Written by PeaceLoveTravel on 03 Jul, 2013
I’m really not sure what we were thinking when we planned a backpacking trip to London, Paris and Amsterdam – three of the most expensive European cities going. But alas, they are stunning places and who could realistically say no to the Paralympics in London…Read More
I’m really not sure what we were thinking when we planned a backpacking trip to London, Paris and Amsterdam – three of the most expensive European cities going. But alas, they are stunning places and who could realistically say no to the Paralympics in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Add to this numerous bottles of delicious French wine and one too many visits to patisseries and you have two very happy backpackers but also some very empty wallets. By the time my travel buddy Beth and I arrived with the overnight bus in Amsterdam we were very much aware of our dire financial situation. And this is the point where Lady Luck decided to favour us and sort us out one of the most incredibly and, at the same time, cheapest days in Amsterdams history. A huge Thank You goes out to all the nameless people that made this day so incredible. Let’s hope their generosity continues to save hungry backpackers from another sad pot noodle dinner. Imagine this scene, two tired girls getting off a bus from Paris where the aircon was stuck on Antarctic freezing temperatures and the radio refused to play anything else than cheese pop sounds. Now add this annoying drizzling rain that soaks you in minutes and cannot be stopped by even a supersized umbrella. This is how we arrived at the door of our hostel at 7 in the morning, wet, tired and decisively grumpy. The receptionist told us that we had to wait another four hours until check-in which, albeit fair enough, was simply soul crushing. Four hours in wet overnight clothes sitting in the entrance hall of a hostel did not sound particularly appealing but there was no chance we’d go back out in the rain to look for a cafe. And there he was – our first hero of the day! This unnamed man that stumbled out of the hostel bar clearly took pity on us or was so off his face that he had no idea that we were in fact not his buddies. But anyway, he came over and started chatting to us. A bit of small talk later he invites us for a drink, coffee maybe or rather double vodka? While Beth opted for a cappuccino I have to admit to downing my double vodka orange. A couple of drinks later we had made friends with the hostel staff and were graciously allowed to wait in the bar rather than the entrance hall. By this time Beth was warmed up and hyper with all the caffeine and I was in a very happy place thanking the Russians for one of their greatest inventions ever. All that was missing now was some good old Dutch herbs. But with it being eight in the morning the Coffee Shops were still firmly closed. Enter my new Australian best friend. Totally hung-over he stumbles downstairs from the dorms and right to the smoking room. Sitting in there on his own must have gotten too boring as he came over to us and invited us to join him. After explaining that unfortunately we hadn’t done any shopping yet he insisted on this being his treat. Fast forward half hour and we are in a very happy place filled with giggles and delicious smoke. So not only were we jammy enough to get free drinks and free weed before we even unpacked our backs but no, the Australian guy then gets up, hands me over some 50 Euros worth of smoke and tells me to keep it as he’s off to Germany later that day and has no use for it anymore. I really did try to force some money onto him but all he was willing to take was a couple of raspberry macaroons that miraculously survived the bus ride from Paris. We could finally check into our room and get some well deserved rest. But after only a few hours of sleep our tummies woke us up with the decisive and urgent need to eat, and subito please! After a quick stroll through the busy pedestrian area we stumbled upon this curios little shop that appeared to, well, be an homage to KitKat? The interior consisted of white walls and some white seating and all of this decorated with KitKat sticker. We walked past it a few times trying to figure it out before finally giving up and going on. We were greeted by a cheerful shop assistant that offered us tons of free KitKats in exchange for a Like on Facebook. So people in the Netherlands like to hand out free sweets – slightly dodgy but hey, we were hungry! Stuffed full of sweets we were in serious need of a proper dinner. Just before caving and heading off to the next take away we were magically drawn to a cheese store. These speciality stores sell various types of cheese, mustards and condiments. All of which you can sample for free to your heart’s content. And once you grazed one of these stores empty there will be another identical one next door for you to continue your culinary tour. By the way, all of the products in these shops are gorgeous and I’d definitely recommend picking up some goodies to take home with you! By the end of our trip half of my backpack was filled with cheese.Now all we were missing after this rich dinner was something to drink. My thirst was not helped by the high number of people passing us clutching ridiculously small cans of coke. Seriously, was this the size of drinks you could buy in the Netherlands? With not even half the size of a normal can this certainly must be a product that only calorie conscious people would waste their money on. Just on a hunch however we followed the stream of coke drinking people and finally found its source – a diet coke promotion event where cheerful staff was handing out free coke! Seriously, this could not get any better! We stocked up on cans and made our way back to the hostel after a long day of taking in the sights and being spoiled by Lady Luck.Just as a disclaimer, the next day we went on a proper spending spree and pumped all of the money that we saved back into the economy. Close
Written by Slug on 04 Aug, 2012
I'm always a little nervous about flying into Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as it is one of the largest airports (actually 17th biggest in the world, and 4th biggest in Europe handling almost 15m passengers each year), and one of the worst for a reputation for…Read More
