June, 2010 Archives

Istanbul

I liked the vibe in Istanbul much more than Athens although we did have the advantage of staying in a much more happening area (Istiklal) and were surrounded by much more helpful residents who could guide us along on our journey of discovery.  We stayed at Istanbul Apartments on a side street off Istiklal Caddesi which basically begins at the main transportation hub of Taksim Square and runs 3km down to the Tunel entrance which basically saves people from having to ascend the steep road down to the Bosphorus Strait.  This street was vibrant and active for most of the 24 hours in the day.  The early morning from 6-10am provided the only relief for this busy thoroughfare which is largely car free outside of these hours.  At night the strung-up lights overhead come on with patterns ranging from stars to Santa Claus stretching the entire length of the street.  Istiklal mainly consists of high end shopping stores catering to all ages of Istanbul’s residents and tourists alike.  As you go along the Istanbul streets you are sure to be greeted by a Simitci stand which provides circular sesame bread for .75 Turkish Lira.  It would be the equivalent to the NYC pretzel (not much of a food commitment but very filling for such a snack) but I would rank this way ahead.  You need to make sure to select your own as these things can vary in freshness from cart to cart since these gems do not have that long of a shelf life.  Once you find a fresh one you will be in heaven.  I could have probably strung consecutive Simit grabs together while walking to satisfy my food requirements for an entire day.  If I were to take up this strategy I would have missed my true love, the rotating Doner stands that seemed to be on every block.  The simplicity of these magnificent treats is the beauty.  You could either have lamb, chicken, or beef shaved off a rotating doner stand.  Pair any of these meats with either flatbread wrap (Durum) or with a puffier round of traditional Turkish flatbread or naan. There are many variants in the composition of the meat, the ways of serving it, and the garnishes as some lesser places will use ground meats while others will slice them off of a lamb itself and combine this with beef of some sort.  Also I have seen them topped with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, white sauce, and even french fries with a few spots including kasseri cheese.  There is one ridiculous spot in Taksim Square that has about 10 of these doner spots in a row all vying for the crowds attention.  Being a bread man I was particularly impressed with the quantity and quality of Turkish bakeries.  They had sweets that you would find in Greece but they also had so many varieties of pizzas such as Lahmacun  which is a cheeseless minced meat flatbread that is rolled up once lemon juice and parsley have been added and the canoe shaped pide which can come filled with cheese, egg, potato, meat.  They are also masters of filo dough with top quality baklava and bourek which seem impossible to imitate.  The bakeries are all equipped with a fairly large staff of bakers flattening and shaping the dough before flash baking the flattened dough in the humongous fire-filled coal oven.  The bakers would be wielding 10 foot baker paddles so as not to approach the flames in the oven.

There are also many non-food related sites to see in Istanbul and many that are not worth the trip.  As far as the Sultan palaces go I would highly recommend Dolmabahce Palace while I would say to avoid the Sultanhamet Palace which costs over twice as much to get into.  The Sultanhamet Palace is right in the heart of the downtown tourist district but if you can hold out I would say to head up to the Taksim Square area and visit Dolmabahce Palace which is where the Turkish military legend Attiturk spent his last days.  While Sultanhamet costs 35 Euros to enter, Dolmabahce can be done for 20 and this also includes an English speaking guide and a much more efficient and effective visit.  The grounds of Dolmabahce are right on the Bosphorus and beautifully maintained while the inside is sure to stun you with its magnificence.   More than half the people in our group of 45 actually gasped after turning the corner into the Ceremonial Hall and this isn’t even mentioning the Crystal Staircase which just about sent my heart out of my chest.  It is just an amazing interior all around.

I also had to check out a location with a stretch of nargile bars or hookah bars near the Tophane Tram station.  It is a series of adjoined rooms and patios with retractable awnings and low slung bean bag chairs surrounding low coffee tables.  The hookah was 18 Euro and the apple tea (which was touristy and delicious) was 2 and as I rolled out of my beanbag chair after a successful shisha session I did feel lightheaded for the first few steps back to Istiklal.  The default hookah in these parts is apple so you have to specify another flavor if you do not want to go with this.  In this same area you will find the Istanbul Modern Art Museum that is well worth the trip.  You will find a nice mix of old and new with many styles mixed in from landscape scenes to a loop video of a scary looking clown laying there looking at you to a room with hundreds of books dangling overhead fastened to long pieces of piano wire obstructing your overhead view.

