Amsterdam

Firstly, let me apologize for how late this post is going out. I wrote it whilst I was there (November 2019) but have only just got round to proof-reading it (April 2020).

Thursday

I left at 8:30 am and got to St Pancras for 9:30 am and met Benj. Adam is a Type 1 diabetic and had hypo when he came off his train at Euston, so we walked over to meet him in the First Class Lounge. We had Orange Juice, Tea, Coffee, and Cakes.

We then went to get on the Eurostar and had to rush a little as the lady said the gates had closed. It was much like an airport and we had to put our bags through an x-ray machine and go through a metal detector. We then went up a travellator to the platform and had to run to the front of the train where our seats were. We made it with 15 minutes to spare so we shouldn’t have even rushed.

We shoved our luggage in the overflowing racks and sat at a table. There was a man there but as soon as we started talking he left. There were chargers in the seats and a table that folded out.

We sat in First Class and got a free lunch which consisted of vegetarian quiche or some chicken, and a drink, I had wine, the others had a coke, a salad, and dessert, a chocolate mousse type thing. We were then allowed refills of tea and coffee along with another small bottle of wine or soft drink. We also got a snack box that had BBQ sweetcorn in it and some other treats. Suffice to say I enjoyed travelling in First Class.

We had a small delay in the Netherlands as someone jumped in front of our train. Luckily, they missed and survived. We arrived at Centraal station about an hour later. From there we purchased a single to Haarlem and a 3-day travel card. We got the train to Haarlem station and then a bus to Velserbroek, where our Airbnb was.

The house is in a lovely residential area. There’s a river right at the back of the house with a decking that you can sit on and admire the view. There’s a large living room with Bose speakers which are really good for when we want to chill out listening to music. There’s also a wood stove but we haven’t been brave enough to get that working yet. There are 3 floors, 3 bathrooms, and 5 bedrooms. I’ve got the bedroom on the top floor.

We all got to know each other and chatted until about 12 before heading to bed.

Friday

We set our alarms for 9:30 am but I slept in till 10:30 am because I didn’t think anyone would get up that early, I was wrong. We got the bus and train into central Amsterdam and found a McDonalds for lunch. I ordered loads but surprisingly ate it all. I had a white chocolate and strawberry milkshake, chicken burger meal, and crispy shrimp. You had to pay for the toilet which is just ridiculous, especially for a McDonalds, but we found this to be the norm throughout the city. Lots of places only accepted card too, not great for traditional tourists without access to a card with 0 fees abroad.

Being full from lunch, we walked it off by going to a nearby shopping centre. There wasn’t really anything interesting in there. We then walked to the Anne Frank house and found out that you had to book tickets at least a week in advance. It was also modernised. Schindler’s factory had the same set-up in Krakow.

After that disaster, we bought some tickets for a boat trip. We wanted to go in the evening, so we sat in a café and watched the sun go down. After that we walked to the boat and boarded, it was pretty full up, but we found the last remaining seats. I was feeling very tired, combined with the warmth and slow rocking of the boat, I drifted off a little. The people at the back of the boat were very drunk and tried flirting with the driver which was funny. We saw a few cool buildings, crashed into another boat, and made a full circle.

We then went home and ordered €100 worth of dominos. it made us appreciate the deals they always run back home. I ordered quite a bit so that it would last for a few days; food was hard to come by.

Saturday

It was raining really heavily when we woke up. So bad, that we dare not go out. We watched the Disney Channel instead and were astounded by the far-fetched storylines of many of the shows. At about 12 the rain started to disperse, and we got ready and walked to the bus stop. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a bus but luckily, we were under shelter.

We got off in central Haarlem and found a market to wander around. They had a comic and record stall which I enjoyed. We found some cafes and looked at the menu but decided to not go for the first place we tried. The high street was lovely with lots of different shops that we don’t get back home. It was really full of life too, but not so much so like Amsterdam where it was uncomfortable to walk. There were, however, cycle lanes in the middle of the path which meant you were constantly checking over your shoulder to see whether you were going to get run over or not.

My friends got some chocolate whilst I browsed a record store. The card machine in the chocolate shop didn’t accept UK cards so I had to pay for theirs in cash, using up the last of my reserves. We went in a few more shops and tried to look for somewhere to eat but came up empty-handed; we headed back to the cafes we’d found at the beginning of the day.

