We checked into the Doubletree Hilton near the "Centraaaaaaal Train Station" in Amsterdam. For me, it was a red-letter day. I have been a member of the Hilton Honors program since the Carter administration, diligently collecting "reward" points so that someday I too could stay at one of those resorts with the naked lady in the spa with the line of rocks on her back. However, every time I checked what my mass of points were worth, they would usually translate to "a night in Topeka, without breakfast". Finally, I was able to cash in and get a two nights' stay in Amsterdam!! I don't think there was a spa and Karen wasn't keen on the idea of me stacking rocks on her, but everything else was there and free, including breakfast!
I have used up all my reward points now and have to start a collecting them again. I figure my next Hilton Reward Stay will be at the Hilton Assisted Living Suites.
The hotel was nice. We had a "suite" complete with a door, a bed and a television. There was a separate small bathroom, which was a plus. Karen characterized it as "small" and we both wondered what their regular rooms would look like?
The real great thing about the suite was it had a balcony overlooking Amsterdam. It was a beautiful view!!!! In addition to the normal "Amsterdam" sights, there were a number of Christmassy things.
Then, in front of the "Centraaaaaaaaal Train Station" there was beautiful huge Christmas tree, brightly lit and decorated (above the 20 foot level) which was probably four stories tall. We were not quite sure why the decorations were not on the bottom part, perhaps they ran out of lights like we always do.
In addition to those decorations, there was an all blue tall Smurf tree and a huge brightly lit festive whiffle ball (at least that's what it appeared to be).
I had been reading about Amsterdam's Christmas "Illuminade" or "Festival of Light" which promised "a canal cruise through this year's selection of spectacular illuminated artworks." Something Christmassy and not to be missed!!
After reading about it and seeing the Christmas decorations from our balcony, we knew that the Illuminade Canal Tour was a "must see". We figured what we had seen was just the slightest taste of what was to come, not realizing that we'd already experienced the full meal, including soup and dessert.
Heading over to the dock, we picked a promising ship for our tour. It would have been helpful (and accurate) if it had been named the "Flying Dutchman to Nowhere" or "Ship of Fools", but it wasn't. We were each given a small cup of hot wine and told to wait in a huge line to buy our tickets. Of course, we had the "massive group of elderly women who travel together but take separate checks" so it took a long time to get through the line. We finally boarded our ship and it was packed with expectant tourists. We couldn't even get seats by the window, though it ultimately didn't matter.
The Illuminade Canal Tour takes about two hours, but it feels like half a day. It is best done at night because it is easier to see where the locals do not put up lights as decorations. For the most part, the trip is through darkened canals, with the occasional "artistic light montage", each of which needs to be explained ("the artist's rendition of lights on this building is here to show the hopelessness of man's condition on a canal tour") and none of which has anything to do with Christmas.
The captain took us through most of the canals of Amsterdam, apparently to prove that we hadn't missed anything and that there really wasn't anything to see. Midway into the journey I wondered out loud if I could give the captain money to let us off. He didn't take the bait, the miserable old sea dog.
A group of Italians caught on early what the cruise consisted of and started loudly going "ooh" and "aah" anytime we passed a street light.
We finally, gratefully, got back to our dock, thanked the captain for allowing us to disembark before dying and admired the Christmas Tree in front of the "Centraaaaal Train Station" on our way back.