Travel Epiphanies and Night Ferries

“Just one drink,” I say, as I’m looking at myself in the mirror of my tiny cabin on board an overnight ferry. My face is sunburned and my hair is frizzed, I had just spent three very hot and exhilarating days in London. I expected to fall deeply in love with London, for reasons I couldn’t really explain, and London certainly delivered any preconceived expectations and then some. My final day in London consisted of riding the tube to Camden, browsing all the open air markets, and then finally settling down on a grassy hill in Greenwich Park with a bottle of wine and friends. My new friends. People whom I’ve met about a week before in Dublin.

After spending a few hours lying on the grass, talking, drinking, observing, and laughing, we force ourselves out of London and onto a ferry bound to the Netherlands, where we will continue our adventure together in Amsterdam. I’m tired, and already feeling a little boozy from my wine. While already declaring that it will be a quiet night on board, I make no effort in my appearance, and I sheepishly leave my room in a t-shirt and yoga pants, wearing no makeup. I see some familiar faces, and we convene by the bar in the lounge. Someone remarks that the bar drinks are overpriced, and it makes more sense to buy bottles of liquor from the duty free shop on board. I shrug and buy myself a glass of wine, as I don’t expect to hang out for very long before returning to my cabin.

As we were one of the first passengers to arrive, the deck is completely empty. The chairs and tiny tables are strategically attached to the deck with wire, but we figure out how to arrange a little sitting area for all of us. Slowly, my travel mates find their way to the deck and we begin to chat about what we all did in London. Soon, everyone becomes generous with their bottles, and paper cups filled with nothing but alcohol are passed around. I can’t tell if it’s from drinking or being on open waters, but I start to feel dizzy. As I sit around and look at my little group, I am taken over with pure happiness and amazement at how well we are all getting along, despite being strangers just days prior. Somewhere along the line, I relent and buy myself my own duty free bottle and have been taking swigs out of it for who knows how long? How long have we been out here? What time is it? Don’t we have to be up pretty early tomorrow? Who cares? It’s a vacation, dammit, and I’m enjoying every second out here on this boat deck. Tomorrow morning can wait.

After a while, I worry if we are being too loud and disturbing the other passengers. I turn my attention away from my crowd, only to see that we have become the center of a ring of other passengers, who have been happily watching our antics for god knows how long. Instead of the scowls I expect, I only see people drinking and smoking while shaking their heads and laughing at my crew. A few eventually decide to come join us. An employee makes his way on deck, but instead of telling us to quiet down and go back to our rooms, he exchanges smiles with us and asks if he can take any garbage or empty glasses.

The night carries on, people keep coming and going to the duty free shop to replenish, regrettable photos are snapped on smartphones, and I sit there thinking how I’m so glad I decided to come out for “just one drink”, instead of curling up on my cot and catching up with my friends and family on Facebook. Somewhere, on that ferry, mid-transit between London and Amsterdam, I fell in love with everyone I was traveling with. I felt so lucky that somehow, by fate, we all unknowingly decided to travel together. We crossed the boundary of simply being companions while abroad, and were now, undoubtedly, friends. No more awkward icebreaker conversations, we were instead freely conversing and divulging; without worry of any judgment from someone you don’t quite know yet.

It was that night when I had my first “travel epiphany”, where the profoundness and magic of travel really came flying at me and hit me in the face. It wasn’t when I saw Big Ben and the London Tower for the first time in person, nor was it when I had my first pint of Guinness at Temple Bar in Dublin, as wonderful as those moments were. No, it was there, on the deck of that ferry, sitting in a metal chair, resting my elbows on a table littered with paper cups, empty bottles, and ashtrays, that it really hit me that I was in the midst of something truly special that will stay with me forever.

I got up from my chair to stretch my legs, to prepare myself for what was already making itself into a very long night, when I looked over the railing and noticed that we hadn’t even left port yet.

Amsterdam

Oh, Amsterdam. I love you. Our two very short days in Amsterdam were some of the best days of my life.
In my previous post, I mentioned how hungover we all were when we first arrived, so as soon as we could check into our hostel we did to have a much needed shower and a nap.
After that, I went out to explore Amsterdam. This city is absolutely gorgeous. Full of narrow townhouses, canals, boathouses, and bikes!

