Travel Blog – Amsterdam

29 09 2009

Waking up late again (spot the pattern?) we lazed around for a while and stole the internet from the people next door to check our emails etc. We then all bought return tickets to Amsterdam and headed that way on the train.

Walking around the tourist laden streets and through the main square we were getting kind of hungry and while there were enough places to eat we waited till we hit a canal. Stopping for savory pancakes of ham and cheese along with the obligatory beer we then waited for Tony’s boss to join us for a drink.

Lazing in the sun (f6.3 1/200 19mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Lazing in the sun (f6.3 1/200 19mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

The sun was glorious and the atmosphere exactly what you might expect from Amsterdam. One cool thing that the locals obviously enjoyed was barbeques on boats. Supposedly they only come out of storage when it is sunny and so the canal was constantly buzzing with people going up and down in small boats with grills and sizzling sausages in the back.

Canals 1 (6.3 1/80 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Canals 1 (6.3 1/80 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Canals 2 (f7.1 1/100 40mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Canals 2 (f7.1 1/100 40mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

After sitting and having a relaxing time in the sun with Ha (Tony’s aforementioned boss) we decided it was time to look around the city a little bit. Getting suggestions from Ha and another of Tony’s colleagues we headed off to walk around but unfortunately it seemed that many of the places were under renovation or being ripped up so there wasn’t too much to see, and while we walked past what were touted to be some of the best night clubs in Amsterdam it was the middle of the day so there wasn’t really all that much to see.

I’m not really sure where Martin took this shot but I liked it and felt justified adding it to this entry as the time stamp says it was taken during our wander around town:

Traveling van for a traveling man (f10 1/100 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Traveling van for a traveling man (f10 1/100 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

We stopped for coffee (and just coffee) in front of a weirdly placed American comedy club while deciding what to do next, and this being Amsterdam we were interested in sampling the local fare but being complete noobs didn’t really know where to begin.

< CONTENT REDACTED >

And then nothing happened. Nothing at all and we were all in bed at a reasonable time…

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Travel Blog – Around Utrecht

19 09 2009

After waking up surprisingly none-the-worse for the night before we did the usual hang around the house thing and checked emails etc. Because Tony’s apartment’s connection wasn’t working this meant tethering his iPhone to his computer and sharing the connection across an ad-hoc wireless network to the rest of the computers. And yes, if you didn’t understand that it is because we had a geekfest going on…

Unfortunately Alyona got an email from her Mum with some bad news so she decided it would be most appropriate for her to go back to Tiefenbruch for a couple of days to help out her Mum. It did mean however that we needed to get our asses into gear because the train would be leaving from Amersfoort in the next town (ostensibly a 40min drive away).

However even though we left more than an hour before we need to be there, a series of wrong turns suggested by the GPS (including a stunner of ‘turn left onto the one way street’ followed by ‘do a u-turn’) meant we were cutting it fine. We did get there in the end and with less than 10 minutes before the train was meant to depart. This being Europe it meant we really had less than 10 minutes to get on board.

Driving pretty much over the footpath to the front doors then parking illegally in the taxi stand meant we got there, got the ticket and saw Alyona off towards Germany alright in the end.

Now, unfortunately due to the time constraints we hadn’t had time for breakfast and it was now past 1pm so we were a little hungry and hungover so decided to head for food. But this was a holiday so we also decided that a scenic stop on the shore of one of Holland’s inland lakes would be more appropriate and we headed towards a spot randomly chosen on the map.

2:30: we were getting nearer, driving through weird semi-industrial areas still under construction and past larger groups of pedestrians seeming to move in the same direction as us but we had no idea what was going on. Then we made it into a traffic jam, still seemingly in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon and ended up being turned back towards the motorway past long lines of cars by a man in an orange jacket… in a word: weird.

