We have now been to the Benelux nations (or at least Peter has, because he swung through Luxembourg).
We left Cologne and took the train to Amsterdam. We couldn't stay in a hostel in town because it was a long weekend and everything was booked so we had to stay in Noordwijk, near Leiden and 45 minutes away, at a Beach Hostel. We chucked our bags at the station, and started wandering down the canals. The canals west of the Damrak (main street) have some gorgeous canal houses on them and are extremely picturesque. We walked along canals, passed the Anne Frank Huis museum which had a line-up stretching around the block, and to the Uptown area where the museums are. We went to the Rijksmuseum, but the lineup was too long and a helpful hot dog vendor told us the line at the Van Gogh Museum was generally faster so we headed over there. He was right. We got in after 10 minutes and then wandered around looking at Van Gogh paintings with hordes of tourists! The museums and even the streets everywhere in the city were teeming with tourists! We headed off to the Rijksmuseum next, which had a much shorter line-up by this time. It's under renovations, so there are only 200 or so things on display. That being said, we saw plenty of stuff including swords, massive models of warships, and the famous Night Watch painting which is absolutely massive! We then proceeded to wander around town, killing time until we could catch the shuttle back to the hostel in Noordwijk. The hostel in Noordwijk was crap. The rooms were small and cramped and the beds couldn't have fit anyone over 5'8'' and weighing 140 lbs. Needless to say, Peter complained a little more mercilessly than Kif did!
The next day, we met an Aussie dude named Ben who wandered aound with us for a but. He went to the Anne Frank Huis, and Kif and Peter went to the Damrak and then tried to find the Oude Kirk to see an exhibit on award winning photos. We met up afterwards, and then wandered around the Red Light District. For those of you who haven't been there, I will try to provide a description. Think of vending machines with women in them rather than candy. That's the best description I think I can give. We walked around during the day time, so we caught the day-shift girls. I think there was a reason that so many of them were standing in their windows, rather than earning some money.
We left Noorwijk early, so we could catch the train to Bruges. Bruges is fantastic! The movie "In Bruges" made us want to go to the city, and it did not disspaoint. There are hordes of tourists, but they are easy to ignore as you stare at the ancient churches and canals. There is so much to see, that the best thing to do is just to wander. The only downside to random wandering is when you're half way across town before you realize that Walderstraat is not where your hostel is. Rather, it is on the side of town you just walked through on a street called Korte Walderstraat. When we finally found the hostel, it was awesome. It's in an old building with a ridiculously steep staircase inside it. There's free internet, free breakfast and cheap beer. The cheap beer did not stop Kif and Peter from heading to a bar that stocked over 300 types olf Belgian beer. They don't serve the crap Belgian beers Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe that they do here. Instead, they serve ones from little breweries and ones that monks still produce. The bar was awesome!!!
We went on a daytrip to Brussels the next day. We started at the Cantillon brewery, which is a small, family run brewery that doesn't carbonate there beer. It was odd, but still quite enjoyable. We then wandered through the sketchy part of Brussels towards the Grand Place. On route was the Mannekin Pis, a waterfountain of a small boy peeing. Apparently, there's one of a girl peeing, but we were unable to find it. We wandered around the Grand Place, and then headed to the 10th floor of a parking garage, something they had recommended at our hostel. We were rewarded with spectacular views of all of Brussesl, including the Atomium. We bought some food, and a little old lady though we were lost so with her slight grasp of the english language, she tried to give us directions to the Grand Place. It was really quite touching. We found the Grand Place again, and we also found a store that sold nothing but replicas of cars and planes. You may laugh, but it was so cool seeing so many tiny little cars that had amazing detail. We found the cathedral next, and then the Tomb of the Unknown soldier which is in a nice area. We wandered back to the train station via the the Royal Palace (which is quite large for such a small country). We met three other Canadians back at the hostel in Bruges (Charlotte, Steve and Molly), and they accompanied us to the bar from the night before. We did some taste-testing and beer sharing and by the time we left Bruges, Peter and Kif had tasted 19 different Belgian beers.
The next morning, Peter woke up at the crack of dawn to go to Luxembourg, en route to Paris. The city is built on top of a plateau that drops 200 feet or so down to the valley below. As soon as he got there, Peter realized that the city was quite wealthy. The EU has some branches there, and there are also many banks because of the good tax laws. There are also some cool sites including the Royal Palace, the main square, and the Bock Cassmates (many tunnels that are cut into the rocks around the city). The Bock was last used as a air raid shelter for 35,000 residents during World War II. The city was small, but picturesque and enjoyable to walk around.
While Peter was running around Luxembourg, Kif slept in, he was very content. Packed his gear and went off to Lyon.
Things we have learned continued:
-Lonely Planet isn't lying as much...for now.
-There are far too many types of Belgian beer to determine which one is the best. My advice though is to take a seat and start trying because they are almost all phenomenal!
-French trains don't always follow there schedules that well (to be explained later).
-Neither Peter of Kif can make any sense what-so-ever of Flemish.
-The stairs at the top of the Belfort in Bruges are actually quite tight (for any of those who have seen "In Bruges".
- There are more different private banks in Switzerland then there are types of beers in Peter and Kifs stomachs
French stories to follow.
Kif and Peter
*** Sorry about no pictures, lack of computers with comprehensible keyboards are making it quiet difficult ***
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