European trip

I am currently on my first trip to Europe courtesy of winning two tickets at an office part late last year. I am traveling with my wife, Angela. Our daughter has been left in the care of her aunt Stephanie (and she is having a great time, according to the video chats and photos so far). In one sense this trip has been a mixed bag (for personal reason that I won’t detail on this blog), but a moderate success in other ways. Our trip has taken us to Greece by way of Amsterdam. First to Athens (where i am as I type this), then Santorini and Naxos. Our return trip home departs out of Rome 8 days from now.

Our flight left at 3:10PM from Atlanta, flying to Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It was the first time I have flown out of the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson airport. The first leg to Amsterdam was 8 hours long. I was unable to get much sleep on the flight due to a few factors, but foremost due to my wife not really allowing me to get much time to sleep. The plane itself was nice. I got free Gogo WiFi courtesy of T-Mobile, though I was unable to take advantage of the free calls since my Nexus 5 does not have T-Mobile WiFi calling. Speeds varied greatly, but are generally on the slow side (which has been my experience with most free WiFi)

We landed in Amsterdam at 5:50AM for a 6-hour layover. Our plan was to leave the airport to see the city and meet up with a college friend of mine who lives 45 minutes away in The Hauge. Due to our my confusion and unfamiliarity with the train system and lack of Dutch language skills it took us an hour to get situated and get on the train to Amsterdam Central.

A couple of points – Amsterdam is often cool and cloudy/rainy in the summer (like Seattle or Portland). It was 60 degrees F, misty and windy when we arrived> I was dressed in shorts and a slightly thick t-shirt, so I was chilly. I later bought a zip-up sweatshirt for a local soccer team (go Amsterdam Ajax!), but being cold and uncomfortable definitely helped to slow our progress down. – Trains in Amsterdam are more relaxed than any other mass transit system I have taken in the USA. You are supposed to purchase an RFID-enabled ticket and then scan it before you descend to the platform where the trains are (and upon exit at your destination station)….but there is little to stop those who are ignorant (of the rules) or the unscrupulous from just walking down to the platform and boarding a train. There are no turnstiles that physically bar entry without a valid ticket. The only deterrent seems to be random sweeps by transit conductors on the train. -Amsterdam trains all have WiFi and many of them have two levels of seating.

We wandered around the station and the area right outside the station for while. It was 8AM, so very little in the way of shops or other sights were open. The highlight of the day was getting in contact and meeting with Pang, who went to college with me (same major). Reunions with good people will always brighten things. Pang welcomed us, shared friendship with my wife and me and showed us around a little bit. We did not have too much time after meeting her since she’d had to travel 45 minutes to come meet us and our flight out was at noon. Even so, she escorted us back to the airport and made our Amsterdam experience a great one.

The look of Amsterdam central itself reminds me somewhat of a cross between bits of Baltimore and Chicago…but not the architecture obviously. Some of the other alleyways and walks in the red light district reminded me of New Orleans. It was morning when we visited, so we did not see any ladies of the night.

Amsterdam is very international and the people themselves are very cosmopolitan and surprisingly diverse… though there are noticeably less people of asian or hispanic descent. Dutch is what you hear the most but a very very large portion of people in the city speak English. I do not think I would like living in Amsterdam Central though… its a bit too gritty and dirty for me. Some of the other areas we passed on the train seemed nicely landscaped though. Pang mentioned that The Hague is cleaner and has more of a family atmosphere.

Our flight to Athens was only 3 hours long. We landed and had more trouble with the train. We went all the way to the platform and then I had to go back up to get a ticket. Unfortunately the ticket office only accept cash (in Euros), so I had to jog all the way back into the airport to get cash Euros. By time that was done, we missed the first train and had to wait 25 minutes for the next.

The train ride from Athens airport to Syntagma station in the city was 45 minutes (15 stops). The train was almost empty when we got on and packed by time we got off. Athens has lots of rolling hills/mountains and graffiti all over the place. Syntagma square reminded me of the square in downtown Decatur. Lots of people, folks playing music, folks skateboarding, a few people selling wares. It was just after exiting the station that I bought a data SIM card from two 20-something wearing Vodaphone hats and shirts.

Bottle of wine for the wife, dinner for both of us and then some sleep. We woke up after a few hours (middle of the night local time) and were lucky enough to get some night time photos of the Acropolis, which is about a mile from our hotel. Plans today are to visit the Acropolis and then take the train back to the airport to fly to Santorini where we will have our first multi-night stay.

Thanks goodness, because traveling constantly on planes and trains gets very tiring very quickly.

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