Since Cuba is so much about the feelings that occurs in the interactions between people & music I decided to make a special post today where I share some short movie clips from mine & Louise vacation in Cuba :-) Most of the evenings we had no camera with us since we wanted to be hands free for the salsa dancing. Naturally the evenings were when a lot of happiness happened but those images are purely recorded in out memories. I hope you will find the following clips inspiring.
Salsa lessons in Havana
A ride along Malecon
Salsa in Vinales square
Cafe musicians in Trinidad
Salsa lessons in Trinidad
Celebrating New Years Eve in Trinidad
Cafe musicians in Havana
I had to admit my feelings were mixed when we decided to put Varadero on our Cuba route. Varadero is the busy number one charter destination in Cuba. But I had also read that Varadero really has the most beautiful beach in Cuba. It is possible to stay at casa particulares (concept explained in this >> post) but we selected an all inclusive resort. When making this choice bare in mind that in Cuba you can deduct two stars from what is actually marketed. While the casas make their utmost to make you feel like a Queen, always keeps super tidied and serves you very well prepared food and drinks, the hotels in Cuba are pretty run down. Cleaners often does not bother to clean unless you leave them tip everyday, even if it is included as a standard service. Waiters will not give attention to your table, even if it is included, unless you tip them. But we have to admit it was kind of good fun. We had picked an average hotel close to the center. And took it for what it was.
So were we happy with our choice? Oh yes! Just scroll down and you will see why ;-)
The beach was situated about five minutes walk from our hotel Bellevue Palma Real. But it has a snack bar with free drinks as well so it was all very convenient. But what else would you expect from an all inclusive resort? The picture number two below shows how it can also look like if you want to be as close as possible to the drinks & snacks. Luckily the beach is endless and it is possible to find more quiet spots along the beautiful stretch.
We arrived on Christmas Eve and was told it was a special night. And what a welcome! The staff must have been working very hard to present us the most kitschy buffet I have ever seen. Butter creations looking like a mermaid or Santa Claus. Fishy art in gel, mayonnaise rubbed fishes, ham and cheese palm trees and more gelly thins and so fort. It tasted OK as did the buffet the rest of our days. But we were rather happy we had brought some chili from home to spice it up a bit. Let´s put it like this; I managed to get one plate for every meal with things that tempted me. But after eating that I was not tempted to get more ;-)
Every night after dinner it was possible to watch a nice show in the hotel outdoor theater. There were different performances every night and they were really good!
The hotel itself was OK. Food, drinks & daily entertainment. And if you still wanted more there was always a hotel nearby that had a special club night. We found a nice place close by called Calle 62 where people, both locals and tourists, were dancing on the street to live music. Lot´s of salsa! The good things with Varadero is that there is actually locals living there too :-D We tried the local “Casa de la musica”, a concert/social dancing institution which is found in most big cities throughout Cuba. Casa de la musica´s has a matinée from around 17-21 and a night performance from around 22-02. We tried a matinée called Discotemba and it was just us and locals. Most of the performance is salsa and other typical Cuban bands. But Discotemba is one of a kind. From around 17-19 people just sat and watched old music videos from the 80’s and 90’s which were shown on big screens. People drank beer and sang along. After that a DJ started spinning every things from Y.M.C.A. to Macarena and Cubans of all ages went completely wild. It was a fun experience ;) Una tarde loca!
One day it rained hard. But no worries, the main street in Varadero is actually pretty green and cozy with lot´s of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops to spend your time and money in. Varadero definitely exceeded my expectation. Don´t hesitate to go! :-)
After four nights in Havana it was time to explore some Cuban country side in beautiful Viñales. For independent travelers the two most common modes of transportation will be by bus or by private taxi. The latter is in some cases necessary since there are not straight bus lines from all cities. Viazul is the name of the most used bus company. But we discovered that it is only possible to buy the bus ticket in the city from where you will depart. And since there are lot´s of tourists and only few connections this means that if you need to travel somewhere where connection is needed you will only be able to buy your ticket for the first distance and most likely your second distance will be sold out by the time you reach your connection point. That is one reason why private taxi sometimes needs to be used as an alternative. If you are many people sharing it is really good value for money. If alone or just two it is a bit pricey but still acceptable compared to distance.
