Friday, 30 December 2016

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 29th November 2016 – Day 5

Current Country / City: Netherlands / Amsterdam

Morning Temperature:  MINUS 5oC

Travel Method / Rating: Train / reasonably comfortable

Travelling to: Germany / Berlin

Accommodation:  Apartments am Brandenburger Tor

Day Time Temperature: MINUS 5oC

Approximate Travelling Time: 6.5 hours

Currency: Euro (€)

Steps (as calculated by phone software): 11,458

Activity/Observation:  Sad to leave Amsterdam we nevertheless shouldered our packs and checked out of the hotel. We walked the 500m to the Centraal Station as T-Witch had booked us on a train to Berlin. This journey took 6.5 hours and was pretty comfortable although the carriage was too warm for me. Far nicer than working in the frosted fields racing past outside though. Everyone had bought the strangest foreign lollies and snacks they could find at the supermarket and these were shared around, to be enjoyed or spat out, whichever was deemed preferable to individual tastes.

The large windows allowed us to look upon rural and suburban scenes which passed the time. Everything is a little different to what we are used to seeing. We weren’t aware of crossing the border until a second ticket check was performed by a German official. Previous border checks must have been horribly time consuming and annoying.

My first impressions of Germany are solar panels and wind turbines. They are literally everywhere. Nuclear power station must turn over at idle these days.

We arrived in Berlin at 3pm and found our way out of the station, taking heaps of photos along the way. The huge Xmas tree in the foyer was very impressive with its ever-changing, light display.

Then we braved the cold to skirt the Bundestag towards our apartment.

Darkness was falling by the time we found the hidden doorway to the apartment block office. T-Witch checked us in and spent quite a bit of time printing our boarding passes for the next leg of our trip. Ryanair insist that their customers (sheep) check-in online or a hefty fee is charged at the airport. These types of fine print rules should be a premonition for the worst airline experience of our trip - but more on that later.

Our apartment was on the 2nd floor and had a tiny elevator. Us youngsters took the stairs, which were dark (couldn't find the light switch until the next day). The door lock was a pain in the arse but we finally got inside and placed dibs on the rooms. The apartment was warm, clean and had the amenities you'd expect to find in budget accommodation. We dived in to wash our clothes and the washing machine broke down for the second load. I blame M-Witch's socks that had been worn for too many days straight.

Broomstick Tour - Day 6

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 28th November 2016 – Day 4

Current Country / City: Netherlands / Amsterdam

Morning Temperature:  MINUS 2oC

Travel Method / Rating: Trams and walking / Easy to use

Travelling to: N/A

Accommodation: Avenue Hotel

Day Time Temperature: 5oC

Approximate Travelling Time: N/A

Currency: Euro (€)

Steps (as calculated by phone software): 14,117

Activity/Observation: With another Avenue Hotel breakfast under our belts we took a tram to the famous IAMSTERDAM sign. Trainee M-Witch needed her picture taken here, as did a thousand other tourists. Obviously I missed the point of this exercise but joined in anyway.

Damn that metal was cold on my tender bits.

My first impressions while walking through Amsterdam’s street are the permanence and sheer age of my surroundings. So many 100, 200, 300 year old buildings. Each structure is tied into the next with the full expectation that this is how they will stand long after the architects and builders are dead and forgotten.

A visit to the Van Gogh Museum was a welcome break from the cold. As Aussies are said to be an uncultured lot, we spent some time critiquing the paintings to make up for our deficiency. I preferred the landscapes. I’m not much into abstract art especially after listening to several wanky patrons trying to impress everyone in earshot.

Afterwards we ambled through Amsterdam back streets, breathing in clouds of dope smoke as we passed a dozen ‘coffee shops’ and found ourselves in the red light district. Apparently I missed some eye-popping views (I was more interested in looking at old buildings than old whores) but the witches got flashed a few times.
Drugs are bad, mmm-kay?
T-Witch knew of a fantastic little café where we ordered lunch and drank some great beers.
Cafe Hoppe
Then it was a short-cut through the flower market to look at some slumped buildings along the canal, before finding a restaurant for dinner.

Broomstick Tour - Day 5

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 27th November 2016 – Day 3

Current Country / City: Netherlands / Amsterdam

Morning Temperature:  1oC

Travel Method / Rating: Trams and walking

Travelling to: N/A

Accommodation: Avenue Hotel

Day Time Temperature: 10oC

Approximate Travelling Time: N/A

Currency: Euro (€)

Steps (as calculated by phone software): 14,873

Activity/Observation: After breakfast at the hotel we went sightseeing. I requested a Gluhwein or Glogg (hot, spiced wine) much to the amusement of the coffee shop/bar owner, due to the early hour I suppose. I suspected the witches were having me on as they raved about how good it is but I was incorrect. Great taste and very warming right down to my soul. I immediately proposed to drink a lot more at every opportunity.

