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Archive for the tag “Amsterdam”

European Vacation-Part IV Wrapping it up!

Okay, I am going to attempt to finish what I started. I decided to wrap it up in this post, so I can move on to some other nonsense. I think I left off somewhere at Red Light District Amsterdam, or maybe that’s where my mind is, in the gutter as usual. So here is the rest….Train ride to Paris, Eiffel tower, Belgian waffles, Belgian beer, crappy souvenirs, swatting off homeless people…Back through the Chunnel to London, seeing a play-The Graduate, Picadilly Circus where anything goes, and I witnessed 1,000 Hare Krishna’s parading out of the subway or “tube” as they call it. “Minding the Gap” Look it up. Tavern on the Thames where I met some french dude named Jean Luc, we made out and I lost my friends who left me in a foreign country, but came back in a taxi to get me. Thank god.

Okay, so that pretty much sums it up.

Seriously though, Paris is one of the most beautiful places I have seen, and I wish that we could have stayed longer. However, we did not get treated with much hospitality. We stuck out as Americans, I don’t know how, I think someone stuck a “kick me, I’m American” sign on my back because that is how I felt through most of my trip. Being that it was post 9/11 (nearly a month after) that could have had something to do with it, I don’t know. In Amsterdam, we were asked if we knew Osama Bin Laden. Umm..i didn’t know how to respond to that question, so I gave the kid the stink eye and walked away. We were also followed down the street by some man who was muttering the words “American’s”, “tourists” “go home”.  One time, when we were eating at a restaurant, the waiter gave us our bill, and at the top of the bill it said “Yankees”, he apologized and took it back because that was his copy, and his way of knowing which table it went to! Geez

If you go to Paris, don’t ever go without some sort of pocket translator, or someone who speaks French. That will sure come in handy. I had to ask the woman at the ticket counter in the Metro station, which train I had to take to get to Montmarte Boulevard. She looked at me as if I was speaking alien and I was from outer space. I pronounced “Montmarte”  20 different ways in my best french accent before she said “oh yea, Montmarte!” All I could picture running through my mind was the scene from Money Train, you know the one…It involved gasoline and a match?! Also, while at the Eiffel tower looking for the Metro, we approached a group of heavily armed officers to ask them where the closest Metro station was and they just looked at each other and laughed. I had to close my eyes and open them again, thinking maybe I was delusional and having breakthrough schizophrenia.

Anyway, I’m not here to bash other countries, but the fact of the matter is, if you are an American traveling abroad you are not superior. You are in their country, so do some research before you go. I plan to travel for as long as I am on this Earth, and I will learn from my experiences. March will be my trip to Ireland which I am super excited about, but I have a resident tour guide (who was also my partner in these rantings) so I will be okay, let’s hope. On the agenda will be pub crawling, castles, and beautiful scenery. I will post about the trip shortly after I come back, but until then I will be continuing on with my random posts about everything and nothing!

 

 

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European Vacation-Part III Amsterdam cont’d

Day 2 in Amsterdam comes, and it’s time to check out of our hotel. We weren’t quite ready to leave Amsterdam so it was time to find somewhere else to stay. We packed up our suitcases (no, we didn’t travel lightly) and hit the streets looking for a vacancy. Julie had wanted to stay at the Hemp Hotel. We stumbled across it, and decided to check in. The concept was a great idea, everything was made from Hemp, the staff was friendly, but the accommodations were a little dingy and had the scent of body odor emanating from every corner. The room had a sink in it, and the bed was squeezed into two walls so the only way to get in it was to slide in from the bottom. Most buildings in Amsterdam are tight in space. The hallways are narrow and the stairs are steep. Definitely not “American” sized! If we had to use the toilet, we had to go up a flight of stairs to the bathroom above us. I think we even skipped showering the next day.

View from my window

We considered staying in a hostel to save money, but after peeking inside one and seeing it full of people piled on one big bed and sleeping in bunk beds,  we changed our minds.  I am sure that there are many hostels that are accommodating, but we needed somewhere that we could rest comfortably, not have to sleep with one eye open, and take a nice hot shower. In total we spent about a little over a week, flying by the seat of our pants. We stayed at a Best Western, a gay friendly hotel, and other random places in all different parts of the city.

