Ireland 2007 – Cashel, Cahir Castle, and the Blarney Stone

Cashel:

My family and I continued our route to Cashel after we explored the Wicklow Mountains. We drove through narrow roads to get there, which took over two hours. Be that as it may, we loved seeing the picturesque rolling green hills and fields shaped like patchwork quilts. I was happy to see the sun come out too. The Emerald Isle is infamous for having cloudy and rainy weather and it was like that for most of our time in Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains. It was lovely to see the sun for a change!

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By the late afternoon, we arrived at the Legends Guesthouse in Cashel. Its main lounge reeked of peat, decayed vegetation used for heating purposes. It is commonly used in the rural parts of Ireland and Scotland. I could not stand its pungent aroma but it did not prevent me from having a pleasant there. The staff were nice to provide us with extra cots for our room and to serve us delicious breakfasts and dinners. Unfortunately, the Legends Guesthouse is no longer in business.

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Perhaps the guesthouse’s greatest factor was that it had a spectacular view of the Rock of Cashel, a fortified historic landmark on a hill that overlooks the town, which my family and I saw the next day. Since the attraction was close to the guesthouse, we just walked to it. We went on a guided tour and learned a lot about the site’s history. In the 5th century, the Rock of Cashel was home to the Kings of Munster. Munster is the province where Cashel is located but during the early middle ages, it was a thriving kingdom that covered much of southern Ireland. By the early 12th century, the Rock of Cashel was given to the Catholic church and it successfully remained as a religious center for hundreds of years. Suddenly in 1647, the site invaded by a Cromwellian army, which killed 3,000 people. Back then, Ireland was controlled by Britain and the Irish suffered from a lot of oppression by the British. Many of those who perished were the Catholic clergy and civilians. The Rock of Cashel’s holy artifacts were stolen as well. Two hundred years later, the place was completely abandoned and the cathedral’s roof was removed!

 

These days, the Rock of Cashel is frequented by tourists. They love to see the landmark’s Celtic, Gothic, and Romanesque architectures, despite parts of it being ruined. In fact, the cathedral was having some construction done while we were on the tour. I guess some of the cathedral was falling apart. Regardless of the construction, we enjoyed checking out the Rock of Cashel. We liked seeing the landmark’s remaining church carvings and designs. The cathedral and chapel both had their tall cloisters and alcoves. The Hall of the Vicars’ Choral had the adorable painted angel statues and colorful tapestries. There was also the 92 feet (28 meters) round tower. It would have been lovely to go to the top of the tower and see outstanding views of the countryside but it was not open to visitors. From the ground, we were still able to view the landscapes, which we took many pictures of. My family and I noticed a bunch of sheep wandering the plains. The Rock of Cashel had a graveyard and we took some shots of the Celtic crosses as well. The crosses were decayed but I liked their tangled carvings. I also walked up to the walls that guarded the site, which were way taller than me! It was hard for me to believe the Rock of Cashel was invaded despite its tall walls and being situated on a rocky hill. Then again, the Cromwellian army used artillery fire to attack the site. The Rock of Cashel may be a somber attraction but it is a fascinating historic landmark to see in Ireland.

 

Cashel itself was a nice town. There were a variety of pubs and shops in the town center. It was not as fast paced like Dublin so it was easier to walk around. We ate at one of the restaurants for lunch and I remember us not enjoying the food. It had a dry texture and tasted pretty bland but the food did not stop us from enjoying the rest of our day. After lunch, my family and I got to see Cahir Castle, one of Ireland’s largest castles.

Cahir Castle:

 

The castle is on an island by the River Suir in the center of Cahir. During the middle ages, it belonged to the Butler’s, a prominent Anglo-Norman family and endured many sieges over the next centuries. Because of the attacks, parts of the castle were rebuilt many times. Most of the site, especially the tower and defense walls are well-preserved that you would forget that battles happened there. The site also has vast courtyards where you can gawk at and walk through the colossal walls and see the cannons that remain there. My sister and I loved exploring through a dark passageway that would lead to a balcony looking over the town. We even noticed a dungeon below the passageway, which looked dark and a bit scary. It must have been dreadful to be imprisoned there!

