Thursday, May 7, 2009

Orange you glad its Queen's Day?

I have had the true Holland and Dutch experience, April 29th and 30th is the national holiday called Koninginnedag Queen's day. The celebrations begin mid afternoon on the evening before. I spent Queen's night in Leiden, walking, drinking, and dancing along side all the Dutch.

Queen's Day was spent in Amsterdam. I thought Amsterdam was a crowded city on the weekends when I was there and it was good weather. I had no idea that Amsterdam could hold the amount of people it did on this day. It was a sea of Orange! Everything I had read and watched on youtube didn't do Queen's day justice. It is defiantly an experience that can't be explained. The city streets are covered in orange everything, people wearing the "orangest" costumes and celebrating their culture. Its a celebration of the Queen's birthday. It is also the one day the Dutch are able to sell anything they want on the streets...its a huge public garage sale. There is music everywhere and heaving drinking happening everywhere. It is a festival that was something I have never been apart of before. The canals are also full of boats decorated in orange and playing all sorts of music. Its a party for the entire country and a majority come to Amsterdam. The 'Dam Square' had a large fairis wheel along with carnival rides. This is a celebration for all ages. The celebration lasts long into the morning celebrating the Queen's birthday.

The North Sea...Katwijk Beach

The last few weeks I have spent time experiencing Holland and the sunny weather, yes there is some sunny days. A few weekends back my friend Scott and I took our bikes to go to the beach. After 14 1/2 miles we ended up at small beach town Katwijk. Able to soak up the sun and be on a beach was a great change in scenery. I even got a sun burn! I did dip my toes into the North Sea and it was bitter cold. The one thing that I found interesting was the Dutch were out sun bathing, it was still chilly with the wind but they were out enjoying the "warm" weather. I did see one women get it the WATER! She is a brave women. I have posted some photos of the day Scott and I had at the beach.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I arrived to Prague very late Thursday night, my flight was delayed…what a surprise. I have noticed that flights are more delayed in Europe than in other places I have traveled…and usually the weather is fine when they are delayed. I had booked a hotel for this trip, I had researched Hostels but the availability wasn’t working out for this trip. The hotel wasn’t close to the center of town but Prague has many options of public transportation. I came to Prague to see the city but also I came to visit a friend I went to college with. I was told that Prague is known for its Beers and for its Beautiful women; I saw a city that had more to offer than that.

It was Thursday night in Prague; we headed out to find a pub. The beer in Prague is cheap and they are served in half liters. The average beer cost around 2 to 3 US dollars near the center and the cheapest beer I drank was under a dollar (Exchange rate was 1 Kroner = 21.50 US Dollar and 1 Euro = close to 27 K). My friend Scott and I found a pub that seemed to go on forever, every time we went into a new room of the pub there seemed to be another extension, it was like a maze! (Wished I remembered the name) We had several beers there, I met an older English guy who was living in Turkey but used to live in Leiden Netherlands so we enjoyed the conversation with him. I talked about Leiden with him and he couldn’t believe that I was out visiting Prague.

Prague is also another city that never sleeps. It was close to 4 am when I decided to turn in and people were still drinking and having a great time in the pubs. The next morning I tried my first Czech breakfast, bologna, cheese, muesli with yogurt, and boiled eggs. Something about this breakfast didn’t agree with me so I spent the first morning in Prague under the weather. I still ventured out but at a slower pace. First day in Prague, Scott and I covered some ground; we went to Hardcany, which is the castle, cathedral, and old royal palace. We made our way up to the highest point in Prague. On top of the hill it over looked new and old town of Prague. On top of the highest point of Prague is a Skate park! It was crazy, one way I sat and watched all ages skate board and do tricks and then the other view was the city of Prague, Scott and I sat up on the hill for an hour of so discussing how nothing in America is close to the history and sites you see in Europe. The weather the entire weekend was perfect, I wore short sleeves and even a skirt one day it was so warm. Close to mid 70’s everyday! I think I might have gotten a little sun burned one day on my arms! It was perfect. It prepared me for spring…Holland never gets that warm. Before we walked around the castle we stumbled upon the Czech soccer stadium, we went inside and it was so cool to sit in the stands and admire their facilities. I wished there had been a game that weekend; I have yet to see a live soccer match. I had my first Czech meal, meat goulash with bread…It was delicious!

