Final Day in Amsterdam (Sunday).

On my last day in Amsterdam I fell “victim” once again to a certain trend in Europe—the trend of stores being closed on Sundays. Now, I’ve frequently heard that the United States is a lot more “religious” and “conservative” than the “liberal” and “progressive” ole European Union. But in the U.S., save maybe some small towns, you will NEVER find stores closed on Sundays! Of course, the closures might have more to do with shorter work weeks than reverence of the Sabbath Day, since Europeans aren’t workaholics like Americans are, I’m really not sure. The real point of this is not their reasons for being closed on Sundays, it’s that I always forget that stores might actually be closed for an entire day (oh the nerve!) and find myself expecting to shop and instead wandering around the streets of Europe quite aimlessly.

That’s exactly what happened Sunday in Amsterdam. I heard about a shoe store that only carried large sizes, so Alexander and I grabbed a cab to head over there. As we were on our way I started realizing that most of the shops were closed, and I glanced at the brochure… sure enough the shoe store was closed. So I had the cab driver drop us off near the flower market (in the city center) where stores were open. It was a beautiful day in Amsterdam—less cold than the day before, sunny and for the most part cloudless. I was very excited to be outside in the SUN after our rainy, cold day before. (Plus, as you know, I’m pretty obsessive about taking pictures and rainy/grey/gloomy days don’t make for the best photo ops when you’re in a city). The thing that made Sunday so amazing was really just the weather—it made for great photo ops and made it much more enjoyable to stroll around the city.

We got breakfast at a cute little café. I’ve had this really bad habit of eating really, really badly while out and about in Europe. I’m pretty much croissant-and-pain-au-chocolat-ed out at this point, but I’ve probably eaten enough of them to feed an army at this point. They pretty much have a kajillion calories and even more grams of fat in each one… but they are just so delicious! I always find myself losing weight while I’m in London walking all of the time and being super busy with school, and then I gain it all back and then some on the weekends while I’m traveling. So much for all that weight I planned to lose while in London 😉

The Reason I Have Not Lost Weight, Despite All The Walking

The Reason I Have Not Lost Weight, Despite All The Walking

Anyway, the breakfast was delicious. From there we walked to Dam Square which is apparently where Amsterdam began. Basically, someone put up a dam to block the water and BAM, a city was made. Somewhat like New Orleans (I think?), Amsterdam is built on marsh land. I’m pretty sure that the major train station is built on a giant pile of wood that is submersed in water. Apparently as long as the foundation stays below water, it’s ok. But if the foundation gets above water, it causes the foundation to warp and makes any buildings built on the water tilt. Before I learned that fun fact, I had noticed that a lot of the buildings looked kind of slanted forward around Amsterdam. I guess that’s from air exposure in the foundations of those buildings. Crazy!

Me in Dam Square

Me in Dam Square

Another thing I didn’t know about Amsterdam is that it has lots of canals. Sadly, I have not been able to make it to Italy at all yet (and won’t while I live here… I’ll have to come back!) so I haven’t experienced Venice yet, but I felt like Amsterdam gave me a similar canal-city experience. Alexander and I decided to take a canal tour for 10 euros each, and it was amazing! We had a really funny tour guide, and with the exception of smacking my head repeatedly on the roof of the boat it was a really fun experience (I was wearing a hat that day, and my ears have been pretty plugged up for awhile so my sense of balance and distance really sucks right now! Ow!). This was my second canal tour while in Europe (I went on one in Strasbourg too), but I think I might have loved this one even more. Amsterdam is seriously such a pretty city. It’s definitely a place I hope to visit again in the future. Apparently while I was in the bathroom, we passed some really messed up homes where the foundations had shifted, and they call them “drunken houses” or something like that, at least that’s what the tour guide said 😉 But people still live in them anyway!

After the canal tour, we went back to the Wok place we’d had lunch the day before because Alexander hadn’t been able to try it, and then we went across the street to an Australian Ice Cream place to get some ice cream. After that, the clouds had returned and it had started to sprinkle at that point, so we headed to our hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to the airport. As it turned out, our flight home was delayed by about 3 hours, but it wasn’t too bad hanging out in the airport 🙂 I did, however, realize that I was pretty tired of traveling at that point and would just like to stay home and not travel for awhile.

