Europe 2016: Finding Netherlands (Part 2)

Oct 5, 2016


Why Amsterdam? You would think. I have plenty of other European cities to choose from, everything’s a plane away from Stockholm anyway, but why Amsterdam? Five words: The Fault In Our Stars. And I dream of visiting all the places I only get to imagine while reading my books.

I also Googled Holland, and why the people in Netherlands are called Dutch. It’s a long story, so I’ll leave you the reading.

I left the hotel at around 930am. As soon as I woke up and while I ate the sandwich I bought in Stockholm, I plotted on map the places I would visit that day. Museumplein (the museum area) is just walking distance from Owl Hotel, so I went there, just in time for Van Gogh Museum’s opening hours.



I’m not really a museum-type person, and the only Van Gogh painting I know is The Starry Night. But it’s worth visiting, not just because I have free entrances to museums (or rather I paid for it in advance) because of my iAmsterdam card, but because Van Gogh‘s life is very interesting (but sad). He only became a world famous artist after he died. Throughout his life, he suffered from mental illness, depression and poverty.

I asked a security personnel where The Starry Night is, and he told me it was in Museum of Modern Art in New York. You would think all of Van Gogh’s creations should be in Van Gogh Museum, but no.


The museum is basically 3 floors of Van Gogh’s art, grouped chronologically. You can also read his life story as you walk along while observing his artworks. Many visitors rent an audio guide to accompany their tour. There were also many students here, taking notes.



Inside Van Gogh Museum. How cool is it that you can actually see the ground level outside?


The other side of the museum.


Concert Gebouw just around Museumplein

After Van Gogh Museum, I headed for Rijksmuseum, which is the top 1 must-visit place in Amsterdam according to Trip Advisor.



The noisy kids gathering around the I amsterdam sign



This is strongly reminiscent of the lights we have in our office cafeteria.


Rijksmuseum is not included in the free entrances provided by iAmsterdam card, but there’s a discount, so I shelled out 13 EUR for this.


The museum is HUGE, though certainly not Louvre-huge. It houses interesting pieces of paintings and stuff from different eras.


A 36-carat Banjarmasin diamond from Borneo, declared Dutch state property



Reminds me of Queen Elsa’s palace interiors



There’s a whole section dedicated to Rembrandt – one of the most celebrated Dutch artists.



The library of my dreams


A very detailed doll house


“Earthenware” violin made for decorative purposes only



I left Rijksmuseum at around 2pm and starving. So I got a hotdog sandwich filled to the brim with delicious sauerkraut and crispy onions from one of the hotdog stands outside the museum. I sat on a bench and ate while enjoying the view and the sun’s warmth. It was a particularly windy and chilly day, and I stupidly wore a flowy dress. Underneath, my leg-high stockings decided to roll down, and it made me extremely uncomfortable while walking. So please, when doing tour, do yourself a favor and wear your most comfortable outfit.

I decided to go to PC Hoofstraat to check the Longchamp store there, because I had to buy another bag for a friend. Also, I went inside a store by the name of Wolford, to buy proper leggings for myself.


PC Hoofstraat is home for designer goods.


I never thought I was about to buy my most expensive piece of clothing in my entire wardrobe. Probably even more expensive than all my clothes combined, I guess. Nope. That’s an exaggeration. So what happened is, I saw leggings ok. I was desperate, because it was friggin’ cold and my stockings kept on rolling down my knees. The thing is, they have the more affordable leggings, but are thin, so won’t do the job. I requested for the thicker leggings, I initially saw 9 EUR price tags. Fair enough. The crews were busy because they were doing a sort of training, and the head saleslady attended to me and even accompanied me to their oh-so-fancy fitting room. I said I’m gonna take it, and that I will wear it right then, so I headed to the counter to pay. The POS said 90 EUR. Say what? I checked the price tag and cursed that faded zero at the right of number 9. WTH, that was clearly fraud right? Or was that my poor eyesight? I asked the lady who looked like Celine Dion, so it’s 90 and not 9 EUR? She said, yes, the thin ones cost 9 EUR. What was I to do? I was already wearing the freaking thing, so I handed them my boyfriend’s credit card. At that moment, I felt like I reached my peak stupidity. What could be more stupid than that? I thought of all the things I could buy with that PHP 5000 instead – heck, that was even more expensive than my roundtrip flight to Amsterdam. I already had plans for the leggings, in my mind either I will have it framed for display in our house, or use it everyday to justify the cost. No one in their right mind buys a 90 EUR – leggings. Probably the Kardashians. Indeed, the brand Wolford, I learned later on, is typically worn by celebrities. But I’m just a peasant, so sorry for the endless rants. This is my biggest blooper in the trip.


