Time for the most photo-heavy post ever as I’ve just returned from Amsterdam! We had a brilliant time trying to get a good alternative Amsterdam experience that isn’t just getting high or visiting the tourist traps. Here are just a few main points on the things I found the best (and the worst) from the little cross-section we got.
As always all my own opinion – unsponsored and completely biased.
From checking into our hotel we got stuck straight into the shopping District to the west. “The 9 Streets” were a great start with beautiful boutiques and quiet lanes to stroll down. We accidentally walked straight into the touristy area and jeez, could we tell the difference!
We quickly dashed into the tulip museum which sold certified tulip bulbs (so you can take them abroad). It smelled so beautiful… Aaaand then we headed to the cheese museum a few doors down. It was so strong I almost walked straight back out, despite enjoying cheese!
One thing I learned from the initial day was that pretty much everyone speaks English and also they say bikes are very common here but that is an understatement! You’d not be in Amsterdam if you didn’t see a bike in every direction you look or nearly get run over by one at least twice…
Room Mate Aitana
We didn’t end up going out that evening; the hotel was so lush! We initially thought we would head down to the restaurant but then realised we were exhausted. We ended up ordering room service instead and enjoying the perfect views from the windows from the luxury of the queen size bed. Definitely the right choice!
Alternative Amsterdam Museum Day
On the first morning (and every morning after…) we ate at Bagel and Beans opposite our hotel on the river IJ. It had a beautiful view and a lovely atmosphere with awesome veggie and vegan options. A great way to start the day!
So we planned to give the smaller museums of Amsterdam a chance rather than the larger (tourist trap) museums, we headed out early hoping to beat the crowds. All these museums were situated in and around the Red Light District which was very quiet due to the time but we wanted to see it in contrast with the evening.
By midday we had already visited the Erotic Museum, Torture museum and Red Light Secrets (Museum of Prostitution) – of course, the only way to spend a morning in Amsterdam! The Erotic museum was very seedy (as expected) and the torture museum was very small for the price and mostly made me suck air in through my teeth a lot! Eesh.
The best museum I would say not to miss is Red Light Secrets. This one gives a real insight into what it’s like making a living from the ‘oldest profession’. It kind of takes any romantic feeling out of it portrayed in the movies and it hits home what these women (and men) do on a daily basis and how dangerous it is.
Shamelessly drunk in the daytime…
Before heading off for lunch we went to the Ice Bar which is basically like sitting in a freezer while you drink. The whole thing had a pirate theme and was quite bizarre… but definitely a novelty for stag dos! The ice bears were pretty impressive though!
I wanted to compare the experience with the Ice Bar in Soho and I wasn’t as impressed. Although, unlike the frankly overpriced London IceBar, we did have three shots included in the price of the entrance… before lunch. So I wandered around woozily to a square where we had Mexican food. Not before a little AmsterDAB.
Moving on, we walked back up through the Red Light District in the early evening and the atmosphere had changed dramatically. The pubs were overflowing, smoke filled the air, the lights were glaring and the ladies were out in force (it wasn’t even 6-pm). Of course, there were no pictures allowed but I have to say it should be on everyone’s travel bucket list!
By this point we realised just how much money we were spending… 15 euros here… 30 euros there… It had been pretty damn expensive thus far! So the aim of Day 3 was to do as much free stuff as possible, ending up near our pre-booked Canal Cruise in the evening.
We began with a ferry trip to the Eye Museum which was advertised on “Top 10” sites everywhere. It’s free to enter the permanent exhibition if you buy a ticket to the seasonal one… boo. But it is a beautiful building so we sat there for a while!
We also went on the other free ferry to NDSM which is a converted dockyard turned artisan quarter. When it’s not in season, it’s just a docks (although there is a hell of a lot of cool graffiti). Off to a bad start activity wise but at least we were enjoying the views!
Killing Time Highlights
We saw the outdoor chess board in tribute to the famous Dutch Chess Player Max Euwe with a little group playing chess in the sun.
We stopped by a little fast food place called Febo where you can get croquettes. They were served from vending machines and they were super tasty. Kinda like pie filling in breadcrumbs. Mmmm.
We visited the IAmsterdam sign and the Modern Art Gallery gift shop which was full of amazing art and design literature. It made me realise we need a bigger library…
The moral of today is that you can’t really do a lot around Amsterdam without money… but of course, you can just soak in the atmosphere.
A canal cruise was definitely worth doing but it’s very commercial. My tip for you is head to the south and get one of the cruises near the Max Euwesplein. The cruises are not really romantic, but it’s not a bad way to see the city for sure. You hear an interesting audio tour of the city and get seated on tables of 6 so it’s good for meeting other people!
