Saturday, March 31, 2007

Last day in Europe

Well, today was it. My last day. Luckily, I have seen pretty much everything I wanted to see in Amsterdam except for the Heineken Experience, which I did today. So I got to take it easy and relax. It was sunny and warm here again! I went to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, then to the Noordermarkt. Norbert called me so we met for coffee and dessert and then went to the Heineken Experience to meet Mike and Machado. It was kinda cool- its basically a museum of the history of Heineken beer complete with how they brew it- except it was more interactive than a regular museum. I can tell that they tried really hard to make it a fun place to be.

Me + Mike at Heiney

Norbert and I at Heiney

With your 10 Euro admission, you get three beers and a free gift. (Norbert thought that was bargain.) I am convinced that they pick a rowdy bunch of guys at the beginning of the day and just keep giving them free beer until closing- It helps the mood of the two bars within the tour and it gets everyone drinking.... they were yelling and singing at the top of their lungs.

Mike, Machado and I are meeting Norbert for tapas around 9 (hopefully Jocham as well) and we will celebrate the end of our Europe 2007 trip.... I will miss Amsterdam the most....

Friday, March 30, 2007

Keukenhoff and my Return to Amsterdam

Yesterday I spilt from Mike + Machado to go to Keukenhoff, Holland. It's where they grow a bunch of tulips and have a huge garden complex. Oh, how I wish I could post photos! It wasn't sunny and it was a pain in the arse to get to but it was worth it- nearly everything is blooming!

Luckily, Mike and Machado had cold Heineken waiting for me when I got to the hotel last night. It is a real craphole. We thought it would be a great idea to be in the center of town, which happens to be the red light district. Actually, the online description said "on the edge of" the red light district. The photos on line were nice, I swear!!! Anyway, the safe is broken, its a tiny room and the shower area has no door. (Not so great for privacy when I am staying with two guys.) The free breakfast was white bread, meat, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and corn flakes. And you know how I hate corn flakes! The coffee was even horrible. I have not had a bad cup of coffee on my trip until this morning.

Our Amsterdam Hotel window. That window to the right of the street is a "working" window.

Gerrit Reitveld

Coffee at Cafe Walem

Today, we walked to two Gerrit Reitveld spaces: Cafe Walem and M Cafe. Gerrit is a famous designer from the De Stijl movement... Sadly, neither space was remarkable. Both appeared to have been remodeled since Gerrit was there. The M Cafe was fun though because it was in the sixth floor of the Metz Department store and I had a great view of Keizergracht canal with the Rijksmuseum in the background. M+M went to that museum while I went back to Albert Cuypmarkt, hoping to find a dress or two for the 23 weddings I get to go to this summer. We met back at Museumplein and I had another waffle sundae. MMMMMM.

Prostitute Information Center
I visited Prostitute Information Center. Strangely, it is next to a historic cathedral in the red light district. (There are couple of windows just across from the church.) I wanted to go here to try to dispel any myths about prostitution.... I bought some literature. I'll fill you in....

We picked up a mini-Heine(ken) keg on the way home... I gotta get back before Machado drinks it all...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Leiden, Liege and Maastricht

Wow, it's been a few days! I made it to Leiden on Tuesday night. It was so great to see Joanna. She was one of the first people I met when I was in Guatemala. She is doing so well and her town and apartment are so quaint. I had low expectations of Leiden- when we were in Guatemala, she hadn't started her job there and wasn't excited about the town at all, but when I got there I loved it. The train ride to Leiden was also very scenic- lots and lots of windmills, daffodils and tulips. It's springtime in Holland!! I really wish I could have spent more time in Leiden. I think it's always healthy to experience the smaller, less touristy towns as well.

Me + Joanna in Leiden. (Notice the windmill in the background....)

Adorable Leiden!

Leiden at dusk

The Wednesday Market in Leiden

Liege, Belgium
Joanna and I had a great visit. I went with her to the train station the next morning, Wednesday, and she went to Switzerland and I went to Liege, Belgium. I know now why nobody talks highly of Belgium. I was to meet Mike and Machado at the Liege cathedral at 3pm. (Mike lost his cell phone, otherwise this would have been a lot easier...)