After accepting the reality, I headed to one of the canal boat terminals for my canal cruise, which was included in the iAmsterdam card. Bought a coke while waiting for the tour to start. Like in our Paris bus tour, this boat provided earphones and had audio system in place for the recorded tour guides.



The canal cruise lasted for about an hour. It was in the afternoon – not really a good idea because of the sun, but overall I enjoyed it. It started from the terminal opposite Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam, to Jordaan, at the back of Amsterdam Centraal, to NEMO Science Museum, then back to the starting point.






After the cruise, I walked to Leidsegracht to see if I can find the bench from The Fault In Out Stars movie, where Hazel and Gus sat down.



A very beautiful afternoon




And of course I found it. I knew that was “the bench” because of the love locks and graffiti left by my fellow brothers and sisters in fandom.


I know this is just a bench but believe me, I think that was the highlight of my day. LOL.



The scene from The Fault In Our Stars


Forgive my miserable face. Okay? Okay.

Stay tuned for part 3! One more post about Amsterdam, which caps off my series for Europe 2016… After that, I’ll be writing about our trip to Japan.


Europe 2016: Finding Netherlands (Part 1)

Oct 4, 2016


In front of Rijksmuseum

My whole Europe trip was full of bloopers, but most of it probably happened during my Amsterdam trip. Upon writing this piece I’m still laughing at how I managed to pull off some Bridget Jones moments in my life and actually survived.

We arrived at our place in Stockholm around 1am of October 4, after a 2.5-hour flight from Paris and a 40-minute bus ride from Arlanda Airport to Stockholm Central. Rean had to go to work the following morning, and I had to prepare for my 630pm flight to Amsterdam. Also, my hotel (Quentin Golden Bear) cancelled my reservation that morning so I booked another (Owl Hotel).


Carrying my purple bag and small luggage, I bought a Flygbussarna ticket (Stockholm airport’s coach/bus) and hopped on the bus to take me to Arlanda Airport Terminal 5. Bought a mozzarella baguette sandwich and Fanta from Wayne’s Coffee, which I didn’t consume, then boarded the jam-packed Norwegian plane (Europe’s best low-cost airline). The flight was during sunset. I was amused with the onboard wifi.


I was nervous about this trip because I knew I’m gonna get lost as soon as I exit the bus from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Not to mention that I was traveling alone, therefore would be walking alone in the evening to find my hotel. You probably know that the city legalized prostitution and marijuana, but I took solace in knowing that Amsterdam is one of the safest places for solo female travelers, and that my hotel is situated far from the red-light district.

I headed to the airport tourist center to exchange my pre-booked 2-day iAmsterdam Card (unlimited rides for selected public transpo companies and free/discounted museum entrances) and to buy a Region Travel Card (for Old Holland trip outside Amsterdam, and unlimited Connexxion bus rides).

My travel cheat sheet said I should hop on Connexxion bus 197 (a.k.a Amsterdam Airport Express) and get off at Leidseplein. I handed a 5-euro bill to the driver, because I forgot that I can use the Region Travel Card for this. Oops, blooper no. 1.

