Company training and a trip to Munich

I recently had the pleasure of having my company ship me off to Munich for some training. Due to some flight scheduling issues, I ended up with a couple of free days in which I could tour the city.

When I came back I decided that simply writing up the story would be kinda boring, so instead I played with Google’s new “My Maps Pro” feature and created a map of my trip with my story embedded in it.

The map has different layers for different days of the trip, with the most location-rich day being Wednesday when I did most of the touring. Please take the time to switch between the various layers to see the different content.

Amsterdam trip notes – The Hague

Traveling to The Hague

Since my I-Amsterdam card was only good for 72 hours, the fourth day of the trip was a good day to travel outside of Amsterdam.

I’ve been told traveling in the Netherlands by train is easy, however in practice I managed to encounter a few problems.

One problem was obtaining tickets in the first place, the queue at the at the tickets and information office seemed to be rather long, and I preferred to get my ticket from one of the many ticket selling machines scattered around the central station. The problem with that machines that most of them only take Holland’s “chip card” as a payment method and none of them would accept Euro bills or my American Express credit card. Luckily I had enough coins and eventually I managed to find a coin-operated machine and buy my ticket. I did make a mental note to make sure I have enough coins to buy the ticket back.

Figuring out which train to get on was also tricky as all the signs are in Dutch, and the station names can be confusing. When I finaly resorted to asking the clerk at the information desk, she directed me to the train going to the “Den Haag HS” station which I found out much later, was not the “Dan Haag Centraal” station for which I was aiming.

By the time my train arrived at the “Dan Haag HS” station I already figured that this was probably not the station I was aiming for, but only when train arrive at Rotterdam did I realize that it was probably not going to arrive at “Den Haag Centraal”, luckily enough I managed to find the right train going back to the right station, but my journey was considerably prolonged.

Touring The Hague

As soon as I arrived at the proper station, being an experienced tourist, I approached the first information desk I could find and asked for a transportation map. The map I was handed, while photocopied and not very detailed was enough to allow me (With little help) to find my way to the Binenhof (The parliament building) that the VVV (tourist information) office that resides next to it.

At the VVV I was informed that that unfortunately there were no organized tours going through the city that day, however I did manage to buy a small booklet called “Walking in The Hague” that included walking instructions to tour the city as well as explanations about the various sites and building. Using the book I strolled around the city until it was time to meet a friend of mine, the reason I chose The Hague as my destination, for lunch.

One thing I noticed during my visit to the city was that despite residing more to the south, it seemed to be a lot colder then Amsterdam, while Amsterdam had its “stormy hour” in the afternoon where it would either rain or snow lightly every day, in the Hague it pretty much rained constantly (Albeit lightly) through the entire duration of my visit.

Meduredam

Meduredam is a rather nice place containing small models of many famous buildings in the Netherlands, and it was warmly recommended by my parents, therefore I asked about it and bought a ticket in the VVV office.

While I’ve been told both by my friend and ant clerk at the VVV office that I should take the tram line number 9 to the to Meduredam, one thing they didn`t mention was in which direction should I take it. Keeping consistent with my talent for choosing the wrong public transportation vehicle, I boarded the Tram going the wrong direction and had to waste 30 minutes waiting for it to complete its tour around the city and come back to the central station before finally going at the right direction and bringing me to Meduredam.

When I finally arrived it was late in the afternoon, growing very cold and Meduredam was almost empty of visitors. Despite that I took a tourist guide boot and started following the touring route through the place.

I wasn’t disappointed. While some of the models were taken away for maintenance, that ones that were left were numerous and interesting enough to allow my to spend my time there up until the point where I felt that if I would stay any longer I would find myself locked in there for the night. As I only made it through half the tour of the place, I could have easily spent a few more hours there.

Evening back in Amsterdam

Being an experienced traveler by now, the trip back to Amsterdam was quick and uneventful, knowing that the “Den Haag HS” was a more popular station I went and took the train from there rather then from the centraal station.

Getting back to my hotel, I decided that I wanted Pizza for dinner, Amsterdam seemingly lacking when it comes to cheap Pizza stands, I eventually found myself having a rather pricey meal at a rather fancy Italian restaurant.

