So not to say this was a failure of a weekend, but it was riddled with bad weather and poor planning. However, it was so wonderful to get out of Paris and experience completely new places and I’m so glad we went.
Thursday night we got on the night bus at 11:30 PM heading to Amsterdam. The company we used was Megabus, which actually is in Europe as well as the US. You can’t beat 12 euros to get from Paris to Amsterdam, even if it takes 8 hours. The bus ride really wasn’t that bad. There was Wifi but we couldn’t get it to work. There were even plugs (but I didn’t have the right adapter). Other than being squished in a tiny space for 8 hours, which is pretty unavoidable on a bus, it was not that bad. I slept on and off the whole night. The bus does stop fairly often, which accounts for why it takes so long. Still, if you want to travel for cheap in Europe I highly recommend it!
We arrived in Amsterdam at 7:00 AM on Friday. We were half sleepy, half really excited. We had no idea where to go or start. Our phones were almost dead. We were also really hungry and thirsty. I mentioned before that we were lucky enough to be able to stay with Dov’s brother, Matt, who lives in Amsterdam. However, his family was very busy this weekend, so we couldn’t meet him to get keys to their apartment until 5:30 PM on Friday. So we basically had the entire day to roam the city before being able to settle in with our things, rest, shower, etc.
Being so early (and also not light out) nothing was open yet. We wandered around the Centraal Station trying to find a map. The best we could find was for a tour bus company, so it was kind of biased because it highlighted the sites they showed on their tour. We couldn’t find any kind of map on their public transportation system, which includes trams, buses, and a metro. We decided to start walking outside straight from the station. It was actually pretty cool to see everything so early in the morning as the sun was rising. We began to get re-energized with excitement.
I used the last bit of battery power on my phone to find a place for breakfast that I had heard good things about called the Pancake Bakery. It didn’t open until 9:00 AM so we continued to wander around the area until then. We found out the Anne Frank house was right down the street from it. This is when it started to rain. We both had little umbrellas, but we were soon pretty wet. We picked a bench to sit on until the Pancake Bakery opened.
We were so early that we were the only customers. Man was it an amazing breakfast though! We both got hot chocolate and Dutch pancakes, which I liked a lot more than crepes. It was amazing, but sadly almost immediately after eating I had some bad stomach pains. The entire rest of the weekend I had bad stomach problems. For some reason my stomach has been really sensitive this time in Europe (remember when I first came to Paris?). When I did the exchange program to Germany 5 years ago, I never had any problems like I have this time.
Anyway, we planned on going to the Anne Frank house after we ate since it was right down the street and it’s infamous for having an incredibly long line. It wasn’t even open yet so we would be among some of the first inside. It turns out the museum has no coat/bag check, and seeing as we both had our bags with us, we realized we would have to walk all the way back to the Centraal Station to put our things in a locker for the day before being able to do anything else. We trudged back through the now pouring rain to the station. By the time we got there my little suitcase was soaked through. By the time we got back to the Anne Frank house, the line was super long and we didn’t want to stand in the rain so we decided to go to the Van Gogh Museum instead.
We ended up spending a ton of time staring at the map, unable to find it. Eventually we found a tram map and were able to figure out where it was, but we really could not figure out how the tram system worked. We’ve been spoiled by Paris’ Metro system and the ease and frequency of maps! We took a wild guess and got on a tram.
Luckily, we picked the right direction AND the particular tram we were on was announcing what sites were at each stop. We got off to find that this area had several museums and the “I Amsterdam” letters. Since it was pouring, no one was climbing on them. We got in line for what we thought was the Van Gogh Museum, only to realize after at least a half hour that it was actually the Rijksmuseum. So we got out of line and got in line for our Van Gogh tickets. They sell them for advance times, so we got ours for 1:00 PM and then went over to the museum to do more -gasp- waiting in line. Keep in mind all while it is pouring.
At this point we were also really cold. I was losing feeling in my feet. I was still extremely thirsty, as I had not found a place to refill my water bottle (water fountains don’t exist in Europe for some reason.) After a lot of waiting, we finally got in! The museum is one I definitely would recommend. Despite my extremely tired, wet, cold state, I still had it in me to appreciate some art.
After the museum we were so ready to just collapse, but we still had around 2 hours before we were going to meet Matt. We got some food and then I somehow managed to navigate us on the trams back to the Centraal Station so that we could get our luggage out of the lockers, and then from there to where we were staying with Matt. I honestly could not tell you how I figured it out. I think it was a string of lucky guesses.
