Thursday, January 20, 2011

Whirlwind Amsterdam, Day 1 :-)

We loved London and felt that we really needed another day to be able to see the rest of the sites.  I am sad that we missed Buckingham Palace and the National Museum, but there is always a next time.

On Day 4 of our trip, we hopped on Eurostar and made our way to Amsterdam.  Since we paid for the more comfortable class, it was nice to be served some food on the train.  We should have done this for our Amsterdam to Paris trip too, le sigh.

We arrived in Amsterdam's Centraal train station around 3pm local time.  It was perfect timing since we could check-in at the hotel, eat dinner, and then explore in the evening.  As I mentioned before, we used Starwoods points for our entire 10 night stay in Europe for free.  I chose the Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam since it has great reviews and is considered one of the more romantic hotels in town.  We were told that the hotel consists of 25 old canal houses that were renovated and combined to make one beautiful looking hotel.  Each time we went up or down a set of stairs, we were entering a new canal house.  Neat!
Photo credits: Hotel Pulitzer website.

This is our room, and we loved it.  The bathroom had a heated floor, which was a fun bonus for some odd reason.

Our room had a blocked canal view, but I still thought it was gorgeous.  Too bad I forgot to take a picture at night, when it looked better with the lights.

The hotel introduced me to my first ever stroopwafel.  If you've never had one, you are missing out.  They are absolutely yummy, caramel-filled cracker like snacks that I could eat all day.  We brought back a bunch for family and friends and everyone ate the last crumb in a few days.

By the time we checked-in and freshened up in our room, it was time for dinner.  Friends told me about the famous Rijsttafel dinners in Amsterdam.  It's an Indonesian meal that means "rice table."  Our hotel sent us to a place down the street called Restaurant Long Pura, which was great since we were starving despite it still being fairly early in the evening.  

Mr. J decided to start with a cold glass of this stuff.  I didn't like it but he said it was decent.  Ignore me since I don't like beer to begin with.

We chose this version of the Rijsttafel, with 12 small plates to sample plus 1 large plate of rice to accompany everything.  It was a great way to get introduced to Indonesian cuisine!

We were completely stuffed after dinner so we decided to just walk around and see if we could find the Red Light District while it was still early.  It was a great way to work off the food we ate and discover Amsterdam by foot.  Before we left, some friends gave us great advice and warned us to mind the bicycles.  Those cyclists are serious and will not hesitate to run you over if you get in their way, so watch out!

We probably walked for about 15 minutes from our hotel before we finally ran into the infamous Red Light District.  See those fancy metal markers with the red lights?  They tell you when you walk into the neighborhood.  I didn't notice them at first but it was pretty clear after a while.  Also, no one really explained to me that the Red Light District is bigger than just one street.  I always assumed it was like Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  I didn't know that it's a large neighborhood that you can easily get lost in!

 One of the more famous shops was mentioned in my Frommer's city guide:

This is one of the canals in the Red Light District.  Lots of places on either side of the canal fulfills every single stereotype ever said about Amsterdam and this neighborhood, heh.  As the evening went on, people crowded the sidewalks and they got pretty rowdy. 

I was pretty tickled to find this as we walked around:

We got tired early that night, so we headed back to the hotel long before normal people would have wanted to eat dinner somewhere.  lol.  On our way back, we saw the monument across from the Paleis Amsterdam.  It was pretty cool and imposing in its evening glory.  Sorry for the blurry pic :-(
The palace itself was going through tons of renovations so all we saw was a sheet draped over the whole thing:

I am glad we went to bed early that night since we did a lot of sightseeing on day 2. 

Thames River Cruise, The Tower of London, The British Museum, and Westminster Abbey

Like I said in my previous post, our tickets for The Original London Sightseeing Tour included tickets for the Thames River Cruise.  I thought it was pretty cool and we took advantage of the river cruise to get back to the Tower of London, which we already passed on our way to the London Eye, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

Our guide was pretty funny and entertaining, so it made the cruise a lot better than I expected.

The boat had a retractable roof, which is super useful in a city that gets a lot of rain (at least, I am assuming that's why it's designed that way, heh).

