tom911 goes to Dusseldorf (AA), Cologne (rail) and Amsterdam (rail)

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  1. tom911
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    I'm almost done with this trip but have been challenged to find time to post, so catching up tonight in Amsterdam where it's raining and we're also enjoying thunder and lightning. Petty nasty day here.

    Day 1

    Benicia bus and BART to SFO. Did an award night at the Hyatt for 8,000 points and was very happy to find that rather than deal with 10 days parking. Due to Dreamforce in San Francisco, the Hyatt was going for $379 a night and some other hotels around the airport were sold out. That award night just opened up a few days out, as it wasn’t there last week.

    Did walk a little on the Bay Trail and took some aircraft photos:

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    More here: http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-USA/2014-SFO-aircraft-photos-from/i-zb6Bm6K

    Did not sleep well and I have to blame American Airlines for starting a Europe sale this very night, forcing me to stay up until midnight, which was not my original plan. I booked four trips for next year, one each for the first four months. Two are to Ireland at $505 and $550, which is nothing less than spectacular, and the others to Madrid and Madrid/Lisbon for under $700. I’ll likely do some award travel with Dublin and Madrid as a starting/ending point. These fares were out there for less than 24 hours and later jumped $300-$500 higher. Have upgraded 3 of the 4 with systemwides and only one segment, JFK-SFO, did not clear. Pretty happy about that. AA has always treated me well.
     
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  2. tom911
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    Day 2 SFO-ORD-DUS $700 sale fare

    Up at 4a.m. and out the door at 4:30 on the airport shuttle. Boarded the 6a.m. Chicago flight and ordered steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. Would you serve oatmeal like this at home?

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    Tried to sleep but don’t think I did. Visited the AA Flagship lounge on arrival at noon and spent some time on the phone with AA securing upgrades for future flights booked the night before. Had a Diet Coke, a Sam Adams and some cheese while visiting.

    Left the lounge at 3 and we departed on time for Dusseldorf at 3:40p.m. I had a right rear corner seat in business class. For dinner I chose the seared tilapia. Two hours into the flight I was asleep, though I probably only got 3 hours rest. Up for breakfast two hours before landing at 7a.m. (granola, yogurt, croissant, cut fruit).

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    Had an interesting seatmate who purchased an upgrade on check-in for $500. He was on the way to a small city outside Amsterdam to collect semen for dog breeding. Apparently someone there has a champion dog and he wanted to observe it and see if it would be a good pairing for his dog. Can’t recall the breed name (something I never heard of).

    Photos for this section start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/Germany/2014-Dusseldorf-Germany/i-dhQSZTp
     
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  3. tom911
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    Day 3 arrival in Dusseldorf

    Took the airport monorail to the train station and boarded the 8:12 train into the city (2.5 euros, $3.30), arriving 12 mins later at the main train station in Dusseldorf. Came out the back side of the station and found the street that leads to my hotel, Motel One, and checked in just before 9. My room was ready 30 mins later. I'm paying 59 euros, about $80 a night.

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    I needed to sleep. The folks next door, though, are constructing a building. They didn’t go together well. Don’t think I really got to sleep until noon. Had the alarm clock set for 1:30pm and went right back to sleep, getting up after 3. That worked out well and I was out on foot at 4p.m. for a 5 hour walking tour of the city. 3 hours into that my Fitbit hit 10,000 steps (about 5.5 miles), so did get a good workout.

    Walked through the shopping area in the city center and along the Rhine River. Grabbed dinner at a chicken kebap shop for 3. 5 euros ($4.70). I’ll do some more extensive touring tomorrow.

    Train station:

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  4. tom911
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    Day 4 Dusseldorf

    Purchased the hotel breakfast (rolls, cereals, yogurt. juice, sliced meats, cheese, juice) which is offered for 7.5 euros (about $10) and a nice start to the day here. Good thing I set the alarm clock for 8:45 or I would have slept right through it.

    After breakfast and working on my photos/report, I was out the door at 11a.m. and headed to the south side of the city on foot, about 2.5 miles per google maps. This area is referred to as Media Harbor. It’s just off the Rhine and the TV tower lies between it and the Aldstadt (old city). Some very interesting buildings in the area and still space to build more. Looks like it might have been an industrial area in the past. There's a Courtyard and Hyatt in this area.

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  6. tom911
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    From Media Harbour, north to the Aldstadt via the TV tower. It started raining as I arrived at the base of the TV tower and I broke out the umbrella. Got photos of several barges passing through as I walked further north along the Rhine. The waterfront cafes were pretty quiet when I was in that area around 2p.m.