I’m pretty sure there were more cyclists commuting than cars. The streets in Amsterdam are pretty narrow, so you didn’t see much on-street parking, but everywhere you looked you saw rows and rows of parked bikes. Everyone decorates their bikes which was really cute to see all the different designs, and it was great to see all different people biking; young, old, men in business suits, women in dresses and heels, people biking with small dogs or children on their laps, I even saw a young woman biking while holding three chairs.

Amsterdam is loaded with cafes (not just the coffee shops where you can buy weed), and it was so relaxing to just sit outside with a cappuccino and watch all the activity. It seems as though the cyclists have the right of way over the cars, they have their own road, similar to a bike lane, but it’s separate to the road for drivers and cars nor pedestrians are allowed to be on it. It was a bit hectic when we first arrived because you have to remember that when you are crossing the street to look for oncoming traffic from both the cyclists and the drivers.
It seems as though everyone in Amsterdam speaks in English, and they had no hesitation to speak English to us when we were out and about. Everyone I encountered, from the tram drivers, to servers, were incredibly accommodating, patient, and kind to me.

It was such a weird and surreal experience to see people selling and smoking weed in the coffee shops. There were some really nice upscale coffee shops that had a neat vibe (Buffalonians, almost like Mothers restaurant), and also some that were more casual and dive bar-like (like Brick Bar on Allen). The funniest thing was you were allowed to smoke weed in the coffee shops, but most definitely NOT cigarettes, and they were very strict about it.

We also explored the Red Light District, which was another culture shock. The cool thing is that these areas aren’t sketchy or seedy at all, still a beautiful part of town, it just happens to be a part of town where you can look at naked girls standing in windows (and maybe do a little more than just staring…)
The next day, I went to a few museums with one of my roommates, Jenna. We first went to the Van Gogh Museum which was incredible. Van Gogh is my favorite painter, and I’ve seen some of his work already at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, MoMA in NYC, and at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was funny, when I was at the National Portrait Gallery a few days prior, I saw that two of Van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings were temporarily off display…because they were being loaned to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “No big deal,” I thought, “I’ll see them in a few days!” And I did!

After the Van Gogh Museum, we went to the Anne Frank House. The line was very long, but so worth it. It was very humbling and moving to be walking around in the house where Anne wrote her famous diary, and also hid with her family for two years before ultimately being betrayed and meeting her death at a concentration camp. I learned at the museum, that when Anne’s father (the only survivor from the Frank family) decided to turn the house into a museum, he wanted to keep the rooms completely bare to remind everyone of the void and emptiness that the Holocaust left on so many people.
The rooms all had photos of what the rooms looked like when they were in hiding, and the windows were completely blacked out, to recreate the darkness the families had to live in for two years when they were in hiding. Anne’s quotes were written on many of the walls, and it’s hard to believe what a brilliant and thoughtful person she was at such a young age.
Visiting her room was the most powerful, because even though it was empty, the pictures that she plastered on the walls still remained. She had photos of movie stars of the time, and also pictures of public figures and artists like Leonardo da Vinci. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I hope if you ever have the opportunity to visit the museum, please do.
After the museum, Jenna and I met up with our other two roommates, Megan and Ashlee, and we went to get something to eat. We found some other people from our group, and Megan decided to head back, while a girl named  Lauren from our group decided to head with us to get dinner. The night before, our tour guide Darren told us about a really good Indonesian restaurant, and we were intrigued because none of us have had Indonesian before. Thanks for the suggestion, Darren, because it was all sooo good! The location was great too, right near a busy square so we were able to eat delicious Indonesian and do some more people watching.

We were all in agreement that Amsterdam was lovely, and the lifestyle and attitude was so refreshing. We all wished we could have spent at least one more day there. I talked to some people from my group who said they weren’t too keen on coming to Amsterdam because they didn’t care about the Red Light District or smoking weed, but Amsterdam is so, so much more than that. Yes, those things can be fun, but the city has so much more to offer and it’s a place that I know I will have to come back to.
I’m currently on a bus on my way to Switzerland. We just spent four days in Paris (I’ll write about that later), and I can’t believe we are already more than halfway through the trip. It’s been so amazing that I don’t want to think about coming home. I’m trying really hard to live in the moment because things are happening so fast and I know these memories and moments, big and small, can never be recreated.
Switzerland is probably the country/area I know the least about on my trip, but Darren said it’s his favorite place on our trip, and that’s saying something considering all the places he’s been! I’ll try to write soon, the wi-fi in Paris was god awful, hopefully Switzerland will be better!

