Published: August 23rd 2012August 23rd 2012
July 15-18-Amsterdam, Netherlands
During our first morning in Amsterdam, Alexis and I took a stroll through a park nearby our hotel. We could not believe how many people were taking advantage of the beautiful morning. Our first impression of the people of Amsterdam was, “Wow, these people are really active”. There were runners, bicyclists, rollerbladers, dog walkers, baby carriage pushers, and even people doing step ups on the park benches. The park was packed with attractive, fit people, creating an excellent environment to meet others with similar interests. I could definitely get motivated to work out every day if I lived near this park. Bicycle lanes run parallel to all of the streets in Amsterdam which makes bicycles a very popular mode of transportation. Tourists beware! Cyclists are on a mission and it may be necessary to jump out of their way at the first sound of a dinging bell.
While in Amsterdam we met up with our Aussie friend Luke (the one we met in Edinburgh) and the three of us went on the “Coffee Shop” and the Red Light District walking tours. The tours covered the controversial topics of marijuana use and prostitution and some of the
Tasting a traditional Dutch snack called Bitterballen after a tour of Amsterdam
Marieke, Milou (Dutch friends I met on the KiwiExperience bus), Me, Alexis, and Luke (Australia).
politics surrounding each. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam; however, marijuana is “tolerated” as the police aim to target their efforts towards hard drug users. There are “coffee shops” that are licensed to sell marijuana much the same as selling alcohol. Prostitution is considered a private business in Amsterdam and all the women are required to be 21 years or older to rent a window in the Red Light District. Many women move to Amsterdam for a few months of work so that they can save enough money to return to their home countries and pay for such things as school. The going rate is 50 Euros for 15 minutes of service. It was very interesting to see a different level of comfort towards these controversial subjects. Overall, Amsterdam was a beautiful, safe place which far superseded it’s reputation of sex and drugs.
July 18 & 19- Nijmegen, Netherlands
My friend, Nadine, (the girl that lived with the same host family and went to the same Spanish school as I in Antigua, Guatemala) and her sister, Colette, picked Alexis and I up from our hotel in Amsterdam and invited us to spend the day/night
with their family in Leuth, Netherlands. As it turned out, the biggest festival in the country was occurring in Nijmegen, a small town approximately ten minutes from Nadine’s home. Nijmegen was hosting the 96th
annual “International Four Days Marches”, the largest walking event in the world. Over 40,000 people… yes you saw correctly, 40,000 people participate in the walk every year with 69 countries being represented this year. Every participant walks a total of 30, 40, or 50 km each day for four days. The length of the walk for each participant is determined by the participants’ gender and age. Military men and women (approximately 5000) also participate each year but are required to wear full military gear including a back pack weighing 10 kg (+ water) for the entire length of the walk.
On day two of the march, we stood on the street curb approximately 500 m from the finish line and watched as the participants passed. The streets were thick with people of all ages and nationalities, many carrying their countries’ flag with pride. Friends, family, and the entire community stood on the side lines to show their support and encourage the walkers.
individual to cross the finish line that day had crossed at approximately 10:00 a.m. (I believe the start times ranged from 5:00 a.m. - 7:00 a.m.). The remaining participants continued to cross at a thick and steady flow for another six hours. Many participants passed us with energy and enthusiasm but others’ faces were twisted with discomfort as they hobbled and limped along, trying to reduce the pressure on their joints and limit the amount of damage to their feet (after all there was still another two days to go). It was fascinating to watch the diversity of the participants. A child wore a t-shirt that read, “this is for grandpa” and an elderly man’s t-shirt stated with pride, “Veteran of World War II”. One man completed the walk each year wearing traditional wooden Dutch shoes, while another man had already changed into his sandals and flung his hikers over his shoulder (each toe on his feet wrapped with tape). A blind man held onto a stick as he was led in the right direction by a friend, another used only his upper body strength to propel his wheelchair the entire way, an elderly man with a crooked spine used
Hetty, Colette, Hans, Nadine, Me, and Alexis
a walking stick for support, couples held hands, mother/daughter teams wore matching outfits, friends offered encouragement to each other, and military groups marched in unison. The oldest participant was over 90 years old. Nadine’s mother was also participating in the march for the eighth year in a row. It was so inspiring!
