Wow, today was the most incredible day! For many reasons!
Firstly, before breakfast I had a little wander around the village. The early morning had brought on clear skies and revealed what we had missed out on yesterday when we arrived. It turns out we had been surrounded by more mountains the whole time! Knowing this yesterday would have made the hike up to Tengboche so much easier! I wandered around, enjoying the peace and quiet of the early morning and making friends with some of the village animals. After awhile I headed back inside to join everyone for breakfast.
Secondly, at breakfast I actually had a real coffee! They had an big, fancy coffee machine (god knows how it got here!) and were pouring out delicious coffee all day. I lashed out and ordered a mocha and was stoked that it actually tasted like at home! It cost about $5 but the caffeine hit was more than worth it!
We began the hike to Dingboche and I’m not sure whether it was the caffeine or the stunning view but I felt particularly good today. The first hour of the hike was lovely, through lush green forests along a flowing river. The water in the river almost glowed an aquamarine colour. It was quite warm still and the temptation to jump in for a swim was still there.
As we hiked through small villages, past porters of all ages carrying loads of all weights, it was again lovely to just hike in silence and enjoy the view. There was a short uphill stint before reaching the village where we were having a break. Again, we were sat here for ages waiting for the final members of the group to arrive. As we were a diverse group, we all had different walking styles. Some people had raced ahead and had been at the meeting spot for an hour whereas the slower members of the group were still good hour or two behind us. Krishna gave us the go-ahead to keep walking but like yesterday, the long break had evaporated our motivation to hike on.
It was a short uphill stint again but at the top we were rewarded with the most incredible view! Lhotse and Nuptse, Mt Everest’s next door neighbours stood before us while Everest herself, hid behind the cloud. Surrounding us was the most spectacular mountain range. I was in Himalayan heaven! Energised by the stunning view, the six of us who had formed a little hiking group were enthusiastic about the rest of the hike. We walked through a valley at about 4100m, heading towards the Everest mountain range. I felt like I was in Frodo in Lord of the Rings, going on an adventure! We were tiny specks of scenery compared to the vast land mass around us. The mountains that had looked so far away just a couple of days ago, were now dwarfing us in the valley. The landscape had started to change and the dense, green forest transformed into sparse, desolate rocky plains. Only the toughest of plants can survive in the thin air and it was clear that there wasn’t many that could.
We walked through the valley for about an hour, enjoying the lovely mountainous hike until the inevitable uphill began. It was nowhere near as bad as yesterday, maybe because of the clear skies giving us motivation to keep walking or the remnants of the caffiene were still working. It took about an hour or so to hike up the path and around the bend into Dingboche. This little village was situated in a small valley, surrounded by some of the most famous mountains in the world. We were here for two days to acclimatise and with the view as good as this, I wasn’t complaining! Tomorrow is a rest day with just another acclimisation hike about 400m higher.
With some crazy luck I managed to visit two theme parks in two weeks! Considering it had been about three years since my last theme park visit, I was stoked at the chances of this happening.
I wrote about Disneyland a week or two ago and now I bring you the Dutch version (sort of) and I have to say, the Dutch can theme park pretty darn well. The thing I realised about theme parks as an adult is that you have to approach them with a young heart. It makes the experience so much more fun and gives your inner child a chance to run free again.
Drievliet is located just outside of the Hague and easily accessible by tram or bus. Of course though, as I was with my youngest kidlet, we were spoiled and my host dad dropped us off. What first started as a tea garden, Drievliet has morphed into one of the most popular theme parks in the Netherlands.
Spending the day at Drievliet with my host girl M was a stack of fun. She is 11 and I admit, I probably acted 11. But we raced around the park, going on the roller coasters at least five times each, stuffing ourselves with suikerspin (fairy floss) and taking silly photos. It was my last week with M and I was grateful to spend this time with her, this little girl has warmed my heart and I’m going to miss her and her goofy ways.
