For the past two and a half weeks I’ve been sitting pretty in the most beautiful part of Turkey. When planning this trip I had the first two weeks set out with B and K joining me and then I was flying solo. Short in money but still wanting to stay in Turkey I looked at my options at how to stay longer. After doing a bit of searching, trusty old Google led me to Workaway, which solved all my problems.
Workaway is basically a site for free work exchange. So in other words, you work for a set amount of time each day in return for accommodation and food, plus other bonuses. Seemed like a pretty sweet deal. I signed up and paid the yearly subscription of $25 and I began my search. There are hundreds of places looking for volunteers, all around the world. I got carried away a bit and started searching places in Africa and India and then remembered my budget and time restriction so settled back for Europe. I wanted to stay in Turkey and spend some time down by the Mediterranean coast so I filtered my search to these preferences and Waallaahh! I found my exchange!
Okay, it was a little more tricky than that. While there are hundreds of places looking for volunteers, alot of them plan their rosters way in advance. Especially for the peak season, so trying to find a place to volunteer for August at the last minute was a little difficult. I got quite a few ‘Sorry, we’re full’ messages but Lady Luck showed her face and led me to The Shambala.
Situated in the Kabak Valley, about 30 minutes from Ölüdeniz, Shambala perches on the side of the mountain overlooking the Lycian Sea. The drive there is a little hairy, with the windy dirt roads that climb up the mountain. Whilst the scenery was spectacular, the moments where the tyres are inches from the edge of the cliff are a little heart attack inducing.
I had no idea what to expect from this place, as I didn’t even know where it was on the map. Though my expectations were exceeded two fold by Shambala. The beauty, location and staff were just plain awesome. Our work hours were five hours, either a morning or night shift. As the meals were served buffet style, we were in charge of setting up and clearing away, taking drink orders and just general front of house duties. The rest of our time was spent as we pleased, which afternoon spending a few days exploring I settled for lazing about the pool and dropping off into total relaxation.
I had a great two and a half weeks at Shambala. If I had more time, I would have stayed there longer. That’s the great thing about Workaway, you can stay as long or little as you like. I totally recommend checking it out if you’re looking to stay in one place for awhile, experience something a little different or just feeling extra helpful!
Of course, like everything over the Internet, make sure you do your research pretty thoroughly. I did hear some horror stories of volunteers made to work 16 hour days, or given the lowest of low accommodation. But the majority of the time, its places genuinely looking for help and are happy to offer you a great deal in exchange for your help.
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.
We arrived into Amsterdam after a few minor mishaps with finding a train and found where we were staying for the next two days. I had booked an apartment through AirBnb which was my first time using the website. Definitely can recommend AirBnb for finding accommodation – but more on that in a later post. The apartment overlooked Vondelpark – Amsterdam’s largest city park, in a funky little neighbourhood. We made ourselves at home (read: sprawled out on the couches exhausted from a day of playing tourist) before having a walk through Vondelpark as the sun went down. The 120 acres that make up Vondelpark were opened in 1865 and has about 10 million visitors annually. This is a beautiful park, with lush greenery and flora, including the infamous tulips which are scattered in colourful bunches around the park. We wandered until it became dark and we went in search of dinner. Much like the previous night, we wandered around indecisive of what to eat before coming back to the Italian restaurant practically across the street from our place, where we gorged ourselves on authentically Italian wood-fired pizza and watched Harry Potter until we fell asleep.
The next morning I woke early, eager to see as much as I can of Amsterdam. While its my fifth visit to the capital city, I still have lots to see, however B was keen for a sleep in so I went hunting and gathering for food and coffee which eventually lured him into starting the day. We walked through Vondelpark to the Museumplein where we were greeted by the glorious Rijksmuseum which was buzzing with people. We walked through to the I Amsterdam sign and took the token touristy photos with the sign. It was my third time seeing the sign but I still get ridiculously excited over it. The sun was starting to come out from behind the clouds and when the wind persisted for awhile, the weather was beautiful. Spring has definitely sprung!
