First timer trip report 12-5

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Larry Laffner
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First timer trip report 12-5

Postby Larry Laffner » Sat Dec 06, 4:20 pm

First Timer trip report: I just completed a wonderful week in the Netherlands and wanted to pass on some helpful hints and tips to others who may be contemplating a first trip to Mecca in the future. First I would like to offer my thanks and appreciation to all the Channelites who have previously posted information about A’dam and other areas of the country as this info was extremely helpful to me in my trip planning and in knowing some of the inside tips on how to deal with certain situations. I started reading most of the postings about eight weeks before my trip and it really was valuable to me in building my knowledge base about the country.

First off, please know that I am old fart in comparison to most of the Channelites (I am in my late 50’s) but still have fond memories of earlier years when toking was an everyday pleasure. So in early October when I realized that I had a week of vacation yet to “burn-up” this year and since my better half had no vacation time left, I determined that a nice solo week in Holland might be just the ticket to get away from really intense work-related stress.

I decided that an MP3 player was in order to keep myself entertained for the long plane ride. I purchased a Neuros 20 GB MP3 computer at CompUSA for $199 on sale. I chose the Neuros over other brands because it has a built-in microphone that I could use in the future to record meetings and other events. It also has a built-in FM radio PLUS it will transmit it’s audio (wireless) in the FM band to any FM radio….i.e. car radio, home stereo, etc. which no other MP3 player will do. So feature-for-feature, I decided that Neuros was the ticket for me and have not regretted my decision since then. They also have a web site where you can download the latest version of the operating system and firmware upgrades. It is not a perfect product (in my product version, they only use USB 1.1 for audio file uploads which is rather slow) but I still felt that it has more features than any competitive product. I have managed to upload almost 10 GB of audio to my Neuros unit of my favorite type of music: Rocking Blues and just good ole’ hard driving Rock. This is about 2500 hours of music and I think that at the full capacity, you can store about 5000 hours worth. The Neuros got a good workout on the trip and I am really glad that I had it with me. Using the built-in microphone, I recorded about 10 minutes of church bells ringing at the noon hour in A’dam. This audio file will continue to be played on my PC whenever I want to remember to remember my awesome trip. I would be happy to upload this audio file if someone could tell me where I could post a 5 MB MP3 file.

I departed the USA on Thanksgiving via Minneapolis, arrived at Schiphol airport at 5:40 AM on Friday, November 28th. The ABN-AMRO bank was just opening in Terminal #2 at 6:00 AM as I went by so I changed my U.S. dollars for Euros and found the best rate here compared to any currency exchange in the states. My advice to anyone is to NOT change your money in the U.S. before you come over, you will get ripped off, change your money at Schiphol. In Minneapolis, the buy rate for dollars was about 74 cents while at Schiphol, it was about 84 cents…ten cents difference which adds up to a lot of money if you are changing $400 or $500. I would also recommend selling your Euro back here at the ABN bank. However if you want to just get money from you credit card in A’dam, that works just as well as long as you remember your PIN code…I understand that the exchange rate is also fairly competitive on credit card transactions.

I went through customs in about 15 seconds, found my bag and then exited the secure area to buy a Strippenkaart at the train ticket booth in the main lobby for E$6.20. Out in front of the terminal, I found my bus to Haarlem, which I only had to wait about four minutes for it to arrive.

I decided to stay in Haarlem for my first few days after reading so many positive reports about Haarlem and because I wanted to miss the Cannabis Cup crowds which was just winding down as I arrived. I found the easiest way to get to Haarlem from Schiphol was to take the special Zuidtangent #300 bus which partially travels on its own dedicated highway to Haarlem where it terminates in front of the Haarlem train station. There were about a dozen stops between Schiphol and Haarlem but the trip was only about 40 minutes long and I felt much easier than having to change trains to get to Haarlem. The only problem with the Zuidtangent bus is that it is apparently designed for use by commuters so you won’t find a lot of space for your suitcase but I managed to get my oversized bag up on the waist-high shelf built over the rear-wheels and that seemed to work out well. You use a Strippenkaart on the Zuidtangent and you punch it on the 6th line for the trip to Haarlem. If you use the Zuidtangent from Schiphol to Haarlem, make sure that you get on it going in the correct direction as the Schiphol stop is about mid-point in its route. You push the “stop” button inside the bus if you want the driver to stop at the next stop (same applies to trams).