The people in the street finally started to thin out by approximately 4:30 p.m. Anyone that had not yet crossed the finish line had only ½ hr remaining to successfully complete day two. If a participant did not cross in the time frame allotted (before 5:00 p.m.), their journey would come to an end. You could sense the urgency as bystanders grew loud with encouragement. The participants mustered up their last bit of energy and pushed onward. Some bystanders had gone out into the street to help people finish the race; participants slung their arms around the bystanders and dragged their feet on the pavement in one last effort to cross the finish line. It was an amazing demonstration of the strength of the mind and the overwhelming power of will/heart. In the end, 900 individuals were unable to return for the following day.
I have been inspired by the participants of the March and hope to return one day to participate as well. Is anyone else interested in joining us? It will surely take a great deal of training but if “they can do it, so can we”.
In the evening, Nadine’s family took Alexis and I out for a nice supper. Following, Nadine, Colette, and several friends took us to the evening celebrations which included free outdoor concerts, rides, and traditional treats. Nadine and Colette took us around to all the booths and had us try everything! Here they are listed in order from favorite treat to least favourite: Oliebollen, poffertjes, frikandel special, kaassoufle, aardappelkroketten, bitterballen.
Nadine took a special route so that she could drive us through Germany! Cool! I have been to Germany... for about five minutes! It is absolutely fascinating that you can cross an imaginary line and their is a distinct change in culture and language. Travel an hour in any direction when in Europe and the accent changes distinctly, if not the language entirely. It is so different from Canada where you can drive for days and not notice any obvious change in culture/language. Also,
Girls night out
Jannick, Isabell (Belgium), Alexis, Vanessa (Belgium), and Stacey (Australia).
these countries are so rich in history... you can find ruins and castles everywhere. The towns look like something from a fairy tale or story book. Some of these places dont look or feel modern at all...it's like stepping back in time. It is just absolutely amazing!
July 19-29, Barcelona, Spain
Alexis and I have really enjoyed our time up North but have grown tired of all the rain. We couldn’t fathom spending any more time in the gloom while our friends back home boasted about the heat on Facebook. Therefore, a change of itinerary was required so we took the advice of our Aussie friends Jane and Luke and spontaneously booked a flight to Barcelona, Spain with the promise of sunshine and beautiful beaches.
On our first day in Spain we were invited to join a group of people from our hostel that were going to a beach outside of Barcelona. Finally, the sunshine we had been waiting for! Cultural difference instantly noted: women sunbathe and swim topless.
We did a couple of free walking tours: a tour of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and a tour of Gaudi architecture (Park Guell, the famous Segrada Familia, and
other buildings designed by Gaudi). Gaudi is a popular and very distinctive architect in Barcelona and his work really was quite fascinating. We spent much of our time wandering around Las Ramblas, La Boqueria market, the port, Barcelona beach, etc. We sampled several sangria's, paella's (a traditional rice dish mixed with meat & vegetables), and a Spanish omelette. I even had the opportunity to practice my very limited Spanish, however, the pronounciation of the Spanish in Spain is notably different.
After an evening of Flamenco dancing and tapas (a variety of appetizers served with drinks) we were fortunate to meet three really great girls from Belgium; Vanessa, Isabell, and Jannick so we made plans to go out with them again the following evening.
The next morning we drove to a small town to do some kayaking and met an Australian named Stacey. We invited her to join us for the evening out with our Belgium friends. The six of us ladies had a nice dinner, excellent dessert and then wandered the city looking for a place to go dancing. Little did we know, the parties don't start in Barcelona until 2:00 a.m. Thats bed time for me! Needles
to say we put in a good effort but Alexis and I decided to return to the hostel around the same time the party was just getting started.
We spent the next couple of days with two guys we met from Wales, Sion and Alid. With our charm we managed to persuade these nice young men to spend two extra nights in Barcelona then they had intended (I am sure their hangovers also helped slow their forward progression). Sion and Alid joined us for a day trip to a beach town outside of Barcelona which ended up being much farther and much more expensive than initially anticipated. The guys remained positive and helped make this potentially frustrating situation into a really great time! Thanks guys!
Before Spain, Alexis and I had really started to drag our butts, therefore, we decided to take some time to rest and become reenergized. Because Barcelona offered enough attractions that we decided to spend a total of nine days in this one city which was the longest Alexis and I have stayed in one place since we started travelling. We really liked our hostel, became comfortable with the metro system, we got to sleep in the same room/bed for several nights in a row, and didn't have to pack up our bags every morning. It was exactly what we needed! Now, on to Italy....