Our return to Podgorica and our train trip to Belgrade were the worst days of our trip and, though we enjoyed Belgrade despite everything being closed, we were still kind of beaten down when we got up on Tuesday morning. So, given that we had an afternoon flight, and our rather swanky hotel tolerated fairly late checkouts, we decided to not do much this morning.
But first, we needed to eat. So we went down to breakfast and had the buffet. Then we picked up our laundry. Then we did nothing much of anything until checkout time, when we got a cab to the airport. Because it’s Belgrade, our cab to the airport did not cost very much.
We got to the airport too early because, apparently, international flights in Europe do not allow check-in more than 2 hours prior to departure. So we ended up waiting around to check-in. When we went over to the booth, there was a massive line. We were more than a little impressed with how efficient are supposedly shitty, budget airline handled this line and we were out of it in no time.
Belgrade Airport is one of those places where security is at the gate, so we dallied outside of the gate as long as we could, having our customary airport beer and otherwise wandering around the not very interesting airport.
For a budget airline with a mediocre reputation, our Transavia experience was quite pleasant, minus one guffaw when one staff member announced the “first call” as the “final call” for boarding, and everyone rushed the gate. But the plane was actually spacious and the flight was quite pleasant. I have heard terrible things about this company but we risked it due to the low rate. I’m sure the experience is inconsistent but ours was better than with Croatian flying between Zagreb and Dubrovnik (for more money, if I remember correctly).
When we arrived in Amsterdam, we basically just walked on to the train downtown (with a brief detour to buy tickets). We did have to wait a few minutes. the train downtown is a regular train that uses express tracks. Riding it downtown was one of the numerous reminders I’ve had while traveling that everyone does urban planning better than Toronto. This train has existed for years and is easily accessible. It is of the same gauge as the rest of the system. Imagine having a train to the airport as part of the same train system as serves the rest of your city (and country). That’s crazy talk! Imagine building both milk route and express tracks along the same corridor so that you can offer different routes and levels of service. Lock everyone up who suggests such things! In addition to being the world’s most liberal city, Amsterdam also reminds you that it’s possible to plan ahead for things, instead of reacting and changing your mind 15 times, and then building something to suit the needs of previous decades.
Leaving the train station in Amsterdam is an incredible experience. You are transported to another world, a world of canals, 17th-century canal houses, old churches and majestic hotels. I cannot say I was ready and I have never been to another place like it. I cannot put into words how unique this place is, or the spell it put me under. You gets so inured to the beautiful and unique buildings that you basically forget to take pictures. (Well, that and my turn-of-the-century shitty digital camera’s memory card was almost full due to taking too many pictures in Dubrovnik.)
We stayed in the red light district, which I’m sure many of you have opinions about. Getting there, through narrow streets and the throngs of lads was a bit of a pain in the ass. Also, while dragging our luggage down cobblestone streets, we were introduced to the bane of our experience in Amsterdam and one of the two negative things I discovered about an otherwise incredible place: the cyclists our out to kill pedestrians, especially tourists who don’t know where they’re going.
We stayed on the top floor of a canal house so we had to drag our baggage up a whole host of stairs. We found a very simple room and were reminded that we were not in the Balkans any more.
For dinner, we tried to go to one of the innumerable, trendy “not set menu” restaurants in the city, but it was full (as it would be the next two nights). So we wandered around, eventually finding a sort of Dutch gastropub. We had decent satay and craft beer!!!!! (I add exclamation points because it was much better than the Balkan craft beer that I was able to find occasionally.) Then we wandered around the red light district, looking for churches, finally finding the oldest building in Amsterdam, which we had walked by on our way in without noticing.
It was good to be in Amsterdam.