Archive for February, 2010

World’s Tulip Capital: Keukenhof


2010
02.26

Everybody knows about Dutch tulips in spring, how colorful and popular they are. A great place to see it in its natural environment is at the world’s largest garden: Keukenhof, located in Lisse, South Holland. More than 7 million bulbs are planted each year.

Keukenhof Garden

It’s an easy daytrip from Amsterdam and a great activity. For photo lovers, make sure to bring your macro lense to get some good upclose shots of flowers.

The garden is very interesting as it’s not just a plain exhibition of tulips. The way hues are positioned,  the textures of the flowers, the proximity of it all… makes a visit to Keukenhof an unforgettable experience. Especially if you’ve been travelling in large cities for awhile, it’s truly refreshing to spend some time in nature.

Plan around 6 hours to wrap this activity, transportation included. If you’re an avid cyclist, it’s very easy to get there by bike.

  • Transportation: Get to Schiphol airport by city bus and then hop on bus #58. It is well identified which bus goes to Keukenhof.
  • Money: €21 per person, including bus fare from and to Schiphol.
  • Schedule: open from mid-March to mid-May. Best to go in mid-April.

 

Visiting Cordoba


2010
02.26

Cordoba is a very special place in the world; not many cities can claim to have been the capital of a Roman province and the capital of an Arab state and a Caliphate.

Festival de Patios

If you plan on visiting in May, do note that accommodation will be hard to find and very expensive. Consider taking a day-trip to Cordoba and actually sleeping in a nearby city, such as Grenada or Sevilla.

If you do visit in May, make sure to attend the Festival de Patios, where people just open their courtyard for everyone to see. It’s a great activity since Spanish gardens are very pretty and colorful, creating a nice contrast with the white walls. Runs during the second and third week of May. It’s totally free and it allows you to stroll through the numerous narrow streets around the Mosque, the nicest one being Calleja de las Flores.

Now, the real jewel of Cordoba is the Ancient City, a very important witness of the Arab occupation of Andalucia in the 10th century. La Mezquita (the Mosque) dates from 1236 and is the third largest in Europe, as around 20,000 people can pray inside. Do not miss the column forest. Entrance is free from 8:30Am to 10AM, then it’s €8.

Plaza del Triunfo

Another interesting sight is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos,a Christian (although it does look Islamic) fortress used by Isabella de Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon. That’s where Christopher Colombus prepared his trip to the Americas in 1492, and where Napoleon Bonaparte kept his troops in 1810. €4 and €2 for students.

Visiting Cordoba is a cheap way to explore Spain, especially when sleeping in another city, as the main sights are not very expensive to visit. You can get to Cordoba by bus from surrounding cities for very few euros.

 

Backpacking Guide 2: What to pack


2010
02.20

Now that you’ve found your bag, do keep in mind that there are many things that need to be in there in order to make your trip more enjoyable, less stressful and possibly cheaper, as you won’t have to buy everything on location at tourist prices.

Here’s a list of the essentials:

  • Mini toiletries
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Toiletry organizer (makes your trip to the bathroom much easier)
  • Microfiber towel (dries quickly and is very tiny)
  • First-aid kit (to be carried in your day bag)
  • Toothbrush cover
  • 2-3 bin liner (to separate dirty clothes, to waterproof your bag, etc)
  • Ear plugs
  • Padlock (to lock your bag during train journeys or nights at the hostel)
  • Moneybelt (to be worn under your shirt)
  • Alarm clock watch
  • Plastic flip-flops (you don’t want to be barefoot in a public shower)
  • Large zipped plastic bag (to hold souvenirs or leftovers)
  • Plastic utensils (to be re-used)
  • Universal adapter and/or transformer
  • Tablet laundry detergent
  • Plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Store (to cover surfaces you want to keep clean, like bed or bottoms)
  • ONE travel book

I also recommend carrying a mini-laptop, for many reasons. First, you can keep contact with your loved ones and avoid paying ridiculous fares at Internet cafés since there are hundreds of unlocked wifi networks out there. Second, you can transfer your photos and have a DVD back-up in case something happens to your camera. Third, making or switching plans is easier. Fourth, there are so tiny, light and cheap, you won’t even have to worry about it.

About the camera… I suggest buying a proprietary battery camera. It’s easier to charge, cheaper and requires less stuff (and Earth friendly). Make sure you don’t forget these:

  • 2 USB cables
  • Extra battery
  • USB wall charger
  • DVDs to back-up your photos (you can ship these home once they’re full)

If you have any other travel essential, please comment!

Top 10 Overrated Attractions in Europe


2010
02.20

Manneken Pis

1. Manneken Pis, Brussels

It’s a tiny little men peeing in a fountain, on the corner of a street, with hundreds of tourists in awe around it. It sometimes has costumes. When I was there, it was an orange tuxedo. Lovely.

2. Astronomical Clock, Prague

The clock is not really interesting. It’s more of a tourist trap than anything, so beware your belongings… pickpockets thrive in this area.

3. Stonehenge, England

The stones are actually pretty impressive themselves, especially when you know how it got there. What’s not impressive is the 20 feet distance from the stones and the nearby motorway (and the never ending audioguide).

4. Champs-Élysées, Paris

Large busy boulevard. Too many tourists. Angry French drivers. Luxury stores aplenty. Make sure you load up in patience before you go there.

5. Vatican City, Rome

Too much luxury in such a tiny place. Definitely worth a visit though, as long as you don’t think about world hunger and the reasons why Vatican is so prosperous.

