As I departed from both my sister and Joe I headed to The Hague, which ended up being a very memorable few days. A much smaller city then Amsterdam, it had a much more relaxed feel, and I hardly got ran over in the bike paths. The demeanor of the people was much nicer overall. Although their are tourists in The Hague, I did not see any Americans, mostly Europeans looking to get to a smaller beach city.
My trip was filled with the usual sightseeing, including the peace palace, which is houses the judicial seats for the UN. A very cool place from the outside, although they only allow tours during certain parts of the year (obviously the farthest time from when I was there). The Escher Museum was another bright spot. After a few floors of his work my brain was in serious need of a reboot. The last floor consists of a few hands on exhibits, where a bunch of kids and I couldn’t stop double-taking everything.
Did I mention its a city on the beach? Like a really nice beach, that has beach bars. Beyond the beach there was The Hague Grote Markt. Where a bunch of bars surround a huge open air seating area, and since all the bars are owned by the same people, you can move around with your drinks, which was quite nice.
Beyond the usual touristy things and because of the extreme hospitality of a friend I was able to go to a Meatball Monday. This is not something you will find on any trip adviser or lonely planet write-up but it was the best part of my time in the Netherlands. A tradition that eerily reminded me of my parents Sunday dinner club, where the place changes hands every other week but the foundation of the meal, I think you could guess what that would be, remains the same. I was able to talk with Neike’s family and feel right at home, which got me towards the realization that a week after I was leaving The Hague I was going to be back with my own family.
Although it wont be on anyone’s to do list when going on a Euro-trip, it was a great place to spend a few days and recharge the batteries.
Amsterdam Ups and Downs:
1) The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel – Prisonesq white rooms, a weird cat piss smell throughout the hallway, have to false advertise having a good time by liking them on Facebook to get in the wifi.
2) No boating connections – I will dedicate at least 15 minutes of my time whenever I meet someone from Amsterdam that says they have a boat. I’ll even buy them a mixed drink, if it ends up with me being able to ride around the canals with a beer in hand.
3) Old city folk – 30 seconds after we got off the tram we were trying to figure out what street we were on when some 60 year old women cranked her bike bell and yelled out “Some people Live HERE!!!”. I was intimidated and could have rolled myself into a ball.
1) Mr. Gordonsky’s City Spy Map – I fell in love with this company in Barcelona, and would have spent as much time as needed to find the Amsterdam version. A clear, pocket sized map, that has all you need to know and more on the back.
2) Brouwerij ‘t IJ – A microbrewery that has an awesome feel, and a few 10% beers that make the baby glasses they give you more than enough.
3) Mikes Bikes Tours – The guide would periodically yell out “BUBBLES” and take out a bubble maker while riding ahead of us. I found that legendary. He was also wearing clogs, and since I am a tourist, I loved that too.
After a few weeks in Europe, we finally got cocky. After a frantic first day trying to bike tour with the most aggressive bikers I have ever come across (all 2 different cities I have biked in at this point) we decided to take the bikes out by ourselves and get to the countryside.
In true Campanaro traveling fashion, we started off confidently in the total opposite direction of where we needed to go. Once we situated that mishap we actually had an amazing time biking along the outskirts of Amsterdam. We rode along a waterway, stopped to grab lunch on a docked boat, where Joe may have gotten the finest Screwdriver I have ever tasted. As the journey continued we stopped at a very touristy windmill house that was surrounded by Asian and Indian tourists.
When we rented the bikes (from Mikes Bike Tours, highly recommended) the guy told us to go a bit beyond the windmill and pull in when we saw a 3ft sign with a clog and a piece of cheese on it. After 5 minutes of riding we came across the sign and pulled in. Although still touristy, it was no where near as crowded as the windmill. We walked into what we thought was an open entrance and had a door closed in our face. Their was supposed to be tours for groups, but with the 3 of us we were not getting any VIP treatment. After 15 minutes of closed doors they were opened again and we jumped in the back of the next group to go in.
Once again the doors were slammed closed, but this time we were on the inside. The tour started of with the guide introducing himself, and explaining what the 3 room tour was going to consist of. He cracked a few starter jokes that everyone laughed at, besides Joe, my sister, and me…
I know what your thinking, Vinny, you’d laugh at anything, you’re a horrible indicator if something is truly funny because you have the mind of a child. Our moment of triumph did not last because we went on a 30 minute tour of a cheese and clog shop, in Russian, joining a group of high school students from Moscow.
2 moments stand out from a half hour of sweat induced touring:
1) In the cheese portion of the tour, the tour guide went to the audience for help, looking intently for someone to help him with a demonstration. Luckily, I am still as short as I was before this trip, so I ducked behind someone who seemed to be a third cousin of Ivan Drago. Lorraine was also a phantom, using her genetics to stand directly behind a normal sized person to hide. Joe used all of his survival experience and stood as still as possible, because if you stand still enough, both T-Rex’s and Russians can not see you. One of the Russians was picked and had to answer a few questions and hold her hands out to distribute cheese to the rest of us.
2) The second, and what could have been a defining moment in my travel life was when we were done with the cheese demonstration. As the doors opened for the next room, the entire group was chitchatting (once again, in Russian) and for a few seconds I thought we were getting ready for a group picture to send back home to the grandparents. The dichotomy here was to jump in the picture, give the Korean peace sign and go on like that’s what we have been doing the entire trip, or not ruin the entire groups photo but blow our cover, and most likely get thrown into a gulag (that is the one word I remember from 10th grade Social Studies). Sadly we were not given the option, as the picture never happened.
All in all the tour was pretty awesome, the guide made a pair of clogs from a mold in about 3 minutes, and the shop at the end of the tour was very authentic. I did not try the cheese from the Russian girl, because although I want to say I was confident in myself while sneaking in this tour, I was a mess the entire time…