Monday, July 18, 2011

The Netherlands

Since we covered 4 cities in 5 days in Holland (I still don't get the 2 names, but for confusion I use them both too) I decided to put it all as one long post...the grand finale of eurotrip 2011. Here we go.

Rotterdam: we left Germany at 645am to save money, but also so we could have a full day exploring the little port town of Rotterdam. We booked a reallyyyyyy cheap hostel (basically a warehouse with about 200 beds) and just went with it. Overall Rotterdam was good. There isn't much tourism there, but we got the self guided walking tour pamphlet from the tourist office and just started exploring. I did enjoy the environment. The people in the Netherlands are all very care free, laid back, get your stuff done and enjoy life kind of people. Rotterdam definitely gave off that vibe. It was a start to seeing the overwhelming number of bicycles this country has. The bikes have their own little roads, with little bike lights and everything. I thoughts Rotterdam was very pretty, we saw all the famous buildings, walked through the Saturday market (where you get your food, underwear and bed linen all in one place), we spent some tome in the really nice 6 story library they had there...definitely lost in electronic checkers to Courtney..and just kind of got a feel for the harbor town. I will say that the weirdest thing I noticed in Rotterdam (and the rest of Holland) are the street corner urinals. I don't know if that's what they're really called, but that's what they are.  Once in a while you'll see this round thing basically broken up in 3 segments by little walls. And in each of the 3 openings there is a urinal...yes, like you walk down the street, look to your left, and see a man peeing. We did see a few men using them, and I will admit it was quite odd. In general though, it's a very quaint and quite town, with what is supposed to be an excellent nightlife. I could see how people could enjoy just lounging on couches by the water in the evening, with nothing to do but enjoy each others company. One 5 hours of walking we saw 2 pharmacies (everywhere else you see one about every corner)..both of which were closed. And, I really needed drugs for my nose, so that was no fun at all. Other downside, we expected food to be pretty cheap in this country, and it definitely was not. We ended up eating McDonalds for lunch and KFC for dinner, only after walking around for an hour seeing that even the "inexpensive" food is 10-15 euros. Up side, McDonalds had rolo mcflurries. Yum.

Den Haag: we left Rotterdam early to hit up Den Haag and see the famous Madurodam there on the way to Noordwijik. We arrive, store our luggage and start our walk to find the place. The guy at the bus station thought we were crazy when we asked if we could just walk from there and not take the tram...little did he know a 30 minute walk was a breeze at this point. Den Haag is kind of the political area of Holland, not much really going on there, but one day they decided to build this place. From their website, "For almost 60 years Madurodam has been the smallest city in the Netherlands. Canals, gabled houses and all kinds of other typical Dutch scenes: the miniature city offers you the highlights of the Netherlands on a scale 1:25." I had no idea it was actually dedicated to a young man that was died in the holocaust, and the history behind it's beginning made me enjoy it that much more. Again from their website, "Mr. and Mrs. Maduro from Willemstad, Curacao were eager to erect a monument in honor of their only son George, who died from typhus as a prisoner in Dachau in February 1945. For his heroic deeds in the first days of the war he posthumously received the Military Order of William I. Before the war, George J.L. Maduro had been a law student in the city of Leiden. After they met Mrs. Boon-van der Starp, Mr. and Mrs. Maduro decided to donate a sum of money for the construction of a miniature city as a monument in commemoration of their son, instead of erecting a regular monument."

And is it a monument...the place is amazing. Everything works, it all looks so real, you really feel like a giant looking over the city as daily life goes on. I took a ton of was just all so exciting. And, the best part was that with the descriptions of each thing you feel like you get to see every major monument in Holland all in one day (we even saw stuff we had just seen full scale in Rotterdam). We also got to see a neat video on the history of the Netherlands as it relates to water. Most of the country is actually below sea level just a bit, so they have spent a lot of time and effort basically making it a livable place.

Noordwijik: we get to Noordwijik that afternoon. It's an adorable little beach town (so small we had to take a bus), and was our relaxation point yet again. First though, we had to find a bar to watch the US/Brazil game! We asked and were told there was a little sports bar on the beach, so we went and found it. Unfortunately, it took them a while to figure out the channel and get it all going, so we missed the first 25 minutes...fortunately, we didn't miss much! I'm sure everyone reading this has seen the game, if you haven't, we may have to put our friendship on hold until you do. This was the game when Court really took a turn to being a US Women's National Team fan! There was screaming, high fiving, I think a few tears... As the goal in the 122 minute was scored we both screamed, Courtney flew up, throwing her chair backwards, and the entire bar came to watch the tv. It was unreal. For something like that to happen, it just speaks so much as to why I love this sport. After that game we were both on such a soccer high that we went back to our room and started watching videos and reading all about it. Over the next 24 hours we became serious USWNT twitter stalkers, I watched so many videos I can't even count was awesome. Not to mention the fact that we spent the whole next day just lounging on the beach, napping. We even cooked am amazing was just a top notch 24 hours. I must share one of my favorite quotes.. We were walking back from the supermarket with our dinner supplies, and I said "hey, let's watch the sunset tonight" to which Courtney responds "at 11pm..sure" and it was almost that late....I got a picture with my watch and the sun setting in the background at 10pm. I loved it though, you have so much daylight to enjoy and get as much in as possible

