martes, 21 de abril de 2015

Trip with Kim

After class, I biked home, ate lunch, and headed to the airport for my flight from Seville to London. Navigating the airport was fairly quick and easy as I've done it loads of times by now. When we got into Stanton, we had to go through Customs. For it, there's a section for EU residents who've signed up for a specific program, all other EU citizens, and then way down on the end, there was a section for all others. Well, not even seeing the other section because everything down that way looked empty, I filed into the all other EU citizen queue. While queueing toward the front, I started talking to a girl from the US who was also studying in Seville and heading to London for a few days. When we got to the front of the line, the customs personnel notified us we were in the wrong area and had to go down further. Fortunately, there wasn't too much of a line, so that went pretty quick. I had bought a bus ticket into the city, so I just had to figure out where I needed to go for that! I've learned to just ask people, as most are willing to help and it can save a lot of time. Shortly thereafter, I was on a coach bus driving on the wrong side of the road toward London! Once I got dropped off, then came the fun part: the tube. Until this point, I'd ridden on trains, buses, and above ground trams, but an underground system was new. Fortunately London's system is pretty well planned out and there are workers at every station, so I was on my way to King's Cross Station, which is where my hostel was by.

Now, of course since I was going to King's Cross, I HAD to visit Platform  9 3/4! I've grown up with HP, and it's basically a minor addiction of mine. Since it was late, there wasn't many people around, so it was pretty easy to take a few pictures and be on my way!

My hostel, which was my first time staying in one, reminded me of the Burrow. (There will be several HP references, so mind your head.) Close by there was a burrito restaurant that I decided to hit up. Spanish cuisine doesn't use many spices and doesn't have any heat, so having good Mexican food again was like a dream come true! I then spent time in the common room, which was full of people from all over the world. Africa, South Korea, Germany, South America... I was mildly shocked by the variety of people. I spent some time chatting with a couple girls from Seoul, which was very fun. One is studying in northern England and the other in Berlin, so they had interesting perspectives. I didn't stay for too long though as it was late and I needed to get some sleep in my 16 bed shared dorm. Thankfully no one snored!

In the morning, I quietly got up, got ready, and checked out. (Staying in a hostel was a good experience for me and would definitely recommend using hostels over hotels to save money, if that's an issue.) I hopped the tube and headed to the hotel Kim and I were to be staying at, which is where we were meeting. Shortly after I showed up, she did too, so we checked in early, dropped off our stuff, and set off for our first day of adventures!

Kim had flown from Madison to London with a crying baby also on the plane, meaning she hadn't gotten much sleep, but I forced her to go strong our first day to help acclimate to the new time zone. We started off slow with a nice walk through Hyde Park. Some flowers were in bloom and there were a lot of ducks, so it was very serene. I have never been to New York, but I imagine Central Park has a similar vibe.

Next on our itinerary was the London Bus Tour, which was a great way to see the major landmarks of the city and start to orientate ourselves to the city and it's layout. Our tour guide was very insightful and pointed out things I never would have thought to look for. For example, she pointed out damage to the exterior of specific buildings that was from the air bombing raids during the World Wars. It was a tad brisk out to be sitting on the upper deck of a double-decker bus without a roof, but a great day nonetheless!

After the bus tour, we stopped at our hotel and then headed into the city for the night. We went to the London Eye, which is neat, though I'm glad we prebooked tickets, because it definitely wouldn't be worth waiting in the line that was there to buy them! Especially since the ride around doesn't last that long. It shocked me when I learned that, when it was built, they didn't think it would be there more than 10 years, but due to the large number of people who visit it, it's still operating. Why someone would build something so huge just to tear it down 10 years later is beyond me.

After that, we went and checked out Big Ben and the Parliament building. I've gotta say, I thought the tower that Big Ben is a part of would be bigger. Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful with the style and decoration, but I just kind of thought it would be taller.

