Day Trips · Luxembourg · Travel Tips

The ABCs of a Child-Friendly Weekend in Luxembourg

Animals at Parc Merveilleux

Parc Merveilleux is a wonderful place for children and adults alike in the way it bring wildlife and nature to your fingertips.

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Come face to face with animals big and small, enjoy a walk through nature–or a train ride, have a picnic along the way or perhaps a relaxing drink at the cafe while kids go wild at one of the many exciting playgrounds.

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Brunch at Le Paris

Le Paris in Mondorf is another place for everyone, with a fine-dining feel, (some) affordable food, and an outdoor play area for children.

Their menu is reasonably varied and has at least a few vegetarian items on it; by holding the cheese, they can easily be turned vegan as well.

Celts at Bealtaine

On May 19 and 20, the Bealtaine Festival was in Luxembourg town.

Whether you’re a medieval nerd, a sword fanatic, a leather head, a metal head, a child, or none of the above, you’re certain to find entertainment among the various stalls, activities, and shows at this Celtic-themed festival.

At Bealtaine, you can converse with the craftsmen and women on their trade, take your child  from activity to activity, drink local brews, and watch scantily clad grown men play at being gladiators–don’t worry, it’s child appropriate (enough).

If you’re willing to wait until the woods darken, you might catch a fire show as well.

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Check out their website to see if you can spot these traveling Celts in your neck of the woods this year.

 

Day Trips · Netherlands · Travel Tips

Dagje Amsterdam

Amsterdam map
Suggestions on how to spend 24 hours in Amsterdam

09:00 Centraal Station to Oud-West

In under an hour, you can walk casually from Central Station to the most fabulous brunch in Amsterdam. You can pass the Dam, enjoy lots of canal scenery, and work up a solid appetite on your entirely doable 4 kilometer stroll. (My four-year-old daughter can do it and so can you.)

10:00 Brunch at Staring at Jacob

Get here when they open at ten and you’re guaranteed a table; any later and they might be packed. This American-owned brunch bar serves what they like to call “funky classics and daring dishes”.

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From the menu, we ordered Rasco (that’s fried chicken, waffles, soft scrambled eggs, maple syrup, and butter) and Fuckin Everything (that’s tons of vegetarian stuff with a fried egg on top). For the little one, a side of fried chicken, a side of waffles with syrup, and ketchup.

Besides an inventive menu and delicious food, I loved how every server who came to our table had a different accent, from Italian to British and Dutch to American. The staff were warm, friendly, and entirely accommodating.

11:00 Drinks at Cafe Lennep

While it’s lovely to catch an outside table for brunch along the canal, Staring at Jacob is on the shaded side of the street at this time of day.

Not to worry, walk to the other side of the canal and directly across from the brunch bar you’ll find Cafe Lennep, with benches literally along the water and in full sun.

Another reason to come here: they have an excellent selection of beers.

12:00 Shopping and tramming at Ten Kate Markt

Walk to the Ten Katestraat tram stop on the corner of Kinker and Ten Katestraat and, if it’s a Saturday, enjoy a typically Dutch markt with such treats as Hollands Nieuwe (fresh, raw haring), other fishes, poffertjes, and fried snacks to the tune of de hooiwagen (a street music wagon).

When you’ve had your fill of market goods, catch a tram to Nemo.

13:00 Exploring the Nemo Science Museum

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Nemo–Amsterdam’s big green boat–is a favorite spot in the city for all ages.

With six levels, each dedicated to its own area of science–elementa, fenomena, technium, elementa, humania, and energtica up on the roof–this hands-on museum has something to fascinate anyone.

Nemo is a place where babies and toddlers can perform their first scientific experiments and adults can learn new and amusing things about themselves and their world. I visited once at the age of six, once around sixteen, and again at twenty-six with my own daughter in tow; each experience stood out in its own way.

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17:00 An oasis in the city: Amsterdam Roest

Tired of the touristy bars in the city center? Head east along IJ (the waterfront separating Amsterdam Centraal from Amsterdam Noord) to Oostenburg and you’ll find Roest.

Inside, you can raid the coolers for drinks and snacks and simply pay at the bar. Not that you can’t order food and drinks as you would at any bar, but grabbing a bottle for yourself is certainly a cheaper and more convenient option.

