09 November 2011

Road to Amsterdam

Leaving London and heading for the mainland of Europe is a beautiful journey. Me and travel partner Christy woke up bright and early to meet up with our travel companions - our family, for the next three weeks of our tour around Europe. I was quite surprised to find that Christy and I were the only Americans. Our tour was made up mostly of Australians, Kiwis and South Africans. And I couldn't have wished for a more fun-loving group!

Our tour began as our tour director, Emile and tour driver, Franceso drove us out of London (in the quintessentially English rain) and to the coast, where we would depart England and kick off our whirlwind of a tour. Taking a ferry from Dover to Calais, France is a beautiful way to go - watching the white cliffs of Dover fade into the distance. The steep cliffs reminded me of Ireland's cliffs of Moher, and I felt as though I couldn't tear my eyes away from this beautiful sight. It was exciting to be heading on our way, unaware of what the next three weeks might hold for us.

White Cliffs of Dover

Me, blowing in the wind - and fellow traveler, Steve       ©CM

Crossing from Dover to Calais took about an hour and a half. There was plenty to keep busy with on board (although most of my time was spent outside on the deck, admiring the view). I would definitely advise sitting down when possible though...I foolishly joked about how much the boat was swaying and it came back to bite me later. The rocking really messed with my head and I felt quite nauseous for the remainder of the day. Sitting back and enjoying some tea might've been a wiser idea.

Soon enough, we were heading through France and towards Amsterdam. Our guide, being Dutch, made sure we knew plenty about his culture and how all other countries paled in comparison...ohhh, Emile. But he did treat us to a local favorite - Stroopwafel! A thin, waffle-like cookie with honey inside. yumm. Trying to persuade us much?

The only working windmill we came across in Holland

The city of Amsterdam ("ohm-ster-dohm") was a completely different experience for me. (I'd previously only visited France and Italy on the mainland of Europe). The language was quite bizarre to start (Emile taught us a phrase that strangely just sounded like "hoff en hoffin hoff"), and it was quite interesting to learn the difference between "cafes" and "coffee shops" - the latter serving those questionable herbal substances. But Amsterdam truly was a charming little city with all of its canals and bridges. The architecture was quite clean and orderly and I loved watching the hundreds of people biking through the city (most notably, one lady who had one kid sitting behind her and one riding on the handlebars!).

At one point, our tour had us visiting a diamond factory - Gassan Diamonds. Now, by no means do I have the money to go shopping for diamonds, but it was quite fascinating to see how they are polished, to read up on the factory's history and, best of all - watch all the ladies go crazy over the mass quantities of diamonds!

          The Entrance to Gassan Diamonds

The ladies of our tour swarming over the diamonds. And the men hiding their wallets

One thing you have to do in Amsterdam is take a river cruise. Sure, it's a little cliche, but there's no better way to see this city. I enjoyed getting lost through the city's maze of canals, spotting the houseboats that lined the canal walls and observing daily life from the water. Then again...maybe a cruise isn't the best idea after experiencing motion sickness from the Dover ferry...but, in theory - it's great!

And what could be more amazing than ending the night by dining at a traditional Dutch restaurant with newfound friends? We dined at Haesje Claes and this was a great meal to start off our tour!  Some of the things we tried included carpaccio, "Hotchpotch", a traditional chicken dish and best of all dessert! mmm! The Dutch really know how to make dessert! I tried both the Dutch pancakes and the cinnamon ice cream, and to this day, I still rave about that cinnamon ice cream. There was no better way to end a long, exciting day.

One of Amsterdam's many canals...and Christy's reflection

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