Wednesday, December 4, 2013


We are hoping to travel to lots of different places while we are living in Stockholm so I thought it might be fun to answer the same questions after every new place we visit.  At the bottom of this post see my questions and answers for Amsterdam.

Two of Jake's coworkers from Olathe were in Stockholm the week before we fly to Amsterdam so they decided to join us.  Josh got here one day before Dave.  Josh is renting our house while we are gone which is awesome and helps me be less stressed about it while we are away!  Dave is one of Jake's best friends at work and it was so fun having him here for two weeks!  I got to pick Dave up from central station. (I had been looking forward to picking someone up from central station since we moved here so I was pumped when I got to pick Dave up!  Josh and Dave were the first people from home that I had seen in about 3 months other than my husband.)

We took a taxi to the airport which turned out to be a good choice once we realized Jake left his phone in the taxi.  I called the driver and he drove back to the airport to drop off the phone for the cost of another trip to the airport :( but at least he had his phone back.

We flew to Amsterdam on Friday evening.  It was a nice two hour flight.  Once we landed we figured out what train and tram we needed to take to get to our hotel.  We stayed at Hotel Espresso which was about a 15 minute tram ride from downtown Amsterdam.  We dropped off our stuff and headed out to explore the city.

Our first stop was the oldest bar in Amsterdam

While we were walking around we saw this little guy trying to enjoy a late night snack.
The first of many hot chocolates I had in Amsterdam.
We stayed out until 3:30 am our first night in Amsterdam.  I do not stay out late and I am not a fan of going to bars but we found lots of great pubs to hangout in and since I hadn't seen friends in a while it wasn't so bad being out late.  The best part were the looks I got from Dave and Josh when I suggested we meet the next morning around 7!

Our first full day in Amsterdam was pretty laid back.  We started walking towards Anne Frank's house in search of a place to eat breakfast.
One of the many canals
I'm not sure this bike could have any other add-ons.

Our first pancakes of the trip.  I didn't realize how popular they were in Amsterdam.  I had one with bacon.
I also had to try a dessert one :).
Trying to figure out how they make them.
While we were walking around we saw a huge crowd of people and heard lots of cheering.  Khloe Kardashian was visiting a department store to launch part of her clothing line.
 We tried touring Anne Frank's house but the line was really long so we decided to just walk around the city instead.
Anyone want some cheese?
They also had toasties ( most had ham and cheese).

Hot Chocolate

We went on a Segway tour on Saturday afternoon.  This was the 4th time Jake and I have been on Segways.  (Some of you reading this are probably thinking they are really dorky but until you've tried them don't judge.  They are lots of fun and they are a great way to see a new city.)  All of the tours were sold out but I emailed the company and they arranged a private tour for just the four of us.  This tour was actually the best one we've been on so far.  We all had ear pieces and the leader had a microphone so as we were going places he was able to tell us about the area without us having to stop which was really nice.

We are in front of the Rijksmuseum and apparently we were really excited about it :).

I thought this was a cute idea, until I saw the picture and our guide in between us and now it is just creepy.
The tour was great but it was SO cold!

Dinner after our Segway tour.  

And another hot chocolate to try to warm up :).

They had these vending machines with hot food in a few different spots around the city.

The boys having some fun.
On Sunday, November 17th we headed to the canals to see a boat parade.
We watched Sinterklaas come to town
This was part of the boat parade.

We grabbed some breakfast after the parade.
This bike reminded me of the fundraiser we used to do at Gardner where the kids could earn a rubber duck.  

I don't like mushrooms and I guess we won't know if I like these because I didn't try them (and neither did the boys).  They do have charts to tell you the effects they have on you just in case you do want to try them.
It seems like everything is legal in Amsterdam.  We actually saw a couple of police officers standing around a guy and we couldn't figure out what he could have possibly done to get in trouble.  You can smoke marijuana, try mushrooms and then there is the red light district.  This was my second time to Amsterdam.  The first time was about 11 years ago with a group from my high school.  Our chaperones walked us through the red light district because they thought that would be safer than having a whole bunch of high schoolers walk through it on our own.  Walking through it 11 years later was different.  The red light district is a few blocks of the downtown area where girls stand in windows in very tiny "bathing suits."  I had a hard time walking through there.  My heart just hurt for those girls.  I can't imagine that any of them actually want to be doing that all day long.  I don't know how the red light district started but I think it is sad that it still exists.  While we were walking around we walked past a few girls and then about 10 feet later there was a kindergarten.  I can't imagine having kids see that on a daily basis and think that is it okay.  Those girls are still in my prayers.

Another thing Amsterdam is known for that is more positive:

Anyone need a bike?
They have tons of bikes in Amsterdam.  The city isn't very hilly and they have great bike paths with stop lights of their own.  
We have never ordered pizza we could normally get at home while on vacation.  However, when you aren't actually living at home it turns out ordering pizza sounds like a great idea.  It was so good!
A snack Jake and I shared one afternoon
This was like drinking melted chocolate it was so rich!
I was hoping to get another Salted Caramel Mocha but they didn't have them here :( so I settled for a cafe mocha.
 On Monday Jake and I went to the Vincent van Gogh Museum.  


