I thought I was immune… and then I caught it in devastating style. The dreaded travel bug. Munching through your bank account, distracting you constantly with the lure of distant lands that would look fabulous on Instagram, making you travel-broody whenever you look at a map. It began in mid-2013, when I was driven by a potent combination of heartbreak and post-university existential crisis to go interrailing around Europe for three weeks with my childhood friend Emily. Seeking sun, sex and super-cheap drinks, we instead discovered travel Scrabble, British Nazi roommates and people who found the gas chambers at Auschwitz hilarious.
During the trip I kept a journal, detailing our adventures, triumphs, failures, and the really weird business of knowing that, back in the UK, my gameshow exploits were being broadcast on national TV. (Top tip: be prepared for your Facebook to be bombarded with friend requests, comments and nice messages from people you thought you’d unfriended.) And here it is…
28th August 2013: Train to Rotterdam (Netherlands), 15:44
The Eurotrip has commenced! We’ve only been on the continent for 6 hours, but already there have been triumphs, defeats, tears and bloodshed. And that was just over a game of Scrabble. (Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration, but I did win a closely-fought game 347-310.)
We’ve already been to Brussels, albeit briefly. We visited the Port de Hal by virtue of the fact it was the only vaguely noteworthy building we encountered on our aimless ramble from Brussels Zuid station. After a 15-minute sit to recover from the shock of lugging our enormous backpacks around (and also to be leched on/mocked from afar by some Belgian guys), we headed off rather less aimlessly – courtesy of Emily’s masterful Google Maps skills – towards Grand Place, the gorgeous city square. The city up to that point had a sort of faded charm, but nothing else of note apart from some devastatingly handsome men (which, admittedly, is quite a note). We took a well-earned half-hour sunbathe there before moving onto sample Belgian cuisine and not-so-Belgian cuisine at Subway. Non, je ne regrette rien.
We’re now on the train to Amsterdam via Rotterdam for a changeover. Can’t help but think that Dutch place names would rack up a lot of points in Scrabble – not that anyone would be able to spell them correctly. Our objectives in Amsterdam are to visit the Anne Frank House and, less solemnly, the Hemp and Sex Museums. I am ready and willing to be educated in these topics. Our half-Dutch friend Amber informed us prior to the trip that the Dutch have in their lexicon the word ‘kutkabouter’, which translates as ‘cuntgnome’. Unsurprisingly, it is now our mission to use this word liberally in discussions with Dutch citizens.
On that insightful note, consider this entry finished.
An excitable Jen
29th August 2013: Dam Square, Amsterdam (NL), 14:27
In the middle of a very sunny, very busy Dam Square in Amsterdam at the moment, opposite the Royal Palace, having just been to the… enlightening spectacle of the Sex Museum. Emily emerged from it educated but scarred, whereas I was relatively unphased thanks to a love of searching the more sordid corners of Wikipedia. That said, the exhibit on ‘male reproductive fluids’ did remind me why mayonnaise makes me feel nauseous, but not enough to kill a giant penis chair-induced good mood.
The hostel, Hostel Van Gogh – perhaps predictably, opposite the Van Gogh museum – is alright; any mess comes courtesy of our French former room-mates, who we never actually met because they returned to the room after we fell asleep and left before we woke up. However, we could infer certain things about them from the detritus they’d left strewn across the room – innumerable cigarette butts piled on the desk, boxers scrumpled in the bathroom, and no less than 10 (!!!) empty plastic packets that held remnants of weed. If they weren’t schizophrenic before, it’s only a matter of time now.
Yesterday post-hostel-finding was spent finding food (€8 for a tagliatelle carbonara so huge it defeated my previously bottomless stomach) and gazing at impossibly pretty canals, before touring the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum. It was a total rip-off, charging a princely €9 for our custom – over double the entrance fee of the Sex Museum – for about a quarter of the exhibits, most of which are dried up plants. But then what were we expecting? A huge group hotbox with Afroman performing live?
Saving the best ‘til last, we then made our way to the Red Light District. It sounds ridiculous, but there’s something jarring about seeing ACTUAL REAL LIVE PROSTITUTES on the game, with absolutely no discretion save for the door/curtain that hides their, er, business. Virtually everyone on the streets gawping at the perma-tanned women in their glow-in-the-dark underwear was a tourist, something also discernible from the pervasive smell of weed in the air. Some of the hookers were so bored they were sitting on the bed texting instead of preening, something so mundane it was faintly amusing amongst the surreality of everything else.
What’s also surreal is the sheer number of bikes about. I know Amsterdam is Cyclist Central, but the quantity of both parked and active bikes is ridiculous. I’m constantly fearing for my life whenever I accidentally end up walking in a cycle lane, which hasn’t helped my general dislike of cyclists (the unfortunate consequence of both immensely enjoying running them down on Simpsons Hit & Run for Gamecube as a child, and dating an overwhelmingly enthusiastic cyclist who constantly wore Lycra and tried in vain to get me to ride a tandem for 10 months). That said, I am impressed by how space-efficient mass-cycle parking is compared to car parking.
Time to move before we get sunburnt [update: too late 😦 ], and finish this entry. We plan to visit the Anne Frank House and a ‘coffee shop’ (although we’ll ‘just say no’… hi Mum and Dad!) and ingest our own body weights in paprika crisps, the greatest foodstuff you can’t really get in England, for the rest of the day.
A typically mature Jen
30th August 2013: Train to Hannover (Germany), 11:02
Ich bin on the Deutschbahn! Or the Douche-Barn, as we have affectionately nicknamed it. With postcards written and sent, we leave behind the city of free (well, €50) love, liberal drug laws and impossibly thin houses, and venture on towards the land of Kraftwerk, bratwurst and lederhosen.
Yesterday was, for the most part, a resounding success. We did indeed go to the Anne Frank House, which was dingy, cramped, insular – all the things you’d expect it to be, and a ‘coffee shop’ (but we ‘just said no’… hi Mum and Dad!), before returning to the room to eat enough paprika crisps to turn our insides orange.
However, there was a potentially dangerous failure in the shape of an Ethiopian man following us through the poorly-lit Vondel Park after dark, having lured us (read: me) in by talking about Chelsea FC. Having made awkward chit-chat until we reached a well-lit exit, we thought we were free. Him ominously telling us he had something to show us was not what we wanted to hear. Emily suspected he was going to whip out his manhood – clearly the flasher exhibit at the Sex Museum left a lasting impression on her – while I suspected a knife. What he actually did was less terrifying, but more weird: he showed us how he could contort his hands behind his back, and came up close to show us a picture of him with his Indian ex-girlfriend. Despite the fact he seemed essentially harmless, we were already spooked, and wandered off abruptly vowing to never wander through dark foreign parks at night again.
But, with our postcards written, we’re leaving the sex workers and spliffs behind. 6 hours on the Douche-Barn should be fun (sarcasm); our food supplies consist only of a quarter of a French baguette each, Nutella, orange TicTacs, half a pack of chewing gum and half a packet of plain crisps. We’ve had no breakfast so this is basically a highly nutritious brunch.
Onwards to Berlin!
A slightly hungry Jen