10 reasons to go to Barcelona – And it’s not only for tapas and sangria, but you know, I’ll take it anyway!

The headless man in Barcelona, Spain.
The headless man in Barcelona, Spain.

So last week, I told you how I got abandoned at Barcelona Airport and it was pretty traumatising. Not only did I have to go through a flight delay with Vueling before I got to Spain but I went through a horrendous flight delay with Norwegian, on the way back to Germany too.

You really couldn’t make it up.

The fact is, whenever you go through an unpleasant time, it leaves a slight taste in your mouth and then you have a negative image of that destination.

The fact is, you begin to think it was that place rather than that airline.

Spain - Here we come!
Spain – Here we come!

The fact is, Spain is a great country to go to and Barcelona is just a thrill and I reeeeeally do like Barcelona and don’t want last week’s post to spoil the good time that I DID have in Spain so perhaps, I might go back to Spain again sometime this year.

It deserves a second chance.

One of the best things about going to the TBEX EUROPE conference is that you get the opportunity to be introduced to other organisations and outlets that you might not have thought of. You also get interviewed. I was asked, by the Travel Massive community in Spain, whether it was worth attending TBEX. Here’s the link to what I said!

Catalonia or Catalunya, Spain. Spain - Catalonia
Catalonia or Catalunya, Spain.
Spain – Catalonia

Now, I’ve actually been to Barcelona about four (4) times now, and this was the fifth (5th) time so I knew Barcelona as a fun city, but I didn’t know Barcelona as a cultural city!

As you know, my time was extremely limited in Lloret de Mar and I really only had one day to play with as the TBEX EUROPE bloggers conference took place from 30.04.15 – 02.05.15. Basically, three (3) days and nicely done over a public holiday and the weekend.

My initial plan was to use May 3rd to go to Barcelona, as you can’t be in the region and NOT go to Barcelona. That would be sacrilege!

Moventis, Sarfa.

As a TBEX EUROPE accredited blogger, the city of Lloret de Mar and the region of Costa Brava did their very best to provide either complimentary, or reduced-priced transport.

Now for those of you who have been following my blog in the last year (thank you so much!), you know that I attend quite a few parties, festivals, and events and I’m not averse to having a jolly good time LOL! I do however, also like history and culture, so I signed up with a company called Context Travel or #DeepTravel.

Context Travel had tours operating in Barcelona and in order to join the tour, I had to make my own way down …

Barcelona isn’t actually that close to Lloret de Mar and depending on where you are going, can take up to two (2) hours…..Since I wasn’t going to the airport, I decided to make use of local transportation which would comprise of either taking the bus or the train. Would you believe it if I told you that travelling by bus was much faster?

shutterstock-92810047-zob

You know how I love coach-bus travel so by bus it was to be.

On the last official night of TBEX EUROPE there was a closing party at a local club in Lloret de Mar. I was still quite exhausted from sleeping at the airport the previous day so I decided to go back to my hotel a little after midnight! Thankfully, the lovely 4-star – Hotel Gran Garbi in Lloret de Mar was about just seven (7) minutes away from the local coach-bus station so I sprinted towards it and took the 09:30 bus to Barcelona early on Sunday morning!

The fantastic thing about the Lloret de Mar coach-bus station is that not only could you go straight to the airport, but you could also travel to Toss de Mar, Barcelona, Girona and France!

I didn’t have any time for France but I did have the whole day allocated to spending as much time as possible in Barcelona.

Train & Bus tickets in Barcelona, Spain.

In order to get a return ticket, you have to choose and book the time that you wish to return. It’s a long journey so I chose the outward journey of 09:30 and a return time of 19:15. A return ticket would usually cost €10.75 but with a TBEX “pass” it cost just €9.75. Every penny counts.

The bus was quite comfortable, very clean, and pretty much fully booked. I ended up sitting next to an Italian guy who lived in Switzerland and had travelled to Spain to get his suit custom-made! He was pretty worried about getting his suit squashed and spent the whole journey holding it. He was fun to talk to though!

The bus is described as having WiFi but it didn’t work all the time, and on the return journey didn’t work at all!

From the Land of the Dead.
From the Land of the Dead.

I was set to meet Context Travel at 11:00.

Our meeting point was at the Hard Rock Cafe on Plaça Catalunya. When I got to Est Nord – which is the Barcelona Central Coach-Bus Station – I realised that I only had twenty (20) minutes to get to the meeting point, so I took a taxi.

You hear many things about the unscrupulous taxi drvers in Barcelona.

And the cost?

€5.00!

I didn’t get cheated at all and I managed to get to the Hard Rock Cafe with two (2) minutes to spare!

And then I looked around.

No tour guide but very creative students in Barcelona, Spain. Getting "married!"
No tour guide but very creative students in Barcelona, Spain.
Getting “married!”

No tour guide!

No person, man or woman holding-a-context-travel-sign-with-the-name-of-the-tour as instructed.