It was a really nice café and reminded me of being with Grandma and Grandad. It was nice to have a sit-down meal and a proper menu. I had a tuna melt panini and a diet coke, finally! The others had panini’s too, apart from Benj who had the mixed grill, and Liam who had chicken wings.

After we finished lunch we went to another high street and market. I found a toy/cycle/comic/café and got some comics for Josh. The man was really friendly; we must have spent a good 15 minutes talking. We also looked in a few clothes shops, and Hema, the department store.

Shops had started to close, and it had got dark, so we got the bus back. We went to our local supermarket. I got some presents to take back home and we got dinner; chicken and rice, and breakfast; eggs, bacon, and sausages. They had the same card machine as the chocolate shop and we tried every type of card, (MasterCard/Visa, Credit/Debit) in there and none of them worked so we had to leave someone with the shopping and walk around the corner to the cashpoint, which didn’t even do free withdrawals.

After that palaver, we got home and cooked dinner. We watched Bridesmaids and then played never have I ever before bed.

Sunday

On Sunday we all woke up at normal time and Benj very kindly cooked us breakfast: sausages, eggs, toast, and bacon. That meant we didn’t end up leaving the house until about 2.

Once we got to Amsterdam, Me, Hannah, Liam, and Matt went to Lost in Amsterdam. It was a nice atmosphere but they only accepted cash and everyone in there had to have at least one drink, which wasn’t cheap: a cocktail was €15!! So I had to do another run to a cashpoint, which then charges you, very frustrating. Meanwhile, Benj and Adam went off to do some souvenir shopping. Whilst we were chilling in Lost in Amsterdam Liam broke the news that he proposed to Hannah and she said yes!

We wandered around town for the rest of the afternoon before heading home where we played poker. It was like a better game of Monopoly so I was in my element and I won!

Monday

Me, Benj, and Adam rose early and did the last bit of packing before getting the bus and train into Amsterdam.

We then got yet another train which took us to Brussels. We were met off the train by hundreds of beggars and homeless people, very apt for the capital of the EU. We looked around for somewhere to eat but all of the shops were derelict, building works were everywhere and there were a few big shopping centres that were just left unfinished. We also walked down a street with various cafes on and every single shop owner was begging us to come in, however, they served mostly fish dishes, not what we really wanted and the act of begging put us off.

We eventually found a pizza hut and had a buffet. It was slightly different from the one in the UK in that you could only refill your salad plate once. The service was about the same; terrible.

After that terrible experience, we headed off to Lille, however, we got on the wrong train, a TGV, and had to shell out €90 just for the privilege of being on the train, even though it still went to Lille, which was actually lovely. There was a big shopping centre and me and Benj had great fun going around all the shops whilst Adam had a rest at Burger King.

We got the Eurostar and arrived in London safely.

I did take my camera on holiday but didn’t really feel like taking photos, I preferred to just live in the moment and enjoy it, a first for me. We had a lovely house which really made the experience a lot better, even if it was an hour away from town. It was also lovely to be on holiday with friends, another first.

Cornwall Day 1

I met up with my family around lunchtime and took them to Burger King in the pouring rain. We then went to Primark to get Mum some new jeans ready for the holiday. Dad then wanted taking to a new record shop that I had found called Boo Hoo Records. I dragged them to Forbidden Planet to get a Star Trek Christmas Jumper that had just been released but it had suddenly dropped off the website and they didn’t have any in-store: I was gutted.

We got on the road at about 4:30 pm after letting the Caravan Park know our ETA. The rain ceased as we passed city limits and we had a good run to Exeter where we stopped and had Frankie and Benny’s for dinner. I used my student discount too which helped bring the price down.

The views were stunning as we got into Cornwall and the light eventually faded leaving us to navigate the treacherous roads in the blackness of night.

We arrived at the caravan park around 10 pm and me and mum went to the bar to collect the keys. There was a live act on playing some horrendous 80s music which seemed appropriate for the clientele of the Caravan Park.

Mum handed me the information pack to retrieve the key to open the caravan and I couldn’t find it. We had a bit of a panic but turns out mum had dropped it in the car! The caravan was freezing and I slept in my jacket that night.

QNINE 4 Ports PCI SATA Raid Controller Internal Expansion Card Install Process Flashing BIOS of Silicon Image Sil 3114 SoftRaid 5 Controller Chip with Asus M5A78L-M PLUS/USB3 Motherboard

I bought this card from Amazon as I had run out of storage space on my Desktop. I had to remove my soundcard but the motherboard onboard audio worked just fine.