Our next stop was the Heineken Experience. At first, I wasn’t so keen on going – it’s definitely a big tourist trap and I don’t even like beer! But I have to admit, the Dutch (or at least, the Heineken marketing team) has done a fantastic job creating and promoting the Heineken Experience, even so much that a total anti-beer drinker like myself was impressed. Opened in 1991, the Heineken Experience offers four floors of multimedia exhibits, historical brewing artifacts and a tasting bar. There is also a fun 4D adventure that transforms you into a beer and takes you on a journey of how a Heineken beer is created. It is incredibly touristy and ultimately is one big marketing ploy for Heineken, however putting that aside it was a bunch of fun and we also got a few free beers as well as a couple of goodies from the gift store. I recommend getting a Heineken pint glass engraved, the lady does it on the spot and she is incredibly talented!
We discovered that you could get a free boat ride to their brand store where you can pick up a freebie, so jumping at the opportunity for free stuff we boarded the bright green Heineken boat and enjoyed the leisurely float down the Singel canal passing the famous flower markets (Bloemenmarkt) and the wonderfully Dutch canal houses wonkily lined up next to each other. We even had a tour guide for the half hour boat ride who told us many funny facts about Amsterdam and their canals. Apparently on average, a car a day falls into the canal and approximately 10,000-12,000 bikes are retrieved each year from the canals. A less funny fact is that around 11-12 people die each year from falling into the canals. According to our tour guide, almost two-thirds of them are drunk men relieving themselves into the canal. I guess it’s an interesting way to go. We reached the brand store but decided to come back later when to crowds dropped a bit so we searched for a bathroom and some food before picking up our freebies. One large patat frites (hot chips) with mayonnaise and satay sauce and a toilet break and we were good to keep continuing our Amsterdam day.
We walked through the Bloemenmarkt, checking out the vast range of flowers on sale and sampling some cheese at the Old Amsterdam Cheese shop. Walking to Dam Square was a mission with the thousands of people milling around, the Easter Long Weekend sure was popular here! As we got closer we discovered there was a mini-carnival happening in the Square, complete with a Ferris Wheel, Haunted House and those bungee type rides that fling you hundreds of metres into the air, potentially creating a disaster for anybody with a weak stomach. We pushed our way through de Dam and towards the notorious red light district where I stopped for coffee at Metropolitan Cafe while B had a sneaky look around the red light area. Metropolitan Cafe is one place I will return and recommend a visit to anybody. They have a wide range of delicious gelato and delectable treats which are terrible for you, but being Easter I indulged in a chocolate brownie and it was so worth it! B returned from the depths of the drunk/high/pervert-filled area known as the Red Light District and we walked up to Centraal Station to catch the tram to our apartment so we could grab some things for a picnic in Vondelpark for dinner. A quick stop at Albert Heijn for some wine, cheese and Stroopwafels and we headed down to the park to watch the sun go down. It was a little chilly but that didn’t stop people from laying out on the grass enjoying the beginnings of Spring. We picnicked until it became dark and then retreated to our apartment for an early night, totally buggered from a big day wandering around.
Easter Sunday was started leisurely by pancakes made by yours truly and a Skype call with half my family. We yabbered for an hour or so before B and I had to get a move on to Den Haag. The train ride was quick and very pretty as we passed the masses of tulip fields near Leiden. Our next place for the night was also an AirBnb discovery and this one seriously did not disappoint. 39 floors up on The Hague’s highest building, we had scored a luxury apartment for the bargain price of 70 euros. We reached our room and was taken aback by the view of the city and the fact that we had this huge apartment all to ourselves. Our earlier ambitions of seeing the Keukenhof and Madurodam where crushed as we plonked down on the couches and watched the city from above, too lazy to do anything. Eventually we got ourselves organised and caught the tram to my neighbourhood Scheveningen where we walked along the boardwalk and enjoyed a glass of wine on one of the couches at beach club Bora Bora. We caught the tram back to the centre of the city and walked around finding something for dinner. Being Easter Sunday though, most places were shut so we settled for a pub meal at the English pub Fiddler’s. After scoffing down our dinner we headed back to the apartment to catch the sunset over the city. It was slightly cloudy but it was still amazing to watch from so high up. I could definitely get used to living like this!
The following morning B had an early flight so we said our goodbyes for another month, where we would be meeting again in Italy and I grabbed a coffee and a banana before heading back to the apartment to enjoy the luxury for a couple of hours before begrudgingly checking out and catching the tram back to normality at my house in Scheveningen.
