Thursday, 20 April 2017

Amsterdam Holidays

Amsterdam Holidays

After Copenhagen and Rome, Amsterdam was one of the top city break destinations in 2016 which sadly, I couldn't squeeze in, as I had taken up most of my annual leave. With the new year, visiting The Netherlands was top of my list and I couldn't have chosen a more perfect time at the end of March to see the beautiful city of Amsterdam. 

I jetted off after work and spend four days, including lots of sightseeing, walking along the canals and enjoying the magnificent weather. Amsterdam has definitely left me with a great impression which I'd like to share with you in today's post.   

My First Trip To Amsterdam & First Impressions

I have to confess whilst strolling around the canals on a gloomy morning on my very first day, Amsterdam didn't charm me much. I couldn't warm up to it nor "see" what others have told me I should. I barely noticed the narrow canals, appreciated the unique houses or paid attention to the little shops spread here now and there. I guess I was knackered from the workweek and a short night of sleep. 

Add in a one hour walk from the hotel into the city on an empty stomach and you get me. Luckily, my friend and travel companion Mille suggested to head straight to the Pancake Bakery in Prinsengracht and after a massive breakfast consisting of a crepe loaded with sweet William Pears, ice cream, whipped cream and a good splash of chocolate sauce, my world was restored and I gave the city a second chance - and suddenly Amsterdam's awesomeness slowly unfolded in front of my eyes.

1. Amsterdam Is A Treasure Trove For Food & Pancakes

One thing is for sure: Amsterdam is famous for its notorious coffee shops and the red light district, but the city has so much more to offer - and the food is one of the many beautiful things you should discover for yourself in Amsterdam. It is a breakfast heaven if you, like me, LOVE pancakes. Pancakes in every form, with every filling and topping you could imagine - and they also come in every price range. 

The Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht) renowned for being the "best pancake place in town" doesn't disappoint. The Dutch version of a pancake is basically a French crepe that comes with a lot of toppings. I decided on an English themed pancake which came with William Pears, ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce at a hefty price of 15 EUR (£12). It was delicious and the fact I had ice cream and whipped cream before lunchtime was just so unreal (but soooooooooo good).

Luckily the density of pancake houses in Amsterdam works out on every two meters so for another day we breakfasted at Pancakes! which has three branches spread around town. I fell in love with their American pancakes which I ordered twice. My first time included maple syrup and whipped cream whilst on my second visit I had American pancakes with chocolate and coconut flakes. At a price of 9 EUR (£6.50), these were absolutely amazing and I would say the best breakfast deal in Amsterdam.

Pancakes Amsterdam chocolate with coconut flakes

Beautiful Little Cafes And Michelin Star Restaurants Along Amsterdam's Canals

It's not just breakfast, Amsterdam has beautiful little restaurants hidden away in the labyrinth of canals. One evening I discovered the Michelin-guided restaurant De Belhamel (Brouwersgracht) which served top-notch food on the night. 

I'm usually super picky with food and I would normally not touch any of the vegetables served, but the restaurant served high cuisine so I could rely on the high quality of the food and that it would taste great - and it was incredible! 

I had fresh homemade gnocchi, with vegetables, fresh mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes with a light basil pesto sauce. It was divine and at 23 EUR (£20) an amazing culinary experience. The intimate atmosphere and ambient of a 1920's salon further contributed to an unforgettable evening and I'll definitely return to Amsterdam JUST to have dinner at De Belhamel.

De Belhamel gnocchi with basil pesto

2. Amsterdam Comes With A Heavy Price Tag

I started drafting this post before I went to Paris and I thought Amsterdam was pricey. Especially the taxi journey from the airport burnt a hole in my wallet. I arrived late at night, was hungry and needed the bathroom so you can imagine I wasn't in the mood of working out a foreign language how to get to the station and then to the hotel (which was a bit outside of the centre and I didn't know the area). I went the way of least resistance and took a taxi. The 15-minute ride cost me 40 EUR (£35) which would equal one tank load for my car and cover me for 300 miles easily. At first, I thought this might be because it was an airport taxi, but even on the way back, it came to the same price. Not impressed but learned a lesson for the next time.

3. Let's Get Lost Part 1 : The Canals of Amsterdam

Once you look closer, the canals reveal unique features with an irresistible charm and character. You can easily get lost walking around for hours in the canals and over my entire stay, I made it to 70km (40 miles). There's so much to see and to discover. Every bridge is photogenic, the small streets are quiet and peaceful and the wharf houses are all built differently with unique features and details.

Amsterdam canal houses the musicians

4. Let's Get Lost Part 2 : The Shiphol Airport

The airport is massive, I would say it rivals Heathrow. Too big, too confusing and simply too massive. The entire structure is overwhelming, segregated into sections which are widespread and do not have the same stores, f.ex. if you fancied a Mc Donalds but where in section B, you would have to walk a good 20 minutes over to Terminal 2 into section D. The walk then from your section to the actual gate was equally as long and to be honest, I felt lost on several occasions. 

5. The Quiet & Neat Streets Of Amsterdam 

Amsterdam is less stressful than London. Due to the narrow canal streets, there's barely any traffic. It is a quiet and peaceful atmosphere with the occasional soft sound of swashing water. During my stay, I heard an ambulance and police car twice. The town is still packed with people but it is moderate and you don't get squished and squashed around. You can still walk into a restaurant without queuing endlessly or if you have to, it's not that long of a wait. Nothing really disturbs you, the canals are also regularly cleaned and as they are artificial and filled with fresh water the city doesn't smell at all.