No umbrella person.

No groups of lost-looking-tourists-also-going-on-the-tour.

Nothing!

Sigh!

He was in the Shopping District in Barcelona, Spain. Gorgeous!
He was in the Shopping District in Barcelona, Spain.
Gorgeous!

I spent fifteen (15) minutes staring into the faces and peering at random strangers, hoping that they were the guide. Or lost tourists.

And then I saw a woman constantly looking at her phone and wearing pedal pushers. Could she be?

Yep! She was a blogger – Luxe Travel Family.

A fellow TBEX EUROPE blogger.

Hurrah! I’m not in Kansas anymore Toto!

And she was standing next to a young lady. She was a blogger too! – Travel Geekery.

And then not more than a few minutes later a woman came huffing and puffing. Another blogger! – Rachel Heller.

Hurrah, for TBEX EUROPE bloggers.

But wait. Where was our guide?

We’re experienced travel bloggers. We have social media at our finger tips. We’ve climbed volcanos, interviewed top artists, and sat on the front row at Fashion Week, surely we know what to do with all that technology at our finger tips?

Yeeeeeah!

So we called up.

Yep! We used the telephone LOL!

Anyway, it transpired that the organisers had messed up. There was a guide who was at the other side of Barcelona who had been waiting for a group of tourists who hadn’t turned up, and we were on the opposite side of the city thinking the same thing….!

Biel - our guide in Barcelona.
Biel – our guide in Barcelona.

In less than twenty minutes, our lovely guide arrived. His name was Biel. He was an absolute top fellow, in his late twenties, and professional. After making sure we were all together and brief introductions, off we went.

I’m an eager beaver, so I booked up for two (2) tours. The first one was called: The Gothic Quarter and the second one was called: Gràcia and the Spirit of Catalan Independence!

The Festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary, in Barcelona, Spain.
The Festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary, in Barcelona, Spain.

For the Gothic Quarter Tour, it was just the four (4) of us so Biel was really flexible and let us concentrate on the things that we were interested in or in anything we saw. And we saw a lot of things not even included in the tour because May 3rd was a public holiday in Barcelona, and the locals were celebrating  the festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary!

Loads of local Spaniards were out and about and I saw lots of families with children putting their blanket on the cool stone stabs and simply having a picnic, right there in the historic quarter of the Roman era! The festival turned into a bit of a musical parade which was in full force, and we even left the tour for about 20 minutes and joined in the parade itself.

Barcelona, Spain.

Now this is being in Barcelona!

It was a great day, extremely sunny and the feeling that I was really in Spain, began to slowly settle in.

Si!

So let’s have some history:

BARCELONA

Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain.
Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona,, although not the capital of Spain, is indeed the capital of Catalunya or Catalonia and with 1.6 million people, is the second largest city, after Madrid, – Spain’s real capital city! It’s an old city founded by the Romans and emerging in importance in the Middle Ages. It’s a city that is over 2,000 years old and is open to the sea and influenced by many cultures.

Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city and a capital of business and commerce as well as a leading tourist destination, with some of the world’s finest architects having left their mark that integrate with the elegance of the Eixample district, and the down-to-earth squares of the Gràcia districts.

Barcelona, Spain.

It’s a fantastic city of both history and culture and it’s no wonder that millions of people flock there.

Catalonia’s fight for Spanish independence was based on political and historical ground, as far back as the 14th century, but was lost in 1714. The region got a resurgence of Catalan nationalism in the 19th century but with the dictatorship of General Franco, all of Spain was in dire straits.

Today however, Barcelona is a mediterranean city  that invites you to stroll on it’s streets filled with life and atmosphere, or to breathe in the rich ancient language of the Catalan people.

 THE GOTHIC QUARTER AND GRACIA AND THE SPIRIT OF CATALAN INDEPENDENCE

There be dragons in Barcelona, Spain.
There be dragons in Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona’s Barri Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter is one of the best preserved medieval districts in the world, where you can ramble through the squares and hidden corners and discover the charm of buildings that are hundreds of years old.

We certainly did.

Our guide – Biel – took us through the layers of Barcelona from ancient Roman times, through the Middle Ages and until the 19th century.

The ancient Barcino Temple in Barcelona, Spain.
The ancient Barcino Temple in Barcelona, Spain.

We were shown the remains of a Roman gate, parts of the Roman wall and some Roman architecture. You all know the saying that “All Roads lead to Rome.” Not only that, but did you know that the saying in Barcelona goes – “All Roads lead to Rome and to the Gate of Augustus!”

It’s certainly true as in practically every twist and turn in and in every back alley, you could see a part of Roman history and Roman architecture and ideas that comprised of guilds, sophisticated professional and merchant classes, and a rich religious life for many religions.

FC Barcelona.
FC Barcelona.

Later in the day, I went on my second tour to Gràcia and as I was the only guest, it ended up being a private tour of one.

