Amsterdam, backpacking, chasingkm, Europe, spring, thelazyfisherman, travel

Eurotrip Part Three – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We are finally on the adventure of our life time (up ’till now)! After resigning from our jobs teaching English in South Korea in February, we are traveling through Europe, visiting Paris, BelgiumThe Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. We spent almost a year planning our two month trip to Europe which eventually evolved into a ten month journey that will see us crisscrossing Europe, Ireland and the USA for a few months. Central America may (hopefully) make its way onto our itinerary.

The way we travel is a combination of hostels, couchsurfing, workaway and friends. This means we get to experience regular life and meet locals in the places we visit as opposed to just being main stream tourists. It also means we can stretch our budget further and travel for longer!


The first things that come to mind are Red Light districts, “coffee shops” and liberality. You will find these in abundance all over the city center. Amsterdam has much more to offer than just this though. We started our first full day in the city with a “free” walking tour with Sandemans NewEurope. These tours are not actually free as you have to tip the tour guide afterwards. It does mean you can pay what you feel they deserve or you can afford, though. They are usually quite good and are a nice way to find your bearings in a new city, and pick up bit of history along the way.

Things to see/do:

The Red Light District. If you wander through it during the daylight hours it is a fairly tame area. Most of the window boxes are empty or have their curtains drawn. Basically each window is privately owned/operated by the lady inside. She will stand in the window to attract clientele. The later it gets, the busier it gets. So more of the windows will be filled and the streets will be teeming with tourists, stag parties, tour groups and curious onlookers. No photos/video are allowed in the area and apparently you will get chased down if you try. We also saw a few of the ladies pull their curtains shut if any youngsters walk past. All of them were clothed in about the same amount of clothing you would see on the average beach on a sunny day.

The Museum Quarter.

Here you can find all the major museums in the city. Our highlights were the Rijksmuseum and The Van Gogh museum. The first has a range of exhibitions from many famous artists though the ages (Rembrandt, Van Gogh etc) and covers more than 800 years of Dutch and world history. When we were there it even had a whole section on Dutch history in South Africa which was very interesting. The Van Gogh museum takes you through his whole life, his influences and his troubled end with displays of his paintings and his peers/mentors and idols. Interesting even for the non-Van Gogh fans. This area is also home to the I Amsterdam sign (in front of the Rijksmuseum). Get there early if you want a photo as it gets super crowded! There is also a nice park/square where you can hang out if the weather is good. The Anne Frank house is not in the Museum Quarter, obviously, as it is still in its original location. If you know exactly when you will be in Amsterdam books these tickets online, way in advance. They sell out quickly! If you don’t do this you have to wait in a queue, possibly for hours. From 9am to 3:30 pm you can get tickets for a certain time slot. After this you join the queue and buy a ticket at the door. If it’s too busy you won’t make it inside. We joined the queue at about 3:50pm and waited 2 hours to get inside. It was so busy you were just bustled through each room and it felt like the museum had no actual impact. Not the recommended way to do it.

Walk the streets.

Amsterdam has something for everybody. From trendy bars and cafes, hipster hangouts, street markets and buildings dating back hundreds of years. Amsterdam was also where the Dutch East India Company (VOC) started up, probably the first stock exchange/market/publicly traded company in the world. The city is, of course, also filled with canals. These are still used for boat transport, cruises, fishing (I tried this one evening from the banks/bridges) and the mooring of houseboats/cafes/bars. We love to walk around the cities making our way from landmark to landmark on foot with breaks in between to people watch and enjoy some local beverages and snacks.

Dam square, right in front of the Royal Palace, is a popular hangout spot in the center of the city. Most of the trams/busses also pass near here. You could easily spend a few hours here in good weather with a few drinks watching the goings on of the tourists and locals (pro tip – the bigger department stores usually have bathrooms if you’re desperate).

The public transport in Amsterdam is well organized and reasonably priced with single ride to 72 hour passes available. The city center is very walkable though so do a bit of research before you invest in a pass. We were in a hostel just outside the center and found that most days a single ride ticket in and out was sufficient. The other way to get around is of course cycling. Most of the roads have dedicated cycling lanes and cars/pedestrians usually give way to the cyclists.

Useful information:

We stayed at WOW Amsterdam. It is outside the city center but has some supermarkets and tram/bus stops nearby. Beds were comfortable and the rooms were spacious. Bathrooms were well equipped and close to the rooms, towels were provided. There was no kitchen worth speaking of. Just a small room with a bar fridge, microwave and basin. No cutlery or crockery. The breakfast was sufficient to start the day, buffet style, cold meats, bread/rolls, cereals coffee tea etc. The wifi was patchy most of the time.  Can’t really complain too much as it was only 10 Euros a night for a mixed dorm.

Albert Heijn supermarkets are great. They usually have good food specials, you can get a loyalty card free, most of them also have free wifi.