Here are some of the things I enjoyed while in Amsterdam: Vlaamse frites (basically french fries smothered in mayo) don’t knock it til you try it! The people..they are very friendly! Many speak English, and better than some who speak it as their first language. While in a coffee shop, a nicely dressed woman came in, sat beside us and lit up a joint. She had a quick conversation with us about what our plans were for the day, and then excused herself while she had to leave and go to work! The architecture of the city itself is amazing. Canal houses are tall but narrow. Most are only about 30 feet wide. There are pulleys at the top that people use to get furniture inside because the staircases are too narrow. This type of architecture can also be found in some parts of New York city( known as brownstones), also once known as New Amsterdam, when Dutch settlers started a new life in the New World.

We spent many of our days in coffeshops, living in a “haze”. I do not recommend doing that because the city has so much more to offer. Many of the streets look the same and it is very easy to get lost (especially when under the influence) and end up on a street saying to yourself “didn’t I just come from here?” We didn’t take cabs, or public transportation, we walked everywhere and that to me is the best way to experience a new place. Bicycle use is HUGE  in Amsterdam, every street you walk past is lined with bicycles. Many tourists ride them, but more residents own bikes than cars. There isn’t much space to park a vehicle in the city, and before the smart car was introduced here in the US, I saw many of them in Amsterdam.  Men and women were cycling to work in their suits, dress clothes and  some women in heels.  But I can’t even ride a bike at home!

We didn’t try too many different foods. I am a very picky eater, and if I can’t read it, I don’t eat it! Julie on the other hand, was so hungry one night and we were lost. We came across some sort of deli that looked like it was getting ready to close. She just picked something on the menu, because the big guy behind the counter was yelling something at us in Dutch and we were scared. It appeared to be some sort of sausage, and she was eating it without hesitation, I could not bring myself to do it. Honestly, I don’t remember what I ate for an entire week.

Hanging out at a coffeeshop (Julie on the left, me on the right)

We wanted to find the Red Light District, strictly out of curiosity of course!  For something that is so taboo to us, we wanted to view it for ourselves.   The streets are lined on each side with women sitting in the windows, dressed in racy lingerie and brings new meaning to the term “window shopping” or maybe that’s where the term came from? I tried so hard not to make eye contact, as if I wasn’t interested. I never walked so fast down a street than I did there! I read somewhere before hand that they frown upon taking photos in this area of the city, and if you break out a camera the girls will robe up and go inside. At night you can see the glow of neon lights lighting up the street. Despite what the Red Light district stands for, it really is a beautiful sight and a must see!

The red-light district in Amsterdam by night

Red Light District

Well, time was running short, and we still had a few places to visit. We definitely wanted to get to France, and I wanted to spend some time in London before I headed home. So it was time pack it up and head back to the train station. We lost our luggage tickets that we got from checking our luggage in earlier that day so we could spend just a little more time in the city. But it was hysterical to watch the luggage handler bring out every black suitcase one at a time before we identified ours! No surprise we lost our luggage  tickets, after frying our brains for a week it’s completely understandable.

When I go back, I will do some things differently. I will visit the museums and parks and try new and different foods. I will make hotel reservations, even though it was a fun experience going day by day staying at different places in every area of the city but I’m a little too old for that now! And I will take more pictures! And if they decide not to take away the coffee shops from tourists, I will definitely visit them again.

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European Vacation, Part II-Amsterdamage!

So, day two of my European vacation arrives and it’s off to Amsterdam! Julie and I had purchased a Eurail pass which is a great idea if you  ever travel to Europe and want to visit more than one country. There are many different options you can select from, that take you to many different countries. We chose the Benelux package (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg) But it didn’t only take us there. We were also free to roam  Germany and France as well. We had planned to explore many places, but once we got a “whiff”  of Amsterdam, we almost became residents.