I also got to know a little bit about Biel as we sat in the Spanish sun and drank a can of non-alcoholic beer!!!!

Biel – the tour guide – was actually a young academic and an Art Historian who had not only been working with Context for three (3) years, but was also teaching at the local university AND was also involved in a local street festival, that took place once a year. The celebration was called the Festivity of Gràcia or the Fest de Gràcia and was a community effort.

Barcelona, Spain.

I had a look at his workshop which had signs asking for the locals to send in their recyclable products that he and his team needed, and they did. In fact, the project was so successful that last year, they won first prize for creativity.

Gràcia is very different from Barcelona Central and quite working class. There were hardly any tourists around and lots and lots of locals sitting in the sun, drinking, playing or just chatting.

I saw many churches, places of worship. And flags. I also got a peek into the history of the rise for independence by the Catalan people and even though Biel said nothing to suggest his feelings, I could feel the passion in his voice.

The Catalan people are proud. Proud of their language, proud of their culture, and proud of their soul.

Iberico ham.
Iberico ham.

If you’re thinking of going to a warm European city where the sun always shines, Barcelona is a good bet.

Here are ten (10) reasons why:

  1. Barcelona is easy to reach by plane, train, and by ship.
  2. If you like “living” history, there are so many open-air museums, squares and streets that you can stroll through. Take your time, close your eyes and imagine that you’re right back in time. At every turn and nook and cranny, you can bump into medieval bridges, romanesque chapels and gothic arches.
  3. The most brilliant works of Catalan Art Nouveau such as the marvellous beauty – La Sagrada Família –  are to be found all over the city through it’s most talented son – Gaudi.
  4. The Catalan people have a patron saint called Sant Jordi who happens to be the exact same patron saint of England – Saint George. I couldn’t believe it. I was enthralled and delighted.
  5. Look for dragons which are hidden. You can find them everywhere. If you look! Take a closer look at the architecture, in the stones and on the windows. They’re all over the place!
  6. The traditions of Catalonia are so rich that it is packed with carnivals, festivals, dances, bonfires, streets and squares filled with “Giants” and human towers that are such an exquisite sight, that the castellers have been declared a World Intangible Heritage! It was such a shame that I missed seeing them personally on my first day, due to my flight delay…
  7. Catalonia isn’t just Barcelona but consists of a diversity of land and regions ranging from the rugged Pyrenees, charming villages and towns, and farmed fields of the plain, not to talk of the beautiful sea, and has 16 natural parks and nature reserves, and a collection of sea scapes and mountains that are as wide in size, as the country of Belgium!
  8. Check out Barcelona’s most modern stadium and visit FC Barcelona filled with such beauties and talents, as Neymar and Lionel Messi!
  9. Visit Barcelona’s open-air or Historic Trail Markets and stuff yourself with the abundance of extremely tasty natural produce and gastronomy, based on seasonal produce such as paella, tapas, seafood, fideuà (a type of noodle casserole), black rice, home-made desserts and Cervesa.
  10. Discover and hang out in Barcelona’s underground scene that includes wild jam sessions, techno dancefloors, film screenings and flamenco!
A special Catalan dish at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.
A special Catalan dish at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.

I only had roughly eight (8) hours to spend in Barcelona in which I went on two (2) walking tours, had a local lunch at a Spanish bistro that served traditional tapas and typical Catalan dishes, with the bloggers. The bistro was called Carmelitas Tapas. After that I had some ice-cream, and still managed to take a couple of selfies at the Arc de Triomf, and in plenty of time to take the coach-bus back to Lloret de Mar!

if you’re interested in history and art then Context Travel or #DeepTravel might be a good fit for you.

I loved my day out and found Barcelona utterly charming!

Barcelona, Spain.

Here are the details:

WHAT IS CONTEXT TRAVEL?

Context Travel also known as #DeepTravel, is a network of scholars and specialists who specialise in archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and the classics, and who design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of people who are intellectually curious.

Their vision is to bring together local scholars and specialists, with visitors who are curious, so that they can learn and allow them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight. Their biggest goal is to take visitors off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and culture.

My type of people then!

WHAT IS THE GOTHIC QUARTER TOUR ABOUT?

Barcelona, Spain.

The Gothic Quarter Tour goes through the heart of the town, learning about the evolution of Barcelona, going through the neighbourhood, walking through Barcelona’s main market, into La Ramblas and taking a look at how modern development has changed the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. You get to learn about the rich religious life and Barcelona’s history through the remains of the ancient city, the medieval splendor, the modern technology and the cosmopolitan urban mix.

WHAT IS THE GRACIA AND THE SPIRIT OF CATALAN INDEPENDENCE TOUR ABOUT?

St. George AND the red cross on the streets of Barcelona, Spain.
St. George AND the red cross on the streets of Barcelona, Spain.