Pregaming to Amsterdam

In my previous entry, I mentioned taking an overnight ferry from London to Amsterdam. We were all pretty tired and worn out from London, and most us agreed we were going to take it easy on the boat in preparation for Amsterdam (or as Darren calls it, Amsterdamage).

Well I don’t know what happened between leaving London and boarding the ferry, but we were all drunk on the bus ride TO the ferry. By the time we had all boarded the boat, we all went straight to the deck to drink some more. The boat hadn’t even left the dock yet and we thought we had been out on the open water for hours.
I’m not going to get into specifics, but it was probably the sloppiest group of people I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve been to my fair share of Buffalo St. Patrick’s Day parades, Bills, and Sabres games.
We completely took over the deck, with many of us buying drinks at the bar, but mostly us buying bottles of liquor at the duty free shop on board. We were all sitting on the center of the deck with tables and chairs and were roaming around, while others on the boat sort of surrounded our area and watched us. The best way I can describe it is when you see a large group of zoo goers watching an exhibit at the zoo.
We were out there for a LONG time and needless to say, things were getting more and more ridiculous by the minute. I was rooming with three other girls, and we ended up all making it back to our room despite each of us losing our room keys on separate occasions (Megan was issued a new and incorrect room key at the front desk and walked in on some guy sleeping).
The early morning after was…rough. We all had to be packed and ready to get off the boat by 8 AM. Every single one of us was feeling pretty miserable, and I can’t even imagine the feeling of everyone else on board when they saw 30 hungover American tourists stumble into the customs line.
Between one of us getting sick in the garbage can, a few setting off the fire alarm after running out of the fire exit to be sick, my friend’s beaded bracelet breaking and beads going everywhere, we were a force to be reckoned with. The cool thing though was everyone else in the customs line looked more amused at our antics than anything. Even men working customs were chuckling at us as we each made our way up to them to get our passports stamped.
Our bus driver to Amsterdam took one look at us and immediately started passing everyone a sick bag. Darren also had to reassure him that we weren’t normally like that. 
We made it to Amsterdam before we could check into our hostel, so we were dropped off in the city to hang out for a few hours. Those few hours were one big  blur. I was pretty much wearing my pajamas from the night before and I still felt like we were still on the boat. A group of us immediately booked it to a coffee shop for some much needed rejuvenation.
Darren also arranged us to take a boat cruise down Amsterdam’s beautiful and plentiful canals, and a few days prior we had all been talking about how we were looking forward to it. Fast forward a few days later after a night of hard partying and sitting out in the baking sun and we were NOT okay. I’ve never seen a group of more miserable people on such a lovely outing in my life. The boat cruise would have been interesting and enjoyable if we weren’t hungover, but instead we were all too tired, sick, and hot to enjoy the experience.
We eventually made it back to our hostel where we all immediately went straight back to bed for a few hours and then showered. A lot of us were feeling a lot better after and decided to head out to explore Amsterdam.
Looking back at our crazy night and day of the ferry and getting to Amsterdam and I think it was one of the funniest and best moments of my life. We’ve all been looking back and crying tears of laughter at how ridiculous it all was. From the actual partying on the ferry, the morning after at customs, and the boat ride in Amsterdam, it was just all so outrageous. I keep hearing new stories about what happened to people on the ferry or I would remember something and I’d just burst out in a fit of laughter. I had to stop from writing this a few times because I just keep laughing at everything.
After that rough day in Amsterdam, the evening and the following day and night in the city was phenomenal. I’ll save that for its own entry, but the people in Amsterdam really know how to live life. I am entirely in awe of that city.
I can’t believe we are about halfway through the trip. Part of me is a bit sad that we’re already this far in, but the rest of me is really excited because if the final half of the trip is anything like the first half, well…