Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Before anything else, did you know that "Holland" and "The Netherlands" are not one and the same? Surprising, huh? According to Archimon.nl (where i also got the map below), "Holland" is the former name for part of what is now known as "The Netherlands". The black part of this map is the current Holland, the rest of the map is not. Holland these days constitutes two out of a total of twelve provinces that make up The Netherlands.
Check out World Atlas for a more detailed explanation.
Of course, for tourists, it really doesn't matter so much; and we'll leave the technicalities to the locals and go our merry way.
1. Everyone speaks anglais.
You will be relieved to know that unlike the dear French, the locals in Amsterdam are all capable (and willing) of speaking English. In fact, they take pride in their ability to do so.
Knowing basic greetings in Dutch (especially if you are staying or going out with Dutch friends) is welcome, but not really essential.
2. Canal cruise is a crushing bore. Walk instead.
Most of the tourist attractions in Central Amsterdam are walking distance of each other, albeit a long walk at times.
A typical canal cruise lasts for an hour, with recorded commentary on board ("To your left is. . . .") which can be boring after the first ten minutes or so.
Whilst the house architecture is indeed lovely, it is a better use of time to walk and explore around on foot.
3. Visit the Anne Frank House. Visit the Anne Frank House. Visit the Anne Frank House.
For me, this is the one absolute must. Why? Simply because the evil that prematurely cut short the lives of Anne Frank and other Jews is still present in our world, and we must remember and never let it happen again.
4. There's a reason why it's called RED Light District.
Go ahead, and gawk, ogle, stare and salivate all you want over the girls at Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District. For the uninitiated, the girls rent these windows or glass doors per day, and attract customers by standing in various states of déshabillément.
The RLD is a safe place, even at night, mainly due to the sheer number of people curiously milling around and taking in the sights. Japanese tour groups (with the leader waving a small flag), present!
Should you desire to sample the goods, as it were, do steer clear of windows lit with blue lights. Why? Errr. . .i will quote from Amsterdam Advisor: "To indicate they [girls] aren't technically women, or born as such. They are transgenders, travestites. . ."
Caveat emptor, indeed!! :D
5. A coffee shop is not a coffee house, nor a cafe.
"Coffee shops" are places where anyone over the age of 18 can buy weed/hash/cannabis/marijuana, and smoke it right on the premises.
If you're not into smoking, there are "space cakes" (food products, such as muffins, brownies, etc., that have cannabis as an ingredient) available. Be aware, though, that these are 3-5X more potent that smoking marijuana, so you might get 'high' and hallucinate.
When in doubt, don't.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
[I'm doing a mini-series-within-a-series, named the GUS Guides. These are by-no-means-complete travel tips for readers who will be visiting for the first time the European cities i recently went to.]
PARIS. . .City of Blinding Lights, indeed. Not only is Paris billed as the (arguably) "most romantic city in the world", there is a vast array of choices with regards to what to do, see, eat and buy.
Here's some pointers to help you maximize your stay in Paris:
1. Do not just show up at Eiffel Tower.
(Taken from the official website - M. Chazeau)
Not unless you want to get into the horrendous, outdoor queue (estimated waiting time is generally more than one hour).
The best course of action is to plan what day and time you wish to visit the Eiffel Tower, and reserve your ticket online at their official website. When you arrive, you go directly to the line specifically for prepaid/pre-booked ticket holders (whilst directing a smug glance at the poor souls who just showed up, and have been suffering in the queue).
Oh, another thing. Do try to go up from ground level to the 2nd floor (or vice versa) using the stairs (total of 704 steps!), rather than taking the lift. It will make you realize the enormity of this structure.
2. The 'Mona Lisa' is NOT a must-see.
(Photo credit: Travelandtourismtoday.blogspot.com)
If you love architecture, go to the Louvre and debate whether I.M. Pei's glass pyramid (which was built in 1989, and serves as the central entrance to the museum) is a fantastic addition, or a colossal eyesore.
If you love art, go ahead and check out the 35,000 or so works on display. But if you are just going to the Louvre to see Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting 'Mona Lisa', forget it.
It is barely bigger than a postage stamp (yes, i exaggerate, but not by much); and quite frankly, she looks a bit dumpy and creepy.
3. The French are actually very nice people.
Yes, they do pretend not to understand nor speak English. The trick here is for you, dear tourist, to make an effort to learn some basic French words and phrases before your trip.
Not only will it help in asking for directions, reading signs, etc., it disarms the locals when they see a tourist speaking in mangled French, and they will be generally more helpful and pleasant to you.
4. Buy good chocolate.
Paris has a lot of local artisanal chocolate and pastry shops, quite ideal for gift-giving. To put it bluntly, your loved ones will appreciate these goodies much more than the usual mass-market brands like Hershey, Nestle, Lindt, etc.!
La Maison du Chocolat is a good old standby. Check out Choco Paris site for more listings of shops you can visit, mainly in the St. Germain-des-Pres area.
5. Do join a walking tour.
Part of the fun of being in Paris is exploring the different neighborhoods, and you will be spoilt for choice: Latin Quarter, La Marais ("The Marsh"), Montmartre, St. Germain-des-Pres, etc. Joining a walking tour group not only provides you a guide who dishes out historical tidbits and insider gossip, it is a good way to meet fellow tourists as well.
If you are not historically-minded, there is the "Da Vinci Code" walk offered by some tour operators (yes, that novel).
Even more fun would be to just keep on walking around the area(s) of your interest after the tour, savor the scenery, and explore as you go along. So what if you get lost? Ah, that's where those basic French lessons come in.
Ayez beaucoup d'amusement!!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
(This is the start [and possibly the end] of a series of posts regarding my recent trip to Amsterdam-Paris-London. Yes, dear reader, i have been slacking off big time)
Rushing to catch a connecting flight in the gigantic Schipol airport, with barely enough time to wolf down a cold sandwich and soda lunch before boarding, does not do much to put one in a good mood.
But while making a quick stop a the toilet before my flight, look at what i saw:
See it? No? Here's a close-up look below:
Yup, i could hardly believe my eyes either. The Dutch (the very same people who buy and smoke marijuana legally in 'coffeeshops', and make the Red Light District in Amsterdam a tourist spot for tour groups and families) have engraved a "fly" right on the porcelain bowl.
Apparently, there are scientific studies that show that: a) Men like to imagine themselves hitting on flies whilst they pee; and b) Putting a fly as a fixed target improves aim, and reduces the amount of pee that lands on everywhere else except into the bowl.
Simple, cheap and elegant solution, eh? Environment-friendly, to boot. Not to mention fun. :D Pretty fantastic, i'd say.
Whoever thought this one up, there must be something good in the pot they're smoking.
(Photos above are from www.urinal.net)