Wednesday, November 23, 2016

South of the New Maas

The north and the south parts of the city of Rotterdam is divided by a river named the Nieuwe Maas. As my campus and the city center is located within the north, I don’t often travel to the southern part of Rotterdam. Until one day I decided to have a better look at the Erasmusburg and took the metro to Wilhelminaplein. Upon exiting the station I can see the Erasmus Bridge standing tall and proud in the distance.

After a while, I decided to take a seat at the pier which faces the bridge and enjoyed a sunny yet windy day in Rotterdam. I took a spot in front of De Rotterdam building — the largest building in Rotterdam which consist of restaurant, office area and residence that is uniquely designed with various plinth upon different heights of the building.

It is also nice to walk along the pier and you'll find several building offices, Nederlands Fotomuseum and the Port of Rotterdam. I found myself at the end of the pier and found Hotel New York - one of the famous remnant of Dutch - American history in Rotterdam. By its history this hotel used to be an office for Holland America Lines - a cruise line which is integral to the shipping and passenger lines between the country. Now, as the port and its cruise terminal is one of the main hub of New York and Rotterdam, the hotel name is seemingly appropriate. The site itself is listed as one of the Dutch national heritage

I sat around at the park across the hotel and enjoyed some boat and people-watching. After a while I then decided to leave the edge of the Wilhelminaplein and then took a walk across the Rijnhavenbrug and to the area named Katendrecht. With the ships coming from either sides, it is such a nice sight to have under one sunny day. You can discover how big the port area in Rotterdam really is, exploring this particular area.

Having no idea what to do next, I checked out Google Map and found out that there’s a tourism spot, a ship in particular, SS Rotterdam which is a former cruis ship of the Holland-America Line and one of their greatest one at that, that is now accessible to the public as it has turned into a hotel, restaurant and business facilities. Curious, I just popped in and went ‘aboard’ the cruise and explored many of its levels including its dock, lounge, and swimming pool. unfortunately there was a wedding event that day so I cannot take a peek of their ballroom. It was an interesting site for a quick visit and as the cruise is situated on a port on top of a water you can also have a beautiful sight across the Nieuwe Maas from the inside of the ship.

It is night to see this other side of Rotterdam. Despite there were a lot of touristic spots, there's not much tourist to be spotted around the area. I thought that the area is very nice and soothing. Recently I revisited the Wilhelminaplein neighborhood to catch a good amount of fresh air and ship-watching along the deck. Remind me to bring some snacks and drinks next time to make it more fun.

Monday, November 7, 2016

First Sight of Paris - France (Part 1)

In the middle of the month of October I decided to take a trip to Paris. Initially I planned out to go during the 17th right after I finished my class with my roommate but then I was told that I have to do a presentation for that day so it’s either I have to postpone my travel to Paris or to go earlier instead. I finally decided to go on earlier and since I change my schedule last minute, I decided to buy a ticket for myself and meet my roommate later on as we planned out to stay at the same hostel. I, crazily — said my friends upon hearing the plan, bought the ticket one day before my departure to Paris and didn’t even bother to buy a train ticket back haha. I decided to go by train since it’s faster and I’m not in the mood of taking the bus. I decided to splurge a little on this trip as it is my birthday month and that I am very excited to finally visit France after years of practicing basic French. I was honestly a bit nervous though since it is the first time I ever travelled alone, especially alone to another country. 

I took a two and a half hour ride by Thalys train from Rotterdam Centraal to Paris Gare du Nord station and the trip costs me EUR 84 for one way since I bought the ticket at the last minute; for cheaper option you can buy a bus ticket ranging from EUR 18-40 per trip and it may take 6 to 10 hours to arrive in Paris. Then I decided to keep my baggage at my hostel that is located 5 minutes from the station so it’s pretty convenient to travel to places as it is a public transportation hub. I stayed at St. Christopher’s Inn for the length of my four-day stay in Paris. I was assigned in a four beds shared room with three other girls from Ukraine, South Korea, and China. I got assigned in the top bunk and after dropping off some of my luggage, I decided to continue on with my adventure in Paris.