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The Great Hall of Cahir Castle was not impressive to say the least. I expected the Great Hall to be very embellished like how castles tend to be. One of the only decorations it had antlers from an elk, plus a few furniture. I thought it would have paintings or tapestries, common features that are found in great halls. After all, there was a model of what Cahir Castle looked like when the Butler family lived there. The model showed the castle having livestock roaming the courtyards and guards patrolling the tower. It was interesting to see how prosperous Cahir Castle was hundreds of years ago.

The Blarney Stone:

The third destination of our Irish vacation was Killarney in County Kerry. On the way to Killarney, we stopped at Blarney Castle in County Cork. Blarney is known throughout the world because of its stone. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone, you will receive good luck. My family and I heard about the legend of the Blarney Stone plenty of times and we had to kiss it. I was curious to know if kissing the stone would actually give me the gift of gab. It is located at the top of the castle’s tower, which hangs 37 feet above ground. A man holds you as you kiss the stone so there is no need to worry. We had to wait almost an hour in line to kiss it. We climbed up 127 steps of stairs! When it was my turn to kiss the stone, it a little awkward to do the process since I was upside down. I was able to kiss it and I believe that it gave me good luck afterwards. Back then, I was getting ready to go to high school and I was worried that I would not perform well academically. In the end, I got good grades and was able to make new friends/acquaintances too. I guess that kissing the Blarney Stone was worth it!

To be continued…

Ireland 2007 – Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains

Years ago, my family and I went on another trip to Europe. This time, we visited Ireland. We have grown up with a lot of Irish-Americans, some of whom had been to the country and we were amazed to hear of their travels. We liked hearing about Ireland’s beautiful, lush landscapes and numerous historic sites. On those accounts, we all decided to go to the Emerald Isle. Like our previous Eurotrips to both England and Iceland in 2005, it was a vacation to remember.

Dublin:

The first stop of our journey in Ireland was its capital and largest city of Dublin. It heavily reminded me of London because Dublin was filled with double-decker buses, Georgian architecture, and flourishing parks. Also, there is a river that runs through the middle of the city called the River Liffey and people there drive on the left side of the road. Needless to say, my family and I liked visiting the Irish capital. Dublin’s iconic Georgian brick homes were lovely to look at, the Dubliners were friendly, and we ate some delicious foods. The hotel we stayed at was in a former Georgian home called the Waterloo House and its staff were hospitable by providing us with two connecting rooms and an appetizing Irish breakfast every morning. A traditional Irish breakfast consists of eggs, Irish bacon, sausages, black and white pudding, fried potatoes, and a grilled half tomato. Ireland has had a long reputation for not having the best food so we were absolutely satisfied. Most of the foods we ate out were international, like Japanese noodle soups and Turkish shawarmas. Having a noodle soup was ideal because of the chilly Irish weather and the shawarma sandwich was packed with spicy grilled meat and chopped vegetables. However, there were some rough moments during our stay in Dublin. On our first night, my family and I were harassed by a man who was totally drunk. The man bumped into me, my dad noticed and got defensive. My dad assumed that he was going to attack me, probably due to him holding a beer bottle. Because of that, the man kept shouting and cursing at us and we were scared that we were going to get hurt. Fortunately, some Dubliners came to our rescue by telling the drunkard off and then he ran away. If it had not been for them, we would have been in bigger trouble.

Most of the attractions in Dublin relate to Irish history. One in particular is Kilmainham Gaol, which was used by the British to imprison and execute those who fought for Irish independence. We went on a tour of the former prison and I recall feeling somber while walking through the cells where the inmates were housed and the yards where they were shot by the firing squad. I felt the same way when we visited Glasnevin Cemetery because it has graves and memorials dedicated to figures who supported Irish independence like Michael Collins. Seeing both attractions were eye-opening experiences since they show that we cannot forget those who fought and died for the Irish people.