The Blue Mosque was maybe my most anticipated sight to see and it did not disappoint as the structure is a behemoth temple of prayer visible from all over the place.  There are even 6 minarets  while standard mosques only have 4.  We had lunch at a restaurant/hotel in the Topkapi area and the proprietor let me climb onto the roof for an amazing view of the Blue Mosque.  The restaurant was located right next to the 7 Hills hotel.  The area surrounding the Blue Mosque is teeming with rug dealers who try to gain your confidence with antecdotes relating to the area including the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque and then try to get you to visit their shop just around the corner.  Also just down the road from here is the Grand Bazaar which is basically a sight to see but has no value whatsoever.  It is loaded (and I mean loaded) with shops and vendors who are peddling the most touristy crap that I can imagine.  There is a much better stretch between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar just along Istanbul University that sells products geared to locals such as household items and furniture and seems a lot more authentic.

We made a trek across the Bosphorus to the Asian side with two university students my mom met through her English Conversation group.  They took us around to several mosques and a few tea shops and finally to some park overlooking the Bosphorus where they played traditional music on a guitar right beside a waterfall.  The Asian side seems to have a more traditional feel to it as you saw more head scarves and neighborhood mosques.  The Bosphorus is a very important sea dividing Europe and Asia due to the fact that it is the only passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  It is a very busy stretch of sea as cruise ships, ocean liners, and ferry boats all deftly avoided each other as they crossed paths.

Finally you will be hard pressed to go anywhere in Istanbul without seeing some tribute to the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Ataturk.  His first classroom can be found in the comprehensive Military Museum, his death bed remains in the same condition minus the body in the Dolmabahce Palace, and there are many paintings in his likeness even in the liberal Modern Art Museum.  He is revered by all which is fascinating as usually a past heroes in the political realm are polarizing figures who tend to divide the consensus opinion for and against.  Ataturk just seems like a hero to all.

The Greek Islands

I visited the Greek Islands at just the right time. It was late May/ early June and just outside the touristy high season that begins in late June. While it was hot during my visit I can imagine the discomfort I would have felt should I have shared these islands with the crush of visitors in the heart of summer. Public beaches are hard to come by on several of the islands but outside of the main port you can usually find a tranquil stretch or a slab of concrete from which you can dive into the cool, clear Aegean Sea. My visit to Turkey just before the islands basically forced my hand that my trip should begin with the Dodecanese islands. From Bodrum I was mistaken in my belief that I would have several Greek islands to choose from to start the journey. From this port in Turkey your only ferry option is Kos. You can head up or down the coast to neighboring cities to disembark to Rhodes but your main option from here is the European party island of Kos.  My first stop on the island tour was actually a day trip from Athens to the lovely island of Hydra.

Hydra

Hydra is the quintessential Greek island in terms of landscape as well as architecture.  It had a very low stress cove-shaped port with beautiful houses built into the mountains that towered high above the city below.  Since this island is about an hour from Athens many wealthy Athenians have summer homes and mansions serving as weekend getaways.  Its proximity to Athens provides the island with a locals-oriented society that gets invaded each day by daytripping tourists whose main focus is the port shops and their immediate surrounding streets.  When on the island you can see the ferry boats arrive at the port on a very regular basis and shortly after landing you can feel the influx of new people as they make their way through the village.  On the other end of this you can feel the place thin out at around 4pm when the last daily ferry leaves for Athens.  You can ascend through the hilly neighborhood streets for partially obstructed but magnificent views of the port below.  As far as beaches go you may have to settle for a concrete slab after descending down steps through layered restaurants into the water below.  Not ideal but once you get a glimpse of the clear blue Aegean you will want to jump in the water any way can.

