Amsterdam

We’re now in Warsaw – third stop!  So some catching up to do.

We had four days in Amsterdam for our first stop.  Amsterdam is pretty, and quite small, so nice and easy to explore.  It’s also rammed with tourists, but I can’t really complain when we’re two of them.

On the first day we did very little – we were pretty shattered.  We just had a bit of a wander, and a nap.  First off we found some coffee in a cafe on a busy street, and sat at the window bar watching two guys lowering construction rubble out of the window of a tall canal house.  They were using a pulley attached to the gable.  Old school.

Later we wandered through the Rijksmuseum, and peeked into the lobbies, but didn’t go in (€15!).  We had a lovely time sitting in their gardens though, in reclining metal chairs (which were the same ones as in the Jardin de Luxembourg).  There was an exhibition of Joan Miro sculptures in the gardens, which was cool, and also one of those flat fountains you can run over.  At first nobody was daring, but then a little girl ran into the middle and stood there while all the jets went up around her.  After that everybody wanted a go, so that they could get a photo of themselves trapped in a fountain.  People were leaping into each other’s photos, and studiously ignoring each other while they were trapped in the fountain together.

Miro bronze in the Rijksmuseum garden
Miro bronze in the Rijksmuseum garden

On day two we checked out of our hotel (first night treat), and walked to the Anne Frank house, which was the main thing I wanted to see in Amsterdam.  The queue looked pretty daunting, however, so we thought we’d come back another day at a less peak time.  Instead we went to hire bikes.  We thought we might only have them for a few hours, but we had so much fun that we kept them for two days.  It was only €15 each for 48 hours, so cheaper than using the trams.  We spent day two cycling around the city, exploring the parks and suburbs, and having a picnic lunch.  IMAG1000IMG_5353IMAG1004IMAG1006

We especially liked this neigbourhood of floating houses.  It seemed like it could be a fairly low impact way to live – I’d guess they’re not connected to most services, though a few of them were pretty massive so who knows.  And if they’re not an idea for preventing seas rising then at least they’re an option when (if) they do.  Haha.

Amsterdam generally seemed pretty green (as in eco).  The bikes are a big thing.  Absolutely everyone is on a bike, from tiny kids to grandparents.  You see parents transporting basketfulls of children in their bakfiets box thingy (picture below), or with them on bike seats fixed to the handlebars or pannier rack of their bikes – often both.  People are riding bikes in whatever they’re wearing – smart or whatever.  I also saw heavily pregnant women cycling by.  Basically it’s just the default mode of transport, rather than something a bit specialist as it is in the UK I think.

So we only though it was right to move from our hotel to a campsite by bike.

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This is actually us leaving the campsite, but you get the idea.

It was actually ok cycling with our big packs on, but we did have sore bums in the morning…  We felt quite intrepid though, which is the main thing.

The campsite was on the edge of town on a little island.  It had some pretty good facilities – a sort of kitchen with a fridge and hobs to use, and a herb garden!  The actual pitch was kind of a desolate field of mostly mud (I think the soil was too sandy to grow grass properly).  But we had fun eating all their herbs in our otherwise uninspired pasta dinners, and sitting by the snap crackle and popping open fire in the bar trying to sort our lives out on the wi-fi.

Day three we basically cycled round town most of the day, stopping to check out a food market, on the roof terrace of the science museum for a coffee, and at the city archives to see a free exhibition they had there.

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In the late afternoon we went back to the Anne Frank house.  The queue was smaller, so we joined it, and waited about 40 minutes.  I’d highly recommend visiting.  There are some museum bits explaining the context and showing some photos and things, but the main thing is the house itself.  It’s totally empty, left so after it was emptied under orders when the families were discovered.  I could really feel what it would have been like being trapped in those rooms.  The museum parts were also very good.  Particularly in addressing the fact that Anne Frank’s story is one of millions, but one that attracts all this attention.  They had a selection of interviews and clips playing at the end.  They were mostly full of reverance, but there was also one calling the whole industry around Anne Frank a personality cult.  I thought it was to their credit that they’d included that.  It makes you think.

