19 January 2007

Tulips, Red Lights, and Wooden Shoes

I arrived in Amsterdam before the sun, and traveled from the station to my hostel with the city darkened under the night sky. From the tram I could only see lights blurring off into the distance and the occasional glow of street lights reflected from the canals we rode over. These impaired views grew my curiosity, and tested my patience as I knew I would have to wait on the sun to rise to fully appreciate the city’s watery vistas.

Amsterdam sits at the eastern base of a peninsula of the Netherlands, and fronts a large bay from the sea, called the Ijeelsmeer. A large shipping canal connects the city with the North Sea This city is the political and cultural capital of the Netherlands. The five main canals were designed as concentric half circles in the city center, the other imaginary half of the circles would lie in the bay. Like spokes on a wheel, smaller canals radiate toward the center half circle. Most of the canals have a one-way street on both sides, although often it’s more of a lane for residents to park their car. This set up creates an initially confusing environment for visitors. Without landmarks, the next canal begins to look like the last one. In at least one case with me it really was the last one. The only natural body of water in the city other than the bay is the Amstel River. The city grew up around a dam on the river, hence the name, Amsterdam. The modern city spreads out to the West and South of the historic center, and one finds fewer canals in the new neighborhoods. However, one mustn’t journey far before reaching the countryside.

The countries golden age lasted primarily during the 1600s, after the end of a long war fought for sovereignty from Spain. With independence, the Dutch were able to create a new republic and a large trading empire. The Dutch West and East India Trading Companies started colonies in the Carribean and in Indonesia, respectively. New York City was even founded by the Dutch; the original name was New Amsterdam. Amsterdam, as the capital, prospered from the growing wealth. Merchants and businessmen built stately mansions along the canals. Today, the country is notoriously famous for its liberalness. It is also the densest populated country in Europe, at 16 million people on 41,000 square miles.

After checking into my hostel and storing my pack I headed out to explore the city that was then beginning to wake up. My hostel is pictured below.

I soon realized I would have to wait longer for museums and stores to open, so I decided to seek refuge from the sporadic drizzles inside Café Americain, a short walk from my hostel. The café is found in the large canal-corned hotel pictured below, which was founded in 1880. The interior of the café, reportedly one of the favorites of the local café scene, displays splendid examples of Art Deco style, with stained glass lamps and wall murals. Mata Hari even held her wedding reception here. I ordered a cup of coffee but was served much more than a simple cup of joe. Along with the coffee mug on my tin platter came four sugar cubes (two natural and two bleached), two raisin-sized chocolate nougats, a shot glass of water, another of cream, and a small chocolate bar complete with the cafe’s logo. From here on I knew this establishment was a few steps above a Starbuck’s. Finally around
9 o’clock the sun appeared, and I left the café to view some fine art by Rembrandt and van Gogh, both from the Netherlands.

South of the city center lies the museum quarter, a number of the largest museums in the city surrounding a large grassy park void of any canals. I first visited the Rijksmuseum, which you see pictured at the top of the post. Unfortunately, the museum was undergoing renovations and only a limited amount of the collection was on display. However, the most famous of the paintings remained viewable to the public, such as works from Vermeer and Rimbrandt. The museum’s centerpiece is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, but I honestly didn’t recognize it. Next, I visited the
Van Gogh Museum. Here I recognized many pieces, like van Gogh’s sunflower and self-portrait paintings.

After the museum I grabbed a quick lunch at the diner pictured below. At one point the room was filled shoulder with locals placing orders. The English-speaking couple next to me told me it was a popular place. I placed an order for bitterballs, an item which I had read was typical Dutch food. The white-jacketed server brought me a plate of eight fried balls, each roughly the size of a ping-pong. My questioning look caused the woman of that couple to laugh. I asked here what they were made from and she told me I wouldn’t want to know, but to try them with mustard. The insides of the golden brown spheres were gray and had the consistency of mashed potatoes, with small pink pieces of meat mixed in. The taste was alright; nonetheless I left the dinner understanding why I had never heard of Dutch cuisine before.

From there I attempted to walk straight to the Anne Frank House, but I found many distractions along the way.

