Hidden Vintage: La Vie en Rose

Living or staying in a city or country for long time is not a guarantee that you’ve seen or known everything. Sometimes you just walk straight home or rush to school or office, unconsciously blocking your sensitivity on things around you. You know all the shortcuts to reach places you frequently visit. Everything you see seems so banal that you may find yourself wondering why on earth tourists are so into red-bricked buildings in Amsterdam while basically they are just everywhere in Holland and look all the same (not entirely true, though). Been there, done that, so what?

I revisited Amsterdam last year. The city where I used to live hasn’t changed that much apart from some shops and restaurants are closed and replaced by other huge retail chain stores. I still remember all main streets I passed those days. However, you can call me a big fat liar if I say I know all the streets in Amsterdam.

The best way to know what’s in Amsterdam is to pass all the alleys and dare to get lost in between. My former schoolmate and I wandered on streets of Amsterdam and their alleys on Sunday afternoon on foot. Thank God it wasn’t raining. After hours for walking, we felt like sitting somewhere in any cafe nearby.

Traiterie Chef was the closest one we could find. Lots of cakes on its vitrine, variety of fresh juices, tea and coffee? That would do just fine. The interior was nothing special, until we came to the first floor. Scroll more, please!

Pink rules, from walls, curtains to wallpapers. The effort of rich Victorian vintage details exhibited is magnificent for a small dining area.

Put your babies in the bed to make sure the won’t screw up displayed goods.

You can zip a cup of coffee here, too!

Assorted frames and pictures in one place.

A black candle and its saucer that reminds me of Mad Hatter’s hat.

The main dining table that lets you mingle with other guests.

Not everything displayed is really old, but they are so lovely. I can’t stand not to have them…..

A very cute detail…a white mouse doll? Sweet….

I’m not sure what it’s for. I guess it’s a small cupboard to keep room keysP1160343 copy

Such a homey feeling

P1160355 copy

It’s not just a display. It’s actually a brush to clean the tables.

You might say you’re at a granny’s house or an artsy lady with her antiquities. You might say that it’s a vintage museum that makes you feel like home. Whatever you think, let me get this straight: coming to this café means you’re not in the café!

My gosh, how come I didn’t know about this place after 7 years in Amsterdam? Again, I repeat: call me a big fat liar if I say I know all the streets in Amsterdam. Suppose you visit the city, I recommend you to drop by and don’t forget to taste the delicious carrot cake.

I wonder why they don’t apply the awesome vintage interior on the ground floor as well. It’s one of the selling points they should expose, isn’t it?

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EUROMAP

EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!

The Search for the Apartment: from 30 to 150 Minutes

Budapest Keleti pályaudvar looked quite shabby for an international railway station in Europe with lots of bird droppings on its chairs, stairs and floor. Well, I guess the shadow of comfort I got from Wien Westbahnhof in Vienna, the station from where I departed, was still all over me.

Budapest is the place to expect the unexpected, including finding the apartment I booked to stay for the next 3 nights. A free map from the tourist info marked with our apartment and subway locations didn’t do much of help either. The address I needed to go as stated on the top right side of Booking.com itinerary:

Belvárosi Apartmanok, Hold utca 29, 05 Belváros – Lipótváros, Budapest 1054. 

Having both hands dragging suitcases, each weighing 20 kgs and the other one 2, I couldn’t walk fast. Moreover, I had to go upstairs from Nyugati Station basement to the main street while lifting my suitcases up one at a time. The actual total staircases I had to climb, including heading back and forth to pick my luggage, was about 100 steps. I kept wondering why railway stations in Budapest are way too stingy to invest on those things.

Hold utca was a long street and having a bad orientation could lead me nowhere. I kept walking straight on the row of odd number buildings to keep me in track. Even though I passed the same street twice, which was such surely a waste a time and energy, the double-digit I was searching for had not appeared yet.

Nyugati Station

But suddenly I found the Andi Studio signboard, next to the building number 31, with a graphic image of a woman wearing an aerobic suit. I looked up and saw number 29 steel plaque above the gate in front of me. The number was too dark to see after the sun went down as there was no spotlight shining on it. OK, got it. But what now, a gym class?? I really wanted to call the contact number in the itinerary, yet unfortunately my mobile phone credit was not enough to make any international calls. Besides, there was no phone booth in the neighbourhood.

Keleti Station

On the right side of the wall, there were doorbell panels with tenant name plates next to them (strangely, Andi Studio plate wasn’t there). I pressed a doorbell button with Belvárosi Apartmanok plate several times. Since nobody responded, I pressed other bells regardless who the tenants were, including Herbalife office. I didn’t care. But still, no response.

The Parliament Gate

I knocked the thick wooden door in front of me, although I wasn’t sure anyone could hear it. Again, no response. I became so skeptical, blaming the website that it mislead me to a place that didn’t really exist. Guests’ testimonial saying that Belvárosi has a very strategic location and beautiful view, where does it come from?

I pressed my right ear to the door, waiting until I heard the sign of life behind it. Suddenly, I heard clinging sound of keys. Was anybody there? After that, I heard another sign of life: the sound of a key inserted into a keyhole. The left leaf door swung backward. I saw a man somewhere in mid 30’s and his girlfriend walking out from that door. What a relief!

I hurriedly approached them to get the answer of my confusion. The man, an Italian nationality teaching in an American university in Budapest, said I came to the right address and it is actually a residential apartment, not a hotel for tourists. Being a true gentleman, he initiated to call the number I previously intended to call. He spoke English with hints of Hungarian words on the phone with the apartment official.

