Amanda had made an itinerary, so I was off early to catch my train to Delft. I boarded a train at Amsterdaam Central...and let me tell you, Centraal is a busy station, and unlike London train stations, it is not a terminus, it has trains moving in and out in both directions. So sometimes it can be a little confusing for the non-Dutch speaking tourists like myself.
Anyway, I boarded a train and promptly started getting anxious--what if it's the WRONG train? What if I end up in Belgium?
So I got up and started to leave...then I moved to sit down. Feeling foolish, I finally asked a man a few seats away, "Is this the _____ train?" (Even now, the name of the terminating city eludes me.)
"Thank you!!" I exclaimed, and then pointed to the top of my head and said, "Toooouuurist!"
The man laughed, and replied, "That is not a bad thing. It's always good to ask."
And this is why I love the Dutch.
About an hour later, I was arriving at Delft's main station, and Amanda was waiting for me near the exit.
The first activity for our day was a visit to the marvelous Delft Works, home to the master painters and makers of this beautiful Dutch pottery. To get there, it made more sense to ride bikes than to walk, so Amanda unlocked hers from the station storage area (there were several hundred bikes, I'm not kidding), and saw to renting one for me.
I grew up riding my bikes in the sunny streets of Rancho Cordova, and later, the hilly suburbs of Folsom, into my teen years. I know how to ride a bike. However, it had been...a long time. So I was a little bit nervous about this part of our day, but I gamely climbed on and tried to remember how.
It's like riding a bike, really.
I was wobbly, but I managed, only having one clutzy dismount in which I fell on my ass, and not causing any international incidents ("American Tourist Causes Multi-Bike Pile-Up in Delft"). What I actually learned was that the more I tried to control the bike, the wobblier I became.
|We stopped at the point where Vermeer's painting of the|
view of Delft was painted. It looks different now, for sure.
The Delft works building was absolutely fascinating. The master painters spend about ten years working their way to that distinction, and the amount of artistry involved is mind-boggling. Even more fascinating, the paint they use, which has cobalt in it, comes out black, but turns blue through a chemical process during firing.
|A master painter at work. He even chatted with us, laughing|
as I marveled at how steady his hands are doing such
|A Delft tile rendering of Rembrandt's "Night Watch."|
|The official royal china, commissioned by Willem-Alexander|
and Maxima, hense the MW in the middle.
|Christmas collector plates from various years.|
|They actually let you walk through the area where the|
pottery is done. For many classic shapes, they use molds
to mass-produce the vases, plates, etc.
|The evolution of a Delft vase: the first rough casting, then|
a sanded-down version. Next, it is painted, and finally,
fired, where the paint turns blue. Then it is glazed.
After the Delft works, we cycled back to the train station. We had to wait for a drawbridge on one of the canals, so I took a picture of myself to prove I had ridden a bike. Once the bridge was back down, we waited for all the others to pass us before I wobbled my way back into the bike lane.
I will say: I may have been wobbly and worried about falling, but the cycling conditions in the Netherlands are such that I never felt any sort of worry about auto traffic.
After returning my bike at the station, we set off on foot to central Delft, home to the historic buildings and churches, and, of course, canals.
|The Old Church has a leaning tower, and is undergoing|
some restoration work.
Delft is much like Amsterdam, but a bit smaller and without the crowds of tourists. There are tourists there, but in smaller numbers, and it feels calmer than Amsterdam.
|The New Church|
|The old City Hall, across the square from the New Church.|
|"The Blue Heart"|
We climbed a bit more, to the top level you can climb to.
|City Hall, even smaller.|
|"Whoa..." It was around this point where I admitted to|
Amanda that I am very nervous of heights, but that I like to
scale them nonetheless because of the views to be had."
|Finally, a pic of Amanda and I.|
|Sarcophagus of William of Orange|
After all that climbing, we were both hungry for lunch, so we set out to find something to eat, and do some shopping and sight-seeing.
Next it was into the Old Church.
|Vermeer (he of Girl with a Pearl Earring fame) is|
Our next stop was the Museum Prinsenhof, which shows the unique history of Delft through it's art and it's role in the creation of the Netherlands. It is also, incidentally, where William of Orange was murdered.
|Bullet holes in the wall where William of Orange fell|
as he was shot while coming down the stairs.
For the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, we wandered a lot, popping into shops and stopping to take pictures.