KOS

The ferry from Bodrum cost 27 Euro and takes about an hour even though you can see the island ahead during the whole journey.  Kos is one of the beach-friendly islands with trendy cafes and Miami like ocean front cabanas and loungers.  Each hotel or restaurant owns and operates the stretch of beach between their establishment and the ocean so they lure you in with the promise of whiling away the day under one of their umbrellas and in one of their lounge chairs.  This island seems to be frequented by European and particularly English travelers who take day trips here in order to scorch their skin under the intense rays of the Greek sun.  One of the first hotels I saw along the stretch of beachfront establishments was a foreshadowing of what to expect “Sunburnt Arms Inn”.  You definitely saw plenty of these among other discolored appendages and body parts.  Most of the area is centered around the curved cove housing the port and main ferry area.  This is where you will find a lot of the restaurants, shopping, and travel agencies.  You can hit a side street off the central port and find a stretch of beach front bars and restaurants as far as the eye can see each offering lounge and umbrella rentals.  Just beyond these establishments you will find a wide open stretch of public beach with course, comfortable sand and clear blue water.  I was instantly drawn to the countless colorful pebbles washing ashore with the waves.  I tend to bring back the most cumbersome and inconvenient souvenirs to travel with and this was no exception as I loaded up a bag with the most beautiful stones and sea glass that I could find with the hopes of polishing them and turning them into wearable trinkets.  After spending the day in Kos I caught a 9pm ferry to Patmos that will take approximately 2 hours 45 minutes and cost 15 Euro.

PATMOS

Arriving at 11pm in Patmos does not leave you with all that many options for accommodations as this is not one of the liveliest islands of the bunch.  In my travels I have found that you are in much better shape when not booking a room in advance as your arrival allows you to pick from an area you are able to experience a bit beforehand while also allowing you to compare prices from rival establishments.  This was one time I felt a bit nervous as on arrival I immediately hustled past the few awaiting hotel signs and pickup cars and wandered into what i thought was the center of town.  After about 20 minutes of wandering left me deep into the town on some back roads with even fewer hotel options than I started out with I was in luck when a set of headlights suddenly came to a stop directly in my path.  An old man and woman who may have been shut out by arriving ferry passengers came to my aid and asked if I was looking for something.  They offered up a very nice studio accommodation in Yvonni Studios where I had a huge room with private bathroom and kitchen.  The view of the mountain that houses the monestary and St. Johns cave was the real draw.  Before settling in for the night the over exuberant proprietor came back down with a plate of fruit and tea cookies.  Definitely one of those it all works out in the end moments.  The place was 25 Euros a night and I got two nights for 40.

Patmos wound up being one of my favorite islands as I am not one particularly big on the European club scene that can be found on many of the islands.  There are a scattering of restaurants and bars but an island with no doormen or thumping techno is a welcome respite sandwiched between visits to Kos and Mykonos.  Patmos is a sleepy little community known as much for its religious significance as it is for its typical Greek island charms.  High above the island sits the Monastery of St. John which tends to get a lot of hype but I considered it a huge disappointment due to the access you are given since it is an active Monastery with 20 or so live-in monks.  As a whole I am sure it is a grand structure but visitors are rewarded for their steep climp up the mountain from Skala with access to only the Monastery’s main church and an overpriced museum featuring scattered and broken artifacts from seemingly everywhere but here.  After this disappointment subsided I scurried back down the mountain in search of the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse which is about a mile back down from the church and supposedly the location of where St. John saw the vision of fire and brimstone and dictated the book of Revelation to his disciple, Prochoros.  While I do not consider myself even remotely religious I did feel the significance and power the little cave room gave off.  The once raw cave has been turned into a temple just down the stairs from a church dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary.  In the cave you find a split rock overhead that divides a boulder in three pieces representing the Trinity.  St. John is said to have heard the voice of God from this split rock.  Elsewhere you can find a chest-high flat slab of rock where the book was written and an ankle-high, head-shaped hole in the rock where St. John is said to have rested his head during rest over the two years he spent in this cave.  I spent almost two hours in this little enclosure some times sharing the space with rumbling tour groups and some times having the place entirely to myself to take in the spirituality of the location.  After this I descended back into town and had dinner with my toes in the sand at one of the many beachfront restaurants the port had to offer.  My ferry leaves at 2:25am for Rhodes so this was the extent of my final night.

