Way back when I was planning this holiday I made sure any travel days had as much slack in them as possible. My paranoia about missing something and throwing the whole holiday out of whack was strong back then and, unfortunately wasn’t made any easier by this morning’s events. You see I’ve never really used the train as transportation, save for a few scant trips around Sydney back in my youth. So the notion of crossing country boundaries via a land based transportation system was foreign to me and, even with the reassuring words of my friends that trains were “the way to go” in Europe I was a tad anxious at the prospect.
Arriving at the Gare du Nord in Paris I was greeted with a similar level of bedlam that I’ve come to expect at airports of similar size. Then a sinking feeling hit me: was 1 hour enough to navigate this mess and find our train? We initially hopped in a line that appeared to be leading somewhere only to be told that it was for a train to London. A few more helpful people later and we’d activated our Eurail Pass and found the line for our train which was departing in about 20 minutes. So whilst I might have panicked initially really there wasn’t much to worry about.
The train ride from Paris to Amsterdam, which I’m told is monopolized by Thalys, was amazing. The seats were the size of business class seats on any airline and there was more than ample space between rows, even for someone of my stature. The food service was generous with the hostess coming past multiple times in our 4 hour journey asking if we wanted drinks or snacks. Best of all the ride was smooth and incredibly quiet. Basically it’s everything you wish air travel was, save for the fact that for longer trips it loses out on the time factor. Now I wish I had known about the overnight train between Munich and Rome before I had booked the hotels as I think that would’ve been quite the treat.
We arrived late in Amsterdam late in the afternoon and quickly made our way to our hotel which is located right next to the Van Gogh museum. It’s an older establishment, essentially being an overgrown bed and breakfast, but the woman who greeted us at the reception was kind and incredibly forthcoming with information about where we should go. After we got settled in I established contact with an old friend and former housemate who we’d arranged to meet here and we began the trek to meet him at the halfway point.
We met up at a place that reminded me of a lot of the bars in Melbourne, a place called Kriterion, The beers there were extremely cheap and the quiet ambiance of the back street it faced a nice backdrop for sharing our current travel stories. It wasn’t long before we all downed a couple beers and were looking for some food which led us on a winding tour of the surrounding district. We eventually settled on an Argentinian steak place that did their signature cuts very well although the beers and drinks had a distinctly weird taste to them. Satisfied with our dinner we parted ways for the night, although I’m sure this won’t be the last post where I mention our friend.
It will probably come as no surprise that I was struck by the number of bikes, both those in use and locked up on the streets. This is a town that was made for bikes, the distances between places short and the streets built around them. What also took me aback was the similarity of architecture from street to street, enough for a new tourist like myself to get lost in (and I did more than once). There are colourful and unique places to be sure however in general most streets had a very similar look and feel to them.
Tomorrow we’ll finally do something we’ve been wanting to do since we landed in Europe: a bike tour of the city we’re in. Our hosts here at Hotel Fita had good things to say about the tour we chose so hopefully we’ll get a good look over the city proper. After that we’ll probably visit the Anne Frank house as our host had said that it was much less busy in the afternoon. Potentially after that I might be swayed towards a night of debauchery with my friend, a known fiend for finding interesting places to drink in foreign countries. Should tomorrow’s post come a little late then you’ll know why and you should probably not assume the worst.
If another day passes however, send help.