A Travellerspoint blog

Wandering and Pondering

sunny

So we woke up having just discovered we now had an extra day in The Netherlands. Our next stop was Cologne in Germany, and I thought we had arranged to stay the Saturday night there with a host, but when we check we found it was actually the Sunday. So we were happy we got an extra day in a town we loved, but were a little anxious about the nights accom.

What we decided to do was put up a few last minute pleas for help of the CouchSurfing website and then head into Haarlem, which is a small town just 15 minutes out of Amsterdam. If we hadnt heard anything from CS, then we thought it shouldnt be hard to book a hotel. Well we were wrong.

We caught a train to Haarlem. It was a cool little town, almost like a mini Amsterdam, except less people, of generally an older age group, and way less touristy. We cruised around a bit, found some markets, Mel added two more handbags to our increasing carry load. When we could we checked the internet and got some help from the tourist info place, but turned out every hotel and hostel was either booked or was a squillion dollars. The info guy blamed it on the gorgeous weather.

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Heres where it got a bit complicated. On CouchSurfing, apart from the direct couch swap function, weekly events are also held for locals and travellers to meet and have a drink, and sometimes offer accommodation to people last minute. Well, there was one on that night in Amsterdam. So we travelled back there from Haarlem, dumped our big bags in lockers at the station, and thought we'd try our luck at this meeting, after dinner. And if nothing presented itself, we had resigned ourselves to sleeping in a park.

Well, during some drinks, a nice young girl from Haarlem replied to our online plea for help, and said we could come over when she finished work and stay the night, which was at about 12:30am.
Still and Amsterdam and with some time to kill, we decided to go visit a “CoffeeShop”, one on the fine establishments around in which you could purchase a joint, sit on a lounge and chill out for a bit. Now, let me add here that Mel and I dont smoke pot. Like any teenager I did on occasion, but mainly just cause all my friends were doing it, and I liked hanging out with them. It had probably been 8 or 9 years since either of us touched it, and not due to some moral infliction, just cause it didn’t really interest us.

But,we were in Amsterdam. So we found a spot, and ordered some tea and a fat “Skunk” joint. It was purely novelty, sitting with the other eclectic mix of customers. We both had a couple of drags and Mel stopped. With the novelty wearing and the effects not really hitting me, I thought I'd just burn through it quick and go get some munchies. Now, it could have been the fact that the only thing I'd eaten all day was a croissant at about 9am, or that the combined strength of the weed and my own intolerance to it, but out of nowhere, I blacked out.

One minute I was tapping away to the music, feeling somewhat nostalgic, then next I felt a wave of vibration pass through my head and my eyes closed. Mel was shouting at me to stand up and yelling something to another girl. Within the space of a frenzied 15 seconds, I had started convulsing, shaking, went limp, regained myself and completely snapped out of it. 15 seconds. And I was fine. No effect whatsoever. One staff member got me an energy drink to recover and I was feeling normal. Mel on the other hand thought I was dying, so she was understandably shaken up, but reassurance of my health calmed her down, but it freaked her out a bit. So that was all a bit weird, but an experience nonetheless.

To calm us both down, we went for a stroll down the lit up canals, and we may have gone to KFC.

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Well, having seen the effects of short term drug use, we were about to witness the effects of the long term variety. We met our saviour host back in Haarlem after she herself had finished work in a Coffeeshop of her own. An extremely friendly young girl she had opened her home up for us at the last minute and saved us from being raped in a park somewhere. She also brought along two bikes for us to ride back with, which was fun. Back at her place we stayed up talking and chatting and laughing, sharing stories of travel. She lazily burned through two fatties during the time and shared with us her theories of life, love and loss. And its a real shame that drugs really do open your mind to different ways of thinking and can lead to self enlightenment and out of world experiences, but at the same time permanently impair your ability to express them in an intelligent way. Like all this wisdom isnt meant to be shared. But she was absolutely lovely and was a massive help for us, and yet again we met someone along the way with a big heart who was willing to help a stranger.

