Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hello Holland… or The Netherlands teaser

Have you ever been to Holland? I hadn’t been before this August J In fact, after getting the multi-visa, The Netherlands became the dream destination for the nearest furute…em, actually not The Netherlands in a whole, but specifically Amsterdam. So it was quickly decided that the week before my birthday and my birthday itself would be spent in this “must visit” city with my friend.

But what would you do if your friend couldn’t have joined you for the whole week, but only for few days? That’s right – search for another options! Probably I was lucky enough this summer, because a slightly different way of spending this week appeared sooner than I expected. It turned out that my colleague was on a short international assignment in The Hague (or in den Haag, if you wish J) and kindly invited me to stay at her place for a couple of days. And trust me I am not an idiot to say “no” to such opportunity. She warned me of luck of free time she had had and advised to plan also something on my own. Been there, done that! J

To tell you the truth, I hate planning anything, as plans never work out and are always influenced by different circumstances. So by the time I got on the plane Kiev – Schiphol, all I knew was that I would visit few different cities, go to the sea (obligatory!!!) and then spend 4 days in Amsterdam with my friend. Almost a plan, right?)))

And here it was…Schiphol! One of the biggest airports, where you can even have a wedding and then fly to the honeymoon. But with whole this romance, I don’t think Schiphol and I have become even friends. Guys, it is enormous and so complicated for a simple blond girl, who, by the way, has been to lots of huge and weird airports, but this one has not become my type.

But even this couldn’t ruin my mood, as I arrived to The Netherlands and was going to live in the best apartment I have ever been to. But before this, some small tips for you, which can be useful at your arrival:
- first of all download on your phone NS Reisplanner. With this magical app you will be able to plan any trip across Holland you like and the best part is that you will know the exact time and platform you will need to go to find the train. This program will be very useful in the airport, as you won’t need to search for screens with information above each platform and will be able to plan you time after you’ve landed.

- you should easily find the ticket sales point and there are two options: yellow machines and the cash desk. For a newbie I will totally recommend the second one. Machines don’t accept paper cash; they probably won’t accept Visa cards…so why will you need so much stress from the beginning???
- Other two options are to buy a single ticket or to by NS pass. I had a pass with me already (thanks to another colleague of mine), so needed just to put some money on it. If you’re going only to one place specifically, better option is to buy a ticket, but if you’re planning to explore several cities, buy this pass and you won’t need to rely neither on the machines, nor on cash desks working hours.
- And some small last tip: Wi-Fi in Holland is almost everywhere and in the trains as well. So in case you need to contact anyone or to make a route to your hotel/apartment this small advantage will be very useful. It has become to me by the way, as I needed to inform my colleague, that I had arrived and was already heading to The Hague.
- Oh, oh, how could I forget? Take an umbrella with you. I mean it. Even though, I’ve never been to UK but heard a lot of stories about rains whole the time, Holland seems to be the same and in fact, even in summer. When I arrived to The Hague it was raining cats and dogs and luckily there was a roof under which I could wait my colleague for some time. Hopefully the sun decided to show up in some time. 

So after I’ve used all those tips (except for umbrella) I’ve finally arrived to The Hague central railway station. You won’t imagine what happened next. I found myself on the 30th floor in an amazing white apartment 5 minutes away from the railway station with the city view, with the sea view and with the sun set view and with a separate cozy room prepared just for me. Could I dream about anything more amazing? I doubt so… J

To tell you the truth, I haven’t spent much time exploring The Hague, it became kind of a starting point for me to travel to Rotterdam, Utrecht, Gouda and to my final destination – Amsterdam. In order not to make a mess I would tell you guys about these awesome places in separate post, because some of these cities are just worth of attention.

Still, there was one place I went in The Hague and people who already know me a bit will quickly guess what it is. Right! To the sea! Where else I could have gone anyway?

There is a magical place in the suburb of The Hague called Scheveningen with a long beach line, cool seafood restaurants and amazing fairy houses that are standing there for more then 300 years. You will need to have a 30 minutes bike ride there…oh right! Bikes! How could I forget about them now? I am in a bicycle country!

Some few words on that first. I’ve never seen such huge amount of bikes before, I’ve never seen the special parking areas for the bikes before either, I’ve never thought that all the bicycles have two lockers in order not to be stolen (that is quite common in Holland by the way – mostly like a hobby). My colleague offered me hers, as she had two. In new buildings in which she was leaving there is a special parking place for bikes on the ground for. Well, that is somehow understandable. But imagine my surprise when I saw that there are special stairs in order you can easily pull out your bike out to the street without any efforts!!! All around it seemed to me, that there is nothing more special for all citizens of the Netherlands then their bicycles J

But anyway, for me there is nothing more important then sea, so I will continue telling you about that awesome place with long and complicated name – Scheveningen. The road there is amazing. Don’t go there by car, as you won’t notice all those fancy, old and very expensive villas on the way to the beach. It seems like each has a long history back to some 16-17th century. They are all so different, but extremely beautiful and charming. The bicycle road is going straight near all of them – so take your time just gazing (but don’t forget about safety!).

And here I was…beautiful sea with yellow sand (won’t mention much about the weather as it was +16), relaxed Dutchmen walking or riding back and forth, some are walking their dogs, others playing with children…the place is just perfect for the rest and not thinking about anything. I’ve parked my bike and went straight to the sea – cold, dark and not calm at all, but amazingly beautiful and welcoming. Only then I’ve realized that it has been already an hour that I had been sitting and staring not thinking about anything at all. Nirvana?

