A Travellerspoint blog

Amsterdam

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Europe

sunny 70 °F
View Europe 2015 on meagle's travel map.

I am on a train to Berlin and have a few hours to kill so I thought I would take this opportunity to write a new blog post.

Well, it finally happened.

After more than two weeks of couch surfing and hostel life I finally broke down and booked a hotel for a single night upon arriving in Amsterdam.

During my last night in Paris I found myself kidnapped by three local French girls who wanted to show me what a real night out in Paris looked like. Between dinner, drinks, dancing, more drinks and bottle service at the club starting at 2am, I knew I was in trouble. After a number of very long days of site seeing while trying to fight off a cold, it was a 12 round fight that I was not prepared for. I believe I bowed out around 4:00am so I could sleep an hour or two before I had to be up for my 7am train to Amsterdam. Not the ending to that story that some of you were hoping for but deal with it. I was down for the count.

After a day of rest, recovery and a proper shower, I rented a bike to explore the city. Whether living in Amsterdam or just visiting, biking around town is a must. It is the best way to enjoy the canals and really get to know the city.

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There are many fold more people on bikes than cars on the street. In fact, each street has its own bike lanes on both sides of the road that act as a second layer of traffic. It took me a day or two to get used to not walking in the bike lanes, not crossing in front of the bike lanes, not biking the wrong direction in the bike lanes, and likely every other obnoxious thing one could do to frustrate the locals.

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I stayed at a hostel right next to Vondlepark, the cities largest park where locals picnic on sunny days.

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This hostel was very different from the one in Paris. It was filled with more families, tour groups and kids than with backpackers. My first room had no wifi or useful power outlets near my bed so I asked to be moved. The staff was helpful in doing so but when I went to my new room, I found someone sleeping in my bed.

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Awesome.

Brandon and Dustin found it hilarious and sent this to me some hours later:
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  • sigh* Hostel life is not always awesome…

On a brighter note, I was lucky enough to be here while the Koukenhof gardens were open. Also known as the Garden of Europe, it's the world's second largest flower garden following the Dubai Miracle Garden where approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted annually covering an area of 79 acres. The garden is only open from mid March to Mid May each year.

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I also highly recommend a visit to Anne Frank’s house. Situated right downtown, it is a powerful reminder of a time when humans proved how horrible they could be to one another. I am a bit embarrassed to say this but having read The Diary of Anne Frank in school many years ago, I believe the true weight of it all was lost on me at the time. It’s difficult for a suburban American kid to appreciate the history of it all when he is more concerned with his lacrosse game and his date for Friday night. It wasn’t until I stepped foot up the stairs behind the hidden bookcase that the gravity of it all hit me.

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Amsterdam by night is a very different place than it is by day. Up until now, this post has been a very whitewashed version of perhaps what really happened during my visit. Certainly, eating a brownie and walking through the Van Gogh museum or going to see a show in the red light district are options…but who knows whether or not those things happened? There is a certain amount of what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam.

Notice: If anyone from work is reading this, those things didn't happen and I will be ready for my "random" drug test when I return.

I think this picture from a pub crawl sums it up. It's not blurry. This is actually what Amsterdam feels like at night.

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For my foodie friends:

Amsterdam is full of delicious choices.

I found a restaurant called The Seafood Bar. It’s rated as one of the top restaurants in Amsterdam and boasts fresh seafood daily from sustainable fishing methods. I had the seafood bar platter which consisted of smoked eel, Dutch shrimps, cab salad, warm and cold smoked salmon, served with warm bread and chive butter.

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What I also thought was cool about the place, besides their sustainable menu, was that for each bottle of mineral water you bought, they would donate a fixed amount towards clean drinking water projects. The bottle even sites the UN human right to water and sanitation resolution. Very cool.

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One local dish that I really enjoyed was called Hotchpotch. It is a typical Dutch dish that consists of a base of mashed potatoes with veggies. This specific dish was served with endive, bacon bits and a large meatball with gravy. This was some serious stick-to-your-ribs food.

