Suffice it to say that we left the lounge, got on the plane, left on time, sat there for 9+ hours, landed early, and got off the plane with nary a hitch. While it’s only an hour or two longer than DFW to Madrid (which we’ve done about a dozen times) the difference was noticeable. Not SFO to Beijing long, but long nonetheless.

The first sign that things are different here came a few steps from the end of the jetway at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport. Instead of ending up in that long, sterile walk to passport control, we turned a corner and found ourselves right out in the middle of the E-concourse. With not a whole lot of visual information to suggest where to go. I finally spotted an “Exit” sign with an arrow, so we figured that had to be right, so off we went. For a long, long way, past Duty-free, past a lot of shops and restaurants until we found ourselves looking at a half-blocked pair of automatic doors with official titles at the top that were x’d off with red tape. Judging from an American couple standing there scratching their heads, clearly, this was it, so through we went, and sure enough, we found ourselves at Passport Control. Not Madrid, Paris, or Dallas-style giant warehouse passport control, but rather a small room with a serpentine entry and four guys manning six desks. We got in line, worked our way forward, and made the mistake of getting in the queue behind a family of four who were waving a lot of papers and holding up their phones, jumped the line, and finally made it through. I even had the opportunity to practice a bit of that commentary Dutch that I’d spent the last month cramming into my head.

We were able to skip having our bags scanned at Customs by saying “US” when asked where we were coming from and one more door at we were out in the airport proper.

Normally we’d take a taxi, or perhaps use a previously arranged driver, but the concierge at the airport had told me that the trains were easy to take, cost only 5€ (versus 60-90 for a cab,) and that Amsterdam Centraal Station was close to the hotel. So ever conscious of cost-savings we went on, searching for the supposedly “easy to find” trains in the Arrival Hall.

Learning how to use a local train system is always interesting. I remember things like being told “You don’t want to be here, go back” in Shanghai, and walking down endless corridors looking for the mythical “white ticket machine” at Gare du Nord in Paris. This time we found the escalators down to the platforms quickly. What we couldn’t find (down there) were the ticket machines. Down we went, around we walked, and then back up, noticing from the upward escalator a sign facing backward announcing that the ticket machines could be found upstairs. Okay, that was a useful clue, so we stood in the middle of a thousand aimlessly wandering people until I spotted a row of blue and yellow kiosks off to the side and assuming that since the trains were also blue and yellow, those were probably them. It turned out that the ticket purchase was the easiest part of the day. And 20 minutes later, we were exiting Amsterdam Centraal.

This is the moment when I mention my abject hatred for Google Maps Directions. I have friends that swear by them, but they’re wrong. And every time I try to use them, I am reminded of people driving their rental cars off piers into the Pacific Ocean. Today wasn’t that bad, nothing worse than being routed on the side of the street that was under heavy construction featuring plywood sheets over sections of mud that were interspersed with puddles of brown water. Swearing under my breath and trying to see the humor of all of it we forged ahead eventually walking right past the turn to our hotel. We backtracked, made the turn, and double-checked the directions again. “Walk ahead, do this weird little jog, and end up on the street you want.” Well, granted the street we’d turned on wasn’t properly named, and all that Google was trying to do was get us on that correct street, but I threw caution to the wind and simply kept on walking straight ahead. It turned out that the street name changed at an intersection, and apparently, Google Maps had not been updated since the mid-1600s when that name change occurred.

We checked in and were sent on our way given that while every flight from the US to Europe arrives between 8 and 9 AM, hotels on this side of the ocean steadfastly stick to their 3 PM check-in times. I’m sure you can imagine the challenge of killing 6 hours doing “something” after being awake for an entire day, but that was our lot and so we accepted it stoically. In fact, we’d planned ahead!

The one gem that was pulled early from the Vermeer exhibition was “The Girl With the Pearl Earring,” his most famous piece. It resides at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, and they wanted it back before peak tourist season, so it was returned in March. Now, it would certainly be a shame to come all this way and not see it, so our time-killing plan was to go back to the train station, catch it back to Schiphol Airport where we could transfer to a train to The Hague, and walk to the Maurithuis Museum. And that’s exactly what we did, although we walked on the other side of the street to avoid the construction and boy was that a whole lot better.

I don’t want to bore anyone with more train stories so the shortened tale includes getting tickets, asking for directions, getting lucky with the train transfer happening on the same platform at Schiphol, and arriving at The Hague 50 minutes later. Consulting Google Maps again, we decided instead to ask a nice young man in a souvenir store for help. He pulled out a paper map and a pen, and drew a clear line on it with the directions of “Go out here, turn left, turn right, left again, and then right you’ll be there. And he was spot on.

Knowing we were going to attempt this feat, I’d purchase no-queue tickets for 1 PM. Following a quick cup of coffee, we arrived at the museum at 12:45, checked our umbrellas (not allowed,) and went in.

It’s a beautiful museum, set in a 17th-century mansion built with money earned in the slave and sugar trade in Brazil. It became a public space in 1822 after a post-fire renovation, and now houses the collection of Prince William of Orange. The collection is exactly what you’d expect, dozens of 16th and 17th-century Dutch Masters set in wood-paneled rooms. The Girl herself resides in the final gallery on the top floor.

Seeing her was absolutely worth the effort. The painting is gorgeous and very compelling. I learned that it isn’t an actual depiction of a real person, but rather a “Tronie,” a painting of a mythical figure, and the lighting and colors employed represent Vermeer at his peak.

It was wonderful to just stand there and stare and it was amusing to step back and watch people taking phone selfies of themselves and her.

The train trip home was even better than the previous two. A train waiting for us at Den Haag Centraal, a 1-minute, same-platform transfer at Schiphol, and a walk back to the hotel on the proper side of the street.

All that, and we only got rained on for less than 30 seconds!