After all that meditation you’ll definitely feel hunger. My suggestion will be Simonis restaurant, but you’re free to pick one you like as I am sure they are all extremely good. And if you are near the sea, you should better taste some seafood Holland specifics. You will have 100 opportunities to taste herring in Amsterdam or any other city, so better order fried kibbeling. Attention! The plates are just huge, so there is a possibility of sharing, as I didn’t manage to finish my meal. Even though, I am not so fish fan, I just liked this dish so much, so think twice before ordering meat or salad J

To end this perfect trip, get on your bike and have a small ride around the suburb, admire all those small old pretty houses; talk to locals (as they are very welcoming, or that was me lucky again?) and with full baggage of emotions feel free to come back to the city.  For the people staying directly in Scheveningen I would recommend to feel it also in the early morning with a small run along the sea or at the evening admiring the sun set. I can hardly think of anyone who won’t like this place after all.

Have you ever been to Holland? Did you like it as I did? And if you’re interested in details of how I liked it even more, stay tuned (and I do promise to post sooner, then this post – it is just autumn guys with all its problems and uninspirational mood). And of course I will tell you about the place I’ve liked the most and the place I haven’t felt anything special about (and I am sure you will be shocked of my choices).  See ya <3

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hello Budapest…or solo traveling

Do you remember your first solo traveling and your feelings about it? How was it this first unusual experience? 

 Mine happened not so long ago, so it is sooo easy to memorize. That happened when i got multi-visa this summer and decided to flatter the Hungarian embassy for giving me that great opportunity by visiting Budapest first. In fact, that trip wasn't planned to be solo and honestly at that time i even didn't know that lonely traveling had had its own name. Realizing that no one can join me didn't stop me, but it was decided to have a small weekend journey in order not to get bored alone. 

 There was no need in expensive flights and luxury hotels, as Hungary is a neighbour and is so accessible. I was wondering how i would manage to make this trip cheap. Hostels didn't work from the very beginning, as all nice ones had been already booked and others didn't seem like a good option, in fact, they didn't seem to be the option at all ;) 

And then i first met this wonderful source, where all your wishes of accomodation can become real. I've heard of AirBnB several times before, but never had a chance to use it. I've spent almost a day sufring from one flat to another; from antique appartments to modern studios and found a cozy small place so close to the downtown in a totally Hungarian building, where the stairs and the entrance to the flat are outside under the sky. Connected the owner. Booked. Paid. Done. 

 Even when sitting in the airport and looking at pink-purple low-cost WizzAir airplane i couldn't gather all my thoughts and feelings. How did it happen that i am traveling alone (and with no luggage, i would mention)? What if i got lost? What if my appartment is occupied? What if? What if? It seemed like a risky adventure for me. (It is only now when i've read some of your blogs, guys, and understood that my trip didn't have anything in common with risk). But i was full of happiness. Finally, i could escape from home, from everyone, from troubles and to be on my own. I wouldn't need to talk to anyone, to express my thoughts, argue, think of work, i would just be all alone with myself, my feelings and city around me. 

 I've been to Budapest before, so didn't plan to see anything specific, but just wanted to feel myself like a local. In fact, that is my biggest love about traveling – not to be a tourist, not to feel as a tourist, but just enjoy a simple day in a simple way. 

 The whole three days were dedicated to walking from one street to another; sitting on the grass in different parks; smiling to sitizens and discovering unusual spots. First of all i needed to say «Hello» to Danube and to the Parliament. It was a sun set and I was just walking and smiling like stupid (well, we blondes can do that) full of joy, excitement and feeling that I so belonged to that place. To celebrate this I went to the center straight from the Margaret bridge (which is so beautiful by the way) and found a sweet cozy bar with small lights all over all trees and ordered my “traveling” drink – Aperol Spritz. It is a small tradition wherever I go, after a day of walking around the city, I pick a bar and try their Aperol. That was so perfect, I didn’t care whether people think I am a drunker or why I am alone, I wasn’t worried of what the time it was and where I needed to go next, to tell you the truth I wasn’t thinking much at all. Small dream in reality. 

Budapest is incredibly beautiful place. Its architecture is so different but in the same time lives in the total harmony. The grass is indeed greener; the people are indeed happier – the atmosphere is inspiring. I’ve spent whole next day walking around and just admiring everything around me and by the evening I’ve realized that somehow I managed to explore all central part of Buda. And here it was… Ferris wheel…What could be better in the whole world? Actually, it was a little bit hard to explain to a ticket man why I am alone and that no one will join me in the cabin. But who cares, right? ☺ I was happy as I child, making photos and admiring the roofs of the city. The time flew so fast that I wasn’t even ready to get out of this magical trip. But I had another plan saved already. From the wheel I’ve seen an enormous fountain around which all locals were sitting with their feet in the water. Why shouldn’t I try? Only after a half an hour I felt that time for goulash has come. The best way to finish that day perfectly was to find a huge bench and enjoy the Parliament in its night-lights. I was so happy for locals that they have such a wonderful city, safe, beautiful, full of history and freedom; the place which is so comfortable and can be called a home. 

The last day I’ve spent at the Margaret island having a picnic, wondering in the woods, watching kids playing everywhere and enjoying Buda from the middle of Danube. It was a calm lazy day and I can’t stop but think how smart of me was to arrange this small trip. 

Solo traveling is all about your feelings and comfort. You are dedicated totally to yourself, to your thoughts and emotions. You go wherever you want, you visit whatever you feel like, you stop for a snack whenever you’re actually hungry. I kept feeling as I was local there and couple of tourists asking the way proved that. It was a little bit exhausting walking for three days, so the last evening I’ve dedicated to Starbucks coffee on the terrace with incredible cookies. What can be better? While sitting there I’ve planned my next partially solo trip for the end of the summer. Why is that partial? And where did I go? Stay tuned! <3

P.S. As you might noticed i wasn't taking much staff with me and the camera was left at home as well :( but i couldn't but show you some pics, even in not the best iPhone quality...