Vietnam

Vietnam
Vivid headgears worn by Minorities @ Sapa Market

Hong Kong

Hong Kong
Mango dessert sold in Hoi Lau San @ Yau Ma Tei

Sarawak

Sarawak
Rare glimpse of Proboscis Monkey @ Bako National Park

Beijing

Beijing
A Blue & White (青花) Vase displayed @ Forbidden City

Amsterdam (Aug '10) - Overview

Went to Amsterdam (阿姆斯特丹) with my colleague over the weekend from 21 Aug (Sat) to 23 Aug (Mon). Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous city in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (尼德兰王国). Confused with the country name 'Holland' over 'Netherlands'? In fact, the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces, and North Holland and South Holland are among the two provinces. Due to the maritime and economic power of these two provinces in the 17th century, the Netherlands is known internationally as 'Holland'.

Amsterdam is known as the Venice of the North due to its numerous canals. The canals of Amsterdam built in the 17th-century and the Defence Line of Amsterdam built in the 19–20th century are both listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010.


Leisure trip at a glance

Country: Kingdom of the Netherlands
Period: 21 Aug to 23 Aug 2010
Flight timings:
21 Aug: EZY 1353, GVA–AMS, ETD 0945 ETA 1115
23 Aug: EZY 1356, AMS–GVA, ETD 1735 ETA 1905

Flight tickets: Return tickets at CHF 212.75 per person (inclusive of airport taxes)
Accommodation:
Hostel Amsterdam Stadsdoelen (21 to 23 Aug)
i Currency exchange rate: EUR 1 = SGD 1.72 (Aug ’10 period)


There is no time difference between Switzerland and Netherlands; both countries are in Central Europe time zone. Total damage was about SGD $450 including flight tickets, airport taxes, transport, food and hotel, excluding personal expenses.

Here's the overview of the trip itinerary:

Day 1 – Morning flight EZY 1353 from Geneva International Airport (Switzerland) to Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam). Took train to Amsterdam Centraal. Walked pass National Monument, Anne Frank House, Royal Palace and Tulip Museum. Had dinner at Nieuwmarkt. Walked back towards the hostel at night.

Day 2 – Joined a full day tour to Windmills, Delft, The Hague and Madurodam. Had dinner at an Indonesian Restaurant.

Day 3 – Visited Van Gogh Museum. Walked pass Concertgebouw and Rijksmuseum. Had lunch at Nieuwmarkt. Took train from Amsterdam Centraal to Airport. Boarded flight EZY 1356 to Geneva International Airport.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the main international airport of Netherlands, and located 9.1-km southwest of Amsterdam. Currently it is the 5th busiest airport in Europe. The IATA code for this airport is AMS.

The airport is built as a single large terminal (left photo below) but split into three large departure halls. Schiphol has large shopping area, known as Schiphol Plaza, for source of revenue and as an additional attraction for passengers (right photo below). Because this plaza is located before airport customs, hence frequently visited by many air travelers and non-traveling visitors.



Getting in/out from the Airport

The easiest way to get in/out of the airport is by train for first time visitors. Conveniently the train station is located at the basement of the terminal complex. We took the train to and from the Amsterdam Centraal station.

The cost of each single trip was EUR 4.20, inclusive of EUR 0.50 administrative charge, for a second class cabin. The journey took only 20-minutes. Following are the train tickets we took during our arrival (left photo below) and departure (right photo below). Great that our colleague gave us some unused train tickets so that we can use them on our return trip.



Transportation in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam Centraal is the largest railway station of Amsterdam, and a major national railway hub. Do note the extra 'a' in 'Centraal' as spelled in Dutch. First opened in 1889, Amsterdam Centraal was designed by a Dutch architect featuring a Gothic and Renaissance revival station building (left photo below). Behind the building is a cast iron platform roof spanning approximately 40-metres (right photo below).



Nederlandse Spoorwegen

The principal rail operator in the Netherlands is provided by Nederlandse Spoorwegen. The train we took to and from the airport was a third generation Double Decker VIRM train (photos below).



Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf (GVB)

The Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf is the municipal public transport operator providing metro, tram, bus and ferry services in the city of Amsterdam metropolitan area. The best way to get unlimited travel of all modes of transportation is to get a GVB day pass.












