Subject: Amsterdam and Rotterdam
This was our fist trip overseas since September 11th so we weren't quite sure what to expect at the airport. We hadn't traveled overseas since our wonderful trip to Portugal in early September, which culminated with our getting stranded in London on September 11th after being asked to vacate the plane at Heathrow airport 10 minutes before it was supposed to take off on its way to Toronto.

Security was fairly tight at the Toronto airport, but not unusually so, and we were happy to cooperate. Paul was particularly impressed with the number of people carrying laptops who were asked to turn them on and demonstrate that they were indeed carrying laptops and not storing bombs, etc.

We arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 a.m. after a not too restful 7 hour flight from Toronto. We had decided to spend the extra money and get a direct flight with KLM rather than fly Air Canada which required us to change planes in London or Frankfurt and consequently would take an addition 2-3 hours of traveling. I was quite tired, as I hadn't slept well the night before either, and I hoped that our hotel would allow us to check into our room when we arrived rather than the usual check-in time. We had booked the Hotel Arena through the internet. It was located a little further away from all the action, but at 87 Euros including full breakfast and all taxes for a superior room (71 Euros for a standard room) it seemed like a worthwhile choice. We were later told by one of the guests, a young guy in his late 20s from Seattle, that he had booked the hotel after reading in Wallpaper Magazine that the Arena Hotel was the new 'in place ' to stay at in Amsterdam. Who knew!

While waiting for our luggage at the airport in Amsterdam, we ran into two people we knew who were going to attend the conference in Rotterdam and we agreed to share a cab with them into Amsterdam. Taxis in Amsterdam are notoriously expensive and in hindsight it makes good sense to take the train into Central Station from the airport at a fraction of the cost, but it was drizzling outside and we were quite tired so we were quite happy to have the cab driver take us directly to our hotel.

Our hotel turned out to be quite 'funky'. A former orphanage, it had recently been converted to a 3 star hotel from a hostel catering mostly to youth. The hotel lobby had quite an austere look to it, a mixture of old and ultra-new it was decorated in retro (70s) furniture done in a hip-chic way. Unfortunately, we couldn't get our room until 2 p.m. which was check-in time as the hotel was fully-booked and no rooms were available. So Paul and I stored our luggage and headed out to the Van Gogh museum which turned out to be a 10 minute tram ride away. We stopped in a lovely little cafe where I fortified myself with strong coffee ( I usually drink decaf, but I asked for an extra strong regular cappuccino just to rev me up.)

The Van Gogh museum happens to be my favourite in Amsterdam, but all I really wanted to do at that point was crawl into bed as I could barely keep my eyes open. Time seemed to move so slowly as we worked our way through the museum, and with extra time to kill, we headed downstairs to an interesting photography exhibit on American industrialization in the 20th Century. I'm sure that at that point some people must have thought I was drunk, because I kept nodding off while I was reading the captions, and caught myself swaying back and forth in front of the photos. We then stopped at the Brasserie Van Gogh for lunch and more coffee. Finally, it was time to go back to the hotel and check-in.

After a few hours sleep, we headed out again in the evening to meet our friend Myer at the Leidseplein. Myer was also spending a couple of days in Amsterdam before going to the Rotterdam conference, and we had agreed to go with him to an Indonesian restaurant that we had spotted close to the Van Gogh Museum. The restaurant - #Sama Sebo' on Hoofstraat 27 turned out to be the same one that had been recommended by the concierge at our hotel. However, when we arrived (without a reservation) we were told that it was fully booked, but the maitre d' suggested that if we didn't mind sitting at the bar we could be served there. It turned out to be the best place to sit, because so much of the action was going on there. Paul had wonderful memories of eating Reishtaffel ( not sure how you spell it) when he was in Amsterdam 30 years ago, and was determined to relive the experience now that he was back in Amsterdam. Myer had never tried it, but was game to give it a shot, so the 3 of us ordered the Reishtaffel. It was delicious! All those lovely little dishes of exotic food hitting our palates. By the time we were finished with dinner, we were ready to return to our hotel for a good night's sleep.

The next day we visited the Reiks museum and who should we run into, but Wendy, one of the persons with whom we'd shared a cab from the airport. She joined us for lunch at a nearby café and then walked with us along the Hoofstraat which is apparently the area to do your shopping in Amsterdam if you have lots of money. Wendy then went off to the Van Gogh museum and Paul and I decided to visit the Jewish museum which was not too far from where we were staying. By the time we hopped on a tram and arrived at the museum it was 20 minutes to 5 p.m. and the museum was closing at five. The man who was selling tickets ushered us in and instead of selling us a ticket, suggested that we make a small contribution to the museum. We rushed through it at lightening speed and found ourselves the last ones out of the museum. Even the ticket taker had his coat on and was waiting for us to leave so he could turn off the lights.