I came across the Flower Market five minutes after leaving the diner. The 200 year-old and year-round operation consists of floating barges on one of the five main canals. Unfortunately, I presume that today’s market exists more for the tourists. Alongside the stands of flowers and bulbs, merchants stocked shelves of Amsterdam souvenirs. Even I gave in and bought a thing or two. No matter the kitsch, I was still surprised to even see cut tulips for sell in January. Although I’m sure the available numbers and varieties increase in the Spring, when actual fields instead of greenhouses can produce the flowers.

One of my favorite qualities of Amsterdam is its bike friendly attitude. Europeans use bikes more often as a functional mean of transportation than Americans, but those in Amsterdam take it to extremes. Forget about looking both ways when you cross the street, the bike lanes are more hectic. Everywhere I went in Amsterdam I saw bikes locked to poles or railings; the alternative to locking it is donating it to the “public” collection. Most cities have litter problems with aluminum cans and paper products, Amsterdam’s is with bicycles. I saw many decrepit and rusting bikes still chained to street lights. To give you a visual idea of the seriousness taken towards bikes in Amsterdam, here’s a photo of the bike-only parking garage at the train station.

I continued on my way to the Anne Frank House, pausing along the way to take photos. My one regret from visiting Amsterdam is that I didn’t break out my camera enough. Most of the time I was too busy enjoying the sights while I was in the moment to think of taking pictures. However, here are some of my favorites from those I did snap.

Property owners built their homes and offices so tall and narrow due to the high taxes. In order to save room, owners even constructed stair cases very narrow and extremely steep. Rather than carrying furniture in an out on the stairs, residents use poles extruding from the gables and rope to move heavy items. A pulley at the end of the pole facilitates with the hoisting. Look at the gables of the houses to find the hoisting poles.

Eventually, I arrived at the Anne Frank House. It was in the attic of this typical canal house that Anne, her family, and a few other friends of her father hid during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. After two years, someone turned in the hideaways. The Nazis brought all to concentration camps, but only Anne’s father survived.

Anne’s famous diary has been translated into over sixty languages. In middle school I read the script for the play, and watched the movie.

The building and its corner neighbor now house a museum about the incident. A walk through the museum gives one insight into Anne’s life for those two years. The swinging bookcase that hid the entrance to the attic remains, as do the photographs that Anne pasted to the wall of the room she shared with one of her father’s friends. Her room was the size of a standard bathroom. The museum staff leaves the attic windows covered as they would have been during Anne’s stay, creating a darkened setting. As I walked on the creaking floor I realized how difficult it must have been to keep quiet during the day in order to prevent someone downstairs from hearing noise and becoming suspicious. Below is the house from the outside, it’s the one to the left of the building into where the line of people enters. Photography from the inside was forbidden.

I find it ironic that this rather nondescript canal house was the setting for a story that captivated the world’s attention.

I wandered around the city as the day faded away. Before an actual meal I snacked on what looked like a local favorite, french fries served with mayonnaise in a paper cone. The mayonnaise combination tasted surprisingly good.

A little after 10 o’clock I entered the Red Light District, a neighborhood that needs no introduction. The photo below shows the decorative red light lamps found on the borders of the District. Known as De Walletjes to the Dutch, the periphery of this quarter contains stores hawking cheap souvenirs and fast food cafes. In order to see the infamous “attractions” one must journey to the center of the quarter to an otherwise fairly average canal. Along this waterway ones finds the greatest concentration of bordellos in the district, along with peep shows, live-sex theaters, erotic museums, and adult gift shops. And of course, there are the prostitutes.

These women of the evening (actually they work during the day as well) advertise their wares and goods in canal-fronting windows illuminated by, but what else, a red light. Today the lights are fluorescent, and shine more for decorative purposes than the historical one, which was to inform passers-by that the women were available. Most of the prostitutes appear in the windows wearing only their lingerie, but others wear bikinis. A few conservative ones, if there is such a thing, wear jeans and a tight t-shirt. They appear to have free reign on how they want to present themselves; however, none expose themselves completely, although some wore rather skimpy underwear. A few women danced to music playing in their rooms, but most simply stand and smile seductively at onlookers. Many even sit in chairs reading books or sending text messages on their cell phones, looking up from time to time to see if that figure standing in front of their window is a potential customer or only a gawking tourist. A couple even looked unhappy. In order to grab my attention, the women often tapped on the glass as I walked by, and followed that up with a friendly smile and a come here motion. In one instance a prostitute even opened her door a crack and greeted me, “Hey sexy.” Needless to say, I kept walking.

