A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Holland, Belgium and Denmark

In search of the cold...

I should explain the rationale behind a trip to such cold countries in the coldest month of all. My original aim was Thailand, which I then realized would be impossible due to a. finances b. time constraints; so, Cynthia and I began brainstorming where to go. Our next destination was Jordan, but I only wanted to go to Jordan if we could also go to Lebanon. For various reasons, this was a bust. We kept pondering where to go and finally decided on UAE and Oman - it was perfect! We could couch surf (I even contacted a nice woman), it would be gorgeous t-shirt weather and in addition we'd be exploring more of the Middle East. We planned on renting a car and driving through all kinds of interesting areas; however, once we looked into the Visa in more detail, our plans were crushed. Sick of our constant failure in trying to go East, we figured we should just go West instead - a sure bet. We checked online for cheap flights, Copenhagen came up and so that was that. We had also both wanted to go to Amsterdam for a while, and I have friends in Belgium so overall it seemed ideal. In fact, it was - aside from the sub 0 temperatures.

So our trip began with Cynthia and I heading off to the airport with a private driver. We decided luxury suited us for our Western Europe voyage – spare no expenses (although to be honest, it was actually cheaper than a taxi). We arrived fairly early and had time to sit around, and in my case eat; my insatiable appetite hasn’t changed since moving to Turkey, in fact it’s grown. While eating, Cynthia pulled out her camera and much to her dismay it broke. As soon as she turned it on the lens got stuck and that was that. Her trip was off to a rocky start. After leaving the airport we set off on our short voyages to Europe. We started off with a short trip to Istanbul – roughly 1 hour. I slept. We arrived, and I was given free dessert for us from the two young boys working at the Sbarro. This seems to have become my speciality since moving to Turkey; receiving free goods (particularly food).

To get back to the trip, we took our flight from Istanbul to Copenhagen and upon arrival we immediately searched for a convenient place to sleep. The chairs although qualifying as beautiful modern art were far from comfortable. We ended up trying to sleep around a few poles on an upper floor. The highlight (in a decidedly negative way)? A Danish couple who were clearly drunk decided, after making out and giggling loudly to donate their rubbish to a sleeping Japanese couple. Shortly after, I became frustrated and went off to find a bench in Burger King where we both proceeded to nap for a few hours before running off for our next flight.
Copenhagen to Amsterdam was smooth aside from the landing at which point due to the cold we had to wait for a while. What happened? The machinery froze and there was only one person on duty. We waited, arrived and were also frozen.

We arrived at the hostel and spent a while trying to straighten ourselves out sans our own rooms – basically it entailed us camping out in a hall near the bathroom and trying to get clean. Shortly thereafter we headed off in search of food. We landed at a really cute restaurant nearby, where we proceeded to go upstairs (where we had an entire section to ourselves). The highlight of the day was our visit to the Van Gogh museum, which was surprisingly interesting. It not only housed his paintings, but also sketches and artwork by other contemporaneous artists. My favourite sketch of his was of an old couple seen from behind; it was really emotionally evocative all things considered. I also enjoyed looking at his experimentation with pointillism as one of my favourite pieces of art is by Seurat. I also learned a bit about his life, including the fact that he had also lived in France and Belgium and that his brother died shortly after he did and the two were buried together. His brother’s wife apparently said it was more appropriate that way. After exploring the museum we went back to the hostel where we cleaned up before heading to the city center. After having a dinner of falafel and eggplant we set off in search of some typical Amsterdam action. Suffice it to say we had a nice night involving some interesting and very talkative strangers including a British guy who tried to convince us to join a pub crawl. We decided we’d rather go for tea instead. Our Saturday night in Amsterdam ended with us drinking tea at midnight in a very chic bar/restaurant before heading back to the hostel for a very interrupted night’s sleep. It was a far cry from the misadventures people expected of us, and fortunately so for us.