Friday evening, we went to Karlovy Lazne, the largest club in Prague. Its five stories and 5 different clubs in one, each floor was a different type of music. The First floor had a Heineken Beer bar as well as a dance floor playing the top 40 hits, it was the smallest space. The second floor was 80’s/ 90’s music, it had a disco floor with the squares that light up, and this floor seemed to be the most packed…Europe loves the 80’s. When we were on this floor we herd ‘Barbie Girl’ and everyone seemed to go crazy for this song. The third floor was Techno and Trance, it had more lasers, smoke machines, and energy than I have seen in a club I had been to. I spent some time on this floor; I love the progressive trance and techno that the DJ was playing. The Forth floor was the hip hop dance level and it was really packed. The fifth floor was the chill out floor, it had trance playing but there were couches, bean bags, and tables to sit at everywhere. It was a really nice floor to chill out drink and talk. Each floor had both walls illuminated with light shows going on. This club had something that appealed to everyone’s tastes. We arrived at 12:30 am and didn’t leave till close to 5:00 am…the clubs and bars never close! We were worn out but had such a fun night dancing to every type of music on every floor. I turned into my hotel and watched the sun rise from my room. The sunrise was really gorgeous.

Sunday in Prague, Scott and I had planned to see a few more things in the city and then that afternoon we were getting picked up to see his town about 40 miles away from Prague. We both decided we wanted to see the Astronomical Clock; it features a mechanical performance by Christ and the Apostles. It hangs on the Town Hall. This is also located in the Staromestske Square; it’s the city’s main square and market. It was full of people enjoying the weather as well as the Easter weekend festivities. It was time to head to Louny. I was very excited to see outside of Prague. Once we were picked up and in the car outside of Prague, the landscape was hilly, green, and just full of small towns scattered along the way. Arriving in Louny Scott showed me around the small town, and then it was time for lunch. I GOT MEXICAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know, it wasn’t authentic Mexican food but it was the closest thing to it, and I was completely satisfied! I ordered chips and salsa as well as a pork and chicken burrito; I was all smiles after this. I had gotten some Mexican food in Europe! There is a story about paying for lunch as well, both of us had been out late the night before and neither of us had checked to see how much cast we had on us and well we came up short when the bill came…Scott had to run to the ATM while I stayed as collateral for the meal. We both felt horrible but we laughed it off after. After the fulfilling meal we set off to see where Scott was working, the baseball field in the park. Scott is coaching baseball in Louny. It was a good day in Prague. In the town of Louny Scott is one of three Americans, many do not speak English so he had to learn a lot of Czech before coming over. He also is teaching English as a side job. I was really impressed with his Czech speaking skills. That evening we went to the other coaches house to meet his family and have a BBQ, I was so full from Mexican I couldn’t eat but I ate anyways. Meeting Peter and his family I was so grateful for the hospitality they offered me. The evening consisted of great traditional Czech BBQ, tasting of many Czech alcoholic drinks and Vino under the stars. They were so interested in my studies as well as how Scott and I became friends. It was nice to just sit around a grill and have a few drinks and spend time with such great people. Reminded me of home, it was nice to feel at ease with complete strangers. The next morning I woke up preparing to head back to Prague. We had looked at the bus schedule and decided to get the before noon bus into the city, so I could see more of Prague and have time to pack cause I had a 7:00 am flight Monday morning. Due to it being the day before Easter and Sunday the buses were running less frequently, we waited at the bus terminal in Louny for 4 hours for a bus. Both of us were worried there wasn’t a bus coming, but finally we were able to catch a bus. Back in Prague I packed for my trip the next morning and then it was time to head back out into the city for my last afternoon and evening in Prague. We went back towards the Astronomical clock and sat in the square and enjoyed beers and a small snack. That evening we wanted to get either Thai food or Asian cuisine. We found neither that was in our price range. But to our advantage we were walking down one of the many narrow streets in Prague and both herd some familiar music playing. We walked closer to hear nothing but Reggae playing, both of us were automatically sold on walking into this place to have a drink. Scott and I have always had similar likings to music and we both were very satisfied with our choice of stumbling into this pub. The restaurant/pub was set up with booths and tables but with a very chill atmosphere, warm colors and pillows scattered about. We picked a corner spot and ordered some house wine. I am becoming a wino. We ended up having food and a lot more wine in this pub. It was called Ethos Restaurant and pub it had been open for 19 years. We decided to just continue to talk and enjoy the music that night, I wasn’t in the mood to go out and party hard for my last night in Prague. After leaving the Ethos restaurant I wanted to walk across the famous Charles Bridge, it was beautiful the castle on the hill was lit up along with the entire city, I was able to capture some awesome night photography here. This was defiantly the best close of a trip, South African Wine, Reggae, and great conversation with the only familiar face I knew in Europe!