Our last day was spent mostly moving out of the campsite and sorting out our next couple of stops.  In the afternoon and evening we did some more touristy stuff, like buying a magnet to start our collection of one from each country we visit.  We also went to the Sex Museum, which was terrible.  There was some interesting stuff on the effect of developing technology on porn, and it was interesting seeing very early photos from the 19th century.  People don’t change.  But mostly it was just piles of badly curated nonsense, and creepy mannequins.

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We had a nice dinner at a studenty place near the centre of town, and then it was nearly time to catch our bus.  On the way we walked through the red light district to see it at night.  We’d already stumbled across it in day time, when it felt sleazy.  Girls sat in windows next to people having their lunch at a pavement cafe on a church square.  It was just pretty depressing.  At night it seemed almost jolly.  I don’t really know what I think about this.  You wonder if these women want to be there.  What was particularly strange was the number of tourists milling about.

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Then there was just time to go to a coffee shop, before heading to the station for our bus.  TIP: Bring your own lighter or you will feel very silly.

Week 1 on the road

2015-10-04 13.37.03We’ve been on the go for a week now, and spent some time in Amsterdam and in Berlin.  More to follow on these, but for now here’s a round up of how the first week’s been.

We started the trip pretty exhausted.  Sub-optimal, but not that surprising given our track record of biting off more than we can chew.  I feel like we’re only just getting our energy back a week in.  The first week has been fun, but we spent a lot of time wondering why we were so tired.  We feel old!

It’s taking us some time to adjust to travelling – mostly we’re finding it uncomfortable to be spending money all the time!  We were chatting about this this morning and we think it’s because we’ve been in thrift mode for so long saving for this trip (/for our entire adult lives).  So it feels uncomfortable spending money every day.  We wouldn’t usually eat out two days in a row, and it’d be rare for us to eat out (I’m including all meals in this!) more than a couple of times in a month.  And we never really do any activities that cost money.  How sad!

I expect this will get easier (#firstworldproblems) as we go on, and especially as things will generally get cheaper as we move east, and then south (Amsterdam is mega expensive).

Things we’ve learned

  1. Our enthusiasm for the city we’re in is directly proportional to the current sunshine level.
  2. There is a limit to how many WW2 related museums you can visit and still feel any enthusiasm to visit another one…
  3. Always arrange couch surfing hosts in advance.
    We planned to couch surf most of the time so that we would meet people and get a more in depth idea of the city we’re in, as well as to keep costs down.  Unfortunately we haven’t managed to arrange any hosts yet because we’ve left it too late.  Fingers crossed for St Petersburg.  UPDATE:  We have a host for Warsaw, hurrah!
  4. Night buses are tiring.
    Probably should have remembered this from previous travels.  They are cheap though…
  5. Dutch looks quite like English on paper.  Don’t be fooled.

Highlights of the trip so farIMAG1002

  1. Riding bikes around Amsterdam and into the suburbs.  We felt slightly more like locals on our rickety Dutch bikes, and Amsterdam is small enough to get more or less everywhere easily by bike.
  2. Visiting the Anne Frank house.  We queued in the rain for about 40 minutes, but it was definitely worth it.  The rooms are empty, but there are pictures on the walls still, and you can feel what it would have been like living there.
  3. Joining in a “Stop TTIP” demonstration marching through BerliIMG_5411n in the Saturday sunshine.  (TTIP is an EU-US bilateral trade agreement that threatens to gut all participating countries’ power to regulate the activities of companies trading within them; click here for further info.)
  4. Drinking beer brewed on site in a packed bar in our (adopted) Berlin neighbourhood.
  5. Stumbling across a restaurant round the corner from our hostel that was doing amazing all you can eat Sunday brunch, when we discovered that supermarkets are IMAG1049shut in Berlin on Sundays (oops) .  We had a great time slowly eating our way through the selection.  N.B. Tiramisu is totally a breakfast food.