So, I get to Liege and it's not really a tourist town. It was kinda scenic- a hilltown with lots of old, old, mostly underpreserved buildings but there are no tourist offices, maps or English speakers (kinda fun to practice my French that I haven't practiced for 8 years!) To make a long story short: what I got from my broken French conversation was that I was to get on the #4 bus to the city center. So I did. But I never found the city center. So I just got off randomly after my intuition said that something was wrong. I walked in whatever direction seemed "right." Magically, after a few blocks I saw a sign pointing to the city center. So I followed it and found one of the streets that Mike had said we were to meet on. By this time it was 2:55 and I had no idea that I was even going in the right direction... so I just hauled ass down the narrow Belgian street, again in what I thought was the "right" direction... eventually I came to a square, at the corner of Rue de Cathedral and Place de Cathedral. It was 3:03pm and I was sure Mike and Machado weren't going to be there. But they were. I still cannot believe that we all made it. Neither can they.

We all agreed that Liege was not a place we wanted to stay for long, so we took off for Maastricht, Holland. Navigating in their little rental car- Citroen C2 (smaller than a VW Beetle, especially with all of our stuff)- was just about as scientific as my process of finding them in Liege: "Oh, that looks like the right way." "Maybe we should turn here." "I think we are going in the right direction."

I don't know how we got to Maastricht, let alone OUT of Liege, but we did.

Maastricht, Holland
Downtown Maastricht was MUCH better than Liege. We found a really adorable hotel (WITH A BALCONY- ALWAYS a plus!) on the main square. The weather was gorgeous and everyone in the entire town was outside- riding their bikes, sitting at the outdoor cafes or walking around. We drank and ate at our hotel's outdoor dining area for hours- until the sun went down and it got cooler (and when the table of young girls left behind us....)

Nope, he's actually mexican.

Mike & I in Maastricht

Hotel de la Bourse

Balcony de la Bourse

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monday in Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum, VanGogh Museum, Museumplein.

I had the best warm waffle with ice cream, chocolate sauce and cherries. Mmmmmm. I think I had a dream about it last night. Later, Norbert and I went out to dinner near Albert Cuypmarkt, then we went to a bar with LOTS of different beers- Cafe Gollem. Yum. I had a Foreffe Blond. Blonds are more fun ya know?

I turned in my rental bike today and then took a canal tour boot, I mean BOAT. I am lucky that it is sunny and warmer now. People are outside everywhere- on the docks, on restaurant patios, standing in the sun on street corners. I had to get a Netherlands sim card for my phone today, so if you call or text me my new number until I leave Amsterdam is: (011) 31 6 28 27 5064, or in Holland: 06 28 27 5064.

I'm at the train station now, I am going to Lieden to visit my friend Joanna, who I met in Guatemala. She leaves for a ski trip tomorrow morning. I'm debating a day trip to Belgium from there... what do you think?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Amsterdam with Jocham

Jocham and I got a late start yesterday. We made it to brunch at Winkel. Then we went to rent me a bike! Apparently, my bike is not a tourist bike but a public transportation bike. This doesn't make me feel like any less of a tourist, unfortunately.

Stedelijk Museum
Just down the street is the temporary location for the Stedelijk Museum, which Jocham insisted that we see. His company, dutchtub (, designed a rooftop garden with 2 tubs at the top of the building.

There were two exhibits- the building itself is nothing to brag about. One exhibit was called "Mapping the City" and the other was "Lights and Drawings." Upstairs, we went to a bar/cafe called "11" and had a drink and planned out our last portion of the day.

We decided to go to Het Schip Housing Estate. The style is called The Amsterdam School. It was quite the train wreck of a building complex, but fun to see nonetheless. I think the architects of this movement just wanted to be as weird as they could possibly be.

