Category Archives: The Netherlands

I Amsterdam

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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My first time in Amsterdam was back in sophomore year in college when I was studying abroad in London, circa 2004, with my friends Jackie and Sharon. My second time was in 2012, while I was teaching in Madrid, to visit my friend Lillian who was in art school there at the time. And, both times, I never smoked or ate a specially made brownie. Instead, I was more interested in…

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…the drinky drinky of the Heiney Heiney. That would be the Heineken Experience. I normally like Heineken, though it’s not my favorite beer, but, the beer here tasted as if your taste buds literally rolled around and laid upon the fields of barley (guess the song and singer reference…). Included in the price of admission were 3 drinks and a “free” branded half-pint glass. I could’ve spent all day here. Instead, we hit up a cheese farm and a clog factory which, in retrospect, was kind of a waste of time. It was definitely catered to tourists. But, I guess as a 19-year old, it was still fun in some way.

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But, nothing was as memorable as the Anne Frank House. I saw my 5th grade required reading become beyond real into surreal in front of my eyes. Seeing the actual diary, the very pages she wrote on, was unreal. It was hard imagining the neighborhood or even the city with its Red Light District being once occupied by Nazi soldiers. It was hard imagining this house as a secret hiding place when it is now a public museum. But, I guess you could say that about a lot of other places, where it once was a place of war and is now a place of freedom and capitalism or, vice versa. Every piece of land has seen its share of changes, both destructive and productive.

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At night, we did the touristy walk through the Red Light District. It’s against the law to take photos of the windows where the women posed and ‘marketed’ for business. Apparently, there were times when people did take photos and one of the women’s bodyguards came out and threw his or her camera into the canal. I get it though. To them, this is their livelihood, not a spectacle. You could, however, take a picture of the general area, as long as it didn’t involve the women. We bumped into this small Asian girl who was walking around the district while holding up a large sign that said “JESUS LOVES YOU!” I chuckled because it was cute and useless and, I wondered if anyone ever paid attention and was touched by the sign? I guess I’ll never know. Just like how I’ll never know Amelia Earhart’s final whereabouts, what happened to the colony of Roanoke Island, if the Bermuda Triangle really did gobble up boats, if the Loch Ness monster really exists and who really murdered Hae 15 years ago in Baltimore (listen to the Serial podcast if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I need to stop thinking about all these unsolved mysteries or, I’ll drive myself crazy.

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Back in 2004, I didn’t care too much about going to art museums. I had limited time to roam around the city and obviously opted for the brewery instead. I can now say that my views on that have changed, and I’m talking about viewing artwork, not drinking great beer. My views on the brewery have not changed and if I were given a choice today, I would still choose the brewery over the museum. Actually, I take that back. I’ve been to several breweries and they are all pretty much the same. You learn about the process, the barley (or other grain), water, hops and yeast. Then you end with trying the beer, which tastes delicious by the way. On the other hand, museums aren’t all the same, though some could feel that way. I guess the point is, luckily, I didn’t have to make a choice and had the opportunity to visit both places. This entire paragraph is actually quite useless but, I will leave it in anyway because I took the time to write it. I do have to say that, if it were a decision between visiting a vineyard or a museum…well, you should know my great love for the fermented grape. Purple-teethed smile.

Now, back to the main point, I visited the Van Gogh Museum and I really enjoyed it. No photos were allowed inside so, the above photo is all you get.

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I’ve been wanting to check out the tulip fields for awhile and so I was really happy to finally visit the Keukenhof. The park was beautifully filled with flowers, from tulips to orchids, gerber daisies, hyacinths and more.

How to get here: You can check out the website to find out the directions. I took the bus (line 858) from the Schiphol train station which was really easy to figure out.

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Just gorgeous. The weather in Amsterdam is usually gloomy but, on this day, the sun managed to come out most of the time. Otherwise, it was definitely a chilly day (it was in April) and I was getting over a pretty bad cold. But, that didn’t stop me from taking a bike ride with cold air blowing against my face for a good 3-4 hours. Again, I like subjecting myself to questionable circumstances that end up torturing me for a bit before I get my satisfaction at the end, whether it be gorgeous scenery or who knows. Although the park was filled with every flower imaginable, what I really was interested in seeing were the actual farms where the tulips were being grown to supply the market. To see this, you need to get there by bicycle or car.

Right outside the Keukenhof entrance, there was a bicycle rental stand called Rent-a-Bike van Dam. For the day, you could rent a bike for EUR 10 and they’ll supply you with a map and suggested routes. You just needed to make sure to return the bike by 7:30pm before they closed. I followed the route pretty well and almost rode off the path into some bushes when trying to look at the map and ride at the same time. There was a point where I got lost or, I thought I got lost because I had to ride across a major roadway and then into paths that either felt shady or like I was trespassing onto some private grounds. I finally passed by someone I could ask for directions. He, of course, led me the wrong way turning my planned 1 hour bike ride into about 3-4 hours. It’s okay, though…

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…because I finally made it to my destination. SELF HIGH FIVE!

