A week in The Netherlands

Visiting Netherlands after my trip to Morocco, was refreshing. The people are very polite without exxageration.

While making a query at the train station, I said “Hi”. The girl behind the counter educated me to say “Good afternoon”. I was taken aback but never offended, knowing that she bears no ill meaning behind that. The Dutch says their mind.

For a week Netherlands trip, we spent equal times in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. I would say it was a very relaxing trip and the weather was perfect too.

Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world. There are too many bikes and I wish Singapore aspire to follow suit. We need a cycling paths for green environment, healthy and safety reasons. I wish cycling is normal, part of our everyday life, and people to be considerate and gracious like what I’ve witnessed in Netherlands.

Amsterdam

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Walking is indeed the best way to see the city. We walked a lot during this trip and Nicky has to get a massage from sore legs. We did not spend too much time visiting museums since we wanted to explore the cities as much as we can. We board a canal cruise and enjoying the unique architecture along the way.

The next morning, we took train to Zaanse Schans, a neighbourhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, near Amsterdam. This place is interesting with historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses of an 18th/19th-century village.

I enjoyed the cycling and roaming around the area. It was lovely seeing those old historic windmills, and visiting interactive exhibits on bakery, rare handicrafts such as wooden clog carving, barrel making and pewter casting.

We also visited Haarlem, a photogenic medieval city of cobblestone streets and gabled houses. It’s the center of a major flower-bulb-growing district, and famous for its outlying tulip fields, art museums and hofjes (almshouses built around leafy courtyards).

Rotterdam

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Rotterdam is a major port city in the Dutch province of South Holland. Some of the interesting places we visited were the Cubic Houses at Blaak station, markets, Erasmo Bridge and surroundings.

We also travel to Kinderdikj, famous for its 19 authentic windmills. Another interesting cycling trip and beautiful windmills. As we arrived late, we only have an hour to wander the places but it is worth a visit.

The Hague

Ambassade Arena Aparthotel is the best hotel we stayed in Netherlands. The room is spacious with a cooking facility. The view from the top is amazing and the tram-station is just outside the hotel. The Scheveningen beach, casino and musical-theater are just in walking distance. I love the atmosphere at the beach, it is definitely more than a beach.

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Delft is a beautiful city that enjoys a worldwide reputation due to its connection with Johannes Vermeer, Delft Blue earthenware and the Royal House. I enjoyed wandering along canals, churches, mansions and courtyards.

The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but they have fresh produce. Haring (oily silvery-colored fish) or ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ is probably the most famous Dutch food. The cheese, Gouda and Edam, is also known all around the world. I was excited to see so many Indonesian restaurants, and I went there couple of times to satisfy the crave of spicy foods.

Entering a “coffee shop” in Amsterdam is quite an experience. Official “Coffee shops” which have a green and white licence sticker in the window are a place where one can legally smoke weeds. There is a long menu list at the counter where one choose the kind of “coffee” they wish.

I was impressed with The Netherlands. The trains are efficient, frequent and reasonably priced. The canals are clean and appealing. The extensive bike trails network, historical buildings and architecture are interesting. The people were also friendly, non-judgemental, and helpful. I love to visit again, perhaps during tulips season.

 intansg

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Accommodation:

Amsterdam      2 Nights: Hampton Hilton (Arena Boulevard)

Rotterdam        2 Nights: Hotel Bazaar

The Hague       2 Nights: Ambassade Arena Aparthotel

Schipol Airport        1 Nights: NH Amsterdam Schipol Airport

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3,000 km road trip across Morocco

“Fly out or you will be in jail,” the female custom officer said.

OMG. I always thought I hold one of the strongest passport in the world and can stay almost everywhere without a visa. I’ve just learned that a Singaporean can only stay 90 days out of 180 days in Europe (Schengen countries). So, in order not to overstay, I need to spend some days at a non-schengen countries.

There are some places I love to visit. After some thoughts, I decided to visit Morocco.

MOROCCO

Driving Map across Morocco

Morocco is a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The population is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences, mainly French.

We started and ended our journey in Tangier. Our first stop was Chefchouen. It was a 2.5 hours drive to our first riad. A riad is similar to a Bed and Breakfast, a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden, courtyard and/or roof terrace. Staying in a riad which usually located in the medina is a unique experience, but it is not for everyone.

