This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Amsterdam Day Seven

Today we went to see De Haar castle. In order to see it, one has to take the train to Utrecht and then the bus to the castle.

Simple, yes?

Well, not quite.

Again, Centraal Station is the place to go to hit the train to Utrecht. The system to get tickets is so efficient, with a number of 'tellers' are given a number and then there are TV monitors throughout the facility to show who will be next, as well as where your number is in the queue. In no time, we were helped and our tickets were purchased.

The train was nice and funny, no one ever checked for our tickets. I wonder how many people actually hop on for a free ride to anywhere.

Once in Utrecht, it was a simple trek to the bus station to catch our bus. However, we found that a trip to De Haar Castle is not common, so we waited about 45 minutes for the bus to show up.

Our bus driver did tell us that she would let us know when we were at the right stop. And as nice as she was, that's pretty much all she did: let us out at a bus stop. We had to figure out where the hell we needed to head to, to find the castle. I assumed there would be signs everywhere and as soon as we got off, we did have a sign:So off we go, in the direction of "De Haar". This is the road that the signed pointed us down to:Again, we are off and walk down this road...where, by the way, no castle is in sight. We get to a "T" intersection and our choices are to go straight, or turn right. Tim thinks he sees what appears to be castle-like structures straight ahead, but we see this sign:We have to assume that "Kasteel" is indeed castle, so instead of going straight (which is a really long road with nothing in sight), we go right...still not knowing if we are going towards the castle. There's a wooded area so it's hard to tell if there are castle-like structures along the way.

We go right and this is what the road looks like: So as you can imagine, our options of go straight down a long, bare road, or go right, down a long, bare road, was a bit daunting.

Tim states that the one lone person walking in front of us appeared to have a brochure, so we hoped that he, too, was looking for a castle. But no one else was around. Cars would drive by us on this little road, but no signs, no sidewalks, nothing.

And by this time, not only are we confused, we are pretty hungry. We had breakfast before our journey, but nothing since and at this time, it's around 1PM. We know that the castle closes at 3PM and it's by tour only. We are frantic to get there in time to get to the last tour, if we can. We set out thinking we would have plenty of time, but never factoring the bus time (since it wasn't run more often than hourly). And now, factoring possibly getting lost!

As we walk further down, we can see a bridge, although it is perpendicular to our route, it's something to look forward to getting to. Maybe, just maybe, the castle will appear beyond this bridge:Fortunately, a passing bicyclist confirmed that we were indeed heading towards the castle. And after passing under the bridge, we could see something coming our way (well, we are going 'its' way):As we get closer, we can see that the castle is going through some pretty major, and sophisticated, construction: The entrance to the castle is in sight: And how elegant is it to see a car like this at a castle?We notice some very well-dressed people and find a wedding is about to take place (or has finished): We purchase our tickets and we find that we will make the last tour, which takes place at 3PM. It's about 2PM now and I ask the lady if there is any restaurants nearby...we are starving and I'm just jonesing for a glass of wine. And food.

She tells us that right next to the castle is a small cafe and I get really excited because we can relax, after that long walk, and eat and lounge until our 3PM tour.

The grounds are amazing. Green lush grass and gardens throughout, even during these cold windy days...and today was no difference. Here is a shot of us approaching the castle:This turns out to be the side of the castle and not the main entrance. A shot of one of the garden areas:Very European, in my view of what European looks like.

The cafe! Food is in our future!!!We walk into this cute little cafe...I see a little bar...I'm so excited, and relieved. The sweet waitress then says to me "I'm sorry, but we are closed. We have a reception." THAT WEDDING!!! If I could only enter a long silent gap at how crushed we were to hear that, I would. But hopefully, you can get the picture of how awful those words to us. We were tired. We were hungry. We just made the last freaking tour and now that it's only 2-fucking-15 in the afternoon and we have to wait another forty-fucking-five minutes for the god-damn tour, starving, well...we felt deflated. Well, maybe my girls didn't, but I could see in Tim's face that the last of his positive sanity was about to be extinguished.

