In 2010 I started feeling the itch to fly for a vacation in Europe. My friend Ethan invited me to join him on an eleven day trip to Amsterdam at the end of September. His friend Amir, whom I knew from our traditional LAN parties, was already there, and we were to join him.
This was my first experience abroad without my parents, and I had a great time. A spontaneous road trip to Munich in the middle of the trip taught me driving can actually be fun and probably made me the road trip lover I am today. It paved the way for the (much longer) road trips I made later on in the USA.
Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the original files of the pictures I took on this trip. Therefore the pictures here are low quality versions I posted at the time on Facebook.
Me and Ethan flew together to Amsterdam in September 26. We joined Amir in Durty Nelly's, a small pub slash youth hostel at the heart of Amsterdam's Red Light District. Our room had four bunk beds, thus accommodating eight customers. Prior to our arrival, I was kinda wary of sharing a room with 5 more random people, but I actually enjoyed our stay there very much. Our other roommates changed pretty frequently, and our "Israeli habits" made it so we hardly ever met them: while almost all of the hostel's guests would wake up early and return in the evenings to sleep, we used to sleep 'till noon and go out at night to return in the small hours of the morning. As such, we almost never met our roommates.
We spent our first three days in Amsterdam walking around town, joining pub crawls (or doing our own), visiting the Heineken museum, etc. I also went to Ajax Amsterdam's Champions League match against A.C. Milan in Amsterdam Arena.
Road Trip to Oktoberfest
On the fourth day of our trip, we woke up at noon and spontaneously decided to make our way to Munich, where the annual Oktoberfest was taking place. It was the festival's 200th year. At first we contemplated taking a train, but eventually decided to rent a car since train tickets were too expensive. The only rental agencies that had any cars were located at the airport, so we took a train to the airport, and rented the only car that was available that late in the day - a small Fiat Panda. We bought a road map of Europe and immediately left towards Munich.
We drove into Germany, and realized we really had no idea where we're driving, and that the map was no help at all. So we entered the city Essen and started looking for a place where we could buy a GPS device. We saw a sign pointing to a university, thought "a university must have a mall nearby", and sure enough we found a large mall right next to it. We bought the cheapest GPS device we could find (which wasn't cheap at all), and spent about 15 minutes trying to switch its interface to English (the instructions were in German, and when powering up the first time we accidentally selected French).
We continued driving until the sun went down, and decided to stop for the night in Frankfurt. We drove around looking for a place to stay, and somehow found ourselves in what appeared to be the sleaziest part of the city. We found a reasonably priced hotel room in a street filled with nefarious characters. After eating dinner at McDonald's, we went to sleep, only to find out that the key to the door didn't really lock it, and it could still be opened from the outside. We weren't going to sleep in such a place without a locked door, so I took a chair from the room and placed it below the handle, just like they do in the movies. We tested our improvised defense system and it seemed to work, so we went to sleep. At a certain point during the night, I woke up to the sounds of someone fiddling with the door. As we were used to being awakened by the cleaner during our previous three nights in Amsterdam, my initial thought was that the cleaner was trying to get in. But then I looked at my watch and saw that it wasn't even five in the morning. I also realized that the person on the outside was a man, and that he was growing increasingly frustrated about not being able to open the door. Finally, he muttered what must have been a curse word and left. Seems like that chair below the door handle saved us from robbery, or worse.
The next day we woke up early (to avoid paying for the parking spot), and starting driving on the Autobahn. Driving the Autobahn is a weird experience, what with everybody going 200 km/h, which is something we never did. And it's even weirder when you're driving a Fiat Panda that looks and sounds like it's going to explode when you pass 150.
Unfortunately (or not), part of the Autobahn was closed, and we found ourselves stuck in the worst traffic jam I've ever experienced in my life. I was behind the wheel at the time, and the jam was so bad I actually went to sleep on the wheel, and found that traffic hadn't moved an inch when I woke up a full hour later. After five hours of hardly moving, we finally left the highway, and started driving "blindly" through small country roads, hoping we will somehow reach our destination, as our GPS seemed reluctant to accept that the Authobahn was closed and tenaciously ordered us to make a U turn and return to the closed road. This bit of misfortune turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we got to drive through beautiful Bavarian scenery, filled with lakes, castles and small villages.
Eventually, we returned to the Autobahn and reached Munich, somewhat later than we planned. We parked our car in one of the very cost effective Park&Drive lots located at the Metro stations, and took the train downtown. We spent quite a bit of time trying to find out where the hell Oktoberfest was taking place. The locals seemed clueless about it when asked, which was alarming. Eventually we decided to just take a taxi, as taxi drivers must know the location, and so we reached the festival grounds in the evening. We walked around just to see what was what, before we "really" enjoy the festival the next day.
After some time we left to look for a place to stay the night. We walked to the hotels nearby the festival, but found most of them were either fully booked or extremely expensive. So we entered an Internet Cafe and started looking for alternative locations. Using Google Maps, we found a small hotel called "Hotel Arena" in a neighborhood right next to the Metro station where we parked our car, in the north of the city. We called and booked their last available room for one night. We took the train back to our car, drove to the hotel and checked in. The hotel turned out to be a very nice and pleasant establishment with a traditional look and feel. Speaking with the owner, she was excited to find out we're from Israel, and told us she was Jewish and that her sister was living in Israel. Her son, who was helping her run the hotel, was even more excited, and talked with us for a while about Israel and about our soccer teams. We were sorry the hotel only had a room for one night, since we were planning to stay in Munich for an extra night before returning to Amsterdam.
The next day, instead of heading straight to Oktoberfest, we went to visit one of the local markets, which was pretty nice. We sat down below the rain to drink big 1L steins of Franziskaner beer and eat hot dogs. We then made our way to Oktoberfest, and spent the day drinking beer, enjoying the carnival, etc. We also met my friend Guy, who's been living in Germany for some years.
Before we left the hotel in the morning, we booked a room in a hotel in the south of the city. After visiting Oktoberfest, we drove to the hotel and went to sleep.
Back to Amsterdam
The day after our Oktoberfest visit, we were contemplating whether to stay for another day or return to Amsterdam. Eventually, we decided to return, and so we drove the 1000 km back in one sitting. We were hoping to stay in Durty Nelly's again, but it was fully booked, and we wound up booking a terrible room in a terrible hotel in the Red Lights District.
I decided to spend the last two days of the trip alone, and booked a hotel in a less touristy part of town. During those days I walked around Vondelpark, visited the Van Gogh Museum, and probably more stuff I don't remember.