Happy Birthday! (Nathan)

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
Trip End Oct 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Houseboat Amicitia

Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm so sorry it's been so long since I updated! I got home and sort of went into a coma for a week. Well, I was actually ready to start writing a few days ago, but I got sick and felt like hell. Anyway, I'm a little better now and I'm going to try to get an entry up every day or two, or more often if I have time. I know a lot of people reading the blog aren't here to hear my stories in person, and even people who are haven't seen the pictures and video.

So, the 17th was my birthday, and also the last day in our hostel- we were moving to a cheaper houseboat for our last few days in Amsterdam. We got them to hold our stuff at the hostel for the morning, then went out to get breakfast... or tried to, anyway. There was a huge marathon in town that day, which had blocked off many of the streets, and we had to sneak across without disrupting any of the runners to get to the breakfast place Glennica had seen in the guide.

Unfortunately, after we did this and were on our way there, I realized that if we ate there, we wouldn't have time to get to the boat tour we had scheduled for that morning! Getting food in a sit-down restaurant in Amsterdam usually takes a minimum of one hour (often an hour and a half just to get the bill!), and there was no way we could get back in time... we could if took the tram, but it wasn't running because of the marathon! So we gave up on eating there and went straight to where the boat tour was, which took much longer than it would normally thanks to the roads being blocked, but ended up getting us there in time to have a quick, boring, unhealthy breakfast at a place across the street. In fact, we had about ten minutes to spare after, so Glennica ordered a drink at the bar where we were supposed to meet the boat captain, and since it was my birthday, she asked the bartender to make one for me, too! He made some kind of citrusy mystery drink based on my preferences (I like fruity drinks, not too sweet, but not tasting of alcohol), and it turned out really good! It was a little sweet at first, but after I squeezed a couple lime wedges into it it was just right. Finally it was time to get on the boat, so we followed the captain down a couple streets to where it was moored in the canal and climbed in.

It was a small boat and a small tour group, and that was the whole point- they offered these rides for free (donations encouraged and deserved) in an intimate, fun setting as an alternative to the gigantic tour boats. We'd seen these massive, enclosed boats cruising the canals, each one holding around 80 people, and I much preferred this smaller option- about 10 people in a small, open boat that had apparently been drudged up from the bottom of a canal and restored. In fact, they were so popular that the companies running the huge boats tried to get them shut down, but failed since the small boat tours aren't a business, running only off of donations and all. It disgusted me that they were trying to make those huge, ugly, impersonal boats the only way to take a tour on the canals- as though the competition of two tiny boats (they were the only ones the smaller tour group had, and only one was even in use at the time) would put them out of business!

The tour itself was pretty good... our guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining, and it was a nice day in Amsterdam, only a little chilly and with sunshine instead of endless rain. We'd already seen a lot of the things he was pointing out, since we'd been walking around so much, but he always had something new to tell us about them. He also let one of the other riders drive the boat for a while... he asked for volunteers and one of the girls across from me immediately shouted "ME!", and then her friend sitting next to her said she was a terrible choice and tried to hold her back. Her eagerness, and her friend's unexplained alarm at it, made us all a little nervous, but she ended up driving for a while. There were a lot of places, mostly in front of bridges, where we had to wait for other boats to pass, and we saw some guy in a boat zooming around in erratic circles, which our guide described as absolutely insane behavior that nobody should ever do. At the end of the tour, he passed around a joint, and we all went back to where we had started. He was such a good guide that nobody wanted to leave when the boat stopped, and he even said they didn't have to- they could hang out in the boat as long as they didn't litter. Glennica and I paid him twice what we'd originally planned to and went back to the hostel to pick up our bags. It was time to switch to our new lodgings, a houseboat on the north end of the city.

