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Eurodam arrives in Vancouver

Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017 – Eurodam arrives in Vancouver, BC, and my return home to Victoria

Hawai’i Cruise 2017

Vancouver at night as Eurodam docks at Canada Place cruise ship terminal

Vancouver at night as Eurodam docks at Canada Place cruise ship terminal

I wake up at 4:15AM, just after the ship sails under Lion’s Gate Bridge. I get my dSLR out and take some photos of the bridge, Stanley Park, and the downtown, all lit at night. I capture some excellent photos, especially as the ship turns and docks at Canada Place. Since it is 5AM, there is no coffee available anywhere on board. I go up to the Explorations Cafe on the off chance they are open at 6:30AM (their usual opening time), but no luck! My continental breakfast arrives right on time at 7:30AM in my cabin, so I have a cup of tea, a scone and pastry, yogurt, and cranberry juice.

I pack my last minute items and get ready for departure, double and triple checking the closets, drawers and bathroom to ensure I don’t forget anything. My friends call me at 8AM saying they are ready to disembark. Although it is a bit early for our time slot, I am ready to go as well, so we meet in the hallway outside their cabin. The passengers who have Expedited Departures are ahead of us, and they are still clogging the elevators, but we manage to get to the gangway deck and scan our ship security cards for the last time and leave the ship. Canada Customs and Immigration are waiting for us in the passageways to the main cruise ship terminal. They take our forms and wave us through, not even wanting to see our passports – welcome to Canada!

We are in the terminal an hour early, but find the waiting area for the bus to Victoria. Unfortunately, there are no chairs to sit on, so we stand, waiting in line until the two buses board everyone. We are on our way at 9:15AM, right on schedule, and our bus goes straight to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. We are one of several buses on the 11AM sailing aboard the Coastal Celebration ferry, so it is a crush to get up the stairs. However, once we enter the Seawest Lounge, we leave the mayhem behind for serenity and quiet.

A two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline

A two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline

The Seawest Lounge has a choice of two Starbuck’s roasts of brewed coffee, so I finally enjoy some good coffee and a bit of quiet time. I go back for some snacks: sliced cheese and muffins, and a second cup of coffee, so I’m finally ready to greet the day properly! As usual, the onboard Internet service offered by BC Ferries is totally swamped, so I use my own cellular LTE hotspot to catch up with online happenings as we sail to Swartz Bay. There is a two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline – very pretty on such a gorgeous day.

Once the bus rolls off the ferry, it makes several stops along the way to drop people off. I am dropped off a few blocks away from where I live, and since it’s a nice day, I roll my bags to home.


Sailing out of Vancouver slide show (2010 aboard the Volendam and 2017 aboard the Eurodam)

Vancouver photo gallery

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Victoria to Vancouver & Eurodam departure

October 1, 2017 Sunday – Victoria to Vancouver and Eurodam’s departure

2017 Hawai’i Cruise

My friends and I take the BC Ferries Connector bus service from Victoria direct to the Vancouver Cruise Ship Terminal. This is a great service, since once your checked (and tagged) bags are on the bus, they will be delivered right to your cabin on the ship! Since there are quite a few tour groups jamming the ship’s public areas, we go to the Seawest Lounge aboard the BC Ferry Coastal Celebration and have some snacks and coffee. A modest fee is charged in this area, but it is nice and quiet, getting us away from the crowds, and the snacks and beverages are included.

It is a cool and cloudy morning as we cross the Strait of Georgia to Tsawwassen Terminal. The bus goes directly to the cruise ship terminal and takes us right to the entrance, where we pre-clear US Customs and Immigration, go through ship’s security, and finally check-in to receive our cabin key cards. Boarding the ship after that is simply a matter of walking the gangways until we are aboard the Eurodam and have ship-board security scan our cabin key cards for the first time. Within 10-15 minutes after entering my cabin, my main checked bag arrives at the door, so I’m all set for the upcoming trip!

JoeTourist: Eurodam &emdash; Wendy and Joe on Deck 5 Forward as Eurodam departsI meet up with my friends in their cabin this afternoon while the ship is still docked. My friends found the bars aboard ship have a dozen beer on sale today, so we sit on their verandah watching the loading activity before our departure. I decide to find some lunch in the Lido, bringing a nice vegetarian sandwich back to their cabin to eat and have a beer with it!

Later, we go out onto Deck 5 forward to watch Eurodam leave the dock and depart Vancouver harbour under Lions Gate bridge. I try out my GoPro Hero5 Black camera by taking a video time lapse with it all the way until we clear the bridge and sail past English Bay into the beautiful sunset. I’m also shooting with my Canon 6D dSLR since it is so beautiful as we leave port.

