Wednesday, July 27, 2011

FAQ: What was your favourite trip?

Since I've been back, I've gotten a lot of questions about my eight months abroad in Europe.  I thought I'd answer a few of them here.

While I enjoyed all my trips, I think Amsterdam stood out.  Here are some reasons why:

1.  I put a lot of planning into this trip.  Whereas I set off for Belgium, Rome, Berlin and Prague with more vague ideas of what I wanted to see, I really put a lot of planning into this trip.  Some resources I used to plan my trip included:

Europe on a Shoestring  -- Offers a good general overview of many European travel destinations while staying budget-conscious.

Amsterdam en quelques jours -- I bought a French pocket guide to Amsterdam because I wanted to ensure I knew what I was looking at so I would get the most out of my trip.  In English the en quelques jours series is called Encounters.  They're fantastic!, I bought them for Rome and Prague too. -- Prior to leaving for France, I spent a lot of time in the travel section at the bookstore.  I was drawn to the Frommer's guides, but didn't want to weigh down my suitcase with travel guides.  I found the Frommer's website super helpful for itineraries and walking tours.

2. We stayed on a canal boat.  The canal system is such an inextricable part of Amsterdam, I'm glad we got to experience it by staying on a canal boat.

3.  I made food part of the experience.  While I ate a lot of pasta and gelato in Rome, food wasn't my biggest concern during most of my trips.  I was more about seeing what there was to see.  In Amsterdam, because of its Dutch East Indian Company history, I figured it had pretty good Indonesian food.  Just as my first time trying Indian food was in London five years ago, I figured Amsterdam would be a good place to try Indonesian.  Turns out, they are renown for rijsttafel, a Dutch take on Indonesian food.

Other memorable meals included:
  •  The Dutch breakfast we had on the boat -- either savory cheese, cucumber and tomato sandwiches (the Dutch historically haven't been big on breakfast foods) or, at the other end of the spectrum, Hagelslag--chocolate sprinkles eaten on peanut buttered toast.

  • Gouda fondue at Dwaze Zaken, a cool café on Prinsheindrikkade across from the central train station.  Although France is renown for its cheeses, the Netherlands is home to its fair number of varieties. 

4. Amsterdam is a pedestrian friendly city.  Despite having to keep an eye out for cyclists, I found that Amsterdam is one of Europe's great cities for pedestrians.  Without necessarily having "sights" to "see," I loved just wandering around Amsterdam's canal-bordering streets and discreetly gazing through the ground-level windows at awesomely arranged and furnished apartments.

5. Amsterdam is a city of great museums.  As I have said before, there is more to Amsterdam than marijuana.  Amsterdam truly has some great museums, chief among which are the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museums, but also the Rembrandthuis (which I did not have time to visit).

6. We didn't overbook our days. We planned one major thing to do for each day.  We started off by taking a walking tour of Amsterdam (check out Sandemans' Free Europe tours, they're awesome!), then went to the Van Gogh Musem and Rijksmuseum as our main event the next two days we were there.  This left lots of time for just walking around and enjoying the city (see #4).

These are just a few of the elements that went into a great trip.  I'm not a trip-planning professional, but I'd love to answer any questions you might have.  What's a great trip you took?  What factors made your trip so awesome?

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