Sitting down to write this entry, I can’t believe how much stuff we crammed into this single day.
We began by packing up our stuff and making our way to the courtyard of our hotel. It’s there we met our tour group: 35 people, expecting to meet 7 more in Amsterdam. We were all kind of awkward and sleepy at first, but as you’ll see as you continue reading, a day makes a difference. We threw our bags onto the coach and snagged seats at the very front of the bus. The unobstructed view is ideal for my motion-sick head. I haven’t been dizzy once (even while typing!) and I’m happy about that.
When we were on the bus, we had some brief introductions with our tour guide (Matt) and driver (TJ). For about a half hour Matt, who looks like a New Zealander version of Patrick Dempsey, went over the ground rules of the trip. He also explained to us that we are crazy, because this is the most fast paced tour that Contiki offers. Nine days, eight countries? We must be mad. I’m ok being crazy. Crazy is fun.
We drove for about two hours. The bus was pretty quiet. Lots of people slept. I was busy typing away yesterday’s blog entry. I don’t mind the long drives, they allow me to write without “missing” anything.
Our first stop was in Dover, home of the famous White Cliffs as well as the ferry port. Our first stop was at the passport check. A French man came aboard to stamp us in, which was very convenient, especially considering the hell we’d gone through to get checked into London. We drove the bus into the vehicle compartment and then made our way up to the deck to watch as we sailed out of Dover and onto the English Channel. Drew fell asleep for about 20 minutes and I eavesdropped on a conversation held by two old French ladies. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I still liked hearing them talk.
After he woke up, we strolled down to the snack bar to get some breakfast and a coffee. I took much longer than Drew because I was fighting a battle against the cappuccino machine. When I went to go find him, he had joined a table of five of our Contiki companions: two Americans (Ashley and Brendan), two Aussies (Teena and Jamie), and a South African (Guy). We talked about teaching with Guy, who teaches primary school in South Africa, and also Ashley, who is a school councilor in Cleveland. We said that when we deal with the unruly ones, we send them to Ashley, and when she can’t handle them we can ship them to Teena, who works at a prison in Australia.
Soon we disembarked in the French port of Calais, reboarded the bus, and we were off, back to driving on the right side of the road. As we maneuvered through the French countryside, we played a round of “speed dating,” in which the people sitting on the inner rows of seats each rotated from row to row and we had 2 minutes to have a conversation with each person. As someone who’s done those types of things before in college, I was expecting it to be unnatural and awkward. Maybe there’s something about travel people that make them easy to talk to and get along with, because most people I found myself chatting with them beyond the allotted time. I can’t sit here and write about every person I met, but I’m just going to say that I’ve already met some super cool people from all over the world. We have people from Australia, New Zealand, America (obviously), Canada, South Africa, and even a couple from Singapore. Also, it’s an odd coincidence that a good 1/6 of the people on my tour are all from Melbourne, Australia, and most of them don’t know each other. It’s so odd that you would travel across the world to meet a ton of people from the same city as you. I’d have been weirded out to meet one other Bostonian, let alone 7.
As we played our game, we passed over the border into Belgium. Matt told us we’d miss Belgium if we blinked. He was right. We passed through in about an hour and nothing too memorable happened. We learned that they’re most famous for waffles, chocolate, and apparently margarine. Who knew?
Soon we passed over into the Netherlands and made a pit stop at a rest area. It was just like a regular pit stop area, like the ones you’d come across on 95 on the way into Maine, except as soon as you passed through the doors you felt like you were in a nice hotel lobby instead of a dirty gas station bathroom. We grabbed a bite to eat, picking up a weird kind of sausage pastry puff thing. It was basically a Dutch Hot Pocket, except obviously nicer than that. I also got an apple tart for dessert. Both were pretty good but I only finished half of each because I didn’t want to ruin my dinner. We ate with Brendan and Ashley again and got to know them a little bit better. It’s good to know there are other nice Americans touring with us.
