Archive for the ‘Netherlands’ Category

Amsterdam Vol.2

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

My two full days in Amsterdam I think deserve special post, for each day. So here I go 🙂 . For our second day after our arrival we have proposed to visit a list of museums, using several guides that we have collected the previous day at info-points (I suggest to gather these tourist-guide booklets/fliers, they contain a lot of info).

Our first target was Museumplein, Amsterdam’s square of museums. Out of the four museums of Museumplein, we have first visited the Rijksmuseum (the Dutch National museum – ticket price: €11.00, no cellphones or photos allowed). Most of the exhibits in this museum are works of great dutch artists, the most famous of them being Rembrandt, having also one of his greatest masterpieces, the The Night Watch exposed.
The next museum we have visited, was the Van Gogh Museum, a museum dedicated to the famous dutch painter (ticket price €12.50, no photos). Although I am not a big fan of his works, I could find out a lot about his life and about the people he was surrounded with in his lifetime. It is worth a visit, though I feel the price/value ratio of the Rijksmuseum is higher (I just liked it more… 😛 ).

The third museum to visit was the Diamond Museum, (ticket price: €7.50, photos without flash are allowed). Although photos were allowed, I was not very impressed with this museum. If one really does not know much about diamonds, then it provides a lot of info, but… On the other hand the crown-collection of the museum was quite interesting.
Next to the Diamond Museum lies Coster Diamonds, one of the oldest diamond polishing workshops which is still operational. Here we have received a tour-guide for free. We were actually quite surprised when we were greeted by her, in Romanian (because before entering we have completed a questionnaire of who we are/where we’re from). We were guided through the factory as well as through the diamond exhibitions. I do not know why, but I constantly had the feeling that our guide was trying to be quick enough to just get through with the business and escape from us (especially after it got obvious, as if it wasn’t before, that we will not spend thousands of euros buying their precious diamonds… 🙂 ). Anyway we learned stuff about polishing diamonds, so it is worth a visit 😉 .

The next thing we have visited, which was quite cool was the House of Bols a great experience of taste, smell and of course history: the history of the Bols liqueur. The entrance fee here was €11.50, but this included a cocktail of our choice and we were also allowed to taste different flavors of Bols. It is a quite cool place, don’t miss it: it is right across the street from the Van Gogh Museum’s main entrance.

Next we went to eat something, as we were already starving, and our liqueur tasting experience was endangering our visit to Heineken Experience. We sat down at one of the many cafe’s and ordered something to eat. The food, as it proved to be very common in Amsterdam, was plentiful and delicious. We could barely move after it.

Actually the huge lunch got to be the real danger which made us postpone our visit to the Heineken Experience to the other day: we decided to visit the Anne Frank House that evening. This house is a museum dedicated to a Jewish girl, who wrote his very famous diary here while hiding from the Nazis. Usually there is quite a long line in front of it, so we could consider ourselves lucky to wait only about 10 minutes before getting in. (I would advise anyone to go in the evening, there is much more chance of actually getting in). The entry ticket price is €8.50 for adults and it is again, worth the money. The rooms are unfurnished, but a lot of pictures, miniature models and videos present the arrangement of the house in those days. Also there are a lot of videos with interviews and stories about Anne’s life.
Before exiting the museum, do not miss the Free 2 Choose hall, where you can sit down, watch interesting and important decisions of our recent history, and the vote: what’s your opinion? It is actually quite interesting to see what other people vote and have voted over time 🙂 .

We had a little more time after the Anne Frank House, and as we were headed back towards the city center, we stopped at the Torture Museum (€7.50) completely worthless, and in the Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum and Gallery (€7.50): this was a bit better and we were allowed to take photos 🙂 .

So… nine place in one day and a LOT of walking… I think it was quite a performance 🙂 . The next day, however, I think was a bit better….


Sunday, July 5th, 2009

At last, Amsterdam… it took a while for us to get there 🙂 , but we were there. Amsterdam Centraal is located quite close to the city center basically standing on the seaside (one of the quite large canals, not actually the North Sea). There are a lot of people in Amsterdam. The train station is FULL of tourists, just as the whole city (and I was told this is the same all year round).
Immediately after getting out, there is a quite big bus/tram station from where people can get anywhere in the city. There is an information desk across the road from the station, we went there to buy tickets and get some bus-line maps (they are quite useful). There are several types of tickets, all of them basically allowing trips with buses and trams. A ticket price can depend on how long your ride in the city is. There are zones (I have traveled maximum three, but it took me quite to the edge of the city). There are also hourly tickets, I bought one for €2.60 on the bus. At night buses cost a bit more, and I for example payed on the bus €3.50 for a ride (not an hour or zone anymore). The best way however is to buy your tickets in advance at an info-kiosk: we bought 72 hour tickets for €15.00, which we could use for any number of rides, day and night for 72 hours starting from the first ride (the driver puts a stamp on it marking the time). These tickets always have to be shown to the driver when you get on (and this process takes a while when there are a lot of passengers). There are introducing a new system, which is based on sensors and you just have to put your ticket next to a device, when you get on and also off. (The hourly ticket and the night-ticket were like this for example).

