Smoke-free Amsterdam?!

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Yes, I Am-sterdammed 🙂

Ok I know It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post… I’m sorry!  Second semester hit like a ton of bricks right at the start, with a big project submission (that I COULD have worked on over break, but I went on an adventure instead) an all day field trip to our semester project site, learning new software, a week-long field trip to the Scottish Borders and Newcastle, and this week yet again more submissions.  And life in there somewhere.  So yes, I am a terrible blogger, but I’m first a mediocre student! I gotta get school done before I can play 🙂 will TRY to get a few more out there this week!

First things first! I promised trip updates!

Oh Amsterdam… Such a bizarre conundrum you are!!

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Who am I to disagree? Annie Lennox for the win!

After Belgium I caught the bus to Amsterdam, or what I thought was Amsterdam!  Listen up kids- take out your earplugs when the bus driver is talking, or you may get off where you don’t want to!  I got off the bus and wandered to the train station, then asked the info desk man where Marnixsraat was… he told me Amsterdam.

Me: “Um… does that mean I’m not in Amsterdam??”

Info desk man: “Yes.  You’re in Utrecht.”

Me: “Oh… How do I get to Amsterdam??”

Info desk man: “Get a ticket and catch the train behind you.”

Awesome.  One hour after my expected arrival I made it to Amsterdam!  The tram took me straight to Marnixstraat (Marnix Street) and I settled into my dorm, just me and 14 empty beds!  Sounds ok to me 🙂

Here’s the big kicker: what do you do in Amsterdam, the city of pot and prostitution, if you have no interest in getting high or -well- other stuff??  Amsterdam really has an amazing history and beautiful beautiful architecture, so I started there.  I KNEW I wanted to see Anne Frank Haus, and that’s exactly what I did on my first morning.

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Anne Frank Haus. You would never know there were eight people hiding the back rooms of the house.

Everybody!  Yes, you too!  I need your attention!! Go to Anne Frank Haus.  Today.  Your life will never be the same.  If you have read her diary it’s just fantastic to see the pages come to life.  If you haven’t read it- what are you waiting for?!? Go read it, then go to her house!!

But in all seriousness, Anne Frank Haus left a mark on my memory I hope never fades.  The sheer perseverance a human is capable of, and the ability to stay human, to still love, in the face of all adversity.  She was not a hero.  She was not a perfect, happy little girl.  She was a nervous, anxious, extremely perceptive young woman who had no one to talk to except her diary, and she spoke of life with insight well beyond her fourteen years.  She dreamed of being a famous journalist, and her father ensured the world would know her name.

Anne is a wonderful reminder to live your life, to live each day with love and laughter, and to cherish what you have while you have it.  You never know when your world could unravel.  Emma Thompson said in a speech that circulates through the main floor- “her ‘what-ifs’ are our opportunities” and Emma is right.  We can learn from the heartache of the past by taking the opportunity to change our lives.

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Cool modern art set against beautiful old architecture 🙂 This non-architect can not tell you ANYTHING about it…

Moving along, I kept at it trying to keep myself busy.  Another solution to not being interested in the, er, ‘major attractions,’ is to walk.  A lot.  It was about this point in my journey I started crunching numbers and realized I REALLY didn’t need to see all the museums and attractions, because I REALLY didn’t want to spend money on them.  I made a decision to see ONE major attraction in each city, and spend the rest of the time just seeing the city itself.

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Love the canals 🙂

Amsterdam was a great place to start this practice because the ONE other place I wanted to see was the Van Gogh museum, and it wasn’t cheap.  I’m super glad I went though!  My perception of Van Gogh before visiting the museum was that he was a moody, eccentric, mentally troubled man who happened to paint really well.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  (Even though he DOES paint really well).Van Gogh, as soon as he realized he wanted to paint, spent the rest of his life pursuing perfection.  He studied and studied and sketched and inquired and tried new things.  He moved to Paris because he knew it was where all the best painters were.  He painted until the day he died, still working towards his perfect ideal for himself.

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Starting to get the hang of this world travelling stuff!

The rest of my time and most of the last day of the trip was spent window shopping and writing my paper!  I’m really starting to make progress and getting some good points down.  The hotel staff think I’m insane for sitting on my tablet instead of exploring the city… But I’m saving my money for the rest of the trip 🙂

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This backpack has officially reached full-on champ status.

