Monday, June 20, 2011

Bullies at security, Boys peeing, and Bikes

Day three began at 5:30AM with a wake-up call. Bags were required to be in the lobby by 6:15 and the bus to catch the morning train departed at 7:00.

There was a Starbucks in the hotel parking lot, which helped me to honor the times assigned to us. Unfortunately, this particular Starbucks, while open at 10:45PM (when walking past the night before) was not open at 6:10AM. Crestfallen, I met up with my group for a buffet breakfast that would have cost 21-pounds had we not been in the group. I did my best to eat 21-pounds worth of food, but I failed.

We loaded up into the bus and drove down to the train station where we passed another Starbucks. After dropping luggage with our tour guide (who gave us 30 minutes to use the bathroom and whatnot before entering security) I walked speedily back to the Starbucks to drink the nectar of the gods (or "a soy white mocha" as other people refer to it).

Stefanie had found that the train station provides free wifi which I took advantage of sitting down next to my luggage. It's hard to know which obsession I was more excited to have at that point.

Unfortunately my glee was short lived, as my tour guide, and my mother, decided it would be best to go through security immediately, rather than wait the time he had originally given us. Despite the scheduled departure for the train being 50 minutes away, and the announcement saying it was delayed, I ended up throwing away 3/4 of my beverage to get through security.

The train though was spacious and I was able to play a little on my computer, so my mood bounced back pretty quickly. Once my computer ran out of battery power, and I read of how Mr. Darcy's first proposal to Miss Bennett was met with a girl-powered-ass-whooping (thanks for the book loan Erin), we arrived in Brussels, Belgium.

Essentially, we had about an hour to kill in Belgium before driving on to Amsterdam. We visited the Grand Palace and City Hall and what our tour guide referred to as the famous "peeing boy statue boy who is peeing". It is an added special treat to see Europe with a Chinese tour guide. He speaks as if we were all Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Occasionally though, I find it laughable. For example, he explained today, "Brussels, not capital city. But big city, not capital of Belgium, but only Brussels. Not capital of Belgium is Brussels." Everyone seemed to comprehend him well enough. Later laughter erupted (confirming that he was being listen to) when he announced, "population of Belgium not that much. Compare to other country in Europe. Belgium only take two hours to drive through. Not so big only population in Belgium is only eleven. Only eleven population in Belgium. (pauses for bus to stop its mockery and then corrects) Eleven million people. Population eleven million." Additionally, his pronunciation of "restroom" is the same as "restaurant" and "New York" sounds suspiciously like "New Year."

But I digress... Brussels was, as Stefanie remarked, "a city I could do some damage in." We walked passed storefronts that all alternatively advertised Belgium chocolates, Belgium beer, and Belgium waffles.

Unfortunately we passed the stores quickly to see the Mannenkin Pis Statue which our tour guide explained depicts a significant moment in history when a Dutch boy climbed a tree and pissed upon invading French soldiers. I was willing to buy the story until it was further explained that the statuted boy is small because he was only three years old. A three year old who could climb a tree and urinate on passing soldiers? Maybe someone truly gifted like Issac, but... nah.
Our guide released us for a few minutes here and I went looking for a money exchange that would turn my American dollars into Euros. Unfortunately, I was unable to find more than some dressed and trained dogs and a whole lot of rain.

Ducking into a store that sold Smurf and Hello Kitty knickknacks, to purchase an umbrella I had the following conversation with the clerk.

Me: Do you take cards?
Clerk: Of course. Just the one umbrella?
Me: Yes please. This rain came on quick.
Clerk: Yes, but we need it.
Me: Oh yeah?
Clerk: Yes. It is good for the culture. And it doesn't happen much.
Me: No? These flash storms don't happen too often?
Clerk: No. It's pretty kooky, huh?

Yes. Kooky. One minute Denise and I pose for a picture together in the sky-is-so-bright-you-gotta-wear-shades moment and in the next I am buying an umbrella to try and salvage some body heat coming from my sandles-and-tanktop-wearing body.
Returning to the bus we traveled another couple of hours to find our planned stop for lunch closed due to road construction. It was 3:00PM and it was here that I officially decided to carry my own supply of food for the rest of this trip.

We arrived at our next point, an Amsterdam canal cruise, at 6:00PM. All that bus travel and lack of food brought out the travel-grouch in a few of us again, and we were generally pleased to be in the fresh, albeit chilled, air.

There were two seating choices while on the canal cruise. Either you could sit inside (as you can see from the photo above) and look through windows covered in raindrops and generally sun-worn windows or you could move out to the back of the boat that was uncovered. Unfortunately, once outside you could no longer hear the narrative of what buildings we were passing.
So... here on the left is some building with the name "Nemo" on it. It sort of reminds me of the "bird's nest" building that was built for the Olympics in China a few years back. The picture on the right was snapped after the guy second on the left waved to our passing boat. I smiled and waved back. I can't say for that these guys are responsible for the chalk "victim on love" drawing there beside them... but with smiles like that, they looks like they could be.

Our guide informed us that there are far more bikes in Amsterdam than actual people. Checking out the bicycle-parking garage near where our cruise docked, I tend to believe this statistic. Even the streetlights reflect the popularity of this form of transportation.

We sat down for a Chinese dinner around 7:30 making it a full 12 hours (with the adjustment for the time change) between meals.

We checked into the hotel around 9:00 where I watched the Marriage Ref (with guest judge Ginger Spice) and paid the 22 Euros (approx. $31.47) for Internet for the evening.


Delia said...

BUT, you are in Europe. =) Who needs food and coffee? LOL

Auntie Kiki said...

Speaking of kooky, what's up with the attire on the Mannekin Pis statue?!

I so covet your trip to mom has ancestors from there and I've always longed to go. One day, I'll do the Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Wales ancestral tour...