Before we knew it, we’d been on the fastest roller coaster, the Formula X eight times and my host dad was calling to let us know he was coming to get us.
If you have a spare day in the Netherlands and are looking for something fun, head to Drievliet. It is aimed at a younger crowd, but it’s still an awesome day of fun and fast rides.
From the girl whos insides are totally flipped around and upside down.
This fine (and slightly windy) Sunday was spent with my two best girlfraaans IB and E. We were the remaining three in our little ‘Animals’ group and as sad as that was, we weren’t gonna let that get us down. After a Friday night thats a little too fuzzy and a more civilised Saturday night baking biscotti and trying to master the art of headstands, our Sunday activity was the attend the annual Parkpop festival in Zuiderpark in The Hague.
Parkpop is a free music festival held each year on the last weekend in June in The Hague. For awhile there it was the largest free music free in Europe but Poland’s Przystanek Woodstock and Austria’s Donauinselfest have rudely taken over. In comparison to Australia’s music festivals such as Big Day Out or Stereosonic, it didn’t seem to be like a huge festival but we still had a blast nonetheless. Parkpop also happened to coincide with the soccer (sorry, football) match between the Netherlands and Mexico. They played the match live on the huge screens so we were surrounded by a sea of Dutch people in bright orange clothing who almost created a tsunami of orange when Holland defeated Mexico.
All in all, a wonderful day with wonderful people in a wonderful (and proud) country.
Amsterdam. The name that was conceived from the word Amstelredamme – which pretty much means the city’s origin was at the dam of the river Amstel – sparks many different thoughts and opinion from people worldwide. Amsterdam is renown for its casual view on drugs and sexual liberty. It’s often the party stop on a person’s Europe tour and people come and go each day, only being drawn to the racy Red Light District and then to mellow out in one of the many coffee shops. This is the sad part about Amsterdam, that it’s reputation as being the wild, party city overrides what is really beautiful about the city of canals. So here’s a few reasons why you should keep walking through the Red Light District and explore what Amsterdam really has to offer.
1. Sprawl out in the sun in Vondelpark
The largest park in Amsterdam is 45 hectares of lush greenery which is just begging to be picnicked on. Situated close to Museumplein, Vondelpark is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike, with over 10 million visitors a year. Always buzzing with activity, you will never be short of people to watch as they run, cycle or rollerblade around the park. During the warmer months, the grass is covered with people enjoying the sunny weather with a picnic and a beer. There are often free open-air concerts which draw large crowds and are a great way to see local talent. With the sun not going down until around 10pm in the summer, its the perfect place for you to escape the crazy streets of Amsterdam and relax and watch the sunset.
2. Get cultured in the Museumplein
Museumplein is so aptly named because it literally translates to Museum Square. It hosts the grand Rijksmuseum, which is home to approximately 8,000 pieces of art and paintings. This included many masterpieces by Rembrandt, such as the colossal sized and world famous ‘The Night Watch’. You will also find the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and the infamous IAMSTERDAM sign, with tourists clambering all over the larger than life letters. Once you’ve been cultured, rest your brain and plonk yourself down on the soft grass to do a spot of people watching.
3. Catch the ferry to the other side of Amsterdam and dig for second hand treasures at the flea market
Instead of walking out of Amsterdam Centraal towards the hustle and bustle of Dam Square, exit the train station from the other side and catch the free ferry across the IJ River to Amsterdam Noord. This industrial area is the upcoming ‘place to be’ in Amsterdam, which is is infinitely better than the Red Light District. Once a month, the IJ-Hallen flea market is held in the old NDSM ship building structures are are a hidden treasure in itself. The markets, which are the largest flea markets in Europe run from 9am until 4:30pm and have absolutely everything on offer at dirt cheap prices. It’s the place where you will find that unique treasure that you can take home and boast to all your friends about how you ‘just bought it in Amsterdam’. As well as the markets, there are several cafes and bars on this side of the IJ which are effortlessly hip. In particular Pllek, the ultra cool beachy bar and restaurant that sits on the banks of the IJ River. Made up of a warehouse and old shipping containers, Pllek attracts all the cool kids with its chilled out vibe and is a great place to enjoy the warm weather. Theres live music on Sundays as well as yoga and massages on the beach.
