Monday, 7 November 2011

31 March, 2009 – Brussels, Belgium – Day 3

Today I just decided to wander around Brussels without any planned agenda. We all know that the famous Manneken Pis is one of the main highlight and a major landmark in the City of Brussels. A bronze statue of a naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin. However, looking at the town map, I noticed that there were actually 3 different Manneken Pis statues in the town of Brussels. Despite the little boy, there were actually another statue of a little girl (Jeanneke Pis) and also one of a dog. Intrigue, I made up my mind to find and "collect" all the 3 mannekken pis while I wander around the city (mission accomplished by EOD). See them in my album (album link below)

Rue des Bouchers, a street near the Grote Markt is basically lined up with various seafood restaurants, where you can have a seafood meal for 13euros, mainly targeting tourists. However the reviews from the internet are not favourable towards the food quality / service standards. At the Grote markt, there were a group of school children playing games. Each group will have a game board with Brussels' main tourist attractions on the board. The children will throw a dice, and then depending on where they landed, they need to go to the places of interest, get some information or photos and maybe answer some questions before coming back to the Markt and continue on. It's such an interesting way for the children to learn about this historic place :)

Wandering on, I got attracted by the sweet aroma of chocolates. OMG, it was heavenly :D Just standing outside the store itself admiring the macarons, handmade chocolates etc with the sweet scents probing out from the store is such a treat to my senses. Some of the chocolates stores have some very beautifully and creatively decorated / arranged artwork using chocolates. Of course all these comes with a hefty price tag for a backpacker like me... so just pure admiration and sniffing will satisfy me.

Another tip for those of you visiting Brussels, go to the carpark named 'Parking 58' @ Rue de l'Évêque, to enjoy an aerial view of Brussels city without having to pay a single cent. take the lift to its 10th floor, and a big parking terrace will open in front of your eyes. From here you can get a beautiful 360 degrees view of Brussels. Open daily from 7am until 1am (or 2am Friday and Saturday).

Photos of Brussels
Photos of Antwerp

30 March, 2009 – Antwerpen, Belgium – Day 2

It’s a beautiful day today, again sunny with clear blue skies. I made myself a cup of tea and had an apple and the ginger biscuits. I logged on the internet for a while and chatted with my sis over breakfast. After that, I went to the Brussels Noord station, bought a return ticket (€13.20) to Antwerpen. The officer told me the train will be leaving in 10mins from platform 11. So I board the train at platform 11 and I double check with one of the passengers on board. She told me the train is going to Antwerpen but there are some technical issues now hence she wasn’t sure when the train will depart. Also she told me that the train has stopped there for over 20mins so it is better for me to board another train. I got off the train and asked the train conductor at the platform where he told me to go to the opposite platform. Soon, a city rail train arrived and I checked with one of the passenger and he confirms the destination. The interior of this train is different from the train I boarded just now. The city rail train has PVC seats while the Intercity trail has a more comfortable seats. We had to change at Mechelen station, and I only knew this because I saw the girl whom I know was also going to Antwerpen alight the train. After 45mins, we arrived at the Antwerpen Central station. I got a map from the tourist info counter and went out to explore.

*Note: A year later after I came back from this EU trip, I came to know about the flash mob dance which happened at this very station. More than 200 dancers were performing their version of "Do Re Mi", in the Central Station of Antwerp. with just 2 rehearsals they created this amazing stunt! Those 4 fantastic minutes started the 23 of march 2009, 08:00 AM. It is a promotion stunt for a Belgian television program, where they are looking for someone to play the leading role, in the musical of "The Sound of Music".Sound of Music | Central Station Antwerp (Belgium)

