Category Archives: European Travels

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Two Besties in Amsterdam- Part 2

So continuing on from Part 1 of our trip to Amsterdam...

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After a really good night's rest, we woke up on Saturday morning to continue our Girl's Weekend in the city of weed 🙂 Breakfast was a standard Buffet and both of us needed some greasy bacon and eggs.

After breakfast, we made our way down to the nearest pick up point for the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour. We had decided the night before to purchase the Combo 48hr ticket that would allow us to use both the buses as well as the boats. We also pre-bought the tickets to the Rijksmuseum.

The weather was not playing along on this day, so most of my outdoor pictures have grey clouds in the background. And it was quite chilly too. We hopped off a few times and strolled along the many canals and bridges. We passed through the the main shopping district, window-shopped our way through the 9 Streets of Amsterdam, visited a Diamond Factory which was also included in the ticket and of course we finally made our way to the Rijksmuseum.

Shopping...

The main shopping district of Amsterdam is like any other big city: large chain stores selling the same stuff you get back home. But they do have an area called the Nine Streets of Amsterdam where you will find small boutiques selling vintage clothes and gifts, cozy cafes as well as designer flair. I didn't purchase anything here though, as this was not a shopping trip.

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We then made our way back to the bus and decided to stop off at the Diamond Factory which is also included in the ticket. At the Gassan Diamond Polishing Factory, we were taken on a short tour of the different rooms used to showcase the various stages of Diamond Cutting. Our Tour Guide gave us the rundown of how their diamonds are cut, etc. The Tour ended with her showing us real cut diamonds and of course told us about the 'huge' discount we would receive, were we to purchase any item that day.

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Once we got back outside, we decided to instead take the boat to our next stop, which was the Waterlooplein Market. By that time though, my feet needed a break so we didn't do too much walking here. We were also a little worried that we would not make it in time for the Rijksmuseum, so hopped back onto a boat and headed towards the biggest attraction (at least for me) of the day.

Rijksmuseum...

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I love a good museum. What I don't love is waiting in a long line for tickets. I missed going to the Louvre in 2011, because we didn't pre-purchase tickets and when we got to Paris, there was a 2 hour waiting line. It's on my list though, so soon Le Louvre, soon!

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The Rijksmuseum is one of my favorite museums. It was also the very first museum I visited when I first visited Holland in 2003. And so I really enjoyed being back. I was very worried that we didn't have enough time, because of the size of the museum and the fact that we only had 2,5 hours before they closed the doors. We managed to do 2/3 of the museum and I got to at least see The Night Watch, which is by far my favorite painting in the entire museum.

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Unfortunately we didn't get to Van Gogh and Vemeer, so next time I will factor in more time 🙂 By the time we left the museum, it was already starting to get dark and once again dark clouds threatened in the distance. We made our way across one of the little bridges once more and went to grab some food.

It had gotten really cold by then and we headed back to our hotel to warm up with some drinks. It was our last evening together and we still had so much to talk about - yes, we did! I don't recall how many of these large G&T's I had before we called it a night.

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Our Last Meal...

The next day we woke up, already with sad hearts. Ms Lee packed her luggage ad we headed down to breakfast. She would depart straight after and I still had a few hours to ponder life with my best friend 8870km away. So breakfast was certainly bitter-sweet - and I don't mean the waffles and bacon 🙂

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Once Ms Lee left, I took a long shower, packed up and checked out of the hotel. I made my way around the bustling city once again before making my way to the Main Train Station to wait for my train.

Back to normal life...

All in all, we had a great time. And I thoroughly enjoyed my time with my best friend. It was something I didn't think we would get to do again. So much has changed since our time in Dubai, and yet when we ran into each other's arms at the airport, it seemed nothing had changed at all.

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about Amsterdam and I hope that I managed to convey my love for this city. If you are ever in Holland, Amsterdam is a must do. I probably wouldn't do such a trip with a kid though. I definitely would wait until Miss E was a little older and would appreciate the culture and what this amazing city has to offer.

There is a lot this city has to offer and so much that we didn't get to do. So it's all going on the list for the next trip to Amsterdam!

Until next time, Dearies. Happy travels...