We then went to meet my friend Norbert, who I met in Guatemala. All I have to say is that I'm glad Amsterdam is flat because it was a 20 minute bike ride.

Oh wait! Time for some HODOGS.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Leaving Germany and Arriving in Amsterdam

Leaving Germany
...not much to see in Rostock. Dave said that the British used Rostock as a test city for carpet bombs. We did make it to Warnemunde on the Baltic Sea though. Dammit it was cold.

Brrrrr dude. Me at the Baltic Sea.

Lise, Dave and I at the beach. Not exactly tropical.

I saw the remaining wall around the city and a couple of churches & historic neighborhoods. Cafe Paula was the best!

And blah, blah, blah the German train system that I thought was so great really is not. It took me 12 hours to get from Rostock to Amsterdam yesterday. The trip should have taken 8 hours. Bremen- not Rostock- is the white trash capital of Germany.

So I made it to Amsterdam. As soon as the train arrived at the station, I lost cell phone coverage. Not cool since I was supposed to call Jocham (pronounced YO-kum) when I arrived- he was meeting me there. Fabulous. I don't know how he found me, but he did. Then I rode, with my backpack, on the back rack of his bike to his house. We had a beer there and then we left to meet his friends Chrystal and Lisette at Cafe Tabac- a dainty little bar/restaurant. Again, I rode on the back of Jocham's bike. On cobblestone streets. And speed bumps. With no padding for my butt.

We went to a couple of other bars and then decided to brave the red light district. The district on a Saturday night felt a bit like Lundi Gras in New Orleans- lots of large groups of drunk men with women on the mind. We found a table at a bar across a canal from a set of three windows and we timed "visits": 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 8 minutes. Jocham says that the prostitutes don't take less than 50€. They start at 80€ and negotiate from there... Crazy.

I was a bit disappointed though- I expected the women to at least be dancing or moving or something, but they all just stood there. It was worse than a bad strip club. Some of them were just sitting there smoking. Most of them had bikini-type attire- Nothing was showing. I think if I was a man, this would not be very exciting to me.

This is Jocham and I in the red light district around 3 am:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Berlin, Wednesday

This is what I wrote in my paper journal on the train from Berlin to Rostock:

Hallo, my name is Nicole and I will be your EXPRESS tour guide for Berlin.

Although I woke up with a splitting headache yesterday, I knew it was my only day in Berlin and I had a LOT to see. So I took a bunch of pills and marched on. It was pouring rain and very cold.

I took bus 109 to the zoo and then bus 100 to Siegessäute (the victory tower), walked around for a bit, saw the Bismarck monument and some other (probably significant) statues and monuments. I walked down Staße des Juni to teh Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. Although these places are important, they were not the main reason why I came to Berlin, so I did not spend much time at them (I did not go inside the Reichstag (the line was around the corner!) Instead, I decided to invest in some mittens and warm up at the cafe across the street.

The Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial WAS one of the main reason for my stay in Berlin- and it was totally worth it. I spent probably 45 minutes taking photos outside in the rain and cold. The memorial is a series of concrete "boxes" (about the size of a coffin) on a grid with narrow (maybe 2'-0" or 2'-6" wide) cobblestone walkways in between. No names, no faces, no plaques. Just a quiet space to comtemplate. If I had a dream career, I would design places like these- memorials or public places with out the history- just a place that represents something- a place to think about the event or location that is important there. I get so bored with historical museums and places with plaques with long histories and statues of famous people.

The holocaust museum below was also laid out on the same grid, but it was below ground, at the northeast corner of the memorial. I was pleasantly surprised. There was a kinda-wordy history and all, but it was more interesting to me maybe because the text wasn't mounted on the wall. Part of the exhibit had the history on panels on the floor and on coffin-size blocks that came out of the ceiling and didn't touch the floor.

Hitler's Bunker
Just around the corner from the memorial was the location of Hitler's bunker. It was really nothing more that a big sign with some text and a floor plan. I'm not even sure that the bunker was still there or if it had been demolished.

