Monday, May 12, 2014

Europe Fall 2013 - Amsterdam, here we come! (Day 7)

Got up slightly later than usual and had hotel breakfast. Need to make it to the airport by 11:00am. Upon checking out, the staffs are young and very polite. Asked us how the rooms were, and whether we had a good night's rest.

Of course, I did comment on 2 things, the smell of cigarette smoke intruding our room via the air conditioning ducts, and when we opened the window, the same smell came through too since our room was on the 4th floor just above the lobby... We were initially restless due to the smell but was too tired any way and eventually slept through on both nights :P

A snap of the reception:
The airport is 17km from the city center (30 mins on normal traffic). There are a few ways getting to the airport... public transport (for the more adventurous ones :P), taxi, shuttle bus.

It's pricier but to save time, we asked the hotel to help call for a taxi... Driver was punctual, our first time on a Skoda. There aren't that many Superbs back home... Cost us €28.

And... the weather is @?$%#* perfect today! The sun is out! Trying to think positively at this moment... let's keep the weather this way till we leave Europe!

Weather was cold and we had a quick lunch at Briccoexpress before boarding. And yeah... airport food is the same everywhere (well... except Hong Kong)... its expensive and yuck :x

Regretted not getting up earlier and just take away anything... definitely will taste better than this...
Tomato soup, tasted like its straight from the can!
Coffee... bitter... just bitter...
 
 Salmon fettuccine, one word "tasteless" :(
We we served ham and cheese sandwich on board, tasted pretty good since the bread was made with organic ingredients!

Anyway, we booked Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam which is 1 stop away from Schiphol Airport and 1 stop away from Amsterdam Central.

Now, the public transportation is tricky here... the airport line is managed by NS and the 24hour GVB ticket (intercity transportation including trains, buses, trams) is useless for this line.

Here's the 48hour GVB ticket which cost €12/pax bought from the automated machine:
And we bought our tickets from the counter with a 0.50 surcharge because the automated machines does not accept notes. And you see 7/10 confused people trying to fiddle with the machine and ending up at the ticket counter, so you shouldn't be embarrassed at all!

Both are 1 way tickets. The left is from the airport to Holiday Inn Express on Sloterdijk Station (€3.70) where as the right is from Sloterdijk Station to Amsterdam Central (€4.70)
Now... although the hotel is the best we've stayed among the 4 countries... we didn't know that there's a slight inconvenience when it comes to transportation to the city center.

There is a bus stop just below the station and a bus that takes you directly to the city, it will take at least 20mins on normal traffic as opposed to 5mins via train... you choose... We tried the bus for experience sake, it will pass industrial areas and there's nothing to see, definitely not worth the time... If given the choice, we might have opted for a hotel in the city itself!

Anyway, some photos of the hotel, new, very clean, quiet and we got the best rest here!
 
Now the above explanation on the tickets was still unclear to us until the next day when we were caught by the ticket officer on the train back to Sloterdijk Station! We we darn confused and kept telling him that we have a 48hour ticket, why can't we be on this train?! Well... he was kind enough to let us off since we were tourist :P
Its not worth the risk cause there's a hefty fine for riding on a train without a ticket...

After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we headed to Amsterdam Central and took a tram to Anne Frank Huis before dinner. We have already bought the tickets online, you can checkout the first page of this trip. We got off at Dam stop (a stop earlier), should have got off the next stop (Westermarkt) and save some time walking :P
You can use your GVB ticket bought earlier on any transportation within the city!

We weren't allowed to take any photos in the museum and its was raining (again!) so couldn't take any photos as well outside the museum. We highly recommend that you plan ahead by buying the tickets online (print them and bring them along) as the there's a seriously long queue despite the rain...

Not going to elaborate too much on this, you there and feel it yourself :)
Its very interesting but sad... sad indeed... its a pity... The tour's going to take around 30-45mins :)

After that, we had dinner over at a cozy restaurant called Vlaming Eten and Drinken which is not far away. This place is worth a try, we were very satisfied with the food here because all along we had the idea Dutch food wasn't that good, proven wrong! :)

Here's the menu, it was too dark to take a photo of the mirror:
Free appetizer, that sauce, awesome! Most probably their own recipe because it has a hit of wasabi (maybe it was mustard?) in it! Seriously couldn't get enough of it! Bread was fluffy on the inside and crispy on the out!
We ordered a Soup of the day, and house made fries with mayo. Soup was a blend of cauliflower with mushroom, very tasty!
Fries was ok, a bit oily and we were pretty full since we were focused on the mains leaving this at the end :P
 
Fish of the day, lightly fried fish, no idea what fish was it but it was good :)
Organic pork with truffle sauce, pork was juicy and tender, very filling!
Was too full and didn't have room for dessert :(
 Price was a little bit on the high side, but worth it :)
It rained pretty heavy... lucky we bought an umbrella and some rain coats... took a tram back to Amsterdam Central and head back to the hotel to rest!

Talking about Amsterdam Central... this is one of the most sophisticated stations we've seen! Not only its huge... There were like what... 20 platforms?!

Every time you reach the Station, remember to check the train schedule! Its practically all over the station, and don't worry or panic if you've missed the train to your intended destination, there's bound to be another train on another platform just minutes away...

