Monday, August 29, 2011

Zurich and life in a youth hostel

We flew from Amsterdam to Zurich on the 24th of August.  It was a pain to take an airline after the very convenient train system.  You have to get to the airport much earlier than to the train station.  You get searched.  You can’t take certain things with you – like a bottle of wine and a pocket knife – and you always have to take a train from the airport to town anyway!  So we have definitely become converts to the train system.  This is a good thing, because come November, Darrell and I will pretty much just be train vagabonds.

When we got to Zurich it was hot again – after the cold and rain of Amsterdam – so we decided to go to our hostel, get some lunch (the $40 salads I referred to earlier) and head to the “beach”.  The beach in Zurich is really a boardwalk built along the river – but at least we could cool off.  Lindsey did another bridge dive and swam to where Darrell and I were hanging out on the boardwalk.

The "beach" and river in Zurich
The river in Zurich, or at least the section we were in, was primarily a young person's hang out.  To contrast, in Bern there are people of all ages swimming in the river.  It is a lot more of an extended family and friends kind of feeling, than just a youth scene.

It started to rain lightly so we wandered back through a park to our hostel.  Our room was up four flights of narrow stairs (but not nearly as steep as Amsterdam!) and we had to share a bathroom with the other rooms in our section.  The kitchen everyone shared was up another two flights, and then there was a rooftop area that the Lonely Planet guide had said was the best place in town to get a sunset view of the city.   Unfortunately, it was raining hard by then so we missed the "best" accolade for the hostel.

Why stay in a hostel?  Well, it was the least expensive place in the city at $150 euro's per night.  Sometimes you can meet interesting people.  But sometimes you get music all night when your room is right over a bar - though that has happened to us in hotels as well!  Here is a view from our hostel room - which I have to say was quite large, and had three windows and a sink.

Some noise kept us up but overall it wasn't too crazy!
Darrell did some research in the Lonely Planet guide before dinner and it steered us to a near-by restaurant that was clearly filled with more locals than tourists.  Many were playing cards and the noise level was pretty high.  But that worked out because we could just talk normally and still have a private conversation for our last night together.

The next morning I took one last picture of Lindsey and Darrell on the bridge.

Lindsey's last morning in Europe
Then we took the train to the airport to see Lindsey off.  Now she is home in Flagstaff and is in the midst of her first day at NAU again!  We had a great visit and miss her soooo much...

Amsterdam - Canals and Drunk Houses

We arrived in Amsterdam in the rain on the 22nd of August - so I am still a week behind here.  We had a challenge figuring out how to use the tram system in Amsterdam as it was so different from Bern.  We kept looking for ticket machines, but you pay on the tram instead.  In Bern, you buy a ticket before you get on, and then it is very rare that anyone checks the tickets - but everyone still buys them!

If you do a word association game for Amsterdam you may think of canals (all over) and bikes (all over) and marijuana (fairly ubiquitous in "coffee houses" and in quiet areas in the parks)!  You may have also heard they have the narrowest and steepest stairs in the world...

Lindsey falling down the stairs in our Amsterdam hotel!

The canals are beautiful but too busy with tourist cruises to canoe on.
We got to our room – up three of the very steep flights of stairs – and then went back out to look for dinner.  We found a place with reasonable prices – everything was 5 euros – and so we got two salads, a pizza, and a calzone for only 20 euros.  Of course, 20 euros is $30 these days, but soon we will get used to this and stop keeping track and checking our bank balance...  plus the calzone was great!

It was already dark - and on the way home we passed by a Febo, which may be unique to Amsterdam.  Febo's are basically a large, open area of vending machines that serve hot food like fish and chips.  Must be good for people with munchies, ahem...

Febo food action
The next day we walked through a large park near our hotel.  Here you can see the primary transportation for everyone!  Notice no one wears helmets.  Bikes have supreme right-of-way and often have their own lane that pedestrians have to check both ways before they cross.  We came close to collisions a few times until we got used to that!

Bikes in the rain.  It is out of focus because they were moving fast!
We bought the 24-hour tourist card that gave us free or reduced entry into different museums.  We went to the Van Gogh museum (my favorite), a photography museum (Lindsey’s favorite) and then did the canal tour.  Trams and buses were also included in the pass so we could get around the city easily.

L and D in front of the "I Amsterdam" sign outside the museum area.
On the canal tour we learned that because the ground is so soggy, a lot of the houses have some serious lean to them.  They are called drunken houses and you can see them pretty clearly in the picture below.

Leaning on its neighbor may not help it much...
Since the houses are so tall and narrow, and since few of them have been retrofitted with elevators, there is a brilliant solution to move furniture in and out.  Your basic hoist - here attached to the gables of the houses, and still used today!

Even more modern houses like these have hoists
Another interesting thing about Amsterdam were some of the short doors.  Reminds me a bit of Alice in Wonderland.

Lindsey would only have to duck a little to get in!
And of course, Amsterdam has lots of tulips.  We walked along a canal that had loads of tulip bulb sellers.  The westernmost part of the Netherlands is called Holland - though many non-Dutch people use the two terms as synonyms.  If you want to read an interesting story about the Dutch tulip craze, it is well-described in Michael Pollen's book "The Botany of Desire" which I highly recommend.

Crazy for tulips?
The next morning we had to wake up early to catch our flight to Zurich.  We all loved Amsterdam and wished we had more time to see more of the city and the surrounding country.  Rain or not, Amsterdam is a beautiful city.