Friday, September 30, 2016

My New Home, Rotterdam

It has been six weeks since I've settled in Rotterdam, this city of 600.000 that is the second biggest in the Netherlands. Finally, a post in which I can introduce my town! Hehe. In the midst of the transition from summer to fall, Rotterdam is still incredibly sunny yet the wind is strong enough to make you put on another layer of shirts - the modern city, although it has different landmarks from the rest of its neighboring cities, is still typically Dutch. The town is filled with many people riding bikes, but a variety of public transportations are available from buses, metro, and tram. With Rotterdam being the fifth of the Top 10 Cities on the Lonely Planet: Best in Travel 2016 list, you will not be disappointed in what this city has to offer.

The building pictured above is the Markthal - one of the recent landmark built in Rotterdam. The uniquely shaped building is actually a resident building with an array of kiosk, shops, and restaurants inside. Decorated with the biggest mural in the world, the Markthal -- or the Market Hall as many say it, is often visited by both tourist and the locals alike. I usually do my grocery shopping here as it is close to other shopping district and the city center. Every Tuesday and Saturday, there is also a pop-up traditional market on the big court right across the building which sells fresh produces and other kind of products sold by your friendly local neighbor.

Rotterdam is a city apparent of its growing number of modern architecture, from the Notable Cubic House (which some are available for rent!) to the Erasmus Bridge. As the city was bombed within the World War II period, the event allows Rotterdam to revamp its city to what it is today. A place filled with urban developments and modern design. The city is vibrant and the people are active and busy, as this city hosted the largest port in Europe and the fourth biggest in the world. Yet somehow, everyone here knows how to work hard, play hard and when to take a break. The pace of the people and the city still gives you enough room to breathe and have fun as I find the city to be slower than many other big cities, especially in comparison to the ones in Asia.

Despite the city being on the modern side, there are still areas that are still deemed more traditionally Dutch such as the Delfshaven that were not affected by the bombs. One of the places I visited is the windmills of Kinderdijk which is recognized as one of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. The Kinderdijk is the village whereas traditional windmills stood still and displayed to the public. There's a waterway and bike lane if you're interested in going to take a look around the area. One interesting sight is that you can see residents who are housed in some of the windmills casually living their lives and disregarding us tourists.

Also, I spent my first week in Rotterdam in The Student Hotel before getting into my apartment. It was a super nice hotel with amazing design and great common room. As the name suggest this hotel is very youth-friendly, with playing room, gyms, and lounge that is accessible in the common area there are also a library, study space, and printing services. It was honestly an experience just to stay in the hotel that I often visit here when I just need some time to study or hang around with a friend who also resides in this hotel.

Rotterdam so far has been an amazing city for me. I am glad I made the decision to spend my semester here, but at the same time I gotta keep moving and look for what the rest of the world has to offer. At least it's good to go back home to a city that I have fallen in love with.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Visit to Volendam

Volendam is a town North of Amsterdam that borders with water, making it a harbor for a number of ships and boats; concurrent to the fact that Volendam is a fishing harbor with its residents living in charming houses along the road. The town itself is not large, but the area is super pretty and welcoming as it keeps many Dutch traditional characteristics alive. Walking along the streets were a very nice experience with a beautiful sight in every corner. The town is filled with restaurant and little shops, many of which are souvenir shops as the town's charm is very inviting to tourists -- including me. The town is accessible by bus but I was dropped off by a car to the town, but the access of vehicle is limited to the shopping lane as it is designated for bikes and pedestrians.

This is one of the most famous attractions in Volendam where you get the chance to take pictures in Dutch traditional costumes as a memorabilia, complete with the clogs and everything. We took our pictures at Fotograaf Zwarthoed, with EUR 15 per photograph per person (plus an additional EUR 5 for every additional person) they will rent you a set of traditional Dutch costume for the whole photoshoot session and you will get a set of your pictures printed within 30 minutes. There are many Indonesian figures who took their pictures at the spot we shot the photo in that it turn into a 'spot the person' game. 

There's one big cheese shop in Volendam named Cheese Factory Volendam which has all museum, factory, and shop in one spot. You can have a tour of the factory or have a cheese tasting session - you can even try out bits of cheeses from the testers of the varying Dutch processed dairy product. We bought a lot of cheeses as souvenirs and some of my favorite are the truffle cheese, smoked cheese, and the pesto cheese dip. The museum itself is just one room, but it is still a good sight. For more depth to the factory, go downstairs from the entrance of the shop to the workshop to see how cheese is developed and have some taste of the cheeses they offer.

Also, this is my first time eating a typical Dutch herring! Typically the herring is served raw after seasoned and put in a brine and served with raw onion and pickle. The fish actually tasted pretty similar to a sashimi -- down to the saltiness when dipped with shoyu -- but then it has a pretty slimy skin which made the texture a bit weird but once you are through to the sliminess of the fish it, you'll get the Maguro/Tuna sashimi-like flavor and texture. This raw dish I had is served after being sliced but some people eat the fish as a whole or on a piece of bread. The price for this is EUR 2.5 per piece of fish.

Or you can have the herring served fried. Many of this seafood variety are available on mobile carts on the street. Some of my recent favorite combos is fried mussel, shrimp, and squid that is priced at EUR 5 per 300 grams.

Although the stop is short, I really enjoyed coming to Volendam and the experiences as well as sights it offers were really worth the travel. The visit which I thought solely for the purpose of taking a touristy picture actually was a pleasant surprise. My friends also fell in love with this town, we considered about coming back here again someday. Maybe, one day.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Arrival at Amsterdam

I finally arrive at Amsterdam Schiphol at about 8 a.m. in the morning after a 15-hour flight by KLM from Jakarta with a 30-minute layover in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. After a hectic day, departing from Soekarno-Hatta only a couple hour after I got my visa and my legalized birth certificate from the Netherlands Embassy in Kuningan. My parents are joining me for the first two weeks in the Netherlands and the three of us spend our first two days in Amsterdam with my aunt. We were first picked up at the airport and then settled ourselves at the Bakkerswaal area in North Amsterdam and decide to explore the area after some rest and lunch.

We decide to start off by going to the Amsterdam Centraal - basically the central station of Amsterdam. The Centraal is basically the center hub of the city and fortunately, many of Amsterdam tourism spots are nearby as it is only separated by canals and bridges. The city is build in a way similar to a side of a spider web, making it a unique set of urban spatial planning. We walked around the Dam Square, located right in front of the Centraal Station.

We actually went out pretty late in the afternoon -- many of the places of interest were already closed, and the city was quite crowded that we're unsure whether we have enough time to explore the places. Still, being a tourist as we are, we decide to ride on a Hop On Hop Off bus around the city and see the exterior of many notable buildings around the city. We also rode on a boat through the canals of Amsterdam - the were plenty of bridges and a waterway to explore. Being second to Venice, Amsterdam has about hundred kilometers long canals. We passed through the canal rings of Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Herengracht. The sight was really beautiful and we enjoyed the ride despite the fact that it was a pretty windy day outside.

After some walking tour by ourselves we decide to go back and rest, for tomorrow we're going straight to Rotterdam. Although it's unfortunate that we didn't actually visit a specific building or area, the sights were pretty enough to answer our curiosity. We then had dinner at Burgerij in Amsterdam Centraal before crossing the river to Bakkerswaal by a free ferry, as the road were under construction. 

Double DeckerTwo ground beef patties with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, barbecue sauce and a generous amount of cheddar cheese. Had this one with the complimentary wasabi mayonnaise and this was a great burger overall. The set comes with a big bowl of salad and fries.

I'm excited about this new beginning. To more trips to come!