Thursday, September 28, 2017

Schiermonnikoog, one drop in the ocean

There are a few drops in the ocean where a frontier between Netherlands and Germany cease to exist. Waters are calm and waves don't have a sound here in the North. Dutch seem to enjoy picking a ferry to leave into the islands. We choose Schiermonnikoog. It has been almost one year and it is still a very present memory. There is something about waking up early in the Netherlands. By the weekends, out of the big cities, people seem to enjoy more the bed and during morning, except in the markets, it is hard to find people outside. So, it is always very special the feeling of getting up early and, even better, having the sunshine in your skin.

Wagenborg holds the way to the ferry and the way there by car is very beautiful. You are driving surrounded by water and the extend of the horizon seems more unbelievable. Parking is never easy, so you need to leave your car in paying parks during your stay in the island. The ferry is very nice. It is quite big and early in the morning, it is cold outside, so everybody just stays in. The smell of breakfast is intense and it is very hard to try and resist to eat or drink something. Prices are terrible and even though the coffee seem to taste like it smells, I resist the temptation.  What makes it easier is that Silla's is not the biggest fan of sweet food. So... she holds me.

To explore Schiermonnikoog you need a bike. Well, everywhere in the Netherlands you need a bike, but here you do not have an option. It is not a big island, but the best thing you can do is exploring everything. There are hundreds of people waiting to get their bike. They rent it exactly outside the ferry and it is an impressive feeling. I was still not a professional of the famous dutch "fiets" (bikes), but I told my girlfriend I wanted one with two seats - a tandem bike! She was quite hesitant in the beginning but we did it. It was the best option we have made. Makes things even more interesting. Going in the centre is a beautiful introduction. You ride close to the water dikes and you arrive to a very special small centre were there are hundreds of people eating and drinking coffee and tea on the terraces. We took a bite on our "Droge Wurst"and there we go.

Exploring the island by bike was our plan during the morning. We would after have a small snack as lunch and then beach in the afternoon. The sun was intense and the landscape was beautiful. Even though there are many people in the island you have many paths where you can't find anybody. Vegetation is a mixture of green and dry. This is the smallest Dutch municipality in terms of population. Less than 1000 people that live mostly of tourism. One funny fact is that Schiermonnikoog was part of the Friesland province and it was sold to privates. This island was privately owned from 1638 to 1945. During the II World War it was occupied by the Germans that built a radar post, Schleidorp that is still there. 

After our ride we had a small lunch and afterwards we enjoyed the beach. The most amazing thing happened as we close our eyes for an instant and after a few minutes we realised we were surrounded by water. The sand is so extensive and it looks like it doesn't have an end. I had to walk on the water with Silla on my back and the moment was memorable. We were quite close to the beach pavillion on the north side of the island. After surrendering to the wind we went back to our bikes to discover the rest of the island. It is quite easy to ride and finding some hidden cafes in the middle of the forest is possible. Seeing remaining buildings from the war is always impressive to me and I always like to take a moment and try to imagine what happened in what today we take for granted as a touristic and sunny place.

Day was long and we waited for the final ferry. On the way back it started raining. How can we complain. Perfect!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Autumn in Volendam

There are a few events and special places in my Netherlands list. Living in a country but being able to experience it as a tourist is maybe the best way to get to know it. I still have a "first sight" feeling and I want to take advantage of it to have a permanent vacation perspective of the cities.
I didn't think about what to expect from Volendam. I knew it was a fishing village and that we would take the famous photos with traditional Dutch clothes. Sharing my plan on the weekend with my job colleagues revealed a funny smile from them towards my experience. There is a very generic Dutch opinion on experiences and all of them described Volendam as a very touristic thing to do. So, this means they avoid it. Can't understand why.

Me and Silla woke up quite early on a very sunny Saturday to have our breakfast and arrange our car trip to Volendam. We were supposte to meet our friend Alvin that lives only one hour from there. On the way there we had to cross Friesland and landscapes are aways breath taking for me. A very rural country with big fields. Farming is quite advanced and heavy machinery is a constant. Roads are so easy to drive and with a limit of 130km per hour, travelling by car is quite a pleasant adventure. And with the best company in the world, I can't stop saying that I am the luckiest guy alive. Me and Silla like to train our languages while driving. We have the Dutch against the Portuguese language with a lot of english in the middle. Always fun!

Parking is not such a beautiful experience as driving. Here in the Netherlands is one important thing to do before you leave home. Check on google maps where you can leave the car or otherwise prepare to pay a lot to leave your car. Luckily, we found a very nice place next to the stadium, a mere 10 minutes walk to the centre. Volendam is quite busy, with tourist busses all over the place and people everywhere. Still it was quite easy to find Alvin and finally we were ready to enjoy our day.