I'm always a little nervous about flying into Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as it is one of the largest airports (actually 17th biggest in the world, and 4th biggest in Europe handling almost 15m passengers each year), and one of the worst for a reputation for losing your baggage.However, my fears are unfounded for many Europeans at least these days, thanks to the drive of many budget airlines to persuade folks to only take hand luggage given their extra baggage charging policy. Exit from Schiphol to the city centre is straightforward via the train. The trains leave from the airport concourse (or rather, below it).Tickets one way to Amsterdam Central Station cost around 4 Euros per person and is a lot cheaper than the approximately 50 Euros it costs to take a taxi. Even if you need to grab a taxi from Amsterdam central to your hotel, you will almost definitely find it cheaper to hop on the train first. There are trains every 10 minutes or so, up until approximately 1:30 am, and they start early in the morning from 5 or so. In terms of getting a ticket, it is always worth saving a few Euro coins from a previous trip if you can as the easiest way to buy tickets is via the ticket machine, which only accepts coins rather than notes. Decide how you are going to pay before using the machines (they are user friendly with English instructions) as some are coins only, others cards only. You can pay at the machines by card but it is more expensive by a Euro or so, and for some unknown reason the machines have never accepted our debit cards. Look out for the franking machines – just stick it in with the silver foil side in your hand – this validates your ticket. The train takes 20 minutes or so tops to get to Amsterdam Central Station. You will easily know when you are at the Central Station. Departure from Schiphol can be a little confusing as it is one of those airports that perform passport control first, and then a baggage and security check for your hand luggage as you leave for your gate. In addition, some of the gates are a goodly way from the departure lounge meaning you may have to schedule in a lot of time for leaving the airport – I saw some estimated walking times to get to the gate at around 30 minutes. Obviously if the hand luggage and security scan is busy then that time can be extended. There are a number of restaurants at Schiphol including a McDonalds. We had a small but tasty tuna sandwich from the main concourse restaurant for around 7 Euros. As always with airports, my tip is to dine before you leave Amsterdam city if you can.There is also a good range of shops ready to take your excess Euros, including places selling trinkets such as china clogs (why would anyone buy these) and small chesses and chocolates. Again, they aren't particularly cheap but you can come across the odd sale bargain. Close
Written by Praskipark on 04 Jul, 2012
You think the thought of having to spend 21 hours in an airport would scare most people unless they were Mehran Karimi Nasseri or Tom Hanks. Both these chaps have spent hours, days, weeks, even years in a terminal. You may remember Mehran Karim…Read More
You think the thought of having to spend 21 hours in an airport would scare most people unless they were Mehran Karimi Nasseri or Tom Hanks. Both these chaps have spent hours, days, weeks, even years in a terminal. You may remember Mehran Karim Nasseri lived in Terminal One in Charles de Gaulle Airport for eighteen years and Tom Hanks starred in a film roughly based on this man’s life. I have always loved airports so I wasn’t that worried when I knew that we would have to spend the total time of 21 hours waiting in Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. Both journeys to and from Shangahi included a long wait. The thing is with Schiphol it is a lot of fun to spend time in. For a start the airport is huge with lots of activities to keep you occupied, it’s well organised in the way of signposts. You won’t get lost. The first things that were immediately on my mind were lounge areas and food halls. I was tired and starving having only had a light snack on the flight from Warsaw. I needn’t have been concerned about food as there are at least 45 bars and restaurants selling food not forgetting a shopping complex that sells a huge variety of Dutch delicacies as well as everyday foodstuffs like sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and chocolate. There are many lounge areas, some you have to be a club member others are for everyone to relax in. As we had already come off a flight from Warsaw and our luggage was being transferred to the flight for Shanghai we went straight to the top level of the airport where we found a relaxing oasis known as the Airport Park Area. This is a quiet are where everything is green. There are large squashy, olive bean bags, reclining seats, wooden benches shaped like huge tree trunks and covered with a log patterned type of carpet. There is a circular area of green seats with arms encompassing a small garden area with trees and ferns. The trees are artificial but look good enough; all the other plants including ferns are real. Once you have sat down you will hear birdsong and ducks quacking. These birds aren’t really in the park area; it is a tape playing and sounds pretty convincing. I had to move away from the duck area as the quacking was too loud and couldn’t concentrate on reading my book. It was actually more pleasant sat on the recliners listening to the tweeting of small birds except that after a long sit down my bottom got a bit sticky due to the recliners being made from plastic. I am not sure if it was my imagination but I could smell cut grass and foliage when plants have been watered. I mentioned this to my husband but he said he couldn’t smell anything, that’s quite normal as he has no sense of smell. My theory is that the management releases these smells into the air of this area to make it authentic so that you really believe you are in a park.Just outside the park there is a door which leads to an observation area. Here you can look through the telescopes at planes landing and taking off. Coloured tables and chairs are available if you want to sit outside with food. We decided that we would stay in this park area for the duration of our wait as my husband was very comfortable on his bean bag on the floor. He was able to stretch his body out and sleep. He didn’t want us to move away because the bean bags and recliners were in demand and as soon as we left we knew they would be snapped up. We kept taking turns to walk around the airport, have a sleep, read, and go for a drink and a bite to eat. Luckily there was a café/snack bar close to the park which we did use. This was one of the cheaper cafes. Here we bought a large cup of tea for 2.70 Euros and a sandwich which was 4 Euros. A breakfast roll with everything on it like bacon, sausage, egg and tomato cost 6 Euros. Bottled water was expensive the cheapest being 2.50 Euros from one of the delicatessen’s. I did wander around the food halls to check out the prices and what was on offer but seeing that we only had 50 Euros on us and didn’t want to mess around changing money we decided to have a sandwich and a cup of tea.I found the shopping areas fascinating and wanted to buy lots of souvenirs. I particularly liked the Tulip Garden; a shop selling wooden tulips, windmills, potted plants, clogs in various colours. You could even buy fridge magnets from these shops which were really pretty but at 5 Euros each I decided not to. I don’t really need any more tat but I just love looking. Walking around the two floors of the airport I got the feeling that it was a very