Hostel Amsterdam Stadsdoelen

The Hostel Amsterdam Stadsdoelen (left photo below) is located in the city centre. Booked this hostel via the internet at EUR 58.91 for a Male Dormitory for 2 nights. The Male Dorm consists of more than 10 beds (right photo below). The price paid also includes daily breakfast and bed linen, except for towels. So guests would have to either rent from the hostel or bring their own towels.



The dinning room was relatively spacious (left photo below) on its second floor, and offered a good view of the canal and opposite buildings (right photo below).



There were limited selections of bread, cereals and beverages in this hostel. Thus choice of my breakfast (photos below) was rather similar on the two days.



Interesting Observations

Remember the "Open" male toilet spotted at Brussels? This urinal was even more 'open' (left photo below). There was even a karaoke taxi available for rent at Amsterdam (right photo below).



If you think that China is the "Bicycle Country", then you may need to think twice when you're in Amsterdam (photos below).



However just like China, designated roads in Amsterdam are allocated for bicycles only (left photo below). Besides roads, canals are often congested with boats and cruises (right photo below).



It seems like many of the Dutch houses are leaning forward (photos below) and may topple over anytime. The reason is the oldest houses in Amsterdam still have the old timber framed houses within the brick walls, and the need to lean out to because the houses have been built with the upper floors sticking out.



Speaking of houses, there are many floating houses along the canals (photos below). Besides freeing up the lands for housing, these houses are safe against flooding. Only approximately 2,400 families are privilege to live on the inner waters of Amsterdam due to the limited number of moorings.



About 1,500 bridges are built over more than one hundred kilometers of canals in the city center of Amsterdam. Among the various types of bridges, there are the concrete bridge (left photo below) and the Magere Brug or "Skinny Bridge" (right photo below).



The Magere Brug is a traditional double-lead, Dutch draw-bridge connecting the banks. Approximately every twenty-minutes, the bridge opens to let boats through. Here's my video capturing the closing of the bridge to allow cyclists and pedestrians through.



Amsterdam is most well known by tourists for its sex and drugs shops.

The stores in the red-light district are full of hardcore videos, magazines, sex toys, and even provide 'live' porno shows (photos below).



Do not confused with the word 'coffeeshop' used locally in Singapore, these are Cannabis coffeeshops where the sale of cannabis can be consumed. Innovative signs are displayed outside these coffeeshops to attract patrons (photos below).



The exterior of these coffeeshops sometimes can be sex store look-alike (left photo below) or just like any coffee houses (right photo below). Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate these coffeeshops is using one’s nose outside these shops. The smell of cannabis is so distinct and strong that one smell can be easily remembered.



Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is consumed to heighten one's mood but with multiple side effects. Amazingly the seeds of cannabis can be bought conveniently from the seeds store (photos below).



Even the drug descriptions can be found displayed on the store windows (photos below). Not too sure if the drug 'ice' comes from the specific type of cannabis plant species.



Travel Tips:

If you’re staying in Amsterdam for more than 2 days and a museum-lover, then it is worth the money to get an iAmsterdam City Card (left photo).

This iAmsterdam City Card provides, during 24, 48 or 72h, free entry to over 30 museums, free use of public transports and exclusive offers in designers boutiques, shops, exhibitions, restaurants & attractions.

For a 24-hour Brussels Card, it costs EUR 49, while a 48-hour cost EUR 59. Do check out the website to find out more to take the advantage of the discount.

Useful Links:

Iamsterdam Visting
http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting

Amsterdam Travel Guide
http://www.amsterdam.info/

Amsterdam Tourist Information
http://www.dutchamsterdam.nl/

Wikitravel - Amsterdam
http://wikitravel.org/en/Amsterdam

Brussels

Day Three

After breakfast, we checked out our room and deposited our luggage in the locker room of the hostel. However I could not remember the exact price we paid for the shared locker.

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (left photo below), or Co-Cathédrale collégiale des Ss-Michel et Gudule in French or Collegiale Sint-Michiels- en Sint-Goedele-co-kathedraal in Dutch, is a Roman Catholic church on the Treurenberg Hill in Brussels. Gothic statues of Kings and Saints could be seen from the west façade of the Cathedral (right photo below).



Inside the church there are Roman columns that support the roof and in front of each column there is the statue of one of the twelve apostles (left photo below).

At the nave was a Baroque pulpit (right photo below) made by Antwerp sculptor in the 17th century. The base represents Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden after plucking the forbidden fruit. At the top, the Virgin and Child piercing the serpent symbolize redemption.



