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By this Author: Singularis

Amsterdam

Walking the Streets

sunny 20 °C
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First, the journey...

I left my office an hour early expecting to reach home well in time. You know what they say about rush hour, it happens at rush hour. Unfortunately, no body told this to the rest of the people in Gurgaon. I was stuck, it was raining, and to make the idiocy complete, a woman in the next car felt obliged to let the world know that she was still there. I was beginning to wonder if I'd get to my home in time. Briefly considered, driving directly to the airport which is kind of on the way.

To cut a very long story short, I did reach home though I fear the damage I might have done to my car on the roads I took.

Things were more or less smooth from then onwards, though my last minute checks were regularly interrupted by phone calls from friends and family wishing me a pleasant journey. I also had to slip in 2 cartons of cigarettes that M had asked for and I was not too keen on having to explain that to my mom. She was edgy anyway and kept changing her mind about what stuff ought to be in my backpack and what in the suitcase. I didn't want to stress her out but in the end I 'had' to insist that she go down and let me do all this myself. She, thankfully, obliged.

Things went well after that. I managed to pack as I wanted. The drive to the airport was fine (I was afraid there might still be traffic issues). I reached the airport well in time, got my baggage checked in. Cleared customs and sucurity with relative ease and soon found myself in the airplane.

I was dead tired (had slept late the previous night and gotten up early) so gratefully slipped away to sleep almost as soon as the flight took off. Unfortunately, KLM was a bit too keen that I enjoy my journey, and I was politely woken up a couple of times to ask if I wanted something and another couple of times to have food handed to me. I must say, and this might just be the airline, but Dutch food wasn't as exciting as I had hoped. It seemed healthy and so, naturally, tasteless. Ah well... I had dutch food and thats whats cool.

Amsterdam-Schiphol
I woke up in good time, strangely refreshed for someone who's just had an 8 hour flight. Though it was dark outside, it immediately struck me that I was a quarter of the world away from home. We landed soon afterwards and I walked off into a new continent for the first time.

Customs/ Immigration in Schiphol wasn't a breeze. I was expecting this to an extent. The lady double checked my documents and ensured that I enough money (for better or worse, I had a little more than enough, causing some raised eyebrows). But I was ushered through within 30 minutes. It was a standard procedure now that I am familar with it but I can't pretend I wasn't a little bit apprehensive when the guard told me that my baggage will be fine 'for a few hours' :)

Walking the Streets
M had to get up really early (when it was very cold) to come to Schipol but I didnt have to wait too long before I met him at the point we had decided....

I used a credit card (it worked here as well though probably with 3% extra charges) to use a locker at the Amsterdam Central station, which was pretty well maintained. The locker cost 6.25 euros but it was totally worth it since the other optionw as to lug my huge blue bag around town. I just took out my small bag and carried the jacket and LP guide etc. with me...

Since it was really early, most of the shops, cafès etc. were closed but the sun was up so we strolled about. Compared to India, the streets here are wonderful for walking. The sidewalks are just about an inch higher than the road so the WHOLE place looks like a park in India. I also saw trams for the first time and wondered if it was alright to walk across the rails.

We wandered off in the wrong direction and ended up all the way across town near a public park somewhere in the South West (the name of the locality escapes me now but according to the LP guide we were near Paradiso). Amsterdam is so small you can actually walk all the way across (might be a bit tiring though). Anyway, the cafès were starting to open so we had breakfast at a small place on the edge of the park... "Ham and Cheese"... sort of like a croissant with salami and cheese... it was nice... (having spent a few days here now, "Ham and Cheese" barely qualifies as adventure but I took the notes a day after I first landed and just had to include my reaction to "Ham and Cheese")

We had Argentanian steak for lunch (or so I thought at the time)... the waiter was a guy from Rohini (barely an hour away from my place)

There was a music concert happenning in Dam Square, the main square in Amsterdam, the scene was amazing. It confirmed what I thought while packing, not bringing the camcorder was a huuuge mistake. My camera is great but theres no way it could have captured the feel of the place.

A little later in the afternoon, after walking around, we finally got too tired and decided to go to Rotterdam, which is 45 mins or so by train.

M told me he lived in one of the less expensive 'student/immigrant' streets but it looked better than most places in South Delhi.

There is a broad shallow canal with grassy banks on both sides of it where a family of ducks has made its home. This is right in front of M's house. Missed the camcorder again!

We went to a supermarket to pick up bread, salami, chicken, and cheese and wine (well, we just had whiskey eventually hahaha)

That was just the first day.

Posted by Singularis 02:07 Archived in Netherlands Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Show me the Money!

Cash, Traveller's Cheques or Credit Cards?

all seasons in one day 33 °C
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I had a slightly disconcerting conversation with a person in my office today... she wasn't the first one to say it in fact (and this is why it was disconcerting) she was the latest addition to a growing list of people who said how common mugging is in Europe...

wtf! I found myself trying to remember the number of times anyone has threatened me with bodily harm... well, you can't drive in Delhi and not get a piece of that action but its rare for anyone to actually mean it, much less do anything...

