Sunday, May 27, 2007

Czech It Out - Prague and Cesky Krumlov

The drive to Prague was fairly unexciting. We picked some people up in Dresden, including Mel, who apparently hated her time there, so I was quite happy with my drive-by tour of the once distroyed town.

Crossing the Czech/German border was also fun - two big, uniformed men taking all the non-EU passports off the bus to stamp them with German and Czech stamps. And yet again, I went sans-stamp at a border!

I was convinced by Mel and Dave to sign up for the pub crawl and walking tour of Prague, so when we got to the hostel, despite my extreme sleep deprivation, we all got ready for a night on the town. It was a pretty dodgy pub crawl, but there were a few highlights - drinking bad Czech beer in a park with a view across the city, the Beer Factory near Wenceslas Square (beer taps on the tables!), and a crazy pub where each room was joined to the next by a series of tunnels. We also had shots of absinth, which is pretty overrated if you ask me!

[view from the park where we started the pubcrawl]

[Mel with random English guy whose name I've forgotten, doing Vogue.]

[everybody say "cheap Czech beer and Absinth!"]

On Saturday, we headed back to Wenceslas Square for our walking tour. The guide - a local boy with an obvious disdain for the Czech president - was a lot of fun, pointing out some pretty funny little pieces of trivia. The Museum of Communisum above a MDonalds, the Renaissance-topped baroque-style church at the Prague Castle and the unusual relationship between touching a plaque of a priest being thrown off the Charles Bridge and supposedly having good luck were highlights. It was also really interesting to see the different styles of architecture which - because of Prague's relative safety during WWII - was like a living history book of European architecture.

[Wenceslas, of Wenceslas Square...]

[memorial to two students who burned themselves alive, protesting against Communism]

[the amazing Astronomical Clock in Prague's Old City]

[The Jewish Cemetary. Because of restrictions on where Jews could be buried, they ended up burying people on top of each other - the result being this 10ft high cemetary in Prague's Jewish Quarter]

[the Charles Bridge]

[Cathedral at the Prague Castle]

[view from the castle]

During the tour, we stopped for lunch at a "traditional Czech pub." I had fried mushrooms, which were literally deep fried mushrooms. A bunch of us went out for dinner that night, so I had a salad to appease my poor arteries.

I was in bed by 11:30, and so excited at the prospect of a good night's sleep!

I went for a jog in the morning, and realised just what a seedy area we were staying in!

After breakfast, 14 of us went off in our own little mini-tour group to visit the Ossuary - a church 75km out of town (in Kutna Hora), filled with the bones of 40,000 skeletons! The weirdest thing was the chandelier consisting of at least one of each bone in the human body. Weird, weird, weird!

We had a much easier train ride back into the city, but having had a long trip out there and a lovely, long, relaxing lunch in Kutna Hora, the afternoon of wandering around Prague that I'd hoped for was not to be. I returned to the hostel for a backpacker's dinner of soup and fruit, and, after getting my backpack sorted out for the next days' trip to Cesky Krumlov, had an early, quiet night.

Cesky really is a very sweet little town. Our Big Blue Bus rolled in at around midday, and we all trudged a good few hundred metres (grudgingly and somewhat unknowingly) to Hostel 99. After checking in and getting settled - Dave and I in an 8 or so bed dorm in the loft - Me, Dave and I went to explore.

Cesky is a town of around 15,000 people in southern Czech Republic. It is a gorgeous old place surrounded by hills, and a quiet river winds its way through the terracotta-roofed houses. The main focal point is the castle, which towers over everything, perched upon a hill, but also draws attention due to its elaborate paint job.

The three of us walked along the cobbled streets for a couple of hours, popping into various jewellery and souvenir/trinket shops along the way. As we were approaching the castle, we ran into Lauren, another Melbournian, who joined our little tour group.

There are bears in an enclosure next to the castle. Bears! I'm sure there's some fantastic story as to why they're there, but it was certainly a little bit of a shock when we saw them - but certainly helped explain the numerous "Don't Climb the Fence" signs.

