Tag Archives: B&Bs

Travel Tips for Amsterdam

amsterdam, canals, travel, hotspots, lodgings, travel, travel tips

Amsterdam canal by phault: Flickr http://www.flickr.com/people/pjh/

I’m getting ready to travel to the Netherlands and Belgium in about a month’s time. There is actually a fair amount to do, check and get beforehand. Because I’m traveling alone, there are a few other considerations to take into account.

When I traveled to Ireland a few years back I went with my sister. We rented a car, drove as far as we could each day and then as the sun was dipping below the horizon we’d drive into the nearest town, have a drink at a pub and ask them to recommend a B&B. It worked well 90% of the time. We were off season (the end of Sept.) and the towns we stayed in were not the larger cities. That’s why in Kilkenny, a college town, it almost didn’t work. It was a Saturday night and full of party people. It took three tries but we did find a B&B.

So I thought I could do the same thing as I traveled to the Netherlands. I land in London first and as I always do I like to book my first and last nights so that I know that I’m set. I find that Trip Advisor though you have to look at more than a few reviews to get a sense of place. But I will then search elsewhere for rooms, hotels, B&Bs or hostels and check their own sites as well.

As I did the preliminary research for Amsterdam I was a bit shocked at the price of any lodging. A quick look into Belgium showed it to be much the same. My sister and I got a B&B for an average of 25-50 Euros, which equaled between $$35-$60 CAD. Traveling with someone can definitely cut the rate down but here I was looking at hostels, sharing for 50 Euros a night. Yes, there are cheaper places but it’s a fine line to find something that is cheap enough, fits your needs and is clean and pleasant enough. The reviews fit one or the other criteria, but not both.

So I started looking farther afield, googling things like B&Bs Amsterdam, and cheap lodging Amsterdam. This turned up a few more sites. Bed and Breakfast Netherlands lists a lot of actual homes used as B&Bs that you might not find on Trip Advisor. It also breaks the cost down to a single person price. I haven’t yet tried it though.  Couch Surfing can also work and I’ll be trying it for the first time though I’ve already hosted a few people. You don’t have to reciprocate in hosting but it helps for references. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people who live in these cities. It’s the best way to know a culture. Note that during the high months, Amsterdam hosts can get as many as 10-20 requests a day. It’s one of Europe‘s hotspots and a mecca for the gay crowd. I didn’t realize all this and even though I’m going at the end of Sept. I’m glad I started early. I’ve spent quite a few hours (probably 24-30) just searching out possible accommodations for Amsterdam. I’m not going to book every night everywhere because I don’t know where I’ll go but I now have an idea of what it could possibly cost me (my whole budget). My stay in London is coming in at $120 for two nights at a B&B and that’s a good price.

Know that many Dutch homes are narrow and tall, with very steep stairs. it’s part of their history where land was eked out from the sea so up was the way to go. Amsterdam is of course more expensive than some of the other towns and there are such designations in some of the travel guides as “stoner hotels.” Yes, smoking pot is allowed in some if not all establishments.

Again, money is interesting and it’s looking like traveler’s checks are becoming too outmoded, and that most places won’t take them or will charge an exorbitant fee for cashing them. As well, many Dutch hotels or B&Bs only accept cash because credit card charges eat up their profits so they just don’t use them. Once I’m on the road, I’m sure my experiences will differ some and I’ll report on that. But the best advice for traveling to Europe is check ahead of time on the type of lodging you want and whether you can afford it. I’m glad I did and I’ll be using several options.

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Waterford, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Waterford Crystal

This is nearing the end of the pictures from my Ireland trip in the fall of 2007.

Waterford was one of the last stops on the Irish trip, and on a Saturday. We didn’t know if the crystal factory was open as some guidebooks and maps said no while others said yes. It turned out it was so we zipped in after the Lismore adventures and a short stop at Carrick on Suir to see the disappointing and locked (and fenced) supposed Castle Ormonde. This wasn’t a castle at all but a manor house, very plain and maybe three stories high. Previous incarnations were probably a real castle but no evidence was left of this. Booo! I highly recommend not bothering to see it.

So we made it to Waterford with enough time to browse the shops and go on the hour tour. I have a fair number of friends who are glass artists so it was quite amazing to see a glassblowing factory of this size. There were several buildings and although it was a Saturday there was at least one or more people working in each section.

There was the special section for one-of-a-kind molds. Some molds are made of wood and used to shape the glass. The molds may only be used a few times (the wooden ones) before the high heat of soft glass starts to burn into the wood, but wood is still better than using metal which will expand with heat and change the size. It’s used for more specific and high-end pieces. A technique used for hundreds of years and not changed much.

In another building was an assembly line of blowers blowing into molds. These molds were smaller, for glasses and such and often of metal. There was a conveyor belt where the finished pieces were put before moving on to the annealer (where glass is cooled at specific temperatures so that it doesn’t crack and break). And people lined up with each blower to change the molds. Other areas held  row on row of cutters, because we’re talking crystal and that means cutting it, and another smaller room for engravers. The engravers are the only workers in the factory who aren’t paid by the piece because it could take months to engrave one piece. As well, there was a quality inspection area. Every single piece is inspected and must pass high standards.

