Amsterdam (8.10.09 – 8.13.09) and Brussels (8.13.09 – 8.18.09)

When I last wrote, I was about to leave Frankfurt and head to Amsterdam. Amsterdam was wonderful and I loved it from the moment I left the train station. It’s an endearing and charming city, as well as one impossible not to get lost in. My hostel was in the outskirts of the city and required a long busride to get to. I would like to tell you what day of the week I arrived… but I have forgotten. I have little reason to remember the date or day of the week, except for when I have to figure out what day it is so that I can book my next train and next hostel. I think I arrived on Monday… yes, that’s sounding right. I decided to take it easy on Monday, because train travel is quite exhausting, and a night in is sometimes quite welcome. I wandered around the area surrounding my hostel and found myself some dinner- a doner kebap. I really don’t know how we do without them in the states. The rest of the night consisted of internetting and catching up with friendly types.

The next morning I woke up bright and early, feeling refreshed and ready for free breakfast.

Free Breakfast: Food you’ve already paid for in somewhat inflated room costs. Consequently, this is food you feel especially motivated to eat, whether or not you usually eat breakfast, because you’ve already been suckered into paying for it.

The breakfast was… umm, not what I was expecting. Bread, hard boiled eggs, some cereals, a selection of lunch meats, cucumbers and tomatoes. I ate it nonetheless and went about starting my day. First stop was the Anne Frank house, which was absolutely incredible. I stood in line for an hour to get in, and it was more than worth it. This is the house where Anne, along with seven other people, lived in almost total secrecy for several years. It is incredible to not only see, but stand in the space that these people were confined to. They even have her original diary on display. The house is full of descriptions of each room, some videos, and full of quotes from her diary, displayed in relevant places. I left, feeling… gosh, I’m not even sure how to properly describe it. I definitely left in absolute awe of that amazing little girl, who just had the most beautiful soul. The best way I can describe how I felt is this: I left thinking about how to rid myself of all the hatred that I have. I thought about it thoroughly, and there are few people who I do hate, and I am going to work to cleanse myself of that.

After the Anne Frank house, I walked towards the center of town, and along the way, I saw a man operating a claw machine, with which he was removing bicycles from the canals. Amsterdam is basically the bicycle capital of the world… and that’s no exaggeration. I believe I read somewhere that there are more than 80,000 bicycles in Amsterdam alone. Anyhow, after watching this peculiar yet engrossing sight for a while, I continued on my way to the center of town to catch a canal boat tour. It was an hour long and was wonderful– it was a wonderfully appropriate way to see and appreciate the city.

After the tour, I walked much more, got myself quite lost, regained my bearings, and walked even more to find the Van Gogh museum. It was a wonderful museum, and had a lot of very interesting work, without having any of his most famous pieces. However, they had a great deal of his earlier work, which you’d never know to attribute to him. It follows his career along, and you begin to see his style develop. It shows some of his Japanese inspired work, which was particularly interesting, because I had never seen any of it before. It continues to his impressionism, with really beautiful works, like “The Irises” and “Almond Blossom,” and continues on through his insanity, which becomes more and more detectably visible in his work. The museum also housed an Avant Garde exhibit, with a Lichtenstein and a Warhol, which I very much enjoyed.

After the museum, I made my way back to the hostel, and unfortunately, stayed in again due to a horrendous headache that developed. Oh well. The next morning I woke up and ate another “free,” strange breakfast, and slowly began my day. I decided that I would head off to the Rijksmuseum, so I did exactly that. I got there and began to stand in line, and after some time realized that the line was hardly moving, and that Oh God, there are hundreds of people ahead of me. So, I decided to skip the Rijksmuseum at that time, and head to the Heineken Brewery tour, which was a fantastic decision. There were two English blokes ahead of me in line, who I got chatting to and ended up doing the whole tour with. The tour ends in a bar, where you get a couple of free drinks in exchange for the tokens on your wristband. We started talking to a girl  who said she’d been there for 4 hours, drinking off of tokens given to her by people who left without cashing them in. We scored a couple more free beers and continued to chat with her. After a while, we decided it was time to go. So, we left, and walked right into a bar… where we proceeded to drink… MORE HEINEKEN. After some time had passed, we headed into town in search of food. We found a pizza joint, ate, and went our separate ways as they were in town for an England away game. I went back to my hostel, and ended up falling asleep early– too many beers in the middle of the day.

The next morning, I guess we’re up to Thursday at this point, I left my hostel and took a train to Brussels, which is where I have been since, although I’ll be leaving tomorrow for Geneva, Switzerland.

