A Travellerspoint blog

Tip # 4

sunny 20 °C

We started our last day in Amsterdam like all the others. Need a good cup of coffee to help start the day off right

We decided to take a trip to Haarlem to see the Fran's Hals Museum. This is very easy a 20 minute trip. When we exited the train station there was a band playing and I said to Lincoln- we hit another gay pride parade. He didn't think so until I pointed out the big rainbow flags everywhere.

What we didn't know is we stumbled upon the ultimate lesbian festival. Pink, pink and more pink. This festival travels to different towns each year and this year Haarlem. First, knitting is the new graffiti. People apparently come out at night and knit over street lights, bridge rails etc. all pink colors everywhere. They also, hang laundry lines and pink tee shirts flying everywhere. The main center is in the church square- very ironic. The church steeple had the pride flag flying proudly. Band stages in multiple locations, dee jay booths. It was so cool to watch this in different countries.

The Fran's Hals Museum was another great setting. Not the best collection however,going back to Amsterdam, was perfect for us to take the to e we needed to see some of these other exhibits, and picnic and relax. I can see how the coffee effects the visit because you look around and wonder how you missed this before- and will the return visit be the same...

Tip # 4.

Ask the young smart bell man- if you had to eat in this neighborhood- where would it be. Not the typical tourist place the concierge sends you to for favors- where he would eat. He gave us a name and direction. Lincoln had to go into a bar to ask again, funny I sent him in alone- with his yellow sneakers and pink socks. He seemed very
Opular in the gay bar and they actually sent us to the same restaurant the bellman did. Lincoln said they were all very nice and attentive to him.

We went for Thai. This place was amazing. The favors so fresh, the staff picked our dishes. We sat next to2 couples from Brussels and chatted with them. I love meeti g people who travel and are like my group of friends. They were having a fun weekend- kids at home and enjoying Amsterdam. Could have been the Burkes. They had after dinner coffee.

That wrapped up our Amsterdam experience. I would love to go back again with my friends or family. Always so etching new to see and the city has the cheap tourist sections and a very nice restaurant, shopping and not rushed section.

Posted by Jcarrara 08:58 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

We have been here before?

sunny 20 °C

We left Russia on a good note. We finally ditched our guide and alone with the driver, Lincoln and I laughed all the way to the airport- funny hearing each side and different points of view.

We landed in Amsterdam. We were excited because we have been here and it added more vacation rather than adventure. All the initial finding the airport train, buying tickets, trying to find the hotel- much smoother.

For this leg of the trip, I decided to change hotels. We stayed at the Rennescance and it was great. Very affordable, good area, however, I wanted to try a more central neighborhood. We stayed at The Grand a Sofitel hotel. It was very central. We were very impressed the moment we turned into the courtyard. This is rare in Amsterdam. They had an amazing garden seating and were very serious oriented- almost too much.

Being in a new neighborhood gave us a different perspective. I can see that Amsterdam is trying to become more of a cultural destination. The threat of banning the "coffee houses" may be the spark to clean up the city and try to attract a different market. Our first stop- The Hermitage in Amsterdam- maybe not first.... They had an Impressionist exhibit and it was so nice. They definitely had some fantastic pieces from the main collection. The museum was so nice- not full of certain cultures snapping pictures at everything. We were able to read, linger and evaluate at different angles. We then found a fantastic upscale deli and bought picnic supplies. This time we found some great areas and shared wine and coffee, took photos as the sun was setting.

The next day, we traveled outside Amsterdam to the Kroller-Mueller Museum. A wealthy family donated there collection to the Dutch government to save it from auction during the depression. Helen Mueller became interested in art late in life and had a talent for art. She was one of the first to discover Van Gogh and bought works from Theo's widow and other collectors. She has a fantastic collection from early to late. We took a train and 2 buses to get there. The actual trip was not so difficult- just waiting for the buses. I was a bit disappointed because they rotate pieces or some were out on loan. This museum was very elegant.

The next day, Lincoln found a Stanley Kubrick exhibit. It was at the EYE- on the north island. We had another coffeehouse start our day and the exhibit was fantastic. This is an art house film theater with special exhibits. Very quality. We learned about his start as a photographer and how his movies evolved. There were great behind the scene photos with letters from the actors that worked with him; protestors and his responses. Clips and props from key movies. Lincoln is a huge fan and he was so happy.

We then went to the major museums. They are under construction and we were so lucky we went last year. The museum was very limited. Even the Van gogh museum was not as full.

The nights are still light until 11 pm. Restaurants stop serving around 10- except for the fast food places. After our sight seeing, we would find wine and hummus or cheese and chill in the parks. So many people would be doing the same things. I noticed this in Helsinki and to so much in Russia. We really enjoyed this part- the trying to find dinner afterwards was not so easy.

We stumbled into a great Chinese restaurant and chatted with a local.

Posted by Jcarrara 08:34 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Are you a housewife or servant?

There was a great Indian restaurant next to our hotel. After touring and walking all day, the time slips by and you want something easy and more importantly, open for dinner.

We sat at our table and noticed a lovely Indian family next to us. Towards the end of their meal, their son was looking at us and I said hi. They seemed eager to talk with us.

The mother leans in and asked me- are you a housewife or servant? It didn't register at first and I repeated it to make sure I heard her correctly. I said housewife, I wish- he (Lincoln) is my house husband. She seemed a bit surprised and asked what I did. Her husband said, I'm a servant- I thought he said he served- and because I noticed many navy personnel walking about town I asked what ship. Let's say dinner was not the same after that. We returned the next night- and it was so odd. The attitude changed.

