Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I have never seen a city quite like Amsterdam. I found myself in a city I knew a ton of people would be jealous I went to visit. Amsterdam has a lot of reputation, and I found out first hand that the reputation is well deserved.

In addition, I fell in love with the peaceful atmosphere present throughout most of the city. It is full of canals which make the city gorgeous. I was told before I went that I needed to rent a bicycle and just ride around. Sounded okay to me, but I didn't grasp what he actually meant or why that was something I must do. It didn't take me long to realize that this city was built to be bicycle friendly and I would take my turn in exploring the city via bicycle.

The hostel I stayed at was not even in Amsterdam. I did not realize this when I booked the hostel. It was in Noordwijk, a city right on the beach and more central to other Dutch cities. They offered a daily shuttle to the city which I took advantage of the two days. As a result, when I was dropped off in the city, I had no idea where I was nor where any of the sites desired to see were (although I did not know what I wanted to see other then the red light district). I just started walking and eventually saw central station, a useful place to know.

I continued to walk down the same street and came to a giant square where there were a lot of people, including people dressed up as various characters. Tourists were invited to take pictures with them and then expected to tip them. I continued to the corner and turned left down a busy street. Once I got to the next corner I saw my first canal. At the corner was a Sex shop, which made me wonder if I had stumbled upon the red light district.

Sure enough I had. It was pretty early yet, not even noon so I did not fully see the true essence of the red light district. But as I wandered through the Alleys, I noticed there was not just one canal, there were several. I also began to understand the advice to rent a bicycle. They were everywhere. The canals were the perfect setup for them. Some roads cars were not even allowed on, but bicycles were fair game. I spent hours just walking up and down the canals getting myself lost time and time again, but I did not care.

Some of the canals and use of bikes along them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Very Real Europe

One very real thing in touring Europe I have encountered is the history that war has played on these collection of countries. I did several tours and far too often was shown a location where a building was rebuilt or missing due to bombings during World War II.

It is funny and sad how much individual history these countries all have yet the most common topic is a shared history of recent destruction they all share. Destruction that took place while North America was as it is today, in place geographically with little physical evidence of the wars, just stories.

While in Germany, I debated whether or not I should go to a site set up specifically for human destruction, a concentration camp. I understood the rationale that we need to learn from the horror of these camps in order to learn from the past and to avoid such a tragedy from occurring again.

I still find the sites themselves, the history behind them, creepy. I am well aware of what went on at these camps and think there are better memories available that still help paint that horrible picture.

In the end, going to the concentration camp won over, sort of. At first I showed up too early for the tour and then killed too much time and was late. I don't think I missed out on seeing a must see, although others may believe I have.

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This debate occurred while I was in Munich, but before I arrived there I went to Amsterdam. Holland was occupied by Germany during World War II and people were being shipped to concentration camps from there as well. One family had their hiding spot discovered and they were sent to Auschwitz, perhaps the most infamous concentration camp. This family was the Frank family, and I had the opportunity to see where they hid for so many years.

It was sad enough being in this place which made me want to visit a concentration camp less. There is at least some honor in this story. While 7 people's fate ended in tragedy, before this several people risked their lives to protect these people! It would be harder to see the slight hope in human kind by going to a death camp.

Despite being well aware of the diary, I am ashamed to admit that I never read it before visiting the Secret Annex. What better way to remove that shame then purchasing the book at the location it was written? It did not take me long to devour the book and feel inspired as well as a mix of other emotions.

Anne Frank was a great writer, and at such a young age. Not only was it a sad ending to a story of bravery, but the world was quite possibly robbed of a great writer.

I mentioned the hope for humanity this story brings, despite the fact these families were probably betrayed and almost all did not survive. We cannot however forget that this was not the case for everyone and that there were people in hiding who survived, thanks to the bravery of others. This is what we should embrace from the treacherous story of the holocaust.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Plans Change

The nice thing about travelling alone with a rail pass that allows you to go anywhere is that plans can change with no real harm done.

I planned on going to Vienna from Prague, it was a natural destination as it was the same direction I started traveling when I left Berlin. I checked out of my hostel, placed all my luggage in the storage room and decided to do some exploring on my own of the city before I left for Vienna.

I walked in the direction of the castle I had yet to visit, perhaps I would visit today? The whole way I thought about Vienna and how much I was not sure it would appeal to me. It was after all very artsy, which I certainly am not. The more I thought about it, the more I did not want to go.