When we go for dinner in the main dining room by 7:30PM, there is quite a line of people waiting, however we are seated within about 10 minutes or so and have a lovely dinner as the ship sails down Georgia Strait and the Salish Sea. I return to my room and work on my computer since I still have LTE and later 3G connection with my Canadian cellular service as we sail past Victoria to drop off the pilot and continue out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the open Pacific Ocean. The signal from the 3G lasts a surprisingly long time past Sooke! I guess it’s because I’m on the side of the ship facing the Canadian shoreline.


Eurodam departs Vancouver from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

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Centralia to Victoria

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 23, 2017 – Centralia, WA to Victoria, BC

I’m up at 7:30AM despite being in no hurry today. I find a coffee shop open nearby so I can get my morning cappuccino, and drink it on the Parkside Patio back at the Centralia Square Grand Ballroom and Hotel – a nice start to the day. After finishing my cappuccino, I go downstairs to have breakfast in the Berry Fields Cafe – two eggs in a thick slice of their oat bread and fried. It is yummy! I check out of the hotel and drive over to the Centralia Supercharger for a top-up before driving for two hours through Olympia and up the Olympic Peninsula to Sequim. There are no congestion problems today and I don’t have to pay the toll to cross on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge northbound, thank goodness.

I stop at the Sequim Supercharger, not that I need a charge, but I want to try it out and see where it is located for when I might need it on future trips. It is at a Holiday Inn Express, and I’m in need of another cappuccino, so I drive by the Supercharger and go downtown. I find a coffee bar which makes a decent cappuccino, and they also have apple strudel, so that will be lunch! After topping up my charge, i drive the short distance to Port Angeles. I’m three hours early, so I waste an hour parked downtown, and then check into the Coho ferry parking lot to wait to depart for home. Canadian Customs and Immigration don’t have pre clearance like the Americans do, so there are no formalities before driving onto the 5:20PM ferry. Before arriving in Victoria, I switch my iPhone back to using my Rogers SIM. After our arrival, I drive off the ferry and am directed to the slowest line clearing Canadian Customs and Immigration, but eventually I’m free to drive the few blocks to my home. The eclipse trip is over!

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Victoria to Lakewood

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 19, 2017 – Victoria, BC, Canada to Lakewood, WA, USA

Slideshow of Victoria's Inner Harbour

Slideshow of Victoria’s Inner Harbour

I show up for the 7:30PM sailing of the Coho ferry a bit early at 5:40PM, but since we have to pre-clear US Customs, there are lots of others showing up early as well, so the parking lot is mostly full. I pre-clear US Customs and Immigration, and the Coho leaves on time at 7:30PM. It is a funky old ship, and very small – only taking just over 100 cars. I am jammed in, as is everyone – so much so, it’s difficult to get out of the car. Once we clear the harbour and get underway, the ship is rolling pretty well, despite it being a calm summer evening. I wouldn’t want to take this route when there are winter storms!

A half hour out of Victoria as we head for Port Angeles, I take out my Rogers SIM from my iPhone and install the Roam Mobility SIM, which flashes up after a few minutes. I fiddle with the cellular settings and soon get the LTE data working. For my 4 days on their daily plan I am allotted 512Mb/day, so I have 2Gb total up front – more than enough data service for this short trip. Total cost is about $20.

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

Despite pre-clearing US Customs and Immigration before we left Victoria, all vehicles are stopped before leaving the Port Angeles terminal to be sniffed by a dog and talk to yet another agent. It takes a bit over two hours to drive from Port Angeles, pay a US$6 toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows bridge, arriving just before midnight at the Best Western hotel in Lakewood. I would never have found the hotel in the dark without the in-vehicle navigation, since it is embedded in the outskirts of Tacoma.

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Seattle to Victoria by Victoria Clipper

March 5, 2017 Sunday – Seattle to Victoria on the Victoria Clipper fast ferry

I’m up at 5:30AM, since the Victoria Clipper boards at 7:15AM for an 8AM departure for Victoria. Unfortunately I don’t have time for the included breakfast at the hotel, but grab a coffee in the lobby as I wait for my taxi to Pier 69, where the Victoria Clipper departs from. I have a few minutes before they open the departure area, so I get a cappuccino at the adjacent cafe. I check my big bag through to Victoria and go through pre-clearance where they check my passport against my boarding pass.

