Saturday, July 3, 2010

Canals, more trains, and back to Lisboa

Hello again!

Amsterdam, as I said, was beautiful (when the sun came out!). I arrived at the central train station, got a bite to eat, and wandered around until I found the public library (which was open, unlike that of Hamburg). A quick google search later, and I was on my way further down the dock to a hotelboat, where I could spend the night for not much more than the cost of a hostel. It was so cute! I had my own room to myself, so I dropped my stuff, picked up a map from the "captain," and headed out to explore Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is full of canals, which I loved, and wished I had a boat to explore them with! I wandered into the red light district (this is around noon), which is notable mainly because it is the center of town. I saw mainly cafés and shoe stores, and decided that a visit in the day time was plenty. I stopped at a cute café for lunch and had a sort of croquette in a bun (I believe it's a specialty of Amsterdam), then continued wandering around the canals, watching out for bikes, which are much more plentiful than cars and a bit of a danger to the unwary pedestrian. I headed back to my boat (hehe) for a quick rest, which turned into a nap (oops), then headed out again, stopping at a grocery store for dinner (when one has been eating sandwiches every day, it's nice to get a yoghurt for variety). It was still quite light out, so I was surprised to discover that it was already 8 o'clock! I speed-walked to the other end of town to see the Anne Frank house, which unfortunately closed 5 minutes before I arrived. It was a shame, because that was the only real "sight" I wanted to see. I had taken a peek at some cathedrals and churches but figured I'd seen enough religious buildings, and I didn't want to pay the expensive entrance fees.

So my wanderings took me on a winding path through cute squares and around canals back to my boat, where I had a nice night's sleep and then got up early to catch a train to Belgium. Thus began my adventures involving train reservations....
I had gone to the Amsterdam train station the day before to ask about train reservations, since I was using a rail pass to get around. I was told I didn't need a reservation to get to Brussels, so the next day I hopped on an early trian to Brussels, in spite of the intercom message "This train requires a seat reservation. " Well, that train was going through Brussels to Paris, so I was kicked off at Schipol (Amsterdam airport) and from there caught a different, slower, (non-French) train to Brussels. At the ticket office in Brussels I learned that all the seat reservations for Eurail pass holders were taken, so I could either buy a normal ticket or get to Lisbon some other way--my plan was to take the trains from Amsterdam to Lisbon.

Luckily, I have a friend who lives near Brussels, so I met up with her (as we had planned) and ended up buying a plane ticket to Lisbon for the next morning and staying the night at her house (not as planned). So besides the money lost on my rail pass, which was certainly annoying, everything worked out as planned and I had a lovely day in Brussels and Halle, picknicking in front the cathedral, wandering around the Grand Place, and enjoying speaking a bit of French. The next day I took the 5:50 AM train to the airport and caught a flight to Lisbon!

In Lisbon my host mom picked me up at the airport and took my back to my host family's house after stopping at my favorite café for a croissant. It was fun to be back and great to speak portuguese again (which fortunately came back to me pretty quickly). That afternoon I spent resting, grocery shopping with my host mom, and reminiscing about my time in Portugal.

Meanwhile, I've already spent a week in Oslo and I'm excited to begin writing about it! But first: Iberia!