Recently, at school, we got to the place in the calendar that everyone had been looking forward to for months. Winter Break. Not to be confused with the Christmas holiday break, winter break is thrown in the middle of February because, you know what? There’s a long time between Christmas and Easter. And a two week holiday is just what every teacher (and student) needs. Continue reading “Train Hostel, Netherlands”
Alrighty Ireland… you’ve got some competition for my favorite European country. The Netherlands pretty much blew my mind for the last three weeks. Reasons why it’s awesome:
Great cheese. To know me, is to know my love of cheese. And boy is the Dutch gouda fabulous. And it’s everywhere. Cheese shops sell dozens of varieties, supermarkets too. A toastie is ridiculously cheap most places, and you can get a kaassouffle right out of the FEBO machine. Delicious.
Cycling. Being in the Netherlands made me think to myself, ‘wow, cycling is great. I’m definitely getting a bike when I move back home, and that’s how I’ll get around. It’ll be fabulous.’ And then reality sets in. Cycling is awesome in the Netherlands because everyone does it. And there are full on seperate lanes for cyclists. Back home, I’ll have to deal with traffic, and avoid getting run over. I was so fun to bike all over though. Only downside? As a pedestrian, I was nearly run over by cyclists several times, one simply cannot cross the road in Utrecht. When I cross the road, I automatically think I am on the sidewalk… but in the Netherlands, I am now standing in the middle of the bike path. And they go fast. The little brrrring brrrrring chime of the bike bell makes me jump out of the way… even in my sleep.
Great shopping. Super cute little funky stores line the streets of the shopping districts. Chock full of interesing and unique items such as voodoo doll kitchen knife holders, and giant lego stacking shelves, walls of incense, tons of recycled products, and just about the cutest housewares anyone could want. Add to that the abundance of great restaurants of all kinds, and you’ve got yourself a party.
Speaking of food. I woukd like to pause for a moment to acknowledge one food item, that may in fact outrank everything else that I love about the Netherlands- ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the stroopwafel. Two thin waffels, filled with a caramel syrup. Absolutely delicious. They can be purchased just about anywhere, but my personal favorite would be getting a fresh super stroopwafel at one of the Netherlands many many farmers markets. Still warm.
Flowers. Now, I know I have already dedicated an article to Keukenhof, but I want to talk more locally. Buying flowers in the Netherlands was beyond amazing. Beautiful bouquets of flowers were almost ridiculously inexpensive. A person can get a bouquet of tulips in the Netherlands for the same price as a person buying a bouquet of mangy looking wildflowers that look like they were cut from the side of a highway somewhere, in France. And you can buy them everywhere. Truth be told, I was there for three weeks in the middle of tulip season.
Attractive and genuinely nice people. When they say ‘have a nice day!’ as you’re leaving a shop, there’s just something in their voice, and the look in their eye, that tells you they actually mean it. It isn’t just an empty phrase. Also, I met up wit a couch surfing group in Utrecht, and every person was so nice and inclusive. It was a great night.
So. I love the Netherlands. And I am so happy that I came to visit, because originally it was not in the plan. Also, I realized when I got there that my brain had seriously confused Dutch and Danish, so at least I’ve got that straightened out now!
A quick note on my altercation with the train ticket machine at the Holendrecht station in Amsterdam. What’s that? You’ve been to Amsterdam several times, and you don’t know where the holendrecht station is? That’s because it is the middle of nowhere. Middle of no and where. (I look forward to hearing about all the wonderful things located near the holendrecht station.) I arrived at the station via the shuttle from the lovely Lucky Lake hostel. I had spent the last week in a wonderful oasis of calm and happiness. Let’s just say, it was a harsh re-entrance to the real world.
I arrived at holendrecht, and it started raining. Pretty hard. I bid adieu to the lucky staff, and then set off to find the ticket window. Silly Julie. There are no ticket windows at the train station, just a ticket machine.
Ok fine. I will figure out how to buy my own ticket. I walked to the ticket machine feeling incredibly self sufficient. The machine doesn’t accept credit cards. No worries… I have cash. I pull out my last, wrinkled 20€ and hope and pray the machine takes it.
It doesn’t only take cash… it only takes coins. Now, my train ticket to go from Holendrecht to Rotterdam was €12.20. That’s going to take a lot of change.I already have about 3€ in change, and so I only need another 9€. No biggie, there is a flower shop and a snack stand nearby. I approach the flowers first.
Holding out my 20, eyes wide, rain dripping from the edges of the hood of my coat I appeal to the owner of the flower shop. Before I can even open my mouth to ask, he begins yellng at me. Only then do I see the sign directly over his shoulder, in English, telling me that they do not give change. Ok, snack bar it is.
