Everyone’s so happy – giggling all the time! (Amsterdam, of course)

Amsterdam Sarah Blinco

What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam… mainly because I can’t remember what happened last night. Just kidding Dad!

We arrived in the Netherlands yesterday evening, checked into the lovely Lake Land motel – an ideal economical option in a picturesque area (Monnickendam) just outside of Amsterdam (capital of the Netherlands), on the convenient bus route for 110, 114 and 118 in and out of town (€4 each way).

Following a delicious buffet dinner, we were back on the coach by 8.30pm, headed directly for Amsterdam – no time to waste in a city like this! We all followed our guide, Ali, around for a brief city walking-tour where she pointed out key areas we needed to know about including the Red Light District and the Coffee Shop strip which (I thought) both ended up being more ‘touristy’ rather than ‘dodgy’. Rain hindered our evening a little, and so everyone dispersed to check out various bars and shops. Inevitably we were all separated, mainly because of all times it was Gay Pride here this weekend, so understandably busy.

Cooper and I have to praise a couple of our favourite new Amsterdam discoveries (for any of you considering a visit):

  • Cafe/Bar Old Town (1012 es Amsterdam Red Light District) www.oldtownbar.hyves.nl, for its awesome ‘old school’ 90s soundtrack (think CnC Music Factory, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice…) plus funky Latin grooves. We even scored a free pint of Heineken!
  • Look out for Euro Pub in the main square too – their cocktails are divine and the dance/pop soundtrack perfect for a Saturday night out.
  • We’d also give props to the friendly, helpful staff at Route 66 Coffee Shop 😉
 

Amsterdam Sarah Blinco 2

Regardless of the late night, we woke up refreshed this morning, helped along by another great meal at Lake Land. The sun finally outshone the rain today and we merrily enjoyed cheese production and clog-making  demonstrations, explored Volendam – a quaint traditional fishing village that has maintained its romantic character and design for over 600 years, and snapped many a pretty photo (including a cute tour-group shot) at Zaanse Schans Windmill Village –  some windmills here over 400 years old! All this divine exploration set to a soundtrack of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits that someone was nice enough to pop across the coach sound system today – I’ve always been partial to a bit of Whitney. The images speak for themselves, so enjoy browsing.

The afternoon was ‘free time’ to play again in the city of Amsterdam so we could better explore by foot, bike, bus or boat in daylight its famous canals and colourful buildings. The city is easy to navigate as it is very small (similar to the Netherlands, in fact – you can drive across the whole country in about two hours). It’s a cool place which not only offers interesting alternative lifestyle representations (it is renowned for being very liberal, shall we say), but also many galleries and beautiful historical buildings. Central Station is just one example of stunning architecture in Amsterdam, and then of course you have the likes of Anne Frank’s home, bless her.

We learned that the country actually gained wealth in the 1600s as it ran half the world’s shipping and was simultaneously experiencing a culture boom – all continued until World War II which literally devastated the place, but thanks to tourism and a booming tulip trade, this beautiful part of the world is not doing too badly now. It’s very pretty here indeed, the people are actually really funny, and it’s been a pleasure to visit and photograph. Just beware – bikes are everywhere and visitors can easily miss them! Ouch!

But, time to sign off for now. Heading to Berlin tomorrow… and I’m oddly hungry for some of Amsterdam’s yummy French Fries.

DAY 1 + 2 in IMAGES

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Beyond the White Cliffs of Dover travelling with Expat Explore

Just passed a weird large graveyard with loads of commemorative stones crammed in side by side, seemingly on a concrete base, in front of a shopping centre and placed by the busy highway we’re on between Calais and Bruges (Belgium). Of course, this odd sight prompted me to make some on- the-road notes… As you may have guessed, we made it to the coach, on time even! A glass of bubbles awaited us on arrival to Canada Water this morning – a good start! We met Ali and Steve (our fab guide and coach driver) as the coach was loaded, and by 8am we had set off towards Dover.

I was excited to see the famous White Cliffs as we sailed off from the docks, although had to strategically manage my summer dress in the wind on the deck as I madly snapped some pics.

Cooper in Bruges

It is inspiring to gaze out through the coach window as we drive through new lands (new to me at least), spotting cute old French farm houses, French animals grazing, little local churches and cathedral steeples in the distance, street signs in a foreign language… and of course unusually, graveyards.

Even though the skies outside are turning rainy, I figure I am pretty lucky right now.

On that note, I fell asleep.

We hit the pretty (and busy) Medieval town of Bruges around 3.30pm, stopped for a quick wander, coffee and photos before moving on our way toward the Netherlands. The town centre comprises of many tall old colourful buildings, fountains, cafes with people spilling out of them into the streets, and tourists enjoying horse + buggy rides.

So far the coach ride has been fairly quiet. We’ve met Aussies (Queenslanders, we’re everywhere), Brits, Kiwis, South Africans and Americans. There are a few who speak English as a second language too, so hopefully we’ll get to know them over time – maybe learn a few new foreign phrases. This group is terrific in that it’s varied in age and nationalities – it isn’t all loud 25-year-old Aussies 😉

Tour guide Ali tip: Water in most of Europe (on this tour anyway) is good to drink, so if on a budget just refill your water bottle. In fact, the water in Rome’s fountains is quite pure! Perhaps buy bottled water in Barcelona though.

Also, Europe is lacking in public toilet facilities, so drop in to a coffee shop for a dirnk and hope for the best in using their toilets.

DAY 1 + 2 in IMAGES

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The ultimate Europe trip

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It’s finally, nearly here! The big one. The mother of all Europe journeys – just one sleep away! We made the decision to book with Expat Explore a few months back when, faced with the usual issues of wanting to see as much as possible within a condensed amount of time and on a budget, we discovered a trip that covered all our requirements – the new addition for 2011 – 14 countries in 26 days (summarised in the map above).

I have Tweeted, Facebooked, blogged and read from many sources on what to pack, and after much deliberation (more on my part than on that of my carefree fiancé) we decided on a small case, a backpack and pillow each (personal choice, can’t live without my own pillow). We have also cross-checked the summer essentials list – sun cream, hat, flip flops, towel, scarf (to protect hair), water bottles, iPod, and passports of course.

Excitement particularly mounted last week when we received our pre-departure forms via email. We’ve been asked to bring some relevant clothing from our home nation (not sports jerseys, although I think that’s all Australia has, ha), an unusual hat and black marker. Hmmm, intriguing. We also received a helpful ‘cost’ sheet outlining possible extras allowing us to budget more accurately.

Today I’ve sent a shout out to Facebook in search of others joining our trip. Can’t wait! Follow us on:

Back soon with stories from the road!