Well, it has been a whole week since the beginning of our trip to mainland Europe and there is quite a bit to fill you in on. We took the bus to the airport on Wednesday to catch our flight to Amsterdam. The flight was fine and only about an hour long (I was asleep but this is what I was told). When we arrived our initial task was to make it to Amsterdam Central Station via the train from the airport. Once we finally figured out the machine to buy tickets (we went to the tourist information desk twice) we caught the train and actually got off at the right stop... despite the fact that we don't read any Dutch. Then we had to find our hostel. Now that was an adventure. After roughly 40 minutes of confusion and map deciphering we found the Amigo Hotel. Once we dropped our stuff off we left to go out on the town. We indulged in the Amsterdam lifestyle (Red Light District NOT included) and it was quite a lovely evening.
The next morning was rough but we grudgingly roused ourselves from the warm beds - the extremely loud construction outside the window helped - and went to our first "official" tourist location: the Anne Frank Museum/House. It was extremely moving. There were tons of original items (including her diary) from her house and the inside had been restored to look like it was when Anne was there except without the furniture, which is the way Otto Frank had wanted it to be. Then it was off the the Amsterdam History Museum which I really don't remember much about which means it probably wasn't that remarkable. I do remember that the number of canals increased as Amsterdam became a huge port city. After some lunch (and an accidental walk through the Red Light District - the women stand in the windows, scantily clad, displaying what they've got to offer and red lights light their rooms), we were off to the Rijksmuseum which houses some of Amsterdam's greatest artistic treasures including Rembrandt's The Night Watch and some Vermeer. They also had the newest piece by Damien Hirst - an skull covered in 8,601 diamonds and it's called "For the Love of God." Maybe I just don't understand modern art but I feel like this might be just a little bit pretentious. Still it was really cool to see especially because the display was in a room that was completely dark with the only light shining on the diamond speckled skull. Next up was the Van Gogh Museum which houses some 200 paintings of Van Gogh's and also has numerous sketches and other works. We saw one of the famous sunflower pictures, two of his self-portraits and many, many more incredible pieces. After this long haul through four museums we decided we'd do a boat tour through the canals because the little pass card we bought got us a free one (it also got us into all the museums for free. We added it up and discovered we saved nearly 20 Euro or about $28). I'll admit, I fell asleep almost immediately after the boat began moving and got in an hour long nap. I'm kind of sad I missed the canal scenery but I got some much needed rest. We had a hearty dinner and then we went back to the hostel and went to bed. The next morning we went to the Jewish History Museum which had some really great contemporary art about Israel and Palestine and Jews in the modern world (Mollie - this would have been GREAT for Jew class last semester). It also had some really amazing artifacts and objects from Amsterdam Jews over the past hundred years or so. We had some lunch and then made our way to the train station to make our way to Brussels, Belgium! Here are some Amsterdam pictures. None of the museums allowed pictures so all I have are scenic pictures of this great city in the Netherlands.
The outside of Anne Frank's house. Obviously, it didn't look like this when she lived there but the inside has been restored to look more like it was when the Franks were hiding there.
One of many, many canals. This is basically Amsterdam scenery in a nutshell.
The Royal Palace in Dam Square.
Extremely phallic looking National Monument in Dam Square.
The Heineken Brewery. We didn't go in but we passed by!
Amsterdam was all dressed up for Christmas!
The train ride from Brussels was only about three hours so we got a little napping in while we traveled. We opted for a cab to our hostel because it was bitterly cold, snowing a bit and we had no idea where we were on the map. Despite the fact that we spoke no French our cabbie attempted to give us advice about the city and kept saying "Bush out! Yay Obama!" Our hostel was trendy and huge. We had a little dinner and then went back to the hostel and hung out in the bar that was on main level and then got some shut eye. The next day we started probably a bit earlier than we needed. We saw the Congress Column also known as the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. Then we happened upon the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. It was beautiful and absolutely huge. Then we walked on and found a little square where we bought our first Belgian waffles! They were so delicious and to top off an already great morning it started to snow! We finally found the main square where the Grand Place (not Grand Palace as I kept calling it), which is basically the town hall, and the Brussels Historical Museum, which was not too terribly exciting, are located. Within an hour of being at the square, we saw two weddings take place! We also watched the construction of a massive nativity set and the set up of an enormous tree. We decided we needed to see the icon of Brussels: Manneken Pis. Yes, its a little statue of a boy peeing and its a fountain. The Belgians are obsessed with him - he has over 700 costumes that they actually dress him in! I think the appeal is in the fact that know one knows exactly where he came from or when he arrived. Since we had basically seen everything we wanted we opted for some shopping and Maggie and Kara went a little crazy and got their noses pierced! We turned in very early after dinner because we had to get up really early to catch our flight (that was almost a disaster which I will not recount because it basically consists of us wandering around Brussels at 6 am not knowing what the heck we were doing). We finally got back to Edinburgh and I must say, I can't believe we did it! I mean, we made it and had a great time without killing one another despite the fact that we probably wanted to a few times. But it's excusable because traveling is so stressful. But we're still friends and love one another, so its wonderful. What follows are the Brussels pictures.
Congress Column/the Monument of the Unknown Soldier.
St. Michel and St. Gudula Cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral.
Stacey, Kara and me in the snow in Brussels, Belgium. Did you know it's the UN's capital? Because it is.
Me and my first Belgian waffle. That look is because I was experiencing deliciousness beyond words.
Manneken Pis. Yep, that's it and yes, he is in one of his 700 costumes.
Kara and Maggie's new nose piercings! I don't know if you can really see them but they're there I swear!
I will write some more later but I'm very tired. Overall, the trip was spectacular and I had a blast... What a trip.