Knowing what to look for this time, I approach the snack bar slowly, looking for a similar sign. I see this one immediately. Trying to be sneaky, I decide to buy a kaassouffle for just €2.50, and ask for small change back. She just shakes her head… but at least I get a few more coins. I take a moment to dig in the bottom of my purse, and find enough to allllmost get there. So close. I buy a coke, and voila. I have my 12.20, mostly in 20cent pieces, with some 1€, 2€, 50¢, 10¢, and finally four 5¢ pieces made up the last twenty cents. (This will become important…)
I make my way quickly back to the machine, trying to stay as dry as possible. Now a pro at working the machine, I begin feeding it all my money. I always put things in numerical order, it’s just a thing. So starting with the 2€ coins I make my way down the currency. I have no problems, everything is going smoothly, as it should. Until I put in the first 5¢ coin and ‘plink’ it hits the coin return dish and the machine doesn’t take it. Ok no problem, I have 5¢ coins coming out of my ears… I put in the next one…
Ok, have to look for another 20¢ coin. Or perhaps go back and buy another kaassouffle. Tears start to form, because I didn’t even want to leave Lucky Lake in the first place, and now the universe is telling me that I shouldn’t have. I furiously dig in my purse looking for one. more. coin. Finding nothing, I look back at the machine helplessly, and see ‘Your session has timed out. Your change will be returned.’ Sigh. Fine. I look expectantly at the change return cup, and nothing happens.
Eyes back to the screen. ‘You’ve paid too much. Your change can not be returned. Please go to the service desk to get your change back.’
I consider giving up. The next Lucky shuttle will arrive in just a few minutes. I’m totally wet, tired, and completely broke. No ATM to get more money, no service desk to get my money back. But I already booked my hostel in Rotterdam, and cancelling now will forfeit the first night’s cost. Nothing if not thrifty, I decide, rather miserably, to press on.
I take the photo of the machine error screen, and then board the train without a ticket.
The ticket checker lady comes by just one or two stops after I get on, and I explain my story. I show her the picture. I admit to having no ticket, and apologize. She says ok, and continues on. Everyone on the train looks at me suspiciously. The girl without a ticket. Gasp.
I arrive in Rotterdam. It is raining even harder, and I just want to curl up in my bed and take a nap nap.
But first a long walk, across the city (truthfully it wasn’t that far I was just in a bad mood) once again in the rain. Arriving at the hostel, I check in, and crash. Finally.
I have had some seriously amazing couchsurfing experiences on this trip. I have really enjoyed meeting people through couchsurfing. However, there was one hostel that made me never want to leave. One hostel that was so awesome on its own, that I barely did. And that, my friends, was lucky lake.
Lucky Lake hostel, just outside of Amsterdam. If you are travelling in or near Amsterdam, I suggest you stay here. Super fun place.
My favorite thing about Lucky Lake was the extremely laid back atmosphere. It was so chill, it was nearly ice. Previous to staying at Lucky Lake, I stayed in a twelve bed dorm room, where I was the only person still in bed at 8am. Up and at ’em, I suppose. At Lucky Lake, most people were up by ten, but only because breakfast was awesome. Seriously, make your own pancakes?! Even the ducks woke up for breakfast, arriving at the outdoor kitchen at exactly 9am.
The days passed smoothly at Lucky Lake, each starting with breakfast music that ranged from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, goa trance to house, classic rock, hip hop… all depending on the mood of the person in charge of the music. My personal fave, Led Zeppelin. Great way to start the day.
After breakfast, there were a whole host of activities to occupy your time. You could lay in a hammock, or chill in the lucky lounge, or sprawl out in the tiniest little cinema ever and watch a film. If you were feeling active you could walk to the beach at the nearby lake, or perhaps bike to the nearest village. The possibilities were endless really.
At night it was time to head back to the kitchen to make some dinner, or perhaps but dinner from the fabulously talented and kind staff. And relax while eating in the most beautiful kitchen. After a long hard day of laying in a hammock, a nice relaxing meal at the end of the night was just what the doctor ordered. Well, what the doctor would order if he weren’t at all concerned with eating a healthy diet or exercise.
Seriously, why would anyone want to leave?
I recently had the opportunity to go to Keukenhof Garden, one of the largest flower gardens in the world. It is only open for a few weeks a year, during tulip season in the Netherlands. It was absolutely gorgeous, and a really exciting day for someone that likes to take pictures of flowers as much as I do.
The majority of the park showcased beds of segregated tulips. Each flower bed had one type of tulip, and the next, a different type. Sometimes, however, one bulb snuck into the wrong bed.
I had a good time walking around taking pictures, but was struck by a few things.
1. They didn’t smell. While it smelled fresh outside, it didn’t have the wonderful fresh flower smell that I was expecting.
2. It is hard to take pictures of flowers on a windy day.
3. Also difficult to take pictures with flowers where you don’t look like a silly crouchy ball.
4. About a million tulips, and my favorite flower was still the daffodil.