Sunday, July 29, 2012

Safari #61: FIGMENT

When was your last play day?  Mine was this past weekend at the FIGMENT participatory arts festival on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Participatory means exactly that - you can not only view the art, but create your own to contribute to the overall experience.  Whether it's hula hooping to music, creating your own collage, writing a segment of a short story, or learning how to belly dance, any effort you make it noticed and appreciated.

Leave none of your creativity behind - wear it, sing it, paint it, and just shine. 

While the festival has ended for this year, be sure to visit next year.  Follow on Twitter or Facebook to stay up to speed.

My tips:
  • Dance Like No One is Watching.  If you enjoy electronic music, be sure to check out the schedule of music performances as many local artists spin.
  • Sign Up! Are you an artist or musician?  Learn more about how to participate next year.
  • Take a Break. On the day of my visit, the Greenway Open Market was also taking place offering conveniences such as food trucks and other concessions.  If you're in need of a break, continue walking down the Greenway towards State Street to find the market.
  • Take a Stroll.  Is it your first time to the Greenway?  Keep walking to enjoy all of the local art, like the recently added Os Gemeos mural.  
The Os Gemeos Mural on the Greenway
Special thanks to Anulfo and Jen for making the experience even more enjoyable!  I think we are becoming quite the trio :) 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Safari #60: Tequila Snow Cones

My silent prayer for a refreshing, frozen, alcoholic treat has finally been answered.

For the first time in a long time, I am at a loss for words.  As it stands, there are only three words you need to read - tequila. snow. cones.

Papagayo is a new hotspot in Boston's trendy Fort Point neighborhood offering delicious Mexican food and a well-stocked tequila bar.  I had heard rumors about the snow cones and just had to witness the icy deliciousness firsthand.

For only $12, you get four flavors, which do vary.  At the time of my visit, the flavors were peach, raspberry, strawberry, and mango.

My Tips:
  • Don't be Nervous.  We all know the strength of tequila, but don't let that dissuade you from ordering.  I handled all four, which are fairly petite, and polished them off without issue. Each serving is about 1.5 ounces of frozen tequila, fruit pieces, juice, and ice.
  • Use a Scout.  Papagayo is busy with the just after work crowd, so if you're planning to visit during the week, be sure to send a scout who can arrive a little earlier to either reserve a table or snag bar stools.
  • Convenient Location.  With South Station only a short walk away, there's no reason to skip that second cocktail.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Safari #59B: A Bostonian in Amsterdam

I've been fortunate to travel to many places, and I've never visited a place quite like Amsterdam - and for bike riding, long walk taking, water loving Bostonians, Amsterdam is perfect offering you whatever adventure you may be seeking.

Getting Around
Public transportation is excellent in Amsterdam, but as we Bostonian's know, walking can be so much more fun.  I couldn't enjoy the strolling more - heading out of my centrally located hotel (Hotel Amsterdam) and walking my feet off every day.  If you don't want to stroll, rent a bike.  Keep in mind that there are bike lanes on nearly every street (don't walk in them!) with their own set of traffic lights.  So long as you follow the rules and pay attention, riding a bike is a safe and effective way to get around.

A trip to any European city really isn't a trip if you don't visit a local museum.  The national gallery is the Rijksmuseum, which at the time of my visit, was under renovation.  It houses all of Holland's best known artists including Rembrandt.  While a limited portion of the collection was available for viewing, it was still thrilling to see the work in person.  My favorites were Rembrandt's Self Portrait at an Early Age and Johannes Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid.  Unfortunately, the Stidelijk Museum of Contemporary Art was closed for renovations at the time of my visit.

Amsterdam's Open Markets
If you really want to stroll, you have to visit at least one (if not all) of the following open markets.  Of course, this is still a short list as there are many others to check out as well. If you enjoy vintage shopping (clothes, accessories, and housewares) and fresh produce (don't miss the freshly squeezed orange juice), this list is a good start.

  • Waterloopein - this market specializes in touristy items (mostly new) and very specific vintage items such as military gear (boots, jackets, pants, etc.).  There are also a large number of leather goods.
  • Albert Cuypmarkt - Did you lose your luggage?  If so, head here to find all forms of cheap under clothes and toiletries in addition to fresh snacks and produce. 
  • Noordermarkt - This large market offers an unbelieveable amount of vintage clothing, housewares, and art.  If you are looking for a unique piece to take home, spend most of your time looking here.  Fresh produce is also available.
  • Bloemenmarkt  - some might argue that locals do not shop here, however, flowers are flowers folks, and if you saw the selection of fresh flowers and bulbs, you would want to shop here too.  If you're hoping to take bulbs home with you, don't miss my tips.
  • Nieuwmarkt - If you're staying in Dam Square, this market is a short walk down Damstraat. I was glad to walk to this market and purchase fresh fruit for the refrigerator in my hotel room. To get there from Damstraat, turn left onto Klonveniersburgwal and keep walking.  The market will be on your right. 

Curious to know which market was my favorite? Hands down, Noordermarkt. Seriously.  I wish I brought an empty suitcase with me for all of the housewares and old prints I wanted to bring back.  Sigh.

