Three Days in Amsterdam, Netherlands: The Essentials.

Hallo, Welkom in Nederland! I am travelling back in the time to take you on a journey to the beautiful tulip capital of the world, the Netherlands. Amsterdam is where we will start. If you are familiar with this part of central Europe, you probably can relate to what I going to share with you today.



I have a long list of silly but rather complicated quests that I’d like to complete in life. I guess you could call this my version of a bucket list. But no matter what you call it, my list of wants got slightly shorter after this visit.


Walk in Amsterdam

My earliest recollection of Amsterdam is breakfast with my parents next to a canal with windmills in the distance. The fresh smell of hot toasted bread and taste of sweet marmalade feel so real I can hardly believe I was only eight then.

Canals in Amsterdam

When I grew and began to understand the world around me more clearly, I read the memoirs of a child named Anne Frank, and her experience of hiding during World War II saddened me deeply. I yearned to pay tribute to her and the many like her who had gone through such ordeal. Starry nights and sunflowers reminded me of the great painter who had off cut his ear of because the world didn’t understand him. I felt a connection with him, some days, for I feel the world doesn’t understand me either. I was eager to see his work. Finally, I fancied a nice hot brew and some Ams-cake to go with it. All these opportunities only existed in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh in Amsterdam


Our trip was a short stopover on our way back from the United States, and it involved carrying a few heavy suitcases, which are usually a no-no for us. But these rules can be broken from time to time, especially for precious occasions like little Shruti’s wedding in Detroit. Just to side-track a bit – a couple of pointers to remember if you haven’t been to an Indian wedding yet. First, the music is never too loud, so enjoy the variety you hear. Everyone from young to less young can dance, so let your hair down, let go and join the fun. Second, make sure you have the right clothes for the events. In other words, pack ’em right! We did, but what we brought wasn’t exactly what you’d like to wear in late-autumn-early-winter Amsterdam. So, there was only one thing left to do. Stuff in the rest. **

Amsterdam city



How We Got to Our Hotel From Schiphol

Picture this in Amsterdam: Early morning, rain, strong winds, jet lag, heavy suitcases. Schiphol to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Cobblestone-paved streets, the wind almost lifting our umbrellas. Watch out! Bicycles in all directions but you can’t see them because of the rain gets in your eyes. Find the hotel. Found it! No lift? OK. Don’t panic. Time to build those muscles! Ugh. Hotel room! Phew!

Did I learn anything? Yes! Would I do it again? Naturally! Would I change anything? Add a pair of goggles to the packing checklist, and most importantly, while in Amsterdam call my dear friend Stephan! *

Schiphol to Amsterdam


Where to Stay in Amsterdam

Amsterdam offers a wide array of hotel options to suit any budget. We stayed at a very decent budget hotel approximately 300 metres away from Amsterdam Centraal Station. This turned out to be the perfect choice for our trip.

Hotels in Amsterdam


Cycling Around Amsterdam

About bicycles: Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. There are approximately 400 kilometres of bike lanes and paths in the city. I had been warned to watch out for the bicycles, which are ridden in both directions. Every resident knows how to cycle. It’s the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to get to any place in the city, rain or shine. The Dutch are very eco-conscious by nature.  It’s even common for riders to hold umbrellas or have young children strapped on child-size harnesses on the front or back of their bikes. It’s hard to comprehend, but driving in Amsterdam is not a convenient option.

 

bicycle, cycle


Did You See the Dutch Canals?

While cycling or walking around the older part of the city, you’d notice stretches of canals – in fact over 100 kilometres of them. These canals were constructed in the 17th century mostly for residential development, defence, and water-management purposes. Today they are used for tourism, recreation, and private transportation. 


Canals Amsterdam Netherlands

The waterway you see in the picture below and, at the beginning of this article is Prinsengracht, which is close by to Anne Frank’s house.


Canals Amsterdam Netherlands

Amsterdam was originally a fishing village but became an important port in the 17th century, setting the stage for becoming the centre of trade and finance it is today.

 

Canals Amsterdam Netherlands


Popular Dutch Beers

Heard of Heineken? It’s a popular Dutch beer sold internationally. Other popular brands include Pale and Grolsch. Cheers mate!


Beer Amsterdam Netherlands

 


Tulip Season in the Netherlands

Since our visit was in early winter, we didn’t get a chance to see the summer tulips. Below are beautiful pictures of them and the spring daffodils taken recently.


Tulips  Amsterdam Netherlands



Dutch Windmills!

Windmills are another Dutch icon. We didn’t have enough nights planned out for this trip, so we decided to visit only Zaanse Schans, an open-air museum, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. 


Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

Getting to Zaanse Schans was a short and comfortable ride – just a 17-minute train ride between Amsterdam Centraal and Zaandijk and then a 15-minute walk in the chilling wind to the museum centre. We surrendered to the strong winds and took a bus instead. I am not sure if we were just there too early or if others were more sensible and decided to stay indoors, but Zaanse Schans was not very crowded during our visit. On the warm side of winter, I didn’t have to wait at all to get into these gigantic clogs.


Zaanse Schans, netherlands


Over at the museum, we got to see many historical windmills. Did you know that there were once around 10,000 windmills in the Netherlands? One thousand of these mills are still standing today. Some are opened for the public to visit, and others are actual homes! I wouldn’t mind staying in one. The windmills were particularly an important aspect of farming in the country. The mills were used to pump the water out of the canals and send it back into the rivers.

 

windmills Zaanse Schans Netherlands


Where Can We Get Cheese in Amsterdam?

Are you a cheese lover? Yes? Then no trip to the Netherlands is complete without visiting a cheese farm. Gouda cheese the most iconic cheese of the region. Doc loves cheese, but since I prefer the grilled version of it, we compromised on this: gouda from a cheese speciality store for Doc and a Dutch grilled cheese sandwich for both of us. Oh, yummy, yummy, yummy. Both of us were pleased. Thumbs up!

 

cheese, amsterdam, netherlands


Coffee in Amsterdam

The Dutch love their koffie. But do remember, if you want some coffee in Amsterdam, you should go to go to a café or coffeehouse.


And look, here is coffee from a coffeehouse from Stephan. Splendid! We are even happier now!


coffee, koffie Amsterdam, Netherlands, coffeehouse


The Dutch first brought coffee to Indonesia (then known as the Dutch Indies) back in the 19th century. They restructured the plantations and implemented a cultivation quota for coffee to be exported to the Netherlands. The Netherlands then and still is an important influencer in the international coffee trade.


You’ll also notice coffeeshops throughout Amsterdam, but note that there is a difference between a coffeehouse and a coffeeshop. At coffeeshops, people can legally buy soft drugs in addition to coffee.


So, if you just want a good caffeine fix, get one at a coffeehouse. And that’s exactly what we did to complete our trip to the Netherlands.

 

coffee, koffie Amsterdam, Netherlands



Sitting there at Schiphol airport on the way back, I couldn’t recollect whether Zaanse Schans was where I had first seen the Dutch windmills. Nevertheless, I was happy to see these once again. Over the past few months, I have come to accept that time is limited. Time waits for no one. When I do visit Amsterdam again, I would visit the same places all over again, taking back with me even more cherished memories. 😊 Counting stars, cherishing the pleasant memories in search Delphi…… ReachingDelphi.



* Thank you for the lovely photos Stephan. 

** for more an Indian wedding experience, join me in Nashik, India. 


amsterdam, netherlands

Watch Out! What the Heck! You told me you were close by!


Watch Out! What the Heck! You told me you were close by!   

We decided to take a short trip to Goa during an extended holiday weekend. The travel time to Vasco Da Gama city, from where we were, was only four hours, and it fit well with our quest for a short break; plus, I had previously read that I could experience some of the leftover ’60s hippie counterculture there. Oh yesterday, here we come!


reachingdelphi, Goa, travel, coffee


To keep a long story short, I transferred the initial deposit to the hotel booking site, and the balance was to be settled at the hotel upon check-in. The booking site had captured our credit card information, so I knew they would impose penalties for a no-show. There was no refund for a cancelation, either. I was sold just by looking at the beautiful pictures of eco-friendly chalets by the beach; you know, like the ones only Angelina Jolie can afford to stay at. There was more, of course; the unlimited WiFi; scrumptious local and international breakfast each morning; free-flow coffee throughout the day; and complimentary yoga and dinner by the pool. With 70% knocked off the original rate, this deal was quite a steal.  There was one more thing – the icing on the cake for me – was the idea of having an attached outdoor roofless bath and toilet, with full privacy and with only the chirping birds during the day, and the glittering stars at night – the small pleasures in life that make me say yes, YES!


reachingdelphi, Goa, travel, coffee

How long would it take to get there from the airport? “Oh madam, we are close by, just half an hour.”  I was smirking ear to ear and serenading a tuneless song.  I requested the reservations officer, via email, to have dinner ready for us, as we would be arriving late.


And, in the excitement, it slipped my mind to check where the hotel was exactly. Oh, dear me!  India is a huge country and the coastal shores of Goa stretch for hundreds of miles.