My first Easter abroad was a great one. While it didn’t really feel like Easter it was so nice to spend it showing B around my part of the country. I was feeling the holiday blues as I unpacked my bags but with Kings Day coming up on Saturday and my trip to Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia starting on Sunday I could hardly stay depressed. Fingers crossed the next four days go quickly!
From the girl who thought a tram was a bus, and was reminded so kindly all weekend about it.
While this isn’t my first Easter away from my family, it doesn’t get any easier to spend it away from the those who mean the most to you. Skyping home where a mini family reunion was being held was a bittersweet experience as I was so happy to be overseas in Europe, but at the same time sad because I wasn’t with my family. However I banished the blues by eating bulk chocolate and spending my Easter with my friend B who I was playing tour guide for, showing off my adopted country.
B flew in on Thursday evening and I met him at Rotterdam Centraal Station. We found our accommodation, The Grand Central Hotel and dropped our bags off before venturing out into the city of Rotterdam. I have been to Rotterdam only twice before and both times it was bypassing the city to go to Primark for a shopping expedition, so I was pretty unfamiliar with the place. We wandered around the centre of Rotterdam as the sun went down, going nowhere in particular. Before we knew it, it was 10pm at night and we hadn’t had dinner. Most places were closed for the night so we resorted to some McDonalds before heading back to our hotel.
The next morning we woke and took serious advantage of the free breakfast. The weather was typically Dutch and the rain was sporadically dumping down, though we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. First stop was the Cube Houses which I had heard so much about, yet had not seen them. We grabbed a quick coffee and then walked a bit further towards the water where we could see the distinctive yellow buildings and unusual design. These pieces of innovative architecture were designed and constructed by architect Piet Blom. The concept revolved around ‘living as an urban roof’, or high density houses with sufficient space on the ground level. Blom had the idea to tilt the traditional cube of a house 45 degrees and have it rest on a hexagonal pole. As well as the unique design, this idea is supposed to represent an abstract forest, where each house represents a tree and when connected to its neighbour, they become a sea of trees in a yellow, manufactured forest. There are 38 cube houses in the area where residents subside. There is also a StayOkay hostel where you ca experience living in this unusually shaped buildings or if you aren’t staying the night – there is a ‘show cube’ where you can walk through and see the designs up close. I was impressed by the concept and the odd designs were very cool however I don’t think I could live in one. You have to watch your head all the time because of the slant in the roof and the stairs are rather narrow and steep. Not so ideal for a klutz like myself.
We continued on from the Cube Houses down to the water where we saw the Erasmus Bridge. The 802-metre long bridge connects the northern and southern regions of Rotterdam. Much like a lot of Rotterdam’s architecture, it is unique and well ahead of its time. The bridge has the nickname of ‘The Swan’ due to the 139-metre high asymmetrical pylon giving the bridge a somewhat graceful, swanlike appearance. We walked along, searching for the Waterbus to take us to the Kinderdijk however being Good Friday it was not running today so we resorted to catching a train and bus to the world famous UNESCO site. As we walked towards the train station we wandered through the streets of Rotterdam and I noticed it was filled with interesting art and graffiti and quirky shops and cafes. Rotterdam claims to be a ‘young, dynamic, international city with a passionately beating heart’ and while overall it looks like a big industrial city, as you delve further in, it becomes a very fascinating place to visit.
The Kinderdijk took about forty-five minutes to reach from Rotterdam, enough time for B to have a sneaky nap. The rain had stopped but the wind was blowing a gale, even more at the Kinderdijk where the 19 massive windmills where spinning furiously. We took the 4.50€ boat tour down the canal which was pleasant and full of photo opportunities. This took about half an hour and afterwards we walked down the path to the first lot of windmills so we could get a closer look. Most of the windmills are still in use and lived in by locals. It was a very pretty area and another thing to tick off the list, though the bitterly cold wind made for a brief trip as we jumped back on the bus to the train station for a our next journey to Amsterdam where we were staying for the next two nights.
Stayed tuned for Amsterdam antics and living it up (literally) in The Hague Sky Tower.
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!?