previously posted on my blog Abroad in London
as a weekly update for family and friends
A Weekend in Amsterdam
England. France. Belgium. Holland. Four countries in 3 days?
London. Dover. Calais. Amsterdam. Bruges – and back again.
That’s about the summary of my weekend long trip to Amsterdam. It was a trip my flatmates and I had decided to take with our Visa sponsor here in England. I’d guestimate that there were roughly 50 people on this trip. In short I’ll tell you that I had a crazy fun time on the entire trip. Yes… even the bus ride.
It all started in London on Friday morning at 7am. We got a bright and early start to the day traveling from London to Dover. I was surprised to learn that besides myself and my flatmates I knew another person coming on the trip – Michelle had decided to come and I was only aware of this at the last minute. I was excited to know she was coming.
We arrived at ISH to catch our coach and off we were on our Amsterdam weekend.
Originally I had no idea on how long the trip would be taking – I suspected we’d reach Amsterdam by 4 or 5 in the afternoon. (Stay tuned to see how long the trip actually took!) We drove through the British country side early in the morning – I think everyone on the bus was sleeping but me. I was too excited to be away from the city lights and to see the country side that I couldn’t sleep. It is remarkably beautiful. There’s a lot of pastures but I think what struck me the most was how quickly city turns into country side in England (and in Europe). Lots of rolling hills, pastures, sheep, cows and all the things I could’ve imagined.
A few hours later we were on the south coast of England in a town called Dover – it’s the major port city of England to continental Europe. Before we entered the little town of Dover (which I’m determined to visit before the summer is over) we stopped to stretch our legs and view the town from above. Better than that… there was a magnificent view of the Dover Castle from where we stopped (be sure to look at those pictures in the gallery!). Once in Dover we switched coaches and then waited to get on the Ferry – of course nothing goes as planned and we’re stuck in Dover for an extra hour. While on the bus we made a new friend – Kerry. She’s from New Zealand and unfortunately the friend she’d planned to come on the trip with didn’t come. Kerry did and we were glad to meet her!
One more thing to mention about Dover: the cliffs. The cliffs of Dover are unbelievable. They’re basically stark white, straight down and so tall. I have a picture of them from the ferry port and I was just taken by the entire area of Dover. Completely in love with it. The ferry ride from Dover to Calais (France) is actually pretty quick – a little over an hour. We used our time wisely and made some new friends while on the back of the boat on the open deck. We befriended Elizabeth, Connie, Jeff, Erica and Julie. Turns out that we have a lot in common! I was glad to have the wind in my hair and be on the water because it’s something I’ve been missing of home.
From Calais we crossed through France and into Belgium. I was pretty deeply into my book by now (brought one to read on the bus ride… otherwise I would’ve been bored out of my mind!). They put on… get this… the Departed… for the movie on the bus. Too bad it was too noisy for anyone to truly watch it (and everyone who’s seen it knows that you need to pay attention). We stopped in Belgium for a quick relief break – which Scott and Chris used to play frisbee (our tour guide dubbed them the “Frisbee Champions” back in Dover).
I’d been completely comfortable in England, on the ferry and in France as far as getting off the bus and interacting with local people went. Except when we got into Belgium I was suddenly aware that I didn’t know a single word in their language. That was really intimidating for me. I’ve never been to a country where I couldn’t get by as far as language was concerned before. Only when I went to the counter to grab a soda did I learn that people can speak enough English to make me feel more comfortable.
We made a stop for dinner in the Netherlands. Again I was reminded that I knew nothing of their language and I did my best to make myself understood in the simplest manner possible. As far as rest stops go… this was really nice compared to the ones I’ve been subjected to throughout the US. Up until this last stop I’d been fine on the trip. I wasn’t antsy, I was comfortable and entertained. By the time we left the Netherlands rest stop I was restless. I was getting bored and I wanted to get to the destination as soon as possible.
About two hours later we were in Amsterdam and it was about 9:30pm local time (+6 hours to EST). First order of business was getting settled into our hostel.. at the rest stop we’d been assigned rooms (and I was sharing with Michelle, Kerry, Erica, Julie and Connie – basically the group I’d been socializing with since the ferry). We dropped off our bags and met back outside to get a tour of the Red Light district.
I was told, before leaving, that the things that weren’t being missed about Amsterdam were: coffee shops, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank’s House and the Red Light district. Immediately my eyebrows were raised.. I mean.. who puts Van Gogh and Prostitution in the same thought? Amsterdam was full of oddities like that which gave it a certain flavor of charm.
The first thing I did while in Amsterdam was to receive a tour of the Red Light District. We wove in and out of the streets and I immediately understood why it was called the “red light” district. It was covered in sex shows, souvenir stores and the red lit windows for the prostitutes. All the while.. a beautiful canal ran down the middle of the main strip. Again.. the oddity of Amsterdam put this section of town along a lovely canal and in a nice area.
After the tour we walked around the area near (but outside) the Red Light District. Eventually we found our way back to the hostel and to bed around 1am (early night because we would be up early the next day for more touring). The hostel itself was a hopping place – there was a bar and a night club on the bottom level (which I only caught a small glimpse of).
Up bright and early the next morning we were shipped out of town to visit a clog and cheese factory in a quaint Dutch village. We were showed how clogs were made and how cheese was made. The clog demonstration was really interesting because he basically made the basic clog in front of us (shaping out the wood of the clog). There’s a step later where they let the clog dry for 4 days without any sun or heat to speed the process. The amount of work that goes into making a clog is amazing (and yes.. I bought a pair!).