After that, we went to our night at the theatre to see one of my personal favorites: Wicked! However, I believe the time I saw it in Chicago was better, though I definitely had a better seat this time! I just thought that Glinda wasn't as ditzy as she should be. But, sweet Oz, did Elphaba have some pipes on her! She was definitely my favorite character (though I think she always is...).  Ironically, in London, Ozians have a British accent, except the Wizard... Which I guess makes sense since he's technically from Kansas! Overall, it was a great show and a wonderful way to end our first day in London.

We had a bit of a late start on Saturday, though I figured I'd be nice and let Kim sleep in since she'd been up for so long the days before. After breakfast, we headed into the city to see Westminster Abbey. We got there at 1:29, and they were closing at 1:30 since they were still on "winter" hours. (Hello, it's spring. Not winter.) It wouldn't have been so bad had the worker not been kind of royal pain, or if they would post their hours in more places other than outside the entrance, like, you know, their website so Google knows and doesn't say the wrong hours. We looked at their services and were thinking about returning so we could see the inside, though it didn't end up working out.

Next we went to Buckingham Palace, which can't be toured right now because the Queen's in residence, even though she doesn't usually even stay there. We toured the royal stables, which weren't really that impressive. The best part about it was seeing the little pony carts that the staff would sometimes pull the little princesses around in if there wasn't a spare animal!

Through the tube again we were to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is one of the biggest cathedrals in the world. It was very beautiful, and you can go up to the dome and look over the church from there. If you keep ascending, you can go all the way up and get some of the best views of the city, which are indeed impressive. The 500+ steps are a bit of a workout and sometimes you need to mind your head, but it's totally worth it.

In addition, when you get to the top, you can even see Millennium Bridge, aka the bridge that was supposed to have been collapsed by the Death Eaters!

Since we had walked and climbed a bunch, we decided to stop at a cafe for a glass of wine and some dessert, which was amazing and totally refreshing. After our relaxing, we went to Harrods. (No, not Jared's, Harrods.) Honestly, the architecture alone is amazing inside this huge store. We just walked around gawking at the ridiculously overpriced goods. It must be nice to be able to pay £55,000 for a decorative peacock! There was a technology room that was pretty wicked, and some of the furniture was pretty neat to look at, but there was no way I was going to buy anything there! On our way out, we did encounter the touristy department with normal priced stuff, so Kim got a nice purse that says Harrods on it. Harrods was definitely more impressive than I anticipated it to be!

Since I had gone to Platform 9 3/4 before by myself, I told Kim about it, and she also wanted to go. Naturally, I willingly obliged! I didn't notice the gift store located close by the first time, so we went in and looked around. I found myself choosing a wand to take with me, which is probably one of my favorite souvenirs so far!

After HP, we wandered around a bit and stumbled upon this AMAZING Italian restaurant. The food was great, the wine was on par, and the service was excellent, which can be hard to come by in Europe. Yet another pretty great day in the books!

We got ourselves moving fairly quickly on Sunday and headed across town to the Tower of London. Kim has read a plethora about this era and it was the highlight of her London experience. To be honest, I didn't think it would be that cool or there would be too much to see. Boy, was I wrong! That place is amazing! There is so much history, it's incredible. We spent hours here, and it was entirely worth it! The entire central building, the White Tower, is full of different artifacts and attractions. They even had "toilets" that just let the waste fall of the side of the building. (Talk about a crappy situation... Could you imagine the smell?! Yuck.) The eventually built a wall to hide the side of the building that had all the crap on it.

When we went into the White Tower, there was a HUGE line to see the crown jewels. Truthfully, we didn't even realize they were there until we got to the Tower of London. We decided to check out the White Tower first and then we would go back and see the jewels if we had time, especially since it was raining. (We had to have some rain while we were in London, right?!) It was the best decision ever! When we came out, there was hardly any line at all and we essentially walked right in! The jewels and crowns are impressive, though it's shocking that a lot of the time, they're hardly worn. If I had a crown, I'd be wearing that thing all the time!! I didn't know much about how the whole Royal family thing worked, but one of the workers was more than happy to share the low down on how the titles and succession, etc., works. It's just comical to me how much everyone loves the Queen, yet people usually dislike the US president. The roles are different indeed, but it's fascinating to me. Whenever Queen Elizabeth II passes away, it will definitely be felt the world around, and the following coronation will be the first one most living people today will have seen! What a fascinating subject and place!

