Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So the Kingdom of the Netherlands finally has a King

I’m back in the Netherlands from my road trip and currently watching history unfold before the television—the Netherlands has a new king after 120 years! As I write this, the festivities in orange-bedecked Amsterdam is far from over. In fact, the party has just begun.


It’s been mentioned a few times in this blog that I am not into the monarchy thing. I don’t follow personalities in general per se. However, I see royalty as culture and an important part of the country’s history, so therefore I regard their presence and identity well in the society.

Life as a high-profile royal, especially a European royal is not an easy walk in the park. Because gone are the days that royals have real power. They are somewhat demoted to being the PR house (press relations) of the country and are often seen as a symbol that unites the nation and as an image representation internationally.

THIS IS A FACT: European royals live in glass covered palaces. Everything they do are subjected to criticism. They have a committee of advisors that help them give meaning to privacy and living normal lives, away from the scrutiny of the media and the public. Royals in principle have no real freedom; they can’t even speak out their minds? They learn to become puppets and people pleasers.

This is what happens when you have an empowered and watchful media - populace that can and will find fault on everything about people placed on pedestals.

I can’t say much about royals in other parts of the world, but try criticising the king or queen of an Asian or Arab country and you’ll see serious ramifications. Whereas in Europe, the royals—kings and queens, and princes and princesses have become the laughing stock of many tabloids, public commentary platforms and television commercials and shows. They are fragile and their existence are at the hands of their people (check out the troubled royals in Spain and Belgium). Times indeed have changed!

Hmm, definitely not a place I would love to sit. Like I said, it is not easy being a royal in Europe.


TRIVIA: Did you know that in the Netherlands the king is not crowned but instead inaugurated? He does not literally wear the crown compared to their counterpart in the UK (where the Queen literally wears the crown). In the Netherlands, the crown is seen as a symbol only. Because in reality, the royal house does not have power over the politics and the land.

Interestingly, many Dutch people (and I think Europeans in a country with a royal house) would not ever want to be in their shoes. I remember growing up and dreaming of becoming a princess—don’t we all go through this phase? Well, let’s just say that I am glad it remains a dream of a bygone childhood era.

Here’s a good write up from BBC about the adaptability of the Dutch Royal ‘Orange’ House into the 21st century.

Willem-Alexander sworn in as King of the Netherlands
BBC picture slideshow of the event

More picture slideshow from NU.nl:

King Willem-Alexander inauguration
Royal boat parade on Het IJ
More pictures of other European royals guests 

Lastly, you might ask why I or we didn’t go to Amsterdam to witness the event? Well, firstly, we are not royal fans... secondly, we hate crowds... and thirdly, we are not anymore into partying. It’s better to follow the events on the tube in the comforts of my lounge chair.

Other than that, I really had no energy left after my road trip. I even slept on the sofa this afternoon watching the event. Dutchman and I were glad we stayed at home, relaxed and far from the craziness we are watching on TV.

Nevertheless, more soon about the road trip I made =)

April 30, 2013
The Netherlands

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Postcards from Alsace, France

Greetings from gorgeous Alsace, France!

For those who do not know where Alsace is, it is the region located in the eastern part of France on the border between Germany and Switzerland. This region is popular because of its white wines, in particular--Riesling, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer (my new favourite!).


Tomorrow I am checking the last few villages in my agenda along the wine route, La route des vins d’Alsace.

More soon about this beautiful part of France. Bisous!

Travel Period: April 2013
Destination: Alsace, France

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Off to a European road trip in the southwest of Germany, Alsace in France and a bit of Swiss

I will be off to a long weekend European solo road trip. This trip will highlight culinary discoveries, stunning architecture, unrivaled history and the splendor of nature.

My base will be the beautiful town of Colmar in France. The rest of the places I will be visiting are for stopovers and side trips. With road trips, one must stop somewhere to refuel and move the legs a bit, just perfect to combine these with a lunch or dinner and sightseeing in the lovely cities and towns that fall along the route.

As a tradition in this blog, I always post the flag of the country and the coat of arms of the city-town-village I am going to. Here they are:


Colmar, France
Beautiful Colmar village will be my holiday base in this road trip. I will be doing a side trip to the Alsace Wine Route Villages (I will not post the coat of arms of the small villages as they are quite a few and they are just beside Colmar anyway).


