Den Haag…another day with no joke

Sunday August 11 – Den Haag

I slept in again today – my back was hunting again – but I had looked yesterday and almost everything was closed until noon today, so there was no reason to rush out of the house. I love taking walking tours and recommend them to anyone traveling. Usually it gives you an opportunity to explore the city center – including many places you may not have checked out on your own while giving you historical and cultural information. Many of them end with a trip to a pub or a coffee (depending upon the time of day).

I got ready and walked over to the meeting point – Im sure I would make most others nervous or anxious with the lack of planning I do – but it said it was going to meet in this square and the email didn’t necessarily tell you where.  I had a feeling it was near this cartoon statue – so I checked the website and I was right. There were 14 people on the tour, great size group – we had Russians, Texans, Germans, and some Asians – all different points of views on the world. Makes for great conversation when you find out how everyone learns a different history about many parts of history.

Our guide was Denny – he normally does architectural tours but he was filling in for his friend while she was on holiday with her family. He had a lot of insight on the architecture of the buildings so we got to see a lot of little details most people don’t notice – or if they do itll take years (according to Denny). He took us through parks, gardens and we walked all over the city center. For me the highlights were realizing how old the city and the fact that they are still ruled by a king! They vote here for the people who keep the government in check, not the actual government since the king appoints them. They also have like 25+ parties – so they are forced to work together and it is hard to bribe them since the group changes so frequently.

We also learned about the canals throughout Holland – basically they are all locks and dams meant to assist with water problems (rising and lowering due to weather) most of Holland is below sea level. They aren’t afraid of rising sea level because they are prepared for it – they worry about the world, but not themselves.

At the end of free tours they say “now is judgement time.” This is when you get to place value on the tour, since many people who come on these are backpackers or who don’t want large expensive tours, often times $10-15/person is a reasonable rate. I usually give $10 – if they do really good $15 – those are the ones who can answer all my crazy questions. After the tour I walked over to the city volunteers (they have these people with maps and candy to help tourists) and got a map because I want to take the tram to the beach, but first – LUNCH!

I ended up finding another pizza place but opted for pasta and soup this time. I really want some fries!! I haven’t found a stand open when I am actually hungry for them though.  I sat and wrote up to this point in the blog, read some of my book and enjoyed the food for a while. After lunch I walked around for a bit, then went to figure out the tram system so I could check out the beach. Luckily you can buy tickets with a card on the trams themselves – the signage and information at the stops is actually very good here. I rode line #1 from the city center to the beach area. It was about a 25 minute ride. The tram went down tree lined streets – everything so lush and green – make the outskirts of the city seem farther away than it really was.

I got to the beach stop, opened Google maps and headed towards the water. On the way over I ran into a bunch of kids teaching each other parkour. It was a pretty cool site to see – looked like a legitimate club – they had shirts and leaders and stuff. Getting to the beach from the tram line was a quick 10 minute walk. It smelled like fish the closer I got to the water – but the beach views were gorgeous. It was (and usually is) very window, so there were many windsurfers out on the water. I didn’t see many people camped out on the beach – but it was pretty cool  out (all of 64*).

After I checked out the beach I went back to the tram, I really wanted to get some digestives (ya know fiber full crackers, with chocolate!) and chocolate for my adventures tomorrow – luckily there was a shop just at the tram stop. I gathered my snacks and got on the tram back to the city center. I stopped at the Peach Palace as my guide recommended it. However, you can you cant actually go in and they only have a small visitor center to check out. I took some pictures and headed back to the tram. The Peace Palace is an international group of people appointed by each country that handles international arbitration. In order to participate each side must agree to the final settlement.

Once back at the city center I decided it was time to head back to my Airbnb and relax for a bit before the concert and also change, it was already cooling off and it was only 5pm. I got back to my room and no one else was home (woohoo) but I just went to my room to watch some Friends and take a nap before my super wild night ahead. I full expected to be out late (and I was!)