Afterwords, we had some decent burgers for dinner and then headed back to the hotel to rest since we had to head to the airport fairly early to head to Dublin.

So we get up early, get ready, pack our things, take the overground to Gatwick, get through security, get to our gate, and as we are about to get into the terminal, they stop letting people enter, so we had to wait in the queue. After nearly a half hour, when our flight was supposed to leave, we found out that there was a part that was broken on the plane, so we would be delayed a couple hours. Well, a couple turned into 12. Yes, TWELVE hours stuck in an airport. The worst part was the airline had some of the worst communication and customer service you could imagine. What's more, with the way the airport is designed, if you want to leave the airport, you have to get escorted out of the airport and can't go back through security to get back in. We were literally stuck there all day long. We could have gone back into the city and seen Westminster Abbey and some of the other sites we didn't make it to. Heck, we could have taken the train to Dublin in less time!

The worst part is the airport doesn't have free WiFi, so there was nothing to occupy my time. Fortunately, I discovered we could connect to a random store's WiFi, which meant I could watch Legally Blonde the Musical to prepare for Ireland, and I had a Guinness at brunch to live a little bit of Ireland, but we lost half of our time because we were sitting in an airport. Ugh. Fortunately there was an AMAZING chicken restaurant that I got a bomb salad at for dinner, so there's a mild silver lining. It's just annoying because it's only a little more than an hour flight that took much longer than it should have. And we missed our Viking Splash Tour! Gah, so annoying.

Well, we finally got into Dublin, took the bus into town, then a taxi to our hotel, which was so quaint, it was more like a B&B! After settling in a bit, we set off to find a pub because it was going to be our only chance to go to a pub in Ireland, and you HAVE to go to a pub if you're in Ireland!! Well, there were a couple clubs by where we were staying, but no pubs that we could see. After meandering around a bit, we stumbled upon Bruxelles Pub, which had a cool atmosphere and good music, so we were happy. I got a pint of Guinness, Jameson neat, and a Car Bomb. Now, I know that the Irish hate when tourists order Car Bombs. And I know they NEVER drink them and believe Jameson, Bailey's, and Guinness should NEVER be mixed together. Buuuttttt, I do enjoy a good Car Bomb and I HAD to get one for my friend Kayla, so it was worth the flack. We only had like 45 minutes to spend there because they were closing, so once I finished all my drinks, it didn't seem as cold and windy outside as it had on my way there! It was a good first Irish pub experience, that's for sure!

Since we were unable to go to several attractions yesterday, we decided to pick the top attractions on our list of sites to see to occupy our only day in Ireland. The morning started off a little slow, since we stayed out the night before at the pub, but we managed to get up and be ready by 8:30. Our hotel had an amazing breakfast prepared, including breads, biscuits, croissants, fruits, cereals, Greek yogurts, milk, juices, coffee, eggs, Irish bacon, sausage links, toast, and more. It was a great Irish breakfast, indeed!

After breakfast, we hit the town. We went to St. Stephen's Green to enjoy the beautiful park that was built and donated by Rupert Guinness. It was such a peaceful morning. From there, we moved on to Trinity College, which was founded by Queen Elizabeth I back in 1592. The architecture of all the buildings on campus was amazing! Very beautiful.

We even went through a museum to see the Book of Kells, which is an old Irish manuscript Gospel book in made from goat leather hide with handwritten bible texts and tables in Latin. Toward the end of the tour, there was a HUGE barrel vault library, called The Old Library, that had an exhibit about myths, including Catholic, Greek, Norse, Irish, and more.

After that, we went to the Dublin Castle. It's not quite what you'd imagine a castle to be, but it was still very interesting and full of history. I didn't know much about Irish history, so it was very intriguing. First off, Ireland has only been a free country (from the British rule) since 1921 after their rebellion. That means that they have been a free nation for less than 100 years. (How crazy is that?!)

