Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The first thing I, or anyone else for that matter, would notice about Amsterdam is the abundance of bicycles. I found myself in people’s way almost immediately; looking like a tourist with my luggage and walking straight down the bike path. Yes, I was that girl. It was a bit unnerving at times to know where and when to walk. If a bike wasn’t about to hit you a tram or car would, or even a walker. The streets were always full.

Because Amsterdam is basically a swamp, everything is built on canals and everything (at one time) was treated as though a flood could happen at any moment. The houses lean forward and there are hooks at the top. People only utilized mainly the upper floors of their homes; at least this is where anything of value would go (food, furniture, etc). The ground floor was avoided, as this would be the first to be destroyed in the event of a flood. The hooks would hoist anything heavy from the outside of the house to the upper floors, and the leaning of the buildings would allow the object being lifted some room to swing around without hitting the house.

The Anne Frank house is also in Amsterdam and while it did cost money to get in (as well as waiting in line for a while) it was definitely worth it. Visitors get the chance to walk right through the business, behind the bookcase, and up the stairs to the attic that the Frank’s were hiding in. The pictures that Anne put up in her room, to make it more exciting, are still up. The growth chart on the wall from Anne and her sister is also still there. Even the original diary of Anne Frank is on display. The attic, while there is no furniture in there, remains mainly untouched. It’s quite remarkable.

The streets of Amsterdam are nothing short of surprising. One minute you are walking next to a “live sex” theatre and the next a wonderful flower market. The coffee shops are basically everywhere, and with that, the smell of cannabis. Let’s not forget naked people riding bikes (actually, we aren’t so sure about this one. Walking the street during the day and they just sort of came out of nowhere).

Our hostel, The Flying Pig (uptown), was cozy. Somehow every set of stairs in Amsterdam seemed more like a ladder, and our hostel was no exception. The walls in one of the hallways were covered with art and notes from past visitors. 

 One of our guides described Amsterdam as being sort of about free will and relaxation. That it's a sort of "do what you want to" kind of place. I have to agree.
This was the last stop on my trip, and I couldn't have been more sad. I could have stayed over there traveling forever, I didn't want it to end. This trip was such a success.
A re-cap to come soon...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Alnwick Castle & the Scottish Borders

This tour is one that I was looking forward to for quite some time, mostly because we were going to get to see “the Harry Potter” castle. I haven’t even read all of the books or even come close to seeing all of the movies, but I had seen pictures of the Alnwick (pronounced An-ick) Castle and thought that it was beautiful. Before that stop happened on our tour we made a few more.
First, the lovely and historically captivating Rosslyn Chapel (recently made more famous from The DaVinci Code). While the outside of the chapel was beautiful, it was the inside that was worth seeing (and, of course, a area where cameras weren’t allowed). The chapel itself was quite a bit smaller than I had imagined but it didn’t disappoint; the detail on interior was incredible. Rosslyn Chapel had been locked up for some 200 years and fell into a state of disrepair. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that it had began on its way of being repaired. In the 1900’s someone thought it would be a good idea to put a sort of concrete molding over the original sandstone carvings creating some sort of shell/shield. When that happened the wonderful colors of the sandstone were covered and some of the carvings ruined. Someone like myself would have never noticed that the building had been through so much. I can’t even begin to imagine what it looked like in its prime.

Second stop was Melrose Abbey, the remains of a 15th century church. This too, even in it’s broken down state, was remarkably beautiful. There were stairs to climb to look out over the whole abbey. 

Third was an unplanned detour to Scott’s View (some 300ft up overlooking the Scottish countryside).

Alnwick Castle was the next stop. Being given 2 hours seemed like enough time, but we used every second of it and skipped the gardens. Because this is still a working/lived in castle, it remained in great condition. We were allowed to see the inside, where the Duke of Northumberland lives (only a few months out of the year), and it was so odd because it was if they literally had just pushed the furniture aside, put up ropes, and opened up the living room, dining room, library and hallway to the public. There were even family pictures everywhere! Of course, this too was a “no photography” zone. The rooms were even more immaculate than those of the Dublin Castle. After we closed our gaping mouths and headed back outside we walked over to where the tail end of a Harry Potter themed flying lesson was taking place. We didn’t do the lesson, but managed to get our hands on some brooms and jump around like idiots. Alnwick Castle even had a haunted dungeon and so many more activities. Definitely an “all day” place.

On our way home we made a few random stops…
A tidal island, where I was more focused on how beautiful the sky was.
The border of Scotland & England.
And the coast of Scotland, along the North Sea.

This rock was put here from a volcano in Edinburgh (25 miles away). Although you can't totally tell, this rock is HUGE.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The trip to Ireland was fun but quick. Not having enough time anywhere seems to be a problem as there just simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Dublin was busy, fun, and expensive- not totally what I was expecting. Ireland offered many activities and unfortunately we had limited time to choose our activities.
Taking the “hop on hop off” tour bus was a great option for us in Dublin. It offered opportunities for us to see as much as possible while being able to extensively visit areas of our choice (as well as get a quick history lesson along the way). We got to hear the explanation of the well-known Georgian style houses and their famous colored and architectural beautiful doors.

We also got to see the Dublin Castle. A couple of us decided to pay the small fee to go inside; I wasn’t disappointed. The rooms were so immaculate! We got to see parts of the original castle walls and the only entrance through those walls that they had many years ago (not pictured).

A Guinness tour was also on our to-do list. I would recommend this place to almost anyone. Everything from the design of the building to the way in which they presented all of the information was beautifully designed. And of course, a “free” pint of Guinness with a view overlooking Dublin is always a plus (free with entry fee).

A few of us also did the tour of the Kilmainham Gaol (jail) as well. The tour was short but really very interesting, even shocking at times.

We didn’t do a pub crawl in Dublin. Our hostel was located right in the Temple Bar area, a perfect place to experience the Dublin night life on our own.

After Dublin was our trip to Galway, Ireland! This was especially short as well. We did a day trip that consisted of climbing a hill to get a good look at the Irish countryside and then seeing The Cliffs of Moher. I was really excited about the Cliffs of Moher and while the pictures might be somewhat enjoyable the only way to truly understand the presence of these cliffs is to actually be there. If I haven’t given you enough reasons to take a Scotland/Ireland trip you can add this one to your list.

I really would have liked one more day in Galway, it’s so completely different from Dublin. A little less busy, but still has the great shops and nightlife.

Wales was an even quicker trip. More just like a drive back to Scotland from Ireland with some stops along the way….
Yes...that is the name of the town.