Cheese making was interesting too – but I didn’t end up getting cheese. A lot of other people did and a group of them were sampling all the wares as well. It was really an interesting tour of the clog and cheese factories and available were little gift stores of Dutch souvenirs and gifts as well as a pewter store and a group of working windmills.
Immediately I wanted to climb into a windmill. When people think of Holland they thing of clogs and windmills, right? I had to go into one. They charged €2 to visit but it was well worth it. We got to see the grinding stone and the flour they were smoothing out.
Then we climbed to the next story (the entire building is made of wood, it’s really beautiful) and stood out on the deck overlooking the small river and the neighboring windmills. We climbed higher to another level and got to feel the sway of the windmill and look out the small windows. We went up to the third (and last open level) floor and that’s when you really feel the power behind the windmill and the wind that operates it. The room had only a small window and the walls were made of the thatch roof on the windmill. It was something of an amazing experience!
Around noon we had to leave the windmills, the cheese and the clogs and return to the city. There we were taken on a canal cruise. This part I was really looking forward to because canals are a huge part of the Amsterdam culture and space. We were taken along the canals – on a hot day – and everyone in the city seemed to be out and about (it also is prudent to mention that there was a gay pride celebration happening in the city that weekend too). All along the canals were party boats, pleasure boats, cruise boats and every inch of bank in the busier areas of town were covered by people dangling their legs over the edge and enjoying the afternoon sun.
When the cruise ended we were set on seeing the Anne Frank house. I’d read about her as a young girl and I was interested in seeing what it was like to be where she’d lived. It’s a very moving place – and though the line was long we waited in it. It’s well preserved and even more than that it’s well presented to the audience with little video clips and lots of information regarding the young girl and her family. But here’s where the Amsterdam oddities come in.. while we were in the house there was a gay pride parade on the canal just outside. It was very loud and at one point the girls I was with and I stopped by a window and stared out at the parade. Later we wondered if that is where Anne had stood and watched the Nazis.
Afterwards the group split up. The sub group I traveled with wanted to explore the city. We decided to head towards the Van Gogh museum because it’s something we were told to see. While there we’d take our time and view the city. We walked along the streets, by the canals, stopped into souvenir shops and made a slow journey of it. Of course.. when we reached the museum we learned it had closed about an hour earlier (around 6pm). While I was somewhat disappointed it’s not like I haven’t seen Van Gogh paintings elsewhere.
There’s a little park by the museum and we bought ice cream and sat on the benches just to relax. In this park were giant letters spelling out “I Amsterdam”. People were posing with the letters, climbing on them and taking pictures. Kerry and I, of course, wanted to join in so we went to take our pictures with the gigantic letters. I took one with the letter “a” (for my last name) and I also went on the backside of the letters to take a picture with “re” (since my last name twists the letters er into re I thought this was clever). As we were standing the letters out of no where a group, including my flatmates, joined us. We ended up getting a really great group picture of us on the letters.
We joined the new group (Michelle, Kerry and I) and grabbed dinner at an outside Dutch restaurant. It was really nice to sit back and talk with all of the new people and my friends. We returned to the hostel around 9pm and relaxed for a little while longer (it had been a long and hot day.. Kerry, Michelle and I had gotten quite burnt in the process). While the others were deciding what bars or coffee shops to go to Kerry and I had our hearts set on making it an easy and quiet night.
We decided to go to the Torture Museum (Erica and Connie joined us). This museum was one of the most interesting I’ve seen. They showed various torture devices and explained various torture techniques throughout the museum from the medieval times. Some were very creative, others were very brutal and by the end we came upon the guillotine and suddenly found it to be more humane than we’d previously imagined.
That night we were home and in bed around midnight or 1am. Again we had an early morning as we were shipped out of lovely Amsterdam. I was excited though. I was sad to leave Amsterdam behind, I found it to be a very interesting town full of oddities and paradoxes but I enjoyed the stay. However.. my excitement was for our brief stop over visit to the medieval town Bruges located in Belgium.
I was not disappointed. Bruges was one of the most wondrous places I’ve been to. It’s easily my favorite city now. It was very laid back and relaxing – especially after spending time in Amsterdam. The demeanor and character of the town were much different than Amsterdam and I was in love. We explored the city by foot (Chris, Michelle, Kerry and myself) and ended up walking into the more residential area. We followed the canals through the town and were awed by the cobble stone streets, the flower boxes along the canal walls, the canal houses and the canal streets. We had an absolutely amazing time just touring around. We stopped for a quick bite – and a quick souvenir run – and we were off having only spent a mere 2 hours in this amazing medieval town. It was all cobble stones, slim houses, canals, monuments, squares, markets and gables.
The remainder of the trip back to London was pretty dull compared to the weekend – we stopped in France to visit a hyper market. We had dinner aboard the ferry and visited the duty free shop (where I picked up some new perfume). We traveled back through Dover (more beautiful than I remembered it) and along the English country side where I got to watch the sun set in the distance. Back in London we passed our street on the bus (quite frustrating to have to see where I live but no get off!) and returned home by tube.
It was a wonderful weekend and I’d recommend Bruges to anyone who’s looking for a lovely city to stay for a weekend or a quick stop. Amsterdam is a little more stressful but still a beautiful place to see. Be sure to check out my 200 some pictures on my Gallery but there are a few I’ll link directly since these are my favorites..