I eventually climbed up to a church overlooking the city. I wasn't quite as high as the castle, but it was a great view.

When I returned to the bottom of the hill, I found the internet and booked a hostel in Amsterdam. I know it was going pretty much in the opposite direction and a pretty stupid move as far as smart traveling goes, but I went with my gut anyways. I decided to save time by taking the overnight train there. And just like that, my plans changed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beer Challenge

Not far away from Prague, modern beer as we know it was born. Pilsner beer was created in Pilsen Czech Republic.

I had the opportunity to go on a Beer Challenge while in Prague where I got to learn about the making of the beer, some Czech drinking traditions and of course, I got to taste some different kinds. I learned quite quickly how amazing the beer was in the Czech Republic and that it is worth while to visit the country for that alone.

The consumption of beer in this country is the highest per capita in the world. It is quite common to have a beer anytime of the day. Back in the day, it was healthier for children to drink beer over water because you could never be sure if the water was clean.

Putting preservatives in beer allows you to mass produce it without it going bad too quickly. It is illegal to sell beer in most places without preservatives. Preservatives, especially when mixed, are what create hangovers.

In Prague, they drink enough beer that they can mass produce it without needing to add preservatives. Throughout the city there are different micro-breweries without preservatives. As a result the beer you drink tastes more pure, less alcoholic and overall more delicious. It also doesn't matter how much you drink, because without the preservatives you will not get hung over.

One of the beers we had at one of the oldest breweries in the city was Budvar, or as the Germans say, Budweiser. A brewery in the United States got the recipe and patented it for themselves and therefore this beer cannot be marketed by the original makers. The American Budweiser also slightly changed the recipe as well as added preservatives, so the beer commonly known as Budweiser does not compare to the original, Budvar. Budvar is easily the best beer I have ever drank.

In the same place, they also had a beer that was 12.5% alcohol, the most alcoholic beer in the world. It tasted very fruity and still didn't taste very alcoholic. I prefer the Budvar over the 12.5% X33.

In addition to drinking some fantastic beer and learning a little about the brewing history of that beer we also learned some Czech drinking habits and traditions. For example, before you drink you must bang someone's glass, look them in the eye and say "na zdravĂ­." Failure to look them in the eyes means 7 years bad sex, which are both drinking rituals similar to the ones I would later learn in Munich.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pictures of Prague

Here are some pictures from around Prague. My next post will be about the beer challenge.

The Charles Bridge and Prague castle above.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I'll be honest, for being so excited to see this city, I really knew nothing about it.

I met a girl while traveling on the Great Ocean Road in Australia from the Czech Republic whom was surprised I knew the Czech Republic and Slovakia were two different countries. Of course I know that from my love of hockey.

The city however, was quite beautiful and most people spoke great English. While there I went on a couple tours within the city to learn about it. I was surprised that it was on a couple occasions made the capital of the Roman Empire. In the town square sits one of the worlds most famous clocks, the astronomical clock which is also considered the number one overrated tourist attraction.

I agree that the hourly display of characters and goings on are kind of lame (although I never actually wasted my time and watched them all, just heard), but I thought the idea of the clock was cool. It measures time differently then a typical clock as well as it shows the different stages of the moon and how the earth rotates around the sun. The time is measured from the last Sun set, so if the clock says it is 12, that means the sun set 12 hours ago.

The city was pretty well preserved, hardly touched as far as bombs go in spite of it being occupied by Germany for pretty much the duration of the war. It avoided bombs due to how far east it is. It was not untouched by the war however, as I mentioned it was occupied by Germany for the duration of the war. The people in the city actually liberated themselves just before the Soviets arrived. The Soviets still liberated them in their own way, eventually making Czechoslovakia a communist state.

Czechoslovakia split peacefully in 1992 into the two separate countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia that we know today.

The Astronomical Clock, most overrated tourist attraction.

City Hall

I am pretty disappointed looking back on my pictures from Prague. I do have some of Prague castle as well as of the Charles Bridge. I will post some with my next post about the beer challenge. I didn't bring my camera with me in order to ensure I didn't lose it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Czech Republic

The trip from Berlin to Prague was very picturesque. The railroad was right along the river and on the other side of the river there were cliffs looking over it. The shape of these cliffs at times looked like faces and I was reminded briefly of mount Rushmore, although the closest I came to seeing that was the Lego version in Denmark.

