Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Europe 2016: Part 2

For our Europe 2016 trip: Part 1 (England, France and Belgium) click here. For the rest of the trip, continue reading.

The Netherlands
Day 1- (9.06 miles walked)
We left in the morning from Brussels and arrived fairly early in Amsterdam.

Warning: RANT- We got there and decided to buy the I Amsterdam Card for 2 days for entrance into museums, etc. Huge mistake! Do not buy this card. It was a joke that we got completely sucked into. In the end I think we paid 75 euros a person and got MAYBE 40 euros of use out of. We ended up not being able to go to some of the stuff we wanted to because instead of just buying tickets in advanced and walking in, we had to wait in 3 hour lines with the rest of the suckers that bought this card. So we just bailed. (Also, some of the stuff listed is actually free, but like I said, it was a joke). 

ANYWAYS, we bought the card and then took a train to our hotel. I said in my previous post that we have an IHG (hotels) card and I am now converted. With our rewards points (from signing up) we had another two nights in Amsterdam, PLUS you get one free night a year at any of their hotels, so we had one more night at the most amazing hotel I've ever walked in. More on that later.

We got to our hotel and dropped our things and went out around Amsterdam. We were there for Pride weekend which was A) super cool and B) super crowded. Pride in Amsterdam is their biggest weekend of the year so it was nuts, BUT they also had shopping, parties, movies in the street, everything. It was fun to be there and see it all. It just couldn't have been more packed.

We got some Krokets and an Amsterdam cheese sandwich for lunch. Mmm.



We also walked around the city, we shopped A LOT. (Jake is obsessed with shopping in other countries). We found the bloem market that was just TONS of Holland flower shops. There were also endless cheese stores... with endless samples. Heaven.

        

We also found the home the Jake's Oma lived in Amsterdam. They lived here until they were forced to flee to Haarlem during the war. She was just blocks away from Anne Frank's house. They went to school together.

We took a boat "cruise" through the canals and got to see a big chunk of the city that way. It started raining though which made the boat a little steamy, so that's when we got off. (Note again, we took the one cruise included in the I amsterdam card- if we didn't have that card we could have been on the empty cruise... that was also 8 euros cheaper anyways). But you have to take a boat cruise in Amsterdam. It was a great way to see the city.



Basically this day was spent wandering and it was fantastic.

Day 2- (13.7 miles walked)
We did some more wandering and shopping. I bought a kroket out of a vending machine. That's a thing apparently.

In the morning we had a reservation for Anne Frank's house. Make sure to make a reservation. The line was about 3 hours long at 12, and they didn't start letting the line in until 3. Words can't describe what this was like. There's a lot of reverie in this home. It's something that should be experienced, but it's hard to believe. Back in 2010 I actually went through Aushwitz Consentration Camp and the feelings here (though not in the same way) were similar to that experience. It's just hard to believe what prejudice makes us capable of.

Later we took a bus to the cutest little fishing town Volendam. We walked around the streets here a bit. It was gorgeous!


We took a ferry from Volendam to Marken which was another fishing town on a little island.

This was the first place that made wooden shoes because the price of leather, so we watched a demonstration of them making wooden shoes now with a machine. Pretty neat.

From Marken we took a bus back to Amsterdam over the bridge. At this point I was pretty sad that we were staying in the city and not in a cute little b&b in the middle of nowhere. I loved the areas outside of the city. Amsterdam was great though, don't get me wrong.

That night we went to the red light district. We didn't know what to expect, but it's all true. Whatever you hear. I won't lie, the most entertaining things were watching men go bargain with the hookers, and standing back so Jake didn't realize he was walking alone and watching them all try to lure him in. It was hilarious!

But legit, the woman all stand in front of a window in lingerie. Men would walk to the window and they'd open it (more of a glass door). They would talk for a minute and either let them in and they'd walk back and close a curtain or they'd shut the door on the guy. I say men because I never saw a woman try to get any of them. Oh it was so entertaining.

