Friday, October 30, 2015

3 days in Amsterdam & around

After my short visit of London I flew to Amsterdam and spent 3 days exploring the place. It was awesome experience - quite a contrast from London on many levels. Sharing some highlights.

Amsterdam is unique in many ways - historical buildings, more canals than Venice, more density of Museums than anywhere else in the world, more bikes than population, friendly and relaxed environment and perhaps most liberal city you will visit with legalized recreational drugs, same sex marriage  and euthanasia! 

For my stay I picked a hotel near Schipol Airport. Amsterdam city is about 15 - 20 mins train ride from the airport. You can buy 3-day Amsterdam Travel Ticket (25 euros) that allows you unlimited train, tram and bus rides. 

Day 1
Spent the first day (afternoon) just walking around the canals and historical buildings and other popular tourist areas near Amsterdam Central Station.

Day 2
Took train and visited Rottardam. On the train I met couple of American tourists going the same way and decided to tag along. Just short of Rottardam we took break journey to make a short stop at town called Delft. 

Delft is a beautiful small town with ancient canals, historic squares and famous china pottery called Delftware. Unfortunately, being Sunday shops were mostly closed and there were not much activity happening. Still it was worth the visit waking around beautiful canals and walkways.  

Rottardam is quite the opposite of Amsterdam. It was almost completely destroyed in world war II bombardments (you can still find markings on the payments in the form of small lights in the shape of red flames) and rebuilt ground up. It consists of high rise builds with iconic architecture, shopping plaza, sidewalk cafe and the waterfront. From tourist center at the train station we bought the walking tour guide that lays out about 10 km route around main attractions. It took us about half a day to cover route and would say probably the best way to explore the city. 

Day 3
Spent first half my last day visiting the famous Museums in Amsterdam city - Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. In the afternoon took a bus to travel to a small town on north experience country side and see real windmills. 

Overall, loved the relaxed and laid back environment. The countryside looked very beautiful - lots of greenery, canals and windmills. Loved dutch french fries with special cheese, Stroopwafels and Candies. People seem very friendly and tolerant (would not scream at you if you accidentally venture into into bike lane) and the environment very relaxed. 

The two cities I visited in span of one week could not be more in contrast. Compared to London life is generally slower paced - people move slow, trains are slower - heck even sliding doors open/close slowly, people more friendly and it is less expensive to live. Anyways, each place has its charm and uniqueness and great to offer and you leave with rich memories.  


Thursday, October 29, 2015

3 days in London

London is travelers paradise - it has everything - famous buildings and landmarks, world class museum, outstanding restaurants, fabulous retail and plenty of green space and all of history to go along with that. 

Earlier this month I was travelling back from India to Los Angeles and took a break journey to spend 3 days in this beautiful metropolis (also spent some time in Holland - but that's for another post). Having born and brought up in India with centuries of colonial rule, Britain has profound influence on India's history and culture. So, it was even greater interest that I was looking forward to my visit to London.

I had some luggage so picked a hotel near Heathrow airport in Housnlow City - in the hindsight not a good idea to stay far from central London since wasted so much time everyday to travel to city.

London is very well connected by train/bus and oyster travel-card that allows to travel on any train/tube or bus is perhaps the best way to move around - great value and saves you lot of time - I bought 3 day pass for around 20 pounds. I also bought London Pass (approx 80 pounds) separately that cover entry ticket for most attractions (note you can purchase Oyster Travel card with London Pass also)

Day 1 (afternoon) - Train Connection: Piccadilly line from nearest train station - Osterley.
Visited Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square. Dinner at Covent Garden - Great Thai food @ Busaba Ethai - highly recommended.

Day 2:
South-hall, Westminster, 10 downing street, to Big Ben (Parliament house). Then took City Cruise from Big Ben to go around other city attractions near water to London Bridge. Then took train to Wimbledon to see tennis gland slam courts and finally another one to visit home of cricket - Lord's Cricket Ground. 

Day 3:
Visited Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Tower of London - among other things on display here are the crown jewels including Kohinoor. 
Then took tube to Bond Street station to window shop famous store Selfridges. 

With so many things to do, places to visit in this truly cosmopolitan and happening place it is easy to fall in love with the City. I also felt number of peculiarities - compared to living in US, esp southern California.
  • Everyone dresses formally - no shorts, even those wearing Jean use formal shoes!! 
  • Great public transport - perhaps most efficient and economical way of getting from anywhere to anywhere in metropolitan London
  • Everyone uses public transport - not sure how they manage last mile - distance from train/bus station to home
  • Even school kids seem be able to travel alone without any fear! 
  • Life moves at much faster pace
  • People generally more fit, polite but generally avoid talking or smiling at tourists!!
  • Roads less wider and cars generally smaller
  • The same fast food restaurants we have in US looks nicer and serve food that is more healthier and tastes better!
  • Brick constructed houses everywhere - suburbs with mostly older and established neighborhoods. 
  • No escaping security cameras - they are everywhere - train station, trains, elevators, streets even buses!! Eerie, but I guess necessary for public safety with all the nonsense going around in the world. 
  • No tipping - generally included in the bill - about 10%
  • Everything is more expensive - from food to stuff.
  • Weather unpredictable and it does rain a lot (even though I was mostly spared!!)
  • Street names posted on buildings - not on street corners!!
  • London underground - even more fascinating then the use of tube for transportation is the mystery and tales surrounding it (watch this PBS documentary  - also available on Netflix)
Overall it was lot fun. Obviously I barely scratched surface of London the short visit gave pretty good idea about the place and look forward to returning back someday to explore even more.