Sunday, 29 July 2012

LONDON: Come On Britain - Show Us How “Great” You Are

Monday and the first working day whilst the Olympics take place: in the weeks before everyone was speculating about too many tourists, making me nervous about getting stuck at a tube station. I decided to take an early tube as I expected huge traffic at the train station. This was not the case though. I also took all my running clothes with me as I wanted to avoid too much traffic and travel times after work.

I ran from Green Park to Clapham Junction along Hyde Park and Victoria which was a nice run, but not at all necessary! The tubes were totally fine and even less busy on some days. Some lines like the Central Line had some issues, but this was one of few.
Even at Vauxhall they opened up a new area which made it easier and quicker for travellers to get to the tubes. A very nice feeling though, running across the Mall where yesterday the cycling circuit went through. Hyde Park was packed with people, having a walk alongside some beautiful nature.

You would not have expected it from what everyone was saying, but London was really prepared for the Olympics. At the train station Victoria, promoters handed out samples such as maps and other information for tourists. Even in the city, volunteers stood everywhere and handed out maps and answered any questions.

Comparing the amount of tourists in the centre to normally, Oxford Circus and Regent Street was a bit busier as tourist groups walked up and down the shopping mile. Even the tourist buses have been very well visited.

Friday, 27 July 2012

LONDON: Queen’s Tour Of Duty At The Opening Ceremony

 The long-awaited opening ceremony finally took place at the Olympic Stadium. A lot of Brits watched it from home, wearing clothes with the Union Jack on it. I have to confess that I was a little bit confused right at the beginning, as the whole scene appeared overloaded.

It was not just a stage with one scene, the whole stage included several actions taking place at the same time. The more and more it went on, it finally made sense and the British history, starting with the Industrial Revolution and going on with the invention of the internet, was very impressive, especially the scene when the Queen dived down from a helicopter with James Bond star Daniel Craig, and Mr Bean being involved with the orchestra.

The ceremony was an on-going excitement. I kept asking myself, “what surprise is coming next?” Director Danny Boyle did not miss a thing. Other stars like Muhammed Ali and David Beckham came on stage. It was a very good mixture of history, music, British culture and arts. It basically showed every area which Great Britain is good at and known for.

The Brits sitting next to me seemed to be very proud about this. My friends from home were texting and asking me what the meaning of each scene was. I found that quite funny.

Especially the part showing the NHS, or National Health Service, which would have been for some other countries not as evident as they do not know the concept behind it, nor that British healthcare is free. All in all it was a very original, emotional, stunning and constantly-entertaining show. Well done Great Britain!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

LONDON: Olympic Torch Marathon Reaches Final Destination

Two days before the Olympics started, the torch was brought into central London. People started queuing up on Regent Street, either leaving work early or taking a break, just to see the golden light being carried around. The atmosphere was brilliant. On both sides of the road people stood with their Union Jack flags in their hands.
A camera team was there too. As soon as the camera lens faced the crowd, spectators started getting super excited and started yelling.

A few policemen had to look after the people, making enough room for the upcoming coaches and athletes. A hard job as everyone tried to be in the front row and some of them started pushing forward. Me and my colleague, Valentina, made it to the first row and asked the policeman where the torch is at the moment. He said they are across the corner and we started hearing the music coming, with the red bus and coaches such as the one from Samsung and Coca-Cola.

Promoters started heating up the crowd with music and handing out some giveaways like little banners and flags. Standing there with hundreds of other people made me realise that the Olympics will start soon and I also got into the mood of cheering.

The police were very friendly and calm and the ones on the motorbike gave a “high-five” to the crowd. When the actual man carrying the precious torch in a completely white suit came along, it was for just a few seconds that he ran along the road with the brilliant symbol in his hands.

We were quite upset, because we would have thought we could admire it for a bit longer. After the torch and the carrier left, everyone went back to work or continued their planned tasks. That was very impressive that for a few minutes the traffic seemed to stop in the centre and then, after the torch left, everything returned to normal.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

AMSTERDAM: Sex, Drugs and Cycling

Hoi Amsterdam! I had planned my trip to Amsterdam for July as everyone I know had been already there and everyone is so fascinated by the city. I wanted to experience it with my own eyes, and so I booked a trip for 3 days. The first thing I observed was that there are actually roads designed solely for bikes. I guess that every Amsterdammer owns at least one bike. I even felt compelled to jump on one as everyone was cycling and it seems to be the best option to get around. Pedestrians and car drivers really need to be careful and keep their eyes open as they drive very fast and can show up suddenly. 

As soon as I walked towards the city I saw all the canals and the bridges. It is a very pretty city with its narrow streets and reminded me a bit of Venezia. I walked through the flower market and went into a cheese basement (Henri Willig, Cheese & More  and Kaaskelder) where they had all different types of Gouda

You could try the cheese and also the traditional caramalised Waffles. 

Next I went to Leidseplein which is a really cool place to hang out as it is always busy and all the bars and shops are there. I wanted to get a better view from Amsterdam so I went to the Blue bar. It gives you a 360-degree view of Amsterdam. 

On Saturday, me and my friends went first to the Noordermarkt and did a canal tour on a boat afterwards. It was so relaxing sitting in the boat with music and enjoying all the different parts of the city. It is actually quite challenging guiding a boat as the canals cross and big boats always have priority in traffic. 

For dinner we went to my friend's parents restaurant Villa Zomerdijk in Velsen-Zuid. It is about 45 minutes from the city, but worth the trip because it is so idyllic and the food is very unique. Another very good place for especially steak is Lotje Cafe. 

For the evening we went back to the centre, Leidseplein, and had a drink in the Palladium. Next we went to De Pijp which is great for bar hopping. 

On Sunday, I wanted to go to the Anne Frank Museum which is close to Westermarkt. There is always a huge queue in front. I made it in after 30 minutes of waiting and it was well worth it. 

Close to the museum is The Pancake Bakery which is also very good to visit. Unfortunately, I did not have time to go to the Van Gogh and Rijks museum

Next I went to Damstraat and headed to the Likeurstokerij Wijnand Fockink Opgericht for one drink and then to the Red Light District. The bar is well known for it's Gin in different flavours and the bar tenders who take their time to talk you through the different flavours. They are also very helpful in case you have any questions related to Amsterdam's history. 

I did not have the chance to see it by night, so I had to see it by day. We went through two narrow streets and watched the girls in the windows posing in their tiny suits. 
My next mission was to see, and try, a Coffee Shop

We went to one nearby and had a coffee there. I know, you usually do not go for a coffee, but it was just for a visit and to have a look at the menu. 

Another good hint for dinner is the Indonesian restaurant, Blauw. Waterlooplein is very cool for people who love vintage and second-hand things. 9 Straatjes, in Runstraat, is also great for shopping and Vondelpark for chilling out. If you want to spend a few days in a very nice luxurious hotel, I highly recommend the Conservatorium

Dank je wel Amsterdam, I had a lot of fun and Tot ziens!