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On a brighter note, we got to see the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate, where Ireland’s most famous beer is produced. It was interesting to see how the stout is brewed. The Guinness Storehouse uses tons of barley and hops to make it. Although I was 14 at the time, it was funny that the staff gave me a pass for a free pint of Guinness. I think they gave me the pass because back then, I was 5’11”. It would have been wonderful to have a free pint but I was underaged. I felt disappointed but I ate a delicious Caesar salad with bacon bits at the brewery’s restaurant! I also liked spending time in the attraction’s observation room because it offers picturesque views of Dublin. I recall there being a lot of people drinking Guinness and enjoying the view, which I do not blame them for. The brewery is a fun place to hang out in the city.

It was also nice to walk around St. Stephen’s Green, the Central Park of Dublin. The weather was a bit rainy but the park looked magnificent with its colorful flowers, pristine fountains, and monuments dedicated to famous Irishmen like songwriter, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and writer, Oscar Wilde. He was actually from Dublin! The park is also close to the city’s many shops, especially those on Grafton Street. We all went to the TopShop across from the park, which was my mom’s idea since she loves to shop. I remember the clothes looked very trendy but were reasonably priced. TopShop is a British retail chain that has locations all over the world. There are several TopShops in the USA, except Massachusetts. I love to buy stylish yet affordable clothes and it would be awesome if Massachusetts had one or two TopShops!

The Wicklow Mountains:

After having a splendid time in Dublin, it was time for us to head over to the Irish countryside. The next stop was Cashel, a town in County Tipperary but on the way, we made a little detour by driving through the Wicklow Mountains. In County Wicklow, they are right outside of the capital so it made sense for us to see them. The mountains were very rugged and pretty brown. Plus there were trees scattered all over the place. They were different from what I expected of the Irish countryside because I usually thought of Ireland as being greener and having less trees. Despite that, we enjoyed driving through the mountains and took several pictures. It was a little difficult to drive since the roads were thin and windy and on rough terrain but luckily, we did not get into an accident. We also stumbled upon some ruins by the roadside. This was my first time seeing a ruined site so it was fascinating to explore. It was most likely a Celtic church since the Wicklow Mountains used to be home to several monastic communities thousands of years ago. A part of the ruins had an alcove-shaped structure too. If so, it must have been entrancing to go to church in a quite remote, mountainous, and breathtaking area of Ireland.

To be continued…

Staying at the Hotel Library Amsterdam

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While in Amsterdam last September, I stayed at the Hotel Library. It is a three star hotel located on Prins Hendrikkade by the Oosterdok, near the city’s public library. As I was planning my trip, I originally wanted to stay at an Airbnb because I wanted the experience of living in the city. However, there were not many Airbnbs in the center of Amsterdam, and those that were available cost hundreds of dollars a night! The more affordable vacation rentals were in the suburbs. I then made the decision to stay at a hotel in the city center and was able to get a good deal on Expedia for the Hotel Library. The average rate cost $150.00 per night whereas many of the hotels in Amsterdam cost over $200.00 a night. Although staying at the hotel came with positive points, it had some negative factors as well.

The Pros:

One thing that I liked about the Hotel Library was its location. It is a 10 minute walk from the Centraal Station and is close to numerous attractions/activities, brown cafés, and restaurants. Centraal Station is a great place to catch a tram, metro, ferry, or bus to visit other parts of the city or to catch a train to see different regions of the Netherlands. You can also take a train to go to nearby countries like Belgium, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. The station is where you can take a canal cruise tour as well, which I highly recommend. When I took the tour, it was fun to explore the city from the water and learn about the canals’ history. Some nearby popular attractions are Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder and the Maritime Museum, which are both perfect for learning about the history of the city. If you are staying with kids, there is the NEMO Science Museum and the Plantage Zoo. One restaurant I suggest is an Indonesian place called Café Kadijk. Their mini-rijsttafel is delicious and they serve tasty beer from the local Ij brewery. Café Pollux is another fun place to go for drinks. The staff are friendly and they serve a variety of beers, cocktails, and wines.

