Just a simple test to see if uploading via email works.
Just a simple test to see if uploading via email works.
Well we are safely home and managed to stay awake late enough last night (with the assistance of a couple bottles of wine of course) to have slept till a normal waking hour - we will see how hard the jet lag hits later. Feels strange and so surprisingly rewarding (there is that instant gratification thing again) to type on a keyboard. I am going to resist the temptation to go back through this entries and fix all the mistakes that I made along the way instead will just let them be 'part of the experience'.
Last day in Amsterdam was awesome. The weather was beautiful and we rented bikes and spent a good 5 to 6 hours just riding and exploring. It is intimidating at first given the traffic and number of other riders but we very quickly figured out the etiquette (sorry to all those people that were victims of my bad form until I got it all under control). The bikes made it possible to see things we never would have one foot including the windmill and the tulip gardens (I have to say I have grown to love tulips, they are hardy little plants (they always come up in my backyard in April only to have to poke through a massive snow fall) and their vibrant colours are beautiful). Turns out Monday in Amsterdam is a holiday (Queen's Bday) so the upcoming long weekend meant the city filled with people looking to do some celebrating Friday. Still wasn't anything like Rome or Venice busy but the crowds definitely picked up. We enjoyed the day immensely with nothing on the schedule and logged some time just sitting and taking in the surroundings. Holland has now found a home on the 'list' as it needs more exploring.
Yesterday was travel day and surprisingly very civilized. Every part of the process at KLM is automized, check-in on-line, arrive at airport, go drop off bag which is a belt/machine device (no agent) that you do all yourself and is highly efficient and you clear security at your gate (each gate has its own clearance) it is fantastic. After 3.75 movies (I know have to rent Tin Tin to see the very end and who finds the treasure!) and an okay John Grisham novel we were back in Calgary. I will say it again for those of you that travel NEXUS rocks invest the time and go get pre-cleared it makes a huge difference to clearing customs! We left Amsterdam at 12:30 pm and arrived Calgary at 1:30 pm (that is the closest I get to time traveling). Felt good to be home and I think our four legged yellow beast was happy to see (thank you again Leah!) although she is generally just happy to see anyone so it is hard to say if we are special. Today will consist of laundry, going for a much needed run (so many hours to be logged each reminding me of every glorious bite of Tiramisu) and going to see my other 4 legged donkey (thanks Christa keeping him going as well) as I do believe I am going to show in a couple weeks.
All in all spectacular trip, Italy really should be on everyone's list there is just so much history there and the Italians do have a few things to teach us about how to enjoy life. Take time to have a great cup of coffee, sit outside even if it is a little cool, drink red wine, eat lots and lots of pasta and eat it as a first dish and something I need to work embrace and touch others more (I have personal space issues). As for Amsterdam if you are headed to Europe lots of Canadian flights fly direct to Amsterdam - take a couple extra days and explore and experience the city, either on the way in or out, you won't be disappointed.
As for the new answer to the question, "where do you want to go?" I think he has moved on to Spain and Portugal which I agree with for our next European journey although I think Austria and Germany are up there to but don't be surprised if you find a blog next year on a Egypt and Jordan journey. We have experienced the Inca ancient ruins, the Roman ancient ruins I think it is time to experience and learn about the Egyptian ancient ruins. I have two horses to show this year so the rest of it will be spent in such spectacular locations like Claresholm, Red Deer and maybe even Oklahoma City.
Side note - wow that was so much faster and easier to write on a keyboard (likely still the same amount of mistakes though) you should all be grateful because the iphone likely kept the entries shorter and less rambling...
Today was a long day and thus this is a long rambling entry likely chalk of full of errors and extra or missed words (Heather this one is for you - I just had Heaven on Earth and let's just say its 40% alcohol).
Well this city is über cool - it has a fun, whimsical feel and the houses add to the atmosphere as none of them are square or plumb anymore and it sometimes feels like we wandered into Diagonalley from Harry Potter. People here feel more carefree (and they seem much younger must be the active nightlife and more tolerant drug and alcohol rules). The feel reflects how scared and legislated we as North Americans have become - no one here wears a helmet to hop on their bike to commute to their local watering hole, they text and ride, smoke and ride, there are not waivers and liability releases for activities it all seems so much less encumbered than at home. I know as we have traveled through other places we have often commented you wouldn't see that at home it begs the question, are we becoming a bubble wrapped society?
