Tag Archives: travel tips

Amsterdam in a Weekend

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Can I just tell you how much I love Amsterdam? Like I’ve been back a few days, but I’m still on a high from the loveliness that I experienced love. Like I wanna pack up and move there right now love. Like I can’t stop talking about how amazing it was love. Seriously…when can I move there?

Last Thursday, I headed to Amsterdam for a work conference, and decided to stay the weekend. It was a last minute trip, so I didn’t really have time to look into what I would see or do, nor have I ever really given much thought to traveling to Amsterdam. It was one of those “if I go, I go. If I don’t, I don’t.” situations for me. The only thing I had really heard about it was that you could do drugs there. Well, that’s not appealing to me at all, so I didn’t think much about it. Boy was I wrong! There’s so much more to Amsterdam that the drugs and the Red Light District!

My favorite things about Amsterdam can be summed up in these categories: Bikes, Food, Cheese (yes, I realize it’s food, but let’s be honest, it really needs its own category), Canals, Flowers, and Architecture.

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Bikes. First of all, they’re everywhere! All around town, you can find them chained to bridges and fences, crammed into parking lots (just for bikes), crowding sidewalks, and of course, being ridden. I love their sturdy design and the front apparatus for attaching all sorts of baskets. There are separate bike lanes on all roads, and they always have the right-of-way. I would be in heaven here!

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Food. OMG! If you are a foodie, Amsterdam is for you! I have to go back just for the sheer fact that I didn’t get to try all the foods I wanted to with the limited time I had. Not only can you get amazing cuisine from around the world (I had some pretty bad ass Thai food!), you can get some local delicacies only found in Holland! Two of my favorites were the poffertjes, pillowy little pancakes that are tasty with just a touch of butter and powdered sugar, and the most delicious cookie I’ve ever had, a double-chocolate confection that, when broken in half, reveals a melted white chocolate center. Both are pictured above. Apologies if your mouth is watering now.

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Cheese. Seriously, this was one of the highlights of my trip! I love good cheese, and I did not come across a cheese I didn’t like while I was there. In addition to my cheese plate for dinner, I visited the cheese shop three times to sample and purchase the variety of cheeses and sauces you see above. I brought home a spicy chili gouda, pesto gouda, 6 month and 12 month goat cheese, 4 month and 24 month gouda, apple cinnamon gouda, cranberry gouda, Maxima, and Old Amsterdam cheese. Additionally, I picked up some whole grain mustard, balsamic mustard, and pomegranate jam to go along with them. I cannot wait to break into them! Yumm!

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Canals. Who doesn’t love the novelty of beautiful canals running through the city? Amsterdam’s canals reminded me of Venice. I didn’t have time to take a cruise around in a boat, but next time, I’m definitely going to do it!

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Flowers. I missed tulip season by a few weeks, but that didn’t matter, flowers were everywhere! Beautiful blooms dotted the city┬áin planters, vases, flower shop stalls, gardens, and balconies. The vibrant colors and gorgeous varieties caught my eye everywhere I went!

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Architecture. The old European feel of the city came through in the architecture. I loved the ornate designs on the old churches, the rows of townhouses and shops that lined the canals, and even the occasional leaning building. Amsterdam is definitely charming!

Overall, I highly recommend putting Amsterdam on your list! This beautiful, surprising city has catapulted to my top 5 cities around the world!

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My Senegalese Market Experience #sol16 26 of 31

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I’m not new to the market thing. As a former resident of China, and extensive traveler in Southeast Asia, I know a thing or two about markets. I’m always curious to check out the markets in new cities that I visit, to soak up some of the culture and pick up a few trinkets and/or a piece of art along the way.

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Dakar has a few local markets around town specializing in everything from fabric to art to used clothing. Mel took me to a market mainly focused on art, but luckily they had a few shops that also carried fabric, jewelry, and other knick knacks. The first thing that drew my attention were all the bright colors; anyone who knows me knows I love color! I felt like a kid in a candy store, looking from one thing to another, not sure what to buy first. Some of my favorite things were the colorful, handwoven baskets, fabrics in all sorts of colors and patterns, paintings of local scenes and people, and all the handmade jewelry.

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One thing that’s essential when shopping at a local market is knowing what the going rate is for certain items. This information is vital in order for you not to be ripped off. In China, I knew whether the price they quoted was good or not, based on my experience (and that of others) over the years. As a foreigner, you just have to expect that you are going to be ripped off to some degree, but you want to minimize it as much as possible. They see my blonde hair and American accent coming, and I might as well have dollar signs floating around my head. As a seasoned market shopper, I drive a hard bargain and am adept at negotiating. But in Senegal, I had no idea what I should expect to pay for anything, neither did I have a firm grasp on the exchange rate from CFA to USD. Mel had only been to a fabric market here in Dakar once, so she didn’t know normal prices either. We took the offer them half of what they quoted us approach, which sometimes worked, but other times did not. Even so, we weren’t sure whether or not we were getting a good deal.

