Friday, 18 December 2015

Tales from my last trip

Last month I spent some time in four countries in Europe, I had fun but at the end of the trip I realised that I did not rest which tends to happen all the time when I go on holiday. Being an early bird, my body clock automatically comes to life at such an early hour.  Here are my impressions on each city:

BELGIUM
Brussels - This city did not grow on me, not in the least. It is beautiful but for some reason, I found getting to places somewhat tedious and different places seemed far from each other. I am unsure whether this was all in my head. At some point despite having maps, I ended up chatting with bus drivers on where I planned to go, they gave their advice which helped. Transportation can be easily accessed, there are metros and buses that run through the city. I was meant to meet someone who has lived there for over a decade but at the end, we were unable to meet. However, after my discussion with her, we both agreed that Brussels is rough at the edges and might best be enjoyed when a local shows you around. I speak French so I had no trouble communicating but I noticed that in the tourist areas, locals were more than happy to speak English.


 Grand place, Brussels

In any case, I had to have the famous Belgian waffles, galettes and of course mussels. I enjoyed the mussels and the waiter who attended to me was all too happy to take pictures.

 

Ghent
I was reluctant to go but my host convinced me that it was worth a visit. We were up to an early start. She knows the place well and was going walking in the woods somewhere in Ghent while I was going site seeing. We parted ways at the central station.
Gent Central Station
I got in quite early and was cold, I found a Subway to warm up with a hot chocolate. I had looked on the internet and had an idea of what I wanted to do. My host had also given me tips but I wanted to hear from a local. So I had a chat with one of the workers and the three major places he said were a must see were already on my list.

I started with Gravensteen, this castle holds some history in it.

I left with a heavy heart but with gratitude for the time I happen to be born in. I saw some objects of torture and different fighting tools. There were pictures with stories of how executions were carried out or how judgement was administered in time past. This for me was quite intense and it made me realise how judiciary measures have evolved and I am glad to not have been born in that era. 


At the end of it all, I had to go out for some air and this space was a joy to walk out to. The stunning views of Ghent from the top was quite nice too.



The stunning views of Gent from the top was quite nice too. 


As I wandered in the castle, I met an Australian, James, who was travelling alone like me. We ended up doing some site seeing together, chatting, then we had late lunch before I returned to Brussels. There was no need for transportation as everything in the centre was close by, so we walked everywhere. The three main things I saw were the castle, some cathedrals/churches – there is a famous one (St. Nicholas) that has some nice paintings in it. I did not go on the boat ride as after the castle, churches and a walking tour, I was not left with so much time and wanted to be on my way before dark.

At the end, I can say Ghent certainly was worth my while and if you are in Belgium, I would recommend that you take a day or more to see this beautiful city.

NETHERLANDS
Amsterdam - Three days ware certainly not enough to see everything. There was a lot to do and a lot to see, I only scratched the surface I would say. I was guided by a Dutch friend, who knew exactly where to take me and I had a little history lesson about Amsterdam from her. I spent two evenings out of my three day days with her. I liked it and it was easy to get around although transportation is not exactly cheap if you have to move around after a certain hour for the night owls. On the other hand, buses and trains are easily accessible.

I wanted to try a typical Dutch meal and she knew just where to take me. This is called stamppot, it is made of mashed potatoes, gravy, bacon, sausages, sour cabbage/kale, shredded beef. I hope I did not miss anything. But if you like to try dishes like me, please eat this :-)
 
Typical Dutch dish, I enjoyed every bite
I went to the famous Anne Frank house and I was not disappointed, it is a must do in Amsterdam if you are interested in the holocaust. This is the story told through one person's experiences, she like others dealt with a lot and her story is told over and over again. One thing that stood out from the museum  was that 'you do not have to be famous to make a difference, do your bit and let it speak for you'. She wanted to be a writer, unknown to her, her writing in her diary would tell the story of many from a teenager's perspective.


Anne Frank House
I spent my first night in a hostel in the centre of Amsterdam, I was put in a 12 bunk bed room. I had little or no expectations but I was pleasantly surprised as the beds were comfortable, the place was neat and the toilets and bathrooms too were well kept. I moved out after that night though as the person who slept beside me snored so much. I asked for a bed up, although he was down, his snoring kept me awake for two hours, thankfully it was already morning! I had no intention of putting up with that for three nights. Someone had offered to host me so I took up the offer gladly.

