Amsterdam : Day 1

What’s really amazing about Shelter City is, free breakfast and free wifi!

The menu for breakfast looked good, until they asked us to choose one of the three things. I chose ham and cheese sandwich, which was filling but dry. Let’s go with pancakes tomorrow. ( Yes, I didn’t choose pancakes, sigh, I wanted something filling!)

I had booked the free Sandeman Tours for 10 AM, which I must recommend! Our guide Kor, was really amazing! And we went over a lot of places in the city, learning a lot about it.

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Kor with us on a short break. We walked a lot!

Explicit content : if you’re bringing kids on the tour, be warned.

Almost all houses here have gabels ( fancy top characteristic of houses in Amsterdam) with a hook on top. This is really interesting. Taxes were paid as per the width of the houses, hence they were kept slim, leading to smaller doors and staircases, which meant furniture wouldn’t pass through it. This hook is the pulley system to take everything up! Furthermore, the houses lean forward, to make this easier and to prevent the furniture crashing into the windows. Brilliant! I couldn’t capture a decent enough picture to justify putting it here! Ah, c’est dommage!

After the tour, I bid goodbye to the new friends I made on the tour ( apparently there were a lot of students! Free stuff is attractive to us, I guess! ) and headed back to my hostel. I had bought the tickets for the Red Light District tour, simply because I was a little apprehensive venturing into this enchanting modern brothel. <= weirdest expression I’ve ever used! But this tour starts only at 7. And it was about 2 when I finished the walking tour.

Feeling famished, I decided to follow Kors’ recommendation! Try the raw herring at “harings!” Not sure if that’s dutch for herring. It’s a staple here in Amsterdam, available on every corner! Click here to see it. This was the first time I had raw fillet fish. With onion and pickels as condiments, the fish tasted amazing! Sadly, not enough for a lunch, which I realised 10 minutes later, sitting in my hostel. Go out again for food? Oh god, please no!

I texted back home for a bit, talking to my friend, who pushed me out of bed! Haha, she’s awesome 😉 i had the dutch speciality right on the corner of my street : waffles with maple syrup, sitting on a bench by the canal, with ducks, beautiful ducks : mallards and coots roaming about. ( I recognised them because I’m a bit into birdwatching. The Mallard is really beautiful, Check here )

I headed back to my hostel, sat in the cafe for a while, talked with the people over there, and then decided to take the canal cruise at about 5, so I finish by 6, and then head over for the RLD tour.I ended up missing the 5 PM cruise, so I had to take the 5:30 one! Kinda better, I guess. Less waiting in between.

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Pro Tip: buy the cruise tickets beforehand and not from the place where the cruise leaves from. ( there are 3 cruise start points right in front of Centraal) generally, hostels / hotels have deals which are cheaper!

I bought the tickets for the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh and RLD in a combo. 4 Euros saved 😛 Cheaper than the I Amsterdam Card as well.

One aspect of Amsterdam I haven’t touched upon yet, is the weather. It rains almost everyday and the locals told me, ” it’s the same f***ing thing throughout the year” I experienced this after the cruise, it started raining heavily and I was stuck, deciding whether to go for the tour or back to the hostel! I decided to go to the start point of the tour, asked them if they are running, and then went back to the hostel to get the umbrella ( all close by. I was on Nieumarkt and the tour starts at National Monument, Dam square)

But, when I got to my hostel, I decided to just stay in. Who wants to go out in this weather? Best. Decision. Ever.

I had dinner in the hostel cafe and played the piano placed here. Ah, I’ve forgotten most of what I knew. Damn it! Should have listened when mom told me to practice a bit. I met this girl from Istanbul ( I really want to visit this place, it’s so beautiful! ) who would start studying here. ( Hey there 😉 ). After an hour or so, I met the first Italian ever. All the myths about them being the most flirtatious kinds ever, TRUE! To the last bit! Hahaha, this was such an eye opener! I admired his free going attitude.

Let’s just stop it at that.