Antwerpen is known as the fashion city of Belgium. The streets were lined with all the famous brand names you can think of. I had no problem maneuvering around this town as the map is clear and the streets clearly marked and organized. First, I arrived at the Rubenshuis (Ruben’s house), which is the former house and studio for Peter Paul Rubens, now also a museum. There were a café next to it with visitors sipping a cuppa under the warm sun. I passed by a shopping mall so I went in to search for food. As I went in, there was this ‘Antwerp Chocolate Store’ and one of their chocolate is the ‘Antwerpse Handsje’, chocolates in the shape of a hand. Maybe when people eat it, they can "Hi-5" with the person beside him? :p At the centre court, there were a ‘garden’ with lots of doll rabbits in conjunction with the upcoming Easter Holiday. The rabbits are really cute and adorable. I bought an apple waffle from a brasserie for only €0.95. Although this is not the original Belgian waffle (square in shape and only have sugar on top), but it tasted really good. Yummy yum... Walking on I came to a square with a statue of Petro Paulo Rubens, located at the Groenplaats (Green square), which was originally the Antwerp's central cemetery until Emperor Joseph II banned cemetery inside the city and converted it into a square. Hilton Hotel Antwerp is here.

After that I visited ‘De Kathedraal’, cathedral of our lady. This is the largest Gothic cathedral in the Benelux countries. The Cathedral of Our Lady houses a number of significant works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. Following the map, I walked through the Grote markt (the market square), with Guilds richly decorated with golden statues; ruihuis (Antwerp canal), ethnographic museum, silver museum, The Steen (next to the canal), Museum Platin-Moretus, beguinage & beguinage church, Saint Andrew’s Church, Theaterplein. In the middle of the market square, stands a statue of Brabo, the legendary giant slayer, who controlled the river traffic and demanded exorbitant tolls from those using it, or else he will cut off one of your hands in replacement. Brabo killed and cut off the giant's hand and threw it into the river, hence the name Antwerp ('hand thrown' in Dutch). The statue of the giant can be seen at the Steen.

That evening, I bought a Faro beer from the supermarket only to realized it needed a wine /cork-screw opener which I couldn’t find in the hostel... bummer

29 March, 2009 – Brussels, Belgium – Day 1

This morning, I woke up at 6.45am, pack up my stuff and checked out around 7.30am. I walked to the Amsterdam Centraal Station and took a metro to Amstel Station (5 stops away). The trip only requires 2 volume of the strippenkaart. I noticed the time board showing the time an hour later (meaning instead of 7.40am as shown on my watch, it is already 8.40am). I panicked, has the time changed? Oh dear, I sure hope not. Otherwise, it would mean I’m surely missing my 9am bus to Brussels. I am praying this is the same mistake that happened as in Wales. Arriving at Amstel station, I saw a clock, showing 8am. I am slightly relieved. I head over to the Eurolines office and on my way there I saw a bus leaving the station. I entered the office and there were 2 officers there, a man and a woman. I approached the lady officer:

Me: Hello
Lady: Hello, where to?
Me: Brussels.
Lady: What time is your bus?
Me: 9 o’clock.
Lady: What is the time now?
Me: Err… eight.
Lady: No, it is already 9.05. The time has changed. The bus has left.
Me: Oh shit... (panicked)
Lady: (paused for few seconds) The next bus to Brussels is at 11am. I will check you in later. Please take a seat first.
Me: Oh, err ok. Thank you. (pheewww…. relieved….)

I waited for about 15mins before the lady called me again to check me in. But while waiting, the 2 of them were chatting and I guess they were kind of amused by the error people made when the time changes. Well, they were speaking in Dutch so I can just pretend that I don’t understand (although I can guess what they are talking about)I was so very embarrassed and you can almost see my head down on the floor. Well, lucky for me I didn’t have to pay any extra money / penalty fee for the change, only time wasted. So I waited in the lounge and ate my croissant. Apparently I am not the only one making this mistake. Another girl (which was actually one of my dorm mates) came in at 8.22am for the 9am bus to Paris. Well, she wasn’t as lucky as I am as the lady officer told her that the bus seems to be full so she will be put on the waiting list. After a long and boring wait, I finally boarded the bus which apparently stops at Brussels before going to Paris. There are still a few seats left but the girl wasn’t allowed to board, until the very last minute.