Sitting the in the restaurant having my meal by myself, it occurred to me again traveling alone may not have been the best way to go.

The Cave

Going back to my hotel I passed next to “The Cave”, which seems to be, according to the writing on and around the door, a local heavy metal bar that features live concerts. Peeking inside I could see the place was deserted but for two guys and decided not to go inside. I did, however, note to myself to check it out over the next few days and try to spend a night there.

Amsterdam trip notes – The third day

Amsterdam History Museum

While I was beginning to grow tired of museums by now, I decided to go to the Amsterdam History Museum anyway.

I arrived early, and had to wait a few minutes for the museum to open, but when I want inside I wasn’t sorry, the museum featured quite a few very interesting pictures, films, models and digital presentations portraying the history and development of Amsterdam.

Of particular interest were the animated film showing the development of the city and the waterways around it through the centuries, and the models of ships and shipyards built ans used during the citie’s  golden age in the 17th century.

Going for a tour and having “Shawarma” instead

Since the tour thought the red-light district was so successful, I wanted to go on the free tour provided by the New Europe company as well, therefore I had to cut my visit to the museum short, and go to Damarak street to grab something to eat on my way to the tourist information office where the tour was to begin.

Going up and down Damarak street, the only thing I could see that looked like a food stand where one could take the food and walk was selling only bags of French-fries which did not seem anything like a well composed meal to me.

Eventually I also found a shop selling Shawarma and other middle-eastern foods and decided to go for it.

There were few odd things making this Shawarma stand different then any I`ve seen before:

  1. There was no selection of salads to put in the Shawarma, the recipe was fixed.
  2. The guy behind the counter didn’t cut the Shawarma off the spinning piece of meat, instead he warmed up some pre-cut Shawarma he had in a container.
  3. He didn’t know what a “Lafa” was, instead they called it a “roll”.
  4. I had to specifically ask him to put Chumus in of he wouldn’t have.
  5. The was some red sauce put in that had some kind of Mexican taste to it.

Buttom line, what I got didn`t taste anything like the Shawarma I know, but it was good enough to eat.

Unfortunately, I was a little late arriving at the tourist information office, and probably managed to just miss the group departing.

The journey to the windmill

Since I didn’t go on the tour I suddenly had an empty afternoon on my hands, I decided it was time to go see a windmill.

The journey to the windmill turned out to be a long one, first, I had to take the number 1 tram line to Meer en Vaart, from there I had to take the 192 bus line (After some head scratching about the side of the road on which I should stand and a long wait) to Langsom.

Sine my journey took my far outside the tourist area I got a glimpse at the modern pards of Amsterdam which I am sad to say do not look as pretty and appealing as the old city.

The windmill museum

The windmill was located in a rather desolate place, while there were buildings and shops around, there were`nt many people walking about, there also seemed to be no one inside the windmill and nothing indicating that this is a museum other then a sign indicating that visitors can go up using the elevator.

Not wanting to have my long journey go to waste, I entered the windmill and wondered around the upper floors, when I came back down to the first floor I was met by an elder man and a woman who slightly embarrassed me by asking how did I get in and if I knew that I needed to pay to enter the museum.

I answered that I would be happy to pay, and thy said that since I had already been inside I don`t have to but if I did I could have a guide, handing then my I-Amsterdam card, I told them I would be happy to have a guide.

when I asked to a guide, I was assuming they were gonna give me a little booklet describing the museum, like the ones I got in all the other museums I been to, instead the man told me he was going to fetch him, and I realized the guide was actually a person…

The guide was very nice and informative and gave a fascinating lecture about the history of water management in the Netherlands and the operation of windmills, while showing me all parts of the windmill including the various mechanisms in the lower and upper floors I couldn’t access on my own.

When I left the museum and after wondering a little around the area and taking pictures, I learned that I had about 15 minutes till the next bus arrived, since I was a little hungry, I bought myself at a little stand near the bus station what I later learned was a classical Dutch meal consisting of a fried fish covered in breadcrumbs.

The Sex Museum

The Sex Museum was recommend to me by one of my friends, I must say, it seemed to me it could more aptly be named “The Porno Museum” since it essentially contained a large collection of pornographic materials (some dating back a few centuries), and while describing the development of sex through the ages, it essentially described the development of porn.