I’ve been staying with a family who are friends of friends, but who have welcomed me with open arms, good food, and a comfy bed. They are absolutely delightful. Andy works for the Department of State, and Michon works for NATO. I got in around 5 on Thursday, and took it easy that night. On Friday, I went to work with Michon, and got to talk to 4 of the foreign diplomats at NATO to find out more about what they do and what they’ve done. Every single one of them had a different, amazing story about what they’ve done with the DoS and all of the incredible things they’ve done and experienced. I spoke to one man who has worked for the DoS for 24 years, and said he feels like he hasn’t worked a single day in those 24 years because he loves what he does so much. It was incredible and in short, I will be applying for the DoS when I return home.

On Saturday, I went into the city to do some exploring. I began at the Magritte museum, which is located in his old house. It was absolutely fantastic– he is my absolute favorite surrealist artist. The museum has a great deal of original documents, photographs, sketches and paintings; I saw a lot of incredible things. After the museum, I went to find the Atomium– a giant sculpture of an Iron molecule, which was built for the 1958 World’s Fair in Belgium. It was quite a sight. After this, I headed back to the center of town, to see the Grand Place, a bustling square, surrounded by streets full of chocolatiers, restaurants and WAFFLE VENDORS. I went to see the Mannequin Pis, a tourist attraction… that umm, is really fairly unimpressive for its hype. Next, I got myself a delicious Belgian waffle, topped with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate. Oh my god. It was delicious and decadent and so rich that I actually couldn’t finish it… and that’s saying something. After spending sufficient time soaking in the feel of the city and its streets, I headed home, where an amazing dinner was waiting for me. This family has been so kind to me… and I was a complete stranger when I showed up here!

On Sunday, we went kayaking! It was LOADS of fun, and the whole journey was spectacularly beautiful. A day soaking up the sun, floating down a river in the Belgian countryside? Yes please. We ended up getting kind of lost, as we apparently had passed the stopping point, but eventually we came to another stopping point further down river and made our way home, exhausted from the day’s exertions. I sadly do not have any pictures of this beautiful day because my camera plus water do not mix, and it was a case of better safe than sorry.

Today has been another lazy day, but also a somewhat productive one. I got a facewash from the store, which is great, because my skin’s been horrible. I also figured out my travel plans for the week. Tomorrow, I train to Geneva, and on Thursday, I’m off to Bratislava. Life is good.

Now for pictures.


This is a wonderful example of what, basically, the whole of Amsterdam looks like. It’s lovely.


This is the man retrieving bicycles from the canal. Look at how many he’s already found!


A pretty view of a house on one of the Amsterdam canals.


I don’t think I need to explain this one?


I had been asked to take a picture of my hostel, because if you’ve never stayed in one, you can’t really imagine exactly what they’re like. This room had 4 bunks… which means 8 people all sharing that very small space. I  took this after a group of people had checked out and the next ones hadn’t moved in yet. So, for the full effect, imagine more bags all over the floor, taking up nearly all floor space. I’ll take pictures in another one to give even more perspective to what they’re like. This was actually one of the nicer hostels, as we had a bathroom in the room! Luxury!!


My favorite advertisement from the Heineken tour.


The Magritte Museum!


Ceci n’est pas la pipe de Magritte.

(If you understand my joke, then I love you. If not, look up “The Treason of Images”)


Apologies for the reflection on this… I couldn’t get a better picture of this. This isn’t a Magritte; it was in a room of work by his contemporaries and other artists who were inspired by his work. Sadly, it wasn’t credited, but I love it and find it both crude and clever– one of my favorite pairings!


Hello, it’s me. And that’s the Atomium behind me.


And again… looking more like a cube from this angle.

grand place

The Grand Place, in fading light.


The Mannequin Pis. It’s a fountain of a little boy relieving himself. The guidebooks make it out to be a big deal.


Ohmygod Belgian Waffle. In my tummy.

And with that, I’m off to bed… I’ve got an early start tomorrow, and a long train ride. Love and kisses to you all.


4 responses to “Amsterdam (8.10.09 – 8.13.09) and Brussels (8.13.09 – 8.18.09)

  1. Oh my goodness I love Döner Kebap! Eat a kebab for me! 🙂

  2. My best friend is in D.C. right now undergoing training to be a foreign diplomat. He’s been assigned to Venezuela. When you get back, I can put you in touch with him, if you like, and you can talk with him about the process.

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