27 May 2009

Getting Crazy in Bruges & Amsterdam

The 22nd of May bought about another long weekend here in the UK. As Rochelle has only been paid for about 2 weeks so far, and I have not been paid at all – funds were a little low. But that’s no reason to not go and have a killer weekend, right?!

Rochelle was not able to come =( work and the fact that there was a 4 hour ferry ride involved kinda put her off.

The weekend begun Friday afternoon. I caught a train to Sevenoaks – about 40 mins out of London, where I met up with Shaun and Sarah. We travelled the rest of the way to Ramsgate where our ferry left, and arrived with about 10 minutes to spare.

The ferry was surprisingly smooth. Our first adventure began with trying to order a dinner. We tried to order Potato Croquets, and we ended up with an egg on toast with ham, cheese and tomato. Wasn’t bad though, especially washed down with our first Belgian beer.

We arrived in Ostend, Belgium at about 11pm, and made the short drive to Bruges. We found our hostel and checked in. The place was really nice, the only one issue I had with the place was when I walked into the room it smelt as though someone had been in there about 5 minutes before and had taken the biggest dump of their life. Mmmmm... We decided to go out to a bar which was conveniently located right next door and sample a couple more of Belgium’s fine beer. Shaun and I were drinking Leffe, Sarah had a cherry beer which was really nice. We only stayed for a couple of pints, which confused me when I woke up the next day feeling a little seedy. We later found out it was ~9% alcohol.

The next day started nice and early. After a quick breakfast at the hostel we went for a wander into the city of Bruges. It is an amazing place, lots of cobblestone roads, horse drawn carts, old stone buildings, canals... We visited Grote Markt, Provincial Court, saw the Basilica of the Holy Blood (which contains drops of what is said to be the blood of christ), went up The Belfry Tower which gave us an amazing view. We wandered around the canals, looked in the windows of the amazing chocolate shops... We then called in to a supermarket to stock up on beer and buy the only fruit we would eat the whole weekend.

Next stop, Antwerp. This seemed to be a lot larger than Bruges, more commercialised, not as ‘romantic’. But it did have some truly amazing buildings, and some really nice old areas. The Cathedral of Our Lady was a spectacular building. Insanely detailed and huge - towering above the city. We also saw the Statue of Brabo (who cut off the hand of the giant Druon Antigoon and threw it in the water, giving Antwerp its name - literally translating to 'hand throwing'), and found the New Zealand flag on the front of City Hall. We stopped in for some frites (french fries) covered in mayo and ketchup - very european.

A short drive from Antwerp and we had entered The Netherlands. Our destination was Kinderdijk, famous for its windmills. We could not get right up to the windmills, but we got close enough, saw one working and took a few pictures. It was cool to see one in person - the pictures don’t really do them justice.

The other thing we wanted to see on our journey were the tulip fields. Tulip season only runs for eight weeks, ending the 21st of May. Being the 23rd we thought there would definitely still be lots to look at. We were wrong! The fields were all bare, the only tulips left were those that had started growing on the road side.

Our final leg for the day had us arrive at our hotel in Amsterdam. Exhausted and smelly, we quickly settled in and had a shower. No time for relaxation though – we had a few quick beers and caught a tram into (what we thought was) the city. A helpful Belgian directed us to the correct tram to get on, and let us know when to get off. It turns out he didn’t quite know what he was talking about as he directed us to get off on the tram earlier than we had wanted. It didn’t matter though, as where we did get off turned out to be a very busy part of the city with a lot of nightlife. We spent the rest of the evening experiencing the best of what Amsterdam had to offer.

Sunday morning started off quite slow. We got up around 10:30am, got organised, and headed in to the city for our free walking tour. The city itself is insane. The people are crazy, there are bikes, cars, trains, trams everywhere! There is a million things going on all at once and if you don’t watch yourself, you’ll get squashed by something. I have never seen so bikes many in my life - there was a dedicated parking building, and it was packed! Anyway, our tour was really good. We learnt a lot about the history of Amsterdam, and The Netherlands in general, we saw the red light district, lots of coffeeshops (including the one shown in Oceans 12), saw Amsterdams narrowest building, the house where Anne Frank and her family hid... too many other things to remember. After walking through the city for 3 hours, and all feeling a little jaded, we decided to take a bit of a cruise on the canals. We hired a paddleboat and paddled our way through the canals for about an hour, most of the time spent trying not to hit other boats.

Hungry and tired, we headed back toward the station, grabbing some oily pizza and pasta for dinner on the way. We jumped on a tram back to our hotel for a bit of a rest and a freshen up. After a quick shower and a couple of drinks we were on our way back to the city – the red light district. It is surprisingly clean and safe. There are loads of tourists and quite a lot of police. It was interesting wandering around and seeing how it all worked. No photos though, apparently you get thrown in the canal if you try to take any. That’s all I’ll say about the evening... If you want more details, you’ll have to email me or something!

Monday morning we decided we needed to be leaving Amsterdam at about 12 noon. We headed toward the city to check out the Anne Frank museum and get a bit of lunch. We knew there would be a queue for the museum, but we didn’t quite expect it to be as long as it was. We didn’t get out of the museum until after 12! We grabbed a quick sub at subway, then got the tram back to the hotel. I think we were packed and in the car by 1, giving us 4 hours to get to Ostend to catch the ferry. A cant remember how far it was, but I do remember working out that if we had an average speed of 100km/h then we would make it with something like 25 minutes to spare. I think we made it there with 50 haha. A quick stop in Ostend to pick up some fresh Belgian waffles and some insanely expensive chocolates, and we headed for the ferry terminal. We made it with about 10 minutes to spare.

The trip back was again really smooth. We got in on time, had a little bit of trouble at passport control, but nothing major, then headed for home. Trusty London traffic had us at a standstill about 30miles from home, the 80 mile trip taking two and a half hours all up.

So my conclusion? Awesome! We hardly ate or slept, and did a whole lot of driving – but it was totally worth it. The weather could not have been better, and it was great to see as much of Europe as we did in the little time we had. Though, I am now suffering the aftermath – sunburn, tired, and I think I am still a little hungover haha.

(A map of our trip below)

A: London
B: Ramsgate
C: Bruges
D: Antwerp
E: Kinderdijk
F: Leiden
G: Amsterdam
H: Ostend

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