I think it was after 3:30 that we made it to the second randomly pointed at destination where we finally got to park up and look for food (I should point out that Martin was driving this bit, which I’m grateful of :-) ). The town we stopped in was Muiderberg and was very pleasant and quiet. We had a nice lunch of Krokets again, but now we knew what they were called instead of being an item chosen randomly of a picture menu. And of course a couple glasses of beer in the sunshine.

I could show the pics of Martin and Tony with their shirts off but I won’t. Just in case they have pics of me in a similar state…

Lunch in the sun by the lake (f8.0 1/125 24mm)

Lunch in the sun by the lake (f8.0 1/125 24mm)

We then walked along the shore and realized why we hadn’t had much luck with the first place as it seems half of Holland was at a huge musical festival on the opposite shore. It did turn out that there was a shooting or something at the festival so it was probably a good thing to be where we were instead.

The lake which never gets deeper than 5m (f8.0 1/1600 73mm)

The lake which never gets deeper than 5m (f8.0 1/1600 73mm)

Muiderberg was so small it didn’t take us long to walk around the circumference and getting more ice-cream snacks we decided to head back towards Utrecht.

Except that Muiderberg is an evil town. And one does not leave there easily… Seriously, it was only on the third try that we managed to get out, being turned away the first time by our road becoming a bike path and the second by the road towards the ‘motorway’ leading us right back into town.

Trying to leave Muiderberg (f8.0 1/400 24mm)

Trying to leave Muiderberg (f8.0 1/400 24mm)

We finally got back to Utrecht and parked up again. Had a very nice walk around the canals (see obligatory insert of canal picture, you’ll get used to them) and then planned for the evening.

Boats and canals (f8.0 1/500 32mm)

Boats and canals (f8.0 1/500 32mm)

Originally we had intended on going to Amsterdam but it turned out we were too tired and couldn’t be bothered so instead had a relaxing evening watching funnies on Tony’s laptop before heading back out on the town in Utrecht.

First stop was a stroll through the red light district which was as bad as Hamburg’s, and then looking for a place to have a couple more beers. We ended up in this place touting a wide variety from around the world which seemed perfect and we went about sampling a few choice sounding ones from the wall.

Wall o' beers (f4.0 1/2 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Wall o' beers (f4.0 1/2 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

The best value by far was the ‘Russian Imperial Stout’ that weighed in at 9% alc. by volume and tasted like it too. It even made Martin slow down to our pace which was a feat and definitely put us all over the edge into happy land.

On the way home we stopped for tasty, greasy snacks at a local place specializing in fries (as they all do).

Sat night at the fry shop (f4.0 1/30 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

Sat night at the fry shop (f4.0 1/30 17mm - Photo courtesy of Martin)

And Martin decided to try out the local amenities:

Local amenities (f3.5 1/8 6.18mm - Photo courtesy of Tony)

Local amenities (f3.5 1/8 6.18mm - Photo courtesy of Tony)

Stay tuned next time for the adventures in Amsterdam!

Travel Route





Travel Blog – Utrecht Addendum

18 09 2009

Often the descriptions in this blog are based on the places I took photos and what I remember of the time. As such I can miss out some of the really good bits which is a shame. At the end of the last blog entry I said:

The night was spent having fun, catching up, and seeing some of Utrecht’s nightlife which is pretty cool as even though they are a small city there is a university so there is still a lot of youth culture around. But of course Amsterdam was the real goal for the next few days…

Which is a bit dismissive of what was a really fun night. And now that Alyona recently sent me some pics from the night I thought I’d share. Maybe they aren’t as interesting as some of those featuring sights not before seen but they are still pretty cool and it’s good to have these sort of photos to reminisce.
We caught up with Martin whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year and Tony who, while we had seen each other recently, was now able to show us around his then-home. As such we were on a high and had great fun going out drinking and dancing. First we went to a large town square filled with seats under umbrellas where one could sit and drink beer. Later when we went inside we had a good time drinking lots of small (0.25L) glasses of Grolsch beer, talking, and taking photos. Of which here are a few:

The Crew

The Crew

Beer is serious business

Beer is serious business

How cute! xx

How cute! xx

Yes, we were incapable of all looking at the camera :-)

Yes, we were incapable of all looking at the camera :-)

As with any good night there are always a few accidents. I lost my wallet for a few days (turned up in my dirty laundry bag!?!) and Martin … well … actually I don’t know what this is about:

Accident?