relaxed airport. Police and security guards were around but their presence wasn’t as dominant as in Warsaw and UK.I noticed that Schiphol has a policy of recycling which pleased me. Re-cycle bins are placed in all seating areas for travelers to throw their plastic containers, paper and cardboard in. In the toilets paper towels and toilet rolls are made from recycled paper. Toilet areas and baby facility areas are cleaned regularly and are spotless as are all other areas of the airport. If you do have a long stay and you aren’t feeling lazy like we were there are so many things to do. There are internet centres where you can use the internet for 15 minutes and pay 5 Euros. I think there is a full business centre also where you can fax, print, photocopy etc. In Lounge2, level 2, Lounge 3, level 3 and Pier D which is near the Transfer Kiosk there are Express Spa services if you want to pamper yourself. A foot massage will knock you back anything from 22 Euros to 57 Euros. Neck and back massage cost the same. A hand and arm massage is cheaper and if you want the cheapest option then opt for the Massage lounger. This costs from 12 Euros to 30 Euros.If you feel the need for a special quiet moment you can go to the meditation centre which can be found on the upper level of Lounge 2/3 between Piers E and F. I came across the centre on our return trip from Shanghai as we decided to try out a different lounge than the park. The lounge was in front of the centre. There are three rooms in the centre; a Quiet Room for individual prayer, meditation and reflection, a Reading Room and a Meeting Room where you can drop in and talk to members of staff.Just to the left of the Meditation Centre is a Medical Centre so if you have any injuries while you are in the airport I suggest you go along. I was sat very close to the centre and kept hearing the bell ring as I dozed off. The medical staff seemed very helpful and friendly. On this floor also there is a picture exhibition informing visitors about the history of Schiphol and aviation in general which is interesting especially the old photographs of planes. Just around the corner is an XD theatre that has special motion seats. I didn’t fancy this experience as I had had enough sensations for one day. Apparently, once your seat belt is fastened you feel the G forces of acceleration breaking and high speed turns. Not good for my hair and I’m not mad on 3D glasses either. Still, I am sure there are plenty of folks and kids who would love this experience. My husband managed to sleep for hours in the airport park on both stays in the airport. On the return journey we decided we didn’t like the upper level lounge area near the meditation centre so went back to the park. I found it difficult to rest because of the announcements. I couldn’t believe how many passengers couldn’t get to the boarding gate in time and were threatened with their luggage being off loaded. It was very entertaining listening to the announcers as some couldn’t pronounce names properly yet others were brilliant and could probably speak about 10 languages. I loved listening to all the Latin names like Paulo Nascimento and Martinez LeBoeuf. It makes a welcome change for me not to hear too many Polish names which are unpronounceable.So after 21 hours spent in Schiphol would I do it again? Oh, definitely especially if it meant getting a cheap flight to China. It’s a terrific airport – I could live there. Close
Written by Praskipark on 03 Jul, 2012
Having spent a 10 hour wait in Schipholl Airport we were so pleased to actually get on the huge KLM plane that was going to fly my husband and I to Shanghai. The stay in the airport hadn't been too bad and we coped very…Read More
Having spent a 10 hour wait in Schipholl Airport we were so pleased to actually get on the huge KLM plane that was going to fly my husband and I to Shanghai. The stay in the airport hadn't been too bad and we coped very well but we were both looking forward to settling down and having a long sleep. Unfortunately this ‘long sleep’ wasn’t about to happen as we had only been sat in our seats a few minutes when the dreaded announcement came through the plane saying that there was a delay. As soon as the captain had finished speaking there was a silence and then a huge sigh from the rest of the passengers. The delay was going to be 2 or 3 hours due to the part of the plane that holds cargo being damaged. In the end the delay was only 1 hour 30 minutes. In that time we were given orange juice and chocolate biscuits while the 400 Chinese passengers phoned Shanghai to say they would be late.Quite a few people I know complain about economy seats on long haul flights but after spending 10 hours on the top deck of our 747/400 Combi I didn’t find it too difficult. The leg room was good enough although half way through the flight I started to twitch a little. It is quite difficult to get a decent night’s sleep especially if you are sat in the middle as my husband was. He struggled to make his head comfortable even though we were given a free pillow and blanket. I was able to prop my head up with my hand underneath the pillow leaning on the window so I wasn’t too bad. I didn’t feel the need to use the blanket as I was warm enough with a T shirt and light jacket. I noticed that many Chinese passengers were wrapped in blankets.Before climbing aboard the plane I had made my mind up not to watch the on flight entertainment but when we were delayed I changed my mind. I previewed a couple of the latest movies but wasn’t that interested. In the end Clint Eastwood’s movie about J. Edgar Hoover captured my interest and I snuggled in my seat to watch Leonardo DiCaprio do his thing. I enjoyed the movie but was pretty fed up altering the remote control which had a mind of its own and kept switching over to the main menu or turning itself off. At one stage I found myself looking at the flight food menu and what we were going to be eating that evening. It all looked pretty good and I was looking forward to my chick pea salad followed by chicken and rice and strawberry mousse for dessert. I was rather disappointed when only a soggy green salad turned up as a starter and they had run out of rice so I had to have pasta. Not a raspberry mousse in sight but the chocolate profiteroles and cream were delicious so I will let the catering services off on this occasion.Talking of food I also thought it was wacky to receive a tub of toffee ice cream and a small glass of water at midnight. It is KLM’s policy to keep passengers hydrated throughout long flights and I think it is a very good policy to have. It gets pretty dry on the top deck of the plane. Overall, the quality of the food was good and seemed to be a large quantity. If you think in 10 hours we had 2 main meals followed by snacks in between. I certainly don’t eat this amount of food in a normal day when I am at home.I do remember having some sleep. My husband said he thought I had a lot of sleep and he hadn’t been able to have much due to