Furthermore, they've only had 9 presidents so far, and two of them have been women, so they're ahead of the US on their acceptance of women in higher up positions. (Cheers to Ireland!) There's a grand ballroom in this castle, St. Patrick's Hall, which is where every president is sworn into office. It is considered the most important ballroom in all of Ireland! Notable persons, such as John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, and Nelson Mandela have all attended events in this ballroom. I once had someone tell me I should take more time to view the world in other lights, such as how a child views the world. It's amazing what a different perspective can do to change ones views. With this in mind, I lied down on the carpeting and gazed up at the crystal chandeliers and beautiful paintings on the ceilings. I would suggest others to do this as well. It would surprise you what the difference can be.

After the castle, we went to St. Patrick's Cathedral, a beautiful, Gothic style church named for the Patron Saint of Ireland. There has been a church on this site since 890, though the large expansion of the church took place from 1220 to 1259, and there has been several updates since then. St. Patrick himself is said to have spent time at this site baptizing Catholics around the year 450.

There are a few neat stories about this church too. In 1492, there were two families who were feuding, the Butlers and the FitzGeralds. One day, Butler entered the cathedral and into an inner room and claimed sanctuary. The two families bickered back and forth between the door, and FitzGerald tried to enter, wanting to call a truce, but Butler thought it was a trick and wouldn't open the door. So, FitzGerald took an ax and chopped a hole through the door. Then he stuck his hand through it to shake hands and call a truce. This is where the phrase "chancing your arm" is legend to come from. Pretty neat, huh?

After that, we made our way to the Guinness Storehouse, which was a personal favorite. I really like seeing the innovation some breweries have for telling their story, and the Guinness Brewery is HUGE! There is so much to do and see, it's impressive. I'm definitely a Guinness fan and think it's like drinking chocolate milk, it's so good. Kim doesn't like it though, so it wasn't quite as intriguing for her.

On the fifth floor, we ate lunch and had really good beef stew and homemade mashed potatoes, bread, and obviously Guinness, all of which contained Guinness. Talk about taste buds in heaven! Then we went up higher and got to look out over the city from their observation deck. It was unique experience, I believe.

Once we were leaving there, we were a little hard pressed for time since we squeezed in so much in so little time, so we took a taxi from Guinness to our hotel and then the airport. Our taxi driver was honestly one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to speak with. He was so nice and knowledgeable. He told us some Irish history that I'd never heard before. One of the stories that stands out to me is about the potato famine. We learn in history that there was a bad famine that destroyed their potato crops for several years, but we don't learn that the British monarchs wanted to take control over Ireland and saw this as their opportunity. They invaded Ireland, established landlords, took all their crops back to England and basically left the Irish to starve to death. At the beginning, there was over 12 million Irish. By the end, only 2 million remained because the rest had either fled to the United States or a few other countries or died. (Keep in mind, there are only 4 million Irish citizens today.) Because of everything the US did to help the Irish and welcomed their fleeing citizens, the Irish much prefer their neighbors to the west than the east! The taxi driver said when he grew up, they had a picture of the Irish constitution, the Irish President, JFK, and a picture of the US constitution hanging next to each other in their home, which is the norm there. The second story is that, after 9/11 happened, because the Irish feel so connected to the US and consider us great allies, they had a national day of mourning on 9/14/2001; everything was shut down (including the pubs!), no stores were open, there was no public transportation running, all government operations ceased for the day, and all government workers were paid a full days wage for the day. When he was telling us about all this, I was starting to tear up. It's amazing what version of history we learn and how much we don't know about what's happened in the world.

Well, as we were approaching the airport, we saw a rainbow, so I knew we would make our flight, even though we were cutting it EXTREMELY close. The taxi driver gave us tips for the airport and we were on our way. We are pretty sure he was actually an angel. He was just that amazing. Again we navigated security and walked the like 10 minutes to our gate (like the taxi angel had said it'd be), hit up the bathroom, and walked up as there were only like 10 other people left to board. Talk about a close call!! Shortly thereafter, we were off on our short flight to Brussels.