Rough seas as the Victoria Clipper passes Port Townsend into Juan de Fuca Strait

Rough seas as the Victoria Clipper passes Port Townsend into Juan de Fuca Strait

I’m soon settled onboard and the Victoria Clipper departs on time. We encounter some wave action as we pass Port Townsend into the open waters of Juan de Fuca Strait, but it smooths out again once we are in open water. There is no Wi-fi aboard, but my US data roaming gives me a good LTE connection for most of the trip, as I work on my photos and blog for most of the time anyway.

After our arrival in Victoria, the Canada Customs agent asks me the usual questions, then welcomes me back home to Canada. There is slush coming down outside as I catch a taxi home.

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Flights from Singapore to Victoria

March 17, 2016 – Thu – Singapore to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

I’m up at 3AM this morning and leave the Volendam for the last time to take the prearranged 4AM shuttle to the airport. The bus takes Holland America’s passengers to Terminal 1 at Changi Airport, where I check in with Cathay Pacific for my 8:05AM flight to Hong Kong and onward to Vancouver. I will get to live today almost twice over, since we cross the International Date Line mid-flight as we fly eastward across the Pacific Ocean.

After clearing customs and immigration, I find my gate and hit Starbucks for a cappuccino. I have several hours to kill, but Changi airport has free wifi, so the time goes by. By 6AM the airport comes alive with more people, so people watching keeps me entertained. The 3.5 hour Cathay Pacific flight from Singapore to Hong Kong goes well. They serve us breakfast, which I certainly appreciate!

When departing the aircraft in Hong Kong airport, I remember it is important to stay in the “Transfer” stream when you already have a boarding pass issued for the next flight segment. You still have to go through security, but then you can go directly to the Departures level and roam around. Otherwise you will find yourself on the Arrivals level, and have to take a lot more time to find your way back to the Departure level.

Cathay Pacific doesn’t load the flight to Vancouver by row. Everyone simply lines up at the gate and we are let on the aircraft after our boarding pass is scanned and our passport is verified.

Pre-dawn light over the wing south of the Aleutian Islands

Pre-dawn light over the wing south of the Aleutian Islands

This flight is excruciatingly long, however service by the cabin crew is very good. The first time I check my watch is an hour or so after they serve us dinner at the beginning of the flight. At that point we are five hours into the flight. Not even being half way is pretty depressing! The next time I check the time, we are about five hours out of Vancouver…still a very long time to sit. By then I’ve listened to all the music I can handle; I’ve read all the magazines on my iPad I can stand; so I haul down my MacBook Air from the overhead bin and write my journal and process photos for awhile. It would be great if I could sleep aboard aircraft, but that doesn’t happen no matter how tired I am. The sunrise is beautiful as we fly south of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Looking North across the city of Vancouver to the North Shore mountains on final approach to Vancouver airport

Looking North across the city of Vancouver to the North Shore mountains on final approach to Vancouver airport

Our approach to Vancouver is over Northern Vancouver Island and the coast range of mountains of British Columbia. The pilot refers to it as “the Whistler approach” to Vancouver airport, taking us over the famed ski resort. We fly east of the city and then turn west on final approach over Surrey, Richmond, and New Westminster, giving us great views of the city against the North Shore mountains. I think we land on Vancouver runway 26R. I take some nice photos of the scenery out the window.

This time I’m prepared for the long stretches of walking required in Vancouver airport to get from the arrival gate to the Immigration kiosks, and then onward to the baggage carousels, and finally a long way to the end of the departure concourse to check in at the Westjet kiosks. I don’t have a through ticket, so can’t use Westjet’s transfer check-in (much closer to the carousels). After clearing security again, I find the domestic departure area and the gates for the local Westjet flights. It is only a 20 minute flight to Victoria, and I am soon home…greeted at the door by Rolly and Tanner, our Jack Russell Terriers, and the rest of the family. It’s time to go to bed for a well-deserved sleep after enduring some 27 hours elapsed time from when I left my cabin aboard the Volendam in Singapore earlier today.

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Dubai to Victoria

February 23, 2015 – Dubai to Atlanta

JoeTourist: Victoria to Dubai &emdash; Aurora out the aircraft windowOur Gems of Arabia tour group arrive about three hours before our flight leaves the Dubai airport at 11PM, so we have plenty of time to get through the check-in process and find our gate. The flight to Atlanta takes 16 hours and 4 minutes according to the pilot. I see the aurora out the aircraft window over Denmark and take some photographs. Oddly enough, by the time we fly over Greenland, the aurora is gone. I then briefly spot bright aurora again over Newfoundland.