All in all I found the museum to be rather childish and not very impressive. Further hampering my limited joy of the museum were the group of British teenagers that were wondering about staring at the pictures a giggling to themselves…

I suppose back in the day the museum with its “dark room” presenting pictures of the most strange and extreme forms of sex (Sado-Masochism, etc.) was quite a sensation, but now days, with the Internet making this kind of stuff accessible ant the click of a button for those who want it, I find the museum rather dull.

Musicians in the rain

When I emerged from the sex museum I was rather frustrated and gloomy, and the rain that began falling did not help to improve my mood. Walking up and down the Damarak street where the museum was located, I couldn’t find a place that seemed to suit what I had in mind as the kind of place I wanted to go into to have my dinner.

Eventually I decided to leave Damarak and go to Laidseplain which was known as a recreation area and had the additional benefit of being very near to my hotel.

As I disembarked from the Tram with which I traveled, and rain grew a little harder and I went to stand near the entrance of one of the restaurants in the area which was sheltered from the rain. As I was standing there, a group of musicians settled nearby and began playing some very quick, dramatic and beautiful classical music. Son enough a large crowd gathered around to watch them play.

Eventually, those players seemed to not only warm up my heart with their music, but also chase the rain away, as by the time I left the restaurant entrance, the raid seem to have stopped.

Meal at the pub

To have my dinner I eventually picked what seemed to be a rather new pub near Leidseplain, the barman that served me was very nice and friendly, the music was ok, the food (Grilled chicken and mashed potatoes) was good and the place quickly filled with young and happy Amstemmers.

Despite all that, as I was sitting there on the bar I couldn’t help but have a lonely feeling sink into my heart as couldn’t really talk to anyone or understand what they were saying. For the first time during this trip I missed home, and felt sorry that I wasn’t sharing it with anyone.

Amsterdam trip notes – The second day

The Rijksmuseum

Like a lot of Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum seems to be closed for renovation this time of the year, however, one wing  is currently open, and the most important works have been moved there for display.

The existing display, while small, was fascinating and  easily filled a half of my day.

A nice thing to mention is the clock standing in one of the hallways that looks like a coffin with a person inside which is constantly erasing and drawing the clock hands with a white-board marker on a semi-transparent glass. It was interesting to see the crowd`s reaction to it, people were constantly knocking on the wood wondering if there is a real person inside.

I woke up early and pretty much got to the museum first, right at the opening hour.  As the hours passed however, a large crowd came in consisting of people of all ages including young people and even children escorted by their teachers, doing what seems to be homework about the various works of art.  This was fascinating to note considering this is a “dull” classic arts museum.

The Heineken Experience

As I walked in to the “Heineken Experience” building, it was obvious I came to a really different place then the Rjiksmuseum I just been to, for once, the staff behind the counters was notably younger then the people at the Rjiksmuseum, and they insisted on being nice and friendly, The pretty blond girl at the entrance almost danced as she asked me where I was from and brought me the appropriate tour brochure.

There are many nice things to do at the “Heineken Experience”, you can read and watch video presentations about the history of the company, you can take your own picture at various interesting places and poses, you can listen to a lecture about the way beer is made delivered by one of the place`s young and jumpy staff, you can “experience” being made into beer by watching a simulation movie while standing on a moving platform and you can sit back at one of the multimedia couches to watch all the Heineken commercials ever made.

At the end on the tour, you get to a large pub-like area where you can spend the two buttons connected to a bracelet you were handed at the entrance to get two free beers.

The one problem with all this for me was that eventually I found myself in a room full of people having beer on my own, this is the first but not last point on this trip that I found myself missing home.

Tour Through the Red-Light District

Since I didn’t know exactly what to expect of the Red-Light district, I was afraid to go there alone, eventually I decided to take the advice of one of the brochures I found in the hotel lobby and take the tour provided by the “New Europe” company.

To say the tour was fantastic will be an understatement, Joe, the tour guide was an absolutely awesome Australian full of knowledge and funny stories and the group consisted mostly of friendly young Australians and Americans.

I must say, that going through the district, I was not that impressed with the girls in the windows, walking through the city, I’ve seen much more attractive tourist girls.

