Pancakes & Waffles in Amsterdam

When people ask me what is the best place I have been to so far, my automatic answer would always be Barcelona, Spain. After spending four days and three nights in Amsterdam earlier this week, I think I might just have had a slight change of heart.

I think it is safe to say that Amsterdam, out of all the cities I have visited, is easily the most tourist-friendly. The locals are obviously used to their city buzzing with people from all over the globe revelling in their breathtaking views of the canal and the gingerbread houses (as one blog I’ve previously read has cleverly put it), their generous offer of healthy brunch options, the very entertaining Red Light District, among others.

What I liked the most was the fact that all of the locals (okay, I might be overgeneralising) speak English. Every tram driver, receptionist, or vendor we came across conversed with us in a language we actually all understood. This, for me, is quite impressive as not every other tourist hot spot that we had been to did the same and it sort of became a struggle to communicate.

Anyway, I have yet again compiled a list of five personal favorite things I did in Amsterdam. Surprise, surprise.

1 Purchasing an I Amsterdam city card as soon as we got out of Schiphol’s border control was easily the best decision we made on our first day. For 74 euros, the red card was inclusive of access to many museums, a canal cruise, and public transport around the city for 48 hours.

I cannot really say these are perks or that they came for free (cos we had to pay for a fee to get a card) but it clearly cut our costs and saved us from that dreadful feeling of literally taking cash out of our wallets every now and then and feeling as if we were splurging.

IMG_3138.jpegThe pack came with a magazine (which I have yet to read) and a map which came in really handy in double checking our itinerary before heading out of our hotel room.

Probably the only downside to this was that one of my friends lost her card a few hours after activating it on our second day. We tried to see if they can provide a replacement for lost cards but unfortunately, if you lose it, you lose it.

2 Museums were our main agenda for our second day (which was also technically our first full day). Out of all the museums we visited, the Van Gogh Museum would have to be what impressed me the most. From what I have learned, not only was Van Gogh a master of self portrait, he had also led quite an interesting life from the moment he discovered art up to the days leading to his death.

My favorite part of the museum would probably have to be Van Gogh Dreams where we got to see his emotional journey as he moved to southern France and had regular mental breakdowns until they became no longer just that. This was apparently another eye opener for me about how serious mental health should be taken and how everyone suffering from any related issues is clearly a victim desperate for an escape.

On a lighter note, Van Gogh also painted sunflowers! Not exactly the brightest-looking bunch of my favorite flowers but it will do.

3 If there is one other thing I learned that has stuck to me, it is this: the Dutch love their (or serving) brunch! It is insane how there are so many cafes and restaurants with all-day brunch choices on their menus. I have quit brunch a long time ago and decided to stick to lunch but staying in this beautiful city, the former seemed like an imperative thing to do.

Before going on this trip, I researched some of the best places to have breakfast and/or brunch around the city. Most travel blogs suggested Pancakes! Amsterdam and The Breakfast Club. We tried out the former on the first day and passed by the latter (but did not have the chance to eat in it unfortunately) on our third.

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Most of the places that serve pancakes offer a selection of either traditional, sweet, or savory. We had mushrooms, paprika, cheese, & bacon for the savory one and ham & cheese for the traditional. They look really flat on photos but are actually quite filling!

Of course, on this number, I just have to throw in few other random food photos from the entire trip.

(first photo was yet again another big breakfast and second photo is a bowl of nachitos and guacamole dip from Fento, one of the recommended food stalls located inside Foodhallen)

4 The canal and the view of gabled houses along it were breathtaking. One of the things that convinced us to get city cards was actually the canal tour. Fascinating fact: canal houses are installed with hoists and most of the narrow canal houses have really interesting background stories to tell.

5 When we were making our itinerary, two of the suggestions we came across were the Albert Cuyp Market and the Bloemenmarkt which were basically a street market and a flower market respectively.

In the middle of the long stretch of Albert Cuyp Market, we found a little stall selling their must-try stroopwafels which was a perfect treat for a sweet tooth like myself.

For 1.50 euros, you get a piece of heaven disguised in two thin waffles with a spread of caramel syrup in the middle. Plus, it comes with a chocolate topping too.

