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The Heineken Experience

The Heineken Experience

The Heineken Experience is a tour of the first Heineken brewery built in Amsterdam in 1867.  It opened about 4 years ago after some significant renovations.  It’s now a multilevel interactive experience where you can learn about the history of Heineken and best of all… taste their beer.

Tickets are a little expensive.  15 euro per person.  But you do get a couple free glasses of beer with it so it doesn’t make it that bad.  It is one of the more popular attractions in Amsterdam so it can get busy.  Come early during a weekday if you don’t want long lines.

One unique experience is you can taste the wort.  Wort is the liquid that is extracted from the mashed barley during the brewing process.  It doesn’t taste all that good which is why you don’t see bottled wort on the store shelves.  Miki was adventurous a tried a bit of it.

Near the end of the tour they have some neat interactive experiences.  You can try you hand at being a DJ.

Miki the DJ

They have these relaxing interactive pods they show Heineken TV commericals from the past.  Some of which are very amusing.

Heineken Commercials

They also have why I called a over stimulating sensory chamber to brain wash you into drinking their beer.  TV screens on all sides of the room.  Light shows.  Loud music.  Just don’t fall asleep in the room because who knows what they are implanting in your brain.

Over stimulating sensory chamber to brain wash you into drinking Heineken beer

The last part of the tour they teach you how to pour and drink a beer correctly.  Then they usher you into the bar area where you can practice your correct technique for drinking a beer.

All in all.  A good fun day that I would recommend if you are in Amsterdam.


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    Windmills, Cheese, and Tulips

    3 things that scream Amsterdam:  Windmills, Cheese, and Tulips.

    Amsterdam’s floating flower market is the only floating market of it’s kind in the world.  Miki being the expert flower arranger we had to go see for ourselves.  The pic below is just one of many, many stores selling all kinds of seeds and flowers.  They ship all over the world but since  we didn’t really have a home at the time we had no place to plant them.  Even if you don’t have a garden its still worth the visit.

    Tulip Flower Market

    We went to a farm the day before to see how they make cheese and there are stores all over amsterdam that sell cheese.  The really cool part.  They all have FREE samples.  You can go to 2-3 shops, fill up on cheese and skip lunch:)

    Miki running off with some cheese.

    While Tulips and Cheese are symbols of Amsterdam, nothing says Amsterdam more than the Windmill (maybe Heineken is the most well known symbol from Holland?… more on that on the next post).   We got our windmill fix at Zaanse Schans.

    Zaanse Schans Windmills

    Zaanse Schans is essentially an outdoor museum.  They relocated a bunch of historic windmills and farmhouses from around the area to this museum.  It’s a top tourist attraction but wasn’t overly busy when we were there.  We saw some of the same stuff (cheese making, clog making) the day before on our bike tour but they didn’t have this many windmills this big.  It’s an impressive site.

    Zaanse Schans Windmills

    Zaanse Schans Windmills and Farm

    Zaanse Schans is a ways away from Amsterdam so you need to drive yourself or take a bus.  Tip: shop around for the best price.  We found that the prices varied a lot from one tour company to the next.  The cheapest way to get out there if you have 2 or more people is to rent a car for a day and fit in a couple other sites along the way.  We didn’t want to mess with a rental car so we went the tour bus route and paid about 40 euro per person which also included a visit to a fishing village called Marken.  It was freezing cold and raining so we didn’t walk around Marken much.  We just found a cafe and warmed up with some tea.  If it was nice out it’d be a good place to take a stroll.

    This is the main reason I hate group bus tours.  You can’t change your plans if the weather sucks.  They make you stick around no matter what because its the schedule.

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      Bike Tour of Amsterdam

      Amsterdam is a great place to get around on bicycle.  It’s flat as a chessboard and a very bike friendly city.  There are a couple companies that run bike tours but the best are either Mike’s Bike Tours or Joy Ride Bike Tours.  We used Joy Ride Bike Tours and had a great time.

      Amsterdam Bike Tour

      The day before we wanted to go we gave Joy Ride Bike Tours a call and they set us up for the next day.  Problem was, the next morning we got up and there was a torrential downpour.  This was not an ordinary storm.  The rain was incredible.  We couldn’t see 20 feet out our hotel window the rain was coming down so hard.  I was worried since it says very clearly on their website WE DO NOT OFFER REFUNDS FOR RAIN.

