A Full Day In Amsterdam

We rolled into town at about 8pm (landed on runway 23 for those who care about that sort of thing) and tried to find a place to stay. All the hostels the travel guide had listed were full so we ended up just stopping into random places and asking for a room. We found one at the Hotel Beursstraat for about $20 US per person for the night – not too bad. It was right on the corner of the Red Light District and so we had easy access to the amsterdam nightlife. Not directly relevant, but here’s the card they gave us with the address, phone number, and map on the back so we could find our way back if and when we partook of the city’s delights.

The redlight district is quite interesting. If you haven’t been, I’ll do my best to describe it here. The streets are blocked off so cars cannot travel downt them, but you still have about the width of a small city street that is all used for sidewalk. The sidewalks are all brick and look quite nice (when they aren’t being dug up and replaced…like most are right now – we had to cross a 4 foot deep hole on a board of questionable strength to get in to our hotel). The area is marked by the smell of marijuana, blush-inspring sex shop displays, and out-in-the-open prostitute stands all of which are allowed by the local government. Even if you are not interested in any of these things, to see what happens when they are all made legal is quite interesting. It is (except for the construction) quite clean, in my opinion, and at times I wondered if I was in a las vegas representation of a european city or actually in amsterdam!

Gambling is allowed in amsterdam as well. The casinos are far and few between and nothing like a vegas casino. It felt more like a riverboat casino than any actual casino I’ve been to. Gambling is not allowed in most places in the US and I find it quite interesting that when a city like amsterdam allows everything, gambling plays a rather small part. I haven’t tried my hand at blackjack yet because I don’t like the vibe of the casinos, but maybe I will. I’d rather wait until this trip is over and make it to vegas for some “authentic” gambling!

We have moved from our previous double room to a more budget oriented hostel (Bob’s Youth Hostel to be exact.) We each got a bed in a dorm-style room. There are about 30 beds in the room and erik and I share a bunk (I got top bunk – woohoo!) We have a locker to secure stuff in and a room to hang out and eat breakfast in downstairs. It’s not the nicest place in the world, but for $10 a night, I think it will work! We had to make the move to hostels because in the double room hotels we weren’t meeting other backpackers – a very important part of the trip. We figured we’d start doing the hostel thing in a country where almost everyone speaks english (as well as dutch) and then we should be able to cope quite well with spain when we get there.

We spent today wandering around the city – and I do mean wandering!

We walked all around. We stared just on the west end of the red light district (where bob’s is at) and headed south. We were going to Vondelpark which looked like a nice change of pace from the city-inundation we’ve been getting lately. We headed south to check out an area called De Pijp. The main attraction (for us anyway) was the open market along the streets. The streets are lined with shop after shop selling everything from fresh fish to mobile phone covers. I purchased a long sleeve shirt to help keep me warm as it seemed to be getting colder as the day progressed. After losing our way a couple of times, we came upon the Rijskmuseum. The building is about the size of a college football stadium and is decorated in an incredibly ornate style. I’ve found that pictures increasingly do not do the sites I am seeing justice, but it is still worth a look at the website. The towering building with it’s ornately finished mosaics and detailed statues are just an incredible sight and definitely not to be missed.

There are various street performers in amsterdam. As we entered the tunnel under the Rijskmuseum, we were transformed into another world as a strange combination of stringed instruments and chanting almost haunted the tunnel. We got about halfway through and found the cause of it: a group of 3 musicians performing what the sign said was mongolian chants. Whatever it was it was quite entertaining and I dropped in 2.5 guilder for them (about $1). We also saw an incredible balancing act by a guy with a soccer ball. He was juggling it with various parts of his body and then popped it up to his head where he proceeded to balance it and walk around. The crowd was impressed. He moved over towards a light pole and urged the crowd on to more cheering. He maintained the balance of the ball on his forehead as he climbed the lightpole through a combination of holds where he pulled himself up with his arms and traditional “pole style” climbing involving a high amount of grip by both legs and arms. When he got to the very top, he started juggling the ball again, but only with one foot at a time as he had to stand on the lightpole with the other one! He did combinations off the lightpole and even headed the ball a few times. After some more cheering, he kicked the ball up to his head and balanced it for his decent. About halfway down, he stopped…hanged down from the lightpole, holding on with both arms and then started juggling the ball AGAIN! This time, both feet were free and he kept the ball in his control while bouncing it off his head, chest, and the lightpole once again – all while hanging from an arm off the lightpost. It was quite the show.

