Thursday 24 October
After yesterday’s trip to Barcelona, we were both exhausted. Also the coldest day of our trip. First the sun went behind the clouds, then I needed to put a thin jumper on. Continue reading Salou, Spain – Part 6
Thursday 24 October
After yesterday’s trip to Barcelona, we were both exhausted. Also the coldest day of our trip. First the sun went behind the clouds, then I needed to put a thin jumper on. Continue reading Salou, Spain – Part 6
Wednesday 23 October
It’s Wednesday, and we’re going to Barcelona. That sadly, requires a 7am alarm clock, to be out the door by 8am, to catch an 8.40 train, which gets into Barcelona at 10.20.
I had a bit of a dry throat on the way, so drank a bit of liquid, which was a mistake, as by the time we reached Barcelona, I was preoccupied by where the nearest toilet might be.
Continue reading Salou, Spain – Part 5
Monday 21 October
We caught a train to Tarragona today, which is the home of tarragon (presumably).
Monday 21 October – Food
Food is a pain already. We’re self-catering, and we’ve got excellent facilities. We’ve got a grill, oven, microwave, fridge, and freezer. We’ve got frying pans, and saucepans. But still, food is a bit of a pain.
Sunday 20th October
After a long lie-in and a leisurely breakfast, I went and paid €10 for the Internet for 3 days. O2 will let me roam here, but it only offers 15mb data for that. 15mb? I’m not sure that’s enough even just for a bit of online research, this blog, and twitter. The Internet will be useful to find information about travel, and use Tripadvisor for restaurant reviews. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.
I’ve already managed to use it to save some money, by finding out about the train to Barcelona, which is seemingly cheaper and faster than the buses we’ve seen advertised, oddly.
And the bus company has an app with all the times, prices, etc. to different locations. That’s another reason why the Internet is absolutely required. And not just because I can’t go for a few days without it.
We went for a walk around Salou again, and while out, heard a lot of noise that sounded like birds. But unusual-sounding birds, going absolutely crazy about something.
It’s times like this I’m happy I have a camera which might not have the clarity of a digital SLR, or be particularly compact, but it does have a pretty good zoom.
Upon closer inspection, right up there at the top of a tall palm tree, Continue reading Salou, Spain – Part 2
19th October 2013
Me and my girlfriend are off on holiday today. I get up at 5am for work normally, but getting up at 3am was still painful. I bounced out of bed and into the shower (much to the surprise of my girlfriend), but that initial energy had ran out before I left the bathroom, and I was bumbling around like a zombie until the taxi arrived. Continue reading Salou, Spain – Part 1
Amsterdam – part 4
Yesterday we navigated a load of buses to get to Keukenhof. Today my girlfriend spots this poster in our hotel foyer.
A bus from our hotel all the way to Keukenhof!
Still, we booked online before we came here, and this would have had to have been prebooked through a different company. Still, annoying.
Keukenhof sent me an email asking if I enjoyed my time there and if I had any comments, so I think I’m going to mention how their travel arrangements could be improved.
Today I thought I’d document some of the flaws in the road layouts and public transport here. Amsterdam is sometimes held up as some kind of mega green place where the bikes, pedestrians, trams, and the few cars they have, all work together nicely. This is a complete fallacy.
Very little room is given for pedestrians.
Despite a lot of the roads being quite wide, some vehicles share sections. So the taxis can use the same sections of road as the trams. Fair enough, perhaps.
The pavements are half pedestrian walkways, and half cycle lanes. But as well as bicycles, motorbikes can also use this same lane. Much more dangerous than UK pavements, I think, having a motorbike so close to where people are walking.
The narrower the road, the less room is given to pedestrians. You’ll find tiny roads which are one-way for cars, both ways for bicycles, and a less-than-one-person width remaining for people on foot. With motorbikes zooming past right next to you.
Or just look at this one. Bike parking, bicycle lane, road, and.. where do I walk?
The road layouts are complicated too. I still can’t work out at any given time who has right of way, or who gets to turn which way.
