ATM Cards in Amsterdam
Twenty Years in Paris – Part II
Amsterdam is as charming and picturesque in September as it is in spring or summer. The canals and narrow houses lining them glow beautifully in the Autumn sun or after the evening lights appear, which happens as early as 5:00 p.m. in the fall season. Regardless of the time of year Amsterdam never fails to provide its visitors with plenty of eye candy and a magical experience not soon forgotten.
This year we chose the Renaissance Hotel near Central Station due to its location and room availability for payment with Marriott Rewards points. The nicest hotel in the city is the Amstel Intercontinental, but after several stays there we have found its location, on the other side of City Centrum, to be an issue. Amsterdam is a city best seen on foot and an extra mile from the action becomes an issue for anyone with sore feet.
Don’t expect great food in Amsterdam unless you are a fan of pickled herring and the local fare. Most people visiting Amsterdam are not Dutch, however, so the fact that many tourists are visiting to take advantage of the local sex trade or readily available marijuana products provides multiple opportunities for mediocre food. Having experienced the scene numerous times in the past, we chose a local bar owned by a Frenchman that serves very good dishes and offers two varieties of one of our favorite meals, cheese fondue. Sitting outside along the canal was part of the magic that makes a special evening in Amsterdam
For a few years now we have been hearing stories about how Europe is using credit and ATM cards with a computer chip embedded in them that allow an additional level of security for the local banks. After inserting the card, you must enters your PIN number before the transaction is processed. Nowhere had we read that now in Amsterdam the only way of retrieving cash from a ATM is by having one of these cards. American banks have not embraced this more expensive option of offering cards with smart chips so we were very much caught off guard when we discovered that as of earlier this year, Americans could not withdraw cash from an ATM in Amsterdam without one. Not knowing the current status could present a very difficult situation to anyone expecting to withdraw local currency as needed. (Updated 12/20/12: U.S. ATM cards do work is some machines in Amsterdam. If you look at the picture on the machine and it shows a small, rectangular “chip” in the center of the card, your U.S. card will not work in that machine. Look for another ATM that does not show a picture of the chip and you will be fine retrieving cash from your account.)
Canal boat tours through the waterways of Amsterdam are a must-due for any first time visitor. Much like visiting Las Vegas, once you have experienced it for the first time, repeat tours are only necessary for die hard fans. Wanting the opportunity for some photos that would be different from the throngs of tourists, we hired a private captain to take us on a unique water tour of the canals of Amsterdam. The one hour boat ride was a truly unique experience.
After running dangerously short of cash, it was time to pick up our rental car and head for Brussels. It is only a couple hour drive from Amsterdam to Brussels without stopping or experiencing traffic issues. During rush hour, traffic can easily add an hour or more to the trip, so stopping for lunch turned our trip into a half day transfer.
Brussels is the business and financial center of Belgium. Not only is it home to the EU but it has great restaurants and nightlife for a day or two’s visit. Arnold may have made the phrase “muscles from Brussels” famous, but in fact the muscles served at many Brussels restaurants are indeed famous in their own right. Cooked in beer, white wine or marinara sauce, the barnacled beauties are not to be missed on the menu.
From Brussels we took a short one and a half hour TGV train ride into the Paris Gare du Nord train station and hopped into a taxi for the 20 minute transfer to our hotel on the Champs-Elysees. Mon Cherie, our city of love and lights. Check-in, a quick stop at the corner grocery for diet Cokes, water and a bottle of champagne, and it’s almost time for what Paris does best, dinner.