February 24, 2015 – Atlanta

It is 6:25AM (3:25PM Dubai time) when we land in Atlanta. I quickly clear customs and immigration, since Atlanta has the same kiosks for US and Canadian citizens to use as SeaTac. Dealing with a customs agent after that only takes a few seconds, and then I reclaim my bag and say my goodbyes to the tour group. The sign outside says “Hotel Shuttles – call for pickup”, however what actually happens is that a shuttle transfers everyone from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, where the hotel shuttles are located.

I wait here in Atlanta for tomorrow’s flight to Seattle and then to Victoria by overnighting again at the Hyatt Place Atlanta Airport-South hotel near the airport. They don’t have any rooms available when I arrive at 8AM, since people are still having breakfast before they check out. I check my big bag and wait in the lobby while sipping on a cappuccino, so I’m relatively happy. After my room is ready, I have a shower and then draw the drapes and sleep for about 6 hours. I order some dinner and a cappuccino and take it back to my room, and then go back to bed and sleep through to 5am.

February 25, 2015 – Atlanta to Victoria, Canada

I had a good sleep at the airport hotel, but get up early since I’m still not fully adjusted to the time zone change from Arabia. I kill a couple of hours in the room, and then go down for breakfast and also have that essential cappuccino. I then return to my room and put in some time on the computer. I make some good progress on my travel photos.

I decide to kill time at the airport, rather than pay for a late check-out, so I leave at noon and have to sit around in the domestic terminal until 3PM, when Alaska Airlines will allow me to check my bag. I then have a bit more freedom, so clear security, ride the train to my terminal area and find my gate. Atlanta airport is certainly a great deal bigger than the last time I flew through it. There are two main terminals (domestic and international), and each of those terminals are huge in their own right.

The Alaska Airlines 737-900 appears at the gate on time, and we board on time, but then the screw-ups start. First up is rearranging the luggage in the hold, and then they pull back into the Jetway to let a passenger board. Apparently his dogs made it onboard in cargo, but he didn’t make the connection. The airline decides it is quicker and easier to pull back in to board him rather than send his dogs on ahead of him. I guess there is a first for everything! The pilot previously told us they would have to de-ice before taking off, and so after we pull away from the gate, the aircraft taxies over to a designated area for deicing. I remember from previous flights that deicing took place at the gate, but obviously ATL has different protocols. By the time all this transpires, we are an hour late leaving. It’s a good thing I have 2 hours and 15 minutes layover in SeaTac.

As it turns out, I have plenty of time to find the gate at SeaTac for the flight to Victoria, which is in a different terminal. Alaska Airlines announces Victoria airport is experiencing foggy conditions, so they will attempt to land, but if the flight crew doesn’t feel it’s safe, we will return to Seatac for an overnight stay. The weather is fine when we land in Victoria. My bag is one of the first to appear on the belt, I clear customs and immigration, take a taxi home and go to bed by 1:30AM. My trip to Arabia is over!

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Victoria to Dubai

February 6, 2015 – Friday – Victoria to Atlanta

I’m out the door at my home and in a taxi to the airport by 4AM.  The United counter Victoria airport opens at 5AM (2 hours before flight time). Once my bag is checked through to Atlanta (US$25+tax), I clear security and grab a cappuccino from the Spinnaker’s On The Fly restaurant in the boarding lounge. My flight for San Francisco leaves at 7AM, so I have some time to kill. Once the flight to San Francisco departs on time I can relax, since there is nothing further I can do about anything except find my gates at each airport along the way. I’m flying through San Francisco and Houston to get to Atlanta today.

I only have an hour to find the gate in Houston for the final leg to Atlanta, but I catch a break. The flight arrives on time, the aircraft isn’t full so unloading goes well, and the next gate turns out to be in the same terminal. So instead of rushing around, I have a few minutes to spare.

Atlanta’s domestic terminal is under construction, and is a mess both inside the terminal buildings and outside with the access roads. I finally find the hotel shuttle and arrive the Hyatt Place at South Terminal. This hotel is a pretty good choice. Although the room fixtures are starting to show wear and tear, check-in is quick, and it is clean, quiet, and well-run.