When we got off the plane, we made our way into the airport. We managed to find a station to buy bus tickets into the city that would also work for the metro system, so we thought we were doing well. Thought being the key word there. We couldn't figure out which train went into the city, so we had to ask the info guy. Twice. (He wasn't very helpful.) When we got down to the correct train, instead of just hopping on like we should have, I asked a couple workers just to make sure it was the correct one, and they said yes and then asked if we had tickets. We showed them our tickets, and they informed us they were for the other system and we would have to either take the bus or pay for another ticket. Since we had already bought tickets, we decided to take the buses. Well, I loaded the Google Maps directions while we had WiFi, we found our bus and hopped on. We tried showing the driver our tickets, though he just waved us on. We made it to our first stop where we needed to transfer buses, got off, and waited for the next one. When it came, we got on, he didn't check our tickets either, and we were off again. I was keeping an eye on the map, and noticed we were heading north, not south like we were supposed to be doing. I asked the driver about it, and he said we had gotten on the 270 North, not the 270 South. Who on earth would have known the difference?! There's no markings or signs!  Like 20 minutes later, he dropped us off at a bus station and told us to wait for the 660 South. Well, we were in the middle of nowhere, Belgium, and just a little freaked out. The bus finally came and almost didn't even stop, but we raced up to it and hopped on. The bus driver asks to see our tickets in the little English he knew, so we showed them to him and he told us they were no good, that they were for a different company. Our response: ARE YOU FRICKEN KIDDING ME?! TWO OTHER DRIVERS DIDN'T CHECK OUR TICKETS, AND IF THEY HAD, WE WOULDN'T HAVE GOTTEN ON THE WRONG BUS!!! Well, he wasn't moving until we bought tickets, but there was one problem: we didn't have any euros on us. We had used the last of our euros on our taxi fare before and hadn't gotten any more! Kim had some pounds on her, but they wouldn't work. Thankfully there was one other guy on the bus who spoke English and helped us out. He is going to London in July, so we gave him the £5 and he paid for our tickets. He was such a nice guy. Kim and I considered him our second angel. He told us what we needed to know to get to our hotel and told the bus driver to make sure we knew when our stop was for the hotel. He had to get off before us, but I wasn't too worried. We could see our hotel, so I knew our stop was coming up. The bus driver waved us up, so I went up to see what he had to say, and he told us it was our stop. Because I got up so quickly, I forgot my bad on the chair. I literally left all my presents I had gotten in Dublin and my shirt I had bought, plus my book I was only half done with, PLUS a HP present I had gotten for my niece. Clearly whatever luck of the Irish I had ran out in Ireland! The best part is, when I called the bus company, they redirected me to another number, which didn't work. I called several times, and nothing. I stopped into their office at the train station, they couldn't track it or call anyone, but only give me the same number I had been given. So I went on their website and submitted an online form about it, but I know I'll never get it back. Ugh...


Since we were in Brussels, Belgian Waffles was a necessity for breakfast! We made our way to Grand Place, a beautiful, huge plaza surrounded by gilded buildings, including the Town Hall, or Hotel de Ville.

We then meandered toward Manneken Pis, which we kind of stumbled upon. I figured it would be, I don't known, bigger? (Haha, it doubles as a penis joke!) But the people crowding around it let us know that was our destination. I didn't know the back story to the statue, so I was glad there was a plaque there to explain there are several legends about the statue. My favorite is that, in the 14th century, Brussels was being attacked, and after some time, the attackers decided to place explosive charges at the walls of the city. However, a little boy named Julianske was spying on them, and peed on the fuse to put it out, saving the city.

Then we headed towards the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, passing through a neat shopping district along the way. This Cathedral is huge and beautiful. What always seems a shame to me is that there are usually other buildings so close to big, important buildings in Europe that you typically can't fully appreciate the exterior architecture of the building. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Inside, you even go downstairs and see the old base and parts of the walls of the old church that was there before. Another thing I loved about this cathedral is that there was some modern art in it that was beautiful and moving. Truly a special place.

