In the end of the two-week pleasant journey through Europe, I arrived in Amsterdam with an anti-climax. As the train moved slowly into the station, I watched in dismay on the run-down walls and disorderly houses next to the railroad. Is this the famous Amsterdam?

As I dragged my luggage down the station stairs, unable to find an escalator or elevator, I lament at the barren state of this station.

Outside the train station is a big plaza, as in other European train stations. Beyond the plaza are several wide streets leading away to other parts of the city. The streets are full of people, and lined with cheap stores, restaurants and hotels. A lot of young people, many of which have black or middle-east look, loitering around on the streets. I wonder what they are doing. They call out to each other, as if in some secret pact or task.

As I finally found my hotel by meandering around the maze of small streets, I was happy that it is very welcoming. The room is modern, quiet and well-lit. It feels like an oasis in this crowded and bustling city.


Hildesheim, a Small German City

hildesheim_corner Hildesheim has a population of 100,000. It  is in the north Germany, 2 hours away from Berlin, and 30 minutes from Hanover.

I did not expect it to be any different from other German cities I saw. But I was in for a surprise. The hotel I stayed at is a 4-star one, with an impressive front yard, solid stone walls, and flying flags. It feels like a royal palace on the first look. Yet, I was taken back when the hotel staff told me the Internet account I paid can only run 13 hours until 9am the next morning. Shouldn’t Internet access to 24 hours? I was told that Vodafone, the only wireless provider for this hotel, charges another 39.99 Euros for daytime Internet access. I cannot believe my ears. In an age when we live and breathe on the Internet, how can such a backward scheme still exist?

From the streets, Hildesheim is a peaceful and charming town. Outside its train station is a plaza, where people sit outside cafés, or sit under a few big trees chatting. Many restaurants and stores are open around this plaza. Big city buses pass by frequently, unloading rushing passengers who walk fast into the train station. Just 1 block away from the plaza, you fill find a pedestrian street lined with stores of daily staff. There is a drug store (like Walgreen in US) selling everyday items, there is a Turkish grocery store, stacked with fresh vegetable and fruits. There is a leather-bag store, and a small electronic store. Most customers are local residents, which you can tell by their leisurely walk and greetings with the store clerk.

hildesheim_marketThere are quite a few Internet café on the street. In the US you don’t see such things as most people have Internet access at home. I have seen such café in China, but I am surprised to see them in Germany. Does it indicate the lack of Internet access in German households? (Note: Just found this out on the Intenet, Germany has 60% Internet penetration rate, quite high in the Europe. Relatively, US holds about 70%)

But people are peaceful and happy here. The streets are quiet and safe. People are dressed well and fed well. Germany has an excellent social safety net, which means its people are safe from illness or old age. They need not to steal or rob to get money, and this makes the streets very safe.

My Impression of Antwerp

Antwerp is the second largest city of Belgium. It is not crowded, nor is it quiet. It has the perfect flavor of an European city: stylish, historical, relaxed and peaceful.

As I walked out Antwerp central train station, I was immediately attacted by the ornate building standing next to the plaza.

The buldings are not tall in this city. They are at most 4 stories, giving it a small-city flavor. It reminds me so much of Palo Alto. Yet, it is 10 times larger than Palo Alto.

I took a sightseeing bus around the town, and see the historical opera house.

The beautiful Holland and Belgium

Today is my first day in Europe. I took a train from Amsterdam to Antwerpen, Belgium. From the view of my train window, I was surprised by large patches of green land of Holland. In my imagination, Holland is a small country. That normally translates into crowdedness.

The train is very smooth and fast. It takes less than 2 hours from Amsterdam to Antwerp. I sat in the first-class car, where seats are a little wider and there are fewer people. Other than that, it just looks like any normal car in US trains. I like the pull-down table in front each seat. It’s wide and sturdy and held my laptop very well. In fact, I was able to work on my computer throughout the 2-hour journey.

Countryside of Belgium

A trip to Europe

As I collected my train tickets, my heart skipped fast. On those tickets, Amsterdam, Brussel, Hannover, all these names call for my imagination. I have heard about them for so many times, now I can finally see them up close.

My flight will arrive at Amsterdam airport. From there, I will take a 2-hour train to Antwerpen in Belgium. Antwerpen is the second largest city of Belgium, with about 1 million people in its surrounding area. Pictures on the web showed some beautiful old-style buildings. Is the reality the same?

After Finishing my conference in Antwerpen, I will take an overnight train to Hannover in Germany. From the 360-degree online photo tour, the train station of Hannover is a large and wide picturesque red-tile building. It’s front plaza has beautiful statues and leisurely walking people. The city of Hannover also has many old historical places, which makes me marvel at the long human history in Europe. In the US, everything is so recent. Even the historical Boston started only after 1600s. If I want to trace historical sites, Europe will be a feast.

After 4 days of travel in Germany, I will come back to Amsterdam for one night before flying back to US. This will give me a chance to explore Amsterdam, as it has built its name as liberal city, in a tulip state. Will the streets be so interesting and exciting?