There wasn’t any free or reasonably priced wireless internet access in Brussels, so we just didn’t bother getting online there. They wanted €15 a day for access at the hotel in Brussels. We did find an open WAP at the hotel in Amsterdam, so we could check email, and Nhut uploaded some of the pictures we took. In both cities, we stayed in the old city center.
When we arrived on Tuesday in Brussels, we got a room at the Best Western hotel, right next to Centraal Station. Since we arrived too early to actually check in to the room, we just stashed our bags and headed off to walk around the city. We stopped off at a café on the Grand Place, and had coffee and a waffle. We found the Manneken Pis statue and took a couple pictures before heading back to the hotel for a nap. (hello jet lag)
After napping we walked around again for a bit and saw the light show at the Grand Place, and checked out St. Michael’s Cathedral as well as getting dinner and another waffle.
We were up early to catch the train to Amsterdam, a 2 ½ hour ride. Once we got off the train in Amsterdam, we figured we should find a hotel. The service in the train station wanted €10 for a hotel booking, so we decided to pass, and see if we could find something on our own. The short answer is no, we couldn’t. We stopped in a small out of the way Hotel booking shop, which found us a room, and only charged €2.50 per person as a booking fee. He got us a room in the Nova Hotel, which was just behind Dam Square in the center of the city. We hung out in the room, and looked up places to eat in the city. After getting kind of bored with the food in Paris and Brussels, we were looking for something a little different. We checked out the Blonde Hollander for some traditional Dutch food. It was OK, but Nhut wasn’t really too impressed.
We booked two tours for Thursday and Friday in Amsterdam. The first was a combination of one we had been on before, to Volendam, Marken and a Windmill village, along with a city tour. It was fun; we toured a wooden shoe factory, walked around the windmills (where I dropped the camera last time) and a cheese farm before getting lunch in Volendam, which used to be a fishing village before they put up the dam. The tour guide wasn’t so great, and her city tour was pretty weak, but it was a fun tour that ended with a boat ride tour through the Amsterdam harbor and canals.
We decided to check out the Sea Palace, a floating Chinese Restaurant in the Amsterdam Harbor. The food was only OK, and overpriced. After dinner we walked through the red light district for laughs. Nhut was wondering where the equivalent gay area was. Of course there isn’t a gay district with hot guys hanging out behind glass doors, under red lights though… Still, there are a couple of areas in Amsterdam that have gay clubs and stuff, and as I mentioned before, GayMap lists all the places with descriptions. We were going to go to a bar or dance club, but wound up just sleeping early. (boring!)
The next morning we were up early again to catch the Grand Holland tour, which took us to an amazingly huge flower auction in Aalsmeer. Next stop was a pottery factory in Delft, followed by lunch, where we tried the small Dutch pancakes (yum). Then on to Rotterdam, which didn’t have an old city center like the other cities we’ve been in before because it was bombed out during World War II, and so all the buildings were relatively modern. The last city stop on the tour was Den Haag (the Hague), we had a photo stop at the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice (where we should expect half of the criminal Bush Administration to be tried for war crimes and violating the Geneva convention). The other interesting thing about driving around Den Haag was how the driver pointed out all the various country embassies, and, as the guide pointed out, the US Embassy was the only one that had extra fencing and police surveillance. Oh, and then we checked out a park of miniatures before heading back to Amsterdam.
We dropped off our little souvenir photos at the hotel before heading out for dinner, we found a little Thai place that looked like something David Barnes would have recommended. The entire restaurant was all in one small room, on the ground floor, including the kitchen! There were about 16 seats for diners, and three or four Asian women cooking. Everything we ate there was really good, and you watched them put it all together before bringing it over to your table.
We walked around a bit again for a while; we did a lot of walking around this trip, before heading back over to the hotel. We decided we were going to go check out one of the gay clubs that night, but since there were a couple that didn’t open until 10 or 11 at night, we had some time to kill. We decided to go to Club Cockring, what is it with naming gay clubs anyway? This place was interesting, compared to clubs we’ve been in before. It was worth checking out.
We were supposed to get up early Saturday morning, and take a few last photos before catching the train back to Brussels, but as noted before, given the opportunity, Nhut will sleep late. We did manage to get out in time to take a few pictures in the early morning rain, including some shots in the Red Light district, where there are signs for “No Cameras” all over the place. Oh, and they had these portable outdoor urinals on the street, which was weird, of course Nhut snapped a couple of pictures while they were unoccupied…
It was time to catch the train back to Brussels, and we walked back over to Centraal Station in Amsterdam. We got about the same seats in both trains; it was comfortable, even if we were facing backwards
Anyway, we had reserved a room at the Best Western in Brussels before we left on Wednesday morning, which was a good thing because this time, the streets were packed with people, and lined with booths of vendors selling Christmas stuff, hot wine, waffles and other fried foods that are really bad for my cholesterol level, but we just had to try anyway. We checked out the lights and music at Grand Place, and Nhut captured a video there. We followed along to the park where they had set up an ice skating rink and a Ferris wheel. Oh, and we found another outdoor open air urinal, which was really nasty, but I guess when you gotta go… it was weird because it was literally on the side of the church at the end of this park. We caught a ride on the Ferris wheel which had a great view of the city. As we walked back to the hotel the streets were starting to thin out a bit, but there was still a band performing on the square in front of the hotel, but when I woke up and looked out the next morning, it was so weird, the square was totally empty, all the booths and tents were gone, and there was nobody around but one street sweeper, almost like it had never happened!
We caught an early train back to the Airport for our flight back to the US. The lines were really long, both at the airline check-in and security. We just barely made it out to the gate with about five minutes to spare before boarding started. We had thought it might be nice to upgrade, but business class checked in full, so we’re riding in coach. The flight was delayed leaving Brussels by about 20 minutes, which virtually guarantees we’ll miss our connection to Austin by the time we clear Customs and Immigration.
The interesting thing about these long flights is how really boring they can be. And so, they usually play a few movies and TV shows to keep you distracted from the eight hours of boredom. It’s fairly common practice for the flight attendants to ask all of the passengers to shut their window shades, especially on older planes like this one, a 767 with a single main screen where the glare from the sun shining in would prevent people from being able to see the screen, and watch the movies. Anyway, Nhut reclined his seat, and the window that was behind his seat, is now peeking over his shoulder, and it’s open… so he closes the shade, only to have the woman sitting in the seat behind him open it. After a while, he closes it again, at which point this woman exclaims that “It’s my window!”, and she insists that she wants to keep it open. (grow up, please) Nhut called the flight attendant, who set the woman straight…. sort of, she closed the shade half way so that the light would be blocked from coming over Nhut’s shoulder by the seat, but still be open to keep the woman happy.
Oh, and who has gas on this flight? It’s really kind of nasty, where’s Shari to light a match?