Thursday, 1 December 2016

Amsterdam: Foodhallen, Van Gogh & Ice-skating

As always, my life revolves around food. 
So, as we woke up on the Monday and craved for breakfast, we headed towards the Foodhallen indoor food market. 

Thankfully it was not very busy as it was a Monday and there were so many cuisines to choose from such as 
Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, French, Indian, Dutch, and many more.

We scouted our way around the place and decided to, once again, get a little bit of everything.

First up, we got some spicy Korean fried chicken!

Second up was siu mai which is a type of Chinese dim sum which is steamed dumpling filled with minced pork, shrimp and mushroom. 

And Vietnamese rice rolls filled with beef, rice noodles and fresh vegetables served with sweet chilli sauce on the side.

We slightly power walked towards the Van Gogh Museum along, yet another one of Amsterdam's canals. 

So we arrived with our pre-booked tickets (which I once again advise to do if you're planning on coming here to skip the queue). The museum had three floors of Van Gogh's artwork along with the history of his personal life and paintings of those who inspired him.

On the very top floor, starred one of Van Gogh's most famous artworks - Almond Blossom.
It was a really lovely museum as it both incorporated the artist's personal life and his works which made it seem like you were being put into the shoes of Van Gogh.

The museum really encouraged each visitor to take the perspective of Van Gogh along with interactive opportunities of attempting to adopt his techniques.

Which we obviously, absolutely, nailed.

At the end of it all, we only had two hours left in Amsterdam before we had to head back to the hotel to get our luggage to get to the airport. So we were thinking of returning back to Westermarkt to go boat paddling (which we had planned on doing).

But then we suddenly so an outdoor ice skating rink on our way and thought,
What the heck, let's just go ice skating instead! 
It was probably the craziest ice skating experience I've ever had as there were just so many children skating all around the place.

It definitely was a memorable way of wrapping up our trip in Amsterdam and we soon left to the airport with all of our belongings.

And.....that's pretty much a summary of how Amsterdam went.

Our first trip abroad together.
With many more to come in the future :)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Amsterdam: Mystical Fishing Villages

On the Sunday Morning, we lazily got up and headed to visit the fishing villages outside of Amsterdam - Volendam and Marken. 

I got us the Go Dutch local bus pass which allows you to take the bus routes above out of Amsterdam to other villages. So, we first trammed to Centraal Station and caught the EBS 316 bus to Volendam which ran every 15 minutes.

And it was definitely a nice breather from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam.

The pretty Volendam harbour.

We headed to the Cheese Factory in Volendam which had lovely tasters for all of us and had a short demonstration of the manufacturing of cheese (for free too!)

But then we got peckish and headed to get us some sweet treats.

We had to choose between waffles.

Or mini pancakes.

So in the end we got a fresh batch of mini pancakes (he actually had to make the batter from scratch) smothered in nutella with sliced bananas. Although we had to wait about 15-20 minutes for it, it was absolutely worth it! 

When we saw enough of Volendam, we took the ferry to Marken which ran every 90 minutes. 
Once again, it was cheaper to buy the tickets online. 

While staring out at the contrails in the sky.

We arrived at Marken which was significantly quieter than Volendam, 
I guess I totally forgot it was a Sunday so everything was rather closed.

The houses there looked like illustrations from a children's story book.

And the goats were fun to play with.

As the clog-making factory was closed, we had to settle for a tree carved into numerous clogs.

And pretty wall decorations.

The entire village had a mystical feel to it.

It was really fun just skipping around the place, as if we had entered a story book and there was nobody else but us. 

After our desire for mystical feels were satisfied, we hopped on the 315 bus back to Centraal Station and just wandered around the city once again.

Using another Groupon deal, we had another amazing Turkish dinner in Amsterdam at Bistro Bos. We received six starters and a basket of Turkish bread between us. 

Starters included
Deep fried prawn or goat's cheese spring roll
Rumeli Cacigi (tsatsiki yoghurt, garlic, cucumber and olive oil)
Patlican Salata (roasted eggplant with peppers, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice)
Muammara (hot red pepper tapenade with walnuts and pomegranate syrup)
Patlican Ezme (roasted eggplant in yoghurt with garlic, olive oil)

Then we both got the same main which gave us each 2 lamb skewers, 2 chicken skewers, 6 k√∂ftes, two lamb chops with rice, salad and fries. 

What was really interesting and slightly embarrassing on my part was that, I finally learnt the art of using a knife and fork. Personally, in Malaysia I was very much used to just eating with fork and spoon, chopsticks, or with my hands.

The fork and knife combo had not really been taught to me nor was I good at it in any way.
So, Lorcan had to teach me how to actually hold the utensils in the first place
(you can never stop learning in life I guess :P)
It was very comical to say the least.

And at the end, we washed it down with the house red, Merlot.
It was only €9.95 for 50cl as well. 
Personally, the appetisers were way better than the main course. But we got great service from the restaurant as well as they even let us switch to a better table once we saw a nicer one open up.

