Tag Archives: amsterdam

Adventures in Amsterdam + Love in Limburg

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AMSTERDAM

First Impressions

After months of planning and almost a year anticipating, it was finally time for us to fly to Amsterdam from Pearson Airport in Toronto. We landed in Schiphol Airport around 1 pm on Monday, August 22nd. Let me just quickly say that I loved Schiphol airport. I’ve done my fair share of airport hopping (what with travelling to the US & Asia) and Schiphol is probably my favourite so far. It’s super easy to navigate, very well-organized plus it has a ton of cool shops and nice restaurants, some of which are open 24/7.

The number one great thing about Schiphol is that you can take a train from the airport to Amsterdam in 20 minutes. So we did just that and found ourselves in Amsterdam Central Station. As soon as we got out of the station, we got our first glimpse of the city. It was gorgeous. From buildings to the canals, everywhere we turned was picturesque.

Accommodation

We made our way to our base for the next two and a half days: Hotel Die Port van Cleve. For Keith’s very first European destination, I decided to splurge and book us a nice hotel that is central to everything. We can’t say enough great things about the service at this hotel. They went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we needed during our stay. They even helped us when Keith needed to see a tourist doctor for his toe. Long story short: it hurt to walk so he got it checked and the wonderful doctor prescribed a treatment that helped him survive the large portion of our trip spent walking around.

Fun fact about our hotel: it is the site of the first Heineken brewery built in 1864 before it was moved to its present-day location. They have a nice restaurant that we did not try and a more casual bar. Another quirky interesting about this hotel is the Delft blue artwork found everywhere: from the toiletries to above our bed to the world’s largest Delft blue tile tableau in the bar.

Getting Around

Cycling is king in Amsterdam but I had no faith in my biking skills so we decided to walk everywhere. Since I was saving my cell phone roaming for Paris where we were actually meeting up with friends, we had to rely on a physical map of the city to get around. It wasn’t easy because of several factors: a) My not-so-stellar sense of direction, b) Years of relying on Google Maps made me forget how to use an actual map and c) The spider web-like way Amsterdam and its canals are set up did not help. Another thing we quickly realized was that everything was always much closer than we thought. Street blocks weren’t as big as the ones in North America, so on the map it would look like something was very far away when in reality it was right beside you. But as our friend Chris told us, Amsterdam is super compact and after the second day, we were able to navigate the streets comfortably, or at least I was. Keith’s usually good sense of direction was not compatible with the canals.

Attractions

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On our first day there, we had time to go to the Van Gogh museum before they closed. My mom, the biggest Van Gogh fan I know, would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t gone. I enjoyed the Van Gogh museum more than Keith did. His issue was that some of the more famous paintings such as Starry Night and Café Terrance at Night aren’t even housed in it plus it contained paintings that weren’t by Van Gogh. It still houses the largest collection of paintings and drawing by Van Gogh so I consider it a must-see. I really liked the way the museum was laid out. Each floor corresponds to a period in Van Gogh’s life. Some things to keep in mind: the tickets are issued for specific time slots and you cannot take photos of the paintings but there are designated social media areas.

We woke up early on day two to cross out the number one thing on Keith’s list: the Rijksmuseum. The building itself is a work of art from the impressive exterior to the beautiful interior. While all the different works of art inside were super interesting, the main reason we were there can be found in the Gallery of Honour: four of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Keith has been fascinated by Vermeers since he watched the documentary Tim’s Vermeer, so we spent a large chunk of our time there. Of course, we had to admire the museum’s pièce de resistance: Rembrandt’s Night Watch. My one regret was not being able to visit the library. Also for such an impressive museum, their gift shop was smaller than the ones at Van Gogh’s.IMG_6751.jpg

After the two museums, we just basically spent the rest of the time just exploring the streets around us to see what we would stumble upon. Our hotel was located right beside the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church. We walked the 9 Streets and the Jordaan neighbourhood for a bit and saw the Westerkerk where Rembrandt is buried. We skipped the Anne Frank House because of the long lines. We passed Leidseplein a lot. We made our way to the 800-year-old Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building that just happens to be a church right next to the Red Light District. We also passed by but did not go into the Rembrandt museum right next to the house he lived in.

Food Recommendationsimg_6842

For stroopwafels, we went to the Lanskroon bakery (which also had very good coffee and amazing cinnamon croissants). I bravely sampled and liked the raw herring from Frens Haringhandel near Bloemenmarkt, one of many herring stands in the city, while Keith got and loved their Kibbeling (cod croquettes). We also had traditional Dutch cuisine right beside the canal from Bistro Bij Ons which was tasty but very rich, if not too rich for our taste. We were lucky enough to have De Blauwe Parade as our hotel bar where we drank Heineken (because of course), ate Bitterballen and sampled jenever (Dutch gin). At the airport, go to Dutch and Delicious for their poffertjes (small Dutch pancakes). We found that some places were cash only and some were card only, so be sure to ask beforehand.