I headed to Dublin on March 20th, 2009. I went with a few of my fellow University students on the short trip to Ireland. We stayed near the Temple Bar area at a very nice hostel called the Four Courts Hostel. I had many firsts on this trip, my first good hamburger (I don’t eat much meat but the burgers in Europe aren’t to my standards). I tried my first Guinness, and I loved it! I had my first viewing of Irish men wrestling on the floor of my hostel at 3 am when I am trying to get some rest. I was able to visit Meath and Newgrange… A burial tomb that is older than the pyramids. Ireland was a busy city, full of TAXI’s which was very strange. I was able to see Trinity College as well as Dublin Castle both were very cool to walk around and observe. We as a group realized we were in Dublin when the Rugby Grand Slam Tournament was happening. Ireland is exceptional at Rugby and was playing in the tournament undefeated, if they won the last match they would be the champions as well as undefeated and this had not happened in 61 years. Turns out that Ireland won and Dublin was in complete celebration all night! It was epic to watch and be apart of. We made a small train ride adventure to the neighboring village of Howth which is a port on the coast of Ireland outside of Dublin, it was beautiful. I ate fish and chips while watching the seals and the sun set. Ireland was a great trip to follow up from my Spring Break in Rome.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Trip to Wine Country

We woke early to head North to Siena, Italy. It’s a sister town of Florence. We were meeting a guide and driver to take us into the wine country of Tuscany where Siena and Montalcino is located. We had to take a train for a few hours to get to Siena. The train ride was spent resting everyone was still adjusting to the time change, and I was recovering from the night before out at the clubs. We were heading to Montalcino a small village where Fanti Winery was, to explore and get a better idea of how the Brunello wines are made. Everything was turning green, the hills were filled with the vine lines where the grapes grow and the small villages were so small and quaint. As we arrived we were taken on a tour of the wine vineyard as well as explained the process of the wine and how Fanti run’s the place. It was really interesting. Then we had the opportunity to taste all the wines, which was such a fun and informational experience. I have loved and learned about Brunello wines! It was the perfect day trip from Rome. Tuscany is a beautiful area.

A Night in Rome & Ancient Rome

While the three world travelers got their sleep, post traveling for 24 hours and seeing an afternoon in Rome, I left the family to rest. I had friends from my University in Holland as well as a new found friend in the city to go exploring the night life of Rome! I met with my new found friend, Stefano and we ventured out to the center of the city. I saw the center first by night, it was fantastic. The hustle of the traffic, walking on ancient cobble stone, and exploring the unfamiliar city was so exhilarating for me. I saw the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele at night and it took my breath away.