All the pieces are hand blown or molded, and hand cut or engraved. Then these pieces of crystal are put through a hydrochloric acid bath that takes off the sharp edges and white brushed look to the glass. I remember some older pieces of crystal goblets my mother had which had sharp edges. Obviously the acid baths are of a newer era. To me, I kept thinking they weren’t crystal because of the soft edges but I was wrong on that.

I ran into a glass artist here in Vancouver who said that their local studio did an order for Waterford (Waterford has factories in various countries). Waterford Crystal’s Q&A (quality and assurance) team came over and the studio only had a 50% acceptance rate, the controls were so stringent. It was quite amazing to watch the cutting and engraving and the sheer size of the factory. I was curious how they got the rounded edges on the cuts. Now I know but I still don’t find crystal that appealing. Meh.

We drove on that evening to Kilkenny, home of the beer, of course. We almost lost our luck for B&Bs. We tried two pubs, asking if they knew of anything and were told everything was full. It was always better to ask where there were older people serving as the younger ones weren’t that friendly or helpful. We drove to three B&Bs that were all full and finally found a nice little house with a very friendly couple. Turns out Kilkenny is a college town where everyone comes on the weekend to party. And yes, it was the weekend.

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Bushmills, Dunluce and Donegal, Ireland

Our day started with Kinbane, then Carrick-a-Rede, Giants Causeway and somehow we went on to Bushmills (the town & factory) for a tour. Why? I don’t care for whiskey (Scotch is different), my sister’s a celiac and can’t touch any wheat product. A momentary leave of senses perhaps?

Although Bushmills has been making whiskey since 1675 and it was interesting on how they use bourbon, port and errr, one other type of barrel to age the stuff, and although we got a shot at the end of the tour (I also got my sister’s) it was still kind of a waste of time. There really was nothing to take a picture of unless I wanted to do an article on whiskey making (and maybe I should have taken more). But I took no pictures and had my sister shoot this only picture (and bad one) of me in Ireland with the mega bottle of booze.

Ireland 2007–Bushmills, Dunluce Castle and Donegal

So we did the tour, and then it was getting late in the day, about 4:00 and we found our way to Dunluce Castle… to see them locking it up. It was perhaps our biggest regret. If we’d missed the Bushmills tour that we weren’t that enthused about we would have had time to explore the castle. And this castle had a cave. How cool is that? Alas we could only peer from the locked gates.

Dunluce castle was held by the MacDonnells of Ballymargy fame and was destroyed by a fire in 1641. There was a cave beneath the castle besides the passage under the bridge. I would have loved to explore that are.

Our last stop was driving on to Donegal town. The pictures of Donegal and the castle are actually from the next day as we arrived with enough time to do our usual. We popped into the Reel Inn, had a drink and asked the bartender to suggest some B&Bs. It also turned out they had live music that night. So we crossed the bridge right outside the door and not believing everything was so close, continued driving up the road, to realize we’d gone too far. We turned around and then found several B&Bs just down the road. We stayed at the Bridges.

These B&Bs are nothing fancy on the outside but quite large houses inside with usually 3-5 bedrooms and a large dining room. Bernie, our host, had two cute little kids (never met the husband) and there was only a common bathroom though many B&Bs have ensuites. My sister and I each had our own room, which gave me a reprieve from her snoring. (It’s funny that whenever I had to wake her in the middle of the night to try and get her to stop snoring, the first thing out of her mouth, even half asleep, was “I am not.” Like I had nothing better to do in the dark of night.)Bernie also washed our clothes for a few Euros each. A very nice place to stay.

So that night we went off to find dinner (quiet on a Monday). Many pubs have dining rooms upstairs. We began to notice that service in Ireland is different than Canada. They’ll serve you but never come back and you have to hunt down the waiter to get your bill or they’ll literally let you sit forever. I don’t remember the name of the place but I had a mediocre chicken curry with not a speck of vegetables. but true to form it was a huge portion on rice. I ate it all and then they brought me a megasize bowl of French fries! I didn’t eat any, being quite full. But there was that Irish thing for potatoes again.

We then wandered back to the Reel Inn for the music though we never got farther than a few feet inside the door. I won’t relate the tale here again as you’ll find it if you go back to the Oct. 2 entry. We staggered into bed, a short walk of a couple minutes from pub to B&B, at 3 am.

The next day we went off to Donegal castle. We couldn’t find it at first and our biggest problem was getting in the car. Being used to larges cities and maps of BC, we tended to misinterpret distances in Ireland. We drove back and forth trying to find the castle, expecting something like Dunluce. Donegal castle was comparatively small, tucked behind a store that sold garden ornaments  and a parking lot. In fact the parking lot was on one side of the Eske River, which is not very wide but I presume was a lot wider during medieval times. From our B&B it was no more than a five-minute walk to the castle.

