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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Legal cannabis and prostitution are probably the first two things that would often come to mind when talking about Amsterdam. However, the city has actually a lot more interesting and “wholesome” things to offer for travelers, whether you’re visiting for a day or two. 

Amsterdam is a charming city with interesting museums, beautiful architectures, canals, markets, and streets for biking. Here is my own list of recommended things to do in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

1. Rent a bicycle in Amsterdam
The most cost-effective and enjoyable way to explore Amsterdam is by bike, and no tourist should leave the city without experiencing its popular bicycle culture. Being a flat district, it allows for easy and stress-free cycling. Whether you are a fitness aficionado or not, cycling around Amsterdam can be quite an adventure! 

It is also a fantastic way to visit more attractions and sights without spending too much money on transportation. Renting a bike is way cheaper than taking the bus, train, or tram. You’ll surely enjoy the experience as you bike along the Amstel River and pass by colorful buildings, trendy houseboats, and old architectures.

2. Go to a coffee shop
Amsterdam is equally popular for its numerous coffee shops (not to be confused with cafes!) and these are amazing places for tourists to relax and enjoy cannabis legally while interacting with the locals. Although these shops are not allowed to advertise, identifying them is pretty easy. Just look for the green and white license sticker in the window! 

If you don’t like to smoke, I recommend trying out the famous Amsterdam space cakes (brownies) or the bonbons (lollipops) instead. Why not!? Carpe diem!

3. Visit the Red Light District
Rosse Buurt, De Wallen or Walleties, as the Dutch call it, the Red Light District of Amsterdam is home to a number of legalized brothels, sex shops, and even museums. The most interesting part of this district is its network of alleys containing tiny one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door. 

This specific area leaves nothing to the imagination and you’ve got to see it yourself!

4. Shop in flea and flower markets
There are numerous shopping spots in Amsterdam. For those who are into bargain hunting and flea market shopping, I highly suggest you visit the Waterlooplein market. There you can find vintage stuff, artworks, collectible items, and analogue cameras. You should also consider going to the famous floating flower market. It’s a good place to purchase all sorts of flowers like tulips, narcissus, and other bulbs to bring back home. 

5. Explore the canals
Similar to Venice, Italy, Amsterdam is a town with impressive and extensive canal system. There are many boats and cruises that you can rent to see the town from canals. You will be able to board a cruise in nearly every hour during the day. Trust me, it’s a very relaxing way of exploring the city!

6. Relax at the park
Amsterdam is a city of fantastic parks too. After a tiring day, I would personally recommend going to the extensive Vondelpark, especially during the summer, to hang out and relax. Make sure you take a stroll though the rose garden teeming with a wide variety of roses. Other notable parks in Amsterdam include Westerpark, Rembrandtspark, and Oosterpark, all of which are clean and well-maintained.

7. Eat food from the vending machine
Hungry and need some quick snacks? I suggest you head into FEBO and try their selection of snacks such as burgers and croquettes displayed behind glass doors. No need to order. Simply put some coins in the vending machine slot and voila, snack is ready!

8. Visit the museums
Amsterdam is a paradise for arts and culture enthusiasts. You will surely have a visual blast in Amsterdam as the city is home to many outstanding museums and art galleries, among them the Hermitage, Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum. Make sure you buy the Museumkaart. It is a pretty good deal as it gives you unlimited free access to almost all museums in Amsterdam.

Do you have anything to add to this list of recommended things to do in Amsterdam, Netherlands? Feel free to leave your suggestions below!


Sunday, March 27, 2016

I commenced my volunteering stint at the Trung Tam Thien Nhon, a language training school in Go Vap District, last Tuesday. This is the second time that I am teaching English to non-native speakers. However, unlike my first volunteering experience in Dharamshala, India where I was doing informal conversation classes with a only few Tibetan students and monks, I am dealing with more students, ranging from 20 to 30, in a class this time, which makes it much more challenging.

I am really glad that I stumbled upon this free volunteering opportunity from one of the forums in Couchsurfing. Worthy of note here is that the language school is managed by the Chua La Go Vap (Leaf Pagoda), a Buddhist temple. The pagoda provides a number of free foreign language classes such as English, Chinese, Japanese, French, etc. to anyone who is interested in learning but cannot afford the steep fees of private schools in Ho Chi Minh City, making it a popular language school not only in the Go Vap District but the entire city. Yes, students do not pay for anything to be accepted! They can also choose from numerous classes that run in different times of the day. Classes normally start at 9am and end at 9pm. The school is continuosly accepting foreign volunteers and interns, mostly from AIESEC.

My first day teaching at the Speaking and Listening class at the pagoda was a learning experience. I did not know exactly what to expect from my students but I prepared myself for the worst. As suggested by my fellow volunteer, Jenny, I made a short power point presentation about the history and geography of the Philippines, my chosen topic for the lecture, while also introducing new vocabulary words.

Upon the start of my lesson, I immediately realized a huge problem in the class composition. Not every student has the same level of English proficiency. Others are more advanced than the others. As I went on speaking, I could very well see in many of my students' faces that they were lost and clueless. I had to repeat words several times, speak more slowly and clearly, and choose basic and simple words for them to understand what I was talking about. I know there is a learning curve to this and my first day has somehow tested my patience.

