Today is my very first blog post and I'm a bit nervous about it (considering I sucked at English due to growing up learning English and Spanish at the same time - thanks Mom). Exactly a week ago I woke up in Amsterdam and two days later I was back in Iowa City and here is how it all went down.
Back on US soil, I made it through 72 hours of multiple flights, most likely a liter of coffee, and an entire 32G memory card. My trip to Amsterdam and back was a success. My mom, my little brother and I spent two nights and two days exploring on our impromptu trip to Holland.
On Friday, Jan. 22 my mom called to tell me about her plans to take my brother on his first 747 flight which I wanted to take part in (side note: my stepfather is a Delta pilot which allows us to hop on a plane with open seats whenever we please). So, finally, an opportunity to travel abroad and I did everything not to miss it. After reworking my schedule I made it happen.
Charged up my camera batteries, collected extra memory cards and packed a backpack for our mini-vacay abroad! Lesson I've learned after multiple trips overseas: backpacks suck! Bring a carryon suitcase with non-fixed wheels and a small backpack or satchel to use for liquids, cameras, and travel documents. Bumping into others on trains and planes makes the fact that you're an American tourist even worse (in all honesty) and your back will thank you later.
Sunday morning I was up and on my way to Cedar Rapids airport to catch a flight to Detroit, MI to meet my mom and little brother, Connor. Managing to make the first flight to Detroit at 7:20AM I had roughly 9 hours to kill before our flight to Amsterdam. If only we were smart and tried to sleep for just an hour, that would have made all the difference. But we didn't. We ate, and ate... Ate some more. Chugged coffee like I was trying to win a contest, and sat on Instagram for far too long. Then 6 o'clock rolled around we were ready to board! Connor was antsy at this point. After staring at 747s all day he just wanted to see the inside for once. We spotted the pilot on his way in to the beast of plane and Connor took a chance at asking the pilot some questions. Might I add this was the most adorable thing I've ever witnessed.
Connor: "Hello Captain, my name is Connor. Are you flying the 747 today?"
Captain: "Hello Connor, nice to meet you, and indeed I am. Is this your first time in a 747?"
Connor: "Yeah. We're flying to Amsterdam just so I can fly in one before they are gone forever."
Captain: "Smart move. Well, if you board early come up and see me in the cockpit. Your mom can take some photos of you. Sound good?"
Connor: "Yeah. That'd be cool. I have one question, though. Where is the seatbelt sign button? I can't find it in my air simulator when I fly a 747."
Captain: "It's the last button on the bottom of the center console."
Connor: "Cool. Thanks."
I melted at how cool, calm, and collected Connor acted in front of what was like seeing a celebrity through his eyes. It was NBD.
About 30 minutes later we were boarded and ready for takeoff. The flight felt like forever, especially with a baby crying four out of the six hours of the flight. Once morning came we landed at about 8AM and found our way to the tram leading us to Central Station. Our hotel, the Saint Nicholas, was only a five minute walk from Central Station and we made the mistake of taking a tram that lead us way too far past the hotel (lesson learned, trust your gut and don't be lazy). Once checking in to the hotel we were lucky to have our room ready so early in the morning. I was so excited to shower. We get to the room to find it's actually quite large for typical European hotels. The bathroom is also HUGE compared to most I've been in. I was given my own bed which made the trip even better. Right away we all got ourselves put back together from the long day of travel and got ready to explore. At this point we were all hangry and aggressive towards each other so we were on a hunt for food.
As soon as we hit the streets it all came back to me, remembering which way was toward the Anne Frank Museum, which way toward big shopping stores, and remembering my favorite little spot to grab coffee. It kind of felt normal being there once again.
We found a spot to grab some brunch along the same canal leading to Anne Frank's House. We wanted an English breakfast and went to the Greenwood Cafe & Tea Room. Lovely place with an outside patio, the door left open for customer and server access, and an open view of the kitchen. The owner, an older woman of England served us the most delicious salmon Egg's Benedict and cappuccino. Midmeal the exhaustion hit us all. Mom opted out of waiting in the Anne Frank Museum line for a nap back at the hotel. We all passed out instantly and napped for two, almost three hours. Once up again we went back out to explore.