I don’t remember if I mentioned this already, but bikes are extremely popular in Holland. There are people on bikes everywhere. Whenever you come out of a shop or anything, there are so many bikes just “parked” there on the sidewalk, not even locked up to anything. (Apparently there is also a major bike theft problem in Holland… but your bike gets stolen and then you just go to the market and buy another cheap one which is most likely one that was stolen from someone else… I guess that’s just the way it goes!). Also, bikes have the right-of-way just like cars do. And then they’ve got the train/tram things similar to the MAX that occasionally come through the middle of the walkways too so essentially you’re dodging cars, bikes, and trains all day. As much I hate getting stuck waiting in my car while a slow pedestrian meanders across the street in the U.S., I’m excited to (1) be the person in the car again so I’ll feel safer on the road; and (2) have the right-of-way again in the event that I’m a pedestrian. I swear to you it’s like people in cars TRY to hit pedestrians here. It’s nice being able to walk everywhere (when it’s not raining) but the whole nearly-getting-killed on a regular basis thing gets kind of old 😉

For the rest of the photos from my final day in Amsterdam, click here!

Amsterdam Recap- Friday night, and Saturday.

Catching up on Season 11 of America’s Next Top Model (where they go to Amsterdam!) has inspired me to catch up my blog on my trip to that wonderful city.  The words of one of the contestants on that show describes my opinion of it perfectly–she said she expected the city to be really dirty, and all about drugs and sex but she discovered it’s actually a very beautiful city and you don’t even see that stuff if you don’t go looking for it.  I had the same reaction–totally expected it to be dirty and full of things I have no interest in–but in the end it’s probably the prettiest* city I’ve visited in Europe all semester.

(*Strasbourg, France was the cutest and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg was the cleanest).

Anyway, on to the Amsterdam part of my Netherlands trip.  I didn’t bother to find out which Amsterdam train station was closest to my hotel, so ultimately I came into Amsterdam Centraal and took a cab to the hotel which was about 30 euros. Woops! (I later learned from Adam & Krissi that it was only about a 10 minute walk from the correct train station).

When I got to my hotel room I found out what I thought was free Wifi actually cost 20 euros per day (UGG!). I paid the fee, checked my email, and it turned out about 15 minutes after I left Den Haag/The Hague, the judge had emailed me and asked me to respond right away and suggested doing a video conference. I commenced with freaking out because (1) 3 hours had passed already; (2) it was about closing time in Atlanta; (3) there was no way for me to do a video conference from my hotel room; and (4) I forgot a suit jacket on the trip, so there was no way I could look professional even if I did find a way to do video.  Adam, Krissi, and Alexander sat around while I freaked out and called Dean Gash back in London to figure out a plan and emailed the judge back.  I waited for awhile to hear something back, but there was no news.  So, since it was a Friday night and we were in a new city (and it was coincidentally Halloween), we all got ready and went out to explore the city a little bit.  Ultimately we ended up walking around a lot, getting some “famous” french fries (they’re all about the fries in Amsterdam), and then getting coffee and going home.  I was in this very weird mood due to not knowing what was going to happen with the judge thing and whether I should be in the room researching the judge rather than out walking around the city.  So after coffee I just wanted to go back to the hotel.

The Fry Man

The Fry Man

The next morning I woke up pretty early and hopped on my computer to start researching opinions by the judge, using live chat with a Lexis representative to figure out how to find the opinions.  There were a few hundred published opinions–yikes.  But also at that time, (sorry for the TMI but it explains the story), I started having really bad cramps.  There was nothing to eat in the room but some weird nuts in the mini bar and orange juice, so I consumed those to try to get food in my stomach before taking medicine.  The only other option was room service breakfast which cost… I can’t even remember now but it was over 20 euros.  Long story short, the nuts were not enough for my stomach and I started getting extremely sick from taking the medicine without real food, I had to call for room service breakfast and scarf down some bread to try to sooth my stomach, and then I ended up laying in bed for about 2 hours watching crazy Dutch tv until my stomach calmed down and the medicine kicked in.  If I had just not been a cheapo and went with the room service breakfast from the beginning, I could have saved myself the extra 7 euros I spent on the nuts and juice, and could have saved myself a few hours of my morning 😉

My expensive breakfast (there was also fruit, coffee, and cereal)

My expensive breakfast (there was also fruit, coffee, and cereal)

Anyway, once I started feeling better we all decided to go out and explore the city (Adam, Krissi, Alexander and I).  We took a train to a shopping area to get lunch, and while we were walking to a lunch spot, Krissi found a 50 euro note on the ground!! (that’s over 60 USD!)  So she paid for everyone’s lunch! We went to a wok place where you pick all of your ingredients and then they stir-fry it up for you.  Almost like a mongolian-grill type thing except it wasn’t self-service.  It was, however, delicious.