The next day we picked up our bags from Amsterdam station, and made tracks for Germany.

Posted by Clayton30 14:28 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam europe haarlem 2012 Comments (0)

Pedal, Paddle and Pussy Power

sunny

With a puff of smoke we arrived in Amsterdam. Getting off the train we could smell something special in the air. No not pot. Well actually yes, but for sake of poetry, I will say excitement. For a city with such a mellow reputation, it definitely had a buzz going on. Something about its reputation for being free, and bohemian and its relaxed stance on cannabis and sex produced somewhat of an idealistic utopia we had not yet seen. And I found myself feeling somewhat slutty at the realisation that I could very well be falling in love with yet another city.

Again, we were graciously hosted by some local CouchSurfing members. This time German expats Marcus and Katrin gave us a room in their home for three nights. Situated in a gorgeous apartment on an artificial island just east of the city centre, we woke to amazing views of the water and boat yard. Again we were spoilt with a home cooked meal, and spent the night sharing each others lives and experiences.

We spent the next day canal hopping. Cruising the streets of Amsterdam, marvelling at the tilted houses, the lazy canal boats, and the romantic bridges that crossed each one. Again, Europe was wrapping its big beautiful arms around us and embracing us in euphoric bliss.

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We strolled the museum district, but were disenchanted by inflated entrance fees, and the quality of one particular photo gallery. Honestly, it was way more fun exploring the cobblestone streets looking for places than it was actually finding them.

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With one exception...

The Red Light district!

Oh man, talk about entertainment. Picture us strolling down some canal side in a quiet street. Passing some friends having a candlelit dinner on their front porch. The little lights of the
bridge creating a cascading effect in the gentle ripples of the water. Then we turn down one street and bam! Debauchery slaps us in the face like a big rubber dildo. In a haze of neon red the streets are lined with all sorts of people. The place buzzes like a circus carnival, lights, music, smelly animals, its just a whole other world. We bustled down alleys lined with red lit windows along with the hordes of others doing the same, passing by an endless stream of barely clad women presenting themselves for the window shoppers. Our eyes firing between them and the other people that engaged in the ritual. There were the dirty old men going in and out of the rooms, groups of guys on bucks parties carrying that air about them like something legendary was going to happen. There were tourists like us sporting big smiles at the wonderment of it all, and ones that hadnt done their research about how the girls dont like getting their photo taken, and would consequently come out going nuts and spraying water bottles all over everyone. There where groups of young guys, barely adolescent looking like deer in the headlights, some obviously summoning the courage to do what the others had bet them into doing. At one point we even saw a middle aged couple, coming out of a room, holding hands and sporting great big smiles, seemingly having just finished a meeting with one of the nice young ladies. After remarking to Mel how happy they both looked, I received a very strong “Dont even think about it.” So at least I knew where I stood. You know, not that I was implying anything, just being observant :)

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Passing the multitude of “Coffeeshops” intertwined in the streets we decided to call it a night, as the next day we decided to do something decisively more wholesome. We were to hire bikes for the day.

Like any good Dutch wandering around this flat expanse of land called Europe, we hoped on our pushies and went cruising. Starting off on the other side of town not previously ventured by ourselves, we covered great distance, stopping where the mood took us, usually at a park, or monument, or one of several street markets and little boutique shops. And like most every other day since our journey began, the sun was out and the birds were singing and it was just perfect. We knew while having lunch by the river that we had once again fallen in love with a city, and were dreaming of making a move permanently.

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That night our hosts took us on the ferry to the other side of the river to a secret location. The place was an old industrial island, once used to manufacture boats and house massive warehouses. Well, the industrial aged passed, and now this place was filled with converted offices and street art, and even a skate park hidden in the roof of one warehouse. We went there for dinner, as there were two converted restaurants right on the water. They were both pretty cool. And afterwards Marcus took us to this awesome little bar right on the beach seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and we put our feet up by the open fire and embraced the warmth, beer in hand.