In Viñales we stayed at Casa Ridel y Claribel. Their casa was a short walk away from the main drag and really peaceful. From the rooftop there was a pretty view and the cocktails & the food was delicious :-P Ridel´s profession is a medical doctor and he therefore spoke excellent English. He and his wife Claribel were the warmest people we met during our trip. They were genuinely caring and open for interesting conversations. Their lovely daughter was a smiling young girl who also enjoyed practicing her English with us.
Viñales is a colorful town. Despite the tourism the vibe is laid back. We enjoyed very much to just walk around and look at all pretty houses, dogs and street life. And to try the outdoor gym. ;) In Viñales as in so many other places in Cuba horse carriage is a common way for people to transport them self. Viñales has a small center with a square and some nice Paladares, concept explained in my previous post.
The main reason for people coming to Viñales is the lovely countryside. In Viñales valley one can discover the tobacco plantations and spot lot´s of cool cowboys. All surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs. Most people go by horse but we choose to walk. We rented an English speaking guide for half a day with whom we were able to chat about Cuban life as we strolled around the amazing landscapes. The day started up misty but cleared up in the afternoon. Apart from the trek we had one stop at a tobacco farm where we got to hear about the process and see how cigars are rolled. There we bumped into a nice Italian couple we had met in Havana who helped us translate. We learned that a tobacco farmer must harvest once a year and 90% are to be sold to the Cuban state. 10% is allowed to be kept for private sales and use. Those 10% are sold brandless and without chemical treatment (treated can be kept 10 years, untreated for 3) for a very humble price. On the market they get brands a Cohiba thus good stuff. Even if not a cigar smoker I had to purchase a few ;-)
In Viñales there are two hotels, La Ermita & Los Jazmines. A great way to spend the afternoon after some trekking is to visit one of them. You can either just buy a drink and hang around or also use their pool for a small amount. We tried La Ermita one afternoon and Los Jazmines the other. They are both nice in their own way. The best part is that both of them are located on a hight which provides amazing views.
After three nights with Ridel & Claribel it was time for a four hour private taxi ride to Varadero, the beach destination number one in Cuba. We had a lovely stay in Viñales and were very lucky to get a reservation with Ridel & Claribel since they are the number one Casa in the area, according to Tripadvisor. With all rights!
Hi everyone! I am just back from what could be one of the best vacations me & Louise had since we started traveling together. Cuba has long been on my wish list as so many other destinations. But I have to admit that I had mixed feelings when we finally booked the trip because of all the bad things I had heard about the food. But wow, I am so grateful we did go. We landed on what seems to become a historical day in Cuba´s history, 17 December 2014. >>Read more under “Statement by the President on Cuba policy changes”.
In this first post I would like to introduce traveling in Cuba by sharing our experiences and some pictures and information from our first days in Havana. At the bottom of this post I have also added a small teaser of what will come in next posts ;-)
In Cuba the most common accommodation for independent travelers is the so called “casa particulares”. It means that you rent a room in a private resident. Most “casas” rent one or two rooms but the one we picked in Havana had a lot of rooms for rent. Our pick was called “Casavana” and is situated on floor 5 in a high-rise building on a nice avenue in the area Vedado. Many tourists likes to stay in Habana Vieja (Old Town) but I had read that for salsa dancers Vedado was the best pick to base ourself. And after looking at the Tripadvisor reviews I was convinced. After trying both casas and 4/5 star hotels in Cuba I can tell you that this place was better than a five star hotel. And one of the owners, Ana, who is mostly around is an intelligent, very service minded woman with perfect English. We could not have had a better start.
In casas there is always breakfast service and in the smaller once also dinner service. Since casas are so intimate it is a great way to meet other travelers to share experiences with. And guess what, wifi is hardly possible to find in Cuba which means that travelers in Cuba are actually looking at each other and talking like in the old good days ;-)
Havana is just how you would imagine Cuba. You have the old colorful American cars everywhere, old and very run-down buildings in many architectural styles revealing worn beauty. You even have a Capitol building :-) In Habana Vieja restorations are ongoing everywhere. That is of course fantastic but makes it very hard to discover most of the small alleys. Coming back to the accommodation part, we are so happy we picked Vedado as our base. I personally was not so fond of Habana Vieja but liked Centro and Vedado more. One part was the restorations but I also found Vieja a bit creepy at night, however always felt very safe in Vedado.
