That day in Amsterdam and the voyage home

Going back in time to Monday:

We woke up late and prepared to go out for our full day in Amsterdam. The forecast was for morning showers, developing into steady rain after midday, but the morning was dry and although the sky was overcast it didn’t threaten any rain soon. We walked to the Albert Cuypmarkt to have a look at that and get some breakfast there. We bought some poffertjes to have as the first round of breakfast (see photo posted in the previous entry). These were served with a big slab of butter and a large sprinkling of powdered sugar. They were nice, but sweet, and we needed something else to add to make up a proper breakfast.

We hoped there would be some bakery stalls at the market to get some fresh bread or pastries for breakfast, but we didn’t spot any. It seemed much less of a farmers’ market and more the sort of market with fast food stalls and lots of stalls selling knick-knacks and souvenirs and clothing and so on. There were a couple of fruit and vegetable stalls and maybe a deli stall or two, but otherwise nowhere where you’d go to buy fresh food to take home. Instead we found a bakery shop in one of the buildings towards the western end of the street market. We got croissants, mine filled with ham and cheese. It was delicious, with nice flaky pastry.

From here we walked past the Rijksmuseum and admired the exterior architecture. But alas we didn’t have lots of time so we didn’t go inside, as visiting this world renowned art museum could easily have eaten up an entire day.

From here we walked north across various canals until we reached the Bloemenmarkt floating flower market. I was looking forward to this as flower markets are generally vibrant and full of colour, and make good photo opportunities. However I was rather disappointed to discover that there were almost no fresh cut flowers here at all. Almost all the stalls were selling flower bulbs and cuttings and seeds, as well as small potted plants such as succulents, cacti, and other random things. Most of them also sold touristy souvenirs. In short, it was nothing like what I had hoped for.

Continuing our walk, my plan had been to go down the main tourist drag towards Dam Square. But having done that last night, and had enough of this overly touristy area, we cut that section off and proceeded to the Nine Streets neighbourhood, which was supposed to be more elegant and interesting, with picturesque canals and streets lined with boutiques and eclectic shops. Well, it was okay, and there were plenty of nice views, but it wasn’t quite as nice as I’d expected. There was a lot of construction work in progress in various streets, which didn’t help.

So we finished traversing this area faster than anticipated, and then headed across the canal west in the Jordaan neighbourhood. Again, I’d read that Jordaan was worth exploring. It was a more residential area and looked like a trendy and moderately expensive place to live. The main street had a selection of slightly more mundane shops than the boutiques of Nine Streets, so it felt more lived in. We detoured around a bit to take in some of the residential vibe, but again this didn’t take too long.

We did find a great place for lunch. My wife spotted a delicatessen across the road and we went over to take a look. It sold deli meats and cheeses, but also had a sandwich bar. The woman behind the counter was very friendly and made M. a sandwich on a long thin wholegrain baguette, with pesto, aged gouda, cucumber, and tomato. When the lady asked which cheese my wife wanted, she answered gouda, and then the lady asked what type of gouda! Then she shaved off some bits of young gouda and aged gouda so we could try them. The aged was really nice, so my wife got that. I also had the aged gouda on a sandwich with ham and mustard. We sat on a bench in front of the shop window to eat our sandwiches. This was a perfect lunch – somewhere nice and local that the residents got to to buy supplies and the vast majority of tourists would probably never stop at.

From Jordaan, we continued west toward De Hallen. My original plan was that we would approach this area close to dinner time, and potentially eat in the food hall here. But we made it by early afternoon, so had plenty of time to spare. We arrived just as it started raining gently, so it was good timing. It turned out that De Hallen was also a kind of small shopping mall in what looked like a historical warehouse or something similar, but with a small number of fairly large and interesting things, including studios and a cinema. One shop had a large selection of eclectic and interesting artsy things for home decor or artistic inspiration, and we browsed in here a bit.

Across the interior hall from there was a denim shop and fashion design studio. The front looked like a jeans shop, but along one side were banks of sewing machines, with some people working at them, and along the other were large rolls of denim material. A man told us about the place: It was a design school for fashion designers and creators, to work specifically on denim wear. Students were there to learn and practise and hopefully go on to make their own fashion labels. Many of the jeans and other clothing in the shop were made by the students. And at the back of the shop and also upstairs were classrooms and more banks of sewing machines where students were busy assembling clothing. We were allowed to wander around and watch them working. Some of the clothing on display was very creative, using denim not just for pants, but also jackets, dresses, and so on.

