Monday 25 November 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands II: Some things about Amsterdam

Besides canals, I'm sure you know that Amsterdam is known for their bicycles and you see them EVERYWHERE. The walking guide told us that the canals in Amsterdam are made up of mud, water and bicycles. They fish out hundreds of bicycles out of the canals every year. I don't find that hard to believe, seeing that there are tons of bicycles chained next to canals. And according to him, there was a tradition in some universities where freshmen threw bicycles into the canals for celebration??

Do you notice anything (three things actually) about the houses? I'll give you a minute to ponder. Firstly, houses in Amsterdam are all very narrow but tall, the rent/tax/something depends on the width of the houses so people tend to make it as narrow as possible. We visited the narrowest house in Amsterdam, do you see it? ;) The poor owner though, his house became a tourist attraction and many even knocked on his door to ask be shown the interior. Secondly, it's the hooks at the top (I think the first picture gave this one away). Almost all, if not all, of the houses in Amsterdam have these hooks which makes one wonder about their purpose. Someone wanted to trick me and told me that they were used to hang meat in the winter so that the owners don't have to put it in a fridge. *skeptical look* Well, the real reason for those hooks is that because the houses are so narrow, it's very hard to get furniture up to the upper floors. Thus, they would pulley the furniture up and bring them in through the windows. Pretty innovative don't you think? Thirdly, do you realise that the houses are tilting forward? It has something to do with the second point. That's right! It's tilted forward so that the furniture don't smash into the windows while swinging. And lastly (well this is a small point which I don't know if it's apparent in the photos), the houses are all built by different designers and architects so that explains why their designs are varied and they don't line up nicely beside one another. There are gaps in between houses and also some houses are leaning a little to the side. It's pretty cute how they are so un-uniformed.

Vending machine burgers! There are other snacks inside too. I didn't try it though because the guide said that there's a running joke about these burgers. Since there are so many flocks of pigeons in Amsterdam, people joke that the burgers are made of pigeon meat. :S

It's pretty common to see chairs in cafes facing the streets instead of each other throughout Europe. But the first picture is pretty funny, the first row of chairs are without tables! So do people literally just sit there and people watch?

"Coffee shop" in Amsterdam around every corner. No, you can't find lattes, Americanos nor cappuccinos here. These places sell weed. And in case you're wondering if I tried it, no. The smell gives me a headache, or maybe a light-headed feeling which I did not like. I was rather happy to leave Amsterdam to escape from the smell. Oops.

There's this special type of fries that is quite popular in Amsterdam. The fries are nothing new, it's the sauce that came with it. The one I had tasted like a peanut and curry mix with mayonnaise and onion. Worth a try if you're in Amsterdam!

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands I: The city of canals

I arrived at Amsterdam and suddenly, NO MORE ENGLISH. I was just growing used to having English all around me in London.. Amsterdam is beautiful and tranquil. But a place where you could easily get lost, because all the canals look roughly the same! It's a maze I tell you. Go take a look at the map of Amsterdam, it looks like the seating arrangement in a theatre.

The journey to Amsterdam was pretty fun. I was next to a 19 year old English boy who said he was going to Amsterdam just for weed.. oh dear. We made friends with an American and a Taiwanese sitting near us. The four of us hanged out together when we had to leave the coach and get on the ferry to cross the English Channel. It felt as if we were on a day trip on a cruise! There were arcades, restaurants, etc etc. We went up to the deck and admired the night view which almost blew me away, figuratively and literally. It was fantastic, if not absolutely freezing because of the strong wind.

We arrived at the coach station and then needed a way to get to Amsterdam central. So I went up to someone to ask and he asked 'Parlez-vous français?' I'm like 'Un peu..' then all I remembered hearing was 'la la la.. à droite.. la la la..' but with his gestures and insertion of English here and there, I figured out what I was supposed to do. We bought the 1 hour ticket for 2.80 euros which allowed us to take the train to Amsterdam Central (where we bid each other goodbye) and then the tram to our individual hostels.

Amsterdam library has a very modern, simple and open design. Even though I prefer old Victorian libraries, this library looks really comfortable and conducive for group meetings and doing work. The art installation is really creative too. It's made up of socks which have lost their partners. And look! there's a cute baby sock in the midst.

Climb to the top of the library and enjoy a free view of Amsterdam! The top level is a buffet restaurant and they serve the most delicious smelling food!!

Red light district is a place where most people would visit when in Amsterdam and it's not like hidden away in a secluded area. It's right in the middle of the city center! Beside this lane is Chinatown. Photography is not allowed. The guide told us that if you take a photo of the girls, they might step outside and grab your camera. Furthermore, because they had to pay for the rent of each window on a per hour basis, they would sometimes pee into a cup so as to save time running to the toilet. So if you offend them, they might throw that cup of piss at you.. You've been warned!

I met a Couchsurfer here and we had Thai food. In Amsterdam. Expensive Thai food, mind you. The Dutch restaurants were mostly closed when we were hunting for a dinner place apparently. But oh well, I missed rice so it was still a good meal, albeit the high price.

Thursday 14 November 2013

London, England IV: Borough Market and Camden Town

Borough Market, the place where delicious sight and smell mingle.The bubbling atmosphere engulfs you almost instantaneously. I was so excited! My eyes dashed around, not knowing what to focus on. I wanted to get my hands on everything but sadly my stomach disagree. I had fish and chips from Fish Kitchen, because after all I am in London. Then I had a grilled cheese bread which was so heavenly but so sinful. Then I washed everything down with coffee from Monmouth Coffee Company which boosts the best brew in town. Other recommended food here include duck sandwich, beef sandwich, paella, good old cheese and I'm thinking that if you have the chance, you should just try everything HA.

To digest all that food in my tummy, I decided to take a nice slow (but very long) walk to King's Cross where I finally pushed a cart into Platform 9 and 3/4!! There were two ladies stationed there providing scarves (I took Gryffindor's) and taking photographs. You can get the photographs printed from the Harry Potter shop next door for about 10 pounds? I can't remember. There are loads of other Harry Potter merchandise sold in the shop, like wands, pullovers in house colours, scarves and books. I was pretty thrilled to pick up a wand and wave it around, too bad no warm glow surrounded me. And I really wanted to see the platform itself and the Hogwarts Express!

Camden Market was bursting with life. Lots of shoppers streaming in and out and there were people holding up signs directing you to their tattoo and piercing shops. I felt as if people might snigger behind my back for being so un-punkish. But still, look at buildings with their 3D designs! This is the place you can get cheap(er) goodies in London, accessories, clothes, shoes, bags, everything is here.

Stables Market is one enchanting place. You can find antiques, collectables, leather products, food, vintage clothing, the list goes on. If you imagine everyone wearing robs and sporting a wizard's hat, doesn't this place look like a market where Professor Sybill Trelawney shops at? Or is it just me? Haha.

I didn't have time to explore Camden Lock Village which is situated by the canal.  I did walk down the quieter side of the canal and there was a man shouting incomprehensible gibberish while waving at passers-by. Besides that, it felt like a hidden haven, where you can escape from the crowd of shoppers. I loved the boats parked at the side, wish I could go in and take a look but the owners weren't home so too bad. Then there was this open air place where people just sat down and ate! It was really great and lively and incredibly packed. But it was time for me to head back to the hostel, pack my things and leave for Amsterdam.