Two Besties in Amsterdam – Part 1

I find Amsterdam to be a great city for two friends to reconnect or just for a quick mini-break vacation. I met Ms Lee in Dubai nearly 7 years ago. She is a crazy, tiny Korean woman with sass and a lovable nature. And we clicked the very first time we met. When we moved to Germany she moved back to Korea, and I missed her dearly. But we made sure to stay in touch and she even visited when I was pregnant in 2014. We ended up going to Cologne for the weekend and it was awesome!

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Two Besties in Cologne 2014

Skip a few years and after losing contact for a short while, due to her moving back to Korea and other unforeseen circumstances, we found ourselves together again, this time in Amsterdam. And what a weekend it was.

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Why Amsterdam?

I love Amsterdam! It is one of the cities that is super close to my heart, in that it was my very first international city after I got my very first passport. It also has two of the best museums I have ever had the pleasure of visiting: Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum. And of course: Boat Cruises (I mean Amsterdam has 165 Canals stretching over about 50km and with 1281 bridges, a boat trip is a must!).

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Getting there...and around

Ms Lee landed in Düsseldorf and spent the first few days getting to know Miss E and catching up with me. We had already planned the trip to Amsterdam and with me as her companion, she knew she was in good hands. We took the train from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam on Friday morning, and with only four stops in-between, we found ourselves on Dutch soil just before noon.

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Now, I find public transportation super expensive in Düsseldorf and surrounds. Amsterdam was super cheap in comparison. We took a Metro three stops from the Main Station to our hotel. Later that day, we each bought a 48hr ticket which allowed us to make use of the trams as well as buses and the underground metro - all this for as little as EUR12,50! I pay more for a Day Ticket for 2 zones in North-Rhein-Westfalen!

Where we stayed...

We managed to get an early check-in at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Amsterdam. What a lovely hotel - the benefits of working in hotels, thanks Ms Lee! We had a beautiful Canal View Room, complete with twin beds, Nespresso Coffee Machine and a rain shower!

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The hotel itself is botanical-themed. With plants and trees everywhere. The lobby wall had plants growing up along the wall and flower pots dangling from the ceiling. Inside the elevator, the walls were covered in leafy wallpaper and when we got out on our floor, we were once again hit by plants and leaves. Even our room looked out to greenery and partial canal. It was all very botanical, serene, natural.

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Well, with so much to see and do, we freshened up and headed back downstairs to get some 'insider tips'. The lovely lady at the front desk gave us a map and pointed out some hot spots as well as local gems.

Albert Cuyp Market...

I love a good bargain. Who doesn't? And so of course when the Receptionist showed us the way to Europe's biggest market (as claimed on their website), we had to go and check it out.

***Whether or not the Albert Cuyp Market is Europe's biggest market, I would say is still up for debate, because I have also been to The Hague Market, which claims to be "one of the largest multicultural markets in Europe" - they were both quite impressive.***

Anyway, the market was a short 20 minute walk from the hotel and the sun was trying its best to push through the darkening clouds. Even though the clouds would not budge, we kept our spirits up and enjoyed each other's company.

This market was amazing!!!! Not only were there stalls, but some stalls were in fact extensions of the tiny shops behind them. There was everything from street food to street art; from handbags to shoes; from Stroop Waffels to Poffertjes (both made right in front of you). I mean, we really didn't have to go shopping after visiting this market.

Fooooood...

We both had to admit that we were starving by the time we left the hotel. So of course we decided to try out the street food on offer. There was one stall selling Chicken Sandwiches, and they looked so delicious. The first bite had us both lost for words. The chicken was so well-marinaded and it was super tender. Ms Lee chose to have cheese with hers and I stole a piece. It was so yummy, I sent hubby a text saying we have GOT to come visit together, just so I can buy him a chicken sandwich!

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There was one guy who was selling cone-shaped waffles with cavity-inducing toppings. I was too full to buy that and wanted to walk off the chicken sandwich first. We ended up having a large Stroop Waffel instead 🙂

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A dark cloud then sauntered over the market and we decided to go find shelter. We went into a side street and found a cozy little pub with outside seating. After some drinks and after the rain stopped (it really was just a quick downpour of like 7 minutes), we headed back out and made our way to Andaz Amsterdam.

