Posts Tagged With: weekend trip

Canterbury and Hever Castle

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Amsterdam Adventure IV

Geez, I really want to get over with this. So let’s do this!

We are on Sunday in Amsterdam, are we not? That was the highlight of the trip. We were going to see the tulips! Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of flowers, and I cannot tell them apart very well. It’s either “Oh, red!” or “Oh, yellow!” or something like that. I know roses and tulips and sunflowers. But yes, even I was excited to see the tulips because I appreciate their beauty. And Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for this adventure.

We got up early enough to grab some breakfast stuff at the supermarket to eat on the Coach. We had muffins and some fruit, yummy. We were on the Coach for about an hour and the guide told us a bit about the flowers, Amsterdam and the surroundings. Soon, we got to the first fields, but not all of them were in bloom yet. It was still lovely to see the colourful stripes in the fields. The Keukenhof is quite famous for its flower gardens and we were looking forward to it. Not everything was in bloom here, either. But they had put together some pots of tulips along the ways where there wasn’t much else, so it was still nice to look at. Some of the gardens were blooming, though and we spent hours taking pictures of flower arrangements. They also have a windmill in the park and we went inside. I don’t feel very comfortable with heights, and the other two felt similar, so we only took a quick look around and headed out again.

There was an area for people to sit and have picnics and there was a group of people with Bernese Mountain Dogs. Almost a dozen, I’d say – I almost cried when I saw them. Apparently, it was a kind of convention of Bernese Mountain Dog lovers. It started to drizzle slightly and we went into a greenhouse to spend some time there.  I was completely overwhelmed by the humungous number of flowers in that greenhouse. I tried to take a picture of almost everyone, but my camera battery gave out not even halfway through so I had to make do with my phone. It was a good alternative, so I was still happy with it.

It had stopped raining after we came out of that greenhouse and we continued our exploring outside. I can’t describe all that we saw, so I’ll rather upload pictures later. (I know I promised that quite often already). Of course, we also had a look at the souvenir shops and I was very tempted to buy some cheese. I didn’t, in the end, but it was a hard choice. Instead, we had ice cream. There was this shop where you could choose your own toppings and I had chocolate, strawberries and kiwis. It was so yummy!

By four in the afternoon, we were to return to the Coach and head back to Amsterdam. I could have spent more time at the Keukenhof, but oh well. Back in Amsterdam we hunted around for some souvenirs and when it was time for dinner, we went to a posh restaurant. Unfortunately it was a bit too posh for us. We had wanted to have some Dutch food before we left but this restaurant was so expensive, we could only afford the starters. They were okay but not filling and we all more or less picked at the food. What a bummer. We also felt a bit out of place because we didn’t dress up for this – oh, well. After this rather weird experience we opted for a second dinner from the supermarket back at the hotel. I finally got my cheese and also cookies and some fruit. We watched another movie (was it the Junglebook this time?) and enjoyed our last evening in Amsterdam. We were pretty tired after all these flower sightings that day, after all.

The next morning we packed and headed out to the Central Station to get to the airport. It was still early and we had a lot of time, so we had breakfast first. Hannah’s flight was later than ours, but she came with us to the airport. We had slight problems getting train tickets because the machines didn’t take cash, so we bought them at the counter – for 50 cent more than at the machine. Geez. At the airport, we killed some time with shopping around, going through passport control and lazing around. When it was time for Colette and me to go to the Gate, we parted with Hannah who unfortunately had to stay four more hours. Poor her! I don’t remember if I beeped at the security control, but it might just be so. We got on the plane, but we didn’t sit close to each other. Back in London we parted ways at the passport control, where I took a lot longer than her because there were so many European people. When I finally got through I ventured to find a place to buy bus tickets. Unfortunately, there was no way to buy easybus tickets; you apparently can only buy them on the internet. The National Express guy told the woman in front of me that it would be better to get the train, because the bus would take two hours and the next would leave in 50 minutes. I so wanted to get home that I took that advice and looked for the trains. I met Colette again on the shuttle to the train station, but then we parted ways for good. I got my ticket, which cost me almost 20 pounds and waited for the train – which was delayed, of course. But I actually got home eventually.

