Trip of a Life Time – Belgium and the Netherlands

Brugges 01

When choosing my Eurail pass I chose to add the section of Europe ‘Benelux’ onto it – this includes three countries whose names combine to form the word ‘Benelux’ – Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

I was going to two of those countries, and after the Netherlands I was considering my options. In the end I chose to go to Prague from the Dutch capital. I’ll be honest, I only had a brief visit to either country. I’d like to explore further, of course, I say that about most places I visit. I had three days in Brugges and three days in Amsterdam.

Firstly, the rail journey was pretty pretty on the way to Bruges. Green hills and windmills could be seen, so I appeared to be in the right place. I had a great hostel in Bruges, where I met a number of good people including an American called Mike. Wherever you are in the world today Mike – ‘HELLO!’. It made the three days fly by even though I can’t say we did or saw a lot. Well, my memory of my trip sans diaries is not 100% for every location.

Belgium, The Netherlands - think windmills, right?

Belgium, The Netherlands – think windmills, right?

I remember a town square, and a ride on a boat in the canal. It’s a really nice spot and probably the premiere tourist spot in Belgium. There was a group going on a bike ride also but I was lazy and decided to bum around town and (I think) do laundry. There were some of those atypical windmills in around town to see as well, and also I remember going to a place for a beer which stocked over 300 kinds of beer. We tried all manner of beers including grape beer and the surprisingly drinkable banana beer. As was my custom, I took the labels off the beers and stuck them in my diary. Sadly, as mentioned, the diary no longer exists.

Group of friends in Bruges.

Group of friends in Bruges.

From the boat on the canal in Bruges.

From the boat on the canal in Bruges.

But I had made a great friend in Mike who invited me to come and hang out in Prague, which had convinced me that that was where I would head after Amsterdam. I was on a train to Amsterdam as clouds rolled in – I’d been experiencing some warm weather since my second day in France, but it was about to change and sadly there would be rain whilst I was in the Dutch capital. On the train I sat with a group of people from different countries having a great chat when after an hour or so I was asked by an American girl in the group what language we spoke in Australia. Never forgotten that question! I was stunned.

Still, I was in Amsterdam! City of … um… the red light district and drugs? Okay, yes that is completely unfair but it is sadly exactly what so many tourists are thinking when they go. It’s a nice city, I remember distinctly dodgy sandwich vending machines and roads and canals all seemingly in a semi-circle sort of set up.

Park in Amsterdam.

Park in Amsterdam.

The Flying Pig Vondelpark – that was my hostel. For some reason I remember the name of this one. Which was fine, a little expensive I think and quite party-orientated. Seemed very popular and was sold out every night I was there.

It wasn’t in the city centre, but Amsterdam is not too big and walking most places is easy enough and there are trams as well. I saw an American comedy show which was the oddest thing and sadly not funny. I can’t remember the name, but it was in a pretty big place and they sold plenty of tickets for it. It was specifically aimed at Americans in Amsterdam, and for the first time really I was aware of how expats can flavour a city, or indeed appear to ‘own’ a city. These days, I think Prague is the prime example of this, but back in 1999 Amsterdam seemed to have more foreigners than locals.

An Amsterdam canal.

An Amsterdam canal.

Moving on to the sites. Well, I loved the Rembrant Museum (and no-one else apparently did because there was hardly another soul there despite the city being full of tourists!) and I found the Anne Frank house really interesting too. The red-light district. Well, I walked along it one afternoon. Seriously people, how to we feel about this being one of the things that attracts people to Amsterdam? I’m talking about it as a tourist curiosity and nothing more. I mean, people working there are people. And most European cities have a red-light district. Yes okay, windows – it’s a little unique. I dunno, I don’t think I’d like tourists gawking at me whilst I was working!

There was and is so much more to Amsterdam. I left after two and a half days on a night train to Prague not particularly enjoying my time there to be honest. Yep. Dope is easily available and there are cafes, but the thing I remember about a café I went in was arguing with an American over the rules of pool! Nominate the pocket indeed!

I’d like to go back after doing thorough research on the place one day, because I think the building of Amsterdam sounds amazing. But, that was my brief time there. I was on a night train to Dresden after paying a small supplement on my Eurail Pass, and there I would change trains to Prague. I was off to Eastern Europe!

 

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