I was working up a respectable amount of stress on the thought when I realised that that I had just said "Uncivilised"... ya, that did it... there might have been some muffled giggling which made people around me back off a bit but at least I was relaxed again...

Later I was trying to make sense of the fact that despite the history, why is it that you are more likely to get "mugged" in Europe while in India and around her, you're much more likely to get conned rather than beaten up... maybe we are the sneaky kind... is that better or worse?
There is much to be understood...

Anyway, since this issue did come up... I started thinking (more urgently) about the form in which I ought to take money along...

So I dropped a mail to my bank to figure out if my credit cards will work in Europe (likely) and will I have to pay anything over and above what I'd pay to use them here in India (very likely). Richard advised me to negotiate though I don't see how I'd be able to get in touch anyone who has the authority to waive off International Transaction Charges of one card...

Anyway, I figured I'd take my cards along but not use them unless I have to... take 50% cash and 50% Travellers' Cheques. But I am not sure how to break up each of these into Euros and Pounds...

Hmmm... so I am making this my "Think yourself to sleep" topic for tonight...

4 Days to go...

Posted by Singularis 10:36 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (0)

All Set.. Almost

The last 5 days before flying to Amsterdam...

all seasons in one day 35 °C
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Hello!

In case you (currently, just a hypothetical "you") haven't yet figured it out... my "blog keeping" has not been... shall we say... comprehensive :)

I thought of keeping a travel journal almost as soon as I booked my tickets in June 2007 and I certainly had the time to start adding small notes... just for my own sake if not for anyone else's... but somehow, I was not really able to get the whole "trip feel" going!

I bought a guide and flipped through the pages... looked up hotels and made up plans ... but I wasn't really getting the feeling that I was actually going to Europe!

In fact, while we are on the subject, this whole lack of "the feel" was what probably made me spend way too much time putting together my visa application to the Schengen States and the UK.

Yet, when I finally did, the process turned out to be the simplest thing ever. In fact, I can unequivocally say, getting the visa was the easiest "government" business I ever had to deal with!
The fine folks at the Dutch Embassy almost seemed to look over my application with some relief... apparently, I was the easy one :)

And, I never even saw the presumably just as fine, if not finer, folks at the British High Commission at all! I got my visa without personally having to go anywhere for it!

SO, its the last Sunday before my flight to Amsterdam which is next Friday night. I have both the visas I need and have confirmed places to stay at...

Yesterday, I went to Sarojini Nagar and got myself a tough pair of boots and a backpack... I am not so sure about the back pack but the luugage I had was either too big (to lug around in a city) or too small (to carry just enough stuff for a 3 day excursion from base in Rotterdam. The new backpack is enough to hold 15 Kgs but still too big to wear all day long if I have a hotel to stay in.

I have to say, I can sense the reality of it creeping in... and my first reaction was to set up a decent travel blog! Now I am working out the best way to carry the money ...

I think I'll write a separate post on that :)

Are you ready Europe?

Posted by Singularis 03:55 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (0)

The Pre Trip Low Down - Part II

Work Arounds

38 °C
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The invitation letter I need from the guy I'll be "staying with" in Amsterdam hasn't come in. It seems that after the first copy (somewhat predictably if you ask me) got lost in the regular mail, he couriered over a second copy but not on a priority. I guess he thought I had enough time to apply for and obtain 2 visas in less than 3 weeks.

He may or may not be right but I have taken my visa appointment for this Tuesday. Its all good if the letter comes by Monday but frankly at this point I've decided o take matters in my own hand. I am planning on booking a hotel. Its easy enough and within my budget as long as my card works. I haven't used it for any kind of an international transaction yet so I am not sure.

Its been a good 3 months since I bought my ticket yet the whole thing is beginning to unwind into something of a mess.

I love that kind of travel in India (where planning seems a waste of time really) but I am not so sure I ought to take a chance on my EuroTrip...

what with it being a different continent, the probably language barrier and the fact that unlike in Jaipur, Rajasthan, I am going stick out as a tourist like a sore thumb...

Slowly getting excited about it but will really be able to believe it when I get my visas!

Days Left: 20

Posted by Singularis 02:59 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (0)

The Pre Trip Low Down - Part I

Getting a Visa...

33 °C
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Getting a Visa can be a pain. Well, its not really anyone's fault. I need a "letter of invitation" from my friend in Amsterdam. He isn't a citizen there, just a student with a residence permit. Apparently, the powers that be were reluctant to legalise the letter.

However, they did finally do the needful last week but my friend only sent it over by regular post. It should be here now (fingers crossed) except that today is a National Holiday in India (on account of our 60th Independence Day).

So I bought the flight tickets (and how they pinched) almost 2 months back but have not even APPLIED for a visa yet. There is a month left and thats more than enough in most cases but I also just found out that KLM does not let people cancel/change their flights. I don't see how thats possible but hey! besides the fact that I want to go it looks like I HAVE to go!

Damn red tape... How we hates it.

Posted by Singularis 02:53 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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