the fact that he had a bad throat virus and was unable to rest. I remember at one time thinking that the plane seemed to be racing through the air with the wind on its tail. The highest speed showing on the computerised flight details was 678 miles per hour. I find it incomprehensible to think of a great big lump of metal with 450 passengers on board floating through the clouds at this speed. I am always amazed when the plane actually gets in the air. Another statistic I spotted was the coldest air temperature at -78. It’s hard to believe. I think -28 is enough to bear when we are having a bad winter in Warsaw.It was good to see that the temperature had risen to 28 degrees centigrade when we landed in Shanghai.The question I have asked myself since returning from Shanghai is this: After 10 hours on this plane would I fly again with KLM to Shanghai? My answer is yes. The journey wasn’t bad at all and you certainly get the chance to observe other passengers which I always find entertaining. I have no complaints about the staff; all were helpful and pleasant. I thought the captain dealt with the delay well and kept us informed of the progress every twenty minutes or so.I will definitely be booking another flight for September and am looking forward to stepping aboard my favourite KLM 747 Combi. Close
Written by Slug on 05 Feb, 2012
I've been lucky enough to have visited Amsterdam three or four times to get the measure of the city. I struggle to find anywhere else that has the sheer diversity of Amsterdam.Old world charm? Yes, just wander along one of those canal streets lined with…Read More
I've been lucky enough to have visited Amsterdam three or four times to get the measure of the city. I struggle to find anywhere else that has the sheer diversity of Amsterdam.Old world charm? Yes, just wander along one of those canal streets lined with old grand town houses just on the edge of the city centre and you will see old world charm in spades. I like it that the original loading hooks to lift goods from the boats into these old merchant houses are still there and still often used to carry items of furniture in and out of apartments.A wild night out? Heh, the centre of Amsterdam has enough night life, sleaze and excitement to keep anyone happy. Every visitor to Amsterdam should gawp at the lit windows occupied by scantily clad working girls, although my tip is to wander past late afternoon/early evening just as things are starting; it is a lot quieter and less threatening feeling. I do find the night life in Amsterdam city centre all a little too brash and tacky for my tastes, and be warned there are plenty of scammers hanging around looking for that little too drunk kid to take advantage of, but if it's your thing to go wild you will find it. I was proud that I didn't look too old or boring not to be offered a whole range of drugs by the dealers on the street (they often hand round on or near the bridges if you are looking). Dear reader, I didn't inhale. Culture? While Rembrandt isn't my taste personally, there are plenty of famous and expensive paintings to look at in the Rijksmuseum. There is also Rembrandt's house to look at with a reconstruction of his workshop. I prefer Van Gogh, and the Van Gogh museum is a must see for me. I'm always fascinated with his painting style, and marvel at how so few thick brush strokes can create a painting that is so intricate. A quiet night out? I'm of an age where I prefer to sink a few beers in quiet and quaint surroundings. The brown cafes of Amsterdam are where I head for – traditional townhouses selling beers with basic wooden tables and knick knacks collected over the years. The Jordaan area is my favourite area for hotel accommodation although it isn't cheap; it is close to the city centre and a good part of town to find brown cafes and jazz bars. A nice meal? I actually find the Dutch traditional food a little too stodgy and boring, but I love the Indonesian, Thai and Senegal restaurants around the place. The Dutch were a great trading nation and these long held experiences make it a great melting pot for good ethnic food. Wacky Amsterdam? Amsterdam is also home to the weird and wonderful and it seems to be a city where your habits or hobbies can be put into a career. Collect handbags? Love cats? Why not form a successful museum around your obsession? In my collection of reviews I concentrate on weird attractions and have just picked out four of many. One joy of Amsterdam is to wander into something you did not expect. Spot something a little left field on your travels and dive in. Close
Written by fizzytom on 29 Nov, 2011
Haarlem is an old city, gaining its city rights in the thirteenth century. Its ancient buildings have been looked after well, although some of them have been extensively rebuilt after fires destroyed them. Visually it's like Amsterdam in miniature but has the advantages of being…Read More
Haarlem is an old city, gaining its city rights in the thirteenth century. Its ancient buildings have been looked after well, although some of them have been extensively rebuilt after fires destroyed them. Visually it's like Amsterdam in miniature but has the advantages of being quieter and less obviously touristy, and doesn't attract the horrible stag and hen parties. While five and a half hours is ambitious for Amsterdam (another DFDS mini cruise destination), it's actually reasonable for Haarlem, unless you want to linger in museums or galleries. The heart of old Haarlem is dominated by the medieval town hall (Stadhuis) that stands at one end of the Grote Market. It's a splendidly eclectic building that has been much added to and extended over the centuries. Today it's the official home of the Mayor of Haarlem and has long been a popular venue for weddings. I read an amusing story that claims that for years a town drunk would sit on a bench outside the town hall and expose himself to the happy couples as they left the hall; instead of arresting the man, the laidback Dutch simply removed the problem by moving the bench a little further away from the doors. On Saturdays a market takes place on the part of the square. (See separate review) At the other end of the Grote Market is the Grote Kerk which is also known as St. Bavo Kerk; this is a huge protestant church (and one time Catholic cathedral), not to be mixed up with the even more impressive St. Bavo Catholic cathedral of Haarlem. This Gothic masterpiece was built in the fifteenth century and it dominates the Haarlem skyline. I would recommend a look inside to see the magnificent vaulting and to appreciate the wonderful stained glass windows (the windows aren't the original ones, this church did not have colourful windows but has been given ones from other churches that were due to be demolished). We were given a map as we boarded our coach to Haarlem but you can pick up a free map at the tourist information office situated near the Grote Market. The map helpfully marks the pedestrianised streets in purple and these form