The stained glass windows in the cathedral were another spectacular sight not to miss (photos below).





The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is the official church of Belgium royal family. Many royal events have taken place there, like the wedding of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola in 1960, the funeral of King Baudouin in 1993, and the wedding of Prince Philip and Lady Mathilde in 1999.

Fontaine des Agenouilles

Located at the compound of Réunion des Musées Nationaux (left photo below), there was this well known sculpture 'Kneeling boys' (right photo below) where five naked teens seem to be meditating on the edge of a stone basin. The artist wanted to express the image of the soul eternally condemned to mediation by fear of life.



Congress Column

The Congress Column (left photo below), or Colonne du Congrès in French, or Congreskolom in Dutch, is a monumental column located on the Place du Congrès and Congresplein in Brussels. Inspired by Trajan's Column in Rome, it commemorates the creation of the Belgian state and constitution by the National Congress between 1830 and 1831. Standing at a height of 47-meters, the column is topped by the statue of King Leopold I.

Four female figures seated at the corners to symbolize the fundamental freedoms: Religion, Association, Education and the Press (right photo below).



The dates inscribed on the column referred to major events in Belgium’s independence:

  • September 1830 for the fight for independence;
  • 10 November 1830 for the setting up of Congress;
  • 7 February 1831 for the vote on the constitution (left photo below);
  • 21 July 1831 for the swearing in of Leopold I.

The lower part of the column is decorated with finely crafted allegorical relief of nine provinces surrounding the genius of the Nation, each topped with its respective coat of arms (right photo below).



Two imposing bronze lions (left photo below) stand guard on either side of the flame (right photo below) which is relit every 11 November.



Saint Mary's Royal Church

The Saint Mary's Royal Church, or Église Royale Sainte-Marie in French or Koninklijke Sint-Mariakerk in Dutch, is a Roman Catholic parish church located on the Place de la Reine and Koninginneplein (left photo below).

The church was built in an eclectic style combining influences from Byzantine and Roman architecture (right photo below). The building received protected status through a royal decree issued on November 9, 1976.



Belgian Comic Strip Center

The Belgian Comic Strip Center, or Centre belge de la Bande Dessinée in French or Belgisch Stripcentrum in Dutch, showcased the history of Belgian comics. Open in 1989, the center is housed in a former department store (left photo below) located at Rue des Sables and Zandstraat 20.

It exhibits examples of comic strips in French, Dutch and English where full range of comic art is covered, including science fiction, Wild West, crime and politics (right photo below).



There were also exhibits on the artists’ work stations during their inspirational creation (photos below).



It has several exhibits on Belgium's most famous comic series The Adventures of Tintin, including the earlier copies of the Tintin comics (photos below).



The famous children's comics, The Smurfs, occupied a rather large part of the exhibition. The colorful painting of Smurfs caught my attention (photos below).





Miniatures made for the comics were also exhibited (photos below).



Admission to the Comic Strip Center cost EUR 7.50, and its opening hours is 1000 hours to 1800 hours daily, except on Christmas and New Year days.


Cinquantenaire Park

Cinquantenaire park, or Parc du Cinquantenaire in French, literally means "Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary". It is a large public urban park occupying 30 hectares in eastern part of the European Quarter and has 3 different museums. The buildings formed a U-shaped complex (left photo below) with a triumphal arch erected in the center (right photo below). The arch was planned for the National Exhibition of 1880 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independent state of Belgium.



On top of the triumphal arch stood a quadriga sculpture, representing 'Brabant raising the national flag' (left photo below). Mentioning about the flag theme, it has been customary for a Belgian flag to be flown from the structure's central archway (right photo below).



A total of eight bronze sculptures, each represent a Belgian province, were located at the Triumphal Arch (photos below).





Royal Military Museum

The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History (left photo below), or Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire Militaire in French or Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis in Dutch, is a military museum that occupies the two northernmost halls of the historic complex in Cinquantenaire Park.

Interestingly there was a replica of Manneken Pis wearing a naval uniform (right photo below).



The aviation hall includes various types of aircraft, both military and civilian, could date back to the early 12th century (photos below).



In addition there were suits of armor, whole rooms full of ornate swords and guns, and numerous dioramas of uniforms from all over Europe (photos below).



Personally felt that this museum was rather old fashioned crammed with loads of stuff. However its admission is free, so do visit this place if you have the time.