Accident?





Travel Blog – Groningen to Utrecht, Holland

12 09 2009

In Groningen we had read about a Seal Sanctuary to the north in a town called Pieterburen so we headed that way first. We had also read of a local specialty called ‘mudlopen’, literally ‘mud walking’. It was quite a bit off the beaten path and on the small backroads of Northern Holland. On the way we decided to stop for lunch in a town called Winsum and after a walk around and me not wanting to have soup or sandwiches for lunch we once again had frites and some curry roll things called krokets. These things seem to be available everywhere in Holland, even in these strange vending machines where they cook them put them in trays and as you walk past you can slip a euro in and take it out. Presumably the turnover is fast enough that they are fresh but still, I’m not sure…

So continuing north on smaller and smaller roads and following the GPS whenever possible (it still didn’t have most of the roads) we finally arrived in Pieterburen. This place is tiny, really really tiny, and seems to have nothing but the seal sanctuary and the mudlopen. And lots of tourists. As such the seal place was very easy to find so we got to spend an hour or so looking at the seals… how cute ;-)

The place seemed well run and takes seals in from all over Holland to rehabilitate and look after them. There were also dioramas to teach what effect humans have on seal habitats and windows where you could watch the younger and sick seals being treated.

Seals. Yay! (f8.0 1/100 105mm)

Seals. Yay! (f8.0 1/100 105mm)

On the way back to the car we passed a small petting zoo, or random group of animals behind a fence that Alyona treated like a petting zoo. I’m assuming they didn’t mind such things as the gate was open with just the cattle-stop to keep the animals in. And she did take good care of them…

Petting Zoo (f8.0 /80 65mm)

Petting Zoo (f8.0 /80 65mm)

Seeing as we had no idea where we were in relation to the sea we asked at the local tourist office to get directions. We still got a bit lost and second-guessed the directions a bit but did manage to find it. Of course the problem was that unlike in NZ where you just head down hill, in Holland there is a huge dyke in the way so you can’t really see anything till you park at the bottom and climb up. Which we did and then had fun taking shots from the top.

Jump 1 (f8.0 1/800 24mm)

Jump 1 (f8.0 1/800 24mm)

Jump 2 (f8.0 1/640 24mm)

Jump 2 (f8.0 1/640 24mm)

The colours of the wheat and hay fields stretching into the distance was amazing, especially when contrasted with the stormy clouds overhead but with the bright sunshine coming from closer to the horizon. And the flatness. The never ending flatness of Holland broken only by the dykes used to protect and segment the country.

On the other side of the dyke were the mud flats that are estuarial (sp?) waters and part of the North Sea. The tide was out but you could imagine what it might look like if there was a storm at high tide. We couldn’t go too far out both because of time pressure and my shiny white shoes (which I did take off after a bit of cajoling), but we did walk out a couple hundred meters till it became obvious that we would have to walk a lot further for any change in landscape.

The mud was cool and squelchy and a lot like walking in a mangrove swamp. I could see the fascination people have with it and why they might want to spend a few hours out walking on this stuff. Very messy though…

Mudlopen (f8.0 1/1250 28mm)

Mudlopen (f8.0 1/1250 28mm)

After washing our feet in the basin of the toilets of a small farm building that we had parked the car at we hit the road again and navigated our way towards Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.The hope was to catch Martin and pick him up from his flight from Oslo that would land at 7:30. At the same time it would be cool to take the slightly longer route around the outside of Holland following the North Sea. On the map it looks like a really long bridge as part of a huge arc but it turned out when we arrived to be one massive dyke the whole way. The motorway is on the inside of the dyke but beside the large internal sea so it was still a very nice drive. And pretty fast too as while the posted limit is 120 everyone else was going closer to 150, so we kept up with them and as a result were only half an hour late to pick up Martin.