I was getting more nervous during the ride. It was very dark outside and I rarely saw people on the streets. It was just minutes after 9pm. In my mind I was praying my bus stop would not be deserted and would show some signs of life. I got off at Leidseplein, looked around, and accepted the inevitable: man, I will be lost AF. I saw like a total of 4 people, it was dark and chilly and quiet. With the goal of finding Owl Hotel and having not much choice, I just walked. I saw two men walking, so I decided to follow them, because “people are better than no people”. They looked at me and my noisy rolling luggage. Then they turned right to a dark park. Guess what? I freaking followed. And when they stepped over the bush and sat down facing a canal like they would have a picnic, I immediately realized they probably have business behind that bush and I have to turn around very quickly. Blooper no. 2.


Amsterdam is often referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of these canals that make up the city.

“Okay, stay positive and keep on walking. Where are the freaking street signs?!” I was looking for Vondelstraat and according to my screenshot of Google map it shouldn’t be that far from the bus stop. I realized I was walking on a loop, because I returned to the spot on the other side of the canal, opposite the “bush men” who were doing, well, I don’t know and I shouldn’t care. Thank heavens I saw a traffic aide, and a Pinay who was passing by. They pointed me to the direction of Leidseplein square, which I should have found earlier hadn’t I followed the freaking “bush men”.

I found hope when I saw night life kicking in the square. Yes! People! This is not the red-light district, just a typical place with all the restaurants, cafes, bars, night-dwellers and party-goers. I needed Internet and coffee so I went inside Starbucks. I quickly emailed Owl Hotel to inform them that I was lost and looking for their location. The barista told me there’s a nearby taxi stand, so I went there and showed the drivers my map. They just laughed at me. They said I can reach it within 3 minutes by walking. So I cheerfully walked to the direction they said.

You know what? I have always assumed I’m good at directions, that that is my strength, but probably not in Amsterdam. After 10 minutes, I found myself in a deserted street. Again. Cursing under my breath, I got my internet-less iPhone and opened Maps. The thing is, nobody told me it can track my location even though it was on Flight Mode and had no internet. I searched for Owl Hotel, and indeed it was near where I was standing.


I walked the red path after getting off at the bus stop. I probably burned 500 calories just by walking that loop. From Leidseplein, after asking probably about 10 different people for directions, somehow I still took the longer way. The next day, I found out that the blue path was the right way. You simply cross the street from the bus stop. And not follow strangers to the bush. Oh well.

To sum it up, I reached Owl Hotel at around 11pm. Welcome to Amsterdam!


Owl Hotel

The friendly Asian receptionists greeted me and handed me my room key. Apparently they are used to guests getting lost. It was my first time seeing an old elevator with manual door. Finally, I reached my room and was greeted by a lovely sight.


My freaking bed!!! And a copy of a Claude Monet art.


The room is clean, though I didn’t like the location of the bathroom and TV, the dark carpet and red curtains, but fine anyhow. I was just picky. But apart from those I really liked my room! It was a very cold night, so I turned on their radiator heater (the white metal wall below the curtains). To my non-tropical readers, I have to describe the heater because we don’t have it in the Philippines. Haha.


Cute tiny bathroom



Morning view from my window


The lobby is behind this bar



Waiting area in the lobby



So much for an introduction to the Netherlands. More shenanigans in the coming posts!


Europe 2016: From Paris with Love (Part 3)

Oct 3, 2016


On Eiffel Tower, 2nd level

Going up the Eiffel Tower was not originally planned until it was suggested by my boss while we were having lunch, days prior to my trip (Hi boss! Thanks for the idea! :D) I got back to my seat at the office and booked the Eiffel Tower tickets for Rean and me. Unfortunately, the tickets for the top (Level 3) are sold out for the duration of our Paris trip, leaving us with no choice but to go up on level 2 instead. I decided to schedule it on a Monday at lunchtime, thinking we could avoid the weekend crowds. Come October 3, we checked out from the hotel and carried our bags while walking the cobbled ways toward Eiffel Tower. We were scheduled to go up at 1PM.

There are gates around the perimeter of Eiffel Tower’s base. The security was very strict and it is understandable considering that the tower is a global icon, and that there were attacks in Paris months ago. I showed our printed tickets and the security checked our bags rather meticulously. After security, we found ourselves staring upwards.



