Well, I've made and am back home after a really good night's sleep and an ecstatic welcome from two of the happiest cats I will ever meet.
On my way out of Amsterdam I broke my first rule of travelling - don't visit old Churches. For sure, the architecture is stunning and the sense of peace and quiet in a bustling city is always welcome, but to be honest there are only so many old graves and sweeping naves that I can take.
Not too far away I found this former barge, now converted to be a houseboat. Apparently there are no longer any free berths in Amsterdam, just boats that are already berthed. The purchase price is typically about the same as a similarly sized house, with berthing fees, higher insurance, etc etc on top, and steel hulled vessels have to be pulled from the water every 3 years for rust proofing and hull inspections. Concrete hulled boats don't need this, but are much more square and to my mind ugly.
I think these buildings are halls of residence but as the rain was beginning to spatter I snapped the photo and moved on - I had a date with a beer.
The UK HVan website costs of ownership can match those of an elderly Jaguar, so that sounds as though owning a Land Rover is relatively cheap in comparison. I never thought that would be true!
Just to prove I am not totally against churches, I did spot this tower peeking out from behind some houses.
So moving on from The 'Dam, I decided on a whim to go to Antwerp. I have visited once before, on a trip organised by Off Licence News, and I remember enjoying it immensely although that could be down to the huge quantities of sponsored beer we all took on board. There is also a working port and I quite fancied a trip out on the harbour if possible, and supposedly some other interesting sites.
But in the main the harbour tours don't start for another couple of days and the rest of the city seemed a bit quiet. I was also hacked off by the attitude of the waiter who (didn't) serve me in a reasonable restaurant in town - while I understand entirely that the pretty girls at the next table will always receive more attention from 2 waiters than the bloke on his own, they could have remembered my existence a little bit.
From the top, there is a platform, then a layer of shops/coffee places, then another train (you can just see it), then I think another layer of people, then right in the depths are the platforms that handle the trains to France and The Netherlands. The same is repeated on the other side.
So, moving on I headed for Rotterdam. There is one comment I have to make about Belgian and Dutch trains: they are slooooow. I know both are small countries and therefore fast trains would fall off the edge, over the boarders, and I know that one can take the Thalys train which is essentially a TGV that runs from Brussels to Amsterdam stopping a couple of times en-route, but I wish the normal services could go a bit faster!
Rotterdam was my last stop, I arrived at around lunchtime and left early evening for the ferry. This was just enough time to walk into town from the station, have an excellent lunch, grab a tour of the harbour and walk back to the station.
At the end of this however is a giant gnome holding what looks to me like a giant sex toy! Now, I know that the Dutch are relaxed about such matters but perhaps they intended this to depict an ice cream or something!
Given that I had missed out in Anrwerp I naturally headed for the water and a harbour tour. Unfortunately this was of the canned-commentary, entertain the coach loads variety and as such was rather dull, but I did spot my own ship pictured here (my initials are CGM).
Feeling like a balloon ready to pop I headed back to the station to catch the final (Interrail) train of my journey to Hoek Van Holland Haven - about half an hour away.
Breakfast was served at 0530 and it was nice to get outside a full English after eating the flacid ham and cheese with a roll that is available on the continent.
So, there we are. I will consolidate in the next post, but overall it is a great way to travel and really nice to look at a map and think "yes I can go there, via x, y and z", and just do it. Sure, I did a bit of booking ahead, the occasional hostel, sleeper train or trip, but everything else was done there and then.
For me, this is the sort of travel that suits me best - the thought of spending 2 weeks on a beach somewhere fills me with horror!