February 7, 2015 – Saturday – Atlanta to Dubai

Today is a lazy day to start with, since my flight to Dubai doesn’t leave Atlanta airport until 9:45PM. I have a leisurely breakfast in the hotel lobby, fool around on the Internet for awhile, and then go for a walk in the sunshine along a local bike trail. I pay the hotel an extra charge so I can stay in my room until 6PM, since it makes no sense to spend an extra half day in an airport when I’m facing a 14 hour flight later today. I have a shower and sleep in the afternoon, and put on some fresh clothes before catching the airport shuttle at 5:30PM. The shuttle takes me to the domestic terminal parking area, where I have to transfer to the International terminal shuttle, which takes a good 20 minutes. I remember Atlanta airport being big, but not quite this big!

I check in at the Delta self-serve kiosks and give my tagged bag (Dubai-DXB) to the check-in clerk. Since I am “TSA Pre-cleared”, I breeze through security and onward to the concourse and find our gate by 7PM. An hour later I meet the tour group near the gate for the flight to Dubai. Of course it is a blur of introductions; names I will not remember for a few days yet. Boarding is disorganized, and it is a full flight on a Boeing 777-200SP. I purchased Economy Comfort in order to get an additional 4” of legroom and more seat recline, so I am in the Group 1 boarding. It’s nice to get onboard ahead of about half of the passengers for this 14 hour direct flight.

Flight path from Atlanta to Dubai

Flight path from Atlanta to Dubai

The captain announces we will arrive in Dubai a few minutes ahead of schedule. Our route is up the Atlantic coast, past Newfoundland, south of Greenland and Iceland, and over Western Europe. Let’s hope we steer clear of Syria on our way down to Dubai!

February 8, 2015 – Sunday – Atlanta to Dubai

7AM (Azores Time) I take a guess at the time zone as we are south of Iceland when the Sun rises. Sunrise over the North Atlantic is spectacular from my SE-facing window seat, and of course I take lots of photos since I’m such a sucker for sunrises and sunsets. I’m the only one with my window shutters open, but I can’t sleep and want to look out the window. We are served a cold breakfast bun and some coffee, and then everyone goes to back to sleep, except me of course. A flight attendant comes by and asks me to close one window and keep the other one half-shaded, so I finally give up and close them both and try to sleep as we fly over Europe. Now I’m sitting here typing this journal entry in the dark cabin while it’s full sunshine outside as we pass Sicily, crossing the Mediterranean on our way to the Middle East. Four hours and 15 minutes to Dubai.

We are now 1 hour 50 minutes from Dubai, flying across the Arabian Peninsula. The cabin is still dark despite it being early evening outside…bizarre! We are served another meal before our 9PM arrival in Dubai. The airport is controlled chaos as our group retrieve our bags and walk at least a kilometre (no people movers) to clear immigration, and then wheel our bags out to the waiting bus. We are staying in the old part of the city at the Arabian Courtyard Hotel, which is an older hotel, but I like it. My room is very nice, they have a couple of restaurants and a bar, and the location is ideal for shopping and sightseeing.

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Flight: Paris to Victoria

September 22, 2014 – Monday – Flight: Paris, France to Victoria, BC, Canada

I‘m up at 6AM to get ready for a 6:30AM pickup by the SuperShuttle I previously arranged and paid for. The 9-passenger van shows up early, and I’m ready to go. There are five others in the van already, and we make one more stop to pick up two more before we head for Charles de Gaul airport (CDG). It takes almost an hour to reach the airport, and we drop a few people off at Terminal 1 before the rest of us are delivered to Terminal 2. This terminal is ultra modern, and as I expected, very busy.

I manage to check into the Delta flight without a problem despite the crowds. I have to take a train to transfer to terminal 2E, which is even newer than the main Terminal 2. There are high-class shops everywhere, and the gate area is super modern and clean. There are power plugs at each seat in the waiting area. I have a cappuccino and a pastry at the cafe beside the gate, since I have over an hour before the flight starts boarding at 9:40AM. The boarding process goes fast, we leave the gate on time, and we are number one for takeoff. The captain announces that the flight time to Seattle is 9 hours and 55 minutes, but he later announces that we will arrive about 35 minutes early.

I usually don’t watch movies on airline flights, but this time I found “a personal portrait of a Broadway legend”, which I really liked: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. She is so funny, and yet at the same time portrays a vulnerable side. She is 87 years old and still performing. The video was a nicehour and a half diversion from the boredom of the long polar flight.

I’m not looking forward to the jet lag after this trip. I always take a couple of days to recover when I fly from east to west over lots of time zones. Flying west to east doesn’t seem to bother me as much for some reason, although I was very tired on the second day in the Netherlands at the start of the trip. My final connecting flight from Seattle to Victoria goes without a hitch, and I’m home!