Rhodes

While each Greek island has its own unique character Rhodes has a decidedly Medieval flair and still displays many remnants of its war torn past. As the the capital of the Dodecanese islands Rhodes does not share the other islands small town feel.  Arriving at Rhodes Town port is a bit overwhelming in that the port city is divided into an Old Town as well as a New Town.  These areas are pretty self explanatory with the Old Town being encircled by the original castle walls and New Town residing just beyond the walls consists of the more functioning area of commerce and tourism.  Old Town gets its fair share of the tourist dollar with its cafes and shops but here is where you can get your fill of the original sights such as the Street of the Knights, the Palace of the Grand Masters, and the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent.  The day I got to Rhodes I decided to find a place as soon as possible so that I could get out on the town since I had a ferry the very next morning.  The hotel options in Old Town are very limited as most people see the sights here and then return to their accommodations in New Town.  I finally found some place that reminded me of my budget accommodations in Central America.  The old lady that greeted me had to pass me along to her daughter who had to pass me along to her daughter in order to negotiate a price.  I figured for 10 Euros I could make due with any room available.  I was given the choice of two rooms so I chose the one with the patio view and the toilet seat.  Really both of these places were nightmarish but since my ferry was departing at 5am I figured I could bail at any point in the night.  As I exited the place I immediately encountered a shapely old lady with her dress over her head scrubbing her body.  I seized up a bit and hurriedly moved past this with a look of horror.  The old lady picked up on my discomfort and proceeded to yell in Greek at me for my entire speedwalk down the road.  I passed others on the road who all seemed to be telling this lady to leave the frightened foreigner alone and to get her crazy ass inside.  Its not quite how you draw up a perfect arrival scenario but that is what you get in strange lands.  From here my favorite part of Rhodes was circling the double layered Medieval City Walls which stretch for 2.5 miles around the city.  This seemed to be a popular spot with the locals as I encountered countless people jogging, walking their dogs, and lounging in the sun.  It seemed miles away from the peddlars inside the walls as you could round a corner and not see or hear anybody.  As I rounded the city I imagined the past attacks and parries at each gate.  Every now and again I encountered barn-like ladders that gave you access to the top of the walls.  Of course I climbed each one I came across and at the top you got a birds eye view as to what the city’s defenders saw.  The tops of these walls were not kept up as tall grass and weeds had overtaken all of the plateaus and every now and then you would hear a ladder rung crack underfoot so I did not spend a great deal of time up here especially since it was desolate enough that it was unlikely that anyone would have been around to hear my cries should I have come tumbling down from the walls.  I closed out the night at one of the numerous sidewalk restaurants in the main fountain square and attempted to fall asleep at my flea bag motel to the rhythmic sounds of cats raping each other just outside my screenless window.

In order to squeeze in trips to all these islands and still meet Torrence and the gang in Santorini by the 31st I had to schedule a hellacious 17 hour ferry ride from Rhodes to Santorini that basically had me on a boat from 5am until 10pm on 6/30.  The ferry was much bigger than any of the others and it had a string of lights along the top that I initially mistook for a lit up suspension bridge until I got up close and realized that I would be riding this suspension bridge to my destination across the Aegean.  I settled nicely in a corner table and chair arrangement along the window in one of the ships cafes.

Santorini

Arriving at the port of Santorini at 10:30pm after my day long journey I was looking to walk into town and find a place to rest for the night as Torrence and the gang were arriving on a noontime ferry the following day.  As the ferry pulls into the port and the doors open we as passengers are faced with complete darkness and rocky cliffs in every direction.  As all the passengers arranged pickups and headed into town I wandered around the port for a bit more to try to figure out this current predicament.  Within 15 minutes all the passengers were gone and most of the taxis had left.  Realizing that this was not going to be as easy as I initially thought and also seeing that the town I needed to reach was perched high atop one of these cliffs I came to terms with the fact that I would have to go along blindly with one of the remaining hotel pushers with accompanying transportation left at the port.  I went along with the guy from Hotel Perissa which was on the beach side of the island across from the main town of Fira.  Unless you arrive in Santorini during the day and don’t mind walking up the 588 steps it takes to get from the water to the city above than you are pretty much reliant on either a bus or taxi to get you there (donkeys are available for those adventurous souls).  The beach side of the island at Perissa and Kamari is about 15 minutes away but due to the mountains and cliffs this can take a bit longer.  This beach area reminded me of Kos in that the restaurants maintain their own private patch of sand so you really need to be a customer of one of these places to have access to the prime beach spots.  There is a bit more public beach space here so you do have the option of a free swim.  The mode of transportation most used on this island is the four wheeler which has the power to climb the steep roads and can also handle the beaches.  A very organized bus system can take you anywhere you need to go in Santorini for 2 Euros at the most.