This obelisk is called Cleopatra's Needle and is one of the oldest structures in London (that's what the guide said at least).  It was a gift from Egypt to commemorate the UK's victory in two battles around early 1800s.

The river cruise passed under a handful of bridges in a short amount of time.  London Bridge's history is notorious but it didn't look as interesting as some other bridges, like the Tower Bridge.

Some pretty cool sightings on our way to the Tower of London:

The Tate Modern houses tons of impressive modern art.  It was so packed when we visited that we didn't get to see much at all.  We're not big fans of modern art, so we didn't really mind. 
Finally, our destination, the Tower of London:

This building holds the crown jewels of British royalty.  I was dying to take pictures inside but there were some mean looking security guards that stopped me.  Boo.

This is the memorial in the courtyard of the palace that names those who lost their heads (a la Anne Boleyn, etc). 

Once we finished our self-guided tour of the tower, we hopped on the double-decker and headed to the British Museum for a quick look.  Check out how close our bus was to another in the street.  Crazy!

I am so sad that we didn't get to spend as much time as this place deserved, but that's our fault for wasting a whole day inside the hotel room because of jet lag :-P

We were exhausted at the end of the day and enjoyed our last stint on the tour bus before dinner.  Plus, it's always nice to enjoy the top of the bus alone.  Heh.

Piccadilly Circus:

The next day, we dropped by Westminster Abbey for a self-guided tour.  The church is so beautiful but it was packed with tourists, so a bit difficult to appreciate it in its full glory. 

London was such a blast and we cannot wait to go back one day.  We used to live/work in the NYC area and we felt "at home" being in a big city again.  Many friends told me that it's like the Big Apple and they were right.  There's definitely something to be said for the British flair and it's worth a visit!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Original London Sightseeing Tour

Image from The Original London Sightseeing Tour website.

We woke up early Friday morning to make sure we made up for the time we lost completely jet-lagged the day before.  I wanted to ride one of those double decker bus tours to drive around London and see the city's layout.  We had great fall weather, including sunshine that eventually came through after lunch, so I was excited when we left the hotel.  The fact that the ticket booth for the bus tour was half a block away from the hotel's front door was just icing on the cake.

Mr. J and I grabbed some coffee and breakfast at one of the chain cafes and hopped on Yellow route of  The Original London Sightseeing Tour.  We started at the Piccadilly Circus stop:

T1 The Original Tour (Yellow Route)
Calling at:
Piccadilly Circus
Statue of Eros
The National Gallery
Nelson's Column
Trafalgar Square
St James's Palace
Ritz Hotel
Hyde Park
Wellington Museum
Speakers' Corner
Buckingham Palace & the Changing of the Guard
St James's Park
Westminster Abbey
Big Ben & Parliament
Lambeth Palace
The London Eye
London Aquarium
Westminster Pier
Downing Street
Horse Guards' Parade
St Martin-in-the-Fields
Covent Garden
Fleet Street
St Paul's Cathedral
Bank of England Museum
London Bridge
Southwark Cathedral
London Dungeon
HMS Belfast
Tower Bridge
The Tower of London
Shakespeare's Globe
Tate Modern
Sherlock Holmes Pub

Our view of Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery in the background:

I want to say that this statue marks the entrance into the City of London, which is only one square mile.  It's the ancient core that was walled by Romans, according to Wiki (I am too lazy to link to a more legitimate site, sorry).  Fleet Street is the road that leads from the City to Westminster, another section of London.

A quick view of St. Paul's Cathedral, which claimed the title of London's tallest building from 1710 to 1962 (again, from Wiki).

Tower Bridge (check out that notorious London fog):

Tower of London was a pretty cool place and we actually went back later in the day to do a self-guided tour.

We wanted to check out Westminster Abbey, so we got off at the London Eye stop to take some pictures on our way to the church.

Big Ben:

Westminster Abbey had a private event the first time we went, so we came back the next day for a tour.

Our bus tour ticket included a short boat tour on the Thames.  Since one of the boat tour stops was right across the street from Big Ben, we decided to hop on and head to the tower of London for the afternoon.  See the sun starting to shine?   

I took a ton of pics from the boat tour itself, so I think that deserves its own post.  Stay tuned!