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When we go back home that night, I checked our CouchSurfing itinerary and realised I had made a mistake with some dates, and that the next day we had nowhere to sleep.

Posted by Clayton30 14:10 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam europe 2012 Comments (0)

Don't make me run, I'm full of chocolate!

sunny

Leaving Paris was hard. I'll say it. Sick and dying and feeling sorry for myself I wished we were staying. What made things worse was that I had made a mistake with our accommodation so we franticly had to find a place at the last minute for our next destination. Broken and emotional I left thinking I could’ve given more to Paris, should’ve pushed myself to the next level. But soon I found something that would make me forget about Paris.

Chocolate covered Belgian Waffles. Where had you been all my life?

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Our first stop was a day trip to Bruges. A beautiful little Flemish town that a few hundred years ago decided to redesign the whole city in Medieval style to attract some tourists. It worked.

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A bit fake admittedly, but with buckets of charm, we had a blast. It was our first real glimpse of picturesque canals and little cottages, and locals that sounded like the Chef from The Muppets. And with the chocolate making boutiques representing every second shop, I was in my glory. Once again we were proclaiming how easily we could live here. We left with a smile, a belly full of chocolate, and of course Mel some new clothes.

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The next stop was Brussels. This was top be a special spot for us, as it was the first family with which we would be CouchSurfing with. I'll will try and go into CouchSurfing more later but for those who dont know, its an online community on travellers who help each other out by primarily offering free accommodation whether a spare bed or couch for the night. Of course it becomes a great opportunity to meet locals and share experiences with other human being you've never met. And given that barriers are almost immediately broken, you can find strangers become friends in a very short amount of time. Mel and I hosted a few people back in Sydney and had an amazing experience each time. Turns out the same can be had on the other side of the couch.

Damien picked us up from the local train station and took us back to his beautiful home where we would be guests for the next two nights. And what made it a beautiful home was his family that welcomed us into it. Damien and Florence and their two little ones Tom and Jules were amazing to us. They instantly made us feel welcome. We talked and had dinner they had made for us and it was again amazing for us to meet such generous and lovely people. In fact both nights they cooked awesome local specialities while giving us an invaluable insight into Belgium's history and culture.
It was an absolute privilege.

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Our days in Brussels were comparatively chilled next to the previous days of our trip. I was a little ill again, so we mainly cruised the old streets, soaking in the architecture. We visited the museum of one of Belgium's most well known artists, Rene Magritte, which was really cool. And on the last day received a private tour of the Musical Instrument Museum, which house pieces from all over the world spanning centuries, as Damien works there and spent his break showing us around. Very generously I might add.

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And that was a taste of Belgium. Did I mention I ate lots of waffles?

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Posted by Clayton30 13:20 Archived in Belgium Tagged europe belgium waffles 2012 Comments (0)

Captured Beauty

sunny

I just thought I'd give the Louvre a special mention as I think it deserves it. I really love the time and money put into this place to house and display the history of our race through art. It would be easy to say that this place exists purely cause it attracts millions of paying visitors a year, but looking past that, you can tell that its being maintained by people passionate about the form.

The collection itself is massive. There's no way you could see it all in a day or two. And I can only assume that you could come back each day for a long time and see something different with each viewing. In fact, there were some works where I'm sure you could just see that one item everyday and see something from a different angle each time. And I think that's the beauty of the works there.

From the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia to 19th and 20th Century Masterpieces, at each step I found something that provoked thought or feeling on varying levels. From my point of view, as cynical as it is, art is the true account of history. What we learn of the past we learn from the arts. Indications of how people lived and how people felt are left all throughout these works. And yes, as much fact as there is through studying these works, and the invaluable lessons we learn from them, I think the real beauty is how they make people feel today. How an artist many centuries ago can transmit an emotion into the future, that we as the audience can then interpret in any number of ways is mind boggling to me.