While Santorini is hyped up as the most beautiful island in the Aegean and pictures featuring white washed houses and blue domed churches are synonymous with this place I found that it did not quite live up to expectations as these photographs tend to focus on the same church at the same photograph location.  The whole of Santorini is a bit more varied than a comprehensively whitewashed architecture structure with some earth tones and dinginess thrown in for good measure.  The beauty of Santorini can be found in the layout of the cliffside cities which seem to be dangling and in danger of receding into the sea below.  You can really make out the original pre-volcano structure of Santorini from glancing down at the devastated Caldera below and you can imagine what the island was like before the eruption.

Santorini is a cosmopolitan chic city where I got my first glance of European tourists with their sweaters wrapped around their necks, which was out of control in Mykonos.  Up in Fira the cliffside restaurants are all trying to portray the sophistication of trendy Los Angeles bars only with much better views.  Even with these establishments there does not seem to be a pretentious air about the place as most shopkeepers and hosts are trying to get anyone and everyone into their places.  The sunset location in Santorini is Oia which is about 2 miles along a cobblestone path which skirts the cliff high up above the water.  This spot is preferred to Fira simply because you can actually see the sun drop all the way down into the horizon without the sunken volcano Nea Kameni obstructing your view.

Mykonos

Choosing your favorite island can be a very arbitrary task simply because there are a number of variables that can all change depending on the timing of your visit and the people you meet.  But all things considered I would have to give Mykonos the nod and this may be because I had low expectations and expected this to be the most pretentious party island of the group.  While there were many pockets of clubs to be had Mykonos also had the whitewashed beauty that I was expecting from Santorini.  While Mykonos is one of the flattest islands and the interior is a bunch of whispy tumbleweeds, and scortched earth the coasts and coastal towns are some of the prettiest I encountered.

Our ferry was greeted by about 50 hotel representatives seeking our business but since we had prearranged accommodations and taxis are near impossible to get from the boat we decided to try our luck walking into town.  The town is easily accessible from the main port and the mazelike labyrinth of alleyways add to the charm of Mykonos Town.  There are so many distinct areas to the town but they all have a common theme of outdoor seating set up for people watching.  Little Venice is an area of restaurants and bars along the water through which you can walk amongst the patrons and from place to place along the same path.  It is very cool place that stays busy through around 10:30pm for the dinner and post-dinner crowd.  From here you will likely head to one of the trendy but welcoming clubs nearby.

The beaches are beautiful all along the island but with the beauty comes certain perils.  You have to watch out for sharp, rocky reefs and prickly sea urchins which you can later eat at any number of seafood restaurants in town.  The waves and currents can vary widely as the first day we had no waves whatsoever but on the second day at Paradise Beach we had powerful current warnings and a wavy sea.  Paradise Beach was a tremendous highlight of Mykonos and only about 30 minutes by bus.  What Paradise Beach offers is a small, cozy cove with a handful of beachfront restaurants renting out their lounge chairs and umbrellas.  We ponied up 5 Euros each for our all-day setup and it was worth every penny.  As the crowds started rolling in we found ourselves surrounded by topless ladies.  My heart was a patter at the sight as this did have a resemblance to my view of paradise.  It was especially fun to see the ones who were not used to such freedom take it off with reckless abandon chalking it up to When In Rome.  If it wasn’t for all the pretentious Sweater Necks strutting around the place Mykonos could be the jewel of the Aegean.

Athens, GR

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While in Athens we stayed in an apartment in the Kolonaki area.  This area provided me with my favorite view from the top of Lycabettus Hill which is an undeveloped hilltop amongst a sea of low slung buildings in downtown Athens.  Seeing it from afar and seeing afar from it are both fantastic experiences as their is beauty each way.  The funicular will take you to the top for about 6.5 Euros but the walk up the path is not very taxing and can be done in 20 minutes.  The restaurants on top are open until 3am and are of the cosmopolitan variety.  A special time to go is at sunset when the setting sun provides a plethera of lighting shades on the white washed city below.  As the sun sets across Athens you will be able to see the lights come on the Parthenon which makes for a magical sight.

Elsewhere in Athens, the Plaka area is bustling and you should be able to find a restaurant that appeals at the base of the Acropolis. This is a maze of sidewalk cafes and winding streets and it is the most festive and lively area in Athens with a mix of both locals and tourists alike.

