Thursday, 1 August 2013

In order to satisfy my mania, mania for megabus...

The next stage of my summer travels saw me hitting mainland Europe, returning to a few previously explored places and visiting some old friends as well as discovering a couple of fresh new locations. As last year, I took the Megabus from Glasgow to Europe, this time to Amsterdam. The bus took a little under 24hrs, with a quick change in London. Although sometimes uncomfortable (the bus from Glasgow to London had intermittent AC and the toilet was blocked before we got past Preston) at £20 a ticket each way I think it is a valid way to travel to Europe, which offers value for money and is an experience in itself. By the time we were leaving the ferry in Calais at 5am things were getting so hysterical that we we were discussing how Megabus should branch out into speed dating with the Lovebus, 50 single people get whisked off to an exotic location changing seats every 10 minutes and at the end of the journey they could take their date for a coffee. The driver of our bus said he would be embarrassed enough to buy a Megabus ticket!

Would you date this man?

Unlike the Leicester of Forfar Megabuses, the Amsterdam bus actually stops reasonably near the town centre and after arriving at the park and ride spot at 9am we had only to wait a few minutes to get the tram into the city. €7 payed for an all day travel ticket for both the busses and the trams, allowing us to freely travel round Amstdam on the first day of our visit. What we learned however is that the town centre is actually relatively small and that it is possible to travel around the whole city by foot, see all the attractions and even to get to the location from which you can hitchhike west out of the city, which I'll talk more about further down. The finer details of this trip, much like my cycle tour of the Scottish Highlands had been left very much till the last minute, and I had no idea where the Easy Hotel, which we had booked online the night before we left, would be in relation to the city. As it turned out it was in an excellent location, only ten minutes from some of the main museums and gallerys and only 20 minutes from the town centre. At £45 a night for a double room I would say the easy hotel offers excellent value in a city where you can pay over £25 for a bed in a dorm. The hotel amenities may have been simple but what more do you really need than a clean bed and a private shower? Luxury! One more thing to mention about the transport in Amsterdam is how friendly and patient the tram and bus drivers were, helping us get to where we wanted to be without seeming the least bit annoyed, which sadly reminded of some of the less than encouraging encounters I have had with public transport workers in Scotland lately, especially in Glasgow. I hate to think what kind of receprtion someone who's first language is not English, bad enough if it aint Glaswegian. Maybe they get paid more in Holland?

Where's the Wally?

Our first day in Amsterdam was spent wandering around, finding out where museums etc were, deciding of each one in turn that we were too tired to look at it properly, before tramping off to the next one. Time was spent dipping out feet in the cool water of the sculpture pool to be found at the rear of the Rijksmuseum and also lying amongst the welcome shade provided by the towering green trees in the Vondel park. We had planned for the highlight of our first day to be a visit to the Terrazen vegan restraunt which we had found online before leaving scotland. First impressions of the place were good. They have a casual decor which reminded me of the old Forrest Cafe in Edinburgh. The room was busy, nice reggae tunes playing softly, and the menu looked delicious. Well the food we received was delicious, but most of our first choices were not available, the service was incredibly slow and after Laura received her dish I was told they had run out of rice so I would have to order something else! All in I would say Terrazen is pretty expensive in comparison to the service you receive but the food is delicious (we had dressed tempeh and a seaweed and tofu salad.)  We had planned to visit the red light district this night but ended up just strolling around checking out what was happening on the street, definitely a city which doesn't sleep.

Outside the Anne Framk Museum

Our second day in Amsterdam was a lot more tourism focussed. Early off and we found a cafe next to easy hotel which made an excellent soya latte, good start. We headed in the direction of the Anne Frank museum but got sidetracked by a large local market which sold every kind of market item, including fresh sun dried tomato and olive baps, fruit juices, smoothies and vegan waffle cookies, which took care of breakfast and lunch for us. When we reached the Anne Frank museum there was a huge que, it was the middle of the day and sun was burning hard. I really wanted to visit the museum but wasn't up for standing in the sun for 45 minutes. Luckily Laura persuaded me otherwise as the museum proved to be extremely powerful and poignant. The museum is within the house where the Frank family hid during the second world war and when I stood in those rooms I could really get a feeling for the claustrophobia in which her diaries were created. The tragedy of the Anne Frank story is that she almost survived the second world war, even after her family had been betrayed and sent to concentration camps in Germany, and the horrors of the camps were on full display here. This included video footage of mass graves and starved men and women working in mud and filth, it's no wonder Anne and her sister died of typhus. These images, probably compounded by the stuffy air were all a bit much for me and I sunk down into a chair in a quiet corner of the museum. I think what affected me most about the museum was not what happened to the Frank family, but the realisation at such atrocities are still happening today, sometimes in silence, sometimes in full view of the world, and that I feel powerless to change that.

In order to regain my senses I resorted to my favourite method of happiness generation and went for something to eat. After the let down on the previous night we kept it simple and visited Maos, a Dutch falafel fast-food chain. For €5 you get an enormous falafel sandwich into which you can add as many 'refills' from the salad bar as you like, so basically it's a fiver for all you can eat. Yeah, the salad ain't the best quality but it's still vegetables and almost everything in the salad bar is vegan, we even filled up a wee poke with olives before we left. I'd definitely recommend this place to anyone travelling on a budget, which is all of us, right?!

Kawakami's Guitar.

The final stop of our second night in Amsterdam was a visit to the Van Gogh gallery, an artist which Laura and myself are both quite excited about, and who I guess also needs no introduction. We went in the evening as it was advertised as late night opening on a Friday with live music, which we assumed would be a classical concert - it was actually a crappy DJ! Still the shit music couldn't take away from the power of Van Gogh's work and it is a magnificent collection which is on display in the museum. The collection is spread over four floors which clearly present and describe Van Gogh's growth as an artist. It was however, Van Gogh's dedication, and commitment to hard work in order to realise his full potential which left e biggest impression on me after leaving the exhibition. In the past I've often felt voiceless or that I was banging my head against a wall when working on musical projects, but I think with my current projects that there is enough convergence of thinking that we should be able to channel at least a little of the energy which Van Gogh poured into his own. The only downside to our visit was being rushed out of the gallery quite rudely at 9.45pm after having been told on arrival at 8pm that we would both have enough time, and that no one would 'shoo' us out. One stern complaint later however and we were furnished with return tickets for a later date, for which we were grateful as the hour and forty five minutes we spent there only let us scratch the surface of this amazing collection. Tickets are expensive at €15 per adult, but you could easily spend an entire day here exploring Vincent's timeless work.

Rodney hits the road again.

We woke early on our third day, armed with information gleamed from the hitchwiki website, confident in our mission to hitch from Amsterdam to Hamburg, Germany, some 500 kilometers distant. As it turned out a visit to the internets murkier corners had not been necessary as clear directions to the best hitching spot were provided to us by a couple of young mothers sat opposite from us in a cafe. One thing I've learned in all my travels is always get the local knowledge. Thirty minutes later and we were standing with our thumbs out waiting for oblivion, ten more and were on our way.

To be continued...