the core of old Haarlem; however, this is the Netherlands and cyclists abound so try to pack an extra set of eyes as you'll need some for the back of your head (I'm a cyclist myself but I find the streets of Dutch towns quite exhausting in this regard). Haarlem's main points of interest can be found within a short walk from the Grote Market and are well signposted but a map is very useful if you are interested, as I was, in seeing some of the 'Haarlemse hofjes' or almshouses. Twenty such complexes are dotted around Haarlem. The oldest one dates from the 14th century and the newest from just 2001. They were set up by wealthy merchants and the like mainly to house single women, although one notable hofje was specifically for men. Usually they take the form of a garden accessed by an ornate gateway and surrounded on the three other sides by small houses; most have a central hall, and several of these are quite grand, decorated with elegant paintings. During the day the gates are left open and members of the public can go into the courtyards to have a look. Some of the houses are still owned by charitable organisations, but many are now in private hands; some are owned by artists who have their workshops there so it's certainly worth going into a few of the hofjes. One of the hofjes - one that was created for men - now houses the brilliant Franz Hals Museum, a collection of works by Hals (most famous for his painting "The Laughing Cavalier", although that painting is exhibited in London) and some of his contemporaries. Although part of the museum is currently closed for renovations, we spent almost an hour here and thought it was an excellent exhibition (and one I intend to review separately). If we'd have had more time, I would definitely have visited the Teyler Museum which holds the distinction of being the oldest, and first, museum in the Netherlands: the museum displays the vast and eclectic collection left to it by wealthy Dutch merchant and banker Pieter Teyler, and there are collections of coins, drawings and paintings, fossils and minerals, etc. Het Dolhuys, the Museum of Psychiatry, didn't really grab me but I might have considered the Corrie Ten Boom House where a Dutch Christian family allowed their home to be a place for fugitives (including Jewish families) to hide from the Nazis during the German Occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War; however, having visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I wanted to see something different in Haarlem. The Netherlands is, of course, synonymous with windmills and there is a brilliant example of an old mill near to the old town. The De Adriaan windmill stands just beside the Spaarne and although it's no longer a working mill, it does operate on Saturdays and the mill and the attached museum is open to the public (the museum is open at other times too but the sails only turn on Saturdays). We didn't go in but we made a point of going to have a look at the windmill and I wish we'd had more time as I was quite charmed by it. I think this would be something children would enjoy during a visit to Haarlem. If you have only a short time in Haarlem - for example, if you have come on the ferry, or you've taken a day or a half day out of a trip to Amsterdam - and don't mind pounding the pavements, you can buy a amp and guidebook from the tourist information office, that will guide to round the key points of interest of the city in a couple of hours. In the summer you could also take a boat trip on the Spaarne and adjacent canals which would, I expect, give a very different perspective on the city. Haarlem is known as 'Bloemenstad' (flower city) because it is - and has been for centuries - at the centre of the Dutch tulip growing industry; if you are staying longer in Haarlem (and visit in spring) you might venture a little further afield and go to see the fields full of colourful blooming tulips, that are situated between Haarlem and Leiden. We noticed plenty of hotels in the centre of Haarlem and loads of restaurants which we would have liked to have tried but only a handful open at lunchtime on a Saturday. If you're able to stay overnight, then lucky you: you will have your pick of exciting cuisines from around the globe. If you want to eat on the go then there are lots of stalls on the Grote Market where you can pick up a bite to eat as you continue your sightseeing. Haarlem has the unofficial title of "hemp city" and there are lots of "coffee shops" around the city, dedicated to this particular "leisure pursuit". I've always found this obsession of Brits with smoking a joint (or eating a laced cookie) in the Netherlands rather pathetic - why go all the way to the Netherlands when you can easily smoke at home? - but, if that's your thing, then there are plenty of easy to find places in Haarlem: look out for the three Willy Wortels shops in the town centre. Shoppers are well catered for and there is a generous air of prosperity in Haarlem, meaning that there are some very nice little boutiques and home ware shops in particular. There are lots of antique shops and plenty of places to buy tasteful (and less tasteful) souvenirs. The great thing about travelling by ferry is that you can bring home things like tulips, or fresh food, that usually you wouldn't be able to if you were flying; lots of people took advantage of the opportunity to bring home big bunches of tulips which can be bought on the Grote Market for bargain prices. I really liked Haarlem; it's such an attractive city and it has been well preserved. The old centre is pleasant to walk around and the main attractions are close enough to make even a short trip worthwhile. My appetite has been whetted and I'm sure I'll be back for more. I'm thinking of a few days cycling in the Netherlands and I'll probably take the opportunity to catch a few of the attractions I didn't have enough time for. Close
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 04 Aug, 2011
As of September 1944, The Netherlands had been occupied by German forces for almost 4 1/2 years. During this time most of its Jewish population had been deported to Westerbork in the eastern part of the country and eventually to the death camps at…Read More
As of September 1944, The Netherlands had been occupied by German forces for almost 4 1/2 years. During this time most of its Jewish population had been deported to Westerbork in the eastern part of the country and eventually to the death camps at Auschwitz or Sobibor in Poland. The other citizens of the Netherlands also endured starvation, its men being sent to forced labor in Germany and other deprivation in the 4 1/2 years of occupation and some people had joined the Resistance in hopes of weakening the German occupation. The Dutch people also hoped the Allies would liberate the Netherlands, and as of June 1944, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel when the Allies landed at Normandy on 6 June 1944 during what became known as Operation Overlord or D-Day.