Potsdamer Platz
This is where I got very lost. I think I was distracted by all the modern architecture there like the Sony Center. After I found my bearings, I stopped for a late lunch at the "Quizno's" of Berlin- "Der Rächer Feihl." My panino, kaffee and water was 5,85€.

Berlin Wall, Gestapo Headquaters and "Topography of Terror"
It is so crazy to stand a place as historically significant as these and imagine all that happened there. Even the Gestapo headquarters was demolished except for parts of the foundation, but to know what happened in that building when it stood is appalling. Trials, soldiers quarters, prisoner cells were all housed at this location. And I was there. Behind the Wall was also an exhibit called "Topography of Terror" which was just more history, old photos and artifacts.

The Wall

Checkpoint Charlie
Check! A little building in the middle of traffic with some sandbags and a sign that warns that you are leaving the American sector.

Jüdisches Museum
I was outside this Daniel Libeskind building for a good while as well- until my hands wouldn't move anymore to take photos. It was 7€ to get into both exhibits and both buildings- one old building and one new. The permanent exhibit was the Jewish history. It was one of the most effective historic exhibits I have ever experienced. What made it so effective was how interactive it was. There were moving panels, phones to pick up and listen to, places to sit and play with objects that taught you about Jewish history.

One of many interactive displays at Jüdisches Museum

How fun is this museum?

More fun....

My favorite part of the permanent exhibit was called "Ja Oder Nein." It was a little station with a computer screen that asked a question like, "Do you think that in your circle of friends anyone holds prejudices against Jews?" And you are supposed to push either the red button or the green. After you make your selection, the screen gives you a percentage of the people who voted yes and no and how many had voted.

From the entrance plaque at "Shalechet":
Menashe Kadishman's installation "Shalechet" is first a memorial to the Holocaust. But he reaches beyond this and dedicates it to all innocent victims violence of war. He requests that his vistors walk upon the work. The title "Fallen Leaves" raises suggestions of both negative predestination and of hope for new life in the coming spring."

Me on the exhibit "Shalechet"

The funny thing is- I didn't really go to the museum for the exhibit- I went to see the building. Usually, the exhibits themselves aren't part of the design- they are independent of the exterior of the building and are usually the regular facts and photos and artifacts. There were all of those things, but this type of learning is so much more effective than standing around reading plaques all day!

The temporary exhibit was about Darfur. It was a slideshow along with drawings from children survivors of Darfur. Each drawing had a description from the child- most were drawings of people with guns or knives or a picture of their brother or sister or mother or father being murdered. The most powerful part of the exhibit was the movie, "Hell Came on Horseback," which I don't think translates correctly, but It was the documentary of a photographer who was a former Marine who spent 6 months in Darfur taking photos of what would later be declared genocide.

I arrived a bit late to the film, but it was amazing. At one point, the narrator/photgrapher Brian, was in a helicopter with his crew and they came across the Janjaweed in action burning down a village. When they saw the helicopter, the Janjaweed fled by Jeep. They showed 2 or 3 vehicles full of men with guns driving away from the village. He said something to the effect of: I could have ended it all. Right there, right then. If I had been behind the scope of a gun instead of a camera, this would all change right NOW....But I wasn't behind a gun.

It was very powerful. I'm not sure what the status of this movie is, but you should try to see it and do anything you can to help the people in Darfur.

The Taxi Ride
When I came out of the movie, it was snowing. And it was after 9pm. I was so exhausted that I asked the museum to call me a cab. It was 14,20€ to get back to my hotel, but it was worth every penny. All taxis in Berlin are Mercedes and this one was a newer one- leather seats and everything. Riding in that car after more than 12 hours of walking and sightseeing made my day. Not to mention how handsome the cab driver was... ("cabbies" are not like the cabbies in the US) He could have stepped right out of a Marc Jacobs ad- wool peacoat and all. Too bad I said "Si" instead of "Ja" when he confirmed my destination....