After wandering around the castle and its beautiful gardens (which contain an outdoor theatre!), we ambled on back to the hostel and actually ended up watching "The Big Lebowski." Quite random.

[The theatre in the castle gardens. Very cool.]

We later popped next door to the adjoining restaurant for cheap Czech food and beer. I'm not entirely sure what my beer was (shrug, smile sheepishly, point to beer taps and say "what's good?" to barmaid), but it was very good, and great at only Ck22 ($AUD1.30) for a pint.

After dinner, a few of us went into town again to take some photos of the castle by night - and to stalk the bears a little. Then it was off to bed with plans for meeting at 10am for a horse ride through the countryside. Cesky Krumlov certainly is a cruisy town!

Keeping up my promise to myself to run in every city I stop in on Busabout, I went for a jog early on Tuesday, and I must say the cobblestones in Cesky were tougher to negotiate than in Bruges! But it was a lovely run - exploring a few areas we hadn't come across the previous day.

By the time we were all organised, a group of six of us weren't on our way to the horse riding stables until 11am, but it wasn't a problem. Though a few of us had wanted to go off on our own (I decided that because I wasn't exactly a "beginner," I would promote myself to the "advanced" group), we all ended up going ona long, beautiful, but slow trail ride. The countryside was gorgeous, and it was nice just to have a change of scenery!

For the rest of the afternoon, I hung around the hostel, wandered around the town and just genearlly relaxed. Again, Cesky is such a cruisy town!

That night, a bunch of us went looking for somewhere to have dinner, but after the third or fourth too-pricey or somehow inappropriate restaurant, three of us - Lauren, Karina (OT from Cairns) and I - returned to the restaurant next door to the hotel. I had a veggie burrito - not the best I've had, but a darn good change to a cuppa soup!

Once I'd returned to the hostel and had a nice chat to some other backpackers - including "Grandma and Grandpa," a NZ couple in their 70s travelling on Busabout - I was off to bed, to dig around in the dark for my toothbrush and PJs. God bless hostel living!

Wednesday morning was spent desperately trying to spend our Czech money. The weirdest thing happened when I returned from my grocery shop. Everyone says you always meet random people from your past while travelling, and lo and behold - Vicky, Jeremy and Phil from Deakin High were at a table talking to Mel and Dave. Very, very strange. They are apparently travelling together fora couple of months having just finished uni. I said goodbye to them and went off with Dave in yet another attempt to get rid of some Cks (especially the damn half crown!) before boarding the bus to Vienna.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


When I arrived in Berlin, I headed straight for yet another pay phone - but this time with the intention of calling Frederick. Apparently I'd just missed him, and as Mr & Mrs Bamberg didn't seem to know who I was (and I didn't want to invite myself over as such), I just said I'd call in the morning, and went and checked into the City Stay hostel in Mitte - right near the famous Fernsehturm (TV tower) in East Berlin. I also signed up for the pubcrawl, and am actually really glad I ended up staying in the city. Though some of the pubs were fairly unexceptional, some were a little more historic (one with an East German car from the 70s in the front window), and it was a fun night filled with German beer, Jaegermeister and a fair bit of dancing.

[everybody say "Jaegermeister"]

After a fun evening, I'm grateful for two things - the TV tower which acted as a beacon, shining the light on my direction home, and the huge amount of water I drank before going to bed.

Though I woke up early the next morning, I woke up only a little dopey with no hangover - it could only be a good day! First things first - to call Mum. And, lo and behonld, she was there! Though she hung up on me the first time ("I thought it was India calling"), I was finally able to wish her a happy belated Mother's Day!