All in all, it was a lovely trip and I am very glad I went, especially with the two girls. We made a good team and had a great time in Amsterdam. And I can’t believe I finally finished this epic tale!

I know I’m almost three weeks behind by now. I’ll attempt to catch up to today soon. Bear with me – and thank you for reading my blog!

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Amsterdam Adventure Part III

And without further ado, I shall attempt to convey our adventures from Saturday the 13th. We got up a little bit earlier than the previous day and went to have breakfast at the same place as Friday. This time, I had a chocolate pancake. Mhm. Unfortunately Colette was not happy with her breakfast, which tainted our morning a little bit. But we refused to be down and headed out to find the Hermitage Museum after breakfast. We had found out that the original Van Gogh Museum was closed for reconstruction and that part of the exhibition was on display at the Hermitage Museum, so we went to see some original paintings. I had looked up the location and led the way. It promised to be a nice day, the sun was coming out and we could wear sunglasses to look cool.

In the museum we were only allowed to either see the Van Gogh stuff or the other exhibition (unless you wanted to pay a huge sum of money), so we were content with tickets for Van Gogh. I think he is now officially the painter I have seen most paintings of. It is so much better to see originals, where you can make out every brushstroke and see how much paint he applied and all that. I took mental notes for my own art, storing it away for future reference. I think my favourite pieces are the three orchard paintings that go together as a sort of triptych. They are really beautiful and I like the fact that Van Gogh actually thought about them as an installation and not just three paintings that happen to show trees.

In that souvenir shop I got a little mirror with the motif of the Blossoming Almond Tree on the back. I wanted to buy that in the other exhibition, but it was sold out, so I was happy to get it after all – even at a better price!

After the museum we walked around again, slowly making our way to the shop with the fries. We had them for lunch and then tried to locate the pier for our canal cruise – there are so many different ones! Finally we found it and embarked on the little ship. By that time it was actually almost hot, so we happily sat down in shirts and enjoyed the sun. The boat was closed so it was a bit stuffed inside, but we could open the windows, so it was ok. The audio guide spoke to us in three languages, English, Dutch and German, so I got all the information more than once. I actually tried to understand Dutch, which is not too hard, really. I’m far from understanding everything, but the general topic of a conversation is clear to me. Colette and Hannah both were lost when it came to Dutch; I had the advantage that many words are the same as in German. The canal cruise was really lovely, I took some pictures with my phone – I wanted to explore the potential of that camera. It takes good pictures, I was surprised, really.

The whole cruise lasted around one hour and the next stop would be the Reijksmuseum. Thanks to my parents I knew that it was reopening in April after ten years of renovation, and I wanted to go and see it. What I didn’t know until that morning was that it was exactly on that Saturday that it would open. Because of that special event, it was open till midnight and had free admission for everybody. What a treat! So of course we wanted to go there! I think we took a tram to get down there, but I’m not sure anymore. In any case, we got there around 5:30. They had a capella playing and an orange carpet (sure, red carpet would have been so ordinary!) Coca-Cola was obviously sponsoring the whole event since they gave free drinks to everybody. The sun was shining brightly, we had drinks and a free entry – we were happy, even if we had to wait half an hour to get in. Because it was opening day, not the whole museum was open. They had designed a special route for the visitors, so we were not able to see everything up close, but that was quite alright. We had seen so many paintings that day, looking at everything would have been quite overwhelming. So we were content with that little walk and enjoyed it. We saw the Night Watch by Rembrandt! We felt very cultural after that day, having seen so many things. Of course, we also felt drained of energy. But the day was far from over – we had to complete the daily scavenger hunt for dinner!