With Ms Lee working in Hospitality, we were able to secure a 'site inspection' of sorts of this funky hotel. Neither of us have had the pleasure of visiting an Andaz property before and we really really wanted to. So we were super happy that they could squeeze us in.

Andaz Amsterdam...

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My word! The thought that comes to mind, when I walked into this hotel was: hip, chic and oh so feisty! Andaz is a Hindi word that means Personal Style. And the architect and Designer of this hotel, definitely took that phrase to a whole new level. I was in total awe when entering through the front doors. Part of the Hotel was initially home to the Town Library which was moved to a new location. From the outside Andaz doesn't look that big, but it has 122 rooms, cute little lounge area and a Restaurant and Bar called Bluespoon.

two-besties-in-amsterdam-part-1two-besties-in-amsterdam-part-1The decor hits you the moment you step foot into the building and in a sense: keeps messing with your senses throughout the hotel. The lobby is definitely not traditional: with three tall cocktail tables and few 'roaming' 'Front Desk Agents' holding tablets. From the ceiling above hangs three large white bells. I'm already in love!

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Everything from the wallpaper to the Prince Statues and the visual art to the various bedroom design - it all screams Andaz! Even the employees are sassy, energetic and all of them (those we talked to) bring their own personal style to their 'station'. I enjoyed the short visit and would definitely want to visit again!

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Evening Cruise...

We headed back to our hotel to freshen up and then headed out once again to get to our boat for the evening boat cruise. We booked with The Blue Boat Company, and the Boat Captain was a charming lad with a wicked sense of humor, which unfortunately was wasted on the crowd in the boat. I found his jokes rather funny - so a larger tip was given 🙂

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The first round of drinks was included in our ticket and so of course, child-less I ordered the house red. Our boat took off at 7pm and it was such a beautiful evening. The tip we got from a local Amsterdam(er?) was spot on: exploring Amsterdam from the Canals was very much different than experiencing the bridges and ally-ways by foot. And with headsets plugged in, we sat back and enjoyed the cruise whilst listening to the rich history and traditions of Amsterdam.

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Calling it a night...

After our cruise ended, we disembarked and headed across yet another bridge towards the Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam. Of course, being the spontaneous duo that we are, we had no reservation and there was already a really long line outside. So we checked out the RockShop, decided that a t-shirt for a 2,5yr old was just way too expensive and headed out again.

It then started to rain, and I don't mean a short cloud burst either: it was a 'raining cats and dogs' kind of downpour. We had 1 umbrella and I'm fat! We managed to get to a tram stop and only had to wait about 8 minutes in the pouring rain. Once we got off the tram near our hotel though, it was merely drizzling.

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We had dinner at Mama Makan - the restaurant at our hotel that serves Indonesian dishes. I had the Gado Gado which is a scrumptious salad with betawi vegetables, egg, tempeh and peanut sauce. Anyone who says "Peanut Sauce" and I am so there!

We ended the day with a couple of drinks and chatter. But I will admit, that we ended the day pretty early too. Friday night and we were both knocked out by midnight!

Night night, my Lovelies...

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Day Trip: Schloss Beck Freizeitpark

We recently decided to do a Family Day Trip to Schloss Beck Freizeit in Bottrop - about 45 minutes from home. It was a tip given by another parent on a mum group I joined on Facebook. I was a bit skeptical at first, since Miss E is still not old enough to go on normal children rides. But we had a look on their website and read reviews and just decided to go check it out. And wow! What a day we had.

This post contains affiliate links. Which means that I may receive commission if you make a purchase through these links.

This park is fully catered for the young-ins. And with adults only paying EUR12 (kids from 3 years old pay EUR11), it really does come up as a cheap family day out. Most Theme Parks cost upwards of EUR35 per person and they all too often do not have many rides and attractions for very young children.

Bonus is that you can also bring your own food into the park. There's loads of picnic tables spread throughout the park, so pack a nice lunch and lots of drinks!

Let's gooo...

Once we got our tickets and got into the park, we rented a cart (Bollerwagen) for EUR2, packed all our belongings inside as well as Miss E. But she didn't stay in it too long - the first attraction was right in front of the cart rental and she wanted to go: the Park Train.