We then drove the 40 minutes or so to Tony’s place in Utrecht and with a little bit of phoning, gpsing, using maps on the side of the road, and realizing that his road was in fact pedestrian-only we finally caught up with Tony and dropped off the car at a place a few blocks away.

The night was spent having fun, catching up, and seeing some of Utrecht’s nightlife which is pretty cool as even though they are a small city there is a university so there is still a lot of youth culture around. But of course Amsterdam was the real goal for the next few days…

Travel Route





Travel Blog – Northern Germany to Holland

9 09 2009

After a late start we hit the road again with the plan of ending the day in Groningen, Holland (at least that is where we had booked the accommodation).

The first stop of the journey was Bremen, most well known for it’s beer ‘Becks’. Well, to be honest no one outside of Germany probably realizes that this is where it is from but it is.

It is also the town in one of the Grimm fairytales where a bunch of animals are heading to try their luck as a band and on the way manage to foil a robbery. There is a statue of the four friends in one of the squares where we happened to stop for a beer. The legend goes that if you grab the donkey’s legs and make a wish that it will come true. We tried it and I was lucky that Alyona knew how it was supposed to work as all the other tourists were only grabbing one leg, not both…. fools!

Becks in Bremen (f8.0 1/320 24mm)

Becks in Bremen (f8.0 1/320 24mm)

After that we were heading north to the small town of Aurich where our mutual friend Holger was then living (he has since found a job in southern Germany :-) ). Didn’t really know anything about the town or the region but it was a nice drive and you could tell that the land must be getting more suitable for wind generation given how the number of generators increased.

Anyway, we arrived in the late afternoon and Holger treated us to a tour of the town and showed off the barracks and old palace. We then stopped for a beer (notice a trend) and tried something I had never heard of before: Banana Weissen. It is literally wheat beer with added banana juice and surprisingly tastes way better than it sounds. Very refreshing and sweet but with the added benefit that it is a beer. Holger was drinking strawberry beer which was unusual from the other varieties I have tried in that there were real, whole strawberries in the bottom so had a much more realistic taste than those I’ve tried at Belgian beer cafés.

Strawberry and Banana Beer (f7.1 1/50 24mm)

Strawberry and Banana Beer (f7.1 1/50 24mm)

In the meantime I had managed to get the lonely planet e-books for both Germany and Holland on my iPhone and had been reading up a bit. Turns out there is an old fort called Bourtange near the border of Germany and Holland that is supposed to be really pretty and Holger agreed that it would be a good stop and not far off our original route.

So traveling south a bit and definitely off the beaten path we arrived at this star-fort in the middle of nowhere. You can still see the start shaped embankments and regular angles everywhere and to get into the center is a bit of a mission as it is designed such that you have to traverse a lot of the star to get inside. Once there it is a reasonably preserved example of a 19th century fort and while we arrived too late for there to be anything open it was obviously set up as a tourist attraction.

Holland! (f7.1 1/125 24mm)

Holland! (f7.1 1/125 24mm)

We also had fun investigating the long-drop style toilets which were really just a hut jutting out over the moat with a trough to squat over. I did try to use them but it turns out to be quite difficult. Especially when your girlfriend is outside with a camera pointed at the building and the water below…

So after finishing up in Bourtange we hit the road again and headed to Groningen in Northern Holland. As we drove west it was obvious that there was a big storm coming and it broke as we entered the town. Now unfortunately it turned out that the GPS only had the major roads for Holland and so didn’t have either the hotel or the hotel’s road on it … and we didn’t have a map.