It’s another night on the town this evening – and time to meet some of our hostel-mates at bob’s!

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Airports and Flying

We took the rail from surbiton (south of the city) to luton airport (north of the city). The ride was about 2 hours total and cost 9.6 pounds. The train crept through the city of london navigating tight turns at a slow rate causing creaks and moans throughout the car – we were pushing the limits of train mobility, I feel.
I got only 4 hours of sleep last night so I decide to take a quick nap…when I awaken, we are “zipping” through the countryside through rolling hills that are thankfully not dotted with smoke from burning carcasses – a scene that BBC claims is quite common these days due to hoof and mouth disease. Either it’s not a concern yet in this area or it has already struck and there is nothing more to burn. Quite sad that the only way we can contain a disease like that is to “quarantine” it off and prevent it from spreading – we have no way to treat the infected.

Every city has a budding young airport and luton is london’s. As usual, the budget airlines are run out of here and the convenience to the passenger is quite high (a side effect of slower growth and size). The airport has a simple layout that seems to loop back on itself. You enter in the center, the ticket counters are on the right and the gates are on the left. It is a strange layout, but you are never far from where you need to be in luton. Here is an “artist’s” rendition:

The airport is full of people milling about waiting to board their flights. This is a contrast to the train station where there were small groups of people because of the frequency of trains and the fact that if you arrive early – you jump on an earlier train! Even with the extra burden of air travel, easyJet is the model of efficiency: they don’t even shut the engines down while the current crop of passengers disembarks and moments later the new one boards. Boarding at luton is from the ground: you walk out the door of the building, walk across the tarmac and climb up the stairs to the plane – movie style I would say! The tarmac is a blur of orange vehicles and people dressed in orange outfits as the plain clothes passengers form a temporary barrier from the terminal door to the airplane door that the people in orange cannot cross. The flight crew is run by caroline, with chris in the front and kelly in the center. We depart on runway 26 for my second trip to amsterdam.

Detour – Destination Amsterdam

We decided to take our trip to the netherlands before continuing on to spain. Erik has never been and I loved it when I was here last. The rail was quite pricey so we took easyJet to amsterdam and saved some money! We arrived this evening at 1800 local time and found a place to stay. It’s not the best place in the world, but it had rooms and it is in the heart of the action.
I have written a lot of stuff for everyone’s enjoyment, but I left it in the room. So tomorrow promised to be an exciting day as you will get the info on the last days in england, flight to amsterdam, and the first night of stories from the famed city.

Sorry for the news style lead in with a delay on the real deal, but I have a new city to explore!! I need to change the name of the trip (since so far spain hasn’t been in it at all…but don’t worry, it will) so any suggestions are welcome. Send me an email!

We’ve done some more planning – and unfortunately, using this map:

ryan

London Bridge is Falling Down

Tower Bridge is quite interesting to observe at night. The lighting is spectacular and the color schemes have a medieval toy set feel to them. You see the bright blues and the clean whites in movies of times gone by, but you don’t think that they actually looked like that back then. The actual bridge may be the same way, but seeing the structure lurking overhead with the hue of a fleeting childhood memory makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, hollywood’s representation of times gone by holds some hint of reality.