The Gràcia Tour is about the loss of independence in the region of Catalan and the neighbourhood of Gràcia. The walk introduces us to the intricacies of Catalan history and culture, the difference between the Catalan and the Spanish and why they continue to fight for independence. The tour also shows the wealth of the area during the Industrial Revolution and at the same time, the village-like feel of the tiny squares, the places of worship, the narrow streets and the romantic architecture.

Phew!

DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND SPANISH?

Nope!

These tour are in English. If English isn’t your native-language not to worry, as the company can arrange customised tours.

Some Spanish biscuit and cake!
Some Spanish biscuit and cake!

WHAT DO I NEED?

A pair of good shoes, a pair of sunglasses, suncream, a hat, a huge bottle of water, a few Euros for a snack, and a huge smile!

ANYTHING ELSE?

Yes. The tours are extremely small and have no more than six (6) people at a time. It’s a little pricey at $91.00 or €80.00 but if you want professional art historians who really know their stuff, then it’s worth the price.

The tour is three hours long so don’t make an important appointment immediately after. You might want to hang-out with the tour-guide and other members of your tour group, over a beer or two.

MY VERDICT:

Barcelona, Spain.

I’m aspiring to be an art history and culture buff, so it was just perfect. If you’re not that well inclined, then they do customise tours for individual groups. As my last tour was just me, my tour guide did just that. We focused on the things that were of interest to me and skipped the ones that weren’t!

Everyone should do a walking tour every now and then, if only to make sure that you know exactly what you’re talking about or can follow up with someone who does LOL!

I really enjoyed the tours but I don’t recommend them for children or young teenagers. Highly recommended for a more intimate, hands-on experience.

Many Thanks to TBEX, TBEX EUROPE, the Catalunya Experience, Costa Brava, Lloret de Mar, Context Travel and all the wonderful bloggers that I met, for the good times and for their warm hospitality.

See you in Stockholm, 2016.

This article is not sponsored, and even though I was a guest of Context, all opinions and the Iberico ham and lovely red wine that I consumed, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Paletilla Iberica at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.
Paletilla Iberica at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.

Next week, I’ll be back about the secrets of Estonia and what we did in Tallinn with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. It’s going to be great.

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, then you’re losing the experience of Berlin – the place to be!

May is going to be exciting.

Watch this space!

About to leap outside the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain!
About to leap outside the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain!

 

Have you ever been to Barcelona? Are you a fan of Gaudia or a fan of sangria?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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I went to a sex-show in the city of red lights and thin canals: That’s right. 48 hours in Amsterdam!!!

Dutch children in traditional costume.
Dutch children in traditional costume.

At last, the story of my solo weekend in Amsterdam!

Oh yes!

Just a day after the New Year, I started my international travel adventure for 2015, and my very short trip to Holland.

To Amsterdam.

When people think of Amsterdam, their ears immediately prick up, and their eyes bulge intensely at the exotic-ness of that city of sin….

However, people live in Amsterdam. I mean, people people.

Real people. Ordinary people. People who have to get up in the morning and work in an office, take the train, or in this case, ride their bicycles. But you don’t want to hear all about that, you want the other stuff.  The stuff that “decent” people whisper over….

Ah well.

Here goes!

AMSTERDAM.

Cheese Connoissuers in Holland.
Cheese Connoissuers in Holland.

So you think you know Amsterdam. Let’s see.

Amsterdam is a small capital city in Europe. It’s one of those places steeped in history and glory.

Indeed, as a 12th century fishing hamlet, it’s done rather well as a naval trading giant in the 17th century hunting for spoils and riches, before Britain came and took away such treasures as New Amsterdam (from Amsterdam in Holland), that later relegated to New York (from York in England). We also know of the conflicts and tribulations that Amsterdam had to go through in order to keep the water at bay, and the canals safe.

It’s been quite a few years since I’d last been to Amsterdam and I wanted to refresh my memory by going on a historic walking tour. You know how I like alternative walking tours, free walking tours, and walking tours in exotic places!

Cycling around Amsterdam, Holland.
Cycling around Amsterdam, Holland.

I quite fancied being guided through 800 years of history and culture, important events, monuments and curiosities. But it wasn’t to be, as the tour guide didn’t turn up!

Perhaps he had a long night…!

It was rainy and wet so I decided to do a walking tour of my own. After all, I knew some of the city and I was surprised that I could still remember, but did you know that:

  • Only 811,185 people actually live in Amsterdam and more than 3.6 million tourists visit every year!
  • There are 881,000 bicycles
  • 216 trams
  • 165 canals
  • 1,281 bridges
  • 2,500 barges or houseboats
  • 8,863 historical 16th, 17th, and 18th century buildings
  • 22 paintings by Rembrandt
  • 206 paintings by Van Gogh
  • And 8 windmills!
One of the eight (8) windmills in Amsterdam!
One of the eight (8) windmills in Amsterdam!

The last time I was in Amsterdam was in 2006. I didn’t stay the night and only came over for the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt van Rijn, as I had missed the exhibition in Berlin!