So off we went to Brussels, but first we stopped at Den Haag to pick up another few passengers making the bus fully seated. I was quite tired from the early wake and also from my sickness. So I slept most of my way to Brussels, only waking up off and on to look at the views outside. Around 2.30pm, we arrived at Brussels Noord Station. I went into the Eurolines bus office to enquire about the bus to Paris but couldn’t purchase the ticket yet as I need to find out how and when I will arrive back in Brussels from Brugge. So I decide to first go to my hostel. With the direction from a guy and also from the hostel, I found the hostel without any difficulties. But the reception is closed until 4pm. Luckily a guy opened the door to let me leave my luggage in the luggage room. Without the load on my back, I went back to the Brussels Noord Station to check the train to and from Brugges. I first checked it on the automated ticket machine for the pricing of several day trips that I’m planning to make while in Belgium. Then I went to the counter to purchase the return ticket for Brussels – Brugge. The lady officer was very kind and friendly. She asked if I will be going to other places like Antwerpen, Gent etc. because I could buy a combination ticket for 10 trips for €73. Those 2 places were indeed in my plan but I would only need 6 trips in total. Unsure if that would be a better option, I told her I will come back to her later. I went back to the automated ticket machine again to double check on the prices between the places I wanted to go to. Some simple maths confirmed my suspicion as I would only cost me around €50 odd, so I am better off without the combination ticket. I went back to the lady officer and told her I just wanted to get the return ticket which cost me €25.80. After settling the logistic, I walked back to the hostel.

The weather is very good today, with clear blue skies and it’s sunny. There were stretches of modern high office buildings between the Noord station and my hostel. As it is Sunday, there weren’t much traffic on the road. I walked back to the hostel and the reception is now open. I checked in and was assigned to room 201. Luckily they have a lift so I do not have to walk up the stairs like I did in Jacobs Inn, Amsterdam. Again I was the first in the room with 3 double-deck beds. I chose the lower bunk next to the window and heater. The toilet and shower is in the room and they also have a locker in the room. There is even a small balcony next to my bed looking out to the main streets. Cool. There is a huge lounge next to the reception where there are 4 computer terminals for free internet surfing, a TV area and a self-catering kitchen. The whole hostel is spotless clean.

After settling down my stuff, I went out for a quick tour around. I arrived at the St. Katelijne Church. One interesting fact about this church is that the Belgians installed a public urinal (on the left side when facing the main church entrance) here to ‘drain the potatoes’. In Italy or Poland, you might end up in jail if you pee against the church. I had to be careful when I wanted to take a second photo, a guy just walked right in to take a leak. Next to the church there is a square where there are fountains with animal leaning backwards spitting out water. One thing I noticed here is that the animals at the fountains are all designed to be arching backwards. I’m not sure why. Wandering around, I came by a supermarket, I wanted to go in to get some groceries but the security guard stopped me saying it is closed. Luckily I had bought my water earlier on. So I went to get a donor kebab (€3.50) and went back to my hostel as I really need to plan and make bookings for my second leg of my travel.

After showering, I brought my laptop downstairs to the lounge to surf while I eat. I had some problems connecting to the internet and while trying, a guy came up to me and asked if I could connect to the internet. He told me that the reception gave him a password but since the hostel network was unsecured, there was no place he could key in the password. I went to the reception to get the password and tried some options but failed. The guy wished me good luck and left. I went back to the reception and asked for help. The reception guy told me that the WIFI signal is a little weak hence sometimes it is difficult to connect. Apparently the browser would bring you to a secure website where you then key in the password given to gain internet access. He gave me a direct link to the portal and asked me to try again. I tried and this time it works. The guy came back and saw me surfing so I told him the little trick I just found out and he happily went away. Surfing the whole night, I came up with no conclusions on my forward travels. All seemed to be a little too expansive. I wonder if there is a cheaper way to travel if I asked at the local stations? However, should I wait until the last minutes? With so many question marks hanging on top of my head, I went to bed. My cough worsens at night for some reason and my throat felt tight and hurts a lot especially at night. All these symptoms sort of disappeared during the day time, except for a few occasional coughs.