Driving into the center of the city trying to look for something that looked like it might be the hotel proved a little fruitless so we ended up stopping outside a video rental store to ask for directions. The guy was really helpful and showed the map on google maps but because of the one-way street system it was quite a confusing route to get there. We managed to get most of the way but I was kind of doubtful that it was the right way but luckily we saw a local street map on the side of a bus shelter and stopped to check. Turns out we were only a couple of blocks off and we managed to get to the hotel in short order. Turns out it was a fair way out of town and there was no way in hell that we would have found it without directions.

After checking in it was already after 9:30 and we were very, very hungry. The reception recommended one place as being the only one open in the area so we walked the km or so and got there at 9:55. Despite saying they close at 10 the place recommended were dicks and refused to do a takeaway order (they were a restaurant/takeaway place). Can’t remember their name but don’t go there ;-)

Walking around the corner it turns out there was a small fish-and-chip-esque takeaways who were also shutting up shop but agreed to do an order anyway so we dined on frites and tiny Heinekens from the bar next door. A fitting meal for our first night in Holland!

The next morning after eating some sandwiches for breakfast that had been prepared back in Tiefenbruch by Alyona and her Mum we went out to see a little of Groningen. We drove in and parked and walked around a bit. Marveled at the sheer number of bikes and got smiles from the locals when I posed in front of a juge number of bikes that had had a bit of a tumble. It wasn’t me though I swear!

Bike Accident (f8.0 1/320 28mm)

Bike Accident (f8.0 1/320 28mm)

We went up the belltower of the Groningen Cathedral and while the view was amazing the spoiled it all with a stupid wire mesh. So instead you can marvel at it over my shoulder.

Belltower of the Cathedral (f8.0 1/200 28mm)

Belltower of the Cathedral (f8.0 1/200 28mm)

After that serious effort we stopped for a beer in the square below at a quaint building that we could see from the tower. It was built in the 1600’s and was very cool as a café environment. And you can see that over her shoulder :-)

Cafe in Groningen (f8.0 1/50 28mm)

Cafe in Groningen (f8.0 1/50 28mm)

The route for those who are interested:

Travel Route





Travel Blog – Tiefenbruch

7 09 2009

Having arrived at 6am we were a bit worse for wear but the journey hadn’t finished yet. We had booked a car with Europcar but when we went to pick it up they needed to charge a credit card with more than I had available (they add an extra couple hundred euro just in case you don’t return it with a full tank). Luckily there was a free Samsung in internet terminal so after some jiggery-pockery with ASB we were on the road. Go samsung!

Alyona’s Mum lives in a place called Tiefenbruch which is about 500km north of Frankfurt and and an hour south west of Hamburg. Of course this is Germany so it was almost all Autobahn and unlimited. Probably averaged 140kph but the car maxed out at 187 so didn’t quite get the full experience of the numerous BMW and Mercedes burning past well in excess of 200. I think the freakiest thing wasn’t the speed but the fact that there were lots of roadworks and when there are it is still 2 lanes, 80kph, and really, really thin. Like almost no room whatsoever between the metal barrier on one side and the gigantic truck on the other.

Certainly helped me get used to driving on the right(wrong) side of the road.

On the way we stopped at Germany’s largest motel which they were very proud to announce. I think it really was the grossest but they got the language wrong (haha – pun – großest is biggest in german but is said grossest. I have another one too: Have you tried German sausage? It’s the Wurst. Sorry…).

We arrived at Alyona’s mother’s place and had an amazing lunch and finally got to do some laundry after our trip around Malaysia. She lives on a small (by NZ standards) farm out in the country so it was a nice change of pace and we went for a short walk to see the place and say hello to the cows. After making her sit through the full complement of photos from the first week of the trip we headed off for an early night.

Tiefenbruch (f5.6 1/100 24mm)

Tiefenbruch (f5.6 1/100 24mm)

Waking up lazily and after a proper European breakfast which includes cheese, bread and pain au chocolat we made plans to see Hamburg for a bit. Now, one must travel in style whenever possible so instead of taking our small and economical hire car we went with the brand new Volkswagen Cabriolet which is very styly and cool and we had much fun making the roof go up and down.