I woke up my Canadian dorm-mates Jesse and Andrew, and though they only had a few minutes to get ready, were hurrying down Unter den Linden with me on the way to the Free Berlin tour. Apparently there are free tours in many cities in Europe - something I'm looking forward to taking advantage of. Our tour guide was fantastic, and we saw so much in the four-and-a-half hour tour: The Brandenburger Tor, a line in the road where the Berlin Wall used to stand, the amazing memorial to the victims of the holocaust, the site of Hitler's bunker (as the tour guide pointed out, now a car park and small section of grass perfect for big piles of dog poo), Checkopint Charlie, past an old section of the wall and the Topography of Terror (the foundations of an old SS building), the Bebelplatz (where the first Nazi book burning took place in 1933), to a monument to victims of war (very, very moving), and finally to Museum Island - Berliners certainly love their museums. She told us so many historical facts and pointed out some great random bits and pieces. I hadn't noticed them until she pointed out the bullet holes in "The Big Dish" at the front of the New Museum. I also lvoed the story of the removal of all crosses from churches in Berlin, only to have the TV Tower built which, due to the shiney sphere at its top, looks like a big cross on a sunny day.

[where the Wall used to stand]

[Holocaust Memorial]

[Hitler's Bunker]

[the Wall at the Topography of Terror]


This was but a prelude. Where books are burnt, human beings will be burnt in the end.
- Heinrich Hein

[Memorial for those killed in war]

[Museum Island and TV Tower]

[bullet holes in "the Big Bowl"]

I'd managed to get in touch with Frederick, so got my backpack and, as per his instructions, took the S-Bahn to Rathaus Steglitz. He met me at the train station - it was so good to see a familiar face, even if his months scuba diving in WA have given him blond hair! We took the bus back to his flat - where he has lived since he was two - and I briefly met his mum. She apologised for not speaking English, I apologised for not speaking German, and Frederick interperated. After a dinner of fantastic German bread ("not like that white, fluffy stuff in Australia") and Swiss cheese, Frederick and I headed back into town to meet his brother at a pub in the trendy, turkish-oriented part of town - once wedged in a corner of West Berlin.

Simon (pronounced much more softly than I would in Australia - one of few less harsh-sounding names, as pointed out by Frederick) and his mates are apparently very big fans of, and quite good at table soccer ("fooseball" sounds too similar to the German word for soccer - "fussball"). They were very good and very competitive with other players on the two tables in one of many small, cosy pubs in the area (the "White Dove"). Unfortunately, I was literally falling asleep (quite embarrassing, actually), so after a couple of beers, Frederick and I headed home through the rain.

Before I go further, I have to comment on how cool Berlin is. Not only are there dedicated bike paths all over the city, bikes are allowed on trains! And though the sight of people walking around with open beers everywhere, and dogs on public transport at first kind of surprised me, I now just add it to the reasons Berlin is such a great city. And Germany - simply for how it does breakfast - is quickly becoming one of my favourite countries.

Frederick and I had more great bread, cheese and jams with green tea for breakfast, while the sheep at the nearby high school bleated. This led to a conversation about the intricacies of German schooling - how at 12 you're put into a ranked high school, and how most people don't graduate 'til they're 19 (or sometimes 21, 21!). When we were heading out the door, Frederick looked at me in my thongs and said "it's okay to wear socks with your sandals in Germany, you know." Too funny (and NOT A CHANCE!). Though I regretted my lack of shoes later in the day, I had well and truely run out of socks, so didn't really have an option.

We took the train (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, I'm not really sure) to the Deutsches Historiches Museum, back on Unter den Linden. On the way, Frederick told me how three stations on the line we were on used to be part of East Berlin, so while the wall was up, the stations were unused, and after 30 years had to be cleaned festidiously and are back in use again, as if nothing happened. He also pointed out a great anti-nuclear protest on a block of flats.

The museum was really informative and managed to solidify many things in my mind. My knowledge of German and European history is slowly improving.I stuck to the twentieth century stuff, while Frederick ventured further inside the mammoth museum. Once we were filled with history to our eyeballs, we went to just near Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station for the biggest falafel pita I've ever seen. It was quite funny - as we were eating, Frederick pointed out that he'd ordered in English, but was confused when the guy at the counter had responded in English. Frederick had thought he was speaking German. I guess that's what 18 months in Australia will do to you.