Most of the rest of the day was spent trying to get to a tram to get up to our houseboat. The marathon was in the way everywhere we went, and at one point we had to wait in line 20 minutes to cross over the only bridge that went over the runners. When we finally got to our houseboat, I found it to be really, really tiny... two bunks with about enough floorspace for two people to stand up or one person to get dressed. We hadn't been spending a lot of time in our room during this trip, though, and the bunks themselves were large enough, so it didn't really matter. We took a nap, then went out to find a smoked fish shop mentioned in our guide. I was hoping to bring back some smoked salmon to give to my Dad, hopefully by shipping it, but the person in charge of shipping wasn't there, so we agreed to come back in a couple days instead. In the meantime, I bought some of their beef jerky, and it was the best I've ever tasted. Obviously handmade beef jerky is better than the processed junk they sell in packages, but we have people selling handmade jerky by the side of the road here in Colorado, and this was even better than that stuff.

I'd been wanting to go to a certain restaurant I'd read about in the guide, an okonomiyaki shop. For those of you who don't know, okonomiyaki is a kind of Japanese pizza/pancake/omelette thing made from vegetables and batter and lots of different toppings and sauces. It's something I'd seen all the time in anime and heard about in other discussions of Japanese culture, but I'd never gotten the chance to try it. This place claimed to be the only okonomiyaki restaurant in Europe, and I'd been trying to get Glenn (who hates Japanese food) to take me there for the past few days, but she kept suggesting other, closer places instead. We'd finally agreed that tonight would be the night to go, but once we found the place, the waiter said they were all booked up... and that this was their last night in business before they closed for three months. Hearing this, on my birthday no less, was just totally crushing, but things weren't as bad as they seemed... after Glennica pleaded with him a bit, he mentioned that there were seats available, we'd just have to wait an hour. Why didn't he say that in the first place?! We happily agreed to that, and wandered off to a nearby bar to wait.

The bar gave me my second birthday drink... well, kind of. It was a cup of green tea that Glennica thoughtfully ordered for me, rather than booze, but I think it still counts. Eventually it was time to head back to the restaurant, and I almost took a seat at a table on the lower level before realizing how monumentally foolish that idea was and sitting right up in front of the grill instead. This was definitely the way to go- I could see the okonomiyaki being cooked, and the chef there was a very entertaining guy, obviously having some fun with his work and his teasing of the customers. I had been planning to order the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, with noodles and egg, and Glennica had wanted to order the negiyaki, which was a scallion pancake, but both the chef and the waiter insisted that if this was our first time we should try the Osaka style, and there was just no arguing with them... we accepted their advice and ordered two Osaka style, one with seafood and one with beef and spinach. They were both very very good (even Glennica loved hers, despite her misgivings), and also quite filling... the chef said he'd seen people eat three in a row, but I don't know how that's physically possible for a human being. They gave me my third birthday drink, a shot of Japanese plum wine, and it was really, really good, far better than I'd expected it to be. It was a great birthday dinner, and Glennica paid for it because she's sweet. :)

After that we searched around for a quiet coffee shop where we could do a teleconference with Sierra and Dad. We'd been trying to do one ever since Blackpool, but they always failed for some reason or another... we were very lucky this time, though, and found a wonderfully calm, quiet place with free internet access, where we had a nice long conversation... Glennica and I shared a pair of headphones and Dad and Sierra used the TV in Glennica's apartment to show the view from our laptop's webcam. They couldn't quite make out what we were saying and we had to take turns typing, but I actually preferred it that way, rather than having a one-sided oral conversation in the middle of a bunch of strangers. It was really nice to see and hear them again after so long, and it made me eager to get back home... though not so eager that I was really homesick, exactly. Just looking forward to the day when I'd return. I also had birthday drink number four there, another fruity mystery concoction, which was quite good... better than Glennica's mojito, even. And that was it for my birthday... we headed back to the houseboat afterward and went to bed. Thanks to the teleconference and the okonomiyaki, my birthday was a special day... and when every day involves seeing and experiencing new things in a foreign land, that's saying something.
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Linda on

Happy B-day.. fellow Libra........Pretty nice being able to spend your birthday in a far away land:).. Welcome home, and take some time to revisit your very special trip.

Jamaris on

Whee, you're home! Hope you had the most fun you've ever had in your life. I know I can't wait to go overseas on my own adventure. :3

If I end up going to Italy, do you wanna come along? XP

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