Cabriolet (f4.5 1/200 95mm)

Cabriolet (f4.5 1/200 95mm)

We drove to Harburg and used the Park+Ride to get into Hamburg central for a walk around. We started with the Rathaus then walked around the city on a path set out in Alyona’s Russian guidebook. Stopped for lunch at a random franchised cafe that specialized in pig. Good, good pig. And beer.

Café in Hamburg (f8.0 1/125 105mm)

Café in Hamburg (f8.0 1/125 105mm)

Continued walking past some old merchant buildings and the Krameramtsstuben which is a cool old narrow and internal street with 300 year old houses that survived the war. We also passed by St Michael’s church that was under renovation.

We then visited the Reeperbahn in Hamburg which is part of the Red light district with a street that only guys are allowed down. Which of course I had to do as a tourist. Turns out to be just middle aged women sitting in stripper shoes and lingerie smoking and generally looking like they aren’t having the time of their lives. And while at night it may be better, it still seems very underwhelming.

Afterwards we walked along the waterfront and it became evident how large a port Hamburg really is despite being considerably inland. We also stopped off at a Swedish sailors church which happens to be the very first started in Hamburg. It was very strange to step into a slice of Sweden in the middle of Germany and the nice older lady working in the cafeteria even offered us ‘fika’. We then walked around further to the rich area of town with cafe’s on the street and suits from the offices around enjoying an afternoon beer.

We took the train back and it seems that my new shoes are very comfortable indeed and stood up (sic) to all the walking.

That night we enjoyed a great meal then a pleasant evening hanging out drinking beer and whisky. Mila and Kurt (Alyona’s Mum’s husband) have a very cool bar with most kinds of drink you could think of and even a beer on tap as bottles are way too low-class. Some of the whiskies have sat on the shelf for more than 20 years (shame that time in the bottle doesn’t count, or it would definitely be the oldest I’ve ever had) so that was an experience in itself. It seems that Kurt only drinks beer and prefers one particular type, so while people may have gifted bottles of alcohol in the past they have now sat on his shelves unmoved for a very long time. One in particular was from before the German liquor tax rates changed making it much more expensive to sell bottles with 43% rather than 40%.

I had a chance to show off some nz culinary skills by cooking scrambled eggs for breakfast and to complement the usual array of great food. After which we decided to take a small road trip into the national park nearby and a walk in a real German forest with oak and birch trees. I got hassled a bit for thinking such things are ‘exotic’ but I guess when you come from New Zealand some of these things are! There were also lots of blueberries dotting the path to serve as a tasty snack.

Blueberries! (f8.0 1/15 24mm)

Blueberries! (f8.0 1/15 24mm)

On the way back we stopped at a small ice cream parlour which I think is designed just for the locals. Off the main road and around the back of a small building is a window serving the biggest icecream sundays I have ever seen. You would really need to know where to go but I was very happy with my huge serving of chocolate and stracettela ice cream with egg liquer, cream and chocolate sauce. There was also a thing called spaghetti ice cream where they push the ice cream through holes to make it look like spaghetti and with strawberry sauce instead of tomato :-)

Le petite Ice cream (f7.1 1/25 24mm)

Le petite Ice cream (f7.1 1/25 24mm)

To see a bit more of the area we decided to spend the evening in Lüneberg which was not far away and had a great atmosphere of the renaissance mixed with modern cafe culture. The buildings were impressive and all had this interesting stepped style to their facades and the city center was pedestrian’s only so was very pleasant to stroll through. We had a drink beside one of the canals and then drove home.

Lüneberg (f5.6 1/8 28mm)

Lüneberg (f5.6 1/8 28mm)

After another exciting night we prepared to head off on the next exciting adventure… (but now with added gps)!

PS: The problem with writing these things while traveling is that it means you have to stop traveling for a few hours! So this will be the last one written on the trip (I’m in Sydney visiting my brother and return home in a few hours). But I do intend to write up the rest over the next 2 weeks!

Route of the trip:

Route of the trip