Following this, I wanted to get a better view of the city and I was taken to the Piazza del Popolo, where I hiked up a hill to an observation deck that looked out over all of Rome. The view at night was so amazing, I thought I was dreaming. Stefano and I stayed up there to talk for a few hours. I asked so many questions about the city and living in Italy as well as about him. It was great; I was where I had dreamed of all my life…ROME!!! The spectacular view was great but the temperature dropped and that was the kicker for me, it was time to go have some drinks and see the night scene in Rome. We headed to a favorite club of Stefano. Gilda is the club we went to. It looks very similar to the Club used in Scar Face the movie. It was a fun night. I really enjoyed seeing the night scene in Rome.

That day we decided to dedicate our exploring to seeing Ancient Rome. First we wanted to get something to eat. We trusted in the Europe on a Budget guide book I have been using to travel around Europe with. It suggested a restaurant near the Colosseum called Luzzi, “This neighborhood favorite near the Colosseum, with plenty of outdoor tables, is a fun, raucous place to sample an extensive range of pizza and pasta dishes, plus mainly meaty mains. (pg.674)” This place stands up to its name and description. We were there right at lunch time and had to wait a moment for a table outside but were able to get one out on the terrace. The menu was extensive and each of us found something to eat that was delicious. There were many people out with dogs and surprisingly the restaurant has a pet pig that does tricks! It was a fun meal and a great atmosphere. Then it was off to the Colosseum, when I visited the Colosseum I felt this heavy presence, it was one of the oldest things I had been to in person! It was unbelievable. We took a personal tour of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. The city of Ancient Rome was a site, the weather was perfect and seeing the old buildings was so amazing.

The First Days In Rome!

First day, I arrived in Rome at 6:00 pm at rush hour. I was the first one to arrive to Italy; the family would meet me at the hotel the next morning. I decided to brave the trains of Rome. This was to be an easy quick and cheap way to get from the Airport to my hotel. Taxis in Italy are way too expensive. I had planned out my route before departing Amsterdam; this was proven wrong as I traveled the rail system of Rome. The train systems do not run very efficiently, fast, or are on time. I ended up not making it to my stop till a few hours after arrival due to the lack of knowledge with the language and having an efficient map of the train routes.

The trains at rush hour were packed full of people trying to get home from work. At my transfer point I saw that I needed to take a F5 train to the street I needed that I thought my hotel was on. A train arrived and I boarded the packed double-decker train. While I was trying to locate where my stop would be I realized a man was reaching in the pocket of my jacket. I looked at this man and asked him in a harsh voice, what he was doing and he just walked down the steps to the next car. By this point I was confused, angry, scared, and frustrated. The train didn’t stop where I needed to be, I assumed the train routes were all the same and would stop at the similar stops along those routes. The Rome train system is based on time and at different times the trains stop at either all stops or just a few along the route. So I exited this train and felt as if I was in a ghost town, not a visible person in site. I tried to figure out the schedule myself. Then a man came into the tram station and I wearyingly asked if he spoke English. He said he was a University teacher in Rome and could help but his English was poor. He then helped me try and navigate my travels to the location I needed to go. At this time it was around 8:00 and it was getting dark, the weather was also chilly and rainy. The train came and was empty, I got on and just prayed to have the stop I was looking for be something I could find. When I arrived at the station of Aurelia, I thought I had walked into the projects of New York City. The station was covered in graffiti, many homeless scattered sleeping and I didn’t see a common individual walking in site. There were two buses parked in front of the station and I was relived, I was just hoping either driver could speak English. I was again faced with a challenge, neither driver spoke English. I had to result to my hotel address on my confirmation papers, and one of the drivers took me to what I thought would be the street my hotel was located on. The journey and challenge continued, this was not the case just as the whole evening had been working out to be a navigation mess.