4. Ride a bike through the narrow streets
There is no better way to see the city of Amsterdam than by bike. Apart from boats, this city was built for bicycles. There are special bike lanes everywhere and with a shrill ‘brrriiingg’ of your bell, you will have people leaping out of your way as you buzz past. Bike riding is a way of life here in the Netherlands, not just a form of exercise. So for a true Dutch experience, get on yo’ bike and enjoy the city on two wheels. Just a bit of advice from an (almost) local – if you can’t ride a bike, don’t begin here. It is a similar experience to crossing the road in Asian cities, just with fancier bikes and taller people. Locals get seriously peeved by stupid tourists trying to steer their bikes around and blocking the roads. And don’t ride a bike if you’re planning on spending some time in coffee shops. Leave the smoking and riding to the locals who have perfected that talent over the years.
5. Visit the house of Anne Frank
This one is a given. You can’t go to Amsterdam without visiting this iconic place, even if you aren’t that familiar with the story of Anne Frank. Located on the Prinsengracht canal, the nondescript building would probably by bypassed except for the multitudes of people that line up outside the doors everyday to witness Anne Frank’s hiding place. A sobering but fascinating place, the Anne Frank House (or in Dutch, the Achterhuis) not only has the original secret rooms that Anne and her family hid in for more than two years, but also a museum that exhibits the life and times of Anne Frank. The Achterhuis is always busy so it’s best to time your visits either early in the morning or in the evening (From March to October it is open from (9am-9pm).
6. Enjoy a beer (or three) in Rembrandtplein
Instead of losing yourself amongst the red lights, keep on walking to Rembrandtplein, where there are bars and pubs are aplenty and the atmosphere alive. The square is, of course named after famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn, who had a house nearby. in 2006, as a part of his 400th birthday, Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov created a bronze-cast representation of his most famous painting, ‘The Night Watch’. Rembrandtplein is a hive of social activity with tourists and residents filling up the bars and restaurants that surround the square. A short walk away is Leidesplein, another popular drinking area. Both are exponentially better than the trashy, touristy Red Light District.
8. See the narrowest house in Amsterdam
Just when you thought the houses of Amsterdam couldn’t get any narrower, there is one that takes the cake (or clearly not enough cake) in being the skinniest of them all. Situated at Oude Hoogstraat 22, this building which would make supermodels envious, is a mere two metres wide and 6 metres deep. There is also Amsterdam’s narrowest street, whose width is no more than 100cm. Known as Trompettersteeg, you will have to traipse through the Red Light District for this one as it’s located right in the middle. Either side of this narrow street is filled with prostitutes posing through red-lit windows. A popular stop for city tours, this teeny tiny street is alway jam-packed with either people wanting photos of Amsterdams narrowest street or a glimpse at the ladies behind the windows. Or both.
9. Heineken Experience
This one only just makes the cut because essentially it is just a big tourist trap. However, despite this, it’s a pretty bloody fun tourist trap. 18 euros will set you back to enter the old brewery and inside you will find plenty of information and history on the brand. You go behind the scenes in the process of making a beer, as well as ‘becoming a beer’ on the 4D adventure which is every bit as cheesy and fun as it sounds. You get free samples of the cold brew and there are plenty of interactive games you can play. The best part is the free boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam that takes you to their flagship store just behind Rembrandtplein. It’s the best way to see the city. Just be wary of the gift shop, those souvenirs might look a whoooole lot more appealing after several beers!