      Amsterdam House Boat Village

      I called them anyway to see what we could do.  They said they hadn’t seen it rain like this in years and its not safe to go out so they are canceling the tour.  They have never cancelled a tour before.  I was relived because there was no way we were leaving the hotel room.  No worries though.  We went the next day and it rained a little but not bad.

      As for the tour, we did the 4 hour country tour that went to the Vondelpark were we saw the below outdoor Picasso (priceless artwork in a public park that hasn’t even been stolen or vandalized… would never happen in the US), a floating house boat community, a 400 year old working farm where we saw how they made cheese and clogs.

      Bike tours are a great way to see the city.  I posted before about our love of walking tours before but I taking a bike is better.  You get to see more of the city in a shorter amount of time.  You can always get off your bike and walk around if you find a place you want to explore more….

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        48 Hours In Paris

        So what do you do if you only have 48 hours in Paris?  Do all the touristy stuff that all other visitors do in Paris.  Normally that’s not my idea of a good time.  We usually seek out more off the beaten track places and try to stay away from the normal tourist route.  However, this was the first and probably the last time we’ll be in Paris so we set off to check off the top Paris tourist attractions off the list.

        Stop 1.  Eiffel Tower.

        Eiffel Tower

        The key to visiting the Eiffel Tower is to get there as early as possible because the lines can get ridiculously long.  It’s also a good idea to visit it first on your trip to Paris.  It’s a good place to take in the whole city.  You can even grab a bite to eat and the decent yet overpriced cafe.

        Stop 2.  The Louvre


        There is so much to see here you could spend weeks and still not see everything.  My wife had a list of things she wanted to see (Mona Lisa being the top) so I mapped out the most efficient route and we did a quick half day tour.  We only scratched the surface so if your a musuem lover block out a couple weeks to see it all.

        Miki in front of the Louvre

        One tip – don’t enter through the glass pyramid.  The line is ridiculously long.  When we arrived the pyramid entrance was hundreds of people deep but I found a tip online that suggested to enter through the Port Des Lions entrance.  There was only two people in line in front of us.

        Stop 3.  Notre Dame Cathedral

        Another must see building on a short trip to Paris.

        Stop 4.  Arc de Triomphe

        Arc de Triomphe

        We stopped here on our way to our final activity in Paris, the famous cabaret show Lido.  I didn’t have high expectations for the show since most of the online forums have very negative reviews of this show and the similar shows at Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse.  None the less, it was a fun night out and a good way to spend our last night in Paris before heading to Amsterdam.


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          The Most Photographed Women In The World – Mona Lisa

          Massive Crowd to Take Picture of Mona Lisa

          One of the must see sights in Paris is the Louvre.  If you visit the Louvre you need to see one of it’s start attractions.  Mona Lisa.  However, she must be the most photographed women in the world so be prepared to enter a mosh pit to get a picture.  Miki and I braved the crowds and were able to get close enough for a picture.

          Pushing through the crowds to Mona Lisa

          If you are able to push through you get to see the star attraction up close.  Worth it?  I hate crowds so I would say no but it was funny seeing the mass of people vying for position to take a picture.  My advice, bring a telephoto lens and take a picture from the back of the crowd.  Better yet.  Spend a euro a buy a postcard in the gift shop with her picture on it.

          Mona Lisa





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            Burgundy Wine Tours

            I’m not a big wine fan.  I’d pick a nice microbrew beer any day over a bottle of wine.  However, when your in Burgundy, France you need to go a tour to learn about the history of this wine country.  My wife enjoyed the tour much more than me.  The guide lost me at trying to explain Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and drunk Monks.  Personally, I just like taking pictures of the barrels.

            When we visited wine country in New Zealand we also went on a wine tour.  I don’t remember anything about that tour except for a couple of similar pictures of barrels.  Same thing for this tour.  Don’t remember anything except this nice picture of wine barrels.

            Wind Cellar Barrels in HDR

            Wine Cellar Barrels in B&W

            If you are in Burgundy there are a lot of options for wine tours.  We choose the easiest option.  Just walked into the local tourist office in Dijon and had them book a half day tour for us.  Very easy.  My wife enjoyed it and I got a nice picture of some barrels.  You can also do a quick internet search and find several companies that offer various tours.