We went into the food hall nearby. This was an area with maybe one or two hundred tables for dinners, surrounded by about 30 or 40 different places selling food ready to eat, as well as a handful of bars selling drinks. We managed to find a table among the people and had a drink and a mid-afternoon snack. There was a place making bitterballen, and so I had to try some. They had about 7 or 8 different flavours. You could get 3 or 6 or 10 balls of one type, or they also had a sampling board with one of each of five different flavours. This wasn’t as economical, but I had to try the different types, so I got one of those. “Bitterball sauce” or mayonnaise were extra, but mustard was free for some reason, so I got mustard to go with them (also because I like mustard). The woman cooking the bitterballen just threw all the orders into the deep fryer at once, and then when she pulled them out in the fryer strainer she had to pick up and inspect each one closely before deciding what flavour it was and adding it to the correct order. There was quite a wait, as about 5 or 6 people had ordered before me.

We figured we could have a leisurely afternoon sitting here and snacking on things, rather than having a large sit down dinner later on. But my wife. wanted to get a coffee from a cafe that she’d spotted outside as we’d approached De Hallen. So we went out there, braving some spitting rain, and got seats in the cafe. She had her coffee while I went around another corner to get some ice cream at another place we’d seen while going out to the cafe. By now the weather had turned and besides raining it was chilly and windy. I now wished I’d brought my jacket to wear. But as the woman at the ice cream shop agreed with me, it’s never too cold for ice cream! It turned out the cafe owner was from Australia and the woman who was serving was from New Zealand, so we had a quick chat with her.

While going to get my ice cream, I’d noticed a large pet store just around the corner from the cafe. We went in here to look around and find a present for Scully. I found a soft plush toy in Dutch orange colour, which we got. Interestingly they also had “dog beer”, which came in beer-like bottles and two flavours: original and chicken. Both with 0% alcohol and various meat proteins and stuff. I assume they are like a broth.

Dog Beer!!

From here we began walking back towards our hotel, as it was getting to early evening and we had come a long way. We walked back a different way, going through Vondelpark, a large forested park and one of Amsterdam’s main attractions. It was beautiful, with gravel paths leading through dense forests, which opened out into ponds, lakes, lawns, and formal gardens in places. We passed along a stream to the rose garden, which contained dozens of varieties of roses in many colours, laid out in a pattern of hexagons. There were many birds too, and I counted about 14 different species using eBird. It was raining steadily when we arrived, but it eased off as we explored the park and had stopped by the time we left. We passed a lake across which were several very expensive looking houses that backed onto the lake. They must have incredible views.

We continued walking, getting quite tired and footsore by now. We still wanted something for dinner, though something fairly light as we’d eaten snacks in the afternoon. My wife spotted a place called Soup En Zo, which served a selection of soups, salads, and little bites like cheese pastry sticks and quiches. She got a Moroccan chick pea soup while I got the zucchini and parmesan. She also got a small pumpkin quiche, and we grabbed some chunks of bread to go with the soups. They were all really good. Again another local place off the tourist path.

A light dinner eaten, we continued on back to the hotel. It was quite a hike and we were exhausted when we got in. We gradually closed the thick curtains to block out the sunlight early so we could adapt to the dark and get some sleep before it got too late. Because we planned to be up at 06:00 tomorrow to leave and head to the airport for our flight, which is scheduled at 11:15.

There have been horror stories about Schiphol Airport recently, with enormous queues and waiting times of several hours to get through security. A friend of mine messaged me via Facebook that we should get to the airport five hours before the flight, as she was in some travel groups that were saying that the average waiting time was four hours, and she had a friend who had had to wait six hours! But I’d already seen signs at train stations and advice on the Schiphol Airport website saying that you should not show up more than four hours before your flight, because if you were there earlier they wouldn’t even let you into the departures hall, and you’d have to wait outside. hen there was other info saying that the queues were very long and in some cases the queues extended outside the building! And when I asked the hotel staff about how to get to the airport, they told me to catch the number 4 tram to Centraal Station and then a train from there, and we should aim to be there four to five hours before our flight.

Well, we didn’t want to get up at 04:00, so we decided 06:00 was good enough, as that should get us to the airport by around 07:00, just over four hours before flight time. That decided, we packed our bags and returned a bit early.

Tuesday 28 June

We woke up a bit before the alarm went off. I got up at 05:30 and did some stretching exercises, then got M. up. I checked our check-in state on the Singapore Airlines app, thinking we’d have to go to a counter to get boarding passes printed. But the app had generated boarding passes that we could load into Apple Wallet! So we did that, thinking how awesome it was that we could have the boarding passes on our phones instead of having to get printed ones that were easy to lose.

