Utrecht – The Netherlands
Last weekend we went to Holland. Utrecht to be exact. Utrecht is a small town about 25 minutes from Amsterdam by train.
If you’ve been to Amsterdam you’ll know that it’s packed with tourists. It’s like sardines in a can. I’m not kidding. It’s horrible.
On the other hand, Utrecht is very quiet, no huge touristy crowds at all.
Last weekend we went to Utrecht because our favourite guys were playing there. You’ve seen them before, that time we went to London.
We arrived at Schipol airport on Friday afternoon, and took the train directly to Utrecht. The concert was that night so we wanted to get to our Airbnb place (if you don’t already have an Airbnb account, use this referral link to get us both a reward!) and have a small rest before heading out to see the guys.
We decided to walk from the train station to our flat, even though taking a bus would have been simpler and faster. Walking to your accommodation is a good way to learn the layout of a new town, see how far it is from the centre to where you’re staying, get the ‘feel’ of the place, which I think you can’t do if you take public transport everywhere.
Here are some sheep in a park we saw while walking in the streets of Utrecht.
And a big sausage that happened to be on the footpath.
It wasn’t too far and was quite a nice walk as the weather was warm and the sun was out. We found our flat, and after a quick tour by the host we were ready for a rest to get some energy for Demented Are Go.
Olivier went to a nearby supermarket and picked up some food for sandwiches and a couple of beers. We sat outside in the garden, enjoying the final rays of the sun, drinking beer and thinking how great life is.
Demented Are Go
Eventually it was time to go to the concert. It was a quick 15 minute walk to the club. What can I say? These guys are just unbelievable on stage (and off!). They’re super entertaining and know how to keep their audience’s attention. Another brilliant concert, thanks guys!
And, being in Holland, a concert wouldn’t be the same without this guy clapping with wooden clogs!
So, once again a fabulous DAG concert, and, after saying goodbye to the guys (who had a concert the next night in England), we headed to the bar for a final beer (as if we needed another one) and then hit the road to go back ‘home’.
I wasn’t too keen on walking after drinking all that beer, and so it took a lot longer to get back home than it did to go there. Finally we got in the front door and after spending a little time eating and talking, we went to bed. We planned to visit Amsterdam the next day.
Going to Amsterdam
We got up the next day reasonably early considering the night before. Not too badly hungover but definitely a little dry. We got ourselves ready and left home to take the train for Amsterdam.
We had to get to the main train station, from which we had walked the day before, so we could take a train to Amsterdam. However, instead of walking to the train station we decided to take the bus because we weren’t really in top form for walking.
We were on a main road so didn’t have to wait long for a bus, the number 3. We got in and Olivier handed over a 10 euro note to the driver.
‘You have to pay with a card. We don’t take cash.’
At first I thought that she meant a special rechargeable travel card because I had seen the woman in front of us scan one when she got into the bus.
I started to explain that we’re tourists and don’t have one of these travel cards.
‘Don’t you have a credit card or something?’ she asked.
Oh, yes, of course we do. No problem. Olivier got out his French credit card.
How much is it? 5 euros 60. 2 euros 80 each! For a 10 minute bus ride!
Now, between us and the driver were two machines. One was a typical bank EFTPOS machine (card terminal) that you see in shops everywhere, and one was like a black box, just next to the bank machine.
Olivier put his card in, waited, pressed his PIN and OK. Waiting. ‘Transaction approved’ came up on this machine’s screen. We thought everything was ok.
But it wasn’t.
Apparently, she was waiting for some beeps from her black box, and when she didn’t get them she looked at the bank machine’s screen and saw that it said ‘transaction approved’ and said it was strange that the ticket didn’t come from her black box for us.
OK. So what’s next.
‘Put your credit card in and try again’, she said.
Umm, but it said ‘transaction approved’, so you’ve already taken our money.
‘Yes, I know, I saw what it said. But the ticket isn’t issued so you have to do it again’.
And what if we don’t?
‘If you don’t then you’ll have to get off my bus’, she told us, like only a person on a power trip can.
We were shocked. Her machine had taken our money, she clearly saw that the transaction was processed, yet she wouldn’t let us stay on the bus because her black box bus machine wasn’t working and refused to issue us tickets.
We did it again
We were hung over and didn’t want to walk to the train station, so, after questioning her again about it, Olivier reluctantly put his card in again, entered his PIN and pressed OK and waited. Transaction approved. Again.
Her machine beeped this time. She said, oh, it’s working now. Waiting. Waiting. But the ticket didn’t come out.
She said that there was no ticket, she doesn’t know why but there’s a problem. We told her that we’re not paying again, we just want to get in the bus and go to the train station.
‘Go sit down’, she ordered, once again showing us who’s the boss of the bus.
So, we sat down, wondering the whole time what the hell had just happened. If you don’t have some kind of bank card, or a special rechargeable travel card, you can’t take the bus? Money doesn’t count anymore? Would she really have left us in the street if we hadn’t had a credit card on us?
We were robbed
Plus, it seemed that we’d just paid twice for the privilege of being treated like shit by this woman, who clearly loved the power that she had been given by the public transport department in Utrecht.
When we got to the train station we went to an information office and asked about it. The lovely woman there said it was strange that the machine on the bus didn’t work, and could we check our bank account to see if we had paid twice. We couldn’t check it on the spot as we don’t have smart phones (a post about that coming soon!) and so we can’t check our bank accounts at that time.
I asked her if it was possible to buy tickets for the bus in advance from somewhere. Not possible. You can, however, buy the rechargeable card for 7 euros 50 cents, and put credit on it to pay directly on the bus by scanning it, instead of using a credit card.
7 euros 50 cents each! Just for the card, non-refundable. No, thank you, but no.
Are there any machines at any bus stops in the street where you can buy tickets with coins or notes? No, you can only pay the driver, and only with either a rechargeable travel card or a credit/debit card.
Wow. Just wow. And if the card doesn’t work? Or if the stupid MACHINE ON THE BUS DOESN’T WORK?? You either hope to have a sympathetic bus driver who lets you on without paying, or you walk.
No other choice. Although I wouldn’t say that our driver was sympathetic at all. More like a power hungry battleaxe actually.
We managed to finally get to the train station and spent a lovely sunny hungover day in Amsterdam, but were happy to get back to Utrecht at the end of the day, and get some rest. We had to get up early on Sunday morning to take the train to the airport to get our flight back to Moscow.
And this time, we walked to the train station.
PS. And when we got back home to Moscow and checked the bank account online, we saw that she did, indeed, take the fares twice. So, be careful when you go to Utrecht and take the number 3 bus. The machine may not work and you’ll be robbed.