When you are ready to order food, this is an excellent spot for dinner with great options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Outside, you can chill at tables and hammocks in the sand along the canal until the sun sets and you’re ready to leave or head back to the bar and check out the nights’ lineup.

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22:00 Waterkant: the tropical canal experience

Whether the sun has set or not, this another place to be in Amsterdam. However, if you show up too late on the weekend, you might not get in–which exactly what happened to us on Kingsday. It is a fun spot and worth checking out though and only a 30-minute walk from Central Station.

00:00 Highschool nostalgia at De School

There are of course all sorts of bars and clubs in Amsterdam but if you’re serious about pulling an all-nighter, this may very well be the place: a high-school-turned-night-club that stays open until 6 AM on the weekend. It’s is more than just a club and live music venue, too; besides the basement and concert room, they have a fine dining restaurant, a casual cafe, art exhibits, and a gym.

Arriving before midnight at De School will save you a potentially hour-or-longer wait at Amsterdam’s most popular alternative nightclub. People line up around the block to go to school but if they don’t look the part they can just as quickly be turned away. Standards for who gets in maybe not be what you’d expect.

Fun fact: once a month, De School hosts Het Weekend and keeps its doors open from Friday night to Sunday morning. With such a wide range of facilities, they say everything you need to last that out is right there.

06:00

Good question.

I would say: enjoy a quiet walk along the canals until you find something that’s open for breakfast.

As far as what’s open at 6 am in Amsterdam, I can’t say that I know. Any suggestions?

International · Interviews · Philippines · Travel Tips

Things to Know About Couchsurfing

An Interview with my First Host

Couchsurfing.

Sure, I’ve heard the word before and known such a thing existed, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that I took a serious look at it.

Although I no longer have a permanent home in the Philippines, I have been returning to the islands frequently and just last week I was there again before flying to the Netherlands.

With four days in Manila to sort out some business, run errands, and repack, I was looking into budget-friendly hotel and Airbnb options. Hoping to book a place with a reliable internet connection so I could still do my classes and online work, I was disappointed to find that nothing could guarantee that within the location and price range I was after.

On that account, I realized I might have to cancel or reschedule some of my classes and see what I could manage from some of the coffee shops in the area that I know have good connections such as Carpe Diem and Exchange Alley Coffee House.

It was then that Couchsurfing popped into my head: what if I could find a place to stay and make a friend along the way? It would certainly make the stay in Manila a little less lonely since I have, for better or for worse, cut most ties with my old life here.

I signed up on Couchsurfing.com through my Facebook account and seeing a number of my friends were users gave me more faith in the idea. Browsing through a few profiles of potential hosts in Metro Manila, I quickly thought: these are my people.

The surfers I encountered were world travelers and world learners, swapping stories, exchanging languages, and sharing jamming sessions. I got in touch with both locals and foreigners staying in Manila and soon made friends with Rhylie Villoria, a Dutch-speaking Filipina with six (seven if the Amsterdammer who popped in for a visit counts them) rescue dogs and a drum kit living in the exact part of the city I needed to base of during my stay. She offered to host me and my first Couchsurf was made official.

To be honest, I didn’t put much into my profile–other than a few short lines and a link to my blog–nor did I bother making the payment to verify my identity. I simply sent our a number of messages and requests and posted a “public trip” requesting a host, which other surfers can see.

I felt blessed to have found such a wonderful person as Rhylie and after staying with her, she took some time to answer a few of my questions about the Couchsurfing community.

How did you discover Couchsurfing?

My Norwegian brother-in-law mentioned it; that was a year before I started hosting.

How long have you been surfing and how many people have you hosted?

I’ve been on Couchsurfing since March 2015 and I’ve hosted 21 people so far.

Why do you host?

When I started hosting, my intention was so I’d have a diversion or distraction because I’d just gone through a breakup. But after hosting a few people, I realized it was fun and I was learning more about other people’s country and culture so I began hosting as much. Also, it’s my way of paying it forward since I’ve Couchsurfed at some hosts’ places too. Another reason is that I’m raised to be kind to people in need, so whenever I see couch requests, I do my best to help out.

Tell me about your most memorable Couchsurfing experience.

When I was in Genk, Belgium, I got hosted by a middle-aged man whom later became my “uncle Dave”. He gave me shelter for three days during my first visit to Europe–Belgium being the first country. He toured me around and drove me wherever I wanted to go; I saw things and places not a bunch of tourists have seen around Genk. The hosting didn’t end there because whenever I come to Genk, his house remains open to me and he even let me celebrate Christmas with his family when I had no one to celebrate it with while abroad. When you Couchsurf, you can gain lifetime friends.