We then went our separate ways - he headed home, and I went to do some more sightseeing. I returned to a couple of the places we'd passed the previous day, wanting to get a closer look and take some photos. I also returned to the place we'd had lunch on the tour so that I could abuse their free internet.

[Checkpoint Charlie]

The Topography of Terror was very interesting - there was some information on the Nuremberg Trials, as well as the remains of the Gestapo buildings. The site itself had had a colourful history of late, also - due to funding problems, a proper museum had been in the pipeline for years!

Under the Holocaust Memorial is a museum, which is - like the memorial above it - very moving, and a very important place for tourists to Berlin to visit. Again, it was very educational and - with excerpts from letters and journals of victims - very moving.

I walked past the Brandenburg Gate again and was going to climb to the top of the Reichstag, but was deterred by the long line of tourists. All I could think while looking at it was "and we thought the Parliament House in Canberra was funny looking!"

[Brandenburg Gate]


I took bus 100 past the Siegessaule with its prematurely-placed fourth tier, celebrating Hitler's victory in the second world war, and got off the bus near Zoo station and stopped to admire the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche - a war-torn church left unrepaired as a memorial. I mentioned later to Frederick that I was surprised how clean the breaks were on the roof, and he quite rightly pointed out that if you're going to leave a broken roof for sixty years, you're going to make sure there are no loose pieces!

[The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche]

From Zoo Station (and their obsession with the local "icebear" Knut) I accidentally took the wrong sort of train and ended up south of Rathaus Steglitz. Who knew - as well as the S-Bahn and U-Bahn there is a D-Bahn!I eventually made it back to the Bambergs' just in time to see Felix's (the eldest) wife Alina in a short film being shown on local TV. Next stop, Hollywood!

Frederick, Simon and I ended the evening by watching "Stranger Than Fiction." I was pleasantly surprised.

When I walked into the kitchen on Wednesday morning, Mrs Bamberg jokingly exclaimed "Summer!" I quickly went and got changed into something warmer.

After yet another fantastic breakfast on the balcony (where Frederick and Simon slipped in and out of English as I entered and exited the room), I was off on the train again, headed for Oranienburg and the nearby concentration camp - Sachsenhausen. Like at the Anne Frank House, I couldn't help thinking how surprisingly large the area was. Then, of course, I realised that though there looked to be acres of open space, there were actually rock slabs every few metres representing distroyed barracks.

[the prison building at Sachsenhausen]

The history behind the camp was, I guess like any concentration camp, pretty horrific. It was built in 1936, in the shadows of the Olympic Games. It was one of the first, and used as a model for later concentration camps. The Oranienburg camp, long since distroyed, was used between 1933 and 1934 to house political prisoners - enabling Hitler to gain more and more power.

[memorial for those killed at Sachsenhausen]

[memorial, behind shooting pit and mortuary]

The most horrific sight was, of course, the gas chamber. There was also a room where prisoners were taken and a sniper shot them in the back of the head. Gutless. Horrible.

[gas chamber/cremetorium]

I took a long, pensive train ride out of East Germany back into Berlin and was at the Bambergs' just in time for dinner. I love home cooking!

At around 9pm, Simon, Frederick and I headed back into town to meet Felix for a "quiet beer." Though the weather was miserable and Frederick was suffering from a cold, it was a really nice, and unexpectedly long night. The pub we were at was a cute little hole-in-the-wall with only low lighting and dark reddy-brown walls. As the following day was a public holiday, it was still very busy when Frederick and I left at about 1:30, but he assures me that on any given night, it could be just as busy. Germans and their beer, hey?

It took quite a while to get home and I was finally - and thankfully - in bed by 3am.

I joined the Bambergs for breakfast in my pyjamas as most of my clothes were being washed and it was a better alternative to the running clothes I'd first emerged wearing (I decided I'd best run later).

Horst - Mr Bamberg - told a great story over breakfast about the local fete (which Frederick and I would be attending that evening) and how he won a prize for a very excited 8-year-old Simon.

