Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Following My Feet To The Mainland

I'm lucky I can open the door and I can walk down the street
I'm lucky I got no place to go so I just follow my feet

--Belle & Sebastian

I thought this quote was a good introduction to a post about a very amazing weekend I had a couple weeks ago when I traveled to Amsterdam, Holland and Brussels, Belgium. Usually when I go on trips they are meticulously planned out, research is done, and I know exactly which sites I want to see which day and how much I can fit in. I think I inherited this planning gene from my dad, who always brings a binder full of itinerary and information when he goes on trips.

I guess my trip to Ireland has been a kind of spur of the moment trip in itself, but there was a certain amount of planning required in order to come. Two weekends ago, Ireland had a Bank Holiday, which is treated much like Memorial Day, not in the intended connotation but the subsequent connotations of traveling, barbeques, and a long weekend. Since our internships do not require us to work on Fridays, this weekend gave us four days off. I had originally planned on going to Belfast, which is the capital of Northern Ireland with a couple girls I had met here. While sitting around the Tuesday night before the Bank Holiday, my flatmate Dave suggested we take a bigger trip...say to...Spain? About 5 people jumped on this idea and we started looking for cheap flights to the mainland.

To make a long story short...we found a ridiculously cheap flight to Brussels, Belgium. Dave then discovered that we could take a train and visit Amsterdam as well. Since it was so spur of the moment, Dave and I were the only ones to actually jump on and book the trip. This was two nights before we were due to leave.

Two days later, before the crack of dawn at exactly 4 am, I was whisked away on a crazy journey to countries of which I knew nothing besides the fact that they were party towns and English was not their primary language. To say the least, I was nervous.

That's what I love about living in Europe. I can do totally spur of the moment things like go to a foreign country and be there in 3 hours.

We got to Brussels at 7 am and found a train that left for the Netherlands. We boarded our train after making a friend in a young man named James who was traveling to Amsterdam from Galway, Ireland. We thought all was good. About an hour and a half into our TGV (translation: very fast train) journey a man came by to check our tickets. He spent a minute looking at them funny and then told us we were on the wrong train and we would have to get off at the next stop. We couldn't believe it...we were somewhere in the Netherlands with no map and we had just been kicked off a train. Somehow, we found our way to the correct train and 3 hours later we arrived in Amsterdam.

My first impression of the city was that it was a complete circus. You've heard the rumor about Amsterdam: anything goes. Well, to an extent it's true, but the rumors does not do this beautiful city justice. Here is a picture I managed to capture that includes everything that is a stereotype of Amsterdam/Holland.

We arrived in Amsterdam for a two day stay with no real plans besides our hostel reservations. Friday night we just wandered and wandered and wandered. I think we lapped the entire city at least twice and saw everything. Amsterdam is just inland from the North Sea and is situated on a series of tributaries and rivers leading up to the Sea. Because of this, the city is basically on a bunch of little islands connected by bridges. It is called the Venice of the North, and boy, it really is. Here is a picture of a canal near our first hostel.

The first night we didn't do much since we had gotten up so early. We ended up crashing around ten, falling asleep to Alien 3 with dutch subtitles.

Saturday we got up and decided the one thing we really wanted to do while in Amsterdam was visit the Van Gogh Museum. We did some more wandering and did some eating of yummy food in outdoor cafes until we finally found it. The exhibit was amazing, it had some really cool Van Goghs including his famous sunflowers, self-portraits, and his bedroom where there is two of everything. Van Gogh is definitely one of my favorite impressionists/post-impressionists. Too bad he had severe depression and epilepsy and ended up killing himself in his prime.

The entire time in Amsterdam besides museum hopping and wandering was consumed by meeting an array of very interesting travelers. One night we met some flamboyantly gay Spaniards who taught us in very broken english and a very cute lipsed spanish about "coffee shops." Another night we joined two haphazard friends and travelers at an outdoor bar, one from Switzerland and one from Russia. We talked about things to do in Amsterdam and where the two had traveled before this trip. The Swiss guy took our email addresses and promised to keep in touch because he loved making international contacts. The Russian guy was very stoic and had a look on his face that looked slightly vampiric. He liked electronica music. On Saturday night we met up with James from Galway (as he is known from here on out) and some of his local friends and they take us on a whirlwind tour of the clubs in Amsterdam. The downside of all of this is that the nightlife in Amsterdam does not start until well after midnight and we did not get home on Saturday until 5:30 in the morning.

The one thing I hated about this city: the redlight district. Remind me to write a post about legal vs. illegal prostitution in the future. Either way, it is a total meat market and heterosexual male-targeted industry. It disgusted me, and the worst thing is that it was more of a tourist trap than an actual redlight district. I saw children walking past the hookers in the windows with their tourism-obsessed parents who were probably blazing up behind their children's backs. Sick.

After we grew tired of our spontaneous adventures in Holland, we packed up our things and turned our gaze to Belgium. This train ride was significantly easier to figure out and we were not kicked off at any point. We made it to Belgium in three hours and arrived at around 4 pm. In calculating our trip, we had not considered that a Sunday night would not be a good night to experience a new city. The city, in parts, was completely dead. We did manage to have a good time, though. Brussels is a beautiful city with an incredible variety of things to do, unlike Amsterdam. We hopped on a bus tour because it was one of the few things open and we wanted to get to know the city without walking. After our bus tour, we asked ourselves, what is there to do in Belgium? The answer? Eat belgian waffles.

After the delicious waffles and too much sugar and chocolate, we stumbled on what Victor Hugo called the most beautiful square in the world. And I'd have to agree. The buildings were even covered in gold. It took my breath away and we spent much of the night marveling at the architecture.

We spent the rest of the night bar hopping and talking to locals. The next morning, we managed to get to the airport after some more random and crazy adventures.

The highlights of my trip: the spontaneity of the entire thing and speaking french
I learned so much about myself from just getting out there and living life. A rich life is built on the experiences you create for yourself and this weekend will be a gem that sticks out in my mind for years to come.

The downsides of my trip: realizing when you have had a little too much alcohol that you don't remember where you live and you are in a city where no one speaks english, the dirtiness, realizing after the fact that you drained your entire bank account...

Hope everyone back home is well,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No wonder you got sick when you came back! Burning the candle at both ends does that.

It sounds like you had a wonderful time. Glad you took the opportunity when it arose.