On a rooftop terrace in Habana Vieja we spent our two first mornings taking private salsa lessons. I dance Cuban salsa since before but was eager to learn more. When we heard that a guy from our hometown Göteborg was going to arrange lessons during the time we were there we decided to partially join. It was me, Louise and the arranger + one more girl. We were all assigned a professional partner and together we practiced both Cuban salsa but also one of the origins to Cuban salsa called Rumba. We even did some Rueda de Casino which is a style where many couples dance together and makes moves to playful commands. Good fun! For independent travelers we heard good reviews about”La Casa del Son“. Most casas are also able to arrange private lessons in your casa :-)
Staying in Vedado was enriching our Havana experience since we had to utilize the common taxis every day to get around. Before I explain that further I want to shortly mention the money matters for tourists. To keep it simple, Cubans use their own currency called Cuban Peso (CUP). Tourists are only allowed to use the so called Convertible Peso (CUC). 1 CUC is pretty much equal in value as 1 USD. The difference in value between CUP & CUC is so huge that they must be viewed separately. You will understand what I mean if I put it like this: A Cuban employee earn as much in CUP as a tourist pay for a dinner out in Havana in CUC. I think this needs no further explanation. But it might make you draw some interesting conclusions during your vacation. As example; many public toilets will demand 1 CUC from a tourist to use the toilet. It does not take much mathematics to understand that “toilet lady” must be a lucrative business. I write this to clarify that things is a bit complicated when it come to money matters.
Now back to the cars :-D You simply wave to the old veteran cars on the street, jump in and hop of anywhere during their route. It will cost you no more than 1 CUC pp as a tourist and is good fun as you share ride with the locals. If you need to go to a more specific address you need to take your own cab. Apart from riding in the cool cars me & Louise enjoyed very much to stroll around in Vedado and surroundings to just view all the colorful beauties passing by.
Finally in this post I like to mention a bit about food in Cuba. If you stay in a “casa” and they have dinner service, go for it!!! In most places you get a three course home made meal for 10 CUC and compared to what you will be served in the state run restaurants the meal in your casa will be many times better and the experience & service is very personal. If you are in cities like Havana you will also have the choice to find yourself a private restaurants, so called Paladar. The price will be around 20-30 CUC for a two or three course meal with a drink or two. Some of them will be super delicious, some of them OK. Paladares are sometimes a bit tricky to find as they are based in normal buildings in regular residential areas (most of them are out of the tourist areas). Just google “Paladares Havana” if you plan to go. One that we found and returned to no less than three times was the Swedish owned “Casa Miglis“. We had read about the fantastic food there and considering being Swedes we found it rather amusing to discover this place. But the reason for returning two more times was simply because the taste & quality of the food was the best we had had in a long time. For me the pasta dish on below picture was even better than anything I had in Italy earlier this year. So if you are a foodie, go out and discover the Paladares in Havana!
In the final post about Cuba I will re-visit Havana with some pictures from the legendary Malecón and some more street life images. Below the small teaser for coming posts as mentioned initially. Enjoy!
Teaser future posts :-)
After Havana we spent three days in the beautiful Viñales area, famous for limestone cliffs and tobacco fields.
The next destination after Viñales was Varadero, beach destination #1 in Cuba.
After lazy beach days in Varadero we went to the colonial town Trinidad with its colorful & lively streets.
We then spent a few more beach days in the island Cayo Coco before returning to Havana for a few last days of salsa dancing.
In September this year I visited Istanbul for the third time, read more about that HERE >>
One of the reasons me & my friend Louise makes such a great travel company is that we share the same view of how a great vacation should look like. We are looking for the same ingredients and the same balance :-) Party is not the primary need for us but we do like to experience the local nightlife in most places we visit. We share the joy of dancing to really good electro music now and then but we also share the curiosity of discovering the local flavors.
When we were in Istanbul we decided to try to capture different scenes into one night. We dressed up to start of with the famous Golden Mile in Istanbul. The Golden mile is a strip along The Bosphorus that hosts some fancy clubs with great international line ups of DJ´s. We wanted to see how it looked like, even if we suspected the ambiance would not really be ours. Before hopping in to the taxi that would take us there we bought ourself some delicious Turkish kebab around the corner from our hotel. The taxi ride was so much fun with a driver that decided to get us going with some great old hits like “Mr Vain” with Culture Beat. The ride took a while and it was one big party in the backseat ;-)
Our pick was the glamorous Anjelique. Luckily the entrance was for free because the drink we had was damn expensive. But it was not that that made us flee, but the uncomfortably bratty atmosphere. The night view over the Bosphorus bridge with the Ortaköy mosque in front was amazing and the DJ played great house. But the people were so cold that we left after just one hour. Before heading to our next target, which we hoped would be a more chilled place, we quickly went by our hotel since I wanted to change clothes.
