Full Circle!

I have now completed my first leg of my trip, making a complete circle around Europe and am now back in Amsterdam! I left Emmanuel’s this morning and headed for the train station to board the nice fast train to Amsterdam Centraal. I also found a place selling cheap English magazines, so I got caught up with the world by reading Newsweek and Time Magazine. Looks like nothing really has settled down, so it’s kind of nice to be removed from all the violent news being shoved in your ears everyday by the media. Anyhow, the trip was nice, and I found a hotel with almost no trouble. Not to say that I didn’t have to bargain or to go to a few before I found a good one, but how can you go wrong when you find a hotel named, “Hotel Ben”?! I talked him from $60 for a double down to $40, so I figured that was the best I was going to be able to do considering the past 3 hotels were asking for over $60 to begin with, due to it’s location next to the station. I will leave tomorrow for Sweden at 4:30pm, so I will just spend the day strolling around the canals!

Benjamin from Sierra Leone

Ok, so there’s this guy at the hostel that is named Benjamin. He looks about my age, and I had spoken with him several times, but nothing into detail. So, when I got home from Sigrid and Paul’s last night, he was out in the meeting hall, and so I sat and talked with him for a bit. Turns out I’ve been talking to a refuge.

So, I asked him how long he was planning to stay in the Netherlands, and he said he wasn’t sure, but just wanted to rest. Of course, that prompted me to ask about his family or other travels. He said he had been in the Netherlands since almost 1998. I asked then if he was planning to go home at all to see his family. He told me he wasn’t sure where his family was because of the war. He hadn’t seen them since he was kidnapped by the rebels. So of course, him saying this so lightly took me by surprise, and I was completely shocked to find out about this poor boy’s life. He escaped from the rebels after being “trained” in their warfare for almost 2 years. So, he came to the Netherlands for refuge, and has been working at hostels cleaning in exchange for a place to sleep. Needless to say, even though staying in hostels isn’t always the most luxurious place to be, the people and the conversations made are well worth the inconveniences of a single room.

Sigrid and Paul’s Apt

So, for dinner, I went over to Sigrid and Paul’s apartment, located about 30 minutes by tram from the city center. It was an interesting ride there, because of course, for some reason, the sign was wrong, and I went to the wrong station. Anyhow, I corrected that problem, but I had to wait for the next tram, pushing my arrival time back almost 20 minutes late. So, anyhow, it was really cool to see both of them, and they had cooked a very nice dinner for me. Chicken on rice with salad and fruits in a sauce. Very interesting, and very good. So, we spent the evening catching up on each others’ lives, and it was altogether a very nice evening. It was also nice to see some familiar faces… So, after dinner I came back to the hostel, packed and got prepared for my trip the next morning to Germany.

Haarlem Visit

So, this afternoon I took a train to Haarlem because someone in the Youth Hostel suggested that it was a cool place to visit. Sure enough it was. It was about a 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal, and I arrived and just walked around the city. They had a unique city center, which looked very nice with all the cafés and all the chairs pointed toward the streets. While I was walking down one of the shopping arcades, again, I hear someone say, “BENJAMIN!”. Low and behold, another person I meet! Ha. Well, even though it was random, it was just a group of people I had met in the hostel this week, and they were doing some sightseeing there too. Still, thought it was cool to have my name yelled out =) So, I walked with them for the rest of my time in Haarlem, and then went back to the train station for Amsterdam. I’m going to take a quick nap, because I’ve been invited to Sigrid and Paul’s house for dinner (they’re two students that were at UT for a year). I’m off!

Van Gogh Museum

This morning, I got up and walked to the Museum. From the hostel (in the Jordaan district), the walk is actually quite nice. The sun was warm, and the sights were always just as interesting. Anyhow, I got to the museum, and good thing I got in when I did, because when I was leaving, a huge line had started forming. So, I went through the museum, took just about an hour, mainly because I only wanted to see the famous works like the Sunflowers, the Bedroom etc.. So, I was able to go through quite quickly due to the lack of people inside the museum. I just finished having lunch in front of the Palace–there’s a huge plaza there, and it’s fun to people-watch there. Now, I’m going to head to Centraal Station and hop on a train and visit the Haarlem district which I’ve heard is nice to see.