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    Into the city center. Stopped for a Diet Coke at a Burger King and was glad to sit for a while. Next stop was the Galleria department store where I looked at some Christmas displays just being set up and visited the candy section (amazing how many brands of boxed chocolates you see here - nothing like it in the U.S.). Took some photos of Jelly Bellies and an umbrella display. Passed by a pastry shop with some great windows.

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  7. tom911
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    Was back at the hotel at 4p.m. for a break, then back out just after 7 for dinner. Didn’t go far as I found a Noordsea restaurant in the train station and had fish fillet with mushroom sauce and potatoes for 9 euros ($12). Headed back to the hotel for an early night in.

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    There is one downside to being on the backside of the train station - the Aldstadt is on the other side of it. So, 10-12 minutes to the train station, and then another 15 mins into the heart of the Aldstadt. Wasn’t ready for another long walk tonight after racking up miles during the day. Next time I’d probably stay on the other side of the train station to avoid all this walking. There is supposed to be a U-Bahn station near the hotel but I never saw it. At least this location is good for my walk back to get the train to Cologne.

    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/Germany/2014-Dusseldorf-Germany/i-t9hVbmL
     
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  8. tom911
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    Day 5 Dusseldorf to Cologne

    Came over to Cologne from Dusseldorf, a 20 min trip by rail, arriving at 1p.m. Purchased a ticket in advance on an intercity train for 12.5 euros ($16.50). Didn’t make a seat reservation and ended up standing at the end of a car on a packed train. There was a group of 20 in front of me, who boarded with me in Dusseldorf, that were sharing wine, champagne and snacks. Thought my hotel was on one of the streets on the front side of the station, but none of the streets were matching up with my map. Turned out I was on the back side of the station, about 5 blocks away, Reverse course.

    I’m at a Courtyard by Marriott this time in a very nice room for 79 euros (about $99) on a weekend rate. Didn’t get any room photos as I spent the whole afternoon, after arrival, trying to sort out bus options out of here, as well as hotels, if I get stuck due to the German rail strike two days out on my travel day to Amsterdam. After checking in I walked back to the train station to check on the schedule. At that time I was told to check back tomorrow. Back to the hotel. I found two different bus companies with service to Amsterdam for 33-35 euros ($43-45), but wasn't ready to book a ticket until I had a firm handle on the strike and what trains would be running. A third Czech company was 15 euros and operated from out by the zoo, not very convenient for me. All had seats for sale. Nothing more to do on this today.

    Was out about 5p.m and walked through the city center, popping into a couple shops (a Victorinox shop with a knife assembly station, a sporting goods store with its own lake to test canoes, and a gift store with an unusual knife holder, were among the highlights).

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  9. tom911
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    Day 6 Cologne

    Today was a pretty leisurely day. After a morning trip over to the train station to check on my train status, (still on the schedule) along with a stop for an applesauce filled pastry and a carton of milk, went back at the hotel and didn’t head out until afternoon. Spent some more time in the Cathedral admiring stained glass and organ pipes. Quite a bit to look at there and you really need daylight to appreciate the windows.

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    Next I walked across the Rhine on the rail bridge that has an adjoining pedestrian walkway lined with “locks of love”. Not a spare inch anywhere to place a new lock.

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    Last edited: Oct 21, 2014
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  11. tom911
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    A couple different trains came by while I was on the bridge, including my favorite the ICE train (Inter City Express) which is a solid white color and high speed.

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    Back to the old town where I saw a man creating bubbles for children using some type of ropes and a bucket of water. Also a nice view of the rail bridge when down along the Rhine.

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  12. tom911
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    Found a beer hall with seating and popped in for two beers. A little more touring about, a stop at a store window for pizza, and I was back at the hotel after 7. Lots of shoppers out and the streets, and train station, were packed. Went back out for an hour later on and then in for the night.

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    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/Germany/2014-Cologne-Germany/i-Jcgpmkf
     
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  13. tom911
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    Day 7 Cologne to Amsterdam

    Was up early to keep an eye on my train. Looks like most of the international trains from Frankfurt are departing on time, including mine which left Frankfurt on time at 9:27a.m. That's not the case if you're traveling within Germany as most service is cancelled due to the strike today. Headed to the train station and the train to Amsterdam arrived right on time. I was a happy camper after a couple stressful days here.