We had great timing, because as soon as we stood in front of their apartment building, unsure of which was theirs, Matt’s wife Frances walked up with their dog, Starr, and let us up. We were finally able to sit down and drink some much-needed glasses of water. We talked with Matt and Frances for a while, who told us some interesting things about living there. For instance, as we had noticed, the Dutch love to speak English to the point that Matt (not a native Dutch-speaker) said his Dutch is not good because he speaks English at home, work, and people speak it socially as well. Just one of the many differences between Amsterdam and Paris! We went up to our rooms to settle in while they ordered “New York Style” pizza. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep. Once the pizza arrived, we sat watching “The Big Bang Theory” while silently devouring our pizza. Afterwards we went upstairs and it wasn’t long until we were passed out.
Saturday morning we planned to start with the Anne Frank house. We took some time getting ready, showering (for the first time since Thursday) and eating our leftover pizza from the night before for breakfast. Then I used my freshly charged phone to figure out how to get there. We had to wait in line, but it was actually not raining so it was pretty nice. We waited around an hour and a half, which really wasn’t that bad.
Photography is not allowed in the museum, and understandably so, I think. The building looks modern on the outside, as it is built around the original building of Oscar Frank’s office and the Secret Annex. He requested that the rooms be left unfurnished, so to keep it interesting and informative they are filled with photographs, quotes from Anne’s diary, and short video interviews. It was really amazing seeing the actual space where she wrote her now-famous diary. It’s probably been almost a decade since I’ve read it (jeez I sound old being able to say that) but now I really want to read it again. What I found both amazing and tragic about all of it was that she dreamed of being a published author, and as a result of her situation she achieved just that, but it also resulted in her death. Also she was so mature and intelligent for her age! I was amazed at the amount of surviving photographs they had of everyone and everything from that time. It works really well with the museum. At the end, they have her actual diary along with pages of her writings and the draft of her book. I highly recommend going to the Anne Frank House, even if it means standing in line! You can get tickets ahead of time online, so if you can you should do that.
Afterwards we ate in the museum cafe. Shelby got hot chocolate, which looked great. She said it was the best she had all weekend (and she had maybe 4 or 5 hot chocolates from Amsterdam to Belgium!) One thing I’ve noticed in Europe is that unlike in the US, museum cafes are not outrageously expensive and they are usually good quality. So, consider fitting them into your eating plans when traveling, since they’re also very convenient and have free bathrooms and indoor seating.
After the Anne Frank House I wanted to go inside the Nieuwe Kerk (seen above). However, they’re having a Chinese exhibition throughout the church so they were charging 15 euros to get in. I decided to just stick with peeking around from the entrance. Next, we wanted to do a little souvenir shopping and also stopped in at H&M because I had been wearing the same long-sleeved shirt I got in Paris and after living in it for 2 days straight (including sleep) I figured I should just get another. I also got another sweater, a blazer (the staple of Parisian fashion for men and women) and a cat dress, because you can’t have too many cat dresses. Shelby needed to get souvenirs for a lot of her family so we spent a while in the many souvenir shops near the Centraal Station. I ended up getting some as well, the first I’ve gotten since coming to Europe. I have a lot to get considering I’m missing several birthdays while I’m here and then I come back to the US just in time for Christmas. During this time we also got fries, although this afternoon was when I was also experiencing my worst stomach pains.
After shopping we decided to go to the Rijksmuseum, which I really wanted to go to after realizing what it contained. However, by the time we got there, everything was closing, it was practically dark, and it started raining again. Mind you I don’t think it was even 6:00 PM. On a Saturday. I’ve been in Europe almost 2 months now and I still can’t get used to their hours! We were pretty disappointed, but there was nothing for us to do at that point except go back to Matt’s. We dropped off our bags and relaxed a bit before deciding to go out to eat at this Mexican place I looked up. It turned out to be amazing! It’s called Los Pilones, and they have three locations in Amsterdam, so if you’re ever there I highly recommend it!
Mango margarita that was basically a slushie [=
After the deliciously satisfying amazingness that is Mexican food, we headed back and packed our things to be ready for our early morning. Little did we know how wrong it would go! I woke up at 6:00 AM which I figured would give us plenty of time to get to the bus station for our 8:00 AM bus departure to Brussels. We were taking a different company (Eurolines) but I didn't think it would be that different from Megabus. We left a little before 7:00 AM and waited at the night bus station for a while. Then, a woman came up to us and explained that there was a sign posted saying that particular bus wasn't running this weekend. So, we had to take the tram, which I originally avoided because it didn't go directly to the Centraal Station. We got off at a stop to transfer to another night bus, only to realize that one wasn't coming either. At this point we were getting worried we would miss our bus, so we just got in a taxi that took us to the Centraal Station. Once we were there, we grabbed some croissants and then took the metro to the Eurolines bus stop. We got there right before 8:00 but with enough time that I wasn't worried. That is, until I saw that there was a line coming out of the station and unlike with Megabus where you can walk right onto the bus, you have to check in at a counter to get your ticket before getting on the bus. We probably could have butted ahead, but we didn't think of it, and we watched our bus drive off without us. Once we finally got to the front of the line we had to pay 8 euros more each to get on the next bus at 9:00 AM. It wasn't that bad, but we would be losing an hour in Brussels.