Buda Castle at Night

His tone of voice sounded more certain, “So I can leave her there?” The other party replied briefly. Then, he ended the conversation, “Thank you, bye.”

“Well, you know, you should go to this address. They should tell you that in a better way.” His index finger pointed to some other digits and foreign words that I missed on the left side:

One-bedroom Apartment (3 adults) – 1055 Kossut tér 13-15

Hold utca 29 is the company office address, not the accommodation itself. Unless anyone gets the key from its employees, nobody will be able to enter the apartment. Later on, I noticed that the map shown on my paper belongs to 1055 Kossut tér 13-15, not Hold utca 29. That’s why I got it all wrong!

The next heroic thing he did was to walk with me, showing where 1055 Kossut tér 13-15 was. The place was right across the left-wing side of the famous Hungarian Parliament Building. In other words, Booking.com didn’t bully me at all on this one. I was instructed to wait in front of the real building I would sleep tonight to get the key. In the mean time, I received a text from my former schoolmates who was about to share the room with me, asking what Andi Studio signboard thingy got to do with the apartment. I replied that the address wasn’t the one they came and join me instead.

Parliament Building at Night – birds (or moth, I’m not sure) flying high above the dome makes it look like a Gotham City
The view from the apartment window. Day and night constructions create loud and terrible noises in a goodnight sleep.

I utterly said millions of thanks to the Italian gentleman who spared his time to help the lost Asian gal standing on his doorstep. I thanked God for sending me someone with a decent profession who speaks excellent English to show me the way.

If only I called the apartment contact number earlier. If only Booking.com gave clearer (or additional) information in order not to confuse me. If only I were a bit smarter. The search of the apartment would take only 30 minutes, 45 minutes the latest, not 150 minutes! At 9.15 pm, the head office woman, who spoke whatever languages that came to her mind from English, German to French with the skills of merely touching the surface, arrived with the key and took us to our room on the 2nd floor.

The Apartment Ground Floor

My 2 gals asked me how I carried the heavy luggage all by myself. Their jaws dropped when I said I used stairs. As we headed to McDonald’s at Nyugati Station for dinner, they showed me descending slopes on the right and left-wing entrance of the station for those who drag suitcases like me! I guess I learned it the hard way.

A joyful reunion with my former schoolmates for the first time after graduation was an indescribable feeling. No matter what happened, I think it was the best painkiller of an enduring journey before a package meal from McDonald’s!

My dinner: Tzaziki McWrap

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EUROMAP

EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!

It’s Always Sunny in Copenhagen

All right, folks. The title of my post is a contradiction to what happens every December in Copenhagen and the rest of Europe. I would like to clarify that it is neither about the next season nor the Scandinavian version of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia“. Moreover, I don’t know what the popular American sitcom is all about since I haven’t watched it, but at least I know what my post is all about.

I had a wonderful time in Copenhagen back in summer 2007 and the recent Eurotrip three months ago. “Sunny” is a metaphor to express joy and happiness of summer sunshine without rain interruptions made my fun days longer to mingle with crowds. Observing various outdoor activities to celebrate the weather that only comes about two to three months in a year has expanded my horizon about the Danish capital, more than merely finding interesting stuff to see.

I believe a story in pictures is the most suitable way to share my travel experiences, mostly taken in my recent visit and a few from year 2007.

PROVOCATIVE

Pussy Riot supporters greeted me on the first day of my visit with a banner “BEFRI PUSSY RIOT” (Free Pussy Riot). A provocative day to start my activity in the city! They protested on a verdict of the two-year imprisonment of each band member. I spotted them from Amelienborg entrance courtyard.

My initial intention was to capture a beautiful dragon sculpture on top of the gate that reminds me of great European fairy tales and Hollywood movies: Eragon, How to Train a Dragon, Lord of the Rings…oh, you name it. But then, I read the inscription on the door: “Fashion is for Idiots”. As a fashion school graduate, i find it provocative. And I love it! I regret not having a chance to see its t-shirt collections.

The Danes seems effortlessly talented in design. Browse the shopping street areas and you will notice it doesn’t take a genius to notice design stores in Copenhagen, from furniture, hair accessories, home decorations, etc. If you have heard or seen Pandora, Pilgrim, Malene Birger, Georg Jensen or Bestseller’s fashion group flagship stores in your country, remember: they are from Denmark!

Suppose you want to know more about Danish design, which is well-known for its simplicity and functionality, you are welcome to visit the Danish Design Museum situated in the downtown area of Copenhagen. Let me know how it is, cause I haven’t been there….

SERVING THE COUNTRY

My dad came inside one of the wooden red huts in Amalienborg, the winter palace and official residence of the Danish royal family, to fulfill his curiosity. Suddenly, one of the Danish royal guards urged him to step aside. “The maximum distance you can stand is 1.5 meters from here!” He pointed the imaginary border line to define how far people are allowed to approach the royal guard area, from which the starting point is the red huts. I peeped from the distance what was inside the tube’s back door: the guard’s hanging black jacket. I almost did the same as what my dad did, but I put in on hold after the warning.

The heart-shaped peep hole is part of the royal guard’s red hut. I took the picture at the Kastellet, the old fortification district built in 1626 by King Christian IV to protect against Swedish invasion. Nowadays, it is a public park. All the guards’ tubes have that tiny heart, including the ones in Amalienborg. Coincidentally, there was no guard around the area, so I felt free to capture it. I think it’s cute. Why heart shape? I don’t know. Well, let’s put it this way: it signifies the Danes’ deep love for their country and kingdom.