We had a brunch in Café Centraal Volendam and we order the special fish here: Eel! They are served smoke and we had in a warmed baguette with a bit salad next to it. This fat speciality flavour is amazing! You really know you are getting fresh fish. Our friend Alvin had salmon and enjoyed it a lot. It looked amazing! These are quite expensive dishes, being in a very touristic place, but also because eel is becoming an en dangerous species. I have read that they are taken from France and Spain and grown in farms in the North. Pollution and damming of waterways are reducing the fish population.

After brunch we went for our photo experience. There are many shops where you can take pictures with the traditional clothes and I can understand why. It is a very profitable business and  it is considered a kind of a landmark of tourism in the Netherlands. One photo costs 20 euros, but yes, we do have a nice memory to bring home and to give to our family. It is quite a funny experience, as you enter a room full of people dressing up. There are a few girls helping us putting the clothes. A kind of vest and a jacket on to, bug big trousers, a hat and the traditional Dutch wooden shoes. You wait on a queue and then you choose your scenery: a kitchen or an outside of a barn. We choose the kitchen and the pictures can tell you the rest.

We decided to take the boat to the close island of Marken. Today it is not a real island as a road was build to have access to it. The trip is very gentle and calm. You can enjoy a very nice view and have a drink on board. It is a beautiful view and you can see the sailing boats around you, as it is quite popular to do it in this area. The island is very small but it is very traditional. Checking the houses around and the small ways into them, in the middle of the nice fresh smell of hanging clothes is a very calm experience. Time forgot to modernise this small island as they say. We had a few drinks here and headed back after our 2 hour visit.

Volendam has a very sad story to tell and you can see a monument that relates to it. I was quite shocked when I was told about it and I couldn't take my eyes from the place. In the New Year's eve of 2001 people were trapped in a bar where a fire started. Windows had metal bars and were an obstacle to the exit. 14 young people died, 241 went to the hospital and 200 were seriously burned. A terrible landmark but that shouldn't be forgotten and ignored.

We had our dinner in the Café Centraal, as "The Lunch" restaurant was holding a birthday party and all the tables were reserved. Still we had very nice fish and we were quite happy with it.

Time to head back home, while seeing the fog on top of the waters! Unique and relaxing Volendam.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Go deep in Netherlands - Groningen

It's not easy for us to talk about Groningen with a tourist perspective as we live here together for one year. There is a lot of emotion on how we write about this wonderful city. I can base some of my words on the feelings my parents (Portuguese) had when they visit what is considered the North border of Holland. Dutch have a very specific opinion on distance and Groningen is considered very far from Amsterdam, and a world apart. Still we are talking of about 180 km to the capital, which means around 2 hours by car or by train. Considered one of the most important cities of Netherlands, 50 000 of the total of 190 000 population are students. And this fact creates a very important difference.

It's a live city!

As a fan of Back to the Future, I couldn't leave the fact that the centre of Groningen is so close to Hill Valley. There are two main squares, the Fish Markt and the Grote Markt. This two places are the heart of the city, where most of the big events take place. The Fish Markt is where we can visit the biggest market to buy fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, meat and other special food. You have to visit it while you eat some French Fries with Mayo, try the typical herring, pick pieces of cheeses to try and also their wursts... There is such a big movement of people, colours and smells that you will be overwhelmed by such a landmark. You cannot miss the surroundings with all the shops and, just 2 minutes walking you go the Grote Markt. This is where all main events take place and where you find most people sitting in the terraces. Groningen is different. Due to the amount of students, you will be able to find the terraces full of people most of the time, during day and night.

The Drie Gezusters offer one of the best pubs in Netherlands, and it seems the biggest in Europe! Behind the monumental front of the building, dating from the eighteenth century , one of the oldest houses lies in here. Going inside is one experience you will not forget, specially if you go there on a weekend or when some soccer game is on TV. I still have printed on my mind on my fist impression on how beautiful this place is inside. Today I still have the same feeling. I have had the best beer while listening to someone playing the piano. It's a very young but very peaceful pub where all people want to be.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Visual Guide to Gdansk

The city has some buildings surviving from the time of the Hanseatic League. Most tourist attractions are located along or near Ulica Długa (Long Street) and Długi Targ (Long Market), a pedestrian thoroughfare surrounded by buildings reconstructed in historical (primarily during the 17th century) style and flanked at both ends by elaborate city gates. This part of the city is sometimes referred to as the Royal Road, since it was once the former path of processions for visiting kings.