Trying to be clever about it, we googled for Indonesian restaurants in the area. Somebody had told us that Amsterdam is famous for Indonesian Food and we wanted to try it. Unfortunately, the place we tried to find was no longer there (bad google! Shame on you!), so we were back to zero. We walked around and around and around and finally, around an hour later we were so tired and hungry, we settled for a Chinese Restaurant where we had to wait another 15 minutes to be seated. I’m impressed that we didn’t opt for McDonalds, which was also around. The food was good and we were finally happy again. I tried to figure out where we were, because it was getting dark and I just wanted to go home afterwards – when I discovered we were about five minutes from home! The hotel was just up the street, yay! After dinner we were content to go home and settle down with another movie night. I am a little bit confused right now as to what we watched. So let’s say it was Pocahontas, even though that could have been the next day as well. Anyway, we had survived another long day in Amsterdam with a lot of cultural experiences and the canal tour. The next day was the highlight of our trip, the expedition to the Tulip fields.

Oh, I almost forgot a little anecdote. Colette wanted to walk through the red light district, since Amsterdam is very famous for it. I think we did this after the canal cruise, but it was a short adventure. We found the district and were lingering on its edges, not sure where to go, and Colette took some pictures of the surroundings. Apparently, the workers there don’t like that, so one Latino girl threw a glass of water after her, cursing in Spanish and threatening to grab her camera if she doesn’t stop. That was quite frightening so we hastily retreated and found a different route on our way to the Reijksmuseum.

Cheerio, we’re almost there. One more entry!

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Amsterdam Adventure Part II

Here we go, the continuation of the last entry. I believe we made it to the end of Thursday, so now comes Friday, the 12th.

 The three of us got up around ten, since we didn’t want to start the day too early. We were a good team and didn’t have to haggle about who could shower first and it only took us about an hour to get ready. I already mentioned that we wanted to go to that awesome Pancake place, so that’s where we headed. Did I mention the name before? It’s called Carousel Pancake House. They have truly amazing Belgian Waffles and Pancakes with all kinds of toppings, but also normal breakfast with egg and toast if you prefer that. We didn’t. I had waffles with cream and cherries, they were delicious! After almost 1 ½ hours we rolled out of there, satisfied and ready for the day.

Our first stop was one of those offices that sell tickets for tours. We booked a tour to the Keukenhof for Sunday, a canal tour for Saturday and got tickets for the Van Gogh Special Exhibition, which we wanted to see that day. It was raining anyway, so we had decided to have a museum day. The Van Gogh exhibition was right next to that office, so we went over and were glad to be inside for a few hours and not out in the rain.

This exhibition didn’t have any originals. It was specially designed to show digital copies, some even animated with 3D effects. Hannah is a huge Van Gogh fan so she was happy to be there. I never particularly liked his paintings, but I still enjoyed the exhibition, since I’ve never seen so many of his paintings in one place with some explanation why he did what he did. I only knew the most famous ones – self-portraits, the sunflowers, Starry Night, the yellow house, the bedroom… and I especially dislike the bedroom painting. It’s completely weird, having around 5 different perspectives and I just don’t like it when a painter messes perspectives up like that. And I don’t care if he did it deliberately or simply had no idea what he was doing. It’s still not my kind of art. But in that exhibition I saw some beautiful paintings, a lot less modern and more realistic and I like that very much. They even had digital copies of those paintings that were stolen or destroyed during WW2, so that was pretty special.  

In the shop I bought a little pen in the form of a paint tube. Weird, but cute in a way. Hannah bought a lot of stuff, an umbrella, a shirt, multiple of those small souvenir thingies… Apparently, the whole family likes Van Gogh and wanted her to bring something. Nice, eh?

It took us around two hours to finish our visit and the next stop would be the Anne Frank House. It was raining on and off, but we made our way over there without getting completely soaked. When we got there, there was a huge queue in front of the entrance. It even went around the corner, quite astonishing. But then, the museum is rather small and you have to follow the path, so they cannot let too many people in at once. We had plenty of time and didn’t mind waiting, really. Behind us was a group of elderly people apparently on a cruise around Europe, stopping in Amsterdam for the day – originally from America. They were friendly and talk active, so we spent our waiting time conversing with them about our studies, their cruise and our experiences in Amsterdam. We had just rounded the corner when it started to hail. Being resourceful, we built a canopy with our umbrellas so that we all were safe.

Finally, we made it through the entryway. The staff was well prepared and had little plastic bags for the wet umbrellas, so that we could take them with us without damaging anything. We said goodbye to our new friends, since it was likely we would lose each other in the mass of people and we started our little journey through time.