Presumably in an effort to improve this, and help pedestrian safety, there are line markings and lights EVERYWHERE. Just check out this junction (from three different angles).
And this pedestrian crossing.
Today was reasonably stressful from the moment we left the hotel. We caught a tram, with the idea to get off one tram, then change and catch another in a different direction.
Here’s a prime example of a flaw in their ticketing system.
Here’s a picture of one of their 24 hour passes.
One side is stamped with a date that the printed card must be used before. But this isn’t when YOUR card expires.
You buy your card, then swipe it. It expires 24 hours after that. But when you swipe it, it isn’t stamped in any way. It’s all done wirelessly like an Oyster card. So you just have to remember when you bought it. It doesn’t stamp the date or time you first used it.
This morning we caught a tram, got off at a stop, and my girlfriend puts the travel card in her pocket. Then we try and catch another, but when she swipes her card, it doesn’t work. Odd.
Trams wait for nobody. Before she would have even had time to ask a member of staff what is wrong, we’re back on the pavement and it’s off down the road.
It turns out, she had two in the same pocket, and was swiping the card that expired yesterday evening. But they all look completely identical. Silly system.
Another drawback to the tram is that all the stops are in the middle of the road. You have to push buttons, make cars, bikes, etc. wait while you cross to the middle of the road, to get on them.
One thing I do like is this information on the tram stops, which tells you exactly how much it will cost to get from where you are, to somewhere else.
As a general concept though, if I had to have one, I prefer the tram to the bus. Having caught several of both over the past few days, even when trams speed up or slow down quickly, you don’t appear to get the same *everyone thrown forward* type force that you get when a bus does it. And they seem quieter generally. A different sort of noise produced, but quieter overall.
We took a little walk through Vondelpark, which gives me a chance to mention an annoyance that my girlfriend spotted. People spit in the street. I know you’d see chavs in the UK doing it. But here you’ll find people of all ages and classes seemingly gobbing in the street.
We went to the Rijksmuseum today.
Here’s a sign that made me laugh on the way in.
We bought our tickets at the hotel before we left this morning, which, according to a leaflet, allows you to skip the line. They were the same price as buying directly in the museum, according to the museum’s website.
So we turn up at the museum, walk past all these losers queuing, and show our tickets to a member of staff. We’re told to join the back of the line, but these tickets allow us to skip the ticket-buying line, inside.
But there’s still a queue before we get as far as being actually inside the building? Bah.
After we get in the building, we take our tickets and go straight to the museum entrance part. After queuing for a few minutes, we hand our tickets to the person on the entrance, and he tells us these aren’t really tickets, and that we need to exchange them for actual tickets, at ticket desk 1. Talk about taking the piss. He assures us there is no need to queue at this new ticket desk.
We go to ticket desk 1, jumping the line, (half expecting someone to complain, as it looked the same as the other desks, and wasn’t labelled “fastlane” or anything), and exchange two printed tickets, for another two printed tickets.
Go back to the entrance, queue up again for a couple of minutes, and…we’re allowed in.
To be fair, it did allow us to skip *a* line. It just didn’t mention there was three of them in the first place.
The museum is a maze. It’s split over 4-5 levels, but it’s got multiple sections off of sections, and it’s split between two muddly buildings, so in some cases you have to go up one set of stairs, through that floor and back down a different set of stairs, to get to another part. Considering it’s a museum, the staircases aren’t full of exhibits, and all look remarkably bare/identical, so it’s very easy to get lost.
We probably didn’t see half of what was there, because with all the tram confusion this morning, and enormous queues to get into the building, we didn’t get into the actual museum until gone 2pm. And despite it being May, and it not getting dark til about 9:30pm, the museum closes at 5pm for some reason, even on weekends. Although (and I think this is rather bad form), the cafe and giftshop remain open until 6pm. So I can’t see the exhibits, but you still want me to buy an Amsterdam postcard, that jam that EVERY museum sells, or one of those oversized novelty pencils from you? Pfft.