Souvenirs

If you love Van Gogh, the museum has multiple gift shops of all sorts of things featuring his artwork, but stroopwafels are definitely the one thing to bring home for yourself or as gifts.

LIMBURG

img_7299I will not be able to cover Limburg as extensively as Amsterdam but I still wanted to give it a special mention here since we did visit it, albeit for a day. It was at the halfway point of our trip after Brussels and Bruges that we made our way to this part of the Netherlands for the wedding. It took us three trains to get there which you think would be a pain in the ass but was actually super easy and efficient. I cannot say enough good things about rail travel in Europe. I’m sure if you live there, you can find things to complain about but as someone who has to rely on the ViaRail in Canada, train travel across the Atlantic is the absolute best. We stayed in Roermond which a small city, close to the border between Germany and the Netherlands that is funnily enough home to a huge outdoor designer outlet mall. Hotel Roermond where we spent the night after the wedding was a gem. They checked us in early so we can leave for the ceremony in nearby Swalmen and had complimentary breakfast. The reception was held at Restaurant De Busjop in Heythuysen. The venues and surrounding countryside were so beautiful. Everyone from the taxi drivers to the wedding guests from there was so friendly. All in all, it was a magical affair.

Final Thoughts

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We fell head over heels in love with the parts of the Netherlands that we were able to see. Everyone spoke English and was super friendly, plus super attractive. Seriously, they all looked like supermodels. And they were not kidding about the bicycles. Rush hour in Amsterdam was a sight to see. But as long as you watched where you were going, you shouldn’t get hit. The service in the Netherlands was hands down the friendliest, most efficient we have received the whole trip. We were really sad to leave Amsterdam and we cannot wait to come back and explore the rest of this beautiful country.

Next post will be on discovering Brussels!

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“Do you guys wanna see my itinerary?”

img_7443I am resurrecting the blog with a five-part post on our recent European vacation. Apparently one of the best ways to combat post-vacation blues is to share your experience. Plus it would be nice to have our memories written down somewhere so why not here? This first post is an introductory one followed by four posts that will cover the four destinations of our trip: Amsterdam with a bit of Limburg sprinkled in, Brussels, Bruges, and finally Paris.

Before diving into our first stop, let me give you the context of our trip. We were attending a wedding in the Netherlands in the middle of August so we decided to make the most of this joyous occasion by visiting a few cities nearby. It would be Keith’s first trip to Europe, his first time setting foot anywhere outside of North America. As I have been to Europe before, specifically Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich, I was in charge of the itinerary and did most of the planning. No pressure.

After weeks of researching (i.e. obsessively reading blog posts on all our dream destinations), we had decided that our trip would last 10 days mostly because we had a dog that I didn’t want to leave with the sitter for very long but partly because Europe is expensive and I also had a full-time job I had to get back to. Once we set our day-count limit, it was easy to pick and choose which cities to visit. We were initially going to do the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) plus Cologne and Dusseldorf but cut it down to just Belgium, the Netherlands and added Paris. We’ll save Germany for a separate trip in the future and there’s nothing to see in Luxembourg anyways (just kidding, I’m sure it’s a small but beautiful country worth visiting!).

Then I spent the months leading up to our trip booking our accommodations, buying train and museum tickets in advance and seeking out advice and recommendations from friends. The great thing about being Canadian and living in Toronto is that there’s almost a 100% chance of knowing someone that is a) European, b) has family in Europe, or c) is currently living, has lived or recently visited Europe.

A couple lessons I learned during the planning phase:

  1. Airbnb is your friend but unless you are completely sold on a place, you should maybe abstain from booking it especially when the cancellation policy is strict. I booked a place in Paris that was cheap for a reason then found a much better option so I cancelled the first one but could only get 50 % of my money back.
  2. For my own peace of mind, I needed to combine all the travel information I needed (from our flight numbers to our hotel and Airbnb confirmations and addresses to our train times) in one place. Enter Excel. I found the templates that worked for me thanks to the following link: http://protravelblog.com/free-travel-itinerary-templates/. I used number 9 to have all the references I needed and number 4 for a day by day breakdown.
  3. Even though most everything nowadays has an app and can be accessed electronically through your phone, it is always a good idea to have printouts of your confirmations and tickets.
  4. Scan and bring a printout of the first page of your passport just in case. Luckily we did not need them but one of the guests at the wedding got her passport, credit cards, driver’s licence and health card stolen in Brussels.
  5. No matter how much you plan everything down to the minute, welcome the unexpected.

Our final itinerary looked like this: Two and a half days in Amsterdam, three and half days in Brussels with a day trip to Bruges, back to the Netherlands in Limburg for the wedding for a day, then off to Paris for three and a half days.

