This is the first year since 2010 I won’t be making a pilgrimage to Amsterdam. This will need to be corrected in 2017 🙂 I need to keep my KLM points and keep yearning for Africa. As has already been documented, my rekindled love affair with the Dutch began when I essentially flew to Amsterdam to go on a date with a Dutch guy I’d met briefly in New York. The “dating” part of the trip was an unmitigated disaster but it did mean I was stuck in Amsterdam for ten days. I think it ended up being the best travel story of my life but it’s hard to choose 🙂
There were many corollary benefits of that crazy trip but one of the most unexpected was discovering SAIL. I accidentally arrived in Amsterdam just as it was beginning.
The Netherlands has a long maritime history. It was their skill with boats that allowed a teeny country to be an imperialist power for a considerable period of time. SAIL was created in 1975 as part of the 700th anniversary of Amsterdam. It’s meant to honour and celebrate the impressive history of the Dutch conquering the seas. Ships from all over the world were invited to moor in Amsterdam. You will never see that many boats anywhere else in the world. Everyone is invited but what is most impressive are the tall ships and historical replicas. In addition to mooring where visitors may be able to come aboard, they sail in and out of the harbour in a naval parade on the first and last day of SAIL.
In 2010, it was something that I stumbled upon and never really figured out. But it was a fantastic blue sky day that Friday (very rare I have learned) so I trotted down to the harbour and spent hours soaking up the sun and climbing aboard tall ships. By accident, I then stumbled upon the parade of sailors dressed either in impressive naval uniforms or crazy costumes.
For SAIL 2015 I was more prepared! They were semi-prepared… I would definitely encourage you to attend SAIL but it isn’t Dutch organization at its finest. I met some locals who were more scathing in their criticism than I was. It’s strange because the Dutch are normally super competent so it’s surprising to see some chinks in the hardware. Of course, the scale of it is vast and there is a lot of volunteer labour so I think one has to be patient and forgiving.
Each SAIL is getting more ambitious. SAIL 2015 had 44 tall ships, five oceans and all kinds of entertainment and activities. My big disappointment was the SAIL Music Marina. It sounded fantastic on the website. Music near the water and then fireworks exploding over the IJ river. I went large and signed up for the VIP section where I would not only get a great view but a glass of champagne.
I was a bit concerned as the venue was on the other side of the water from my hotel and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back home late at night in Amsterdam Noord but I went on-line and there was a ferry from a pier close to Centraal Station to the concert venue. Transportation issues solved! I bought the ticket.
While it often appears that I am a free spirit wandering the world without a plan and willing to take risks and thereby end up touring Madrid in the wee hours with a handsome escort named Javier or stealing kisses with staff members who aren’t supposed to be fraternising with the guests in remote lodges or onboard ships ;), I am actually the boring person who has three contingency plans. Why my seemingly crazy adventures end up as charming stories…
So I knew I needed a recognisance mission to the concert venue to make sure I could get there and – more importantly – get back to my hotel! That’s when I discovered that, while SAIL was a cool concept, it was organized and staffed by a lot of volunteers and they did not plan for contingencies like I did…
Neither the website nor the site signage was very clear on exactly how I was going to get to the concert site. So I started asking staff. Most people were clueless but I finally got some decent intel, which just proved to be disturbing. Apparently the ferry service would be suspended due to the fireworks so my obvious transportation choice was likely to be disabled.
Surely there would be better info at the concert site. I took the ferry well before the fireworks prep time and checked it out. No one knew anything! The concert venue info desk wouldn’t open until the ferry service to the site had already been suspended for fireworks. It seemed there was a ferry to Centraal Station from another part of Amsterdam Noord. Could I walk there post-fireworks?
I had lots of time and exercise is always good so I started walking in the direction suggested by the map. It may be possible but it was definitely not easy. Neither a short walk nor clear how to get to the other ferry terminal. But it did provide a fascinating glimpse into Amsterdam Noord, which is where the hipsters are migrating. It’s also where a lot of immigrants live. You can still see the bones of Amsterdam but it is a fresh reboot and well worth checking out.
There is actually a new hotel opening this year, which looks to bring even more “cool factor” to Noord. Last summer, I had already paid for my hotel in the Oost and didn’t want to be trapped on Noord overnight so I retraced my steps back to the original ferry and jumped aboard before it was suspended for the night.
Unfortunately, my unwillingness to take big risks meant my champagne concert was not a great memory but a charitable contribution to SAIL. While it did leave me feeling ripped off, in general SAIL is free and I would highly encourage you to check it out. Just be leery of stuff you have to pay for…
And I am keen to see if I can get a reservation at the new hotel, Sir Adam, and hopefully explore Noord more without having to take a ferry to get back home. First, we have to talk about Oost. Stay tuned 🙂
And the next SAIL isn’t until 2020 so you have lots of time to get your plans in order. I think the best way to experience it is on the water so that is my plan next time…