Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Travel Diary: Everything I Loved About Amsterdam

These are a series of posts covering my 5 weeks in Europe, and each country I see in bite sizes. Or as my best friend likes to say, “speed touristing.” I visited most places for 4 days, with the exception of Germany and some day trips. This is my way of taking you guys on my adventures through Europe, giving you guys my thoughts on each place and any tips I’ve picked up!

Everything I Loved About Amsterdam


Amsterdam was without a doubt one of my favourite places I visited - such a highlight to my trip. The city has these chilled vibes and the weather was so nice that it was fun just ambling around in the streets. I am well aware that people visit Amsterdam because weed is legal there, but being someone who doesn’t dabble in that area, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time and will 110% go back. It was only one of 3 place I stayed at for more than 3 days.



Accomodation

Well worth the stay! The Flying Pig is a really homely hostel, and I felt so comfortable staying here. I met some awesome people as well, who were friendly and open to get to know one another. It’s a 5 minute walk from Central Station and is located within close proximity to majority of the tourist attractions including the IAmsterdam sign, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank Museum and Vondelpark. 

Being A Tourist


Amsterdam is set out so you can knock out a lot of tourist attractions in a day or two. The rest of my days I spent enjoying the weather - I had a day in a park just reading and another pedal boating around the canals, or heading out at night with some friends to discover what Amsterdam's night life was like.


I ticked off the Anne Frank museum the first day I got there, and was one of the favourite things I did that week. It is such an intuitive experience, with each person having their own audio guide synced to the required language. When you’re walking through the house there are numbers to scan and the audio guide starts - everyone is listening to and experiencing the same things, but in different languages. 
Tip: Pre-book your ticket! This is very important!

Another thing I surprisingly loved was visiting Spa Zuiver - a spa and sauna centre 25 minutes away from Amsterdam. It’s actually attached to a hotel if you want to stay away from the city for a day or two! The place is decked out with an indoor and outdoor pool, multiple saunas, steam room, jacuzzis (both indoor and outdoor), aroma bath - the list goes on! There’s also a restaurant and bar. Do note though, that this place is usually a naked spa but Tuesdays and Thursdays are bathing suit days if you’re not super comfortable being in the nude. Highly recommend!

Surprise, surprise I did a walk through Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light district. I can definitely understand the fascination behind it amongst tourists, but didn’t feel like I wanted to revisit it every night. I also visited the I Amsterdam Sign, Moco Museum and Westerpark. The Moco Museum had two exhibitions on - Roy Lichtenstein and Banksy.

Places To Eat


I’m fairly sure I brunched at least once in every country I visited, and hey I’m not complaining. Bakers and Roasters are known for eggs. They have an abundance of different egg dishes you can choose from, and my choice was salmon and hollandaise sauce. You can sit outside right next to the canals, super cute!

If you love meat, and having a huge steak, hit up this place. It isn’t cheap though so do expect to be paying a bit, but well worth it. 

De 3 Graefjes
Yes, this is another brunch place. Don’t judge me.

Satellite Sports Cafe
Oh wow, I just realised my pattern in eating. Again, meat lovers, you want to eat all that you can in ribs go and find this place. We paid 12 euros, but after 10PM its 10 euros! 


Gartine is a really cute cafe that serves high tea, which is exactly what we ordered. We kind of splurged a little and went for the set that encompassed everything high tea could offer, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This restaurant was recommended by a local for authentic Dutch food. It’s semi fancy and there was a line when we got there, but I thought ahead and made a reservation. To be quite honest, we didn’t really know what to order so just chose somewhat randomly, including Dutch Hodgepodge. 

Quick Tips


You don’t really need to catch public transport in Amsterdam because everything is so easy to walk to. However, you will see, and fairly sure everyone knows this, a ton of bikes. Both locals and tourists fill the roads with bikes and is most likely the easiest way to see the entire city. 

If you’re trying to make your way to Amsterdam from London, Paris or somewhere nearby, definitely look at booking a train ticket because it makes it way easier to get right into the city. I booked a seat with Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam and it was only 3 hours.

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Sunday, 24 June 2018

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" Is A MUST Read

Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: June 18th, 2013

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

Review


The Ocean at the End of the Lane will hold onto and drag you into the dark depths of its mysterious tale. There’s no other way to explain Gaiman’s novel other than being a modern day myth or fairytale of some sort. I didn’t expect it to be a short story, but as it unfolded I realised I was hooked on one single plot line that seemed so simple but kept taking turns and twists, I had no idea where it was heading. 

The story came to life through Gaiman’s writing - he is an absolute genius at creating an engrossing tale with vivid imagery and such real characters. It was a such a strange read that I couldn’t stop reading. I finished it within two hours. The story is suppose to be a mystery but Gaiman weaves magic and life lessons, leaving me quite emotionally drained from being so invested. It’s madness and creativity and ingenuity all in one, which is insane that it worked so well together. Be sure to pay close attention while reading, because there’s a complex layer underneath the plot and even now I want to go back and re-read to see if I’ve missed anything. 