To put it simply, I felt like I was window-shopping for sex. Another way to imagine it is as a combination of Disneyworld and Playboy, cheap and tasteless sin dished out in a theme park atmosphere. Indeed, there were whole families walking together down the canal for the experience. At one point I passed a preteen girl with her family as she pointed to a prostitute and yelled out, “Ooh, there’s another one over there!” With such nonchalant prostitutes checking their nails and standing half-naked in a festive setting like the Red Light District, I found it difficult to remember what was actually occurring along the canal. It’s all too easy for a visitor to feel, if only for a fleeting instant, that it’s only in good fun. I believe the prostitutes and their bosses aim to create that exact feeling. After all, they are part of businesses out to make money. Therefore, the more the bordellos can make visitors forget their inhibitions and hesitations, the more money the bordellos gain.

One last bit of information, the prostitutes are regulated, registered, and taxed. Furthermore, since 1984 a union has represented these working women.

I took some pictures of the District, but only a few. I had heard before that if the women see you taking their picture they will send out their henchmen to take your camera. I didn’t want to risk it so I tried to be quick about it. The first one looks down the canal, without any views inside the windows. I took the last one of a bordello across the canal. It’s blurry, but one can see the figures standing in the windows. I left the District soon after taking that one. I walked away feeling the need for a cleansing shower, and while humming a certain song:

Roxanne, you don’t have to put on your red light.
Those days are over.
You don’t have to sell your body to the night.
Roxanne . . .

The next day I woke up early and checked out of the hostel after taking advantage of their breakfast buffet. I stored my pack at the train station, and then hoped on a cruise boat for a one hour tour on the canals. Pictured below is the boat on which I rode.

The cruise offered a beautiful perspective from which to view the city. The recorded narration in four languages epitomized Amsterdam’s status as an international city. Below are some of the pictures I made from the water’s level. The city has preserved many of the historic canal houses with in the city center, but one occasionally sees newer buildings along the waterways.

After the cruise I decided I couldn’t pass up the chance to experience the city like a local, on bike. I rode along the canals for a little time, while wondering how often someone accidentally rides off into one. Before long the prospect of seeing the Dutch countryside became too strong to resist.

I used the map the bike store gave me to find my way out to the rural land north of the city. First I had to use a ferry to cross the bay. Once across I was able to ride to the area known as the Waterland, that is after half an hour or so of first going in circles. My map also gave some good background information on the land.

About 1,000 years ago settlements appeared in the Waterland and the settlers began the process of reclaiming land from the sea. They drained the water away with canals and, starting in the 17th century, windmills. When the peat ground surface dried out it shrunk, which caused the ground to sink. Thus dykes became a necessity in the battle with the sea. A dam out on the Ijsselmeer now controls the water level alongside the dykes, so breaks in the dykes and devastating floods are a thing of the past. Waterland lies 15 feet below sea level, and continues sink.

Breaking out of the urban area rewarded me with views of quaint villages and the Dutch countryside. I eventually found a trail on top of a dyke and rode along with the Ijsselmeer bay to my right and the flat grassy green expanse to my left.

As I stopped in one village to check the map I heard a click-clack sound behind me. I turned around to discover the source of the sound and couldn’t believe my eyes. An elderly woman had dismounted her bike and was now walking it. The click-clack came from her wooden shoes as they impacted the paved road. I had no idea that the wooden shoes were still used. She said hi to me and click-clacked along. I wanted to ask if her I could take her picture, but she soon remounted her bike and rode away. However, I was able to steal one shot when her back was to me, but the wooden shoes are difficult to discern.

Here are some more photographs from Waterland. Before this ride I had never seen flocks of swans before, only one or two at a time. The second photo is of the road as goes over a small canal and turns in front of the blue house. I eventually did see an old style windmill, but the sun was so low on the horizon I thought a photo would be pointless.

As I turned back toward Amsterdam a fierce wind attacked me head on, and I grew to understand the usefulness of windmills out in this country. I struggled on my three speed bike to peddle back to the store before its closing. At some points the wind blew with such intensity that I considered dismounting and running with bike. The trip out took me around an hour, but the return demanded at twice that much. I rolled up to the bike store with ten minutes to spare.