P/S: Did you notice that traveling from Amsterdam to Belgium, I didn’t mention about passport checking? That is because there weren’t any. Strange… does that mean that once I entered the EU countries, I can travel freely from one country to the other? Then how would they keep track on my length of stay in a certain country, or maybe it doesn't matter?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

28 March, 2009 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Day 3

The day started off with rain and overcast sky. It gave me perfect excuse to not get out of the bed early. Although on the other hand, I was praying for the rain to stop as I’m going to Keukenhof today to see the tulips. Last night was a pretty bad night as I coughed continuously during my sleep and my eyes teared non-stop due to the cough, and I have a very bad sore throat. I lingered in the bed until around 10am after most of the girls have gone out. Took my time to get ready and had an apple for breakfast. Then, armed with my waterproof jacket and umbrella, I went into the streets heading to Leidseplein to catch a bus to Schipol airport. It is still drizzling but there were quite many people around, mostly having breakfast at café and restaurants. I passed by the McDonalds and went in to have a Quarter Pounder burger (€1.95). After my meal, the rain has now stopped. I proceed on to Leidseplein bus stop. I waited for about 10mins before the bus no. 197 came. The journey took about 30mins to Schipol airport. From there, I changed to bus no. 58 to Keukenhof, which took another 30mins.

Arriving at Keukenhof, the sun is out and blue skies on the horizon. Great!!! I walked into the huge garden. Soon, I see tulip bulbs all around. There are various types of tulips, in many different colors. I wandered around the big garden, taking loads of photos. There are several main buildings (green house) around the garden where the flowers are located. I went into the first one and was overwhelmed by the gorgeous tulips inside. There are a lot of visitors inside; all armed with cameras, compact, slr, dslr. Professional, semi professional, amateurs, everybody is enjoying themselves, taking photos of the beautiful flowers, or their loved ones with the flowers. I just kept shooting the various types of tulips in different colors and shapes. This is the first time I’m surrounded with so many tulips and I am absolutely loving it. In this building also, there was a live orchestra band playing wonderful music. Hence you can see a lot of people (including me) dancing or tapping to the music. The music just lifts up the spirits and enlightens the atmosphere.

After that I went back out to the garden and continue on exploring. The next building I went into was filled with orchids. My mum loved orchids. Some of the orchids on display here she planted before. At another building were some flowers like lily and sunflowers and also they were sort of associated with fashion. There were also lots of sculptures around the garden. I really enjoyed walking in the big garden, breathing in fresh air and admiring all the lovely flowers.

Outside in the garden, there were various types of "chairs" made of straw bales with a big fork acting as the back support. Met a very cheerful mum who offered to take a photo of me sitting on the special chair and even asked her little boy to join me on one of the big straw chair. After visiting all the buildings and the gardens, I went back out to take bus no. 58 to Schipol airport and transferred to bus no. 197 to Leidseplein. On my way back to my hostel I stopped by a supermarket to get some water and croissants for dinner and breakfast tomorrow. Back at the hostel, I showered and had yogurt and croissant and then started packing up as I’ll head to Belgium tomorrow.

Here's the link to all my photos Amsterdam, 2009

27 March, 2009 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Day 2

I woke up at around 7.30am, peeped out the window, beautiful blue skies awaits. But I was kind of reluctant to get out of bed just yet so I slept in for another hour before pulling myself out of bed. All the other dorm mates are still fast asleep. After freshening up, I ate the remaining 2 chocolate croissants before setting out. It is pretty cold outside even with the sun. I walked to the GVB Tickets & Info office next to the tourist information counter to enquire about the bus ticket to Zaanse Schans. Again, I need to get a queue ticket but luckily I needn’t wait long. The lady officer told me that I could get a return bus ticket for €7. Next question I asked was that if I could use the strippenkaart for the trip instead. She wasn't sure so she asked another senior lady and the answer is yes I could but she didn't know how many columns of the strippenkaart I would need for my trip to Zaanse Schans. So I bought a strippenkaart with 15 volumes for €7.30.