After taking in some church, we went to check out some government at Le Berlaymont! It's the European Commission's executive headquarters, though you can't enter it unless you have an escort. Since the European Commission is the European Unions's governing body, it was cool to see where all the magic happens for Europe!

After that, we were a little toured out and decided to head to Den Haag on the train. We made our way to the station we needed to go to to take the international train (with the help of a nice lady from Latin America who has lived in Brussels for 10 years). When we got there, we went and asked a guy at the info desk when the next train would be leaving, and it was around 30 minutes away, so we got something small to snack on to kill time. When it was getting close to our train leaving, we went up to the platform and waited. And waited. And waited. And when our train was supposed to be pulling out of the station, there was an announcement that there wasn't going to be a train running at that time today. (As if we hadn't had enough transportation problems yet.) Annoyed, we went down to the information desk again, and a guy pulled up the schedule and confirmed that there wasn't going to be a train at that time, which the other guy would have known if he had double checked for us, and that the next train wouldn't be leaving for another hour. Of course. So, we decided to find a cafe in the train station that had WiFi so we could kill some time! An hour later, we were on the train and moving!

When we pulled into Den Haag, we had to transfer trains to go one more stop, but then we finally made it to meet up with Lindsay Eisentrout, who worked with Kim and I at UWP 2 years ago with the Women in EMS Program and was in the Netherlands finishing her training for her job. We went to dinner and caught up, enjoying some amazing food too. After dinner, it was late, so we headed to our hotel, passing by Binnenhof and Ridderzaal (Inner Court and Hall of the Knights), which is just as amazing to see at night as it is during the day! Lindsay dropped us off at our stop, and we parted ways again. Crossing paths with friends is a wonderful part of traveling, that's for sure!

To our happy surprise, our hotel had a free breakfast at it, which was pretty fantastic. They had several types of breads, and a few were fresh loaves that you could just slice off what you wanted. They had this apple cinnamon bread that was to die for.

Our first site to visit was the Peace Palace in Den Haag. Since the Netherlands have a history of not taking sides during conflicts, in 1899 the Hauge Peace Conference was held there, from which a treaty was formed to end war in the world. As a part of this conference, the Permanent Court of Arbitration was born, designed to end war, and the Peace Palace was opened August 28, 1913 as the symbolic home of the PCA. It also houses the International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial body of United Nations, the Hauge Academy of International Law, and the extensive Peace Palace Library. Because of all this, it is often considered the seat of international law. The palace is still in use today, so we weren't able to visit inside the palace, but they did have a really interesting visitor's center. Talk about some amazing history that I've never heard about!

After that we took the tram to a nearby town called Delft. When we were getting into the city, we passed an old, traditional, Dutch windmill, so we decided to walk to it to take some pictures and check it out. What a treat we were in for! The 300 year old windmill is still operating today, and we were able to go up into it! Seeing the inner workings of the windmill in motion was fascinating! We even got to go out onto a porch that wraps around the windmill just underneath where the blades spin. It was such a unique experience.

After that, we walked along the canals in the gorgeous streets to the Royal Delft pottery factory and museum. The museum is the last factory of the great industry of Delft pottery that's been popular in the Netherlands for hundreds of years. The pottery first became popular from because the Dutch sailors found a region of China that made it, so they brought it back to Europe and sold it. In the 1600s, they started building factories and manufacturing their own to keep up with the demand throughout Europe. In the middle of the 1700s, the English developed a quicker, cheaper way to make porcelain, causing the Delft pottery market to crash and all but one factory went out of business. The owner decided to modify the process to produce Delft pottery, which saved the market and caused them to still be in production today. Most of the pottery is hand painted in the original styles from hundreds of years ago, which is phenomenal to watch!

