5 Tips I Discovered From Traveling by Bus

Bus Tips 2Reflecting on my trip to Amsterdam, I decided to come up with a list of five of my top tips I gained from traveling on an overnight bus for thirteen hours. These are some of the things that I thought would be helpful to keep in mind for the next time I embark on a long journey on the open road.

1. Make sure to leave enough time to get to the bus station. Okay, this may seem obvious, but it is definitely important to plan for any bumps in the road while trying to get to the station in the first place. (Here’s my story about that in case you missed it). Also, the sooner you get in line, the better chance you have to select a seat of your choice!

2. Know the luggage requirements/restrictions and have all of your travel documents both secure and easily accessible. This will be helpful when going across any country borders.

3. Bring a snack. Most of the time there won’t be any chances to get a quality snack during your journey, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll most likely want something to eat during the trip. Also, make sure to have a bottle of water to stay hydrated, the recirculated air on buses can be quite drying!

4. Bring a pack of tissues. This tip might seem a bit odd, but trust me when you need to go to the bathroom and you realize that all of the toilet paper is gone, you’ll be thanking yourself that you brought them! (Napkins work in a pinch too).

5. Bring something to keep you entertained if you have difficulty sleeping while traveling. Maybe a good read, something to write in, or music to listen to. I love music, so I created a playlist on my phone to enjoy during the long journey. (Don’t forget to turn your smart phone on airplane mode if it serves as your i-pod. This will conserve battery life and prevent you from racking up massive phone bills once you enter a new country).

I hope some of these helped! Let me know some of your travel tips in the comments.

Until next time,New blog signature 2


Farewell Amsterdam!

IMG_0439Central Station at night! This was the main hub where we could catch a bus or tram back to our hostel.

Well, our trip had to come to a bittersweet end at some point, but we definitely made the most of our fourth and final day in Amsterdam. After eating a hearty breakfast at the hostel, Emily, Alex and I decided to head out to explore a different part of the city, visit the Begijnhof gardens, and eventually meet up with Christian and Katelyn later. Since we had all accomplished the touristy things on our list that we had wanted to do while visiting the city, we didn’t feel pressure to get to any sites in particular. On the way to the gardens we encountered this guy blowing bubbles in this square near a major shopping district.IMG_0408IMG_0414 IMG_0413

I always love to see what street performers and artists are doing in different cities! Of course some are more entertaining than others, but they always seem to make city life more interesting. The garden took a little while for us to find because it was situated in a residential courtyard located behind a large door in the square. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos in the garden, but it was neat to get to walk around such a peaceful area hidden from the main drag of shops. Next, we stopped in a small free museum exhibit at the Amsterdam Museum, which was about five minutes away from the secret garden. One of the art pieces was a carpet composed of several carpet squares corresponding to different countries around the world.

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After our brief museum visit, we headed over to Coffee Company, a local cafe chain in Amsterdam, to meet up with Christian and Katelyn and grab a cup of joe to warm up. We passed another massive square along the way that seemed to attract quite a few tourists.IMG_0427IMG_0433IMG_0432IMG_0293Of course this blog post wouldn’t be complete without a coffee picture! I sprinkled some chocolate on top of my cappuccino and it just happened to form a subtle heart shape.

Once we had all re-fueled and gotten our caffeine boost of the day, we took a tram over to another market along the canal. It was later in the afternoon, so this market wasn’t as busy as the first one we had attended, but it was nice to take a slow walk through the neighborhood. As usual, we ended up at another food place. When we saw the food truck selling frites, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try the chips in Amsterdam.IMG_0435I guess you could say we liked them ha ha. The cone of frites even came with miniature forks to eat them with!IMG_0437They were nice and crispy and weren’t overly salted.

We made it back to Central Station and stopped at a crepe restaurant for dinner. Although I was tempted to order a savory crepe, I just couldn’t resist the enticing combo of nutella, strawberries, and banana.IMG_0444A picture of Alex’s crepe. My camera died before I could snap a picture of mine.

