Czarina’s Amsterdam Adventure – Part 2

67385791_2350863545164903_1859054079855034368_nSince reading her book as a child, I’ve dreamed about the day I would get to see Anne Frank’s secret annex. I was so glad we booked ahead of time because the lineup is huge, even in the early morning. It is a solemn and moving experience that hurts your heart and brings tears to your eyes. Learning more about what she and others experienced still leaves me reeling and should remind us to see the humanity in all people. The stillness of that annex and her words will be with me forever and I hope any traveller to Amsterdam takes in this time capsule to commemorate her and the other victims of WWII.

Not far from the Anne Frank House is where we rented a boat to cruise the canal on our own. The sun came out for our little adventure and we packed a picnic with wine, cheese and other goodies. I loved having our freedom and doing it on our own, but it isn’t easy! There are lots of boats, turns and bridges to watch out for. This was by far the highlight of my trip to Amsterdam and something I will never forget. For those who aren’t comfortable doing it on their own, I tried the 1 hour guided canal cruise too! Seeing the city from the water is a must.

I love the diverse food options here! Looking for delicious Italian cuisine? Look no further than an Italian restaurant called Impero. My pasta was cooked in a flaming cheese wheel…. sending me into flavour overload and into a food coma! I also visited Amsterdam’s “Food Hallen” located in a trendy, up and coming area. It’s basically a big food court in a historic building filled with hungry hipsters. Tons of vendors to choose from and specialty bars, plus some live music. A foodie’s delight!

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Off to Sweden!


 

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Czarina’s Amsterdam Adventure

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When life sends you to Amsterdam, you must eat pancakes (aka Pannenkoek)!

Amsterdam is a city bustling with amazing sights, a rich history and delicious food. Everywhere you go, you feel positive energy all over and it can’t help but put a smile on your face. The Dutch are quite possibly the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Look out for their bicycles peddling down every road. They aren’t so friendly if you are in the way… yikes!

We are staying within walking distance to some of the must sees: Dam Square, Red Light District, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Central Station and more.

67643791_342898019973217_9138694329957613568_nThis lady needs to see it all in the four days we are here and I had to start with the classic Windmill Tour to Zaans Schans. Just a short drive from Amsterdam, takes you to this little quaint town where you learn all about the pioneering methods the Dutch used to prepare everything from wheat, paint, cooking oil and more using these beautiful windmills. It’s incredible what they were able to achieve using wind power back in the day. It’s even more fascinating that all the windmills remain operational 600 years later. We were not expecting rain but the downpour didn’t sour the mood at all because there was plenty of Gouda cheese samples to enjoy. And shopping for shoes always makes me happy… even when they are wooden clogs!

By night, we were curious to see the infamous Red Light District where the streets are just insanity! Tons of foreigners, including us, come to get a glimpse at the spectacle and learn more about the oldest profession in the world. Do not take pictures of these hard working “ladies of the night”. They are not afraid to come outside and hit you over the head.

Uber has been key to take us to some of those attractions a little further like the Rijksmuseum and the Heineken Experience. Both tours can’t be missed since the Rijksmuseum has a lot of different art pieces important to the Netherlands and Heineken gives you an incredible tour and beers at the end! I would have never guessed that Heineken even had a “ride” which I liken to a mini Universal Studios experience.

Time to hit the canals and visit Anne Frank’s house…

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Annette & Joanne’s Avalon River Cruise – Part 3

We had 2 days of sleeping in and enjoyed all the activities on board the ship as we sailed along the river admiring the beautiful scenery.  We even took part in the power walking class on the sky deck.    Our next stop was a visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum with its fabulous collection of paintings by Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso to bring a little culture to our trip.

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Then on to our next stop and the highlight of our trip the Keukenhof gardens, also known as the Garden of Europe.  There are more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that fill over 32 hectares with colour and fragrance. These gardens are only open for a total of 8 weeks during the year.

We ended our trip with a canal cruise in the wonderful city of Amsterdam.  Our experience with Avalon Waterways was amazing and we would definitely recommend it to everybody wanting to see Europe.  Can’t wait to cruise again!

If you are interested in a river cruise of your own or have any questions about the experience, you can reach Joanne by calling 306-934-3400 or emailing joanne@uniglobevacation.com.

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Annette & Joanne’s Avalon River Cruise – Part 1

We flew with Westjet from Saskatoon to Calgary then KLM to Amsterdam.  Both flights were uneventful which is something we all want when we fly.  It was our first time on KLM and it is a very good airline.  The direct flight was nice.

