Arriving in Amsterdam we followed the directions to the campsite until we came to a sign with the words "Peace to the world" with psychedelically coloured vans within. Although we were open to a more laid back lifestyle in Amsterdam this came as a shock and we braced ourselves for our hippy hosts. To Kaylas dismay this was not our final destination, which was a short distance away and although ordinary in comparison contained the basics we were looking for i.e. hot showers and nearby public transport to the city central.

With hours before sunset we crossed the bridge to the tram stop and made our way in to the Dam, Amsterdam's main square. Having no plan we did our usual aimless wandering through small streets that contained a surprising variety. One thing that quickly became apparent were the coffeeshops and the shops selling fastfood i.e. columns of mini ovens containing reasonably fresh food that could be bought by the drop of a coin. Almost as proliferant were the lolly shops selling so many sugary sweets that the small price per 100g became expensive when you attempted to try them all. To make matters worse when you returned on another day to try some others, you had forgotten which ones you did or didn't like, so ended up buying far too many again... Or so we were told...

The city was interesting but not remarkable and the canals dirty. Maybe we were jaded from some of the places we had visited but although there were some interesting buildings, overall it just seemed to be a city with some canals. This isn't to say we didn't enjoy walking within it's many streets and soon we were rewarded when we stumbled upon the tulip markets. We were quite amazed at what could be bought there, from fresh tulips to bulbs so you could grow your own, as well as the ever present seeds for plants deemed illegal in other countries. To finish our first impressions off, we indulged in one of the local delicacies, chips served in a cone, eaten while wandering.

After some early morning housekeeping we headed back into the city just before lunch to Starbucks, where we spent the next few hours charging the laptop and bouncing on coffee. While we sat within the warmth and the sun outside we were surprised when, as if out of nowhere, it started to snow. Having dressed for a sunnier day, with our 3 layers of jumpers, on we were confident that we could persevere. Hopping from one haven of warmth to the next we explored one of the other main sides to Amsterdam, that is the souvenir shop. Home of fake clogs, beanies and bongs, we became overwhelmed with the variety to the point where we couldn't stand to see another pink bong in the shape of a dickdyke that we headed back to our van for some reprieve from the biting wind.

The next day was a disappointment. We had hoped that by the time we headed back north, being spring, that it would be a little warmer. Apparently, they didn't get the memo, so we spent a full day insulating ourselves from the sub-zero spring weather, in the van, awaiting the sunny conditions forecasted for the following day. As the new day dawned, with the sun shining, the temperature was a balmy 5o and we headed off early to explore the city some more. After buying the city discount pass, we headed on to Madame Tussauds to catch up with some of our celebrity counterparts. After a great deal of catching up with "old friends" we left the museum to face reality,

With so many canals we were compelled to take a tour within them. With the day growing colder, a trip within a warm boat was ideal and we boarded our boat for a tour. Comfortably seated we were educated about the many wonders of the canals. The recurring theme seemed to be that gables adorned many houses, plus the never ending house boats rotting the sideline. Our highlight was the "skinny bridge", which we saw from afar, and the bicycle parking lot. It is a remarkable city but just a city.

We ended the day with a trip through the Red Light District. Our first impressions were poor as we walked past a window with a naked lady who appeared to have given birth moments before. I would say that the journey improved remarkably but Kayla is watching as I type... As we left, we passed the only store we'd ever seen dedicated solely to condoms. Having to drag Kayla from the district, we left the city for the day.

Initially our aim was to visit the Rijksmuseum to see the works of Rembrandt but unfortunately this was closed. With Starbucks closing there doors to resupply after our coffee break, we tram hopped until we came upon the Albert Cuyp market. Although interesting it was dulled by the biting wind. Next tram hop was to Waterlooplein heading for the house of Rembrandt himself. Along the way we walked through the old flea markets, dodging the gusts of wind that enticed us to buy the "real" furs that were on sale in the market, until we came upon Rembrandts house.

We had planned on going to the "100% Really Fake Rembrandt House" but found out that had been moved to Bali. Our expectations weren't high, so with trepidation we entered the Rembrandt Huis Museum. Initially we were intrigued by the film outlining his life and works but as we made our way up the stairs, audioguide in our ears, we found we had paid to see a house replicated in a way someone thought resembled Rembrandts in his time. It was remarkable the size of the beds they use to live in. He was a remarkable man. The museum was not... Thankfully the top two floors gave way to some of his amazing etchings followed by art by local Dutch artists making the farce of the "house" worth seeing. 

We left Amsterdam disappointed. It's museums were mediocre. All other attractions were overpriced and subpar. It lacked the "Holland" we were looking for. And so we left.






From Switzerland to the Netherlands

As we crossed the border from Italy to Switzerland we were stopped at the border control to purchase our motorway sticker. Unlike France and Italy where you would pay as you go to use the motorway, often exorbitant amounts, in Switzerland we were charged a one of fee of 35 euro allowing us access to the motoway for a year. Even though we weren't going to be here long this known cost was reassuring.