A few years earlier, I had stayed at a very dodgy hostel, in the heart of the red-light district, and not far from the river. I was in a shared bunkroom, and that is all I can remember…!

In the lobby of the NL-Hotel Museumplein, Amsterdam.
In the lobby of the NL-Hotel Museumplein, Amsterdam.

Nine (9) years later, I wanted to stay in a clean calm hotel, within reasonable distance, but safe. I started scouting around and contacting hotels. I couldn’t find any for love or money. Well, actually I could, but I couldn’t afford €355 per night so I started begging! I even went as far as contacting an Amsterdam PR person on Boxing Day!

At last, a lovely boutique hotel found me a double room at a price I could live with, and an included breakfast. With free WIFI!

That small lovely boutique hotel was called NL Hotel Museumplein.

Update 2016: Sadly, the NL Hotel Museumplein is now closed. However, it’s sister hotel nearby  – NL Hotel district Leidseplein – is probably just as good!

Book your hotel here!

There's a farmers' market very close by my hotel in Amsterdam.
There’s a farmers’ market very close by my hotel in Amsterdam.

The NL-Hotel Museumplein in Amsterdam was in a historic, residential trendy part of town and just 5 minutes from the Museumplein or Museum Square where all the greats can be found. The hotel is also in a part of the Amsterdam Fashion District. My hotel was on a quiet side street with upper-middle class families and children strolling around, a small historic church around the corner, and trendy cafe’s and high-class Korean BBQ restaurants not far away, as well as a farmers’ market very close by.

Note: NL Hotel district Leidseplein is in the same area!

Book your hotel here!

Now that was sorted out, I went to the I amsterdam office. Those ladies were amazing! I had hassled, begged, and interrupted their Xmas festivities looking for help to get a hotel within a week, help for information, and generally, help all around. They were lovely. Not only did the press office send me some hotel names to try, but they generously also gave me a complimentary I amsterdam 48 hour city card too.

Thank goodness I had it, as the amount of rushing around that I encountered, and in the rain I might add, would have cost me a fortune!

I amsterdam city card.
I amsterdam city card.

Thank you so much!

Anyway, after picking up the city card, almost next to the Amsterdam Central Train Station, I went for a stroll on the old highstreet called Damrak. It’s right in front of the station, on the opposite side, after the traffic lights, near the fancy hotels. You can’t miss it, and if you do, just follow the crowds. Everyone’s going “that way!”

Not a Dutch breakfast. In Amsterdam!
Not a Dutch breakfast. In Amsterdam!

I had breakfast. I arrived at 04:00 on a Saturday morning you see so I couldn’t really check in.

Oh didn’t I tell you. I came by coach (bus) and then it was too dark to roam around, and I didn’t want to take any transport that early in the morning.

Why?

You know why!!

I was wearing my fancy cashmere coat and had changed into my “nice” clothes so once I got into Amsterdam proper, I picked a random 5-star hotel and had cups of tea in their lobby until about 07:30!

Book your hotel here!

SATURDAY:

So I had breakfast, and then took a 100 Highlights Canal Cruise on the river. I used my I amsterdam city card and got the canal cruise for free (normally €15.50). It highlights the waterside and takes an hour. You can also take the public ferry service that goes to Amsterdam-Noord about every 10 minutes.

The river in Amsterdam.
The river in Amsterdam.

I just so love rivers. The waterside tells you such a lot about a place and it’s people. The buildings, the bridges, and the houseboats. The dykes and the street corners where condemned criminals were once hanged for all to see. The canals are so exquisite that the canals in Amsterdam have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Fancy that!

I’m not the best cyclist but I like places that worship the bike. In Europe, we love our bikes and use them, and you can’t go far wrong if you want to ride your bicycle in Amsterdam! Even Dutch Royalty are known to go about on their very own bicycles as Amsterdam is enormously flat and quite honestly, was designed very much with 17th century horses and carts in mind!

After the river cruise I decided to go for a leisurely stroll down Damrak.

Cheese everywhere. And clogs!
Cheese everywhere. And clogs!

I bumped into cheese.

Dutch cheese is quite famous.

Everywhere you look is cheese.

And waffles.

Brouwerij ‘t - Dutch Hipster Organic Beer!
Brouwerij ‘t – Dutch Hipster Organic Beer!

And beer.

If you love cheese, you can pretty much go into any of the cheese shops and get to know all about the flavours, aroma, and quality of an enormous range of cheese. I went into a place called the Cheese Inn Museum. That’s right. Amsterdam has a museum. For Cheese!

It’s free to go in, and they give you a little tour, info, and a cubes of different cheese and sauces to taste. I was impressed so I bought some Dutch waffles and biscuits, some very, very, very Old Amsterdam Cheese, and for my husband who is a connoisseur – Dutch Farmhouse Cheese with Italian Black Truffle. And let me tell you.

It was worth every penny!

Dutch chips and Mayo. Umm. They're alright. I coped!
Dutch chips and Mayo. Umm. They’re alright. I coped!