The train whizzed through small German towns and has formed my vision of a small German town. At one point it became apparent to me that the architecture had changed. The thing that sticks out the most is a bridge that had wires coming from it. Sure enough when I checked the next sign I had entered the 4th country of this trip, the Czech Republic.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with euphoria. Part of it had to do with Prague being one city I had always wanted to see, but the other part was hockey related. The longest serving current Maple Leaf calls this country home (Tomas Kaberle). It wasn't just that though. I made a sudden realization of the top hockey players to ever play the game. I made a mental list and in the top 5 players and top 5 goalies The Czechs have 2 players on the list, and everyone else is Canadian. I was excited to be in another country that produced talented hockey players.

The excitement quickly wore off when I arrived at the train station in Prague. I had to go to the washroom and it took me forever to find it. When I finally found it, it required money to use, and I had not got any Czech money yet. After going to the machine the money denominations were too high. I had to go and buy something just so I could use the toilet!

Once nature was finished her call, I hopped on the subway to get to my hostel. Unfortunately I got off a stop too early, wandered around with all my stuff looking for somewhere to use the internet or find a map. I finally found a map and eventually my way to the hostel. Even with the map it was difficult because not everything was marked, including the seemingly endless amount of small streets.

Things could only get better from here, right?

On the train...

The bridge that made me realize I had changed countries.

Monday, September 13, 2010

West Berlin

West Berlin was enclosed inside a city where everyone else was trapped. It was a great place to live. People were encouraged to move there by cheap living costs. Many people, including artists of all sorts lived and were inspired in West Berlin.

Berlin on a whole is full of graffiti and the graffiti is in someways encouraged. Part of the wall was preserved and artists were invited to paint on it. This section of the wall is one of only a few remaining and stands as a graffiti gallery.

I went on an alternate tour of Berlin, one that showed a ton of artists and their art work.

I thought that was pretty cool.

One artist didn't really like cats. This is one of several examples.

Damn cats.

The inside of the artists residence.

These are different pictures found in the gallery on the wall.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Wall

The story of Berlin left off at the end of World War II and the start of the cold war. As you are probably aware, the cold war was about political ideologies; Communism versus Capitalism. The country Germany, having lost the war, was in a political mess. The two conflicting ideologies fought on the same side during the war and Germany was caught right in the middle.

To the West of them was capitalism and to the East, communism. It was a natural compromise to split the country into East and West. Berlin, the capital, was found in the East and the capitalists surely did not want to lose the capital, so it was split into East and West as well.

This split did not initially split families as they were free to roam between the two sides of the city. One evening in August of 1961 a lady took her sick child to hospital, leaving another child at home. She spent the night with her child in the hospital. The hospital and her home were in the two different parts of Berlin. While spending the night at the hospital a barb wire fence went up surrounding West Berlin, which did not permit her to return home where one child was waiting for her. Eventually a concrete wall replaced the barb wire which made it even more difficult to cross. It wasn't until the wall fell 28 years later that this woman would be reunited with her child.

It's funny, the wall surrounded West Berlin but it was not to trap the West inside. They were in fact free to come and go as they pleased. The wall was erected by the East to stop East Germans from defecting to the West.

A lot of the tour was showing locations that buildings used to exist. Many buildings failed to survive the bombings of World War II. There were a lot of reconstructions of buildings, some of these reconstructions used parts of the originals that survived.

I really liked the feel of Berlin. It was very open and unlike any city I have encountered. It is a very new city because of it's recent history which might sound strange because of how old it is and how much other history there also is. Any person that I met that was at least as old as me would remember the birth of the city, when the wall fell.

It actually fell by accident. East Berlin decided to make it look like the government was reforming and opening it's borders as other countries in the East had begun doing. In doing so, the government also had a list of stipulations that must be followed in order to cross the wall. The man in charge of delivering this announcement publicly was not at the meeting and was merely handed a stack of notes detailing it. He did not read through it all and when the media began to question him after his proclamation that the people would be allowed to cross over the wall instead of reading the stipulations he said it would be effective immediately.

This was broadcast live and upon hearing this, East Berliners began flocking to the wall demanding to be permitted to cross. That is how the wall fell, by mistake.

Friday, September 10, 2010


My first city spent away from the comforts of someones home came in Berlin. I stayed in a hostel; Wombats, because a friend of mine was staying there as well. It was a great choice as far as hostels go and I would recommend it to anyone travelling as well.

I heard at the hostel about a free tour and decided to try it out. The way the free tour works is that the tour guide asks for tips at the end of the tour. This means the only way for the guide to make any money is to give a great tour that people are willing to tip for. I am not unfamiliar with this type of tour as I had tried it in Sydney Australia as well. As I learned travelling Europe, these tours are offered in many cities and I do not have a bad thing to say about them.

