Venice of the North

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After spending some time in Amsterdam I thought this was actually “The Canal City.” Most commonly, this name is associated with Venice but doesn’t Amsterdam statistically have more canals? I decided to check that out and, not surprisingly, both cities go hand in hand. Here is a fun fact of the day: 

# of bridges: Venice ~400, Amsterdam ~1300

# of canals: Venice between 150-177 (depending on a source), Amsterdam ~165

# of islands: Venice ~120, Amsterdam ~90

 

I know, I know, it’s not about the statistics. Venice was built first, that’s why it solely deserves the title. Amsterdam as a runner-up was honored with the name of  “Venice of the North.” Not bad.

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My November trip to Amsterdam was the second one within the past three months. I had the opportunity to enjoy this lovely city in the summer and now in the fall, and both times – I loved it. It is a vibrant but cozy place with lots of young people giving it an urban flair. The city is very compact which makes it really quick and easy to commute especially on a bike, which is one of the the main sources of transportation in the city. The bike infrastructure is amazingly developed: there are separate lanes and lights for bikes throughout Amsterdam and bike lock-in stations anywhere in the city. However, sometimes finding a parking for a bike can be challenging as there are a LOT of them, especially in the most popular areas. I chose to walk instead of bike which made me forget about the “pedestrian rules” and a few times I mistakenly walked on bike paths or forgot to look when crossing their lanes. I bet I was called a “dumb tourist” a few times. 

Bicycle rack next to the Centraal Station

Amsterdam is divided into a bunch of small neighborhoods, each with their own character and charm. Here is a more detailed overview of what you can do and see in each of them. The center of the city is within “the Canal Ring” and, as you can imagine, is the busiest and the most touristy part of the city. I like to avoid it and wander around small canal streets getting to know the local life of every place I go to. Both times I went to Amsterdam, I walked everywhere and I developed a pretty good sense of orientation of where things are by now. Living in Chicago for so long and traveling around, I always thought of myself as a “Big City Girl.” However, in Amsterdam that feeling faded away and I imagined myself enjoying the short commute to work (unlike ~2h a day Chicago style), the close proximity of shops, restaurants, bars, parks etc. I realized that it’s the little things that matter in life and time is one of them (well maybe that’s a big one). When I went to London a few weeks ago, the metro ride was taking me at least 45 min to each destination and I only stayed in Zone 2. I’ve heard people complaining about the morning metro ride to work and back, the lack of social life, the overcrowded streets, not to mention the high prices of everything. Traveling helps you realize what really matters for you in life and brings you back to the present if your head in the clouds. 

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Side Streets in the Canal Ring 

So what have I seen & done while in Amsterdam? See below for full disclosure 🙂  

MUSEUMS

I’m not a museum buff but usually try to visit one or two main ones in each city. In Amsterdam, I went to Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum, hosting masterpieces of legends such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. The museum is huge but the good part is that you get an audio guide which has pre-selected tours that can guide you through, depending on your interest or time limit. Another one was Heineken Experience which was a 2 hour interactive tour around the brewery where you can learn about the process and the history of making this signature beer. The best part is the end, where you enjoy two beers (already included in the ticket price) on the Heineken’s top floor terrace overlooking all Amsterdam. Pretty sweet view. Buy tickets online, they were a bit cheaper and you don’t need to stand in lines (entrance is at certain hours).  

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Inside the Rijksmuseum
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The Terrace of the Heineken Building 

PARKS

Amsterdam has about 30 parks which provide for a peaceful oasis during the touristy season. If you’re visiting in the spring/summer, definitely check out Vondelpark, the largest and most famous park located steps away from Rijksmuseum. Here is a full list of parks worth checking out. 

CAFES

There are two cafes that I would definitely go back to: All the Luck in the World by the Oosterpark and Vlaamsch Broodhuys in the Center. The first one is actually a studio with handmade jewelry but is combined with a cafe (also serving lunch). Earthy and hip vibe. The other one is a small, rustic bread bakery perfect for breakfasts and lunches. Delish! 

All the Luck in the World 

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Breakfast at Vlaamsch Broodhuys

BARS 

Jordaan neighborhood is a very popular area amongst young people, full of bars, restaurants, specialty shops and galleries. Side note: it’s a home to Saturday’s organic farmers market. Back to bars…the ones I’ve been to are: Finch Cafe, Boca’s (your local bars), and Tales and Spirits (tiny cocktail bar). You can find more bars in Jordaan here

The Pijp or “The Pipe” neighborhood, a part of “Amsterdam South”, is similarly to Jordaan, home to many bars, cafes and restaurants. Very much a vibrant district, great to hang out in the evenings and over the weekends. Too many places to name, so just head over there and choose what you like!  

Located in the center, Door 74 is your speakeasy cocktail bar with no visible entrance and a must in making a reservation. Amsterdam Roest, in the east by the waterside, is an industrial building complex hosting a bar, a market and a (!) city beach. Super fun and a very eclectic place. Lastly, my favorite Thuis aan de Amstel, south of the Pijp by Amstel River, a two story house turned into bar/restaurant with multiple rooms to choose to sit in. Super cozy and quite romantic in the evenings. During the warm day you can hang out in the garden area overlooking the river. 

