Oh Amsterdam!

Where shall I begin.  Not only is Amsterdam one of the most liberal cities in Europe with regards to almost anything, but it’s also filled with so much history, people and amazing architecture.  Let’s rewind back a bit.  Boarding my flight on Egypt Air, I was pleasantly surprised by the spacious seating and that was it.  The air stewards were not the friendliest people and nor are their english skills up to hostess/steward standard in my opinion, I enjoyed my flight which was important.  (Oh, and remember, they don’t serve any alcohol on their planes).  Being my first trip to The Netherlands, I waited in anticipation for the plane to touch down so I can put my two feet on foreign soil and just drink everything in that was happening around me.  Yep, I’m that type of romanticist.

I quickly find my way through immigration, collected my monster of a suitcase and braved the metro.  Everything works well here.  Busses and trains arrive to the second and the people are friendly.  The Dutch language on the other hand can sometimes be tricky, even to me as a native Afrikaans speaker, I have to concentrate and listen very well not to miss anything.  Day 1 saw me being the victim of a pick pocket and so I lost my OVkaart (metro card) with E30,00 on it and had to get another one.  Visiting a new city I’m usually inclined to pack away my smartphone and try to steer clear from using  maps.  I started my walk and followed all the signs that indicated Amsterdam Centraal.  Walking along there were a few things that any visitor in Amsterdam should take note of:  1.  Stay out of the bicycle lanes and 2, watch out for the trams.  My head almost felt like it was spinning as I looked left, right, up, down, left again and then only crossing any street or lane.

The Netherlands is famous for their cheeses and naturally I visited a cheese shop to taste and see what they had on offer.  Wonderful experience and note that the more central you go, the more expensive the cheeses are (in my opinion).  As we all know, The Netherlands are very liberal and using cannabis (smoking weed) in the city is quite a common thing.  Don’t be fooled by going into a coffee shop and think you are going to get just coffee, you will be getting cannabis experience with it.  Coffee shops in Amsterdam are known for being spots where you can  comfortably light up and enjoy your joint.  Heading deeper into the city I found myself in the famous red light district and man, was this an interesting experience.  Girls prancing around in the windows, scantily dressed and trying to make eye contact with their next potential customer.  Moving on swiftly!

Canal cruises are very popular in Amsterdam and is one of those “to do’s” that you just have to tick off your list.  My suggestion to you, walk a bit to the outer canals and take your canal cruises there as they are less crowded and off course less expensive.  I went to the Bootvaart kiosk on the Amstel river and paid E11 for an hour long canal cruise, totally worth it since you get to see a lot in that hour.

Food in Amsterdam can be very expensive or it can be cheap and it totally depends on what you prefer.  I enjoyed a lovely glass of Merlot (red wine) and a pizza at Casa de Leo for E14,00 which is not bad at all.  A croissant will typically cost you around E3,00 and a take away Americano about E2,00.  The wonderful thing about Amsterdam is that you can find almost anything here, from fast food, Indonesian cuisine, Italian, Tapas, Burgers and the options are endless.

So, when visiting Amsterdam what are the things one should keep in mind:

  1. Get an OVkaarten.

This will help you to use the tram, train, bus and is reloadable via their yellow machines at most stops and stations.

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2.     Drink enough water.

Water in Amsterdam are filtered by the dunes, due to the fact that they are lower than sea level and tap water is pleasant to drink.  Stay hydrated.

3.     Watch out for pick pockets.

Make sure you keep an eye on your phone, wallet and bag.  Don’t get caught by a nasty surprise.

4.     Download the 9292 (especially developed for travel in The Netherlands) app for your smartphone.

This app will help you tremendously to navigate yourself through transport in Amsterdam.

5.  Museum visits:

Get your tickets online to skip the queue.  Really, queues can get ridiculously long. 

6.  Albert Heijn Supermarket:

Pop in to any Albert Heine to buy yourself something to eat should you get hungry.  A lot cheaper than any restaurant and a good spot to shop when you need something.

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7.  Take an umbrella:

Thankfully I packed mine and man was I glad I did.  Since it’s October here in Europe, the weather is unpredictable and my umbrella was my saving grace.  This brings me to point 8….