After we finished our tour, we left and went back to Den Haag to check out Binnenhof and Ridderzaal, a huge, beautiful building with a large courtyard in the center and a large pond in front of the building. Then we headed to the train station to catch the train to Amsterdam. An interesting part of this train ride was seeing fields of flowers along the way!

When we pulled into Amsterdam Centraal, we decided to head to our hotel first to freshen up a bit. Then, we headed back into the old part of town. We managed to find a traditional Dutch restaurant among the restaurants from all around the world. The food was delicious; it reminded me of some of the German food I ate growing up. An interesting part of some European restaurants is being sat at a large table with other people sitting next to you. It's not the privacy or intimacy that's normally found in the US! I felt bad for the servers too because there was very little space between tables for them to navigate through.

After finishing dinner, we went to the Red Light District to go to the Old Sailor Bar, which has a great atmosphere with fun people and great music. We also saw the Oude Kerk, or the Old Church, which is the oldest building in Amsterdam and definitely has an ironic placement!

Sadly, I woke up hotter than insert corny expression here. I was stuffed up, coughing, and you don't want to know what I was coughing up. I took a shower, varying from warm to cold water, and the entire time I was showering, I was coughing up a lung and some other crap too. I popped some ibuprofen to help alleviate my throbbing headache. On our way to the tram, we even stopped at an Apothech to get some cough medicine. Deciphering Dutch instructions for medication can be a bit interesting!

Kim wanted to get poffertjes, so we tracked down The Pancake Bakery that's conveniently located near Anne Frank's House. When we got there, there was a decent line leading out onto the street. While waiting for a table, we started talking to the two women in front of us who were also on vacation from the US. They had been at Anne Frank's house and said that there was a 3 hour wait to get into the museum, but that they were releasing tickets for sale online every hour, and that would be the better option for us so we wouldn't have to wait in line. Talk about a time saver! One thing that you'll definitely notice when traveling to other countries are the different service styles. While, in the US, servers typically visit your table several times, checking how the food is and if you need more to drink, etc., that's not the case in several other countries. Half the time, your server isn't even the person who brings you your food, but just takes your order and maybe drops off your drinks. Another aspect that's different is that the server won't bring your bill until you ask for it, which can be challenging when you can't even find your waiter! Anyway, I got a giant pancake, that was more like a crêpe than a pancake, which had stroopwaffles (God's gift to mankind), cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings on it. Talk about a sugar overload! I couldn't even finish 3/4 of my food, it was so sweet!

After we finished eating, we decided to head to Nunspeet, a small town southeast of Amsterdam that Kim has heritage from. We picked up our tickets at the train station, asked the info desk which train we needed, who was less than informative, and made our way to the platform. We were supposed to take the train from Amsterdam to Amersfoort, then transfer to another train which would get us there. Instead, we both fell asleep, missed our stop, and didn't know where we were exactly. Normally my GPS will tell me where I am (thanks Google Maps! Usually it's super helpful!) Unfortunately, the map wouldn't load, so I didn't know where we were in relation to, well, anything. Ironically, train staff don't check tickets very often, so you could probably ride the train for free a lot and wouldn't even get into trouble. Well, a man finally came around as we were pulling into Hangelo, which is only 5km from the German border! We didn't even realize we were so far out of the way. Fortunately, the train staff let us get on a different train to head to our destination, which would only add just over an hour and a half to our trip! What an experience...

To get to Nunspeet, we had to take the train to Zwolle, transfer, and then go south for a few stops. We should have had 10 minutes to get across the train station to our next train, but we had a delay where we were stopped on the tracks part way there, so by the time we got to our terminal, we could see our train pulling out of the station. Fortunately these trains run every 30 minutes, so I found a warm(ish) room to bunker down in (literally sitting on the heater for the room) to wait it out. Well, after 25 minutes, there still wasn't a train at our platform, so I was a little worried. And a few minutes later, I saw a train from the platform next to ours leave the station, and it dawned on me that that was our train, it was just parked at the wrong platform. (Great travel luck, right?!) Well, back at the waiting game for another 30 minutes! Fortunately, the next train pulled into the correct platform, and we were on it ready to head out. I wasn't feeling the best, so I told Kim that we only had 3 stops until Nunspeet, which should only take roughly 20 minutes, just in case I passed out on the train. Well, I only half passed out, and I heard them say "Nunspeet," though when I looked out the window, it didn't seem like we were fully pulled into the platform, so I sat their half zonked out. Well, soon we began moving again, and I asked Kim why we didn't get out. She's not as good at hearing Dutch as I am, so she didn't realize we were there. So, we had to go to the next station, wait 20+ minutes for the next train, and then take another train back to Nunspeet.