Impact in Gdansk

An impressive colour pallet on a city that was so destroyed by the II World War was nothing that I was ready to find. Our trip to Gdansk was chosen because it is one of the few destinations from Groningen Airport. Less than one hour flying we arrive to the surprisingly big airport of Gdansk. Getting the bus was not so hard, but prepare to find it alone, as most Polish people we asked information didn't speak English. Still they always did their best. The bus is around 30 minutes drive to the central train station and the way there is dark, so the destination was more and more blurry. 
That's why I had such a big surprise when arriving to the centre. Gdansk is big, is busy and the traffic was impressive. The building were very beautiful with a mixture of modern and old, and with many open squares. Our first impact as we went out of the bus was the best. We knew we found something special. We had to walk still a bit to our hotel, that was quite hard to find and in a strange area, specially because we were arriving by night.
After we settle our stuff we went immediately out to find a restaurant and we went back to the centre. Our eyes were wide open. The main street was full of people, lot's of terraces and the architecture was quite beautiful. 

We had a very nice meal that I will take the time to review here and then we walked on the city. The feeling you have is quite strange as you know how destroyed this city was in the war, and how well they were able to rebuild it so that it doesn't loose the charm.

Germany invaded Poland on September 1 after having signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union in late August. The German attack began in Danzig, with a bombardment of Polish positions at Westerplatte by the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, and the landing of German infantry on the peninsula. Outnumbered Polish defenders at Westerplatte resisted for seven days before running out of ammunition. Meanwhile, after a fierce day-long fight (1 September 1939), defenders of the Polish Post office were tried and executed then buried on the spot in the Danzig quarter of Zaspa in October 1939. In 1998 a German court overturned their conviction and sentence.

Parts of the historic old city of Gdańsk, which had suffered large-scale destruction during the war, were rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. The reconstruction was not tied to the city's pre-war appearance, but instead was politically motivated as a means of culturally cleansing and destroying all traces of German influence from the city. Any traces of German tradition were ignored, suppressed, or regarded as "Prussian barbarism" only worthy of demolition, while Flemish/Dutch, Italian and French influences were used to replace the historically accurate Germanic architecture which the city was built upon since the 14th century.

About us

We meet in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, in Portugal. Porto is the city where I was born. Silla comes from the Netherlands, a village close to Groningen in the North part of the country. When I meet her I knew something special was going on there. She had the most beautiful smile I have ever seen in my life. And I guess she liked me because we couldn't stop touring around the streets of the city, talking to each other, and sharing small things like how Dutch people kiss. Three kisses... One of the cheeks looses. She had to get back to her country, as she was only there for vacations. We shared our phone numbers and since then we couldn't stop sharing our everyday's life. I have just sold my business and was enjoying a little freedom, riding my bike and eating in restaurants, meeting friends. Silla she is a social worker and was most of the time working or eating. Well, we soon found out that we were both crazy about food and nice restaurants. Challenge is trying to not spend so much money doing it. For me it wasn't so hard as in Portugal you can find the most amazing places to eat for cheap. Netherlands, well... that's a different story. I decided to meet her in Amsterdam. For the first time I was going to what I thought was the party centre of the world. We were quite hesitant of course, but we meet and everything was beautiful since then. It was hard the distance in the beginning. You do not realize what is happenning and betting on something so far is always a pain. A daily pain. But we did it and we were texting every single day. We decided to meet in Marocco and we were for the first time spending time together, in one room, with no alchool! Well, it was perfect. I decided to start learning Dutch and trying to work in Netherlands. Not easy, when you try in Groningen. Still I had a couple of friends that "adopt me"in Hilversum and things became more real. I finally managed to find a job in Groningen and well... today my car is still in Portugal and I freeze my face against the wind. It has been one year and the adventure is amazing. We have a lot to tell, many trips to describe and travelling to do in the future!

Art Carnivale

I had no expectations about this festival. We spent the day at my girlfriend's parents house having a family lunch and the option was there at the end of the day. Because it was on our way home, I told my girlfriend that I accepted the invitation.

The relaxed atmosphere, the absence of "screens", music and the friendly people with so many kids running around, made this one of my highlights in the Netherlands this Summer!

The location where it takes place is wonderful. It is maybe what I imagine Netherlands could offer. A connection between people and the Nature. And I think that was what happened in Steendam.
This festival started as an expression of art and alternative lifestyle with one very simple goal: feeling good. It is targeted to all ages and all kind of people, but do not expect to find the noise you have on regular events this kind. They call it an artistic family festival!

