Archive for November, 2009

Day 8: Mad packing and travel to Prague

Posted in travel on November 22, 2009 by poojaland

A and I started some laundry around 9 p.m. last night, as it was the halfway point of our trip, and we needed fresher clothes. Due to having some fleece, wool and wicking clothes in the one load, we tossed everything into the dryer on low. However, by the time we started thinking about going to bed around midnight, the clothes were all still super damp! So I took out the quick-dry stuff (mainly my hand and body towels) and some of the fleeces. 1 a.m… still wet.Took out the jeans, spread them over the couches by the radiator. 2 a.m… still wet! Took out all the wool socks, spread them out on the dining-table chairs to dry, turned dryer to “Extra dry.” However, by the time I got up and rechecked everything around 9:30, nothing was fully dry! So I restarted the dryer, but when U came into the laundry room a few minutes later, she said we should just try to air dry everything. So we cranked up the heat in her place a few degrees, and spread everything wherever we could. Thanks to A for thinking to snap a pic of the living-room scene (and bear in mind that that’s only about half of our laundry you’re seeing there!)..

We had some chai, and then started madly packing for our Prague mini-break. We were on a budget airline, so we’d selected “carry-on only” to save the $$ we would’ve had to pay to check in luggage. Had some minor panic when we realized my carry-on was 1.5 kg over the limit, though I really didn’t have a ton of stuff in there. Finally got it down to 10.5 kg, 0.5 over the limit. Then I pulled on my jeans that were still damp at the waist, and we were off to the bus. The train ride over to Eindhoven (where the airport we were flying out of is) took 50 minutes, which was painfully long for me, as I hadn’t brought along a book (didn’t want to add the weight to my carry-on, though later I realized I could’ve held it separately), and didn’t want to listen to music on my Zune, as it’s down to about half its juice, and I don’t think I brought the charger from Seattle. However, it was a beautiful day to be traveling through some of the Netherlands’ farm country, and I did manage to pull off this nail-fragment thing on my right index finger that had been bothering me for several days!!

Got to the Eindhoven station, and then hopped a bus over to the actual airport. The airport was super tiny — I think they only have flights to the U.K. and Europe. And look, you can even fly on Twitter Air!! No.. it’s Transavia.

Anyway, after all my drama trying to pack that carry on, it turned out it was too big to actually be carried on (yes, I was asked to try and squeeze it into this tester box). So I had to shell out $30 to check it in. (I should note that I’m trying to be better about not focusing on the costs of everything out here — just on enjoying the sights and scenery and making the most of it!) The seating was open seating, so there was quite a crush as we lined up to hand over our boarding passes. Then A looked out the windows behind the gate clerk to the tarmac, and said “Uh, where’s our plane?” Turned out after checking in, we had to stand in line for 10 minutes, then go outside and stand in line for 10 minutes, and then walk over to the plane that’d finally arrived and walk up the stair car’s stairs (sadly, no “Bluth Company” logo on these stair cars!). A and I were flying on Wizzair, which you’d think would have a yellow-colored plane … but it was actually fuschia and purple. Luckily, the plane was only maybe 2/3 full, so we got a three-seat row to ourselves. The flight was only about 90 minutes long, which was nice (you could even buy soda for 2.50 Euro (about $3.75)!

We got off in Prague at 5:30 p.m. Did the usual post-flight-in-a-new-country drill (pee, exchange money, get more money, buy bus tickets) and then caught the bus, and then after that the metro into the heart of Prague. We got off the metro at about 6:45, and though we had some directions from the hostel’s Web site, we of course immediately got lost (how the heck do we know which way is “toward the river”??). Got no help from two storekeepers (most stores were closed by that time, so it was slim pickings), and then we finally were able to buy a map at a drugstore. With its help, we finally walked in the door at our hostel 20 minutes later. Despite the frustration of being lost yet again, we did get to walk along the riverfront and get a preview of Prague’s amazing architecture.

Our hostel, which I found myself online, is really awesome so far. It’s just A and me in here (though there are four beds), and for three nights’ accommodation, we’re only paying about $55 each. We have our own bathroom, with a heated floor and heated towel rack (A: “Oh my god, I’m just going to stay here in the bathroom”). We have a little kitchen area with a table and chairs, fridge, microwave, sink and dishes/mugs. There’s even a water boiler thing, if we buy some tea to brew. We have free WiFi on top of all that, so it feels quite luxurious. The only hitch is that we’re right behind the reception area (staffed 24/7!) by the one Internet-enabled computer, and the window by our beds faces the street (not a main road, though). However, the price is awesome, and we’re within a 5-20-minute walk of all the Prague attractions. I’d share the name now, but I don’t want to activate my local stalkers, so I’ll save that for later.