For the two Americans, it was certainly special and a moving experience, since both had read the journal of Anne Frank in school and apparently Colette had read a novel that was partially set in the area and the house and was excited to see that for herself. For me, it was moving in a very different way. I have never read the journal, though I have a copy at home and wanted to read it for some time now.

Going through the house that Anne and her family were leading a secret life, reading the quotes from the journal on the walls, seeing videos and interviews with contemporary witnesses – it was emotional. I know that I am not guilty of any of those crimes, nor is my family; but I felt the weight of my heritage while walking through those rooms. I had to fight against the tears since they welled up along the way, being confronted with the fate of a little girl who wanted to be an author and who wanted to better the world. The museum is truly stunning and I can only recommend going there if you ever get the chance, no matter if you are German, Dutch, American or African – it shows history from a point of view that no History Museum ever could.

When we exited, we all were a bit subdued and decided to walk around the area for a bit to regain a certain amount of cheerfulness. Colette took a lot of pictures, since the sun finally came out. It was already time to think about getting dinner, so we slowly walked in the direction of the centre. We looked – again – for cheap but nice looking restaurants. There was a little shop with toys and curious souvenirs along the way and we stopped to go in. I found something nice for my brother: a book with handmade paper from the Himalaya. Jup jup, hope he’ll like it.

We also popped into the Cheese Museum, or at least the shop leading to it. They had examples of all the different cheeses there for free trial and I loved it. I was really tempted to buy some, but in the end I didn’t because there was no way I could have put it in my suitcase.

Anyways, we finally found a little restaurant, more like a diner somewhere in the centre. I got a Lasagne, weirdly with fries on the side. It was ok but not the best I ever had.  As drinks, we got ice tea – and it was bubbly! What the hell, since when is Lipton Ice Tea carbonated? That was really odd. I don’t remember much of what we did afterwards, but I suspect we walked around and then home. In the evening, we watched another Disney movie, this time it was Tangled. Gee, at some point I’ll be able to recite that movie from memory. But it is always fun to watch and we had a good time. Again, I’ll stop here and resume my report shortly. Only two more days to go and then hopefully I can speed things up a bit!


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Amsterdam Adventure Part I

Here we go! The long anticipated entry about my trip to Amsterdam!

It was another journey that started in the dead of the night with my alarm going off at 2:45. God, I wanted to keep sleeping! But I also wanted to go to Amsterdam, so I dragged myself out of bed and on the road to the night bus station. It was so early that no regular bus was running, let alone the tube. I had purchased tickets for the easybus Gatwick Transfer from West Brompton and since I have never been there before, I wanted to have some puffer time. I changed at Baker Street and arrived safely and on time at the pick-up point. It was not really a bus I was getting in, rather one of those big taxis where about a dozen people fit into, which was a lot more comfortable. I slept on the way to the airport, it was about an hour and a half.

So far, I have always travel to or from London Stansted, so this was the first time at Gatwick. It is a lot bigger, so I had to walk for a while to get to the security check. I stopped at a Boots shop to purchase ear plugs – a wise decision, as you will see later. I had loads of time anyway since I had calculated for a lot of buffer time (after the stress with Galway, I really didn’t want to take any risks), so I read my book and waited for my friend Colette to arrive. She came just in time, apparently she had taken the first tube and there had been delays already – seriously, at that hour? Geez, what’s up with this city? But she made it and we both boarded the plane. Since we hadn’t purchased the tickets together, I had a seat in the front and she in the back. Oh well, it was only about one hour anyway. I actually had a whole row for myself, but since I slept soundly through the whole flight (I didn’t even noticed we had started), it didn’t really matter.

When we landed, the weather in Amsterdam was much the same as in London – grey and rainy. We felt at home immediately! (Just joking.) Schiphol Airport is also very big and confusing and we walked about a bit until we found a Starbucks to have breakfast. It was expensive, as always, but at least I got Hot chocolate and an egg and bacon sandwich to fill me up. It was eleven o’clock local time, and I hadn’t eaten anything since three in the morning, so it was about time. Colette and I then went to purchase train tickets to the city center. It was easy enough and soon after we were sitting in a train to Amsterdam Centraal. It takes about 15 minutes to get there, how lovely is that?