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Amsterdam : Day 0

When you pack for 4 months, keep in mind that you’d have about 50 kgs of luggage+hand luggage no matter how optimistic you want to be, and in such a case, going sightseeing first is not the best idea!
Haha, that’s how I ended up in Amsterdam in the first place! I booked straight to Amsterdam, primarily because it was slightly cheap, more so because I really wanted to visit the city. Oh, isn’t this a beauty!

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First disaster struck even before I started from my home. Wait, hold up. Let’s skip that. And the next one. And the next one. And the part where I got lost with my luggage. And the next part.
Finally, in my hostel, drenched in sweat, which seemed very weird to all the locals, since it was pretty cool at 18 degrees, I decided to rest my aching arms and legs.
The energy of the place soon took over. 45 minutes since, I was out, exploring the hostel first, learning about the way things work here, and then, out into the mysterious and beautiful streets of Amsterdam!

I decided to first track the way back to the Centraal, which is where I started towing my luggage from, so I could make the journey faster on my way back ( to Douai, France; after 2 days). The High Speed trains are very punctual and I’d be mortified to be late for it!

Half way through, it started raining snakes ( cats and dogs is overused now, isn’t it?) and I decided to leave it for another day, tracing my way back to the hostel.

A little bit more about the hostel : it’s called Shelter City, a christian hostel located in a central hub, Nieumarkt next to the Red Light district. It’s really clean and has a lot of amazing volunteers! In their own words, “We volunteer because we love Jesus. It may sound a bit cheesy to you, but for us, it isn’t. Not even the slightest! ” Also, the volunteers are from all over the world! I met a girl, from California, volunteering here for a year, deciding what to study next, to choose her specialisation. A lot of people from Germany as well, here just because they want to work. Pretty neat, I think!

Plonged on my bed, I checked out the maps I had acquired over the ordeals of getting here. Planning where to go, what to do?

When the rain stopped, I was out again, map in one hand, and jacket in the other. The weather was really weird, I had to keep taking off and putting my jacket every 15 minutes to stay comfortable. Where do you find weather like this? Awesomeness in it’s own right. 5 minutes off, I decided to put the map down and just explore! Go wherever I want, whichever canal looks the prettiest. It is a small enough place, and I had the map sans luggage, couldn’t be hard to find my way back. <= Best decision, ever! I went through the entire inner ring road area, exploring freely, admiring the beauty, of the people and the place alike, mesmerised by the symbiosis between the water and land. This city has truly embraced what it was given and made the most of it!

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Counting 16,000 steps on my iPhone, about 11 km, I headed back for a good nights sleep in my room! The room was pretty small, with 3 bunkbeds and a locker! Cosy, nevertheless. I was alone when I got into bed, but 5 guys checked in while i was in bed, and went out for a drink faster than they got here, leaving me in peace to sleep. They didn’t jet lag because they were from around here, Germany and Ireland!

A pretty eventful zeroth day.

The Journey

And, it begins! I leave in < 24 hours for Amsterdam! To spend a total of 4 months 12 days in Europe, on an Exchange Programme in Douai, which is about an hour away from Paris!

It took long to write the last post, simply because I couldn’t find the right time to do so! Apparently, last day while packing hits the spot.

So, without further ado, I’m off! Hopefully I can document experiences as they happen. Considering the amount of time it takes to write down, I’m not sure if I’d be updating regularly. Rest assured, I should have everything down by the time I get back!

Au revoir!

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, June 2015 : Port Blair

This is a follow up post to Heaven on Havelock!

On Port Blair, we were booked in the Sinclair Bay View Hotel, which is one of the better hotels on the coast. Not the beach, just the coast! The Makruzz( Ferry from Havelock) reaches at about 5:30 PM. Needless to say, we headed straight to the hotel, with an auto-wale bhaiya having convinced us to not take a taxi ( That’s 50% off.). How he managed to fit us and our 3 suit cases in that single auto is still a mystery to me.