Anyway, I'm off on tangents again, The Louvre, oh yes. The last thing I'll say is that the building and grounds that these works are housed is a work of art in itself. It is stunning and took my breath away on many occasions. Just wow.

We spent the whole day there. I was too busy picking up my jaw from the floor all day so Mel was on camera duties. So credit to her beautiful artistry as well :)

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Posted by Clayton30 08:25 Archived in France Tagged paris europe louvre 2012 Comments (0)

From Paris with Love

sunny

Well, as I've said previously, we had an amazing time in Paris. We did, saw and experienced so much that I will never forget. But again I find myself in the position of not having time enough to fully express just how amazing it was, so below are some highlights. I do hope to come back and write more when I get a chance, about the city that despite its flaws still manages to enthral.

St Chapelle – amazing old church with spectacular stained glass windows. One of those places where the religious beguiling slaps you in the face almost as hard as the beauty of the art used to portray it. Almost.

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Notre-Dame – wow. I'm getting some Gargoyles for our place when we get home. Really cool.

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Lunch on the Siene – It wasn’t soon till the Parisian lunch tradition infected us, and we were eating Baguettes, cheese, cheesecake and chocolate eclairs on the river bathed in sun. If we didn’t peel ourselves away we could’ve lost the whole week there.

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St Merri Chapel – We stumbled upon this one by accident. It wont be in any guide book, as this was the unwanted, neglected red headed step child of Paris's churches. But, this made it charming and intriguing and gave it an interest different from that of Frances other shameless displays of exuberance.

Shopping – of course.

The Louvre – We spent a whole day there and it was incredible. We skipped the massive line too by buying tickets across the road on the way in. Saved us at least a two hour wait.

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Pantheon – Just cool architecture that was a little different than most.

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The Arc de Triumph – A tourist mainstay. Awesome structure and sculpture. Almost overshadowed by the craziest roundabout I have ever seen. I thought Parisian drivers were crazy before I saw this thing, but it was out of control.

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Strolling down the Avenue de Champ by night – Just great. The Place dela Concord with its fountain and view of surrounding monuments all lit up was surprisingly tranquil.

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Met a few locals at the pub – Had a few drinks with Maries friends at the Hotspot. Watched the the last half of a France v Italy Champions League football match in which the French team got up in the last few minutes and the place went absolutely nuts.

The Eiffel Tower – Of all the days, we picked the one in which the lifts weren't working. A gazillion stairs later...

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Montmartre – A cool little bohemian district. Cafes and live music everywhere. Mel got excited about buying a handbag, we saw a fashion commercial shoot, stumbled upon a whole square filled with painters painting away on their easels, visited a Dali exhibition and visited Sacre Coeur, a Byzantine style basilica with views of the city.

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Dinner with some familiar faces – Met up with Myriam and Basille, two awesome couch surfers we hosted in Sydney. Had a yummy dinner and then went to a cool little cafe where locals jammed out Brazilian and South American tunes all night. Mel getting a little nut reaction from the restaurant was a downer, so that wasn’t great. Who puts pesto in Lasagne? Even after being informed of her allergy.

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Versailles – An absolute testament to pompous displays of wealth and power. Visually stunning and a great preservation of art and beauty. Also the place where my fever set in after a massive long walk in the sun. In my delirium I couldn’t help making mirrored comparisons to the modern day social environment where the gap between the rich and the middle/lower class is growing excessively, and thinking that it may be time once more for some beheading. Viva la Revolution!

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Watching Rugby with the boys in French – Sport uniting nations.

Time with our adopted French family – This was awesome. They really spoiled us with food and culture and are generally awesome people. They looked after me when I was sick and genuinely seemed to care about looking after us. Truly beautiful human beings.

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And that was our whirlwind tour of Paris.

Posted by Clayton30 11:31 Archived in France Tagged paris europe 2012 Comments (0)

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