Appies from club lounge at movenpick Amsterdam hotel

Perks of the Executive lounge at Mövenpick Hotel

Upon arrival in Amsterdam we decided to take a cab from the airport to the Mövenpick hotel.   The cab ride was $80.00 Euro.  That was a very interesting experience! They drive very fast and in and out of traffic but we made it to the hotel in one piece.  The Movenpick hotel was a very nice hotel and it included breakfast.   It was very handy as it was right next to the cruise ship terminal.   We walked from the Movenpick hotel to the city centre it was about a 20 minute walk.

We spent our first day in Amsterdam wondering around the streets on our own taking in the Dutch lifestyle.  We stopped  at a local pub and had a local cider,  then wondered around  the different shops and stumbled upon the red light district.  We stopped for supper at a place that had a hot dog in a pizza bun and a waffle coated in chocolate.  All was very interesting.  Thankfully we brought our heavier coats as it is chilly as you walk around especially at night.

Tomorrow we’re on to our next adventure the Avalon cruise – Tulips of Northern Holland.

 

 

 

Budapest to Amsterdam – Amanda’s Avalon Cruise Part 4

Here are my thoughts on my last few days in Europe.

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Rudesheim was a cute place. We went up the cable car to the top and saw a huge statue that was built in commemoration of the union of Germany.  Here we visited Siegfried’s musical instrument museum where they had old musical instruments that played by themselves using punch-hole strips of paper. They had lots of music boxes there of all kinds. We sailed through the Rhine Gorge that had many very old beautiful castles.  Some are ruins and some are used as hotels today. Also, I saw the rock of the legendary “Loreley”. Luckily our captain didn’t get wooed. Haha.

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Cologne was nice and more modern than what we were accustomed to seeing. The Cathedral there is very large and was hit during WW2 but is still standing and has been restored.  My favorite thing about this city was the Lindt chocolate museum the Schokoladenmuseum,haha. During our free time we went to the museum and it was interesting to see the whole process from beginning to end of how they make the Lindt chocolate we see today in stores. We even got to sample some fresh made chocolate while there.  YUMMY! ☺ We saw a bunch of different molds of all sizes.  I went to the gift shop and bought some very delicious chocolate items.

In Amsterdam we hopped onto a canal cruise to tour some of the older downtown part of the city.  I got to see houseboats where people live on the canals.  I can’t imagine living on a boat but at times it was more cost effective for the inhabitants there. The canals are small and parking is very limited. The most used mode of transportation in Amsterdam seems to be bicycles.  The streets are very crowded with cyclists and bikes parked everywhere.

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We had a lovely lunch at a little local restaurant called Haesje Claes.  It had traditional Dutch food and was very good. I would recommend it.  We also did a windmill tour in the afternoon at Zaanse Schans – not far from Amsterdam. I learned a lot about using windmills as a power source. My favorite part of this tour was seeing the demonstrations. We saw limestone grinding by using a complex gear system using wind power. There was also a Gouda cheese making demo. Best of all was seeing how they make their world famous wooden clogs. It used to take a while with knives and other tools. Now it takes about 5 mins as they have a machine that is similar idea to key cutting machines to form the outside of the shoe.  Then they have a tool system to cut out the hole for the foot.  Apparently these shoes are very comfortable and wearing wool socks inside is definitely the best. The shoes are water proof and like steel toed boots for protection as they are very hard.

At the end of the cruise we had to say goodbye to our new friends and to all the wonderful staff on the ship who catered to us hand and foot. I was sad to leave Europe as this whole experience was such a wonderful adventure and felt like going back in time in a sense.


For those who may have concerns about sea or motion sickness on a cruise, there are no worries about this on a river cruise as you don’t feel it at all.  I do recommend getting a cabin around the middle of the ship.  At the back you get more of the noise and vibration from the engine, at the front you can hear a lot of people traffic and music from the lounge in the evenings.

My overall experience with Avalon was phenomenal. The staff were great and got you whatever you needed.  The ship, cabin and amenities onboard were wonderful.  The cities we visited were all interesting and amazing in their own unique ways.  This trip was definitely a great combination of relaxation, friendship building, amazing architecture and education about history.

It was recommended to me that if you want to upgrade to a higher cabin category (if available), do that before you leave home as it is much lower in cost than if  you try when onboard.  When considering booking a river cruise, the best pricing and availability are available further out from departure.  The earlier you book the better.


