Maastricht – Belgium – Amsterdam – Luxembourg – Strasbourg – Berlin

**Photo’s will be up soon – dodgy hostel internet**

The past three weeks have been very relaxed in Maastricht, Netherlands. Staying with the AIM overseas Aussies, mooching the accommodation in a semi-functional hospital building. This was very fitting as I spend majority of the time beating a cold. I was able to get some antibiotics and I hope all is well from here on in. Amidst all of that, I made weekend trips to Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam.

Belgium Weekend:
I stayed in a really sweet hostel, but unfortunately it was super far out of town. I made my way there by foot getting lost adding maybe forty minutes extra to the hike with my luggage only to figure out later in the day the city had a metro system. It turned out better in the end anyway as I gained my bearings and got to see more of the city. That evening I met up with the Australians, Jono included, and we went to a bar called Delirium, which is famous for having over 2500 different beers. I tried a cherry beer, a cactus beer and a couple of others, which I do not recall. Percentage wise they were getting up to 12%, which is something you don’t get everyday. After a few hours of beers at that percent, Jono walked me to the other side of town to my hostel and then he walked back to the group.

Day two in Belgium, it was a pretty overcast day. I had found out that one of the Aussies in the group had been mugged and was in hospital, which completely changed my perspective of the city. I immediately was on edge for the rest of the day. Nonetheless I continued exploring. I started with walking through the city park to the Cinquantenaire, then to one of the many cathedrals also the palace. Afterwards I met with Jon for lunch and then we went to a museum. Looking through the museum was pretty exhausting so we decided to split up to go to our accommodation and nap. I just watched TV in the hostel, mainly about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. It felt very close to home being in a French speaking country. The city was very much in mourning alongside Paris. I didn’t leave the hostel that evening as walking around at night wasn’t ideal. I also decided that I had seen mostly everything that I had wanted to see, so I cancelled my third night in the hostel.

Day three in Belgium, I caught the metro to the Atomium, which is the iconic building just outside of the city. It didn’t disappoint, walking around enjoying the sunny day, definitely heightened my experience of Brussels. After lunch and some green tea, I jumped on the train back to Maastricht and picked up takeaway pasta for Jon and I as he too had arrived back that afternoon to the Netherlands. I realized I had left Belgium without eating a waffle, but I had already eaten enough of them in Maastricht, smothered in chocolate, oh man, so amazing!

Amsterdam weekend was a lot of fun. Amsterdam was an incredible city, full of life, beautiful buildings, canals and bikes everywhere. I had found the most amazing hostel called ‘Ecomama’. If anyone reading this is heading to Amsterdam, I highly recommend it. This hostel had a full on tipi in the center of it. It was super quirky and relaxed and I didn’t want to leave it. After arriving I enjoyed some tea and read up on things to do the next day.

Day one in Amsterdam I started the day with a walking tour. The guide was very informative and of course kept us all in the know about the marijuana laws and regulations and also the red-light district. It was very bizarre walking through the red-light district at 10am with half naked women dancing in the windows and staring you down. They are very proud of what they do and want to be respected so there are strict regulations when you are walking down the street. There are also sex-shops on every corner, so it was clear that the Dutch were very open people. The guide said that they believe that by legalizing all of these things, that it keeps it fair for those who participate and also keeps it from becoming a black market. After the tour Jon, Gabby, Samara and myself headed to the Van Gogh museum, my favourite was the ‘sunflower’ painting. We also did the typical tourist picture at the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign. Very difficult to get a good shot as there was so many damn people. That evening, the Aussie group coordinator was kind enough to let me jump on board to a pancake cruise down the canals. The Dutch are famous for their savory pancakes, so we had pancakes with bacon and Brie. It wasn’t the best service around and the group was complaining, but I got it for free so I was laughing. We then kicked off the night in a hotel room with about 10 of us combined with confetti and PIMS. We tried our luck getting in to some hotshot bar, any advice for future attempts at Amsterdam bars, do not try to enter with a large group… it just doesn’t happen. So since that didn’t work out we wandered across the square, found some dodgy bar, swept up all the two-euro beers we could and danced to the likes of the spice girls. It turned out more fun in the end anyway.

Day two in Amsterdam, I was again able to join the Aussies and we caught a bus to Zaanse Schans Open air museum, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. This is the typical old windmill’s I pictured when I thought of the Netherlands, so I’m really glad I got to see it. It was raining and the guide was pretty hard to understand, but we got to taste a whole bunch of cheese, my favourite was pesto cheese. Afterwards Jon and I grabbed our bags off the bus and caught a city bus back in to Amsterdam. The Aussies were headed back to Maastricht for their day off, but we decided to make the most of the time we had. We had Vapiano pasta for dinner and watched the Australian Open on TV.

Day three in Amsterdam, Jon and I explored the Waterlooplein flea market and the famous Bloemenmarkt. We then had an awesome burrito and explored Urban Outfitters Amsterdam. I found a really cool print that is now rolled up in the back of my pack; hopefully it makes it through the trip all right. Mid afternoon we boarded the train back to Maastricht. Definitely would like to go back to Amsterdam, it was a beautiful city, that even in the middle of winter, felt very much alive.

The three weeks in Maastricht has been lovely, but it is time for the big month of straight travel to begin! We left Maastricht with about 10cm of snow in the ground and it was still falling. Sad to say bye to everyone, and to the snow, but it was time to hit the road. It was a headache to get to the station as everyone was fluffing around with the trains had stopped for the morning due to the weather. It would have been very stressful being in the shoes of half of the Australian group who had flights to catch that evening. We made it to Luxembourg, late that evening and walked through the city to find the hostel at the bottom of the valley. We then ditched our bags and walked back up the mountain to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant. All the ‘Luxembourgian food’ was going to cost us 30 euro each. This city was dusted in snow and it was very beautiful. It had an old fort wall through the entire valley.

Day two of the trip, we wandered around Luxembourg in the freezing cold, but it was so beautiful I didn’t care. We then had a French lunch in a patisserie (Paul’s), not healthy in the slightest, so much chocolate. Afterwards we grabbed our bags, caught a taxi to the station and jumped on a train to Strasbourg, France. Here we checked in and likewise just wandered around the old city. It was Sunday, so pretty much everything was closed except for tourist stores and Kebab places.

Day three of the trip we caught the tram around the city for the lazy mans way to check we had seen everything. Then we enjoyed copious amounts of free croissants in the hotels breakfast room. It is Australia Day, very sad day to miss, but we still listened in to the Hottest 100, where Chet Faker won. We are now on the fast train up to Berlin, where Jon and I are arguing over who is better at UNO. This is going to be a long eight-hour train! We are celebrating AUS day with a stein and pork at the HB Munich restaurant in Berlin.

Love to everyone,

Abbey, 2015.

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