European Quarter

The European Quarter is an unofficial name of the area bounded by Brussels Park, Cinquantenaire Park and Leopold Park, which constituted mostly of various institutions, such as the European Parliament building (photos below).



Flags of all 28 members of the European Union were seen flying outside the European Parliament (photos below).



Euro statue (left photo below) holding the symbol of "Euro", was spotted outside the European Parliament. Definitely it is not easy to form a union where each member has its own language. Taking the example of the words 'European Parliament', they could have 23 different spellings (right photo below).



Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (left photo below) is a natural history museum founded in 1846. Its most important pieces are 30 fossilized Iguanodon skeletons, which were discovered in 1878. There are several permanent exhibitions in this museum, such as the Dinosaur Hall, Men and Mammoths, Mammal Gallery, Mineral Gallery (right photo below), insect gallery etc. Interestingly to note that the dinosaur hall of the museum, completely dedicated to dinosaurs, is the world's largest museum hall of 4580 meter square.

We didn’t visit this museum due to our tight schedule.



Royal Palace

The Royal Palace of Brussels (photos below), or Palais Royal de Bruxelles in French or Koninklijk Paleis van Brussel in Dutch, is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the centre of Brussels. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.

We were lucky to tour the interior of the Royal Palace during our visit. Though the tour was free, it took us about 15-minutes of waiting time before the tour.



Belgian waffle

No trip to Belgium is complete without having a Belgian waffle. When I saw this van (left photo below), I decided to get myself a plain waffle at EUR 2. Compared to the American waffle, Belgian waffle is larger by its size, with bigger and deeper grid squares (right photo below).



Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon

Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church (left photo below), or Église Notre-Dame du Sablon in French or Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Zavel in Dutch, is a Catholic church from the 15th century in the historic centre of Brussels. The church is characterized by its late Brabantine Gothic exterior (right photo below) and rich interior decoration including two Baroque chapels.



Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Located in the historic center of Brussels, the main building (left photo below) consists of two museums, namely Ancient Art and Modern Art Museums. We only walked past this museum and did not enter to visit.

Royal Conservatory

The Royal Conservatory of Brussels (right photo below) is the main drama and music college in Belgium. The building consists of three wings arranged around a courtyard built between 1872 and 1876.



Law Courts of Brussels

The Law Courts of Brussels, also known as Brussels Palace of Justice, or Palais de Justice in French, or Justitiepaleis in Dutch, is the most important court building in Belgium. Built between 1866 and 1883 in eclectic style, it is the largest building constructed in the 19th century (left photo below). Since 2003 till now, the building is undergoing renovation, in particular replacing its scaffoldings.

The actual size of Brussels Palace of Justice is bigger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Measuring 160 by 150 meters, the building has a total built ground surface of 26,000 meter square with eight courtyards with a surface of 6000 meter square, 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms.

Besides the building stood the Infantry Memorial of Brussels (right photo below) in memory of the Belgian foot soldiers who fought during World War I and World War II.



Late Lunch near Hostel

While walking back to the hostel, we came about this restaurant and therefore decided to have our late lunch. Ordered a cup of cappuccino (left photo below) and shared a plate of salad with egg (right photo below).



Of course, how can we not order Moules-frites (photos below). Taste was good as expected. However I could not remember the exact price we paid for the meal.



After lunch, we went back to our hostel to get our luggage. Took train to airport from Brussels Central station.

Quick Fast Food

After check-in our flight, we had our dinner at Quick Fast Food Restaurant (left photo below) in the airport. Ordered a King Fish meal at EUR 6.85 (right photo below). Taste was typical like most food fast but the fries were not crispy compared to those Belgian fries I had with the Moules-frites.



Disappointedly easyJet was late for departure again. This is the risk of taking a budget airline. By the time we arrived at Geneva Airport, it was already past mid-night and there was no train scheduled from the airport to Neuchâtel. Thus we decided to have our rest at Geneva. After searching for about 15-mins, we finally found the Geneva Youth Hostel. Paid CHF 35 per person for a night stay in a 12-person dormitory. After a quick shower, finally I had a good rest.

Only managed to sleep for few hours, we then woke up extremely early in the morning to check-out from the hostel. Took the earliest train departing at 0456 hours from Geneva to Neuchâtel, and finally reached Neuchâtel at 0622 hours. Had a quick wash up at my apartment before going to work.

With this, it ended my weekend trip to Brussels.
 

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