Sep 23, 2008

Amsterdam - Part 1

I'm being honest when I say that time has not been kind to my memory. I know that late one Friday evening in the first weekend of August, our group loaded up our bags and walked to the edge of campus where we caught our bus with other Sussex students who had signed up for the trip. I remember some people being late at our first stop, and then something about some people being lost and needing to be picked up elsewhere because they were utterly confused. Then again there was hardly any "official word" from the tour guide surrounding these events, so perhaps I have it all wrong. I suppose my perspective was that I was on the bus and going to Amsterdam... as long as we made it there, I really didn't care.

We made it all right, and I slept most of the way. Unlike the bus ride to Paris, my memory is blank. I remember Brighton that night, and then nothing until Amsterdam. We pulled into town and had to find a place to park our bus long enough for everyone to unload. If you've ever been to Amsterdam, you understand why this is a challenge. However, our tour guide had clearly done this trip several times over and directed our driver to this one spot that seemed perfectly designed for buses. Unfortunately, it was also raining when we arrived. Not pouring, but raining enough that the natives had out umbrellas. Which means one of the first things I see is a man in a full suit, complete with shiny shoes and bowler hat, sitting up perfectly straight and riding his bicycle with a huge green umbrella. This is quite simply one of the most amusing things I have ever seen, and I am still sad that I was not fast enough to snap a picture before he turned the corner. Kat and I tried to follow him, but a large group of tourists with luggage somehow aren't as fast as a man on a bicycle with an umbrella. Go figure.

Our guide led us through the city to our hostel. We didn't have to walk very far, but we did pass the Rijks Museum on the way. More on the museum later. We get to the hostel and check in to our rooms. Our travel group is the perfect size and the 6 of us get to share one room together. We drop our stuff, and head down to breakfast. Breakfast is almost over, so we grab what's available, squeeze into any empty seats, and eat quickly. Eventually we all gather at one table and wait for our first tour.

Trevor with a map in his hand... why am I not surprised? And Kat below in a very pensive moment. We leave the hostel and head back towards the Rijks Museum and the place our bus had dropped us off. Across the street from the museum is this place called Coster Diamonds, where they cut and polish some of the finest diamonds in the world.Our tour guide had arranged for a private tour, which was really a woman telling us about the four C's of diamonds before taking us upstairs to a secure room and showing us a bunch of pretty rocks. Even better, after her demonstration she pulled out trays of rings and necklaces and she let us try on anything we wanted. Did I mention that most of the people in our group were girls? It was fun, and just about pandemonium. Of course, leave it to me to pick out a €13,000 ring. We eventually put down the expensive stuff and made our way to the gift shop. I bought a pair of earrings and a ring. Cubic Zirconias, even when cut and polished by a famous diamond company, actually fall within my price range.

Back to the hostel for a round of showers, and everyone promptly fell asleep. It was hilarious. I'd post pictures, since I have them, but I'd like to live to see my 24th birthday

A few hours later we left the hostel for our second tour, which was a canal tour of the city. And now onto the boat...I miss that jacket. Nothing has ever fit me so well. It was amusing for the first half hour, but after the boat driver ran out of things to point out, we'd had enough. I was taking pictures like crazy in an attempt to amuse myself until the monotony was over.After the canal ride we wandered the city for a little while and then followed our guide to the Red Light district. I'm not sure if I can possibly convey how dirty and uncomforable this area of the city was for me. At first it wasn't so bad, more humerous than anything, but as we made our way further into the heart of the district, I just wanted to leave. The streets are narrow, with women in windows on both sides. Men, mostly drunk, fill the streets and stare hungrily at the females around them, both behind glass and walking the street. It's a meat market by any other name.

One of the girls in our group made the mistake of taking a picture of one of the women at work. The next thing I know this woman throws the door open, starts screaming her head off, and her security guard (I'll call him this for the sake of maintaining a more PG rating) comes flying out into the street, baseball bat in hand, screaming obscenities in english. Our tour guide, who I thought was a serious creeper, proved to be worth his weight in gold. He immediately comes running to the girls defense, even though he'd told us photography was risky and ill advised, and he literally throws her into the crowd of our group to prevent the crazed security guard from seeing her. The guy with the bat gets in his face, but our guide doesn't back down. He somehow convinces him that no harm was done, and the guy retreats to his hole in the wall. Weird or not, he saved someone in our group from being beat for their ignorance.

