Saturday, May 8, 2010


"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living"

Amsterdam You Stole My Heart
My trip to Amsterdam was so incredible. Sorry it took so long to post this but as you know I am rather slow in this department. I am also really behind with the PostCards but don’t worry, I will be sending them out this week… I promise.

Amsterdam is one of the most unique cities in the world for two reasons : the geography and the culture.
The geography: The city itself is made up of about 90 separate islands connected by over 100 kilometers of canals and more than 1500 bridges. It is often called ”the Venice of the North”. Posted is a bird’s eye view of the city centre.
The culture: Amsterdam has one of the most relaxed and open minded cultures in all of Europe. Here is a city that values eco-friendliness, as one out of every second person chooses to use a bicycle as their main method of transportation. The city is full of literally thousands of bicycles, they line the streets, canals and bridges and they are all old school style, straight out of the 1960’s. Secondly, prostitution and marijuana are legal and regulated by the law. There are only certain places where the solicitation of sex and consumption of marijuana can take place, in the red light district and in cannabis coffee shops respectively.

Rafal and I were in Amsterdam from the 24th of March until the 27th. Our flight was in the evening and so by the time we reached the city centre it was already dark. This was a new experience for me but it was really cool to see the city at night first. We walked for almost 3 quarters of an hour to reach our hotel, but it was cool because the sights were incredible and the city is beautiful at night. All of the canals glow with reflections of the lights in the water. Its amazing. After checking in and dropping off our stuff we were right back out on the town again. We enjoyed a few beverages at a club close to our hotel and also went into a close by coffee shop to check it out. There was reggae music playing and a friendly looking man behind a counter which had 2 menus displayed for customers. The first menu had only non-alcoholic beverages such as juice, energy drinks and coffee. The second menu had different types of pot you could buy with full descriptions and prices. It was craziness.

The next morning we woke up early and went straight for the tourist destinations. First stop was the Van Gough museum. 15 Euro each and 20 minutes later we realized that neither one of us has an appreciation for fine art, nor do we have any expertise in the area. That activity didn’t last long. Next stop the Heineken Experience for an above average tour of the Heineken brewery with many demonstrations, interactive activities and taste testing. It was my favourite brewery experience in Europe so far. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, it was Italian food which was really nice, then we toured the city a bit more by foot, stopping to check out a couple pubs and coffee shops and some places that were a blend of both. Each pub, restaurant and coffee shop has its own feel, theme and atmosphere. The city is literally full of these types of places and so we decided to stop in as many as we could as each one was so different from the last. It was really cool.
That night we decided to go to the famous red light district to see what it was all about. It was just as you would imagine it, and not at all as you would imagine it. The streets are literally glowing red and so are the canals with the reflections of the red lights. The red lights are not metaphorical. Nearly every building had glass windows with curtains. The windows were full length and narrow and were always lit up with red lights. Behind the windows stood the ladies (98% of them were beautiful). There were also lots of big burley men around to provide security to the women. And of course the area is overloaded with thousands of tourists. The area didn’t seem as rough or as sketchy as I had imagined it would. It was just like any other city center minus the women behind the windows in bikinis. We learned that each and every lady of the night is subjected to regular testing once a month, a regulation set by the government to keep the industry clean.
We had dinner in an Argentina steak house and the food was lovely, then we went back to the part of town where our hotel was, stopped off at the club from the night before for a night cap and then exhausted we went home to sleep.
The next day we got up, went to the square near the hotel where there are loads of restaurants and lots of tables outside and had a nice cup of coffee in the morning. Next we boarded a cruise boat and took a tour of Amsterdam via the canals. It was a whole new perspective from which to see the city. The canals are lined with 100s of house boats that are used as permanent residences to some lucky (or unlucky) residents. I kept seeing people in the window of their house boat and imagined how annoying it would be to have millions of tourists sail past your house and look inside each day. But none the less, it would be cool to live on an Amsterdam canal. On the tour we saw one of the narrowest houses in the whole city. Which was REALLY narrow. Because real estate was expensive in Amsterdam, people only bought narrow plots of land and built the houses a few stories high. It makes for a really cool landscape. However, because of all the water, they were not able to build proper foundation and so many of the houses are leaning now. Also really cool to see. After over an hour trip, we hopped off the boat at Anne Frank Huis, the building where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazi invaders during WWII. It was one of the most moving exhibits I have ever seen. You get to go through all of the levels of the building. The first floor was where the business was running each day, the reason why those in hiding in the annex had to be so quiet during the day. Then when you go up the stairs and into this room they have the actual bookcase there which was used to hide the small entrance into the secret annex. The bookcase is pulled to the side so you can squeeze through the opening. It is not very big and even I had to duck to get in. After a climb up some narrow steep stairs you are in the actual secret annex. It was just so surreal and hard to imagine being locked up in there for over two years. They had recreated it to make it look like it did at the time of hiding. After they were captured everything inside was seized and removed. Auto Frank, Anne’s father was the only survivor and he was a major help in making the building and Anne’s diary accessible to the public. Passages from her diary were displayed on the walls through out the building. My throat tightened and I had misty eyes when I walked out. It was definitely worth seeing and made me feel more connected to history than any other monument or museum has thus far. Plus I read the book when I was young and so it was just amazing to actually go there and see it in real life. After Anne Frank Huis we walked around the city some more and stumbled upon a duo of two young gentle men performing for donations in the famous Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam. When we walked up they were between songs and people were dropping coins in the guitar case. One was singing and one was playing guitar. When they started to play again I nearly lost my breath, they were playing one of my favourite songs of all time ‘need somebody’ by Kings of Leon. Raf video taped it and I swear it is better than the original. Amazing!! Well those are the most notable highlights of the trip, we were up really early the next day to catch our flight home, once back in England it was a nightmare commute from Liverpool to Bowness, I slept most of the way and we made it in one piece.
What an incredible city, experience and trip of a life time. I can’t wait to go back. One thing I would do differently is plan the trip in the mid to late spring when everything is in bloom. Amsterdam is really famous for their tulips and floating flower market, where all of the stalls float on the canals and you walk onto the floating stalls from the street. Really cool but not so good in March.

