Thursday, July 5, 2012

Safari #59A: Planning a Trip to Amsterdam

Greetings safari travelers!  I've been away these past few weeks enjoying a trip to northern Europe.  Now that I'm back, I'd like to share my travels and perhaps inspire you to head north yourself.

Up first, lessons learned from my trip to Amsterdam.  If you're planning at trip soon or if you've already been, please share your tips or ask questions in the comments.

Schipol Airport and the Train to Amsterdam's Centraal Station
Netherlands Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)) and Fyra (high-speed train) provide rail service from Schipol to Amsterdam Centraal Station.  Access to the train system is through the arrivals hall.  Signs will clearly mark your way to the hall after you leave baggage claim.

An important point for American travelers - the kiosks that sell train tickets only accept credit and debit cards that use the 'chip and pin' system or euro coins.  The majority of American debit and credit cards do not use the chip and pin system**.  Be sure to have euros on hand, and even better, euro coins.  The train ticket will cost you anywhere from $3.80 to $4.80, depending on whether you choose the standard or high speed train.
  • If you have euro coins - head to a kiosk that accepts coins (not all of them do).  Look carefully for the coin slot located above the touch screen.  
  • If you do not have coins - head to the one of the NS service desks to speak to a service agent.  You can use euros to purchase your train ticket, and if you choose, you can also purchase your return ticket as well.
Note: As of July 2012, the cost for a 2nd class ticket on a standard train was $3.80 euro.  The cost for a high-speed, 2nd class ticket was $4.80 euro.

Fast food can easily be found everywhere in Amsterdam.  However, if you're hoping to enjoy a nice, sit down dinner, reservations are strongly suggested and at most times required.  More casual dinner options are available as well that do not require reservations.  Most bars and cafes will offer simple menus that include sandwiches and appetizers.

Not that I'm encouraging you to eat fast food, but free WiFi is available in most chain fast food establishments, and many are represented in Amsterdam.  Buy yourself something to drink and take advantage of the free connectivity - especially if you don't have WiFi in your hotel or an international data plan on your smart phone.

Purchasing Flowers from the Bloemmarkt
It's hard to resist purchasing blubs at the Bloemmarkt or flower market.  With all of the varieties and low prices, you could easily plan your urban garden for a full season.  However, not all flowers are authorized for entry into the United States - a fact that some sellers will not mention unless you ask.

Be sure to locate the Certificate of Inspection located on the back of the bulb pacakge.  Pay close attention to the date of issue as it expires after six weeks.  While going through customs, the customs agent told me that tourists unsuspectingly purchase expired bulbs that only have to be thrown away when they arrive back in the U.S.

**According to PC Magazine, chip and pin cards will be available in the U.S. as of spring 2013.

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