Sunday, November 6, 2016 (Ibis Amsterdam Centre Stopera Hotel, Amsterdam, Netherlands)

We landed at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at 6:00 a.m. We had great hopes of being able to grab a few hours of sleep on the plane, but again, that didn't pan out. I think perhaps Steve snoozed for half an hour but I just couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep. Oh well...a shower, a change of clothes and we'll be ready to explore Amsterdam. We only have today and tomorrow, so we must maximize our time here!

After disembarking from the plane, we bid farewell to our fellow African Adventure tour group...with the exception of Joe and Betty. They, too, are spending some time in Amsterdam...bonus! We have someone to navigate into the city with! So after getting through Customs and gathering our luggage, we found the kiosk to purchase our train tickets. No longer on a tour Steve and I felt like babes in the woods! Joe and Betty have had some experience in Europe so we followed their lead.  We then headed down the escalator to find the right train. Of course, we had to ask folks questions along the way but all were very helpful. At least language wasn't an issue...most people in Amsterdam speak English!

Once we arrived at the Amsterdam Centraal Station, we figured we could likely just walk to our hotels. We had noticed an Ibis Hotel next to the station when we arrived, and since we were staying in an Ibis Hotel, albeit not that location, we thought that we would walk over there and ask directions. So off we trekked in the pre-dawn darkness.

The girl at the reception desk was very helpful...she gave us a map, marking out the directions to the Ibis Amsterdam Centre Stopera Hotel on it. Only about at 20 minute walk...no problem, the walk would do us good! She did the same for Joe and Betty...their hotel was also about a 20 minute walk but in a different direction from us. We both went in our separate directions, agreeing to either meet back here at 1:00 or, if our hotels had internet, we would try contacting each other via email.

As Steve and I were walking, it started raining...sheesh, figures! We had our umbrellas but our luggage was getting wet. Steve spotted a Starbucks on a street corner where we thought we should be turning to cross a canal, so we decided to stop in there, have a coffee and a snack then confirm with the staff our location. The fellows in there were wonderful on this early Sunday morning! Boisterous and happy...they had just put up all of the Christmas decorations and they were certainly getting into the Season! Ummmm...guys...it's only November 6!! LOL!
After our coffee and snack, we continued on and had no problem finding the hotel. While at Starbucks, I had gotten on their WiFi and downloaded the walking directions on Google Maps...and that was the start of what absolutely worked wonderfully while exploring both here and France! I just had to have WiFi to start so I could download the route...and all was good!

We ended up being able to get into our room right away...they didn't have one with a double bed ready yet, but we could take a room with two single beds that were side by side (literally right beside each other...no space between them)...okay, that will work! The hotel rooms are small and "ultra-modern" with a unique fiberglass pod or module bathroom (too bad we didn't get a picture of it!).

We had internet, so after checking out the map as to where Joe and Betty were...I sent an email to them suggesting we meet at 11:30 at a spot that would be about half way for each of us (We picked The Grand Amsterdam). They agreed...so we had showers and got cleaned up and were soon out on the streets of Amsterdam following my trusty Google Map directions.

And so begins a wonderful time in Amsterdam...and many, many pictures!






Joe and Betty were waiting when we arrived...and then we headed out to explore. First of all, we thought we'd find someplace for breakfast. With so many choices....and dodging so many people out walking Amsterdam on this Sunday afternoon... we finally picked one. CAU Restaurant. We had a great breakfast and prompt service...even the very friendly owner kept checking on us. Steve for the first time in a long time was finally enjoying eating again!

Then it was time to continue exploring...
We happened upon a 'Tours and Tickets' store and went in. We wanted to get information on the "Hop On-Hop Off" bus and canal tours. Turns out the bus won't be running again until Tuesday, the day we leave. Bummer! The bus and boat combination would have been a great deal at $25 euros each because the boat only was $22. So we decided on going with the canal tour and bought tickets. Joe and Betty also bought canal tour tickets but have four days here, so will be doing more tours. With the short time we have here, we mainly want to see the city and get the lay of the land, then return to the places that interest us if time allowed. The canal boat tickets are good for 24 hours from when you first board, so it worked well for us...we could use them to get around tomorrow too.
Royal Palace...





Many of the buildings don't appear to be very level anymore. The reason for such skinny tall buildings back in the day was that they were taxed on the square footage of the ground floor. Also many buildings have a hoist below the peak of the roof for hoisting furniture up and down...


Amsterdam Centraal train station is too big to get in a photo
City sightseeing and tourism facility where we caught the Hop On Hop Off boat. They give you ear buds so you can listen to the GPS audio guide and hop on/off locations in 18 languages...
St. Nicholas Church...
Victoria Hotel...
Unfortunately with the rain it wasn't the best for taking pictures...
Don't recall what this was...
Heineken Brewery Experience...we'll be back for this tour!
Rijksmuseum, we'll be back to tour here too...
A 4 level bicycle parkade with thousands of bikes near the Amsterdam Central Station. Unbelievable!
VOC Ship and Maritime Museum...

Gasson Diamond tour. We didn't have time to take the tour and watch how it's done...

Oh I'm so sleepy!