Bizznazz trip

Scheduler at work: Hi Christine, are you still available to go to Rotterdam for this engagement?
Me: Umm, YEAAAA!!??

And thus, began my first trip to Europe via business class. Earlier in the week, I was sulking about not being able to afford a trip to Europe this year. And here I was, booking extremely expensive flights. For awhile, I couldn’t fathom the situation. Me, poor. Business class. Executive suite at the Westin. HUH?

On top of that, I’ve always wanted to travel abroad by myself. It was just me, sitting in my sweatshirt and jeans in business class, drinking orange juice in a champagne glass, pressing my face against the window wondering when we’ll takeoff and playing with the recliner function in my chair. Recline, reverse recline. Leg rest up, leg rest down. Buzzzzz.

Then I look over to my left, and there was a mid-aged man, in semi-business casual, fiddling with his blackberry. I could’ve passed as his teenage daughter, except he wasn’t Asian. So, uh, adopted daughter.

Nevertheless, I felt something I haven’t felt in awhile. Thankful to be alive. I love New York, but you have no idea how much it has desensitized me. It felt soo good to be able to breathe.

Rotterdam, the Netherlands

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Ladies and gentleman, thank you for joining this tour where you’ll experience an overview of Rotterdam’s main sights. Over to the left here is the Erasmus Bridge stretching across Nieuwe Maas River. It was completed in 1996, and nicknamed “the swan.” And now, you’ve reached the end of our tour. Please watch your step as you exit the bus. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy your stay in Rotterdam.

Surprisingly though, I’ve had some amazing food in this city. I had THE most authentic Chinese food I’ve ever tasted (Tai Wu), really awesome Indonesian food, and drank THE most deeeelicious wine (Tignanello, Solaia, and a third one I can’t remember at Rosso).

The city isn’t the most impressive, but the E&Y office there is pretty amazing. When I walked into the lobby, I thought I was in a hotel. There were seating areas with cushioned chairs, sculptures, and a huge panda mascot for the Beijing Olympics standing next to reception. The ivory carpeting seemed to be made of some innovative material. When working late at night, I saw the janitorial staff (or, the PC term – custodial engineers) cleaning the carpet with some high tech machine that sprayed a quick-drying cleaning liquid. Back in New York, the carpeting is dark gray with, I think, some multi-colored dots sprinkled throughout. Translation – the colors cover up just how dirty it probably is, especially since the carpeting is never shampooed…only vacuumed.

Enough about the office. Snooze! We worked until about 10-11pm every night, but we got weekends off. I was only supposed to be there for a week, but it was extended another 1.5 weeks. So I went to France both weekends I was there.

Blois, France

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This city is about a 1.5 hour train ride from Paris, and located in the Loire Valley. Very small and cute of a town. For breakfast, I had a croissant, small french baguette and freshly brewed black coffee. That alone made me feel delightful. In other words, FREAKING HAPPY!

Chenonceaux

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Traveling by yourself can be so…peaceful. It felt like freedom in every sense of the word. That guy to the right was also traveling by himself (after close observation, not stalking). I felt like giving him a high five, but instead I’m posting a picture of his backside and giving him props in my blog. Go you! Ha…

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Welcome to my homely abode. I mean, to the castle I paid an entrance fee to get into.

It is the only castle in the Loire Valley region to be built over a river.

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Diane de Poitiers’ (mistress of Henri II) bedroom. You get taken care of and your own space in the castle, and you have your occasional nighttime escapades. Sounds like a nice arrangement, no?

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Estampes exhibition room – a collection of drawings and engravings of Chenonceau.

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Inside the Chateau de Chenonceau, the windows were open in every room and everywhere I looked, there were different kinds of flowers fully bloomed in bright colors and fragrances. It had rained much earlier in the day, and by the time I arrived, it was just sunshine and breezes all around me. I personified the Chateau in my mind, and visualized it breathing as I explored inside it. Sun, breeze, flowers, history. Inhale. Exhaaaale.

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The corridor with the checkered floors is the part of the Chateau that’s built over the river, La Cher. Looking out of one of the windows, you see the winding river lined with trees whose leaves glittered with light reflecting from the water.

Can you believe that this hallway was a hospital during World War I?

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The Chateau dipping its legs in the water.

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Looking over from Diane de Poitiers’ garden…

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…and then, from Catherine de Medici’s garden.

Hors d’oeuvres! Uh, I mean au revoir.