We’re staring directly up at Level 1. It was newly renovated. That glass wall and floors were added. Unfortunately our heavy luggages limited us to go there but I highly suggest you to do so.



The queue behind is for people who didn’t book entrance tickets. So as a millennial I really suggest to book everything in advance online if possible. Also, some of them will go up the tower using stairs. Say what?!


Around 5 minutes to 1PM, the guards allowed us to enter. I was bringing my take-out coffee so I assume drinks are fine. There were queue inside, but there was a special lane for us who booked online. Again, there was security (a stricter one). They instructed to take out all electronics and put them in a tray. Pointed/sharp objects were not allowed. Really, you would think you were in an airport. But again, this is Eiffel Tower, and we can’t afford to let a terrorist ruin it.

We finally got in the elevator which moved upwards along one of Eiffel Tower’s slant legs. Hence the movement was upward diagonal. The elevator was transparent, and you can see the surroundings as well as the people who took brave decisions to take the stairs.


Seine River. I imagined poor Eponine walking along its banks while singing “On My Own”.



I seldomly saw high-rise buildings in Paris. Personally I think they ruin the view.



Can you see Les Invalides from afar?


The other half of Champ de Mars was bald but full of tourists anyway. It is where most of our shots were taken.








Can you see the bridge of Pont Alexandre III from afar? Those four pillars with the gilded statues on top..


Palais de Chaillot as seen from the other side of the tower. At its center is a small plaza known as Trocadero, another popular place where you can take your profile pic-worthy Eiffel Tower photos.


I remember the recent news about Paris making all its public transportation free for days to discourage the use of cars and therefore to lessen the pollution.



Pretty Parisian buildings.. It does look neat from the plane.


And then we went down after an hour. Bought some crepes and ice cream on the sidewalk.




Forgive my poor photography skills


And then we waited for our tour bus to take us to Printemps. I bought a two-day bus tour and this was the second day. We only rode it once that day. Bye Eiffel Tower! Til next time!



Just Parisians doing their thing… Reading books while sunbathing.


Mmm.. I smell Longchamp bags.


My officemates and friends requested me to buy their bags.. I liked the feeling of shopping even though they are not for me. LOL. The price difference is astounding when compared to their price in Manila. Le Pliage Neo (medium) here costs 140 Euros (around PHP 7300) plus tourists can get a 10-12% tax refund upon exiting Europe. A friend told me it costs PHP 13500 in Greenbelt. Say what?! Almost twice the price in Paris?! That makes for a good business huh. I’m looking at you all Instagram sellers with “luxe” in their usernames 😀 I also confidently walked inside stores in the likes of Louis Vuitton and Hermes. No one would judge you in Europe, anyway. Everyone I met was nice, even the salesmen/ladies who patiently answered all our questions and rechecked their stocks.  I checked on the prices and found out LV handbags as low as 745 Euros (around PHP 40k) which I’m pretty sure sells at PHP80k++ in Manila.


I didn’t buy any bags for myself but Rean went to the rescue. He bought me a pretty gray Le Pliage Neo (small). Yay! ❤ He also bought some for her mom and sisters.

After shopping, we processed our tax refund. A friendly Korean girl assisted us. I told her our situation that the bags were sold separately to me and Rean, but my friends’ bags were bought using his credit card. And that I would be leaving Europe alone. I would need to take all the bags with me at once when I exit Europe through Sweden, in order to declare them and properly process the refund. She gave me an envelope with all our forms and receipts, ready to be handed out to Swedish customs when I leave. Efficient!!!

We left Printemps and, even though we pretty much looked like typical Pinoy tourists with all the bags, I requested one last favor from my already annoyed Rean to walk towards Galeries Lafayette, which is a few blocks away.


I had no plans of shopping. I just want to see…


…this beauty ❤


On Level 7 rooftop


Oh, one last view of the Eiffel Tower (for now)





How come even their department stores are pretty?

And then at around 5pm we headed for the taxi to take us to Paris Orly Airport for our 930pm flight back straight to Stockholm.

Merci beaucoup, Paris! Jusqu’à la prochaine fois!