Refund? Yeah, well, think again sweetheart – you do not need one when you are in paradise, I had told myself.


We arrived in Vasco da Gama late and hungry. Doc wanted to have a full dinner, I did not. “We’re only half an hour away,” I said. “Famous last words,” he replied. Based on my previous miscalculations, I knew it would be wise for me to agree, so we ordered a quick meal. The workers at the food outlet were unfriendly. I found the dosa tasteless, and even I, the one with the ‘no-coffee-after 3pm’ rule found the booster too weak. But, in all fairness it was indeed a much-needed reserve for the next leg of our trip.

 

reachingdelphi, Goa, travel, coffee


We looked at our watches uncomfortably. We had already travelled an hour on dark winding roads.

'How much longer?' I asked.

The driver replied, 'About another hour to go, at least.'

'What, are we going to Maharashtra?'

'Almost', he said.

'Oh blimey! Where are you taking us this time, Uma?'


reachingdelphi, Goa, travel

Eventually we found the place. The resort’s hippy-happy atmosphere did not wash away the fact that they had misinformed us, their guests, about their location and their services. We were two unhappy people in happy-go-lucky Goa. To add to our disappointment, we learnt that WiFi was only available in the hotel lobby, and that the breakfast dining room did not have an ocean view, which was mentioned on the booking site – more unkept promises. The eco-styled room was extremely basic. I was too upset to look up at the stars from the open-air bathroom that night, and neither did I hear chirping birds the next morning. I noticed several lizards, which I am not fond of at all. To make matters worse, the hotel refused to accept credit card  nor provide proof for cash payment. Both printer and credit card reader were faulty, they said. We did not like this at all!   


reachingdelphi, Goa, travel

The next day, we realised all the important places of interest were very far away from where we were. It would easily take two hours to travel each way, just to see the historic sites we had planned to visit. Since our holiday hours were limited, we requested a refund due to the misinformation they had provided. The booking website mentioned the hotel was only 26 kilometres from the state’s international airport, or half an hour by cab. Well, even Superman would not have been able to get us there in that time.


Stop smirking, I was terribly upset.


We checked-out on the second day, forfeited our pre-payment, travelled back to the city, and found a really charming colonial-style boutique hotel in the historic Portuguese centre. The rest of the vacation was pleasant, and that was when I fell in love with Goa! Check out the links at the bottom for more on Goa. 

reachingdelphi, Goa, travel

So, do watch out! Be aware, do your groundwork, and plan your visits before you decide where to go and places to see. Time is essential, time is money. Choose your hotel location carefully, otherwise your holiday memory will be mainly of the roads and the goat crossings.  And, Doc would call you Mandrem for life.  So, watch out and don’t assume anything.


reachingdelphi, Goa, travel

What I have learnt:

  • Time is your life. There is no dollar value attached to the limited vacation time you have, so use it wisely. Select a place to stay that minimises your travel time.
  • Each has a different interpretation of the term 'close by'. 
  • Eat a little before you start any trip. You never know what to expect on the way.
  • Roofless showers are not a deciding factor to where you want to stay.
  • The life Angelina Jolie has is not my reality. So, wake up. The coffee smells strong, the life I have is perfect as it is and so is yours! [Angelina, I love & support the humanitarian work you do 💗]
  • Know that marketers will write to captivate. That is their job. It is our duty as travellers to evaluate what is beneath all that and make a sound decision based on reviews and instinct. Explore the many advisory forums available today. Having said this, I always do the due-diligence, but for this trip, no one commented on the misinformation of distance as a concern. As a responsible traveller, I provided my feedback later online. 
  • Check the payment policy and terms before you make a booking. opt for credit card or online payments as they are more secure. It is not safe to travel with with plenty of hard-cash.
  • Confirmation of purchase is important. The hotel printer was faulty. By this time, I had completely lost trust in this hotel. We insisted on a written receipt. They eventually provided one upon checkout.
  • Purchase a local mobile service with  data and call plan for your communication needs at the airport. These days, this is an essential service, especially during an emergency. In this case, WiFi was not available, as promised by the hotel. Alternatively, your own service provider may provide international roaming services, but these can be expensive when compared to the local option. 


reachingdelphi, Goa, travel


Also in WatchOut! series:



Your GOA Guide





Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

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Watch Out! Excuse me, say that again - No reservations?

Watch Out! Excuse me, say that again - No reservations? 