8.   Download the Buienradar app. 

This is so precise and shows you exactly when it will rain and when it will stop.  This is super cool!

9.   Rent a bicycle.

If walking is a bit of an issue to you, why not rent a bicycle and explore the city this way.  Can cost you between E9,00 to E13,00 depending on where you rent it from.

10.  Stroopwaffels.

This is a Dutch classic and these small sweet treats are amazing.  I bought 3 packs for E7,00 to take back home at a food market and I can’t wait to indulge.

So there we have it my dear friends.  Amsterdam is a very enligtning city and offers you experiences galore.  Don’t be afraid to take a walk, taste something new, braving the queue or spending a bit extra and your experience in the city will be one that will be rewarded with great experiences, sights, sounds and tastes.  Dank je wel! (Thank you in Dutch).

Fijn Wyn: a must for winers and Whiners!

 

One thing is for certain.  Us South Africans loooove our festivals.  Glancing through your social media feeds, you are sure to spot an event, in your vicinity, hosting a get-together, tasting, feast or full blown festival.  The capital city also has it’s fair share of festivals and one of them that is a sure winner, is the Fijn Wyn Food & Wine Festival.

I was one of the lucky foodies to get my hands on a complimentary pair of tickets to the Fijn Wyn Wine & Food Festival and man was I impressed.  Just to be clear, entry is R150-R170pp (depending on which day you choose) but looking at the whole experience, you get to enjoy a lot more than the R170 you would fork out on this amazing and tantalizing experience.

With over 35 Wine Estates who boasts about their vino, you need to be careful otherwise the tipsy cart will show up.  My favourite farms like Jakkalsvlei, Beyerskloof, Wildekrans and then some other not-so-farmiliar ones (well, to me in any case) like Stellekaya and Ridgeback was a great experience.  Fijn Wyn is a wine and food festival and offer you decadent meals, treats and good things to eat.  Pulled pork sandwiches, Oysters, Paella, Nachos, Gourmet burgers, confectionery and so the list grows.

Hosted at the beautiful Shokran Events Center, Fijn Wyn is an event that caters to the hip, yuppie, grannie, mom, dad & the kleinspan and off course the wine connoisseurs.  This is an event that is popular to everyone.  Live entertainment is the glue that makes this experience work and festival-goers were treated to amazing bands and artists like Rembrandt van Rijn, Roan van As and TUIN to mention a few.  Pretoria is host to a number of festivals, but Fijn Wyn is surely one of the best experiences you can have.

Points scored here:  An amazing array of wine farms & estates on show and it’s an educational experience.  Adequate seating, outlay and flow of festival-goers between tables were good.

Points deducted: None!

My advice:  Grab your hat, grab your hand or man bag (yes, your hands are going to be full and have fun!). Follow Fijn Wyn on Facebook and don’t miss the next one! Go! Now!

 

New Year’s Resolutions… should we?

Enjoying that sip of sparkly and bumping glasses to ring in the new year is all fun and games, but then comes ‘that’ topic of discussion.  New years resolutions.  Why do we do it?  I was a bit intrigued by the origin of this and subsequently did some digging.

According to the most reliable and verified source Wikipedia (yeah right) “In religious origins;  the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.”

Ok, so is this more about personal accountability rather than a re-evaluation?  Speaking to my colleagues and friends most of them decided to either stop smoking, loosing weight, finding their prince/princess charming and so I can go on.  Some just said they aren’t making any since they can’t keep them.

Who are we fooling? Or are we using this opportunity to tell others to help keep us to what we promised we are going to do in the new year?  Ultimately, mine is to get rid of the bulk of myself that shouldn’t be there, get fit and do at least one thing my 60 year old self (when I reach that age) would thank me for.

Making the resolution is the easy part, keeping to it, that is the bummer.  Surely it will take hard work, lots of time and in some cases money, but keeping at it and persevering is the most important part here.  Bottom line; we have to ask: Who are we making these resolutions for? Ourselves and no…. one…… else!!!  So let’s not ‘murder’ ourselves into oblivion to loose that extra kilogram, but let’s rather unpack that fantasy of visiting Babsfontein or some obscure place who’s name you cannot pronounce.  Do things that you normally wouldn’t.  Learn to crochet, or how about a new language or learn how to make a good Fillet Mignon to perfection.

