I started in Amsterdam, on December 24th, arriving in the morning after a quick 50-minute flight from Manchester. I had gone alone to Europe, where I would spend the last bits of 2017. I traveled through 3-countries, and stopped in 4-cities throughout 11-days.
Walking out of the rail-station into central Amsterdam was stunning. Immediately, the vibrant architecture pulls the eye up and along eccentrically designed rooftops. The city pulled me in all sorts of ways. The cobble-streets pulled my feet out of bed in the early morning. The promise of quite evening air pulled me away from the city center and into the secluded canal-lined side-streets.
I spent every evening out walking around this network of canals. Lined with old-fashioned lamps, each stoop and walkway is stacked with lively decoration. Not to mention the bicycles! On every rail, and flying around every corner, were hundreds of classic single-speed bicycles.
I spent Christmas morning out at Vondelpark chasing around birds I had never seen before. Later I visited the Vincent Van Gogh and National art museums. The city itself really is one massive work of art. It has a brilliant blend of architectural styles, and an impressive infrastructure. On the night of the 26th, I was fortunate enough to go into the historic Ann Frank house. Slowly and silently people walk through the building, listening through headsets to the personal stories that had been lived out in the small flat during the second World War. We walked up the creaky stairway and through the secret bookshelf-entrance into the secret annex. Slower-still we walked within the small secret annex that housed the Frank family, the Van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer for more than two years. Everyone was silent.
On the 27th of December, I packed my bag and hiked to the station where I caught a bus going south to Den Haag, The Hague. The beach was refreshing. And getting to visit the M.C. Escher museum was an absolute treat! Den Haag houses the UN Justice department, and the humble Peace Palace. The Peace Palace was a surprise to me, I stumbled upon it on my way to the beach. It is built with bright red brick amid a dense mix of trees. Outside the visitor’s center is a tree and on its branches are tied thousands of handwritten notes; people from all over the world had come to express their visions of world peace.
Next, I went to Brussels. I took a ‘Blah Blah Car’, which is a car-pooling service based out of France. It was good fun, and luckily one of the other passengers was a local Belgian and helped sort me out with a bus upon arrival. Although I must say, after using Blah Blah Car for a second time, I’m not too sure if I would recommend it. Simply put, my second experience with Blah Blah Car was slightly terrifying and a bit off-putting.
Brussels was interesting, and in a way, reminded me of Albuquerque (At least more than any other city I had seen recently.) There was a sense of local-pride, and it was easy to see that underneath the touristic surface lived a rich, creative urban life. I spent New Year’s eve here. I started by exploring the
main square, The Grand Place, with its incredibly history. There is a collection of guildhalls that form the perimeter of the Grand Place, along with the brilliant town-center. I hopped in a tour and was amazed with the significance of every ornament. Each statue symbolic of a certain artist or revolutionary. Most of the buildings current construction dated back to the 1400s, being rebuilt siege after siege, with humbled beginnings hundreds of years before. Some of the buildings having once housed authors and philosophers – Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto in one of the flats. On New Year’s eve, the square was lit up in a brilliant array of colors. Bright golds, and silvers danced across the facades, and poured out over the crowd of people who filled the space below; music and bells rang out more and more frequently as the start of the 2018 drew closer.
My last stop was Cologne in Germany. Nearing the end of the trip, I spent more time resting, relaxing and reflecting on all I has seen. Physically, I was tired. I was averaging 10 miles a day of walking and my diet hadn’t been the best – lots of PB&J. The river Rhine gave me just the right place to sit and breath the last of the European air before returning to Leeds. I bought a cup of coffee from a building that used to be a stable some 900 years ago. I first walked by the incredible Gothic cathedral, then through historic marketplaces, and not even one block further would find gorgeous works of modern architecture.
Before sunrise on the morning of January 4th, I had packed my bag for the final time, left my hostel and taken a train to Cologne International Airport. I craved a change of clean clothes and the feeling of my own bed, but I didn’t feel ready to return to Leeds. I felt like I needed time to process everything I had experience. I had tried to capture my feelings, inspirations and emotions as they came to me along this lonely winter adventure through my writing and sketches. I plan on sharing some of poems in my next post.
Thank you for reading.