Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Capping off my Dutch experience

One final note about Amsterdam, it is the bike capital of the world. There are practically just as many bikes as people in this city with a population of 750,000. Amsterdam with all its canals and narrow streets wasn’t built for cars, and having a radius of about 5 kilometers makes it perfect to travel through the city by bike. The many bike rental companies make it very easy for tourists to get in on the action. Anyway, here's a photo I took of one of the most massive bicycle parking lots I have ever seen in my life! (I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually was the world’s largest.)

And while we’re still in the topic of Holland, I’d like to leave you with a very funny video I found on the net. Apparently, some Dutch Idol wannabes were asked/told to perform Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the best’ during the half time of some football match. I don’t think the people in the crowd knew what they were in for.

Uploaded in youtube by user Haenf

There are so many things that go wrong here that I don't know where to start LOL. It always cracks me up each time I watch even if I've seen it so many times already. The youtube user who uploaded this video entitled it 'Pop Idol losers torture football fans'. Quite appropriate, don't you think? :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

More on my Amsterdam trip

Here are a few more anecdotes and photos from my weekend in this Dutch capital:

Perfect weather for touring... NOT! :)
You can't see the actual rain here, but the sight of cloudy skies, umbrellas, jackets, and raincoats should indicate that the weather conditions were not the most ideal for traveling. My friends Daniel and Marieke did tell me though that at least I got to experience Amsterdam the same way that most Dutch people. Apparently rains there all the time.

Getting lost

I got massively lost looking for Hotel Wiechmann the day that I got there (thanks to Glenn for letting me know about this hotel. Since I decided to go here a bit late, virtually all of the budget hotels I could find online were fully booked already). I had an option of spending €10 to get on a special bus that would bring me to the doorstep of my hotel, but since I had the I Amsterdam card that gave me free bus rides for 48 hours, I decided to find my way via public transportation. I get off at Princengracht, check out the house numbers (I was at around 400) and I checked my hotel address – it had house number 1016 (or so I thought…). I figure that I’m fit enough for the long walk, so I start heading towards 1016.

I keep walking along Prinsengracht, until I get to the end of the street which was the Amstel River. But the house numbers were still at 900. I probably have to go over the river, I thought. I walk to the nearest bridge a couple of hundred meters away to get across and when I do, I see that the street name was now New Prinsengracht, and the house numbers had changed. I was confused. So I call the number of the hotel to get info. Apparently, what I thought was the house number – 1016 – was the postal code. The house number was 332. F*ck!!!! That was practically where I got off the bus! This meant I had to walk all the way back, and then some. Argh!! By the time I got to my hotel, I had spent about an hour and a half walking with all my stuff, and I was tired and soaked in sweat.

So when I got there at around 130pm, I check in to my room (for which I had to walk up three flights of stairs) and fell asleep for about an hour or so to recharge.

What I found quite charming about this hotel, and I would find out later on that a lot of budget hotels in Europe had this setup, at least the warmer months, was that they had an electric fan (in lieu of air-conditioning which was more expensive and not really needed for maybe three quarters of the year).

Freebies with the I Amsterdam Card
I also availed of some freebies and discounts that my I Amsterdam card provided: I got 20% off for a raw herring sandwich in Jonk’s Herring Cart which I had for lunch (taste-wise it was good but texture-wise was certainly not my cup of tea), after which I had free coffee from La Place market-style restaurant. Later that evening, on my way to my final canal tour that day, I availed of the free croquette roll from Van Dobben. And I have to say, even if you don’t have an I Amstedam card, you should try to find this eatery and try the croquette roll. It is really really good!

The I Amsterdam card also offered free entrance to the Holland Casino. I had never been to a casino before so I thought it would be a good experience to go inside. However, after falling in line, I was told I needed to have my passport with me. My I Amstedam guide book said I just needed a valid ID so I thought my driver’s license would be sufficient and I left my passport in the safe in my hotel room. I thought about whether I should back to my hotel to get it. To help me make my decision, I asked one of the security guys there if it was allowed to take photos inside. He said it wasn’t. Since I wasn’t going to be gambling (no money…), the only reason I would want to go in was to have my photo taken inside. And since it wasn’t allowed, I figured it wasn’t worth it for me to go back to my hotel and get my passport.