Basel, Switzerland
This will be a side trip from Colmar. Dont you just love the minimalist Swiss flag and Basel coat of arms?


Heidelberg, Germany
This will be a stop over.


Strasbourg, France
This will be another stop over.


Bonn, Germany
This will be a stop over as well.

Stay tuned for the travel reports. A bientot! Tschuss! Ciao! Gegroet! Laters =)

Travel Period: April 2013
Destinations: Germany, France, Switzerland

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Lunch in Amsterdam Oud-West with the boys and a reminder about customer service in the Netherlands

It has been almost a year since Herr Philippe and I met up for dinner at Trouw Restaurant in Amsterdam. I can still recall the lovely dinner we had where I ordered this raw vegetable plate with glorious anchovies sauce on the side. That was sooooooooo good, I can still remember vividly how it tasted.


Anyway, it was time to meet up again so we decided to have lunch, together with his friend who just arrived from Orlando, USA. Let’s call him Mr. Orlando.

Café Bax Lunch

We had lunch at Café Bax in Amsterdam Oud-West, nearby where Herr Philippe lives. They both ordered the typically Dutch sandwich meal—Uitsmijter which reminds me of the Francesinha sandwich in Porto except that the uitsmijter is not swimming in tomato and beer sauce. I went for the goat’s cheese salad which was divine.


My goat cheese salad. 4 stars out of 5.


The Dutch uitsmijter - sandwich bread with ham or bacon and sunny side up eggs and melted Gouda cheese on top.


The cool painted toilet doors. Orlando kept telling us that he felt like someone is watching him. Yes my dear, Prince Claus and Queen Bea are watching you! And the bar man as well, so behave =)


Customer service you say?

Honestly, I did not expect for the food to be good here but it was pretty good! Mr. Orlando and Her Philippe on the other hand complained about their egg yolks. They want it fully cooked and Philippe even had to remind the waiter that it should be well cooked (in Dutch: gaar, doorgekookt which I even repeated to the waiter as well), but still, the eggs came back half cooked, which most people I understand prefer them this way. Well I do anyway.

So the eggs were returned to the kitchen... and when they came back for the second time around they were still soft and watery????

I told Mr. Orlando that I have given up the customer service fight in the Netherlands. The Dutch, and let me just generalise—Europeans, have a different idea of customer service. It really has nothing to do with how customer service is observed in America, in Asia and in other parts of the globe. Our idea of customer service does not exist here.

In Europe, you do not demand from a waiter or ask favours, you just order. OK? Because if you do, you will just end up frustrated, and life is too short and lovely to nitpick about this (at least in my opinion).

This is also the reason why gratuities are not very popular here. The waiters do not work for tips, they are paid with a salary, just like you and me working for a company, and with benefits as well.

Coffee, tea and moi

After lunch we went back to Philippe’s flat for some strong espresso, cappuccino and tea. And more chatting.


They are leaving for Italy (Pisa – Florence – Cinque Terre – Portovenere – Santa Margherita Ligure – Portofino) and Philippe wanted to know if I can help him with tips about this trip since I have been there several years ago. Well, I drafted for them the itinerary I just mentioned =)

The boys are now in Bella Italia and are enjoying much the Ligurian coast!

A lovely lunch again in Amsterdam, with lovely friends.

Visit Period: April 2013
Destination: Amsterdam Oud-West, The Netherlands

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Driving in Lesvos to Polichnitos and Agiassos, and going off road

Because Lesvos Island was a big island, in fact the 3rd largest island in the Grecian archipelago, Dutchman and I decided to rent a car so that we can see farther areas. This was after a week of going around with the scooter.

Lesvos Map


Our holiday base is Anaxos located in the northern part of the island and we are going to Polichnitos and Agiassos.


Polichnitos

For this trip, we have decided to go to Polichnitos and Agiassos, and I was also hoping, Plomari, but that never came to fruition. Just before reaching Polichnitos we saw this abandoned (military) runway. Dutchman is fascinated with airplanes, he once was a spotter (mostly military aircraft), so we did a detour and inspected the runway. It was barricaded but what the heck, we will check it out =)

Dutchman said that the airport could have been used during the years when hostilities between Turkey and Greece were heightened. As you can see, Turkey is just a stone’s throw away. Both had a very turbulent relationship and past, let us just say that both nations are friendly with each other now but there is still work to be done.