After washing up I showered, dressed, caught up on my diary and once I was sure my food was not sitting right in my stomach, went for a long-awaited jog. It was such a pretty route - just near Frederick's house is a canal and many people were running, riding and walking along its shadowy path.

I spent the afternoon sorting out my back pack (clean clothes - so exciting), reading up a little on Prague, and then helping Frederick make dinner. After dinner we went to the fete, which was far more impressive than any old school fair. He had a go at one of those tin-knocking games, I tried some ball-hurling target game, and we both went on "The Octopus." Me being me, I'm embarrassed to say I was actually a little scared at times!

[Frederick and I on "The Octopus"]

We watched a documentary on the German football team before bed. A football documentary would've been an effort to sit through - the fact that it was in German kept me on my toes.

Frederick saw me off at the bus stop - despite my objections that he shouldn't be up so early on my account. I got back to the City Stay at 7:30 - winging it at one stage and miraculously finding myself on the right train! I was surprised to see Dave there - turned out he hadn't been able to get on the previous bus out of Berlin. Busabout is far less flexible than they claim!

Next up: the Czech Republic - Prague and Cesky Krumlov...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ooh La La - Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam.

On first impression, I must say that I actually found French people very friendly. On the bus from the airport, three people went out of their way to try to explain to me (in sign language) how to get to my hostel. Once I arrived, my bags had hardly touched the ground and I was off to the laundromat. Clean clothes - at last!
While my clothes merrily tumbled around in suds, I went to get some dinner. I ended up in the Artisans cafe, where the waitress looked puzzled when I just asked for a plate of vegetables. Little did she know my diet of late had consisted of little more than bread! The veggies were fantastic, but the glass of red wine I had spent almost half my dinner-money on was mightily disappointing. It was served cold. Cold!?
Once my lovely clean clothes were packed away (and shortly following the announcement of the new French president), I walked to the Eiffel Tower. I actually felt myself jump a little when I first saw it. And then the lights started sparkling all over it - just beautiful.

The next morning I returned to see it by day. Still very pretty, but I was able to appreciate the intricacies a little more in daylight.

[spot the tourist]
I then continued on a bit of a walking tour of Paris. I didn't go in anywhere (as I figure I'll be back in Paris in the next few months), but saw a huge number of Parisian landmarks: the Arc de Triomphe, the Concord, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Pantheon and I tried to go to the ninth floor of the Institute du Monde Arabe (as per EasyJet's recommendation for a good view), but the restaurant was apparently closed... or they'd had so much unwanted attention from tourists, they were just saying that.

Then, following my fabulously overrated sense of direction, I got a little lost on my way back to the hostel, but quite enjoyed myself - discovering parts of Paris a little bit off the tourist trail.

When I returned to "Aloha," I sat and chatted to some fellow backpackers for a number of hours. They were enjoying the cheap local alcohol, but I had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day to hop on the Busabout bus. After my shower on Tuesday morning (which, unlike the previous day, I gave a few minutes to heat up - beginner's mistake), I caught the Metro to Anvers station. I really like the Paris metro - once you've got your head around it, it's pretty straight forward.
I met a few people at the Pick-Up-Point - all from Australia - and then forty or so of us boarded the bus to Bruges. I sat next to a guy from Melbourne named Greg who's been working in Liverpool for a few months. This seems to be a common theme amongst Busabouters!
Arriving in Bruges, we all settled into the "Snuffel" - the worst-organised hostel I've stayed at. I was supposed to stay there four nights (turns out accommodation in Amsterdam's almost impossible to get at weekends), and was supposed to change rooms for each night! Very strange.
After sorting out my Amsterdam situation (I think I'll be booking everything well in advance from now on), I grouped up with a few people, and went to see the sights. It took about twenty minutes. No, there's quite a lot to do in Bruges, but having seen the very quaint main square (the Markt), it started to get pretty chilly. After a lunch of chips and mayonnaise ("frietsaus" - when in Rome), we headed to the local Irish pub (of course). It was actually pretty cool - through the table, we could see into the basement, where there was an old ruin from 950AD that they'd discovered when building the pub.
After a mini pub-crawl to a hole-in-the-wall that was seemingly only visited by locals, we went back to the hostel in order to participate in the free tour they were putting on. The tour was led by a very hippy-looking local named Ziggy. Even though it was freezing cold, it was a very enjoyable and informative walk around Bruges.