That kind travel agent, the one with the gorgeous smile, at Brussels train station made our hotel reservations in Paris. Pay in full, she said before that. She was helpful. Despite her warm nature, we had an ounce of uncertainty and therefore agreed to part with only 50% upfront. She reluctantly agreed. The rest was to be paid upon check-in, she reminded us. The hotel brochure displayed decent tourist-class guestrooms that included continental breakfast plus a fabulous view of the city from each room! Awesome deal, I was thrilled.


reachingdelphi Belgium


All set! There was just one thing left to do and that was to get there. So, next morning we checked in at our bus check-in counter. The officer verified our passports – neither of us needed any visas. Next thing we knew, we were heading to Paris. Oh yes, sweetheart! The city of love. I was desperately looking out for the Belgian windmills on our way there. After almost three hours on the road, we noticed sights of the charming renaissance. Oh, I felt her elegance; I did. A true lady and a fine one! I could not wait to get off the bus.


We got off at the last drop off point. Despite being tired and coffee deprived, we mustered the energy to drag our suitcases and headed straight for the hotel. The aroma of freshly baked croissants and steaming brew from the cafes along the way was very inviting, but we decided that those would have to wait until we got settled in for the night.

 Coffee ReachingDelphi Belgium


The hotel was in a hidden corner, away from the main street. It took us a while to find it. Next to the building was a vendor selling something that looked like Indian dosas, but with a sweet vanilla aroma. Crepes, I learnt. We sampled some the next evening. Simply delicious, as I recall. I have a craving for everything luscious, a sweet tooth if you are wondering why. 


I could not wait to get to the room with the nice veranda overlooking the city. We showed our payment voucher. Excusez-moi monsieur, madame, je n'ai aucune réserve pour vous. Okay, not another one, I thought. 


reachingdelphi, Manneken Pis


After 15 minutes of ‘friendly’ discussion, but no arguments, and several phone calls, we settled the remaining unpaid balance and received our keys. It appeared to us that booking through these agents and the unsynchronised bookings between the two parties is a rather common occurrence. We could not tell if this incident was a genuine mistake or a fraudulent practice. But we were lucky that our pre-payment was honoured without much fuss. Our room was comfortable, but I could not see the iconic tower or any part of the city. Instead, we were offered a charming French courtyard view. By the way, quaint hotels may not come with elevator services, so travel light, as you may have to carry your luggage up a few floors.

 

reachingdelphi,  Eiffel Tower


A similar incident happened more recently at another city. This time we had made a fully paid reservation through a reputable booking website. Upon arrival at the hotel (outer Phoenix), the reservation officer told us that they were overbooked. She also informed us that our booking did not show up on her screen. It was after 11 p.m. and we had been driving for almost five hours, so you can imagine our disappointment. You are lucky if the hotel realises the blunder and offers an alternate option, such a transfer to their partner hotels. But unfortunately, that sort of top service is a rare these days. The reception suggested a few other hotels nearby that may have vacancies. We were fortunate that we managed to get a room at the first hotel on the list, but it was a scary experience indeed, especially since this happened in an unfamiliar township. I could not sleep for a long time that night. I reported the incident with the booking site. They provided a full refund that same week.

 

Atomium in Belgium


So, do watch out! Be aware and do your groundwork review before you start your trip. If you are also a budget traveller, you know that hard-earned money is not easy to come by. So be wise. Always watch out.

 

What I have learnt:

  • Make reservations only through a reliable source. Carefully, evaluate the options shown. If online reviews are available, then take some time to read through what other customers had experienced. In the same way, leave a comment for others to benefit from your experience. Both positive and negative feedback is important.
  • Always keep payment confirmation handy. Confirmation of purchase is important. 
  • Reconfirm with the hotel directly ahead of time. I prefer contacting them via email, or online chat. If there is no response to either, I opt for social media such as Facebook. Trust me, this preparation will give you peace of mind. You do not want to be stranded in an unfamiliar place.
  • If you are mistreated or feel cheated for the services you paid for, do not be afraid to stand up firmly (and, calmly) for your rights.
  • Booking sites will usually provide a refund quickly when the supporting documentation has been provided. 

Reaching Delphi in Brussels





Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.

The Amazing Canyons : Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The Amazing Canyons : Grand Canyon, Arizona.

All ends will reconnect in time - ReachingDelphi

We stood there, Doc and I, speechless. I felt I was on another planet. In front of us stood magnificent million-year-old rock structures of various colours, each formation layered like a delicious cake. (If it were a cake, everyone in the world would be able to enjoy a tea-time special.) I am talking about the great Grand Canyon in the United States. Among those ancient rocks, I felt so small. It was a simple reminder of how tiny we are in the presence of Mother Nature.  

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Just you, me and mother nature. Speechless. 