But the main point was,
birthday boy was happy :).

Amsterdam: History, Markets, Exploration & Food

It was Lorcan's birthday last Friday and since it was the first time I was celebrating it with him,
I wanted to make sure it was as memorable as possible.

So what better way than to have our first trip abroad!!
I had been planning this for the past two months or so and booked us

1. return flights from Dublin to Amsterdam
2. a 3D/2N stay at the Ramada Apollo Hotel 
3. tickets to the Ann Frank House and Van Gogh Museum
4. two fancy dinners
4. travel tickets to the fishing villages, Volendam and Marken

For the sake of concealing the prices, if anyone's interested in how much it ended up for your own travel plans, you can message me and I can let you know =)

After getting to Dublin Airport at 4:30 in the morning to catch our flight at 6, 
we arrived at Amsterdam Airport in the early morn ready for adventure!

We caught the complimentary shuttle bus service by Ramada Hotel and when we arrived we were told that we were upgraded to a deluxe room on the highest room floor! 
Every single member of the staff was friendly, very professional and seemed to go the extra mile for their customers.

We even got to check into our room when we arrived at around 11AM which was much earlier than I expected (3PM), So we got the chance to relax before going out on our full day of exploration.
Not to forget, we got the most amazing view of the city and the nearby park from our room.

We bought the 48-hour unlimited travel pass for €12.50 each (as opposed to €2.90 per journey) which is absolutely worth it if you're going to be taking public transport regularly.
We caught our trusty tram no.13 to the city centre from Admiraal Helfrichstraat to Westermarkt and was welcomed with the sunny blue skies of Amsterdam :).

We first headed to the Ann Frank House and went into the very rooms where she and her family had hid during the Holocaust. Photographs weren't allowed in the premises so you would need to go there by yourself to check it out.

If you'd like to go there, make sure to book an appointment slot (which opens a month before your intended date), as they only accept online bookings from 9AM - 3:30PM on the daily.

It was an interesting experience and expanded whatever knowledge I had from my previous visit of the Auschwitz camp and I would recommend it to everyone to get a glimpse of what the not-so-far past was like. 

We strolled down Prinsengracht heading towards the Noordermarkt which is open every Saturday from 9-5. We made a round through the various stalls selling food, clothing, antiques, and jewellery.

And decided that our lunch would consist of a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

First up, we had some quiche.

Next, we had a lovely pulled pork sandwich which had an interesting bun. It was definitely not your typical bready texture. I'm not too sure how to describe it except it was delicious.

Then we decided to go all European and buy some bread and olive paste and ate it by the canal. Not to forget we warmed up with some hot apple cider at one of the stalls (it was only a euro!)

We wandered around town into toy stores where we used Nerf guns and swords against each other. We made sure that we got more of the toys compared to the little children there who clearly didn't appreciate the toys as much as we did :').

We wandered along into the various cheese shops.

And saw their various flavours of cheese! Particularly enjoyed the green pesto one!
Loved the fact that every single shop just had free tasters too.
For us greedy tourists.

We wandered around Dam Square.

And feasted our eyes on the various monuments in the city.
We headed back to the hotel to get ready for our fun mystery dinner.
I had spotted a wonderful Groupon deal for a 7-course dinner at De Compagnon which served Burgundy-style cuisine in a 17th-century building by the canal.

For the first time in my life, the host offered to take my coat, gloves and scarf at the door and brought us to our table down below.

The dinner was going to be a mystery as it was up to the chef to decide what our courses were going to be like.

Course 1: pre-course lentil soup which came presented in test tubes.

The first course also came with a neat little side salad of tiger tomato, quinoa-cucumber package and a vinaigrette of lovage.

Course 2 for Lorcan: avocado wrap with an egg yolk and thin slices of radish and carrot.

Course 2 for me: filet of seabass, poached with bay leaves served with spring onion, mushrooms in a 10-year-old soy sauce.

Course 3: Barbecued octopus, mussels and clams, a white bean froth, with coconut and crispy saffron rice 

Course 4: Slowly braised pork belly, served with sweetbread of veal and an ice wine vinaigrette

Course 5: Airy foam of potato with crispy potato bits, grated summer truffle and mushroom tea (which was poured into it later) - this was absolutely divine

Course 6: Wild deer slowly braised with spices, orange sauce, chestnut cream and ginger.

Pre-dessert: Tonka bean ice cream served on a cold wooden block with a dab of goat's cheese

Course 7: The finale of a chocolate mousse heart with an almond tartlet, tonka bean ice cream and beetroot syrup. 

It was such a lovely dinner and would totally recommend it to both locals and people travelling.
Every single course was a surprise and if you're open to trying new things, it's an experience that you'll never forget.

Every time a course arrived, it did so with a fresh set of cutlery which was tailored to the meal. 
The staff were absolutely brilliant and the ambiance was divine.
It definitely was one way to start our day in Amsterdam!