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As we walked through the market, lots of people tried to get us to shop at their stands. It was pretty overwhelming, so I tried to ignore whatever they were saying to me. When ignoring didn’t work, I said in English, “Sorry, I don’t speak French.” They would then bust out their spiel in almost fluent English. Senegal’s official languages are French and Wolof, and around town I haven’t heard much English, so I was definitely struck by the amount of English spoken by the vendors. Mel and I became everybody’s “sister,” whereas in China, everybody was “friend.”

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We quickly realized that stopping into a shop just to browse was frowned upon, and you would quickly get literally roped in if you went into a shop. More often than not, vendors would physically grab us, pulling us back into their shop or not letting us leave. Another tactic was to block us into their shop and not let us leave until we bought something. We had to forcefully tell them that we did not want to buy anything, and to let us go. Regardless of us being firm, they would repeatedly grab us and try to pull us back into their shop. I haven’t experienced this type of aggressive behavior at markets before, and I was definitely put off by it. Not all the shop owners were like this, as you can tell from the picture above, but there were enough of them that it was noticeable.

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Another nuance we found while shopping at the Senegalese market was that many shop owners would agree to one price outside of their shop, but once you came in to buy it, the price would jump back up. We would argue that we were not going to pay a higher price when we had agreed upon a lower price, and they would resort to grabbing us to keep us in their store. Another tactic used quite often was for the vendors to tell us how poor they were and how much they needed the money for this or that. Now, I know that most of the Senegalese people live in poverty, and that they probably do need the money, but begging is not going to make us buy something, especially if it’s something we don’t really want. I feel very bad about the poverty situation in this country, but that does not mean I am willing to pay an exorbitant amount for any one item. That’s not a long term solution to the problem. One tip I do have is to go to the market with small bills only- 1,000s and 500s- because oftentimes they didn’t want to give back any change if you gave them more than the total. Instead, they tried to give you change back in the form of other goods in their shop.

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My experience at the market was more positive than negative for sure, and I managed to get some really cute stuff to take home and remind me of my time in Dakar, but I will say that the constant harassment by the vendors eventually frustrated us to the point that we decided to leave earlier than we had anticipated.

 

Travel Tips for Nepal

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Having recently visited Nepal, here are some of my tips for you when you go. And yes, you should definitely go!

  • Visit Kathmandu. Really, you should go. There are some pretty interesting places to see like Durbar Square, Thamel, Patan, and the Monkey Temple to name a few. But don’t spend too much time in the city. The countryside’s where the real Nepali experiences are. Go out into the small villages, take a trip around the valley on the back of a motorbike, play soccer with some kids, buy souvenirs from the local artisans. Just get out of the city. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Engage with the locals. Nepali people are some of the warmest, most genuine, helpful people you’ll ever meet. Sit a spell and swap some stories, hand out chocolate to the children in the villages, practice English with some kids, learn from them. Despite having no money, they find happiness in the small things. We could all stand to learn a lesson about how to be happier with less.
  • Bring a face mask. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. The air pollution in the city coupled with the insane amount of dust flying through the air makes it tough to breathe sometimes. Wearing a mask will make it easier to deal with.
  • Bring some USD in cash to exchange. You don’t need a ton of money since Nepal is really cheap, but finding an ATM that is working can be tricky at times. Oftentimes the ATM would be out of service, out of money, unable to connect, or missing altogether. Save yourself the hassle of trekking all around to find an ATM like I did and bring some cash. One more thing about ATMs- Standard Chartered Bank ATMs were the most reliable for me, so if you happen upon one, that’s your best bet.
  • Try the food. Nepali food is yummy. I highly recommend the momos. Delish!
  • Go to Pokhara. Although I didn’t make it there on this trip due to my short time there, it is said to be paradise on earth. Nestled near the foothills of the Himalayas, the backdrop of the mountains against the lake offers breathtakingly beautiful views. Google it. You’ll see what I mean. Only 200km from Kathmandu, you can easily get there by flight (~30 min.) or you can opt for the scenic route and take a bus which will get you there in about 7 hours. Not sure why it takes so long, but that’s what I’ve heard. It’s a definite must on my next trip to Nepal.
  • Bring some extra passport photos with you on your trip. You’ll need one for your visa on arrival as well as any sort of trekking or adventures you may decide to do. You can easily get them taken there, but that’s time and money you may not want to spend.
  • Bring comfortable clothes and shoes. Make sure that you only bring things that can get dirty, because especially in Kathmandu, your clothes will be covered in dust. Another thing for you ladies out there- while they understand that Westerners have a different way of dressing, it is a good idea to dress modestly while in Nepal. This means long pants or skirts at least to the knee and shirts that aren’t revealing and that cover your shoulders.
  • The high tourist seasons are March-May and September-November, so make sure that if you are traveling during this time, you are aware that hotels and tour costs will be higher and availability at popular accommodation spots could be sparse. Might want to do a little research and book ahead if you are traveling during these times. The weather during the Spring season (March-May) really can’t be beat though!

Hope these tips are helpful as you plan your Nepali vacation. Let me know if you have any questions or any of your own tips to share!