I elected to stay at the Tulip Inn in Haarlem which is across the street from the train station partially because I did not want to drag my huge over-packed suitcase all over Haarlem and because I wanted to be close to the train station. I did not regret my choice as the Tulip Inn was very accommodating and they allowed me to check in at 7:00 AM. I got a room on the top floor with a window facing south from which I could see the famous St. Bavo church in the town square some blocks away. I paid E95 per night (including breakfast) which was a special promotion rate that I found on the Internet for a three-day weekend. While this rate is a higher than what you would pay say compared to Joops or the Amadeus Hotel a little further away, I enjoyed the Tulip Inn and would stay there again. It is rated as a four-star which I felt was a bit over-done but otherwise it was a good choice. I managed to get about three hours of much-needed sleep (after only sleeping about one hour on the plane) and then it was off to tour Haarlem. It had turned into beautiful sunny day and the local people were out in full force enjoying the sunshine and shopping their brains out. I headed south towards the Grote Market square and came upon the beautiful St. Bavo church which was built in about 1390 AD. Inside is a huge pipe organ that is almost 100 feet high and which Mozart played on when he was ten years old back in the 1700’s. I understand that they give organ concerts two days of the week but unfortunately, I did not manage to work this in my schedule but it is another excuse to return to Haarlem someday. I did tour the inside of the church and found it to be an amazing piece of architecture with tons of history. The floor is actually made up of tombstones of people buried in the church.

I kept walking south and as I looked across the street, I discovered that I had come upon the famous Willie Wortel’s coffeeshop which is located upstairs above a computer shop. I purchased my first gear….the Willie Special (about E$6) at the recommendation of the dealer for “someone who did not wanted to get totally blasted” on the first day considering the jet lag. I also found their Sativa shop just a few doors down the street from the Tulip Inn and later bought some high-strength Sativa there for E$9 per gram which was truly excellent. Later, I also purchased a small amount of blond hash at the Sativa which was also excellent.

Haarlem is just a beautiful smaller town that I would recommend to any first-timer as it will give you more of a truer sense of the Dutch lifestyle as compared to starting out in A’dam. There are lots of pubs and cafes to choose from. I especially enjoyed the Chinese restaurant across the street from train station for a full lunch at E9.50 as well as a pub on the adjoining corner where I enjoyed Haarlem’s own brew on tap called Jopenbier Bok which is a locally brewed bock beer with 6.5% alcohol. The central core of Haarlem is easily walkable and you should feel no need to take a cab.

One of the most striking things that I observed in Haarlem was the very heavy use of bicycles by many local people. In fact, I almost got hit by one pedaling commuter about 7:00 AM on my arrival in Haarlem. You see them go by in herds sometimes…people going to work and to shop…..mothers with one or two kids on the bikes…and teenage boys with their girlfriends riding side-saddle on the back. I also observed a fair number of elderly people riding bikes…some people obviously in their 70’s and 80’s. There are on many streets, lanes set aside for bicyclists and you want to be very careful when you cross these lanes to look both ways as you could easily get hit by a bike….or even a small motorcycle. The Dutch cyclists seem to appear like they “own the road” and that they have a priority over pedestrians so be aware of this attitude. Some of their bike riding borders on suicidal as I observed in the early morning in A’dam where I observed cyclists blasting through red lights with little regard for other traffic (or each other).

The other thing that struck me was the almost total lack of obese people (please, no offense meant to any readers)….and I think that this may be related to exercise (walking and cycling) and possibly diet. I have also observed this in the past in the U.K. as a stark contrast to the U.S.

