't. The flashing red lights are just barriers in the middle of closed streets. We found the line of retail shops a few blocks later and were surprised they were closed at 10 PM. Jackie and I remember walking along the Champs Elysees in Paris at midnight in the middle of summer and most of the big retail chains were open.
Amsterdam isn't busy with cars. In the central part of the city, the tram and your feet are all you need. Many people are on bicycles or small gas scooters. It's a very pedestrian friendly city.
At 11:00 PM, as we walk the last block to our hotel, there is still a faint remnant of the Blue Hour, painting Amsterdam with a glorious color. I didn't bring my main camera with me, so this cellphone snap will have to do.
Jackie and I have both discovered blisters. Despite it being a "slow travel day", we still got in 15,000 steps on the pedometer. Tomorrow is our only full day in Amsterdam and Beau insists we visit the Anne Frank house. The guides all say to get there early, so I'm setting an alarm.