Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Ode to Amsterdam

I find this really bizarre. I travel to Amsterdam everyday because I work there, although not in the core center, and I have written many stories and uploaded tons of gigabyte fotos of the Netherlands per se but how could I have forgotten good old Amsterdam?

What a shame really. Well, okay, lets not go into the guilt-trip pity party part because I actually have many old fotos of this sinful (what everyone believes and let it be, lol), mystical, and vivacious Amsterdam in my laptop hard drive. So, before I go and totally immerse into my blissful exotic Asian holiday that awaits me, I would like to send this message to those visiting this blog wanting to know more about Amsterdam that, it is indeed a beautiful, unique, and very special city.

Amsterdam Centraal Station, a stunning piece of art and architecture by architect Cuypers circa 1881-1889 on a beautiful day with the tram blocking part of the view, and inside the massive station.

The Damplein (Dam Square) and the magnificent Magna Plaza building now a shopping mall that used to be the Post Office of Amsterdam.

Tres Marias (me in the middle of course) in Rembrandtplein with the portrayal of Rembrandt's Nightwatch painting in sculpture representation. Next foto in Leidseplein, we ran into these crazy navy clad English blokes on a stag night out party.

Pretty and lean Amsterdam buildings from the boat on a bright and sunny day. Amsterdam is truly beautiful when the sun shines and when its warm and when there is no rain as well. However, reality is... it rains here the whole time and its cold, even during summer.

Tour guide said this is the most beautiful bridge in Amsterdam (left foto). The other foto is the typical wooden Dutch drawbridge that you can find all over the country.

Lovely and colorful Amsterdam buildings and the Nieuwekerk (New Church) near the main shopping street Kalvaerstraat.

Flower bulbs for sale at the floating Flower Market. They also have Cannabis growing kits, €3 per pack. Warning: you can get prosecuted if you bring Cannabis into another country, even in neighbouring countries in Europe, i.e. Germany, Belgium, UK, etcetera.

The world-famous canals and bridges of Amsterdam, and the usual suspects locked to the iron railings. Bikes are part of the beauty of Amsterdam.

Spui, another nice place in Amsterdam with lots of hip bars and cafe. Amsterdam has many festivals during the summer months, and activities-events all throughout the year.

The right foto is an impressive 3-level bike garage. On the left is the weighing house (called De Waag) where cheeses used to be weighed. As you can see, it is now a restaurant.

Rijksmuseum circa 1800 and a view from Museumplein (Museum Square) and a closer view of I AMsterdam logo.

Lively Leidseplein at dusk... brimming with people sitting outside on the terraces when the weather is great. It is always busy here.

When in Amsterdam, do not miss Febo, the Dutch version of fastfood + vending machine efficiency. This massive red wooden shoe (or clog) was taken right outside a souvenir shop. And the last foto to the right is the tram service schedule post.

The Concertgebouw (left foto, classical concerts are held here) in Museumplein and the Theatergebouw (right foto, theater plays are held here) in Leidseplein.

Tourist directional sign to Anne Frank House, 2 churches: Westerkerk and Nieuwekerk, and the Homo-monument. Perfect signage combination! This Gebakkraam in Museumplein offers sweet traditional Dutch pastries.

At the Dam Square and this is another typical Dutch gorgeous window with the humongous red shutters.

A visit in Amsterdam is not complete without hitting the Red Light District. Me posing outside a sex club; a convenient Dutch invention - public open air urinal for men; and me again, this time inside a sex shop inspecting the *clears throat* huge pink “Tarzan” goodie! lol

Amsterdam Red Light District (RLD) in Zeedijk - just a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam Centraal Station (to your left when you get out).

Trivia: Did you know that prostitutes in the Netherlands pay taxes? They also get periodic medical tests and many belong to a union.

1) Bring an umbrella. The weather here is insane and you just landed in the crappiest weather country in the world! The sun may shine every now and then but drizzles and grey clouds all the way.
2) Better yet, bring a light raincoat because the wind will probably tear your umbrella apart. Not kidding.
3) If you are a woman, forget blow drying and styling. Forget the hair. Or wear a hat.

4) Bring a light coat too, even during summer. Temperatures can drop down to 14C during the day or lower. Like today, and yesterday, and the other day.

