June 28, 2019

Amsterdam – The Canal City

Dateline: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I’m lying here in bed. I’m not quite sure what time it is and my jet lagged self is trying to decide if I should be going to bed or getting up and going out. As it’s just a week past the solstice, perpetual sunset is happening outside the windows. I’m going nom nom nom with a bag of gummy lifesavers and if the three children in the room next door don’t settle down, I’m going to give their parents some very severe looks at breakfast tomorrow. Being served around 1 AM Birmingham time…Travel.

It was an extremely uneventful trip across the pond. I finished packing Thursday morning, called an Uber which whisted me to the airport for the quick hop to Atlanta. I have splurged for Comfort+ seats this trip. This means your knees don’t tickle your nostrils, but you’re still in coach. ATL was the usual seventh circle of hell but I was in plenty of time for my connection to Schiphol. The transatlantic plane was some sort of widebody. I was fortunately not in the middle seat so I wedged myself and my entertainments into place. I had remembered to wear compression socks to prevent the edema I got on my trip to Thailand last winter…the things Tommy left behind.

Schiphol International Airport

Once we deplained about 8:30 AM local time, 1:30 AM Central Time, I breezed through customs, passport control and baggage claim. I was met by a very chatty driver, complements of the Cruise company who drove me in to central Amsterdam and my hotel. I’m at the Doubletree which is across the street from Central Station so I’m in a great location for exploring. The very cute young man behind the counter found me a room, upgraded me to the minisuite with executive lounge privileges. Maybe he liked the beard. I had expected to have to wait hours with my luggage in limbo while the turned the rooms over and it was a pleasant surprise to be able to immediately do my minor unpacking and take a long hot shower.

Fortified by my antishingles regimen, combined with a venti caramel macchiato from the handy Starbucks just off the lobby, off I set to see the city of Amsterdam. It’s a perfect walking day. Temperatures in the low 70s and sunny. One of my favorite things about an older city is the proportions, having been thought out long before the development of the internal combustion engine, are designed to be walked, mingling with the crowds on the street and savoring the sights, sounds and smells. Three hours and six miles later, I found myself back at the hotel, had a little snack, and then found a cafe where I sat with a glass of wine and some antipasti and just took it all in.

WSU in Pullman – where I spent a somewhat infamous year…

It’s about 35 years to the day since the last time I flew into Amsterdam. I was 22 years old and my college graduation present from my parents was a round trip plane ticket to Europe, a Eurail Pass (2nd Class), and about $2000 in American Express travelers checks. Everything was set for a late August return and starting medical school at U of W in September. Then I find out I am being drafted into the WWAMI program (Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho don’t have state medical schools. They use this program where students from those states can go to U of W as a Washington resident but much of their medical education is in that home state to build ties and hopefully keep practitioners there. Washington didn’t want to be left out, never got any volunteers to go as far away from Seattle as possible and remain in the state, so they drafted folk like me. It worked out OK my interest in rural medicine was sparked by this.) A tiny snag as that meant I would be spending my first year at WSU rather than U of W and WSU was on the semester system rather than the quarter system so my start date has been moved to August. If I didn’t change my flight back I was going to miss the first two weeks of medical school. Phone calls to travel agents and the student travel program. Yes, it can be changed but only after you arrive in Europe. Please see our people in Paris. The saga of the ticket change continued long after Paris and ended up with a number of phone calls with my aunt (my parents were off somewhere – the textbook had been published and the first royalties were starting to roll in)working her side of the Atlantic and I working mine. I did end up on a plane home, missed my connection at JFK by hours as the student travel group hadn’t figured the time change correctly, and spent my first night in New York ever on the floor of the departure lounge waiting for the next flight to Seattle. I did get home, had to immediately pack for med school and my father had to drive somewhat incoherent me to Pullman and drop me off at the graduate dorm as the first day of classes were in the morning.

What most of downtown Amsterdam actually looks like

Back to Amsterdam… It’s an old city, laid out in the 16th and 17th centuries with many of the brick houses lining the picturesque canals being original to their lots. Comparing it to the city of my youth, I’d say it’s cleaner. It doesn’t feel as gritty as it did then. That time I stayed in a cheap hotel across the street from the Heineken brewery. It smelled badly of fermenting hops. This room has a view and does not smell. I feel like Lucy Honeychurch gazing down on the canal below, one of the large ones that connects the city system to open water. The rounded brick tops of classic Dutch architecture remain along with the neo-Gothic nineteenth century excesses of the Central station and some of the buildings around Kerkstraat; I did not do the museum thing today. I’ve been to the important ones, including the Anne Frank house on my preveious trip. The Reijksmuseum is included on my cruise itnerary so I’ll see that in a couple of days. I may try to fight the crowds for the Van Gogh museum . It was brand new last time I came through and saw it.

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