Amsterdam is a two hour train ride from Brussels, and trains run frequently. I was fine buying my ticket the day before I’d travel. The price: €42. After two weeks in Europe, I was in the home stretch and near the end of my travel budget.
Imagine a city with slightly over a million people having more major train stations than New York City. Brussels Midi Station is impressive. Here’s a practical tip: there is a gated entry to “les toilettes.” You can “go” for a fee. This seemed to be standard in public places, especially train stations. Paying to “go” spares people from a nasty bathroom.
Au revoir, Bruxelles — so nice to visit you again!
Au revoir, Mollie!
It was worth staying awake to watch the landscape go by and see what’s different about The Netherlands.
I saw farm land striped with water-filled drainage ditches, and cattle grazed between them. Like Flanders in Belgium, this is polder country, meaning the land is well below sea level. This is so for 26 percent of The Netherlands. Much farm land has been reclaimed from the sea through different methods, including the use of windmills to pump water. (No wonder The Netherlands could offer expert assistance to the U.S. when New Orleans was flooded from Hurricane Katrina. This country knows how to hold back the sea.)
Train announcements were in French, Dutch, and English. About an hour into the trip, I heard, “Due to an individual on the tracks, we will terminate this train.” This message was conveyed in a casual tone. Mollie told me this could happen.
I missed every announcement in English that followed because everyone started buzzing. I only knew we’d be changing trains. So, I followed the crowd. The two trains we switched to were packed. On the first one, those without seats sat on bags or stairs in the area between train cars until we changed trains again. Then, I managed to snag a seat and cram myself in with my bags. Once things were sorted out, we were about an hour behind schedule.
The bicycle culture revealed itself when we stopped in Rotterdam.
Hallo, Amsterdam! Hoi!
Centraal Station — grand, vast, and busy — was not generously equipped with restrooms. “Waar zijn de toiletten, alstublieft?” It was a hike to the “toiletten” and, again, you had to pay to “go.” Keep coins handy!
At the station, I located the tram my Airbnb host instructed me to take. Trams are priced in an interesting way. You can pay one price for unlimited rides for a set period of time. When I reached my stop, I had a nice, long walk to the apartment. I was wowed by what I saw of the city along the way. It was clearly different from Paris and Brussels.
As a pedestrian, you need to be extra-vigilant in stepping off sidewalks to cross cyclist lanes and streets. Intersections are regulated by lights specifically for each mode of travel — trams, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. It’s a little complicated.
My head moved like a metronome every time I stepped off one path and onto another. Crossing a street sometimes meant going from one pavement island to another before reaching the pedestrian area. It was a gauntlet of sorts. This is not the place to walk with your eyes glued to your phone. Beware the bicycles and scooters, especially at rush hour!
It seemed that canals and bridges were everywhere. For €16 — more than I paid for my Megabus from Paris to Brussels — I took a boat cruise to see the city at water level. The cruise was a little over an hour long. We went in and out of various canals, while the boat operator told us interesting things about the city and its architecture. Part of the cruise was on the Amstel River. I knew of the beer, but didn’t know it was named after a river.
From the boat, we saw the bike parking garage that holds 2,500 bikes. You can’t get “greener” than that! But, apparently, this is still not enough space for bicycle commuters and the city will have to create more parking. No wonder car traffic was light.
Amsterdam is a very walkable city. There is a subway, but I never went underground. I traveled either on foot, boat, or tram. Next time, I’ll explore Amsterdam and the countryside by bike.
After three days, it was time to return to Paris. I’ve mentioned before the possibility of transit strikes. Had I not been paying attention to signs and cafe chatter, I would have been waiting in vain for a tram. The transit system planned a strike for the morning commute. To reach Centraal Station on time, I decided to walk to the Marriott Hotel where I knew I could get a cab. Cab fare was €18, more than the Megabus trip from Paris to Brussels. Just sayin’.
I’d made a reservation about a month in advance for the Thalys high-speed train to Paris. (You may recall, this is the train on which a terrorist was thwarted from an attack by American servicemen.) The ticket cost €120. I thought this was a decent price until a local told me it was high. Here’s a tip: make your reservations three months in advance and you’ll get a much better price. Wish I’d known this before.
Onward to Paris. I spent one final night there in a different neighborhood than I was in before. I spent a little time getting oriented so I could decide if I’d be comfortable taking Metro to the airport. After all, I’d have to walk to the station in the dark. Hmmm…would I pay €10 on Metro or 60€ for a cab?
I took Metro, of course.
Bonjour, Aer Lingus! We meet again for the trip home.