We were ready to go just after 06:00. We left the hotel and walked half a block to the nearest tram stop. It only took a few minutes to arrive, taking us to Centraal station where we got a train to the airport. We got off and went upstairs to the departure area. It was now 07:00, so 4:15 before our flight. We saw signs saying that you shouldn’t enter the departure hall more than four hours before your flight, but there was nobody there enforcing it, so we wandered in. We skipped the check-in counters since we had no bags to drop off and we had our boarding passes, and we went straight to security. I was expecting huge queues, but it really wasn’t that bad at all. They looked at our digital boarding passes and we went through security very quickly. Then came customs, where we joined a queue that looked long, but it moved very quickly and we were at the front in about 10 minutes. Our passports were scanned automatically, and then a customs officer simply stamped our passports and we were inside the terminal. We’d expected several hours of waiting in queues, but the whole process had taken only about 15 minutes.

Grateful for that, we headed to the Aspire lounge, where Singapore Airlines had a special section roped off just for Singapore customers. We were the first ones there, and had the entire section to ourselves, while other people crammed into the other areas of the lounge. We finally had some breakfast, bowls of muesli with yoghurt, and I added some fresh chopped fruit to mine. It was a nicer and more comfortable breakfast than we would have got outside in the main terminal area.

Here a strange thing happened. My phone rang, and it was a call from a number in the Netherlands. Normally I just decline calls from outside Australia as they are always spam, so I did so. Then it rang again. And then I got another call from another number in the Netherlands. I didn’t want to answer any of these, as that would activate mobile roaming and a high daily charge, and I was absolutely sure that nobody in the Netherlands knew my phone number, so it had to be spam. But it was an odd coincidence that there were several from within the country I was currently in.

We headed to our gate about an hour before, to give us time to walk over there, and to look at some shops on the way. There was also a Rijksmuseum gift shop and behind it was an actual display of paintings from the museum itself! The display was themed as “Woman Power”, and all of the featured paintings were by female artists contemporary with the great (male) Dutch masters. So although we didn’t get to visit the museum itself, this was a nice taste of the collection.

Boarding started at the expected time, half an hour before departure. Although here we had an issue, as they told us that the digital boarding passes on our phones weren’t good enough and we had to get printed ones. And they’d been trying to phone us several times to find out where we were as we hadn’t checked in to get boarding passes as they’d expected!

Once on board the captain announced that we’d have to wait for about an hour before pushing back from the gate, because Schiphol was extremely busy with departures and we were in a long queue to leave. Given we originally only had 1:20 to make our scheduled connection in Singapore, I hoped that we’d make up time in the air and arrive closer to our scheduled arrival time. We did not want to miss our connecting flight to Sydney and end up spending more unexpected time in Changi Airport!

Wednesday 29 June

We made up a little time, but by the time we landed we had just 40 minutes to make our connecting flight before it departed. Fortunately, while taxiing the captain announced that the flight to Sydney was waiting for us, and was at the immediately adjacent gate, so all we had to do was walk over and go straight on board. Compared to the 28 hours or so we spent in Changi last time, we were in the terminal building maybe 15 minutes at the most this time. Our second flight pushed back from the gate bang on time. It was so quick that I wonder how they managed to get all the passengers over as well as all the checked luggage. Fortunately for us we only had carry-on, so didn’t have any possibility of checked bags going astray.

The final flight landed about half an hour early, around 16:30 Sydney time. Sydney Airport was completely empty. We must have been the first plane to arrive for at least an hour, as there was nobody ahead of us at any of the immigration, baggage claims, or customs areas. As a result of this and not having any checked bags to wait for, we were out into the arrivals hall within just a few minutes.

We headed to the station and caught a train 3 minutes later. We were home and in the door by 17:30. We’d been in Amsterdam just 21 hours earlier. The entire trip form Amsterdam to our home had taken 7 hours less than we spent in Changi Airport on the way out!

We had quick showers and then went to Loki and Rachel’s place to pick up Scully. Family reunited, we came home and relaxed a bit in the evening before bed time, and hoping to sleep through until morning to get over any jet lag.

3 thoughts on “That day in Amsterdam and the voyage home”

  1. Less than 2 hours between connecting flights is a gamble I wasn’t willing to take before covid. Now there is no way I would book less than 4 hours between the flights. I don’t know if you had that option or all other flights were worse, but all the horror stories about delayed and canceled flights are enough for me to prefer even a bigger interval than risk missing a flight.

    1. Connections between Australia and Europe are generally quite limited, as each airline usually only has one service a day to the desired destination city. So it can sometimes be a choice of a 1.5 hour connection, or a 25.5 hour connection. If we’d taken Emirates via Dubai, the connections were something like 13 hours. (And Dubai Airport is not somewhere I ever want to be for 13 hours.)

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