Bloemenmarkt, on the other hand, was home to a number of flower stalls and it was crazy how many tulips, among other flowers, they sell in the area. Not all flower vendors were willing to have their products photographed but we managed to find some stalls whose owners were not bothered by tourists (like ourselves) getting too excited at the sight of tulips in different colors.

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I was this close to bringing home tulip bulbs but the thought of colder months incoming and the fact that I do not really have a green thumb prevailed. Plus, luggage issues.

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Another thing we spent quite some time doing in the flower market was finding the  perfect cheese to take home. Clearly, I love cheese. You can take one of my friends (who was with me on the trip) to the coffee shops, you can take me to the cheese shops. We went inside Henri Willig Cheese Farm Store (which was only one of the many stores selling cheese, by the way) and I swear had the best moments in cheese heaven – what with all the free taste!

Eventually, I thought truffle cheese (although gouda came a really close second) suited my palate best and bought with me a set that came with smoked goat cheese, a honey mustard spread, and a cheese board! I cannot wait for wine and cheese night with my friends from college tomorrow.

So there you go, my top five list for Amsterdam. The Red Light District and the brownies did not make it to the cut but those were definitely unforgettable experiences worth recommending as well! And maybe, just maybe, I might write about them in a separate post later on.

In Transit

I have recently discovered one more thing about myself and that is how much I appreciate solitary train rides. It gives me an opportunity to gather my thoughts and allows me to enjoy down time – which I truly need every once in a while to keep my sanity in check.

I actually started writing a blog post on the train en route to home this morning but sleep got the better of me. Now that I feel much more recharged (at one in the morning), allow me to recollect my thoughts and put them in (tada, what else) a list.

1 I realised I am not afraid of dying. How I die, probably. But not dying. I am not sure how morbid this might make me sound but it’s a truth I just woke up to and acknowledged one morning. I believe there is a heaven and that all the people I love but already passed are there. That is where I want to go. That is the reason why I am trying my best to become, at least, a good person while I am here. And I cannot wait to bicker with my brother.

2 Not all losses are equally painful but they all elicit pain anyway. I guess it is safe to say I have my fair share of losses, especially in the past few years. Sometimes, I surprise myself with how I handle them.

Thinking about it now, I talk a lot but I never really often open up to people. When Wency (hi, To. I just have to talk about you now) left us, I had to be strong for our parents cos it was what was needed. I cannot recall the number of times I had to cry on my own because crying in front of them would only lead to an even bigger cry fest. I easily make my family and friends laugh but do not find it as easy to tell them about the personal conflicts I go through cos a) I hate bothering people b) I have always believed these conflicts will pass anyway.

Every other loss that came after 2015 seemed less significant. But I still considered them losses. And yes, they hurt as well.

3 We keep meeting people. And I now honestly believe in the cliche that people come in our lives not to stay but to teach us a lesson or two. I don’t keep a checklist of everyone I ever encountered but I do know that not everyone I used to be  very close to a few years back has stayed until this day.

I guess that is just how it is. If anything, I am not upset.  In fact, I am glad to meet the people I did.

4 I have found my person/s. And while I am not certain I could find a partner who will put up with me and my very sudden mood swings, there is comfort in knowing I have my person/s to harass with my long dramatic messages at unholy hours and decode my one-word responses the next day.

My person/s is one I don’t regularly talk to or see but who understands me the most even if I don’t say anything. It is anyone who can tell me off for making stupid decisions but end our conversation by saying things that uplift me. If you feel like you are that person/s, then you most certainly are.

5 There is so much to life I need to discover. I will take my time to do that.

 

 

Paella & Sangria in Barcelona

After a rainy five-day trip in Paris, we flew to the largest city of Catalonia where we mostly danced around, drank Sangria, walked in the streets of Las Ramblas, and felt the summer breeze. Barcelona, I guess it is safe to say I have fallen in love with you.

Maybe it was the weather that greeted us the moment we stepped out of the airport that did it. Or the tourists from everywhere really. Maybe we got too soaked in the Parisian rain that being someplace warm felt like a breath of fresh air. Maybe it reminded us of home though not quite.

Whatever did it, it sure did the job well. I was charmed and I would not hesitate to go back if I could.

If you are like me who does not mind being all touristy (cos um hello, I was one) in a too-touristy city, below are five things I enjoyed the most about our recent trip to Barcelona that I would not mind suggesting (to anyone who comes across this blog by accident really lol).