Honestly, I read this at the end of last year, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane was such a unique and intense read it took me awhile to process how I felt about it in words. Such an impressionable read and has further made me love Gaiman’s works! One of my favourite reads last year.

That's the trouble with living things. Don't last very long, Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Travel Diary: Falling For Paris (Literally)


These are a series of posts covering my 5 weeks in Europe, and each country I see in bite sizes. Or as my best friend likes to say, “speed touristing.” I visited most places for 4 days, with the exception of Germany and some day trips. This is my way of taking you guys on my adventures through Europe, giving you guys my thoughts on each place and any tips I’ve picked up! 

Falling For Paris


My trip to Paris was pretty much almost a blur and to be quite honest, I barely did anything at all. You can thank my unstable ankle for that, as I rolled it whilst walking in the city (hence the title haha).When people say Paris is the city of love, they’re not wrong. The city itself has a very romantic vibe, mostly because of its beautiful buildings and monuments. That's really what I fell in love with, how picturesque the city is. There are definitely a million spots that are instagrammable. However, because of that I felt like it wasn't the best place to travel alone and wouldn't do it again unless I had someone with me.

I caught the EuroStar from London to Paris, a 2 hour train ride that made it easier to get right into the city. From there, I made my way to Hotel Vendome Saint-Germain. It’s a cute, modern place that was close to a number of train stations and walking distance to some tourist attractions. The Notre Dame Cathedral, Fontaine Saint-Michel and Shakespeare & Company Book store were all nearby! 

Address: 8 Rue d'Arras, 75005, Paris

What I Saw

The Lourve | Arc de Triomphe | Eiffel Tower
I went to three major tourist attractions, which really is somewhat of a poor effort. 

The Lourve is insanely big, and you can spend hours and hours in it. The main attraction is the one and only Mona Lisa, and that’s where you’ll find majority of the people.


If you really want a photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background, do not head to the actual site - unless you’re planning to climb it. Instead, find a park nearby to get it in its entirety. 

TIP: Definitely pre-book tickets to the places you want to head to. It makes it so much easier and skipping lines is a plus. You can also download the app “Duck The Line” to skip the queue at the Notre Dame Cathedral

Activities


Really, the only activity I did in Paris was sign up for the Paris Bar Crawl. The guide takes you to three different bars around Montmarte, with free shots at each and the last one lands you near the Moulin Rouge. I met some really friendly people and had an enjoyable night! The next day wasn’t so fun though.

Places To Shop


Paris is THE number one place to shop. Or France at least. It was a shame that I couldn’t get to all the places I wanted to go to. 

Le Grande Epicerie de Paris
Have you ever seen a luxury grocery food store, because this is it. I was on the hunt for some Foie Gras to bring home for my parents but really could’ve bought everything - from the cheese to the charcuterie. I settled for pastries instead, and the croissant was to die for.

Paris Lourve Duty-Free KAMS 1960 
It’s not as big as I thought it’d be, but they’re all about giving you good deals on top of claiming back VAT. I grabbed a couple of items for my mum, including some Lancome creams and a Chanel perfume and the amount was a whole lot cheaper than at home.

Other places I wanted to check out were: Nose, Fragonard Boutique, Parle Moi De Parfum and Galeries Lafeyette.

Where I Ate

I was very underwhelmed with food in Paris. But I also think I was daunted by not being able to comprehend the menu and the fact that I didn’t entirely enjoy the first meal I had. I do regret though, not eating all the pastries I could.

Le Relais de L’Entreconte
This is one of the more well known restaurants in Paris. People queue up as soon as it opens to grab a table. They’re famous for steaks and fries, with pepper sauce. I wouldn’t say I loved it but that’s because steak in Australia is already so good and I couldn’t stop comparing the two.

Foyer Mon Vietnam
Safe to say after the pub crawl I needed some comfort food, so I searched for a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and had Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio.

Matsumi 
Can you tell I gave up finding French foods? My friends took me to Matsumi, a sushi train restaurant, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Strada Cafe
The last morning I was there, I found this gem across the road and loved it! The place does brunch differently every week, and the day I was in they were offering a “hot dish” that had eggs, some kind of thick sauce and grounded concoction. The taste was so good, because there were so many elements and flavours. Definitely recommend trying it out!

Transportation 

Public Transport is easily accessible, with the option of bulk purchasing tickets beforehand. You can buy 10 tickets in one go, which is convenient. In Paris there are a number of public transport options including Metro, RER and the bus, which all use the same tickets. 

Uber is also readily available, and I had to rely on that quite a bit after rolling my ankle and couldn’t walk as much. Rides were quite cheap seeing as it isn’t as far to get from one place to another.

Have You Been To Paris? What Was Your Favourite Thing To Do Or See?


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Thursday, 14 June 2018

Travel Diary: London in Three Days

These are a series of posts covering my 5 weeks in Europe, and each country I see in bite sizes. Or as my best friend likes to say, “speed touristing.” I visited most places for 4 days, with the exception of Germany and some day trips. This is my way of taking you guys on my adventures through Europe, giving you guys my thoughts on each place and any tips I’ve picked up! 