After gawking for a few minutes over our room, we freshened up and headed out for some grub. We went to a pub a couple blocks away, and had some delicious pasta. Our eyes were as always bigger than our stomachs, but thankfully the place gives take-home boxes (for about $0.50 each), so we’ve got the leftovers in our fridge to eat over the next few days.

I think tomorrow we’re going to embark on a boat/foot/tram tour for most of the day. It lasts 6 hours, costs about $35, covers the main attractions, and even includes beer tastings and lunch. Plus, as a bonus, it doesn’t start until 10:30 a.m. …

Day 7: Amsterdam, part II

Posted in travel on November 21, 2009 by poojaland

Hard to believe we’ve been in the Netherlands for a week now, and are halfway through our European adventure. But we had a great last day here with U. We were planning to head out for brunch around 11, so I rolled out of bed at 9 and hopped into the shower. After I got out, U and A took their showers, and it was then of course time for our morning tea (what we call “chaha,” which is similar in taste to Lipton tea, but U makes it the Indian way, using this brown powder). Next, U asked to finally have her hair styled using my fancy T3 Duality straightener (which, conveniently, is dual voltage, so I just have to use a plug adapter), so there went 30 minutes (she was satisfied in the end, though). So…by the time we got to the bus stop, it was nearly noon. We got off at Utrect’s Centraal Station, and then walked down the street to the outdoor walking/shopping area.

We didn’t want to take the time to stop to eat, but we did swing through U’s favorite bakery to pick up some sweets (for A: a raspberry mousse thing, for U a chocolate eclair, and for me a lemon-meringue tart and a cheese-stuffed croissant, which I’m saving for tomorrow). Then we swung by a frites booth to get some fries, this time with satay sauce. Those we ate on the way back to the train station. As with every place we’ve gone via train, the trip took about 35 minutes. If you’re a little bit tired, the motion of the train can really get you sleepy..

We rolled into Amsterdam around 2:30. I was immediately extra glad we’d come back to Amsterdam for a second visit, as this time (as opposed to Wednesday), the weather was really beautiful — in the 50s and sunny. We had a little time to kill before A’s 4 p.m. tattoo appointment, so we headed south from the station to hit up a couple stores we’d found addresses for online (Puma and Swatch).

We managed to only lose about 10 minutes while lost/disoriented — and were a bit comforted to see at least one person on every other corner confusedly looking at a map of the city!

It was about 3 by the time we got to the shops, so we didn’t spend much time shopping. A picked up a couple bags at Puma (extras of a bag she’d picked up at a Puma in Den Haag yesterday) and I got a watch at Swatch. Then we hightailed it north towards the Red Light District, and managed to walk into Hanky Panky Tattoo with a couple minutes to spare. U and I ate our pastries from the morning while A got inked (an Indian-style elephant, on her right shoulder blade). It was a little disconcerting to be eating sweets in the shop’s lobby, with the pumping music and tattoo art all over!

A’s tattooing was pretty quick, maybe 15 minutes (it took about half an hour for them to figure out the tattoo itself, location, etc.), so by 5, we were walking down south toward the Heineken Experience. We ended up jumping on a tram to go the half mile or so (the guys at the tattoo shop had told us it was too far to walk, but it really wasn’t, so we walked back after wards).

We were a bit taken aback at the admission fee of 15 Euro — about $23 — but we figured we were already there, and we’d also read that we’d get a free Heineken glass upon our exit. The place is the site of the original Heineken factory, but they don’t actually brew beer there anymore. The “experience” gives you a history of the Heineken founders/family and their beer-making process. There was a silly “ride” where about 20 of us stood in rows behind these railings, and “experienced” the process of beer making. The steps we stood on went up and down and side to side to simulate the brewing and bottling phases of the process. Pretty cheesy. Probably the most enjoyable part of the Experience was making the green-screen video, which you can see on my previous blog post. We’ve watched the video four times now and we still laugh just as hard!!

At the end of the tour, A and I shelled out $7.50 to get a bottle of Heineken (yes, it has real beer in it) with a custom label. Mine says: Brewed at Heineken Experience, Amsterdam, Holland by Pooja! A also bought a couple beer glasses, which she got engraved for herself and our dad.