That night it poured. We would have been quite happy to eat at our hotel, but we had promised Myer that we would meet him for dinner, so we set off in the pouring rain to meet him in Dam Square . Myer had been given the name of a restaurant by his hotel manager, but no address. He felt that he could intuitively find the restaurant as he had a general idea of where it was located. We spent the next 40 minutes wandering up and down the streets in the pouring rain looking for something called the First Class restaurant while Myer intuited the location. Finally Paul and I decided we'd had enough. We told Myer that we were planning to eat in the first restaurant we came across and he could join us - or not! Well, we lucked in, because the next restaurant we came across was a cozy little Moroccan restaurant that served a delicious lamb tangine and sweet hot tea. We had also spotted a sign across the street that said Utopia Café and decided that we would head there after our meal for expresso coffees and dessert. So after we finished eating, we ducked into the Utopia café, but we quickly discovered that it was not at all what we had expected. It looked much more like a sports bar than a café. There were a few men sitting around watching a soccer match, some were drinking beer, some drinking coffee and some were smoking dope. The waiter asked us what we wanted and we asked if he served expresso and cappuccino and he said, sure! Our curiosity got the better of us, so we sat down, had our coffees, and watched a bit of the soccer match. Unfortunately, he did not serve any sweets (the only sweet smell was that of the pot being smoked) , but at that point we were too tired and too wet to go hunting elsewhere for dessert.

On our final day in Amsterdam we awoke to the sun shining. We checked out of the hotel, stored our luggage at the train station and headed off to Anne Frank House. Along the way we came across an outdoor flea market that was selling everything from antiques to fly swatters. I was tempted to buy several things, but the thought of dragging them through Rotterdam and all the way back to Toronto made me think twice about any purchases. We wandered through the narrow streets and along the canals until we reached Anne Frank House. Paul had never seen it before and he found it very moving. Just around the corner from Anne Frank House, we stopped for lunch at the Pancake House and had a couple of delicious Dutch pancakes. Then we headed back to Central Station and caught the train to Rotterdam.

As we left the train station in Rotterdam, I noticed that water was leaking from a small knapsack that Paul was carrying over his shoulder. When I reached over to see what was going on, I was hit with a strong smell of alcohol. Paul had placed a small bottle of scotch in his knapsack which he had bought at Toronto's duty free shop and he must have accidentally smashed the bottle when he was getting the luggage from the train. To my chagrin, I quickly discovered that in addition to the bottle of scotch, he had also put the paper I had written and all the overheads that we were going to use for our presentation at the conference into the knapsack and they were all soaked! Needless to say I was quite upset. The first thing we did when we got to the hotel was spread all the papers and overheads around the room to dry. Our room smelled like a brewery. Luckily the overheads were not totally ruined. They were quite smudged but readable. So I prefaced my presentation by apologizing in advance for the state of the overheads and explained that they had a run-in with a bottle of single malt scotch. This got a chuckle from the participants.

I won't say too much about Rotterdam because I got very little chance to sight-see while I was there as most of my time was taken up with the conference. Paul and I did sneak out for a few hours one afternoon and took a tram ride around the city. Unlike Amsterdam, most of Rotterdam's architecture is ultra modern and gives the city a very futuristic look. Much of the city was destroyed during WWII, and the city replaced many of the buildings with modern box-like structures. Even the Erasmus Bridge, the main bridge in Rotterdam looks like it belongs in the 22 Century. The conference had organized an evening trip for all the participants to the Hague where we had cocktails at the Peace Palace and then took a boat tour of Rotterdam. Unfortunately it was dark and rainy throughout the tour so we didn't get much of a chance to see the city from the tour boat.

By the time we left Rotterdam I was all conferenced out and keen to return to Toronto. We took a 50 minute train ride from Rotterdam directly to Schiphol airport and I was pleased that we would be home in 7 hours as we flying directly to Toronto and didn't have to make any stopovers in London or Frankfurt. Our take-off went smoothly, but about a half hour into our flight the Captain announced that we would have to return to Amsterdam airport because the flappers on the wings weren't working properly and the plane was leaking fuel, but first he would have to dump some fuel over the North Sea before he could land the plane. My mind immediately flashed back to September 11th and our adventures at Heathrow Airport. You could hear a pin drop on the plane as we turned around and flew back. It took about an hour and a half to fix the problem, during which time the passengers stayed on the plane. The plane was refueled and we took off again - our 7 hour flight turned into an over 10 hour journey. In spite of all this, Paul and I were grateful that the pilot had found the problem when we were still relatively close to Amsterdam and not flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, we were both very tired but relieved when the plane finally landed in Toronto.