Today we met our Dutch friend who travelled to see us in the capital. We ended up wandering around the east side of the city. Unfortunately, we spent so long in the science museum we didn’t get time to visit the zoo!
The science museum was spectacular and I loved it! It’s aimed at kids and parents but the exhibitions were loads better than any UK science museum I have been to. There were whole interactive exhibitions on mental health, psychology, sex ed, motion, ecosystems, *takes a breath*, electricity, astronomy, materials AND a full chemistry lab and workshop for families!
It seemed really well funded and directly addressed some real core issues which I admired. There is too much stigma in the UK when it comes to discussing things like mental health, hormones, alcohol effects etc directly with children. I feel it’s best to just be honest with them to help them understand how it may affect their later lives.
Overall it was great to spend a few days in Amsterdam but now I am thoroughly exhausted! Even when we had no plans for the day we were exploring and crowds just take it out of you.
As I spent last weekend visiting Brighton, I decided to do a quick review of what I’ve learnt about it over my many trips there! Brighton is like my home from home – I feel like I really belong there and if I could, I’d happily live there. I have visited at all times of the year, doing “the tourist thing” and also exploring with friends that live nearby, which helps when you’re trying to find out the places where the locals go!
So here is a very brief guide to visiting Brighton – where to go, what to see and sometimes where to give a miss (despite the hype). Every time I visit I am exploring more and more, so I am sure there will be updates as I go! As always, my completely biased and unsponsored opinion -please feel free to completely disagree!
Sights to See
Street artists in Brighton are extremely talented. You won’t find just scribbled tags here – every alleyway (and sometimes the frontages) are covered with artwork. Every time I visit the walls have changed and new artwork has appeared. It just makes everything just that little more interesting and vibrant.
The South Lanes (at night and in the day)
The reason I’ve put the lanes in the sights category is that they can be very busy – too busy to even get a look-in at the shops! If you’re going there in the day I’d recommend a weekday, and I’d also say, bring lots of money… It’s home to the famous ChoccyWoccyDooDah and other awesome establishments.
In the evening, it’s really atmospheric – walking through on a warm Saturday night I came across glowing little restaurants, iconic pubs and bars and really talented buskers setting the scene for us.
Another place I’ve put in the sights category rather than the “buy” – it’s great if you are out to buy some awesome curiosities but, I never have enough money to spend! I think one reason for the pricing is its commercialism, but it is the ultimate bric-a-brac store. It’s a treasure trove of quirky stuff! If you’re there for the unusual then definitely worth a purchase, but if not then do shop around first!
I will forego the cliché pictures of the burned down pier… But seriously there are some cool things to see on the sea-front. The pier, the permanent carousel, the pub that looks like a ship, the kissing picture, the big… doughnut thing? Awesome.
Places to Buy All the Things
Churchill Square (and the surrounding area)
The main shopping centre for Brighton, which has all of the core shops you’d expect on the high street – plus some extras! The Lego Store, Pylones and Scribbler (to name but a few they don’t have in my city)… I even enjoy high-street shopping more when visiting Brighton than at home!
Coming from a city deprived of any real ‘alternative’ shops, when I visit the North Laine I tend to spend ALL of my money! Everything is so colourful and different to anywhere else I’ve seen! Camden eat your heart out! There are no cheap crappy remakes and big chains here – each shop is unique and wonderful. Another place to visit on a weekday.
The name, the weird and funny stuff to buy – just a great little shop filled with quirky gifts. I told myself I wouldn’t name any specific shop to go and buy things in but, this one is just really cool. To make it a bit fairer, I will also mention I love to shop in Tuff Tarts, LUST! and Pussy too. (Yes, they’re the actual names.)
Eateries and Drinking Establishments
Burgers and Cocktails
I find it difficult to put the label “the best burger I’ve ever had” onto any burger, but Burgers and Cocktails has to be one of the most memorably awesome burger joint experiences EVER. Their nachos are to die for, their fries – sublime, and don’t get me started on the cocktails. They were half price for happy hour so my friend and I tried four as a matter of course. No regrets!
This place is just the best! It’s got an amazing atmosphere, and even more amazing mixologists. They play old school jazz, rock and roll and blues music. I am yet to go when they’re hosting an event / live band but it’s on the list! I didn’t take any pictures here because I was too busy dancing my pop socks off!
As soon as you hit the Lanes coming from the train station, you come across La Choza. The amazing smell of burritos hit you as soon as you pass it and on more than one occasion it’s drawn me in! I’ve heard there’s also a La Choza kitchen at the Hare and Hound pub should the restaurant itself be too busy.