Our journey continued as we began tunnelling through the Alps, sometimes being underground for 20km, all the while being surrounded by snowy mountains and green fields. We arrived in Lucerne around 5pm, parked the car and headed to the supermarket for dinner where we discovered we didn't know the conversion rate for Swiss Francs and therefore had no idea how much things were actually costing. A small purchase later we retired to the van for an early night, awaking the next morning to a sunny but freezing cold day.

Parking the car in the city centre we kicked the day off with a visit to Starbucks (where we found that francs are almost equal to the Australian dollar) before walking the shores of lake Lucerne. The views were stunning with the picturesque city framed by the Alps behind and the crystal clear waters below.  We explored the local markets, stocking up on local products before we began the drive north to Aachen, Germany.

After the drive through Switzerland, Germany seemed quite plain in comparison, with flat green fields occasionally being broken up by grey cities. The drive along the Autobahn was interesting as we watched motorists flying past at breakneck speeds, making the most of the lack of speed limit on the motorway, until everything came to a halt due to an accident caused by one car pulling into the lane of another. The irony of the situation on the motorway was that most of the high performance cars, Porsches etc, were driving safely like us while the inside lane was full of "average" cars that had no purpose driving at speeds there cars couldn't handle, for example, people movers that once up to speed couldn't brake in time, even if they had wanted to.

We spent the night at a motorway stop, just south of Aachen. Waking early we drove the final hour through snowy weather before arriving at the sleepy city and being a Sunday the only thing open was Starbucks... After a quick bit of research we plotted our course through the Netherlands. The first stop was at the 3 country border for Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, before heading on to Arhnem, the site of Operation Market Garden in World War 2, to spend the night.

The following day we wandered through the small city, discovering in the process that Monday is when things are closed in the Netherlands, but also finding no indication of the events that occured during the war. With little reason to remain in Arhnem we drove the short distance to Utrecht, which in our research the day before had discovered hosts weekly cultural events. Unfortunately, everything was closed here as well but the time was not wasted as we enjoyed ourselves walking through the city among the canals and historic buildings.  With the day still early and the sun shining we continued on the few remaining kilometers to our campsite in Amsterdam.


We caught the early train from Venice to Florence so we could start exploring the city as soon as we arrived. After an hour of train delays, each time the train stopping inside the dark tunnels obscuring our view of Tuscany, we arrived in Florence around 2pm. The hostel we had booked was warm and clean, and we shared the dorm with a quiet British couple, making it a great place to lay our head after a long day exploring. Although the weather was overcast, we eagerly hit the streets of Florence. Our first stop was the post office to unburden ourselves of the masks we had purchased in Venice then continuing on in search of our normal essentials; laundromat, supermarket and gelato. Our afternoon was spent lost among the streets of Florence, where we stumbled upon a supermarket and stocked up on necessities, plus a detour at the tourist office to book a tour of the Uffizi gallery and Florence the following day, before heading back to the hostel for an early night.

The following day we took a scenic route to the Palazzo Medici Ricardo and along the way stumbled upon the magnificent gothic Duomo. We arrived at the Palazzo as the rain started to come down, where we spent the next couple of hours wandering an exhibition of Salvador Dali sculptures and paintings. Lunch was spent at the hostel before heading to the Piazza Republica to start our guided tour of Florence (jsut as the camera ran out of charge) which enlightened us further to the history of the city, taking us past many known and unknown historical buildings including the Palazzo and Ponte Vecchio. The walking tour ended on the river Arno outside the Uffizi gallery, before we headed in to spend the next couple of hours working our way through a brief history of art during the Renaissance. As we browsed some of the greatest art in the world our guide pointed out subtle differences in methods indicating the progression that was being made. As the doors to the Uffizi were closing we left to head back to our beds, ready for the next day.

The morning was spent washing clothes and communicating with our mechanic to find out when we would need to head back to La Spezia. After a basic backpacker lunch we headed back into the city to revisit some of the sites we had previously passed, now with a fully charged camera. Having heard back from the mechanic we booked an extra night and spent the evening organising our itinerary for the coming days. Our final fall day in Florence started with a visit to the Galileo museum which housed a huge variety of scientific equipment used in the past, each piece often being grand in size and construction. With the weather now starting to clear we crossed the Ponte Vecchio to head to the Palazzo Pitti and then Piazza Michelangelo. Enroute we discovered the best handmade gelato we had tasted which we enjoyed in the piazza with views of Florence below. As the day was drawing to an end we headed back to the hostel to prepare ourselves for the early morning departure the following day so we could visit Pisa enroute to collecting the van.

Our early morning train delivered us to Pisa where we made a whirlwind tour of the leaning tower before catching the next train onward to La Spezia. We collected the van after emptying our bank account, then hit the road for Switzerland.