London in Three Days


I sped through London in three days and loved every moment of it! Out of all the cities, I’m fairly sure I did the most touristy things here. Navigating through the city was super easy and I didn’t have to rely on public transport too much. London really turned it up for me, being super sunny and warm, so I took full advantage of it and walked pretty much everywhere. 

Places I Visited




Hampstead Heath
I spent my first day lazing around at Hampstead Heath, just one of the many parks London has to offer. It’s insane how people swarm to parks, not just in the U.K but pretty much everywhere in Europe as soon as the sun comes out. I guess coming from a country like Australia where we sometimes do take advantage of the weather we get, it really shocked me how much people loved being outdoors as soon as it was nice and warm. My cousin, who’s just migrated over there, told me that London’s weather is never like how it was when I was there. I was getting 27-28 degrees days, which suited me plenty.

Tower of London and London Bridge
I did a quick walk around the Tower of London before deciding it wasn’t necessary to actually go inside. I will say I am a huge history buff and the Tudor era is one of my favourite periods in history to learn about. However, as a tourist, I’m not one to venture further than what I consider necessary. The tower was impressive to look at but I wasn’t very keen on spending almost $50AUD for a ticket into the place. Instead, I walked along the river and saw the bridge before crossing it.  



I did opt to take up the William Shakespeare Globe Tour, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. My tour guide was a very enthusiastic girl who made the whole tour really exciting and fun to listen to. Even better, they handed us free tickets to watch the Twelfth Night that was currently being performed. That was enjoyable for about 30 minutes until standing right underneath the sun became a bit too much. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral
I ended the day by walking over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and seeing how grand it was followed with doing a quick walk down Oxford St. 

King’s Cross Station (Platform 9 3/4)
I got there to the iconic Platform 9 3/4 platform for a photo at 9:30-10:00AM and there was already a line, so be sure to get there early or it’ll just get busier! Bless the girl in the line behind me who was alone as well - she took a killer photo. They have a person to help stage the photo and props available. 


Buckingham Palace and Harrod's
Then it was more sightseeing with Buckingham Palace my next stop. I actually didn’t realise that 11:00AM is when the guards change their posts and there were so many people. I was trying to side step someone to see what was happening but had a police officer tell me off for overstepping the boundaries. Oops. In all honesty, I got kind of bored so I began to walk to Harrod’s instead. Harrod’s is a huge department store with very fancy interior and exterior. I popped in to buy some Harrod’s tea and then went to the other side of the street to shop some more. 

Favourite Things I Did


Les Miserable
I bought tickets to Les Miserable one afternoon and it was by far my favourite thing I did in London. The musical was playing at Queens Theatre and was so magical. Hands down, Les Miserable has topped my list of favourite musicals - it is a must watch! 



Tottenham vs. Newcastle
Then it was a mad dash to Wembley Stadium to see Tottenham versus Newcastle, which was also super fun. I watched football, or as we Australians like to call it, soccer, when I was younger, but to actually be in the atmosphere and see what the crowd is like was incredible. 


What To Eat

Please, please do yourself a favour and head to one of the Dishoom restaurants in London. I went there for breakfast and was so sad that I was by myself because I couldn’t order everything on the menu! As soon as you take a bite from the dish you’re just overwhelmed with all the different spices and elements that come together to create an amazing taste. Really, I would go everyday just to make my way through all Dishoom has to offer.

If you’re a fan of food stalls/trucks take a stroll through Borough Market and try to decide what you want to eat the most. There are so many options it took me forever to decide! But I felt like the best choice was fish and chips considering I was in London after all. 


This Michelin star restaurant was well worth the money. There’s a set menu you can order, which includes entree, main and dessert and complimentary cocktail. Loved the entree and the dessert was amazing. There are a few options for mains and my cousin and I shared ours so we could taste both. 



I couldn't not eat brunch, and after heaps of research I hunted down Granger & Co for some acai. I also found out a fellow Aussie set up this place so I knew it would be good!

Quick Tips


Transport from the Airport to the City
I took the Underground, which was immensely cheaper than the Airport Express option, which the airport has so many signs for. Don’t be fooled! It’s different to the local trains that London has so read your signs carefully. The only thing is taking trains underground means there is no reception so make sure you’ve plotted your trip beforehand to know which stations to get off and if you need to transfer. 

Accessing Public Transport
Super easy! If you’re only there for a few days there’s no need to purchase an Opal card. Instead, you can just tap your debit/credit card at each station and on the bus and that’s it. I relied on Google Maps to know which trains and buses to take and it was pretty successful. It was also kind of exciting to be on a double decker bus - I know, super cheesy.

You could definitely say I had a very “English” experience, and ultimately I did fall in love with London. The weather really did help in my case but I loved that it reminded me of Melbourne but had much more history in its buildings, giving the city a more whimsical feel. 


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