Up and coming news. Mom gets here soon!! A week from today she will be with me in Bowness but she will be leaving for London on Sunday. After spending three nights in London her and Mary Lou will be heading north to stay with me. They will have a nice room in my hotel and we will do some touristy stuff in Cumbria, then we will go to Edinburgh from the 18-20th. On the 19th we have a coach tour booked from Edinburgh to Loch Ness where we will try to spot Nessie!! Really excited to see her and Mary Lou and to show them around. Then I am going to Majorca in June with some friends from work. Rafal and his brother and my friend Zivile. Going to be amazing. It will be really hot there and so I am looking forward to swimming in the sea and getting a nice tan. We will be staying at a resort on an all inclusive deal and so it will be a well deserved ‘relaxing’ holiday after all of the bustling busy trips I have been taking so far.
Well that is all from me for now. I hope everyone is well at home and I miss you guys. Take care and sending lots of love. Xoxoxo Carlie

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dublin 2010!

Our room!!

The Guinness Brewery Map! Incredible building!

Picture of the crowd heading to the stadium!!

Julie, Jane, Meghan and I at the Game!

Rugby Team boarding the bus outside of our hotel!

Kilmainham Prison.

Greetings Team Canada!!!

I am very disappointed to say that I missed the opening ceremonies last night! It was broadcast live at 2am and I just couldn’t stay awake for it!! Hopefully they will show a rerun later on!! Id just like to say, “Let the Games Begin--- GO CANADA GO!!”

I was recently fortunate enough to take a short holiday to the Emerald Island and visit the magical city of Dublin! It was an amazing trip, and I might even say my favourite place I’ve visited so far!! My friend Meghan from Guelph and her two aunts Julie and Jane were coming to the Dublin as part of their “roses and ruggers tour” and I just had to go and meet up with them! They called their trip the roses and ruggers tour because they were in Europe to see the 6 nations rugby tournament. Their last name being O’Donnell, it is no surprise that they were cheering for Ireland. They spent 4 nights in Dublin, saw Ireland beat Italy and then they headed for a few nights to Galloway , IE and then over to Paris for a week where they would watch the Ireland vs France game. Obviously, I had to leave the tour after Dublin. The roses part of the name comes from the fact that everywhere they went and everything on offer was a special valentines day offer. This is great timing and as you can see, the name practically spoke for itself.
Anyways, here is an overview of my time with them in Dublin.

Wednesday, Feb 3rd:
After work I hopped on a train and headed to Liverpool where my departing flight was scheduled at 6:30 am the next day from John Lennon airport. I booked a nice little bed and breakfast in advance because I knew that sleeping at said airport is virtually impossible. I set my alarm and booked a taxi for 4:45am then went to sleep. I woke up to my phone ringing at 4:40 am, it was the taxi company giving me a 5 minute warning to my pick up time. Thank goodness they make that call. I frantically got my stuff together and ran out the door just in time to catch my taxi. On the way to the airport I checked my mobile to see why my alarm hadn’t gone off and it turns out I set it for Wednesday morning not Thursday morning!! Alls well the ends well though because I made it to the airport on time for my flight. Though my turbulence was not over yet, as I was in line to board the plane, the rep from Ryan air looked at my passport and boarding pass and told me I was supposed to go to the visa check desk to have my “non-European Union” passport verified, a process in which results with a stamp being placed on the boarding pass. Opppps!!! Turns out she was a really nice lady who made a quick phone call, scribbled something on my boarding pass in yellow highlighter and then let me go ahead and board the plane anyway “phew!!”
The flight to Dublin was 40 Minutes!!
When I arrived at the hotel, I was astonished by its sheer beauty and elegance!! Posted is a link to where we stayed which happened to be the same hotel that the Irish rugby team was staying (hence the reason why Julie picked it). The lobby was stunning and to my good luck the room was already waiting and ready for me. I had a few hours to kill before Meghan and crew would arrive so I took the first bubble bath Ive had in 5 months in a beautiful marble tub and then went for a walk, stopped for a lovely traditional Irish breakfast at a small café down a side street and then returned to the hotel for a nap in a beautiful bed of feather duvets and pillows.
When the girls arrived we had celebratory glasses of Champagne and then went out for dinner to a nice little Irish pub. After dinner we went to the temple bar area where there are loads of pubs, restaurants and people (kinda like hess village but IRISH!) We went to a few pubs, had some Bulmers (Irish cider soooo yummy) and watched live traditional Irish musicians and Irish people doing Irish Jigs. It was all so surreal. Later that night the group split up and Megs and I went to a dance club where we had a blast. We ended our night with a stopover in a local Kabob shop where Megs demanded that the Persian girl make her some Poutine. Hahahah it was sooo funny. The poor girl didn’t know what Gravy was!!!