When making new year’s resolutions why not chuck the idea of looking ‘into’ ourselves, but rather outside of ourselves and start that new journey.  Happy new year to you reading this and go ahead and make that resolution……. but make it a bloody good one!

 

Wanderlust

From that moment I step foot on that plane,the feeling of excitement and adventure started oozing in my being. Yes, this holiday was planned ages ago and the departure date greatly anticipated. Thailand? Yes, I’ve been there before but with a renewed sense of discovery we set off.

Amazing how second time around you start exploring more, started tasting more, dared more. The food is more fragrant. The ginger more pungent and the curry more decadent. Thais are extremely friendly and the whole experience (apart from getting sun burnt) is life changing.

So, my list of “to-do’s” when you’re in Thailand are:

1. Stay in the ‘not-so-touristy’ hotels.

2. Venture inland and and shop at the markets away from Patong (not far from the Central Festival Mall). Cheap merchandise and great street vendor food. Worth the ride.

3. Use Tuk Tuks. Be sure to negotiate the fare before you hop on. Don’t use the first one, compare pricess. We got Mr Nasry’s number and used him every time.

4. Cocktails are expensive and so we enjoyed local beer as it’s ice cold and super affordable. Ask for Singa or Chang.

5. Food per meal averages between 99Baht to around B300. Thai Green Curry is the clear winner in my books.

6. When going to the beaches, USE SUNPROTECTION and stay hydrated. Only buy bottled water.

7. Currency is the Thai Baht. The bills come in B20, B50, B100, B500 & B1000. When shopping at markets, keep smaller bills handy. Also when traveling by Taxi or Tuk Tuk, have the correct cash payment ready. When drawing from the ATM, a B200 fee are added per transaction, so keep that in mind.

8. Tourist Sim cards is a must. I bought a Dtac sim that gave me 15 days unlimited data that is good for Facebooking, whatsap and checking mails. Paid B600 for it. They have a 7 days unlimited data deal available as well.

9. Language can be a challenge. Be patient and learn the Thai thank you and greeting phrases well in advance. It will score you points when you bargain for your purchase at the markets.

10. Be wary of renting scooters, jet skis and other mechanical equipment. Make sure you have enough insurance should something happen.

Thailand is a sensory overload at times and is fun amplified. Risk a bit, taste a bit, engage with the people a bit, rest a bit, tour around and shop around for the best deal and you’ll not be disappointed.
With this I sign off and will share some more on my experience in my next post.

Secret Sunrise Pretoria

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So every now and then this thing called “Secret Sunrise” popped up on my Facebook feed and I would stare at it, think a bit about it and then scroll down.  So my boss and some of my colleagues actually attended the Halloween edition here in Pretoria.  The reviews were mixed.  To some it was a moment where they could let loose and just have fun, to others it was a tad too strange.

Well the question is:  How many times do we do stuff that are strange?  My lovely friend Viljoen and I decided we must definitely give it a try.  We rallied the troops and booyaaa, we had tickets.  We showed up, kitted out and readied ourselves for this new experience.  Upon arrival we were treated to a complimentary yoga session.  It was hard….. I’m going to say it again… it was not easy, you need to know your yoga-ness to get it perfect.  Even if you are a real novice like myself, it will be lots of fun and (apparently) it’s good for you. Hehe!

The Secret Sunrise part:

After the session, you go get your earphones put them on and this is where the magic started.  The voice over your earphones welcomes you and then the music starts.  If you close your eyes you could be in a club in Ibiza.  Imagine, close to a 100 people jumping up and down in silence, energized and having a good laugh.  These are the strange things we need to involve ourselves in regularly.  You see, our lives are so routine that we tend to stick to what we know.  We are so closed off and selective in our social spaces that when we experience something so out of the ordinary, that barriers instantly are broken and a stranger becomes a friend for that 45 minutes.

Next time when you are scrolling through Facebook and you see the Secret Sunrise event peeking out at you, buy that ticket.  Yes it’s weird, yes you need to let go yourself a bit, yes it’s going to mean you have to interact with strangers….. is it going to be fun? Hell yes!!!!! Thanks friends old and new …. total awesomeness.