I walked out to the bus platform and waited for bus no. 91 which will take me directly to Zaanse Schans. The trip took about 40mins and it cost me 5 volumes on the strippenkaart. The bus system here is pretty interesting. You get on the bus, tell the driver where your destination is and lay your strippenkaart on the counter, then the driver will stamp on one of your strippenkaart’s columns (depending on how many zones you are traveling) using a stamp. Going outside of Amsterdam, I passed by some residential area. Most of the residential here are on low rise flats of 3, 4 or 5 storey high. One thing that stood out is that they all have big windows. And unlike the windows in the Amsterdam buildings, these windows are just a big piece of glass without any patterns or sections. Most of the windows had their curtains opened hence you can peek into the décor inside. I must say most of the decors are really nice.

The bus no. 91 stops next to the Zaanse Museum in Zaanse Schans (the last stop). I can already see the windmills from here. As soon as I step off the bus, a scent hit my nostrils, it’s familiar, sniffing hard, I recognized the smell as the cocoa smell similar to those in the Bukit Batok area (some years back when I visited my friend staying there). I walked into the Zaanse Museum as the tourist info counter is there. The lady officer provided me with the area map, explained to me the 2 types of Zaanse Schans Pass that I could buy. The full pass covers all the fee paying museums (Zaanse Museum, another smaller museum, clock museum), free entry to the first mill and then discounts on the subsequent mills. The second pass just covers the Zaanse Museum, free entry to the first mill and discount on the subsequent mills. After some thinking, I decided I will not purchase any pass and just pay for the mills that I wanted to go to. Each mill charges €3 per entry. There are some workshops like the cheese factory, clog making factory etc which are free to enter.

Armed with the map, I set off to explore the area. There are several mills along the River Zaan. The people who lived along its banks and who had grown rich through trade and fishing, built their first windmills around 1600. Initially they used the wind to keep their feet dry, but later on they used it to develop an entire industrial area. Barley, paper, wood, cooking oil, mustard, tobacco, hemp and many other products were processed in 1000 windmills in the Zaan area. From 1850on the work of the windmills was taken over by soot-spewing steam engines. Now, only 13 windmills survived, as monuments of industrial and technology.

First, I entered the cheese farm, where they show how cheese are made (too bad the demo is not on while I was there) and then you can get your cheese in whatever size you like at the shop behind. Next I visited ‘De Kat’ (The Cat), a dye mill operating since 1782. A brochure was given to me and it says ‘Welcome to De Kat. Your visit to the mill is at your own risk.’ Okay, point noted. Inside at the ground floor you see 2 huge wheels spinning and crushing on the chalk stone, turning them into chalk powder. Then you can climb up steep and narrow staircases up to see the upper part of the gears which spins the wheels. You can climb 4 storeys high and on the second storey, you can climb a short stairs which leads you out to a platform so you can gain a better view of the mill from the outside. The sail of the mill is also located here at the platform. The miller turns the sails, mounted on the 15-ton cap, into the face of winds. He also regulates the speed of the windmill by means of the sails and boards. While inside the mill, you can definitely feel the power of the wind as the wooden platforms would shake and rattle as the speed increases.

After coming down from the mill, I bought a cup of hot chocolate with free cookies for €1.50. It’s nice and thick and warmed me up a little. Down the route, there are also saw mill, oil mill which are opened for visit. However, I didn’t go into the rest of the mills but just took photos from the outside. I followed the route to the last mills before turning back. Then I went to the other side where the clock museum and the smaller museum are located. The views are just lovely. The buildings here are all constructed in wood and painted in green. Turning back towards Zaanse Museum, I visited the clog making factory. In here, they have a display of various types of clogs, some with very sophisticated carving and some in peculiar shapes and sizes. There is a demonstration of how clog shoes are made. Traditionally a hand-made clog would take around 3-4hours, but now with the machines, it only takes around 5-10mins. The clog-making machines operated like imprinting the keys, where you have a master sample and then the machines just mold the new clogs out. Simple. I bought some postcards and also a stamp collection from the souvenir shop. I had to go to another souvenir shop to get some stamps so I could post them off. After that I took the bus back to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