The hotel was located outside the center of Rome on Via Aurelia Antica, and I was on Via Aurelia, later I was to learn that these streets are not similar but are in close proximity to each other. Now I was located in what looked like a residential area mixed with a business hotel area. I loaded up my GPS hand held and then it began to rain hard, lightning and thunder. The night was beginning to look very troublesome for me. The GPS was unable to find a signal. I began to get frustrated and walked to find a Taxi and hope that I would find something. As I walked along the street a young Italian man began to talk to me in Italian and I responded that I spoke English and he wanted me to come eat in his restaurant. Like in New York, many restaurant staff stands outside to recruit or hustle you to look at their menu and eat in their restaurant. I was not in the mood for food. I asked if he could help me and that I was lost. He said that his English was very small and not so good. Then he called over another young man, he spoke English. I was so relieved to find someone who could help me. He looked at the address of the hotel and explained to me that I was not to far away but I could not walk. He also said it was very dangerous for me to be walking in this area alone. He said that he could call me a taxi to take me to my hotel. I then asked to explain to the waiter that I wanted a glass of red wine and to relax before he called a taxi. So at the restaurant I sat outside on the terrace and listened to the horrible storm and gathered myself. A few minuets later I was brought a bottle of wine and the young man asked if he could join me. The Italian restaurant worker introduced himself, Nicoli as well as the English speaking young man, Stefano. After the pleasantries they began to ask me about my travels and where I was from. They were being so generous and kind. As Stefano, Nicoli and I talked I learned that Stefano was from Sicily. He was able to learn his English due to he has family and has lived in New York for some time. The Restaurant was not anything to look at but the menu was reasonably priced and I noticed that they served a linguine pasta with seafood which I knew right away would satisfy my dad’s taste for Italian cuisine. The name was, Benedetto. I told the restaurant owners that I would be returning with my family later in the week for dinner. Nicoli and Stefano were so accommodating to my needs. Stefano and I spoke for at least an hour while I drank my wine. I learned much about Rome and about his life as well. We exchanged information before I left. I finally took a taxi to the hotel. That evening I was so exhausted I went to my room and drew a bath, which I was looking forward to for a long time and fell as sleep. That was the best part to the chaotic adventure I had been on. BUT…I would not change it for a second. I loved and despised it all.

The following morning I woke just before my parents arrived to the hotel. Our first day in Rome we decided not to take too much because the family had traveled for 24 hours and was very exhausted. Alyssa was experiencing some sickness from the flight and was having trouble keeping food down; airplane food can get to you. We decided to head to St. Pietro (St. Peters) the FAMILY was in ROME! We braved the buses of Rome to head into the city. The buses run all over the city and transportation is very inexpensive in Rome. For a ticket that is interchangeable between the underground and the buses that lasts for 90 minuets after validation costs 1 Euro. You are able to purchase tickets from the bus stations, and tabaccorias or Kiosks, and most small shops along the streets that advertise the selling of tickets. Validation is easy; you punch the tickets in a yellow machine either at the front or back of the bus. We used the buses most of the trip but the bus system is confusing to understand which number to take to get you where you need to go. When riding the bus there are rules, the seats near the front are reserved for the elderly or anyone that asks for the seat. The buses are generally very packed and uncomfortable so mind your belongings at all times. When you wish to get off the bus at the upcoming stop you must ring a bell which signals to the driver you would like to exit the bus.

We arrived to a stop and thought we should exit the bus. We walked along the street and saw a very old monument and thought we should go and see what this was and figure out where we had ended up. We had made it to the Vatican City and St. Peter’s!!! This has been my dream to visit the ancient city and experience its beauty and just observe the history that you can’t find anywhere in the world, except Rome. At St. Peter’s, wondering the grounds we were all amazed by the architecture and the amount of people there were doing the exact same thing we were. After that we all decided we were hungry and wanted to walk and explore till we found a place we wanted to eat at. We walked towards the River Tiber, and then we saw Castle St. Angelo and walked around the grounds. We were all hungry and stopped to have some Vino, pasta, and pizza! We managed to walk around for most of the afternoon but tried to keep it early cause of Alyssa feeling lousy and the family traveling and jet lag.

Through out the week we hit all the tourist spots around Rome. Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Trastevere Area, the Via Sacra, Palatine Hill, Colosseum, Campo de’ Fiori, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Piazzale Flaminio, Fontana di Trevi, Ancient Rome. The feelings that I have felt on this trip are so indescribable, being in such a wondrous city and having my family with me was the best part of my trip.