We learn about caste system and cultural roles however, in Chicago, the Indian women I work with are so strong and direct- that the housewife or servant would never come to my mind when thinking about them.

We did go to a Russian dumpling house- looked like a wood cabin with weird red riding hood theme- have to say- very tasty.

Posted by Jcarrara 00:44 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

St. Petersburg

semi-overcast 18 °C

The W was a great choice. It was located by the Hermitage and St. Issacs Cathedral. There was a great rooftop bar- bit trendy for me, however, fantastic view, great drinks and food. The gym was okay, staff very nice, however, the English or international staff or overall refinement was missing. It may be that this is W style. They are about to open a new Four Seasons across the street. It looks amazing.

The city is easy to navigate by foot. We walked every where, and due to White Nights, we were able to fit in basics excluded from the itinerary. We stopped at a few beer kiosks, strolled gardens, visited cathedrals, found a Rodin exhibit and special life size bear exhibit from Berlin- like the cows on parade in Chicago.

I advise having a canal cruise first to get oriented; most attractions alternate closings on Monday/ Tuesdays. This creates some scheduling issues. We went to the Hermitage- for art lover's a good day to 2 wil be required. We did 2 special reservation tours on site and the Storage rooms, offsite. If I had to eliminate one, it would be the Storage rooms and arrange a visit to Peteroff- version of Versailles.

We then went to Catherine the Great's palace. Another Versailles. This was great- I wish we had packed a picnic and at on the grounds- little details that can elevate the experience. Another special interest tour was the Amber room work shops. The palace has a famous room given by a Prussian prince. At the time a special super glue - we are talking 1700's- bonded amber to panels and covered an entire room. Stunning mosaics. Hilary Clinton was there that week- may see press photo's of her there. The nazi's stole the room panels- saying it was theirs. The panels were never found- some suspect they are in some very wealthy persons secret room. The most amazing part is we had a tour by the head artist. He never does this. He makes all the state gifts to presidents, royals etc. This is old world craftsmanship - all by hand. Not computer generated, lasered. We don't see this anymore- it is sad.

At this point, I would tell the driver what photo opts I had in mind or what I wanted. We passed Chesme church- candy cane appearance. Peter's Cabin, sites from WW2.

As I mentioned, the white nights allow more opportunities to explore. We climbed a cathedral after midnight, to view the city.

We had a poor attempt of a vodka tasting- take a pass. We did have a great dinner at a modern twist of Russian cuisine. Very neighborhood type place. Fun decor, great menu, service. Templo- I could see us all there one night.

Posted by Jcarrara 11:47 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Travel tip 3-agents, itinerary,

all seasons in one day 18 °C

So just a brief note on my travel agent and tour guides.

Nothing is as it should be.

Since most Americans arrive in St. Petersburg via cruise ship, and therefore do the usual group touring, You need to know what you want, have a consultation/ interview with a potential agent to discuss your needs and expectations. I know this from reading Wendy Perrin and Joesentme.com. We had a great initial consult and I was actually excited that we were on the same "page". I eagerly awaited for the proposed itinerary- and so disappointed that he gave me a generic activity list. I should have found a new agent, however, I wrote him a nice nice expressing that there must have been a miscommunication because the itinerary was unacceptable. You must do research prior to using an agent. I knew there were private access tours and if we didn't need someone with connections, I would have created my own itinerary.

I had to constantly check on each activity; correct time mistakes; ask for times. In this day of loyalty programs, he should explain why he advised one hotel over another. And if he has upgrade perks with the recommendation. I decided to add to my Starwood points and use my platinum Amex which usually gives upgrades upon arrival. We choice the W St. Petersburg. Perfect location for our needs.

We arrived at the train station waited for our ride. Of course they were not where they said to wait. We were without Rubles and trying to figure out our next move. Finally, we spotted them, wrong name on sign.

This was the start of wrong place with wrong name; watching endless phone calls; walking back and forth; and figuring out alternatives.

Every musuem; boat ride; food tastings- all arranged 2 months in advance- after the first day, I emailed my agent, he did not respond to me, however, he must have contacted the sub contracted agency, because the next day she came to the Hotel- chatted with the driver and assured me, she straightened out the problems. Not so.

The next issue, was the actual guide. As the tours went on, WE caught factual errors made on her end; we would ask questions and other tour guides would step in to correct her- even other tourists. I would have my St. Petersburg book in hand and correct her. The driver corrected her. She did not want to listen to our requests- not like Reuben's; want to see French art; interrupting our viewing of paintings for her prepared speeches. I called her outsource. I relate it to calling "India" and every time you go off script they put you on hold to find the place in the manual to continue.

I did not realize- how misguided she was and that I leave the city wondering how much I actually missed. Boutique shopping, communist history, unique archetecture, markets.

The driver eventually took more of a role in making our experience better. Seems that the agency, has not used her prior, and she would have been fine for people not in the know; I suspect she hasnt been challenged much and people just want to see sights. Also, the woman liason was new. Unfortunately, her boss came to meet us the last day. He said, there was another mix up with your reservations and we were lucky he pulled some strings to make this special interest tour happen. Service not a priority. trained 2 new people under my plans. New guide- who constantly gave wrong information and was surprised Lincoln and I knew as much as we did.

Posted by Jcarrara 10:12 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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