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              Hunting for Truffles in France

              We found Truffles

              During a tour of the Burgundy wine country we found a little truffle shop.  Personally, I don’t get what all the fuss is about and why they cost so much and but my wife likes them.  Anyway, she started chatting up the owner and somehow we got scheduled to go on a truffle hunt with him and his dog the next day.  The owner’s shop L’Or des Valois is about 30 minutes south of Dijon, France.

              L’Or des Valois – Truffes de Bourgogne

              His dog is a special breed specifically trained to hunt truffles.  He isn’t very friendly but he absolutely loves hunting for those truffles.  We learned everything there is to know about truffles.  I don’t remember most of it but I do remember be bombarded with all kinds of truffle related information.  The one thing I do remember is don’t eat the truffles that have magots on them… like this one.

              Truffle with magots

              If you want to learn more than you ever wanted to about truffles stop by the L’Or des Valois – Truffes de Bourgogne near Dijon, France.

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                How to Stay in a French Castle

                French Castle

                A couple weeks before we planned to go to France my wife asked if we could stay in a castle.  Castle??  Hmmm?  Sounds expensive but let me check.  Sure enough, there are a couple website dedicated to help you find a stay in a French Castle.  Most of the castles are amazing, opulent, 5 star offerings but there are a few budget options.  Here are a few sites I found that eventually led me to the 15th century Nights Templar castle Commanderie de la Romagne




                and eventually I came across this site which had the Commanderie de la Romagne.

                I e-mailed the owner and arranged to stay for a few nights.  He was very responsive to e-mails and his hospitality was 5 stars and it all cost about $100 per night.  This probably wasn’t the French castle my wife had in mind but it turned out great and the “castle” had tons of history… it was owned by the Nights Templar.  King Henry IV (Henry the Great) even stayed here.

                In 1050 Romagne belonged to the abbey of Beze. By 1144 the Knights Templar acquired the property, extending their domaine into the neighboring villages as donations increased. After Philip the Fair charged the Templars with heresy in 1307, Romagne was transferred to the Knights of St. Jean, who later became the Knights of Malta.

                In the 15th century, Pierre de Boresdon, chamberlain to Louis XI, fortified the property, giving us today’s castle. His coat of arms can still be seen above the Saint-Jean door.

                One of Romagne’s more illustrious visitors was Henri IV, who stayed here a month after his victory at Fontaine Française.  During the French Revolution, the estate was confiscated and sold as national property. Stone by stone, some of the fortifications and the chapel disappeared.

                In the early 19th century, the property was acquired by the Quenot family, ancestors of the current owner Xavier Quenot.

                The room we stayed in was quaintly decorated.  Our bathroom was the former castle prison.  Everything had character.  He was doing some renovations when we were there but they are probably completed by now.



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                  Our Most Expensive Accommodation in Europe… a Youth Hostel in Switzerland

                  Mountain Hostel in Grindelwald, Switzerland

                  We stayed at nice 3-4 star hotels all over Europe and mostly for around a 100 USD per night.  However, Switzerland was a completely different story.  2 beds at this youth hostel cost us about $150 per night.

                  I did quite a bit of research to find a hotel near Interlaken for under my self imposed 100 per night limit.,, expedia, orbitz, priceline, hotwire, none of them had anything even close.  Finally I found a hostel in Grindelwald.  It was a perfect location and one of the cheapest options I could find.  A couple of minutes walk from the train station that goes to Jungfraujoch.  I was supposed to have a private double room but they were all full.  Instead, they gave us a six person room with nobody else in it.  We were just given strict instructions not to touch the other beds or we would be charged.  Worked out nice with the extra room.

                  As youth hostels go, this one was very nice.  Very clean, nice staff, free wifi (side note: how come ALL youth hostels have free wifi but most 5 star hotels charge a fortune), clean bathrooms, individual showers, and the views were pretty good too.