IMG_6449.jpg

Nice weather was still too much to ask for, and it was, again, freezing on Sunday. We had a delicious breakfast at the hostel before setting off for the Anne Frank Haus. I found it fascinating because I’ve done so much research into the Holocaust and museum studies. In addition, I had read the book when I was younger so it was strange to be able to in some way reconnect to my experiences as a youth trying to start broaching such immense topics. The attic itself is barren, as her father requested it stay; however, most of the house is filled up with pictures of the family, the house in the 1940s as well as information about the family. My main complaint was that I felt there should have been a better sequence of information. I think it should have begun with an introduction to the Nazi ideology, and then an overview of the Holocaust and its implications for Jewish people living in Amsterdam before dealing with the Frank family. As well, there should have been a more thorough portrait painted of who these people were and how they coped living in such a tight space together. Fortunately, when we went there was an exhibit about her mother, which was quite informative but I think that it should be permanent and expanded to include all those who lived in the attic as well as Miep Gies who helped them so much. I really appreciated that after going through the museum there was an exhibit at the end which brought all of the issues into a contemporary focus. There were television screens all around a room, which had buttons installed so that visitors would watch a short clip on a subject and could then vote on their opinion at the end. A nice touch was that at the end of the vote the results were shown on the screen and compared against the total results that the museum had seen since this exhibit’s creation. After leaving the Anne Frank haus we were once again thrust into the freezing Amsterdam air. We sought solace in a cafe, where we watched some Olympic type skiing, which for some reason involved guns although nothing seemed to be hunted. I commented that it was like a test to gain citizenship for Canada. Ski past the others, kill a bear and then maybe you might be considered tough enough to be Canadian. I had some other interesting hypotheses at the time, but none were really realistic enough to be shared. We then headed back to the hostel, after an unfortunate event at a Thai restaurant, which made me highly suspicious of the Dutch. I spent a few hours in my hostel room listening to my room mates commenting on techno videos on TV. I was exhausted, so I had an excuse for lying around, but I’m not entirely sure what had brought them into such a strange situation – perhaps the cold? Let’s hope. In any case, we then went out again for a Mexican dinner – clearly another staple of Dutch cuisine. I enjoyed it, although the portions were tiny and the price was high. We followed it up with an actual Dutch dish (perhaps, the only one?) – pancakes! They really were fantastic. Due to all cafes in Europe actually being bars in disguise, we ended up surrounded by American football fans and smoke so we retreated to a romantic corner and ate our cinnamon apple pancakes in peace – far away from the Superbowl spectators.

IMG_6467.jpg

On Monday Cynthia and I parted ways, as she was staying in Amsterdam for another two days and I was intent on exploring Belgium. I arrived safely and met my friend Bruno, whom I hadn’t seen in 6 years (when we met backpacking Australia). We went walking around Brussels, and in one day I managed to eat two Belgian waffles, as well as having about 3 separate chocolates. The food in Belgium was unbelievably good. For dinner I had a beef dish with a gingerbread sauce and stoemp on the side (mashed potatoes, Belgian style). Although the prices were high here too, the food was worth it. During our time walking around the city I saw Manneken Pis, the famous statue of the tiny peeing man, as well as his sister statue. We also visited L’ascenseur, which is basically a massive outdoor elevator, which takes you up to the Palace of Justice. From there I was able to see the whole city, including the strange statue of a magnified iron cell (named the Atomium). It didn’t fit at all, but I come from Toronto where we added massive Crystal structures onto a gorgeous old museum building (Royal Ontario Museum) – so, who am I to comment? Due to the extreme cold in Belgium (it definitely felt colder than Amsterdam), our walking tour was cut short by my desire to retreat indoors. Fortunately, Bruno’s friend led us into a bar called Delirium, which had over 2000 types of beer as well as a catalogue of all of their beers, with descriptions, which could be purchased for about 5 Euro. I had an excellent cherry beer (kriek), while my two friends had chocolate milk. Shortly thereafter, we met up with my friend Diana who lives in Antwerp. The three of us then went for dinner and had a lovely time. Bruno and I then went back to Leuven, where I stayed at a student dormitory for the night.