The North/South Lanes
I cannot name these few places above without giving a bit of a catch-all header for all the other amazing independent restaurants and cafes. There is such a vast choice available that I couldn’t write down all the places I’ve been to/have yet to go to! My advice to you is; get off the high-street, go to the lanes and just follow your nose!
Places to do Nothing at all
The gardens surrounding the Pavillion are great to visit in the summer – just to chill and not do a lot. I’ve not been inside yet, but the outside is just stunning! There are always (super talented) buskers playing soft/jazzy music as you relax in the sun – Bliss!
Rent a deck-chair, have some fish and chips and do absolutely nothing at all! Visiting Brighton’s stony beach means no sand between your toes (yuck); you can just enjoy the sea. Coming from a landlocked city I definitely appreciate it!
My best friend and I really needed a break from being adults with full-time jobs so we decided to chill out amongst the animals for a day. So this week’s post is just a little summary of my trip to West Midland Safari Park!
It was the best idea ever – a chilly Thursday in February meant no people, no swarms of children, no sweltering in cars in a queue… We could just leisurely drive at our own pace around the park and there were no battles for space to view the animals. All the animals were energetic and curious (likely due to waking up a bit after the quiet winter) and so we had some really amazing interactions with quite a lot of them!
I will let the pictures speak for themselves but here are just a few Safari Park highlights!
Feeding the deer and giving them all silly names and personas
Getting bitten by an overzealous zebra
Being surrounded by little red fox-like animals
Being closer than I’ve ever been to a lion (about 1 metre or so!)
Having birds land on our heads and nibble us!
We also vlogged for most of the day and recorded some of our closer encounters so I will edit and upload a video soon!
Without further ado… The photos!
So there you have it- The Safari Park!
Our day at the Safari Park was a success. It was a much-needed rest and so much fun. We missed the meerkats and lemurs because we arrived too late but we got free return tickets. (Bonus!)
I want to make sure to do things like this a lot more! Hope you like the photos!
So where we left off in Visiting Romania Part 1, I was extremely tired. I didn’t write an entry before bed because I had been awake with very little sleep for around 36 hours. This is the part where things start to pick up… but I’ll let the diary entries and the images speak for themselves. Needless to say, it was an experience – and one which I will never forget!
8 am (Feels like 5 am)
Last night I didn’t report before bed as I just needed a solid 8 hours! This morning I still feel disoriented but it’s not so bad… Breakfast was great because there was Nesquik. Whenever I’m in mainland Europe, I find I seek out the comforts of home. (Even though I am aware Nesquik is not English!) Off to the factory today to do some more training.
Training people can be a trial when you have a language barrier. I mean, a big barrier. My colleague can show them as it’s a practical thing but I’ve got to explain procedures and it’s a bit more difficult. Often you can tell if someone understands or not because they look confused but it’s difficult if they look confused regardless because they’re processing your accent!
Went out to get some food for lunch. It was a gorgeous chicken stew type thing with puree potatoes. Genuinely yummy! We went with the factory supervisor. She said she was surprised that in England they only kept cats and dogs, and not pigs and chickens. I guess it’s more practical to keep that kind of animal!
I pointed out that her nails looked good. She said that in other countries when they have money they “buy furniture and things”, but in Romania, if they have excess money then they make their nails look good! I didn’t expect this kind of explanation on a passing comment. It seems that they don’t treat themselves often. It made me feel thankful for all I have back home.
They don’t have advertisements anywhere and I know it sounds odd but after thinking about it, it makes sense. They don’t have excess money and everyone knows where everything is so why would anyone need to advertise. Occasionally there is a sign for a local shop or beer. It’s really simple here.
Outside the factory, there are owls nesting in the trees. When I saw them I got really emotional! Probably because it was such a beautiful thing when I was struggling to see the joy here. It made me realise in that moment that it’s what I love the most – seeing nature and especially animals.
An English speaking man said that we should come back for a holiday when it’s warm. He said there are some really beautiful places. I’m inclined to believe him… But I just don’t think I could unless I had to! It’s been a tiring few days. We are driving back now and almost like a movie… “What a Wonderful World” has come on the radio.
I tried red wine and actually enjoyed it! It was called Vardo Patima Serii or “The Flame of the Night“. They also do drinks based around water, air and earth – I LOVE anything to do with the elements and my inner branding nerd likes this. I am going to have to try them all…
We had a lovely evening with our host. The food was wonderful, the company was great. We visited Dracula’s house and the surrounding area. It was so icy and they don’t really grit the paths so everything was super slippy! We had a great laugh walking down the hill and sliding everywhere. I can imagine this place is really iconic and is a lovely place to visit in the summer.Today has been the highlight of the trip. It was so beautiful and I enjoyed every minute.