As we walked along the Thames to Tower Bridge, a large floating ball of light glared menacingly at me. As my eyes slowly adjusted, I noticed the outline of a sleek WWII gunship – HMS Belfast. The history channel recently ran a show on gunboats of WWII and it was quite fascinating. They’ve been replaced by aircraft carriers and are no longer in service, but in the evolution from wooden ships to gunships to aircraft carriers they play an important transitionary role. The ships are just incredible. The HMS Belfast is a modified Southhampton class light cruiser which makes it not too menacing, but definitely armed. I’ve become a fan of machines of war lately – is that an indication of some subliminal agression that I must figure out how to deal with? Or just a normal male fascination with violence and destruction?

We are gathering info about trains, planes, and (hahaha) boats to depart from the UK on. The train seems the most sensible as it is cheaper and we get to see more scenery. We are in no hurry to get anywhere in particular and if we aren’t careful could end up staying in london for the entire trip!! (the problems with not planning a departure date…something we experienced on this trip that got delayed for months!) On that note, I’m off to check train destinations, fares, and times!

cheers!

London, easyEverything and the countdown timer

The internet cafe is not as common in the US cities I frequent as it is in the European cities I visit…I’m a fan. The easyEverything shop is quite interesting in that the amount of time you get for a unit of money (in this case a british pound) changes depending on the time of day and demand. We popped in this afternoon after a day wandering the city and got 20 minutes for a pound…we bought 40 minutes and it was gone before you could get oriented at the chair!! I went downstairs to renew our accounts as erik stayed and continued working…each workstation has a countdown timer that looks like this:

Well, erik’s got down to nine seconds as I stood in line waiting to pay…as I gave the guy the money, he punched up the account info and added the time…barely saving all of erik’s hard earned work. Ahhh, the adventures of internet access.

We are now staying in Surbiton courtesy of David and Maryse O’Neill who are off in South Africa getting married. It’s unfortunate our visit with them couldn’t have been longer, but we moved our flight to make sure we got to see them at all! We are having some trouble with the rail system and ended up in Epsom last night instead of surbiton. We realized we had gotten on the last train from london and it was not heading to our correct destination!! We hopped off and queued for a taxi. The taxis were coming at a rate of about one every 20 minutes and we were easily 5 people back in line – arg! We got to talk to some people in line though and that was a lot of fun. The funniest exchange went something like this(sorry dave/maryse):
Guy in line: where you heading to?
me: surbiton
guy in line: surbiton?! well, I guess somebody has to go there!

I, of course, am not complaining at all as I get to stay in a nice place for free!

The weather is cold and rainy. This is to be expected and I was warned quite a bit about that before I ever got here. As erik and I walked around, erik pondered aloud “what advantage does london have over new york or boston, as far as the city goes?” This is a good point. London is a large city and as I’ve said before a large city is first and foremost a large city…the local culture and flair comes in second to the normal city things: large crowds, busy streets, and people asking for money from you wherever you turn. I see a few advantages to london from my viewpoint: i have some good friends here already, easy access to the continent for travel, and I already know the language! The downsides are cost of living, lower pay, and having to watch the exchange rates closely.

We ate today at a noodle shop called wagamama – it is the model of efficiency. The tables all run parallel to each other and run the length of the room. You are directed to a seat (european style with no real regard for “your” table…strangers sitting at your elbows) and the server comes by to take your drink and food order (after ample time for you to figure out what you want, of course) and punches it into a wireless device that sends the drink order to the bar and the food order to the kitchen. He then writes down the numbers of what you ordered on your paper placemat and scoots off. A moment later somebody else comes with your drink (confirming the correct location by noting the drink number noted on your placemat) and about 3 minutes later the food starts coming. All the food is cooked on demand (familiar to jack in the box fans) yet it is fast and fairly affordable.

The british airways london eye is an interesting attraction. You get to see all of the city and it is quite fancy in design and construction. We noted a couple of things that would prevent it from working in the US though.

  • The wheel keeps moving all the time…some greedy lawyer would find a way to file a lawsuit if somebody fell or something.
  • about 25 people ride at a time. This is quite comfortable. You could probably fit about 40 people in the capsule with little to no room. The 25 people per capsule number is quite generous and allows everyone to wander around the capsule and get a great view without much delay.