We left on a train from London to our destination Amsterdam. England is an island, so the only way to get to the other European countries by train is..under water. Yikes! I’m not a big fan of riding on a train at high speeds under water. As we cruised through the English channel, or “Chunnel” there was no scenery. No, we didn’t see fish, sharks, or stingrays. Just walls, that felt like they were closing in on me. The train was shaky and fast, which I didn’t mind because honestly the faster the better,  just get me the hell out of there! After about 35 minutes, we end up somewhere in the countryside of France, and hop on another train Belgium and then to Amsterdam. You may think it very difficult to navigate in foreign countries with different languages, but most countries have things written in English, and the train systems are fairly simple to navigate.

A Beneluxtrain from Bruxelles arriving at the ...

Benelux train

We arrived at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, and seriously it was like night of the living dead. If you think there is a homeless problem in America, go to Amsterdam. Zombie like people roaming the joint panhandling for change to try and get their next fix, (so i’m guessing). They are a colorful bunch of people, who look like they are from all over parts of the world. My theory is that they went to Amsterdam for the liberal use of illicit drugs, and then never left. Panhandling must not be illegal because they had no problem walking into the bank and asking me for change while I was standing in line waiting to convert my currency! Now keep in mind, this was in 2001, right before the Euro was introduced, so by the end of my trip I had a change purse that looked like the United Nations couch cushions!

English: Amsterdam's Centraal Station at night...

Centraal station

So off we went. With a street map in hand, and a hotel reservation (that I made while back home) and we were on our way. I mentioned transportation being pretty easy to navigate, but not in Amsterdam. They use some sort of tram connected to  train tracks below and wires above, that drove in the middle of the streets,  and the destinations written on the front were not English. The street names in Amsterdam are on average about 13 letters long! Some use 2-3 vowels in a row, and are not easy to pronounce. Try asking how to get to Ceinturbaan street  if you’re lost!

I’m kind of a hotel snob, and when I was looking for hotels to stay at, I wanted a clean, 4-5 star hotel that wasn’t crawling with hippies, panhandlers and people under the influence. The first night we stayed at the Novotel, but little did I know, it was in the business district of Amsterdam way off the beaten path of all the “fun”stuff! After checking into our hotel we grabbed our walking shoes…oh wait, I forgot to mention that I didn’t pack walking shoes!!!!! At the last minute back home, I switched suitcases, and forgot to pack my sneakers! All I had was a pair of black loafer type dress shoes that I sported the whole vacation because I was too cheap to buy sneakers..(lost my job, remember?) The first night we were there, we mapped out a few places we wanted to visit, and walked the streets to each destination. My feet were killing me! And Julie wasn’t offering to rub them!

Amsterdam is full of rich history, The Van Gogh museum, The Anne Frank house, and beautiful city parks. We didn’t go to ANY of those places! (We did go to the Van Gogh coffeshop though, and they don’t just sell coffee!) So, many of you know that Amsterdam is known for their “coffee shops”. They serve coffee, yes, but they also have a vast menu of different types of marijuana for purchase and use while in the coffee shops. Hey, when in Rome, right?!  We spent a week in Amsterdam, and because this post has already rambled on, I am going to leave it right here. I hope that you come back for part III because we had some exciting adventures that I want to share, and some more travel tips. I have a lot to say, and I want to say it all, so I am afraid that this might turn into a mini series! I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into here! But please feel free to leave some thoughts, comments or questions that you would like to address or get answers to for the next post, I would love it!

that's me on the right!

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European Vacation, Part I- The Arrival

I’ve always wanted to write about my travel experiences, problem is though that I don’t travel that much anymore these days! (I could write about my trip to Hell and back, but I haven’t come back yet so keep a look out for that one!)In the past decade I have traveled to places like: Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, New Jersey, New York, and the Bahamas. Exciting, I know.. But this year will be full of travel experiences, and my first destination will be Ireland. I’ve been to Europe, and this upcoming trip is getting me excited because 1. It’s Ireland!! and 2. It reminds me of my last trip to Europe and how I just loved it there!