After all that, I was rather peckish, so I tried my hand at a batch of Dutch chips or fries with mayo.

First of all, I don’t like chips and mayo, or chips and tartare sauce, so I said “no sauce please.” The chip girl looked quite disgusted, so she encouraged me to try it with “a little sauce” for free. So I did.

And it was quite tasty!

A little.

SATURDAY NIGHT:

In the Red Light District, Amsterdam.
In the Red Light District, Amsterdam.

After a few hours break in the sanity and quietness of my boutique hotel, I decided to venture out into the night.

Amsterdam by day is delightful, but by night all the sleezeballs come out. This night was no different and I tossed and turned between taking a private tour guide at 22:00 or joining in a group of jolly people at 20:00. I decided to join the group.

I did some research and found a free Red Light District Walk with a company called 360amsterdam. No previous booking was necessary, you just turned up at the starting point which was on the Dam Square at the corner of the Royal Palace, near a local church.

We were about 20 odd people from Britain, Canada, America, Germany, and Singapore and our guide was a tall blond Dutch chap called Karel.

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to take photos in the Red Light District but there’s safety in numbers, and it was perfectly OK to walk around.

The doors and windows of Amsterdam.
The doors and windows of Amsterdam.

The issue of sex for pay, prostitution, and even sex itself is controversial. Europe doesn’t have a problem with sex in itself. Some countries are conservative, but a large number of people are pretty liberal. Unlike the UK (where sex is a dirty word and everyone is deprived and therefore perverted), and the US (where sex and morality are considered to be one and the same thing). Sex in Europe is discussed, prostitution is a regulated profession and taxed, nudity is freedom, and sexuality is private and tolerant. I mean, being straight and not kissing someone of the opposite sex in this town, is considered to be quite boring!

In fact, I once went to a sex show myself.

In Amsterdam.

I saw an article in an expat magazine that I picked up, outside an English-speaking comedy show!

It was about an erotic place called Casa Rosso. I thought it would be a laugh so I decided to go and see for myself. It’s on the riverside and I went for the first show. It was summer and perfectly bright outside. I hung around for quite a while as I was nervous about going in on my own and I would never have gone there with a friend.

Far too embarrassing!

I was about to walk briskly away when a crowd of Japanese tourists turned up. Most of them in their late 50’s and in couples. I mean, if old people were going, it couldn’t be that bad could it?

Could it?

Bright lights outside the sex-show at Casa Rosso. Amsterdam.
Bright lights outside the sex-show at Casa Rosso.
Amsterdam.

I followed a Japanese couple, paid (in those days 50 Deutsche Marks), and got a ticket and two glasses of champagne!

At first, it was rather funny with ping-pong balls and beads, some fake S&M, and strip tease performances that were so lame that a shampoo advertisement were distinctly better. Then a male and female couple came on dressed as James Bond on a twirly board. Then some very distinctive twisting, turning, and grinding which I thought was hilarious as the board kept twirling  around and all you could see were quick snatches of view. And then I saw something.

It looked real.

Naah!

It couldn’t be real.

I turned around.

I had only paid 50 Deutche Marks, the bouncer was in a nice suit, I chatted to some of the Japanese tourists, and for goodness sake, I was drinking champagne!

I turned back.

Gulp!

I was so shocked and utterly unconvinced, that I watched it again. Twice.

It was real!

OMG!

You’re in Amsterdam baby!

Well, after all the excitement of our night-time walk we went to a hipster arcade bar called The TonTon Club for a couple of drinks. it’s slap bang in the middle of the heart of the Red Light District and is a haven for artists and game developers. The drinks weren’t cheap (I paid €4.50 for my Dutch-original-organic-6.5%-hipster beer), and you get a free token to play on the pinball or SEGA arcade games!

SUNDAY:

A Continental breakfast of crosissant, colds cuts, cheese, cherry tomatoes, and a boiled egg at the NL-Hotel Museumplein, Amsterdam.
A Continental breakfast of croissant, colds cuts, cheese, cherry tomatoes, and a boiled egg at the NL-Hotel Museumplein, Amsterdam.

After a refreshing breakfast at my boutique hotel, it was time for some culture, and this is where the I amsterdam city card came into it’s own. I had a list of places that I wanted to go to:

  1. The Van Gogh Museum.
  2. The Tassenmuseum Hendrikje or The Museum of Bags and Purses.
  3. The Museum Willet-Holthuysen.
  4. Het Grachtenhuis or The Museum of the Canals
  5. The Woonbootmuseum or the Houseboat Museum.
  6. Micropia.
  7. The Heineken Experience.
  8. And the Amsterdam Light Festival.