Eating Like the Dutch
Yes, it's true that the Amsterdammers enjoy their Indonesian food - and if you feel compelled to enjoy the popular rijsttafel (ricetable), please do so.  However, there is absolutely nothing more authentic than eating raw herring.  That's right, lightly brined and served whole or sliced, you can enjoy this summer treat via kiosks located around town.  I decided to try it on a bun with onions and pickles.  It was awesome, and I ate one every single day.  If you enjoy fresh fish, don't pass this up.

Drinking Like the Dutch
You already know that this traveler appreciates craft beer, which means I had to find the best I could while in Amsterdam.  I certainly did.  Don't miss the chance to grab a seat at t'Arendsnest to try the best in Dutch craft beer.  Every beer I had was better than the last.  It was truly an experience, and I could not recommend a better place.

Picnicking at Vondelpark
We Bostonians love our parks, so it's impossible not to visit Amsterdam's Vondelpark.  With green, open spaces and a series of connected ponds, this peaceful park is the best place to rest your weary feet and enjoy a picnic.

As I mentioned in my previous post, enjoying a sit down dinner in Amsterdam most times requires a reservation.  If you're hoping to try Indonesian food and you don't make a reservation, you may not get the chance.   In addition, if you're looking to try Indonesian and not spend $40 euros on your meal, try take out.  There is a delicious a take-out restaurant near the park where you can choose small, medium, and large portions of dishes perfect for sharing.  I stumbled upon Ed's Indonesian Deli one evening and picked up a number of small samples perfect for enjoying in the park.  If you ask, they will heat all of the items for you.  Ed's in generally known only to local's, so consider this one of the best tips I can give you.  Ed's is located at 31 Alexsander Boersstraat, which runs along the southern side of Vondelpark.

Canal Tours
You simply cannot visit Amsterdam without taking a canal tour.  I read about canal tours from Boom Chicago, which in truth are not really tours, but more a local's insight into canal system's most enjoyable sights.  In addition, unlike other tour company's, Boom's boat is small allowing you to gain entry into smaller canals and neighborhoods.  More than anything, if you take a canal tour, do like the Amsterdammer's do and bring food, drinks, and a party attitude.  Most of all, enjoy the views and smile at passersby.

"Other" Things to Do
I'm sure that many of you are wondering about "other" things to do in Amsterdam.  I will share this - the Dutch believe strongly in the idea of personal responsibility.  If you're going to do anything, do it responsibly so as not to place either yourself or other's in harms way (and if you place yourself in harm's way, it's your fault).  Whatever else you choose to do while you are in town, do it respectfully and take notice that the Amsterdammer's (no matter what state they may be in) always have their act together.

Happy travels.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Safari #59A: Planning a Trip to Amsterdam

Greetings safari travelers!  I've been away these past few weeks enjoying a trip to northern Europe.  Now that I'm back, I'd like to share my travels and perhaps inspire you to head north yourself.

Up first, lessons learned from my trip to Amsterdam.  If you're planning at trip soon or if you've already been, please share your tips or ask questions in the comments.

Schipol Airport and the Train to Amsterdam's Centraal Station
Netherlands Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)) and Fyra (high-speed train) provide rail service from Schipol to Amsterdam Centraal Station.  Access to the train system is through the arrivals hall.  Signs will clearly mark your way to the hall after you leave baggage claim.

An important point for American travelers - the kiosks that sell train tickets only accept credit and debit cards that use the 'chip and pin' system or euro coins.  The majority of American debit and credit cards do not use the chip and pin system**.  Be sure to have euros on hand, and even better, euro coins.  The train ticket will cost you anywhere from $3.80 to $4.80, depending on whether you choose the standard or high speed train.
  • If you have euro coins - head to a kiosk that accepts coins (not all of them do).  Look carefully for the coin slot located above the touch screen.  
  • If you do not have coins - head to the one of the NS service desks to speak to a service agent.  You can use euros to purchase your train ticket, and if you choose, you can also purchase your return ticket as well.
Note: As of July 2012, the cost for a 2nd class ticket on a standard train was $3.80 euro.  The cost for a high-speed, 2nd class ticket was $4.80 euro.

Fast food can easily be found everywhere in Amsterdam.  However, if you're hoping to enjoy a nice, sit down dinner, reservations are strongly suggested and at most times required.  More casual dinner options are available as well that do not require reservations.  Most bars and cafes will offer simple menus that include sandwiches and appetizers.

Not that I'm encouraging you to eat fast food, but free WiFi is available in most chain fast food establishments, and many are represented in Amsterdam.  Buy yourself something to drink and take advantage of the free connectivity - especially if you don't have WiFi in your hotel or an international data plan on your smart phone.

Purchasing Flowers from the Bloemmarkt
It's hard to resist purchasing blubs at the Bloemmarkt or flower market.  With all of the varieties and low prices, you could easily plan your urban garden for a full season.  However, not all flowers are authorized for entry into the United States - a fact that some sellers will not mention unless you ask.

Be sure to locate the Certificate of Inspection located on the back of the bulb pacakge.  Pay close attention to the date of issue as it expires after six weeks.  While going through customs, the customs agent told me that tourists unsuspectingly purchase expired bulbs that only have to be thrown away when they arrive back in the U.S.

**According to PC Magazine, chip and pin cards will be available in the U.S. as of spring 2013.