One thing that hampered the tour for me a little was seeing the seemingly foolish and violent groups of teenage boys walking around the district with the look in their eyes that says they probably never seen a woman in a bikini before.

At the end of the tour we were offered by the guide to join him for a drink at once of the pubs, most of the group came along, ergo, I had some nice company with which I could have my dinner.

Amsterdam trip notes – The first day

Obtaining the I-Amstrdam card

The I-Admsterdam card provides free and discount access to most museums as well as many of the public transportation systems, therefore it was essential to have before I begin touring the city.

My plan for the event in which I failed to obtain the I-Amsterdam card, which I booked in advance, at the airport, was to obtain it at the tourist information booth located at Leidseplain which is quite near to my hotel, there fore I got up early and went out to obtain the card, as it turns out, not only did the booth only open at 10, it was also impossible to use my voucher to get the card there. Eventually, I had to walk to the central station to obtain my card.

Canal cruise

My original plan was to begin my tour by taking a the boat cruise provided by the “Blue Boat Company” which departs next to my hotel. Since I had to walk to the central station, I took the “Holland International” boat tour departing from there.

Unfortunately I couldn`t see much during the tour itself because the temperatures were dropping and it was difficult to see through the boat windows.

One thing I did notice during the tour was the long, long, long queue at the entrance to the Anna Frank house, at that point I decided to forgo going that museum.

Snow!

When I got off the boat, it began to really snow, that was exiting for a while, but eventually the excitement wore off and I realized it wasn`t at all that pleasant to be outside in the snow, and decided to get indoors by visiting the Madam Tussodis museum.

Madame Tussauds Museum

My visit to the museum was hampered by the fact my bladder was bothering me when I got inside and there was nowhere to relieve it.

Apart from the usual Madame Tussauds exhibition of famous star statues, the Amsterdam museum also featured a local section dedicated to Amsterdam history and well a darker section featuring a simulated tour through the citie`s famous dungeons.

Van-Goch Musium

The museum itself was rather extensive and interesting, but one thing I have to note is the difficulty I had finding the entrance to the building as I was coming from the direction of the Museumplain, I had surrounded what seems to be a decorative structure build behind the museum itself twice before I realized the entrance was into the other building from the nearby street.

Amsterdam trip notes – The flight and the hotel

The flight

If you fly with a Turkish airline – don`t be surprised if they are late every time – by a lot. The food during the flight from Tel-Aviv to Istanbul was a joke – a sample of potato salad and some sausages. But the food during the later flight was a lot better – grilled chicken breast. Either way I was very hungry both times, so I didn’t really care what the food was.

Getting to Amsterdam

Originally I was planning to obtain my I-Amsterdam card which I pre-booked at the airport and take the opportunity to ask about getting to Amsterdam and buy the appropriate bus or train ticket. However, by the time I got to Schipol (The international airport near Amsterdam), all the information desks were closed. Its a good thing I planned for this contingency and knew in advance which bus to take, though the maps and information I had was scarcely enough to allow me to find my way to the hotel. Eventually what saved that day was the nice and patient bus driver.

The Hotel

The hotel Mozart I stayed at is conveniently located next one of the citie’s traffic and shopping centers as well as a large concentration of big and famous museums. Positioned inside of a classic canal house the hotel is interestingly narrow and long, which made for a slightly less thrilling experience once I was faced with the small size of my room…

And while the size being a shortcoming by far the biggest problem with the hotel is the fact that I cant use the free wireless internet connection from my room, and have to go down to the lobby.

Other then that, the hotel and room are well furnished and well maintained, so all in all, a good enough home-base for my short stay.

BR-1138: Ice Breaks, Songs by the Campfire

A Chronicle of touring Israel with a Taglit-Birthright group: The first night

As joyful as this first day of my trip  had been so far, it seems our faithful tour guides were reserving the best for last.

After we were done with our dinner at the Beduim-styled tourist camp, we all gathered at our group tent in order to participate in the “Ice Break” group activity meant allow the American and Israeli group members to get to know each other better, the Americans were divide into eight small groups and each group was assigned one Israeli member and tasked with preparing a certain kind of act to introduce their Israeli to the rest of the group.

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