We’d been planning to then go to the Van Gogh Museum, which was maybe a half mile from the H.E., but by that time it was 7:30 or 8, and we were craving pizza, so we started walking back up towards the train station. On the way, we spied a restaurant called New York Pizza, so we stopped in to share a medium four-cheese pizza. It was of course nowhere near being called “New York”-style pizza, but it did really hit the spot. Between NY Pizza and the station, we made sure to find and stop by a “coffee shop” so A could restock on her special brownies …

Now, we’ve drank our traditional evening tea, had some snacks, and are doing laundry. Tomorrow, A and I have to head out of the apartment by noon or so to begin the journey to Eindhoven airport for our flight to Prague. I’ve pulled up a “What to do for two days in Prague” list, so as long as the weather cooperates, we’ll hopefully make the most of our time over there. I’m also crossing my fingers the hostel is good! Packing tonight/tomorrow will be tricky; checking in bags costs about $15, so we’re each just carrying on one bag. Figuring out the whole liquids/gels business will be fun! Not sure what the Internet solution will be at our hostel, but hopefully I’ll be blogging from the Czech Republic tomorrow night!

This video deserves a blog entry of its own

Posted in travel on November 21, 2009 by poojaland

[UPDATE: Video has fallen off for some reason. SAD! I’ll need to try and track down the raw file and re-add sometime.] We partook in some green-screen fun as part of the Heineken Experience, which is sort of a museum/amusement park in the original Heineken factory in Amsterdam. Yes, we’d already done the tasting by this point. I’m sure we three find it a lot more hilarious than any of you will, but … enjoy!!

You just can’t escape it…

Posted in travel on November 21, 2009 by poojaland

…spied this abandoned on the train earlier this week…

The cousins

Posted in family, travel on November 21, 2009 by poojaland

The other night, as we were eating a delicious paneer dinner, U, A and I decided to pose for some self-photos. Here they are, for your enjoyment…

1. I somehow got caught mid-chew, and with my ponytail swinging. U must’ve sensed this, and this was chuckling at me??

2. A goes to reset the timer on the camera, and decides to snap a surprise pic of us in the meantime. This is our fun, new tradition! (And yet, yes, it still caught me unawares.)

3. Finally, success!

Day 6: Den Haag

Posted in travel on November 20, 2009 by poojaland

This morning, we awoke to beautiful sunny skies. We managed to get out of the apartment around 10-something, and then hopped the train out west to Den Haag (aka the Hauge), which is near the west coast of the Netherlands. We’d never gone that direction before, and it was a cool 40-minute trip that went through some farmlands.

Alas, once we got off the train in Den Haag, the weather had changed, and it was ominously warm and a bit overcast. We headed out towards our main sightseeing stop in Den Haag, the Mauritshuis (an art museum). Luckily, there were helpful signs all along the way to help us get there. However, a couple blocks from the station, we were distracted by a Subway.. Being that it was now just after noon, we decided it was lunch time. The menu was very similar to the Subway menus in the U.S. (with the addition of “chicken tikka” and the exclusion of my usual, the BLT [which I improvised by ordering a veggie delite with bacon]), though the price was of course a bit more expensive. Five-dollar six-inch sandwiches, maybe? The place itself was also swankier — it had a lounge-y upstairs area with couches and even some computers. The sandwiches were delicious.

After our quick lunch, it was only a five-minute walk to the Mauritshuis. As a bonus, an audio-tour device was included in the admission fee, so we were able to hear lots of cool facts about many of the paintings. Our main reason to go there was to see the Vermeer and Rembrandt paintings. This museum’s collection is apparently the best in the Netherlands, and the Vermeer paintings included the famous Girl With the Pearl Earring one. I must admit I have a low threshold when it comes to wandering museums of any kind, but this place wasn’t huge (just two floors, and maybe 9-10 rooms total) and the art was truly amazing.

When we exited the Mauritshuis, we were annoyed to discover the rains had moved in (though thankfully, not winds). However, we walked a few blocks around the Mauritshuis to take in the Parliament building and grounds (see picture).

Though I’d worn a winter hat and had on my rain jacket, A had unfortunately worn a hood-less jacket and didn’t have an umbrella. I had an umbrella (of course, being that I’m Ms. Preparation!), so I gave it to her. We then spent the next hour wandering around the various shopping areas. We’d been told to avoid buying much in Den Haag as everything is pricey, but I did pick up a couple souvenirs (a small Holland snow-globe for myself, and a ceramic windmill-scene thing for my parents). We then escaped into a little coffee place (NOT a “coffee house”!) to warm up and dry off with some hot chocolate (delicious!) and this apple pastry (so-so). Then we trudged back to the train station, and were back at U’s apartment around 6. U’s friend/co-worker Hemant was over, and had brought the fixings for pani puri, a delicious Indian dish (see this site for more on pani puri). We ate, talked, drank and talked some more. Then I spent a good hour online researching hostels in Prague. Finally settled on one (a bit more central than the one you’d recommended, Johanna) and went ahead and booked it. Nice to have that weight off my shoulders — I think figuring out lodging can be one of the hardest parts of trip planning, especially for someone like me who has certain standards for the bathroom situation!! Both of our rooms in Prague in Reykjavik have ensuite bathrooms..