Anyways back to Amsterdam we started with a stroll to the Flower Market (past several coffee shops - they actually look quite civilized). I have to say I was disappointed by the lack of bloomed flowers but there was an abundance of bulbs (which after research seem very difficult to get home so we aren't even going to try (also suspect the many cannabis starter kits we saw wouldn't make it through customs either!)) It is amazing all the beautiful variations of tulip colours there are here - blue, black and combination of the more traditional yellow and reds. From the Flower Market we stumbled across the Heineken Brewery and opted for the tour and a couple samples. I am a fan and now know why the foam or head on beer is a good thing. We then continued our cultural experience (flowers, beer) with allot of Van Gogh. Both of us expected a small museum - we were wrong it is huge - who knew (ok some of you might of) that he produced so many works! Heck he did 80 in the last two months of his life. I personally like Van Gogh, his use of colours later on in his career and his subject matter of flowers and landscape appeal more than the biblical scenes of the Renaissance. The Van Gogh museum here is up there with the d'Orsay in Paris as a favorite for me.
Oh I think I failed to mention I have learned to check carefully both directions as I cross the street not only are the bikes quiet but so is the tram which I nearly became a bumper ornament for this morning. After which I followed up with walking (running) into a solid metal post at the Heineken museum which left a decent goose egg and red mark on my head! I'm hoping it doesn't happen in 3s!B
We also did a canal tour on our hotel's boat today - the Tourist she is over a 100 years old and a fantastic little tugboat. We toured through some of the 165 canals. A superb way to tour the city and see the architecture and the hundreds of houseboats. Unlike Venice the canals here are all man made (done by hand in the 1600's) they are 3m deep on average. I am convinced living on the canal would be fun and apparently it is very trendy among musicians (which I am clearly not) they cost around 200k Euros so it is unlikely I am going to be living on one anytime soon.
We are going to see if we can tour Anne Frank's house tonight as last night I got distracted by a bottle of French red. Also I should correct an earlier mistake our hotel consists of 25 canal houses not 3 (it started with 3) and now has just over 200 rooms. And I found out it was the location for Ocean's Twelve.
Well the day kept going before I got to post and got even more surreal. First, we did go through Anne Frank's house which was a sobering and good kick in the ass for some perspective. As I get impatient standing in a security line at the airport it might be good to remember patience given how many hundreds of thousands of people have suffered at the hands of their fellow humans. My freedom to travel is only because others have suffered unimaginably on my behalf. Her story was only one of many but the museum is done in a very tactful manner and you can feel the sadness and seriousness of the energy once you enter. Well worth the time if for nothing else to be reminded to be grateful for our freedom.
After Anne Frank's we went for a traditional Dutch meal - pickled herring, hotchpotch (my Dad would love this - mashed potatoes with onions and carrots and then a hotdog like sausage, a massive meatball and bacon with pickled onions as the side), it was very good. Followed dinner with a traditional Amsterdam liqueur, Heaven on Earth and then had sufficient liquid courage to venture into the Red Light District.
Red Light District is beyond description - some things you just have to see yourself but what you have read and heard are all true. I should note no where I have been in this city have I felt unsafe not even in the heart of the Red Light District (the lights on the sidewalk pillars are red).
Was a strange day to recap - futures market in flowers, beer making, master (although slightly deranged) painter, sobering reminder of what unthinkable horrors people have lived through, to adult sex trade advertised in windows with real models... Need some time to reflect on everything I processed today.
Tomorrow we are going to rent bikes and experience Amsterdam like a local which I am immensely looking forward to.
Ger and I always agree on one thing, we love to travel but the actual act of getting places via airplane is highly inefficient. First, the cab ride was terrifying, we were doing 160km in shitty old tin can weaving around traffic (almost hit a meridian and likely wouldn't have faired well). Arrived at Leonardo Da Vinci airport which was an absolute zoo regardless we navigated our way through with relatively few hiccups (little misunderstanding regarding VAT refunds on my part) and arrived in Amsterdam in one piece with bags at 1:30pm and were at the hotel by 2:30pm. The Hotel is a charming place that was three old houses converted into a hotel. Fantastic location and on a canal we are quite happy. I must say the service at this boutique in the first half hour kicked Westin's ass for the entire stay in Rome (free wifi makes me happy it's the small things).
We were delighted to find Amsterdam full of various styles of restaurants and opted for some East Asian Fusion, a refreshing change from the last three weeks of pasta and bread (don't get me wrong I loved the food and my waist can attest to it!) but a change was good. After some calories we wandered around the streets and canals. Amsterdam has a fantastic feel and I can already tell I'm gonna to be adding Holland to the list of places that needs more exploring. The bikes (thousands of whimsical bikes, not high tech but old school bikes with big handle bars and seats) coupled with the canals and boats, it is kind of magical. There are loads of little shops selling everything from antiques, shoes, lights, furniture you name it and just fits in to the artist feel.
Given It was a little cold and raining we opted to hit up the Rembrandt museum and it's awesome collection of Rembrandt's and other masterpieces (including a Warhol). Also while busy it didn't hold a match to the crowds in Rome which both of us appreciated.
Refueling again, Ger has moved on to beer given the region and I'm exploring other European wines. We will likely to try to make a stop at Anne Frank's museum tonight as it is less busy in the evening and then rough out an agenda for the next two days. One stop for sure is the flower market - how can I not being a finance geek and it being the creator of the futures market. 1630's this country created such a mania around its tulips they were forwarded sold! Also recorded as the first speculative bubble as in the frenzy tulips were selling for 10x a craftsman's salary. Van Gogh's museum will likely make the list as well.