It started drizzling as we got off the train and we quickly looked for cover. It didn't last too long and once the dark cloud passed over us, we made our way to one of the indoor play areas. Miss E did not enjoy that too much (and neither did I), because there were bigger kids in there who were a bit rough, so we decided to move on. We reached the outside playground. Here are a few different swings and slides: some Miss E wanted to try, others she found a little intimidating.

There are also water attractions:

There are peddle-boats for up to 4 people (two peddling at the back). These boats you may take out into the water for roughly 20 minutes. The lake is not big enough for a 20 minute round though.

Once back on dry land, Miss E and I went "horse-riding" and then went onto the mini-Ferris Wheel.

That was loads of fun. Miss E also wanted to fly in an airplane (which Mama Bear thought was too fast, but she enjoyed).

We crossed the lake high up in the trees and she met a Bat. On this side of the lake is a much larger Ferris Wheel (not as big as at Kirmes), big enough for even Bobo the Traveling Monkey to join us. From the top, we could see most of the park as well as decide what other rides we wanted to do.

Miss E was adamant that she wanted to do the one ride I was not looking forward to - the Lady Bug Coaster. I'm not a huge Roller-Coaster fan, however I will try them once. Of course I was not going tell Miss E that she couldn't go on this one, so I gathered as much courage as I could and headed for the long line.

One thing Miss E thoroughly enjoys is a good slide. In the outside playgrounds around our house, she enjoys going up the stairs and sliding down. She could do that all day. At Schloss Beck, there is a very high, very long and colorful slide. And so we HAD to do that. She first went with her dad and they had so much fun coming down. So of course I wanted to go too.

One downside?

Yes! Only one negative I could come up with: We started getting hungry and sat down for some waffles - which took forever! Even though the weather was cloudy, the park was super full. Yet, not all the refreshment booths were operating. There are a few scattered all over the park. My husband had to walk a bit further down the way and then had to wait in a really long line of other hungry patrons. And they also only had 4 staff members manning the booth and only 3 waffle irons.

It was a really long wait and Miss E was eager to go onto the next attraction. But seriously, that was the only negative that came up that day - besides the weather, which they don't really have control over.

We had made our way back to the entrance / exit and Miss E wanted to spend a few more minutes on the trampoline. As luck would have it though, rain started coming down again and we quickly made our way under the canopy, where Miss E ate her Bretzel and mum and dad had a warm cup of coffee.

We completed our day with a short walk back to the car and of course, Miss E fell asleep on our journey home.

Conclusions?

It was a really really good day. For the cost of the adult ticket, it really is such good value for money. Many of the rides and attractions do not have staff standing by - those rides are easy to navigate and you actually just press a button once you are ready. There are loads of picnic tables and if you bring along a picnic blanket, that works too. We had a great time! Miss E enjoyed it so much and we will definitely be returning.

So, if you are ever out this way, and you have smaller children, this park is definitely something to put on your list to visit. It is less than an hour by car, you can also get there by train. It's cheaper than other theme parks and it definitely caters to Tiny Humans. Well worth the trip!

Recommendations:

I highly recommend wearing layers. Even in Summer, when the rain hits, the temperature goes down. Of course bring either a poncho or umbrella for the unforeseen showers that happen now and then. Water or drinks is a must (there was even a group of young men who brought their own beer). I would also bring my own food and snacks, especially for the kiddies. One other thing I also would recommend is your own wagon (Bollerwagen). The one we rented was fine, but a little small. A lot of families brought their own and of the ones I've seen, they are a bit more spacious.

Till next time, Happy Day-trippin'
Zephora

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Holland with the girls

Recently, I joined two girlfriends on a quick weekend getaway to our neighboring country: The Netherlands. Now I have a super soft spot for Holland. It was the first international country immigration stamp in my very first passport. My flight to Amsterdam from Cape Town was my very first long-haul flight. And of course: Tulips.

So when a friend asked if I wanted to join her and another friend for a weekend getaway, to see the Tulips and explore the western part of Holland, I didn't need too much convincing.