Haarlem has its own little red light district which can be found by taking the left-hand street south from the train station. In about a block or so on the left hand side of this street is a rather large church. Turn left onto a small side street at this church you will soon find yourself amongst several short blocks of red light windows. I only walked through in the middle of the day so did not see many kamers with curtains open, only one black girl and I think a Thai woman. I did not indulge myself here but the thought was there! Haarlem also reportedly has several “private” clubs or prive houses including one that I observed in the red light district called Rode de Lantaarn. There is also reportedly a private club called the Penthouse which is the general area of Willy Wortels coffeeshop.

On my third day in Haarlem, I bought a round-trip to The Hague (called the “den Hague” locally). I paid E$17 for a first class ticket on the “Stoptren” and realized afterwards that there is really little difference between first and second class, at least on this train. It was a gloomy rainy type day when I left Haarlem but by the time that I reached The Hague Centraal Station, it was bright and sunny. I took the #1 tram to Madurdam (about three stops) and truly enjoyed myself in touring this miniature city where I must have taken over 100 photos. Maduradam has lots of miniature trains in motion, and excellent representation of Schiphol airport, and lots of canals, rivers, and boats. It is well worth the trip if you have any interest in modeling whatsoever….it covers several acres with it’s layout. I believe that I paid E$11.00 for admission.

I elected to stay at the NH City Centre Hotel in A’dam for the second part of my trip. Through much Internet shopping, I finally decided to use www.bookings.nl to find a rate of E$79 at this hotel which I felt was bargain for a central area hotel. I was pleased with my room and the hotel although this rate did not include breakfast. This hotel is located within a two minute walk of the Spui area and only six or seven minutes to Dam Square. It is rated as a three-star hotel and I felt that this was a fair assessment. The rooms were decent size with all the amenities that you would expect in a chain-type hotel (hairdryer, data port, etc.).

I found a supermarket within three blocks of the NH City Centre Hotel in the direction of Dam Square where I stocked up on provisions such as beer, snacks, and even a sandwich or two from their deli. I also discovered that the central area of A’dam is actually fairly small and I walked everywhere….including a daytime tour of the main red light district (just east off of Damark street where the canal boats dock). I visited the Waterloopin flea market which was only a ten minute walk from Dam Square. Here I discovered a vendor with all kinds of adult DVD’s if you are into that…..at prices that are about 25% of the prices in the local sex shops. If you do purchase DVD’s, make sure that they are “legal” where you live if you try to bring them home…as some of the stuff here is certainly not legal elsewhere I would tend to believe.

I took a canal boat ride one morning through A’dam….from the area on Damark street just south of Centraal Station. It is a great way to see A’dam and well worth the E$6.00. The boat is about 50 to 60 feet long and I got a big kick out of watching the lady driver steering that large boat though some very tight spaces….whipping the wheel back and forth for all her might sometimes. The tour will give you a good overview of A’dam and you will get a perspective of houseboat living as every canal seems to have lots of houseboats on them. I also learned that a car goes into an A’dam canal on the average of about once a week…in spite of low railings being installed to prevent this type of incident. Most of the A’dam older buildings were built on wooden pilings as the ground is too soft to provide foundational support. However you can see some of them are leaning or tilting and if you look at the brick lines, you can see some sagging in a number of the buildings.

I bought so much gear in Haarlem that I never did visit an A’dam coffeehouse…although I walked by many of the famous ones such as the Kandinsky which was only a block from the NH City Centre Hotel. Being very conservative, I only smoked in my hotel rooms and that with some caution such as exhaling through an open window. I also brought some Orange citrus deodorant spray (US$5 at Walgreen’s) with me and that helped a great deal in masking any residual odors in my room. I did not see any signs or placards in either of my hotels prohibiting such activity but I was nevertheless very careful not to draw any attention to myself or my room. I also have to confess that I was paranoid about spending any time in a coffeeshop and having the odors permeate my clothes and then having a problem with a dog at U.S. customs so I played it cool this time. I work in a highly sensitive job for a large corporation and cannot afford any more risk than necessary. I also sprayed all my dirty clothes with Fabreeze before I packed my suitcase to go home. I purchased a small hand pump spray bottle at K-Mart and filled it with Fabreeze so that I did not have to pack a larger bottle with me.