I spent my first night in this hostel
I went to the red light district and my expectations were higher than what I saw based on all the hype surrounding Amsterdam's red light district. It was interesting to walk around that area. I went into a few places I would not ordinarily go to. What's the fun of it all if not?!
Dam Square Amsterdam

I also tried the space cake... Before I went to Amsterdam, one of my friends had been a month before and she tried the space cookies, she said she waited for the effect but nothing happened. Another who had been some years ago said same but one who got the effect asked me to be careful. He was very skeptical about me trying but I had to find out for myself.
The coffee shops in Amsterdam I found out were not regular coffee shops but there are some licensed ones to sell marijuana/cannabis/weed. This is also sold in cookies and cakes, not sure why but they are called space cake/cookies. My friend and I went to a known one and the lad who served us was quite nice. He asked me a few questions before giving me the space cake, he wanted to know if I had ever smoked before, if I had ever tried the space cake e.t.c. It almost felt like a pharmacy where he was asking to give me the right dose. Anyway, for a novice like me, he gave me a slice and warned that from the time I ate it, it would take 30 - 35 minutes to kick in. As I was going to take public transportation back to where I stayed, my friend and I agreed that it would be best to try it at home. When I returned, I mentioned to my host that I intended to do this, he didn't sound shocked. I ate the cake and carried on with life. I lay down at some point and all I could see in my head were figures, time tables, all the maths I had probably failed to do in my life came to mind so clearly. So this was the effect on me! I had to go to the loo and staggered all the way, I think I sat there for sometime but I remember willing myself to get back to the room.

The next day, I went to Zaan de Schans, a place just outside Amsterdam. We went by train then had to walk for about 15 to 20 minutes to get to our destination. My friend recommended that I go see the place. It had windmills, crafts, museums and a cheese factory.  There was one place full of cloggs, they were the thing back then, they even had wedding cloggs. It was a nice area, all the houses were identical and I left with some coconut flavoured cheese to my delight!



The Netherlands has been ranked as one of the countries with low crime rates in Europe and is generally considered to be a safe place. For a country that would allow marijuana, prostitution, the government has obviously put some thought and effort into crime reduction and fines are largely on a basis of fixed penalty rates.
I would certainly go back but next time, I will spend at least a week.

ENGLAND
Nottingham - From living in England during the early years of my life to visiting regularly, I'd never been there so I was looking forward to it. I was going to visit an old friend of mine. We had been in touch but the last time I saw her was probably four years ago. I saw her baby then but she has grown into a bright, intelligent, dramatic and very independent girl. I went around but not so much, I stayed for three days but not long enough to form an impression. It was fun however to spend the time with them. I will go back!


FRANCE
Paris - This was my entry and exit point. I feel very much at home in this city having lived here not so long ago. I started in Paris by catching up with friends, it was nice to see them all. I went to a few places I went to regularly while I lived there and the memories, made me accept that I actually miss the city. I left before the November 13th attacks and returned after. On my return, for an airport I've gone through quite regularly recently, I felt very uncomfortable. There were armed uniformed men all over Charles de Gaule airport, it was kinda scary. I heard there were sniffer dogs at the airport but I didn't see any.
Transportation in Paris is not cheap but there are various means, trains, buses, boats. Tourists struggle sometimes with the language as the French are not so open to speaking English. At the end, there will always be someone who will be kind enough to do the translation. My parents did not appreciate this the last time we were in Paris. I digress…



In the city, it was quite tense and there was caution/fear, not sure which best describes the feeling. I reached out to a friend to hang out but he said it was exactly a week since the attacks happened so he was in no mood to go anywhere. I was to meet a few others and assumed that that day might not have been best. The following day I received bad news, a friend passed away, I was meant to see her before I travelled but I couldn't as she was not available, the news hit me quite hard so I pretty much stayed indoors that day and my return was the day after.

In general, I tend to use my Nigerian debit card and where necessary, I take out cash. In a place like Paris, there are many places to change money, I heard that recently one place in the arcade on the Chams-Elysées started to accept naira! There must be enough Nigerians visiting for this to have started. But I wonder how life will be from 2016, with the policies of CBN restricting us from using our debit cards abroad.

I love Paris, it has its niceties and other sides to it but I miss the city and in the past four years, I have always stopped by each time I have been in Europe. And oh, my final dinner before departure was cheese fondue, yummy!


On travelling in general, this is something I do not see myself stopping anytime soon and Miriam Beard’s words resonate with my thoughts about travel ‘Travel is more than the seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on deep and permanent in the ideas of living’.

Also featured on BellaNaija here.


2 comments:

  1. Great story, hopefully I get a chance to go to my favourite places soon.

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    Replies
    1. Please do, it will be worth it. Travelling is something I doubt that I can do without.

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