Paris & Amsterdam Part 2

Being Tourist:

So, we continued our vacation to Amsterdam. It was so cold and windy but otherwise… not rainy! So we got the best weather! The train station in Amsterdam was massive and gorgeous and as soon as you step out of the station, you see the architecture and canals. People compare it to Venice… and I kinda see why. While the architecture is very different, it has the same ground movements that warp and lean the buildings. Our hotel was called Movenpick… and was a little out of the ways. We walked a ways, passed a Starbucks (yay!)… got to the bay… crossed a bridge… walked down a theater house steps and got to our hotel entrance. This was a very clean, modern looking and the receptionist was so welcoming with a box of Swiss chocolates and map of the city. I THINK there is a free tram that takes you right into the city but we decided to walk everywhere.

I was starving so first stop was a place we heard about from “Matt’s Travels” on youtube…. The Pancake Bakery! This was not very busy for its reputation… you climb down into a cellar like restaurant and can order bacon and apple pancakes. On your table in a big pot with a wooden spoon is Stoop! Molasses syrup deliciousness! We ordered a Stroopwaffle pancake with ice cream for dessert!

We walked around for a while enjoying coffee in a plaza while a man played the Godfather theme on a flute. I was freezing so we stopped at a clothing store and got a liner for my coat… this was life saving! We stumbled into the red light district and surprisingly, it was not that seedy! It was a small area that you can walk through rather quickly… there are fun museums of prostitution and theaters with porno’s… kinky sex shops and of course the ladies… BUT all the advertising was PG-13 and the ladies were in lingerie or bikinis. Hardly any actual nudity. My husband was having a blast telling his friends and sending pictures of the wild museums and stores… an I as his wife… was not uncomfortable! We stopped at a bar and drank some wine before taking pictures with the canal in the backdrop. Apparently taking photos with the girls is very frowned upon, which is understandable, so we tried to just get the lights and buildings.

TRAVEL BAN PANIC!

We got another drink and got into a little argument so we decided to go back to the hotel early. We got over our argument and went to sleep only to get multiple messages from family and friends telling us President Trump banned all travel from Europe in two days! Yikes! We went full panic! We tried to book a flight home but the airline websites were crashing. I called my dad and he tried using the computer to book us anything but flights were booking out. We finally agreed to abandon our belongings in Paris and fly straight out of Amsterdam on the last flight for $3,000 one way! As my dad finished getting our card information… the flight sold out! Thank god, I had texted a friend earlier to tell her my phone got stolen. She texted us back to clarify the ban was only for foreign nationals… US citizens and residents could come home. We fact checked this on the DHS website and relaxed a little. Finally, we decided to stay informed and continue our vacation.

The next morning, we went to the Starbucks and we told our woes to the Dutch barista. He laughed and when we got our coffee’s, our names changed to Cor and Ona! We walked casually along the canal, stopping for wine at the beautiful Waldorf Astoria. The server encouraged us to visit their garden for pictures!

I wish we had taken more pictures at this canal because it really was the most beautiful one! On the way back to the main plaza, there were men dressed as ghouls with “I heart Amsterdam” signs and oversized doobies! I took a picture with them naturally. Lastly, we got some cheese from a chain store that I forgot to get the name of. But if you see a ton of wheels of cheese and they let you sample everything, that’s the store I’m talking about!

For dinner, we took a canal cruise which was so surprising! Every time we passed the boat docks, we saw sightseeing tours that were crowded like bus seats so our expectations weren’t high. When the diner boat pulled in though we were pleasantly surprised! The tables were large and spaced apart. It was a white table cloth, four courses and never ending wine! The canal row houses looked amazing from the lower vantage point and the tour guide had a great dry sense of humor we truly enjoyed. We also got to see some sights we missed on foot including the Intercontinental Amstel Hotel which was large and beautiful and a windmill in the city that was used in a brewery at the storefront.