1 One of the first things we did after a power nap was to visit Barcelona Cathedral. There was a queue and we were one of the last ones that were allowed to get inside. It was Holy Week when we had this trip so naturally, my mom (being my mom) reminded me countless times to pray and fast – the sort of things we normally used to do back home together during this time of the year. Honestly though, even without prompting, I would still have visited this cathedral (and all the other chapels, basilica, and cathedrals we went to both in Paris and Barcelona) to pray.

I was not surprised to see that the cathedral’s architecture is mainly Gothic – after all, it is located in the city’s Gothic district. After taking in the intricacy of its interior and offering our prayers, we proceeded to the rooftop.

People who know me well would know how much of a sucker I am for rooftops views. If you are like me, please go ahead and do not hesitate to step in on the lift that takes you to the view that overlooks the bell towers, the spires, and the breathtaking city that is Barcelona.

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Again, we were one of the last ones allowed to go up the rooftop and also called to go down (lol) because they were almost closing.

2 I am about to state the obvious but: one’s food experience has a lot to say about one’s overall experience in a place. This is just me saying but a trip can never be complete without going on a gastronomic adventure.

I remember for a few weeks leading to this holiday, we were on treadmills and yoga mats at the gym most nights (lol) – the reason behind this now is as clear to me as the summer skies: I needed some more space to get everything in my tummy.

For someone who has a hefty appetite, transitioning from morning croissants and bowls of hearty French onion soup to massive servings of paella and assorted tapas was not a feat at all. I do not think I am in a position to compare French and Spanish flavors so let me just put it in layman’s terms: you better not miss on all the good ol’ churros & hot chocolate dip, quezo & chorizo, paellas & tapas the esquinitas of Barcelona has to offer. Por favor.

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3 Of course, I could have just easily put food and drinks together in one number in this list but no. My daily affair with sangria while in Spain began as love at first sip and I would recommend you to do the same. Basically, this drink is a mix of red wine and chopped fruits.

After a worst Bacardi encounter last summer and a few post Captain Morgan blackout episodes since the second half of last year, I swore to myself to (try to) mellow down on the alcohol. Sangria might just be the answer I have been searching for.

Our first glass was one we bought while on queue to be served at a tapas bar. The next one was next day’s dinner drink of choice to go with the paella. The third was sangria in plastic cups by the beach. And after we got home from the trip, we have been trying to recreate the recipe in various ways. Hopefully, we get it right in time for summer.

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4 Not only does Barcelona offer a feast for the tummy but one for the eyes as well. Basically, when in this beautiful city, it is a must to immerse in the greatness that is Gaudi’s. 

It is impossible to leave Barcelona without being struck with awe at Gaudi’s works which are widespread. Antoni Gaudi (or as my friend jokingly likes to call ‘Gandi’ lol) was a Spanish architect known to be the artist that brought famous tourist spots such as Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Placa Real to the way it is wonderfully designed today.

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Personally, I was most amazed with his brilliant use of mosaic – e.g seating area at Park Guell and the stained glass windows of Sagrada Familia. If anything, we ended the trip with me having newfound respect for this guy. #GandangGaudi all the way!

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5 One of the other things I enjoyed doing the most was exploring the streets of Barcelona. In particular, I had fun walking the long stretch of La Rambla which was buzzing with different activities establishments – definitely very touristy but worth it.

On our last full day, we had a late seafood and tapas lunch inside the famous market located within the heart of La Rambla which came to be know as La Boqueria. It was lined with food stalls offering everything you would wish to put on your plate – hamon & queso, fruit juices, fresh seafood (and even a small Dunkin Donut shop just right outside lol).

I am pretty sure we have something like this back home – only this one is more packed with tourists and certainly a must-visit. Plus, some stalls accept card payment. A word of advice though: it is still best to carry some spare coins and cash just in case you feel tempted to buy a second cup of their fruit juice.

Another word of advice: As La Rambla is known to be one of the tourist hot spots, it is best to be extra vigilant at all times. It is difficult not to have your eyes caught by the beautifully designed buildings, the lady waving at your from the window of Erotica Museum, the different merchandise sold in the middle of the boulevard, and even the eye candy tourists (hehe just had to mention that one) but just be careful.

In fact, we have to be careful anywhere we go really – in Barcelona or out.