Friday, September 17, 2010

Frankfurt and Amterdam - quick taste of Europe in 4 days - part II

Part I here

After a few discussions with the locals, we started the day2 at Amsterdam with a visit to Flower market, which turned out to be just a market that sells flowers (what a surprise!). I was expecting the place to provide a little more photographic opportunities. Nonetheless, it gave us an idea of how freaking expensive tulip bulbs are. Damn, who even buy those?!

Our next stop was 'iamsterdam' symbol, which I have seen in some photographs earlier and was planning on visiting. I dragged my friends along and took a tram to reach the place, which (as against my expectations) turned out to a place that has monkeys (in people's bodies) climbing on the very symbol for silly photos. I have always hated such people and wondered if some nice locations can be reserved for just photographers, at least one hour a day so that one could spend a peaceful hour shooting pictures without people monkeying around in the frame.

We had to deal with what we had. I tried my best, walked around a bit trying different compostions, but was not too pleased with the results. Later I resorted to taking 'typical tourist' pictures of ourselves. After all, the tram ride should be worth at least for my friends!

We spent the second half of the day at Madoradam, which I thought was very unique and European. Its a small park that has miniatureds/models of remarkable locations/icons in Netherlands. I liked the place (once again would have loved it if people were not around!).


We spent close to three hours in the park and headed back to Amsterdam Main station, just in time for our ICE back to Frankfurt.

The day which went fine till then became all the more interesting when we started playing Dumb-charades in the train. Added to the fact that we had a coupe for just the four of us (which was considered to be a 'silent' one too with sound proof doors). We had an absolutely fun time in the return journey and I was secretly wishing for that journey to become longer than scheduled. Who knew I had such evil powers?!

Kranthy (one of our other friends) looked outside and called out that the train had just stopped at a train station called (Duisburg), the same station we had passed about half hour ago. Confused, we stepped out of our coach only to hear the announcement that the train is travelling towards 'Amsterdam'!

After a short 'what the fuck?!' moment, we took out our tickets to confirm that we indeed had a reservation on a 'direct' train from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. And we were not sitting on a wrong coach either. Frustrated at the pace the train was gaining (in the wrong direction), I and Vijai went to the train crew to enquire.

The crew lady slowly said "Oh sorry, this train is heading towards Amsterdam. You should have changed trains at Koln. We made an announcement too, didnt you hear?!" in a thick German accent. When I told her we heard no announcement, she simply apologized and pointed us to a senior crew member. Now, this senior crew member was drinking at the bar and suggested very casually that we should alight at the next station, take a train back to Koln and switch to another train to Frankfurt. As he finished talking, the train was already slowing down. His final word was that our current tickets were good to travel in the first class of whichever (or how manyever) trains we were going to take that night.

We got off the train at a station called Dusseldorf and walked to the next platform, only to read the signboard that said 'train to Koln is delayed by 35 minutes'. Awesome. As we were waiting, two cops came and asked us for ID (and said they were from some international border control/passport control or something). We all had our passports except for Kranthy. All he had was his work ID card.

I said to myself 'Great, this night is just getting better and better!". If it was US, we all would have been taken into custody, enquired and questioned till the cops confirm our identity from the immigration department. Looking at his work ID, the cops let him slide and wished us good night. Whoa! Europe is cool!

We waited for close to 40 minutes and the ICE train that was supposed to arrive never did. Instead, a local train to Koln came. In a few seconds, we got on to the local train, our only concern being what if the ICE train arrives afterward and overtakes this local train. The flipside was to wait to Dusseldorf station all night (if the ICE train never comes). We took the lesser evil and reached Koln in the local train.

It was close to midgnight (we should have reached Frankfurt at 10.30pm per our original schedule). With no other option than to laugh at ourselves, we waited for another one hour at Koln before the ICE train for Frankfurt finally arrived.

Four of us waiting at Koln station

When we thought it all ended finally, we came to know that the train was taking a round-about route and will take close to 3 hours (instead of regular 1 hour). Great. We finally reached Frankfurt at 3.30am. After taking four trains and a six hour delay, to say that we had a nice experience is a complete under statement.

Whoever said Europe's train network rocks, here, get it from me 'Europe train network sucks!'

On the same note, Vijai bought this toy called Rolling monkey at Amsterdam. For all that we went through that day, this is what kept coming to our mind!:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Frankfurt and Amsterdam – a quick taste of Europe in 4 days - part I

It was about 3am Eastern when the captain announced that the flight has started its descent. That is when it truly dawned on me that I have indeed made the long awaited trip to Europe. Its been about 2 years I and Vijai have been talking about making such a trip and have been dreaming about it for even longer.

The flight touched down at Frankfurt Airport at about 7am local time. The immigration was surprisingly quick (if I compared to US) and climate was quite pleasant hovering about 8 to 10 degrees Celsius. Outside the airport, Vijai was waiting to receive me as well as for an unforgettable travel experience.

We reached Frankfurt Hauptbahnof (where Vijai lives) in about 20 minutes. After breakfast and a few hours of random conversations, we headed out to do local walk-about around downtown Frankfurt. Frankfurt was the first foreign city I visited (about 6 years ago) and it still sort of remains one of my favorite cities. Last time, I was gaping at the wide difference between Frankfurt and the Indian cities.

This time, I was able to appreciate more than a few things in the city, the best part being the architecture.

The city does not have towering skyscrapers, but it has a nice mix of old buildings and funky new ones next to each other. Such variety in architecture means only one thing: nice opportunity for photographs.

We pretty much spent the rest of the day roaming around the city, a nice long walk along the Main river waterfront and ending the day with a visit to Frankfurt Main tower observatory.

We had an early morning the following day, as we had reservations made on the ICE train to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is about 550 kms from Frankfurt and the ICE train covered the distance in about 4 hours. The train hit a top speed of about 300kmph more than a few times and it was quite a comfortable ride, thanks to Vijai for booking first class tickets.

We reached Amsterdam at around noon. After a delayed visit to the Tourist information centre (with a long line of freaking tourists!), we quickly planned for a high-level agenda for the day.

Amsterdam is about as dirty as any European country could ever get. It could have been a lot neater – I, for sure, did not expect people to pee on the roads (they have some strange road side closets that people pee on – I guess only the Gods and the locals can understand the funda behind the concept. For us tourists, it was nothing but a disgusting stinking intersection!)

As much as the city is clumsy, it still had an inexplicable charm to it. Blame it on the unstoppable tourists or the undying activities happening in the city or perhaps the numerous canals that act as veins to the city. We started off with a customary visit to Madame Tussauds wax museum, which in my opinion was so-so. The exhibits were alright, but the museum layout was so poorly planned that there was absolutely no room in most places. After coming out, we were joking that the museum was so cramped that Gandhi almost seemed like he was touching Dalai Lama's ass and Dalai Lama was blessing Mandela's balls!

We then checked into the hotel and took the Canon ride tour in the evening. Idea of touring inside a city completely on canals was a nice experience and felt very European to me.

We then went to photograph the only Wind Mill (or Molen as the dutch call it) in the city and spent about an hour there. I wish we had the time to go photograph a few more wind mills.

Later in the night, we strolled across the red light district (and our hotel was right there!) and took a few more photograph the city's night life. City did not have too much of what a photographer might call a night life.

The story of day 2 at Amsterdam and the funny ICE train experience on our return journey here.