On the way back to the hotel, I decided to take a different path that ended up at the Kastellet rear entrance. From the distance, I saw a green-uniformed guard on the left side, as green as the tree behind him, pointing at the guys fishing in the river. I don’t know what he shouted and it was too far to read his lips. Right after that, those guys stopped doing what they were doing. Most probably the guard shouted, “No fishing!” in Danish.

I found something very Danish here: a Danish Royal Guard made of Lego bricks at a Lego store in Strøget.

EXPRESS YOURSELF

Copenhagen highly respects one’s faith and identity. There’s no taboo to show it in public.

These 2 girls offered themselves as models free of charge in a gay pride festival and many viewers queued up just to be photographed with them.

A drag queen and her guardian angels in a Thai restaurant on a gay pride festival. Where are the wings?

Hare Krishna devotees chanted religious songs on the same day as a gay pride festival.

If not revealing your identity, simply do what you love to do. Getting some changes is an advantage.

NYHAVN IN A SHOESTRING

Nyhavn is famous for its canal cruise, rows of cafés and restaurants and Hans Christian Andersen’s residence on Nyhavn no. 20 and no. 67. And one more thing, a tourist trap price lists! No worries, there are other ways to hang out for $5 or less or….free.

Sitting by the canal banks is a very relaxing way to enjoy summer in Copenhagen. Get your Carlsberg from home or supermarket and drink it there!

Crêpes filled with banana and Nutella and sandwich with Danish sausage are options to eat cheap. I have a good news for Asian tourists. There’s a Thai restaurant near the end of the row suppose you miss rice and spicy flavour. The price? I can guarantee it’s affordable and has a big portion!

The entrance fee for watching a street performance is just a small amount of gratuity for the artist. Don’t have one? Just run away after the show!

DON’T TELL ME YOU’VE BEEN TO COPENHAGEN WITHOUT…..

Tivoli Garden and Hans Christian Andersen beat the fame of the Vikings who once expanded their territory in Denmark. Suppose you’re not a fan of amusement park, at least take a picture of yourself with Tivoli entrance gate as a background. And pose with HC Andersen’s statue as well!

Don’t get disappointed, the iconic Little Mermaid statue is smaller than it appears in postcards and travel magazines. It was sculpted by Edvard Ericsen, donated by Carl Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg beer, to the city of Copenhagen in 1913.

Carl Jacobsen has its replica made of bronze in his private garden in Carlsberg Brewery, sculpted by Paul Louritz Rasmussen.

A nomad souvenir shop selling Little Mermaid merchandise

BATTLE OF THE SEXES BIRDS

Another amusing scenes to see during summer time free of charge and no tips needed: battle of the birds!

Fuck off birdie, the food is MINE!!

Two things wild animals love the most in summer: food and people who feed them. How can I forget the way the hungry ducks stared at my mom? Nope! To be exact, staring at a small piece of bread in my mom’s hand, waiting to be thrown. I really laughed out loud watching them. I guess they are more greedy rather than hungry. Nonetheless, ducks are not selfish, you know! Once they see the sign of food giveaway, they quacked their peers to swim from the other side of the lake or river to get it. Distance doesn’t matter. And doves hardly get their turn.

I don’t think I need to tell who the winner of summer 2012 bird’s battle was: DUCKS!

Copenhagen has been my favourite meeting point to see my best friend living in Helsingborg, Sweden. She said I’m a lucky gal that it always greets me with sunshine every time I come. I guess she’s right. Or may be it’s just because I’ve never been to the city in winter. Whatever the reason is, I have found an ideal place for short breaks (if not too far from Asia). What a sunny summer holiday!

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EUROMAP

EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!

How to Spend 7 Hours in Aarhus

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/aarhus-2592.html

Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, was the next destination of Princess Cruise excursion after Oslo. Aarhus is as compact as Copenhagen where you can reach anywhere on foot. Even so, you need to know that another implicit meaning of traveling by cruise ship is you can’t have it all. What do you expect to know everything about a place in less than 24 hours? You might need to choose between visiting a royal palace, a viking museum, or just skimming all landmarks without reaching particular places.

We only had 7 hours to explore the city. We didn’t lock specific “targets” as long as we managed to see Aarhus Cathedral and Den Gamle By.  Hey, did I say we didn’t lock our  “targets”? Whatever. The Aarhus Cathedral is just 5 minutes walking distance from the harbour. So yeah, there was no need to chase it at all.

the wooden door and fresco gate
fresco ceiling

The church looks plain at a glance with less sculptures and much more painted white walls than frescoes. Taking a better look at the frescoes, I said to myself, “Man, this cathedral must be really old.” The colours are not as bright and contrast as those in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican.

the altar
war ship model made for Peter the Great

Aarhus Cathedral was built after year 1190 and finished in 1350, dedicated to St. Clements, the patron saint of sailors. It is one of the few preserved Romanesque churches in history and the longest church in Denmark with 93 meters length. The frescoes, created between 1470 and 1520, once covered most parts of the wall. Nonetheless, they are only a few remains nowadays. I can imagine how beautiful the interior supposed to be, and it still is despite the fading colours of the frescoes. I guess the sculptures are just complementary of the design, otherwise it looks too chaotic.

Besides, it also stores a model war ship, hanged on the ceiling and failed to ship to Peter the Great in Russia because of the shipwreck in Skagen. Local fishermen bought the model and donated to the church. Don’t forget to listen the beautiful sound of religious music from the largest organ pipe in the country inside the cathedral!

even a wooden sculpture knows how to use iPhone!

