The morning started off a little stressful. We couldn't get the GPS to turn on and I had accidentally left the Map Quest directions at work (oops!). So we got half way down the street and we had to turn around. Adam had to run inside and print out directions, just in case we needed a back-up. A huff, a puff and a few choice words later and we were back on track.
Adam drove the first two hours of our 5 hour trip. I had gotten my international driver's license the week prior to our trip, he decided not to. Since he legally couldn't drive outside of Germany, I took the passenger seat first so that I could rest until it was my turn to take the wheel.
The land that we saw as we drove through Germany was amazing. We had never been to that part of the country and we soon discovered, we were missing out. There were points where the altitude was so high that our ears popped. We would look over the side of a mountain or drive over a bridge and it looked like you could see the whole world. The land went for miles and miles and you could still make out the details in the little villages. There were vineyards for miles. We passed through a town that seemed to be nothing but vineyards. It was awesome. It took us about an hour and a half to get through Germany. The speed limit or lack there of really seemed to be working in our favor. As we reached the border (or frontier as the Germans say) I was shocked. We were in Belgium.
I had no idea that were were going to be taking a brief trip through Belgium. How exciting, three countries in 5 hours! It doesn't get much better than that. Belgium was amazing from what we could see. The views were so pretty. Did you know that they speak French and German in Belgium? I didn't. It was so exciting. I could actually read the signs!! After 6 months of not understanding the ads and billboards, I felt like genius. I'm so happy that I took 5.5 years of French. Who would've known it'd ever come in so handy.
Belgium is a jam-packed country. I mean, they crammed as many little houses into the big cities as they could. The main streets were completely lined with houses three and four stories high. The architecture is beautiful. Everyone should visit Belgium. I'm excited to go back and actual explore the cities.
It took us about 2 hours to make it through Belgium and into the Holland (The Netherlands). We could tell right away that we were in Holland. The French and German ads quickly disappeared and Dutch billboards filled their spots. Another tell-tell sign that you are in Holland is there unique irrigation system. Tiny little canals fill the meadows of Holland. There are many parts of Holland that are actually below sea level. The canals are filled with water from the North Sea and other waterways. It's actually really cool and I thought it was pretty. As you get deeper into Holland the canals get bigger.
We drove for an hour and a half in Holland. En route to Amsterdam we passed the typical Holland land markets. Dutch windmills were everywhere. The land seemed to be half big city, half farm land. I loved it because it reminded me of Oklahoma. It is so awesome how you can each culture shine as you drive through the different countries. There were moments when we were driving where I was thinking this is exactly how I would envision Holland to be. . .just beautiful.
As we approached Amsterdam, the mood changed from little farm town to huge, booming city. There were people and bicycles everywhere. They have trams that run through the centrum every 10-15 minutes. It seems that there are no lanes in Amsterdam. Basically, people drive where ever they can get through. I gripped the wheel and just followed the car in front of me. This was the busiest city that I have ever been to full of tall buildings and canals. Amsterdam is built on top of huge canals. You can even travel from place to place via boat.
I was in panic mode driving through the city. It took us 30 minutes to drive about 8 blocks and our hotel was located behind a huge area of construction so I had to navigate around that. When we finally got to our hotel we had to pay 35 euro to park. That is roughly $50 for one day(be thankful for free parking America). Apparently, Amsterdam has the highest parking rates in the world. Who knew?
We checked into our hotel. We were staying at The Backstage Hotel. It is set up to look like you are backstage at a concert. The halls are lined with posters signed from tons of bands. The overhead light fixture in our room was made out of a snare drum, the main lighting were stage lights and there was a vanity that had the mini light bulbs all around it. It was really neat. The only downfall was the stairs. The staircases in Holland are a signature in their culture. They are extremely steep and have the tiniest steps I have ever seen. Lugging you suitcases up and down those things was quite a feat but well worth it.
After we got settled we immediately went exploring. We were a stones throw away from where the Citizen Cope concert was going to be played. It literally took one minute to walk there. We walked past the tiny venue and we could hear, what sounded like, a sound check in progress. That was one of the high points of our trip.
We walked around the centrum for three hours. We shopped and took pictures of the beautiful buildings. We wanted to see everything we could in one day so we walked and walked. We bought a hand painted Christmas ornament (this is one of my "things,"cI've decided to buy ornaments in every city we visit for an "around the world" Christmas tree), post-cards, and a few souvenirs for our family members.
Amsterdam is everything you hear about. They have the famous coffee shops and Red Light District but that is not all that there is to see. Adam and I wanted to take in the landscape and architecture.
After a long day of walking and exploring, Adam and I decided to go to dinner. We wanted to eat before we went back to the room to get ready for the concert. We went to this cute little Italian restaurant called "Papinos." It was so quaint. The food was delicious and extremely inexpensive and the little host man was so happy to be there. I had a three course meal for 15 euro! I love Amsterdam.
We made our way back to our hotel so we could get ready for the show. We took a quick 30 minute nap and changed clothes. We were all ready to go at around 7:00. The show was to begin at 7:30. We got to the venue and realized it was really tiny. We were some of the first people to arrive. We walked in and bought Citizen Cope shirts and then got drinks and headed to the stage. I marked our spots. I was leaning against the stage to the left of his microphone. Just then, in walks Clarence. We walked right over to him. He was taking pictures with a few fans and then he had to go get ready for the show. I walked back the stage and reclaimed our spot. We waited for 40 minutes and then it was show time. By the time he came on stage the tiny venue was packed with people. He played all of my favorite songs. It was seriously one of the best concerts I have ever been to. It was absolutely worth the 5 hour drive.
We decided to go back to the room once the concert was over. We immediately fell asleep. Walking around for hours and hours has a way of wearing you out! I'm glad we decided to rest because the next morning we were ready to go again.
The next day we checked out of our hotel and packed up our car. We had paid for 24 hours of parking so we wanted to shop and check out some other touristy sites before we left. We walked down to the Red Light District. We wanted to see it and I felt like it'd be safer to go during the days. It is just like the describe it. There are half naked girls standing in tiny little rooms behind glass doors underneath a red light. It is the creepiest thing I have ever witnessed. There were literally blocks and blocks of red lights. That is definitely one thing I will never understand.
We finished up our day by shopping for Adam a birthday present. We got him a really nice jacket that said Amsterdam on it and went for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Then just as quickly as it began we loaded up in the car and headed back for Deutschland.
I have to say that I am really starting to appreciate the opportunites that we have living abroad. I never thought that I'd be able to pack up and go on little weekend trips to other countries. I am really thankful for this adventure. For the first time since we moved here, when we returned to our little house, I really felt like I was home.