After a complete loop of the canal route on the boat, we said goodbye to Joe and Betty. It was so wonderful spending our first day in Amsterdam together. Because our lengths of stay here are different we have all decided to do our own thing for the rest of our time here. Have fun, you two, it was great meeting you!

We found our way back to the hotel and had a bit of a nap before dinner. We had planned on going out of the hotel to check out one of the local restaurants but were worn out so decided to just go downstairs to the restaurant. The idea of having a quick dinner, then returning to the room to "veg out" in front of the TV was just too appealing!

So we split a burger...turns out the only thing that was actually split in half was the burger. It came already separated with a full order of fries and salad...and was delicious!





Saturday, November 5, 2016 (Goodbye Africa...travel to Amsterdam Begins)

We had a relaxing start to they day...having a leisurely breakfast and then paying our bill (laundry and bottled water). Our flight out today doesn't leave until 8:30 tonight so we won't be leaving for the airport until 5:00...so that gives us most of the day. We just have to be packed up and have our luggage out of our room by 2:00.

So we decided to go for a walk and check out a couple of stores...my main mission was to find some Rwandan coffee to take home. Having secured a couple of pounds of 'Maraba' coffee, we headed to Umubano Hotel to have lunch by the pool with some of the group.
Left to right, around the tables...Joyce (well, the back of her head), me, Steve, Donna, Linda, Alan, Barb, Shelagh and Marianne...
We actually ended up moving the tables under that blue canopy when it started to sprinkle out a bit. A shot from the other end...
We were back at the Guest House just before 2:00...just in time to close our suitcases and take them downstairs. When we left our room key with the lovely young lady in the office (damn, I can't remember her name!) Steve thought he'd ask if he could make a safety suggestion...provide non-slip mats for the bathtubs. I slipped the other night...going head over heels out of the tub, taking down the shower curtain and hitting my head on the toilet. Other than scaring the 'crap' out of me... Steve was mortified as to what he would find when he unwrapped me from the shower curtain....I was fine, thank goodness!

We spent the next couple of hours on the veranda reading and relaxing. Steve is doing much better but still isn't 100%. He started taking the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin a few days ago and it seemed to make him feel worse. He lost his voice for 3 days and broke out in cold soars and had a sore nostril, making him feeling rather hideous. Most everyone on the tour has been sick at some point...and with varying degrees. Steve and Linda seemed to have gotten the worst of it, both spending a lot of time in their rooms (Steve in Tanzania; Linda here). Nobody really knows what has been the cause of all these ailments. Could have been from the many  un-refrigerated box lunches, or perhaps side effects from the Malarone malaria pills....hard to say.

Shortly before 5:00, Annick, our bus driver arrived. Gordon gave a little presentation to her and we thanked her by singing her a special song. Then, with all of our luggage loaded under a tarp in a small pickup truck, we boarded the bus and were on our way to the airport.

The airport was an experience....we've never been through so many security screenings! There was a passport check at the entrance to the airport, then the everything out of your pockets and luggage x ray. We finally get through that and are putting ourselves back together when they call us both over to open our suitcases.

The guard started with Steve's suitcase, opening it and checking it thoroughly. Satisfied, he told Steve he could close it. Then he called a female guard over and it was my turn (interesting that a female had to go through my suitcase...I mean, it's not like my body was being patted down). Now...I had a very interesting time. Our suitcases are divided into two sections...the larger bottom for your clothes and a smaller top section for toiletries (or at least that's how we use it). Anyway, she started with the top section...she wanted to know what the package of Starbucks Via instant coffee was. She made me open it up. Next, was the Emergen-C (vitamin C drink crystals)...this she made me actually open up an individual packet, pour some out into my hand...and taste it! Satisfied, we closed that section and opened the bottom. She rummaged through that..so much for my neatly packed clothing! Then she noticed the zipper on the upper half...that is access to the toiletry section...ah....she actually cracked a smile at that! Satisfied, we were left to put everything back together and continue on into the airport.

We then sat in another waiting area waiting for other flights before ours to clear out before proceeding to our gate. We then had to go through another security check putting our stuff through another x ray scan and finally another  passport /ticket check before we could go to our gate waiting area. Sheesh!

We boarded our flight and got all settled into what we thought was going to be a direct 9+ hour flight to Amsterdam only to find out we were stopping in Entebbe, Uganda! We weren't allowed to leave the plane, rather awkward as cleaners came through vacuuming, changing pillows and head-rest covers, etc. All we wanted to do was stand and walk around but were told to return to our seats so the cleaners could do their thing. About an hour later, more people boarded the plane and we were on our way to Amsterdam. Well, we can now say we've been to Uganda...sort of....

So ends our African adventure, the trip of a lifetime and one off of Steve's "bucket list" the Serengeti. Even though he got sick it wasn't a total bust because he got to see mostly everything there was to see the first 2 days.

Thank you so much Uncle Gord and Aunt Esther for all of your hard work planning this fantastic adventure and making it the success it was. Love ya!

It was truly amazing to share this experience with a fabulous group of people...making it so memorable. Thanks to you all for making Steve and I feel so welcome!