I’m so busy having fun I haven’t kept up with this as well as I should. This post is about my weekend trip to Amsterdam, and later I’ll go back and write about what I’ve been up to in the weeks before Amsterdam. I signed up for a weekend trip to Amsterdam with the travel shop here at school, since I figured that would be easier than trying to find my way to and around Amsterdam on my own. It ended up being just other Americans who signed up for the trip, so we had two British student guides leading us on our adventure. We left Thursday evening and rode the bus to Dover, waited in a two hour line for a ferry to Callais, and from there drove the rest of the night to Amsterdam. It was a pretty miserable night, we watched movies on the bus, and tried to sleep, but with all the stops for meals and getting on and off the ferry there wasn’t a lot of quality sleep. We arrived at the hostel in Amsterdam around 11am, but weren’t able to get into our rooms till 2, so we were forced to venture out into the very very cold (0 degrees Celsius) city in our clothes from Thursday that we  had slept all night in on the bus. We made the best of it though and headed to the Van Gogh museum after an arduous search for an ATM since Amsterdam doesn’t really like credit cards and all most of us had was pounds. The Van Gogh museum was interesting, with loads of paintings by him, as well as a few by other famous artists who were influenced by him or connected to him in some fashion. Unfortunately, no one in our group was a real art buff, so we may not have gotten our money’s worth, but it was a nice museum, and interesting to see the paintings. We next went for something a little more crowd pleasing and headed to the Heineken Experience (not museum, no it was much more than a museum). They don’t make beer at the location anymore, but they have all the old machines that they used to make it with, and they took us through the process, we got to taste the different ingredients  and at the end there was a ride that simulated that we were bottles being filled with beer. We then were taught the proper way to taste beer. We then ventured out into the streets in search of dinner. Everything in Amsterdam is very over priced, so we ended up at an Italian restaurant that had ravioli or pizza for five euro. After a delicious dinner, which unfortunately didn’t fill me up because my metabolism has gone into overdrive here (I think it’s all the walking), we headed back to the hostel to finally take showers and clean up for the evening. We had plans to maybe go to some bars, but ended up at a “coffee shop” where my friends smoked while another girl and I quietly watched a football game in Dutch and tried not to think about how bad the smoke smelled. I didn’t really like that part of the evening very much, but I suppose it is part of the Amsterdam experience. We then decided we should see the red light district, another important part of Amsterdam, so we wandered there. It was a little hard to find, we ended up having to ask someone, but once we got there we kind of wondered how we had missed it. It was a crazy few streets consisting of all kinds of debauchery, complete with women selling themselves in windows. I’m glad I got to see it, but I really didn’t know what to think of it all. The next day, we got up early and headed to the Anne Frank house. I had forgotten/not realized that Amsterdam, a city with such a party reputation today, was the city where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years in the attic above her father’s shop. It was a shock to think about Amsterdam as a place where Jews were lined up to be sent away and Nazis occupied the city. It was very interesting to go through the house and see where Anne and her family had to hide for two years. When I read the diary in middle school I never thought I would get to see the trick bookcase and Anne’s room. It was hard to imagine what it was like for them there at that time. After that we explored the city center and stopped in a bar for hot chocolate and were surprised to see the olympics on tv. I’ve been so busy seeing new things, it was nice to watch the Olympics for a bit and imagine that if I was at UMW I would be watching them every evening. I’m not sure how much more I’ll get to see here, I’m rarely near a tv, but I suppose they’ll be on again in another 4 years. After warming ourselves up and watching a part of the opening ceremonies we headed back out into the cold for a three hour free walking tour of the city. It was a great experience and I don’t think I could’ve learned more about the city any other way. We were taken all around the city and learned all kinds of neat details about the history and present times of Amsterdam. One interesting fact was the reasoning behind the hooks on the tops of all the houses. According to our guide the stairs are so steep and narrow, because houses used to be taxed based on their width, that the dutch move in and out of their houses with a pulley attached to the hook on the house. We also learned that when Napoleon’s brother ruled the Netherlands he required everyone to have a surname, and to spite him many dutch took on Dutch swearwords as their surnames and laughed every time the French officers would say their names and have no idea that they were saying Fitz Poopypants or something like that. Apparently there are still some Dutch who have these embarrassing names even today. The tour ended at a restaurant that served traditional dutch food, so we all feasted on mashed potatoes with carrots, covered in gravy with bacon bits, topped off with a sausage. That evening consisted of more exploring and in the morning we woke up to a mini-snowstorm! We rode out of Amsterdam on the bus, watching the beautiful snow covered streets and canal boats go by. Our bus driver was nice enough to stop off at a chocolate factory in Belgium on the way home and we got to buy lots of chocolate in honor of Valentine’s Day. The bus and ferry ride back was much more pleasant since it was during the day, and I enjoyed relaxing and watching movies. I was surprised at how much I liked Amsterdam. I had always thought of it as a place with lots of Marijuana and a thriving red light district but it has many strong traditions and charming houses and canals that really make it an interesting and beautiful place.

Right, so I’m going to start writing tonight, even if I don’t get everything down, so that I don’t wait so long that I start forgetting things. I am officially in Swansea, Wales! My departure from Dulles went smoothly, and coincidentally two other girls from UMW were on the same flight. It was surprisingly easy to say goodbye to my family, mostly because I know I’ll see them when they come to visit. Also, we made sure to keep the goodbyes upbeat and avoid any sadness. So far I’ve only felt homesick minimally, I suspect because I’ve just been too busy to have time to think about what I’m missing at home. The Virgin Atlantic flight was super nice. It was not crowded at all, so I got to lay down across two seats, which was good, since the 6 hour flight was my only sleep for about 48 hours. I could barely sleep though, I was too busy being pampered with a lovely bag of inflight goodies like and eyemask and cool socks, 2 meals and a variety of movies to choose from. It was so strange landing, because I knew we were coming into London, but all I could see till about a minute before impact was fog fog and fog. It was very disorienting having no idea of the altitude, and a little disappointing that I didn’t get a nice view of the city. Becky was my travel buddy, so together we found the bus station in the airport and bought tickets to Swansea. We didn’t see anything of London but the bus station, since we didn’t have much desire to go out in the super cold rain when we were so jet-lagged. I’m sure I’ll be back for a more enjoyable weekend though. I had grand plans to make the most of the bus ride by seeing 3 hours worth of countryside on the way to Swansea, but of course the lack of sleep, plus the fact that it felt like 3am caught up with me. I did manage to wake up for every stop, so I saw Bristol and Cardiff, as well as some other places I was too tired to remember. It was snowy in some places, and even snowed for part of the ride, but we made it all the way to Swansea with  no trouble. We actually got there way too early, around 2 pm, when our room at the bed and breakfast wouldn’t be ready till around 4. We had planned to hang out at the bus station in Swansea, but when we were dropped off by the bus, we realized that while all the other cities had had really nice stations, we had been put off in Swansea on the side of the road across from a supermarket. I learned a few days later that this was due to the fact that they’re renovating the bus station, but on that day it was an unwelcome surprise that did not give us the best first impression of the city. We happened to notice some cabs around the corner, which was very lucky since we were struggling with enough luggage to last us 6 months. We took the cab straight to the B&B despite being early. Luckily, the nice young couple who owned the B&B let us drop off our bags and gave us a map and directions on where to get some coffee and explore a bit while we waited for our room to be ready. Stay tuned to hear what my first night in Swansea and getting settled the next day were like!