According to the guidebook, some of the museum is devoted to Van Gogh. We went to see this, because we hadn’t bought tickets to the separate Van Gogh museum. There’s about 3 pieces. Not that surprising, really. More surprisingly, is there isn’t a sign saying “Like this sort of thing? Why not try the museum round the corner”.
Overall, there’s some interesting things in there, but I’m not quite sure it’s worth the €15 entrance fee.
Chefs opening flower shops
I’ll leave you with the answer to the following question. If crazy scientist/cook Heston, off of the tv, opened a flower stall in Amsterdam, what do you think he’d call it? I like to imagine it’d be something like:
Amsterdam – day 3 aka Friday
One of the reasons why we were looking at going to Amsterdam in the first place, wasn’t the drugs or the prostitutes. It was for a tulip event that takes place between March and May at Keukenhof.
Of all the years we could go, ironically, this year the theme is “British”. Clearly that was a sign that we should go this year.
We could go any day during our trip (the tickets are valid for any time they’re open between March-May), but of the days we have left, a combination of different weather websites would seem to suggest today is the day when it’s least likely to rain, so today we go to Keukenhof.
Before leaving the UK, we booked the Keukenhof combi-ticket which is not only your entrance fee, but the buses to/from the place. It requires two buses – one to the airport, and another from the airport to Keukenhof. But we can’t use our combi-ticket on all buses, and sadly not on the much-more-convenient train that goes to the airport.
We made it from our hotel to Leidsplein. It tells you to catch a bus from there. But as we went via tram to Leidsplein, we’re at Leidsplein tram stop now, not Leidsplein bus stop. Where the hell do the buses stop?
After a bit of wandering around, we found a bus stop, and got our bus to the airport. (The taxi waiting area maps show where the taxis are, the tram stops show where the trams stop, but without knowing where the buses go already to find the bus stop, how are you meant to know where they are?).
I’ve said this before, but the airport is enormous. Our bus is due to make about 10 stops at the airport. The next part of the ticket/Keukenhof website instructions say to go to something plaza, and get a bus outside of arrival hall 4. We waited til we saw the plaza, and got off. Where is the OUTSIDE of arrival hall 4? It’s impossible to find, without going back into the airport, following the signs for the arrival halls, then no.4, then coming back out of the nearest exit. There’s no outside signage for this bus, really.
Maybe what the instructions should have said was “pick up the bus round the corner by the bins, in the bit that isn’t really a bus stop”.
Anyway, we found our next bus, and half an hour’s (quite warm and sweaty) journey later (due to no opening windows), we were at Keukenhof.
It’s very nice. It’s lots and lots and lots of tulips.
There are some other things like daffodils and a reasonable-sized collection of orchids, but the vast majority is tulips.
We’ve come so late in their season that some parts of it were closed. There’s no boat trip to see the tulip fields (because they’re no longer interesting to look at), and some of the plants are dying off.
Despite this, it’s still impressive and so enormous that we got lost and double backed on ourselves several times.
We saw lots of interesting things though. And we’ve got some ideas for improving our garden at home (and not just by filling the entire garden with tulips).
If you exclude the Chinese people (and why would you do that? What have you got against the Chinese?), we dragged down the average age of visitor by quite a lot of years. There was lots and lots of Chinese people of all ages, all taking photos. Much like with the sex museum, a lot more women than men. So Chinese women like penis-shaped ornaments, traveling, and tulips, it seems.
I took quite a lot of photos here, but here’s a handful of them.
The “British” themed section was dreadful. Think of a terrible “British” cliche that you would put in something you were trying to make British. Go on. What would you have?
Bowler hats? Yep.
Umbrellas? Of course.
James Bond? Definitely.
Will and Kate? Yep.
Mr Bean? Never mind that he hasn’t been on British tv in probably 20 years, why not.
The Beatles? Really? Seriously though? (Yes they’re in there.)
A red bloody phone box? When was the last time anyone in Britain used a payphone? But yes.
And talk about London-centric. Why don’t you just name the displays after London tube stations or something.
They have multiple cafes, and with a British theme, and one of the cafes apparently serving British food, you couldn’t fail to get a nice cup of tea, could you?
I despair. I really do.