Tot zo, (hope I got that right)
I feel like I spent the last two days in a living classroom and I loved it. I love information and particularly when it is told me to by someone proficient in their studies and with a sense of humour. Yesterday we started at the Vatican. We met our tour guide at a coffee shop nearby and were joined by one other couple so the group was small. I like tour guides, Ger always frowns booking a tour but he also always ends up agreeing it was worthwhile, yesterday was no exception. The Vatican is insanely busy, so first, a guide avoids all lines and second, he knows where to stand in the room and how to avoid the very congested spots. Plus, he provided the right tidbits and knowledge, just enough as to not overwhelm you but make it interesting. We spent 4 hours in the museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the Crypt (oh and the Pope's parking garage of Pope-mobiles.)
Overall, you likely can spend a week in the Vatican and still have treasures left to find. For both of us, undoubtedly the highlight and biggest surprise was the Sistine Chapel. I should have failed Social Studies in Elementary or whenever it is you cover the Renaissance because I thought the Sistine Chapel would be a dome and be huge in size. It was neither but Michelangelo's work was amazing nonetheless. He truly was ahead of his time and given he wanted to sculpt and not paint it is incredible the talent he possessed at painting. The imagines are truly 3D with their shadows and their brilliance is hard to describe. A not to distant second highlight was Raphael's rooms - the dude had a sense of humour and you can find cameo's of himself, Da Vinci and Michelangelo amongst the biblical characters. Not to be left out of mention St. Peter's Basilica is grand beyond description and Michelangelo's sculpture within it is captivating to look at. The visit to the Vatican educated us on how lucky Florence was to call many of the great Renaissance artists home town boys and the Uffizi's collection is impressive.
We were exhausted after the Vatican and starving so hopped on the cheesy red open top bus and went to a quieter part of Rome for a superb lunch. I had a steak (yes for lunch preceded of course with seafood pasta) and we devoured a bottle of wine. Given it was later in the afternoon we took in a short siesta before heading out to get lost in the monuments of Rome before dinner. There are 11 an ancient Obelisks in Rome most of which were taken from Egypt when Rome conquered them (Egypt I am told have 9 left and would like some of Rome's back - unlikely to happen I would think). There is a church on every corner (900 in Rome) and a fountain on every second corner (280 in Rome). The roads are narrow and what little sidewalk there is usually is packed with people so wandering requires walking on the road and avoiding cars and scooters.
We have found a delightful enoteca store (wine store) by our hotel so the evening ritual has consisted of popping in for our bottle of nightcap wine - the lad behind the counter is 2 for 2 thus far on great bottles at good prices.
Today, we opted for ancient Rome and picked a tour that ended up consisting of just us. Tripadvisor has been fantastic - highly recommended using it for hotels, restaurants and tour guides! Our guide was an Irish grad with a degree in Art history and particular fondness of Roman and Greek artifacts. He toured us through the Forum and Colosseum and I am chalk full of useless bits about Pompey, Caesar, Titus, Mark Antony and even a little on Mussolini. For those of you interested I recommend the HBO series Rome (thank you Millers) which friends of ours gave us to watch before coming. It's entertaining has the HBO sex and blood intertwined with some history of the time of Caesar and ancient Rome. Sounds silly but it actually helped visualize what the Forum and Colosseum looked like in their glory. The Colosseum was the highlight today, it is grand and a technological marvel. It is a wonder how something that large could be built to withstand the time it has. Without intervention (looting of its iron and other pieces) I suspect it would be standing in its entirety today. What I did not know was the Vatican owns the Colosseum and the Forum actually the Vatican owns all ancient ruins.
This mornings tour was a little less exhausting than the Vatican so we spent the afternoon wandering and took another trip back to the Pantheon (with all my new knowledge on the Romans and Raphael I wanted another look). We finished the day with a trip to the top of the wedding cake building, Altare Della Patria, (built to honor the first Italian king) for the views from above of Rome. I think it was a good thing to do last since we have a very good feel (from all our walking) of the city and it's buildings.
Ger's knees are sore from the cobblestones so we managed to utilize the red hop on hop off bus a couple more times (makes me feel better about spending the money!) We are enroute to the hotel for an afternoon glass of wine and then our last Italian meal of the trip. I am sad it is coming to and end but also looking forward to getting home to the stupid yellow dog and my donkey. I like it when I enjoy a trip like I have enjoyed Italy and leave wanting just a little more but still head home happy to be heading home. The right balance of mixed emotions. Tomorrow we fly to Amsterdam where we will stay until Saturday before we fly back to Calgary. At this point not much is on the schedule other than a visit to Anne Frank's house and a little jaunt of course to the red light district!