Country #71 - Netherlands Day 1

The NYC Lights

Today was an early one, but it’s exciting because it is the start of my two week Europe trip with my mom! I’m really looking forward to having her join me for two weeks in Christmas-y Europe. We’ll be going all over, including to the Netherlands, Finland, Russia, Denmark, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Our first stop is in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, specifically), but to get there we have to fly through both New York and Dublin.

We drove three hours to Atlanta where we had an 11am flight, which meant we had to leave by 6am. We were running a bit late but thanks to my dad’s quick driving ended up making it without having to run to our gate, thank goodness. I was pretty annoyed with United, though, as they made us check our carry on bags through claiming there was no space left in the overhead bins. When we got on the plane though there was still plenty of space! The flight seemed really short and our bags arrived safely in New York as well. I also found out mid-flight that Alabama would be headed to the college football playoff, so that was some exciting 37,000-foot news!

When we landed we met my Aunt Dana outside. We would be spending the day with her in NYC before departing late in the evening. There was very little traffic on our drive into the city, and after exiting the Lincoln tunnel we parked without a hassle and then took the subway towards our first stop: food! On the way to eat we stopped in the MOMA design store and walked up a small portion of 5th avenue, glimpsing the beautiful lights for the first time. We were soon at the Plaza Food Hall, one of my favorite places to eat in New York as it’s really close to where I worked last summer. I really love the pasta place there, Ora Di Pasta, which is where we decided to eat. I had my favorite, the four-cheese alfredo ravioli! We met some nice ladies from Florida sitting next to us, and after we finished we headed back out to enjoy all of the Christmas lights and window decorations.

It was so insanely crowded (much more than it ever was during the summer), but we were still able to see a lot. My favorite decorations were probably Tiffany, Burberry, and Cartier, and the best indoor decorations were Bergdorf Goodman and Saks. Saks also probably had the best lights but we didn’t realize until after we left that we needed to wait to see them turned on. The windows were cool too, though! We stopped in St. Patrick’s church real quick as well (it is beautiful and definitely worth stepping inside if you ever find yourself in New York) and then made our way across the street to 30 Rock to see the giant tree. It was, indeed, giant, and also was a pretty chubby tree. It was wall-to-wall people and we quickly made our way through to catch a cab back to our car on the other side.

We drove up the west side highway, out of the city, and on towards Newburgh where we would be flying out of. We made a quick stop at Best Buy and to see my Uncle Tom who had some chicken fingers waiting for us at a small restaurant in the town where they live right near Newburgh, Cornwall-on-Hudson. We ate quickly and then headed on to the airport. It was a great day taking a quick visit through the city and visiting with Aunt Dana as well.

It took forever to check-in for our flight, and I had my first ever bad experience with Norwegian Air (which is good because I fly them all of the time). Our bag was .2 kg overweight and they refused to let us carry it on, or to let us take anything out of it, which I have never in my life seen before. I was livid. It didn’t cost anything to check it through, but we have a dangerously short layover when we arrive in Dublin and having to wait on our bags honestly could make us miss our connection. Funny how my first bad experience with Norwegian ever was dealing with US-based gate agents, right?

The Canals

Our flight to Dublin was almost completely full and we had no window seat, only a middle and an aisle. The flight was only six hours and by some sort of miracle, I slept more than I almost ever do on international flights, even without a window seat! I guess I was just exhausted from only getting a few hours of sleep before having to get up so early today, but I truly was amazed. When we landed in Dublin it was off to the races to catch our next flight. We were changing airlines and only had an hour and a half because our flight was late on top of already having such a short amount of time. We raced to immigration where the line took about twenty minutes and then had to wait on our bags for another ten minutes (see? I had a right to be upset back in New York).

We had fifty minutes to make our flight at this point. We were flying Ryanair so we had to go to the gate to have them stamp our tickets since we are not from the EU - they call this a visa check but I call it a waste of time because literally no other airline requires it. We then went through security where our line ended up being the slowest and both of my bags were flagged for extra screening, of course. We now only had about ten minutes until boarding supposedly closed, but with European airlines, especially Ryanair, the boarding pass times can be exaggerated. However, they could also be accurate every now and then, so it is always best to play it extremely safe.

My mom went on to the gate to tell them that I was coming, and I had to run a good long ways after waiting ten minutes for my bags. Dripping sweat I made it to what seemed like the farthest away gate with only a few people left boarding. It was a miracle - we made it! It was a pretty quick flight and seemed almost over by the time we received the food that we ordered as we had yet to eat today.

When we arrived in Amsterdam immigration was simple and we then made our way to the train into the city. We bought our tickets at the terminal for about five euros and the ride itself took about twenty minutes. When we arrived we walked across the street from the train station to the GVB Tickets & Information office to buy our tram passes for two days. We then took the tram two stops to head to our hotel, Ambassade Hotel. It was a two-minute walk from the tram and boy, is it incredible!

We were greeted by Eelco, the reservations manager, and that was just the start to our amazing stay. Ambassade Hotel sits right on a canal and is such a cool place. Our room was beautiful with a canal view, amazing interior, and very cosy bed. Oh, and the best shower ever! The hotel itself has a stunning library that features over 4,000 books. And get this: they are all signed by the author, and every single author had stayed at or been to the hotel!  And we are talking some really famous authors, too. There is also a lot of art throughout the hotel which I especially loved.

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After checking in, showering, and resting for a bit we then headed out for a few hours. We walked around the Nine Streets area, one of my favorite parts of Amsterdam that happens to be where Ambassade Hotel is located. It is filled with really cool shops and is so picturesque. It was a beautiful night and really enjoyable to walk around. Our first stop was an obvious one: the absolute, indisputable, greatest cookie shop in the entire world, Van Stapele Koekmakerij! I am not exaggerating people, they are the best. Dark chocolate cookie, white chocolate and chocolate chip middle, served straight out of the oven still piping hot. I have been dreaming about them since last being in Amsterdam a year and a half ago, and they are still every bit as good. I would literally fly across the Atlantic just for these cookies. So I think it goes without saying, but if you are ever in Amsterdam, definitely make the stop. There might be a line out the door but it is always worth it (and we were lucky enough not to have a line!).

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After the cookies we had dinner at Eetcafe Singel 404. I had a tasty bacon, chicken, and cheese sandwich. It was a really cute little spot and we had a great view out the window. After dinner we went into a few shops, walked around a bit longer, and then visited the Cheese Museum. It is really just a cheese shop (with tons of free samples) with a small museum in the bottom, but it is such a happy little store and I recommend it as well. The coolest part about walking around, though, was all of the Christmas lights! They make an already beautiful city even better. When we walked back we stopped by the Anne Frank house. I did this on my last visit and I highly recommend it. It is such an interesting and well-done museum!

Afterwards, we headed to Dam Square, which is where the Royal Palace is located. We walked around for a few minutes and then headed into de Bijenkorf, which is a department store similar to a Saks or Harrods. It was nice and warm and enjoyable to walk through all of the cool floors and to see the Christmas windows and all of the Christmas decorations. By this point, we were getting pretty tired and decided to head back to our hotel to get a much needed good night's sleep. It was a crazy forty-eight hours, but I am so glad to be back in Europe and back in Amsterdam! We have a whole nother day to explore tomorrow and I am really looking forward to it.

71 countries down, 126 to go.

Read about my second day in the Netherlands here.

To learn more about Ambassade Hotel click here.