The first thing I’ll say is that getting to BWI is a real pain when compared to the five minutes it takes to get to Reagan from our apartment: an Uber to Union Station (metro was delayed), MARC train to somewhere near the airport and then finally a shuttle bus packed with people to the international terminal. A pain, but that’s where the cheap flights are…
When we arrived at the international terminal two hours before our scheduled departure time it was practically abandoned, which meant we would hopefully get through security fast. We then found out that our flight had been delayed by two hours. So now we were sitting in the empty terminal four hours before our flight. We then got some crummy/expensive food at the only eating option in the terminal and met a family en route to Dublin via the same flight as us.
Once we finally boarded the plane, roughly four hours and many rounds of Gin Rummy later, the pilot informed us that the reason the flight had been delayed was because there was an Air Traffic Controller’s strike in Iceland that prohibited any flights into the country (where our layover was) until 7am. Luckily, that meant our connecting flight was also stuck, so there was little danger of us being stranded in Reykjavik.
The flight was overnight, so not much to see. Sleeping on flights is getting harder as I get older, but I managed to squeeze in a few hours before the sun started coming up. Probably the highlight of the first flight was flying over Greenland and seeing the expanse of snow-covered land. It was surreal after leaving D.C., which was in the 80s on the day we left. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture.
Interestingly, everyone who lands in Iceland must go through a passport check – even if connecting. This slowed things down, but we essentially ran from flight 1 to flight 2. On the brightside, I did get an Iceland stamp in my passport.
The second flight, from Iceland to Schiphol airport outside of Amsterdam, was much shorter. Thankfully, we had an empty seat next to us that allowed for more creative sleeping positions. We were going to land around 2pm (or, should I say 14:00) local time, so this was our last chance to sleep for awhile.
Arriving in Schiphol was much easier than I expected. I was blown away that you actually don’t talk to a border agent at all when going through customs. Best I can tell, they take a photo of you as you walk through a special gate. And just like that, we were in Holland. Our first mission was to get to our AirBnB in central (Centrum) Amsterdam. This would involve taking a NS train (the national/international train system) to the Amsterdam central station, then taking a tram from there to a walkable distance.
The train was a bit of a mystery, we basically just wandered around until we found a completely empty train that said “Amsterdam Centraal” on it and hopped in. It was literally empty. So empty, that I figured we must be on the wrong train and had my first, of many, small panics. It was in fact, not the wrong train and about 10 minutes later, we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal.
Next, we decided to buy “I Amsterdam” cards that allow you to ride public transportation and get into museums at discounted rates. This was our first attempt to talk in English to a Dutch person and, unsurprisingly, he spoke perfect English. It is sort of amazing that this entire country is at least bilingual. It makes me feel woefully inadequate.
Armed with our cards, we boarded a tram that we believed to be headed towards the central canal area of the city where our AirBnB was located. Once again, whether it be luck or Matt’s scarily good sense of direction, we made it to the Rembrandtplein around 600m from Noorderstraat where we were staying.
At this point, we were realizing how much we take for granted a consistent and persistent connection to the internet. Throughout this whole trip so far, we’ve been in communication with our host in Amsterdam trying to nail down what time we’d actually be arriving. He is a doctor and has young children, so any arrival needed to be pretty heavily coordinated. Somehow, right as we walked up to the door of the house, we see our host riding his bike down the street and waving.
Our host was great, he carried our bags up the very very steep steps to the attic apartment, showed us around, and then left cold beer and a bottle of wine on the stairs as a welcome gift. The apartment itself was also amazing.
Pretty much immediately, we showered and got ready to begin exploring. It finally began to sink in that we had arrived.
The first thing that really stood out that I didn’t fully appreciate ahead of time was the importance of bikes in this city. Bikes are a first-class vehicle in Amsterdam and which is evident from the sheer number of bikers and bikes everywhere.
We walked to a neighborhood called De Pijp where we ate some much needed dinner at Cannibale Royale. We ordered burgers and the cheap beer of record here in the Netherlands: Jupiler. Needless to say, after a long day of travelling, it hit the spot.
We walked around a bit more and soaked in the beautiful canal views as the sun started to set (not until 9:45pm, by the way).
Finally, we went to a pub crawl that we knew would be all tourists and potentially terrible, but extremely cheap and a structured way to keep ourselves awake after not sleeping properly. It was exactly that. When we arrived, one of the guides was pouring shots into the mouths of not-yet-drunk attendees. As you might guess, it went downhill from there. Each “pub” less crowded than the last. After a few of these, we cut our losses and went home and succumed to the jet lag.