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A day in Amsterdam…!

Amsterdam was the last stop on our best Euro trip ever and we were exhausted! Traveling had been incredible and exciting but we knew Amsterdam would give us the much needed down time that one often feels one needs AFTER a holiday…like the holiday from the holiday!

We were right!

Both Aditya and I had visited Amsterdam before… but when we were kids. This was our first time here as a couple and we were excited!

From Paris to Amsterdam we took the Thallys. Fun, fast, fabulous and modern- this train was a dream! With fast speed internet connection on board, comfortable seats this bright and cheerful train put all of our other train journeys to shame! Travel in Europe- Use Thallys!

After a fabulous, invigorating morning because of a super train ride passing through some fabulous places that I made note of to visit we arrived in Amsterdam! The hotel we stayed at was a Starwood property – part of their Luxury Collection- Hotel Pulitzer.

The hotel comprises of 25 restored canal houses which makes it so incredibly unique with no two guest rooms being the same. Each has their own character and a distinctive and personal. The rooms are small and cosy. Our suite overlooked the canal and was very special because of the large windows which allowed us the luxury of sitting indoors in the rainy weather and watching the beautiful city glisten and glimmer as it bathed in the quick shower! It rains in Amsterdam – it rained all 3 days while we were there. The rains are usually quick and windy but if you’re outside you can feel quite bitterly cold!

Amsterdam is a glorious city. Walk it and you can stop in the many small pathways and find the most amazing shops, the most vibrant of cafes and the most interesting of boutiques. The first morning was spent walking over bridges and stopping at cafes and finding this small , incredible cafe with the best fries ever and lingering over cups of coffee- the perfect unwind!

The mode of transportation is trams or in the smaller roads- bicycles or walking. But know that riding a bicycle in Amsterdam has lots of rules attached and bicycle riders are quite fierce and fast and can give you quite a scare making walking an often safer mode of transportation!

Later in the afternoon it was off to the centre of the city and for a shopping experience like none other. Small boutiques bordered large expensive stores and local cafes stood side by side to fast food chains. Something for everyone and colours everywhere!

The Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are easy to spot… In its spelling itself there is no space between coffee and shop and it is not called a cafe. They serve cannabis and hash brownies among usual coffees and soft drinks and snacks that you’d get at another cafe. I wandered into these more for curiosity’s sake and was pleasantly surprised to see the owner cum server totally knowledgeable and very cautious about what he was selling and even more so how much he was selling. He enquired carefully whether it was your first time and talked you through the entire range of products he had and didn’t push any when I chickened out and ordered a coke and chips instead and focussed on what seemed like a very stoned dog sitting with his master in the coffeeshop!

Anne Frank’s Home is an absolute MUST DO! I was never an ardent fan of the book. I had read it, enjoyed it, but never been really been overly interested in her life. I guess, being born in a different era made what happened seem so unreal, so frightening and a bit unreal to me. Our hotel was a building away from the Anne Frank Home and I decided I wanted to see it. Book tickets online as they only allow a few at a time and the lines outside the house otherwise are very long and to shiver in the rains is not appealing at all! We booked tickets and went in. Suddenly we were transported to an era gone by. With black and white videos, handwritten diary pages and even walls with height marks as to how tall she’d grown- suddenly her life became all to real. Her story told so perfectly and simply through simple diary entries came alive in the small , cramped rooms and the creaky flooring where she’d spent her life hidden in fear. We read about her arrest, saw the records , heard her father speak about her and I wept. Like the tens of others who had walked in with us, this experience became personal, became real and it stopped being about a book. It became about a life- a life lost too early. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful and touching experience that this trip offered me and I was glad I made time to do something that would offer me such a personal experience.

After all the tears I went back to our room for a nice hot cappuccino and we ended up at a fabulous local restaurant which was filled to the brim. With tapas and wine this became the perfect end to a perfect day!

Best Times To Travel-:  June through to October ! But it does get chilly at night and be prepared for rain!

Price Factor-:  $300- $500 a night and do try the Canal House Hotels . They are definitely an experience!

WILL GO BACK…STAY LONGER…SOON!

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The Papal Audience

The 23rd of May this year was more special than ever. Birthdays have always been a big deal for me…but this birthday had been in the planning for a couple of years (almost 3 )!We were up and out of the hotel by 7 :30 am for our Vatican Visit. Why visit so early because every Wednesday the Pope himself would greet the crowds, pray with them, bless them and talk to them and this year WE were part of that incredible crowd!

My birthday fell on a Wednesday and divine help with a little extra nagging my husband allowed me to take the trip I had been dreaming about. I am not Catholic. And yet that day will still etched as one of the most incredible days of my life!

Vatican City is not far. It was barely a 20 minute bus ride. The tickets for the Papal audience are FREE but it is wiser to book through Viator or another agent so they can pick you up from your Hotel and organise the tickets for you once you get there. Our bus stopped at a Tourist shop but we had already been warned that if you’d like something to be blessed by His Holiness you might as well buy it elsewhere as prices were sky high for even the smallest of trinkets.

From the drop off point you travel by foot with the scores of visitors towards St. Peter’s Basilica and then you go through minimum security and rush to find a seat!

Tip-: Find a seat close to the barricade because the Pope’s car drives by there and you will be inches a way from him.

Grab a seat and then wait. The Papal Audience generally starts between 10 am and 10:30 and you will probably get in at least an hour and half to two hours before with your Tour Bus so do carry water and something to snack on as it is a very warm sun and quite a long wait!

The crowds are enormous- thousands of people- children,newlyweds, nuns, priests, tourists and many locals all gather for the Papal Audience. This is an occasion where His Holiness speaks to the crowds and blesses the scores of people who are here to listen to him!

I also particularly loved the Swiss Guards who were there to guard the Pope. Their colorful uniform just added to the excitement of this visit!

And then His Holiness gets driven in and thousands clap , cheer, hoot and pray! He smiles benevolently at all and does 2 whole rounds before going to the Pulpit and addressing the audience. The next hour is about blessings and prayer and no matter where in the world you are from or what faith you follow- the lessons are wonderful, the prayers perfect and the moments you spend during at the Papal Audience ethereal.

During the blessings different Christian groups from countries all over the world are acknowledged and blessed and the blessings are in several languages so no culture or country is left out. The Pope is cheered on like a rock star and you’ll hear shouts of “Benedicto! Bendicto!” still ringing in your ears long after the Audience with the Pope finishes.

The morning was so spectacular because of the incredible positivity you felt engulfed by. Even far away from my home and family, I was surrounded by love. What could be better than that?

Price Factor-: About $40 for a Papal Audience visit- should include a pick up from your hotel and a drop back to the centre of the city (if not to your hotel).

Papal Audience days-: Wednesdays

Dress Codes-: Ladies must have shoulders covered and ensure that all outfits are longer than knee length. No shorts permitted for men or women. Bring hats, sunscreen and water as it does get hot in summer!

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