At the station we looked for lockers, since my friend didn’t want to carry her bag around the whole day. Quite understandable, for that thing was heavy and you couldn’t wheel it. We found the lockers at the very end of the station and safely locked the stuff away. I kept my little suitcase, and we then made our way out into the city.

Since we had no idea where we were going, we just kept strolling along the main road, looking at the little shops and restaurants and trying to get a first feeling for the city. It was not really raining, so we enjoyed walking. Our friend, Hannah, would arrive later in the afternoon and we had some hours to kill before that, so we went into almost every store along the way. I bought a shirt at New Yorkers and Colette some earrings at Bijou Brigitte and we spent quite a while in Waterstones looking at the books and exchanging novel recommendations. Colette has a book blog, too, you might want to check it out: Colette’s blog. After about two hours of walking around, we were getting tired and settled down in a small cafe called Le Pain Quotidien. They had lovely homemade ice tea which we enjoyed very much. We spent about an hour in there and with about another one to go, we headed out again to grab some chips. On our way into the city we had tried some chips with weed sauce – yes, you read correctly, weed sauce! It is apparently mayonnaise with weed in it – it tasted disgusting. But the chips were very good and we decided to give it a try with normal mayonnaise sauce. The place is called Manneken pis, I recommend you trying a portion of chips there if you ever get to Amsterdam.

We were eating our lunch when I got a text from Hannah saying she had arrived, so we made our way back to the station to meet her. Finally, our little adventurous group was complete! After collecting Colette’s bag, we decided to find our hotel and to settle in. Since we had no idea where to go, we asked for help and were directed to tram line number 1. We purchased our tickets and enjoyed our first ride on the Amsterdam tram. We got of at some place that sounded remotely like Leicester Square and I took the lead to find the hotel – since I had the address and all. It took us quite a while, not because we were lost but because that station was most certainly not the closest one to the hotel and we were all tired and didn’t want to carry our stuff around much longer. Luckily we finally found the place (It’s called Hotel Vivaldi). It is a two star hotel, more like a hostel, but it suited our needs and was not too expensive. We checked in and got the room card. The funny thing is that the hotel is divided into two buildings – the lobby and reception is in one house and some of the rooms are in another, about 100m down the street. That’s where our room was, too. But I didn’t mind and since I had read some reviews beforehand, I knew what to expect.

The room was rather small, just enough for the bunk bed and single bed and some room to turn. We had our own bathroom, which was nice, but there was no window and not even a ventilation system, which would be annoying later. For now, we were happy with our accommodation and settled in. We didn’t get WiFi in our room for now, so after we had a short break we went over to the lobby to get access and tell everybody via mail, Whatsapp or Facebook that we had arrived safely. It was about 5:30 when we decided to look for a place to eat and we headed out. There was a place close to the hotel that seemed to offer breakfast and pancakes and all and we decided to try that out in the morning – it looked a lot more appetizing than the breakfast room at the hotel, even though that would only cost 3€. For dinner, we were looking for something cheap but good and that took quite a while. There were some restaurants and diners, but they were either too expensive or looked dubious. After walking for almost half an hour we finally settled for a small Italian restaurant that had reasonable prices. The food was okay, not the very best but it tasted good and filled us up. It was still early when we finished and we kept walking around a bit more, looking around the small flower market close-by. We then returned to our place and once again found ourselves in the lobby for internet access. We had decided we wanted to watch a movie in the evening – since Colette had brought her laptop – so we rented Tarzan on iTunes. There’s nothing like a good old Disney movie at the end of a long day! The three of us got ready for bed and emerged ourselves in the jungle with the gorillas. We agreed to set the alarm for ten the next day and then snuggled into bed. I plugged in my earplugs, because our toilet just wouldn’t shut up and there were other people in the building making some noise, and I slept happily until the next morning.

Well, this is it so far, I won’t overwhelm you and write about one day at a time. I hope you enjoyed it so far, I will be back after a short break!

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