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If you are ever in Amsterdam, you have to have a waffle with Nutella. They put Nutella on everything. I suggest Nutella and strawberries. I wasn't sure whether you were supposed to eat this thing for breakfast, lunch or dinner so I just had them at all times of the day to be safe. #fatkid

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Another local must have are Poffertjes. These a similar to mini pancakes with a warm soft doughy center. I suggest going with the powdered sugar, fresh strawberries and whipped cream. You should probably add Nutella so as not to be insulting.

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And to complete the fat kid tour, there is a great little Magnum ice cream shop between the museum and city center districts. Here, you can create your own Magnum ice cream bar by choosing from three different chocolate dips and from a number of different toppings. I went with milk chocolate dip with white chocolate shavings and strawberry sugar crisps.

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A few miscellaneous left-over pics:

The Dutch love their cheese shops. I recommend hopping from shop to shop enjoying the free samples.

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Van Gogh loved a good selfie. He was into it way before you were.

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An interesting poem from Emily Dickinson scribed on the side of a building. Nice sentiment but unfortunately not true.

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee. One clover, and a bee and revery. The revery alone will do, if bees are few."

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Off to Berlin! Thanks for reading!

Posted by meagle 13:09 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam Comments (2)

Paris!

That place where they don't pronounce half of the letters they write

sunny 70 °F
View Europe 2015 on meagle's travel map.

Didn't I say I would try to keep these posts updated fairly regularly?

So, hey, Paris!

I have been here for four days now and I have to say I have really fallen in love with this place. It is really unlike any other city I have ever been to. While you could spend weeks seeing all of the museums, cathedrals and parks, I have found that the real magic of this city appears when you just sit outside a cafe, put your phone away and have a nice glass of wine. Yesterday was the first time during this trip that I actually began to unwind. Paris has a special way of washing over you like I have never experienced.

With all of that being said, lets get a few of the obligatory touristy photos out of the way. I am not even certain anyone is reading this anyway. If you are reading this, email me the word waffles. Don't worry, II would probably only check out this blog for the pretty pictures too...sooo, on with them!

Let's begin with the obvious:

I sat on the grass underneath this unbelievable structure for a number of hours yesterday with a few Aussies I had met. We grabbed a few bottles of wine, some cheese, fresh fruit, a baguette and some chocolate and enjoyed the sunny day for hours. I really wanted to capture how massive this tower actually is and I think the two photos below begin to do it justice.
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This is a shot from underneath looking up.
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Speaking of large structures, the Arc de Triomphe was really amazing to see.
Selfie alert.
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A view standing underneath looking straight up.
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A view from the top of the Arc looking out over the city.
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You can catch a nice view of Montmartre from up there as well.
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Notre Dame was another must see. It is a stunning cathedral both inside and out. Double chin selfies, so hot in Paris.
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There is no arguing that Paris boasts some of the most beautiful architecture in the world but I am coming to find the real hero of this city is the food.
Whether it is grabbing a fresh baguette on your way home or going out for a savory crepe, it is hard to make a wrong choice when going out to eat. This next section is for my foodie friends.

Freshly baked baguettes (with cheese shown below) along with a few sugared donuts. One was filled with chocolate and the other with an apple pastry.
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At the suggestion of my buddy Bryan, I hunted down an awesome little sweets shop just south of Notre Dame called Glacier Berthillon. I was told to get the raspberry sorbet. Without a doubt, the best sorbet I have ever had.
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Dinners have largely been crepes. Below is an unbelievable rustic sausage and sunnyside egg crepe along with a quick snap of a sweet crepe I had for dessert that was made of blueberry jam, coconut shavings, vanilla ice cream and whip cream.
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All of this was topped off by a bottle of pear cider.
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A few other miscellaneous shots from around the city:

This is a shot from inside the gothic cathedral Sainte-Chapelle. It's considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It is unbelievable inside. If you are ever in Paris, this is a must see just around the corner from Notre Dame.
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More to see tomorrow before I head to Amsterdam Sunday morning.

Thanks for reading! Until next time...

Posted by meagle 15:54 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (3)

The Hills Are Alive

English countryside and other fare

semi-overcast 63 °F
View Europe 2015 on meagle's travel map.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be taken on a drive through the english countryside. It was great to get out of the city and see a bit more of the country itself. The rolling hills and quaint villages are really beautiful.