SAFETY: I read quite a number of reports on this board about issues with theft and pickpockets and took a number of precautions, particularly since I brought my laptop computer with me and because I was rather paranoid as a first timer. First, I went to my local AAA office and purchased one of those cloth travel wallets made by Austin House which you can carry on your front waist using your belt or use the attached clip to keep it inside your pants. Since it was winter time, I elected to use the belt loops and then covered it up with my sweater. It has a pocket in it for credit cards as well.

I was wary of the A’dam central red light district and did observe in the middle of the day a number of dudes just kinda hanging out that I would not tend to want to go up to and start a conversation with. I did see one black guy walking down the street trying to sell coke with a very loud voice to a number of people. But I think if you avoid eye contact and act like you are a local that you will not have much trouble…at least in the daytime. In order to promote the “local look”, I bought myself a new black leather jacket and always wore faded blue jeans so I could blend in more with the crowds. I also kept my digital camera hidden inside a vest pocket of my leather jacket and only bought it out when needed. I did get “nailed” by one local on a morning when I had my camera out across the Amstel river from the Waterloopin in a fairly benign neighborhood and who spotted me as a tourist. He wanted to start a conversation with me which I knew had no good intentions so I kept walking and ignored him. I happened to pass him the next day as he was “working” some tourists with some sweet talk…not sure what his intentions were but I was certain that they were not benevolent nor Chamber of Commerce tourist promotions.

Also, I decided to use cabs when going into and out of Amsterdam because of the paranoia about theft of my laptop on the trains. However to cut the cost, I rode the Zuidtangent bus from Haarlem back to Schiphol and then transferred to a cab at the airport which then cost me E$37 to get to the NH City Centre Hotel. The other reason is that I did not want to have to drag my huge (did I mention overpacked?) rollerboard suitcase from A’dam’s Centraal Station to the NH City Centre Hotel and on-and-off trams. I considered the cab fare an insurance policy against protecting my laptop and lots of reduced stress in trying to manhandle a too-large suitcase.

Let me just say that I now feel that A’dam is a safe city and at no time did I feel concerned for my safety although I did not feel real good about some of the dudes hanging out in the main red-light district. I have lived and worked in both Manhattan and Chicago so I know what big cities are all about and certainly A’dam is better than those two in my opinion. But I was very conscious about being inconspicuous when out on the streets of A’dam and practiced common sense around some people.

A word about U.S. Customs….they seem to really grill you if you have been to the Netherlands….I had three separate interviews with different agents before I could exit the Customs area in Minneapolis….as did everyone else. It should be no problem if you have not brought back anything illegal but just be prepared for some tough questions about the purpose of your trip…even if you are reasonably well dressed as I was.

Weather: I choose to go in the wintertime (well early December anyway) and the temps were in the 30’s and 40’s F. I wore layered clothing and a knit stocking cap would not of been out of order as well as a pair of gloves. I did see a light dusting of snow on the roof tops one morning but I would say the weather was generally better than Minneapolis or Chicago for this time of year. However I will certainly enjoy re-visiting A’dam in slighter warmer weather….say in early spring or fall.

Laptop use in Hotel rooms: I used my laptop to stay caught up on email in my hotel rooms. The rate in Haarlem was only 50 cents to access a local node but in A’dam, the NH City Centre charged the 50 cents plus 40 cents for each subsequent minute….very expensive and I would probably revert to an Internet café next time if I feel that I can be without my laptop. The telephone jacks in the Dutch hotel rooms are standard RJ-11 telephone type jacks like you see in the U.S….so a single short telephone cord will be all you need to hook your laptop to the phone.

Electrical: I took a small 240 volt adaptor plus an electrical outlet adaptor (Radio
Shack) to charge my MP3 player. My laptop charger already was rated for 240 volt, I just needed the outlet adaptor.

Well that’s about it….there is much that I did not do in A’dam that will have to wait until next time. Sorry that I did not provide any reports on A’dam coffeehouses or other extracirricular activities but there are plenty of those reports both on this board and on the Ignatzmice web site. However that’s a good excuse to back again (…and again). Hopefully I have not bored you too much with my trip details but my main intent was to help out other “first timers” with some practical information that I had learned from my wonderful trip.