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The hotel itself was pleasant. The housekeeping staff always did an exceptional job tidying up my room. It was never dirty whenever I returned. I thought it was clever that the place had a mural of the Dutch Masters outside because the museums of Amsterdam show many of their artwork. Even though the hotel is not air conditioned, my room had a fan. Some nights were warm and humid so the fan really helped. I also liked that my room had a safe, where I kept my passport and leftover cash. Whenever you travel internationally, it is always important that you keep your passport and other travel documents locked in a safe so that they will not get stolen. Because it was my first time using a safe, I had a little trouble using it but one of the front desk associates was nice to help reset my password. After that I had no issue opening the safe. It was nice that the hotel offered coupons to many of the restaurants in Amsterdam as well. Eateries in the Dutch capital are usually expensive and I saved some money by using the coupons. The front desk staff also provide maps of the city. I got one of their maps, which really helped me get around the area. All in all, I could say that the staff of the Hotel Library does a great job in making sure that its guests have a nice experience staying in Amsterdam.

The Cons:

As far as the hotel’s negative points go, I had a little difficulty walking up the stairs. The hotel is a former canal house and the canal houses in Amsterdam tend to have long, steep stairs. This can make it hard for you to carry your luggage and for those who are physically handicapped. The hotel does have an elevator but it was slow and did not go up to my floor. I then had to walk up a curvy flight of stairs just to get to my room. For most of the time, I would not take the elevator and just climb three different staircases. Either way, I would be sweating a lot by the time I came to my room, which was at the very top.

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As for my room, I did not like that my bed was against a slanted wall. The wall would cause my mattress to start to leave the bed, which sometimes made it hard for me to sleep. It was quite irritating, particularly during my first night. Even so, it did not stop me from having a fun time in Amsterdam.

In conclusion…

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If I had to rate the Hotel Library, I would give it a 7 out of 10. My room was a bit uncomfortable and walking up the craggy staircases was exhausting but my hotel was in a great location, offered maps and coupons, and had helpful staff. It was an ideal place to stay during my first time in Amsterdam and I do not have many regrets. If I were to return to the city, I would probably stay at the Hotel Library again but in a room that is more comfortable and not far from the front desk. For more information on the hotel, click here.

A Quick Walk Around Haarlem

On the last day of my Dutch vacation, I went outside of Amsterdam to South Holland. Before I returned, I made a quick stop in Haarlem. Like all of the places I saw in the Netherlands, it was a delightful city. I walked through cobblestoned streets with cozy cafés and boutiques, which reminded me of the charming shopping district in the Hague. The city also reminded me of Delft because its Grote Markt has a massive cathedral that dominates the cityscape. I wanted to go inside the church but I was disappointed to discover that it was closed. In spite of that, I enjoyed exploring the farmers market in the square. The vendors were selling all types of food, like breads, cheeses, pickled fish, and pesto. Although I was not hungry, the food looked very delectable!

Beyond Grote Markt are the city’s canals. They are grand with modest Dutch brick houses, people taking boat rides, and a tall windmill overlooking the Spaarne River. The canals were pleasant to take a stroll due to them being quiet and not crowded like Grote Markt. The weather was eventually starting to get rainy and though I was originally thinking about going to the popular Frans Hals Museum, it was time to head back to Amsterdam. I was feeling pretty tired at that point too, especially after spending the entire day outside of the capital. Plus, I saw many museums during my trip and I felt that I had seen enough of them. Nevertheless, visiting Haarlem went well despite it being a short experience. I had fun checking out the farmers market and walking by the canals. Since it is right outside of Amsterdam, the city makes a perfect day trip. The train ride from the capital to Haarlem only takes about 10 minutes long! People even tend to refer Haarlem as “Little Amsterdam” because they both have scenic canals, top-class museums, and opulent architecture. If I ever go back to the Netherlands, I would absolutely revisit the city and spend more time there!

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A Day in South Holland: Delft (Part 2)

The next and last stop of my journey in South Holland was Delft. The city is globally known for producing blue and white ceramics known as Delftware and it is where Johannes Vermeer lived. It has the Delft University of Technology, which is one of the Netherlands’ top schools. Delft is very close to the Hague so it made sense for me to go there. It took me 12 minutes to get to Delft from the Hague by train. Since Vermeer is one of my favorite artists, I thought it would be a clever idea to see what his hometown was like.