Fortunately, most of my students were attentive enough and very eager to learn. Many of them were curious and fond of asking questions about myself and the Philippines. It must admit, though, that communicating with my Vietnamese students was a challenging task because not only am I not used to their accent, I have also never taught in a huge class before. I think I have to devise some innovative ways and easy exercises in the next lecture so everyone is given the chance to speak up. After all, the primary goal is to improve their speaking abilities. I look forward to the succeeding sessions.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Xin Chao! Yesterday was the beginning of my nomadic adventure and things have been good so far. My arrival in Ho Chi Minh City was a pleasant one and full of good surprises. The airport looked so much better than it was when I first visited the city seven years ago.

I arrived past 1am and had to kill time and take a nap at the airport. I was very happy to see two floors specifically built for waiting passengers. I found a good spot at the third floor where I managed to lie down comfortably on a sofa and get a few hours of sleep, enough for me to feel recharged.

Before 7am, I left the airport. I initially planned to take the taxi to Gia Dinh Park, the agreed meeting place with my volunteering contact person, Dat, who I met in Couchsurfing, but the cheapskate traveler in me decided to just walk to the destination as it's less than 2 kilometers away as shown in GoogleMaps. Dat and I agreed to meet there at 8am and he would take me to the Pagoda in Go Vap District.

It was a long walk but a good re-introduction to how crazy the hustle and bustle in Vietnam is. Upon exiting the main gate of the airport, I was immediately welcomed by what the country is most known for – motorcycles and the frenzy that comes a long with it! 

Looking for the agreed place was harder than I anticipated. GoogleMaps was functioning erratically and not loading my exact location. I had to stop and ask several people if I was indeed going to the right direction. I did a couple of wrong turns which made my walking journey to the park longer. Fortunately, I printed out the map that Dat sent me with the name of the street of our meeting place. Without it, I would most probably get lost and resort to taking the taxi. 

So after walking for an hour, I finally found our meetup location along Nguyen Thai Son Street close to the park's intersection. I arrived a little past 8am but Dat was nowhere to be found. I was already second guessing myself if I was in the right spot because the location was not exactly in the park but in the vicinity of it. To confirm it, I tried sending him a text message but unable to do so as my roaming was not activated yet. Damn! Fortunately, I saw a coffee house with free wifi in it just a block away! It was a life saver.

It was a timely discovery as I didn't take my breakfast at the airport and was already starving. I ordered a chicken Ban Mhi then connected to the free internet and immediately messaged Dat via Whatsapp, informing him that I was at the Serena Coffee next to Nguyen Tuan Street waiting for him. Ten minutes later, he arrived. What a relief! We talked a bit and ordered an odd-tasting lemon juice with seeds in it before heading off to the volunteering place.

I hopped back on Dat's motorbike with my helmet on to the Pagoda. It was a good 20-minute travel experience traversing the busy streets and alleys to Go Vap District. The traffic was already building up that morning and I was stunned by the Vietnamese riders' driving skills. We arrived safely at our destination without encountering any mishaps even though the motorbikes were a few inches away from each other. The Vietnamese rival the Indians when it comes to driving!

Upon my arrival at the Pagoda, I was welcomed by Jenny, a cheerful Vietnamese girl, who also volunteers in the language training school. Dat introduced me to her and brought me to the apartment where I'll be staying. It's a two-floor house close to the Pagoda. At present, three other foreign volunteers are living there. Two from the Netherlands and one from Japan. Jenny showed me the sleeping space on the second floor and I chose my spot on the right next to the stairs. 

Later in the day, I was introduced to other staff and volunteers at the Pagoda and we talked about my preferred teaching schedule at the school. I opted to conduct my classes every Tuesday and Thursday. Can't wait!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Located in the vast Frogner Park at the heart of Oslo, the Vigeland Sculpture Park is a fascinating outdoor museum that features more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron, ranging in different sizes, by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland, all of which celebrate the bizarre aspects of the human form and its representations. It is also the largest sculpture park in the entire world made by a single artist. This is definitely a must-see!

It took Vigeland almost two decades, from 1924-1943, to complete the ambitious art project, in exchange for a house that was given to him by the municipal government. The sculptures are dotted all over the park and they range in topics - from remarkable representations of humans to more symbolic and abstract subjects. You will be fascinated for sure!

I was specifically drawn to “The Monolith,” which is the central point of the park consisting of several sculptures of human figures that are intertwined with one another. It was carved from one single granite block, hence the name, and it took Vigeland over 14 years to complete these sculptures alone. Eerie and amazing!

Another key attraction of the park is “The Fountain”. This particular sculpture was meant to be placed in front of the Norwegian Parliament, which drew some controversies. The sculpture comprises of different bronze reliefs depicting the “circle of life”, with sculptures of kids, old men, and skeletons, to cite a few.

Perhaps the most known sculpture in the park is the "Sinnataggen", the little “Angry Boy”, which became even more famous when it was removed from its pedestal and stolen. Although it is one the tiniest statues in the entire park, it is the most photographed! 

How to Get to Vigeland Sculpture Park:
The easiest way to get to Vigelan Sculpture Park is by taking the tram #12 which stops directly outside the park gates at “Vigelandsparken.” 

You can also take the underground (T-Bane) or tram #19 to Majorstuen then walk about 400 meters down the park. You can also reach the park by taking bus #20.


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