Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Along the North Sea in the Netherlands or Holland lie some pretty interesting cities. Most of us have heard all about Amsterdam with it's hash bars and red light district, where you can rent a boat instead of a hotel room, and the colorful row houses are famous. The amazing thing is that we don't hear nearly as much about the world's second largest port city, with amazing things in it's own right that is right down the coast from the world famous Amsterdam. Rotterdam is the city that I'm talking about, and it has some really outstanding things to see and do.
Let's start with a little history. Holland America Line used to be headquartered right in Rotterdam and their old headquarter building is located there still. It's a museum now. But it is fascinating architecture and that is what Rotterdam is also famous for.
Rotterdam has one of the busiest harbors in the world, and the Holland America Line used to be the center of the whole shabang. The SS Rotterdam, at one time the world's largest cruise ship has been retired to the harbor and is now a luxury hotel and restaurant. It is also a museum, and you can take a tour of the old steam powered ocean liner while you stay on the ship. It's a great location right in the middle of the city. It's easy to see the city by land or by one of many cruises around the harbor and canals.
Then there's the why go now factor. Why? Because it's springtime. If you've ever heard anything about Holland, then you probably know that they are famous for their gardens, and particularly for their tulips. Keukenhof Gardens is one of the more famous gardens in the Netherlands, and right now the tulips are out and they are beautiful. It's a spectacle to behold in the gardens, but you can cruise the countryside right now and see fields of the country's most famous flowers blooming like crazy.
Rotterdam is a beautiful city known not only for it's port and gardens, but for it's arts. There are a ton of museums to go to in this city of all kinds. Rotterdam is also bicycle friendly like it's cohort up the coast. Bicycling is very popular in the city.
But, what Rotterdam is best known for this century is it's architecture. The architecture in Rotterdam is ultra modern and pushes the limits of most of our imaginations. The White House, that's what it's called, was only the beginning. It was Europe's first skyscraper and really started something.
The Euromast towers over the city and can be seen from miles away.
The Erasmus Bridge crosses the harbor area.
The Cube Houses were an architect's experiment that have turned into quite the tourist attraction.
The City Market is truly amazing both inside and out.
Architects are drawn to this city in part because of it's Architecture Institute. But it's the creativity that has made it an architectural venue. There are several tour companies that offer architectural tours of the city. They go by boat, by bus, or on walking tours and they can take groups, individuals, or make a custom tour for you. It's a great Adventure for Anyone.
Rotterdam has some of the most interesting modern architecture in Europe, and it's just hanging around on the coast of the North Sea and one of the largest harbors in the world. It's one of those can't miss deals. There are a lot of things to do in Rotterdam and this is a great time to be there.
The Netherlands is one of those amazing countries where so many things happen. In Amsterdam they have indulgences, at The Hague they prosecute international criminals. In Rotterdam, they work both by land and by sea, and they make a gorgeous skyline. It has been said that they play in Amsterdam, they live in The Hague, and they work in Rotterdam. So, take the time to get away from the cities in Holland that we hear about all the time and see the modernity and beauty and creativity that is Rotterdam. Enjoy!
It's spring in NYC, and that means it's time for some new tips for the traveler. I love New York and it's close by and one of my favorite cities in the world. I love hanging out there, even when I don't have a plan, which was the case last week when my husband and I just hopped a train for our anniversary and headed down there.
We started out with lunch in Chinatown. H.K. Wonton Garden has about a thousand things on their menu, and they're all good. Little note for Chinatown: check out Columbus Park in spring to see the wonderful blooming trees. You can also always hear great Asian music there and if you like you can play Mah Jong. Remember when in Chinatown, eat on a side street, haggle with the shop keepers, and check out the murals.
Chinatown was heavily damaged during 9/11 and they are still working on their environment down there. It's taken years, but it looks really good now and the addition of the mural art is great.
Battery Park is already busy this season. There was already a line for the security booth to go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. There were already a ton of people at Castle Clinton too. The newest addition to the waterfront at the Battery was the globe exhibit. New York has a wonderful arts atmosphere and in the spring, there are always a bunch of new art exhibits in the street. This is one of this year's additions. Find out more at knowtomorrow.org. This exhibit is all about conservation, global responsibility and natural resources. The globes are cool too.
And then there are the bunnies. It's called Intrude. They are currently residing at Brookfield Place, the high end mall in Battery Park City. I'm not sure about these guys, but there are a lot of them both inside and outside the mall. They are interesting, so check it out. If you're not into the bunnies, come for the sunset on the waterfront. It's fabulous.
We stopped by O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub while we were in the neighborhood like we always do. This is still my favorite place around the World Trade Center to visit. This is where a lot of rescue workers spent their down time, and the people who visit here get to see a real memorial to the great men and women who did some amazing work during that time. There are patches and memorabilia from fire and rescue, ambulance, and police organizations from all over the world. It's very moving, and the restaurant is a great place to eat and hang out as well.
Then there's Citibike. This is hands down one of the coolest things I've ever done in NYC. The waterfront is an amazing place to bike. It's $10 a day. You can't beat it. I didn't get a chance to do it this time, because of an injury, but I love it and will always recommend it.