Our next goal was a place I had read about called 5.Kat. It was supposed to be one of those splendid rooftop bars in Istanbul that are hard to find but with rewarding views. After some help from the locals we hit our target but the rooftop restaurant/bar had just closed. Instead we ended up in the basement of the same building in a small, trendy club with great music and a hipster vibe. The place had a few smaller rooms with an intimate living room feel and each with a separate DJ.
On our way back to the hotel we strolled the Istiklal Caddesi and when we were almost past it I heard great Turkish club music from a window above and asked the doorman about the entrance which turned out to be free. So we ended our evening in a place called Club Lupe which turned out to be my favorite. The atmosphere was just fun and the DJ played the kind of club music I really had hoped to find, upbeat house with Turkish sounds. I loved it and it was a perfect finish of our evening out in Istanbul, the city that never sleeps!
Istanbul – the city where where East meets West! And where traditional meets modern and melts together in one colorful, vibrant and magnificent waterfront metropolis! :-D
Since my list of “want to visit” places is long, going back to a city for the third time really means I am hooked. Here you can read about my first and second visit to Istanbul. This third visit was done in September this year with my friend Louise. Our three days were pretty much about relaxing and just loading ourself with impressions. I do warn you, Istanbul is among the most photogenic places I have experienced and I had a very hard time choosing my images. And I do know they are too many. But what drives me when it comes to this blog, apart from securing a nice memory library for myself, is to give the reader a nuanced picture of the places I visit. And in this case that requires many images. I hope you enjoy :-)
In Istanbul very much takes place along the waterfronts. I really like to enjoy a moment on one of the cafés under the Galata Bridge each time I visit Istanbul. The one below where Louise is enjoying a beer is my favorite :-)
On our first day we took a short boat ride to vibrant Kadiköy on the Anatolian side. It is a very local area with lots of shops and eateries. Great getaway from the tourist scenes. And the sunset views over Sultanahmet and the two most famous mosques in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, are allways breathtaking.
Before day 1 was finished we strolled the narrow bar and restaurant streets around Istiklal Caddesi before heading back to our hotel. Istanbul is one of those cities which never sleeps as I am sure you can imagine from below pictures.
Day 2 was dedicated to the beautiful area Sultanahmet, better described in my first post about Istanbul. Even if I had been to Istanbul twice before I had never visited the famous mosques. I simply find them so extraordinary from the outside and that, combined with big queues and crowds, always put me of. But this time we did visit Aya Sofya. And my conclusion is, it is nice to have done once but nothing beats the view from the outside. Apart from the mosques Sultanahmet has a very special architecture and many places to rewind. And close by is the famous Grand Bazar and Spice Market. They are nice to stroll through but the crowds and the impressions are a bit too much to get me in to a shopping mood ;-) But it did get me in to ice cream mood. Turkish ice cream is delicious. It is made out of goat milk and for some reason the ice cream is really chewy in the texture.
After sleeping in after a party evening, day 3 started with a visit to Ortaköy. I will not describe that further here since I did that in my first Istanbul post. But it is a nice neighborhood for a Sunday stroll. After that we took an expensive beer in one of the most extraordinary rooftop bars in Istanbul, the 360. 360 is both a restaurant and a nightclub. When we were there it was quiet and the rooftop terrace empty due to rain. But it was still a nice stop before making our final stroll over the Galata bridge and all the way back to Sultanahmet where we were going to end our last day with a Turkish bath at a classic Hamam. On the way we stopped by at our favorite “Pide place”. A kind of pizza alike foodie that quickly made us addicted :-P
This was all from Istanbul for now. In my next and last post for this year I will share some images from a fun night out in Istanbul! See you then :-)
Appendix – Taksim Nacre Hotel
On this trip we decided to base ourself near Taksim square and found charming Taksim Nacre Hotel which lies in a regular neighborhood but with close walking distance to Taksim and Istiklal Caddesi. As most houses in Istanbul there was a rooftop terrace where breakfast was served every morning. Apart from hotel guests two hungry Seagulls were present every day, jealously looking in through the window ;-) Nacre was a very friendly small hotel but ask for a room on higher floor since the lobby on ground floor could be a bit noisy.