You have a lot of art, music, theatres, performances and children's activities. A creative market is the path to the beautiful beach park of Schildmeer. The location is truly impressive and if you just want to sit on the grass and look around, well... that experience is worth gold. Try it with someone you love.

It is a meeting place for old and young people that relaxes you and reminds you how nice it is to leave all your worries and your digital screens at home. Still don't forget your camera. Your will find so much happening that you will want to register every single moment.

They call it a cultural and artistic experience - I call it "what I think Holland should represent"

Extreme Party Gay Parade in Amsterdam 2017

I have never seen such a big party! This was my first visit to the Gay Parade, and living in the Netherlands I couldn't miss it. Second time for my girlfriend. The arrival was already shocking as we see a man completely naked walking on the street, with just some glitter on the private parts. We walked together with 2 gigantic trans on the street. They were quite nice as they were approached several times by people to take pictures, and they were always doing it showing no signs of hesitance. The party itself is huge. The parade are hundreds of boats in the Amsterdam canals and partys all over the city. Go early. Check the parade and then go thru the gay streets in this capital. You won't be able to move, but believe me... you won't need it. You have a continuous show of amazing people dressed all ways you can imagine with the freedom as the main word. Can't miss it!

Amsterdam Pride happens thru all the capital of the Netherlands. It is a annual event, especially at the centre of the city during the first week of August. This event was first organised in 1996 as a festival. The purpose was to celebrate freedom and diversity. This distinct from other Gay Pride parades because it was not meant to be a demonstration for equal rights.

I was told by friend’s gay couple that when it started it was very small. Fast it grew to be maybe one of the biggest events in the Netherlands. Well, what I saw was several hundred-thousand of people and I have never seen such a large public event anywhere. People were spread everywhere in the city, and each corner had a mini party on the street.

I was told about a different event that I believe is more towards equal rights which is the Pink Saturday, or the Roze Zaterdag as they say in Dutch. 

The peak of this festival is the Canal Parade. Several boats with a huge diversity of people, colours, meanings, concepts, where you can see popular Dutch artists and celebrities.  Boats go from Westerdok over the Prinsengracht, Amstelriver, Zwanenburgwal and Oudeschans to Oosterdok.

There are also many famous sex workers from Netherlands that celebrate in those boats and everything is just a feast of emotions. There is so much to look at, so much information that you can only process them when you look at the pictures after arriving home.

The Amsterdam Gay Pride usually holds a week of various activities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including cultural, exhibitions and other events. There are also street parties in the streets where there's a concentration of gay bars like Reguliersdwarsstraat, Zeedijk, Warmoesstraat and alongside Amstel.

A dream come true!

When you grow up being a fan of movies, you cant's stop thinking you know and you love cities of the USA. The highlight being New York, I knew for many years, that I had to do this visit with a special person. Me and Silla decided it was time to go. We were both very anxious for the trip and we tried planning it as best as possible. We got a very economic package and we were able to go there for 8 days. Never have I been so excited to travel.

We travelled with KLM and it was quite a pleasant trip. The meals on the plane were quite nice and we were able to watch a few movies to relax and trying no to think about where we were going all the time.

The very first impression, still on the JFK airport is the amount of different people everywhere. The mixture of cultures is really quite impressive. When you go on the bus to the city you start stretching your neck to look for the NYC building on the landscape and... what a feeling.

Coming out from the subway is something you just can't describe. The buildings are huge, the shadows are impressive, you stop losing the notion of day or night and the lights were incredible. We walked until our hotel and we were so mouth open all the time. Walking in NYC is quite easy because as soon as you check the numbers of the streets and start figuring out where is north and south and east and west, things become quite simple. Our walk was amazing but a t the same time so difficult because all you see is so tempting.

Our hotel or hostel was really nothing fancy, but it was quite central, between the United Nations Building and Times Square, quite close to the Grand Central. Place was close to everything, had a gym or a sauna (that we actually used everyday to relax before going out in the evening).

We left our things in the hotel and went imediatly searching for a nice place to eat. Our list was quite extensive and we choose something easy, Shawarma. On the way there we stopped by the Grand Central Station and also Bryant Park!

Arriba Arriba Mexican Restaurant

One day of heavy rain in NYC and we were both on the other side of the city. Still we had mexican food on our mind and we knew exactly where we had to go... A 40 minute walking under heavy rain. Was it worth it? Yes! Arriba arriba has very nice and affordable menus with 3 mexican dishes at choice. The food was very well prepared but get ready to not see it. Restaurant is very dark. gives it a romantic and kind of naughty atmosphere, but nothing we haven't seen in Sex and the City before. We loved it and we recommend it.