Bulletin 4 is different because we are now doing some train journeys and this puts us squarely among the restless, rucksack-carrying, suitcase-on-wheels, street map-reading throng. In short, we have relinquished the splendid isolation of the car to join the hurrying pedestrian pack and, despite (or perhaps because of) our peasant origins it’s a bit ordinary to be rumbling our suitcases across the cobbled streets in search of a bed for the night or the right platform for the next train. It’s all part of the adventure, of course, but dangers lurk for the unwary. We are warned by Eurail to keep a close eye on our bags because there are thieves everywhere and I find myself covertly appraising everyone who comes within touching distance for signs of light-fingeredness. Is that group of young travellers all that it seems? Is that swarthy little man lurking in the corner of our compartment just waiting for us to drop off so that he can slip off our rings and watches? I fight drowsiness, determined to outlast them all. Luckily the trips are short; nowhere is far from anywhere and the trains are speedy. We find ourselves hurtling into Amsterdam only three hours after leaving Brussels and I’m pretty excited already because just outside the city I saw one of those huge old Dutch windmills that Don Quixote used to savage when he was high on the hemp.
We've been on the go for three weeks now and the back is still holding up although the luggage racks in the trains are too high for a vertically challenged old fart and there’s been the odd desperate heave. Eurail recommends that passengers ‘travel light’ and it’s good advice whatever your mode of transport. This is because new items of apparel grow inside your suitcase overnight, or could it be that herself has been shopping again? Speaking of overnight stops, the quality of accommodation varies and price is not always an indicator of what to expect. Here in a conveniently-located (i.e., close to both railway station and city centre) hotel in Amsterdam, we’re paying about 130 Euros a night and the room is clean and modern but ridiculously small unless you’re little people from the Emerald Isle. Like, the double bed and bathroom take up about 90% of the floor space. The rest is occupied by a computer desk so it’s important that you don’t both try to move around at once. And then there’s the taps, in particular the taps in the showers. There has to be a huge research and development centre run by Bastards Incorporated to design new ways to confuse the weary traveller. We’ve had them all, but the most devious have to be the contra-rotating, coaxial barrel taps that resemble fat Harley handlebars and when I’m crouched over them searching for the balance between hot and cold I get this insane urge to yell ‘up periscope!’ and fire one or two at the enemy. I love a challenge, but although I sleep well I now dream that in the next bathroom I’m going to be attacked by a set of horizontally-opposed, four cylinder spigots rampant and then I’ll know it’s time to concede defeat and book a flight home.
Tricky tapware aside, the holiday rolls on. We enjoyed our exploration of central Amsterdam by bus, canal boat and on foot. The architecture is varied and often splendid, and if you know a bit of history and geography there is a great sense of ‘place’ about it all because this small part of the world called Europe is where most of us came from and it’s in the genetic memory bank. The highlights for us were visits to Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh museum. I was tempted as well to drift off into one of the dives where it’s okay to drag on a bit of loco weed but Robyn is watchful because she knows I’m not to be trusted. Amsterdam is surprisingly crowded. The place is absolutely swarming with tourists (thank God we avoided the high season) and it’s a sharp learning curve to walk around because most of the footpaths are taken up by dedicated bikeways (bicycles and motorbikes, even the occasional four-wheeled vehicle). So even after you’ve run the gauntlet of the zebra crossings to reach the apparent safety of the sidewalk you must keep the radar switched on because the ‘safe’ part is about two feet wide. Ever seen one of those game shows where the contestants have to dodge all sorts of threats and obstacles to reach their goal? It’s like that here, but understandably so because if most of the population didn’t ride bikes then there’d be the mother of all logjams. These old cities were not designed for the horseless carriage.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been so lucky with the weather; just a couple of damp days in three weeks and here on the continent we haven’t seen a cloud since we landed. Tomorrow we head for Koblenz on the Rhine; time to get back out into the comparatively open spaces of Germany for a couple of days.
Take care and if you ever come here watch out for the mongreleffen pickpocketten, straats are fullovem.
Peter and Robyn (who takes no responsibility at all for the above)