Day 4 -The last Day
It was lovely to say goodbye to the ladies and see how much progress they’d made thanks to my colleague. Everything seems to be in hand and I feel like we have accomplished what we set out to do! The people here are very friendly and they all gave us 2 kisses on the cheek to say goodbye. I am really optimistic that this venture will be a success! Time to pack up and go home – it’s a bittersweet feeling.
Through passport control, it doesn’t look foggy outside!?! Fingers crossed it will go well. I can’t wait for home and bed. I bought some Dracula themed goodies to take home with me. A bottle of Romanian brandy and a Transylvania teacup! Feeling a little better now I know we are on the way home.
7pm – Last few hours!
We have officially arrived on English soil! Phew. Such a long and laborious journey… Only a 1 hour wait until the coach and 2 hours in the coach and a cab to my house to go! Woohoo! In retrospect, these few days has gone fast once that eternity of a first night ended. I got gradually more interested in my surroundings and the culture and just like that, I am home.
So my trip to Romania is over and as I come to the end of this adventure I wonder- what will be my next?
This week has been… Eventful. So this blog instalment is a 2-parter! Visiting Romania was an experience I’ll never forget, for so many reasons. I’ll let my diary entries explain for themselves… These were all written in real time and I think you can tell from my writing style how much my mood changed!
Day 1 – Outbound
I don’t fly until around 20:00 tonight from Luton so I have quite a while to wait, and a long way to go. I realise now that I know almost nothing about visiting Romania… and I feel a little bad about that! I’m brushing up on some basic phrases so I am not a completely ignorant fool and just playing the waiting game. I hope I’m ready for this – I am super nervous about the flight. It’ll be the first time I’ll have been abroad for work so I am hoping it’ll be an adventure! Coach is at 3 pm then on from Luton.
The flight is delayed by an hour so I should arrive in Romania around 2 am. It hasn’t been the best experience. I can only say don’t fly WizzAir if you can help it! If you do, be really aware that they’re strict with their baggage restrictions. I have had no problems except snooty looks from the staff as they can’t decide whether to fine me £40 for my case being too big. Just don’t go there if you can avoid it. They wouldn’t know service with a smile if it hit them in the face with a spade.
2 am (local time)
We have arrived at an airport in Romania… 150 miles from the airport we should be at! The other airports are closed due to fog and low visibility and so we had to stop early. All I can say is at least I’m on the ground. It seems there will be a 3-hour drive plus transfer time from this plane. It’s not a grand start but I’m so exhausted from travel that I can’t muster up the energy to worry.
Waiting for the replacement bus service to Sibiu. Turns out that 3 hours is more likely to be 4. And that’s once we get on this bus. Still no sign of it. We are trying to make light of it but it’s a crappy situation. All flights after ours were cancelled. Wish we had been on a later one and not been one of the last in. I’d be back home after a return coach trip from Luton…
4 am… Zzz
This will be my last update today. Because nothing has changed. I’ve been waiting for a bus for 2 hours. And I have no idea when it will get here and the journey to the airport I should be at will be 4 hours following. Joy.
Day 2 (but it’s like Day 1 never ended…)
I wake up on the coach to see literally nothing. White and bleak fog all around. I don’t envy the driver. Been restlessly sleeping for a few hours but it’s been really uncomfortable. Now I can see outside it’s hard to go back to sleep. People keep having their normal phone alarms go off from their normal routines. I just got a call from the factory manager asking where we were and I told him I didn’t have a clue! I don’t know what to expect when we finally get there…. just desperately need a shower. We have been travelling now for 18 hours.
So we have arrived at our hotel which we now won’t be staying in. It’s peaceful. Breakfast left much to be desired but the shower was amazing. Going to the factory straight away so no time to sleep. I feel like my brain is functioning about 20 seconds behind me. Really odd. One thing I’ve learned is that honey tastes really good in tea… For the record, it’s -13 degrees outside.
Feels like I’ve been here for ages but at the same time not at all. We have been driving for 2 hours through snow-covered landscapes and I am feeling rather irritable. Our driver is pointing things out in the landscape and he introduces everything with such enthusiasm that I wish I could keep my eyes open. They do a lot of speeding and last minute swerving here and there’s snow everywhere and it just seems wrong to be going at 90km (50 miles) per hour!
The training went well. The women who came are really enthusiastic and seem to have previous experience. It was a little out of the norm for me – the ladies came in like a tornado of positivity, really friendly and just got stuck in! It was really bizarre but it doesn’t pay to be shy I guess. We are now off for dinner and hopefully an early night. I felt like I’ve had a 48 hour day… Zzzz.
At this point, it’s a bit like A Series of Unfortunate Events!
But believe me, it changes for the better tomorrow in…