One of the rooms in Thuis aan de Amstel

BRUNCH

Most of the brunch places, from what I have experienced, are tiny, so you can either wait outside for a table for quite some time or make a reservation ahead of time, which is definitely a better option if you can plan ahead. In Jordaan where I hung out the most, I recommend PIQNIQ, GS, Letting, and Braserie Baton. Also, for a sweet tooth try a signature apple pie at Winkel 43

Enjoy Amsterdam!

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The luxury of Luxembourg

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Neumunster Abbey

I never knew much about Luxembourg, except for the fact it was the “Lux” part in the union of neighboring countries of BENELUX. And why would I? It’s a tiny, tiny landlocked country with population of over 100k in the main city of Luxembourg (just like in my hometown in Poland!). When I told friends I was traveling for 2 days to Lux City for interviews, they were horrified by the fact that I might consider it for living! I’ve hear comments like: “it’s boring”, “there’s nothing to do”, “if you like big cities, don’t even”, and “it’s good for families.” But, of course you can’t make any judgements until you see it yourself. So I was hopeful.

Not many know that Luxembourg’s GDP per capita is >$100,000, making it the 2nd highest in the world right after Qatar (in PPP terms). I’m not kidding, check it here. Approximately 80% of the population are expats or live outside the boarders of the country (in France, Germany, Belgium) and commute to work every day. In restaurants and hotels you can hear mostly French, and often German, but everyone seems to speak English, so it’s not a problem if you don’t know any other language especially that Luxembourg is home to all sorts of international companies, including Amazon’s European HQ.

True, Lux City is small but it’s full of young, ambitious professionals, who make the most out of their time in that tiny country. Next to hiking, biking and rock climbing on the weekends, you can easily travel to neighboring countries as the distances are, obviously, relatively small (4 hour drive to Paris and 2h drive to Brussels). The city also offers plenty of restaurants and bars where people hang out after work. The streets are clean and safe, distances are walkable, and public transportation is reliable for those who live further from the center. On the other hand, the downside of living and working in Luxembourg is the feeling that nothing is permanent. Co-workers often come and go, changing geographies, or companies, and friendships that you made over the past few months disappear as fast as they appeared. After all, majority of the people move to Luxembourg not from their own will, but for employment. Through my past experiences of moving and adjusting to new situations, it’s not a problem anymore. I can get the best out of every place I go, so I am ready for what comes next. Anywhere.

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Neumunster Abbey and the view on upper Luxembourg
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View from the above
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Sunset over a castle

Buenos Aires

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Obelisk

It’s been five years since I spent memorable 3 months in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. When I was young, I remember listening to a song by a Polish singer called “Buenos Aires.” I always thought that Argentina was at the end of the world and that I can only dream of traveling there. But dreams do come true if we only put our mind to it. As I was graduating from University, I decided to find an internship in a Spanish speaking country to gain international working experience and “mejorar mi Espanol”. Living in the U.S. made it so much easier to travel to South America, so it wasn’t a hard decision to check out the city called “Paris of South America.”

Every day after work I would walk around with a travel guide in my hand and explore the city, get lost and find hidden gems away from main streets. Over the past years I was asked multiple times about BsAs recommendations. I compiled a list of things I’ve done, places I’ve visited, restaurants I ate, and more. Since it’s been a few years, I updated my recommendations based on conversations with a friend who lives there, and a friend who recently visited.

Hope you find it helpful!

Buenos Aires has 5 main areas that you need to visit: Palermo, Recoleta, Plaza San Martin & Retiro, Plaza de Mayo and Microcentro, San Telmo & La Boca.
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Lively streets of Palermo
Palermo – Neighborhood of neighborhoods
  • Botanic Garden – one of my favorite places!
  • MALBA (latinamerican art museum) – worth checking out
  • Restaurant: I loved Las Cholas , it’s in a lively area with bars and other restaurants so you can hop around.
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Cementario de la Recoleta
Recoleta – My favorite neighborhood (I recommend staying here)
  • Explore the neighborhood by walking around
  • Cementerio de la Recoleta is a MUST go
  • There is a huge lawn by the Cemetery where people hang out; also known for cultural events and a flea market on the weekends
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Plaza Mayor – view from Casa Rosada

Plaza de Mayo and Micrcentro – The city center

  • Casa Rosada, as in Argentine White House, is open to the public on weekends (free)
  • Option: take a hop on hop off bus if you’re limited on time; the bus starts on Avenida de Mayo
  •  Avenida de Julio – the widest street in the world
  • Obelisk – an icon of BsAs located on Avenida de Julio
  • Puerto Madero – the most modern part of BsAs; see Puente de la Mujer designed by the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava; restaurants in this area are overpriced, so I don’t recommend eating there but it might be tempting…you’ll see!