Up next: We’re all three going to head into Utrecht for brunch at U’s favorite pastry place in the shopping/eating area of town by Centraal Station. Then we’re going to hop the train to Amsterdam to finish up our sightseeing there. Hoping to hit up the Van Gogh museum and Heineken factory, and then A has a 4 p.m. appointment at this well-known tattoo parlor in the Red Light District (she’s still working out the what/where details of her tattoo). We’ll also do some light shopping, I’m sure. And hopefully with the three brains between all of us, we won’t get lost quite so much this time! Saturday will be our last full day in the Netherlands, with our Prague trip now booked. Hard to believe it! I’m sure it’ll be great to spend time in Prague and Reykjavik, but I know I’ll miss U (of course!) and staying in an apartment. We certainly can’t leave our stuff out and about in a hostel, though our Prague room at least will contain just the two of us (our Reykjavik room could contain up to eight other ladies).

OK….bedtime!

Day 5: Recovery day, and hanging out in Utrecht

Posted in travel on November 19, 2009 by poojaland

Due to A and I staying up until 2 this morning trying again (in vain, alas) to figure out whether we’ll go to Prague this weekend (the fares went up, so we’re debating again), we decided to sleep in a bit this morning, until about 9:30 (or 10:30, on A’s part). Then our plan was to head over to the other side of Utrecht, to check out their best-known landmark, the Dom Tower, which is the highest church tower in the Netherlands. However, U was once again working from home, so we got caught up eating, drinking tea and chatting, and didn’t actually head out the door until just after 4. Unfortunately, once we took a closer look at the Tower’s info in our guide book while waiting for the bus into town, we realized that we wouldn’t make it to the place before it shut down at 5 (all the stores and tourist attractions here closes around 5 or 6, it’s very annoying).

Centraal Station, which is where we were headed, has a ton of shopping/food inside and around it, so we instead decided to stop in there and try some famous Dutch frites (fries). We grabbed some at the first stall we came across, and got a side sauce supposedly curry flavored. We, however, decided it tasted more like a sweet tamarind sauce. All the fries places, as we saw later, supply you with these mini fork things, which makes eating the fries much easier.

Next, we got distracted by an H&M store in the station (like Starbucks in Seattle, H&Ms are on every other street corner in the busier parts of town). I’ve only been in the Seattle H&M a couple times, but was never compelled to buy anything. However, I did walk out of this store with a long, button-up black sweater (from their girls’ section), a scarf and some gloves. On our way back to the main area of the station, we encountered a traveling band periodically playing music to honor of Saint Nicholas’ Eve, which is like the Christians’ Christmas, but celebrated on Dec. 5 (commemorated by a huge parade). The main figure of this event is Sinterklaas. The band members are thus wearing, well, “brown face,” as that’s how Sinterklass appears. we’re seeing images of this dude everywhere right now..

We then met U at 6:15, and she led us out of the station and to a nearby walking/shopping/eating area off a canal. Even at night, the place was really beautiful, with restaurants also below street level along the canals. We went out this particular night because the stores in town all stay open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays (ooh, fancy!). We got another batch of frites, this time with a more traditional sauce of mayonnaise (very good), and after some more walking around, sat down for dinner at this cool, quasi-Italian place. Turned out they only had a couple of vegetarian/chicken-only dishes, so we settled on a pasta dish with mushroom sauce, spinach and goat cheese salad, and chicken satay with, of all things, a baked potato with cream cheese and chives. U and A pose during dinner:

There was a ton of food, so when the server came to bring our check, I asked if he could pack the pasta up for us. I got a blank look.. So I said, “You know, a container for us to take this home? “Leftovers”? So we can eat it later?” But we just got more blank looks. Finally, U was like “Uh, never mind, we’ll just take the check.” A wanted to buy a version of the glass her beer had been served in (it had the name of a Dutch brew on it), so she asked if the restaurant sold them. The server said “No, we don’t sell them, but if you’re careful, you can be shneaky and take it home.” Yes, he said “shneaky.” Not sure if that’s just how the Dutch pronounce that word or what, but we were giggling over it every five minutes during the 30-minute walk home. They won’t box food up for you to take home, but hey, go ahead and steal a glass!

In other news, we didn’t make it to the grocery store today, so no chip-tasting Round 2 quite yet. The weather made a return to lovely today, thankfully. Tomorrow, we’re off to the Hague (or that’s the plan, anyway)!