The first place had only mint and lemon tea. What the fuck.
Rooibos? Come on. Nobody really drinks that piss.
Where’s the Twinings English Breakfast?
We found one of the cafes selling Ceylon, and while it’s a bit weak, it’s not too bad.
But hot water, teabags and milk all presented at the same time pre-payment. Children’s-style beakers without handles as per usual (does nobody drink hot drinks, yet not want to continually burn themselves, in Holland?).
My girlfriend had the novel idea of taking an extra cup to fill with milk, so our tea had a bit of time to brew. It ended up a bit weak, but other than that, not completely awful.
Possibly worse than the tea, and worse than the British cliches, was the RHS building. There’s several buildings. One has orchids in for example, and one had a lot of lilies. And one was stipulated as being set up by the RHS. I’ve never seen such a disappointingly dull garden-themed thing.
It was all printed cardboard backgrounds, and handy garden “tips”. There was a written piece about all the things people consider typifies a British garden. And that was it. Just words and pictures. Not a single real flower or plant in the building.
After a lot of flowers, we had two exhaustingly-crammed bus journeys back to the centre of Amsterdam, where we found somewhere for dinner. And after all that walking, who can be bothered to go looking for restaurants?…especially when there’s a branch of Pieminister we’ve already found.
Pie and mash each, and two cups of tea.
Two cups of hot water (with handles), with black tea teabags, and milk in a tiny motorway services milk jug.
I’m home at last.
Interestingly the pies are apparently still made in Bristol, using local ingredients (presumably local to Bristol, not local to Amsterdam). I can’t quite figure out how that’s possible. Do they make a load and get someone to ship them in, frozen? Do they fly them in, daily? They tasted great, anyway.
The tea was a tiny bit weak (builders tea just doesn’t seem to exist in Amsterdam), but the best we’ve had in a cafe here so far.
They all look the same, those lot
Earlier, I’ve commented how the buildings all look quite similar/aren’t that interesting to look at. I mentioned this today to my girlfriend, who was appalled at this suggestion. Then later on, her usually-incredible sense of direction failed her, when we got lost and she proclaimed “these streets all start to look the same”.
To be fair re buildings, I think maybe I’m just spoilt. If I lived in Swindon, I’d probably think these buildings were quite grand. But big doorways, finicky edging, etc. is easily and readily seen in Bristol. Meh.
Amsterdam – Day 2
This morning we got up, had our Weetabix and Jordan’s Fruit and Nut cereal mixture in our hotel room/tent, and went in search of central Amsterdam.
We caught a tram, after asking a helpful pensioner where to buy tickets. (I’m not being ageist by the way. She told us a few times about her age, and showed us what is presumably the Dutch equivalent of a pensioner bus/rail/tram pass.)
She also complained about how expensive it was. It was €2.80 for a single into town, or €7.50 to use the entire tram network as much you want for 24 hours. It seems quite reasonable to me.
After a fairly pleasant journey into the centre, we spent the day wandering.
We shunned Madame Tussaud’s immediately. I think I’d be rubbish in there. I don’t even know who the (presumably well-known) waxworks are on the outside of the building.
It has to be said that there’s not a lot of what I’d call interesting architecture. One building looks a lot like another, really. A lot of buildings are grey/dark, which makes them all look a bit drab. It didn’t help that a light drizzle turned into more of a constant heavy-drizzle, that got heavier (and windier) as the day went on, getting greyer and greyer by the minute.
Fans of Blockbusters will like the pavements at least.
More tea oddness
We stopped in a cafe called something like Le Caffier. We ordered two sandwiches and two cups of tea. So we ask for this at the till, then get ushered towards the teabag selection to make our choice. English Breakfast tea it is.
Upon choosing them though, I notice that this tea is laughable. It claims to be Devonshire tea.
(No offence to the USA, but decent black tea comes from places like India or China. It just does. Even very British companies like Twinings make blends from tea they get from India/China/other places renowned for tea expertise.)
After a short wait, the girl in the cafe brings us…two tumbler-style glasses of boiling water (no handles!), and a metal jug of hot steamed milk.