IMG_6477.jpg IMG_6494.jpg

Tuesday we explored Ghent (the two boys and I). Although I had never heard of this city before it ended up being my favourite of the whole trip in terms of aesthetics. We visited St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which housed the biggest books I’ve ever seen in my life as well as a rhino horn. It was basically like an antique shop; it had such a large collection of oddities, which makes sense considering that it was built in the 900s. It also has a very famous piece of Belgian art, which we decided not to visit as they charged for it. Life in Belgium isn’t cheap, and visiting it even less so. As we wandered around we saw many buildings from the 1600s, which were all beautifully adorned and situated overlooking the pretty canals, which run through the city.
IMG_6513.jpg

Finally, we found the castle – our main attraction. It was impressive, and I liked it even more because we were there at the same time as a young school group who got into an orderly line and then proceeded to charge through the front gate. I had to resist the urge to join. Who doesn’t want to join a crowd of people running and screaming for no reason? Even if they are half your size... I also had a mission while in Belgium – buy an item with Tintin on it. I grew up on Tintin, and my teddy bear is even named Snowy, so it’s unimaginable that I could go to Belgium and not buy any type of Tintin souvenir. I accomplished this mission, and also bought Cynthia a birthday card, which read “knuffles”. I knew she’d like it. We enjoyed the sound of the word and we shared a chuckle over it later.
IMG_6476.jpg
Anyway, after Ghent, we drove to Antwerp where there were enough diamonds for it to live up to its reputation. I considered buying myself an engagement ring, because when next will I be in Antwerp to buy diamonds and more importantly I don’t see anyone else buying me one anytime soon; however, upon further reflection I decided that it may look slightly odd or more precisely pathetic, particularly given the timing (a week before Valentine’s Day). We met up with Diana and the four of us went for a tasty lunch, where I successfully managed to eat chicken without getting sick (this rarely happens in Turkey).
IMG_6531.jpg
The mall where the restaurant was located was more like a palace, and was thus aptly named. I left in a rush in order to catch my train back to Amsterdam, where I met my friend Volkan who I stayed with that night. He had moved there from Istanbul a few months prior, but was able to give me some interesting insight into what it’s like living in such a touristy town. He also had a unique perspective as he’s Turkish living in Western Europe. We went for a nice Italian dinner (I really started to doubt whether there is such a thing as a Dutch dinner), during which I managed to injure myself in the strangest possible way. The wall of a toilet paper dispenser fell open into my forehead, hitting it really hard and causing some very intense pain as well as a bruise. I recovered, and lived to tell the tale of the violent Dutch washrooms, clearly. We then went back to his house where there was still no water; due to the cold, the pipes weren’t working.
IMG_6540.jpg

Wednesday morning, I went for a delicious last breakfast in Amsterdam to an organic coffee shop called Bagels and Beans. After which, I briefly visited a small market and then went directly to the airport. I really appreciated that everywhere I went on this trip, transportation was never an issue. There were always direct buses or metros from the airport to the city center, which although it should be expected is not necessarily the case everywhere I’ve gone. I arrived in Copenhagen without a hitch and even managed to run into Cynthia upon arrival at the (massive) hostel. We went for a delicious lunch, where I ate and she accompanied me kindly. We then visited the Copenhagen Museum of Design which was free because it was a Wednesday. We saw a really interesting Chanel exhibit including women from Scandanavia. It was slightly disturbing at times for the themes of childish innocence mixed with blatant sexuality, but some of the photos were genuinely beautiful. The exhibits at the museum were really eye-catching too, including a room filled with vibrant orange and red sofas, pictures and lamps. For dinner we went to a cute fish restaurant, and then afterwards we went to an Argentinean wine bar to watch a jazz show. Part of the appeal of Copenhagen had been that there was a jazz festival happening the week we were to visit, so clearly we had to take advantage – and I’m glad we did. We had a wonderful night together, listening to jazz and sipping some tasty Argentinean Malbec wine – La familia Barberis. We ended the night in a fairly shameful way when we tipped the band 1 kroner, which is the equivalent of about 15 Euro cents. Their currency is confusing, nothing more to be said about that.
IMG_6552.jpg