What you need to know about Port Blair is, there is not much you can do over there. Also, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, even at hotels that offer free wifi services. However, it didn’t matter much to me as I had decided before hand not to use any form of data connection at all. The only time I used my phone in the 7 day long trip was one fine evening when I got a call from my friend asking me to help her with her US Visa Application. I was quick to mention that I was not in town, and the call lasted much shorter than she or I would like. 😉

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What’s really amazing about Sinclair Bay View is that, there’s a pool table and a Pool!( Not sure if you were expecting to hear that after the amazing stuff in Havelock 😛 ) Dev and I spent all our evenings honing our billiards skill and bonding over Snakes-and-Ladders. If you can call fighting, bonding. We also met quite a few visitors, discussing our travels : This is where and how I found out what a majority of tourists do, the staying in Port Blair first part. Also, I was not looking forward to going to the cliched “Sound and Laser” show at Cellular Jail, it seemed so overrated. These talks confirmed my view and we decided to skip it altogether!

So, the next day, we ventured to Ross Island, the highlight of Port Blair according to me! The island had been a strategic military base for the British as well as the Japanese when they invaded, and still has quite a few bunkers intact, as well as the buildings built during that time. An interesting water boiler, among other things. There are a billion trails ( 7, to be precise) on the island, 2 of which had been wiped off by the Tsunami. That is a touchy subject for people here, and I would not want to get into it.

The place is a very small island, probably just 2km across, with deers and peacocks that haven’t seen much of mankind, resulting in a somewhat curious attitude from their side. You could easily come close to either, but try putting your hand forward, and you’ve quenched their curiosity, they make a run for it! Sadly ( Not really), I was too intrigued to think about taking photos! Photos have never been my first priority, but I think I should make it my third atleast, for now.

Here’s a not very good map of Ross Island! My brother and I, both unanimously decided when we saw it, we are going to the Light House. Epic stuff.

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The Light House, apparently, was out of bounds. The bridge that leads to it, submerges during high tide. Now isn’t that scary!? We decided to go, it wasn’t high tide time anyways, but incase we felt the water rising, we were supposed to make a run for it. On the bridge, there were quite a few dead crabs, reaffirming the thought that yes, water does get this high during high tide! The view was worth it.

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Looking back to Ross Island,

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I hope we have made clear who is the better photographer 😉

We covered the whole island, and in that humid climate, that was enough for the both of us. Our mother( I didn’t forget about you, mom! ) decided to rest halfway, treating herself to some coconut water in the shade! She was ready to go back by the time we got back to her, and so were we!

Next up, taking the small ferry back to Port Blair from Ross Island, famished, we went to this local famous restaurant next to the ferry. Sadly, I don’t remember the name! But it’s right there, next to the ferry which takes you to Ross Island, ask any of the locals/ Police officers!

It was at this precise moment, that it started raining very heavily, and I realised how lucky we had been. This is why it’s called off-season, because people don’t get to do all that they want to because of the rains! Visibility underwater goes down to a bare minimum, and it does become uncomfortable to snorkel as well! There’s rain water going down your breathing pipe! (I imagine). Lucky, very lucky! 😀

Feeling adventurous, I decided to have a Crab for the first time! Checking before hand with mom and Dev, if they had any problem with me eating Crab. The waiter, took me to a small aquarium filled with live crabs just out of the sea. I was mortified! I asked him to choose the one he would have for himself.

Pro Tip : When unsure of what to have, ask the waiter what he would have, they hesitate at first, but insist, and you would probably get the best of the lot!

P.s : If it isn’t good, don’t blame the waiter 😛 , Afterall, his tastes might be different from yours.

The Crab was the best piece of meat I’ve ever had! Not that I have had many, but well. The only problem was that, it takes a lot of effort to break open the crab, and the amount of meat inside is as little as the amount the cat would get once he does manage to catch Tweety. ( Remember the yellow bird?) . That guy puts in a lot of effort, like me, but well atleast I got the meat!

Haha, bad comparison, much? (<= Not a gramatical error. <= Spelling Error. )

I did ask my friend, Karina to teach me how to eat a crab! I’m still waiting on that. Maybe next year? By the way, check out her blog too! She’s an amazing chef! Kay’s Kitchen <= Go here ( Opens in new tab)

Well, that’s all folks! The next day, we took the safari to catch a glimpse of the Jarwa tribes, the locals of Andamans. Simply put, I didn’t like it, and I would not suggest going for it! If you want detailed explanations, let me know!

That’s it for Andamans! Over and Out!

-Neil

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