After that we kept walking.  Although it was extremely cold (and to deal with the cold Alexander bought me a crazy “amsterdam” hat) I couldn’t get over how pretty the city was.  There are canals everywhere and the buildings are all so pretty.  I just really wasn’t expecting beauty in Amsterdam, so I was incredibly taken aback.  Soon we found ourselves in the flower district and I was in LOVE because I LOVE tulips! I would really love to come back to the Netherlands in the spring when flowers are in full bloom everywhere 🙂  While shopping around the flower district, it started raining so we had to find somewhere to duck in for awhile.

The rest of this day (saturday) is a little blurry because it mainly consisted of walking around shops and ducking out of the rain, although we did take a long break at a Cafe to sit and eat and relax, and I of course turned it into a photo opportunity, and came up with the future album cover for our Dutch Hip Hop Album:

Hip Hop Cover (notice my hat ;))

Hip Hop Cover (notice my hat ;))

The rain (combined with the cold) made it really difficult to try to stay out.  This was the first time it had rained on my European adventures, so I consider myself very lucky!  We eventually all agreed that we should give up, go back to the hotel, and get dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Somewhere on the way back though, Krissi and I found a giant clog to pose in:

I kind of wanted to buy wooden clogs, and they actually had them in my size… but I already have HUGE feet, and clogs make anyone’s feet look huge, which means mine would look really, really huge!  Not to mention, how on earth would I get giant clogs back home in my luggage? I already have this random giraffe bowl that I bought on an impulse in Strasbourg that I’m going to have to find a way to get home.  So anyway, that picture of Krissi and I IN a clog will have to suffice.

Dinner at the hotel restaurant was mediocre, and then we watched some TV and ate some Leonidas chocolates we bought while out and about and I think ultimately went to bed. I am really not much of a night person.  It takes something really exciting to keep me up at night, and lets just face it: cold, dark, and raining is not the least bit exciting to Michelle 😉

So that’s the end of Saturday.  Sunday (our final day) turned out to be pretty amazing so I will make a post about that later!

For the pictures from (a little bit of the Hague and) Friday/Saturday in Amsterdam, click here.

Den Haag (The Hague): First Night and First Day of my Trip to Holland

The purpose of my weekend trip to the Netherlands was a school trip to go to the Hague and visit the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international criminal tribunals. Then, because that only takes up one day, and you have to fly out of Amsterdam anyway, most of the students went back to Amsterdam for the rest of weekend.

Anyway, with that background…. Den Haag.

We had to leave for Den Haag on Thursday after classes. However, due to time differences between Atlanta and London (I was dealing with the application process for the judge that day), I decided to head to the airport early, skipping my last class of the day, so I could be all checked in by the time Atlanta “woke up” and could get all of my application stuff done there. Sure enough, with a lot of running around by Alexander while I frantically typed away at my laptop, I pulled it off and got my application in just in time to run down to our gate and catch our flight out to Amsterdam.

From Amsterdam we had to catch a train to the Hague. One of the frequent frustrations we’ve had in Europe is that a lot of the time their train ticket machines only take bank cards/credit cards that have the chip in them. I have four credit cards and a check card over here and none of them have a chip (and I’m not entirely sure how common if at all the chips are in the U.S.). Anyway, this means that frequently we try to buy tickets from the machine, ultimately realize we can’t because the machine rejects all of cards, and then we have to go buy a ticket from a ticket window which always costs a little more. The machines don’t specify they require a chip, so we never know. Ahh!

Anyway, ultimately we got our tickets and boarded what later turned out to be the wrong train. It still went to the Hague, just the wrong end, so we had to catch another train back the other way, and the train didn’t leave for awhile. By the time we made it to the hostel, people who had been on the same flight were like “…what happened to you guys?” because they had already been there for awhile.

From the correct train station, we just had to walk a couple of blocks over to our hostel. There was a lot of construction which made it a little confusing and then we spotted the sign for the hostel on the other side of this canal we were facing. And then we also realized that the canal and surrounding street were all taped off with police tape and there were several police vehicles there and police standing around. It was clear whatever had happened was completely over, but we weren’t sure what it was. My initial thought was: “was someone killed at the hostel?” because it was literally right behind the hostel where all this stuff was going down. We walked around to the other entrance and went inside and we found out there had been a shooting on a house boat on the canal (completely unrelated to the hostel). And I later found out (from a taxi driver) that it was actually a murder, not just a shooting. Great way to start off your first hostel experience, eh?

