Travel Journal Entry #4: Brussel Sprouts

Yesterday the alarm clock woke us up early for a quick checkout from our hostel in Amsterdam. The morning did not turn so great as the clerk at the Amsterdam train station told that the express train to Bryssels had already been booked full. Lesson to be learned here, kids.

The plan was to take two trains instead of one fast one to reach Brussels Midi station. 1 hour 50 minute trip turned into three hour funride with one change of trains in a city called Breda.

As we pulled into the train departure terminal we received a notice that the express train to Bryssels was canceled. In the end we probably saved ten bucks by not getting seats for the express train. 

Ha haa, you can take a seat somewhere else because we were served some good old fashioned Schadenfreude right there.

Couple of hours of changing scenery to be seen and our train slowly but surely arrived to Bryssels. I do not know why but I had a bit of high architectural expectations for Brussels as it’s chosen to be the capital city of European Union.

Real art on top of modern vandalism.

Our initial experience of Brussels started with a line of army cars and reeking smell of piss. Perhaps we took a wrong turn already at the start but the architecture and the quality of buildings reminded me of Finlands local roughed up neighbourhood (edgy cement block-buildings with no real facade). A lot maintenance going on everywhere and oh god.. the smell of piss.

One thing you could not miss in the city were the armed forces, security personnel and police officers patrolling the city vigorously. Local law enforcement nor the army was not kidding around anymore after the Bryssel airport attacks.

I asked my friend Joonas “Oh Joonas, where have we travelled this time? Warzone?” And then we laughed and kept on going ahead safer than never before. 

Crowd gathering near the plaza
 

After walking couple of blocks closer to the centre of Brussels we found the main street which was pulsating with tourists and locals. Old buildings emerged from the grey facades and exposed the old architecture hiding in plain sight. Street band of three musicians played the latest dance hits with utmost expertise and it was plainly wonderful to listen while exploring the city. 

We ended the first day tour of the city to a busy street cafe that served belgian chocolate and various types of coffee. Iced lattés were served and we headed back to our hostel. The skies opened and sent some rain upon us for a farewell.

The next morning we decided to head north of Bryssels to check the Atom-monument and Mini-Europe tour next to it. We were there roughly 11 AM and the whole place felt like deserted. Eventually more crowd appeared and the ambience of a ghost town disappeared.

Atoms. Atoms, Atoms.
Mini Europe tour was a quirky one, ticket costing you 15,30 EUR (odd amount?) to see various monuments from EU-countries in 1:25 scale. Not sure if the price was justified but where else I can press a button and let Vesuvius mountain erupt smoke and vicious earthquakes on plastic toy citizens.
From Finland the tour included Olavinlinna (also known as Savonlinna) which is one of the many forts our nation built for defence against Russia. Luckily there was a button to spam the national anthem of Finland for other tourists. In Finland we would call this moment of joy “Suomi mainittu, torilla tavataan” (= Finland was mentioned globally, lets go get drunk at the market place).

Cute Russian girl doing recon on our fortress.

Tomorrow morning will be the last one in Bryssels as we pack our bags and relocate to the legendary love capital, Paris. Perhaps we better learn some french quickly? Qui? Now to get some well deserved rest! Have a great night!

– George

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Travel Journal Entry #3: Amsterdamned For Life

To be perfectly honest with you readers out there, my first impression of the legendary city of Amsterdam was not the best possible. When you leave one country to enter another, you try to wipe your mind clean to experience everything without any judgement. 

The first few breaths after hopping off the train from Berlin revealed an old station that had cricked terminal floors. Crowded, muggy, unfamiliar. A lot of repairs and warning signs. Just walking outside from the building was a heaven in disguise.

Renovation of the Centraal-building.

The Amsterdam Centraal – station dates back to 1889 and nowadays it is under heavy renovation inside and out. To be completely honest it felt kind of run down at the moment. Hopefully the renovation project will bring out the good ol’ glory back.

The next negative experience was the public transportation ticket machines which had touchscreens that did not work properly. Several tourists stomped the machines in anger and the waiting lines got long. Luckily we found another one nearby that worked and got on the subway to our hostel.

The train from Berlin to Amsterdam took us almost 7 hours so we arrived late and hungry like hippos. Therefore we had to head back to the city centre for a replenishing meal after we had secured our lodgins.

Amsterdam by night.

Somehow the ambiance of the city felt first blatant and bit of unsettling. Cars, mopeds and bicycles were driving recklessly from both sides of the road but that did not stop people from walking through. There were no clear patterns and it felt confusing.

If you’re not already familiar with the smell of cannabis before entering Amsterdam, you will lose your virginity for it shortly. The coffee shops were scattered all around the market place and people were sitting outside enjoying their beverages and herbs.

Atmosphere tilted once again after a short walk forward when we were met with red lights and unseemingly attractive women in sexy underwear. The prostitutes were in open display like barbies in cardboard boxes. Ohh, hello Red Light District. Window shopping at its finest. 

How in the hell we end up in Red Light District in the first 10 minutes in Amsterdam? The only thing we could do after that experience was to laugh in amazement and keep on staring/walking.

The next day we went sightseeing and visited the Heineken Experience. The brewery Heineken sell tickets to guided tours through the original brewery building and at the end of the tour, you get to drink Heineken beer! Quite a deal, I say. Tickets for the Heineken Experience were 16,00 EUR/person.

Message from the Heineken director.