My opinion of Riad:

Pros: Unique beautiful experience, easy access to medina, shopping and restaurants

Cons: Usually small and compact, not sound proof – can be noisy for light sleeper, no private parking, no amenities

CHEFCHOUEN

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Chefchouen is a beautiful blue city. We enjoyed getting lost at the medina and the square of Plaza Uta El-Hammam. Life moves at a slower pace in this city. It’s a perfect place to wander and take photos.

I had my first taste of Tangine for lunch. Tangine is the slow-cooked dish of Morocco and revered for its sweet and savoury flavours. Tangine can be cooked up from almost anything; lamb, chicken, beef or even fish.

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In the evening, we had our next tangine dinner at La Lampe Magique restaurant. The scenery was beautiful and the call to prayer, azan, provide beautiful sound to the ears.

MEKNES

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On the way to Meknes, we spotted a Sunday market near Laghdir. Lucky day! To me, a visit to local market is an efficient way to immerse ourselves into one’s culture. It was so interesting to get a sense for the locals, their products, food, and how they live their life.  I bought olives, fruits and a colourful Berber hat.

Meknes has its charm on its own. Some of the main attractions are Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Bab al-Mansour. We admired the ornately decorated gateway of Bab Mansour, the city square, and the many winding streets of the city.

FES

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The drive to Fes is only an hour journey but the difficulty we had were finding the parking. A Moroccon guy in a scooter spotted us looking for direction and approached us to follow him. As naïve as we were, we followed. He showed us a private parking place, showed us our next riad, and convinced us to take “a professional tour guide” that will show Fes for five hours.

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Fes medina is beautiful, with medieval architecture, vibrant souks and old-world atmosphere. Some of the places we visited are the Couwara tanneries, 14th centuries Madrasa Bou Inania and Café Clock.

MERZOUGA (SAHARA DESERT)

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The drive to Merzouga was the longest but we enjoyed the journey. Beautiful scenery along the way, and the road except in very few places is well maintained. We spent about eleven hours on the road, including stops. We stopped at Azrou for coffee, the cedar forest for the monkeys, and village Timahdite. We had our lunch at Zaida town in the Midelt province.

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The camel trekking across Sahara desert was an experience of the lifetime. With a group of thirteen, we talked and laughed, looking out over the vast of Sahara desert, swaying with the beats and sounds of drums, and staring at the night sky. Beautiful stars.

OUARZAZATE

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Ouarzazate is a city in the south of Morocco’s High Atlas mountain known as a gateway to the Sahara Desert. It is a huge Taourirt Kasbah, home to a 19th-century palace, and has the views over the rugged local landscape, which features in several movies such as The Mummy, Gladiator, and the recent ones, Prison Break.

We had our lunch at Todgha Gorge, the limestone river canons located at the eastern part of the High Atlas mountains near the town of Tinerhir. As recommended by the riad host, I had my first Hammam. The Hammam itself was a nice experience but the massage was mediocre. I had better in Singapore.

KELAAT M’GOUNA

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Link: Morocco’s Festival of Roses 2018

When we planned our visit, the dates for Rose festival were not confirmed. Some websites mentioned that it will be on first week of May. We booked our stay for second week.  We just hope that our dates coincides with the festival week, which they did. How lucky we are!? We were so fortunate to experience the Rose festival which include the visit to Rose valleys where the roses are harvested. The exhibition, flea markets, and traditional musical performances were interesting. We also watched the parade with the selection of the annual Rose Queen. The smells of roses fills the air at el Kelaa M’Gouna.

MARRAKECH

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On the way to Marrakech, we visited Ait Ben Haddou, the red-earth city. My favourite movie of all time, Gladiator, was filmed here. It was a wonderful place but we were too tired to explore more grounds.

It was not good getting lost in medina. We got so confused with the streets, panicking, and an ‘angel’ demanded Dh200 (equivalent to 20) for showing us a public parking. “Do you think this is China?” he said when I gave him Dh100. It  makes my blood boil! A local taxi in Morocco charge around Dh20 – Dh100.

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In the evening, we enjoyed siting in the terrace of Le Grand Balcon du Cafe Glacier, which has an incredible view of Jemaa el-Fnaa, the bustling courtyard and market place. We had to pay Dh20 per person (exchange with a soft drink).