With a painfully empty stomach I searched for a restaurant at which to eat diner. My visit to the information center the day before provided me with a tip on Moeder’s. This restaurant on the edge of the trendy Jordaan District serves up typical Dutch cuisine. My meal consisted of a sausage, meatball, bacon, and mixture of mashed potatoes and cabbage. It appeared that Dutch cuisine was similar to German, heavy portion of meat without a bit of green on the plate.

I had a couple hours left before I needed to be at the train station, so I walked around the Jordaan District and enjoyed the scenery of the canals reflecting the neighborhood’s lights. I stopped in Café ‘t Smalle, one of the so called Amsterdam brown cafes. One of my sources says the name comes from either the smoke-stained interiors or the typical wood paneling. I spent my last hour or so in the city sipping away at a glass of Heineken beer, the brewery is in town, and slowly strolling back to the train station.

One of my biggest surprises with Amsterdam was the amount of English spoken by the locals. It appeared that everyone, from the bar tenders to the convenience store clerks, knows English in Amsterdam. At first I asked people in Dutch, “Do you speak English?” It didn’t take long for me to realize how unnecessary the question was.

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover the similarity between Dutch and German. More than once I was able to understand the gist of a sign written in Dutch because of my German studies. In one café the bartender asked me a question in Dutch. I was able to understand one keyword in the sentence and answered her question with the German word, but in an attempted Dutch pronunciation. This is what I understood her to say, “oojes keish gooken taste?” Apparently I assumed and answered correctly.

I boarded my bus at around 11 o’clock that night and met up with Mareike the next moring in Hannover. We spent the full day Saturday taking the slow but cheap trains back to Eichstaett.

It was a fast paced week, but I journeyed far and saw many sights. For the most part, Amsterdam was the most beautiful city for the week, although once can easily find the seedy areas of town or litter in the canals . Perhaps the week was too fast though. Even with my exploring speed I feel like I could have stayed in Amsterdam for another two days, and there are times when I felt the need to slow down and take it. In the end, I learned some good traveling lessons that I will be putting to practical use in a matter of weeks.

In twenty days or so the semester break will begin, and I will set out on my great European odyssey. Expect to hear more word on that in the days to come.

As for the immediate future, tomorrow I travel with the International Association to Garmisch, a town in the Bavarian Alps. With any luck, there might actually be some snow.

16 January 2007

The Northern Frontier

On the early morning of New Year’s Eve, I found myself on the streets of a rainy Hamburg. The city lies almost as far north in Germany as one can go before reaching Denmark and the Jutland Peninsula. This city, the nation’s second largest, is the most important sea port for the country, never mind the fact that the open ocean lies about 50 miles away and is only connected to the city by the Elbe River. Hamburg has experienced much prosperity since the reunification of Germany, and in 2003 boasted the highest per capita income out of all European cities. The city is even its own state.

After dropping my bag off at my hostel, I rode the subway to the harbor to check out the fish market. I arrived within a half hour of it’s closing and wandered around the market stalls. One can find a wide array of items for sell under the tents, much more than the market’s name would suggest.

With one minute to go until the market closed, all of the vendors began frantically shouting out last minute deals. Customers scurried to take advantage of these, and the vendors rushed to fill the orders. I walked away from the market with a kilo of bananas in my day pack after getting caught up in the commotion. A fair share of bananas, yes, but the day lasting snacks were well worth the full euro I paid.

Here’s another view of the harbor with the industrial port in the distance.

I explored some neighborhoods around the harbor and eventually made it to St. Michaeli’s Church, and ascended the staircase in order to view the city from the atop its tower, which you see below.

From up high I could look out at the sprawling city in every direction. Below are a couple of the views that my eyes saw.

Next I made my way to St. Nikolai Church memorial. Nearly obliterated by an Allied bombing raid during World War II, the remains of the church now act as a reminder of the devastation of war. One of the church’s spires survived the bombing and now stands as a lonely lesson from history. This photo shows one of the former exterior walls of the church, now exposed on all sides to the open air.

As a port city, Hamburg has a few canals in the city center area. Not as many or scenic as those in Amsterdam or Venice mind you, but nonetheless an attractive characteristic of the city.

Heading to the train station I passed the most beautiful Burgerking, or fast food restaurant in general, that I have ever seen. You can see it below. The train station is pictured second.