The Spire, Dublin

The Spire, Dublin

6. The Spire, Dublin

That’s basically just a tall, metal thing in the middle of O’Connell street.  You can’t really walk past it, unfortunately.

7. La Barcelonetta, Barcelona

The beach is dirty and overcrowded. Too many Asian masseuses asking around (repeatedly) for clients. The sea is filthy and cold. Just don’t rely on this spot  to  have an authentic “Spanish beach experience”.

8. Moulin Rouge, Paris

The Boulevard de Clichy burlesque club has nothing to brag about. It looks like something you would normally see in Vegas. Plus, tickets are very, very expensive.

9. Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam

Video simulation. €15. Enough said.

The Louvre

The Louvre

10.  The Louvre, Paris

Perfect if you want to wait hours outside, argue with non-queuing people, walk around in an overcrowded corridor and fight your way to catch a sight of the Joconde, hidden behind a glass wall and two guards. As classic as it is, next time I’ll give it a miss.

***

What do you think about the list? Have you ever been disappointed in renowned tourist attractions? Would you change anything? Speak up!

Travel Report: Côte d’Azur


2010
02.18

I went to Côte d’Azur in late April. It was a bit of a last minute spill, really.

I landed at Nice at around 9AM. The landing is quite something, the plane has to turn around over the Mediterranean and land on a tiny tarmac on the beach. It was beautiful. There is a regular bus service (#98) from the airport that gets you to downtown Nice for €4.

I hopped off at the Promenade des Anglais to enjoy the (rocky) beach for a little while. Although the water was very cold, it was my first time at the beach and it couldn’t have been a better experience. Some courageous French men took a swim in tiny Speedos though.  Magnifique.

I wandered around the city for awhile, exploring the market for fresh products to each at lunch. I took the elevator up the Colline du Château to get the best view of the harbor and the city, although there are steps climbing up the hill. Excellent photo opportunity.

Nice's beach and harbour

At around 2PM, I decided to hop on a bus and head to Monaco for the afternoon. The bus route 100  leaves from the bus terminal (Gare Routière, 5, boulevard Jean-Jaure, 06300) and costs only €1. The best bus ride I’ve ever been on. It gets to Monaco by driving through all the small villages along the coastline, allowing the traveler to sit back and to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Once in Monaco, I climbed up “the Rock”, where the Palais Princier stands. It is still today the official residence of the Prince of Monaco. It’s quite an interesting palace as it offers different architectural styles, allowing the visitor to witness the Palace’s history.

This hill also over great panoramic views of the harbor but also of the principality.  Another great site in this area is the Monaco Cathedral, which houses the remains of former Prince of Monaco and princess Grace. The Jardin Exotique is also worth a visit, but make sure to have your student card to get the discount (€3.50 entry fee).

A visit to Monaco wouldn’t be complete without a small stop at Monte Carlo’s casino. You can only take a few steps in though, as entry charges are very expensive and the dress code not tourist-friendly. You can either walk there if you have enough time on your hands, or you can take a taxi.

Now, back to Nice. I enjoyed a pizza on the beach at sunset, which was a wonderful moment. But I was glad I had to leave, because the beach’s population seems to get more and more weird as the sun sets. Just be careful if you hang out around there at night, especially if you’re by yourself.

I’m glad I went but I won’t be going back. Maybe I haven’t been at the right time of the year but it just wasn’t fun. Final mark: 3/5

  • Date: April 28th
  • Accommodation: n/a
  • Transportation:  flight London/Nice -  Bus 98 from/to airport - Bus 100 from/to Monaco
  • Food: lunch with fresh products from the market, dinner with take-out pizza on the beach, at sunset.
  • Activities: beach, market, stroll-sightseeing, casino.
  • Total cost of trip: €135, for two people.
  • Appreciation: 3/5
  • Backpacking Guide 1: Choose your bag


    2010
    02.09

    Before you start planning your dream itinerary, make sure you take enough time to buy an adequate backpack. You can find great ones at outdoor activities stores (in Canada, Moutain Coop Equipment is great).

    Make sure you don’t settle for the cheap one. Trust me, it’s a good investment to buy an expensive backpack, although paying more than $200 is probably a rip-off.

    There are a few criteria to be searching for to ensure quality and durability.
    Here are my suggestions:

    • Between 50 and 70 liters

    • Padded hipbelt, shoulder straps and back line
    • Sternum strap
    • Hidden pocket in hipbelt
    • 2 or 3 adjustable straps on the sides of the bag to stabilize the weight
    • Elastic strap on the front of the bag to hold items for easy access (i.e. raincoat)
    • Stitched seams to avoid water leakeage
    • Stabilizer straps to link the top of the bag to your shoulder straps
    • Top-loading kind of bag with bottom zipper for easy access to the bottom items
    • Large, strong zippers
    • Covered interior seams to avoid deterioration
    • Aluminium stays in the back line to insure rigidity

    Now for the fit:

    • The bag needs to be the same size as your back, from your neck’s most prominent vertebrae down to your hipbone
    • There shouldn’t be any space between the the shoulder straps  and your body, from their starting point to their end. Same thing applies for the hip belt.
    • Shoulder straps should fit in the middle of your shoulder, neither closer to your neck or armpits
    • Stabilizer straps should be at a 45 degree angle with the shoulder straps
    • The sternum belt should fit just a few inches down the collarbone
    • The aluminium stays should be follow your backline
    • Structural rigidity to transfer weight from shoulders and back to hip

    Note that if you’re a woman, you need to choose a woman bag, as a male bag won’t fit the same way on your shoulders and hips, which will end up unbalancing the weight of the bag and eventually harming you.