10. Get out of Amsterdam
Unfortunately, most people only spend a few days in Amsterdam before moving onto other countries. Having lived in the Netherlands for almost a year now, I can only emphasise how much more there is to see. Beautiful old cities such as Maastricht and Utretch are full of history and culture. The fast paced industrial city of Rotterdam is way ahead of the rest of the class. With their party hard attitude and flair for new and innovative architecture, it’s not hard to understand why it’s one of the New York Times ‘Must See Cities’ for 2014. The political city of The Hague is where all the big shots come to talk world affairs, but is also home to the popular Scheveningen Beach if politics don’t take your fancy. During the spring, the world famous Keukenhof comes alive and the national flower of tulips pop up everywhere, which have to be seen to be believed. There is also the UNESCO site, the Kinderdijk, where you will find 19 windmills furiously spinning year round and the gorgeous town of Gouda, where cheese is the official language. The best part about getting out of Amsterdam? The country of the Netherlands is so small you can drive from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours.
So instead of making Amsterdam your marijuana-smoking-drink-all-you-can-and-oogle-at-the-prostitues stop on your Euro trip, get out and about and experience the city from a locals point of view. You (your liver, lung and dignity) will be thankful for it.
The Kinderdijk is a village in the Netherlands that is world famous for the windmills. They are the largest concentration of old windmills in Holland. There are 19 windmills in total and most are still in use. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Kinderdijk is Dutch for ‘Children’s dike’ and legend has it that it was named this after the Grote Hollandse Waard flood in 1421. Apparently after the storm finished, someone went to the area to see if anything could be saved. What they found in the water was a wooden cradle floating with a cat jumping back and forth on it to keep it balanced and afloat. As they got closer they discovered there was a baby sleeping soundly inside it. This folktale had been published as ‘The Cat and the Cradle.’ This however, has nothing to do with the famous song originally by Harry Chapin released in 1974.
One of the windmills is a museum called the Museummolen and there is also a visitor centre onsite with lots of information. You can hire a bike to ride around the windmills or catch a boat down the canals. Word of advice, go in the summer months, it’s bloody windy there and while the dark storm clouds are good for dramatic photos, it’s not so enjoyable. However Dutch weather is notoriously unpredictable so if you get good weather you are very lucky!
The Kinderdijk is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the Netherlands and is definitely well worth the visit. I mean, where else in the world will you see 19 windmills in one small area!?
Pulling up at my house in Scheveningen, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to get off a bike. I had spent the day cycling approximately 45 kilometres with two friends IB and A, for a casual Sunday bike ride. What was meant for a quick trip to the town of Wassenaar – about 8 kilometres away, turned into an epic marathon on two wheels. Though I would happily do it again in a second. It was a day full of gezellig-ness and fun (and sore butts)
We met up at the Peace Palace at around 10am, where the majestic Palace was already crowded with tourists and stopped at ‘De Oude Tol’, a cafe with the best view of the Peace Palace and cheap, strong coffee. We set off just before 11am and decided to go via the sand dunes to Waasenaar. The sand dune area between The Hague and Wassenar is known as Meijendel and is one of the most important coastlines in the Netherlands. It is vital for the conservation of wildlife, providing drinking water and recreation. Over one million visitors come to Meijendel each year. It has excellent cycling paths and hiking tracks to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The cycle path is relatively easy – like the entirety of the Netherlands it is mostly flat. Though a slight raise in the road as you go over the dunes can feel like a mountain when you are used to flat ground! Being a Sunday, there were plenty of people around and lots of professional looking cyclists speeding past us three girls – making us feel like we were going the wrong way in the Tour De France.
We reached the turn-off for Wassenaar but tour guide A had spotted some tulip fields on her map so we continued past the turn-off in the direction of Katwijk. The fields we found were nothing like the huge fields last weekend at the Keukenhof but the rows of daffodils were the perfect opportunity for an impromptu photo-shoot. I thought I would be flowered out from last weekends activities but once again my inner flora nerd made an appearance as I gushed over the beautiful flowers.