Brussels, Belgium was liberated by the Allies on 3 September 1944 and now it was the turn of the Dutch to be liberated by the British along with their American, Canadian and Polish Allies. On 17 September 1944, the Allies launched Operation Market-Garden, the liberation of the Netherlands. Operation Market Garden was not only the plan to liberate the Netherlands. It was also the Allies operation to outflank the German's Siegfriend Line of Defense on the border between Germany and the Netherlands and encircle Germany's industrial Ruhr River Valley by taking over several strategic bridges and canals in the Netherlands that bordered Germany. After this was supposed to be completed, the Allies would then invade northern Germany and occupy that part of the country in hopes for a further push towards Berlin and the war to end around Christmastime 1944.
At first, Operation Market-Garden went well for the Allies since they faced a German army consisting mainly of unexperienced men and teenaged boys. The British and American troops took over several bridges near the towns of Nijmegen and Eindhoven and also liberated those cities and many other towns and villaged in the Southern Netherlands. After 4 1/2 years of Nazi tyranny, the Dutch thought their time of freedom was there. There was a small snag at the city of Son when it took a little longer for the British 1st Army to overtake the Wilhelmina Canal and Son was not liberated until 20 September 1944.
After 20 September, it all went downhill for the Allies when what was thought to be a cakewalk through Arnhem became a bloody battle when the British under Colonel John Frost hit a German buzzsaw of a more experienced Panzer SS army and Waffen SS. The British were overtaken at Arnhem and were forced to surrender with Colonel Frost on 21 September while the rest of Frost's troops fled the Arnhem area to Allied lines on 25 September.
As of 25 September, the decimated Allied armies stopped their advancement into the Netherlands that left the northern part of the country still under German control while the south was free. The southern Netherlands was able to start the road to recovery after liberation while the north suffered another 8 months culminating in the horrible "Hunger Winter" of 1944-1945 in which the German occupied north endured starvation, cold and tryanny. Several Dutch people were forced to eat tulip bulbs and other things they wouldn't eat in better times. Thousands of Dutch citizens starved to death and liberation of the North didn't come until the British and Canadian forces forced the German surrender in the Netherlands on 4 May 1945.
Operation Market-Garden was mostly a British affair but the Americans also were involved and helped in evacuating British and American troops from the worst of the fighting. Casualties were high on both sides during Operation Market-Garden and over 500 Dutch citizens died during the battle.
If you are interested in more information on Operation Market-Garden or the Dutch experience during WWII, read Cornelius Ryan's epic book A Bridge Too Far or see the movie by the same name with the who's who of Oscar winners including Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Maximillian Schell, Gene Hackman, and Anthony Hopkins as Colonel Frost before he became famous (or infamous) for his Emmy-winning turn as Hitler in 1981's The Bunker that had a 13-year-old Yours Truly looking under her bed that night for Nazis and eventually the role that won him the Oscar and had several of us giving up fava beans and fine chianti with our meals. Other movies during this time that are a can't miss are the Dutch movies, The Assault, Soldier of Orange, The Black Book along with other books and film from this horrible time in Dutch history.
Written by Jctravel1983 on 16 Dec, 2010
If you go to Rotterdam for a weekend, then do something with the 'nightlife' in Rotterdam.Let me tell you about were I was on a Friday evening and night in Rotterdam. Las PalmasFish restaurant Las Palmas is at the Kop van Zuid in Rotterdam. Here…Read More
If you go to Rotterdam for a weekend, then do something with the 'nightlife' in Rotterdam.Let me tell you about were I was on a Friday evening and night in Rotterdam. Las PalmasFish restaurant Las Palmas is at the Kop van Zuid in Rotterdam. Here we had booked for dinner. The day before departure we got a phone call if our reservation was correct. Yes, we would be present at 7 hours. We were then told that we really had to be present on time, because they had other people booked for later on because it was awful busy. Probably more people wanted to try this new seafood restaurant, but I thought the phone call was a bit pushy and I was not going to rush with my dinner.Well, we could park the car in a large parking lot near the restaurant. It is paid parking.Then walk to the restaurant. Only newly constructed. Besides the restaurant they are still working. The sidewalk was still full of sand. You enter a sort of hall. A little market hall atmosphere. The owner wanted his restaurant to look like a fish market in Marseille. Well I've never been in Marseille, but it did look right. Right of the hall is a stall where you can buy oysters. You walk by and you are nicely helped by a lady who takes you to a table. Well we sit and we get the menu of a waiter who obviously enjoyed his work. Of course I go for the soup bouillabaisse. The main course was sardines. We wait for the food and look around us. The room is large and spacious. The kitchen is open and is white. Sterile white marble as a kind of buffet. In the kitchen work a number of chefs. Then it's dinner time. The bouillabaisse was in a huge bowl but the soup was cold! That's not funny. The main course ... Small portions and a garnish of diced potato with some vegetables. Really not happy since it was expensive and expected a bit more! No, the beginning of the evening was a letdown. Anyway, we are in Rotterdam and we move on.Hotel New YorkDissatisfied as we were we went to the terrace at Hotel New York. It was a nice summer evening. You can sit outside overlooking the water. It's pleasantly busy. A very different atmosphere suddenly. A glass of wine and gradually disappears our discontent and our disappointment. We begin to like Rotterdam again. We ask people at the table next to us, what to do in Rotterdam. They invite us to go to an awesome place downtown. They are open until 02.00 pm tonight. Because it's Friday. Because this was near our hotel was, we went along.Mad Mick's Breakaway CafeIt is a pool and a cocktail bar in the Charles Doormanstraat in Rotterdam. We heard that this is a place to be on Friday after work many Dutch going there. It is about 3 minutes from the station. The location is a bit American, along with the walls of coca cola and red bull commercial advertising. You