Eurotrip 2011: Bruges and Amsterdam

My voyage from Porto to Bruges on the 28th was a big turning point in my trip: I was leaving Latin Europe for Germanic Europe. For the first time, I would be outside the borders of the former Roman empire.

I experienced some culture shock after arriving in Bruges – surprising, considering that I didn’t experience any when I arrived in Istanbul from the U.S.A. The chilly, windy, cloudy weather made me homesick for the Mediterranean clime. The people seemed more reserved. The prices were higher. I understood less of the language (my Latin and tiny bit of Italian help me with the Romance languages). However, I quickly acclimated myself, thanks in large part to the coziness that even the buildings in Bruges seem to radiate.

In Bruges, in case you haven’t seen it, is a movie about two hit men hired to kill someone in Bruges, who develop spiritual qualms when they see what a nice city Bruges is. I think that the director got his idea for the movie from walking around the city and taking in the atmosphere. It’s a pretty, peaceful, unpretentious town unsuited for murdering.

I was only in Bruges for two nights, and I spent much of my time planning the rest of my trip, so I didn’t have as much time for sightseeing as I’d have liked. I took a walk recommended by an employee at my hostel, which took me past some beautiful canals, windmills and Flemish architecture into a part of town that was empty due to lack of tourists. According to a brochure I read while in Bruges, the city has more tourists than local residents in the summer.

My hostel, the Snuffel Backpacker Hostel, had a bar for a common area – a quality I usually hate in a hostel. But, they served a great local beer called Brugse Zot.

On my last night in Bruges I spent 7 euros to see Tree of Life at a local theater. They showed it in English with Flemish subtitles. I thought it was great, but many of the other people in the theater didn’t have much patience for its slow pacing and lack of dialogue. They cheered when the movie ended, not in a complimentary way.

The next day I took a train to Amsterdam. Frankly, I didn’t like Amsterdam much. My hostel was in the middle of the red light district, somewhere you don’t want to take a walk through at night. Just down the block from my hostel, there were prostitutes behind glass doors with red lights on top.

The city is rather pretty outside the red light district, however. It reminded me of a blown-up Bruges, with wider canals and bigger buildings.

On my first afternoon in Amsterdam I went to the Van Gogh Museum. I was expecting a mixed experience after Roland told me that he was kicked out for making a sketch there. An art museum that doesn’t allow artists to make sketches doesn’t have its priorities straight. Yet, I enjoyed my time there, thanks to the large variety of Van Gogh’s work.

The next morning I went to the Anne Frank house. It was fascinating to see the small, winding rooms I remember imagining when I read Anne Frank’s diary in 8th grade English class. I can’t imagine living in such close quarters with so many other people. I suppose that being in such a tense setting provided the creative fuel for Frank’s diary, which is so insightful for a 13-year-old.

Amsterdam has more cyclists than any other city I’ve been to. There are extra lanes for bikes between the roads and the sidewalks that you quickly learn not to walk across carelessly. Sometimes the cyclists make it hard to navigate the streets as a pedestrian, but thanks to them there are very few cars on the road.

I spent four and a half days in Amsterdam – three nights, plus a fourth day before boarding an overnight train to Copenhagen. I later wished I could have added one of the days to Bruges or Copenhagen. I spent most of my time in Amsterdam wandering around the canals or chilling out at my hostel.

Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

The Toilet Paper Towel-Off At The Hotel Kabul

It was the summer of 1980.  My college graduation present from Mom and Dad was round-trip airfare to Europe on Laker Airlines, which was the low-cost carrier of that day.  I saved up enough money for a Eurail pass, borrowed a shoulder bag from Mom, and set off for the broadening experience of foreign travel.

My first stop on the continent was Amsterdam.  After a day of visiting the museums and the Dam I decided I needed to secure lodging for the night.  A travel guide had said the Hotel Kabul was the cheapest night’s stay in Amsterdam, and I was more interested in saving money than anything else.  When I arrived at the Hotel Kabul, however, I began to question the wisdom of that approach.  The hostel was in a run-down part of town a few blocks from the red-light district.  It was dark and dingy inside.  But it was inexpensive.  I paid for the cheapest sleeping accommodations, which turned out to be the bottom half of a bunk bed in a barracks room filled with perhaps 20 bunk beds and a number of scruffy looking miscreants.  The bedding was marginally clean.  That night I slept — fitfully — in my clothing, trucker’s wallet pushed deep into my pants pocket, using the shoulder bag as a kind of pillow.

As the first gray light of morning filtered into the dim sleeping area I groggily decided I really needed a shower.  I took my stuff to the bathroom, secured a shower stall, and rinsed off in a tepid stream.  I emerged from the shower . . .  and looked in vain for a towel.  Being a complete rube, I hadn’t realized that hostel users either brought a towel or rented one at the front desk.  I had done neither.  So there I was, dripping wet and feeling like a complete imbecile, in a grim bathroom in the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam.  What to do?

The options were few.  I could try to wipe myself off with some of my other clothing and then cart the wet clothes around as I did my day’s touring.  I could sit around until evaporation worked its magic.  Or, I could resort to the toilet paper towel-off — and that is the option I chose.  After first congratulating myself on the solution, I quickly came to realize that this was not the greatest idea, either.  The Hotel Kabul’s toilet paper was — not surprisingly — ridiculously cheap.  It somehow combined a pulpy scratchiness with gossamer thinness.  As I tried to swab myself dry I realized that I was instead being coated with a flaky crust of toilet paper dust and tiny nubbings that stuck to my skin like glue. I tried to remove all traces of my resort to the bathroom tissue option, but you don’t really want to spend a lot of time in a strange communal bathroom picking objects that look like lice off your skin.  I know I was unsuccessful in ridding myself of all of the toilet paper trappings.  So, I skulked out of the lobby, keeping as far away from the front desk as possible, and relied upon the good manners of the friendly Dutch to refrain from telling me that my skin was streaked with a weird white residue and I was leaving a trail of toilet paper pellets as I walked on.

My European tour was underway.  From that point on, I gladly paid to rent a towel at the other hostels I visited.