travel

Weekend Getaway in San Millán de la Cogolla

San Millán de la Cogolla in La Rioja, Spain, was where Mario and I chose to use our gift pack from La Vida Es Bella back in October. San Millán is home to the monasteries of Suso and Yuso, built in the 6th and 11th centuries, respectively. It was a trip filled with the scents of autumn, crisp morning and evening air, walking, and—how could it not be so?—wine.

Monasterio Yuso San Millán de la Cogolla

Yuso (“el de arriba”) Monastery

 Monasterio Yuso San Millán de la Cogolla

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Do You Need a Break?

Many people come to Spain hoping for a break—from workplace and cubicle monotony, from the demands of a high-powered job, from the stresses of everyday life.

5 Ways to Tell it is Time to Get Away Infographic

But Spain is not the only place to “get away from it all.” Indeed, Mario and I will be heading to Destination #2 (Romantic Getaway) in mid-November. He’s never seen Paris, while I have.

Destination #1 (See the Sights)—London

Kaley London

I totally agree about London being a place to “see the sights.” Sometimes Spain’s monotony of cathedrals and castles gets old, and it’s fun to be in place with a ton to see! I loved the red telephone booths, of course, along with just about everything else!

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Amsterdam, The Venice of the North

“Watch out!” Mario grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to the buildings. Two seconds later, a bicycle loaded up with the week’s shopping whizzed by, its owner happily oblivious to his surroundings.

In Amsterdam, like all tourists, I got used to a few things: the smell of marijuana (it’s no joke!) wafting around the side streets, the rather impertinent cyclists, and—of course—the miles upon miles of breathtaking canals.

There are, after all, over 60 miles of them. They’re all throughout the city, giving Amsterdam its nickname, “The Venice of the North.” Having visited Venice last summer, I can attest to the fact that both cities’ canals are spectacular in their own ways, but Amsterdam’s have an advantage in the orderliness department—it’s much easier to get lost among Venice’s waterways that snake throughout the city, leading you to dead ends and impossible crossings.

Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam’s canal ring, known in Dutch as the grachtengordel, built in the 16th and 17th centuries, was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. These canals, which encircle the old town, were part of a program to extend the city by draining the swampland, thus creating maritime commerce and transportation—an important step in becoming a modern and wealthy city. Though they were once merely a practical feature, Amsterdam’s waterways have beautified it. Its gabled canal-side estates and beautiful monuments are second to none. This year, 2013, the canals celebrate their 400th birthday. (Check out some of the celebratory events!)

Canal Ring

The grachtengordel
Source: Wikipedia

What to See

  • Anne Frankhuis, the Anne Frank House—the house otherwise known as the Secret Annexe in Anne’s diary. (Prinsengracht 267)
  • Museum Het Grachtenhuis, the Canal Museum—the place to learn the why and how of Amsterdam’s canals. (Herengracht 386)
  • Kattenkabinet, the Cat Cabinet—a rather odd site, to be sure, but this museum is the former home of a rich cat owner, who opened it after his favorite cat died … but he still lives in the house! There is cat-themed art as well as two living cats. A site for cat lovers. (Herengracht 497)
  • Museum Willet-Holthuysenthis museum houses silverware, plates, and books from the Dutch Golden Age. (Herengracht 605)
  • Homomonument—a memorial to the homosexuals murdered during the Holocaust, this monument serves as a reminder that homophobia still exists and a warning not to repeat the past. (Westermarkt)

Amsterdam Canal Ring

What to Eat

Amsterdam is dotted with cafés and quant little eateries, so finding a place to sit and rest those legs isn’t a problem. But—as with any city—some places are more worthwhile than others! What should you eat when you tire of strolling around the grachtengordel?

  • Pancakes! Amsterdam offers both sweet and savory pancakes—and lots of ’em! (Berenstraat 38) You may also want to check out The Pancake Bakery for a similar option. (Prinsengracht 191)
  • De Blauwe Hollander allows the tourist to try authentic Dutch cuisine, which is, surprisingly, not all that easy to find in the city center. Here you’ll be able to sample herring, pea soup, and hutspot, a dish made up of potatoes, carrots, and onions. (Leidsekruisstraat 28)
  • Damsteeg specializes in fish, but they have other options too. (Reestraat 28-32)

Canals Bikes Amsterdam

Where to Sleep

Mario and I chose a hotel outside of the city center in order to save a few bucks, but there are plenty of good options if you want to be in on all the action!

  • Mozart Hotel, a budget option located right on the Prinsengracht Canal. They are basic rooms, but around the corner you’ll find the Leidseplein nightlife. Starting at €50 for a single room.
  • Seven Windmills Bed & Breakfast, an apartment with all the furnishings. Starting at €95.
  • Cocomama, Amsterdam’s first boutique hostel, owned by two women in their twenties, Anika and Lotje. In September 2009, while looking for a place to start, they stumbled upon an old brothel. They fell in love with the place, restored it, and opened up the hostel in 2010. Private rooms start at €76, while dorms start at €26.

Gabled Houses Amsterdam

Some gabled, canal-side houses

Amsterdam is likely beautiful any time of year, but go when the flowers are blooming! But beware: though it was mid-June, the temperatures hovered around the lower 60s (15 degrees centigrade), with lots of bone-chilling wind.

What are you waiting for?

Visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

While in Amsterdam, be sure not to miss the Anne Frank House. If you were like me, you read her diary at least once as a child. (Okay, I actually read it three or four times.) Anne Frank was a girl just like me, who had thoughts with which I could wholly identify, with unrequited love, with school troubles … I felt a bond with her, and so I read her story again and again.

Of course, I couldn’t miss a chance to visit The Secret Annexe, or the Achterhuis (Dutch for “back house”) while in Amsterdam. The Secret Annexe was where Anne, her family, and four others hid for a little over two years.

Anne Frank House Amsterdam

Nowadays the house, located on the Prinsengracht canal, is a museum dedicated to Anne and the prevention of persecution and discrimination of all kinds. It opened in 1960.

You’ll see quotes from her diary, photos, interviews with survivors, and some original objects that belonged to Anne, as well as the reconstructed bookcase that covered the entrance to the Secret Annexe. Most of the original objects were taken away by the Nazis: furniture, carpets, etc. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, wanted it to remain empty. In Anne’s room, you can still see the photos of famous people she taped up on the wall—like any normal teenaged girl. The famous original diary is kept on display.

Anne Frank House Door Amsterdam

The original door to the house where the family hid
The Little Details
  • From March 15 to September 14, it’s open from at least 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and in the summer a bit later.
  • Tickets: You can buy them online (and skip the line!) or when you get there.
  • Price: Adults €9.50, Young People (10-17) €5.00, Children under 10: €0.50
  • Photography is not permitted inside the house.

Have you read The Diary of Anne Frank?