On the way to Den Gamle By, the famous old town of Aarhus, we walked through the main shopping street, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum until an empty gloomy shop window and a tacky Vietnamese wedding gown shop. So where was it?

the bird statue marking our way back to the ship
ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum and “Your Rainbow Panorama” by Olafur Eliasson. It permits visitors to walk in circular motion to view Aarhus in different colours depending on the angle

“Just walk straight there, we’re on the right direction.” said my cousin, our co-pilot of the day. He tried to convince everyone after one of us popped up a question, “Are we there yet?” . “Don’t say that it’s under construction when we arrive!” We laughed out loud.

From the other side of the street, we saw some groups of people heading to the left side. Also the back row of old houses with workers hammering nails and drilling bricks. The whole area was surrounded by wall to seclude itself from the rest of the city. We believed that was our Den Gamle By and we hoped it wasn’t under construction! Surprisingly, it requires an entrance fee to go inside. To be honest, we haven’t  visited any old town with a fee. Moreover, the queue to the ticket counters was freaking long, implying that it was still open for public. Finally my parents, aunt and uncle didn’t feel like going in.

Den Gamle By is a man-made open air museum, founded in 1909, to exhibit the lifestyle of the old Danish settlement, from traditional houses coming from all cities in Denmark, museums, shops, streets and yards. No wonder why we need a ticket!

Since there was no ticket controller right in front the old town entrance, some other tourists, including some Chinese couples, managed to sneak in without being noticed. An inspiring act, haha! My cousin and I decided to do the same!

old bed
old house interior
Strike a pose before escaping!

We didn’t know how things work there and we could get caught anytime. I took pictures quickly and my cousin  the co-pilot struck a pose in front of the camera just before we escaped. We succeed fulfilling our curiosity without spending a dime in less than 5 minutes and didn’t get caught!

hip hip hurra!

Our 2 favourite Danish words: tilbud and hip hip hurra. Everytime we saw the word tilbud, items sold in stores are on sale. And Hip Hip Hurra is what? The Dutch calls it Hip Hip Hoera, with exactly the same pronunciation as the Danish one, the English calls it Hooray (do I still need to translate this?). Eventually my family and my cousin’s bought same items: discounted placemats, as the only souvenir we think is useful, cheap and light to bring.

modified rooftop

While heading back to the harbour, we passed by an old house with an additional glass attic on its modified rooftop. I could see chairs and a table inside from the distance, assuming that it’s an extended meeting room. I found it a breaking through design, sort of like IM Pei‘s glass pyramid in the middle of the iconic Louvre courtyard. Nonetheless, my mom called it destruction of an antique design.

Aarhus embraces a slow pace of life and happy-go-lucky kind of atmosphere, one of the perfect places to visit where you don’t need to think too much about almost everything without being isolated from a modern city life. Sometimes, chasing tourist attractions doesn’t mean much compared to spending quality time with your family. Just go with the flow and it will be very relaxing. Aren’t they the reasons why you need a holiday(s)?

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/aarhus-2592.html

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EUROMAP

EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!

Days at Baltic Sea

 

Baltic Sea Cruise routes in chronological order: Copenhagen – Oslo – Aarhus – Tallinn – St. Petersburg – Helsinki – Stockholm – Copenhagen

Twelve of thirty days of my recent Eurotrip was at sea. Seven months after Costa Concordia disaster, my family and I took a Baltic Sea excursion from Princess Cruise (where both brands are coincidentally under the same parent company, Carnival Corporation), starting from Copenhagen (as marked by the following black dot).

For many, a cruise ship is a luxury vehicle sailing to reach any desired destination. But for many others, it is actually the destination – far more important than where it docks. So let’s skip the disaster part, and let me tell you the meaning of Escape Completely, as mentioned on Princess Cruise’s tagline.

NEW IN TOWN

Emerald Princess

Once being on board, you’re registered in the town hall of Emerald Princess, the name of the ship taking you to Baltic Sea. Your cruise card is the second most important thing you need to carry at all times after your passport to enter your stateroom, make purchases and re-board the ship.

The flag on the right side signifies the country you visit
outdoor sports

Bring the map to find where you can find the ship’s luxurious facilities, from fitness, library, casino, discotheque to photo studio, so you don’t need to sacrifice your needs, hobbies and habits completely. Only machine rooms, crew’s cabins and the least wanted places to go – jail and mortuary – are not on your map. Without it, some passengers cannot find their own stateroom on the first and second day! Getting to know other passengers travelling with you could make you feel like home, too.

Skywalker Nightclub

NEVER ENDING FOOD SUPPLY

fine dining experience

Variety of food is two thumbs up! So yeah, you’ll always wonder what they have for buffet, tea time and fine dining. Later on, you’ll get some clue about food availability.

I got it starting from the 4th day on. My favourite fennel salad with shrimps is available 24 hours only at International Café on deck 5. I could get double chocolate chip cookies at Horizon Court and Café Caribe on deck 15 during lunch and dinner, except breakfast. Pizza and ice cream parlour opens on deck 15 from 11 am to 11 pm. I could customize my orders at the five-star quality fine dining as long as it is on the menu. For instance, replacing shrimp cocktail with spaghetti Alfredo or skipping the fatty dessert to keep up a strict diet program.

Syamsi, an Indonesia crew, proudly poses for the farewell ice cream cake. It marks the end of the cruise on the way back to Copenhagen.

ENTERTAINMENT ON BOARD

“Life shows are like a box of chocolate. You never know what you gonna get.”