After meeting an ex-university-colleague, we went together to an apartment which she has lent for us for the period we stayed there (Many, many thanks for that 😀 ). We packed out our stuff, took a shower and headed out in the city. Due to our late arrival in Amsterdam, by the time we got out in the city it was already passed 6 o’clock. Generally museums/fun houses close at this hour so we just strolled down the streets to see how the city feels like (it feels great 🙂 ). Restaurants and coffee bars are open late so, we sat down at one to enjoy a specific pie they make in Amsterdam (it was delicious, but huge, so I could not eat it).
The city is full of life even at late hours (not only in certain areas, but the whole center). The canals are beautiful in the evening/night. Many people enjoy an evening boat-trip with their friends on a boat, just drinking beer eating snacks and chatting around. We tried to find out where could we rent those kinds of boats from, but we were told they were mostly privately owned boats. For tourist there are the usual long canal-boats operated by specialized companies (by far not as fun as the other, small ones looked like).

The first impression of Amsterdam was great, it looks like (and it is) a fun city a perfect place for people to just turn off their engines and relax or have fun. About what came after, in the next post… (one can not just summarize this city in one post 🙂 )

Nederlandse Spoorwegen

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

The fastest and easiest method of transportation in the Netherlands is probably by train. Actually there are several companies running their trains on the railway tracks of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways), but most of them actually belong to the main company. It is fairly easy to use the train network, because there are trains from everywhere to everywhere in almost every half an hour (in some cases every ten minutes). It is also interesting to note, that on the NS trains the ticket prices are the same, no matter of the class of the train (only the distance traveled is taken into consideration). One can imagine, that I was very curious to experience this seemingly high quality system.

After arriving to Eindhoven Central station, we ate a sandwich, and headed to find a ticket issuing machine to buy our tickets… surprise, surprise there were lots of machines, just like in Italy. They also accepted cash, credit cards or so called “Chipknips” (no idea what they are). Just like in Italy, all of the machines were unable to accept cash anymore… 😕 … No problem, we said.. we have all sorts of credit cards, exactly for these kinds of situations… and here comes the even bigger surprise: they only accept Maestro cards. Guess which one we did not have… I actually do not understand: Maestro is operated by MasterCard … we tried MasterCard, and no response… Strange 😕 …

Well, luckily nothing is impossible in the Netherlands: there is also a ticket office, with people in it 😀 (imagine the joy…). We bought our ticket (€18.40) and asked: “When does it leave?”… “In four minutes.”…. (now imagine the surprise and the speed we rushed out of the office…). We did not actually hope that the train would be late… and it wasn’t… we barely made it in time…
Nederlandse Spoorwegen
Our first train of the Netherlands was a nice yellow double decker Intercity. They are actually quite nice, and new… well not as nice as the brand new Italian versions, but nice… During the train ride, a nice gentleman said something gibberish on the speaker from time to time (Dutch is actually much easier to read than to understand… ), announcing stations and other stuff. After a 1 hour and 20 minutes trip we finally arrived to Amsterdam Centraal (imagine the joy again… 🙂 ). This time the speaker announced it in English also (oh, yes, that city really gets a lot from tourists… 😛 ).

About Amsterdam, in another post… but first I’d like to give some more info about NS: return-journey tickets. Return-journey tickets (Dagretour), are tickets which can be used only on the same day on the return-route from your destination. We have tried that when we visited Den Haag: the ticket was €11.20 and it said it was with 40% off. It is definitely worth a try 😉 .

Apart from these “normal trains”, Thalys and the German ICE operate their trains under the control of NS Hispeed, a subdivision of NS. Their prices and tickets have to be acquired separately and cost more (

So much about train traveling 🙂 . All in all it is a nice experience, and the fact that it almost always works is a great thing. In Italy things seldom work well, but when they do, they might be a bit better than the dutch version (buying tickets is easier, new trains more comfortable, high-speed trains also present).


Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

After a 1h 35min flight from Bergamo airport, we have successfully landed in the Netherlands, in Eindhoven to be more precise. It was a beautiful sunny day, a bit too hot I’d say, but much better than an eventual rain that dominated the Netherlands the days before.
We took our luggage and headed out to the bus-stop, which is just outside the airport, to get to Eindhoven central station. Bus number 401 is responsible to get people from the airport to the train station, so we went to search one… but first thing is first, we had to buy a ticket…

There are very nice ticket-machines at the bus stop, which accept both coins and banknotes. Well, that was the theory… in practice, the little robot was unable to process any kind of paper money (not ours, not anyone else’s). The irony of the situation is that we already had problems with the “ticket’omats” in Italy in the morning… we were really hoping that things will work in the Netherlands… 😛 . Luckily a ticket is €3.00 (three regions, one euro for each), so we managed to gather enough coins to pay the ticket for two people.
Now, the more interesting part: the bus… where is the bus? Well, “there it is!”, my colleague said… “don’t look for a bus…. It doesn’t look like one”, he continued. As the bus entered the station, I understood what he meant… what a shape… 😀 . We got on it, very curiously, to see how it looks like from the inside: well we were not disappointed… the fancy outside comes with a fancy and very comfy inside as well. The bus even had a ticket-issuing machine on it also…. very nice… 🙂 .

Eindhoven itself (what we managed to see of it), was out of this world: everything organized, clean, futuristic houses, and one could rarely see people anywhere. The whole city looks like a quick plan of someone built up in a rush, without giving it time to deteriorate… well, it is almost like that also: Eindhoven is “Philips city”, as the company has invested a lot in it, and most of the cities development is brand new.

I also met the Netherlands favorite transportation method: bicycles. Every road has additional lanes (often separated by the cars) for bicycles. The train station was full of them. I thought I have seen everything when taking the photos of large groups of Italian mopeds in parking lots… this was even better… there were hundreds of them, especially at the train station.

Well, that’s it for now… I am going to stop with this post… the next part of our trip deserves I think a special post of its own 🙂 .