A few tips about travelling to Europe:

  • It costs money to use public bathrooms most places I travelled to in Europe this trip.
  • Remember to ask about tax free purchases when shopping.
  • The weather is best over the summer as some places get colder and even have frost or snow during the winter.
  • Bring Forint (HUF) when travelling to Hungary and Crowns (CZK) for Czech Republic. Euros were used everywhere else I went.
  • Make sure to bring an adapter with 2 round prongs in Europe.  A converter may be needed as well as their power is 220Volt.
  • Pack for all types of weather, shorts and t-shirts, to pants and warm shirts. Make sure to bring a light jacket as the wind can be cool and it rains from time to time. A small umbrella could be useful as well.

 

Watch the video of my cruise here:

If you have any questions about Avalon or just River Cruising in general please feel free to reach out to me!  You can call me in Saskatoon at 306-934-3400 or email amanda@uniglobevacation.com.

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Jamie’s London and Amsterdam

May 15th, 2012

Amsterdam

We flew from London to Amsterdam on a one and a half hour flight, which was quite rough. The weather in Amsterdam in early May is cool and a bit rainy. The high’s were ten to sixteen degrees Celsius.

My first impression of Amsterdam was that it a pretty city and a totally different atmosphere than London, (Quite a different feel from London which had a classier, more reserved feel).  It’s a young crowd, vibrant, busy and anything goes. At 2 AM, this city was just getting started!

The train is about 4 Euros from the Schipol airport to the central station. Our hotel, the NH Grand Krasnapolski was about a five minute walk from the train station.

This hotel is rated at a four star property. The location is excellent, as was the included breakfast, but it is an old hotel and in need of renovation. Some of the rooms have been renovated but ours was not one of them. It was big and clean but very dated.  They also charged $17EUR/day for WIFI!!

We did a mini city tour as part of the conference, which included such fun as a canal cruise, a walk through the red light district, chocolate tasting and a beer at a local brewery. We also booked a wine and cheese candlelight canal cruise through Viator, available on our uniglobevacation.com website. It was two hours long, the guide was awesome and very Dutch, plus it included Dutch cheeses, two bottles of wine and a night walk through the red light district. For 20 dollars it was a good value.

I found Amsterdam to very expensive; more expensive than London. Coffees and pastries would be 20 Euros and the average lunch cost for two would be at least 50 Euros if you had a drink with lunch.

Amsterdam is a great walking city with most museums and tourist attraction being within walking distance if the city center. It’s known for its cheeses, chocolate, deft blue China and orange soccer gear….and let’s not forget the wooden shoes and tulips!

I really enjoyed my time in Amsterdam and it’s definitely for those who are young, young at heart and who don’t mind lots of walking.

May 10th, 2012

Well, we have just completed our three day stay in London and loved every minute of It! OK maybe not the sore feet and tired legs, but everything else, for sure!  In a nutshell, here is my official top 10 list for London and the reasons why:

1) Westminster Abbey

For 19 pounds you can enter the Abbey and have a self guided audio tour. Far and away, the most magnificent building I have ever been in and it’s incredibly to think it was built and some of those tombs were placed there almost 1000 years ago….plus let’s not forget the recent Royal Wedding of William and Kate, which adds to the star appeal for some of us!

2) Tower of London

We bought our tickets for 18 pounds each through the Hop-on Hop-off London Tour company. This saved us a few pounds and meant we didn’t have to wait in the ticket lineup. We were there for about three hours but could have easily spent a few days exploring the gory history of prisoners, torture and kingdoms being overthrown.  The best part for me was the crown jewels, which are also held there. The 52 carat diamond in the scepter was amazing!

3) Imperial War Museum

The entry was free, but the accept donations.  This was definitely the best war Museum that I have been to; great, detailed displays with the history of each item. I particularly liked the interactive displays, such as the Holocaust memorial, the Blitz display and the display showing what life in the trenches was like. We could have easily spent a full day here.

4) British Museum

This also had free entry, but the recommend a five pound donation.  We only had two hours here before the closed and we hardly touched on it. The have over 6 million items on display and many that we saw were dated back to 600 BCA to 200 AD. Amazing items and history, but it would take you a month to get through everything properly. Go when you have lots of time!

At the British Museum

5) Royal family

We were lucky enough to have our hop on tour guide tell us that the queen was opening parliament the following day at 11am.  We walked down and witnessed all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with that and it was the highlight of the trip for me. Next time, I would research if there are going to be any events going on while we are here in hopes of seeing some of that again. It doesn’t get much more British than seeing the Queen!

