Friday, October 26, 2007

Freitag (Mainz to Amsterdam)...

We said our morning goodbyes to Keegan, Mia and Adam until we return next weekend. Julie drove us into Mainz to catch our 11:02am Die Bahn train from the central station (Mainz Hbf). Grabbed two cheesy bread treats from the station for a snack: Jeff's in pizza form, mine resembling a pig-in-a-blaket. Thirty minutes via regional train to Frankfurt Flughafen, where we had a rushed ten minutes to locate the long distance trains. At Gleis Fern 6, boarded a sleek high-speed ICE train to Amsterdam Centraal. In between, we stopped in Köln (with its famous cathedral), Düsseldorf, Arnhem (our first stop in the Netherlands) and Utrecht. Dry bacon and egg sandwiches on the train. The conductor in our car had spikey bleached blond hair tipped in cotton candy blue.

Spotted our first windmill as we crossed the border into the Netherlands. Freitag became Vrijdag. Buildings and billboards switched their Internet addresses from .DE to .NL in the blink of an eye...the modern border crossing.

Arrived into Amsterdam Centraal in late afternoon. Two taxi drivers staged a colorful battle of words over us. The victorious alpha cabbie zipped skilfully through the narrow streets...dodging bicycles, street cars, and throngs of rush-hour pedestrians.

Checked into Hotel Patou, a hip boutique hotel on trendy P.C. Hoofsraat. Sleek minimalist styling with two large windows overlooking old-world rooftops. The hotel just opened recently, with a few kinks to work out...Jeff fixed the bathroom window shade...maybe we'll get a discount.

Before dinner, we took a short "orientation walk"...taking random turns down "oh, that looks nice" streets. Nearly run down by silent bicycles coming at you from every direction. The only warning is a deceptively innocent bell signaling imminent collision. Still, the Dutch dedication to bikes is clear and admirable...I had heard about the prevalence of bicycles, but I really had no idea. Forty percent of travel in central Amsterdam is by bike!

Dinner was at a random restaurant--named "the 5th"--that lured us in with its scrumptious dishes, modern-meets-old-world decor...and vodka menu. Jeff ordered a truffle, mushroom, and artichoke risotto. I had a perfectly cooked French-style steak with a rich Hollandaise sauce. Cappucinos substituted for desert.

We closed our long day with 2-for-1 Heinekens at SOHO...a happening bar with pulsing dance music in a pub setting. The walk home was serene...calm canals, the constant whir of bicycles, and the inevitable 'ching ching' when what you thought was a quiet sidewalk turns out to be yet another bike lane.

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