Happy Hour started at Snuffel at 9pm, but after only a few hours in the company of my new friends, this little Happy Camper was buggered, so toddled off to my giant room to attempt to make my bed in the dark.
Even though it was miserable-looking on Wednesday morning, I got up early to go for a jog and am really glad I did. Even though my 20-minute jog turned into a 40-minute Where Am I? it was quite nice to get lost along the cobbled streets and canals, even in the wind and rain.
After traipsing through the bar/kitchen/common room to have my shower (I'm really not a huge fan of Snuffel), I went up to the grocery store and got a few days worth of veggies. After a ridiculous breakfast of bright pink, very fatty strawberry yoghurt, muesli and possibly the tastiest strawberries I've ever eaten, I met up with Lou and Mel (who - the poor thing - had just had her credit card eaten by an ATM!) and I went back to the Markt to have another look around. They were having a bit of a farmer's market - it was gorgeous, especially the cheese stalls, which I had to drag myself away from...

[the Markt]

We went to the Chocolate Museum, but realised that the 5 euro entry fee would be better spent on a big bar of chocolate, so instead we walked around the shops and chocolatiers for a while before returning to the good old Disco Duck for lunch. Lou had to be back at Snuffel at 2 to check out (No Room at the Inn), so Mel and I went with him and, because of the hideous weather, didn't leave for a number of hours. She played checkers with Cass (a costume designer from Albury) while I tried to absorb some of my Lonely Planet, and figure out my next few weeks' movements.

[the Disco Duck - traditional (bad) Belgium food]

Eventually we went and bought some bits and pieces for dinner, and while at the supermarket I saw the coolest product ever - thin pieces of chocolate specially designed for eating with bread. Genius!

After dinner, we settled in for a night of checkers, chatting, sangria and cards. I learned how to play Rummy (I was taught, somewhat Ironically, by a Canadian basketballer named Remy), and I've got to say, it's a stupid - and addictive - game. At around 1am, Mel, Dave (again, from Melbourne) and Remy convinced Stewart, our Busabout guide to go to Bruges one and only discotheque. Poor Stew may never live it down - he will forever be known as Disco Stew.

On Thursday morning, Greg and I decided to hell with it - we were going to Amsterdam. We were both, I think, just looking to avoid another confrontation with the woman at Snuffel whom he had dubbed "Nanna." Even though neither of us had accommodation booked, we signed up for the last couple of seats on the 1pm bus to Amsterdam. This meant, though, that all the sightseeing I'd been putting off doing due to bad weather had to be done by noon!

[Bruges: cobbled streets, bicycles and crazy architecture]

Mel and I went with a New Zealand girl named Michelle, who was travelling with her mum, to see Michelangelo's Madonna With Child, though Mel kept referring to it as "Madonna's Kid." It was pretty funny - while we were in the church, the four of us weren't a very Christian bunch, so Mel had to ask the man at the door: "Madonna is Mary, right?" Bloody tourists.

["Madonna's Kid"]

After meeting the others at the Disco Duck (now a Bruges institution), we went back to the hostel to make some lunch and pack up our last few bits and pieces. I now had a whole lot of vegetables and no fridge! Luckily, it's been very cold, so they've lasted quite well.

["on the road again..." Remy, Dave, Greg and Mel.]

The bus was delayed out of Paris, so we didn't leave Bruges til almost 3pm, which meant arriving in Amsterdam just before 7pm.