The concert started at 7pm – but tickets said P!NK had two openers – so I didn’t leave the house until after 7pm since the park was only about a 15 minute walk. People were filing in from the trams, buses and trains – all so orderly and excited. I followed the wave of people into the park. There was a bike parking lot at the venue (and many people didn’t even lock their bikes up) and a locker facility in case you wanted to leave stuff outside of the park.

I decided I had come all this way I should buy a shirt with the concert dates and places on it, so I waited in the long line and got a shirt. After that I headed to ticket check in. I paid for the closest area (the Golden Circle) which meant my line to get in was super short. They scanned your ticket, put on a wristband and made you throw away your ticket. You then have your bags looked at, but no metal detector or pat down. Europe (ok maybe just this area) has concert venues figured out. No cash at the food or beverage lines. You instead buy tokens – plastic round coin like pieces that can be split in half to pay for food or beverages. The minimum you could buy was 5 tokens – for $15. So I went with the 5 tokens because they had FRIES!! The friends were 1.5 tokens and the drinks (non-alcoholic) were 1 token a piece. I got fries, fanta and a water. They even had water refill stations around the site – its super nice!!

Muster Point 6: July 1, 2019

Today my friend Julia and I headed out of Sacramento on an early flight to Seattle to catch our cruise – heading to Alaska!!

Our day started early – we grabbed a LYFT around 4am. Once we had checked our bags at the airport, we breezed through TSA with plenty of time to wait at the gate. It was a very easy morning. Could this be the calm before the storm? Or will this trip really be a breeze?

Once in Seattle we grabbed our luggage and headed to the LYFT pick up spot in the parking garage.

Our LYFT picked us up and we headed to the city to have breakfast. I had looked up places on the way to Pier 91 where our boat was launching from. I settle on a place called 5 Spot. Their menu looked pretty good.

Turns out they are an ethical restaurant who does good things! Some of their menu items have a donation that go with them: Order plate A and 5 Spot will donate $1 to a charity.

We both settled on an egg dish, but then of course had to have the sweets: beniets and  cinnamon rolls!! The beniets were so good!! The cinnamon roll was not. I sent it back, and even the second time it wasn’t good. Hard as a rock. I love cinnamon rolls – they hold a special place in my heart from when I was young going to Saturday breakfast with my dad and grandma at the Fryin Pan in Fargo, ND.

After our breakfast we headed to safeway about 5 blocks away to get some candy!! From there we snagged another LYFT and headed to the boat early.

Our cruise is on the Holland America’s ms Amsterdam, however the whole boat was taken over by about 1,300 LESBIANS through the Olivia Travel company. We arrived before boarding so we checked in and hung out in the check-in building. About 30 minutes in I realized many of the people on the boat would be older than Julia and myself. I was actually really excited about that – the older groups tend to be ones I can relate to more.

Photo Credit: Julie A. Booher
Photo Credit: Gina Teddone

After about an hour we boarded, found our room, got settled in and were hanging out in the room to take a nap! After nap time, it was time to Muster!! this is when you have to go to your life boat station (normally with your life vest) so you know where to go in an emergency. Unlucky for me, I only took Instagram videos that disappear after an hour, so I have no shots for this….So Im stealing….

We headed out to the Lido deck for a sail away party.  The moment the boat took off from the pier I got queasy. Like, seconds. Luckily I had my patches and ginger snaps (thank you Mark!!) to get me through. I was super prepared for all the sea sickness I was expecting. I brought eastern medicine patches and Dramamine as well!! I really don’t want to get sick on this trip.

After the party, no actually I started feeling queasy, Julia and I headed down to the room to nap. (I know, party poopers, but we were so tired). When we woke up from our nap it was time to go to the Solos introduction meeting. The Solos are a group of people who are single OR traveling single. It lets everyone be part of a group – even if you came along. The first two people we met were Lori and Julie – how crazy right? Lori was sitting across from me and Julie was sitting across from Julia!! We also met Becca right around the same time. Little did we know, these would become our people.