I got back to my hostel around 5.21pm, showered, and had an apple. Then about 6.25pm, I went out again to join the Red Light District walking tour. The tour costs €10 and there are about 20 of us. It was quite cold, so our tour guide, Alex started of the tour by asking us do some stretching and jumping exercise, haha. Then, we were off to explore the Red Light District. Alex told us that there is a World Cup qualifying match between Scotland and Holland hence the many Scotts in town, showing their patriotism and support. We were taken around the area, showing us some quirky shops, passes by many window girls, seen the door of the hardcore gay pub. Alex told us the history of the Red Light District, how it began and told us that the government is currently planning to close down this area. So many of these windows has been closed down and turned into a display window for local artists. At one point, the group were split into boys and girls group as the boys were sent up the street where the ‘ladies’ can come out of the windows and 'touch' the customers, luring them into their place. Since the girls are not so welcomed there, Alex took us down through the town’s narrowest lane and waited for the boys to return.

During the tour, we stopped at a place and there was a pink scooter parked there saying ‘ex-porn star’. Some of the tour mates took photos of the scooter. I noticed that the window girls nearby saw the cameras and was quite sensitive / annoyed by it as she quickly drew up the curtain until they were done with the shooting. Yes, here at the red light district, you cannot photograph the window girls or else you are just asking for trouble. Some of the more aggressive ladies will come out, grab your camera and throw it to the canal; or they will flick you with a shot of urine... In this area, whatever sexual fantasies you had in mind, there will be a place to satisfy whatever you want. Live sex show, peep shows, sexual theme bars, sex shops, pornographic video booth, fetish parlours, lap dancing clubs, and a sex museum. Then there are all sorts of window girls, tall, short, fat, skinny, young and old, different nationalities and also transvestites.

One of the most famous venues in the Red Light District is the world-renowned Casa Rosso live sex theatre, presenting a series of shows and erotic acts. Another similar venue is the Banana Bar, where the drinks are poured by a group of topless barmaids. And for an extra €50, the same waitress will perform a series of sexual favours including the consumption of banana from the private area. Other than these, there are also private clubs, escort agencies and massage parlours. The entire tour lasted about 1hr 45mins and the group head down to the Belushi bar. However, me and several others who weren’t interested in having a drink head back to Central Station and back to my hostel. This tour was quite an eye opener to me. It’s absolutely safe to wander around by yourself as there are police paroling around the district. However, I wasn’t that brave to wander around by myself hence taking up this tour is well worth it.

26 March, 2009 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Day 1

Before the ferry’s wake up call at 6.45am (for the 7.45am arrival at Hoek of Holland at 7.45am), I was woken up by the sound of someone trying to open the door. I wasn’t sure if it’s at my cabin door, so I got out of the bed, walked to the door and listen (no peeping hole on the door). I listened for awhile but no movements outside, so guess not. Not fully recovered from yesterday's long journey, I went back to bed until the wake up call. It was such a struggle to get myself out of the cozy bed and be back on the road.

After freshening up & had the chocolate croissant as my breakfast, I went out briefly to take a sneak peak of Amsterdam before returning to get my luggage as the ferry approaches the dock. Stepping off the ferry, there are 2 immigration and passport control counters. EU and EER passport holders can queue at either side while other passport holders like me need to queue at the counter on the left. The officer asked me a series of questions: why are you here, are you here alone, how many days you’ll be here, where are you going next? Pretty standard Q&A. Just outside the ferry terminal is the train station where I boarded the 8.21am train to Rotterdam Centraal at platform 2. I'll be arriving at 8.53am, just in time (with a bit of running) to catch the 8.58am train to Amsterdam Centraal. This Intercity train is a double-deck train where the upper decks are categorized as quiet zone. I only knew this after I went up exploring to the upper deck. The journey to Amsterdam Centraal takes about 1 hour 10mins. As we were approaching Schipol Airport station, the ticket conductor came to check the tickets. He told me that I am sitting at the wrong compartment, my ticket is for standard class (meaning 2nd class) but I am now sitting in the 1st class compartment. Oooppsy… luckily he wasn’t strict or fierce. I apologized, grabbed my stuff and went to the 2nd class compartment but there were no seats available so I went to the lower deck and sat down. Phew. Along the way, I noticed that the landscape here is absolutely flat. There were no hills or mountains, just pure flat lands and rivers / canals.