Arriving at the StayOkay Vondel Park, we all looked like drowned rats, but this lucky bugger, who'd planned to sleep on the floor if she had to, hit a spot of very good luck. Mel had - somehow, unbeknownst to anyone - accidentally booked two beds!

Once we'd settled in, she and I went to meet the others at a coffeeshop as recommended to us by Dave who, even though he'd only been to Amsterdam once before for a total of four days, seemingly knew the place inside out and back to front. "The Rockery" was a strange place - like a badly lit cafe with a strange smell wafting through the air, all to the beat of some hippy, slow electronic music. And it was in such a strange location - along the Epcot Row of restaurants: everything from Indonesian and Greek to steakhouses and Indian.

After an hour or so at the Rockery, where I chatted to an American named Nick who'd just spent four months at a remote Indian village and was so jetlagged and culture shocked he probably didn't need to purchase anything from any coffeeshops, a few of us headed to the Red Light District. Again, Dave led the way, and I'm still impressed by his memory!

It's such a strange, seedy place, and though I'm not sure what I expected, it definitely wasn't what I'd expected. For one thing, the girls were all at ground level, in identical little booths, standing right next to the glass. It was as if they were part of a living, breathing catalogue. And I was so surprised that most of them were actually quite stunning. But it was pretty sad, really, seeing the look on some of their faces. Some clearly didn't want to be there.

We stopped by a pizza slicery at one point and bought a slice of very bad pizza each. Big mistake on my part. I'd added extra chili to make it taste a little better, and randomly, a big spot of rain hit my pizza and projected a chili flake right into my left eye. I've not been in that much pain for quite some time! Mel, the lifesaver, ran across the street for a bottle of water, and I proceeded to pour water into my eye (and down my shirt) fora good few minutes. When we went to the "Bulldog" (a coffeeshop chain), I popped to the ladies' and discovered that I looked both high as a kite (thanks to an extremely red eye), and, due to non-waterproof mascara, a missing member of Kiss!

[some of the produce available in Amsterdam]

On our way back to the main square near our hostel (the Leidsplein), we caved and took a tram because were were so cold and wet. When we got to the Leidsplein, however, Dave decided he was hungry and took us halfway back to the Red Light District in search of some food. We finished our evening, in the end, at Burger King.

Friday morning I had breakfast with Remy while Mel slept. With some strange looks from the kitchen staff, I retrieved my bag of vegetables from their fridge and made sandwiches for lunch. Cutting carrots with a butter knife was interesting!

Remy, Mel and I waited for Cass for 45 minutes before deciding she wasn't going to meet us as we'd arranged, so we headed for the Anne Frank House without her. We ran into Greg and Dave on the way. It turned out that Greg hadn't met us the night before because he'd spent two hours walking around lost in the Vondel Park. Apparently, when he finally caved and, soaking wet, got into a cab, the driver told him "you should probably buy an umbrella."

Following Mel's sense of direction rather than a map proved almost successful in getting to the Anne Frankhuis, but we caved and pulled out a map when we said goodbye to Dave and Greg at a coffeeshop somewhere near Centraal Station.

The line at the Anne Frank House was a little intimidating, but after seeing Laura and Jed, a Melbourne couple who'd just spent three months working in London, they told us that it'd be a 45 minute wait. We figured that, despite the rain, we'd come all that way so we may as well brave it. In the end, it only took 20 minutes in which time Cass actually turned up!

["singin' in the rain..." Mel and Remy brave the cold.]

The Anne Frank House is a great museum - very sad, with lots of poignant quotes on the walls and excerpts from her diary. I thought it was very well done and look forward to reading the book. The one thing we all agreed on was that we'd thought the house would have been smaller. From what we'd all remembered, we thought she'd lived in an attic - not numerous rooms in the annex of a building. But having thought about it, remaining inside day in day out for many years would make even the largest of houses feel cramped.

The four of us stopped off at a mall for lunch - Remy and I having to walk around eating our sandwiches thanks to a prissy waiter at the cafe we'd sat at. But I was just so happy to be out of the rain and wind!