ESSAOUIRA

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Essaouria is a laid-back alternative to Marrakesh. We heard plenty of stories about Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira. This is another city that I enjoyed the most, together with Chefchouen. The time in the souks was pleasant. I enjoyed the fresh air, walking to Skala du port for the picturesque views over the fishing port.

RABAT

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Rabat is Morocco’s capital of Islamic and French colonial heritage. We witnessed many quarrels and shouting in Rabat. Maybe it was the starting of the fasting month, which testing one’s patience. Or maybe that’s the way it is in the north.

We visited Kasbah of the Udayas, the city oldest quarter, built during the Almohad dynasty in 12th century which has a beautiful garden. We also visited Chellah (old fortress) and Hassan Tower (incomplete mosque) during Friday praying.

TANGIER

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The city of Tangier is located at the western entrance of the Strait of Gibralta, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Some tourist especially those coming on motorcycles adventures, take ferry from Spain with a sailing duration of one hour.

Overall, I would say that Morocco is a very beautiful country and urge friends to experience themselves. There are many cool sights and contrasting experiences that is unforgettable. We met some nice people and appreciate their warm and kindness. We also met some interesting characters that testing one’s patience. This is why researcher says that traveling is good for mental health.

Written By: 

intansg

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SUGGESTIONS AND TIPS:

  • Do your homework and plan carefully especially if you intend to self-drive.
  • Staying in ‘Riad’ is a good experience, but for a less stressful events, book a hotel with own private carpark.
  • If you are ‘lost’, keep calm and call the hotel for direction. Do not allow anyone to take advantage of your situation, they will demand loads of money.
  • There were many police stops, ensure that you abide to the speed limit. If not, they will ask for coffee money (DH200 – 20) and cigarettes.
  • Hiring a Guide in Morocco is NOT necessary.
  • There are many tourist scams in Morocco, special mention Fes and Marrakech. Some work in groups. I understand that these people are trying to make a living but the events will scare off tourists who are genuinely interested in visiting this beautiful country. Something need to change.
  • Be firm when being approached by the ‘friendliest’ man in the street. Say ‘La Syukran’ (no thanks) for any offers to help or showing places. Our own experience – we were greeted by a friendly man who said we should take pictures from the cafe terrace. “It’s free and has nice view”, he said. From the terrace, he brought us down to another exit which is a shop! He became very aggressive when we told him that we were not interested to buy anything. In the end, we were forced to buy dry dates for Dh100 (which were the “cheapest” in the shop), so as not to create chaos.
  • Stay away from ‘chocolato’ – drugs.
  • Stay away from Henna ladies unless you wanted a henna tattoo.
  • Communication barriers in many parts of Morocco as most speak only Berber, Arabic and French. Best to learn some basic.
  • Take small notes with you. Some vendors pretended they do not have enough change.
  • Be extra careful when taking photographs. Most Moroccon do not like their photos to be taken, or they will demand for money or the camera.
  • In the airport, the immigration queue is long and slow. Make sure to have ample time to arrive at the airport.

ACCOMMODATION:

Chefchouen 1 Night Accommodation: Dar Z’man Guesthouse S$50/night

*Public Parking near Riad Madrid -30 dirham-

Meknes 1 Night Accommodation: Riad Hiba Meknes S$45/night

*Public Parking along the street -20 dirham-

Fes 1 Night Accommodation: Dar Bouanania S$32/night

*Public Parking Bab Boujlad -30 dirham-

Merzouga 1 Night Accommodation: Auberge Le Petit Prince S$40/night

1 Night Accommodation: Sahara Desert Camel Trekking

*Private own parking -no charge-

Ouarzazate 1 Night Accommodation: Dar El Nath S$70/night

*Public Parking -30 dirham-

Kelaat M’Gouna 2 Night Accommodation: Kasbah Tasseurte S$40/night

*Private own parking -no charge-

Marrakech 2 Nights Accommodation: Riad Jnane Mogador S$60/night

*Public Parking across the medina -60 dirham-

Essaouira 2 Nights Accommodation: Ryad Les Sultanes S$40/night

*Public Parking -60 dirham-

Rabat 1 Night Accommodation: Riad Meftaha S$90/night

*Park car in Street of Iran, next to the riad -no charge

Tangier 1 Night Accommodation: Hotel Continental S$60/night

*Private own parking -no charge-