In September this year I visited Istanbul for the third time, together with my travel mate Louise (often mentioned in this blog). Before making a post about that trip I felt the need to organize my previous posts about the city. Istanbul was the first post I ever made and I merged the trip 2011 with my first visit 2009 and did not do the city justice at all. With so much material I decided to re-do my my first post to cover only 2009. This post covers the re-visit 2011 and the following one, which I will blog about next week, will cover the third trip :-)
So, before reading any further I suggest you take a look at my first post, “A fist encounter with lovely Istanbul” :-) That will also give you some background to how I met my friend Canem and the network Couchsurfing.
My 2011 visit to Istanbul was done in connection to a round trip I did in Turkey that summer. I had picked the hottest month July which unfortunately is when I am expected to take my main holiday due to the Swedish laws. I started with a few days at Canem´s place which gave me a new insight to Istanbul. Canem lives on the Anatolian side which I had no time to visit 2009. She let me see a totally non touristic side of Istanbul and I had a few wonderful days with her. I also managed to meet up with a guy from Istanbul that I actually got to know in Tokyo on a night out with a bunch of Couchsurfers. It was great to see Armagan in his home environment and we had a lovely dinner together one night.
After a few days in Istanbul at Canem´s place it was time to board the night bus to Göreme (I did totally three night bus journeys in Turkey on my 2011 trip and they were all excellent!). I can only say that Turkey went up to my Top 5 favorite countries rather fast. Learn more about my Turkey trip from following posts:
Cappadocia - one of the most extraordinary landscapes you will ever come across
Kas - lovely Mediterranean town that made me postpone my departure and reschedule my trip
Fetiye – the hub for sailing tours on turquoises waters and much more…
Pamukkale – top tourist attraction in Turkey famous for the hanging white chalk pools & ancient Hierapolis
Selcuk – cozy town close to the famous archaeological site Ephesus (ancient very well preserved Roman city)
Before flying back to Sweden I had another two nights in Istanbul that I spent in a hostel in Sultanahmet. I dedicated my full day to a boat trip on the Bosphorus. The boat departed from central Istanbul, at Eminönü, and stopped at different small harbors on the way towards the Black Sea. You can hop of any time and board a new boat whenever you area ready discovering. On the way you can view the magnificent residences along the waterfront. It was a perfect day! And a nice ending of my first re-visit to Istanbul.
One of my first posts in this blog was about Cappadocia in Turkey, one of the most remarkable and fascinating places I ever visited. Welcome to check out the moon landscapes of this area here >>. A very spiritual moment was when I went up early one morning to watch all the hot air balloons take of. Due to my phobia I could not take a balloon ride myself since with the claustrophobia also comes fear of being stuck in a small space without control. But honestly I was so grateful right then to just be able to have the moment I had. I still get goose bumps when watching the pictures from that very special morning. Originally there was a few pictures of this in my Cappadocia blog but I decided they deserved their own post and more space :-)
If you read my last post about Amsterdam and liked what you saw on the pictures, this is how to find those places. People often ask me for tip when they go to Amsterdam and that is how below three walking tours were born. I have also included some information about the former national holiday Queen´s Day, nowadays changed to King´s Day :-D
Focus: Jordaan & surroundings
With Central Station in the back walk to the right on street Niewendijk and follow it until it becomes Haarlemmerstraat. Continue to enjoy Haarlemmerstraat and it´s many cafés and fun shops until it is crossed by Binnen Brouwersgracht, then turn left onto that street. Now the real nice surprise starts. You have entered Jordaan with all the channels, small bridges, houseboats and leaning houses. You will have cozy eetcafe´s everywhere (an eetcafé is a café with a small menu and beer/wine/coffee. Until 18:00 they serve lighter food, after 18 dinner). Your guidance in this area will be the four big channels running parallel. The Prinsen, Keizer, Heren and Singel gracht (gracht meaning channel). On Saturdays there is a great atmosphere around the Noordermarkt by the Noorderkerk (a square with a church) on Prinsengracht. This area is ofcourse nice any day of the week NT! Joradaan must also be visited after dark! It is the most romantic walk you might ever do in your life! A really good eetcafé around Noordermarkt is “Café Winkel” Really great food at night and during the day they serve one of Amsterdam´s most famous apple cake :-P Try to keep the same direction as the big channels to avoid getting lost. If you plan Anne Frank´s house, you will have that on the left side of Prinsengracht as you move along. Once the big channels are crossed by a big street (that when looking at the map can be called anything from Raadhuisstraat to Westermarkt) you enter an area that is a another “must”. You have the same 4 channels running parallel but the small streets/lanes that connects them is what is interesting here. They are called “De 9 straatjes” which means The nine streets. Those 9 small streets are filled with funny shops, cafés and restaurants. You will love it! Here you can sit down, rewind and just watch Amsterdam life going on next to you. Once those four channels are crossed by Leidsestraat I suggest you walk right onto this streets where trams are also running. Walk until you reach Leidseplein (the square). It is one of the most commercial areas but still fun. Lots of restaurants around but I don´t recommend to eat there, rather chose and eetcafé around the channels. Leidseplein is nice for people watching and to sit on the nice square and enjoy a beer.