Grote Markt:

Like most Dutch cities, Delft has a huge square or Grote Markt. It has a city hall, shops and cafés, and Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). When I arrived, the square had a big carnival with plenty of rides and games for kids. The carnival made it a bit hard to walk around, which kind of frustrated me. On a good note, I went to a souvenir shop and bought a Holland t-shirt. I also saw a boutique that sold various types of Delftware china. Although I did not buy anything there, the pottery was beautiful to look at. One of the plates showed a brilliant image of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It looked very similar to the actual painting despite the fact that the plate was blue and white.

Nieuwe Kerk:

Nieuwe Kerk is a marvelous attraction to see in Delft. It has a tall tower that overlooks Grote Markt and it is where past members of the Dutch Royal Family are buried. During the summer, visitors can climb up the tower and catch spectacular views of the city. Sadly, the tower was not open when I came to the church since I went in September. Even so, I was still able to see the extraordinary church hall. Nieuwe Kerk reminded me a lot of Grote Kerk in the Hague because they both have enormous pipe organs, colorful stained glass windows, statues of angels, and many tombs. One of the tombs I saw was the mausoleum of King William of Orange, who was perhaps the most important Dutch king. In the seventeenth century, King William formed the House of Orange-Nassau, liberated the Netherlands from the Kingdom of Spain, and helped his country become more Protestant instead of Catholic. To this day, the House of Orange-Nassau still rule the Netherlands and the country remains predominantly Protestant. His mausoleum is elaborate, and includes a sculpture of the king being laid to rest with his dog beside him, statues of him in various moments of his life, and the Royal Family’s coat of arms. Overall, it is a great tribute to a figure who had a significant influence in Dutch society.

The Canals:

What makes Delft different from the Hague is that it has more canals. They are similar to the ones in Amsterdam except they were narrower and did not have many of the iconic tall canal houses. On the other hand, I thought the canals of Delft were charming and a great escape from the hubbub of the carnival. They were quiet and their bridges and lamp posts were decorated with vibrant flowers. I noticed tourists going on a cruise tour too. Hey, it is highly likely that Vermeer sailed through those canals! There was also the city’s Oude Kerk (Old Church), which has a leaning tower since it was built on soggy land. Hopefully, the tower will not fall into the water!

Bakkerij de Diamanten Ring:

While I was walking around the historic center of Delft, I stumbled upon the Bakkerij de Diamanten Ring (or the Diamond Ring Bakery). It is a lovely bakery with a crystal chandelier and an abundance of scrumptious baked goods on display. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that I ate an appeltaart in Delft and the Diamond Ring Bakery was where I bought it. I liked the dessert for its crunchy texture and heavy cinnamon flavor. It really reminded me of the apple pie my family makes for Thanksgiving because it is crunchy and has a lot of cinnamon too. Maybe next Thanksgiving, I could make an appeltaart. My family loves the desserts I make so I am sure they would enjoy it!

In conclusion…

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I had a splendid time visiting Vermeer’s hometown. It is a city with plenty of historic charm. Like the Hague, Delft is a great alternative to Amsterdam because it has a lot of canals and historic sights as well as cute shops without the mega tourist crowds like in the capital. Since the city is smaller, Delft is easier to get around by foot as well. Usually when tourists visit the Netherlands, they just see Amsterdam and do not explore other parts of the country. In my opinion, they should venture out and see what else the Netherlands has to offer. It is a nation with a lot of wonders that are worth seeing.

A Day in South Holland: The Hague (Part 1)

Towards the end of my trip in the Netherlands, I ventured down to the province of South Holland and saw the cities of the Hague and Delft. Although Amsterdam is the capital and largest city in the country, the Hague (or Den Haag) is home to its government and it is where the Dutch royal family mainly live. The city also has the International Court of Justice, where they convict people who committed crimes against humanity. Many Dutch companies are headquartered there as well. I wanted to visit the Hague for one of its museums, the Mauritshuis because it houses “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” my favorite painting by Johannes Vermeer. I was also curious to see how the Hague was different from Amsterdam.

