A wanderer isn’t always lost. In this 5-day trip across 3 countries, we only planned for our accommodations for each night and rented a car, winging everything else. What subsequently happened was a trip of a lifetime and an experience worth sharing.
With air tickets going at £14 each, we bought a one-way ticket to Cologne, Germany, and a one-way ticket back to Bristol Airport. Having booked one of the earliest flights at 7.35am, we woke up at 3am and began making our way to London Stansted airport at 4am. As the tube does not operate overnight on weekdays, we had to take 2 different buses to London Liverpool Street Station (That’s why it might be better to book flights later than 8.30 as the tube will be open when you need to travel to London Liverpool Station). Upon arriving at Stansted, we were taken aback by the sheer number of people in the airport (probably because it was a day after boxing day). Nonetheless, we managed to clear security and visa checks in time.
We slept throughout the flight and arrived in Cologne at 10am (As Wei Loon claimed “All I remembered was sitting down on my seat and the next moment we landed”). After clearing immigrations, we made our way to Burger King to have lunch, before collecting the keys for our car from SIXT. In a bid to save a bit of money on car rental, we ended up renting a left-hand-drive manual car which none of us had any experience operating. Thankfully Darrell was an experienced driver, and he was able to skilfully operate the vehicle. We decided to start off with an hour’s drive to Aachen to check in at our hotel (Hotel Ibis). The drive to Aachen included a 40-minute drive along the German Autobahn. It was an eye-opening experience to see how fast cars could go without legal limits. Driving at the recommended speed of 130 km/h along the centre lane, we were flashed by several vehicles for driving too slowly. It turned out that 130 km/h were for vehicles going on the “slow” lane, and the middle lane was for overtaking. Needless to say, the left most lane was for vehicles going beyond 180 km/h. After all, it’s the German Autobahn.
After checking in at our hotel, we headed for the 3 country-intersection between Germany, Belgium, and Netherlands. With no borders separating the 3 countries, we were literally in 3 countries at the same time. Sometimes I wonder which police force oversees crimes that might be committed in that area…
With the sun setting soon, we had to decide which country to have dinner at (Another unique experience). We initially thought of heading back to Germany for dinner as it would probably have been cheaper, but we ended up taking a wrong turn and ended up in Belgium. We walked around some of the smaller towns in Belgium for a bit, but could not find anything palatable and within our budget. In an unexpected turn of events, we ended up driving to Vaals in Netherlands for dinner.
To end off the night, we headed to a bar in Aachen for some beer and a couple of shots.
Cracking a cold one
An early start to the day, we walked around the town of Aachen looking for breakfast, and we ended up visiting the Aachen dome as well. The pastries in Europe taste a notch above those you find in Singapore (albeit being twice the price).
After filling our tummies, we drove to Maastricht in Netherlands. However, as we were unable to find a convenient parking spot, and the constant heavy traffic was grinding our gears (literally and figuratively). We reluctantly left Maastricht and headed to Hoge Kempen National park, only to be blocked by a fallen tree (it was definitely a day filled with obstacles), so we ended up taking a detour to the town of Zutendaal and eventually settled in Genk (Belgium). We were impressed at how a relatively small town like Genk could have such a huge shopping centre (around the size of Jurong Point), as well as a skating rink and a Christmas Market. Deciding to settle for lunch at the Christmas market, we had some Krakeuer, escargots, and hot chocolate that tasted like pi pa gao.
Having had enough of window shopping (and purchasing breakfast for the next day), we drove towards the city of Antwerp (Belgium), passing my Bercham along the way. With parking costing 18€ per night, we decided that was too much of a cost to pay, so we drove to a free parking site that was a 30-minutes walk away from our hotel. From the free parking site, we made our way through the main streets of Antwerp towards our hotel. Antwerp’s nightlife was so much better than that of Aachen, as they had countless Christmas Markets that sold all kinds of things from nougats to cheese to perfume. We settled for some Belgian waffles and a warm bowl of soup that couldn’t have been more apt for the sub-zero temperatures we were in.
Having had a long day, we headed towards our accommodation and turned in for the night.
Reveille 0730. With plans to tour around Netherlands before checking in at our hotel in Dusseldorf, we stopped by at the city of Breda for a short break (where we parked in front of their police cantonment complex for free). We then journeyed north towards the windmills of Kinderdijk, a UNESCO heritage site for their renowned windmills that became a national monument. The windmills were originally built to keep water out, but it has now become a tourist attraction with a museum and guided tours.
