Amsterdam, Holland; Paris, France; Madrid, Spain
After catching our train 'amazing-race' style in Berlin (since then we've allowed ourselves more than one minute to be on the train before it starts rolling), we arrived in Amsterdam ready to unwind after Eastern Europe. We spent 8 days in a beautiful apartment just south of the city center near the enchanting Vondelpark. It was excellent; kitchen, balcony, big table to do some reading and research. Also, there was a nice little grocery store around the corner and a great coffeeshop across the street.
We went to the Anne Frank house in central Amsterdam. It was a lot like we imagined it to be when we read her diary in grade school, especially the bookshelf hiding the secret door that leads up to the annex. It's a very small space for 8 people to live and remain quiet for over 2 years. Obviously the story has a sad ending, but that doesn't take away how incredible it was that they were able to live together and evade capture for such a long time. Here's a video of what it looks like from the outside:
We took a day trip southwest of Amsterdam to Keukenhof, the world's largest flower garden. Wikipedia says that approximately 7 million bulbs are planted here annually. As you can tell from our attire, it was pretty chilly for us in Holland, but it was worth it to be there when the tulip fields outside of the gardens were in full bloom.
Here's a 360 view of the tulip fields:
Holland was great. Besides checking out beautiful flowers and relaxing, we got to hang out with Robert's friend Paul who lives in Utrecht and Jennifer's friend Pam who was on holiday in Amsterdam. We wanted to stay in Holland longer, but alas, it was too expensive. We had to start heading south where the dollar goes farther. But first, we got off the train in Paris for a week to take a look around. We just adore Paris in the springtime.
The view from the 2nd level of the tower:
Here's what the Eiffel tower looks like at the top of every hour after the sun goes down:
A short train ride from Paris is the Palace of Versailles. Lots of history here, dating back to the days before the French Revolution. Also, it's the place where WWI ended. We thought it was beautiful, especially the view from the Hall of Mirrors.
We were eager to get to Madrid, especially Robert, who hasn't been back since he lived here for 2 semesters while attending the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from August of '02 until July of '03. The weather got better and cost of living got cheaper as soon as we got off the train. Not to mention the fact that we were ready to dive into some tapas. One interesting fact that we learned on our walking tour was that a few centuries ago, legislation was passed in Spain that required taverns to serve a small snack with each alcohol purchase. The reason was that people couldn't afford food those days and the government wanted to make sure that no one was drinking on an empty stomach. Also, a leg of ham hangs in almost every tavern to this day because during the Inquisition it was a way to prove you were neither Jewish nor Muslim. Spain has a lot of neat history; it's more than just beaches, people!
We went to El Rastro on our Sunday morning in Madrid. It's Europe's biggest outdoor market. It's almost more fun to people-watch than to look at the funky merchandise available for purchase.
Our current city is Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain. It is HOT; daily highs are reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The last time we had weather like this was in India. Tomorrow we're heading farther south to Cadiz, to spend a few days on the beach and plan the next leg of our trip: On Tuesday we plan to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Morocco. Can't tell you how exciting this is for us!
Today is May 11th, which means that we've been traveling for exactly 7 months! Wow. Seems like time is moving at lightning speed these days; we were in Madrid for a week but it may as well have been only a day. As excited as we are to get home, we are really looking forward to what's in front of us. We miss you. Wish you were here.
Un abrazo muy fuerte,
J & R