I managed to get up at about 5.30am (somehow, after going to bed at 1am!) and get ready, checked out and at the Contiki meeting point before 6.45 on the 19th. I spent about 10 minutes worrying I was in the wrong place or something, like I always worry about everything for a bit. But I was in the right place, and started talking to a couple of people I had met the night before at the pre-departure meeting. (So the meeting was good for something I guess!) These people were Jen, Brett (both Aussies) and Adam (a Kiwi) and we all of course proceeded to make cheesy nationality jokes.
Getting on the bus, we lost no time in taking over the back of the bus, along with Al, Mikey and Duane, three more Aussies. Being loud and Australian (and New Zealander sorry Adam), we bonded right away and this is the central group we formed for the rest of the trip. (And maintained our control of the back of the bus too... really Contiki is like long school camp in a lot of ways!)
We drove for a couple of hours until we got to the White (or really not so white) Cliffs of Dover to take the ferry to France. And I got another stamp in my passport. (I plan to collect them now :p) The ferry trip was fairly uneventful and the sea was calm so no sea sickness issues thankfully. We just ate breakfast and browsed duty free. Then most of this day was spent driving through France, Belgium and Holland. There wasn’t even much scenery since it was really foggy most of the way. We got to know our tour manager, Lucky, a bit and he gave us a bit of a history of the Netherlands as we drove to Amsterdam. He also warned us about standards in Europe and made us think we were going to be spending our time in Europe staying in dumps, with smelly toilets without S-bends, eating bread and water for breakfast. Fortunately he was just lowering our expectations so that (apart from a few minor exceptions) we were always presently surprised by our hotels.
Arrived at the Ibis Hotel in Amsterdam at about 4pm and, already tired out from a day of driving, Jen, Sonia (aka ‘Charlie’) and I lay around in a room getting to know each other. We were put together as room mates in triple share room for the trip. And they’re both cool Aussie girls and we got along pretty well so that was good. Then we had dinner at the hotel (this dinner met the low expectations we had been warned about unfortunately!) then were driven in on the bus to central Amsterdam for a canal cruise. This was great, and we also got free wine and Heineken. Always welcome. Then the night was free to explore Amsterdam. Let’s just say, everything you’ve heard about Amsterdam... it’s true. Weird, fascinating, bizarre...and a little saddening.
The next day we visited the Anne Frank house. I got a shock when I came up the little stairs and there was the bookcase covering the entrance to their hiding place. It actually caught my breath for second to see it, and it felt surreal to be going through it.
Then we went to the Van Gogh gallery, took photos with the big I AMsterdam letters, nearly got run over by a tram (this was Jen and I still not used to traffic coming from the wrong direction!), nearly got run over by one of the innumerable bicycles numerous times! and headed off for the Heineken museum.
Along the way we saw a man outside a building holding a rope, and over a pulley at the end of that rope was a bed hanging up in the air. This guy called out to us, asked if we spoke English, and then got Duane (the guy who was with Jen, Sonia and I) to hold the rope while he ran up the stairs (remarkably quickly for an old man and 4 flights of steep stairs) so he could pull the bed into his house. All of the houses in this style have hooks on the front at the top for this purpose and when you see the houses and the stairs you understand why. When the guy was coming back down he saw us taking photos of his colourful stairs and invited us up to have a look at the flat he is renovating at the top.
After our little sojourn with the locals, we continued on to the Heineken factory, which is a really good exhibition. (Great advertising strategy on their part!) I have a funny karaoke video of us that I’ll put on YouTube soon. The picture below is of these little pods you lie in and watch Heineken commercials. When I looked into the room everyone was just lying silently in these weird pods in a eerie green light, hence my label for them of Heineken Brainwashing Pods.
Then we were supposed to be meeting the group and the bus to go to dinner in a sea-side town just outside of Amsterdam. Unfortunately we hadn’t left quite enough time to make our way back, and delayed and crowded trams meant we ended up missing the bus! Fortunately a taxi between four of us wasn’t too expensive and we managed to meet the group at the restaurant. This dinner was much more appetising than the night before. And more free Heineken. Then we went back on the bus into Amsterdam and... well as a group we went to a sex show... when in Amsterdam, I guess. But I have no interest in doing it again. It was weird and sad.
But I would want to spend some more time in Holland. It has more to offer than that.
Well that’s part two. This is turning into a monster blog – it will be at least 8 parts if I continue at this rate. Just a reminder all this detail is primarily for my own records so you can skim over the bits that start to get boring!
Part three coming soon...