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Holla Holland

See all my photos here or in a slideshow

A few rain drops is no worry for the bikes in Amsterdam.

 

While abroad, I took an Anderson Tours trip from London to Holland for Easter weekend.

It was definitely a unique experience for a somewhat guided tour.

From London, we took a bus to Dover and boarded SeaFrance ferry, while still on our coach to Calais, France.

The port at Dover.

 

Overlooking the Channel towards France.

 

The French, unfortunately, decided to strike, which I guess happens a lot at the port, and the under two hour ferry ride took six hours as we couldn’t enter the port until some people ended their demonstrating. From Calais, we drove the coach off the ferry to Holland.

We stayed at a noncommercial style hotel called Lake Land in Monnickendam. The area is, obviously, flat and a beautiful country scape. It’s quiet and a nice change from the city of London, which we had been staying in for three months. While the hotel’s buffet style dining may not be for everyone, it’s a fun atmosphere for seniors (who were dancing to the beat) and young people.

The view at Lake Land.

 

Holland is wicked flat. And by wicked, I mean very. No mountains or even hills, and there are canals big and small everywhere. Some are few feet wide and some are several yards wide. Canals are also used like fences. It’s common to see a simple gate and canals used to keep sheep and cows on a plot of land.

Heading into the city – Amsterdam – there is more flat land and a lot of construction going on whether it’s of buildings or on roads and highways.

Once you hit the city, you will know it. There are rats nests of bikes everywhere, and everyone is on a bike.

I'm guessing there are miles of bikes lined up if one counted.

 

Because the city and country is so flat, it’s easy to walk or bike everywhere and anywhere. Amsterdam also has a good public transportation system, which there are tracks for the above ground seemingly everywhere.

The city itself isn’t a skyscraper city or even quite like London. Things are more small and cute. But the essence of Amsterdam is an openness and cool that no other region can compete with.

One of many canals.

 

Yes, prostitution is legal and there are coffee shops (they don’t sell coffee) on ever corner. But the fact that people don’t seem to judge you when you walk down the street is quite impressive. 

It’s easy to rent a bike and tour the city or even take a boat cruise through the winding canals.

Not quite what I was hoping for, but it beats getting rained on.

 

You can visit the red-light district and it’s perfectly safe, or that’s what it seemed. Prostitution is some people’s career. It’s viewed as nothing to poke fun at and has been a huge part of Dutch culture since the times of great painters like Johannes Vermeer. One thing that is frowned upon is taking photographs of the district’s doors and windows where women and men might be at work. And, if you are wondering, according to our guide, if the light is red and on, the room hosted by a woman is open for business. If the light is blue, it usually means there is some sort of “mixture” or male element.

Not really sure what this was about but no one seemed disgusted.

 

There are many kinds of museums and attractions for everyone alike. One day we checked out the Anne Frank House, where for a 20 minute wait in line, visitors can tour the house where Frank and her family went into hiding. 

Outside of Amsterdam, tourists can tour clog and cheese factories such as the one we visited in Monnickendam. Clogs are still made and worn today, though it may seem they have become a bit of a tourist attraction. The idea behind clogs is that they are lightweight, water proof for those canals, and hard to protect worker’s feet.

Right down the road from Lake Land.

 

A demonstration. Apparently, it's not that hard but takes practice.

 

I could never figure out if these were mechanically produced or person produced.

 

Another Dutch cultural excursion to take is a trip to a tulip farm, like Keukenhof. The tulip has historically been a part of Dutch cultural and very much is today. Visitor’s can tour tulip field’s, gardens, and greenhouses filled with the most amounts of tulip arrangements you might ever see.

Keukenohf: Spend a good portion of the day if you love flowers.

 

It's a bit overwhelming, but so colorful.

 

Field farmed tulips.

 

There are a few alternative arrangements, much like a painting.

 

The openness of Dutch culture is truly remarkable. We met a group of Dutch guy friends who we thought were our age or much older. In fact, they were all younger than us, but because of their casual normalcy of alcohol and acceptance they seemed so much older. We chatted with them and it seems because they are “so experienced” with these “things of life,” alcohol, drug use, and the like are not as big a deal as they are in the U.S. They said, some people they know haven’t ever smoke marijuana because they know it’s there and they can do it any time they wanted. The Dutch guys also told us we weren’t spontaneous. I won’t defend myself and say that’s true. I like to consider myself spontaneous when I decide to randomly go on a bike ride and take photos. But I’m not sure I can compare myself to these guys who say, when they want to enjoy life and have a good time, they will. As an American, my night ended with me feeling like I should “enjoy life more” by going mini-golfing at random or hang out with people I’ve just met.

Pillow fight!

 

Holland is definitely a culture that people can learn from, not just have an exciting and beautiful trip to. I will definitely be back to Holland, soon, I hope.

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Stonehenge and Bath Day Trip

Stonehenge and Bath

Excursions from London are a definite must to see things other than the major city.

My mates and I, as well as others from our study abroad program, ventured for the day to Stonehenge and Bath.

We left the city at approximately 8 a.m. headed for Stonehenge. The rain was nothing to worry about inside a warm bus, though some photographs taken through the window were obscured most of the way. The hour-long ride took us through slightly less lavish parts of London and through many rolling hills. Much of the landscape was designated and penned off for farming. There were fewer cows grazing in the fields than back home in New England, however, there were a lot more sheep dotting the green. There were also a few horses huddling together, each under a blanket, every other mile. When we hit sections of the road surrounded by thick woods and shrubbery I managed to see a red-coated hawk fluffing his feathers while perched on a limb.