Right next to the Casino is this large chessboard (it's quite interesting that the chess set is complete. If this was in the Philippines, it wouldn't be very long before the chess pieces started disappearing one by one in quick succession). Each time I passed by this area, there were people playing. The couple playing here actually had to abandon this game they were playing because they had a boat to catch.

Which Canal Tour to take?
The difference between these tours, aside from the starting point (Holland International begins near the central station while the Rederij Noord-Zuid tour kicks off near Holland Casino), is the way that the commentary is made: Holland International has a recording that is timed perfectly with the boat ride while the Rederij Noord-Zuid tour has live commentary given by the guy operating the boat. I’m a big fan of live commentary since it is more personal, so I have to say that I enjoyed the Rederij Noord-Zuid tour more. If you could take only one canal tour, I recommend this one. Of course, if you avail of the I Amsterdam card, you don't have to make a choice since you get a free pass to both.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dutch treat

Even heavy rain couldn’t stop me from having a blast in Amsterdam. I mentioned in a previous post how it was storming during the weekend I spent in this Dutch capital, but I checked the weather report prior to my trip and so I was prepared both physically (jacket and folding umbrella in tow) and psychologically (I knew what to expect so I was definitely not going to be upset if the weather didn’t cooperate).

Before I got there, I had only four points of interest – the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, the Anne Frank house, and going on a Canal Tour. But after going to the tourist information center upon arrival at the airport, I found out that it would be much better for me to get the 48-hour I Amsterdam card, which would give me free entrance to almost all museums there (save for the Anne Frank house) as well as free rides on public transportation and even a couple of canal tours. If I couldn’t spend time outdoors, then I would milk this card for all it was worth by visiting as many museums as I could.

I arrived on Friday mid-afternoon and decided to study my I Amsterdam Card Guidebook to see which places I had free entrance to, which of them I would like to visit, what their opening times were, and where they were located. I then mapped out my sightseeing plan. Since there wasn’t a lot of time left on that Friday, I opted to see three places: the Houseboatmuseum (which was just down the block from my hotel), and both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, which on Fridays remain open until 10pm.

There are about 2,500 houseboats in Amsterdam. The Houseboat Museum gives you a bit of an idea of how it is to live in one of these houseboats. It was actually quite cozy inside, but I have to say that I don’t think I could live here – every time another boat passed by, it rocked the houseboat a tad bit, but enough to make me slightly seasick (or, well, canal-sick).

I then headed towards the Rijksmuseum. I strongly recommend a visit here when you are in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum houses mostly paintings, although it also has some historical artifacts and sculptures as well. What made my trip here very memorable was the free concert I managed to catch inside. At around 6pm, I heard an immaculate soprano voice singing operatic solos while accompanied by a piano. I head over to the adjacent hall where the music was coming from and I learn that there was a concert there at 730pm (actually, there was one every Friday night of June), and museum goers could watch it for free. It would last about an hour, so that meant I wouldn’t have time to visit the Van Gogh museum that night, but I decided that the concert would be worth seeing and I could just head to the Van Gogh museum the next day. It was a great concert (I felt so cultured afterwards LOL). I also have to say that the acoustics inside that museum hall were magnificent.

The next day was one of the longest touring days I’ve ever had. I got up fairly early, around 8, had a hefty breakfast, then I ran through the following itinerary:
  • De Nieuwe Kerk, which is the second oldest church in Amsterdam, dating back to 1414
  • De Oude Kerk, which is Amsterdam’s oldest monument dating back to 1250. You can’t really tell from the outside, but this church has a very high ceiling. You are also warned when you come in to take care when walking around because the floor is a bit uneven. Additional interesting piece of info – behind this church is the red light district. Talk about your ironies.