5) Watch your bag like a hawk. Pickpockets abound in the bus and tram stops, and in the train stations too. Same thing in the airports. Common sense.
6) If you don’t want to be publicly embarrassed and become a live spectacle broadcast (beats reality TV) in the bustling streets of Amsterdam then please be mindful of the bikers. PLEASE look around you twice, maybe thrice, before you cross the streets. These bikers are quick as a fox and they will not let their presence known until they are a breath away from you.
7) And do not stand and walk on the bike lanes. Do not be suicidal. Bike lanes are for the bikes, not for people. They are quite easy to spot as they are usually colored red or they have the embossed bike sign on the road. Look for them.
8) Never walk in dark lonely alleys.
9) Same thing with taking out cash from ATM’s at night. Never, ever in a deserted area.
10) They say there is a high risk of going home battered and disfigured if you take pictures of prostitutes in the Red Light District. I believe this serves as a warning?
11) But you can definitely ogle at the women for hours. It is fun, they usually tease their thrilled male audience.
12) Tipping is not always mandatory, so don’t feel obliged to tip the waiter who doesn’t seem to service you anyway (lol). But if you are feeling guilty, round off the tab or give 5%.
13) Which means, do not expect the “customer service is king” mentality here unless you go to an expensive restaurant. Waiters and waitresses do not exist in this country to serve you because they are only there to get you your food. They do not rely on tips for a living as well because they have a normal salary + benefits but tipping of course is appreciated.
14) Holland does not accept €100 bills. The highest note circulated is €50.
15) Coffee shops are not cafes. The latter is where you can enjoy a cup of coffee. The former is where you can get stoned.
16) Do not attempt to carry hash-cannabis-marijuana or any related substance with you back home, even on the train to Germany and Belgium. Who knows, it might be your (un)lucky day when immigration checks your bag.

17) Amsterdam is very multi-cultural. English is widely spoken, as well as German and French.

18) The core center is relatively small so you can easily walk to all the attractions, however, you can also take the tram and venture into the outskirts and see how the locals live. There are day tickets that can be purchased.

19) A boat canal cruise is a must. You get a different view of Amsterdam from the canals.

20) Many shops are open late on Mondays. On Sundays some shops are closed. Every Thursday is late shopping night.

More fotos here: Amsterdam, North Holland - The Netherlands

Be safe and have fun in Amsterdam.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cold summer spells in Heusden

It has been a roller coaster of cold-gloomy-rainy and warm-sunny-dry summer lately. There are days that make you go, aaahhhhhhh..., and obviously, there are other days that make you grunt ggggrrrrrrrr! Nothing surprising really as this is the cross we bear living in swampland with a weather as moody as a woman heavily medicated because of PMS. I hope tomorrow would turn out bright and sunny though.

On the other hand, I can’t wait for us to fly to South East Asia for our summer vacation. A few more sleeps and I’m out of this cold and drizzly summer spell.

Enchanting and beautifully shaped fortress like a flower, the town Heusden in North Brabant.

As it is, this weekend was not an exemption. It was raining all afternoon this Sunday and cold too. Shall I say it was very tempting to stay put inside the house, be lazy, sit all day in front of the laptop and TV, and eat heaps of those forbidden evil fatty foods. Hah, I know all of us are guilty! My waistline has been screaming to my face - STOP. Why is it that many people I know are on to some kind of remarkable diet nowadays? Remarkable because their tummies have been flattened, yeah just after a few weeks of diet control, which should have persuaded me to follow suit, right?

Anyways, I braved myself and told Dutchman to get his behind up and running because we are going to Heusden. I won’t let this crap weather dictate my already dismal weekend. No way.

“Leusden, you said?”

“No, Hhhhheusden - with an H.”

“Where is that?” (not really looking forward to my Holland Tours, lol)

“It’s in North Brabant, near s’Hertogenbosh, so get going!”

We both got rained down because we forgot to bring the umbrella. How very smart of us, ha-ha. Nevertheless, it was not as bad as I have expected.

The highlight of this Heusden trip was the bitterballen (dipped in creamy mustard sauce) at this Hotel-Restaurant in den Verdwaalde Koogel (in Vismarkt by the haven). I don’t think I have ever tasted anything like these bitterballen before! It surely was the best as I found myself craving for more. There goes our diet...

Heusden Town Centrum and a gevelsteen that is usually found on top of the doors..

Heusden Centrum and the Heusden flag.

An old brievenbus (mailbox) I found in the corner of the main shopping street, Hoogstraat... and the pretty stadshaven (city harbor), full of yachts.

Eetcafehavenzicht is the name of this cafe-restaurant which means: a cafe-restaurant with a harbor view. On the right are the delectable bitterballen, a traditional Dutch finger food eaten over a borrel (drinks, in most cases alcoholic drinks).

More fotos in the haven.

Here are more fotos I took of charming Heusden (they would have been prettier if it was dry, no dreary clouds, and the sun shone!): FOTOS of HEUSDEN
How to get to Heusden? It is about 45 minutes from Utrecht by car, which would be 1.10 hours if coming from Amsterdam. I doubt though if its easy to get here by public transport but here are some useful information about this idyllic town:
Tourism in Heusden, Windmills in Heusden

Visit Period: June 2007
Destination: Heusden (North Brabant), The Netherlands

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