I’m currently on my third and final train ride of the evening as I travel to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Its thursday night and I’m done with class for the week and excited to meet up with a bunch of my camp friends for a Halloween reunion even if it means 5 1/2 hours of travel! But the extra time gives me a rare opportunity to reflect on my week without being rushed to make a blog post before I set off for the clubs in Brighton or another trip across the UK or Europe. It also gives my fingers a new workout since I’m writing this all on my blackberry.. We’ll see if I make it through a proper post like this.
Last weekend, a group of us USAC students jumped on a packed coach bus at 9 pm and set off on a 10 hour journey to the city of Amsterdam. I know now that overnight travel with minimal leg space is not my style. Both my red-eye flight to London and this coach journey were an experience of tossing, turning, and mangling my legs in every yoga pretzel position I could remember from my one-and-only trip to the wellness center last year. I just could not sleep. As annoying as it was knowing I had a whole day of excitement ahead of me and not a wink of shut-eye, I surprisingly held strong throughout the entire day. We arrived in Amsterdam and started a frigid walking tour of the city around 8 am. As our tour guide pointed out sites and told us about the historical significance of the city, I was beginning to think my California-born counterparts we’re going to pass out from exposure to the elements! My friend Steph’s hands even turned purple. Granted I’d never willingly subject myself to a 2 hour stroll in the cold, but I couldn’t help to think of all the times the hairs inside my nostrils froze into iced daggers on my way to class in NoDak so these kids shouldn’t be complaining. I suppressed my urge to mumble tales of walking uphill both ways in a snowstorm and reminded myself that they just weren’t in their normal comfort zone which is exactly why we were all traveling, that pioneering spirit to experience new adventures.
After the walking tour we split from the larger tour group and headed to the Heineken Experience. I’ve never been on a brewery tour but this was one of the coolest things I’ve done in my time here and plan on going to many more. The first part of the Experience is a museum about how Heineken came to be, then we entered the old brewery where we got an idea of the beer making process and even got a sip of a pre-beer beverage which I thought tasted like liquid bread. After the brewery we were shuffled into a movie theater for an interactive film that went through the brewing process casting us as the beer itself. My favorite part followed the film when we not only got our own pint of Heineken but were also taught about the proper way to serve and drink it. I learned:
- Even though the foam seems like a nuisance it actually serves an important purpose by keeping the carbonation in the beer.
- The proper way to serve a pint of Heineken always includes over flowing the glass so that there is a certain amount of foam and then using a wet square plastic wand to scrape the excessive foam off. The water particles keep the foam around longer.
- The proper and most flavorful way to drink a Heineken is by holding the glass perpendicular to your mouth and taking a large gulp as opposed to sipping it at a smaller angle.
- If the beer is poured and drank properly the foam will leave a ring on the glass for every time you took a gulp. Its kinda like looking at the rings of a tree to see how old it is.
Along with the pint of beer for the taste test we also got two more beers at the end of the Experience. Not too bad right? Wrong! Unfortunately, my so-called-friends must have some sort of vendetta against me and my love for the nectar of the Gods because they taunted me incessantly throughout the tour. Let me further explain: Upon receiving our first pint of beer at the taste test, they each took one or two meager sips and set their beer back on the counter leaving approximately 4.25 pints to be dumped out. When I confronted them about their blatant disrespect of something so precious as a free beer they spit out some nonsense about it tasting delicious but not wanting to be too tipsy before noon (to be fair they collectively have the alcohol tolerance of a hamster). As if that encounter wasn’t heart wrenching enough, they scurried right past the bar at the end of the tour because they claimed they wanted to keep the two little “free pint” buttons on our admissions bracelets as souvenirs. Five days later and I am still in a state of shock at the audacity. Souvenirs!? SOUVENIRS?!? I personally think an ice-cold Heineken in my belly is an ideal souvenir not a plastic button to remind myself of something I never redeemed. Now this whole fiasco could be cleared up with one of my favorite phrases “to each his own” except for the fact that I had felt bad for holding the group up as I spitefully drank my second beer and therefore never received my third free beer. Yes folks, I have to admit I too did not take advantage of free beer. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself and I hope you don’t either.
Reminding myself that I was still in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, I tried to turn my spirits up and not dwell on all the wasted free beer behind me. And what better way to drown my sorrows in tourist happiness than a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe. As much as I hate to admit it, I love Hard Rocks! I always think I’m really clever because of my signature move to ask the waiter what the coolest bit of memorabilia is at that location. It’s odd because I always thought the premise and charm of a Hard Rock Cafe was the memorabilia but I don’t know many people who actually take a look at it when they’re busy stuffing their faces with overpriced fajitas. Although, on this occasion I ended up being one of those people (I had the SOB Burger though, so that’s actually pretty different from the fajita crew in my opinion). We were in such a hurry to finish eating and get to the Anne Frank Huis that I didn’t even take a moment to scope out the coolest signed guitar or music video ensemble.