Following dinner, we decided it would be a smart idea to pick up a few snacks for the long bus ride ahead of us back to London the next morning, so we found the nearest supermarket and made a quick pit stop before heading to the hostel. You would expect it to be just your average mundane trip to the grocery store, but oh no, no, no it definitely was much more than that! After grabbing some crisps, Alex and I went over to pick up some apple sauce near the produce and meat section. That’s when the evening got interesting . . . All of the sudden, I heard the sound of water running in the background so, being the curious person that I am, turned around only to find a middle-aged man peeing in the middle of the aisles in the supermarket!!! Alex’s and my reaction was to get the heck out of that area as soon as possible, I mean we didn’t need the yellow river making its way downstream to where we were standing. Dude, I get that you probably were drunk or on something and needed to go to the loo, but seriously you couldn’t have located the nearest restroom or at least gone out in an alley way? Come on!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVrJ8DxECbg (skip to 1:36 to see what my reaction was like) After Alex and I had evacuated the area to go check out, the guy started following us and saying something in Dutch, but we just avoided him and made our way to find the rest of our group. When one of the supermarket employees had seen the aftermath of the unfortunate event that had gone down, she asked if we could point out the guy. Luckily, Christian was able to track him down and he was taken into custody. Those poor, poor employees that had to clean up the mess though . . . All I can say is that if Cher could really “Turn  Back Time” I wish she could help erase the sight of the man urinating from my mind, which has now unfortunately been singed into my memory. It certainly makes for a crazy story to tell though, it’s not everyday that you are privy to golden showers in a supermarket. By the time all of us were done checking out as quickly as possible, we were definitely ready to go home, take a nice long shower, and relax. It was early to bed for all of us that evening because we had to be up and out of the hostel by 6:30 the next morning to catch our bus.

This time, making it to the bus was hassle-free and we made it back to the parking lot with ample time to spare. Instead of driving onto a ferry to make it over the Channel, we took a train. Here are some photos I took of that experience.IMG_0450IMG_0452IMG_0454

Well that concludes our final day in Amsterdam! I had a fabulous time visiting a new city and I look forward to someday getting to explore the Netherlands during the spring time!

Until next time,New blog signature 2

To Market, To Market . . .

IMG_0369Despite the cold weather, the market was incredibly lively! This photo was taken towards the beginning of the market.

One of the perks of Amsterdam is all of the local markets that are held throughout the week. If you ever find yourself in the city on a tight budget or just wanna kick around for a little while, markets are a fabulous option because they are free! Well, they are free if you don’t buy anything, but a lot of times you can find inexpensive clothing and food which is great. On our third day in Amsterdam, since the weather decided to cooperate, we started our day off at a local open-air market.IMG_0371 You can see the mix of clothing, fresh produce and cheeses that the market had to offer.IMG_0378Fresh seafood at the market.

Although we had eaten a light breakfast back at the hostel, the waffles at the market were too tempting to pass up, so we all decided to pitch in and share one amongst the five of us. It was certainly a nice sweet treat to warm us up and give us a sugar boost of energy!IMG_0373A rather indulgent chocolate and caramel waffle sure to satisfy any sweet tooth! Sooo sugary, but so good.IMG_0375Emily, Katelyn and Alex taking the first few bites of the waffle.

I think the general consensus was that we could all go for a second round, but we had all eaten so many sweet things during this trip already. I think if I stayed in the city longer than a week, all of my teeth would be full of cavities  ha ha. I really enjoyed how busy the market was, which seems like an odd thing to say, but if you know me, you know that I don’t like being in public places (mostly restaurants) when I’m the only one around. The relaxed pace of the city allowed us to explore without feeling super rushed, and believe me we all took our sweet time walking the length of the market. It was incredible to see how many vendors there were!IMG_0382Some beautiful flowers for sale. Although, these seemed on the pricier side compared to the other things for sale at this market, but I think it might have been the season. On a side note, the woman selling them was rather cold and a bit rude, maybe she had a bad day because everyone else was really friendly.IMG_0383Yay we made it to the end of the market! (And found this sculpture of frites. Yum!)

After visiting the market, we decided to do some wandering around the city and eventually made it over to the notorious red light district. I loved how walkable Amsterdam was making it easy to view the city and mix of architecture at our leisure. We ended up in a touristy part of town near a canal and I got to snap a photo of the iconic red doors on the windows that seem to be sprinkled all over the city.IMG_0388

On our way towards the red light district we walked through a really cute part of town that was quite peaceful.IMG_0389One of he many bridges around town.IMG_0392A cute street on the other side of the bridge. One thing that I loved about the city was how festive it looked with all of the different holiday lights!IMG_0393A cafe near the bridge.IMG_0403Look, yet another bridge because there weren’t enough of these here. But it’s no ordinary bridge, it’s decorated with love locks! IMG_0405View from the foot bridge. It’s so quaint and picturesque.