If you want you can spend the rest of the day visiting the museums around Museum plein, not too far from Leidseplein. I am not a museum person thus no particular advice here. You also have the big park Vondelpark nearby. Fun for people watching but too much smell of dog poop if you ask me. (Look out! Dutch people don´t take the dog poop from the streets.) You could also continue doing route 3. Or get lost, or walk back through Jordaan again and see it after dark! :-D
Focus: The most central parts
With Central Station in the back follow Damrak street a bit. Soon you will have “Manneke Pis” on your right. For a real Dutch (or actually Belgian, but as normal in the Netherlands) experience have a “potat met”, fries with special mayo :-P After Manneke Pis you can turn right on any tiny alley that will lead you to Niewendijk, a small carefree street with shops on both sides. If you have already walked as far as the Dam square you will instead connect on the evenly interesting alley called Kalverstraat. Damrak continues to be called Rokin. But it is the same big streets. And with the smaller alleys on the “inside”. Don´t mis it! Commercial but cozy! If you manage not to get lost you will end up at Muntplein. If you are hungry by now have a falafel at Maoz. Yum! And if you are up to taking a channel boat tour, do that from any of the places along Damrak or Rokin. After Muntplein it is time for some coziness again. Walk over the bridge Doelensluis onto the Doelenstraat. You pass Hotel de Europé on your right hand side. Walk until you see “Café Jaren”. If there are seats outside sit down and have something refreshing while you watch boats passing by. After this continue on the same street until you have Staalstraat on your right. From the first bridge you will have a magnificent view (very much photographed). Continue on the same street. You will soon have Puccini bon bon´s on your left. If you have not yet tried Belgian pralines, this is the time do it! (Not actually sure if this brand i Belgian but they are magnificent!) After you have crossed another channel walk left and spend some time at the Waterloo flee market (closed Sundays). A bit touristic but fun. When you are done head towards Niewmarkt. You can cross back on Sint Antoniesbreesstraat. Continue that street until you reach Niewmarkt which is a cozy square at the edge of redlight district. If you dare you can enter red light from here. It is actually a really cozy area! (As you might have understood a lot of things are cozy in Amsterdam. The word for cozy in dutch is “gezellig” and in fact a very commonly used word in Holland). Before walking back towards central station try to find Zeedjik. The Chinatown of Amsterdam with some really great restaurants! It will lead you back to the station. And one more amazing day will be gone.
Focus: The area Pijp! – (Not Sundays when the market is closed!)
Walk, bike or take a tram to the Heineken museum. (Tramstop Weteringcircuit/Weteringsch). Everyone knows this place so just ask your way there. I have never been myself and it is very touristic but if you feel the urge, pay a visit. Behind the Heineken museum you have the Marie Heineken plein. From there find the street called Albert Cuypstraat. Just ask anyone! That street is a market every day except Sundays. The area between Albert Cuypstraat and Maria Heineken plein hosts many really great cafés and restaurants, where you will never want to leave. There are shops and restaurants also along the market street. Once the markets ends, walks left and walk along Van Woustraat, pass Frederiks plein and then onto Utrechterstraat. Nice street with shops, cafés and restaurants. Follow it until Rembrandts plein. Another very commercial square, great for people watching. From there try to find Regulier Dwarsstraat and experience the most popular (and very cozy) gay street of Amsterdam. If you walk to the right on any small lane from that street you will be in the famous flowermarket. Walk back towards central station in any direction. However, if you still have not done Jordaan after dark, this is the time to do so!