Larry Laffner

patrick

Postby patrick » Sat Dec 06, 4:34 pm

i enjoyed reading your report very much, thank you for taking the time to post it

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Postby a bollocks » Sat Dec 06, 4:59 pm

Excellent report. Nice advice here and there.
Rather conservative, but I saw a hash purchase in Haarlem. How was it?
I really, now, wanna see that church in Haarlem. I like big organs. Of the "puppy" kind.



WOOP!

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Postby Banks » Sat Dec 06, 5:19 pm

Job well done, Larry. Welcome to the team!

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Postby LaTristesseDurera » Sat Dec 06, 9:46 pm

I can't believe all the trouble you went to (Febreeze, not going into coffeeshops, etc.) just to be hassled by customs. I have not once in 10 trips been hassled at all, in fact only one time did the guy ask the purpose of our trip, usually we just hand over the declaration card and they wave us through. And I'm substantially younger than you are. I don't know if JFK is just more relaxed about that sort of thing or my wife and I just don't look 'the type'; whatever that may be.

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Postby a bollocks » Sun Dec 07, 1:16 am

I have thought about this. I will wave my long hair proudly and flash my blood-shot eyes.

Of course, I will have gone over my luggage and stuff with a fine-tooth comb, prolly a bazillion times. If they ask my purpose for traveling, I will say "Van Gouchghzgh" and spit all over them.

This will all be done in a Derry accent, of course. Ya fuckin' bollocks.


WOOP!

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Postby Delta9 » Sun Dec 07, 3:57 am

Thanks for the trip report Larry! Sounds like you had a great time. As another soon-to-be first-timer (solo as well), it was good to get an assessment of the "danger" factor - or lack thereof - from someone of similar circumsance. That MP3 player sounds SWEET! I've had my eye on an iPod, but with all of those features at that price, it's hard to ignore.

And sorry to hear you got the third-degree upon your return...welcome home to the land of the "free"!

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Nice.

Postby LastHamlet » Sun Dec 07, 5:11 am

Well written and very informative. Good info for the first traveler to Adam. Definite crucial info indeed.
Way to go Larry, excellent report. Sounds like you had a great trip. Nice reflections on Haarlem as well...
Planning your next trip already, I bet...
Best Regards,
LH

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Postby Mr. Charlie » Sun Dec 07, 8:11 pm

Great report, Larry!! I wouldn't sweat customs smelling anything in the future - they have to find it on you to be a problem, so just don't try to bring any back!

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Very Nicely Done

Postby Maid Marian » Tue Dec 09, 5:07 am

A really fine report Larry. I am anxiously awaiting my first trip and I appreciate a first-timer's report especially.
Sounds like you had a really good time and the febreeze was a great idea, plus it totally smells great........................
First-timers always make me see a different perspective and I really enjoyed yours.
Glad you had a great time and I know you can't wait to get back.



Peace.........................................Maid Marian

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Postby Puffbob » Wed Dec 24, 9:58 pm

Thanks Larry, for your report as seen through the eyes of someone my age. It was great!! I hope to make this trip someday and after reading your report, I've become a little more confident. I am not one that likes doing things on my own, and only since I've been "hanging out" here with the great Channelite folks have I even thought about such an adventure. Most of the regulars here are much like the people I use to hang out with in the late 60s and 70s. I love following the discussions here because I'm learning alot and I can't disuss these things with my peers around my homeland. Anyway, thanks again and keep in touch.
Happy holidays,
PB

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thanks

Postby Professor » Wed Dec 24, 11:40 pm

good report-I too went solo and went to Haarlem. sounds like you did great. I really enjoyed your info and sharing your experience.

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Postby DanceRock420 » Sun Dec 28, 6:29 am

Great Report! I also stayed at the Tulip in Haarlem and liked it alot. Only 2 years ago I paid $80 a night! For NYE when I was there they provided Champagne and snacks in the TV lounge. Also watch out for that Joops place. They have a bunch of different rooms scattered around town and some are really on the downdown low end.
Daniel

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Postby Banks » Sun Dec 28, 6:46 pm

Great report... the inside of the journey can often times be the best part. Loved it!


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