After spending two days in Amsterdam, I understood the city better and how the lifestyle is shaped by the people living in Amsterdam. Rivers, bicycles and relaxed people who drink their beer from 25cl glasses and smoke their herbs out in the open. Nothing here has shame weighing it down. Just jolly ol’ good time.

Windmill doing what it does best.

Just when you have started to appreciate the city of Amsterdam and what it has to offer, we must pack our bags and continue our journey. Next stop the capital city of Europe, Bryssels! See you there! 

– George

Travel Journal Entry #2: Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin

Six days in Berlin came to end today and it was time to pack our bags, leaving me to reminisce the last week. 

On Thursday night one of our finest friends came to Berlin to accompany our adventure for the weekend. It felt absolutely great to see familiar face in unfamiliar place! First stop on Friday was the Europes largest waterpark, Tropical Islands. In earlier post I mentioned that german people are a bit open than Finns in equal nudity in public spaces.

Large ceiling poster at the waterpark.

It didn’t take more than couple of steps to the locker rooms and I was greeted with a beatiful lady with no top on. Not sure if she had bottom on either as I politely did 180° and waited for my turn to use the lockers.
The waterpark did not work directly with normal currency, instead everyone wore electronic watches that kept a log of everything you spent in the waterpark and you had to clear the debt before departing. 

Entrance fee was 42,00 EUR and if you wanted to enter the Sauna & Spa complex, total was 49,00 EUR. In order to get most of the high entrance fee, we decided to spent almost the whole day there swimming and relaxing. 

It was super refreshing experience and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone in Berlin. Please do note that the waterpark is located 60km from Berlin centre so you need to buy train tickets to Brand Tropical Islands-station from Berlin Hbf. Then the free shuttle bus ride will delivers you to front gate.

On Saturday we started to get really thirsty and it was time to experience the 21st Berlin Beer Festival. The festival started near Alexanders Platz in the centre of Berlin and the beer tents kept on going from street to street. All roads near the event were securily barred to avoid any incidents, which reminded us travellers that terrorist attacks have claimed victims even in Berlin.

The event itself was glorious and had breweries from 74 different countries. Luckily we were able to buy 0.2dl tastemug so the alcohol did not totally ruin our day. However we did find one special beer which we had to try out! 

Berlin Bear next to Cannabis Strong 8%.

Although it did not contain any actual THC, it did the trick like any other alcohol. Sunday was all about recuperating, relaxing and spending the last day at the town laughing with my friends. 

Now the train has brought us to Amsterdam, Sin City of Europe. Guess we better soak up the experience and report back to you later! Have a good night!

– George

Europe Travel Journal, Entry#1: Ich Bin Ein Berliner

The human mind is not the known for processing changes in a heartbeat. I complained to my friend at the start of the week that everything felt way too normal, even though I was packing my bags for almost three month trip through Europe. The change did not hit me in the airport lobby, the airplane nor the destination airport. Changing your mentality to vacation mode takes days, or even weeks. Now sitting in Berlin restaurant drinking local wheat beer and eating german wurst sausage and boom, it hits you. You are away from your homeland. 

I am not sure if I’m missing my old habits at the moment, my comfy bed, apartment and the drilling noices coming outside my window at 9 AM. But change is usually inevitable, scary and if you have blessed with introvert genes, it makes you a bit worried. Germany is not a huge change in atmosphere, people are friendly, streets are safe and everything is convenient. The trains work like a clockwork, metro and busses share a lot of similarities with the public transportation in Finland.

But one thing you notice quickly when walking around the city, the alcohol laws are less strict in here yet there is no bad behavior or ridicously drunken people. You can walk to the next possible market and buy 0,80 EUR pint or if you want to sit and birdwatch other people, pay couple euros more and there you have it. 0.5 litre beer from a tall glass and good view of the city.

Only thing that was utmost ridiculous was the shower at our hostel. I’m not going to lie to you, I am a big man and one of the missions for this trip was to lose weight by walking. The german engineering missed it’s mark in our hostel as the I was not able to squeeze myself through the shower glasses to stand under the drain. Even my traveling partner had a bit of a hard time. Perhaps the next hostel will better suited to a large men. I would also recommend anyone traveling in the summer in europe that your hostel has air conditioning in rooms. Makes the sleep better when you’re now swimming in your own sweat. 

The old buildings here, Berlin wall and the culture speaks of it’s history. Today we wisited the East Side Gallery which has a long road and the Berlin wall next to it has been canvas for various talented artists. It was kind of absurb and shameful that we met some kids on our way that were doing the Hitler salute for their parents. The locals looked in disgust the children and we all know the reason. The Holocaust victims and the German people themselves suffered greatly under the rule of Third Reich. The modern Germany is nothing like it’s old shadow. 

Berlin’s own beer festival opens its doors tomorrow in Alexanders Platz and we have planned to visit various breweries during our stay here in Berlin. I cannot highlight the quality of breweries in germany compared to the ones we have in Finland. Most of the beers in Finland are either exported from other countries or they taste like low quality piss. Although the public even in Finland has started to appreciate small breweries and everything is going to right direction that way.

One of our finest friends arrives today to Berlin as well and we have also decided to visit the local Tropical Islands waterpark to relax ourselves from the heat. Hopefully the german folk will hold their wienerschnitzel in their pants as we have heard some rumours that the park has a lot of nudist areas. Not sure if I am ready for that blitzkrieg-shock just yet. 

Pretty sure I will sum up the Berlin experience at the end of this week when we will pack our bags again and start to travel to Amsterdam. Have a great one and thanks for reading!

– George