Princess Theater saved the best for last. I didn’t really fancy the first week shows, until I missed one of the best music performers on the last day! However, I managed to watch “International Crew Talent Show”, where the crews demonstrated their hidden talents, from traditional Balinese dance, belly dance, singing, drama until piano performances. To be honest, some crews sang as good as the professionals the company hired, even better!

For passengers who love singing, they can join Princess Pop Star competition. It’s like American Idol with more diverse nationalities. And my uncle made it to the grand final! Yeaayy! Or join Texas Hold’em Tournament for gamblers!

Princess Dancers

As a classical music lover, I found The Alegria String Quartet rocked The Piazza on deck 5. From Strauss, Mozart, Vivaldi until The Beatles, the 4 pretty ladies were violin and cello killers. On their peak performance, the Quartet’s leading lady asked a passenger’s participation to hold her violin’s bow. Then, she drew the strings across the bow the passenger held instead of drawing the bow across the strings. The audience was stunned and finally gave the longest applause in the end of the show.

Liam Steward, the singer and pianist entertaining at Crooners Bar every evening, could kill any song with that blew the audience away. The fact that he’s a hunk is an advantage!

Alegria String Quarter’s Peak Performance

ALL INCLUSIVE?

Knowing that you paid everything in advance, you might immediately believe that all kinds of facility, food and beverage are included in the price. My best advice is: do not hesitate to ask, especially with names or words that sound specific and rosy.

There are extra charges applied for alcoholic drinks, yoga, massage, particular activity like “creating your own matryoshka“, and specialised restaurants like Sabatini’s and Crown Grill have $25 cover charge. Internet connection costs $.79 per minute. Since it is only possible to use satellite to get the network at sea, the connection is slower than that at home and office. My cousin knows it best. He spent $11 for sending 2 short emails!

Holiday in a luxurious cruise ship is not a budget trip. It is meant for those who indulge, reward themselves with achievements in life: marriage, birthday, wedding anniversary, career promotion, successful business or just a family gathering. Certain retired couples with decent amount of retirement funds spend the rest of their life in the ship. Youngsters need to have more savings to pay the trip. FYI, the price for “non-free” food and drinks on board are fair, not too overwhelming. Nonetheless, there is no harm to think wisely before you spend.

INTANGIBLE LUXURY

Princess top deck

Departing, arriving or on the way to destined cities, the best place to witness breathtaking views are the outdoor section of deck 15 and 16. Oslo and Warnemünde are the prettiest cities seen from the top deck, as well as Stockholm while heading to and leaving the harbour (not when it docked). Moreover, clean breeze, sunshine and 20 degree temperature made the place heaven on earth that did not happen everyday.

feeding seagulls with ice cream cone (I know it’s not the best pic to capture the moment!)

Watching seagulls flying high so close to me, on the same level as I stood was another unforgettable experience. While a passenger was feeding seagulls with an ice cream cone, everybody laughed and took pictures of aggressive birds pecking the cone edges with hints of vanilla ice cream left inside.

stateroom corridor

$11 per day gratuity for the crews is part of the company’s house rules. However, making friends with them is what money can’t buy. It broadens your horizon about life behind all the luxurious service and facilities, from long working hours until their tradition, i.e. how Indonesian crews celebrate Indonesian independence day at sea. Since they come from various countries, who knows they have the same nationality as yours!

Besides, far far away from traffic jam and air pollution, picturesque sea view (especially for a city girl like me), friendship with other passengers are also priceless. For everything else, there is MasterCard Princess Cruise Card.

Give me more time to put my journey in words for all cities I visited. This I promise you in my next post.

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EUROMAP

EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, it’s made to do so!

Things I Shouldn’t Do While Travelling

Greetings from Budapest! Until the day I write this article, I’m still on the third week of my Eurotrip.

image

I post this through WordPress mobile version since I don’t bring my laptop. I promise to deliver more holiday pics as soon as I finish my journey.

So far, I’ve learned something from the trip, especially things I shouldn’t
do during the trip. Not something new to be honest, only things I forget and ignore.

DON’T BRING SPARE MEMORY CARDS
For those who are on a long trip and love taking pictures, not bringing spare memory cards is a disasterous decision. Resizing, sorting and deleting unwanted pics every night is a waste of time and energy. Moreover, bare in mind that if you have an old digital camera having less than 10 megapixels, you only can use a 2GB memory card. Higher capacity memory cards won’t comply with the old system. That’s why 4GB card doesn’t work on my 6 year old Lumix camera with 6 megapixels. It’s time consuming to search for an electronic store in touristic areas and 2GB cards are getting rare in the market nowadays.

LEAVE THE TOILET BOWL OPEN AFTER USE
It’s not about Feng Shui. I advise you to close the toilet bowl lid in wherever and whatever hotel you stay to keep your belongings away from the toilet bowl. When I was in Copenhagen, I accidentally dropped a 15 ml body lotion into a toilet bowl. What happened next was unexpected. That small bottle was sucked in automatically into the flushing hole instead of remaining still on the base of the bowl! I didn’t have time to catch the flowing bottle at all. In fact, the hotel toilet bowl has an automated vacuum capability, even without pressing the ‘flush’ button. Luckily the lotion was a complimentary from the hotel. What if it happens to your diamond ring??

CARELESS WITH SMALL CHANGES
Holiday is meant for relaxation. However, sometimes you just don’t want to sweat small stuff, including small changes you get from the store. I lost €20 change in Warnemunde just because I didn’t recount my changes before leaving the store. I spent approximately €7 in the cafe, then I gave the cashier lady a €50 banknote. After getting back to the cruise ship, I suddenly realized that I only had €23 left in my wallet! I supposed to have another €20 with me.