We were in a rush to get to the Anne Frank house because we had free tickets to a canal cruise tour later in the afternoon. But when we got there we were greeted by a long line. After waiting a half hour in the rain we finally got our chance to experience firsthand the internationally known story of Anne Frank. We made our way up several floors of videos, quotes from Anne’s diary, and exhibits from the era on our way to the hidden annex that Anne, her family, and their friends hid in for over 2 years. We walked right past the bookcase that once covered the entry to the annex and found ourselves in the empty dark rooms. After the Nazis raided the annex and captured the occupants, they removed all the furniture. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, upon his return from Auschwitz found the annex in this state and asked that it remained this way when the annex became open to the public. I personally found Anne’s room to be the most interesting and chilling as the decorations from magazines that she glued to the walls are still in place today. My one disappointment in the experience as a whole was how busy it was. As I walked through the annex I felt like I was just in one big line at all times. It would have been nice if they sent small groups in sporadically so we could really take it all in. After making our way past the last exhibits of some of Anne’s writings, my friend Shawnya and I booked it across town to catch our canal tour. The boat proved to be a little too calm and serene for our tired bodies and I spent more time daydreaming with Shawnya fast asleep next to me than we did actually taking in the city. One thing we did see which was pretty cool was the smallest house in Amsterdam. It was squeezed between two normal sized houses, had only two visible stories, and was no wider than the front door frame!
After a long day, we took the coach to our hotel which was a 20 minute drive from the city centre. We freshened up a bit with the intent of heading back out to see the Amsterdam night life. Our plans became jeopardized as we plopped our exhausted bodies down on our beds and were lulled into a lethargic state of comfort. As the time came to take the coach back into the city, I felt like a sack of potatoes perfectly content to stay in bed for the night. Fortunately, a little voice in my head repeatedly whispered “Y.O.L.O. (You Only Live Once)” and I dragged myself out to see the infamous Amsterdam nightlife. The first stop of the evening was a pleasant stroll through the red light district. All day long I had been bombarded by coffee mugs, t-shirts, key chains, and shot glasses all depicting cartoon images of this Amsterdam landmark and I wondered how it would compare in reality. We were advised to walk through the area in groups of no more than three as the prostitutes would close their curtains if they felt they were being gawked at with no chance of a sale. This advice seemed pretty useless as the walkways were so full of people you couldn’t really distinguish who was with who. There is also a strict “no picture” rule in the district which is supposedly enforced by a set of big scary men or the prostitutes themselves throwing your camera into the canal. As we wandered through the walkways and looked at the scantily clad women in their windows, I was never shocked or surprised at what I was seeing. After all, they were simply just scantily clad women, something I have seen on a million televisions shows and at every Halloween party I’ve ever attended. However, there was one instance where I actually felt sick to my stomach. We had entered a very tight alley with walking room for only a single file line each way and windows of prostitutes on both sides. Maybe it was a feeling of claustrophobia or maybe it was the sudden fear of being separated from my friends for a brief moment but I did not like the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach as I became surrounded by the catcalls, high fives, crude conversations and bodies of tourists and shoppers alike. I just felt sick. It didn’t help matters that we hadn’t eaten since the early afternoon and I was starving. We marched our way out of the red light district, past loads of “coffee” shops sporting cannabis symbols in the window, and found ourselves at a quaint Italian restaurant where I ordered a delicious gorgonzola pizza and tried to play with the well-fed tabby cat that roamed the restaurant. It was a happy belly filling end to a long, exhausting day.
The next morning we woke up early to head to the traditional Dutch village, Zaanse Schans. Here we watched wooden shoes be made from a log, got a peek at the inside of several windmills, and tasted 30 different kinds of Dutch cheese. As we wandered around the village, we commented on the nice weather we were having compared to the day before and within five minutes of our conversation we found ourselves caught in a sudden hail storm. We quickly made our to the bus and I magically fell asleep for 3 hours as we headed to Bruges, Belgium where we had only a few hours time to explore the city. I took the time as a opportunity to explore the tradition Belgian food. We had Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffles, and fries (apparently they were initially Belgian, not French). The rest of the ride home was eventful with a stop at British customs and the bus pulling inside of a train for us to go through the Chunnel. We finally made it back to Brighton around midnight.
Life in Brighton has become pretty routine and between all my travels I haven’t really had time to do much more exploring. It’s becoming more like a home in the sense that we are becoming very comfortable in our daily routines and after a long weekend of traveling it feels good to relax in my room and sleep in my bed. On Monday night, we went to see the movie Easy A which I have been dying to see since it came out at home the day I left. Tuesday I spent a lot of my time working on a practice essay that I didn’t quite understand and Wednesday we took a shopping day where I got a few dresses and a cute dome umbrella since my other one was destroyed in the hail storm. All in all life in Brighton is beginning to reflect life at home!
Things I’m loving: Re-reading Harry Potter books in the British version this time, My new-found love for Heineken, Getting our t-shirts for the Carnage pub crawl in mid-November, Experiencing a real bit of the Holocausts history, Devouring a box of Belgian chocolate, Finally getting to see Easy A, Replacing my normal lingo with very British words without realizing it, Shopping in the Lanes, Our go to pub The Geese, My new dome umbrella,
Things I’m not quite loving: Being entirely confused on how to write an essay here, Gross cheeseburgers, Doing anything not on my campus takes a minimum of 2.5 hours with the bus ride, Putting together my Halloween costume (A Sock Monkey) only to find out many British people have never heard of it
Things I’m learning: No more night traveling for me unless I either have a lot of room to sprawl out or have the next day to sleep, all about how to drink and serve Heineken beer,
As I finish this blog post, I’m sitting in my friend’s living room in Cardiff chatting about our camp days and making plans for a Halloween night out! While I’m here, we’ll be going to the Cardiff Castle, an art museum, the Cardiff Bay, and some shopping of course. I also have every intention of wearing my Sioux hockey jersey Friday in hopes that my spirit will be felt across the globe for the first game in the Ralph this season! Sioux Ya Ya! After my weekend in Cardiff, I’ll be spending a good chunk of time in Brighton once again and have plans to scope out more pubs, fun shops, and other quirky locations in my home away from home.
Peace, Love, Heineken and Hockey!
*Pictures to come*