    Caught the 10:46a.m Intercity Express (ICE) train from Cologne to Utrecht, in The Netherlands, arriving there at 1p.m. Had an empty seat next to me on this segment as the passenger assigned to the seat did not board in Dusseldorf, perhaps due to the German rail strike. If he wasn’t originating in Dusseldorf he might not have had a way to meet the train. Had along a bottle of water and a pastry that I purchased at two different shops in the train station. Watched a John Wayne movie from 1951 (Operation Pacific) on the tablet--have to get back to finish

    At 1:13 a connecting Dutch train arrived and I offboarded at 1:29 in Amsterdam at the Bijlmer Arena station, about 15 mins from Amsterdam Central station.

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    I’m at a high-rise Holiday Inn Express out here that opened 6 months ago that includes breakfast (about the same I paid $10 for in Dusseldorf--rolls, cereal, sliced cheeses and meats, juices). The building is shared with a Holiday Inn. Looks like it’s mostly an office park with an Ikea in sight and a lot of open land. The desk clerk told me she gave me a nice room - she did. It’s on the 14th floor in the corner with a wide view of the area. Last time I had a room with such an expansive view was at the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai. The average rate here works out to 104 euros a night with all the taxes ($133) which is a good rate for Amsterdam.

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  14. tom911
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    Explored the neighborhood around the train station a bit. There’s the Heineken Music Hall, the arena itself, and a number of shops and restaurants, including an electronics store and sporting goods store. The hotel is a 10 minute walk from the train station and the train into Amsterdam Central is about 15 minutes.

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  15. tom911
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    Into the city in late afternoon. Bought a round trip ticket for the Metro (local train system) for about $8 (a daily pass is $10). Got off the train at Central Station and worked towards Dam Square where there the very last day of a carnival was underway. Lot of construction taking place in the stretch between the train station and Dam Square, and that blocks access to tour boats, some of which don’t have docks now.

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  16. tom911
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    From there off on a couple streets to explore the city, check out the closed shops (its Sunday) , a stop at a shawarma shop for dinner, and then the train back to Bjilmer, arriving at my hotel after 11:15p.m. Would have been back 20 mins before that but had just missed a Metro train at Amsterdam Central. My Metro ticket did not include trams so I was on foot.

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    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2014-Amsterdam-The-Netherlands/i-4QptpHW
     
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  17. tom911
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    Day 8 Amsterdam

    After hotel breakfast, out the door at 10 and got off Metro at the Nieuwmarkt station. Walked around the area and made my way over to the flower market. We're not in tulip season so you won't see any of those, though lots of tulip bulbs for sale.

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    From there to Museum Square which houses the Rjiksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and one other. There was a line for tickets so opted not to visit the Rjiksmuseum today.

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  18. tom911
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    Line to get into the Van Gogh Museum:

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    Boarded a tram to the Heineken Brewery and took some photos and visited their gift shop. Saw what has to be one of the nicest tour buses in Europe parked across the street. Had about 2 mins worth of rain that required I open my umbrella, but otherwise a rain free day so far.

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  19. tom911
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    Back on a tram to Central station, and from there another tram to Leidseplein Square which has an Apple store, a Mini store, as well as all sorts of cafes and restaurants in the area.

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    Walked over to Vondel Park, an area I stayed in when backpacking, and also past Hard Rock and a casino. Lots of track work underway for the tram system. This is in front of the Marriott hotel (doesn't look like they take worker safety too seriously here):

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    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2014-Amsterdam-The-Netherlands/i-fmn8PHZ

    Back on the tram to Central, change to the Metro, and was back at my hotel at 4p.m. The evening segment is still a work in progress.

    New photos start here: http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2014-Amsterdam-The-Netherlands/i-fmn8PHZ
     
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  20. tom911
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    Back out for dinner after 7 and Metro back to Amsterdam. Connected to the #1 tram to Leidseplein and found a nice Italian restaurant. Looked like the same one I ate at a dozen years ago when last here. They had promotional pizza for 5 euros (about $6.50) but I ordered pizza quatro formaggi (4 cheese pizza) for 10.75 euros ($14). Very good pizza accompanied by a $7 Heineken. After dinner a very, very light rain started coming down, but not enough to abandon outdoor seating. Got a tram back to Central station and then Metro out to Bijlmer. Just after arriving in my room around 10:30 it started pouring rain - so hard you could hear it hit the windows. Glad I made it back when I did or 15 mins later I’d be walking in it from the train station to my hotel. It rained like that all night long, waking me up a couple times.

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  21. tom911
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    Day 9 Amsterdam

    I forgot to mention the prices of airfare and train so let me do that now. I paid $700RT on an AA sale, about half off the going Germany rate. The train fare between Cologne and Amsterdam, or Amsterdam back to Dusseldorf Wednesday, is 19 euros, about $25. I did pay a seat reservation fee of 4.5 euros ($6) for the ICE train, which is the longer segment. If I flew home from Amsterdam the airfare would double. You can see why it makes sense to take the train back into Germany.

