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Day 16
Paris / Amsterdam
Today is Ascencion Day. We spent this same holiday here in Paris in 1999…
I was unconscious and slept dreamlessly through the cool night. The breeze drifting through the window was wonderful. Carol, however, slept fitfully again due to her cold.
We woke to the bells of Notre Dame. Appropriate, I think. Showered and refreshed, I ate a pain au chocolat et almonds that Carol had gone out earlier and bought. Spent some time packing for the trip to Amsterdam, the last leg of this three-legged journey.
Spent the last hour sitting in the lovely garden in the courtyard of the hotel. We cannot say enough about the Hotel des Grande Ecoles. As we sit in this peaceful, secluded garden we can hear the bells from several nearby churches calling people to Mass. It is very surreal.
Sadly our taxi arrives to take us to Gare du Nord. Said "Merci beaucoup, Au revoir et A bientot" to Madame and Marie and the lovely Hotel des Grande Ecoles where we had spent 9 glorious days and nights. Soon found ourselves at the train station where we sat in a smoky café waiting for the express Eurostar train to arrive. Every five minutes children came by with their hands out and a plea in their eyes. Nearby on a bench a very shady, very drunk, very stoned, very dirty, very gross jerk is giving a tourist a hard time. I am waiting for the fists to fly. Too bad. An image I hope soon to forget…
Facade of Gare du Nord
Gare du Nord
Carol and I love the trains and the train stations of Europe. Coincidentally, this very same station, Gare du Nord, is where I entered this great city for the first time, back in 1971 with brother Jim, nearly 30 years ago to the day. We had spent the summer riding the trains on inexpensive Eurail passes. This ancient, dirty, smoky, gray station does not seem to have changed one bit in all these years. It doesn't appear to have been cleaned in all these years, either… The only difference I can detect is that now the smoke is from American cigarettes, not the sweeter Galois I remember. If you really, really crave second-hand smoke, sit on one of Europe's ancient train stations…
Great painting "Gare du Nord" by Beryl Cook
The high-speed Thalys train that took us from Paris to Amsterdam
The high speed Thalys train arrived and we boarded, found our seats, and settled in across the table from two young gals from the States. Lydia is from St. Louis and is studying international business at a school in Paris and Jenny is a student from Minneapolis. Both will be back at the University of Wisconsin in the Fall. Lydia is so very fortunate to have this incredible opportunity to experience Europe. Both gals are on the first leg of their own magnificent journey, spending the summer experiencing the wonders of Europe.
Lydia and Jenny
The train took us through lovely rolling French countryside, then passed through Brussels where we saw the Grand Palace, which Victor Hugo called the prettiest square in the world. And he should know, having lived at Place de Voges… Next stop was Antwerp. All along the way we saw fields of wildflowers, farmhouses and quaint villages. Passed through Rotterdam where the stadium was full of soccer fans. Also stopped at Den Hague. The train made one last stop at Schiphol International Airport, and then we soon found ourselves at Amsterdam's old ornate Centraal Station where brother Jim and I had first entered this magic city 30 years ago. I noticed that its familiar weather vane was still working. The plaza outside the train station was swarming with people, so we said BonVoyage to our friends Lydia and Jen, and then quickly, thanks to Carol's research, got our bearings.
Centraal Station
The ornate weather vane at Centraal Station
We took the #2 tram across many canals dotted with small boats, to Leidseplein and found our hotel, the Owl, almost immediately on Romer Visserstracht. Very clean, nice small, ample room overlooking the green courtyard below and the large, pastoral Vondelpark nearby. Typical European bathroom, spacious window. Breakfast included. [Note : be careful getting in and out of these deep European tub showers. It is quite easy to slip…]
Our favorite tram, the #20 Circle Tram
The Owl Hotel
We showered and dressed and set out to taste the flavors of Amsterdam. Walked to the Leidseplein Centrum, the liveliest square in Amsterdam, lined with bars and restaurants. An Argentinian steakhouse caught my eye but we kept on walking. Our friend Kurt, who comes here quite often, had mentioned two restaurants to search for - Stoop Stoop for the mussels and the Manuchurian for excellent Chinese fare.
Cafes at Leidseplein
We stopped first for a pint of Guinness at Hoopman's Irish Pub. It is quite sunny but cool. Found the nearby Manchurian and had an excellent seven course Chinese dinner at the Manuchurian.
Street full of restaurants near Leidseplein
A cafe with southern sun exposure.  Photo courtesy of Timothy Blackmore
photo © 1996 the archive of light all rights reserved
At 9 PM we decided to get to sleep early in order to really investigate Amsterdam over the next two days…

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