Around 5:30PM we took a Lover's Canal Cruise for about an hour. It was so perfect and beautiful during the sunset. Not quite the golden hour with how cloudy and foggy it was, but the lighting was just fine for my camera. I started taking photos of the couple sitting with us on the cruise. The man and woman were both young, Dutch, and beautiful. I wish I would've asked if I could keep taking their photos. Maybe gotten their information to send them the photos too. Oh well. Next time?
After the tour we went to Dam Square for some shopping. It started to get late and we needed food at this point. First mom suggested we grab a beer at the place we had one the last time we were in Amsterdam together. She got her Heineken and I got my Aflegem Tripel. Seriously, one of the best beers I've had. Connor sipped on a water while we all decided on what we wanted for dinner. I wanted traditional Dutch food but Connor wasn't ready for that. We compromised by going next door to a restaurant that had it all from Dutch to burgers. I got my favorite, split pea soup, my mom got her spare ribs, and Connor got Poffertjes (fluffy, mini pancakes) with whipped cream and chocolate - spoiled. After dinner we were off to bed to prepare ourselves for some city hopping the next day.
It was 5:30AM Central European Time, meaning almost midnight in the US. My internal clock was completely out of whack. I was tempted to get up and wander around to find some food and some perfect photo moments. Instead I laid in bed thinking of ways to fall back to sleep without any luck. Before I knew it the clock struck 9 o'clock and we were all already late to start our day but everyone else's sleep was much needed. We made it for a quick croissant with cheese in the hotel lobby and grabbed an espresso to go. Headed to Centraal Station for the ride to Madurodam. On the way we saw gorgeous windmills and cute sheep farms. I wish so badly I could've gotten off the train to capture some shots of it all. In Madurodam we went to the giant mini city museum. Kind of confusing, I know, but this place is great for all ages. It's an outdoor museum of all of Holland's most historic cities and landmarks made in miniature form for you to enjoy all at once. Adorbs doesn't even begin to describe it. Also, us vertically challenged people get to feel tall for once! Mom got full use of her selfie stick roaming around the mini cities. We spent about two hours going from mini city to mini city until the wind hurt our faces and we decided to head back to the train station.
While looking for our train back I spotted the next train headed to Gouda. Mom had always wanted to go there - can't remember if she'd been already or not, found out it was only 20 minutes further south so we did it. It was a great idea. The ride there was even better with more windmills and farms. Once there it was only about a 10 minute walk to the Gouda Markt where cheese is usually traded in the plaza during every season but winter. We got dinner at an adorable Dutch brassarie where we enjoyed Gouda Soup, carpaccio, and some good beer. Our plan was to buy our mass amounts of cheese in Gouda until realizing the shops close early in such a small town at about 5:30PM. We missed our chance due to meandering through side streets. Oops.
We headed back to the central station to be on our way to Amsterdam again. It took about an hour to get back to Amsterdam and then we proceeded to hunt for cheese before our early morning flight back to the states. We found a cheese shop and got our fix of cheese samples and goods to take home. I don't AT ALL feel guilty after spending over $100 in cheese. I'm proud to say I bought myself one article of clothing while abroad this time and only focused on food, cheese, porcelain, and home goods - I think this means I'm growing up...
The plane ride home was the best. We were lucky enough to fly first class on the 747 with the same pilot that allowed us to come up to see the cockpit before. We went back up to the cockpit to say hello and give him a thank you gift for the last time. The pilot was a true hero for letting my little brother go back up to see the cockpit one more time before takeoff. He even gifted Connor with the flight map and trip information to study. Such a wonderful thing to do to keep Connor's dreams going of being a future pilot. We need more people like him in this world.
With a five course meal and two mimosas I conked out with a food coma and woke up back in Detroit. As much as people said it wouldn't be worth the six hour flight and only two days abroad they were wrong. Any moment of travel is worth it. Any chance you're given, GO. You're an absolute idiot to turn it down. Screw being practical. Make it work.
Stephanie a. Sunberg