Day 3- (14.42 miles walked)
We woke up this morning and checked out of our first hotel and went to our annual free night. We chose to stay at the Intercontinental-Amstel in Amsterdam. I've already said it, but it was the nicest hotel I've ever stepped foot in. After we checked in we had a guide walk us to our room and show us all the features and how to use the espresso maker, etc. It was amazing.


We came back to the hotel later, but first, we took another bus and got ourselves to Zaanse Schans. This was the most delightful smelling town I've ever stepped foot in. Everything smelled like heavenly chocolate and cheese.

This place was gorgeous though. It was a quant place, lots of small farm animals, right on a river, cool and windy, and had 4 huge windmills.

We LOVED this town. We stayed a while and just enjoyed it.

After Zaanse Schans we actually caught a bus to Haarlem. We wanted to see Haarlem because this is where Jake's Opa lived and where his Oma moved after Amsterdam. We had spoken to her before we left and she gave us the exact address of her homes, the corner her brother played the trumpet on during Christmas (the last place he was before he died). She remembered it all.

Haarlem was very quant, peaceful and a beautiful town. We found all the streets just as Oma had described. We found the apartment where she and Opa lived. Opa moved in with her family after Nazi's came in, stole all their possessions and shot his father in front of him. He moved in with his Oma's family as he had just been left homeless. They were later sponsored as refugees to the United States through the LDS church.

It was so incredible to walk through the lives his Grandparents lived before they were here. It was such a hard and restricting lifestyle. I can't image the pain and suffering, but I'm so grateful for all they went through the end up where they are.

We got back from Haarlem and relaxed at our pool and spa. Seriously, I can't say enough how much I loved this hotel!



Day 4- (12.04 miles walked)
Again, we walked around the city and shopped. The pride parade and big parties started this day so we got to see a bit of it. It was so great! But we wanted to get our last glimpse of the whole city.

We also had to buy a Harry Potter book because I have one from every country I've been to that speaks a different language.

We went back to our hotel and relaxed some more since we could. We had to get the most out of it that we could!


We later caught a train to the airport and got a plane to Dublin!

Dublin
Day 1- (13.23 miles walked)
We landed in Dublin and got the bus to the city. We were in Dublin last year for about 24 hours. But we loved it so much that we HAD to come back. Last year we stayed in Temple bar which is just a giant party. It was too loud to sleep though so we decided this time to stay at Trinity College Accommodation, thinking this would be a cool experience. BIG MISTAKE. We went from the Intercontinental to a Disaster.

First we check in and chose this place because it was close to where we wanted to be without the noise. Little did we know we actually had to walk an additional 20 minutes (away from where we wanted to be) to get to our place. Meaning we walked an extra 2 miles every time we wanted to leave.

Then, our bed is the size of a small bathtub. Jake literally had to curl his body to even fit whatsoever. So I was just left to squeeze next to him against the wall. AND the bathroom smelled like someone had been peeing on the wall for 2 decades. It smelled SO bad that I left the building to wander around and find somewhere else to pee. It was the WORST!

Oh well, we had to get the most out of the city. That night we went pub hopping. We love Dublin because it's just one concert after another. The musicians are all incredible, the atmosphere is amazing and it's free entertainment anywhere you walk. This city is wonderful. We stayed out as late as our tired, traveling, 26 year old bodies would permit and then called it a night.


Oh and we bought delicious burritos from Little Ass Burrito shop!

Day 2- (4.07 miles walked)
We woke up and caught a bus (can you tell we used public transport a lot) to Kilmainham Gaol. Everything I read about Dublin said, you MUST go here. So we did and it was sold out for the day... I was ready to cry. We couldn't do the tour but we did go through the museum of all the prisoners and ways of life in the Gaol. That only made us want to go more. So Jake went and begged. Still no luck.