I've been to the memorial and found it moving. I have not been to the museum yet. This trip we did stop in to see forever at the One World Observatory. I want to tell you what I saw and what I experienced and what I thought. I'm sorry if you find my views offensive.
We bought our tickets. We were guided through a hall where they ran a movie about the building, and showed us an exhibit of rocks that were simulations of the rock under Manhattan, then had a movie about the evolution of Manhattan in the elevator to the top of the building. When we reached the top of the building there was a show about the building that opened up to a view from the building, but that wasn't the observation deck yet. We entered another room where they offered to rent us an Ipad so that we could hold it up and have all the landmarks identified for just $15 dollars on top of the $32 that you pay to go up the building. Then they send you to another place where they insist on taking your picture so they can sell that to you when you come back down. I don't know the price for that. Then you follow the yellow brick road some more to a restaurant that is really more like a snack bar and bar. Then you go down a level, and there may have been many levels; I'm not sure, to the actual observation deck. There is a souvenir shop there as well.
After you walk on the camera image of the street below, you finally get to see Forever. And you can. I saw some of the most amazing scenery from up there and it was beautiful. Helpful hint: they have two stands that you can stand by and read that do the same thing the the Ipads do. You don't need to rent one.
You can even see O'Hara's from up there. Here's the thing. The tower is a cool tourist attraction. I have to give that to them. I was just under the impression that it would be more of a memorial to the buildings that used to be there. The whole event was a three ring circus and it seemed a little tacky. Just my impression. The view is beautiful. I'm glad that the building is there. I think that the memorial pools are an amazing testament to all those who lost their lives. It's just that I expected more class when I visited the observation deck. I'm glad I went. However, all things considered, I will probably not go back up there again. I might, but I doubt it. You know where I will visit again. O'Hara's.
If you like tall buildings, come to One WTC for that. You truly can see forever. If you come to see it and think that it will be a tribute, not so much. There's a museum and a memorial for that. I was just hoping that it would translate to the tower.
At any rate, it's spring in NYC. It's a great time to visit the city. By the beginning of May most things will be up and running, and New York is one of the greatest cities in the world. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 21, 2016
When I was a kid, one of my dreams was to go to Egypt and see the pyramids. Millions of people have had that dream. Millions of people have lived that dream. But, times change, governments change, people change, and dreams follow suit. I changed my dreams about going to Egypt at one point, because of a lot of things. But, not because I was no longer interested. There are so many things to see and do in Egypt that I couldn't possibly talk about all of them here. So, instead of that, I've decided to hit a topic head on.
Tahrir Square is at the heart of Cairo. It's one of those dreaded traffic circle areas that I personally hate. It's been the center of so many things in history, that it's hard to list them all. At one point there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint not far from there.
Unfortunately, in 2011 this square became the center of attention for all media in the world as Egypt had a revolution. Now, anyone will tell you that a little revolution now and then is a good thing, but that attitude dries up fast when it really happens. It's over now, but people still remember. People drive through there every day again, but it sticks in people's minds. Then you have a Russian plane crash and it gets worse. Soon, nobody wants to come and see your pyramids because they are afraid that something will happen to them. It's the way these days. At the least little thing, people run away. They're wussies.
Egyptian people suffer from this. In a country that depends on tourism for so much of its income, this type of event can be catastrophic. In some parts of Egypt, tourism revenues have been down as much as %95. That's terrible. But this is why you should come and visit.
The pyramids are still at Giza. They've been there for thousands of years, and a little revolution won't get rid of them if WWII didn't. The great part about coming now is all the personal attention you get. You can get a great guide easy these days. The crowds aren't there either. You can roam around the place unannoyed. There won't be people clogging up your iconic pictures. It's time to take advantage of this.
Valley of the Kings, Saqqara, Luxor. They're all still there, and they are all virtually free of tourists. This is one of those times to strike while it's hot. It's almost summer, and the weather will soon be a little unfriendly itself. Now is the time to go. I know it sounds crazy to go to one of those middle eastern hot spots, but it's not. As long as you don't do anything stupid, you'll be fine. Just don't offend the Egyptians. Follow their customs and be polite. They love tourists. They make a lot of money off of tourism, and they have been hurting for a while. Bring your money to spend and you will be well taken care of.
Resort hotels are still there. Nile River Cruises are still there. The cruises are closing down all over the place which means that it's just another reason to go. What if no one came, and all the river cruises close down? What if no one could ever book a Nile River Cruise again? They need your business. Go and do. It's a beautiful country with beautiful people and exotic locations. It's Egypt. This place looks like another world. You don't want to miss out on that because of a little revolution and a plane crash.
Don't give up your dreams of seeing pyramids because of some bad luck on the part of the Egyptian people. Take the chance to see an amazing place and meet amazing people. Sure, check the State Department site for potential problems, but do that wherever you go. Be practical. Check your facts before you go. Check the Egyptian tourism site to make sure you know how to behave. Take your shoes off in a mosque. Don't dress outrageously. Don't expect everyone to speak English. Learn the rules, but still go and have a great time. Don't risk missing a once in a lifetime experience that you've dreamed of since you were a little kid. Just go. Go and have an amazing time in an amazing place full of amazing people. Forget the revolution. Go and see the pyramids. Go and help the economy of a great country. Go and see Egypt before the crowds come back. You'll be glad that you led the way. Enjoy!