In some of the higher profile areas such as Syntagma you will be very likely to see a protest or demonstration dealing with a range of topics from political to social.  While they have the potential to get unruly most that I witnessed resembled a summer festival with a designated area, food vendors, and the crowd trained on the person on the other end of the microphone.  The cops are on standby but they do not seem concerned as they probably encounter this on a weekly basis.  Even the clean up crews are on alert and have the area swept clean within the hour.

Getting around is very easy as even the airport is connected by the Subway system or the X95 bus.  Subway tickets cost 1 Euro and are valid for 90 minutes.  This is the cheapest way to go and you may even get by without tickets as ours were not inspected for the entire week we were there (frankly I did not see any other people checked either).  However on the odd chance you do get checked for tickets the absence of one could cost you 80X the regular fare so it is safer to go through the motions and purchase one for each trip.

I did not find the women here to be as ridiculously hot as I was expecting (Amsterdam may have set the bar too high) and the men are ridiculously inappropriate with any woman that shows any leg.  This could be a society in line for the veil just to teach the guys some tact and let them know that they need to find some common ground with the way they ogle women in the streets.  It is natural to find beauty in a woman but subtlety enables the woman to walk around unharassed and comfortable in society.

While we were here the Turkish president was in town signing some Aegean Trade Treaty so the area around the Hilton (our area) was a swarm of Secret Service and Police.  It was quite a commotion and police coverage lasted 24 hours a day with police cavalcades taking the officials to and fro.

Tips:

  1. Do not visit the Acropolis at midday in the summer as you will be sorry guaranteed.  The place looks like it would be capable of handling major loads of tourists but the setup does not allow free access without crowding through multiple entrance ways throughout the entire structure.
  2. Do visit Lycabettus Hill and check out the sloped street leading directly down from the Funicular entrance as this stretch is very lively but not too crazy.
  3. Do pace yourself at the National Archeological Museum as there is a lot to see.

Amsterdam 2010

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First stop on the European vacation found me touring the streets and canals of Amsterdam.  The first day I arrived I could feel a buzz in the air and crowds gathered along some of the city’s main streets.  I kept seeing signs that read “Giro Mania” which I later found out to be some important bicycle race in the vein of the Tour De France.  Throughout the day I would sidle up along the barricades and check out a rider and his entourage cruise through a time trial with the beautiful city as its backdrop.  This is very fitting that the race ran right through Amsterdam as I have never in my travels found an equally bike friendly city as this.  The cyclist is king and yields to noone.  Two of the surprises I found were a mother hurriedly pushing her baby stroller across the bike lane in the face of incoming riders and a city tram car pausing as me and a few of my fellow riders cross an intersection.  I am not sure if this inspired me or not but I rented a bike for the majority of my stay and loved every minute of it.  The rules of the road for cyclists are not to brake for anyone as the rest of the city knows that you have the right of way.  This was tough to pick up as every other place I have been places the pedestrian above all else and public transportation options fall in line in a close 2nd in terms of right of way priority.

While Amsterdam is not particularly known for its cuisine (although I did try a raw herring sandwich at Vishuisje Herengracht) I did find the coffeeshops to each have their own individually quirky charms from low-brow to high-end and from Rolling Stones to Bob Marley.  They offered varieties such as Amnesia, NYC Diesel, G13, Power Plant, Bubblegum, Jack Herrer, Northern Lights, AK47, Cheese and prices ranged from about $10-15 for a gram (28 grams are in an ounce) and they offered both regular pre-rolled joints and Pure (no tobacco) for $3-6.

Some of my favorite memories were hearing Bob Marley songs over the speakers in the grocery store, having some hippy lady give me the upsell on some fresh-baked, warm from the oven space cakes, keeping up with the crazy local cyclists, and touring some of the most beautiful cobblestone streets lining picturesque canals.

While the entire city has a life and beauty all its own my favorite spots were

  1. Jordaan (beautiful canals and houseboats in a tranquil locals neighborhood)
  2. Nieumarkt (also beautiful canals but with wonderful churches and cobblestone roads just outside the main tourist drag but seemingly miles away)
  3. Vondel Park (manageable stretch of park at the south of the city just next to the museums)
  4. Van Gogh Museum (maybe my favorite art museum focusing on a specific artist but it also houses many other works by prominent European artists.  Wonderful layout and works)

Top recommendation:

  • Renting a bike and cruising around Vondel Park, the Nieumarkt area, and the streets of Jordaan.

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