I wasn’t sure what was going on. Most probably the lady gave me wrong amount of change. However, I mostly suspected that my other €20 was gone with the wind. She put 2 times €20 bank notes and some coins on top. I grabbed the coins first and took too long to find my coin wallet. The wind was pretty strong at that time, the cashier was close to the exit door (no doors, btw) and the notes were brand new and smooth.

I believe one of them fell down because of the wind but I didn’t realize it. Nex time, grab the whole change all at once and arrange it in the proper place later on!

DO NOT LEARN FROM THE PAST
My history as a clumsy traveller repeats: I lost my 72 hour pass in Budapest on the second day! Years ago, I lost my ID card, ATM card, debit card, a few bucks of cash, public transportation monthly pass etc. It’s been my unwanted daily dose for a long time. I suppose to be more careful and do not hold maps, brochures and a card altogether at the same time. I’m sure it fell down, again….

Well, that’s all for now. I promise to tell you more stories of my journey after returning to Jakarta. Cheers!

Maastricht: Carnival Capital of The Netherlands

Maastricht might have been more well-known since Maastricht Treaty, which is responsible for Euro and European Union establishment. However, let’s focus on the cultural side of the town rather than politics and European economic crisis. Maastricht is the  capital city of Limburg province, the southern part of the Netherlands. Together with Noord-Brabant and Zeeland, also in southern Netherlands, Limburg is a Catholic cultured region.

In terms of carnivals, probably The Netherlands is not something that cross your mind at the first place. But actually, The Netherlands has various kinds of carnivals and festivals held in its major cities. Including the Catholic culture-based carnival celebrated mainly in southern Netherlands, resembling that in Italy and Brazil, where Maastricht is the carnival capital of the region. The parade takes place in main streets where famous landmarks are located, namely Bonnefanten Museum, Museum aan het Vrijhof, St. Janskerk, Stadhuis (Town Hall), St. Servaasbasiliek, Helpoort, Natuurhistorisch Museum and Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek.

Each year in February (or March, depending on the date of Easter), there’s a big event called Maastricht Carnival or Vastelonavend in Meestrecht in Dutch to celebrate the last day of eating and drinking fancily before the 40 days of fasting until Easter. It officially starts from Sunday (unofficially Saturday) to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. All participants usually have singing, dancing and music performances, and also create elaborated costumes, giant puppets, facial and body make-up. The three-day-carnivals are public holidays. Shops, schools, banks and offices are closed.

When I attended the carnival in 2007, I was in the final year of my study period in Amsterdam. I didn’t regret at all traveling 2.5 hours from Amsterdam by NS train just watch the parade. Did I say that some other cities in The Netherlands have carnivals too? That’s correct. Nevertheless, Maastricht is the main carnival town in The Netherlands where Catholic religion is the foundation of the festive event.

Meanwhile, what happened in Amsterdam and other cities in northern Netherlands on the same days? Nothing, really. The northern part is more protestant-oriented and normally they don’t celebrate religious events as lavishly as the CatholicsAmsterdammers did their daily routines on those Monday and Tuesday while the fun parade was still on in Maastricht. Amsterdam has a lot of festivals held several times a year, but there’s no such carnival with costumes, giant puppets and marching bands.

Still having Venice and Rio in my bucket list for the next carnival destinations, Maastricht Carnival was something worth to visit. My friend and I only came on Sunday, the first day of the carnival. Yet it felt like a breeze of warmth in the middle of chilly winter. Using only the first generation of Canon digital camera and old Samsung mobile camera (they were new at that time), images speak louder than words for such event. Nothing pretentious about them, nothing but fun, fun and fun!

JUST ABOUT TO START

It was approximately10.30 am. Maastricht Central Station and it surroundings was quiet, not as many people as expected. I was a bit worried that we were at the wrong place and time. Several minutes later, I started to see some people with their costumes walking towards the central station exit door, passing in front of the station, standing in the middle of the street chitchatting and rehearsing. It was a relieving sight, signifying we were in the right track. Participants or non-participants, both party dressed up as striking and colourful as possible. We didn’t expect the carnival goers wore outrageous costumes too, not only the performers. It was our first time ever to attend a carnival like this.

Bunch of weirdos on street. Get used to it!

Dragging a puppet to the main street. However, I didn’t see them anymore during the parade.

Yes, we’re ready!

LET’S GET IT STARTED!

“Star” is a symbol of Maastricht flag. A carnival theme that will never be outdated.

Carnevale di Venezia was the main inspiration of many participants.

Happiest toddlers of the day!

Vlaamse friets met knoflooksaus (fries with garlic sauce). Nice costume. But texting during the carnival parade, seriously??

This was my favourite giant puppet in the carnival. Look at the details on the left side. There were two dolls hanging on its waist. Weren’t they cute? And the early bird Santa Clauses dragging the puppet? Probably North Pole was still too cold for them.

These fellas were the most professional performers of the day.

No matter who you are, what you are or what you believe, carnival gathered everyone in a cheerful and peaceful way. Squeezing among the crowds was something inevitable, could be tiring and troublesome. Still, I’d rather be one of the crowds than just watching the crowds. I loved the atmosphere and the excitement of Maastricht people with this event.

END OF THE DAY

Family Portrait – everyone celebrated the carnival, from toddlers to senior citizens. After a long walk being the centre of attention, it was time to capture a living memory with a camera.

The party was nearly over. Nobody wanted it over, indeed.

They needed a break, too.