Installing the card was relatively simple physically. The trouble came when I tried to get it to recognize the hard drives. I have an Asus M5A78L-M PLUS/USB3 Motherboard. When I installed the QNINE card the BIOS couldn’t recognize any of the hard drives attached via the motherboard. I wondered whether there wasn’t enough power or whether the card was just defective. 2 hours later after pulling hard drives out and plugging them back in again me and my dad managed to boot the computer and we flashed the BIOS of the Silicon Image Sil 3114 SoftRaid 5 Controller Chip to the latest version, 5.5.00, on the QNINE Card.

To flash the BIOS you can go to Device Manager and find the chip name under Storage Controllers. You will have to leave the card plugged into the computer with no drives attached in order to boot to windows.

The BIOS can be found here: https://www.latticesemi.com/Support/ASSPSoftwareArchive

After the hassle of installing the card, it worked perfectly and I can’t fault it.

Adding this card to my system allowed me to add four 2.5″ hard drives 3 of which were 1 TB in capacity and one 2TB drive. I now have a 7TB backup drive, a 5TB drive to store my photos, videos, downloads, and anything else, and I have my two 240GB SSDs with Windows installed. These are set up in a RAID 0 with the motherboard RAID controller. This was intended to make my system drive slightly faster which I think the read and write speeds are but the response time sometimes runs in the thousands of milliseconds.

The card only supports SATA I which has a 1.5GB/s data rate and my motherboard only supports SATA II with double the data rate but is nowhere near the speeds of SATA III or NVMe drives. Hopefully, I’ll upgrade the PC in the future to take advantage of these new technologies.

My backup and media drives don’t use the RAID controller but rather Windows inbuilt option of Windows Storage Spaces. Again, not the fastest but allows me to have large-sized drives for storing my data. These are set up in the equivalent of RAID 0 so that means there is no redundancy, hence the large backup drive.

Great Yarmouth

Chelsea planned a trip for me and her to go to Great Yarmouth as I’d told her I liked travelling. It would also be a good opportunity for me to practise driving before going back to University in September. Before I knew it the hotel was booked, and then we were on our way.

Day 1 – Travelling

I left Royston around 12 and picked Chelsea up at 12:30. There was quite bad traffic at Duxford and on the M11, but I made good time. It was the first time I’d driven alone.

Our Pancake and Waffle Shack Lunch

Once I picked Chelsea up we got on the road. There was a bit of congestion on the A11, so Google Maps took us on a diversion. We stopped at Thetford for the Pancake and Waffle Shack at lunch. I had some fries and onion rings and Chelsea had Oreo and Chocolate Pancakes.

We finally got to Great Yarmouth at 4 pm where we checked in at the Hotel. The room was quite small, I don’t think we could have managed a whole week there but it was nice enough. We were on the top floor overlooking the car park, not the best view.

After we unpacked we got dressed up to the nines to have a posh dinner. We Googled some places and found that the Hotel was quite far away from the main town so we drove. That was a mistake.

There was hardly anywhere to park, even at 7 o’clock at night, but we finally found a parking space down some sidestreet. We then couldn’t find anywhere nice to eat on the front and we were so hungry by this point we ended up at a fish and chips.

Chelsea had worn heels but took them off once we got to the fish and chip shop because she had already got blisters. She spent the rest of the evening barefoot. To make matters worse, Chelsea then got a bone stuck in her throat!

We went to Tesco to get some drinks for back at the hotel and we were so out of it a lady helped us out by showing us that two small packs of Fanta were cheaper than one large one. Then, we started driving home but forgot to put the directions to the Hotel in the sat nav so we had to pull over.

We went to bed as soon as we got in before something else happened.

Day 2 – Exploring Great Yarmouth

We rose at 8 and got ready before going down to have breakfast. They had a set menu with waitresses coming to take the order and a breakfast bar with toast and cereal and a range of juice. We both got some funny looks being in a hotel in Great Yarmouth and being teenagers. We both ordered a Full English and Chelsea had my beans and mushrooms and I had her bacon, so that was perfect.

From our venture the night before we decided it was a bit far to walk into town, so we drove and this time found somewhere to park a bit further up. It was £7 to park all day which was a bit steep, but we really didn’t fancy driving around for hours trying to find somewhere cheaper.

Full English Breakfast at the hotel

I liked the way that the light was refracted through the water. You can watch a video below (there is no sound).