We went back to the Bulldog to meet Greg, Dave, Laura and Jed, and after a few minutes of being glared at by a grumpy waitress for not ordering drinks, Laura, Jed and I headed back towards the Red Light District. They went to see the girls, and I went to find the World Press Photography exhibit. I'd read that it was going to be in Amsterdam around the same time as I was, and was so excited to find it. I don't think it was as good as last year's, but there were still some stunning photos - the National Geographic photographer's work was amazing.

[the canals are so pretty!]

WhenI got back to the hosetl, Mel was there and we headed back to the Rockery (an easy meeting place) to meet Greg, Dave and Remy for dinner. Remy didn't show, and Greg had a lot of trouble trying to decide what type of food he wanted (so many choices!), but we ended up going to a steakhouse. Mmm, salad!

For the third time that day, we ran into Jed and Laura, who agreed to meet up with us later for another tour of the Red Light District. This time, Dave took us up and down every nook and cranny, which led to some interesting conversations abotu window real estate. I think Laura should perhaps quit her job as a teacher and take up property work!

We saw Lou at one stage, who insisted it was his first time in the Red Light District, but we weren't so sure... We also saw - for the first time - men going into some of the girls' rooms. It was so odd. There was also a group of English men mouthing off about a large girl, saying things about her paying them. Laura quite rightfully said "isn't it funny that these guys think they can be picky?"

There was also a very funny man outside the "Moulin Rough," touting for customers. He started trying to sell his shows to the girls - too funny.

We went back to the hostel, agreed to meet Greg at 9 the next morning, and - after chatting to Shane and Rachel (a NZ couple on their honeymoon, whose names I remembered by thinking "Shane and Angel... no, Rachel!") for a while, were off to sleep.

It turned out the Van Gogh Museum wasn't opening 'til 10am, so Mel and I met Greg and took him back to our hostel for breakfast. After killing some time on, trying to get ourselves sorted out (and my trying to get in touch with an internet-less Frecerick in Berlin), we went to the museum.

[Mel and Greg getting some culture]

It was a great museum. One level was dedicated almost purely to Van Gogh, showing his work in more or less chronological order, and the floor above was filled with works by his friends and collegues - a few portraits of Van Gogh, and works done at the same studio, etc. There was also an exhibit on Max Beckmann - a German artist who fled to Amsterdam in '37 due to artistic persecution. He was a little Picasso-esque, but to be honest, I was getting a little tired so only wizzed by a lot of his paintings.

Mel and Greg had left me at the museum - they were going to the old Heineken brewery, but having done the Carlton tour in Melbourne, I wasn't so enthusiastic. Instead, I went back to the hostel and made my lunch - the veggies had kept quite well on the window sill. And thank God for good old Swiss Army Knives!

I spent the next few hours just enjoying being out of the chilly wather, reading and trying to figure out my plans for the next few weeks. [After the Bruges near-disaster, I want to keep my Busabout bookings at least a few days in advance.] At one point, Shane and Rachel had a bit of a scare - he'd lost his day bag, which contained his passport! It was quite a tense little hostel room for a good while there, but it turned out fine - the Amsterdam Police had called his family in New Zealand to tell them his passport had been turned in. That's certainly one advantage of travelling alone - you keep track of all of your own belongings AT ALL TIMES!

Sunday started early - I tried to call Mum at home to wish her a happy Mother's Day, and after a 10-minute chat with Dad found otu she was in Queensland visiting Nan and Da! When I called there, no one answered, so I went to have breakfast and figured I would jsut call from the first rest stop on the way to Berlin. But there turned out to be no payphones! Just before arriving at the second rest stop, Nicole, our new guide, reminded everyone on the bus to call their mums, due to my having asked her about payphones at the previous rest stop. This meant the three payphones were very busy, but I eventually got to call Mum in Queensland, but again - no answer! By the time we'd reached the thirld rest stop (by which time we were in Germany), it was early Monday morning in Australia. Bugger!

To Be Continued... Berlin & Prague.