  • Ons' Lieve Heer Op Solder, or Our Lord in the Attic. If I remember what I read about the museum correctly, in the olden days when Protestantism was the predominant religion in Holland, Catholic churches were “prohibited” from being built. However, the Protestants were a bit more tolerant and thus allowed Catholics to build churches as long as the fa├žade did not clearly indicate that it was indeed a Catholic church. As such, this Chapel in the Attic actually has a gable house exterior.
  • Foam Photography Museum (FOtografiemuseum AMsterdam). During my visit, the galleries displayed photo exhibits from four different photographers: Lise Sarfati, French street artist JR, Jacques Henri Lartigue, and Rob Van Der Nol.

  • Museum Willet-Holthuysen. This beautiful house, located on the bank of the Herengracht canal, used to belong to Mrs. Willet-Holthuysen, whose last will was to turn her home into a museum so as to keep the family name alive.
  • The Van Gogh Museum, which contains hundreds of paintings, drawings, and even letters of Vincent Van Gogh. There were also works from other artists. It was during this visit that I realized I am not one of those people who appreciate Van Gogh’s art style. I do like some of his earlier works, but for the most part, his art doesn’t really reach out to me in the way it does with most other people.
  • Rederij Noord-Zuid Canal Tour. By now, most museums were closed. But the two canal tours were still open so it made sense to get on these canal tours at the end of the day since all you had to do was sit on the boat and see the sights.

  • Holland International Canal Tour. My I Amsterdam card gave me a free pass to both canal tours so I decided to take both. Holland International operates until 10pm during the summer so I took this last.
I got back to my hotel at around 1030pm before I realized that I hadn’t seen the Red Light District yet. I asked the night-shift receptionist (a really tall, friendly, and pretty Dutch woman) how to get there (30 minute walk), and if it was safe to walk there (it was). I decided not to take any photos since I wasn’t sure if I would get in trouble if I did. But it was certainly an, er, unique experience walking around in this area. I finally get back to my hotel at half-past midnight, cleaned up and fell fast asleep.

I was planning to visit two more places on Sunday morning before I had to head back to the airport at around 12 noon. But after doing tourist-y stuff from 10am until past midnight the day before, I was so tired that I decided to sleep in a bit more on Sunday morning and just visit Anne Frank Huis (or the Anne Frank House). I read in my book that you need to make your way here right when it opens at 9am to avoid the long queues. I didn’t make it by 9 – I got there about maybe 45 minutes later – and true enough, the queue was already around the corner. It took me about half an hour to actually get inside. But when I did, it was worth it.

So after two churches, seven museums, and two canal tours, I bid farewell to Holland, bringing with me lots of wonderful memories. At least now I can say that I have been to Amsterdam, and not just the airport (through which I have had to make dozens of connecting flights in the past). Would be nice to pay a visit again in the future. Hopefully with better weather. :)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Gearing up for Elliott's arrival

Few changes with respect to Elliott's concert schedule here:

  • Sept. 21, Fri - Trinoma (7:00pm)
  • Sept. 22, Sat - Glorietta (7:00pm)
  • Sept. 23, Sun - Market! Market! (6:00pm)
  • Sept. 26, Wed - Ayala Mall Cebu (6:00pm)
  • Sept. 28, Fri - Alabang Town Center (6:30pm)

(image courtesy of Marie. Thanks, Marie!)

This is the same image you see on Elliott's huge billboard advert along Edsa.

It's too bad that his ATC appearance is now on a Friday instead of a Saturday. It means that if I want to catch that last show, I need to leave the office early and brave Friday evening traffic - on payday no less. To make matters worse, I believe that there is work being done on South Super Highway. Maybe I can just work really late on Thursday night so I can leave a lot earlier on Friday. Anyways, it's still a few weeks from now, so there's time for me to figure out what to do.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Thriller, Cebuano-style

This video has gone viral, making its way into so many people's inboxes and being blogged and written about by so many people, whether Pinoy or not. It has in fact been featured on both CNN and BBC. The originally uploaded video on youtube has more than 6 million hits already. If you haven't seen it yet, then here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Video uploaded in youtube by byronfgarcia

Apparently, the purpose of this is to aid in the rehabilitation of these prisoners. What impresses me here is the fact that about someone (or some people) managed to organize about 1,500 prisoners and get them to learn and perform together. And this "Thriller" performance is not the only dance they do. Click here to see other videos on youtube.