If you are in Amsterdam last week of April
For many many years Queen´s Day (Koninginnedag in dutch), the most cheerful Dutch public holiday, has been celebrated on the 30st of April every year, however I read this will change to 27th of April which is the current King Willem-Alexander´s birthday. And with that the name will also change to “The King´s day”. Nevertheless I am sure the concept will stay the same. That is; people dressing up in Hollands national color orange, partying and trading on every street around the whole Netherlands. I have only cerebrated Queen´s Day in Amsterdam and it sure is something very memorable. The channels fills up with party boats, young and old selling things everywhere. Entertainment, food and drinks around every corner. Big clubs and cafés moves out on the streets with DJ´s spinning house music. The party goes on until midnight and the atmosphere is usually really fun and friendly. I think you might get a glimpse of this event from below pictures. It is a fun celebration and people are just happy in a good way. Last time I celebrated it was when Robert & I visited my old colleague Hanna from Finland, now living in California. I would recommend to plan a visit as this period of the year is also one of the most beautiful times. I hope you will enjoy my walking tours if you visit Amsterdam as a first timer :-)
Finally the time has come to show you my Amsterdam :-) I used to live in Amsterdam and surroundings between 1996-2003 and therefor, as you can imagine, that city is very special too me. Nowadays I make a re-visit about every second or third year. It has become less frequent with the years that has passed. This spring I went there with Robert for a long weekend. I did just what I always do when in Amsterdam. Strolling around. And if you like what you see on below pictures look out for my next post where I will present my three walking tours which will make you discover some of the most cozy places that Amsterdam has to offer. It started with a colleague asking for tips when she was about to go. I made three walking tours for fun and they have since been used by two more satisfied colleagues ;-)
Sure there are lot´s of museums and other things to see in and around Amsterdam but for me Amsterdam is all about relaxing, watching people and just feel the place. I normally tend to plan a bit too much when I travel but when I go to Amsterdam I do not have too, I know what I want. I know that I will spend most of my time having a coffee or a beer along one of the cozy channels in the Jordaan and surrounding areas or just getting lost on small streets and surprised by some odd shop or random sight along the way. And I try to allways cover the Noordermark by the Noordekerk, which is a farmers market and handicaraft marker that runs every Saturday.
This time we decided to splurge a bit and treat us with a boutique hotel with a view over the channel Herengracht. We picked Hotel Hegra and were extremely satisfied. The room was small, simple and clean not to forget to mention amazing beds, linen and pillows! And on top of this our room had a channel view :-D The two gentlemen running the place were attentive in a discrete way and made great breakfast every morning. I mean, just check out picture number two below. How can one not like that? It was fun to look out and see the boats passing by. Amsterdammers likes to cruise the channels while having a picknic or a party on a boat. Great lifestyle :-)
In the little Chinatown of Amsterdam there are many great restaurants. One day we picked one which seemed to have many Chinese customers and were very lucky. The food was fantastic! The streets of Chinatown are bordering to the notorious red light district of Amsterdam. If you can avoid being disturbed about the ladies in some of the windows, the large amount of sex shops and other erotic entertainment + the smell of marijuana, the streets of the red light district them self are very cozy. And there are some really good restaurants and bars in that area. I usually stroll through it at some point of my stay.
Amsterdam by night is very romantic. And there is no lack of bars. Amsterdam has got both the classic brown café bars and very modern once. Many of them serves both as bar and so called “eetcafe”, which means there is a limited bar menu available. In Amsterdam most things “goes”, just look at that cat sleeping on the bar on picture five below ;-)
Amsterdam is not a huge city and very walkable. Once you get thirsty my tip is to order mint thee and you will, in many places, get served hot water with a generous twig of mint leaves in it. It is so fresh and natural. Walking a lot also requires lot´s of energy and there are plenty of possibilities to grab a praline or two. If you pick it up at Puccini you might be satisfied with one, they are huge ;-)
When I first came to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1996 it was love at first sight. I had a wonderful time living there some years but now a distant relation works just perfect. But I do need my Amsterdam dose now and then. It is a liberating place to be, just how I like it!