From there we had another 2 hours on the road into Amsterdam. It went by pretty smoothly, although I lost cell service for a little bit and wanted to update my blog, so I was a bit cranky.
Soon we pulled into our hotel, the Blue Square Hotel, which, fittingly, was a big blue square hotel. It was very nice on the inside, you could tell that it had probably been at least somewhat recently updated. Upon reaching the hotel, we were divided up into our roommate groups. I was paired up with Charmaine and Kelsey, both Aussies. Charmaine is a primary school teacher, and Kelsey is in midwifery school. Both of them are traveling solo, which I think is totally badass. Power to them.
We had an hour to get dressed and ready for dinner. I got all dolled up, I’d set aside an outfit for Amsterdam, a pencil skirt and a crop top—which is SO out of my comfort zone. Luckily it was also a bit cold out so I threw a sweater on over it so I at least covered up a little bit but still rocked the look. Dinner was a buffet at the hotel. I had heard mixed reviews of Dutch food, so I was prepared for the worst. It actually wasn’t bad. We had some fried chicken finger type things with green beans and peppers, some type of pasta that I still couldn’t pinpoint the flavor to (but it was good!), and bread (I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t). I don’t know how “Dutch” that meal was, but it was good to me.
We hopped back aboard the coach and drove about 20 minutes into the city. The closer we got, the more we were able to see. A little canal, a cyclist here and there, more canals, small bridges, bike racks, old stone buildings, ornate bridges, bike palaces sprawling with hundreds. I fell further and further in love the deeper we drove. We parked at the Saint Nicholas Church, a gorgeous, giant old church, and made our way down the stone steps to our cruise on the canal.
I’d say that the next item of the agenda was the highlight of Amsterdam for me, but really everything we did in Amsterdam was a highlight. The city is just built on fun. But this cruise was amazing. First we all piled in and took seats at the little tables. I sat with Drew, and two Canadian girls I’d talked to earlier, Olivia (pre-med student) and Morgan (also a student, I forget of what). Once settled, they passed around little bottles of Flugel, a Dutch liquor labeled with a duck. We were instructed to take the cap of the drink, lick it, and stick it to our foreheads. Our next instruction was that on the count of three, we would shout “Proost,” the Dutch word for cheers, and then all drink our Flugel without the use of our hands. So off we went, cheersing in Dutch and taking our shots with only our mouths. It was definitely a sweeter liquor. It was cherry flavored, and kind of tasted like cough medicine, but if cough medicine tasted good. A cherry cough drop maybe.
We spent the next hour and a half sailing through canals and learning all about the city from our tour guide. She taught us all kinds of fun facts about the city with an occasional twist. My favorite factoid she gave us was one about a bridge. “This here is a famous bridge that supposedly, if you are to kiss your sweetheart underneath it, you will love each other forever. But today of course, we all know that’s bullshit, so my 2016 version is that if you kiss under the bridge, you’ll get lucky tonight!” Of course none of us saw that comment coming so it got us all laughing. We drank Heineken on tap, and it tasted so good. Straight from the source! We joked that it was probably just water from the Amstel River, which we found out was famous for having stuff dumped into it. Apparently there are 2500 bikes dumped into the canals, so Heineken is probably just rusty bike water. Still tasted good to me!
We used the cruise as an opportunity to mingle with new friends. We took a bunch of pictures and enjoyed our time with one another. I also loved just staring out of the boat at all the buildings. They’re just all so old and beautiful, ranging from modern to ancient and everywhere in between. A funny thing about them is that they’re all just slightly uneven with one another. Some lean one way, some lean another, some of them are straight and even, others wonky, and none of them match. As Matt, our tour guide, put it, “It’s kind of charming that way, like they’re a bunch of drunken buddies trying to walk each other home.” It was the perfect metaphor.
After the cruise we all hopped back on the bus and headed home to bed. Until tomorrow, Amsterdam!