In August of 2008 I was sent to Europe to blog about my experience on a Contiki bus tour. The European Discovery tour had us seeing 10 countries in 12 days. I was one of 6 paid student bloggers for the Royal Bank of Canada, and was chosen specifically because of my writing style. Here is my story.

 
Having just left Amsterdam, this rainy bus trip to our next location is the perfect time to reflect and recap on the experience. Actually, one point I want to make for those of you planning to travel to Europe (or anywhere, really) is to not carry a backpack with lots of stuff in it. Because of the blogging I’m doing throughout the trip I have my 17” laptop, a camcorder, a larger camera and a smaller camera, in addition to sweaters, umbrellas, etc. It’s a bit of a nuisance in some places, so I caution you to avoid doing it unless you have to. Now, on to Amsterdam.

We arrived at the Blue Square Hotel (which has absolutely amazing rooms, by the way) around 6:40pm, with dinner being served at 6:45pm. After a rushed meal we left for the first of our optional excursions – a canal cruise with as much as you can drink in the 90 minutes. A few of my tourmates opted out of this one, but I will go on the record in saying that I expect it to be one of the highlights of the tour.

I never realized Amsterdam had such an extensive network of canals. There were drinks (either Heineken or wine, both red and white), music, some commentary from the cruise staff, and best of all was the chance to meet my co-travelers.

Immediately following the cruise, we made our way to the second optional. Due to the nature of the event, and where you’re reading this blog entry, I can’t really describe it in detail. Let me just say that it was explicit, contained both singles and couples and the audience members wore more clothes than the performers. I can’t say I have ever experienced anything quite like it. It lasted from about 10:30pm-11:30pm, and afterwards the group split up into three:

  • Those who wanted to head back to the hotel, perhaps to sleep, relax or contact loved ones.
  • Those who wanted to have a few more drinks (adding to the however-many-they-were-ableto-drink-on-the-cruise and the two included with the second optional of the night.
  • Those who wanted to experience some of what Amsterdam is best known for. And I don’t mean the Red Light District, although we did walk through it on the way to the not-to-be-described show.

I’ll spare you the details of the evening and skip to the next day, as we had about 4 hours to explore Amsterdam before heading out to the next location. Amsterdam and I had a mixed relationship. The first night was a great outing, despite the fact that I spilled food on my beige shorts (one of only 4 pairs I brought).

This morning, however, I woke up at 7am and took my time getting ready for the 8am breakfast. At 7:47am I received a call from the tour manager, asking me if I was coming and when I responded with a yes, he told me to hurry up. I checked my watch, and it was actually 8:47am. I had changed IT, but not the cell phone I used as my alarm.

The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:30am, and luckily they waited for me (while some missed it altogether). This was the one morning where they would make an exception. So no breakfast for me, and a busload of people who may or may not know me as “the late guy”. Do NOT be the late one. Just don’t.

The daytime walk through Amsterdam proved to be challenging in some respects. Despite having a map, street names in a foreign language can be difficult to locate and remember. We found our way to the Anne Frank House, where we stood in line for a mere 10 minutes. Upon exiting there were no less than 200 people in the line-up. Showing up early helps a lot.

The weather in Amsterdam isn’t that different than in Halifax, where a clear sky can produce huge and spontaneous bursts of rain. Again, carrying a bag full of electronics can create difficult situations, so bring an umbrella. And don’t be the late one. These two points alone will help you tremendously along your travels.

In the interest of time, here are some additional quick tidbits about Amsterdam and the trip in general:

FIRST: The hotel had a system by which the lights could only turn on when the door’s key card was inserted into a special slot. This prevents leaving the lights on when you leave, and I find that refreshingly green.

SECOND: The toilets thus far have only had a little bit of water in the bowl, rather than filling up with gallons. Again, there is a focus on conservation.

THIRD: It costs money to use public washrooms in Belgium and Amsterdam (and likely elsewhere), which I have a hard time getting used to.

FOURTH: Neither hotel I have stayed in has had wash cloths. It may be the norm, for some reason.

FIFTH: Asking for water in a restaurant will likely get you bottled rather than tap water.

SIXTH: If you don’t look where you’re going, you WILL get run over by a bicycle in Amsterdam.

SEVENTH: The guy behind me can apparently sleep on his face, on a bumpy bus ride. Meanwhile I don’t think I can sleep at all. It’s like the plane ride all over again.

What’s Next? The Rhine Valley and some wine-tasting, followed by whatever presents itself. Oh, by the way, I hardly know what day it is anymore. This tour will do that.

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