Our tour was short, and at one point our guide basically said the tour was over and we were free to do whatever we pleased. And then he just left. Kat and I looked at each other, both uneasy, and decided to make a run for it. Trevor agreed and we high tailed it straight out of the Red Light District as quickly as possible.

We eventually made it back to an area of town that we were more familiar with, and we ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant around the corner from our hostel. We returned to our beds very sleepy and ready to pass out. Our guide was leading a tour to some windmills early the next morning and I had every intention of going.

Amsterdam - The Prologue

I don't remember how or when I decided I was going to take a trip to Amsterdam. I know that some of my friends had traveled there for the weekend and had enjoyed their stay, but I don't really remember how the subject came up. All I know is that someone mentioned a tour company that had a three day trip to Amsterdam, Brussels and Brugge for 100£... travel and accomodations included.

Kat and I wanted to go, and loved that we didn't have to plan anything or worry about how we were going to get from point A to point B and back again. We decided to go and found a group of travel buddies for the ride.

I remember taking the bus into Brighton with Christina and finding a tiny sign on one of the buildings for this hole in the wall tour company. Part of me was worried if the place was legit, and my concerns were not quieted when the first person we talked to didn't know what trip we were talking about. We eventually found someone who was able to help us, dropped our cash, and booked the tour. All we had to do after that was catch the bus a week or so later and we would be on our way. Talk about a stress free trip.


Unfortunately I don't remember much about Canterbury. I wish I could say it was because I'm writing about my day trip there almost two years later... but the truth of the matter is I just didn't find it that memorable. Before I offend anyone, please allow me to explain.

I suppose my first problem is that I didn't know much about the town. Sure I'd read select parts of the Canterbury tales... but how much do the stories honestly tell you about the town? Nothing from what I recall. Anyway, I should have done some research, at least do more than look up the weather and how to get there, but I didn't. The beauty of my rail pass was that I could go anywhere... and so I did. I also think that at this point my month time frame was nearing the end and I was trying to fit in as much travel as humanly possible before my rail pass expired. Hence the lack of preparation which is no one's fault but my own.

My second problem was that I was feeling a bit under the weather, and almost decided to get right back on the train and head home. Sounds ridiculous, I know, especially since it's about a two and a half hour ride. But I really was not feeling well and wanted to just crawl back into bed. The next closest thing I had to my bed was a warm rail car with decently comfortable seats.

And the third problem was the weather itself. There was a chance it wouldn't rain... I was really hoping that chance would prevail. But as you can tell from the streets, it didn't.
The town is very cute, I will give it that. There are places that are closed to vehicles and I spent most of my time wandering in the middle of the street. I figured I would stay drier this way and would be less likely to slip... and since most everyone else was walking there I didn't think it could hurt much.
The rain seemed to come and go just enough to make you want to leave your umbrella constantly open. I mean what's worse, a person with an open umbrella when it's not raining, or a person who is constantly opening and then closing their umbrella when the weather changes. I'll begin taking votes on this... now.
I eventually made my way to the little square above and looked around at all the shops before entering the Cathedral grounds. The gateway to the grounds is below.

In reality, the cathedral was my entire reason for visiting the town as it was also the only thing I really knew about... and I think it's safe to say that it is where I spent most of my time.
This was the view the greeted me as soon as I entered the Cathedral. This was also one of those locations where pictures were welcomed, and I was happy to oblige. More views from the interior of the church.
This is one of my favorites... the lighting through the windows is beautiful.
And of course I took a tour of the grounds, but made sure to keep a roof over my head. Unfortunately the low light conditions and my lack of a tripod created a series of blurry, non aestheticly pleasing images. Sadness. But I will give you one views from outside...
Back to the interior of the Cathedral...

Below is a memorial for Archbishop Thomas Becket who was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170 by followers of King Henry II. Two years after his death, Becket was made a saint.
For some reason I can't find a map of the grounds. I believe the next two shots are of the nave in the center of the Cathedral.
I eventually made my way towards the exit and walked past the Quire which houses Becket's shrine. The Quire was rebuilt after being destroyed in a fire in the 12th century.
I still wasn't feeling very well and decided to head home after I finished my tour of the Cathedral. But I did see something on the way back to the train station that made me laugh for a good minute straight, and I just have to share it with you...