Friday April 25
In our carriage, the only other passenger as we entered was a nice woman from Amsterdam who spoke English and told us that tomorrow was the King's birthday. She also advised that we should be aware that the city would be very busy, and that we should ask at the hotel about getting to our barge in the morning. The carriage gradually filled as we stopped at Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schiphol on our way to Amsterdam. Following the stop at Brussels, we were served lunch accompanied by wine. It was unexpected as we had not absorbed the fact that we were in first class. The meal was very good; Gary had the ham dinner and Heather had the vegetarian tapenade. Both were followed by a light cake and coffee.
Throughout the train ride Gary was monitoring the speed of the train which was a Thalys TGV direct to Amsterdam -- a relatively new service. The highest speed that we reached was around 300 kilometres. It did not feel that fast!
We arrived in Amsterdam around 2:40 and took a taxi to our hotel a few canals away from the station. We settled in and then went for a walk. The city is alive with the anticipation of the King's birthday holiday! Walking across a street is a task in itself; there is a bike lane, a car lane, a trolley lane, another car lane and another bike lane, all of which were busy. There are many ways to get run over in this city! Bikes were the main hazard, they were everywhere which is good to see.
We enquired while checking in to the hotel about the King's Day tomorrow. Previously the Dutch had celebrated Queen's Day on April 30, but last year Willem-Alexander was crowned king and the first King's Day (for a long time) is Saturday April 26. On the king' s holiday, everywhere is a "free market" (Vrijmarkt) day and everyone is allowed to sell whatever they want: a city wide garage sale! The fact that the centre centre of the city was closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian centre caused us a of a problem: similar to the street closures around the Parliament Buildings on July 1 in Ottawa, except that there is a much wider area affected.
More on this later. Everything is decked in orange, including the people. There are an array of orange hats, hair, sunglasses and various souvenir t-shirts in the shops and already being worn around the streets. Barrels of beer were being made ready on street corners near restaurants, and already there were street corners with folks dancing and celebrating early! The canals were very busy with lots of smaller boats cruising around. The atmosphere is charged and ready for tomorrow.
It is already clear that we will have a challenge getting our luggage across the city to the barge for our bike/barge tour. Our hotel is located on the opposite side of the city from where we need to catch the barge. We have been told that there will be no taxis operating in the city centre and our only chance is to skirt the periphery and to get as close as possible and walk the rest. The other option is to walk over three kilometres through the city with our suitcases (no fun on cobbles) and through celebrating crowds of people. We would wait to see what develops.
The hotel concierge directed us a laundrette fairly near to the hotel and we took the opportunity to complete a load of laundry before the barge trip. While one of us read the other explored the neighbourhood until the washing and drying was done. following a quick pizza dinner, it was time to walk back to the hotel. Since we have three days in Amsterdam after the bike tour, we decided to leave seeing the city at night until our return.