From the station, I rode a local train north to the rocky beach town of Blankenese, in order to get a better taste of German coastal living. The town reminded me of the Cape Cod coast; I even saw many examples Victorian architecture, a first for me in Germany. In the second photo you can see one of the typical lighthouses found along the coast. This one had a small observation deck from which I viewed the sea’s inlet to Hamburg.

My dinner at a small beach-side café was a herring sandwich, a local dish. The cold fish had a very sour taste to it, which leads me to believe that maybe it was pickled. However it was prepared, it was not my favorite gastronomic experience in Germany.

Now nighttime, I returned to the city for some more walking around. Here’s a view of the Hamburg city hall.

As midnight drew nearer, the number of crackles and pops from fireworks increased. Apparently the tradition in Germany for New Year’s Eve, based off what I saw in Hamburg and what others told me, is to wander the streets until midnight with a bag of firecrackers, roman candles, and other small fireworks and light them in the streets, sometimes with no regard to passers-by. Many times even intentionally throwing them at other people. Considering that hand guns are illegal in Germany, I was surprised that the police seemed to have a blind eye to such potentially dangerous actions. Perhaps it’s simply a situation of forced toleration for the police, given the high number of revelers.

Around 10 o’clock I explored the Reeperbahn red light district. A former haven of prostitutes, peep shows, and other illicit activities, today it is more of an entertainment district with a side of sex-themed businesses. Here are some pictures from the area. The first was taken early on Sunday morning, so the streets are nearly vacant of people. The second photo was taken on Grosse Freiheit, the street where I found most of the action and greatest concentration of people.

In an out of the way location south of Grosse Freiheit lies Hebertstrasse, or Hebert Street, pictured below. It is to this one-block-long street where all of the prostitutes have been moved. In Germany, prostitution is neither completely legal nor illegal. Instead, it rides a fine line of government regulation and toleration. Hebertstrasse, pictured darkly below, has a fence on either end, and only men over the age of 18 may enter. The prostitutes stand in the window along the street and try to attract customers. I decided to wait until Amsterdam and its more famous Red Light District to view such a spectacle; one dose of such sin in the week would fulfill my curiosity. Although, my time spent around Hebertstrasse was not without incident.

As I walked the block around the street a young woman approached me, smiled, and in a friendly German voice said, “Komm mit,” meaning come with me. I thought she was drunk or simply a very blunt girl flirting with me, either way I declined and she crossed the street to return to the building from where she came. Only in that moment did I realize what had actually occurred. As I rounded the corner of the block it didn’t take long for more prostitutes to proposition me. After a few seconds I was greeted with a flurry of komm mits. At one point after declining, two even grabbed me by the arms and playfully tried to pull me toward the entrance of Hebertstrasse. When I reached the end of the block my run in with the persistent prostitutes of Hamburg had ended.

Coming from America where prostitution is completely illegal, it blew my mind that not only was I approached by prostitutes out in the open like that, but that they even physically pulled me. I assume that’s an experience unattainable from all but the darkest of street corners in America.

Incidentally, the name of the Allied bombing raid on Hamburg was Operation Gomorrah.

About a half hour until midnight now, I followed the throngs of people to the harbor and found a spot high on a grassy hill, with the watery landscape in view beneath me. It appeared that this was the center point of the firework celebrations for the city. As each minute passed people launched more and more fireworks into the night sky, thereby building the suspense to the first minute of the new year. When the midnight bells finally tolled, the harbor was illuminated by the light of hundreds of fireworks, all fired off by the citizens of the city. There were no industrial sized fireworks, nor was there an official city firework show. There was no need with the number of people launching their own smaller versions from the harbor’s banks.

The fireworks continued, but tired out from my long day I boarded the subway and turned in for the night.

I slept in the next day, then packed my things and left to meet my friend and fellow Eichstaett student Mareike, who lives in the area of Bremen, and with whom I would stay for the next two nights. However, I first visited the town of Luebeck.

Luebeck is known for two things: the city gate pictured below, and marzipan.

Marzipan is a German candy made from almonds, and supposedly originates from the Luebeck. Italians claim they invented the candy first, but Luebeck will concede that only the almonds used to make the first marzipan came from Italy. I guess the truth is lost to history.

The first photo below shows Café Niederegger, the maker of supposedly the best marzipan in the world. The café, like everything else in town, was closed for New Year’s Day. The second photo shows the empty Market Place, with the town hall in the background.