Amsterdam bridge
Amsterdam boat trip

6. Even Amsterdam Has Tourist Traps

Any capital city has tourist traps and Amsterdam makes no exception. I was pretty disappointed by Amsterdam central station which looks impressive from the outside but inside there's not much, bar a few shops and it is rather small in comparison to other European cities. 

Next to mention is the Rijksmuseum which I found bland and boring. Apart from Rembrandt's Night Watch, there's not much you actually want to see. The entire collection stretches over two floors and though there are some cool pieces exhibited it's not worth the money of 17.50 EUR (£15). Instead, I can highly recommend paying the Museum for Handbags & Purses in the prestigious Herengracht a visit.

Rembrandts night watch at the rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum Library Amsterdam mini break

7. The Accessible & International City Of Amsterdam

The city is very easy to navigate around and even if you end up off the beaten tracks, you never get totally lost thanks to the regular structure and the three main Grachts of the city structure. The city has a cosmopolitan and international flair. The Dutch are all very friendly, bar their strange habit of staring, and speak fluent English and German so you can communicate easily. In general, I felt welcomed by the Dutch and they seem to be a pretty relaxed nation.

8. Bad Habit Of The Dutch: Staring

During the first two days, I noticed people tend to stare lots which made me a bit uncomfortable. My colleague mentioned later that staring is a "Dutch" thing and common.

Amsterdam Canal Houses at Night

9. Motorbikes Will Run You Over In Amsterdam's City Centre

Amsterdam is known for its rich cycling culture but there are equally as many motorbikes and scooters on the roads - and on the pavement! More than once I found a motorised bike cutting me off on the pavement and nearly running me over. It seems they can use cycling lanes too which is very strange to watch and to experience. 

10. Open Boat Tours Are Ideal To Explore Amsterdam's Canals

Most canal tours start in the area around the central station and last for around 1h, which I find is a bit short. There's so much to see when you're on the water streets and the experience should last just a bit longer. Some boats are roofed and offer afternoon tea or you can rent a boat at 15 EUR (£12) per person and have unlimited drinks for the tour. Mille and I opted for an open boat tour which lasted for 75 minutes. We had a very knowledgeable and funny tour guide, plus the weather was magnificent so we enjoyed the sun and got the most out of the canal tour experience.

Amsterdam canal tour
Amsterdam sun set
Please click on the image to enlarge the Amsterdam panorama

I had a wonderful first time in Amsterdam and I've seen a lot more than just the points mentioned. I visited the Anne Frank house, went shopping, relaxed in the Botanical Gardens and also enjoyed the most beautiful sunset ever over the roofs of Amsterdam. The city's lovely charm and character have convinced me to come back one day and I can't wait to do so and explore more of this versatile place. 

Thanks for reading, 

Till next time, 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Fitness First Blogger Event

Fitness First Blogger Event

With two city breaks and an exciting blogger event to organise in between, Q2 of 2017 started promising. This time I worked for Fitness First and organised an evening of spinning and athletics at their newly refurbished gym in Fenchurch Street.

Located very conveniently in the Aldgate area, the Fitness First gym in Fenchurch Street is easily accessible from Sky Garden or Tower Hill. The gym had recently had a total revamp and now has a classroom for body combat, a spinning box and an athletics track added to the usual workout facilities. To spread the word about the brand new additions, I invited eight fitness blogger along for an evening of spinning and athletics with a competitive twist. 

Fitness First Blogger Event At Fenchurch Street London

The evening started with a 20-minute spinning class and our Fitness First instructor Rachel made sure our bloggers got their heart rates up. After a short warm-up period, there was pumping club music, multi-coloured lighting, lots of sweat and motivation filling the room in no time. Rachel prepared a full-on action-packed choreography and soon the room burst with a high energy atmosphere.

This time I hired my friend Ben Kapur as my photographer for the night. He kindly shot the event and made sure no one had to worry about missing out on taking photos whilst working out. To be honest the lighting in the spinning room was challenging and Ben did a fantastic job in capturing everyone in great shots. I've shared my favourite pictures from the night including Clare preparing for the running session and Rachel motivating the bloggers during the spinning class. He even cheekily caught me in an unattentive moment!

Fitness First Fenchurch Spinning
Fitness First Event Fenchurch

Getting Our Bloggers Out Of Breath At The Fitness First Blogger Event

After the spinning, Rachel ran a 30-minute athletics class with the bloggers including a variety of exercises including running on the track and small functional training sessions. This time though, we spiced things up a bit with a competitive element. As a special treat, our top three performing bloggers would go home with a FitBit Charge Two to further support them in their fitness regime and workout. 

Around 8pm we finished the event with a post-workout salad and a chat which was great as I met some of the bloggers during my John Lewis MyWellbeing event back in February and it was a lovely occasion to catch up with everyone - especially as I don't have much time these days for blogging, I love that my job provides me with the opportunity to still engage with the community and contribute actively to it.

Fitness First Fenchurch Blogging Event

And of course, we did an obligatory group picture :) It was a lovely evening and I had a lot of fun being a part of the event and making it special for our bloggers. 

Thanks for reading, 

Till next time,
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