 

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Puente de la Mujer in Puero Madero

San Telmo – Older part of the city

  • Very traditional, tango dancers on the street etc.
  • Sunday market from 10am-4pm – you can find anything you can think of! Starts from Plaza de Mayo
  • Go to El Desnivel, best steak in the world! It’s a hole in the wall but the food is seriously amazing (approved by all my friends whom I sent there)
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Caminito in La Boca

La Boca – known for 

  • La Bombonera – Boca Juniors stadium
  • The famous Caminito – colorful artists’ street
  • I don’t recommend eating there – very touristy and not known for good restaurants
  • The poorest area of BsAs – watch out for pickpockets!
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Tango in La Boca 

Other useful info:

  • Nightlife –  Terrazas del Este love, love, love that place. It’s a bit outside BsAs but a great vibe.
  • Check out the BsAs Graffiti Tour
  • For free walking tours click HERE
  • If you’re planning to explore other parts of Argentina, I definitely recommend: Iguazu Waterfalls, Wine tours in Mendoza, Patagonia, and Salta
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Flea Market in Recoleta

Cape Town 

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View on Camps Bay Beach

Easter Weekend was a perfect time to go to Cape Town because we had full 5 days off of work. Or we thought it would be perfect…ticket prices from Johannesburg skyrocketed and it was almost impossible to find accommodation. People from across South Africa and the rest of the world flooded CT because of holidays and Two Oceans Marathon, a popular running event taking place once a year around this time. The moody weather didn’t help either cancelling out trip to Robben Island the first day, not mentioning the rain which spoiled a few other plans along the way.

But enough about the negatives. The city is so beautiful that nothing could have possibly ruined our experience. I’ve heard so many amazing things about Cape Town that it made it hard to go there without high expectations. Yet, I was still surprised and amazed…the beaches, white sand, blue water, the mountains, the food, the cosmopolitan vibe, the waterfront, the people…I can go on and on. You get the idea. I fell in love with the city.
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Sunset at Clifton 2nd Beach
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On the top of Lion’s Head Mountain

I compiled a list of must see & do things that I recommend for those who are traveling to Cape Town:

  • Beaches: Camps Bay & Clifton 2nd (the last one is perfect for when it’s windy)
  • Cape Point – most Southern Tip of Africa
  • Cape of Good Hope – where two Oceans meet
  • Boulder’s Beach – swim with the penguins
  • Robben Island – where Mandela was held (ex prisoners guide you through the Island)
  • Hike the Lion’s Head!! Or if you’re lazy take the cable car to Table Mountain
  • Winelands: Franschhoek & Stellenbosch – for wine lovers
  • V&A Waterfront – stunning and lively harbour (read “touristy”) with shopping, restaurants and bars
  • Sea Point – take a walk along the ocean
  • Biscuit Mill – really fun, fresh food market where you can buy homemade and handmade products (only Sundays)
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Camps Bay Beach
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Boulder’s Beach & The Penguins
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Cape of Good Hope

South Africa has, hands down, some of the best food I’ve ever tried. And it’s not about their traditional cuisine but literally everything from salads, sandwiches, steaks (duh!), duck and even pizza! Here are some places I highly recommend:

  • The Potluck & The Test Kitchen (book way in advance)
  • Charango – Peruvian
  • HQ, Hussar Grill – Steak
  • Chef’s Warehouse, Savoy Cabbage – Contemporary
  • Willoughby & Co – Sushi
  • La Boheme – Wine Bar & Bistro

Fun bars:

  • Union Bar
  • Aces & Spades
  • Village Idiot
  • La Perla
  • Caprice (on Sunday)
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One of the wineries in Stellenboch
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Haute Cabriere Winery

The life of an MBA student

Second term could not have been busier. Four exams, three presentations, two papers and special group projects all combined with preparations to a 6 week trip to South Africa and a few interviews along the way. All of this equals little sleep and a bit of stress. It’s interesting how your body is able to quickly adjust to changes. Before the MBA, I could not function properly without my 8 hours of beauty sleep. My norm now is 6 hours on average but during crunch time it’s about 4 to 5 and I must say it isn’t as bad as I thought. Coffee in the morning and afternoon is a must and I’m like new (If I’m lucky I’ll take a quick Spanish siesta after classes). 

Twenty four hours before departure to Johannesburg were busier than the rest of the week. After the finance exam on Friday I went for a quick lunch with my classmates, after which I came back home, did laundry and packed my suitcase. I intended to take a nap which didn’t happen as my busy mind did not want to rest so I just lied in my bed for 45 minutes and decided to go to the gym. By the time I left my apartment to join everyone at a semester-end celebration, it was midnight. Since I had one more daunting task to do before my departure, an online strategy exam, I just permitted myself an hour at the party in order to get a good night sleep to recover from tiredness. This of course didn’t happen as I ended up in bed at 4:30 in the morning without sleeping for 24hrs. I still wonder where this energy came from. 

After 3hrs of sleep I took the exam while my fabulous roommates went for a coffee run, made breakfast and helped me pack for my early flight. I can’t forget about the travel goodie bag they prepared for me. Theses girls are so thoughtful! Now I’m sitting on my first connecting flight to Cairo and I feel the exhaustion is finally hitting me. I’m glad the next flight is a redeye so I can sleep like a baby. 

And that is a life of an MBA student.