Glasses and bottles of beers were scattered especially right outside the restaurants and bars. A friend of mine got an idea of taking  empty glasses of Gulpener beer on street as a free souvenir. We haven’t heard brand before in Amsterdam, so it was fun to do and nobody noticed what we did. I should take the bottle too, but my backpack was too heavy. I was glad that there were no stinky streets as it has less portable toilets, trashes were much less than those in Amsterdam on Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day (check my older post for this subject), it was a saver place for an outdoor event and more friendly people in the neighbourhood.

I haven’t really seen the town itself, but it is actually a beautiful place to visit. For once in a lifetime, spare some of your time to join the crowds. Get some costumes if you can. As the old saying, the more the merrier!

Koninginnedag Amsterdam Remembered

I’m just about to start finishing the last sequel of Penang post. But before I know it, it’s already a countdown to April 30 when this post was written. I guess I need to put it off and switch my subject related to April 30 for now. What’s so special about it anyway? No worries, the answer won’t be my birthday 😉

Every year on April 30 is koninginnedag (queen’s day) in The Netherlands to celebrate their queen’s birthday. April 30 refers to Queen Juliana‘s birthday, the mother of Queen Beatrix. Although she passed away in 2004 and her daughter now reigns the country, the date of koninginnedag remains unchanged. It is probably the most joyful day for Dutch people in 365 days apart from spring, summer, winter and Christmas holidays.

I joined the crowds for 6 consecutive years in Amsterdam with a group of friends until I left in 2009. I have to thank my friend who captured these wonderful pictures. I borrowed his camera to snap my favourite objects, too. Even though I wasn’t there this year, I believe these pictures taken between 2002 and 2009 still represent the Dutch tradition of celebrating the national festive holiday until now.

ORANJEGEKTE PEDESTRIANS 

Main streets for public transportation are strictly for pedestrians, especially for koninginnedag. Therefore, trams and buses have to use alternative routes and adjust their schedule. Metro (subway) is more effective to reach distant locations, but walking is the best way to enjoy koninginnedag. It is interesting to be on street, mingling with oranjegekte – the crowds wearing orange t-shirts, hats, scarves and jackets. Also, find some more orange colour on their hair, face and body. Or Dutch flag colour (red-white-blue) on cheeks and foreheads. Residents decorate buildings with orange – the Royal Dutch colour – attributes. Schools, offices, department stores, boutiques are closed.

FLEA MARKETS RULE!

Flea markets rule on every corner and main street in Amsterdam, whose vendors are ordinary people in the neighborhood from children, adolescents, adults to senior people. So forget about shopping at Zara, G-Star or Diesel on that day – they are closed. Weeks before queen’s day, participants need to make a reservation to get the spot to spread their carpets, build a tent or stall. Exclusively on queen’s day, reservations are free and government does not collect taxes from sales income. They sell used personal belongings they want to get rid of. Basically, it’s just the way to participate this special occasion for fun. Earning some euros is a plus.

The golden rule for shopping on koninginnedag: cheap second hand goods. Plus high quality or branded equals to perfect. Take your time to walk browsing each stall, including those on the alleys. Surprises are coming to your way.

My favourite “hunting field” was near the border of Amsterdam – Amstelveen, whose inhabitants are high-paid expatriates, mainly Japanese and upper class local people. Frankly speaking, Japanese “trashes” (read: used belongings) are the best so far. Their goods are too good to tosh in trash, some are even in nearly perfect condition. They sell unique things, such as original merchandise from Japanese airline companies, ANA and JAL (I believe they actually got them for free), Japanese comics, magazines, anime toys, posters and dolls. Take tram 5 or metro 51 to get there, stop at AJ. Ernststraat station, and walk a bit further to the left side.

My other favourite “hunting field” was antiquities somewhere at Beethovenstraat. In reality, I never purchased anything from there since my apartment was too small. Decorating a place with old stuff without a proper plan means collecting trashes. Moreover, I was a foreigner who never knew where destiny would take me after graduation. Having experience with antiquities is an advantage when it comes to value and originality. I have a fond of them, minus the expertise. The same tram 5 take you there, stop at Beethovenstraat. Suppose there is no tram, just follow tram 5 railway on foot instead.

My best second hand deals from various locations: Miss 60 mini skirt (€5), Morgan camisole (€2), Disney Babies baby clothing for my nephew (€15), Pikachu (of Pokémon) handkerchief (€0.70), fluffy anime key chains and dolls (€0.10 – €0.50), Nijntje (Miffy) toilet seat cover (€5).

Shopping on queen’s day seems very cheap, but it might end up with bringing other people’s trashes you don’t need. And what if you get snacks and drinks from one stall to another? You’ll be surprised how much you spend in one day. €100 or more? Could be! I tried my best to reduce impulsive buying behaviour to save money.

Nonetheless, not all flea markets sell second hand goods. Quite a lot of vendors offer factory outlet garments, branded good fractions, low end electronic gadgets etc. I call these people “the opportunists” and most of them are immigrants from Turkey, Morocco, Eastern European countries to name a few. Besides, some souvenir shops – especially in Damrak – and independent retailers selling special priced queen’s day related items, from clothing, accessories to non-permanent paints.

MERCHANDISE GIVEAWAY

Join the crowds earlier before streets are too packed with people. Nice stuffs from flea markets are easier to get before noon as well as free merchandise from huge corporations along the way. I got an orange balloon crown from Staatsloterij, a Dutch lottery company, that came with a lottery number I could send to the head office for free. But damn, I didn’t win it ;(

Others got lion paw-shaped sandals from ING, “mad hatter” style hat from Heineken and many more. None of them was precious, indeed. Generally, the crowds love the idea of getting stuffs for free, although within a couple of hours they might dump them on street or garbage bin. I like collecting things, so I still keep the one I didn’t blow at home.

