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Published: March 13th 2007
I'm not sure how much I'm going to get through here today because I have days and days and days to catch up on, and I don't have unlimited time at the moment, but we'll see how much I can do. I guess I'll start with Amsterdam, first.
When we got of the train a sense of calm immediately fell over me. Ahhhh the Netherlands. I really like that country, a lot. After a bit of work to orient ourselves we figured out which of the narrow streets with a combination of trams, cars, and bikes flying down them, we were supposed to enter down. We found our hostel and may our way to our 20 bed room. That's right--that wasn't a typo. TWENTY beds! Ahhh backpacking. It was a pretty cheap place for Amsterdam, though, so we couldn't complain. And I was really happy that we finally got to use our HI-Hostel for a discount because we'd bought them in Victoria before we left for like 20 bucks or something and hadn't used it at all up to this point. We got quite a discount for having it here, however, so that was satisfying.
On our first night we just wandered around and looked in store windows and stuff. We tried (in vain) to find cheap internet, which saddened me because I'd become quite good at searching out the seedy areas of town that are likely to have cheap internet access points. I search long and hard for all 4 days that we were in Amsterdam, but to no avail. I'd like to think that 1 Euro per hour internet just didn't exist in Amsterdam, but I'm not sure... I think, in reality, my cheap internet sniffing powers have just left me because I was pretty unable to find it in Brussels, too.
Anyways, the next day we did one of the free walking tours (which aren't really free--you're supposed to tip) which gave us a nice introduction to the city, though it was definitly my least favourite of the tours we've done thus far. Our guide, Donald (like the duck who doesn't wear pants, he told us) didn't really seem genuinely interested in te history of the city, which I was, and just generally seemed less knowledgable then our other guides in other cities. Oh well. What can you do? One of the first things he showed us was a street in the red light district (which was actually right near our hostel) where the window women were working. They aren't prostitutes, apparantly, but I'm not really sure what else to call them. Basically, they rent these little windows and accompanying rooms for 8 hours a day and then guys can come in and do what they want with them, I guess, for a price. Donald tells us that they come in all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. How nice. It did seem like a MUCH nicer way to do it than Rock Bay street in Victoria, that's for sure. We weren't allowed to take any pictures at all because the women, and their customers, are supposed to be annonymous and pictures are not at all taken kindly. Not that I particularly WANTED any pictures... I won't recount much of the rest of the tour due to limited time.
The next day we set off for the "Heineken Experience," which came much recommended to us by quite a number of people. It lived up to the hype. More than just a brewery tour, it really is a complete multi-media experience with all kinds of games, info exhibits, and even a few rides! It was so fun. My favourite part was this ride thing that allowed you to "be a Heineken bottle" and go through the bottling process through a moving platform that you stood on and a huge screen with loud sound. The whole thing was fun. We were given tokens for 3 beers through the experience, but I admit that for #3 I got a Pepsi instead. I'm just not actually that big a fan of the Heineken beer, itself. I find it a little bitter. Plus, there was something wrong with my first one. I'm sure of it. I think my glass had some residual cleaner in it because it smelled a bit chemically, and it sort of put me off. Not like the GLORIOUS Kokannee brew I had on that brewery tour. Ohhhh that was such a good beer.
On our final day in Amsterdam we went to the Van Gogh Gallery. It was pretty expensive and it was a touch choice between that one and the science center, which I thought would be really fun, but in the end we though the Van Gogh would be a better cultural experience so we opted for that. I'm glad we went, because his art really is wonderful. I cannot believe he did all his painting in just 10 years. At the age of... 28 (I think... it was a few days ago we were there) he just decided that he wanted to be a painter, even though he didn't have any previous experience. Then, 10 years later, he had compeleted all the masterpieces we are familiar with and committed suicide. Wow. One thing I was suprised about was the lack of info about the ear cutting off thing that we all know about. I always thought that he did it to try to get to some love of his life or something, but there was no mention of any love interests at all during that time in his life. They just said that he did it during a fit of mental instability, which happened to him often late in his life. He spent time in a mental institution (self admitted) and everthing. Hmmmm.... I'll have to do some more research into that at some pont.
*****K, it's a new day now. It's no longer the 11th, but actually the 13th.*******
I wasn't really able to get much done at Vicky's house because we were busy having fun (as it should be) and I had to spend a lot of time figuring out trains and hostels for Geneva (where we are now) as well as for our Alps adventure, which is happening in a couple of days. I'll continue with my Amsterdam story, but it's going to be short because I want to get on to our adventures in Belgium before they slip from my mind, and internet here is SO expensive, but my blog has been neglected for too long so I just had to suck it up and pay the rate. Don't ask me how much it's costing. But I'm not eating supper tonight. Anyways...