After 39.5 hours travelling a pressing need had arisen. I needed to make a priority purchase of shoe deodorant, and a spray on body deodorant. (These are essential items if you intend wearing shoes and clothes for more than 18 hours straight and expect others to share a room with you.)

 With the pharmacy purchases taken care of we spied an old building displaying alcohol which immediately drew our attention. We bought some 15 year old whiskey from a sour old bastard in this very interesting, ancient bottle shop. A cheese shop opposite was also visited to sample the dozen cheeses on display.

After wandering for a while, smelling pungent smoke at every corner, I realised all the coffee shops in the area actually sold weed as their main source of income. Marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands like many people think, but the police use their powers only when someone is misbehaving, and even then you can pay a small on-the-spot fine for drug possession. Come to think of it I never saw a cop while we were passing through these back streets and I never saw anyone misbehaving.

By 2pm the sister witches needed to find a sports bar to watch the Grand Prix race. We settled on a bar and asked the owner to dedicate one of his many big screen TV’s to the Grand Prix while we ate lunch and drank good beer.

 At 3pm we headed back to Centraal Station to pick up two more witches - L-Witch and trainee M-Witch. After dumping their huge packs, we recommenced our walking tour, stopping at Wijnand Fockink for a tipple.
The bar had rules on how to drink the liqueur.
 The new witches were understandably stuffed from the long flight and begged off so they could get some quality sleep.

The rest of us found a nearby restaurant with a decent menu before also heading back for our second nights well earned rest.

Broomstick Tour - Day 4

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 26th November 2016 – Day 2 (Part 2)

Current Country/City: United Arab Emirates / Dubai

Morning Temperature: 28oC

Travel Method/Rating: Qantas Flight - A380 Economy Class / Minor discomfort due to seat size

Travelling to: Netherlands /Amsterdam

Accommodation: In flight economy seating – not conducent to obtaining rest. 

Day Time Temperature: MINUS 1oC

Approximate Travelling Time: 7 Hours

Currency: Euro (€)

Steps (as calculated by phone software): 2852

Activity/Observation: As all good things eventually come to an end we departed the depleted Emirates Lounge with our bags full of freebies (contraband) – toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks, eye shades and razor kits - 7 kits each - and boarded our flight for Amsterdam.

After another 7 hours flying we landed in Amsterdam at 9pm their time, very, very tired. I maybe got 1 hour of micro sleeps and my brain was shutting down. Zombified, we barely showed our surprise when everyone's backpacks was spat out onto the carousel. 

Geared up, we headed for the Metro where T-Witch and H-Witch sorted out a suitable train. It was freezing in the tunnels and smelled like rotting garbage, wet concrete and diesel fumes. Smells immediately reminiscent of years of underground mine work. However there were more lights and tiles in the train station. 

Having achieved the goal of finding the right train we got off at Central Station. Trudging through the crowds to our nearby Avenue Hotel was thankfully a short journey and the hotel was easy to find. After an uneventful check-in we all split to our rooms for long showers and blessed sleep.

All up, the combined time spent travelling and waiting in lounges for flights from Auckland to Amsterdam added up to – 39.5 Hours.

Broomstick Tour - Day 3

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 26th November 2016 – Day 2 (Part 1)

Current Country/City: Australia / Melbourne

Morning Temperature:  12oC

Travel Method/Rating: Qantas Flight - A380 Economy Class / discomfort due to flight duration

Travelling to: United Arab Emirates / Dubai

Accommodation: Emirates Terminal 2 Business Class Lounge

Day Time Temperature: 29oC

Approximate Travelling Time: 12.5 Hours

Currency: N/A

Steps (as calculated by phone software): 2500 – (to and from the buffet and bars)

Activity/Observation: ‘Hell’ is maybe too strong a word to describe this boring, uncomfortable and never-ending flight. I just can’t sleep sitting upright even though we had pretty good seats that backed onto an emergency exit. We could recline without pissing anyone off. We were also on the upper deck so only about 30 people were using my toilet. Yes, 30 people visiting one toilet for 12.5 hours. I dread to think what the ratio was downstairs in the real economy section with 400 people.

As the lights were dimmed and every other bastard seemed to effortlessly fall asleep I struggled through, watching movies, one after another. At home I never manage to watch even one whole movie without getting up to do some gardening or go to bed at the ¾ mark. But there’s no bed and no garden at 11,000 metres. There’s nothing else to do at 11,000 metres. So I milled around like a caged tiger having an occasional chat with the bored stewardess.