The Sea Life Centre was first on the list and we had a special 2 for 1 voucher. as we went in they took a photo of us. It was very dark inside, so I opened the aperture up all the way to F/1.8. They had all sorts of different sea creatures and, as a bonus, they had penguins; Chelsea’s favourite exhibit. We even got to see them being fed. We bought a keyring each with our photo on from the beginning and Chelsea got a Penguin cuddly toy. The Sea Life centre had so many exhibits it’s no wonder we both took lots of nice photos. Mine above. Chelsea’s below:

 

Here are some photos of when I went to the Sea Life Centre in 2012.

 

 

We then had lunch. We found a nicer fish and chip shop on the front by the Sea Life Centre and both had 6 chicken nuggets and chips. Chelsea definitely wasn’t going to have fish this time. It cost about £5 each and you got the nuggets, chips, and a drink. We sat on the promenade to eat our lunch and talked for hours watching the world go by.

We were conscious of the time and didn’t want the market to pack up so we headed off. There was a craft market on in the sports hall which was quite nice, and I took pleasure in teaching Chelsea about all the different types of planes as they had a stall with photographs on. They also had a vinyl stall, but they were framed 7 inches rather than ones to play.

We walked along the high street and looked in lots of joke shops and toy shops and souvenir shops and charity shops before finally getting to the market. They didn’t have much at the market, we prefered the shops. We also looked in a Department store which had “Great Yarmouth’s biggest toy department”, but we weren’t convinced.

 

On the way back Chelsea stopped and got a fake tattoo of Stitch, her favourite character. We also got some postcards.

 

Before we got to Great Yarmouth we said that we had to go on a horse and carriage ride. There didn’t seem to be a queue and we’re not good at queuing anyway, so it took a while for someone to notice us, but we got on. It was £10 for a one way trip to pleasure beach, and the horse stopped right near where we parked the car. That saved our legs!

 

The stop was also just outside the Merrivale Miniature Village. I’d been once before when I was 12, but Chelsea had never been. It was around £18 for both of us, and they took a photo of us too. A convenient cash grab on tourists. They sold us keyrings at the end, just like the Sea Life centre.

We took lots of lovely photos from lots of different angles and I taught Chelsea about how if you use a low depth of field and the right perspective then you can make the photos look miniature. I was annoyed at myself because I didn’t take my macro lens with me to save weight in my camera bag but then I ended up needing it! I still think I got some good photos (above). And Chelsea got some amazing ones too (below).

 

Here are some photos of me at the Miniature Village in 2012.

 

It was getting pretty late so we got a slushie and ice cream and sat on the beach before heading back to the hotel to change into our posh clothes to try a fancy dinner again. This time we Googled where to go but lots of places either weren’t open that late or were too expensive for what they were.

 

We ended up going to Frankie and Bennys, which was lovely, they even had parking. I had a burger and Chelsea had mac and cheese. We had mozzarella sticks for a starter and a tiny little Oreo cheesecake for dessert.

We then drove home in the dark (my first experience) before turning in for the night.

 

Day 3 – Swimming and Horse Sanctuary

We woke up at 6 to the sound of seagulls and chatted for a little while. Chelsea fell back asleep whilst I wrote my blog. We both thought breakfast finished at 10:30, so I woke Chelsea up at 9:45. I then double-checked the brochure, and that said breakfast finished at 10, doh!

We took our time getting ready as we had already missed breakfast. I then drove us into town to go to a tearoom we saw the day before. We settled on Sara’s Tearooms on the seafront near Pleasure Beach. It was a lovely building with seating on one side on the seafront and the other side in a lovely garden surrounded by flowers. Chelsea doesn’t really like the sand as it gets everywhere so we sat with the flowers. We had a milkshake and tuna melt toastie each, but in hindsight, we probably should have shared.

 

By the time we finished, it was about 12 o’clock, so we got back in the car and drove to Redwings Horse Sanctuary which had free entry. It was only about a 15-minute drive. We parked up and went to the visitor centre where they told us that it was one of the Shire horses’ birthday. They had over 100 horses, ponies, and mules. The place was massive, and we took lots of lovely photos in the glorious sunshine and definitely got enough exercise for the day. Some of the horses had funny names like soup and applejack. They had a special hospital stable for unwell animals. We learnt that they create bonds and friendships and can become depressed when without them, so their friends often stayed with them in the hospital. My photos are above and Chelsea’s are below.