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We also happened upon the ruins of a burnt down castle from the 1100's. Even in its current state, this Moorish castle - now called the Cowdray Ruins - was impressive.

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And very large.

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Friday I was able to take a whirl on the renowned London Eye. It is a great way to see the city and challenge your fear of heights at the same time.

Here is a portion of a time-lapse I shot while on the way back down:



And for my foodie friends out there, I took a stroll through Borough Market, a wholesale and retail food market in Central London. It is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, and sells a large variety of foods from all over the world. (Thanks wikipedia) You could come here every day to get something different and never be disappointed.

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Now for the nerdy portion of the post:

I have been really enjoying shooting and editing video along the trip and I thought I would take a quick moment to share which apps I am using.

I am shooting on my iPhone 6. It's certainly no replacement for a professional rig but as a tourist and traveller I have to say I am pretty impressed with what it can do.

I am using a very cool and very free app called Hyperlapse to shoot all of my time-lapse shots. It is from the makers of Instagram and is beautifully simple to use and creates stunning results. It has built in stabilization and I have been surprised that even over a bumpy country road, the resulting video plays back very smoothly. You can also choose the speed of the time-lapse once you're done shooting. I believe up to 12x.

SuperSlo is a handy little app that does just the opposite. It will shoot video at up to 240 fps and once you're done shooting, you can change the speed of the video before saving. I find that quarter speed (120 fps) works very well for most slow-mo shots. This app isn't free but I highly recommend it and think it is worth the few bucks it costs.

I am using iMovie on the iPhone to edit the videos together. I discovered that you cannot transfer iMovie projects between your iPhone and Macbook. Apparently the project types are non-transferrable which is very surprising considering how much Apple prides itself on making everything seamless. iMovie on the iPhone is great but it's limited. You can creatively work around those limitations but its often silly. For example, by default you can fade your project to black at the end but you cannot control the length of that fade. It is either on or off. A work-around that I found was to download a pure black image from google and load this at the end of your timeline and cross fade to it. While they still limit the cross fade to a 2 seconds max, at least you can hold the black fade as long as you want since it is a still.

For photo editing, there are a host of great apps but they all do the same thing - push pull levels, saturation, tint, tone, etc. Find one that you dig and you will be all set. I use PhotoToaster. It also has some decent creative presets.

I have actually been editing many of my shots with Instagram. I place my phone on airplane mode, edit the photo using the presets as a starting point, then I click into the individual levels settings, edit a bit more and when I am happy I post it. This gives you an error since you are in airplane mode, but it saves a version to your photo library to post later or work on a bit more in another app.

Lastly, I highly recommend Layout. It is another beautifully simple and free app from the makes of Instagram that allows you to combine multiple photos into a single collage without those annoying lines between each picture.

Posted by meagle 16:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (1)

Improving Diplomatic Relations

Houses of Parliament, ciders and rock shows

semi-overcast 55 °F

It has been a few days since I updated the blog and I fear this post might become long. Apologies in advance if that happens but there is a lot to catch everyone up on. I will try to do better moving forward.

First thing first, I am really loving London. It is a wonderful mix of British culture along with international and European ex-pats. The city is alive with go-getters, it is rich with history, has great park space and has a familiar work hard play hard vibe. The transition here from DC was actually relatively easy. I highly recommend a visit if you can.

Wednesday I spent the day wondering around Westminster, truly marveling at the architetural detail in the Palace, Big Ben and Westminster Abby.

Big Ben in all of its glory.
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Westminster from the River Thames.
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I had a request for more selfies (apparently I take requests) so here you go, Dustin. What a tourist shot this is.
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Stunning detail on Westminster
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Westminster Abby
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Looking out over the River Thames back toward Westminster
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Afterward, I wandered into the London Aquarium. If you know me, you know I am a sucker for fish, fishing, diving, snorkeling, swimming and all things water related so I had to stop by and check it out. They had a number of very beautiful coral reef tanks.
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They also had a number of stunning larger tanks. I shot and edited this after my visit there.