We landed at Dubai anticlimactically. Of course the contaminated fuel delay meant we missed our connecting flight so we were resigned to a long wait. Luckily a sympathetic Emirates Host allowed us to use the Terminal 2 business class lounge. (We were supposed to use the very busy Terminal 3 lounge).

Our lounge was eerily deserted. Only 1 or 2 other passengers were floating about, but even these people seemed to get the willies after a few hours and they disappeared. Since we had 3 bars, 3 buffet spreads, plenty of empty beds, a hundred comfy lounges, along with 30 staff at our singular disposal, we can’t pretend we suffered during our 6 hours delay. And, during that 6 hours, the staff must have wondered where all the champagne was going. I think around 6 bottles evaporated in our vicinity. Using these time-passing tools, plus beer, (and some of us even showered), the wait was tolerably pleasant.

BTW - roll on deodorant that pretends to be active for 48 hour is a bullshit claim. Since my clothes were in limbo I never showered, so I stank.

Broomstick Tour - Day 2 (part 2)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 25th November 2016 – Day 1

Current Country/City: New Zealand/Auckland

Morning Temperature:  12oC

Travel Method/Rating: Qantas Flight – 737 Economy Class / Tolerable

Travelling to: Australia / Melbourne

Accommodation: Qantas Club Business Class Lounge

Day Time Temperature: 24oC

Approximate Travelling Time: 4 Hours

Currency: New Zealand Dollars ($) and Australian Dollars ($ Yaks)

Steps (as calculated by phone software): 7044

Activity/Observation: We dropped Mental at the cattery totally forgetting we haven’t renewed her F3. Much stress ensued as most catteries will not accept unvaccinated animals. We are so lucky and thankful that we have a great relationship with our lovely cat minder who said she’d take care of it for us.

Second screw-up occurred when we were informed that our connecting flight is delayed as Melbourne airport has rejected a batch of contaminated fuel. All flights are affected so we weren’t the only ones getting stuffed around. There’s no consolation in sharing this pain though.

We met up with T-Witch, H-Witch and K-Witch at Melbourne airport and swept into the  Qantas Club Business Class Lounge like we owned the place. We ate junky food and drank ‘free’ drinks while sitting around catching up for 2 hours. Our plane sat quietly on the tarmac, waiting until after midnight to receive its second allocation of fuel. As we needed 180,000 litres in order to get to Dubai we let them get all if it on board.

The calendar switches to 26th of November by the time we continue our journey. The dreaded 12.5 hour, non-stop flight to Dubai.

Broomstick Tour - Day 2 (Part 1)

The Witches European Broomstick Tour – 2016

This bi-annual trip started in 2014 after the original 5 witches held tentative discussions where dreams where ultimately turned into promises to tour Europe together. The intention being to take in the sights, immerse themselves in each country’s culture, and to buy tokens as proof of passage through the 100’s of Christmas markets that spring up throughout the European Union. They called this x-Europe rampage the "Broomstick Tour", got shirts made, and thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural experience.

Credit for the Broomstick Tours must go to the J-clan globe-trotters (with a special nod to T-Witch). Her in-depth research, creative use of transport (planes/ships/trains/subways/limousine services), ability to seek out unconventional accommodation and oversee the kitties. None of these activities are taken for granted.

T-Witch made a huge effort to ensure everyone had an initial say when choosing destinations on the 2016 Tour and continually modified the itinerary to ensure the progression was workable. She even included a few Easter eggs to keep us entertained and to make sure each country we visited was memorable. In all we'll cram 12 cities/towns into 23 days while visiting Netherlands, Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and United Kingdom - nobody better blink.
I’ll remain forever grateful for her dedication and patience as she shepherded the 6 of us (4 veterans and 2 virgins) through a quagmire of connecting flights, weird ticketing requirements, map deciphering, tracking down hidden accommodation locations and drew on her magical previous travel experiences to ensure we didn’t fall into the many tourist traps along the way.

Why I was invited is beyond me. As the lone male member, (partner to one of the witches), I didn’t fit the criteria. Also a daily battle with IBS, recently diagnosed and by no means understood or under control, made the decision to go along quite daunting. But, tired of being controlled by the illness, I chose to risk it.

The brief for this tour was for each person to carry a 45 litre backpack, (to suit carry-on size restrictions), with several extra bags shared between the group as check-in luggage as purchases mounted up.

We exchange NZ dollars for 300 Euro’s before we left. This later proves a laughably pitiful amount that needs topping up several times. Apparently we have expensive tastes and thirsts.

Due to time zone changes some estimates quoted may not calculate correctly. I have taken the liberty of rounding off and applying real time when indicating hours for travel.

Broomstick Tour - Day 1