Amsterdam Canal Tour

Almost everyone recommended going on a canal tour while in Amsterdam, and as I was doing my research I found the perfect company to take us – Those Dam Boat Guys! The name alone got my attention because who doesn’t love a good pun? After reading their description, I knew this tour would be something we would end up loving.

Here’s the description on their site, “Join us on the beautiful canals of Amsterdam for exactly the experience you’re looking for. Those Dam Boat Guys want you to enjoy the sights and sounds from a small, silent, electric boat and learn about the stranger than fiction history of this weird jigsaw puzzle of a city we call home. Bring whatever you’d like to eat, drink, and smoke (wink wink) if you feel so inclined. Pat yourself on the back because you’ve found the best, most laid back, fun and informative boat tour in Amsterdam.”

I’ll cut to the chase – this was one of the best tours we’ve ever done!

We met Alex, our guide, at a small cafe (that happened to be on the same canal as our hotel). He was immediately warm and kind, making sure none of us was run over by a bike on our way to the boat. As we all climbed aboard he told us it would rain (so it wouldn’t), offered blankets and asked where we wanted to go. I believe the general consensus was to “see cool sh*t” and we were off!

IMG_2941

What a great way to see such a fabulous city! Alex was hilarious and knowledgeable. The group was chill – all sharing drinks and snacks. IMG_2942IMG_2945IMG_2947We learned a lot about the Dutch and their way of life – a lot of which we hope North America picks up on soon! IMG_2950IMG_2944At one point on the open water we ran into the other two “Dam Boat Guys” who were making a music video for one of the guys’ wife’s birthday. They pulled the two boats together and asked us to be a part of it. Uh, of course!
IMG_7052The entire tour was so great we were sad when it ended just over 90 minutes later, but what an experience!IMG_2951IMG_2958Alex afterwards gave us a few great restaurant recommendations, one we tried that night and was phenomenal! I would definitely recommend Those Dam Boat Guys if anyone is looking for a unique and fun canal tour in Amsterdam.

Tip: Don’t be like me! I booked the tour for the wrong date and only realized when they called asking where were were (uh, still in Toronto). The guys were awesome about it and we fixed everything so that we could be at our tour on the proper date.

Advertisements

Magical Doors: Lisbon

There is something…magical…about doors in different cities. Each time I go to a new place, I notice that they each have unique doors and I fall in love.

I’ve been to Lisbon twice, but it really does take slowing down to notice beauty in small things, especially doors.

Here are my favourites:

IMG_3188IMG_3217IMG_3220IMG_3222IMG_3258IMG_3281IMG_3280

 

 

Fantastic Belem

Belém is a municipality of Lisbon, a short cab ride (or train) away. It was suggested we spend a few hours here as a day trip from Lisbon for a few sites, but more importantly for the pastel de nata!

Here are some of my favourite parts of our day trip…

Tower of Belém

IMG_2430

The tower was built in 1519 and used as fortification of the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belém. It is stunning, and so beautiful to walk through, with different passageways and old cannons ready to protect.

Tip: Try to go early in the day. The line gets long when big tour groups arrive.

Jerónimos Monastery

IMG_2450 RIMG_2454

The monastery is for the Order of Saint Jerome, completed in 1601 and closed in 1837.  It is believed that the original recipe for pastel de nata was developed here by a nun. Both the monestary and tower are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Tip: Closed Mondays, as well as the first of January and May, as well as Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

Casa Pastéis de Belém

IMG_2462IMG_2460IMG_2459

This bakery was the first in Lisbon to sell Pastel de Nata. These pastries are crispy on the outside, creamy custard on the inside and topped with icing sugar and cinnamon – my mouth is watering just thinking about them. This is definitely the best place to eat them! The story goes, there are five bakers in Lisbon, who are hand picked by the Casa Pastéis de Belém, who know the recipe. These men have the recipe memorized, and can never travel together (in the car or otherwise) or eat at the same restaurant.

Tip: Don’t wait in line to get the pastries to go. Walk inside (the place is huge) and get a table.

This municipality has so much to offer and is so close to Lisbon! Be sure to take a little trip and (at least) try the pastel de nata!

Quick Take: Barcelona

We visited Barcelona on our (now annual) Eurotrip in 2016. Here is the quick take!

Visited: May, 2016
Days in Barcelona: 4
Travelled to Barcelona by: Plane from Amsterdam
Stayed at:
NH Barcelona Centro

Favourite site:
La Boqueria Market and the Sagrada Familia
Favourite restaurants: La Rita and Sagardi
Favourite Squares: Placa de Catalunya
Tours: Hop on, hop off bus
Must Do:
Visit the Park Guell, Sagrada Familia and La Boqueria Market. We loved the hop on, hop off bus because we got to see so much of the city we wouldn’t have otherwise known about or made time for.
If you have time: Spend a day on the beach but beware of a ton of people selling things.
Day trips: None.