After that Julia and I headed to the Spa because they were going to be raffling off gift certificates. The lady in charge says she loved us so much she offered us even more!! I volunteered to pick a ticket – and guess what?? I picked Julia’s!! Not many people figured out that I had picked hers – later on I think they did. (Sadly this gift certificate never got used – it was only usable during dock time, but we didnt realize that until it was too late).

Julia and I went to find food before going to a comedy show with Vicki Shaw. We discovered the Lido deck and it has pools, hot tubs and a buffet line. Most of the day the buffet line is open – things to note when traveling on a cruise ship! I ended up having pretty bland food to avoid upsetting my stomach (mash potatoes and mac n chz!!).

After dinner we headed to the show and sat in the Solos section. I found Vicki very funny, she managed to make a terrible horrible disease (Alzheimer’s) have some humor. It was a great fire night option. We were both really tired after and headed to bed early. I slept so well I could have kept sleeping – for much longer than I did!

Money, Money, Money

Cash/Debit

As an inexperienced traveler – my dad helped me order Euro before I left on my first international trip. I thought – this is great, I have what I need to get by on this trip. I thought € 200 was the perfect amount of money for a month long trip in Greece and Turkey. Little did I know – my trip wasnt that cheap at all – AND I had overpaid for my Euro.

So what did I learn for the next trip? Well I didnt really. I decided against getting Euros before I left – and opted to get money at the airport. That seemed reasonable!! However, it wasnt and still isnt. I watched my classmates exchange USD for the Euro at the bank. While it offers a “Zero Fee” explanation – you get the worst exchange rate. But they get you – that “Zero Fee” gets everyone! I opted for the ATM near the exchange bank. Also – not a great idea – I paid a whole lot in fees! The international transaction fee from my bank at 3%, plus the ATM fee levied by my bank at $4, plus the ATM fee levied by the ATM at ~$3.50. All of that for $100. Needless to say – I was over that.

After my trials I decided to figure out the best way to get cash in a foreign country. Step 1: Get yourself a good bank! I ended up choose Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab offers ZERO international transaction fees. Most banks (Chase, Wells Fargo, local banks, etc) have a 1-3% international transaction fees on EACH and every transaction used with that card. If you use your regular bank – be ready to pay fees. Doesnt seem like much, but they all add up – and 3% is just mean! Using your regular bank is an option, you should first call the bank and let them know you are traveling internationally so they dont shut the card off on an assumption of fraud or theft.

if you need cash – get enough to make it worth your while. You will be paying the international transaction fee and an ATM fee. So taking out $10 could cost you $3.90 with ATM fees and transaction fees. If you want cash I recommend taking enough out for you to buy trinkets and snacks with for the time you will be using that currency. Say you are going to be in Paris, Rome and Munich for a week – then flying to London to end your trip for a few days. A week in those three countries (all on the Euro), I would recommend about € 200 for your snacks and trinkets. Some places only take cash (think side of the road trinkets) and small museums sometimes only take cash as well. That € 200 would only cost you about $10 in fees (transaction and ATM).

The final piece of advise on the debit card/ATM front? Cover your pin. This is actually the most common way of theft – a pick pocket will watch you and catch your pin, then steal your card from your pocket or wallet. Every ATM will instruct you to cover your pin, many now have a cover over the numbers to make it more difficult to have someone catch your pin being entered. If you are really worried about your cards/wallet getting stolen, I would recommend one of these: RFID travel money belt. Keeps your money safe under your shirt at belt level. You can also use it to hold your passport (though I would recommend the hotel safe for that.)

credit cards

The most important thing to remember is in industrialized countries – is that their security on using credit and debit cards is actually better than the US. So, dont panic using a debit or credit card at a small restaurant or shop. Over a DECADE ago, Europe (and actually most of the rest of the industrialized world) switched over to the chip. Ya know the fancy little chip that causes you to stick your card into the machine and have it yell at you to take it out? Yeah, that one.

So use your credit card (with ZERO fees) with the chip and your debit card with the chip and feel pretty safe doing so. If you are hesitant, use your bank app to verify your transactions – but in all my international travels, Ive never been hacked or had my information stolen – that has only happened in the US.