Do you feel safe Couchsurfing alone?

I feel safe given the circumstances that I take time to get to know my host and listen to my gut feelings. I don’t just choose a host; I talk to them for a while, read their references, and do a little background check on what’s available online. Being careful has a lot to do with feeling safe so I make sure I take precautionary measures as well, but yeah, once I’ve assured trust toward the host, I feel safe.

What should everyone know about Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing isn’t just a free place to substitute pricey hotel rooms whenever you travel around a new place; it’s a community of people who are willing to help out yet not to have their kindness abused. It is a place where hospitality and kindness are the currencies and exchange rates are dependent on your faith in humanity. There are bad stories alongside the good ones every now and then but there will always be a huge percentage of people who keep upholding the true purpose of this community.

 

 

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

Weekend in Sydney: Beaches and Bridges

With an outbound flight coming up this Sunday, my last full weekend was spent enjoying some of Sydney’s grandest attractions.

Saturday at Bondi Beach

After an interview with proactivist Lance Lieber of Transition Bondi, it felt important to spend the last chunk of daylight down by the seaside.

However, Bondi Beach itself looked as crowded as it would on a sunny Saturday afternoon and it already seemed a bit chilly for a swim.

Under such circumstances, one must hang a right from the beach and take the scenic Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk past Tamarama instead.

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You can catch some breathtaking views from Mackenzies Point and lounge on the Tamarama Rocks while watching the surfers out on the waves.

Sunday on the Bridge Bridge

On Sunday, you can ride trains, buses, and ferries all around Sydney for only $2 with an Opal card.

This last Sunday–in the company of a few good people–I took a train to Milsons Point, right on the northern end of the Harbour Bridge.

Before beginning the bridge walk, we lingered at the Kirribilli Markets under the bridge’s arch on Burton Street and enjoyed a little picnic in the grass outside to the tune of some smooth live jazz.

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At the end of our walk across the bridge, we climbed up the Pylon Lookout for a breathtaking view of the city sprawled across the harbor. We even watched a wedding take place beneath us on a small patch of green near Circular Quay.

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There are fascinating pictures and stories of the bridge building in a museum inside the lookout as well.

The bridge will take you from the north of Sydney to The Rocks–a narrow-alleyed, a cobble-stoned precinct reminiscent of old European towns.

Once across, we made our way to an authentic Bavarian beer hall, formerly known as Lowenbrau Keller and now named Munich Brauhaus.

Not only were all the wait staff dressed as though it were Oktoberfest; indeed, the barman was a real-life German.

We sat outside to enjoy the last few rays of the sun’s warmth and, as it set, noticed a street lamp with a gas-lit street lamp.

With beer (and some very tasty french fries) in our bellies, we walked past the Overseas Passenger Terminal and happened to catch a massive cruise ship waving its farewells while enjoying some live music from the Cruise Bar.

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In one random alley, we happened upon a small window which revealed what may very well have been the rock upon which the first settlers landed in Sydney.

Also to be found on a Sunday: The Rock Market, though, to our misfortune, we got there just as they were closing up at 5 PM.

Eventually, we found a spot in the grass to sit and enjoy the sunset with a bottle of wine.

Nearby, devotees turned towards Mecca and prayed Maghrib. We were approached by a security officer with the Hindi name Sanjay, who, in the most friendly manner possible, let us know that we were drinking in an alcohol-free zone.

There were five other officers in the area who, he informed us, were not as friendly as Sanjay and would readily issue a $200 fine for our offense. Sanjay was merciful, however, and simply asked us to cap the bottle and put it away.

At times like these, I am grateful for the dazzling and diverse city that is Sydney.

 

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

First Swing at the Sydney Surf

Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.

Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.

Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.

As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.

I found this Beginners Guide to Surfing Sydney’s Beaches, which has a brief and helpful overview of beaches in the city, listing the pros and cons of each.

We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)

Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.

He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.

We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.

What I enjoyed about Maroubra:

  • It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
  • The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.

Surfing setbacks:

  • Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
  • Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.

If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.

Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.

Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

4 Sydney Beaches to hit this Summer

With hardly a day left to 2017, I’m ready to breathe a sigh of relief that this crazy ride of a year is coming to an end.

