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in Travel Guides & Tips

7 Things I wish I knew before going to Amsterdam

Some people may think that frequent travelers like me is already an expert in this trade. However, they may be surprised to know that I am far from being one.

I probably am one of the most unorganised travelers. I like to take things easy and let the situation surprise me when I get to my destination. As a result, I have missed several opportunities and sometimes spent unnecessary purchases because of this laissez-faire attitude.

When I went to Amsterdam with my hubby I thought we would just go there, relax, and enjoy the place. Somehow it made us believe that it would be similar to the UK where we could just pop in a shop and buy stuff with our cards. As long as we have informed our banks that we are going abroad it’s all going to be all right. Wrong move!

Here are things I wish I knew before going to Amsterdam.

1. Most shops especially small ones didn’t accept card payments.

I like buying from small shops and I would have thought that as a popular European destination, Amsterdam shops would be high tech’ed. However, I found myself in a dilemma when I couldn’t use my cards for paying. Once you’re in the city centre, things are a bit easier though.

Lesson learned: Always carry your euros. 

2. Van Gogh museum didn’t have the paintings I wanted to see.

For €17, the entrance fee, I think was a bit to much considering it didn’t have the paintings I would have loved to see, i.e. Starry Night. The Louvre entrance fee was only €15 in comparison.

Anyway, I was hoping a replica of  my experience in Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) where I stood and gaped at Van Gogh’s painting. I guess I set my expectations too high and was disappointed.

However, I love the experience of learning about his life, albeit rather sad.

3. You needed to book online to visit Anne Frank House in the morning.

If I wasn’t lucky, I could have missed this opportunity. If I knew it earlier, it could have saved me the stress I went through. Nevertheless, I’m glad I made it.

4. Water from the tap was safe to drink.

Arriving at our hotel, my husband and I hesitated to drink the bottled water in our room. We walked for 30 minutes to find a restaurant to buy water and it cost 25% more than the hotel’s. It was too late to realise we had come to a posh restaurant.

5. Corrie Ten Boom House was just 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam.

The Ten Booms were Dutch watchmakers who hid Jewish refugees in their house during the Nazi occupation.

6Schiphol Airport had exhibits of Van Gogh’s paintings and probably Rembrandt.

Coming back to Norwich, I called my Dutch friend, Marty and told her how exciting my trip to Amsterdam had been. I narrated my experience about visiting Anne Frank House and Van Gogh’s museum. She then asked me if I went to see Corrie Ten Boom’s House and if I saw the paintings of Van Gogh at the airport.

I wish I had asked her what to do and see in Amsterdam before going there.

7. Amsterdam hotels had FREE airport shuttle services

When I booked the hotel, I had to consider the transportation from the hotel to the airport at dawn. Thinking that it would cost a fortune to take a taxi from the central, I opted for a hotel close to the airport.

I only found out about the Free airport shuttle when we arrived in Amsterdam. As my hubby and exited the building, a shuttle passed by and by chance it had the name of our hotel. We followed it and discovered all the vans servicing the hotels right to the heart of the city.

As a result, my hubby and I had to walk 20 minutes from our hotel to the train station plus 40 minutes to get to the city. That’s 2 hours lost in transportation everyday.

Well, mistakes are there to glean a lesson from. They make us wiser and smarter the next time around.

Bonus info: Flights from from Norwich to Amsterdam via KLM only takes 30 minutes plus 20 minutes taxi to the airport building.

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in Travel Guides & Tips

After my initial visit to Porto where a man asking for a direction became my tour guide, I went back and this time a lady offering me a lift also turned into my local tour guide.

My hosts took me to attend church in Matosinhos where I received a heart-warming hospitality. A woman sat next to me and attempted to strike a conversation by a casual greeting. When I couldn’t get past that stage, she immediately called someone to be my translator, not between me and her but for the whole program. Thanks to her, I benefited from the sermon that day. After church, I asked for a direction to the bus stop or metro to Porto, but instead someone offered me a lift and even went beyond it by giving me a guided tour.

Bubbly and congenial, Ruth told me to sit on the right side of the car so I could see the landmarks as we passed them by.

Ruth spoke very good English which I really appreciated. Her husband, Alex, couldn’t speak English but he drove the car slowly and quietly while Ruth did all the talking.

So, let us explore Porto from Matosinhos as narrated by Ruth.

The statue of women facing out to the sea represents the women calling out for a rescue operation when someone was drowning.

There is a veranda by the seaside which makes a good pictorial background when the sky is blue.

My father comes to the seaside everyday. Coming from an island, the sea is his life.

Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle) is not a castle made of cheese. It is called such because the rocky hill where it sits has a cheese shape. It was built to protect the coast from the north African pirates.

Further up there’s another fort which locals nicknamed the Marmalade Castle. No, it doesn’t sit on a marmalade but because cheese and marmalade go well with each other.

Atlantic Waves – Before we approached the foz, the waves got bigger and I couldn’t help but gasp. Ruth said they were just normal. They could be way bigger in winter. I wondered why no surfers come here.

The Foz, – Because that’s where the ocean meets the river, the foz or estuary abounds in fish which is why it is flocked by birds. It’s a good place for bird-watching. Might be helpful if you bring binoculars if you’re into ornithology or just love watching birds.

As you get past the bird sanctuary you will see traditional houses with tiled walls. Home-owners abandoned them due to frequent flooding. Now, people are coming back because the sea is more settled.

Golden River – Today the river is brown due to the rain which stirs the sand in the bed. Usually it is green, but when it’s brown we call it the Golden. (Chuckles)

Port Wine Museum – The only good thing that the king did was to put the museum on this side of the river. Here you can learn the history of the world renowned Port wine.

Funicular – is a great way to get to the top of the bridge or vice versa if you don’t want to climb the steps. It costs €2.50 per trip.

Ribeira – Located by the pillar of Ponte Luis, the Ribeira is like the embankment of London but not as crowded. You can sit and soak the view or get a fine dine and wine experience.

Ponte Luis – designed by the same man who did the Eiffel Tower, Ponte Luis is a double-decked bridge that spans the Douro River between Porto and Villa Nova de Gaia. The bottom deck is for cars and the top deck is a metro line. Both decks have narrow walkways on either side.

At this point, Ruth and Alex left me to explore the other side of the river. I opted to climb the steps instead of using the funicular but I wish I did differently.

Reaching the top deck of Ponte Luis, I savoured the view around me. I stopped in the middle of the bridge looked beyond as far as my eyes could reach. After seeing the details, I stood back to see the big picture, the panoramic vista of Porto including Villa Nova de Gaia. Thanks to Ruth for that wonderful experience.

There is so much to see in Porto and I have barely scratched the surface. I have only explored the baywalk and the riverside but it has been a great experience so far. I can’t wait to go back and discover more.

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