The next four posts will pretty much have the same format: First Impressions, Accommodation, Getting Around, Attractions, Food Recommendations, Souvenirs & Final Thoughts.

Next post will be on Amsterdam and Limburg. Hup Holland Hup!

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The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

For today’s fashion post, I wanted to talk about my visit to The Bata Shoe Museum a couple weeks ago when my boyfriend’s family came to visit. It was my first time so I didn’t know what to expect. The museum has five floors and we started from the lowest and worked our way up. During the time of our visit, they had 4 exhibitions running.

All About Shoes: Footwear Through The Ages which takes you through the history of shoes from Ancient Egypt to Modern Day Hollywood. Here are a few highlights:

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I really enjoyed seeing the evolution of the shoe through history, even through fictional history. They had Barbie shoes and a section on the different Cinderella stories from all over the world.

The 2nd exhibition was Collected in the Field: Shoemaking Traditions From the World, which was, from my understanding inspired by the travels of the museum’s founder, Mrs. Sonja Bata. It features shoemaking traditions that are slowly disappearing. Because of our Dutch neighbor, I gravitated toward the Dutch section. But the entire exhibition, that also has India, Mongolia & Korea among others, was equally as interesting.
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The 3rd exhibit was particularly fascinating to my boyfriend’s family who has Native American ancestry. Entitled Beauty, Identity, Pride: Native North American Footwear. It was divided into the different parts of North America and the different tribes. It was also more interactive with shelves at each station to examine and feel. I was blown away by the details and the craftsmanship of each shoe, plus all the variations between regions.
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Last but not least they have a very funny, very beautiful exhibition called Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. Aside from showcasing beautiful dresses and shoes, they also talk about the dangers of the period, like the use of arsenic as a green dye.
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I highly recommend a visit next time you’re wondering what to do in Toronto!

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TFIOS Book + Movie REVIEW

For those unfamiliar with “TFIOS”, it’s short for The Fault In Our Stars a young adult novel by John Green that became a movie starring Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort, which was released a couple months ago. Now a little background before my SPOILER-FREE combo review. My friend Megh is a huge fan of John Green and so is my boyfriend Keith. He’s been following John for years via his YouTube channel. I watched a couple of his videos and while they’re entertaining, I’ve never considered myself a “Nerdfighter”. And yes I’ve heard all the great reviews about the book TFIOS and seen the brightly-colored book cover displayed prominently in the must-read sections of bookstores everywhere but I’ve never really had the urge to read it. Until finally when the movie came out and I was bombarded from every social media platform with gifs, quotes, fan art and photos from the book and the film. There was no escaping it. Curiosity over this phenomenon got the better of me and I purchased the book.
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Well, I was not prepared for what I found between the bright covers of this novel. It was devoured in a day. I could not put it down. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a book that has genuinely touched me. I enjoyed Green’s writing style immensely. It can go from goofy humor to tragically beautiful prose from one page to the next. At last I understood all the references on Tumblr. There are so many quotable lines in this book. And the story? Absolutely wonderful. It’s not just a love story. It’s not just a story about cancer. It’s about two unique individuals who experience the adventure of a lifetime and the main character just happens to have cancer. It’s written so realistically in such a relatable manner, regardless of whether you’ve encountered the disease or not. It has all the trappings of a great young adult novel but instead of magic, you have fate, and instead of a dystopia, you have the inevitability of oblivion. I must say for a book that deals with sickness and death, there are surprisingly a lot of laugh out loud moments. Or maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Just because you have a terminal illness doesn’t mean you can’t still make jokes or fall in love. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Notice how I’m not spoiling anything? That’s because I highly urge you to purchase this book immediately and give it a read, even if you’ve already seen the movie. I for one can’t bring myself to watch a movie based on a book without reading it first.
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After reading, I sat down to watch the film. It’s out on DVD & Blu-ray in case you wanna watch it. It did a great job of adapting the source material. From my understanding Green was involved with the film quite a bit, which always helps. The book isn’t that long so I thought they’d actually include everything in it but there are a couple of minor plot points that didn’t make it into the movie like for example, there was no mention of Caroline (read the books!). It was so cool to see Amsterdam on screen. I have a Dutch neighbor and I’ve added it to my list of must-visit places. They really captured the tone, the world and the essence of the story. I think the casting was spot=on. Shailene Woodley did a great job. Ansel Elgort blew me away though. Aside from Divergent, I don’t think he’s been in anything huge but wow, what an amazing actor. Don’t forget to bring tissues, seriously. I’m actually pretty relieved I watched it at home since I would’ve looked like a racoon with mascara everywhere had I seen it in the cinema. As much as I enjoyed the movie, like with a lot of cases, I still love the book more.

Okay? Okay. (TFIOS inside joke!)

Hopefully this convinces you to give TFIOS a chance if you haven’t yet. Happy Hump Day everyone!

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