We walked to the East Gate, and made a surprising new friend.
|That, ahead, is the East Gate.|
|Suddenly, a pig.|
|A pig, just going for a walk. (His person was on the other|
side, waiting for him to snuffle his way along.)
|Delft is home to one of those really cool ground paintings|
that only looks "right" from one angle.
|Every so often, I'd see a tile like this in the ground.|
Delft is lovely in any light, but sunset always makes any city look its best. We were now just killing time, waiting for our 7:00 dinner reservation.
|I did not buy the huge red duck. For one, I had already maxed|
out my duck limit for this trip with Bluey Swimmy. For another,
I knew this would NEVER fit in my suitcase.
(I didn't have any bad meals on this trip, even at the cafeteria at Zanse Schaans.)
But this meal was awesome, because it was basically good ol' Dutch comfort food. Over dinner, I told Amanda that when I was in college, if I got sick, I'd come home to my parents' for the weekend, and Mom would make me chicken and dumplings. "If I had grown up here in the Netherlands," I told her, "I think it would have been stamppot that Mom made me!"
|"Dutch food, Dutch prices," loosely translated.|
|The banner, Amanda told me, is a popular decoration people|
put up in their homes for birthdays.
What is stamppot?
By culinary standards, it's not too complicated. It's a large meatball served on a bed of mash--in this case potatoes and carrots, but there are other variations. The meatball is spicy, but not hot. I read later that it has mustard in it.
For desert, I had a traditional Dutch pancake with ice cream. I can't describe how Dutch vanilla ice cream is different from American, but it really is--it's less over-the-top sweet and relies more on the natural vanilla bean flavor. It was amazing--rich and flavorful, and all melt-y on that hot pancake.
After dinner, it was time to head back to the station, so I could get back to Amsterdam. Alas, my trip was pretty much over. I needed to get back to do the last of the packing and get a decent night's sleep before the insanity of the next day started.
I woke early on Saturday, showered, and put the last of my things into my suitcase and carry-on. Heavens, but I bought a lot of stuff! Tulip bulbs, cheese, Delft Blue, souvenirs...and one awesome van Gogh skirt.
I hefted it all down the steep old stairs and checked out, then waited for the nearby tram to take me to Centraal.
|One last morning on the Prinsengracht, at the|
tram stop right next to my hotel.
|My train, the Sprinter that would take me to Schipol.|
If entering Amsterdam through Schipol was easy-breezy, leaving it was a nightmare of long lines, confused people, and an extra-heavy carry-on that was digging into my shoulder. First there was the massive line to check in. Then the line to do the baggage check. Then the line for security (about a half hour wait). Then later, a line for a second "paper check" required by Delta Airlines. Holy cow. All of the airport employees were very friendly, it was my fellow tourists I wanted to punch sometimes. Keep it moving, you know?!
But I made it through all that in plenty of time and plopped down to eat some breakfast. The flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis/St. Paul was uneventful, and I even had an open middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle (score!!). I dozed through the first snack service, which is rare for me.
As we landed in MSP, it was snowing out. I've never landed or taken off in snow, but figured the pilots know what they're doing.
It was at MSP where I went through customs, and that was a bit of an adventure, just in that I'm used to customs being at my last destination. I had to go through passport control, where I told the man I had tulip bulbs to declare. He wrote a big A on my printed-out form, so from there I had to go through the Agriculture line. That took all of two minutes, as the guy inspected the box my bulbs came in for expiration dates, approved them, and sent me on my way to baggage claim.
Once I got my bags, I went through customs, then baggage check-in (again) and finally, security (again). They had to hand-inspect my cheese, but it passed muster and I was allowed to carry it on the plane.
I sat in the terminal area with some fruit snacks, and chatted with Mom and Dad on my phone for a bit, as the snow continued falling.
|That's a lot of snow.|
Finally, it was time to board. I had a five-hour flight ahead, and San Francisco calling my name. I also had a whole three-seat aisle to myself. All. To. My. Self. Guess who actually slept on an airplane--like, full-out had a lovely nap? THIS LADY.
|The view from seat 24A.|
By the time I landed in San Francisco, gathered my suitcase, and got back to the hotel where I'd started this whole adventure, I was very glad I'd reserved the room. Driving back to Sacramento that late after all that traveling would have sucked in a big way. I showered, got a good night's sleep, and the next morning was able to drive home, only stopping at the grocery store, well before noon. Mom and Dad brought my boys back and I settled into unpacking, laundry, and relaxing.
For such a whirlwind, it was a really great trip. I loved Amsterdam and Delft, and it was wonderful to meet Amanda at last. I know I'll go back some day--there is more I'd love to see!