The Eurolines bus was not nearly as nice as the Megabus, despite having TVs. The bathroom was completely not functional, and the seats weren't as comfortable. I stared at the bouncing, color-changing DVD symbol on the TV screen until I fell asleep. It poured the entire bus ride, but by the time we got to Brussels I was hopeful it wouldn't rain too much. We arrived around 11:30 AM. Determined not to make the mistakes we made in Amsterdam, our first priority after getting off the bus was to put our things in a locker. Then, I found an ATM (I ran out of cash the day before) and then proudly used some French to get day passes for the public transportation and maps of both the city and the metro system. Off to a far better start than Amsterdam AND having a working phone with Google Maps, we headed down to the Metro towards Brussels' Grand Place. The Metro there is much more similar to Paris, and is actually in some ways nicer, though it's probably also newer. It is somehow really calm and clean.
The Grand Place in Brussels really caught us off guard. We approached it from a tiny side street, and as we walked further in, we incrementally kept saying 'woah" as we noticed more and more of what was there. We spent a while kind of spinning around and staring at all the buildings. Then it started raining. It was a different rain than what we had in Amsterdam. The drops were less frequent, but heavier. There was also a nice, strong wind accompanying it.
We were really hungry, so our first priority was getting some genuine Belgian waffles. We picked a place on the Grand Place and ordered the most extravagant waffles possible along with hot chocolate. We had to wait quite a while which was sort of frustrating since we only had a few hours, but it gave us time to plan out and prioritize what we wanted to do. Once the waffles arrived we were not disappointed. They were pretty much the best thing I've eaten since coming to Europe.
After that, we stopped in a few shops along the Place and each got these awesome Magritte butter cookie tins. Then we headed to our first destination, the Mannekin Pis fountain. It’s just a statue of a little boy peeing, but for some reason it’s one of the most iconic things in Brussels, so we felt like we needed to see it. Ta-da.
Then, we headed to the Horta House Museum. It’s kind of on the outskirts of the city in a not as nice part, and only 45 people are allowed in at a time, so we got to do our favorite activity of the weekend: standing in line in the rain. I didn’t mind because I was so excited. Once we were inside, we had to check everything we had on us. No photographs were allowed, but once inside you have completely free roam of the house. It was incredible. If we had more time, I would go to every location that he designed in Brussels. They gave us a little brochure of everywhere in the city, there are so many locations!
After the Horta House we went back towards the city center to the Musee Magritte. This museum requires you to get tickets for a certain time (like the Van Gogh Museum) and also does not allow photography. It’s a really interesting museum, though. They don’t have most of his super-well known paintings (they’re probably in America) but the museum is laid out in chronological order of his entire career, so you get to see tons of his lesser known work, sketches, writings, drawings, and photographs. I especially liked seeing his “Exquisite Corpse” drawings and also seeing the evolution of his repeated imagery. For instance, in the first room he already was using pipe imagery and similar ideas to his Treachery of Images work, but it wasn’t until the last room that apples started showing up.
After Magritte we only had enough time to head back towards the station and get something to eat (waffles again, but quick ones on the street), grabbed our bags, and got some fries.
We wanted to get to the bus with plenty of time to check in to avoid the morning’s mistake. Of course there was no line and we waited a while, but we got on our bus to Paris at 6:30 PM without a problem. We were back in Paris around 10:30 PM and I was home sometime after 11. I then got to stay up until after 1:00 AM finishing homework. Yay.
So in conclusion of all of this, you can tell that there were several major problems encountered during this trip. The weather was out of our control, but we definitely could have planned ahead much better. We did more in 5 hours in Brussels than we did in two days in Amsterdam. I just see it as an excuse to go back some day! Despite all that, it was so refreshing to go somewhere that was basically the opposite of Paris. Paris is full of amazing things related to art and history, but honestly I do not identify with the French lifestyle at all. Amsterdam on the other hand is much more my pace of life. It was so fun to observe how people live there. For instance, bikes are definitely the number one transportation method. I saw every type of bike and bike attachment possible. The Dutch are pros, and they continued to ride around in the pouring rain, while holding umbrellas.
I also really, really have a strong attraction to Belgium. It is the perfect combination of France and The Netherlands. I would love to spend more time there and there are so many cities I want to explore. I am seriously considering figuring out a day trip to Bruges even though I am so pressed for time here. I also took some of my favorite photographs during this weekend, even though due to the rain and all the museums not allowing photography I only took a total of around 120 photographs. Crazy, right?