An easy bus, a delayed plane (and a chatty German who looks JUST like my old roommate Becca’s brother… The perfect doppleganger!) and I was jumping into yet another country!  My first German adventure is coming up next!

Keep smiling!

Love and Laughs,

-Taylor

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Belgium- The Beginning!

Belgium was a lovely place to start my mega-adventure.  My flight into Brussels-Charleroi airport only cost £25 from Edinburgh!  The flight was easy and I was able to catch a cheap taxi from the airport to the city.

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Busy street | Mannekin Pis, aka the Little Pisser 🙂 | WAFFLES!

A nice guy from Lisbon who couldn’t speak English paid my taxi fare for me, then I walked the few minutes to my hostel and sent mom an email before heading to bed.  The next morning I found the Little Pisser, then grabbed the best waffle I have EVER had!  The Belgians have this figured out… The waffles have a slight caramelized crunch on the outside, which would be delicious alone… But seriously, this little (or GIANT) morsel was made infinitely more awesome with cream, custard, strawberries, and an accidental drizzle of chocolate from the nice girl behind the counter.  She asked if I minded the mistake… Um, more chocolate?? Yes please!

Ventured to the Grand Place- yep, it was grand.  Moving on.

That was pretty much all I had on my list for Brussels.  I only had one day scheduled and I was really excited to head on to Bruges, so I caught an early train and met a nice lady named Karen and her dog Mila on the way.  Got to Bruges and wandered through town before I headed for the hostel.  This little place has so much old world charm it practically oozes from between the stones.  I liked from the first few minutes 🙂

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Storefronts ready for Christmas | A merchant’s home with false storefront | San Salvator’s Church

When I checked into Snuffel Hostel (HIGHLY recommended, and free breakfast!) I was just in time for the free city tour with Steve.  He was hilarious!! He gave us great local advice on where to get chocolate, beer, and fries, as well as super cheap pasta.  Made friends with four Spanish Erasmus students on the tour, great fun 🙂

Bruges is great for just wandering and finding lovely local shops.  The big chains are still there but I had a great time walking through the little shops all over the city.  I visited the windmills along the edge of the old city and walked the canals.   Met ANOTHER four Spanish Erasmus students and spent the evening with them, and even went to a club!  Believe it or not they are headed to Amsterdam next as well, so we hope to see each other when we get there!

I could absolutely live here, hope I live here someday.

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Next I took a day trip to Antwerp to see where my friend Miss Thony grew up.  It was beautiful, but you could still see many remnants of communism leftover.  Big concrete tower blocks and the like.  It had lots of Christmas markets and the cathedral was STUNNING.

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The ‘hand’ legend of the founding of the city | Antwerp Cathedral and Christmas Lights | Antwerp Central Train Station

 

I got tired of the crowds pretty quickly and headed back to Bruges before dark, then took a few night photos there and got gluhwein… LIFE CHANGER!  I don’t like wine at all, the dry taste is just gross to me.  But this sweet, spicy, hot drink is the perfect thing to warm you to your bones!  VERY good 🙂

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The next story is a little gross… read ahead if you are squeamish- word to the wise, no matter how hungry you are, take small bites.  I bought a gorgeous bratwurst with onions and ketchup.  The first thing I did was take an ambitious bite, but I couldn’t totally get through.  I was thinking, ‘oh crap, that’s really hot on the roof of my mouth!’ Still can’t get the bite, now I’m thinking ‘Holy mother of… that’s freaking hot!’ When I finally get through the roof of my mouth feels cooked itself, and burnt like I have never managed to do before.  Two seconds later I feel the skin come loose, and next I’m spitting out what used to be the roof of my mouth.  Grossest thing ever… But do I let that stop me? No way!  I finished that delicious bratwurst through tiny side bites and tearing off pieces as I went.  Hey, this was a budget trip!  I wasn’t going to let pain get in the way of good food, much less throw it away because of a third degree burn!  It just meant lots of ice cream and cold drinks the next day 😉

 

I am officially a Belgium fan and can’t wait to go back.  Have you been to these cities too?  I would love to see your photos and hear your stories!

Next post will be about my thoughts on Amsterdam, and what to do if you neither smoke nor care about the sex trade… Which is NOT easy mind you!

Stay tuned 🙂

Love and laughs,

-Taylor