    Was ready to head out at 10a.m. but that was not to be. There was heavy rain outside that would just not let up, and along with that came high winds and dark clouds in every direction. I could watch people walking down below having their umbrellas blown inside out. Didn't have any rain gear so limited options. I did venture out at noon myself, and made it about 100 feet until my umbrella surrendered, and was getting so wet retreated back into the hotel

    At 2p.m. the rain stopped and there was a patch of blue sky in the middle, and I was ready to go. Made it to the train station while it was not raining and went into Amsterdam.

    view from Bijlmer station:

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    About 10 mins after arrival in Amsterdam, it started raining there, too, so I went and explored two department stores off the main road from Amsterdam Central station towards Dam Square. Found a Ralph Lauren sweater I just loved, very colorful with leather patches on the elbow, and very out of my price range (1300 euros- $1,654….I put it back down). Lots of designer brands in the Dutch department store, while the other (C&A) had more reasonable prices. You could get a polo shirt there for 10 euros ($12.80).

    Dam Square without the carnival--it was gone on Monday morning

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    Headed back out and walked up to Leidesplein again, stopping in a cheese shop for samples and a sporting good store to look at windbreakers (the only one they had was 99 euros, $127). I was not a buyer today. Kept raining on and off, and you’ll see plenty of umbrellas in my photos. I could have bought one of those single-use plastic ponchos but wasn't interested in wearing one of those the rest of the day.

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  22. tom911
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    Walked through the restaurant area and then over to the antique store zone near the Rjiksmuseum. Took a photo of one building there that illustrates how you get furniture to the upper floors - look at the winch at the very top.

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    Gave up with the rain coming and going and headed back to Bijlmer Arena station. Arrived a few mins before 6 and it was not raining. Took a quick look at a few restaurants and then headed back under the tracks to my hotel. Under the tracks is as far as I got, and then the skies opened up. You should have seen all the unsuspecting businessmen in suits running for the station, plus a couple folks probably coming from the hotel with luggage. I would have been in the middle of that if I hadn't detoured to look at restaurants. That cell came in really quick. I hung around 10 more mins and it stopped entirely. The cloud formations move very quickly here (was watching them from my hotel this morning during my forced delay).

    It got better an hour later when the thunder and lightning started. Quite a light show from the 14th floor moving from right to left. The rain continued overnight. I did make a quick run out at 9p.m. to the Burger King at the train station for something to eat. Very light rain coming back from that. Had planned to do steak and fries my last night in the city, but just wasn't worth the trip back in with the weather.

    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2014-Amsterdam-The-Netherlands/i-nFPRRb4
     
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  23. tom911
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    Day 10 Amsterdam to Dusseldorf Airport

    Off to the Dusseldorf Airport by train at 12:45p.m. and have an airport hotel on points and cash. Didn’t have much of an option as there is a trade show in the city and all the hotels are either sold out or priced well out of my price range. If I didn’t get the hotel at the airport, I could have selected a number of cities 30 minutes away and just come in by train tomorrow morning for my flight home, but not my first choice, so glad I could score a room on points.

    Although it did rain all night, right now at 10:30a.m. the sun popped out for a few minutes, and then the moving clouds came in, covered it up, and the rain was back. Dark clouds everywhere once again. Only need to make it to the train station, a 10 minute walk away, and hopefully will do that when it’s not raining at noon. I'll allow some extra time if I have to make a run between downpours.
     
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  24. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Nordsee and Asia Gourmet? ;) Do I sense that you don't really enjoy sitting in restaurants all by yourself? (I certainly don't and have had some meals in restaurants like that)

    Anyway, thanks for the detailed trip report and many pictures. Brought back many memories. Have to head back to Duesseldorf for some Alt Bier exploration. And there are still a number of things I skipped over last time we were in Amsterdam that I need to cross off my to-do list.
     
  25. tom911
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    Certainly not the more formal restaurants. I'm fine in an Irish pub or somewhere that looks pretty casual. I'm not a foodie, though, and would rather spend the time touring than an hour for a restaurant meal. When I travel with friends, which I did just in August to Asia and will again in March to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day, you'll see me in restaurants more regularly. A lot of this probably goes back to my backpacking days when I'd go out for 30 days at a time solo and didn't really have the budget for restaurants and stayed in hostels. I felt very comfortable traveling like that.
     
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