On Thursday, we took advantage of a free walking tour, and decided to brave the cold. We learned all about the history between the various Scandanavian countries, as well as the surprisingly frequent fires which happened in Copenhagen. We visited the City Hall, as well as Tivoli, which is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world and supposedly where Walt Disney got his inspiration for his own. We also learned about resistance in World War II, and how Denmark managed to protect roughly 90% of their Jewish community. We then went to see the Palace, which consists of 4 buildings: one for the Queen, one for the King, one for one of the princes and his family and then half a building for the bachelor prince (the other half is a museum). Cynthia particularly liked the guards, as their huts looked like massive (red) Crayola pencil crayons to her. I liked them because little hearts were carved into the sides. There’s a strange trend in Copenhagen with hearts; I never figured out why they’re ubiquitous.
IMG_6587.jpg

We passed the modern Opera House and then went for lunch – Italian food. It seems that the starter of the Carslberg brewery donated a lot of money to Copenhagen, so in his honour I tried his beer. It was delicious, and cheaper than water. Nothing was cheap though, not even a visit to the washroom – which cost roughly 2 lira. After lunch we visited The Little Mermaid, who was smaller than little. We did see a beautiful church nearby though. The highlight was a visit to Christiania, an area which declared itself independent of Denmark. The inhabitants don’t pay taxes, and also openly sell hash and weed, but the government seems to be ok with it. The only rule we encountered while there was that no photos can be taken inside the boundaries. I can understand the logic behind that. It was like being in a strange fantasy land. There were psychedelic images and colours everywhere, and the buildings were all warehouse like. The people were also fascinating, although I never spoke with any of them.
IMG_6591.jpg IMG_6611.jpg
On that note, I should mention that English was spoken everywhere, and it was spoken extremely well. There was never any need for me to attempt any other language – aside from in Belgium, where I chose to speak French. While in Christiania, we found a small island and decided to be adventurous so we crossed the frozen river and declared ourselves founders of a nation within a breakaway nation. I think since then it’s dissolved, but it was nice while it lasted – a peaceful existence we had. We then went to a cafe, which had great hygge, a feeling of relaxation and calm (as most cafes in Copenhagen seem to). We relaxed and chatted before venturing home. I shared the walk with an American who spent the time explaining a variety of conspiracy theories to me. I smiled, a lot. Cynthia and I then splintered off on our own and went for Mexican food (do you see a trend here?). I argued with the waitress briefly, which happened quite a bit in Copenhagen. As unfortunate as it is to say, the people there were not friendly or even particularly polite with me. I didn’t enjoy my interactions as much as I loved the city.

IMG_6633.jpg
We ended our trip by indulging in a massive brunch at Cafe Norden. It involved salmon, cake, pancakes and even maple syrup among a plethora of other delectable edibles. We spent time people watching as our seats looked out over a gorgeous old square. We once again visited a statue of Bishop Absallon, our new idol, for nothing other than his name. We then spent the day at the National Museum where we learned about hunting, funerals, Vikings as well as the fact that apparently Danes are obsessed with bogs. Anything and anyone could have been thrown into them at any time – it was a dangerous world up there in the dark north.
IMG_6649.jpg
We then ran over to the Jewish Museum where due to restraints such as time and money, we only visited the guest shop. Fortunately we got into a conversation with a worker there, which led us to our final stop in Copenhagen - a Synagogue on a Friday night. We joined in a lively Shabbat dinner. The place was packed, and we involved ourselves in some fascinating conversation, while also enjoying the delicious food provided (roughly 4 courses!). Time came to leave and a really nice gentleman offered to drive us back to our hostel, so we set off, gathered our things and went to the airport. We were glad to be out of the awful hostel; however, we were both really sad to see the end of our trip and the last of Copenhagen. It’s such a cool city, in so many ways. I’d just rather not go back again while the weather is so cold.
large_IMG_6602.jpg

Posted by madrugada 04:15 Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]