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We booked a private room in a hostel in The Hague, and researched what we could do in the time we had without wasting too much time on traveling. One of us would be driving (she was our designated driver too since since she is pregnant). And we knew that whatever we did: a visit to Keukenhof was priority.

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When you think Holland, you think Tulips (or orange, depending on your personality). And when I think of Tulips, I think "Keukenhof". Keukenhof is, in one word...ha! Who am I kidding? One word can not possibly describe the experience of visiting. And still to this day "Amazing", "Sensational", "Beautiful", "Unbelievable" does not come close for me.

A bit of a background:

Keukenhof (Kitchen Garden), is one of the largest flower gardens in the world. It is also only open for 2 months of the year for visitors to see the beautiful blooms. On the brochure it states that 7 million flower bulbs are planted each year on the 79 acres of land. That is a lot of bulbs, if you ask me. I planted 8 bulbs on my balcony this year and didn't manage to kill any of them!

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This place is huge. We were there for over 4 hours and STILL didn't get to do the entire garden. And these flowers are some of the most beautiful pieces of 'artwork' that I have ever seen. Now, I am NOT a flower person. I like getting a bunch of tulips now and again. But I don't go looking for gorgeous flowers. This time, however I simply could not stop gushing over the flowers on display. From tulips to daffodils and hyacinth to roses. And every color you can think a flower can be. I mean, you just have to see it to believe it. Not even the 500 pictures we took between ourselves (am I exaggerating, Sara?) can quite showcase what we saw with our eyes.

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And to be honest, I think Keukenhof deserves its own Post.

So let's move on...

After spending hours at the most beautiful place I have ever seen, we hopped back into the car and made our way from Lisse to The Hague. As with all cities, parking is a nightmare. But the lovely people at the hostel gave us a brilliant tip: P&R (Park and Ride). We parked the car in a garage, bought a day trip ticket for the public transportation, grabbed a tram into the city and hopped back off. We walked the 3 minutes to the hostel and freshened up.

The hostel was perfect for exactly what we needed: bed; shower; storage; a few tram stops away from everything. We had dinner at a Cuban Restaurant and it was such a lovely evening. But even though we wanted to explore the night life, we kind of all had sore feet. We headed back to our accommodation and rested up for the night.

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Day 2:

The next day we had breakfast - hostel-style - totally made me feel young again 🙂 We checked out and stored our luggage in the hostel store room.

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Then we trammed it to Holland's largest outdoor market (Haagse Markt). And so of course, I went wild. I had not planned on this being a shopping trip, but it certainly turned into one. I mean, this place is huge and they have everything. From shoe strings to fresh fish; toiletries to fresh mint by the bunch. You name it, they have it. After realising that the day was still young, I needed to stop buying stuff and we headed back to the hostel to store our (my) shopping bags.

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Next was a tram ride and walk to a fabric store that we wanted to check out (all three of us own a sewing machine and sew things). We then headed into Old Town, and window shopped for a bit, before needing some sustenance. Of course, when in Holland, one must have Poffertjes - a small fluffy pancake traditionally served with powdered sugar and butter. We of course had to have ours with Nutella. You will find it goes down very well with a hot cup of Chocomel!

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We made our way back to the hostel, picked up our luggage and trammed it to the car. The day was far from over and we wanted to make the most of our time (two of us were away from our kiddies). So we drove to Scheveningen (which even for me is a difficult word to pronounce). Here we walked along the beach; put our tootsies in the water (ok, I put my boots in the water) and waited for the sun to peak out from behind the clouds. And when it did, we had the most amazing sunset.

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We decided to have one last drink before we head back home. And relax while waiting for the setting sun to complete its journey. When it did though, it got super cold. And even my Irish Coffee wasn't warming me up. We made our way back to the car and made the trek back home.

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It was a really lovely, no stress trip. Short, but we managed to see almost everything we wanted to see. I love Holland. That is no secret. Just last week, we returned from a family vacation in North Holland and soon I will be heading to Amsterdam for another girls weekend. The people are friendly and open. And I often find life a little more laid back than here in Germany.

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I am looking forward to the next trip I make with these two lovely ladies. But one of us is pregnant now and we will have to wait a little longer until we can all head out again and leave the kids with their dads.

Well, till next time, Lovelies. Take Care!

Zephora

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