OK, so, we went to the Van Gogh museum.... then what? It was so long ago. Oh yah. It was a BEAUTIFUL sunny, warm day, the first we'd seen for a while, so we felt badly doing any inside stuff, but there wasn't a lot of outside stuff to do and we were too cheap to rent bikes (though I reaaalllly wanted to) and too tired of walking around to walk much, soooo we just found a bench and took in the Amsterdam scenery. The city changed dramatically with the change in the weather. Suddenly people came out of the woodwork and the place was bustling. After a bit of bench sitting we went back to our hostel on the pretences of looking in our guidebooks for cheap, outdoor activities, but, in the end, we just lay in our beds and read (with the windows open! At least we got some fresh air!) and then we both fell asleep. Despite that, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. I also met a bunch of Americans and some South Koreans that afternoon, all of whom where very friendly. OK, this isn't interesting and is taking up too much time. Basically, we did nothing else of interest and the next day we took a train to Brussels.
The plan was for us to take the train to Brussels, kill a bunch of time there, and then take another train to the airport where our friend from Thailand, Vicky, worked. Her shift ended at 11pm, so we had quite a bit of time. We were planning on finding a cheap internet cafe and spending the afternoon there to make up for our lack of internet access in Amsterdam, but doing that was easier said than done. Not only was there no cheap internet access places, but there was almost no internet places at all. After a lot of walking and a search around 2 separate train stations, we finally settled for a decently priced place, which turned out to have a TERRIBLE and basically unusable crazy belgian keyboard. I have since figured out how to change this under the control panel settings (sort of... it's hard since the Windows options are never in English, but I can usually figure it out) but I didn't know how to then. Ohhhh it's so frustrating typing on a completely different keyboard. I feel like I've suddenly been dealt a debilitating disability or something. Anyway, after FINALLY logging in to my e-mail a single subject line blared out at me immediately. It was from Vicky, and it read: BAD NEWS. Uh oh. When I clicked on the e-mail she said that she had to leave work early the day before because she was so sick, but that we were still very welcome to come and stay with her as long as we could figure out another way to get to her house now that she wouldn't be doing her shift at the airport. Derek and felt badly imposing on her if she wasn't feeling well, but we were already in Brussels with no other place to stay and no other options, and she said she was reaaaalllly looking forward to seeing us, so we used Skype to call her and figure out a way to get there (the call cost over $3... yikes. I guess it's good for calling home to Canada but now twice I've been charged outrageous amounts for calls to friends in Europe). Anyways, we found out that we could take a train to a station right near her house in Erps-Kwerps (it's sort of pronounced like Elups-Kevelups in Dutch, though not quite, and with many syllabels seemingly crammed in to one. I'm terrible at pronouncing other languages, especially Dutch!)
We were really scared that we weren't going to be able to get off the tiny commuter train at the right time because they weren't announcing the stations and not all of them even had signs on the platform, but after much concentration and worry we finally arrived at the right one, which had a sign, and we saw Vicky standing on the platform waiting for our arrival. Yeaaaaaa!!!! Finally, we got to be the ones to have joyous hug reunions upon disembarking from the train. We've jelously watched many of those during our travels. Vicky also had a friend, Sandra, with her to drive us to Vicky's house since Vicky's wrist was preventing her from driving.. Vicky has a wrist which is in really bad shape after complications from a bad break mountain biking a couple years back. It's really awful. When we met her in Thailand she was having a fun vacation before having surgery on it, for the second time, upon her return. Now, 3 months after the surgery, she should have been all better but the wrist was acting up again and she was worried that more surgery or extreme medical procedures would be needed. During our stay, however, the swelling went down and it seemed to be getting a bit better, so hopefully those drastic measures won't be needed. Anyway, Sandra drove us to Vicky's lovely home (very decked out in IKEA stuff--my favourite! We even have a lot of the same items) and we got the grand tour. Derek and I were extremely thankful to be in such a nice house with an incredibly gracious hostess after our 20 bed hostel experience. Vicky was SO nice. She litterally shared her bed with me. And oooooh did she feed us well. Actually, all her friends fed us well! That night another Vicky friend, Elli (might not be spelled right) came over and brought us a delicious, home-baked, Belgian cake which was still warm. Mmmm. Derek and I were in heaven. Everyone slept very, very well that night and we enjoyed a good, long, sleep in the next day.
I'm going to start a new entry for the next bit, so read on to the next entry!
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