In Polichtinos, we stopped to take our lunch. Dutchman and I are not big eaters, we usually eat light and healthy. We also share our food. And because of the heat, we always end up ordering the usual local refreshing Greek snacks suspects—Greek Salad and Greek Yoghurt to go with our lemon soda and water. In Greece you always get a basket or plate of bread. They gave us buttered garlic bread.

The Cafe Toulipa was a nice temporary oasis for us. It is located on the intersection of the village with an open terrace that has ivy crawling on its wooden trellis. A perfect retreat on a warm summer day since the foliage gives a cooling effect.


Nevertheless, Polichnitos town was almost dead! There were barely people walking on the streets, Maybe because it was sweltering hot, but anyway, we have decided to move on...


Off-the-beaten-path

We drove down to the beach and pondered if we should stop for a quick dip but decided to drive further until we reached the junction. There is an unpaved road going up the mountains, a short cut actually to Agiassos, and well before we knew it, the adventurous in us kicked in. We are going off road with our little car!

The off-the-beaten-path is a narrow gravel winding road in the mountains where we barely saw a soul during the entire drive. I watch too many CSI’s and Investigation Discovery episodes these days so being in the middle of the wilderness I cannot help but think of grisly stuff. Let’s not go in there, but you can imagine the torture going through in my head as we drove through this deserted part of the island.

It was a long slow drive of half an hour. Not a nice place to get a flat tire or problem with your motor. Here is a quick video:



As we drove on the gravel road passing by the lush vegetation of olive trees and pine trees, we never saw a single soul. A bit eerie.


Agiassos

Finally we reached the main road to Agiassos. In this part of Lesvos we noticed more pine trees than olive trees. I love it that the island is quite varied, not only in terrain but in vegetation as well.

Agiassos is one of the pretty places in Lesvos and I really wanted to see it, however when we were there we could not find parking. The village sits high up in the mountain and we will have to park somewhere before going up. A heated debate ensued in the car about going into the village or not.

Anyway, without going further into detail, we turned back the car to the direction of Anaxos, in the northern part of the island where we are staying. My heart was so heavy, but sometimes we just have to let certain things go.


The only 2 pictures of Agiassos that I took, taken from the entrance of the village. You can already see and feel that this village is going to be pretty, but, helaas...

Travel Period: June-July 2012
Destination: Polichnitos and Agiassos (Lesvos Island – North Aegean), Greece

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

More traditional Greek villages in Lesvos: Vatousa and Antissa

Greece is a favourite summer holiday destination of ours and we have become regular visitors to the mediterranean islands in the past years. In Lesvos Island last summer we did a lot of island village expeditions with our rental scooter. Dutchman and I sped on the highways, took the small country-island roads, the tiny narrow village streets and even the off the beaten tracks.

One of the many lovely villages we visited were Vatousa and Antissa in the eastern part of the island.

Vatousa


This traditional village looked so nostalgic from the main road. It reminds me of a place with secrets. Pandora’s box? Elegant, beautiful from a distance yet eerie.


Antissa

Not very far from Vatousa is Antissa. It’s a much bigger town, has more facilities, as well as a thriving local community of old men hanging out in the village square in the afternoons.

This is very typical in the Greek Islands to see men of age gathering together, playing cards, backgammon or whatever games they get their hands on, and drinking coffee. While the older women get some afternoon fresh air by sitting outside their house’s doors.


Here we lost our way (lots of one-way streets!) as we navigated the scooter through the village centre. I like it that the village square is very cozy. The trees have definitely given a different ambiance to the whole place.

Then a local man driving a white Hilux pick-up car came to our rescue. He knew we were lost as we were going around in circles. He motioned us with his hand to follow him. Just before we reached the intersection that would lead us out of the village, I managed to take a picture of him. He has this wide grin across his face as he waved his arm approvingly at us. I hurriedly shouted, ‘Efcharisto!’

Greek people in the islands are very helpful and friendly!


We cannot wait to go back again this summer to the Greek Islands!

Travel Period: June-July 2012
Destination: Vatousa and Antissa (Eresos-Andissa, North Aegean - Lesvos), Greece

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