Following our walk, we made our way over to the red light district which was a contrast to the atmosphere of the quiet neighborhood as you’d expect. It was quite a scene over in that part of town. According to a gentleman that had given us directions of how to get there, a bunch of drunk guys had gotten a bit out of control while watching the football game at a local pub, so extra police had been called in for reinforcement. As always in popular areas, you have to keep your belongings tight to you because pick-pockets are ravenous for unsuspecting tourists carrying their valuables in easy access places. Walking into the red light district was quite the experience to say the least. We were greeted by a large crowd of guys cheering for their mate who had just exited one of the brothels. It was a little bizarre being one of the few women walking through the area and I almost felt as though I had traveled back to a different time. I mean it’s not everyday that you witness an area with legal prostitution. For obvious reasons, you weren’t allowed to take pictures in the area as far as I know, but basically the streets were lined with windows that women could stand in and showcase their bodies at passers-by. This experience walking through this part of town made me think a lot about the idea of legal prostitution and whether it is a negative or positive thing. One of the reasons that it became legalized in the first place was to try to regulate it better and prevent sex trafficking, but at the same time putting the female workers in windows puts a new spin on the objectification of women. It definitely is a complex and controversial subject to tackle, and visiting the red light district made me interested in learning a bit more about its history because I don’t know enough about the topic to form an educated opinion. There is actually a documentary about twins that worked as prostitutes in the red light district for several years titled Meet the Fokkens, which I think would be really interesting to watch to get the perspective from women who have lived their lives in this profession. Well, that concludes day three in Amsterdam. The last installment of my Amsterdam adventures should be posted soon!

Until next time,

Lainey xoxo

It Will Rain . . . and We’ll Eat Pancakes

IMG_0273Of course as tourists, we had to pay the “I amsterdam” sign a visit! From left to right: Christian, Katelyn, Emily, and Alex hiding in front.

During the second day we spent in Amsterdam, we had a couple of things on our list that we wanted to see since it was our first time visiting the city. However, the autumn season meant that it was quite rainy and chilly, so we decided to opt for some touristy things to do inside. Since we hadn’t had time to pick up groceries the previous evening, we were determined to find a cute pancake place to get some breakfast to fuel us for the day. One of the employees at our hostel was very helpful at giving us a couple of suggestions and recommended a place called The Carousel, and with that we were off!IMG_0280Walking to the pancake house!

 By the time that we reached the restaurant, we were all sopping wet from the free shower that we’d received from our walk through the rainy city so it was a relief to sit down in a warm building. There were so many options on the menu and being the indecisive person that I am, it was really difficult to choose, but I settled on an apple, cinnamon and butter pancake. The combination of the apples and cinnamon were lovely and the powdered sugar added a nice sweetness without overpowering the rest of the flavors. Ahhh, just writing about this is making me hungry!IMG_0282Here is my pancake before . . .IMG_0286 . . . and after. Yes that’s right, I devoured it!IMG_0291Here is a photo of the carousel in the center of the restaurant, which by the way, was located in a beautiful park.

After filling our stomachs with the joy of pancakes, we made our way over to pay this guy’s art a little visit.IMG_0303 Yes you guessed it, the Vincent Van Gogh Museum! On the way, we walked past the iconic “I amsterdam” sign, so naturally, I had to get a picture.IMG_0295Such a beautiful view! (And no, I’m not even being sarcastic! I think I’m one of those few people who looks at gray rainy weather and still thinks sights like this are beautiful haha)

The Van Gogh museum was another thing on the top of my list of things to do while visiting the city, and although it was a bit expensive, it was worth every Euro! Plus, it was a really great place to visit on a gray and rainy day.IMG_0320View of the museum exterior.IMG_0299Here is my ticket to the museum with the famous sunflowers!IMG_0309Alex and Katelyn at the entrance to the first exhibit in the museum.IMG_0301A timeline of events during Van Gogh’s life at the beginning of the museum.

The first floor of the museum focused on aspects of Van Gogh’s art and painting techniques, including color and application using different signature paintings as examples of his style. To the left you can see one of the artists’ paint palettes, and to the right is a painting used to showcase how color plays a major role in his artwork.

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IMG_0344We then made our way upstairs and worked our way down through the rest of the exhibits.IMG_0310A view from the top!IMG_0351One of the portions of the museum. I really enjoyed the layout and wall color choices to make the paintings stand out. IMG_0337Mesmerized by the paintings (and possibly the bright yellow back drop).IMG_0322Emily looking fascinated by this portrait.IMG_0329A wall of the museum showing how researchers can analyze the paintings in-depth and discover previous works of art that have been painted over. Apparently Van Gogh used to use canvases that he had already painted to create new works of art!