We continued on under A’s trusty guidance and with the encouragement from a group of passing cyclists (“Ahh lekker meisjes!“) until we reached the beachside town of Katwijk. Much like our town of Scheveningen, Katwijk had a relaxed vibe and there was a salty scent to the air. We parked our fiets and wandered down to the sand where we had a coffee stop at one of the cafes on the small boulevard. The ocean wasn’t particularly pretty today and despite the sun being out it was still chilly, making this Aussie girl pine for her glorious Australian beaches. You just can’t beat ’em!
After our caffeine fix we jumped back on our trusty bikes and headed off in the direction of Leiden, hopefully finding a turn-off before there that will take us back to Wassenaar. A slight detour through some farming area we eventually were on the right way to our destination. Cycling along, it was hard not to smile at the lush, green paddocks filled with fat cows and sheep and the canals that paralleled with the road. The warm change in the weather had encouraged the trees to sprout their leaves early and wild flowers were running rampant wherever there was grass. This, plus the mix of endorphins from cycling made the burn in my quads bearable as we cycled closer to Wassenaar.
As we biked into Wassenaar, the place was like a ghost town. Much like every other town in Holland, locals seemed to disappear on Sundays, though we had now found out where they all went – cycling in Meijendel! Despite Wassenaar being a relatively small town, it is one of the most well known in the Netherlands due to its conspicuous wealth. It is the official residence of King Willem-Alexander and his family and home to several ambassadorial residencies including Canada and South Korea. It has a reputation of being a ‘posh’ area, however it was hard to tell as there seemed to be nobody around the town. The main shopping area was desolate apart from a couple of cafes serving a few families who were basking in the sunshine. We visited the ‘Windlust’ which is the windmill in the town that was built in 1668. Despite years of unuse, the windmill has started milling again regularly and is open on Saturday afternoons for visitors.
A late lunch at ‘Bagel Alley’, which was prompt and delicious was had before discovering Wassenaar’s greatest attraction – ‘Luciano Ijssalon’. Basically an ice-cream shop, Luciano was the mecca of all things dairy and frozen in Wassenaar. It appeared to be a favourite amongst ‘Wassenaarders’ (locals), as there was a line out the door. We were expecting the prices to be similar to the reputation of the town but were pleasantly surprised (OK, ecstatic) to learn it was very cheap – 2.90€ for three scoops! We umm-ed and ahh-ed for a bit before making our final choice. I went for brownie, Speculoos and pistachio and was very happy with my choice until I learnt they had Bounty. Not to worry though, we vowed to return here, the ice-cream was sublime. We demolished our ice-creams and enjoyed the sunshine for awhile before embarking home which was a relatively short ride compared to the distance we had covered earlier today.
I arrived home, glad to be off my fiets – the ‘Captain’ – but content with such an active and fun Sunday. It was a lovely way to end my weekend and I will definitely be sleeping well tonight!
From the girl who probably will be crawling up the stairs tomorrow.
After two relatively quiet weekends I was ecstatic to have my three buddies C, K and P visit me in my little old city of Den Haag. It was probably the shortest turn around since we had last seen each other but it didn’t make our time together any less special and like every other time we’ve been together – I didn’t stop laughing the entire time they were here.
C arrived into Den Haag around 10:30pm. After some initial confusion of being at the wrong station we finally found each other and promptly headed to the Grote Markt for a sneaky drink. We were joined by some of my au pair friends and as everyone got acquainted with C it made me appreciate the simplicity of introducing a new person into an already well-oiled group. Having the job of au pair as a common theme, conversation flowed easily and hilarious stories were shared as we compared our day to day lives. Several drinks later, midnight struck and C and I decided it was time to head home. We had planned a big day tomorrow and needed shut-eye though this wasn’t before devouring some honey ribs leftover from dinner and watching a few episodes of ‘The Inbetweeners’.