My dad highly recommended a tour to the Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles). As the Palace itself is located a bit far from Paris’ city center, I decided to focus on that one place today — and decide to travel elsewhere if there were remaining time.  I bought a day-length Paris ticket named Carte Paris Billet, which costs EUR 12.50 for the day for the length of access to Palace of Versailles in Paris Zone 4 (the ticket prices range depending on the number of zones you would like to access, from Zone 1-3 or Zone 1-5). Having bought the day pass, I finally took an RER from Line B3 and transferred to Line C5 to their last stop in the Versailles Rive Gauche station. A few hundred meters from the station I saw the Palace of Versailles standing tall and being crowded with tourists, although it was a Tuesday.

As I am currently a resident of a European Union country under the age of 25 I got free entrance access to the Palace. A normal entry ticket costs about EUR 15 but you can access the Garden of Versailles (Jardin de Versailles) for free. After going through security checkpoint I entered the Palace and got a remote controlled audio tour and strolled the Palace. The entry will give you passage to The Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Grand Apartments, and the Museum of the History of France. It was such a great sight filled with many paintings, sculptures, and memorabilia passed over generations of France monarch. It gives you insights of the pompous living of the royals and a lot of lessons on the French art and history. The estate itself was so grand and large, it took me about four hours strolling around the Palace and the Garden — although I didn’t get much chance to see The Grand Trianon and the Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. If you really want to explore this place, allocate one good whole day exploring the estate. It was so worth the travel and it’s fascinating. It makes me feel grateful that I took my World History class in high school pretty seriously. #nerd

Click here for more pictures of the Palace of Versailles.

I then left the Palace and traveled to St. Michel - Notre-Dame station on Line C5 using the RER. Before visiting the Notre-Dame Cathedral I decided to buy some souvenir on the side of the road. Here I experienced one of the cons of traveling alone as a woman — a shopkeeper were trying to flirt with me and tried to ask me to go on a date in a totally creepy way. It was super weird that I immediately rushed out from the store and take a deep breath. I decide to take a moment from a crowded touristic spot and decided to take a look at the notable bookstore, Shakespeare, and Company. Little that I know that the tiny bookstore is actually a pretty famous tourism spot too, but it’s a bookstore — my own version of an ideal safe haven, so I feel pretty good coming into the store. Mind your way inside the store, though, as the store can get pretty cramped. 

Shakespeare and Company is a little bookstore located somewhat across the Notre Dame Cathedral and the store hosted a great collection of books for its size. It offers French and English literature from numerous authors all across the globe — books by Indonesian authors such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Eka Kurniawan in their English transcript. There’s a great collection of books ranging from the classics to the current bestsellers, no wonder that there are a lot of people coming in and out of the store, be it locals or those who are just curious. During my visit I bought two books from the store and got it stamped with the signature logo stamp of the store, they offer various ways in which you can customize your books to become more personable. You can check their website for the available customization on every order such as an added poem, stamp (like I got on my books), a spritz of perfume, etc.

After getting the books that I wanted I finally walked across a little bridge to the Notre-Dame d Paris. I was honestly pretty tired that day that I decide to sit out in the courtyard of the Cathedral, simply people watching, read parts of the book I just bought and ate the grilled cheese I made this morning back at my apartment in Rotterdam. I decided not to inspect the Notre-Dame gothic architecture closely because climbing up the 387 step of stairs to see the famous bells is a pretty big struggle at the time. From what I saw even from the outside, the Cathedral really was a beautiful sight and I did consider to come back here again.

As for today, Paris has been delightful and the sights that I saw along the way was pretty. Although I didn’t get to visit so many spots today at least I’m glad that I good through my first day today. It was pretty weird, the sensation of being both proud and scared being in a foreign place by myself but thank God the city has been pretty welcoming, aside from the creeps, catcallers, and the anxious feeling because you’re afraid to get robbed. The weird things I experienced today taught me one thing, though: be a tourist without looking like one. More stories on this in my next post, so stay tuned!