The next morning, we headed back to Paris. Amsterdam was gorgeous and I felt so safe… I never felt like anyone was stalking me trying to rob me! But as we headed to the train station, I was a little relieved to be returning to Paris to get our belongings and feel confident that we were in the right country to get on our plane. Who knew when France would set a travel ban and we would be the foreign nationals!

Back to Paris

At the train station, my lovely purse again got us an expensive taxi at almost double what our first one cost. We got back to the Hotel Le Tsuba and this time got an updated suite. This one had large windows that opened into mini balconies and had views of Paris and the Arc du Triomph and Eiffel tower poked over the tops. Also, we had a nice big bathtub! For diner, we walked to a place we went to on our last trip to Paris, Comptoire Gastronamie. This was clearly a local hotspot and it quickly filled up for how small it was. I ordered the duck and foie gras ravioli which had the most decadent truffle sauce. Nick ordered a shepherds pie and we shared a plate of escargot and wine. This restaurant was relatively inexpensive and phenomenal! A group of girls sat at the table next to us and I was immediately complimenting one their coats… we got to talking and they mentioned their concerns about losing on their vacation to New York City due to the travel ban.

We skipped desert and instead tried the hot chocolate and macaroons Pierre Herme on the Champs Elysees. This was very good, but very very pricey! Lastly, we hit up the grocery store next to our hotel and got $4 wine and crackers. At our hotel the bartender opened our wine, we enjoyed a nice bath, some wine and Amsterdam cheese while watching the shimmering Eiffel Tower.

Early the next morning, I put on a weather inappropriate outfit and we left to take pictures at the Arc de Triomph. The Arc was surrounded my police cars and officers patrolling but some people were still touring so we did not worry. I complained that my beret didn’t pouf just right and Nick pointed out that the French girls I was comparing to probably didn’t buy their berets at a tour stand for $4.

Being nervous to use the metro, we bought the hop on hop off tour which we really enjoyed just cruising and seeing all the sights at once. I was so eager to see the Paris Opera House… its arguably my favorite Paris sight… and according to the tour, the architect was quite a character. He wouldn’t let them plant trees in the avenue that would obstruct the view… his waved off his critics… and when he installed a multi ton chandelier and people complained that they couldn’t see the stage, he said it was a necessity! I agree with Garnier! Unfortunately, after walking around and taking pictures outside… we found out the Opera house had been closed, like the Lourve and Eiffel Tower, due to Corona Virus.

A little disappointed, we walked around the Galleries Lafayette and couldn’t find the rotunda. We took the bus back to the Arc de Triomph… enjoyed the walk on the Champs Elysees and headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. There were large clusters of police all over the Champs Elysees… they were not spread out or paroling.. just kinda clunked together laughing and joking. To be honest this kind of annoyed me… maybe they had a mission but, can’t you spare some police to guard the metro from thieves? Whats worse is Nick went to an ATM close to the police officers. As I went to him… the female officer gave me a suspicious look! As if I was going to try to ROB MY OWN HUSBAND? Right in front of them? I called out to Nick and he responded so they lost their suspicion.

Antoine by Chef Thibault: 1 Star Michelin Restaurant

This last night, we ate at another Michelin Restaurant, Antoine by Chef Thibualt. We were early so we stopped at a Lebanese grocery store and were recommended to a nice wine for later. At the restaurant, we were seated with a view of the Eiffel Tower and served multiple courses… one that really stands in my mind is the cevice! This raw fish was covered in fish eggs of various sized and surrounded by a lake of smoked milk and caviar. Oh my goodness! this was incredible! Every hour the Eiffel Tower glitters with lights for five minutes and we had a front row seat!

For our last Paris sight, we went to the Trocodero and took pictures with the Eiffel Tower. I went full Instagram mode and took a picture on the Trocodero steps. So this railing that influencers sit on is very steep with a sheer drop! I took my picture closer to the base!