Amsterdam: our last two days were spent in Amsterdam. Our plan was to get there and find our way out to a national park a little outside the city and have a picnic and ride the bikes all around the place. Well, unfortunately that didn't happen. It was gonna be pretty difficult and time consuming to get there and it was already 11 by the time we got to our hostel. So, instead we just decided to enjoy the day in Amsterdam and do the Heineken Experience. Basically they've taken the old Heineken brewery and turned it into a history on the beer, the people that brew it and how and why they do everything. It was actually quite interesting, from what I remember of the anheuser brewery tour in St. Louis this one was a lot more detailed. They had all the old brewing tanks open to look inside and videos on how the whole process works in each tank. It was a nice change from a museum style thing that's for sure. After that we headed back to just hang out at our hostel that night, knowing we would be doing the red light district tour and heading into the heart of Amsterdam the next night. Our second day, and final day in Europe was pretty busy. We spent the first 3 hours on one of the free walking tours and got a nice bit of history in the city and its past. I actually liked the city as a whole. The dutch people are very much of the mindset "if you're nice, and you're not hurting anything...we like you." It's really just a very laid back atmosphere. Everyone's riding their bikes around, sitting in the parks just lounging a tourist you really do not feel at all uncomfortable or unwelcome. Our guide did a great job of explaining the history of the dutch people as it relates to all the canals, why everything is there, why the houses are all leaning forward and backwards, why the houses are so narrow, why the old Jewish district looks nothing like the rest of the town... and so on and so forth.

After our tour we waiting in line to get into the Anne Frank House... and I am sure glad that we did. No pictures are allowed in the house, but I can say without a doubt that this is a place that everyone should visit at some point. It was very eye opening, and in my mind was more intense than Dachau. Part of that, I'm sure, is because I've never read her diary, and up until this trip my knowledge of the history of WWII and the holocaust is very minimal and all just from history books...which do not do this stuff justice. The fact that we saw this house on our last day is also probably one of the reasons it has stuck with me so strongly. It really makes you look at your life and realize how lucky you are, and that we really don't have much to complain about (or at least I don't). There were two moments that struck me and have staid with me, the first was reading from reading the many quotes they have up on the walls of the house. Having never read Anne Frank's Diary, reading some of these excerpts made  you see what an overly mature young lady this child was. No child should lose their innocence at such a young age. This girl had thoughts of an old woman, granted she also had thoughts of just wanting to go outside and play and ride her bike in the streets, but she really had more insight than I feel like I do as a 23 year old. The second moment that struck me, and literally left me speechless, was turning the corner into one of the next rooms to see a blown up picture. It was a vertical picture about as tall as an average room, and proportionally wide...and the picture was placed in the spot it was taken. Luckily it was as easy to find as googling "otto frank" so I'm going to put it in here... but it won't do the picture justice. As I turned the corner I had just read about how this man, a father a husband and an amazing friend, had returned home to Amsterdam after surviving Auschwitz only to learn that his entire family and the friends that were in hiding with him had all been killed or died in a concentration camp. The picture was taken sometime after the war, for some reason I feel like it was pretty late after, in the 1960's... needless to say, as I turned the corner and saw this picture, the tears just started rolling. It's really a hard thing to explain in words, but I'll say again, if you are near the Anne Frank House, you must go in. In one hour your life will be changed.

Onto more happy things.... the US/France game and our red light district tour. Unfortunately this tour we really both wanted to go on, to get a better understanding of really what the red light district is all about and the history behind it, and really just gain a better understanding of that side of Amsterdam, started during half time of the US/France game. So we watched the first half in the train station (got lucky and found a little sports bar), and then I got text updates during the rest of the game (thanks Matt and Mom!). And we sure cheered quietly to ourselves when we got the text that the US had won and would be playing in the final!

Anyways, the red light district tour. If you want to get an idea of how different something can be, especially compared to how we do it here in America.... this is a good tour. It was a surprisingly calm area, and to hear the history on how it all became the way it is today, and why it did... it actually makes a little more sense to me. I may not agree with it all, but the fact that this city took something that is causing so many problems in other places and made it into a safe regulated thing is kind of interesting. Amsterdam is surprisingly the 5th safest city in the world. You don't have drug dealers or pimps running around shooting people. As you're walking down the street (sometimes with your jaw dropped) passing a drug store here or a half naked woman there... you're also passing a lot of police officers. And when you hear about all of this, and as you walk (still in shock at some points) it becomes a little bit easier to understand why Amsterdam has chosen to do it this way. I may not agree with it all, but it dose seem to work for them. It's a different culture, that is FOR SURE...and, the best part is, if you have zero interest in that, and basically want to see Amsterdam while sort of "ignoring" that whole side of it.. you pretty much can. The red light district takes up a small part of what is a very beautiful city.

Well, that my friends has been Eurotrip 2011.... we did have one more fun adventure at 2:30am getting to the airport... we were told to go to this one bus stop, which ended up being the wrong bus stop, and an hour later we just hailed a cab to take us 30 minutes to the airport. But, considering that's the only time we had to suck it up and get a cab, I would say we did pretty well.

We're safe, we learned a lot, we (or at least I) put on some pounds, we ate and drank and danced and cheered and ran and laughed... and here we are. It was everything I could have imagined and then some, the trip of a lifetime. I've already started doing some research on what I want to do next... but for now, it will be a while until another blog post makes it's way up here, my bank account needs to recover.

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