We had a fun night out on the town last night and got to visit with james and jayne pearce. We had a great time and got to talk about everything from air traffic control to pickup lines that are bound to fail. Here’s one from james hayward that I don’t recommend: “How much for a coffee?” Especially if the girl you are talking to is not a waitress at the place! We got a good kick out of that but I couldn’t talk him into asking her boyfriend the same thing when he walked by the table.

Well, once again the countdown has begun and time is running out on my account.

Cheers!

Depart for London (via Dallas) at 7am

I groggily woke up this morning at 445am in order to get to the airport and fly to dallas. I’m meeting up with erik and then we have a direct flight from dfw to london – arriving at the perky hour of 720am!! In a daze, I am jolted back into the airport reality: lines (or as they call them in the UK: queues). They are everywhere…lines to unload your stuff at the curb, lines at the ticket counters, lines at the metal detectors, lines at the terminal to get on the plane. Surely something can be done to reduce the amount of time people have to put up with this!!

I wandered down the isle, dreading my middle seat assignment when I realized that luck was with me – my seat was next to a cute blond girl with…double check, score! no ring. How often does that happen? Usually I get the middle seat between chris farley and roseanne barr…elbows sloshing over the already miniscule arm rest so that I don’t have any personal space, but a generous amount of sloppy sweat that is dripping from each of their arms. But as I was saying – I got a cute, skinny girl! I sit down and watch the parade of people, knowing for sure that any moment, I’ll have to stand up again and let tubby into the window seat. But, it doesn’t happen – we get an empty seat for the whole trip!! I’m happy – kris (as I later found out) comments at our good fortune and I scoot over a seat to take advantage of our abundance of room. (this is, of course, one of the only times that you slightly regret that I have to move over a seat) She is flying into dallas with 4 other people to take a paramedic test in – amarillo! They flew into dallas because it was way cheaper and then they are renting a car to make the 7-8 hour drive to amarillo, take the test, then drive back to dallas, fly back to indy, then drive back to logansport.

The world is a small place and this was the proof. My parents are from the logansport area and we started trying to figure out who she knew that I knew/am related to. Turns out that her friend sitting across the isle knew my cousin in high school! Funny how those things work out. I wish them good luck on their test!

I was greeted at the airport by derek and marina. The true test of friendship is telling somebody you are flying into dfw during rush hour and asking for a ride, but not saying what airline, flight, etc. I am on but they go through the effor to figure it out anyway!! I was so happy and surprised!

I’m a walking zombie at this point and trying best I can to stay awake until a little ways into the flight to london. Hopefully I’ll adjust to the new timezone in a timely fashion and actually be awake for my london visit this time. For now, derek and I are wandering around my old stomping ground of dallas! A note on pictures: working on getting the develop/get on the web logistics…this won’t be a text-only site forever!!

Luggage – choices, choices

It seems that the enjoyment of every trip I’ve ever been on is directly proportional to how well my luggage works for me. I’ve been a fan of light packing since day one and can tell you that this month-long adventure will be no different. I’m struggling with what to carry everything in, however.

My friend Michael Fuchs (the catalyst for me starting this site because of his latest trip information) prefers the Eagle Creek Endless Journey which I find large and not as comfortable as outdoors backpacks such as the Gregory Reality. Since I’ve been slimming down my possessions through give-aways (less frequently) and sale on e-bay, I have a lot less stuff to haul around.

The conclusion I’m coming to is that I need to balance my view on life now (I need some clothes and a toothbrush) and what my view will likely be in 2-4 weeks (what happened to all my stuff?!). The answer now is to not carry anything but clothing, a camera, toiletries, a notepad, some food, and an emergency GSM phone. I think that will fit nicely into 4,500 cubic inches and so I won’t have to worry about anything on that front. I’ve been purchasing some rain gear: gore-tex shoes from vasque and a Switchback Parka from REI. Now all I need is some waterproof pants and I can handle any weather that comes my way.