I arrived at the Amsterdam Centraal at 10.03am and its slightly drizzling & it's very cold too. I followed the direction as instructed from my hostel but wasn’t sure if I was in the correct direction. Maybe I’m looking a little lost at the junction, a Turkish man passing by kindly stopped and asked if I needed help. I showed him the hostel address and he pointed me the direction. After that I had no problem locating the hostel. I checked-in but the room wasn’t quite ready yet as their check out time is at 10am. So I waited at the lobby area and used the pc there to surf the internet. Met my sis online so I chatted with her for a while. Half an hour later, I was given the key to the main door, room door and also for the locker. My room is on the 5th floor and we enter from the door next to the hostel reception. It was quite a climb up the narrow staircases with my heavy baggage. The whole of 5th floor has been changed into a 10 bed female dorm so it is pretty spacious. There are 10 single beds, 5 on each side, with the center being divided by wooden beam. I am at bed E, next to the window. There is a small kitchen located at the corner.

Then I went back to the Amsterdam Centraal station to check on the train ticket to Brussels. The ticket would cost about €44 and after checking with the officers, there is some maintenance work going on Sunday (my traveling date) so I need to change quite a few times, making the whole journey long. With that info, I thought it would be a better idea to take bus instead. Next, I went to the tourist information centre opposite the central station. Here, the system works as if you are in a hospital / clinic / bank, where you need to get a queue number and wait for your queue no. to be called before proceeding to the counter. At my turn, I asked about the Keukenhof combination ticket (to see tulips), Zaanse Schans (for windmills) and also the location of Eurolines bus ticket office. I felt that the lady officer wasn’t very friendly and a little snobbish though I still managed to gather the info I wanted from her. Coming out of the centre, it is still drizzling. I made my way to the dam square because the Euroline office should be behind the dam square at Rokin street. Feeling a little hungry, I bought a cone of fries. Here, the locals normally have their fries with mayonnaise sauce and you actually have to pay extra €0.35 for the sauce. I took the chance to ask for the direction to Rokin street. She directed me the way and I quickly found the place. Walking in town, I noticed there were many ‘men in skirts’, the Scotts are plentiful around. All of them in their traditional kilts attire. Many of them singing and chanting away in groups.

I walked into the office, and enquire about the bus to Brussels. It will take about 3hrs 15mins and cost €17. Not a bad deal considering if I take the train, it would also take about 3hrs and the price is more than doubled. I bought the ticket and was told I need to take a metro to Amstel station to board the bus. After settling all the transportations, I walked around Dam Square. This is my second time here. The first time was about 4 years ago, on a business trip. I flew in with 3 bosses but I was ‘lucky’ to not get a flight back together with the bosses as the flight was full. So I got a day off and I wandered around Amsterdam city. It was around end June then, where there were blue skies and sun shine. The square is busy and crowded. I sat at the square together with many others. Now four years after, I am at the same place but the atmosphere was totally different. Cold and wet, the few tourists just quickly took a photo of the area and left. I then went to a pharmacy to get some medication as I am developing a cough. Later, I passed by a supermarket and went in to get some food. Inside, I saw this ready meal with Malay wordings: Sate Babi, Babi panggang... funny :p

After shopping, I had a very long walk back to the hostel as I kept going the wrong way and couldn’t find my way back. My bearings are totally off today. A couple of times, I thought I’ve found the way but only to find it was wrong. Was it due to the lack of sleep or was it due to the oncoming sickness? (Shrug) Finally, I got myself back to the hostel after so many wrong turns. I rested for a while at the hostel before going out again. The rain has now subsided; it is not so cold now. Armed with my camera, I went to the canals, just behind my hostel. Walked along the canals for a while, the same trail I’ve walked 4 years ago. Reminiscing. Took some photos and went back to the hostel as it is getting dark. Back in the hostel, to my surprise, the other 4 beds at my side were occupied and they were all sleeping. So early? Its only about 7pm. Anyway, I went to shower and then microwave my ‘babi panggang’ + fried rice as dinner. Feeling tired, I think I’ll join in the rest of the crowd and sleep early tonight.

Saturday, 23 July 2011