So I hurried back into the cafe and begged the waitress for food. I felt like Jane Eyre, when she left Thornfield Manor and ended up in the village without money. I told the waitress: anything you have, crackers, leftovers, anything. We were really hungry and we would pay for anything!!

I could tell she seemed a bit surprised at my behavior, but my maternal instincts kicked in and I had to take care of my kids, including my girls. She said she had candy bars and Tim and I bought up the lot.We get our fill of candy and get a nice sugar high to keep us going...walking over the moat to the main entrance of the castle: The front of the castle:The main entrance:
And the view from the main entrance: Pictures were not allowed inside the castle, but it's pretty amazing. You can read more about it, and see more images, at it's website: Kasteel de Haar.

When the tour started, we followed a bunch of folks around. Since the tour is entirely in Dutch, we didn't realize we were in a private tour group until another guide motioned us (deer-in-the-headlights-looking-folk) to her and said we were part of _her_ tour. How did she know? They actually keep a count of how many people bought tickets and they account for each one. I haven't seen/heard that type of process in ages. In the U.S., there would be no finding the lost tourists on their tours...

And still, the tour is entirely in Dutch but our hostess gave us an English printout of most of the details that she would cover during the tour. The great thing? She would do her spiel and then come to us and give us a brief summary, in English, of what she had just said to the other guests. Incredible and an amazing call above duty. Such friendliness and just proud to share the knowledge of something that they hold dearly. I was just moved...and no, it wasn't the sugar rush.

The interior is truly amazing. The details are intricate. Tim would point out that no single piece of detail was the same...wooden pieces, therefore, were created for each piece...tiles on the floor, on columns, in the ceiling. Everything was unique.

I couldn't exactly concentrate entirely on the tour, though, as I knew we had a bus to catch to get back to Utrecht...and then the train back to Amsterdam.

On top of that, I knew we still needed to purchase one more piece of luggage. All of the shopping that occurred, well, and the fact that we are now one bag short...and the horror of trying to pack everything we had in London into the bags we had left...and now we have more! I knew we needed to get back before the shops closed, which is around 6PM.

We finished the tour except for one room. The hostess had gone ahead and it was a great time to go, as we were back in the main room where we had entered. I wanted to give the hostess my sincere thanks and gratitude, but she had already bounded up the stairs to the next room. So I asked one of the tour patrons if he would be kind enough to let her know we had to leave. The man said sure and then questioned whether we were bored because the tour was in Dutch. I told him emphatically that we loved the tour and it had nothing to do with that, only the fact that we had a bus to catch. He offered to give us a ride, which I thought was truly amazing.

Such nice people these Europeans!

But we decided to cut it short and start the long trek back to the bus station. My fear was that we would get to a point where we could see the bus but it would be too far for us to catch it.

It was cold and windy. We make it to the bus stop and try to interpret the bus times. Either we had just missed the bus or we would be seeing it soon. It ends up that we had just missed it...and not because we saw it and couldn't catch up...but most likely, the bus came earlier than scheduled.

This was the worst moment of that day, well, second to the cafe being closed. It was cold, very cold...and the wind was just killing me. And the not knowing was tough: not knowing when the bus would arrive...whether the bus would actually appear...whether we got back in time to buy our suitcase...I knew, while I sat there, that it would be over and we would look back at this day with great memories...that was what kept me positive.

Another family soon joined us at the stop -- tourists as well -- so I felt a little better that someone else would be expecting the bus too.

The bus finally arrives after a good solid hour of waiting. We make it to Utrecht and their central station, well, it happens to look like a shopping mall and we make it into one of the main department stores, purchasing our suitcase. RELIEF! We hop on the train and make it back to Amsterdam.

What a day. We ate at one last spot that we hadn't touched in our Ideaal II neighborhood. The service, amazing. The food, amazing. Our view, amazing:

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