What is the Grand Canyon? In short, it is a river valley in the Colorado Plateau that exposes uplifted Proterozoic and Palaeozoic strata. (The Proterozoic and Palaeozoic periods ran for millions of years, causing great geological changes and shaping how the Earth looks today.) Recent studies of the caves in the canyon indicate that the Grand Canyon gradually came into being about 17 million years ago. The multi-coloured layers we see today are the different types of rocks that have eroded and been exposed to the elements over the centuries.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Cherish the amazing world we have inherited.


So just how huge is the Grand Canyon? Overwhelmingly huge, to be honest. To start with, its 446 kilometres long. Putting this into perspective for someone from my part of the world, this is similar to the distance from Ipoh (in Malaysia) to Singapore, or from Bangkok to Sukhothai (both in Thailand). Its width stretches between 6.6 kilometres and 29 kilometres. Caution! Do not look down if you are afraid of heights – it’s over a mile (1.6 kilometres) deep. On that note, those who wish to satisfy their adrenaline craving should check out the bungee jumping packages.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
What is life, I am so lost?


There are over 1,000 documented caves at the canyons, but only 30% of these have been explored to date.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Canyon caves.


The Grand Canyon is home to diverse wildlife and endangered species (mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians). The earliest people in this region were the Native Americans, and they still inhabit the area today.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Come,  follow me.


Anyone can visit the canyon at almost any time of the year. Just head to the Grand Canyon National Park, which is in the beautiful state of Arizona.


Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
View from the helicopter.


Depending on where you are travelling from and the time of the year, you have the choice of visiting the South or North Rim. Doc and I travelled north from his sister’s place in Arizona to visit the South Rim first. It took us nearly five hours to get to the park by car. We stopped for a short lunch – and coffee break at Flagstaff on the way, naturally 😉. You could also get there through a tour package there, which is what my parents and sisters did many years before.


Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
I'll be there, I will. 

 

Once you reach the park, you will have several ways to explore the majestic landscape. Here are few:

  • Sightseeing on your own or with a guided tour
  • Trekking
  • Bus rides within the park
  • Helicopter rides
  • Canoeing/rafting

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
I am so tiny in your presence.


A few weeks before this trip, Doc made a helicopter tour reservation (aviation is one of his passions). If you have time, I do highly recommend this option. Though your wallet might end up a little lighter, you will not regret the opportunity to see the canyon from a birds-eye view. The breath-taking sights and the exhilarating feeling we experienced together during this one-hour ride will forever be etched in memory.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Magnificent mother nature.


Our scenic flight took us through the beautiful Kaibab National Forest, which I learnt was home to the world's largest stand of ponderosa pines. Then we were treated to a feast of varying views of the canyons – North, South and East. We also pointed out the Colorado River snaking its way in and out of the canyons, eroding its steep sides as it has done for millions of years. Since our trip was in the winter months, there was a chilling breeze. I guess that was why we did not see any rafters along the Colorado that morning. But let me know if you spot any.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
A view of the Colorado.


Light snacks and meals are available at designated areas in the park. We bought ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some coffee to go with it. What, more coffee?  Of course! Anyway, back to the peanut butter sandwich. Frankly, this was my first real American version of the sandwich, and after having one, I realised why kids (and adults) are so hooked on it. I would go for seconds if I were not, in the canyon terms, as old as the rocks.

 

grand canyon
Peanut butter sandwich & coffee. Come on, I am hungry.


We definitely needed that extra coffee to stay focused on the road, because on the way back, we decided to take the windy but scenic route back via Sedona, which was a little longer. 

  

grand canyon
Scenic drive on the way back.


 We made a few more exciting stops on the way.  Yabba dabba doo!

grand canyon
Get your Kicks! 


Doc loved flying, so naturally seeing these aircraft parked at the Valle Airport reminded him of his Cessna days and, me of Top Gun. Take my breath away.........


grand canyon
I know which one I would choose.


 We also spotted a few vintage cars at the gas station. 


grand canyon
Blown away!


“Grand” understates the canyon’s splendour. Some may regard this place as just a bunch of old rocks. Not so for us. It is the home of the ancient spirits. You can hear them in the blowing wind. Listen to them for a moment. Just being there face-to-face with this mighty geological showcase of colourful layers of rocks is most certainly the experience of a lifetime. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to view this natural wonder. We are so blessed!

The soul of the rocks has seeped into me. My wish is that the stars of the canyons keep you and me company and guide us all through darkest moments of any day. Those shining diamonds assure me that everything will be okay. All ends will reconnect in time. Counting stars, reaching Delphi, searching for wisdom and peace of the ancient world.


Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
All ends will reconnect in time - Reaching Delphi 💗💗💗