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Amsterdam

Canals and a bike. Could one need anything more in life?!

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The first thing that comes to my mind after all this time when someone mentions Amsterdam are the canals, and walk I did along these 400 year old canals as often as possible during my stay in this lovely city which is a world unto itself. I did not know until my visit here that Amsterdam has more bridges than Venice - three times more than in all of Venice!!!

At first glance, Amsterdam appears to be bursting with people and is a lot more compact than I had originally imagined. Such a marked difference from the rest of Europe where amidst extreme development and vast spaces I’ve seen a sparse population. Took the tram from the Centraal and smiled every-time I heard the sound of the bell on the tram. I’ve been on trams in so many major European cities but I've never heard any of them make that sound.

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To me this is a typical Amsterdam-postcard and this picture could have been taken anywhere in this beautiful city on a sunny day. The canals, the narrow Dutch houses on the side, bicycles parked everywhere, bright flowers in bloom on bridges and before I forget - ferries and house boats. I loved it here and as my time here proved, you can walk for hours along the canals and explore every corner that seems to be teeming with adventure making for very few dull moments and a very exciting holiday.

Went on early morning walks and took in the sights of incredibly narrow but very tall houses with decorated gables. The stairs appear very steep and almost go straight up and the door to each apartment rests on a narrow landing. During one of my walks I visited the Begijnhof, which is an enclosed courtyard dating back to the early 14th century. Heard a guide mention that this was originally a community created for single and widowed women during the time of the crusades where the women lived almost like nuns, but did not take vows and still live in these houses that line the courtyard. The courtyard houses the oldest house in all of Amsterdam and is also home to the beautiful English Reformed Church that has a service in English on Sundays only.

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Amsterdam supposedly serves the best Indonesian food outside of Indonesia. My palette has no past reference when it comes to Indonesian cuisine but the dinner I had at a lovely restaurant called "Kartika" was nothing short of spectacular.

During one of my walks, I came upon the Flower Market and looked around at the masses of bulbs and potted plants available for thoroughly cheap prices. Was disappointed to know that they do not having the floating market in operation anymore.

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The more time you spend here you cannot help but fall in love with the Dutch bike culture. It makes for such a lovely sight to watch people and families riding around this city on their bikes in all types of manner and in all kinds of weather. I heard a local say that “whether the sun is shining or it is snowing, we always are on our bikes!”. Seems to be such a practical and sustainable mode of transport and says so much about the Dutch as people. They say that there are more bikes than the number of people in Amsterdam, apparently 1.3 bikes per citizen old enough to ride. No wonder then that it has the distinction of being the most bike-friendly city in the world.

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A visit to the Anne Frank Huis was a bone-chilling experience for me. Joined a fairly long queue at 6.30 in the evening and it took about an hour and a half to get to the front, in the meantime it started raining (because, hello!!! you're in the Netherlands) but the museum staff came by with umbrellas for those of us who needed one. Walked floor to floor climbing steep stairs to reach the secret annexe hidden behind the bookcase where Anne and her family along with Peter’s family hid during the second World War. I learnt that in addition to her diary, Anne was a budding writer and was writing novels too during their period in hiding. Seeing her red-checkered diary with pages filled in Anne's handwriting brought history to life in a very disturbing way. Being in this space allows you to gain a different but profound perspective from the one gleaned by reading pages from her diary.
At one point I looked around and found people reflecting after taking the tour, a few looked horrified and some were wiping away tears. I left feeling completely emotionally drained.
NOTE : Photography is not allowed within the Anne Frank House but that in my opinion heightens the entire experience.

The Rijksmuseum is a beautiful and houses works of art by many Dutch masters including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Frans Hals and others. Most people tend to make a bee-line to visit Rembrandt's famous works especially "The Night Watch", but I found myself being partial to Vermeer's works - "The Milk Maid" in particular.
Side Note: Do make goofy pictures by the IAMSTERDAM sign out front (if you can find some space that is!)

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For me Amsterdam was less sin and more city. But having said that, I did pay a visit to Amsterdam's notoriously world famous attractions which I figured deserves all the curiosity and was definitely worth a visit.