even look at Harley Davidson as decoration and in the showcases baseball attributes. When we arrived it was pretty crowded. But wait we found a spot at the bar. Experienced bartenders make the best cocktails and they made some good cocktails here. We went for a Choc it to me Baby for 7 euro’s and Mad Mick midori Sour for also 7 euro’s and they taste delicious. On the first floor is the ability to play pool. We have not done this. And since we had already eaten, we have not used the restaurant. Here you can get everything from wraps to salads to entire dinners. In the bar you really get in touch with the people around you. To finish the evening was a relief for us, after the disappointment in Las Palmas. About 2 hours at night we went to bed. We had seen enough of the nightlife of Rotterdam.GeneralNightlife in Rotterdam is easy. There is much to do and there are so many entertainment options. I have only seen a little bit of Rotterdam. Just around the Central station are more eateries and cafes in my own city in totality. So if you get bored in Rotterdam, it is because of you. Nightlife in Rotterdam is really good! Close
Written by jipp05 on 09 Nov, 2010
Groningen city is the capital of the Groningen province in The Netherlands.For someone looking to take a short European city break somewhere different from the usual suspects of Amsterdam/Paris/Rome etc. then Groningen may just be what you are looking for.Groningen has a small airport but…Read More
Groningen city is the capital of the Groningen province in The Netherlands.For someone looking to take a short European city break somewhere different from the usual suspects of Amsterdam/Paris/Rome etc. then Groningen may just be what you are looking for.Groningen has a small airport but this is mainly used by Dutch package providers so you will need to fly to another Airport such as Amsterdam. Schiphol airport Amsterdam is one of the world’s busiest airports and lots of budget airlines have bases here.Getting the train to Groningen could not be easier. There are numerous kiosks in the airport where you can buy train tickets with credit cards and also a window where you can pay with cash. Underneath Schiphol there is an international train station with trains leaving direct to Groningen every hour. Tickets are currently 27 Euro.The journey time is around 2 hours 45 minutes so it isn't the quickest destination but with a 1 hour flight time to the Netherlands from the UK it can be as quick to get to as going to say Rome and the Dutch trains are very comfortable.There is also the option of flying Ryanair into the German city of Bremen which is a beautiful city in its own right. From Bremen airport there is an express bus which will take you to Groningen city centre in about two hours and these buses are usually scheduled to coincide with the Ryanair flights.On arrival in Groningen you will pull into central station which is a beautiful old station with a few shops and cafes in which to get a sandwich and a coffee.When leaving the station the first thing you will notice is the Groningen museum which is an amazing building which looks more like a piece of modern art than some of the exhibitions it holds. It is especially dramatic at night when it is all lit up seeming to float on the river.Another thing that I found amazing was the sheer number of bikes, in Britain our train stations have car parks whereas in Groningen there is only space for about 20 cars but they have a specially built buildings for people to park their bikes that you walk over to leave the station where you can see the thousands upon thousands of bikes that are in it. It always amazes me how anyone can find their bike again once they have parked it there.Groningen is a university city and has a population of 188 thousand people so it is not some provincial backwater but rather is a thriving city. You can tell it is a university city especially in the variety of night life on offer. There seems to be a bar on every street corner and the Drie Gezusters in the Grote Markte is one of the largest pubs in the world that has a revolving bar.One thing I have noticed in my many visits here is that there doesn't seem to be a problem with yobs and it’s common to see a family enjoying a meal at an outside restaurant with pubs and bars only a stone’s throw away.The Holland casino is just off the Grote Markt and for a small fee you can become a member straight away and have access to all the roulette/blackjack tables etc. This seemed to be a popular spot when i was there and was very crowded at the weekends.For something a little more cultural then there is plenty on offer with the aforementioned Groningen museum being world class holding regular temporary exhibits from some of the world’s biggest artists alongside its excellent permanent displays and it is definitely worth a visit.There are numerous other museums from a tobacco museum to a maritime museum and even a comic book museum so plenty to keep the culture vultures happy.The Grote Markte is a huge central market square that is the heart of the city and this is where the emblem of the city the Martini Tower can be found. The huge gothic Martini Tower dating from the fourteen hundreds can be seen from most of the city. It is attached to the martini church which is also worth a visit and for a small fee you can climb the tower but be warned it is not an easy climb although the stunning views of the entire city are worth the trek.One of my favourite things to do in Groningen is just to wander and explore getting lost walking though the many canals and stopping off at one of the bars that can be found almost everywhere for a drink and chat with the friendly locals.Most hotels have free bikes for guests and these are a great way of exploring both the city and the surrounding area.In summer a 15 minute bike ride from the city centre will take you to the patterswolde meer a beautiful lake where you can do many water activities such a canoeing, sunbathing on the manmade beach or just having a drink at one of the restaurants.If the weather is warm you can be guaranteed it will be busy and it sometimes feels as though the entire city has decamped here but it is large enough that you should be able to find your own little oasis.If you visit in winter then you may be lucky enough to come when the canals freeze over. I was lucky enough to be here two years ago when this happened and it was a pretty unique experience for a Brit to have. When the weather starts to get really cold the Dutch start obsessing about whether the ice will be thick enough to skate on and when if it does they take en mass to the canals to ice skate. I joined thousands of other Dutch people skating on the Paterswolde Meer Lake and skating on the middle of a huge lake is an experience I will never forget.When it comes