Sat. July 19, 2014:
Amsterdam to Otterlo, Netherlands to Essen, Germany:
Iced coffee is a godsend for early mornings. Even more so when there is a mini-bar fridge to keep it in so it doesn’t curdle. Apparently the best time to walk around Amsterdam is early in the morning, before everyone wakes up. We had a very cushy and comfy 1 hour train tide to Arnhem. From there the plan was to catch a bus to Otterlo, after an hour on which we would reach the Kroller-Muller museum (hence the early wake-up).
It was all well and good until we got in to Arnhem. We had no idea where to catch this bus; it was not even listed on the schedule at the adjoining bus terminal. Exasperated, I got on a random bus and asked the driver. Turns out we were so close, it was the next platform over… and we waited about a minute and the bus arrived. Thankfully we were able to buy our bus tickets from the driver and we did not need to have the exact amount saving us from scrambling for change. This was the most inefficient “express” bus I have ever been on in my life. There were a lot of stops, including stopping at a zoo. The bus had to backtrack a lot, even using a roundabout to make a u-turn. It was an hour long ride not because of distance but due to the meandering route. At some point we were on a really narrow road, winding our way through the forest. This made sense, the Kroller-Muller museum was situated inside a national forest park.
The bus dropped us off down the road from the museum. We thought we would be getting dropped off at the entrance to the park. From there you take one of the publicly available bikes and ride to the museum through the park. It would have been a hilarious sight to see as we struggled to bike uphill with our giant backpacks weighing us down. Not helping matters was that it was 11am and already it was boiling hot. What the museum (and all museums in Europe it seemed) was a water fountain. I ended up trying to drink from the tap, which is no easy task when it is an automated tap.
We started outside in the sculpture garden; the day was only going to get hotter and the sun more intense. It was already over 30 Celsius. Brent mistook one art piece for a snack bar stand. I blame the glaring sun, but I still had a good laugh. There was a really fun giant statue that you could climb up a secret hidden stairwell and climb on top of the statue.
The Kroller-Muller had a really nice collection of Van Gogh paintings, the second largest but it was much less crowded. They also had some nice paintings on display by Seurat. The last two exhibits were modern and “conceptual” i.e.: impossible to understand. Especially the one that was a giant curtain, behind which you saw the stuff used to make it. The curtain was not even an original design!!
The museum café did not look very appealing, thankfully we still had some mini stroopwafels left. We hid in the shade behind the bus shelter; thankfully there was a cool breeze. As it turned out we had plenty of extra time before the train we had planned on taking. The bus ride seemed really slow, but that quickly faded when I saw that there was free wi-fi.
We got to the train station at 1:30, way too early for our scheduled 5:30 train. We stood in line at the ticket counter, hoping we could change our ticket times, for the 3:30 train. The guy in line in front of us said he had been waiting 45 minutes already. After another 15 minutes he gave up and left. We looked at each other bewildered. Turns out he was right. At the counter was the world’s most insufferable woman buying every possible train ticket imaginable. She would ask questions about each ticket after it was printed. Finally after about 15 minutes she brought out her credit card… and proceeded to ask more questions. This lasted another 10 minutes. I was floored, what could she possibly be talking about?! At this rate we would be racing to catch the 3:30 train. Finally, after what seemed like forever, she was done. All that waiting and we were told that we could take the 3:30 train no problem, but if we wanted reserved seats it would be €23.
We had lunch at the train station, not wanting to risk getting lost in Arnhem. We found a small café that served fresh food, which was better than the alternative: refrigerated sandwiches and vending machine burgers. I had bought a cookie from Starbucks from dessert, but it was so damn hot on the train platform that I ran back downstaiars to buy a Magnum ice cream bar, leaving the cookie for inevitable cookie cravings later on.
We had a half hour wait for our train. There were some annoying kids nearby, so we had to retreat further down the platform away from them. We managed to get seats on the train, but the AC was barely on and my Coke Zero was warming up. We switched trains in Duisburg, Germany. After a 20 minute delay, waiting in the heat on the platform, the train to Essen finally arrived. And immediately I longed for the outdoors. The train did not have AC; it was unbelievably hot in there. We were only on the train for 15 minutes, but when we got off we were soaked with sweat. It had literally been like a sauna. I felt bad for anyone staying on the train. We had taken it two stops and that was bad enough.
I was in love with Essen; there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in the train station and no cyclists! I chugged a few glasses of water at the hotel and then we set off for Zollverein, an abandoned repurposed coal mine. The city map we had did not show far north enough for it to be of any use to us. All we had to go on was the Google Maps print out Brent had. Even still we managed to miss a turn but Brent managed to find an alternate route using the Google Map, we followed the streetcar tracks. We passed by a convenience store and I bought what I could only hope was peach iced tea (there were a lot of words on the label). Success! It was peach iced tea, so refreshing in the heat. On the way we passed by a random goat farm. The goats were so cute, they made excellent lawnmowers.
I noted a McDonalds on the way for future dinner plans. We started out in the third section of the Zollverein and worked our way backwards to the first one, which was the one with the iconic building that was representative of the place. The building is used as a symbol advertising Zollverein. It was really cool to see all the old buildings from the coal mine. The site had been left unkempt and was overgrown with plants. I wanted so badly to look down a mine shaft into the earth, alas it was blocked off with fences and I could barely see the edge of the hole. The architecture overall was really interesting and it was great to be able to walk around and explore the place, it was pretty much empty save for a few people.
On the way back we passed through a sculpture garden but I am not sure it can really be called that. It was total crap. One “sculpture” was two cement blocks with scalloped edges stacked on top of each other. Walking back, I was so tired and so dehydrated. It was still really hot outside, even though it was 8:30pm and the sun was starting to set. I rejoiced at the sight of the goat farm, it meant that McDonalds was just down the street! All I could think of was a giant iced cold cup of soda. I tried the salsa beef burger which was actually pretty good, it had jalapenos in it. Plus it had the menu option of burger and soda, no fries. Also new was the chili sauce with my chicken nuggets. Self-serve kiosks are a godsend. Before we left I ordered a berry smoothie. Good thing I did, the grocery store next door was closed, so much for sodas and snacks.
We went to the “town square” but there was nothing to see, except maybe the convenience store? Before that all we had seen were convenience windows that you walk up to and order from, much too awkward for foreigners like us who want to browse. We got some more Haribo gummies and a Nuts bar (it was like a lighter version of Snickers and with hazelnuts in place of peanuts). The lemon Fanta I got was actually sour, which took me a little by surprise. Brent had MezzoMix, a weird drink that was half cola, half orange soda. It tasted like really fake knock-off Coca Cola. On the way back to the hotel we noticed a festival, but as we got closer we noticed it was a punk rock festival full of drunken teenagers. One guy literally could not stand up even with his two friends holding him up.
Back in the hotel it felt so good to just sit down put my feet up. I was exhausted, my legs hurt and I was still dehydrated. I also realized that all this time in Essen we had not seen a single board game shop.