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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Europe: Amsterdam and Holland

So, given that it is a beautiful, sunny, typical South African Sunday afternoon and I am recovering from eating WAY too much of my grandmothers awesome cooking, I've decided to take the time to write about my amazing trip to Europe! I apologise about how few photos I'll post with this, but the blogger photo thingy just drives me my patience only can cope with about 5 at the most...

The trip started on Thursday the 13th (not nearly as ominous as if it had been a Friday...) of August. I was on my way to Europe to attend the International Ethology Conference, in Rennes, France. We call what we do Ethology because that just sounds way more cool than just saying, 'We watch animals and try figure out what they are doing...'

For financial reasons (being a student does suck sometimes) I had booked myself onto an Egypt Air flight to Amsterdam, my first port of call. Saving the money on my flight with Egypt Air did however mean that I had to spend 5 hours in Cairo, wafting around the airport. It wasn't all that bad and, honestly, the only thing that really struck me about Cairo, was just how flat and desolate it was! I know what you're thinking...'Luke, don't be such a dumbass! It's in the middle of the desert! What were you expecting?! A tropical paradise?!'

Honestly, I don't know what it was that I'd expected to see when I got there. But somehow, it still came as a surprise when I looked out onto the runways and the airport grounds and saw nothing.

I then flew through to Amsterdam from Cairo. Cairo was like the alps in comparison to Amsterdam! I've never been somewhere so flat in all my life! It's just bizarre! Johannesburg is quite a hilly city. We are built on a range of hills which run east-west through the city, so a little gradient isn't anything strange for us. However, a lack of gradient is...

I arrived in Amsterdam feeling that terrified excitement that can only be understood when one is arriving in a country you've never been to. I'd been very smart about my travelling and had printed out a map of where my hotel was and had gotten a bus number off the hotel web-page so that I would have no trouble getting from the airport to my hotel. Once out of the airport, I found my bus-stop almost immediately, and waited all of a minute for my bus to pull up. I got onto the bus and after having a brief but pleasant chat with the driver, in English, moved to the back of the bus to take a seat.

A word of caution to would-be travelers: if you are attending a conference, don't take your poster with you unless you have one of those nifty architect-drawing-carrier-tube-over-the-shoulder thingys. Otherwise it just gets VERY irritating and cumbersome! But, sitting in the back of the bus, trying not to let my poster tube wallop people as they walked past, I could feel myself beginning to relax. It was a pleasant feeling to think, 'For the next few weeks, you don't have any responsibilities, other than staying awake in talks during the conference'.

After about 45min of riding the bus, we were well into Amsterdam and I began to wonder where my stop was. I got a little more worried when I noticed that the next two stops were the last on the line and neither were my street. So I scuttled to the front of the bus and asked the driver, who in very friendly tones and grinning from ear to ear assured me that I was very much on the right bus and that the next was my stop. I figured, who would know better than the guy who drives the bus every day? As it turned out, I'd probably have been better off getting directions from a pot-plant...

I dismounted the bus and thanked the driver, gleefully ignorant to the true nature of my predicament. He had suggested that I walk a few streets down in order to find my hotel, which I dutifully did. As I walked through the very busy area in which I was again, trying not to injure the local populous with my poster tube, I began to suspect that I wasn't where I needed to be.

Eventually, in a display of behaviour most un-befitting my sex, I asked for directions. In truth, I was a little terrified to ask the locals for directions and so sought out the first hotel with a Union Jack hanging outside it. I managed to find one with ease and, trying not to sound too nervous, asked the woman behind the front desk how I got to my hotel. She was very accommodating and kindly pointed out that my hotel was in fact, on the opposite side of the city.

After she suggested a bus to take, I returned to the bus stop to wait and pray that I was heading in the right direction. Another note to would-be travellers: If you are taking a backpack, ensure that it doesn't protrude too far off your back. Standing on a narrow island in the middle of a busy road waiting for a bus, you'd be amazed how many cars have near-misses with the pack on your back. Obviously the poster-tube hellbent on drawing blood by nightfall didn't help much either...

As it turned out, I was catching the correct bus (Thank you SO much reception-girl from Amsterdam!!) and eventually walked into the reception area of my hotel, grinning the triumphant grin of the moron who took the wrong bus, but everything is okay now. After checking in and learning the room number of the friends I was meeting up with there, I headed off to my room to ditch my stuff. The room, which was not bad at all, was a welcome sight and after unloading my baggage, I went in search of my associates.

I got to their room and knocked on the door. There was no response. So I knocked again. Nothing. Just as I was about to give up I heard the clacking of the door being unlatched from inside. As the door was cracked open, I gazed into an entirely unfamiliar face. After exchanging greetings, I apologised for disturbing her, obviously at the wrong room, and left. A little confused, I returned to reception to check on the room number. The receptionist assured me that I had been at the correct door and suggested that I try again.

I returned to the door and knocked again. This time, the response was almost immediate and again, an unfamiliar face appeared on the other side of the portal. This time I thought to ask if my friends were there. As it turned out, they were and the 'unfamiliar face' was in fact one of the people we were going to be travelling around with for the next two weeks.

A little rosy faced and sheepish, I entered the room to see how the others had fared on their arrivals. As it turned out, not one of us had managed to get to the hotel without getting terribly lost! That might have had something to do with the fact that the map and instructions I had used, I had passed on to all the others to aid their navigation, but I prefer to think that it was just rotten luck...

Amsterdam was amazing though! I don't think I've enjoyed a city quite as much as I did Amsterdam! No...wait...I'm lying. London was awesome, but Amsterdam came very close! We did so much! We went to the Anne Frank house (an amazing, but humbling experience), the 'Our Lord in the Attic' church, the red-light district, several amazing parks, the Van Gogh museum and a Holland-in-a-Day tour with the craziest woman I've ever met as our tour guide (Seriously, she was either severely unstable, or very high and given that it was Amsterdam, it could have gone either way...).

More on the rest of my adventures later! For now, gaze in wonder at the amazing photos...
A house opposite one of the very large parks of Amsterdam. Who wouldn't like to live there...?
A water feature near the Van Gogh museum. The panels in the middle are concertinaed metal sheets with pieces of different images on the side of each fold, meaning that the image changes, depending on which direction you look at it from! Clever! And, in the background, you can see the word 'Amsterdam'; it was another artwork.
I think this is a fantastic store! Whoever came up with the idea to market lies to children is a genius!
What would Holland be without clogs? Eh? I mean, look at the variety! They even had 'Hello Kitty' clogs!
Rotterdam (I think...)! The architecture was amazing! It's a little odd to think that you can go about the city by car...or boat...


  1. yay yay! luke wrote about his adventures!!


    your photos are lovely. i would indeed love to live in that house. please be so kind as to buy it for me.

    oh lord do i understand the whole getting on the wrong bus thing. i do it a LOT in japan. even worse in the freaking snow!

    sigh i really want to go to amsterdam now

  2. you left out the bit about the conference and your poster presentation...

    Also why didn't you all just travel together?

    Sorry i rarely do this but my word verification is "wortases"


  3. Thats so cool. Great pics.

    I really feel like i need a trip to Europe right now