to eating out you will be spoilt for choice as there are hundreds of cafes (bars where found is served) and restaurants as well as the usual fast food chains to be found. There are some really high quality restaurants but being Holland it isn’t cheap to eat out but there are some more wallet friendly ways.There are loads of those uniquely Dutch snack bars and in town there are walls that have hatches in them where you can slot money into them and open to reveal a snack such as the Dutch favourite frikendellen. I’d never seen these walls anywhere else before and had great fun trying the local favourites with some being a lot nicer than others.If you fancy doing a little Shopping whilst you are here then you will not be disappointed. There is a large pedestrian shopping street that has all the usual suspects that you can find in any high street in Holland but there is also many little boutiques and antique shops to be found on the many side streets off the Grote Markt.The national department store the V&D is also worth a look even though it sells nothing particularly special it does have a great café with a room top terrace that has excellent views of the city.For something a little bit more risqué Groningen does have its own red light district but don’t be expecting anything like the Amsterdam one as it is a lot tamer. There are the girls standing in the windows but here it is actually a proper working girls street and not a tourist attraction so if you decide to wander down it then you will probably only be in the company of men looking for a good time. However it is extremely safe and even though it is a street selling sex you never feel any sense of unease or danger and it is located right next to a shopping street so is very public.Groningen is a beautiful compact city where you can visit everything in a few days and is ideal for a short city break. There is lots to see and do and the people are friendly and it is only a shame that one of the budget airlines hasn't cottoned on to its potential yet though this may be a good thing as its distance from Amsterdam may stop it becoming a haven for drunken stag weekends spoiling the unique atmosphere this city has.The only negative i can think when it comes to Groningen is the same problem that every city in Holland has and that is the expense. The Netherlands is an expensive country and nowhere there is ideal for anyone on a budget.I would definitely recommend Groningen to anyone who was looking for a city break in a thriving modern city that has all the facilities a tourist could ever need but isn’t inundated with them. Close
Written by yourhydra on 05 Aug, 2010
So I’m going to skip all the terrible parts such as the eight-hour flight that had four babies on it, all surrounding me, who took turns to throw hysterical crying fits. Amsterdam is beautiful. It also possesses many peculiarities that some North Americans would definitely…Read More
So I’m going to skip all the terrible parts such as the eight-hour flight that had four babies on it, all surrounding me, who took turns to throw hysterical crying fits. Amsterdam is beautiful. It also possesses many peculiarities that some North Americans would definitely be surprised by. First of all, everyone is on a bike. They are all fashionably ancient looking, and not a single helmet in sight, not even on people who drive vespas and mopeds. There are also very few children here and everyone is very tall and slim. Overall, the city holds an extremely carefree atmosphere. I was also surprised about the lack of pot. Unlike popular belief of many, including myself prior to visit, Amsterdam is not full of raving, bloodshot pot smoking maniacs. If people do smoke pot they stay in specialty cafes, and you can hardly even smell it. Cigarettes on the other hand….everyone and everywhere. The funny thing is, it is illegal to smoke tobacco indoors, but smoking pot is totally acceptable. Some shops had this sign up "No tobacco or opium smoking." I did some research and as it happens, more teens try marijuana in America than in the Netherlands (this is of course relative to population.) I think this is because the food in Amsterdam is so bad that you can’t afford to have the munchies. Our first day here was spent partly in the Van Gogh museum, which gave a personal look not only into his artworks but also into his life and passions. We then visited the Rijksmuseum, which was unfortunately under renovation, but did inspire us with its Rembrandts. I am an art major and never fancied Rembrandt, but seeing his masterpieces up close and personal really changed my perspective. The museum’s collection had a good variety of other Flemish artists, and the enclosure itself can almost be described as cozy, which is odd but striking for a museum. The next day we had a big change of scenery. We went to the red light district. It was an amazing sight. There are small alleyways leading into the main square, that are made up of beautiful old apartments which all have long glass windows and fancy curtains. Behind each window stands a sex worker, beckoning and sowing off her body. Most were older women, all very different in appearance and style. The little rooms they rent cost them about 20 euros and hour, but considering that they make about 50 euros per 20 min from men, it's quite the bargain. The area itself is actually home to many families, who rent rooms above the prostitutes. In the morning when the children walk to school and ask why these ladies are standing there in their undergarments, they are told that they are waiting for the bus to go to the beach. One thing to watch is picture taking. If you get your camera out, one the of guys hired to keep conduct will take it from you or smash it. Either that or a lady of the night will do it herself. Walking into the main square all you see giant flashing signs saying "LIVE SEX SHOW-BDMS-HOMO-TEEN-ANIMALS." I had a friend who resides in Amsterdam inform me that these shows include audience participation and are very outrageous. Of course there are also plenty of vibrators and butt plugs in the windows of sex shops, so I wouldn’t recommend this section of Amsterdam for the light of heart. Amsterdam is really a place to go with your friends more so than your parents.My favorite memory from the Netherlands is of the preserved 1800’s village we visited. It showed how people lived in the Netherlands back, their homes, shops, food and customs. People walked around in old-fashioned clothes, even wearing clogs! There were also many functioning cheese shops. The most memorable aspect of that location was the smoked eel. The man selling it had a pet crow and smoked the eel in a small out-house-like garage for 72hrs, then in a wooden barrel for 1 hr. It was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. Ever. Close