I can look forward, with hope, to a new one of excitement but to look back with gratitude, I find it best to single in on three simple things: sun, sand, and waves.

If there is one thing I can say about 2017, it’s that it’s taken me to many a beautiful beach–possibly more than in any other year of my life. Goals!

From a relaxing vacation in Puerto Galera and a surf trip to Baler in the Philippines to camping in Port Macquarie and road tripping to Byron Bay in Australia and of course all the day trips to beaches in and around Sydney, it’s been one sunny year.

I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this (half) year of blogging than with a write-up of four beautiful beaches I’ve visited this month, all of which have some standout features that make them excellent spots to bask in the hot, hot glow of summer as you start the new year right.

Here’s a quick look at our four beaches.

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1. Manly Beach

Manly, the first beach I visited in Australia, is still a favorite.

It’s a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and the walk from the wharf to the main beach takes you through warm streets graced with park benches, fountains, sandwich shops, bookstores, cafes, surfboards, and the occasional talented musician.

While it can get crowded in summer, it appears to be an excellent surf spot and one I look forward to trying out in the new year.

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When the sun starts to dip behind the trees and cast shade on the beach, you can chase it back to a nice little bit of sand just beside the wharf.

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2. Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is a 15-minute walk along the coast from Manly but you can also drive there directly, park just up the path, and have a nice barbecue in the shade. The waves that hit Manly don’t reach this little spot so it’s great for little kids and snorkeling.

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From the parking lot, and before heading down to the beach, catch this gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean.

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3. Whale Beach

Whale Beach, north of Sydney, features a pool and fun rocky area for adventure play and exploration. On the opposite end of the beach, there is a surf rescue and, coincidentally, a gnarly surf spot. Those seen slashing the waves over here certainly had a seasoned appearance.

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This beach has also got tables and grills for barbecues and a little playground in the shade for the kids.

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4. Wattamolla Beach

Wattamolla is south of Sydney and tucked away in a beautiful nature reserve. You’ll have to drive here and once you get off the main road you’ll lose signal on your phone–a beautiful thing, really.

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This stretch of cool ocean water is perfect for a swim because the waves are very mild. If the open sea is a little too chilly for you, however, you can hang out in the warmer pool of water on the other side. There is plenty of shallow water here for little kids to wade in and rocks off of which the older ones can jump.

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There you have it, just a small taste of Sydney beaches but I dare say it’s a good start.

Here’s to a beautiful evening and a blessed 2018!

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

A Day to Wander Sydney

Sunday is a perfect day to wander around Sydney because you can take unlimited bus, train, and ferry rides for only $2 with your Opal card. (That’s Australian dollars, so about 1.50 USD)

Start at Circular Quay and mosey to the Opera House

From wherever you are, catch a bus and/or train to Circular Quay. Make sure you say “key” and not “kway”.

For routes and schedules, Google Maps is all you need and it will give you real-time updates on changes and delays.

From the train, you will emerge at the ferry terminal and we’ll get back to that. First, walk along the harbor, past the Harbor Bridge, and head toward the Opera House.

Take your time and definitely stop to enjoy the street artists and performances.

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There are plenty of spots to grab a coffee to go or a bottle of water, both of which will cost you $4-5.

Get your photos of and with the Opera House and the bridge and go down the steps to the lower level of the Opera House for bathrooms and the cafe.

Stroll the Royal Botanic Garden

Get lost here for a while; it’s already one of my favorite places in the city and a beautiful place to kill however many hours you’d like.

Have a picnic, have a nap, read a book, eat a snack, and enjoy the view.

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Catch a ferry to Manly Beach

When it gets too hot in the gardens and the water starts to look quite inviting, walk back to the ferries and catch one to Manly Beach. They leave Circular Quay every 30 minutes and it’s roughly a 30-minute trip across the harbor.

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Cool down in the Pacific Ocean

Walk through the pleasant shopping street, grab a bite, and find a spot in the sand. Watch the surfers and the waves or maybe even take them on.

Eventually, the sun will start to set behind the trees and they will cast shade on the beach but if you want to, you can walk back toward the ferry and catch a bit more of the sun on the beach beside the wharf before it sinks into the harbor.

Without any waves, the water on this beach is beautifully translucent and, once it touches your toes, its cool clarity will pull you right in.

Have a drink to the setting sun

Find a pub with a view and sip on a cold one to the last of the day’s light.