The Apple store has free charging stations and wifi if you have an iPhone.

The train network is quite extensive and many places are within day trip distance from the city itself. Kayley went to Keukenhof for the morning and we both spent an afternoon in the nearby town of Harlem. Beaches are also within reach.

Google maps worked fine for the public transport. If you don’t have a sim card be sure to download the offline map before you head out and screen shot all your transport options for later in the day.

We have found apps that have offline functions to be specifically useful. What has been the most useful app you’ve downloaded for traveling? 
Amsterdam, backpacking, blossoms, chasingkm, Europe, Keukenhof, spring, The Netherlands

Spring Blossoms in Keukenhof Gardens

Ever since I was in grade two I’ve been wanting to visit The Netherlands. I wanted to see tulips and windmills, go to cheese markets and wear clogs and see real delftware and just about everything else we got taught about in our “Around the World'” theme. There really was no doubt that this country would feature on our Eurotrip. Of course, many of these things do not excite Mark as much as they excite me, namely, Keukenhof Gardens – the most beautiful spring garden in the world!

Continue reading “Spring Blossoms in Keukenhof Gardens”

Korea, life in korea, National Parks, nature, outdoors, seasons, South Korea, spring

Seoraksan in Spring

Hooray for public holidays and Buddha and his birthday… especially when you want to go somewhere far away in Korea and use public transport to get there! This day off in May was welcomed with open arms as it gave us the opportunity to make the seemingly endless bus trip from Busan to Sokcho on a Saturday morning. Giving us almost two full days in this seaside town.

Things started off a bit rocky though as we couldn’t book tickets for an overnight bus online while using the English website only to figure out too late that we needed to use the Korean site to make payments, by this time all the tickets were sold out. When we eventually got to Sokcho and wanted to check into our ‘confirmed’ guesthouse, only pay when you arrive no deposit needed, we were told our room had been given away as it was a long weekend and he had called our friend who made the booking and she hadn’t answered. We did eventually find a motel who agreed to house all 5 of us in single room with 4 beds. Was a bit squashed but manageable. (the owner/manager was also really friendly and gave us rice cakes)

Dinner that evening consisted of the famous, dakgangjeong (sweet and sour chicken). As for most famous things in Korea, this involved lining up in a queue at one of the many stores in the market, all selling the same style chicken! It was pretty damn good, though! This was followed by production line sandwich making for our hiking trip in the morning. We planned for an early start in the morning to head out to Seoraksan National Park (SNP).

The day started with a local bus to the park gates, we got there at about 7am. Surprisingly enough there were already lots of people!! We had scanned blogs, websites and brochures and decided on a hike up to Ulsanbawi rock for the morning. The 4km hike up takes roughly two hours to reach the peak. You can see a large amount of the park as well as all the way to the coast and the seaside town of Sokcho if it’s clear enough. This was quite a strenuous hike to the top and there were loads of stairs to climb up the rock face. The views at the top and the sense of achievement were well worth it though. This was also our first ‘real’ hike in Korea and we were very surprised at the amount of walkways, stairs and bathrooms along the way. As well as the beer/drinks/snacks for sale at the Buddhist temple halfway up and right at the top! Hiking in South Africa is very different.


After we made our way back down we needed some ice cream to recuperate and sort out the jelly legs!! Suitably refreshed we decided we hadn’t had enough for one day so we would attempt another hike, to Biryong Falls. A much less strenuous hike, but still scenic. It was quite an easy walk along a river running through the park and up to two waterfalls and back down again along the same route. Of course at the top we joined the rest of the hikers in taking off our shoes and socks and dipping our feet in the somewhat freezing pools. The scenery along the way was beautiful and I was constantly stopping to peer into the pools along the way to see how many fish I could spot.

After this we went and waited for our bus back to Sokcho and headed to the beach for a swim, the water was freezing though and we didn’t last very long even though the day had turned out quite warm. That evening we went for Shabu Shabu, which we felt we deserved after all the strenuous hiking. This was also our first introduction to SoMek (beer and soju mixed) which went down rather well.

Our bus back to Busan the next day was only in the afternoon so Kayley and I rented bicycles and rode around the Yeongnangho Lake for an hour or so. This is a naturally formed lake, with bicycle paths, walking bridges, sculptures, foot baths etc running just about all the way around the 7km perimeter. We were quite surprised to be stopped along the way by a Korean family who then handed us some juicy tomatoes to snack on. Since then we’ve experienced this kind of hospitality on countless occasions and find it to be a very endearing cultural trait!

The furtherest we had been away from “home” in Korea at this point. But what a great trip. WE have a little policy about not visiting a place more than once (only because there is just soooo much to see in this beautiful world) but we couldn’t get Seoraksan out of our heads, and had to try it again in the fall.

How do you feel about returning to places you’ve already been?