We dropped off our luggage in our rooms so we could go meet some of the gang to go out to a late dinner. When I initially walked in my room it reminded me of a youth camp cabin. Not a big deal, I can handle camp accommodations. However, camp accommodations are definitely better when you are relying on your own sleeping bag and not somebody else’s urine stained sheets. *shudder* However, I wasn’t aware how bad the sheets were at that time.

We all walked down to a “nearby” Indonesian restaurant which was actually quite far, but ultimately worth the walk because it was delicious! I had never had Indonesian food before, but we had a group of about 10 or so, so we got a giant spread of all different kinds of dishes. And the best part was that it was on Pepperdine, so we didn’t have to pay (I think it would have been over 20 euros each if we were paying).

After dinner, we walked back to the hostel to go to bed. I’ve already ranted about my night at the hostel, so although I’d like to rehash all of that again, I am going to save myself, and you, and just leave it at “I went to bed.”

The morning of the next day (Friday) was spent touring a few International Claims tribunals. Basically, these are courts set up specifically to resolve claims arising out of incidents that happened between two or more countries. For example, the first one we went to was the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, which was set up in 1981 to resolve claims arising out of incident where a bunch of Americans were held hostage, and in response the United States froze the assets of Iranians. 27 years later… they are still resolving claims! Whoah.

Leaving the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal

Leaving the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal

Alexander and I on the bus between courts

Alexander and I on the bus between courts

At our second court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, we actually got to sit in on part of a case. Three top military officials were being tried for their part in masterminding a lot of the war crimes like ethnic cleansing that were committed between the various areas that were formerly known as Yugoslavia (Sarajevo, Kosovo, etc.). There was a huge team of lawyers on one side (we’re talking 10-15 people) for the 3 men accused, and a huge team of people on the prosecution side as well. The part we saw involved one of the defense attorneys asking a bunch of questions and basically reading a bunch of passages without any questions. It didn’t make sense at all where he was going with any of his questions, and it didn’t make sense at all who this witness was and why she was able to answer any of these questions. Just as I was getting pretty annoyed by that, one of the judges interrupted and started asking the witness what she was doing there and what gave her the authority/personal knowledge to be able to answer the questions. She couldn’t give a specific answer to any of the judge’s questions, and finally she just asked if she could have a break for a little bit and the court adjourned. Just for my non-law school readers out there, in the United States you could never do that. Before a witness begins asking questions you have to make it clear why the witness is there and why they have the knowledge they claim to have. Anyway, that was pretty interesting to a procedure-nerd like myself.

(From what I could gather, apparently the defense was trying to make the case that a bunch of soldiers went AWOL, and so the military leaders had no idea where they were, and no control over what they were doing, so they should not be held responsible for any crimes committed by these soldiers when they were AWOL. Apparently the witness worked somewhere where a lot of paperwork came in regarding soldiers who went absent, and they were trying to use her to prove that a bunch of soldiers went absent around the time these ethnic cleansings were taking place… riiiight. )

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

After the case, I had to catch a taxi back to the hostel and begin sitting by the internet waiting for any word from the judge (for a possible interview). Since the best way to reach me is via email, and I don’t have the convenience of email access on a phone here in Europe, I essentially had to sit by the computer all afternoon waiting to hear anything. But it was on the cab ride back to the hostel that I learned it was a murder behind our hostel and not just a shooting, and while I sat on the computer I could see the investigators out the window investigating the scene. They had set up a big white tent to block people on the street from seeing what they were doing, but they hadn’t done anything to block the view from the hostel.

)

Alexander saw this while he was out with the group, and took a picture for me 🙂

Around 5 or 6pm, the rest of the group arrived back from their afternoon at a few more courts, and we all left the hostel to catch a train back to Amsterdam.

Sadly, my camera wasn’t working the first night we were in Den Haag, and then the second day I was preoccupied on the computer so I didn’t get many pictures from that part of the trip, but it was a very pretty city. More on Amsterdam to come in the next post!

Being with “My People.”

Rumor has it (and fact-based studies do as well) that the Dutch are the tallest people in the world.  So I was pretty excited to get here and be surrounded by tall people, and go to shoe stores and have them tell me that they actually carry my size.  However, the reality has hit that I’m still taller than the average dutch man (6’1) or dutch woman (5’8).  People still look at me like I’m crazy tall, and shoe stores still tell me that the biggest size they carry is a 41 or 42 (and I wear a 45).