Originally built in the 1500s by the O’Donnells (probably related to the MacDonnells) they partially destroyed it when they left (were routed?) so that it couldn’t be used against the Gaelic clans. Then the flight of the earls happened and a British captain was given the castle. Basil Brooke added the Jacobean wing which are the kitchen and hall. Some of these castles were so small it was hard to imagine them being seats of power. We’re used to these Hollywood movies that show massive grounds yet we drove by the castle three times without realizing that’s what it was.

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Belfast to Ballycastle

 

Ireland 2007–Belfast to Ballycastle

In honor of St. Patty’s day tomorrow, here is another excerpt from my trip to Ireland in the fall of 2007.

Here we are still on Sunday Sept. 30, going from the Newgrange area to Belfast. We gassed up before Northern Ireland (as opposed to the republic) as they use pounds and that’s even more expensive (at least $2 CDN to the pound). It was the first time gassing up and we couldn’t get the gas flap open on the VW Polo or whatever that piece of crap was. No levers, no buttons and the gas jockey was stymied too. Finally he asked one of the other guys and it turns out you just give it a good push and it pops open. Duh.

The only difference crossing the border, which was indiscernible, was that the speed limits changed from kilometers to miles, much like driving from Canada to the US. However, the speedometer did not show miles, not that it mattered. If it said 60, people went 120, no matter whether km/h. I just flowed with the flow.

There are fairly major highways between Dublin and Belfast so it was smooth sailing and little getting lost though my sister would laugh her head off every time we saw a sign that said Heavy Plant Crossing. This usually wasn’t on the main highways but we later found out it meant lumber trucks crossing, so in a sense, heavy plants. Our three maps of Ireland were deficient in different ways. The one from CAA only showed major routes and everything is a minor route in Ireland. The best map had roads going where they didn’t, roads missing, and sites not exactly where they really were. You cannot have too detailed of a map for Ireland, even if it is a small country.

So, we drove into Belfast with no city map, a scary prospect after the maze of Dublin. But we found downtown (reminded me of Edmonton with the type of streets and construction going on), drove in circles for a bit and then parked, by sheer luck, across from the tourist information center (a large “i”) so we did some internet posting, then got a map and yes, you guessed it, it was not accurate for Belfast. The woman drew lines to the Crown Liquor Saloon, the only place we were going to see as we were now shy of hanging around in the big cities. But of course she said go this way on a street that turned out to be a one way the other way. And you know what one ways are like when you’re lost. You’re always going the wrong direction. And we drove around and around and around and couldn’t find this world famous Victorian saloon.

Finally I stopped by a taxi and told my sister to ask him. He was so nice that he actually just led us there and then pointed. And still we drove back and forth, because the saloon was under renovations and we couldn’t see it for the scaffolding. Arrrghh! But we found it and it was truly beautiful, with warm wood booths and pillars. The pillars had little carved lions and griffins holding shields and in all, there were only about six booths with lovely wooden doors and stained glass. Each booth had a metal plate that said Matches. We were talking to this man and woman and he said that at the turn of the century that was where people struck their matches when smoking. Ireland (both republic and north) are smoke free environments inside establishments, just like BC.

This guy also regaled us with politics and told us the only reason Dublin was considered dirty was because the tourists litter, not the locals. I kept my mouth shut but later saw what the Irish college crowd is like in Kilkenny and the streets were littered. Belfast itself was very modern in the downtown core. We got lost (of course) getting out and the area we were in was a little rougher, but no sign at all of all the chaos of recent years gone by.

We then drove through to Ballycastle. Bally means “bay,” so we passed many a place name Bally this and Bally that. It is a resort town and we did the usual, park and go into a pub for a drink. This was very much a sports bar and rugby is on every screen (or is it soccer–I mix them up). There was a man at the bar could have been my friend Terri Fleming’s brother; similar hair and skin color, and looks. The Flemings (once Flemish of course) ended up in Ireland by way of many routes and the Scots.

On the outskirts of the town, right beside a golf course are the ruins of Bonamargy Friary. Built around the early 1500s it houses many graves of the MacDonnells, the past chieftains of Ulster and Antrim and is still in the same family to this day. The most famous was Sorley Boy (an Anglicization) and his brothers who ruled and repelled the English. The MacDonnells married the MacQuillans to quell the past Lords of the Route. Turns out the one headstone I took a picture of is rumoured to be the Black Nun of Bonamargy’s resting place, Julie MacQuillan who was said to have made seven prophesies.

From the pictures you can tell it was dusk and we weren’t having any luck with finding the B&B the pub recommended. We went back and tried to call three places but duh, you dial first, then stick the money in and if you’re not fast enough, it cuts you off. And then you have to keep adding coins to keep talking. We goofed so bad the pub owner helped us, and one B&B just called back because we got cut off. Eventually in full darkness we found Clare house, after having to knock on someone’s door and scare them in the dark. We unpacked and went back to town for dinner. Some pubs have restaurants upstairs and I don’t know the name of the place we ate at but it was very modern in design and high end. It was a Sunday so there weren’t a lot of places open. A bit pricey but very good.

It was late and we were tired so we drove back after eating and hit the sack.

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