Quick Take_Barcelona.jpg

Heineken Experience

One of the things we knew we wanted to do while visiting Amsterdam was a tour of Heineken. Starting to do some research we learned that Heineken offers two of what they call “Heineken Experience”. A “Heineken Experience”, which cost 16 Euro, or a VIP Experience, costing 49 Euro. We are “once in a lifetime” tourers and went with the VIP Experience.

Probably one of the world’s best known beers, Heineken was founded in 1864 by Gerard Adriaan Heineken. The building we toured was the primary brewing facility for Heineken from 1867 until 1988. A few years later, in 1991, it was opened to the public as a brewery tour and visitation centre.

IMG_2962.JPG

The first part of our tour was what those who paid for the regular “Heineken Experience” got to see – a bit of history of the brand, the owners (the Heineken family) as well as information about the development of Heineken-A Yeast, which is used in all of Heineken’s beers around the world.

IMG_2970IMG_2968IMG_2969IMG_2971

After learning about the history and ingredients, we were brought to the original (very stunning) brewing room.

IMG_2973IMG_2975IMG_7084

Next was the stables. From it’s insception, until 1965 Heineken had horses helping in the manufacturing and delivering beer. Now they still have a handful of horses in the Amsterdam stables for promotional purposes.

IMG_2976IMG_2977

We were then brought up to the meeting area. A space on the top floor of the building where anyone can host weddings, events or meetings. It was beautiful (and obviously had a bar with Heineken on tap). The best part though? The view.

IMG_2979IMG_2980IMG_2982IMG_2983

Then came my favourite part – something that you only get during the VIP tour – beer and cheese tasting! Let me explain. With each entry to the Heineken tour everyone gets two beers at the end (and a third when they teach you about the bubbles). On the VIP tour, you get to sample five different Heineken branded beers that are matched with cheeses. Our tour guide Jos was amazing. Answering all of our questions about the different beers and brands Heineken owns (and giving us a little extra beer or cheese because our group was small).

IMG_7080IMG_2988IMG_2989

As we were enjoying out lovely beer and cheese pairings, we were surprised with our own personalized Heineken bottles (which I’m happy to say made it home safely).

IMG_7074.JPG

The tour finished with the “Brew You” ride, a bit of a lesson on how to pour Heineken (and another taste). Then we were free to roam the media areas and pick up our two tastes.

IMG_7078IMG_7111

We had a blast (those eight beers may have helped hah). We would definitely recommend paying the extra for the VIP Tour.

Beach Life in Cascais

Oh, Cascais. I dream of these beautiful beaches and lovely town almost nightly. As I mentioned, part of this year’s Lisbon jaunt was spending time on the beach. Cascais was the perfect option! We had visited for a day in 2015 (while my mom was traveling Portugal with us) but we didn’t have a chance to explore the town, we had plopped our butts down on beach. This year, we visited Cascais two separate days.

Here are some photos of Cascais:

IMG_3182IMG_3183IMG_3184IMG_3179IMG_3185IMG_7270IMG_3203IMG_7256IMG_7271

Here are some photos of us enjoying Cascais:

IMG_7308IMG_7306IMG_7310

Tips for visiting Cascais:

  • If you’re traveling to Cascais from Lisbon, take the train. It’s a 40 minute, 6 Euro round trip from the Cais do Sodre train station (the one closest to the water). This train will also take you to Belem.
  • If you want to spend most of the day at the beach, try to get there around 10, walk around for a while and get to the beach by 11, if possible. The beach starts to fill up afterwards. Cascais offers a ton of things to see, though. Maybe consider one beach day and one exploring day.
  • We were at the Praia da Rainha, the Queen’s Beach (or at least it was). There are a ton of different beaches in the town. Choose one that’s best for you!
  • The Praia da Rainha has a private area run in conjunction with the restaurant, Cascas. We could be served lunch and beers throughout the day (and took full advantage). The chicken sandwich was to die for! It also allows you access to the restaurant’s bathrooms.
  • For us to rent two chairs and an umbrella was 20 Euro. Six each for the chairs, eight for the umbrella.

Quick Take: Amsterdam

We visited Amsterdam on our (now annual) Eurotrip in 2016. Here is the quick take!

Visited: May, 2016
Days in Amsterdam: 5
Travelled to Amsterdam by: Plane from home.
Stayed at:
 Hotel Sebastian’s

Favourite site:
The canals!
Favourite restaurants: Cafe de Klos, Moeders, Cafe Winkel (for apple pie) and Haringhandel Jonk (for lunch on the go).
Favourite Squares: Dam Square.
Tours: Those Dam Boat Guys canal tour. Heineken Experience VIP Tour.
Must Do:
Rent a bike to see the city. Visit the Van Gough Museum and Amsterdam sign. Walk through the Red Light District. Visit the shopping street – Kalverstraat.
If you have time: Check out Rijksmuseum.Walk through the flower market, Bloemenmarkt.
Day trips: Keukenhof
Tip: If you want to visit the Anne Frank Museum book your tickets online far in advance.