However, yesterday I tried on a jacket and the sleeves were actually long enough for my arms, and I bought a sweater where the sleeves were actually long enough.  I left the coat behind because it was on a rack that said 49.95 but when I got to the register it was 94.95.  As it turned out, the word on the rack that I didn’t understand meant “starting at.”  Woops!  But I’m still thinking about the coat and how great it was that the sleeves were long enough so I might go back and get it.  Also, someone gave me a flyer for a “big shoe” store that is near the Anne Frank house, so I’m going to check that out today as well. Apparently it carries womens sizes 42-46, but I have no idea if its the kind of store that actually carries fashionable shoes, or if it’s one of those places that doesn’t acknowledge that just because people are bigger than normal doesn’t necessarily mean they lack any sense of fashion.  I’m not interested in purchasing nurse shoes, clown shoes, or anything with leopard print or big crazy rainbow tassels.

Journey to Interlaken–the long travel day there.

I met Adam & Krissi at the Bayswater tube station at 8:30am to head to the airport (about a 1 hr train ride) so we’d be sure to arrive the recommended 2 hours early before our 11:45 flight. We got through security very quickly and smoothly and were able to sit down at a coffee shop for sandwiches and coffee before heading to our gate.

On the first leg of our flight, we were all in the same row. I was very impressed by KLM- our airline. Lots of leg room, the free snacks are good (sweet- a chocolate cookie sandwich type thing; or savory- delicious Tuc crackers), and you get free beverages (some airlines over here you have to pay even for just water or a soda).

Our layover in Amsterdam was pretty short… and interesting because each gate has its own security? Since I was only transferring, I don’t know if they have one set of security when you first get in and then another one at each gate for added security or what the deal is. I’m going to Amsterdam in a couple of weeks, so I’ll find out more then! Also, we discovered another thing to love about KLM- Adam and Krissi were in a different row than me this time… but they got the exit row for free! Most airlines these days charge you “economy plus” rates to sit in the exit row. Boo. So, on my next flight with KLM (when I go to Amsterdam again), I’ll be sure to try and get that row!

When we arrived in Zurich, we had to catch an underground shuttle train to the place where the train station was. While on the shuttle, this crazy advertisement came on (on some screens on the wall inside the tunnel) with this woman dressed in a swiss outfit and I screamed because it startled me—and in turn I startled everyone else in our car. It was like on Minority Report where the advertisements talk to Tom Cruise when he walks by. Freaked. Me. Out. Aaaaand it was really embarrassing that I screamed and startled everyone.

We bought our train tickets to Interlaken (about $150 round trip each, but it includes a half-price discount on any other travels in Interlaken) and went on our way. The train was pretty cool—it was a double decker–but it was getting dark so we didn’t get to see much outside of the train on the way. Also, the food on the train was crazy expensive. It was getting late and we hadn’t had anything since the sandwiches at Heathrow so Krissi and I went down to the “restaurant” and the first problem was that the woman did not speak any English… and we don’t speak any German or French (apparently the primary languages here). We ended up paying about 13 USD for 3 little packages of Paprika potato chips and a coca cola. The prices were kind of equivalent to buying snacks from a hotel room mini bar. C’est la vie.

We had to transfer trains, and our first train was late so we only had 5 minutes to transfer to the next one… and in the rush I left my purple zip-up hoodie behind. I was pretty bummed about it until I took a moment and remembered that I WAS IN SWITZERLAND and it was JUST A SWEATSHIRT. I’m a very lucky girl, and sitting around sulking about a piece of lost clothing was pretty lame.

Finally, sometime around 8pm, after 5 train rides (including 2 underground lines in London and the airport shuttle thing), and 2 plane flights we were finally in Interlaken! We dropped our stuff off at our hotel and headed out to find dinner. Krissi and I both had tomato soup and it was soooo delicious. However, the dinner also brought our attention to a major downside of Switzerland—smoking is ok in restaurants. Boo! Not just in a special “smoking section” either, it’s ok anywhere in the restaurant. The one time we found a restaurant with a no smoking area (our last night on the trip), the no smoking area was the room in the back… where you’d expect the smoking room to be!

After dinner, we headed back to our room and tried to figure out a plan for all the things we wanted to do while we were here. Again, due to language issues on our part and poor organization on the part of the brochure creators, we couldn’t figure anything out (other than the fact that sled dog rides ended in September… Sad!) so we ultimately decided to go to bed and head to the tourism office across the street in the morning.

Our hotel room had 3 twin beds, two pushed together in the middle and one in the corner in a little alcove kind of thing. We had two balconies that looked out over the two connecting streets on our corner—it was nice to have a room in such a central location and with such a great view! Also, there were blinds we could put down that made the room pitch black. At 9am when we would wake up, it was still completely dark in there. It was crazy!

Anyway, that was the end of our first day. More to come about Day 2!