Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Three countries in three days

It was raining this morning as we left Brussels at 7.15 am heading for clogs, tulips and windmills in Amsterdam. Today's journey is just over 200km and I have a fear that they are breaking us in gently. Later my gut instinct proves to be correct.

We stopped at the border of the Netherlands for a" WC” stop and coffee. To use the WC cost 30 cents and I am concerned whatever I buy to put in I am also going to have to pay to get out! Just how much will I spend on W C's by the end of this tour is anyone’s guess.

We have a numbering system in the bus so that your seat is rotated. There is extensive and in depth commentary frequently throughout the trip. Our tour director is very knowledgeable and tells us all sorts of information and some of it is quite humorous. Everyone gets to go up the front looking out the big windows at least twice on this tour. The driver and tour director sit  at a slightly lower level so you have a clear view, but you are so high up anyway and the windows are so big  that you get a great view from anywhere in the bus, just better up front. My turn is 3 days away!

After a orientation tour in the bus around Amsterdam we were treated to a canal cruise which really was the best way to see this 700 year old capital. The city almost has a canal to match all of the roads there are so many of them.

It would seem that almost everyone rides a bicycle...I have never ever seen so many bicycles in one place. Our canal boat was long and skinny  and the driver was expert at getting through narrow canal tunnels and reversing to turn.  It was a pleasant trip and wonderful to see canal houses and  a good portion of the city  from the water.

We finished up at a diamond factory where we could see diamonds being cut and polished by the grinders. We then were given some understanding about the 4 C's. the cut, colour, clarity and carat. Some bright spark said we only know about "P". The demonstrator looked a bit perplexed and said she hadn't heard of that and the same bright spark said the price! And these diamonds were priced.....but the great thing was we could try them on and as many as we liked...... My favourite was only 3750 E and so I sadly had to put it back as I did not have even half of that on my travel card. Oh they looked lovely though and some people paid the price.

I had said before I left NZ that I didn't think I wanted to visit a windmill and cheese factory ( an optional tour) and I would rather go and look at the red light area! As it was still drizzling I decided that the optional tour for just over 20 E was probably a good choice and what swayed me in the end was our tour director said he would take us on a walking tour through the red light area after the windmill excursion and before we went to our hotel for dinner at 8pm.

So off we went to the little fishing town of Volendam. Very touristy but I guess that's what I am right now! I did have some eel for lunch on a small bread roll quite the thing to have I am told. Quite yum and very similar in flavour to salmon.

After lunch and a short walk around the little town and it was off to the windmill. Fascinating!! There used to be 10,000 windmills in Holland and now there are only 900. The one that we saw is still operating and is responsible for pumping the water from one side of the dyke to the other. This morning we have heard some extensive   background about the dykes and why and how they exist. The windmill we saw has been in operation since 1896.
Classic shot from inside the windmill
A long way down
The structural wood inside is oak and most of it has been there since it was built.

The windmill is thatched and we were told it was last re thatched in 1988 at a cost of US 40,000. It took 5 men a month to re thatch it as it is all done by hand. Thankfully it will last for 100 years. We were allowed to go up to the very top of the windmill where the direction of the blades can be changed depending on the direction of the wind. It is possible to change it throughout the complete 360 degrees. To see this you had to climb some very steep stairs...about 40 with only a small handrail and it felt very scary as we were up so high. The photo here is only half way up. I don't mind heights so much but I loathe coming down ladders backwards and this was a big ask for me but I didn't want to miss out. Probably only half of the 40 on tour made the climb and not many of them woman!
At the cheese farm we were greeted by a woman in full Dutch costume complete with clogs.  There were plenty of opportunities to sample, sheep, goat and cows cheese. Some of the people on tour buy everything and anything!

No photos are allowed in the red light area otherwise we were told the camera would end up in the canal. Can't imagine why anyone would want to take photos. Interestingly marijuana is legal here but you must smoke it inside the coffee shop or as I saw a sign...inside the museum!! The Red Light area is all that you would think and a little more. Though we did not see it late at night what we did see was enough. Sad really to see young (and sometimes old) woman plying themselves from shop windows. It would seem that you can stand in a window with little clothing on and that’s legal yet if you are on the street that's illegal.  The tour director announced that we were about to go  down the narrowest alley  in Amsterdam and thinking the walk was over I thought I would take a photo....oops from out of a dark doorway came a rather angry woman wearing nothing much saying no photo , no photo. Little did I know we were still in the depths of the red light area. I am pleased to tell you I still have my camera!

We are staying in a very swish hotel tonight with a huge bed that I am sharing with my suitcase. All blonde wood, a perspex chair, lounger and a double size I have just looked at the Kms to travel tomorrow and my worst fears have been realised......660 Kms from Amsterdam to Rhineland - the land of E coli!  However, I had not realised that the afternoon spent on a Rhine cruise covering some of those Kms, while the bus is driven to meet us. We have our instructions for the morning but wakeup call is 15mins earlier at 5.45am, bags out and breakfast at 6.30 and leaving at 7. ....phew no rest for the wicked.

We had a WC stop and this one was 70 cents but when you go through the turn stile you get given a coupon worth 50 cents and you can spend that in the shop (coffee and snacks) attached. A great way to get you to buy something as you can't buy anything for just 50c. More fascinating is the loo which has an automatic flushing system when you hold up your hand in much the same way paper towels are dispensed automatically but the thing that had all the ladies laughing was the toilet seat. When you flush the toilet seat the rotates 360 degree while it is disinfected as it goes....very clever. You have to be an expert to know how all the toilets work and the showers in the hotels.

Onwards and another stop at Cologne where we were able to visit and the cathedral there. It is here that the 3 wise men are said to be entombed....quite something. The cathedral was huge and even though there were many tourists there it was not crowded such is its size.

Onwards for another 2 hours where we enjoyed a cruise on the great River Rhine. It was a lovely day and we were able to enjoy a local Rhine wine sitting on the deck and enjoying the wonderful scenery of castles, vast vineyards both sides of the river and little townships on the banks. We were 550 miles from the source but the current was incredibly strong. It was such a significant river in Germany's history.
Some tour mates!

Fast forward to Heidelberg, a wonderful town of about 130,000 and we wandered its cobbled streets and saw the Heidelberg Castle that goes back to the 14th century. This is a lively little township which hosts a buzzy university community. It was quite noticeable the number of young people around......most on bikes or in the little cafes and bars on the streets.

It was  with relief the hotel was in sight and we piled off for a welcome shower and another glass of the local wine before dinner. It's been a big day.The standard of hotels so far has varied significantly. We have had average, very average and state of the art. We are about to stay in the next one for two nights....bliss.
Globus has a new driver!

1 comment:

  1. This is developing into a toilet tour - how interesting!