It was still raining when we arrived at Stonehenge, but it wouldn’t be a real United Kingdom vacation if it wasn’t raining on one’s trip to Stonehenge. In person the rocks actually looked small and the construction seemed more compact than in photographs.  But even in the rain, the mysterious stone structure was beautiful, covered in moss and lichens, standing on bright green grass against a grey sky. The exhibit of boulders is quite close to the main roads but the pavement does obscure one’s pictures. What’s good, is that with entry to the site, one has the option of a prerecorded audio tour and can walk out as close as ten feet away from the structure. Two walkways in the shape of a Y give visitors various angles of the structures as well as a safe place to gaze at sheep dotted hills. With patience, it’s possible to snap photos of the structure without tourists. The hardest part is, when it’s raining, dealing with the complaining tourists and trying to keep one’s camera lens dry. Back towards the entry gate is a fairly price gift shop with unique Stonehenge souvenirs, mugs, books, and postcards, as well as an eatery without the typical tourist foods.

Click for a Stonehenge slideshow.

 

As we ventured towards Bath the terrain was continuously gradually sloping with green fields surrounded by thicker woods. Closer to Bath the woods are lusher and the trees are mostly overgrown with emerald ivy and moss. Most of the homes are picturesque farm scenes probably build in the 20th century now fitted for the 21st century. Many smaller properties had small glass greenhouses and shrubbery surrounding them. Some had fences or meager stonewalls. Clusters of these homes were scattered amongst the main roads. Some communities were like American suburbia with a British twist. The houses were certainly not as large and are built sturdier than the average McMansion, but the house, the car and the prim lawn and shrub garden were there. Mini-British-McMansions.

Approaching the city of Bath is an extreme marvel. The city is located on steep hills and a wide valley. The scenery is definitely picturesque as houses are tiny and the architecture is something to admire.

Slideshow coming soon.

 

After a homemade lunch at a Starbucks (there are many independent restaurants with hot, cold and French cuisine.  So don’t settle on the first thing you see unless you’re packing a homemade lunch like us. There are also major stores to buy anything from tea to shoes to lingerie), we took a tour of the city by a very informative guide.

Built by the Romans, Bath is approximately 2000 years old. The Romans built in the area because of it’s hills, similar to Rome, and it’s hot water springs. After the empire ceased to exist, the Romans left.

John Wood started building houses and terraces, which make up most of the city today. Before Ward built the houses, there wasn’t much of a place to live.

Walking around Bath, one might notice a theme of pigs as there are pig statues strewn throughout the city. This theme is based off the legend of Bath. Prince Bladud, who lived in Bath had contracted leprosy. His pigs had also contracted leprosy and noticed, after the pigs had bathed in a mud bath (our guide said the mixture included acorns), their leprosy had been cured. The man followed, thus being cured from the disease.

Slideshow coming soon.

 

Most of Baths’s streets and or sidewalks are cobbles with stone and are narrow passages for cars. Between some of the buildings lining the roads would have been canopies used to shelter citizens and visitors (often the rich) from the rain, according to our guide.

The Cross Bath, which visitors can peer into wasn’t open again until 2006. Visitors can take a dip in the modern-suited room; however, spa treatments are not available in this bath. Across the cobbled way is a the Thermae Bath Spa consisting of four floors where one can dine, take a dip, and get special treatments.

Our guide got excited when talking about the make-up of the time and how the rich were taken around the city. Rat skins, for example, would be used to enhance eyebrows. Hair, often greasy and put up with animal fat, would be covered by a net and wig. The rich would be carried around town and brought to the theatre in a sedan, cautious not to ruin their hair or delicate attire they’ve spent hours to put on.

The famous romantic writer Jane Austen spent much time in Bath during her lifetime, which was paid for by her brother because Austen never married. (During the time period of Austen’s life, if women did not marry, their brothers would have to take care of their sisters financially. Brothers getting their sisters to marry and helping them find a husband was on the top of their brother’s to do list.) The tour guide pointed out many places where Austen conjured up settings for Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice.

Built in the late 1700s, taking eight years to build, the Bath Crescent was a place where the rich would dress up and promenade around to impress one another and picnic. According to our guide, Austen thought the parading of people through the park lawn was ridiculous.

Bath Crescent

 

Our tour concluded by walking through the Assembly Rooms which had been struck several times when Bath was bombed for two months in 1943, according to our guide. The grand rooms, colored coordinated adorning several chandeliers, once used for teas and balls, is now used for conferences and a modern servings of tea.

Click to view slideshow.

 

The Roman baths, restored and still in the process of being restored, have been built into a museum where visitors can listen to an audio guide while feel the mist of the baths touch their skin. The grandest part of the tour is the actual bath. Gutters circulate water to and from the rectangular pool under wide-open atrium. Columns line the rectangle where places for people to sit (where Romans and British once sat) as well as steps leading into the pool. The water should not be touched, as it is not treated. It’s fun to imagine Romans sitting next to mist rising out of the light green water, and tan stone.

Slideshow coming soon.

 

My mates and I spent the last few minutes of our day in Bath in the Bath Abbey built by Oliver King. While much of the Abbey has undergone restoration, the construction and scaffolding still remain. The cathedral is smaller than others but its still just as intricate and beautiful as any other, adorning a rose window, stained glass, and a fine detailed ceiling.

Click to view slideshow.

 

We left Bath at approximately 4:30 p.m. when the sun was setting, the sky still drizzling, our feet worn out, and the light too dark for any more pictures. The trip is a definite must for the day. Despite not being able to explore the entire city, a day is just enough before one hits sensory overload from the admirable architecture.

Stonehenge and Bath day trip taken Friday January 22.

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