However, in the end, it depends on your luck.

Somebody climbed the pillar to reach the queen’s head at Vondelpark. She was wearing Staatloterij’s balloon crown.

STREET FOOD AND BEVERAGES

Apart from selling second hand goods, residents open stalls selling various kinds of food and drinks. Amsterdam is a multicultural city, street food is not limited to only Dutch food. Chinese spring rolls, dumplings, rice box, Dutch poffertjes, Indonesian loempia’s, fried noodles, German bradwurst, Spanish churros and Turkish kebab. Here, earning euros is mandatory if not just a plus.

Restaurants, cafes, bars in the city centre usually operate to boost their sales. In fact, many restaurants even purposely build stalls outside their outlets selling special set menus to attract floods of passing crowds. Big supermarket chains like Albert Heijn in touristic areas are open. I prefer buying drinks from supermarkets because they are cheaper than stalls. Opening beverage stalls on queen’s day is usually profitable. Vendors can charge you double when drinks are served cold.

PERFORMING ART

Non-famous musicians try to promote their albums by having live concert on street while displaying CDs or DVDs to sell; music school students put their skill to the test by playing music instruments; residents practice singing and dancing skills in public; amateur DJs and bands entertain crowds voluntarily; amateur gymnasts demonstrate acrobatic movements; unknown street actors do pantomime; etc. Koninginnedag is the right moment to show performing art capabilities. A lot of them put a glass or a can beside them to get some tips, except amateur DJs and bands on stage.

Muziek, dans, biertje! Keep the party rocking!

At Teasers Amsterdam, all the girls do not only become oranjegekte and dance on the table inside the bar, but also entertain crowds outside.

All nationalities participate on queen’s day, including Indian musicians. I think I had seen these guys more than once…

Dutch bands and singers are in concert in Museumplein free of charge for public. It usually starts after lunch, but I preferred coming after 5 pm since the A-Lists show up later. As the old saying, save the best for last.

Strike a pose with trashes in Museumplein

After the concert, trashes are beyond imagination. Same story for other areas in Amsterdam. For certain people, it’s a blessing in disguise for extra money. The government needs more street sweepers to clean the city back to normal overnight.

GAMES AND KERMIS

Besides selling food and second hand goods, residents create games where everyone can join. It requires a small amount of money to join. The games tend to be simple and low cost.

Throw the white helmet guy with eggs and get the reward

I don’t know who organized bungee jumping at that time, but I believe a corporate provided this game since it should be handled by professionals and safety is the biggest concern of all.

Kermis at Dam Square

Unlike other games held by individuals or corporate, kermis is not held solely on queen’s day. Amsterdam has it four times a year regardless the nation’s public holiday. Kermis is derived from two Dutch words: kerk (church) and mis (mass). It was originally a market to celebrate a patron saint consecration day. Nowadays, people from big cities neglect the religious meaning of the event. Nonetheless, the fun stays forever. Merry-go-round, haunted house, roller coaster, sling shot, bumper car, you name it. Taste assorted peanut and pop corn flavours, suikerspin, bradwurst, vlaamse frites, oliebollen, waffles after the rides.

CANAL BOAT TRIP

How about fun ride along Amsterdam canals that stretch for hundreds of kilometers by boat? Otherwise, just watch oranjegekte in action instead.

URINARY ODOUR

The most inconvenient part of queen’s day is the toilet. The picture shown above is the most common and practical portable toilet available in Amsterdam as it doesn’t waste a lot of space. However, I really despise it because only men can use it and the smell is OMG hell on earth!!! Urinary smell contaminates fresh air since it has no door and you cannot flush it!!! Portable cabin toilets with a door and a flusher are mostly found in the outdoor music concert in Museumplein.

The queue is freaking horrible. Some guys who can’t hold it any longer either pee-pee on the grass, behind the bushes or even on corners of the street. Toilet rates at Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s and Burger King increase, sometimes double, every queen’s day and the queue is also like hell. But at least a bit cleaner than the open air portable toilets. Many restaurants’ toilets are suddenly unavailable for a day with the announcement “GEEN WC” or “NO TOILETS”. It is so understandable why they do that for the sake of their customers’ convenience.

Amsterdam Centrum was my daily dose, I passed same routes everyday to go to work and school. I remembered main toilet locations and rates, including the free of charge ones. My favourite toilet spots on queen’s day were Pathé de Munt Cinema and NH Grand Krasnapolsky Hotel in Damrak because they were free all year long. I pretended as a Chinese or Japanese hotel guest at Krasnapolsky, hanging a camera on my neck, and sneaked into the toilet immediately. A few McDonald’s flagships had free toilets at that time, except on queen’s day. Anyways, when nature called and things were inevitable, I directly went to nearest toilet regardless the rate.

EPILOQUE: LAST BUT NOT LEAST….

Every year on koninginnedag, I spotted a lot of ducks with their new family members (read: cubs), including in the river in front of my apartment. Was it just a coincidence?

I found the mommy duck and her cubs in their nest somewhere on the side of Amsterdam canal. Littering in their nest is the sign of ignorance of other living creatures living side by side with human beings.

So, my dear friends. Several things to remember: beware of pickpockets, hold your breath when necessary, spend your money wisely, don’t get drunk and ruin other people’s happiness, check tram and metro schedules and please litter in provided garbage bin when available.

Enjoy queen’s day responsibly. Lang leve de koningin! Long live the queen!