The way I got to the Hague from Amsterdam was taking the Sprinter train. It took over an hour to travel to the city. The train got held up in Leiden but I was not in a hurry. Soon after the train left Leiden, I arrived in the Hague. My first impressions of the city were that it had a more modern image than Amsterdam did. I noticed several skyscrapers as the train was arriving at the station. Also, the Hague is not as dominated by canals and does not get as many tourists. Regardless, I thought it was a nice destination. While walking to the Mauritshuis, I noticed a bunch of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and boutiques that looked appealing. Plus, it took me about 10 minutes to walk to the museum!

The Mauritshuis:

The Mauritshuis is a small museum that used to be a mansion. During the 17th century, it belonged to a wealthy Dutch merchant and his family. These days, it primarily features paintings by the Dutch Masters, especially Vermeer. It felt amazing to finally see “Girl With a Pearl Earring” in person. I was mesmerized by how the girl stared at me no matter where I was standing in the gallery. No wonder why they call it the “Mona Lisa of the North!” Other than that, the Mauritshuis was glamorous with its opulent chandeliers, fabric wallpaper, and frescoes. It also had lovely views of the Hofvijver, a large pond that is in the center of the Hague. Despite that the museum is a popular sight to see in the city, it was actually not too crowded. When I visited both the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, they were both packed with tourists and it was difficult for me to see the artwork up close. I felt relieved to visit an art museum that was not crowded. If I had not seen “Girl With a Pearl Earring” up close, I would have been very disappointed!

The Binnenhof:

Next to the Mauritshuis is the Binnenhof, where the Dutch government is based. It is a compound of different brick buildings with a massive courtyard/square for people to walk through and socialize. The Binnenhof even offers tours of the various parliament halls. I did not get a chance to go on the tour but it must be interesting to learn how the Dutch parliament works. On the other hand, I enjoyed walking around the square and checking out the Gothic/Neo-Gothic architecture and the beautiful gilded fountain.

The Hofvijver:

After visiting the Binnenhof, I walked over to the Hofvijver. It is a great attraction in the Hague to take pictures of. I thought it was spectacular to see both the Mauritshuis and the Binnenhof together with the skyscrapers in the background. The view definitely shows how far the Hague has come to be one of the Netherlands’ most important cities.

Shopping District:

In the Netherlands, the Hague is famous for its shopping. In the pedestrian-friendly city center, there are a variety of boutiques. There was construction on some of the streets but I was still able to get around the district. Some of the stores were ones I did not recognize from back home like Cavallaro Napoli, Marccain, and Purdey but the clothes looked nice. I considered doing some shopping but I did not want to spend too much money. Also, it was peculiar to see Noordeinde Palace (one of the royal family’s residences) in the neighborhood. Usually, palaces are not kept in such congested shopping neighborhoods but do not worry, the palace is heavily gated!

Church of Saint Jacob/Grote Kerk:

Later on, I stumbled upon the Church of Saint Jacob or Grote Kerk. It is a massive, medieval cathedral, where the royal family’s weddings and baptisms are commonly held. Since the church is Protestant, it is not extremely elaborate like how Catholic churches tend to be. Needless to say, I thought the interior was extraordinary with its stain glass images of stories from the Bible and statues of angels. There were several tombs, a tall pipe organ, and intricate wooden patterns in the ceiling as well. The church did not have pews inside at all, which made it easier to walk around. To be honest, seeing the Church of Saint Jacob was not originally part of my itinerary for my excursion to the Hague, but I feel glad to have seen such a fascinating cathedral and I would recommend it to anyone who visits the city.

Trio Eethuis:

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The last thing I did in the Hague was have lunch at Trio Eethuis. It is an Indonesian restaurant in the shopping area. Prior to visiting the city, I heard that it was known for having the best Indonesian food in the Netherlands. I dined at Indonesian eateries in the Amsterdam, which I liked and I was eager to see how they compared with the restaurant in the Hague. It turned out that Trio Eethuis was better than any of the places I been to beforehand. The meal I ordered was filled with incredibly tasty and spicy flavors. I ate nasi goreng (spicy fried rice) with beef rendang, pickled cucumbers, sautéed string beans, and prawn crackers. It was so delicious that I consumed it pretty quickly.