A walk through the Red Light district alone was such an empowering experience. Walked through pink neon lit alleys and watched girls in windows tempting and teasing the people separated from them only by glass, found stores plying every imaginable toy that I'm pretty certain would not be found in India, I even laughed at loud-happy-drunk men "window-shopping".

It was easy to spot people who were here to provide business versus people who were there out of sheer curiosity like the large group of American senior citizens who were a part of a walking tour looking around with shocked expressions at the sight of it all, girls celebrating hens night and curious tourists - who much like me who looked extremely intrigued. I think this part of the city has something to offer for everyone - from the more adventurous to the merely curious.

Found an extremely interesting bit of history about Rossebuurt from one of the guides of the walking tour - apparently this section is the oldest part of Amsterdam and 900 years ago when this was just a small fishing village, sailors would dock their shipping vessels and meet women carrying red lanterns near the port for some good times while they were on land. Found it hilarious that it was forbidden for married men and priests to enter this area for a very long time.

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Spent countess hours being happily lost, walking around canals whose names I couldn't even find on my map let alone pronounce correctly.
Oh this city is amazing!!! With its bikes, canals and happy ways - it leaves you with a feeling of fresh romance.

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Doe-doei Amsterdam!!! (plus three kisses)
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 07:34 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bikes canals flower market amsterdam light red netherlands holland district tram frank anne rijksmuseum bejignhof Comments (0)

The Golden City Of One Thousand Spires - PRAGUE

overcast 10 °C

At first sight the layout of Prague is definitely medieval - with its narrow-winding-cobblestone streets, tight imposing architecture and the gorgeous Charles Bridge straddling the Vltava river. Within an hour of walking through this city, it dawns on you that the buildings and history of this beautiful part of Europe is not simply years old, they are centuries old and I could only stand in awe and try to envision what it must have been like to live in a time and period far removed from today's modern times.

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Prague's layout comprises mainly of 4 sections which in the earlier days were 4 separate towns: The Castle Town which houses the Prague castle , the Old Town, the New town which holds the Wenceslas square and a section around the Castle Town called the Little town.

The Old Town seems to hold some sort of magnet, because whichever direction you walk in Prague, you're guaranteed to end up at this square. Once here, you tend to lose all sense of direction staring at the grand churches, castles, bell towers and clocks all around this beautiful square. I found that most people wander into the square single-mindedly to watch the astronomical clock put on its hourly show. The oldest working astronomical clock in the world is magnificent and forms a part of the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. Do spend some time in between the hour change to just marvel at this amazing piece of history and art.

I would recommend going up the tower to take in the sight of the red roofed, spire filled view of Prague just as the sun dips over the horizon. The effort pays off grandly by providing you with opportunities to make gorgeous pictures like the one below.

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NOTE : There will be a 1000 cameras pointed up at the astronomical tower at the turn of every hour and you will be pushed and shoved by people in pursuit of a good picture or video. Mercifully, the entire spectacle lasts under a minute.

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Once you are done watching the show the astronomical clock puts up and take in the view of Prague from atop the tower, I recommend you stroll down to the square and take in the sounds of Prague, and spend the rest of the evening tasting the best of the local fare. The Old Town square buzzes with activity and the atmosphere in the evening with the street performers and cafe life is hard to miss. Walk the side streets off of the Old Town Square and grab some of the famous local beer which in my opinion is brewed to perfection and goes excellently when paired with some succulent ham straight from the source, as it roasts on a spit over an open fire.

The freshly made Trdelnik are a must try and a local favourite. The dough is rolled onto metal bars turning over hot glowing coal and pulled off the bars at just the right moment as they turn a golden brown colour and immediately rolled in a bed of sugar. The end result is a lightly sweetened pastry that smells like heaven and tastes divine and goes perfectly with coffee. There seem to be stalls everywhere selling them at a very affordable price of approximately 60 CZK.

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A short walk to the right of the Old Town's square, past the fashion street is the Old-New synagogue (which was unfortunately closed by the time I got there). Would have loved to pay a visit to Europe's oldest active synagogue that mercifully survived the bombs of WWII.