I actually went to:

A Van Gogh self-potrait in Amsterdam.
A Van Gogh self-potrait in Amsterdam.
  1. The Van Gogh Museum. (Normally €15:00). Loved it. An anguished talented man. I spent over 3 hours there. I even bought a sunflower mug!
  2. The House of Bols Cocktails & Genever Experience. It’s just across the road from the Van Gogh Museum and you can do a cocktail and liqueurs tours for about €30.00 (10% discount with the city card). You must be over 18.
  3. Micropia. (Normally (€14.00). It’s a museum about miocrobes and germs and the first (1st) of it’s kind in the world! I first heard about it on the BBC Travel Show. Disturbing, but absolutely fantastic. So much fun. I spent another 3 hours here too. Kids will love it!
  4. And the Amsterdam Light Festival. This festival is a winter fest for fifty days starting from 27.11.14 to 18.01.15 and celebrating art that illuminates the historical city center. Located in the Plantage neighbourhood and all around the river, young and established artists pay tribute to life in Amsterdam. Amazing stuff, especially in the light of night!
At Micropia in the arms of a germ, Amsterdam.
At Micropia in the arms of a germ, Amsterdam.

By 21:00, it was time to leave. It was clear that I had a fascinating time.

My blog is not about what’s right and what’s wrong. If you look deep enough you’ll see that it’s all about what’s different, the other, the edge. It’s also all rather tongue-in-cheek!

And Amsterdam is a perfect example. It’s a lovely quaint city with an exposed diverse edge. It’s cosmopolitan, and at the same time Dutch in style. It’s romantic and beautiful, but tolerant and diverse. It’s rich and lively, but quiet and authentic. It’s charming and also like any other capital city, beautifully flawed.

Go see for yourself.

I amsterdam city cards are €49.00 for 24 hours, €59.00 for 48 hours, and €69.00 for 72 hours. If you intend to go to museums, attractions, canal cruises, and use a lot of the local public transport like I did whilst in Amsterdam, then well worth the price.

For more information about the city cards please contact: I amsterdam.

For more information about the hotel, please contact: NL Hotel district Leidseplein.

Book your hotel here!

One of the 1,281 bridges in Amsterdam!
One of the 1,281 bridges in Amsterdam!

This article is not sponsored and even though I received a complimentary 48 I amsterdam city card, and a discount from my hotel, all opinions and the delicious Dutch cheese, and tasty Dutch organic beer that I happily consumed, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you, so next week it’s the glamour and suspense of THE WYLD in Berlin!

It’s January. It’s amazing!

More National Theatre Live productions can be seen at the Cinestar Berlin – Original such as

On January 29th, I will be at the Wintergarten Varieté where illusion replaces reality – for their latest production THE MAGICAL MYSTERY SHOW otherwise known as “The Show of the Magician.

If you’re a blogger and you’re in town, then come and meet us at the Berlin Travel Massive January MeetUp on January 21st.

Berlin Fashion Week is here and will take place between January 19th and January 23rd, 2015. I’m accredited and raring to go. Save the Date!

If you’re not in Berlin in January, you’re totally mad!

January is going to be alive and kicking!

Watch this space!

Note! I never travel without insurance as you never know what might happen.

I learnt my lesson in Spain. And obviously, in countries like Qatar, where technically the risk is higher, I can’t imagine going that far beyond, WITHOUT INSURANCE. No siree! You can get yours here, at World Nomads!

Please note that there are now affiliate links (for the very first time) connected to this post. Please consider using the links, because every time some sort of accommodation or travel insurance is booked via my links I get a little percentage, but at no extra cost to yourself!

A win-win for all!

Thanks a million!

Windmills in Holland.
Windmills in Holland.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? Would you go to a sex-show?

See you in Berlin.

If you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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I’m fabulous and so are you! 10 tips on going to a festival in Berlin.

It's Me! Don't I look fabulous?
It’s Me! Don’t I look fabulous?

Summer is amazing. It’s even better in  a city like Berlin.

OMG!

The fantastic things that you can do and the places that you can go. I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, it’s time to get out there and do stuff!

Some time ago, I wrote a post about doing things right NOW instead of leaving it to another day. Yes, there’s a financial crisis going on, yes, things might be a little tight in the budget department, and that is why a city like Berlin, is a city to visit. It’s safe, it’s cheap, and there’s always a lot of stuff going on. So what the heck, do it and come!

We're waiting for you. You can dance with me!
We’re waiting for you. You can dance with me!

Some of those fantastic things are open air events and festivals. A large number of them will either be at a ridiculously low price, or a wonderful price of €00.00!

In fact, in the last fortnight, we’ve had four (4) world international festivals that have taken place in our city.

The Carnival of Cultures or Karneval der Kulturen a brilliant event which ran from 06.06.14 – 09.06.14.

Ribbons and streams at the Carnival of Cultures in Berlin.
Ribbons and streams at the Carnival of Cultures in Berlin. Photo credit: Jurino Reetz, Daniela Incoronato und Frank Löhmer

The 22nd Lesbian and Gay City Festival which took place between 14.06.14 – 15.06.14.

Be Yourself. Be Pink!
Be Yourself. Be Pink!