Windmills of Kinderdijk
It was soon noon and we were famished, so we drove towards Rotterdam for lunch, and settled at Happy Italian for some pizza and spaghetti. Surprisingly, the prices at Happy Italian were very reasonable for the portions that they served, at about 7€ per plate of pasta. We walked around Rotterdam for a bit and were slightly dismayed that there wasn’t much to see. From Rotterdam, we had 2 options; drive to Amsterdam or head towards Eindhoven. It obviously wasn’t much of a dilemma, and we made the immediate decision to head towards Amsterdam, because Eindhoven clearly wouldn’t be as lit (in more ways than one).
Lunch at Rotterdam (and we spotted a female-only parking spot)
We reached Amsterdam at approximately 5pm. With parking in Amsterdam Centrum costing up to 50€, we searched for cheaper options. It turned out that Amsterdam had this park and ride policy, whereby if one parked at one of their parking garages outside the city before taking public transport in, they would only need to pay 1€ for the whole night. Taking advantage of such a well thought out policy, we parked at a parking garage beside the highway, before taking the metro to Amsterdam Centrum. What really impressed me was the infrastructure of their metro, as it looked more slick and well maintained than that of London’s (though to be fair, London’s metro is really old). In addition, the 2m tall trains doors impressed me quite a bit. The Dutch that we met were not just nice people, but really tall as well! The average height for the Dutch male is 183cm, and 170cm for females. Amsterdam’s centrum greeted us with a lingering smell of marijuana, as well as a huge array of questionable content? That aside, the cycling culture, dedicated cycling lanes, and large number of recycling stations displayed their city’s clear commitment towards saving the environment.
Amsterdam (PG photos)
Things to note when in Amsterdam: If you wish to buy coffee, head to a café, not a coffeeshop. If you are a fish enthusiast, head to the aquarium, not the fish tanks.
Following an eye-opening (quite literally) night around the streets and red light districts of Amsterdam, we left at about 11PM for Dusseldorf. Along the 2hr 30 minute drive, I could not help but be in awe of Darrel’s driving skills as he managed to keep awake and concentrated throughout the whole journey, with only a single stop at a Mcdonald’s in Eindhoven. Finally arriving at our hotel at 1.30AM, we took a quick shower and crashed for the night.
Darrel, the MVP of our trip
Having slept pretty late the night before, we woke up slightly later, leaving the hotel only at 11am. In our attempts to find a well-known seafood market, a 15 minute drive turned into a 45 minute hunt for free parking, and another 45-minutes walk from our parking location to the seafood market, only to find that it wasn’t as great as we thought it would be. As consolation, there were quite a few Christmas markets nearby where we had some of the best curry wursts I ever tasted. After a short walk around Schadow-Arkaden, we felt that Dusseldorf did not have much to offer, and thus we left and headed towards Cologne, where our accommodation was at.
Hot Chocolate at Dusseldorf
At Cologne, we were greeted by the Cologne Cathedral and more Christmas markets that offered really good beer and more wursts. In most German Christmas markets, you will have to pay a refundable amount for the cup that they serve you in. With unique designs to each Christmas market, you could choose to collect the cups simply by not opting to return them. After having had our fair share of wursts (again) from the Christmas markets, we were really tired, and decided to drive back to our hotel to rest for the night. In essence, this was a really chill day and we did not cover much.
With our flight at about 9am in the morning, we headed off to the airport at 7am to return our car. Despite having cleared security checks pretty swiftly, there was a long queue for the immigration clearance, and we were still queueing even after the flight had technically departed. Fortunately some joker literally parked a bus in front of the airplane, and thus it was delayed, giving us ample time to board the plane.
Upon landing in Bristol, we originally planned to go to Cheddar’s gorge, but the inconvenience resulted in us taking a taxi to the Clifton suspension bridge. Possessing sheer architectural brilliance, we snapped a few shots from the bridge, before heading down for a meal at the city. At Bristol, we basically spent the whole day walking around the city, visiting their shopping centres as well as the university of Bristol. Having had a really hectic itinerary, we decided to chill at “The Knight’s Templar”, before finally boarding the train back to London Paddington at 8PM.
Reaching London at 10pm meant that I would have enough time to get back to celebrate new year’s countdown with my friends at Beit Hall. Deciding to refrain from drinking alcohol for the year of 2019, I brought over all the alcohol I had in my room to share. Needless to say, my new year’s resolution became a thing of a past as I ended up drinking a pint of beer at Winter Wonderland just 5 days later.
Air tickets: £30
Train tickets: £24
Car rental + Parking + Fuel: £150