If you are ever in Amsterdam and have the patience or interest to view some incredible and iconic art, I would definitely recommend taking a look at the Van Gogh museum. It was definitely more of an interactive experience than I expected, which I really enjoyed because sometimes art museums can get a bit monotonous, but this one seemed to attract a wide range of ages. Throughout the museum there were different artifacts, sketches and letters that Van Gogh had in his possessions during his lifetime, as well as computer stations that allowed visitors to take a look at his painting techniques and use of perspective instruments. I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about Van Gogh beforehand other than the fact that he is infamous for cutting off his ear, ouch! Through this museum experience, I was able to acquire a lot more information about his journey as an artist including his early struggles with perspective and honing his skills during art school. I suppose that Macklemore was right in his song when he said “the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great cause they paint a lot.” Once someone successful has reached their destination it is difficult to ever imagine their struggles and life before their fame. It is reassuring to have the reinforcement that if you continue to practice your passions, there is a chance that you can potentially make a living doing what you love! The rest of the day was pretty simple. We went to a local supermarket to pick up some food for dinner and left to go cook our meal at the hostel. Well, that concludes day two in Amsterdam!IMG_0319

Until next time,New blog signature 2

Ferries, Trams and Megabusmobiles?

IMG_0263Me and Katelyn on the ferry over to mainland Europe. (If we look especially tired it is because this was taken at 4am!)

This week is currently “reading week” at Uni. A time for students to catch up on their work or read additional material, but most of us study abroad students used this rare occasion of ample free time to travel (work hard, play hard right?) In case you didn’t notice the countdown on my side bar, I went to Amsterdam with four of my abroad friends here, hence my long absence from blogging (I didn’t want to carry my computer around with me, the more compact my luggage was, the better!) And let me tell you, we certainly came back with some fun, interesting, and crazy stories to share. We had a few meetings as a group beforehand to discuss what we wanted to do while we were there and what mode of transportation would be the most budget friendly. We came to the conclusion that although taking a bus from London to Amsterdam was quite a long journey, it would save us a bit of money that we could put towards future travels or touristy things while we were exploring the Netherlands. Plus, having the experience of going on a ferry ride across the Channel seemed like an added bonus. We also found a hostel that came highly recommended on Hostelworld.com that was quite affordable too! After all of our plans were set, it was just a matter of counting down the days till Sunday when we were able to board the bus over to Europe.

Over the weekend, Alex and Emily took a trip to Wales so they decided to meet up with the rest of us later. Meanwhile back in London, Katelyn, Christian and I decided to meet up a couple of hours early to give ourselves enough time to make the trek over to Victoria Station to catch our 9:30 bus to Amsterdam. And with that, the Sunday fun-day  fiasco all began . . .

Since it was cheaper to take a bus all the way to the station without having to transfer, we opted to take the double-decker over the tube. We also made sure to allow ourselves a good chunk of time in case anything went wrong. Possibly the best decision we all made that day because the whole evening became the definition of Murphy’s Law! In London, you have to hail a bus kind of like you would a taxi. We arrived with time to spare at the bus stop. After a short while, our bus started approaching and Katelyn and Christian both made an obvious effort to flag the bus down, but instead of it stopping like they normally do, it drove right by!!! At first I thought it might have been because it was already full, but upon a second glance I noticed that wasn’t the case at all. Okay so we missed our bus no big deal, we’ll just try to wait for the next one . . . The problem was, there was no “next one.” Okay so we’ll take the tube into Central London and just pay a little extra. The problem was, the train we needed to take at the station wasn’t running, but we only found this out after we had tapped in so we lost a couple of pounds on a train we never took. I mean there are worse things that could happen right? Right. Trying to stay positive, we rushed back across the street to the bus stop and figured we had enough time to make it to the station a half hour early to check in. We boarded a bus that, according to our google map directions, seemed to take us in the direction we needed to go. It got us to Central London where we then needed to transfer to another bus, but in the heat of the moment we accidentally boarded a bus going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, we had no idea that we had yet again fallen into the trap of going the wrong way and only made this realization when we were several stops down the route. Quickly, we got off of that bus to regroup and figure out what our next move would be. It was pouring down rain outside which just added to the series of unfortunate events that we had encountered this evening. At this point, all we could do was laugh at all of the wrong turns we had taken! Despite the fact that I was a bit nervous we wouldn’t make our bus to Amsterdam and have to pay for another ticket, I couldn’t contain my laughter at the absurdity of our situation. Stressful times like these call for a little bit of humor to lighten the mood! The only bus stop near by was for the route that we had just gotten off of and there were no cabs in sight, leaving us with very few options for getting to the station. It all became a waiting game while we crossed our fingers that the bus would get to the stop early enough to drop us off at the station in the nick of time. However, looking at the bus schedule, it didn’t seem very promising . . .  until I saw a cab drive by. But of course with our luck this evening, it was filled with people (insert the Debbie Downer noise here.) I had a shred of hope that another cab might come to our rescue, but at this point we had all accepted the fact that we were probably going to have to get a new ticket for the next bus out of London. Finally, our wishes were answered when an empty cab drove down the road we were on and without a second thought, we quickly crammed ourselves in and split the fare to the station. There was a grand sigh of relief when we made it to the station on time and got settled into our seats on the Megabus. The heavy rain coupled with the navy sky made for a very pleasant bus ride in my books. Once we reached the port of Dover, we were stuck waiting on the bus for three hours because the first ferry that was supposed to take the vehicles decided to leave, but it was okay because it gave us a bit of time to get some snacks at the convenient store. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the bus driver, I mean I know it’s his job, but it would get exhausting catering to the needs of frustrated passengers.

