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

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