Lazy evening in Amsterdam

What a lazy evening! I really have just been piddling (sp?) around the hostel, napping, reading, and walking along the canals. haha. Not to rub in what a good time I’m having, but just thought it needed to be said ;) Thanks everyone by the way for writing so many comments! I enjoy hearing what you write =) Anyhow, tomorrow, I’m planning to meet with Sigrid and Paul, they both studied at UT during the 2001 year, and we’re going out for dinner tomorrow. So, tomorrow I think I’ve decided on going to see the tulips, and then on to the Van Gogh Museum, and finishing up the evening seeing Sigrid and Paul. It should be cool to catch up. Other than that, I’m just enjoying the beautiful weather. Did I mention that it is still light at almost 10:00pm?!

Country Tour – Windmills, Clogs, and Fisherman Town

Today I got up to go to the bus tour of the Dutch countryside. I chose the tour that included a quiet fisherman’s town, windmills, and a cheese factory. So, I boarded the bus this morning at 10:00am. Our first stop was the picturesque windmill village with typical dutch green houses. We stopped to watch a clog maker make the wooden clogs. That was interesting to see. We then went to a cheese factory where they showed us the way they made their traditional Dutch cheeses.. Gouda etc. We got to sample several flavors of the cheese, and it was very good. Also here, I met some of the other tourists, two in particular from Florida, who will be coming to grad school at UT next year. Coincidence, yes, and I’m sure there’s someone in common we must know.. haha. Anyhow, we rode then to a village called Volendam, that is right along the reclaimed sea. (North Sea that is). We strolled along the docks next to the water, and had some lunch. After that, we boarded a boat that took us to another town called Marken. This is the quiet fisherman’s town, where the people still wear the traditional dress. It was very nice, and I got some really good pictures. I’m hoping I’ll be able to post them sometime soon. Anyhow, after the visit in an old woman’s house (she explained to us about the dress of the Netherlands) she pretty much locked us in the house — a group of almost 30 couped up in this tiny village house, and she threw out a plate and said, “All tips are appreciated”. Gee, she sure learned that phrase in a perfect accent, wonder what happened to the rest of her English as she was trying to explain the traditional dress. Anyhow, it was a nice village, and the weather was just perfect for a day excursion like this. Now, I’m really tired though, and I’m trying to figure out what I should do tomorrow for my last day in Amsterdam!!

Leidseplein Stroll

Even though the morning started out dreary, the rest of the day has been so beautiful. So, I decided to walk to the Leidseplein area, and see all the cafés and such. After walking around and taking some nice pictures, I continued walking along the canals toward the Bloemenmarkt, or the flower marketplace. I also plan to go to the Keukenhof tomorrow to see all the tulips. Now I’m going back to the hostel to relax and have some Milka =)

Anne FrankHuis

Yes, this morning, I was able to go to the Anne Frank House, located just a 5 minute walk from the hostel. Good thing I went when I did, because as I was leaving, a line had already formed. I figured today would be a good day because it was a little rainy and gloomy.

First off, this place was incredible. I can’t believe as I walked in the door, that it had been where the Franks hid for 2 years! The stairs were so steep, the information for all the exhibits were pretty good, though I was surprised at how small the exhibition was. Anyhow, you go then to the hideout, where you walk through the bookcase that hid the annex. I couldn’t believe it as I walked in, that that’s the same door that Anne herself touched over 50 years ago. Moreso than that, going into her bedroom, seeing the pictures on the wall she had pasted, and watching the videos and such, it was truly an awesome place to see. They’ve done a lot with the technology there now, where you can look at a computer screen and take virtual tours, or look at more information about the people (the Frank family, Miep and such) or a timeline to get the order of the events that took place. Anyhow, it was a must-see for me, and I’m so glad I was able to see it, without the hindrance of so many people walking around in my way of the exhibitions.

Red Light District

Ok, so last night I went out to the Red Light District with a guy from Canada that’s staying at the hostel. This is the funniest place I have ever gone. Well, I knew Red Light District was the place for prostitution and all, but this was hilarious. Red flourescent lights are above glass doors, leading into rooms where these prostitutes are. It is unbelievable. The prostitutes stand at the doors in scantily clad outfits and knock on the glass door as you pass by trying to tempt you in. (Mom, if you’re reading this post, you might not want to print this one out to bring to Grandma and Grandpa!) haha. Anyhow, it’s like they were animals in cages. Funnier than that, is that guys were just walking in, asking how much they were for their “services” ranging from a mere $25-50. Another strange thing about this area, was that they didn’t seem to be allowed out of their little rooms. They would swing open the door back and forth but NEVER step out. Also, this place, dangerous as it sounds, was quite safe. A flood of tourists, even mom’s and daughters were out roaming around just looking at this spectacle. Seriously, this was hilarious.