And its very normal seeing people running around the station... That's because most of the time the next train can appear on a platform the opposite end of the station from the platform you have just missed your train... and its like... 1-2 min before it departs that platform :x

Do drop a comment, we will try our best to attend to any queries based on what we have experience (and of course how much we can recall) :)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Europe Fall 2013 - 1 full day in Prague (Day 6)

Well... the weather forecasts doesn't look promising... dark clouds shadowing the sky... why does it have to be so gloomy... its drizzling outside! Arghhh! Gave us some time to snap a few shots outside out room :P
 
Rants aside, we are still determined to make the best of this day! Above average free buffet breakfast at the hotel... Most of the patrons are young couples.... the hotel's advert is really successful I guess :P
 Coffee maker... if you noticed, the design emphasizes on a "homely concept" eating place, staffs are friendly too :)
Using the 24-hour pass we bought yesterday (which expires later in the evening), we took a tram to Malostranské náměstí. Starting from here you can see Church of St Nicholas and hike all the way up to Prague Castle area.
Which looks pretty near, huh? Give it a try, and yes, its a hike :P
What's different in this cities architecture is there are a lot of statues all over the historical buildings!
 
 
 
 
Weather condition gotten worse, had to take shelter and a hot cup of coffee. You will never go wrong with Illy :P
Rain became drizzles so time to move on... Something interesting along the way to Prague's Castle... gold Panamera :)
Taken just before reaching Hradčany Square...
Here's a map we found from planetware.com:
Schwarzenberg Palace:
Next to it is the National Gallery
 
 Salmov's Palace on the left:
First Courtyard, tourists come here in bus loads! its very difficult to find a good timing to take a photo, what's more we are using a tripod:
The famous St Vitus Cathedral! Beautiful and I personally think it looks like this medieval structures found in vampire movies/games :P

It was raining and almost everyone was going in! Had a toilet break and we walked around the cathedral and continued out journey
Charles bridge from Prague Castle
Something you don't see often... proud looking boy with a golden "bird"... and surprisingly most of the tourists taking photos of it are Asians... being an Asian myself :P
Going down Staré zámecké schody (Old Castle Stairs)... there are a lot of souvenier shops along the way, you may try your haggling skills here. We bought 2 small sized paintings and framed it with an Ikea frame :P

We went across via Charles Bridge, there is no way one can take photos here because there's just too many people... many were gathered in groups for the local tours... plus it was raining, you can only see umbrellas :x

We were exhausted and hungry so we had a lunch break at V Zátiší. A very good Czech fusion fine dining restaurant, the most expensive meal we had on this trip :P
We ordered two 2 course meals. There was a choice of a starter or a dessert, we opted for one of each. Starting with some bread and traditional Kulajda soup (sour cream soup with potatoes, mushrooms, dill and quail egg). 
2 mains, a fish and a duck
Fish is fresh, lightly pan fried juicy Pikeperch fillet. Goes very well with the roasted potato gnocchi, orange sauce, carrot pureé
The duck sauce tasted very much like Chinese braise duck, meat is tender, surprisingly good eating together with the red cabbage puree :)
Dessert is apple strudel! We think its better than the one we had in Salzburg. The pastry is out of this world! Its more presentable too!
Around €70 for a 2 pax lunch might be exorbitant for average people, but its totally worth the experience and money! 
Why? Because last Christmas Eve, I paid more than €100 for a dinner in an overrated fine dining restaurant in KL with not even half the quality and the portion in addition super lousy service!

Almost forgot about this cute little unique bottle to store Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar :P
After lunch we continued walking around trying to get a good snap of Charles Bridge. Look at the crowd on the bridge :x
Started to rain heavier again, so we took the tram and got off the next stop at Národní třída. There is a Shopping Mall with a Tesco in it, My Narodni

Spent a few hours here and noticed that the clothing are neither the latest nor cheap... We did try to look for baby clothes but choice and brands are limited. Time flies... its already dinner time and the rain kinda stopped, we took a tram back to Karlovy lázně stop. 

Since we have been on heavy meat for the past few days, so I planned a vegetarian dinner instead. There were pretty good reviews and rating in Tripadvisor, so we gave it a try... Lehka Hlava (Clear Head)... no idea why "Clear Head" :)
 
Fantastic drinks by the way, we ordered Ginger Lime Thai (very refreshing!) and Coco Fogo Sunrise (pic below)
For starters, we ordered the "tofoie gras" and soup of the day. Foie gras but made using toufoo, dipped with bread, wasn't that bad (slightly awkward combo since cashew nut, toufoo and cranberries have their own unique taste, didn't blend that well? :P)
 
Main course, we ordered the first 2 from the mains section. Grilled goat cheese on potato au gratin and steamed spinach. Our first time trying goat cheese, the smell and taste is quite strong. The grilled parts of the cheese matches very well with walnut and spinach! The gooey part inside... umm... too strong :P
Grilled vegetable kebabs, also with potato au gratin. The potato au gratin is really good! Looks like a slice of cake does it? Well, its made from thin slices of grilled potatoes, absolutely stunning taste!
The kebabs? Perfectly grilled... the vegetable and mushrooms juices are still locked in and oozes out with every bite!
The portion is pretty huge though and it feels soooo good eating vegetables after so much heavy meat for the past few days :D
Bill is very reasonable, its vegetables anyway, 22-23? :)