Friday, 6 January 2012

I AMsterdam

The tourist slogan in Amsterdam is I AMsterdam which can be found all over the city. The biggest of which is a huge sculpture in the city centre of which tourists are renowned for jumping all over and taking pictures. Staying true to our role as backpackers, we could not walk past without doing the exact same so below are the photos but unfortunately not in order because that is beyond my technological ability.


We stepped out of the main train station on the evening of the 29. concurrent with a massive storm hitting the city. When you combine sleeting rain, hail, lighting, thunder and gale force winds with a stubborn mindset you get two soaking wet people with equally drenched luggage standing in the middle of a foreign city with bewildered looks on their faces. Irritatingly, the locals continued to cycle on their merry way as though this was a daily occurrence, which we found out in the next few days that it actually was. Dodging cars, buses, trams and cyclists which are affectionately named cyclopaths in the netherlands proved to be no easy task and it took us a while to find our hostel. The traffic is insane in Amsterdam and there is actually no easy way to get anywhere without the constant fear of being killed. Pedestrian crossings mean nothing, traffic lights mean nothing, road rules mean nothing and footpaths mean nothing. You get the idea. Anyway, we eventually arrived at the hostel dripping wet only to realise that because it was a houseboat in the middle of the river, everything in it had a dampness to it and was guaranteed to be cold all the time. Our room was a tiny ships cabin which I did like because it was very authentic but was so small that we could literally touch each wall with our fingers when we stood in the middle of the room. It was actually meant to be a three person room and I for the life of me cannot see how this would have worked. We were right next to the communal bathroom which could not have been more impractically designed with the shower directly in front of the entrance so that you had to walk through dirty water that refused to drain if you needed the toilet. My favorite time in amsterdam was the early morning when it wasnt raining and everybody was still asleep. It was really beautiful then so we always made an effort to wake up early. The architecture is really great with buildings threatening to topple over left, right and centre because the city is built on a swamp with tree trunks providing the foundations to the houses. This is of course not a great design because water and wood do not mix well and the result of which is a city which could fall apart at any moment. It is also a city of canals, apparently more so than Venice which provides a sort of drainage system for the city because it sits below sea level. In fact the highest point in the city is an incredible 1.1m above sea level. We spent our days visiting art galleries, photography exhibitions and dodging the swarms of stoned teenage boys as they shuffled from one burger king to the next. For new years eve we were planning on going to an open air concert but when we stepped out into the streets after dinner we were greeted with thousands of drunk people and DIY fireworks which is a lethal combination so we headed back to the safety and free champagne of our hostel. It ended up being a good decision because everyone else was back there as well and we had the best spot in the city to watch the fireworks so we headed up to the top deck and
watched the fireworks exploding 360• around us. The narrowest house in Amsterdam is only 1.8m wide and is so cute I had to include a picture which you will find below, it's the red one.


Where to begin? Let me first say that I absolutely love the city and everything about it. It is a place of extreme contrasts - the old and the new, the poor and the rich, colourful and gray. It is also exciting, dynamic, fast, ever-changing, dirty and artistic. We spent the first few days visiting contemporary art galleries which are hidden in every dilapidated alleyway and staircase in the city, as well as some incredible photography exhibitions. We also did a free walking tour which was so interesting considering berlin's recent and remarkable history. The Berlin wall only came down 20 years ago and the remnants of the city's old self are scattered all throughout the city. In fact, we loved the tour so much that when we returned to Berlin three days later we did another two with the same company. One was an alternative city tour which introduced us to the grungy, graffitied heart of the city in which we visited some of its most famous street art and squatting houses. The next day we did a tour out to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside of Berlin which was the benchmark for all other concentration camps under the nazi regime. It was an eye-opening experience and just made us appreciate everything we have do much more. Berlin is very cheap so we stayed in a 7 euro youth hostel when we weren't bumming off our generous friends and eating amazing turkish, Indian and Japanese food for ridiculously low prices.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

