When I was younger, my number one dream place to visit was New York City. When I was lucky enough to go there, my new dream destination became London. I had a 10 year plan with some friends; we all planned to save a bunch of money and fly to London for a week to check out the sights. I never dreamed that I’d one day be living a mere one hour train ride away from London. Now I’ve had luck on my side again and I’ve been to London about ten times.
When I moved here four years ago, I had visions of us visiting Europe all the time since we’d be living ‘on Europe’s doorstep,’ but that didn’t happen. The cost of gas for driving or tickets for flying, coupled with the fact that I got pregnant a week after our wedding and didn’t travel well, meant that our Europe travel plans kept getting pushed to the back burner. 2013 came around and with it Chris’ 50th birthday. It’s his 50th so I knew I wanted to do something special for him. After talking about it with Chris, we decided we wanted to take a road trip somewhere in Europe using his birthday money. We eventually settled on Amsterdam. If we went to Amsterdam, it would mean we’d get to drive through three European countries and we both really liked the idea of visiting the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. My mom was here to help me on a flight to Michigan with the kids, so she kept them for us while we went on our two day road trip. I’m going to highlight the best parts of this trip now. I got a bit carried away while writing this and decided rather than taking anything out of it, I’d simply break it up into two posts. Here is part one!
We set out on Sunday morning at 5:30 am. We had a 9 am ferry in Dover that we had to board at 8:30. When we pulled up to the ferry port in Dover, we could see the ferry sitting there ready to be loaded and I have to admit, I was panicking. I wasn’t looking forward to the ferry crossing because I have never done well with boats. I can swim and I love the water, but I do not enjoy boats. The only ferry I’d been on up to this point in my life was a tiny one that transports passengers from Mackinaw City, Michigan to Mackinac Island. This one was made for cars and a sea journey. It was massive. We drove onto it (we were one of the first ones to load), parked the car, got out, and headed upstairs to the main part of the ferry. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what we got. This thing was nice; like the cruise ship of ferries. There was a restaurant, a family lounge, a coffee shop, a duty free shop, several lounging areas, a club level (£14 per person! That’s $21. For a 90 minute ferry ride. Chris and I were laughing our heads off as we walked away from there), and the outside deck which had another coffee shop. It was so neat! We spent most of our time on the outside deck, but we had a bite to eat inside and we checked out the entirety of the ferry as well. We did the typical tourist thing and took pictures of everything. It was fun. We were stunned when we went back onto the deck after having a bite to eat and the coast of France was right next to us. 90 minutes flew by when you had a lot to look at.
We departed the ferry in Calais, France and headed straight to the expressway. We were both acting like little kids, giggling at the road signs that were in French and snapping pictures of them as well. We weren’t in France for very long at all. I’m afraid the only thing of note about France that I took away from this trip was the fact that in construction zones on the expressway they have mannequins dressed in orange jumpsuits holding flags and their arms automatically move up and down to wave the flag and alert you to the fact that there is construction ahead. So funny! I’m not sure if that’s everywhere in France, but I hope so. One day we’d like to go back and see much more of France.
We entered Belgium and there wasn’t a sign announcing it. No border control; nothing that I was expecting to see. It was like driving to a different state in America, but without the “Welcome to ____” sign. I was looking forward to getting a picture of the sign so that was a bit disappointing. We had found out by this point that we couldn’t make any calls on our cell phone even though Chris had called to have international dialing activated before we left. We were a little worried about this as our car isn’t the most reliable and we might need to be able to call and make use of our breakdown insurance should anything happen. Also, my mom had our kids here in England and we wanted to be able to talk to them whenever we pleased. Luckily I could still text my mom and she was able to call us, so that was okay. We stopped at a Texaco station on the expressway to find a pay phone and hopefully call the cell phone company to work out the problem. There was a pay phone, but it didn’t work. We stopped at another one that didn’t have a pay phone and decided we’d wait and try to fix it in Amsterdam (we never could get it fixed). We took the opportunity to look around the shop and see the different items. We bought some pre-packaged waffles of course and ate those; you can’t go to Belgium without eating a waffle! To my surprise, there were a couple more American food items there than what I can get in England. Another surprising thing? The erotic DVDs and pornographic magazines for sale. I don’t mean for sale on a top shelf behind some innocuous magazines. I mean on a low shelf where the shortest child could see them with nothing in front of them and women’s breasts displayed freely and openly on the front. I’m a sheltered American girl so these things stunned me quite a bit.
When we got to The Netherlands, there was a welcome sign, but I wasn’t expecting it this time so I wasn’t able to get a picture. Eventually we got to Amsterdam. The outskirts of Amsterdam has some amazing architecture. The buildings looked so bizarre and neat. There was a Burger King shaped like a crown, a cylindrical hotel, and several other eccentric looking buildings. We headed to the World Fashion center on the outskirts of central Amsterdam so we could use the park and ride provided there. By searching online before we went, I found out that Amsterdam is the most expensive city in the world for parking, but there are several park and ride (P+R) places on the outskirts where you can park your car for only 8 Euros ($10) a day, including free transportation to and from the city center, so we opted for this. We parked our car and took the tram into the city. This was an experience. We couldn’t read the map at the tram stop so we weren’t sure which stop we needed when we got there. There were two Dutch women sitting there and they helped us without us even asking which was incredibly nice of them. With their help, and the help of the person working on the tram, we found out we needed to stop at Dam Square. When we got off at Dam Square, our hotel was a very short walk away so we went to get checked in.
The hotel was great. Our room was super cute, part of the ceiling was at an angle and there were two little windows down on the floor. It was so different. There were Dutch pictures all throughout; on the sheets, the complimentary toiletries, even the elevator. We picked the hotel (Die Port Van Cleve hotel) because it was 0.3 miles from the Anne Frank house, which was the main thing we wanted to see in Amsterdam. It was actually the perfect location. Not only was it that close to the Anne Frank house, it was directly across from Dam Square and the Royal Palace, and there was a tram stop right outside the door.
After we got settled into the hotel, we headed out for dinner and the Anne Frank house. We’d heard that the line at the Anne Frank house could be killer. The house closed at 9 and it was already 6 so we opted for fast food (Burger King) to save time. We finished eating and worked our way over to the Anne Frank house. We passed some absolutely beautiful canals, some questionable gift shops, and something called the Homomonument which commemorates all women and men who have been oppressed or persecuted for their homosexuality. There were several bouquets of flowers spread out there and there was an old man sitting there seemingly lost in thought. It was a touching scene.
That concludes the first part of our Amsterdam trip. Tune in next week to read all about the Anne Frank house, a rickshaw tour, and the Red Light District!