If I could chose a place to live in Europe it would be Amsterdam. Originally it wasn't on my trip but I'm so glad I decided to visit as I can't imagine any other city winning over my heart the way it did.
Let me back up a little bit though as I have quite a bit to write about. On Tuesday I left my hostel and walked the two blocks to Frankfurt's Hauptbahnhof (Main train station). I had purchased a ticket before I left so I had a print out that I was left trying to decipher. Everything was in German so I didn't know which platform to go to and had to wander around with my heavy 30lb or more backpack for about 10 minutes. I used a bit of my limited German skills and found out I should talk to the men with the red hats. They pointed me in the direction of the right platform (Platz on my ticket, in small print) and I waited. When the train arrived it was the right one, thankfully. You never really know until that last minute if you're in the right place in another country but when you do get something right there's that amazing sense of achievement. The thought of... "I can do this by myself".
I found my seat and was thrilled at how organized the system was. Each seat had a lcd screen on the side up top that showed where the reserved seat from the person was going to. As the ticket checker came around I pulled out my passport and ticket and he asked for my credit card. That's when I realized I had left my card at home as I only brought one. In a slightly snobby fashion he says "it says it right here" and proceeded to read in German a sentence that says the ticket is not valid unless you have your credit card. Great. I felt like crying when he told me this and well, I did. I had to purchase a new ticket for $140 euro when the original (which I still had paid for) was 49 euro. On top of all of this I have a return ticket from Paris to Frankfurt with the same credit card so I had to repurchase that ticket. I was upset and called my mom to talk as talking to moms always make things better. She told me to enjoy my trip and offered to send me money to make up for these lost tickets thru paypal, which I didn't expect! Thank you again mom, I really, really appreciate it.
When I arrived in Amsterdam I had about a 1.5km walk to my hostel. Stepping out of the Centraal train station you are immediately surrounded by beauty. Canals, old buildings, narrow streets, bicyclists and smells of...well, pot. All of the street names are on the sides of the buildings which took me a few blocks to realize. I am very thankful for GPS on my phone! I snapped a few pictures on my walk as the day was nice and the city was unlike anything I've ever seen.
This is one of the first things you see after leaving the Centraal station. I should have taken a full on shot of the canal here as it's hard to convey in pictures just how exciting it is to see when you've never seen something like this before
Some cool graffiti art (I think)
I saw a man playing guitar and decided to capture the moment. I couldn't tell if he was doing it for money or not as there was none on his case.
Here is the Victoria Hotel across from the station, very grand looking!
I love the shutters on this house!
A pretty view of the canal, in sepia tones
As I was walking I realized that it was the canals that were my guide. Centraal Station is where everything starts and canals are almost hexagonal in shape around the city. Most of the streets off of the canals are all at a diagonal so it can take a little bit to get used to. I'll write more later on navigation in my next entry.
Finally, after 20 minutes of walking I had found my street!
And the door on the hostel was padlocked...
Ha ha ha, just kidding. It was open (that is another door that I found neat). I like padlocks.
I checked in and met a group of 10 people who were traveling to Tanzania to build a chicken coop and educate the local children on hygiene. They were from Florida and were a nice group of people although as I was staying at a Christian hostel they made it known that they were quite Christian. I have no issues with this but it's difficult for me to hear someone speak about when they became Christian and what they realized at that point of time in their life. The girl I was mostly speaking to made it a point to tell me that she discovered Christ in her sophomore year of college and really started to understand how he had died for our sins. She was an amazingly nice girl I just didn't know how to respond besides give her the smile and nod treatment.
There was a moment of silence to remember the violence of WWII and we watched it on the projector. The royal family was in the square with many, many people and although the ceremony was in dutch it was moving. During the 2 minutes of silence though someone passed out which caused an entire section of the crowd to freak out. Since none of us spoke dutch we had no idea what was going on until one of the hostel staff translated for us. Apparently last year the Queen was attacked so everyone was a bit tense. The study of crowd behavior and how quickly terror spreads is fascinating. The next day I visited the square and saw the memorial. Many people left flowers, it was really beautiful:
So, back to that night: my new hostel friends went to bed around 8pm and after the long day I had spent traveling and walking I decided to go to bed early as well and wake up to explore Amsterdam fresh the next morning. My hostel room was not as nice as the first one but it was cozy. I'm not a big fan of bunk beds though and being on the top is the pits when you're like me and have to pee about 3 times in the night. Such is life, I slept well enough and woke up at 6:30 to shower and headed off to explore after a few hours of work!
More to come later on the rest of my trip in Amsterdam. I know it can be overwhelming with so many pictures so I'll try to post only a select few on my next entry. Also, I'll get around to organizing the pictures into sets for my flickr so anyone who would like to see all of the pictures can click on them. There are just so many I'd like to post to share as this city was lovely.
Currently I'm in Berlin and I've just made cookies for everyone here at the hostel. It was a barter for a cheaper board and I really love this place - it is just like an apartment. No bunk beds and big rooms! My comforter is the softest thing I've ever felt. The only downside is it is a bit far away from Alexander Platz, the main place downtown for night-life (east side of Berlin). The plus is that I'm near a lot of really nice supermarkets, turkish markets for fresh vegetables and parks. I'm about a kilometer away from Tiergarten, a huge beautiful park that is similar to Central Park in NYC. I plan to bring a picnic there sometime this week.
Tonight I think I will go to a big club that opens at midnight and goes til 4 or 6am. I believe it's only open Friday and Saturdays so I expect it'll be awesome tonight. Trains run 24 hours on weekends in Berlin so it's best to go sooner than later. I leave next Friday so I have a lot of time to explore the city and take in the rich history. Today I've just spent some time at the market and now I'm going to relax a bit here at the hostel. Knowing that I will be staying in one place for quite awhile is nice because it doesn't mean I need to be on the go 24/7 taking in every little thing.
I am a little sad I wasn't able to call my dad on his birthday but I sent him an email. I'm sending him well wishes here in this blog as well! Happy Birthday dad!!