Well, it took a long time, but we finally made it! We decided dinner and a little poking around was all we were going to do at Nunspeet, so when we found a nice restaurant in the city center, we were more than ready to stop for dinner! The only problem was, since we were out of the international area, English wasn't a necessity, so the entire menu was in Dutch! Well, our server was a very nice man and translated the menu for us. Kim and I both decided to get the lamb, which I definitely liked better. We also got a free appetizer they were giving everyone, and he brought us little shots of brandy that is from Nunspeet for "dessert." It was very smooth and some of the best brandy I think I've ever had. It was a lot of hassle to get there, and Dutch people on the train told us they get confused with the trains often too, but it was worth it in the end.

We decided to take the train back to Amsterdam so we could go to bed "early" so we could get up earlier and see more in the morning. Well, we needed to switch trains at Amersfoort, though we didn't realize there was a Amersfoort Vathorst, Amersfoort Schothorst, and Amersfoort , so when we saw Amersfoort Vathorst, we thought we were at the correct station. Well, we weren't, and we had to wait another half hour for the next train to show up so we could go two more stops to our next train. To say we were annoyed with public transportation at this point would be an understatement! Well, we finally made it back to Amsterdam, and we even met a young woman along the way who is from Egypt, but has been studying in Germany, and now doing an internship in Nunspeet. She was very nice and it was great talking to her, so it wasn't all bad to have to wait so long. It's truly the little things in life that make it so much better. After another trip on the tram and a short walk, we were back at our hotel and passing out, much later than planned!

By the time we finally got up and got ready (I was moving really slow and didn't feel well at all), it was time for us to make our way to Anne Frank's house so we could be on time to our appointment. As it was the day before, the to get in was huge and the wait has to have been at least 3, if not 4 hours. Thank God we had bought our tickets online and could walk right in! Even though I'd been there before, they had changed around a portion of the exhibit and I noticed different aspects I hadn't noticed before. It's such moving museum, I could go there again and it would still affect me. One of the craziest parts about this is that there is so much about Anne that we know, but there are millions of others who were murdered, and all we know about them are their names. There are no museums for them. No books. No nothing. I think one of the most profound thoughts I encountered at the museum is from a video clip of Anne's father, Otto, where he says "Most parents don't really know their children" after he read her diary because he couldn't fathom the profound thoughts she was thinking and feeling. However, I have a feeling that his thought applies with more than just parents and children.

After we finished our for at the Anne Frank House, we stopped by the Homomonument, which is a series of pink triangles, which is the symbol gays wore at the concentration camps. What's amazing is that, while some 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, 6 million others were also murdered: gays, disabled persons, elderly, etc. Very few people were actually safe under Hitler's regime.

After a short tram ride later, we made our way to the Foodhallen, which is a warehouse full of small restaurant stands with all homemade, specialty food. We decided on some gourmet burgers and fries, which were delicious, though I couldn't fully appreciate it since I was coughing, stuffed up, and had an upset stomach.

Next we went to Dam Square to see it during the day and to pick up some souvenirs. What we didn't expect to find was a huge pillow fight. Who knew it was World Pillow Fight Day?! What a fun idea!

Then we took the tram back to the hotel to grab our luggage, then a tram and bus to the airport. Kim and I parted ways, she flew to London to fly back to Madison, and I flew back to Seville, took a bus into town, got home, and passed out. It was quite the trip with some lows, but it was very fun, we saw some amazing sights, and it was great to see my friend Kim again!