Friday, 5th February:
After breakfast we started our day with a tour of Kilmainham prison. The history of this building is remarkable, and our tour guide was informative and so cute with his little socks and sandals. We really enjoyed the tour and it was really moving at times. A lot of horrible things happened in that Prison especially during times of British rule.
Next we visited the Guinness brewery where through a self guided tour you are shown every step in the Guinness brewing process. The building itself is no longer used for brewing, but it is such a cool place, the entire building is made in the shape of a pint glass. Posted is a picture of the building map. The top floor is called gravity bar (top of the glass) and it is a round room on the 7th floor made completely of windows where you are able to lookout over Dublin while enjoying your complimentary pint of Guinness. We also ate at the restaurant here and it was really good. The next thing on the agenda was the Jameson Distillery. While waiting for a cab to come along, we spotted a horse drawn carriage cab, looked at each other in agreement and hopped inside for a romantic frolic through the city of Dublin. Our drivers name was Gil and our horses name was Dancer. Gil was really funny and told us a lot of historical facts on the way to Jameson. The tour at the distillery was guided and very interesting. Again, it is no longer used to produce Jameson anymore, but it was redone and recreated to give you a visual idea of how the Whiskey is made. Unlike American Whiskey which is distilled once, or scotch which is distilled twice, Jameson Irish whisky is triple distilled in seasoned barrels that previously contained either cherry or port. It’s a really cool process and even though I hate whiskey, I def drank my sample drink at the end!
That night we went to a nice Italian restaurant down the road for a great dinner and then we went to some less touristy pubs that night. At one of the pubs we met two Irish gentlemen named Michael and Joseph, and we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night. They gave us all nicknames and told us funny stories and jokes. And it just made me fall in love with Irish people. Our group kept getting bigger and bigger as more and more Irish people came over to talk to us and join the fun. It was definitely a great night.

Saturday, 6th February:
We woke up and hit Grafton street to do a bit of touristy shopping, then it was back to the hotel to get ready for the game. Julie had 4 tickets and to her I am very thankful for the amazing experience she so generously gave me. Posted is a pic of all four of us in our Irish gear. The rugby game was in Croak Park in Dublin. The stadium holds 80,000 people and the announcer said there were over 77,000 people in attendance on the day. It was by far the largest sporting event I have ever taken part in. As we were getting ready to leave the hotel, we came down to the lobby to see a red carpet had been laid out and the teams bus sat waiting outside the front doors. We joined the anticipating crowd. As the players starting coming down the steps in the lobby there was a roar of excitement and cheer and people were gathered outside of the hotel to watch them all board the bus. Megs and I were so close to the players we could have reached out and touched them. Posted is a pic of them getting on their bus. The atmosphere on the streets down by the stadium was amazing. Everyone was really excited and there were people everywhere, all with beer in hand. We joined the parade toward the stadium. Posted is a picture of thousands of people making their way to their seats.
Incredible sight!! Ireland beat Italy 29-11.
That night we ended up eating at Subway because every restaurant in the city was fully booked and we didn’t think of making reservations before hand. Julie and Jane’s friend Mits landed in Dublin that afternoon to join the tour and we took her out to another traditional pub. We ended up having a pretty early night that night as Mits was jetlagged and I had to get up at 5am then next day to catch my flight.

Sunday, 7th February
Left the hotel in Dublin at 5am, and arrived back to my room in Bowness-on-Winderemere England at 3pm. The flight from Dublin to Liverpool was only 35 minutes but it took me 10 hours to get home because the Sunday rail service in England is worse than Sunday television in Canada. There is absolutely nothing on!!! But I made it home safe and sound and definitely feel like it was worth it!!

I miss you all sooooooooooooooooooo much and hope that all is well at home. I am sorry to say that the post cards I got you from Greece are still sitting in my room. I wrote them all out over 2 months ago but still haven’t posted them yet. I will post the Dublin and Greece ones all at the same time. I apologize for the delay! Ive been really busy and it keeps on slipping my mind. Better late than never I guess!!

Well that is all for now. Keep your sticks on the ice and root for our home and native land!! With endless love from across the old pond,


Horse Drawn Carriage ride!

Jameson Distillery

The Rugby Game!!
With Michael and Joseph!