                  View of the Eiger from Mountain Hostel

                  We initially planned to stay in Switzerland for a week or more but due to the high costs of lodging, food (a big mac value meal costs over $12), the lackluster ice climbing, and the overpriced canyoning, we only spent a few days here.  Switzerland wasn’t a total disappointment though, the views from the “Top of Europe” were amazing and the 007 Bungy jump unforgettable.  I guess my expectations of Switzerland were a little to high.  Maybe I’ll come back again some day… once I’ve visited the rest of the countries in the world.

                  Next, we head for France to stay in a medieval castle!!

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                    Jungfraujoch – “Top of Europe”

                    Jungfrau – Top of Europe

                    The Swiss Tourism office has this to say about the Jungfraujoch.  I’m a little skeptical when tourism offices say it “is the highlight of every visit” but in this case I’m inclined to agree.

                    The journey to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, at 3454 metres Europe’s highest altitude railway station, is the highlight of every visit to Switzerland. It offers visitors a high-Alpine wonderworld of ice, snow and rock, which can be marvelled at from vantage terraces, the Aletsch Glacier or in the Ice Palace. On clear days, views extend as far as the Vosges mountains in France and Germany’s Black Forest.

                    The train journey to the Jungfraujoch through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch is also an incredible experience. Visitors can enjoy stunning views from two intermediate stations, the Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and Eismeer (Sea of Ice).

                    Visiting the Jungfraujoch was recommended to us by our climbing guide in Italy.  He said it was a little expensive but was worth it.  A “little” expensive is an understatement.  At close to $200 per person for a ticket it’s not a cheap day trip.  However, check out the pictures and you’ll see why its worth it.  The views are amazing.  This is what you come to Switzerland for and the “Top of Europe” is the best place to take it all in.


                    First, you have to get up to the “Top of Europe”.  The attraction here is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  We started the trip from Grindelwald which was right next to our youth hostel.  From there you take a normal train to another station further up the mountain, Kleine Scheidegg.  From Kleine Scheidegg you hop on a cog railway train (if you are into trains you read more about cog railways here) that takes you for a 50 minute ride up to Jungfraujoch station at 3454 meters (11332 feet).

                    The train goes straight through the famous Eiger mountain which is an incredible feet of engineering.  There are two stations in the middle of the mountain.  They dug a hole out of the side of the mountain to dump all the material they dug up in the mountain.  These holes have now been used for emergency personal to launch rescue missions for people stuck climbing the Eiger.

                    Hole in the Eiger

                    Here is a picture of the climbing routes up the Eiger.  You can see the white box half way up on the left.  Thats the window in the picture above.  You can learn more about climbing the Eiger in this BBC documentary


                    Once your reached the top there is a surprisingly large complex.  You have the obligatory gift shop, a couple of restaurants and a number of attractions.  The first thing we did is board an elevator all the way to the top to what they call the Sphinx.  You can see France, Germany, and Italy from here.  If the weather is good the views are spectacular.  If not, I’m not sure if the cost is worth the trip.  Check before you go.

                    Top of Europe

                    Top of Europe

                    From the Sphinx you can also look down on a little year long winter playground.  They have tubing, skiing, snow shoeing, zip lining, and other winter sports.

                    Top of Europe’s winter wonderland


                    After we spent some time soaking in the surroundings on top of the Sphinx we went on a 45 minute hike to Mönchsjochhütte.  It’s a small hut that people uses as a base camp for expeditions to the surrounding mountains.  It’s a nice little hike over a packed snow trail but be careful of the weather.  It can close in fast and you could get stuck out there so dress appropriately and ask if its ok to go.  Once we got there we enjoyed some cheese fondu and beer… yum.

                    Beer… Good.

                    The last thing to make sure to do is visit the Ice Palace.  They carved a little maze right out of the glacier.  They also have some nice ice carvings.  Kinda touristy but its all included in the price so why not stop by and pose from some pics.

                    Jungfrau Ice Palace

                    … and make sure to watch your step.  The drops are killer.

                    Jungfrau – that last step is killer

                    At almost $200 per person this isn’t a cheap day trip but compared to the other incredibly over priced things we did in Switzerland it was probably the best money we spent.

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                      Our Most Expensive Accommodation in Europe… a Youth Hostel in Switzerland | Travel + Photo | Live Curious - [...] the cheapest options I could find.  A couple of minutes walk from the train station that goes to Jungfraujoch.  I was supposed to have a private double room but they were all full.  Instead, they gave us a [...]