Tuesday 21st June, 2005
London, UK – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I got to London early, as I didn’t trust the trains to get me there on time!! I was actually there for the earlier tour’s call time, so I got my suitcase weighed and sat in the café for an hour or so, until they called my tour. Had to fill in the odd form, basically name, address, birthday & insurance details. Handed it in to my tour manager, and then we were able to go take our suitcases to the bus when it turned up, and able to then get on the bus. It was suitably a big thing, and also suitably unceremonial. It’s true, it does become your home for 12 days, and you will love and hate it.
Anyway, I sat around 3 rows from the front on the first day, and was sitting by myself as people filed on, until someone sat next to me. As usual, you find us Aussies bloody everywhere in the world, and Emma, the girl who sat next to me, actually went to high school not far from one of the places I went in Brisbane, even though she now lives in Perth.
The trip down to Dover went pretty quickly, as our tour manager, Amanda, was talking to us pretty much the whole way, summarizing how things would be working for the next 12 days, how they’d let us know what was going on, things like that. Once at Dover, and after clearing French immigration (I was one of two people on a British EU passport, we have it so much easier!!) we only had about 15mins to wait for the ferry, so most of us ran over to the little shops area to grab a magazine or to use the toilet. Then we were back on the bus to board the P&O ferry. Once again, most of the bus load went up to the back of the ferry (as Amanda had recommended) to take photos of Dover as we left the port.
Emma & I ran into another Aussie on our tour, Lyn (from Sydney), and we all went down to find the café and grab some breakfast. Emma, Lyn & I ended up sitting in the food court for most of the ferry, talking to each other about where we were from, what we were looking forward to on the tour. When it looked like we were getting close to Calais, we went back up on the deck to take photos again.
So we re-boarded the bus when the call came, and while we were waiting to be let off, our driver, Reuben, realized he hadn’t given us the safety briefing he was supposed to. So he grabbed the microphone, stood on some seats and proceeded to tell us that if we crashed we should get the little hammers and knock the fuck out of the windows. He tried to tell us how to open the ceiling emergency exits, but then realized they were in Dutch, so gave up, and started showing us the emergency contacts card, and told us which numbers to call to tell his boss he’d fucked up. It doesn’t sound as funny as it actually was, it was a good performance.
So after getting off the ferry, we had a 3 hour or so drive to the top of France, through Belgium, and had our first rest stop just after the Dutch border. This first place had gourmet looking food on a buffet table, as well as a McDonald’s. Most of us weren’t hungry, but Lyn decided that she wanted an ice cream cone from Maccas, so we went in there. Then came the fun of trying to speak Dutch. I tell ya, that is one hard language; there are too many j’s and other letters that you don’t really get many of in English. The friendly guy at the Maccas counter tried to help us learn a few words in Dutch, which we failed spectacularly at, much to his amusement. Oh, and here began the joy of paying to pee.
Unfortunately after that stop the air conditioning on the bus decided to stop working. Which would be fine on an older bus, because most of them have windows that open. Contiki buses have windows that don’t open. The only air circulation we had was natural air, which of course means fumes from other buses, trucks and cars from the highway. So the couple of hours into Amsterdam started to get a little miserable. We did try stopping once to turn the bus off to see if it’d work again, but no such luck. We made it to the Lakeland Hotel around 7pm, then we had half an hour to basically meet our roommates (mine was Kate, a South African girl), freshen up, get ready for an evening out and get downstairs for dinner. I think that night we had a soup, then it was a buffet. I don’t remember the food being bad, so it must have been good!
Right after dinner we all piled outside to catch the Contiki bus into central Amsterdam. The journey took around 15mins I think. We were dropped off right near the train station for the first optional excursion, the Canal Cruise. We had a few crew on this, a boat driver, a very personable (and loud!) hostess, a bar girl, and some other guy who knew them and had decided to come along. We started off the cruise with a bottle shot of what I think was some Vodka/Energy drink mix; it didn’t taste like much actually. Then we all started to make the most of the free wine & beer. Oh, and free cheese. I stuck to drinking rose wine that night as we were on the cruise for about one and a half hours. It was a really nice introduction to the city and to the people on the bus, even if the only other person I met was the sole French-Canadian on the bus, who we all called J because none of us could pronounce her name.
So after that time drinking, we pulled back into the place we left, were all just a little tipsy as we got off the boat. Amanda then walked the people who wanted to go to the sex show through the red light district and to the show. Very interesting place to walk around at dark, Amsterdam is. Anyway, she took everyone who wanted a walk to this place (for those who wanted to go back to the hotel right after but wanted to feel a little safer walking around the red light district and so they could say they’d seen it) and then the people who were going queued up. Those who had queued up started calling those of us who were waiting out of the way on the other side of the footpath to come and join them, and in the end, Emma, Lyn & I did. So we went into the show, got given our tickets and what we realized later (when we were in light again) was a free condom in a funny shaped packet (which is why we weren’t sure what it was until we actually read the fine print on the packaging, then all felt like really silly), and walked into the show. They have ushers seating people all the time, so one of them found us three seats together, about halfway back from the stage in a corner. We only ended up staying there for about half an hour, as we got bored. Parts of it was just like pole dancing, other parts were these supposedly live sex shows, but to be honest, from where we were sitting, it all looked fake. Maybe those down the front could say differently, I don’t know.
After that, Emma, Lyn & I decided to go for a drink in the Grasshopper bar, which Amanda had pointed out to us earlier in the evening, and so we wandered back through the red light district to the bar. (Yes, the Grasshopper does serve drugs in their downstairs section; we stayed on the main floor as we didn’t want to partake.)
So we sat around in there for a while (don’t really know how long), then started to head up to the bus stops for the last bus of the night out to the hotel. Finally found the bus stop, found that it was pretty much full of our entire tour load of people, and began what felt like an hour long trip back to the hotel. I think we were at least 13kms outside Amsterdam, I saw that on a street sign, but the bus took a long route back anyway I think. So we all piled off at our stop, and about 30 of us filled up the gravel road just off the main street back to the hotel, where we stopped and got our keys from reception before going to bed, probably at about 2am by the time we’d taken advantage of a hotel room with a hair dryer to wash our hair.