Overall, I loved Berlin. It was so clean, the transportation was very efficient and the architecture was amazing. One day is defintiely not enough though. I will have to return I guess.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I arrived in Rostock (in northern Germany) today. My friend Dave (from college) and his girlfriend, Lise, live here. Dave works for the Max Planck Institute. So far, the weather in Germany leaves a lot to be desired- In Berlin, it rained much of the day yesterday, snowed last night and Rostock is rainy and windy. Fabulous! I feel right at home.

Dave picked me up from the train station just after lunchtime and we took my backpack back to their place and Dave pointed me in the direction of the internet cafe while he went to a meeting at work. He thinks he will be able to take tomorrow afternoon off from work, hopefully we will get to go to the coast here in Germany!

Dave says that Rostock used to be a main port for Europe, but in 1990 everything shut down. Now the unemployment here is 21%! It is an adorable little town, a lot different from the bustle of Berlin. I can tell that this place is waaaay less visited than the previous stops on my trip- not many people speak english and prices are much cheaper- 1,80 Euros for one hour of internet.... IF you can find one of the two internet facilities that is.

Yesterday I gave myself the uber-express tour of Berlin... In the morning I will write more about Berlin and my day yesterday- I have so much to write! check back!!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday Night and More Sightseeing

Last night was Molly's last night here in Czech Republic. She returned to Spain this morning. She and Jen met my roommates and I outside of our hostel and we went to a fabulous Czech restaurant for dinner called Kolkovna. I suggested that someone at our table get the (real Czech) goulash- I was the only person who had even heard of it before- my mom used to make the American version when I was little (and still ate meat) and I wanted to know if the real thing was as good as I remember my mom's to be. Three people at the table ended up ordering it and they all loved it. Against my better dietary judgement, ordered the fried cheese (a Czech specialty) which came with boiled potatoes & parsley. It was delicious but unfortunately my digestive system didn't like it as much as my taste buds did. After dinner, we went to a bar called El Mojito, down the street from our hostel. We planned to have just one drink, but we ended up closing the bar down.

Today, Monday

This morning I woke up early and went to the post office and the local grocery store. After getting lost for the millionth time, I finally found the Jewish Quarter (aka Jewish Ghetto). For 290Kc (about $15 US), your admission gets you into six of the sites in the quarter: The Maisel Synagogue, The Spanish Synagogue, The Pinkas Synagogue, The Old Jewish Cemetery, The Klaus Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall. During the holocaust, most of Prague's Jews were killed but Hitler ordered the synagogues, town hall and cemetery of Prague to be preserved to make a "museum of an extinct race."

The most moving part of the complex was the cemetery, known in Jewish as "beit hayyim" or "house of life." For a relatively small cemetery (maybe 3000 square feet??) there are believed to be 100,000 Jews buried here- one on top of another, perhaps 6 layers deep. Shocking. The headstones were literally inches apart if not right next to each other and some were leaning over onto each other.

Jewish Cemetery

I also enjoyed the Pinkas Synagogue (a kind of Jewish version of the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C.) with names of each person who perished in the holocaust listed on every wall, with their birthday and the last date they were known to be alive. The names are arranged by location, but these were not all of the names...

Prague Castle

I walked over the famous Charles Bridge on my way to the Prague Castle, which is really a complex of schmancy buildings. The Cathedral sv Vita is amazing. There is a stained glass window by Alfonse Mucha and all kinds of other stained glass, statues and tombs. The best part was the 287-stair climb to the top of the south bell tower. I can't believe how many photos I took! There were 360 degrees of amazing views of Prague. It was soooo cold though- I had to stop for a hot chocolate at a super over-priced (but warm) cafe next to the cathedral.

Arch detail at a gate near the castle

Since I have been on this trip, I have been struggling with the idea of traveling in peak tourist seasons in order to be in better weather in my travels. I LIKE traveling when there aren't as many tourists- usually everything is cheaper and easier to navigate, but this cold is getting to be too much for me. Norway in December (of 2005) was the first example. I could do (more) sketches in warmer weather!

From the top of the Bell Tower

At Prague Castle