The maps and the locals say that the famous Charles bridge lies to the left of Old Town's square, but I got lost in the narrow streets only to realise that there are signs pointing in its direction on most major street corners. The only problem is that it is defined by its Czech name - Karluv Most on all those signs as well as on the map.

Karluv Most or more famously the Charles Bridge is a half a kilometer long pedestrian bridge that seems to be where all the action in Prague is. Artists, musicians, beautiful views that adorn postcards, nice picture opportunities and not to mention crazy tourists with selfie sticks pack the length of this bridge at all times. I quickly realised that to enjoy this city in its true splendour one has to make the effort and get to the bridge early in the morning whilst it is still quiet. As the sun gets higher in the sky the number of feet treading the length of this bridge keeps rising astronomically.

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You can get around just about anywhere in Prague by walking, without having to take the metro or the bus or even the tram – but they are such a lovely things that I did end up hopping onto a tram (ok just once - while going to the Prague Castle). To my lovely surprise, my cousins description of the experience fits to a T - they do shake and quake quite a bit as they go ;)

Spent some time exploring the Castle town which houses the Prague Castle. The steps leading up to the gates of the Prague Castle are in my opinion one of the most charming places in all of Prague and I guess its not much of a secret since it looks like it is the most frequently used access paths. I took the tram up to the castle but walked on my way back. The Prague Castle complex includes courtyards, churches, museums and is considered the city’s historical and political center. Located within the walls of the Prague Castle is the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral that seems to rise up above and dominate the skyline from the city below. The view of Prague from the Castle is something that leaves a permanent imprint on your mind - complete with red roofs, medieval architecture and incredible old world charm. You cannot help but be thankful that the city escaped major structural damage from World War II bombings therefore retaining its old world glory.

Side note : There are stores selling HOT WINE on the steps of the castle. I found one past the Toy Museum and it was the perfect accompaniment to the walk on a cold windy evening. If hot wine is not your thing, then I would recommend some delicious Grog ;)

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A 20 minute walk brought me back to familiar territory - under the the Charles Bridge where the 1000 or so swans were busy preening themselves or posing for pictures. There are lovely views of Prague from this point and is a great place to make pretty pictures, I clicked a few and headed back towards the Old Town. As I set foot on the bridge again, found myself amongst thousands of people taking pictures during the golden hour and even ended up getting thumped on the head by an enthusiastic selfie-stick waver in pursuit of the right angle.

Side note : I wish they had never invented selfie sticks. When you arrive at a gorgeous place that you've always dreamt of visiting, all that one wants to do is just take in the scenery and the atmosphere of the place. But instead, on almost every street, every square, in front of an old church, inside the old church, over the bridge, under the bridge and next to the nose of extremely irritated swans who just wanted to preen themselves in peace, there were people waving their selfie sticks. There were times I wished I could just yank it off their hands, break it in half and throw the bits in the Vltava.

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Found myself at Wenceslas Square which has seen many important events that have shaped Czech history. This boulevard - almost a kilometre long, was originally a horse market and I couldn't help but find it amusing that this section of Prague is known as the New Town - especially when you consider Wenceslas Square has history that pans 700 years!!
Flanked by the National Museum with the statute of St.Wenceslas in front on one side and the entrance to the Old Town on the other, the entire area holds great cafes, restaurants and places to shop. Made a few pictures and proceeded to rest my aching feet and the painful bump on my head after a long day spent exploring the sights, smells and sounds of this gorgeous city.

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As I did one last shot of Becherovka Lemond on this trip, I realized that this city is truly a postcard from any angle and couldn't help but hold tight to the memory of watching the sun come up over the horizon early in the morning while being the only person on the Charles bridge. What a wonderful thing to consider an achievement in this lifetime!!!

Prague to me was pure magic - especially when it was quiet.

Until next time,
Na zdraví!!

Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 11:31 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague town red old morning wine sticks tourists hot roofs thousand spires wenceslas smoked postcard most ham selfie kurlov trdelnik karluv wencelas Comments (6)

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