The girl doing our tour did not disappoint. As a history major, I did not know a whole lot about East and West Berlin. The guide led up to that point with a brief history of German unification and the eventual rise of the National Socialist Party and their infamous leader Adolf Hitler. Of course this included World War one and how the treaty of Versailles helped make Germany desperate enough to allow such a leader into power.

She also showed us different memorials put up throughout the city, mainly for the holocaust as Berlin was the capital of Germany. Without regurgitating everything she said, I will share a humorous story that came just before the end of the war.

It was obvious the Germans were losing their edge in the war and that the Russians would be in Berlin soon. Hitler was in his bunker/bomb shelter. When I call it a bomb shelter I, nor was Hitler, joking around. The bunker was insulated by inches upon inches of concrete. I don't recall the exact production details of it, but there is no doubt about its ability to protect someone from the impact of bombs.

This story was told to us in a parking lot on top of what used to be the bunker. It was not preserved as it was the death place of Hitler. Knowing the war was over and not wanting to survive to see what people would do to him, Hitler took a cyanide pill and shot himself in the head for good measure.

A few days later the Soviets arrived and found his bomb shelter (his body was already removed). They decided the best thing to do would be to bomb it!

As you can imagine, nothing happened. It did not get the soviets down, they decided to bomb it again, and once again nothing happened. A bomb shelter survived two bombings, imagine that!

One of the only buildings that survived World War II. It did not however survive the Soviet party once they occupied Berlin however. In a drunken party, it got burned to the ground on accident. It may be recognisable now as the hotel Michael Jackson dangled his child over the balcony of.

Germany. A political building with a glass dome at the top, free for people to go up in to see the workings of congress.

A holocaust memorial. A ton of concrete blocks taking up room. They are there to encourage people to ask questions.

The brick path on the road here goes around the West side of the city. It is where the wall used to stand.

Many buildings in Berlin were destroyed during the war. Some were rebuilt or reconstructed using parts of the old building.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Honestly, Demark was a pretty boring place, at least in the Jetland portion. My desire to visit there was solely to visit friends, which is exactly what I did and why I enjoyed it.

Driving through it really does not differ from South Western Ontario that much. A ton of farm land, equipped with wheat, corn and cows. The only real difference was how flat it was, and because of this the country had a lot of wind turbines. Those things were everywhere.

I visited a few places outside the cities I stayed in, Aalburg and Billund. From Aalborg, the places I saw were all on a one time day trip as the country is quite small. Of note was a church where everything was buried in sand except for the bell tower and where the North sea and Baltic sea met.

I also had a fish and chip meal at the harbour of a port city, Skagen.

This is from lego land, it is a model of the next picture.

The bell tower of a church. The rest of the church is covered in sand.

The port city of Skagen.

Jeanette and I in the North and Baltic sea. If you look at the waves you should be able to see them coming in 2 different directions.

This is me with the Baltic sea on the left and the North sea on the right.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Childhood Memories

I remember a geography unit during elementary school where we learned about different countries. I do not recall a whole lot about the unit, including all the countries we learned about or much of what we learned.

One country I did learn about was Denmark. I only remember one thing about Denmark; Legoland. I was quick to let the Danes I lived with in Australia know this fact. There are many Legolands around the world, but the one in Billund, Denmark is the original. Conveniently, I flew from Marseille, France to Billund, Denmark, thus making the first chapter of my Danish adventure a trip to Legoland.

My friend picked me up at the airport and we spent the night at her friends before heading to lego land in the morning. Legoland is an amazing place, if you are a kid that is. It was still pretty cool as an adult though. I especially enjoyed the models made from lego, sometimes made to compliment the rides, other times just to pass while walking through the park.

One section of the park was called mini land. In this section there were real places made out of lego. There was a lot of detail put into these. This was especially evident when I compared actually being to the place to what I saw in the model.

One of the cool rides that was actually worthy of a non-kid theme park allowed you to choose the path of the ride yourself. It was a robotic arm that moved the way you pre-programmed it to move. Naturally I tried to get it to move in the scariest way possible.
Pirates in a cave. These are life size images.
The water is real, not lego, just in case you were wondering.
Every so often water would spray from the dog onto the pole. That is why the ground is wet.
I have never been to Mount Rushmore, yet I did take this picture.
An example of mini-land.