Another thing I liked about Trio Eethuis was that I got to meet someone who lives in the Hague. When I came to the restaurant, it was crowded and this lovely woman offered to share her table-space with me. We got to know each other and she gave me tips on what to order. The lady grew up in Indonesia and she was very familiar with its cuisine. She thought the dish I picked was a great choice. The lady also told me that throughout her life, she traveled to over 80 countries! I had never met anyone who traveled that much. Hopefully I will get to travel to that many places. The lady was curious to know how my trip in the Netherlands had been and she was pleased to know how much I enjoyed exploring the country. She told me that out of all the countries she had traveled to, the Netherlands is the best, which I could understand. The country has progressive laws regarding free healthcare, cannabis, and gender/LGBT rights. Also, it has efficient and extensive public transportation. If only the USA were more like the Netherlands!

I feel good to have met a local during my trip. Usually when I travel, I do not get a chance to meet and socialize with new people. In my opinion, it is always great to meet the locals when you travel because it helps you learn more about the destination you are in. For example, the lady told me that Amsterdam was more for younger people whereas the Hague is meant for the older crowd, which was understandable because Amsterdam is busy while the Hague tends to be calmer. Also, meeting locals can make you feel less lonely, particularly if you are traveling alone. I went to the Netherlands by myself and there were times when I felt kind of lonely. But when I met the lady at Trio Eethuis, I felt a little better. From now on, the next time I travel, I will continue to meet new people!

In conclusion…

It was a pleasure seeing the Netherlands’ second city. The Hague was easy to get around, had fascinating places to see and delightful food to eat. In many ways, the city is a good alternative to Amsterdam because it has many great things to see/do while not having as many tourists. Although I liked Amsterdam, the Hague was not as overwhelming. Sadly, it tends to get overlooked by tourists who visit the Netherlands. The city should be considered as one of Europe’s most underrated destinations.

To be continued…

Exploring Waterland

During my Dutch vacation, I paid a little visit to the seaside villages of Volendam and Marken. They are both located in a region known as Waterland, which (as the name suggests) has a rich maritime heritage. Both towns are close to Amsterdam, making it easy to get there by bus. Even though I was not in Volendam and Marken for very long, I still had a good time checking them out.

Volendam:

Volendam was the first village I visited. My impression of the town was that it had a touristy image. I saw several souvenir shops selling t-shirts, wooden clogs, and porcelain dolls wearing traditional Dutch outfits. However, I walked by many eateries that looked appealing. I noticed cheese and stroopwafel factories too. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that Volendam was where I ate pickled herring, which I kind of enjoyed. It was served at this stand that served other types of fish, like smoked eel. Another positive factor about Volendam was that it has a ferry called the Volendam-Marken Express that people can take to Marken and back. I was in Volendam in the late afternoon/early evening and it was almost time for the ferry to stop running. I needed to visit Marken as soon as possible.

Volendam-Marken Express:

Takinge the ferry from Volendam to Marken was a lovely experience. Half of the ferry was outside and it felt refreshing riding it in the wind. I also liked that the ferry included a bar. It was relaxing to just sit with a beer in hand and watching the sea go by. I even saw a rainbow in the distance.

Marken:

The island of Marken was different from Volendam and far less touristy. I saw a souvenir shop that was closed but the tavern was open. I did not see many people there either. Though It was similar to Volendam because Marken had a lot of sailboats in the harbor but the weather was starting to get stormy so I did not spend much time in the village. On the other hand, I liked how quaint and cute Marken was. It has many of these wooden green and black cottages with red roofs by the sea and canals. I walked by a field filled with goats as well. My guess is that the villagers use the goats’ milk to make cheese. Towards the end of my time in Marken, I originally wanted to take the ferry back to Volendam but decided not to. Since there was a thunderstorm brewing, there was a bus from Marken to the Amsterdam Noord station, where I caught the train to head back to Amsterdam Centraal. I got there dry and happy in less than an hour.

In conclusion…

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Even though my excursion in Waterland was cut short, it was nice to see another part of the Netherlands. Both Volendam and Marken are rich in scenery and charm. It was fun to take the Volendam-Marken Express too. Visiting Waterland is a moment I will always remember about my trip.