Queen’s Speech procession

6) Buckingham Palace

The palace itself is a site worth seeing as well the changing of the guard which takes place around 11 AM most days.

7) Pubs

We went to at least one or two different pubs each day. The food was always good, at a reasonable price and they had great atmosphere. There are at least two to three pubs on each block so it’s easy to try a new one each time.

8) Hop on Hop off tour

This is a great way to orient yourself to the city and to see the places that might not be walking distance from your hotel.  We did the Big Bus tour and the red line has live commentary which is very entertaining.

9) Covent Garden Market

Grate shopping for all tastes as well as lots of el fresco dining options and live entertainment; a busy, lively, fun area. It is also right near the theatre district the pubs and restaurants can be very busy in the late afternoon and early evening prior to the shows starting.

10) Walking

We could walk to all of these attractions from our hotel and saw so much scenery along the water, such as parliament, big Ben the Thames, the London eye, not to mention the people watching. Taking the time to wall around really gives you a feel for the city……take good Shoes!

Next stop Amsterdam!

May 9th, 2012

Swanky Savoy! Top 10 reasons to stay here:

1)  The doorman discreetly asks your name as you pull up so the girl inside can call you by name and have your room key ready

2)  They take you to your room for private check in

3) The rooms are gorgeous

4) They have heated towel racks

5) They make the best shortbread and homemade strawberry rhubarb jam Ever!

6) The location can’t be beat -you can walk to almost anything

7) Free wifi, I dislike paying for wifi at expensive hotels when it’s now free at most budget hotels.

8) Where else in London would you go for afternoon tea, if not the Savoy?

9) When they turn down your room, they place the slippers beside the bed, ready for your use

10) Its a once in a lifetime experience and the service can’t be beat!

The Savoy entrance

Stay tuned for my top 10 things to do when you have three days in London!

Delta Premium Economy-Worth It?

We decided to try Delta Airlines Premium Economy seats for our trip to London.  The flight from Minneapolis is eight hours and we are both tall people.  The premium economy seats are $80 more per person, per direction.  The website said you would get more leg room, more seat recline, priority meal service and free spirits, in addition to free wine and beer served in all economy.  The only real selling point for us is the extra room.  I am currently on board and would say that we easily have double the leg room and 50% more recline than the seats located behind us.  Combine that with still having three available meal choices to choose from, and I’m sold!  We also chose the middle section that has three seats. We each took an aisle and hoped for the middle to remain free, which it thankfully did, giving us even more room to stretch out.  All in all, our Delta flights have been good, on time and with lots of seat-back entertainment options. A good choice for this international flight, although you have to watch as not all their 767 aircraft have been reconfigured with the seat-back entertainment and it would have been a long flight without it!

Next stop – London and The Savoy.

Heather’s European Discovery Tour – Day 1

Hello, Hallo, Bonjour from Europe!  I am sitting in my room at the Best Western Blue Square here in Amsterdam taking a minute before I start my day to let you know how things have been going so far.
My Contiki tour started yesterday in London.  We did not get a chance to really experience London but what I did experience I quite liked.  I will have to come back and spend much more time in London some day! I did stop

Fish and Chips in London!

in a great pub and have some fish and chips.  The fish was amazing exactly like I expected it would be.

From London we drove to Dover to catch a ferry, and then drove through France, Belgium and here to Amsterdam.  We arrived quite late in the day, had a quick supper and headed down to the water for our Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam

Cruise and a “cultural event”.  It was awesome to see the city from the waterways.  Many people in Amsterdam live in houseboats on the canals.  They pay taxes, have sewage hook ups, have electrical hook ups and I’m pretty sure the boats rarely move.  However, SOME houseboats do not have sewage hook ups… so you can imagine what happens there.  Bikes!  There are SO MANY bikes in Amsterdam!  Everyone in this entire country rides a bike instead of a car it seems.  There are actual bike parkades with thousands of bikes parked in them.  I’m pretty sure people completely lose their bikes and just go get new ones because it is unbelievable how many bikes are parked EVERYWHERE!  There are also separate bike lanes or paths everywhere, if you walk on them you will most likely get run over (some locals informed us of this).
Today I am going to the Anne Frank house and will eat a waffle (which is very popular here) then we will be taking a bus to the Rhine Valley to see some castles and drink some wine!

I will be in touch with more of my blog very soon!

Heather