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Flight: Victoria to Amsterdam

August 29, 2014 – Friday – flight from Victoria, Canada to Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I am up early this morning, get out the door and take a taxi to Victoria airport. I check my bags through to Amsterdam, and wait for my flight to Seattle to depart. Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air is using the usual De Havilland DHC8 Dash 8-400 turbo-prop aircraft. Once I arrive at SeaTac airport, the travel stress kicks in. I forgot that this is the Labour Day weekend, so everyone is traveling, and flights are full or overbooked. So this means lots of kids and families are in the air terminal and on the flights.

Immaculate timing meant that our little flight from Victoria arrives at the same time as a couple of large aircraft from the Far East. Despite this, I clear US Immigration quite quickly, since there are new automated kiosks that Americans and Canadians use. The kiosk takes my picture and scans my passport, I answer a few questions on a touch screen, and I’m good to go. This is a big improvement and much faster than going through a normal immigration interview with an immigration agent, especially when these large foreign flights arrive. Of course, most of those people have to go through the regular procedure of seeing an immigration agent, but I’m done in about two minutes!

I retrieve my bags from the carousel and go through US Customs. Thank goodness our bags arrived first on the carousel that is also assigned to a big airliner arriving from China. I re-check my bag and go through a security check. Of course this is the TSA, so I have to take my shoes and belt off, and take notebook computers out of their bags. Thankfully my flight on Delta to Amsterdam is in the same terminal, so I am saved from using those dreadful trains that SeaTac connects their terminals with.

Beginning of the flight northward out of Seattle to Amsterdam

Beginning of the flight northward out of Seattle to Amsterdam

The good news I discover at the gate is that the aircraft is already there, despite me arriving about two hours before loading time. The bad news is the crowds of people in the waiting lounge. Loading takes way longer than expected – chaos barely under control is the way I would describe it. How they all fit in the aircraft is astounding!  We eventually roll away from the jet way almost an hour late, however the pilot assures us he expects to make up all but 15 minutes of the delay during the flight. Let’s hope so, since many of the passengers I talk with are concerned about making their connecting flights. I don’t personally care, since no matter what time we arrive, I’m going my hotel in Haarlem, a small city between the airport and Amsterdam.

My seat on the aircraft is right beside two restrooms, but at least I have the window seat. The young Belgian guy sitting beside me in the isle seat has to put up with people waiting to use the facilities. The Delta crew serve us drinks shortly after the flight takes off. Beer, wine and cocktails are all free, but I just have some Coca Cola. I observe the great circle route on the monitor in front of me as we progress on our track at 33,000’. It is a smooth flight in Delta’s fairly new Airbus A330-200.

August 30, 2014 – Saturday – arrival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We have a very nice flight over to Amsterdam. As we fly over the southern tip of Greenland, the most spectacular aurora appears. It is so bright, it reflects off the cloud cover below us. Later during the pre-dawn as we fly south of Iceland, I observe Venus and Jupiter in the eastern sky.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is huge and quite dated, but I manage to retrieve my bag, clear customs, and leave though the correct exit without a problem. I follow the instructions which the Rick Steves tour gave me, since I have to take a local bus to Haarlem, the city where I am staying until the tour gets underway. I find the bus stop, the bus comes, and I’m on my way in no time. The fare is only €4.50, versus about €45 to take a taxi. The bus drops me off at the terminus in Haarlem (which is also the train station), and I walk the few blocks to the hotel. Initially I get lost, but eventually find my way. I’m very tired, and just can’t concentrate.

After checking into the Hotel Ambassador, I have a shower and go to bed, and manage to sleep for several hours. I’m feeling a bit better when I awake, and go for a walk with my camera. There is a local market on the Grot Mark, which is right next to the Grot Kerk, the main church in Haarlem. Haarlem has very little vehicle traffic. Most people walk or bicycle. There are thousands of bicycles of all descriptions, and there are dedicated bike roadways, although wearing helmets is not mandatory, and virtually nobody wears one.

I meet a member of the tour group in the hotel, and we have dinner next door at Café Colette restaurant. We both enjoy our meals, so I’ll file this away for future reference.

There are hundreds of cafes, bars, restaurants, fast food kiosks and shops, however I have yet to see an American fast food outlet. Smoking is widespread in the Netherlands, and it is allowed almost everywhere. That is a real step back as far as I’m concerned, although I see very few overweight people here. I suspect many people who live in the cities simply don’t own cars, since they are so expensive to own and operate. In Haarlem, parking runs to several Euros per hour, and is scarce.