During the ferry ride we had to get off of the bus and hang out on the upper level of the ferry. It was really eerie and peaceful to be surrounded by water and the dark night sky with very few lights to be seen. The only thing missing was the penny whistle solo from “My Heart Will Go On.”IMG_0258Here is a view from the back end of the ferry from the deck outside.

Although our journey on the bus was delayed due to the ferry and driver changes, it was definitely worth it because I was able to save some money and sleep a bit more! Upon arrival to Amsterdam, the bus dropped us off in a parking lot about ten minutes away from Central Station, so we decided to take the nearest tram into town. Luckily, I had some spare Euros on hand to pay for the tram tickets because in the madness of everything else, we had forgotten to get some cash out of the ATM. OOPS! It was a bit difficult to find our way to the hostel at first because all of the signs were in Dutch and we were unfamiliar with the transportation, but people were extremely helpful at pointing us in the right direction! Although ironically, the man working at the information booth in the station always told us to ask someone else to answer our questions, which was a bit funny to me. It was such a relief to finally make it to our hostel, set our bags down, and relax! The employees there were very friendly and accommodating and let all five of us stay in the same room. It was also a great value for the price and the amenities were fantastic. Any of my friends on this trip will tell you that all I could talk about for days was how amazing the shower was ha ha!IMG_0367This is a wall in the lobby of the hostel that I thought was cute! (Don’t mind the falling “M” it wouldn’t stick back on the wall, but I think it adds a bit of character)

After settling in for a little while, we decided to head over to the Anne Frank House. We weren’t sure if we would be able to get into the museum because we hadn’t bought tickets in advance and the woman at the hostel said there is usually an hour-long wait to get in. However, luck must have been on our side when we got there because we were able to get tickets right away!IMG_0448Here is a photo of my ticket!

Visiting the Anne Frank House was on the top of my list for things to do while in Amsterdam, and let me say that it was an experience I will remember forever! I feel like this museum represents such an important time in world history and I would highly recommend anyone visiting the Netherlands in the future to pay it a visit. We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the house in an effort to preserve artifacts from the time, but honestly pictures wouldn’t do the experience justice because I think it is something you have to witness in person to get the full effect. I definitely learned a lot more about the people in hiding, as well as the people who worked in the building with the annex that Anne Frank stayed in before being discovered. One thing to note is that the house is no longer furnished or staged in the way that it would have been during the time the Frank family lived there because Otto Frank wanted to maintain the integrity of the place after WWII was over. However, there were still pictures that Anne had glued onto her bedroom wall. It was very interesting to see what interested and inspired her. This was the point during the house tour that put things in to perspective for me and made me imagine myself residing in the annex during this time period.  It made me think about what the quality of life would have been like for the families in hiding there. I don’t know if I would’ve had the stamina or patience to be so quiet and not get to really see the light of day. It makes me so frustrated that people’s hatred can severely impact the lives of the innocent. There was a portion of the museum with a brief interview with Otto Frank talking about discovering the contents of his daughter’s diary which was incredibly moving. He noted that he had known about her diary before it was published, but had promised her to never read what was inside as it was her personal documentation of her life experiences. After he came back to the annex and discovered that he was the only survivor from his family, he decided to eventually read what his daughter had written leading to his changed perceptions of Anne. One of the conclusions I found very interesting was when he stated,

Most parents don’t know really about their children . . .

~Otto Frank

Although I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about what the museum contained because I think it will ruin the experience for those who haven’t visited before, I do think this interview is worth watching. Here is a link for those of you interested.

Despite the rain, my first day in Amsterdam was really nice and I had a wonderful experience getting to visit the Anne Frank House. I will be posting the rest of my Amsterdam Adventures in the next few days so keep your eyes peeled! I promise the next ones will be more photo heavy!!!

Until next time,

Lainey xoxo