In October of 2001, I took a trip to London, England to visit a friend that was studying abroad for a semester. I can’t imagine she did much school work that semester because the whole 2 weeks I was there she NEVER went to class!!! As you know, 2001 wasn’t a good year for America. I had a great summer, went to Vegas with friends, was making good money at my job, living on my own with a roommate and then September 11th came, and I feared for my safety traveling abroad just a month later. I lost my good paying job, and a friend I was supposed to travel with backed out (he said his parents made him, we were 24 yrs old!) Anyhow, like I said, I had lost my job,  and all the money I had saved was for my trip, but what would any responsible adult do? Go to Europe of course. Even though I knew I was moving back home with the ‘rents as soon as I came back!

Boston’s Logan airport was under heightened security. There were security checks everywhere, and people were being profiled and patted down. I, however, got through with no problem and no questions asked, while I watched almost everyone else being subject to an extra search. I guess I fit the profile of New Englander, and most likely didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction on me. I don’t know…..But the flight was fantastic! There was hardly anyone on the plane! I flew on Virgin Atlantic, and Richard Branson did a nice job with his airliners. Of course you have to walk through first class to get to coach, and on my way I noticed a spiral staircase that led to what I could only imagine to be some really hip lounge with fabulous beverages! When I found out my friend wasn’t coming with me, I wanted to see how much first class would cost, since I was flying alone and the cost was unimaginable. 10,000 dollars for first class!!!! That’s right! I was expecting to see that foot massages, mani’s and pedi’s, and blowjobs were included, but nope..that was just for a seat, and possibly admission to the spiral staircase. I was hoping and praying that since I received the royal treatment at the airport, they would bump me up to first class out of kindness, but that didn’t happen!

Virgin Atlantic Airways Boeing 747-400 (G-VBIG...

FU Virgin Atlantic, for not bumping me up to First class!

Finally, after being jet-lagged and arriving in London at 5am, midnight my time, (with no one to pick me up like they were supposed to! ahem, Julie..)  I was in a complete tizzy being spun around by commuters, and run over by luggage carts. I felt like I should have been getting ready for bed, yet I was up at the butt-crack of dawn..confusing!!! I scrambled to find change to use the payphone and call Julie  to come pick me up, but then realized the payphones don’t take quarters!! I was smart enough to have some money converted in the U.S. before I left, but didn’t have any change.

After panhandling for some change to use the payphone and waking Julie from her slumber, I tell her not to bother (because I hate waiting and I knew she probably had a gnarly hangover), I will just take a cab. It was a nice surprisingly sunny day and I had the quintessential black cab experience with a little tour along the way from my cabbie who pointed out where Madonna lived, but I couldn’t be excited because the only thing that I could think about was,  how much is this going to cost me???

80 pounds and about 45 minutes later, I finally arrive to the dormitory she was residing at in South London. I’m not sure if the “South side” of everywhere is the same, but South London fit the description of the dismal, poverished, unsettling area of every “South side”  I’ve been to. I was greeted by my friend and given the tour of her residence hall. Finally, I  made it to my accommodations and was excited to see where I was going to sleep. I knew this was going to be the kind of trip where it was sleep whenever, wherever, but her bed was so small (didn’t even look as big as a twin) and the little area of carpet in her room was wet, because for some reason Europeans don’t think it necessary to put up some sort of division between the shower and the floor. All there was, was a little “lip” so when you shower, the water just flows freely everywhere.  But I didn’t care, I needed sleep. I pretty much took a catnap, how long can one possibly sleep when in a foreign country with so much to see and do?

The evening was fantastic. Walking along the Thames River, strolling over  Tower Bridge (which by the way is a drawbridge, and I had no idea til the damn thing started shaking) and snapping photos of Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abby.

Look kids! Big Ben!

I wish I had more photos to share, but after moving 8 times since, many have gotten lost. I had to use a camera, yes a camera that used a roll of film.

Kind of a low key evening, since the following day we were taking off to Amsterdam, Holland,  The Netherlands!!!

To be continued…….European vacation, Part II- Amsterdamage!!!

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