More Skiing Photos

One of the few times all three of us were on our feet

That´s more like it

And that

Lily struggling up the hill

Nürnberg Christmas Markets

I have been averaging at rate of two christmas markets a day since arriving in Europe which isn´t hard to do because there is one in every square in Germany and Austria. The biggest, and therefore most crowded, of these, is the one in Nürnberg, Germany. We decided to do a daytrip there yesterday so we caught the equally as crowded train there and spent the day shuffling from store to store with our elbows out. The only savoury food you can buy on any christmas market is a bratwurst so as vegetarians, Lily and I spent the day nibbling bags of warm, caramalised almonds. Yum yum :) We spent the rest of the evening walking around the city which is wonderfully old and the structure of which looks like an M.C. Escher painting. The train ride home was even more crowded, so we resorted to sitting on the filthy floor in between carriages with our backs resting on a constantly opening and closing door, with the smell of the toilet to contend with and the trolly lady wheeling a wagon of drinks over our feet at regular intervals. Oh, and the train ride is two hours long. We felt like we were in the middle of Asia not Europe, a continent which prides itself on cleanliness and sophistication. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful day :)

Cross Country Skiing

Today I had quite possibly the most fun I've had in a year. It didn't start off so great at 4am in Switzerland but 7 hours and 6 trains later, we arrived in Munich to be whisked off in Jutta's sad excuse for a car to the mountains for a day of cross country skiing. I'm not sure where exactly we ended up but I can tell you that it was cold, covered in a blanket of meter-deep snow, empty and very beautiful. The rest of the group were enrolled in a beginners course which is probably where lily and I should have been too but deciding that we were too cheap, arrogant and independent to take part, we grabbed ourselves the equipment needed and set off to the beginning of the track. Ten minutes later, we were still standing in the same spot staring dumbly at the skis we were somehow meant to clip onto our boots. This was when the group sidled up to us in their shiny new skis strapped securely to their boots and giggled for a while as we performed a one legged dance which ended with us splayed out on the ice in various uncomfortable positions or five meters down the hill. Eventually the instructor took pity on us and helped us into the equipment before smugly pointing out that the straps on our boots were not meaning to be hanging as decorations on the side but rather done up like a five year olds trainers. Having had enough of their cheek, we turned around and pushed ourselves down the first hill which ended with even more snow down our pants. In total, it took us two and a half hours to complete one lap of the half-hour track, a good half hour of which was spent watching lily take two steps up a hill before face planting and sliding back down to the bottom before Jutta had to come over and push her up it while I laughed at her from the top. In fact, I don't think i have ever managed to laugh for an entire day straight but this was definitely such an occasion. We realised early on that the trick was not to take ourselves too seriously and ended up having the best time of our lives. After our first lap we had a much needed hot chocolate break at the wooden cabin and consumed 15 euro pancakes which were ordered with, cooked by and delivered by the same strange man who felt the need to change his apron for each of these tasks, while two overweight sausage dogs wrestled at his feet. He also kept playing bartender with himself and skulling many pints of beers when he thought no one was watching. At least they were good pancakes.

Chur, Switzerland

Don't get me wrong, I am all for the no planning, take it as it comes sort of travel but after one too many missed trains, frantic rushes and stressful realisations I have come to accept that a little organisation is necessary if you do not want to end up in a foreign city in the middle of the night with no credit to call anyone and not a cent in your wallet. I'm not going to go into detail but our trip to Switzerland resembled this scenario with a few "I'm going I be sick"s and "what the f*** are we going to do now?"s thrown in. Fear not, with much aimless walking and tipping the contents of our bags on the ground, we arrived in Chur in the middle of the night. We stayed for four nights in lily's uncles apartment and did nothing but go for walks around the small city and surrounding mountains, read lots of books, watch lots of movies and eat way too much rice. In fact, we didn't eat anything but plain for three days straight because we had no money and everything in Switzerland is very expensive. Everything except rice that is.