Slightly odd, but we dunk our drawstring teabags. She asks if she can pour the milk in, but we’ve not dunked or squeezed enough yet. I ask if I can keep the milk jug til it has brewed. She reluctantly lets me.
Later on, she says that she’s always just poured the milk straight, but another (British) customer recently asked if she would wait a bit (while the tea brewed) first.
The tea was…ok. I wouldn’t say nice. It’s not quite as weak as the ones in our hotel though. Note to self: we must buy some decent teabags later.
A bit more wandering. I’ve spotted loads of brands I recognise here. Obviously clothes brands are international, along with places like Vodafone and Tmobile, but I saw a Waterstone’s bookshop earlier. And a branch of M&S.
These are all large well-known brands. But then, when we were a bit lost, looking for a supermarket, we found a branch of Pieminister. What are the odds? Bristol’s finest pie shop, in the middle of Amsterdam?
And it’s open til 9.30pm every night. I’ve never got to eat-in at the one in Bristol on an evening because it shuts about 7pm and I’m too crap at organising myself to get there in time, but I’m sure I can manage this.
We had a look around some smaller shops. Who knew there was a Fifty Shades of Grey board game? For “3+ players”. Kinky.
The sex museum
We were looking for something to do inside as it was pissing it down, so we went to the sex museum. It’s an odd experience. In some ways, a lot of it is quite bawdy. There’s a (cheap) animatronic lifesize model of a man getting pulled off by a prostitute, complete with moaning, in the doorway on the way in. But it’s not all as bad as that. Although some is.
If you like statues, pill boxes, walking sticks, or really MOST other things shaped like penises, you’re in luck. There are a lot of that sort of thing.
There are also a lot of pictures of naked people. When I say pictures, that includes paintings, drawings, and photographs. Some solo, most having sex. Some are good, some aren’t. The most interesting thing for me was just how long people have been taking photos of each other having sex. There was pictures of people from the 1920s, looking just as bored as some of the people you see in porn today (so I hear, from my friends who look at that sort of thing).
I also found it weird that the photographs are separated into professional studio shots, amateur photographs, and private photos. Whose private photos are these? Did they donate them, or is this like an early version of sexting, where someone shows a photo of his girlfriend, to his mates, and before they know it – it’s in a sex museum?
As well as some quite impressively detailed statues and mannequins, there are also a few rubbish/weird animatronics in the building. As well as the guy by the door, there’s a few of men flashing, and a guy who pisses against the other side of a piece of glass. Some of them seem to be done in the same sort of style as that shooting gallery thing at Weston Pier.
There are also a few exhibits that fall into the same trap as many museums of thinking that any old shit in a glass cabinet makes an interesting exhibit.
They allow photos to be taken, interestingly. I didn’t, because I thought it a little odd, really..taking photos of other people’s naked photos. However, the place was full of Asian people keeping the stereotype alive by snapping away continually.
And if anyone is wondering the same thing I was, no – the sex museum does not sell sex toys in the gift shop. It doesn’t have a gift shop.
(Admission €4 each, and I’d have to say it was worth it for the sheer volume of stuff in there. Also, use the toilets. Apparently the mirror in front of the sinks shows a film (I didn’t see this, but my girlfriend apparently did.))
We’ve found a supermarket. There doesn’t seem to be that many really, but this is definitely one.
It seems very reasonably priced.
1 litre of milk for 85 cents.
We’re making sandwiches for a day out tomorrow, and we needed some sandwich bags. They were 20 cents, for 100. Ludicrously cheap.
Teabags? I don’t recognise any of the brands of black tea. We were trying to decide between a box of 50 and a box of 80 (given they might be as bland as the hotel teabags/the American ones), when I spotted a box of 20. 20 drawstring teabags (from India). For 31 cents. Unbelievably cheap. (And if you’re wondering, it didn’t taste bad.)
Amsterdam – Wednesday
I’m in Amsterdam for a short mini break, so as I’ve done before in Rome and Corfu, I thought I’d blog about my experiences. Continue reading Amsterdam – part 1