Thursday night I got a little taste of nightlife in London. Tom gathered a group to see a band called The Subways - a really fun high energy rock band.
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To give you a taste, I shot some video and edited this after the show:


I may have mentioned this in my previous post but one of the things I am really enjoying here is the variety of ciders that are available. I am trying to sample new ones as often as I can. Here are a few that I have really enjoyed:
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Planetbee (seen below) was especially interesting. Besides the cider being very good, they have partnered with Friends of the Honey Bee to both bring awareness to the importance of bees and pollination as well as to donate 25% of their profit per bottle research and educational programs that help to preserve and restore the bee population. Very cool. If they had this stateside, I would love to be a regular supporter.
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And lastly, it is time for another edition of Matt Eagle's Fun Fact Corner:

Fun fact: The tube system is the easiest, most reliable subway system I have ever seen. Trains are never more than five minutes out (usually they arrive every two to three minutes). The signage is super clear, even to a first time rider, where you are supposed to go and in which direction. The DC metro could learn some serious lessons from London's underground.

Fun fact: The Brits apologize for everything. I was shown this article by a few locals and they confirmed this list to be true and accurate. I am learning that, when in doubt, just say sorry.

I know this post has been quite long and I appreciate you making it this far. I suppose all I have to say is...sorry.

Posted by meagle 00:55 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (1)

Jolly Old England

"Houston, the Eagle has landed."

overcast 55 °F

After six and half hours in the air, one bad Tom Cruise movie and a surprisingly good in-flight shephard's pie, I touched down in London just as the sun was rising. A fitting welcome to the beginning of my travels, I thought.

I was met at the airport by Charly, a very kind friend who has generously offered her flat as my home base as long as I am in town. While the dollar is almost even with the Euro, it certainly isn't so against the British pound so the offer of a free place to crash was something I couldn't say no to. But even better than the cost savings has been the warm welcome from both her and her flatmate Tom. They are both wonderfully cheerful company and between Charly's love of cooking and Tom's affinity for English Premier League socce...football, I couldn't be more grateful to be here.

Charlie and Tom happen to live right around the corner from Tower Bridge (not London bridge as I am finding many tourists refer to it) and it's really a perfect location to do a little touristy sightseeing.

After shaking off a bit of jet lag, I spent my first afternoon walking along the River Thames and exploring a few of the cities cobblestone streets.

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I was also able to buy a European sim card for my iPhone so now I can make local phone calls, text and use data . Fun fact: iPhones sold in America are locked but they are unlocked automatically overseas. There is a great wireless carrier called Three. Just pop in to a store and for 15 pounds they give you a local phone number, texts and unlimited data for 30 days at a time.

That being said, this is my international number: +44 07481599115. If you use WhatsApp on your phone, international text messages and such are all free so you can reach me quite easily. Texts from home would be very welcome.

Today, I took the Tube to Trafalgar Square.
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and walked through the National Gallery where I was able to see a number of paintings in person that I have been looking forward to seeing for some time now...
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...including 'The Water-Lily Pond' by Claude Monet:
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'Sunflowers' by Vincent van Gogh
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and 'A Lion Hunt' by Peter Paul Rubens
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Other highlights included a number of works from Renoir
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and of course my favorite master of (seemingly) single point lighting, Rembrandt
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I topped the afternoon off with proper fish and chips and a cider.
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Before I sign off here, there are a few things I am learning about England and Londoners that I will share with you:

1. There is no singular rule as to which side of the sidewalk you walk on and which side you pass oncoming foot traffic on. It is basically a a game of chicken every few feet.
2. Quid is the same thing as pound in reference to money.
3. I am bad at remembering I need to look in the opposite direction before crossing the street.
4. Brits won't likely strike up a conversation with you and may be taken aback by your American instincts to strike one up with them. In fact, I am told that if I would like to strike up a conversation with a stranger, I should head to a local pub. But I need to first make sure it's not a pub where everyone is drowning their sorrows. If all of those conditions are met while the moon eclipses the sun on the second day of a fortnight, it might be acceptable for me to give it a go.

That's all I've got for now. More to come soon.

Posted by meagle 15:04 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

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