CORONA VIRUS IMPACTS

As we went back to the hotel, we got a call from home and Nick’s mom warned us that Paris was closing all its restaurants at midnight! We didn’t believe her having just come from dinner! We enjoyed our night and view and I fell right to sleep without even packing leaving me a very rushed morning! As we were checking out the next morning, the concierge looked worried for the first time. We talked to him and he confirmed that restaurants were closing and even the hotel was likely to close soon.

We walked to the metro noticing our favorite bakery and all the shops along our walk were noticeably empty and dark. On the metro, we bought tickets to the airport and took directions… only to get very lost. At our second stop, an attendant gave us directions to a major hub and we noticed everyone around us had suitcases so we followed. To our concern… we were ushered into buses, our luggage taken and we were ferried to the airport. We were not even asked which airport we were flying out of so we were very nervous. I believe French people are very kind… but I was very nervous trusting a foreign government to get me back to my country especially if they had any suspicion we might be sick! Fortunately, we arrived at the right airport!

After getting our tickets, I had to learn how to register my VAT receipt. Note: you can only scan your receipt 5 hours before your flight. We were about 6 hours early so I had to wait a little. When I finally was on time, I told the attendant that I wasn’t sure what to do. Not to sound stereotypical, but this was an older Asian women who snapped at me “WHAT YOU WANT” and very rudely told me to scan the receipt and shooed me away! I scanned the receipt and the machine said, “Thank You, you are done, Have a nice flight”. I still had the paperwork that I knew I had to turn in so I went back to the horrible woman and this time a man was there too with a much more pleasant expression. I asked him and he told me to just put the receipt in the box with the rest. I asked if I needed anything for US Customs and he laughed at me and said “Do you think Donald Trump cares what you bought? Trump does not care!”. I laughed and finally felt at ease! I got my tax refund 4 days later directly to my credit card.

When I went back to Nick, all the shops were closed except a small convenience store. We got coffee and snacks… but Starbucks, Paul, McDonald’s… all closed. People kept their distances from each other and waited. We checked in 2 hours before our flight and got through security quickly due to the lack of travel in general. I was randomly selected for extra screening… pulled into a room and and a very pleasant officiant wiped my hands and belongings… checked my bag and rewarded us by letting us board first! I love that! I always get randomly selected traveling in America as a US citizen and its starting not to feel random! It was nice to be treated respectfully and given the consolation prize of being allowed to get settled early. Thanks, Paris! In line though, I talked to a fellow traveler who warned me of long hours at JFK…. and how she too scrambled to get a return flight before finding our that the ban did not include US citizens. I talked to a foreign exchange student who paid thousands of dollars to get home after her study abroad got cancelled and she had to get the first available flight as prices skyrocketed.

Coming Home

In the chaos, the flight was half full… so everyone had a lot of space to sit. When we landed, medical screening came to our gate and questioned us and took our temperature. Customs was very streamlined and even as I reported my purchase, it took a way later priority so even though I was slightly over the price limit, customs let me go without additional taxes on my purchase (altogether by shopping in Paris and not paying tax, I paid $900 less than I would in the US. This is best case scenario, but I now highly recommend buying luxury in Paris). We were given guidance to self-quarantine for 14 days which my work supported. My school moved to online, possibly for the rest of the semester. My husbands work extended his quarantine to 3 weeks.

One thing I thought was shady is as we left the airport… taxi drivers were waiting like vultures. Having been shuffled everywhere, we thought we were being guided to a shuttle for further screening. When we found out it was a taxi… we went with it and went to our parking lot…. a 5 minute drive and $10 Uber. This taxi driver charged us $60 cash only. Ouch.

Being home in quarantine was a whole different United States than when we departed. A lot changed very fast. I felt like I had to write it all, the good and the bad. We talked to many Parisians, Dutch, and American travelers and no one really thought it would escalate the way it did.

Here’s more pics ๐Ÿ™‚

Thats all ๐Ÿ™‚

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