The next morning we woke and got ready for the day ahead. C was unaware of K and P were coming to town and despite my lack of being sneaky, so far I had managed to not blurt it out. We met with my friend IB and headed into the centre to “meet somebody”. My level of stealthiness doesn’t even make the radar, so I’m pretty sure C had worked out what was going on but pretended to be oblivious, making the surprise extra special. The five of us made a neat little group and we were ready for the days adventure – visiting the worlds largest flower gardens, the Keukenhof. Before we made the voyage to the town of Lisse, where the Keukenhof is situated, we grabbed some picnic supplies from the Albert Heijn and made the unanimous vote that lunchtime was a perfectly acceptable time to start drinking, therefore going all out for the occasion and buying some Australian made Jacob’s Creek wine. A train and a bus ride later we were at the gates of the Keukenhof, ready to get our flower power on.
The Keukenhof has a rich history dating back to the 15th century where it was a part of the estate of Jacoba van Beieren. The aptly named Keukenhof – which is Dutch for ‘kitchen courtyard’ was source of herbs for the castle. In 1857, the castle gardens were re-designed by landscape architects Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher. The English landscape style still remains the basis of the Keukenhof to this day. I have never been much of a garden enthusiast – despite all my grandmas efforts – but the elaborate and colourful gardens featuring approximately 7 million bulbs captured my attention and my previously benign gardening genes started to fire up. We hadn’t walked twenty metres into the park and I was already overwhelmed by not only the vast array of flora on display, but the detailed upkeep of the place – not a weed or tulip out of place!
Before we delved further into the park, our grumbling stomachs indicated their need for food so we found a spare bit of grass to lay out our picnic. Cheeses, bread, wine, carrots, hummus and deli meats made up of savoury portion of the picnic but the best part was our dessert of pancakes, strawberries, bananas and Speculoos. A pancake burrito filled with the crunchy, gingerbread spread of Speculoos, topped with sliced strawberries and bananas were the ultimate treat and gave us a serious sugar rush to explore the garden. We consulted the map but kept getting distracted by the tulips, daisies, daffodils and various other flowers whose vivid colours were amplified by the brightness of the sun. The Keukenhof has different themes each year and this years theme of ‘Holland’ was distinctively Dutch. This theme accentuates the most famous export of the Netherlands – the tulip. The highlight of this years theme was the 60,000 flower bulb mosaic displaying an Amsterdam canal scene, symbolising the tulip mania during the Golden Age.
We worked on our photography skills – each of us trying to outdo each other with the most ‘arty’ photo. And took typically touristy photos amongst the bulbs. Before we knew it, it was reaching late afternoon and our flower power was starting to wear thin. We laid in the grass for awhile, finishing the wine and relaxing in the sun and then decided it was time to head home for a rest before getting a dose of Den Haag nightlife.
K and P headed back to their little apartment they rented for the night and C, IB and me headed back to home in Scheveningen, . We chilled out for an hour or so before getting ready to go back into the centre of the city for some drinks. We met up with K and P in their apartment and were joined by some of my au pair buddies, N and E where we listened to my ‘white girl thug’ music and played drinking games until we were a bit too silly to function. The night only escalated from there and was a blur of more drinks, meeting up with more friends, dancing on bars and chowing down on frites with lekker garlic sauce before passing out in K and P’s apartment.
We woke the next morning after a short four hour sleep with slightly sore heads and cleaned up the apartment in time for 10am checkout. Breakfast was at the hipster cafe, Hometown and then we caught the tram back to my abode, ready to sloth it out for several hours. Even though our Sunday was totally unproductive, it was so nice to be around my pals and just relax. K and P headed off to Amsterdam in the late afternoon and C and I kept on slothing until the following morning – only stopping to plan a Paris trip in June, and pick up more carrots and hummus.
Like always, I was sad to see my friends off and fall back into daily au pair routine. Though April is looking particularly busy and exciting so I am eager for the days to go faster so more fun could be had.
From the girl who single-handlely started a Speculoos revolution amongst my Aussie/American pals.