Fête de la Musique an open-air street music performance day, which took place all over Berlin, on 21.06.14.

Fête de la Musique.
Fête de la Musique.

Berlin’s Mardi Gras the 36th CSD – Christopher Street Day Gay Pride festivity, which also took place on 21.06.14.

Miss Brazil, Miss Germany, and Miss USA!
Miss Brazil, Miss Germany, and Miss USA!

Now even I can’t be at all places at once so I went to the Carnival of Cultures or Karneval der Kulturen and the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Gay Pride parade, and didn’t someone have a wonderful time? Of course, I did. I’m fabulous and so are you! If you want to go to any of the many interesting and intriguing festivals in Berlin you need to:

1.  Make sure you’ve got the right date: You don’t want to be surprised to find that 06.12.14 is  the 6th of December when you thought that it was the 12th of June!

If you don't take your map, we'll put you in the nick and have you arrested!
If you don’t take your map, we’ll put you in the nick and have you arrested!

2.  Take a map of your festival destination: Take the map with you or get the App and put it on your phone! How many times have you and your mates argued because nobody really knows where anything or the meeting point is. Don’t say “outside the station” as many of our train stations have 4 or more exits!

3.  Take note of the weather: Berlin isn’t London and our weather is fairly predictable but at the CSD festival yesterday, we had dark clouds in the morning, it got windy in the afternoon, the sun began to shine by the late afternoon and we all took off our jackets and tops, and 3 hours later, we regretted that, as it began to rain heavily! Luckily, I had my umbrella in my bag and shared it with my friends and a random stranger!

Random strangers can be interesting!
Random strangers can be interesting!

4.  Make sure that you know how to move around the city and what transport is available or not: Even though I’m The British Berliner and have lived here for yonks, I still fell into that trap of not checking the route. I wanted to go to the CSD festival and meet my friends who I was leading, and automatically went my normal route. Halfway through my journey, I realized that it wouldn’t be the best route at all, as all the transport had been diverted and all the roads were blocked by festival floats, tourists, and seemingly, most of Berlin! Too late. I wasn’t there to meet them and kept my friends waiting, wondering, and slightly worried!

5.  Take some snacks: Most places will have food but how many times have you been hungry. I mean really hungry, and there hasn’t been a kiosk or shop nearby, the queue is really long, or you don’t want to move from your “spot” as it’s a nice one, and was difficult to find. Wouldn’t it be nice to take out your sandwich, bag of crisps or biscuits and chew away in the comforting thought that you won’t starve!

I'm hungry. I need a hug!
I’m hungry. I need a hug!

6.  Take. A. Drink: Don’t mess around with this one. Going to a festival is thirsty work. You need bottles of water so that you don’t get dehydrated from all the shouting, screaming, dancing, and jumping around. You need beer because you are in Germany and German beer is the best. And you need bottles of champagne because you’re fabulous, you’re with your friends, and you want to have a really good time. At the CSD, we had cocktails and champagne galore. Yeah baby!

7.  Don’t forget a camera: Take as big as you dar,e or your smart phone, and be the roving reporter. Berliners are enormously cool. They will pose and pout for you. As long as you ask politely. You’ll get some brilliant shots of beautiful people and interesting places.

Samba Brazil! Photo credit: Jurino Reetz, Daniela Incoronato und Frank Löhmer
Samba Brazil! Photo credit: Jurino Reetz, Daniela Incoronato und Frank Löhmer

8.  Take a break: It’s all very well going to festivals but sometimes, you need to take a break from all the fun and merriment, so take a break. Halfway through the festival, my friends and I decided to go to a local Asian restaurant as they were quick and cheap. We had a bowl of noodles and a drink. We chatted, freshened up in the bathroom, and made quick phone calls to loved ones or other friends, and then 1 hour later, we joined the festival once again. Refreshed and ready for action!

I don't need a break, I take everything I need with me!
I don’t need a break, I take everything I need with me!

9.  Meet people: Berlin is an informal, tolerant place and the locals are happy to welcome and chat to tourists. Talk to them, open up, compliment the city, compliment them, high-five people. We danced behind the floats. A few years ago, I was actually on the parade float, but that’s another story LOL! We took photos of them and ourselves. We shared drinks, we clinked glasses, and we smiled, and smiled, and laughed!

10.  Go out and have fun: Need I say more!

Go on. Have some fun!
Go on. Have some fun!

This article is not sponsored and all opinions and the tasty cocktails, cold beers, and sunshine champagne, are my very own! Every week for the months of May and June, I’ll be writing about summer time in Berlin, and what to do when you get here.

Next week, I will be writing about the British National Theatre LIVE production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.

The next production is A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn coming up at Cinestar Berlin – Original on 03.07.14.

Are you coming?

Watch this space!

He's fabulous, and he knows it!
He’s fabulous, and he knows it!

Have you been to a summer festival? Are you fabulous?

See you in Berlin.

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