We were going to go through the Guiness Factory for a tour. It was just pretty expensive and neither of us like Guiness so the free pint at the end is not enticing. But that didn't matter because we got tickets to RIVERDANCE!!!!

Yes, we saw Riverdance. In Dublin. I cried... almost the entire time. It was so amazing!

We had tickets to the matinée, so that as part of our problem with not being able to do much else. But I don't even care. I got to see Riverdance. In Dublin.


We had an after Matinee dinner of fish and chips (of course). Well I did. Jake watched and then got himself dinner somewhere else.

We did some more walking around Dublin. I still love this city.

That night we did some more pub hopping too.

Day 3- (2.71 miles walked)
We didn't go anywhere in particular, just wandered and got some food. Finally, we got our last bus in Europe and headed to the airport.

In all we calculated that we walked 179 miles during this trip. We basically walked everywhere and took public transportation everywhere else. Some cities are better than others for that but it worked well for us.
_______________________________________________
I have a lot that ask me about the cost of our travels and I'm more than happy to break it down. I'll even share the spreadsheet I used to keep track of the cost. Yes we had 8 hotels across 6 cities. We just ended up with more points left over so we cancelled one night in our first London hotel and booked the last night with points. (I now wish we would have just paid for the next two nights at the IHG hotel). We also used our annual free night in Amsterdam, but we could't have afforded the $1100 a night to stay there the rest of the time we were in Amsterdam.

Europe 2016
flights
transfer skymiles$86.25
buy skymiles$239.63
economy plus$318.00
taxes+miles$125.15
Ams/Dub flight$182.27
hotels
london hotel$250.502 nights
london hotelpoints1 night
paris hotel$310.724 nights
bruges hotel$73.591 night
brussels hotel$60.401 night
amsterdam hotelpoints3 nights
amsterdam hotelfree night + $49.00 in taxes1 night
dublin hotel$154.052 nights
london
warner bros studio$102.51
train tickets$895.95
spending$1,653.21
cash withdrawn$613.02
Total$5,065.25

We used points from our Chase Sapphire to book the flights. I bought the remainder of the skymiles needed from United directly so that we could use our points because that was much cheaper than booking with cash only. Jake also had 5,000 points in his name so we transferred them all to one place which comes at a cost of course. We paid for the taxes on the flight, and upgraded to ecomony plus seats (so worth it). With our flight from Amsterdam to Dublin included we were in $950 on flights for both of us, with upgraded seats. 

Hotels, we got 4 nights free by using the IHG credit card. They were also the best hotels we stayed in on the trip. All the rest we paid for in advanced and the total on hotels came to just under $900. We also tried to stay pretty comfortably (not hostels, king beds). After some disastrous hotels (now Trinity College Accommodation can be added to that list), we decided hotels are something we are willing to pay for. 

The big $895 you see on train tickets mostly comes from our ticket from London to Paris. Had we booked in advanced, that number would be about $400 smaller. 

Finally, the $1650 is everything we swiped our credit card for, all just lumped into one category. We also get points from all those purchases to just do it again. 

$615 is all the cash we pulled, which we did have a little of at the end of the trip as well. We mostly just needed it for markets and certain purchases. It also made food a lot simpler when we had cash.

I did break down how much each city/country costed us, with a portion of the train tickets, airplanes, hotels and all the expenses from that city.
London$1,380.48
Paris$1,313.59
Belgium$723.25
Netherlands$850.01
Dublin$797.94

In all, this trip cost us $5065.25. Really not much for all that we saw and did but by comparison, our trip to Italy last year was only $2700 so we did go a little more all out. But the flights to Italy were only $160 for both of us, it was also 4 days shorter. It does seem that London has turned out to be one of the most expensive places we have traveled to.

All that we didn't already pay for in advanced we just transferred from our vacation fund when we got home.

If you're interested in how we pay these trips in advanced, I blogged about our vacation fund here. 
For more of our travels click here. 

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