Quick Take_Amsterdam

La Sagrada Familia – A Spiritual Experience

I was raised with religion and believe in some higher power but, truthfully, haven’t practiced religion in a long time.

Walking up to and into La Sagrada Familia, though, was a spiritual experience. I’m going to be completely honest, the place was packed with individuals and groups visiting – great for the church because that’s how they’re funding the completion. Not great because, I feel that it took away from the experience a little.

Outside La Sagrada Familia

The detail and work that went into the facades of the church are jaw dropping and stunning – no wonder it’s taking so long to complete. There is still a lot of work to be done, though, and they’re hoping for completion in 2026.

IMG_3010IMG_3012IMG_3019IMG_3020

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Once inside, the church comes to life! Gaudi was influenced by the natural world, as you can see from the tree-like pillars inside. An incredible amount of stained glass and natural light illuminate the entire church. It is so easy to feel at peace here.

As we were walking around (and waiting for our time to go up the tower) Ave Maria started to play through the speakers. I sat down on one of the side benches and started to cry. Experiencing one of the most unique churches in existence with a stunning rendition of Ave Maria playing, I was genuinely moved to tears.

IMG_3015IMG_3016IMG_3025IMG_3034IMG_3027IMG_3030

The View from the Tower

We paid for the trip up the tower. Though it wasn’t worth the money, we did get a great view of Barcelona.

IMG_3045

 

Tips:

  • Buy your tickets online. Even with these tickets you will have to stand in a line.
  • Get the audioguide with your ticket online. Note: this is a second line you must get into, after you pass into the gates.
  • The trip up the tower extra was not worth the extra money, in my opinion. You got one or two good views and then basically walk down a stairwell.
  • Plan for an hour to an hour and a half maximum. Unless you’d like to hang out in the church for longer.
  • Consider buying a hop on hop off bus tour for two days and have this and the Parc Guell be one of your two days. The hop on hop off tour we did stopped at both of those right after each other.

Lisbon 2016

We fell in love with Lisbon on our last trip and knew we wanted to get back. We positioned Lisbon at the end of our trip for a few reasons:

  1. It would be a close city to fly home from as it’s pretty far west in Europe.
  2. We’ve been there so we have a comfort level and it’s always nice to end a trip that way.
  3. We figured we’d be tired so we had planned a few beach days to relax before coming home.

We also realized this return trip would be a perfect time to get to do some of the things we missed the first time ’round like the Castelo Sao Jorge. Unfortunately when we got there and looked at the weather forecast, we realized we’d have less beach days than originally planned which meant more strolls around the city. All fine by us!

We got extra lucky because we were there the last weekend of the month – the only weekend there is a market in the Praca Figueira. The market was filled with local artisans making clothes and jewellery, a fabulous port sangria area, cheese, meats, honey, the works! We visited twice for lunch and ate pork sandwiches, chorizo plates, a fabulous sandwich that had meat and melted cheese, all while drinking our sangria and beer! What a fun market, covered from the inevitable rain.

Here are some snaps from this year’s Lisbon visit:

IMG_7267IMG_3228IMG_3187IMG_3216IMG_3292

I’m so glad we made it back to Lisbon! I can’t think of a better way to end a vacation!

Keukenhof

We really wanted to visit Holland’s tulip park, Keukenhof, during our time in Amsterdam. Unfortunately it was closing for the season just a few days after we arrived so we made sure it was one of the first places we visited. We bought out tickets online and made our way to the park via public transportation (the local bus – one to the airport and a second to the park). Despite some of the flowers having already died, as it was very close to the end of the season, we got to see so many beautiful blooms!

Here are some of my favourites:

IMG_2796IMG_2806IMG_2816IMG_2821IMG_2861IMG_2822IMG_2823 2IMG_2881IMG_2904.JPGIMG_2870

We had no idea there were so many types of tulips! What an incredible day!

Here are my tips for visiting Keukenhof:

  • Bring an umbrella and rain jacket if there is any chance of rain.
  • Bring water and some snacks.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. The park is huge (32 acres) so you’ll be doing lots of walking.
  • It is almost all wheelchair accessible.
  • It is great for kids.
  • If you buy the ticket that includes the round trip bus ride, know that the Keukenhof bus from the airport isn’t at the regular bus terminal. It’s around the corner. Signage isn’t great, though, so it can be confusing.
  • Make sure your camera is charged!