I was able to buy my share of Nideregger marzipan, the attraction which I looked forward to the most in visiting Luebeck, in the train station. While not a taste for all, marzipan has been my favorite German sweet since the days I first arrived.

Leaving Luebeck, I arrived in the small town of Diepholz about three hours later. Here I met Mareike, and we drove to her house in the small village of Drebber. Upon our arrival I was relieved to find tasty and free dinner leftovers waiting for me.

The next day I took the train into Bremen. Bremen is another important port city for Germany, although it too lies a distance from the actual sea. The city lies southwest of Hamburg, roughly halfway between that city and the border with the Netherlands. It’s population is around half a million. One finds quite a few well-preserved medieval buildings in the old city center. The city is also home to Beck’s beer. Like Hamburg, Bremen is its own federal German state. Below is a statue of the city’s protector, Roland, erected in 1404.

Here is view of the Market Place, with the cathedral in the background and the town hall on the left.

Near the old town area is the Schnoorviertel, a district of more medieval buildings and narrow and winding lanes now home to artists and quaint cafes.

Perhaps the most famous export from Bremen are the Bremen city musicians. This a fairytale about a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster who befriend one another, expose a group of Bremen thieves, and live their rest of their lives as valued citizens of Bremen. I remember seeing a muppet version of the story on TV when I was little. Now a statue stands near the town hall honoring the “musicians.” Perhaps intentionally, the statue has become a major tourist attraction and trademark of the city. Nearly every store in town sold small versions of the stature and everything from t-shirts to posters with an image of the “musicians.” According to the fairytale, the animals stood on each other’s back and scarred the thieves away from their hideout. That should explain their positions in the statue.

In the mid afternoon I left Bremen and met up with Mareika in the town of Vechta. This was nearby her village, and she said it was usually where she and her family go for shopping. We walked along the streets and shopped a little. Being with a girl it didn’t take long for us to wander into a shoe store.

The town looked a lot like a certain open air shopping center that opened in the Memphis area about a year ago. The advertisements and proponents of the much ballyhooed mall proclaimed that it would have an old world and European town feel. I always doubted that claim, and now after seeing the real deal in Vechta I know I was right.

Around noon on the next day I left Mareike and her family’s hospitality for Hannover.

Hannover lies nearly two hours south of Bremen by train, and around 500,000 people call this city home. Like almost all major German cities, it was heavily bombed during World War II, and the city transformed many of the bombed sites into parkland. One source of mine proclaims that today Hannover is Germany’s greenest city. Indeed, I found much greenery, but more than that was public art. Outside of Berlin and Munich, Hannover seems to be the most cultural city in Germany that I have visited, perhaps even enough to compete with those two heavy-weights. Take for example the beautiful Opera House pictured below.

However, the Opera House cannot even come close to matching the stunning beauty of Hannover’s city hall. Positioned on the edge of a lake in a city park, the magnificent structure stopped me in my tracks as I turned a corner and first saw it. The building seems more likely to house the tomb of a great king or emperor than the halls of city government. My favorite feature was the domed tower that penetrates the sky above the building. Surprisingly, construction on the building took place as recently, historically speaking, as 1901-1913. The first photograph is of the rear facade, the side facing the lake.

Next I walked around the old quarter and the main shopping streets of the city. Along the way I came across Hannover’s own small red light district, but without any street-walking prostitutes. I have read before that all decently sized German cities have their own sex-themed business and prostitution area.

Eventually I headed to the train station to wait for my bus out of the city. I killed time talking with a man from Egypt, who also happened to be a four-year first place winner of the national Danish body-building championship. One definitely meets some interesting folks while on the road.

Northern Germany was almost a different country than Bavaria. Smelling the salty ocean breeze in Blankenese, I jokingly reminded myself that I was indeed still in Germany. I knew more existed to Germany than beer halls and the Alps; therefore I enjoyed finally seeing some of the alternatives. Even the small towns I saw in northern Germany resemble their American counterparts, at least more so than those in southern Germany. Mareike told me that for her, Bavaria is the exception to German culture, and northern Germany is more characteristic of the entire country. After my experience there I believe I would be fine if her opinion turns out true. My only qualm with the northern region are those fish sandwiches. I would gladly take bratwurst over one of those any day.

At 11 o'clock I boarded my bus and fell asleep as we drove down the autobahn. I awoke to the sound of the driver's voice over the microphone, "Amsterdam."