The Netherlands - or better known as Holland!
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Another thing we noticed on our trip to Utrecht is that as we got closer and closer to the station, we saw more and more bike parking cages packed completely full of bikes. It was still nothing compared to when we actually made it out of the train station and started to walk to Raldi's house. Bikes, bikes everywhere, I had never seen anything like it. And not just in Utrecht but Amsterdam and other small towns we would go to, the Dutch just seem to ride their bikes all over.
The next day we made the half hour train ride to Amsterdam. Our first impression of the layout of Amsterdam reminded us a lot of Venice, only with a lot more bikes! It made sense too considering most of the country is actually below sea level. But the old town area of Amsterdam is lined with canals and hundreds of bridges scattered throughout the area. Armed with our map we snaked our way through the streets, making our first stop at Dam Square. It was at this point that it started to rain again, so Micaela ducked inside an H&M store to look at underwear while I caught the end of a street performance show. So after chasing down the shopaholic we did as the tourists do and made our way over to the red light district to get the unique experience of "window shopping". Micaela was interested in how the ladies lined up along the windows but she wasn't sure how to act around them
It was fun that night having such a wide range of backgrounds for conversations, with people from Australia, the US, Germany, and the Netherlands. We were also very grateful not just for the food but also the wide variety of Belgian beers, wines, and spirits for the evening. After 2 months on our own we were truly spoiled!
The next day we started off in Utrecht, and on the advice of Marianne we rented bikes and followed the river up to the next town. Little did we know that our bike route would also take us up past the one of the prostitution areas of Utrecht, with designated cabins set up right on the river, quite arguably one of the most picturesque settings for this kind of thing in the world. After taking in the uniqueness of the setting and waving to the ladies as we went by, Micaela and I made our way up the river through the quaint little towns which lined the banks
That night we settled in for another delicious home-cooked meal with Raldi, Marianne, and Raldi's sister Lillian. After the meal was over we made our way over to Raldi's boyfriend's house to continue the party until he got home from his shift as an officer on a train. I was intrigued since his name was pronounced "bus", but he assured me that he did in fact work on a train.
The next day we boarded the train for Donaueschingen in southwest Germany. It was another long train trip with multiple changes, but unfortunately it was made longer by our mistake of thinking we could find a shortcut when we should have kept to our original schedule. Our first train change was in Duisburg, Germany, and while we should have had a 40 minute wait for our train to Stuttgart, we noticed that an earlier train to Stuttgart had just been delayed enough for us to hop on board and catch it. How clever we thought we were that we would get to Stuttgart early and possibly even get to Donaueschingen early too! Turns out what we had hopped on was what I am dubbing the "scenic" train. We saw some wonderful castles and scenery along the Rhein river, but due to the frequent stops and slower speeds we got into Stuttgart and hour after the other train and we missed our connection. All in all we were delayed 2 hours but still met Christian and Katerina Sellmer with plenty of daylight to go.