On a walk through a park.

Apparently this chess board has reservations a year in advance.
 We went to see Anne Frank's house on Monday.  We tried touring the house with Josh and Dave but the line was really long on Saturday so we decided to come back with pre-purchased tickets so we could skip the line.  Wouldn't you know when we went back on Monday there wasn't a line. 

Outside Anne Frank's house

Jake went to a boat show on Tuesday and Wednesday which meant I had to explore the city on my own aka go shopping.  I went to a Titanic exhibit on Tuesday which was fun and then of course did some shopping.

It was a little harder getting around Amsterdam than Taipei since I didn't have a phone with internet access but I managed to find my way around using some apps that don't require an internet connection.  Jake found a great app, Maps with Me Lite, where you can download the map of a city and then you can search the map to find different things like restaurants, stores, atms, etc.  (This was the app we used in Beijing that had a pin on it for our hotel so we could watch as the taxi drove us to the hotel to make sure we were going the right way.)  We also used Transit World which gives you time tables of all the buses, trains, trams, etc.  We also used an app that had the tram routes and stops.  The last app that helped us find great food was Amsterdam City Guide by Trip Advisor.  I got pretty good at looking at the Maps with Me Lite app to figure out where we wanted to go, then I looked at the Amsterdam tram map to see which trams would get us closest to our destination and then the Transit World map to figure out what time the tram would get there.  I wasn't as fast as google maps but I got the job done.

Right before we flew home we had some Indonesian food.

As I was checking out of the hotel we stayed in for Jake's work trip I noticed the guy helping me had a button on that said "It's my birthday, give me a hug!" I thought that since I noticed the button I should at least tell him Happy Birthday even though I wasn't going to hug him.  Here is how it played out:
Kara: "Oh, today is your birthday?  Happy Birthday!"  
Guy at the front desk: "Thanks!  Can I have a hug?" 
Kara: (What? A hug? Just pretend you didn't hear that part and make a comment about how he has to work on his birthday.)  "It stinks that you have to work on your birthday."
Guy at the front desk: "It isn't too bad because I get to leave pretty soon.  One other person told me happy birthday today but they wouldn't hug me so will you hug me?"
Kara: (Seriously?) "Sure" (I walk towards him and hug him as I'm thinking "Yep.  This whole me turning into a hugger since I've moved to Stockholm really only applies to family and friends and this guy isn't either.  Maybe I should stop posting on Facebook that how excited I am to hug people when I get home.")

I would say overall our trip was great.  After this trip I would say five days is about the right amount of time to see a city.  We had plenty of time to see things but we were ready to head home at the end of the trip.  

Flying home was a quick two our flight which shouldn't be too bad but checking in and boarding were a little rough.  I'm guessing that since almost everything is legal in Amsterdam that security has to be extra tight which makes sense but goodness.  Jake and I both flew with carry on sized bags and small backpacks.  We didn't print our boarding passes so we had to go to the check in counter to get them printed which meant standing in a long line because they didn't have a self check in kiosk.  Once we got to the front the lady helping us made me check my bag because "it looked big" to her and was over the weight limit.  Weight limit?  Can we just be proud that I packed in a small bag?  I was annoyed.  I am an overpacker but with all this traveling I'm trying to be better about not bringing so much stuff so to hear that I had to check my bag made me frustrated.  I might have gotten a little bit short with her when she said Jake's bag was small enough even though ours are technically the same size.  

Going through security was also tough.  They made us take everything out of our bags . . . chargers for laptops, my wallet, my camera, etc.  Our boarding passes were scanned at the gate and while they were scanning Jake's they told him the flight was too full for him to have two carry-ons even though on most flights you can have a rolling bag and then a personal item like a backpack.  So they gate checked his bag and then I saw this sign below:
No weight limit.  Technically we flew Norwegian Air and this was EasyJet but still my bag would have fit and this says there isn't a weight limit :).

Here are my questions and answers about Amsterdam:
Where did we go?
We went to Amsterdam, Netherlands.

How long were we there?
We were there for five days, November 15th-20th, 2012. We were able to sightsee for 3 days and then Jake had to work for 2 days.

What language do they speak?
They speak Dutch but we actually heard more English there than Dutch. Learning Swedish did help when we were reading menus and other signs.

What currency do they use?
They are part of the European Union so they use Euros.

Were things expensive?
Things were more expensive than the United State but less expensive than Stockholm, which means we both bought souvenirs we could wear :).

Would we be able to live there for a year?
I really liked all the water, the bicycles, the easy public transportation and the food. I think if I lived far enough away from downtown and I couldn't smell the pot or have to walk through the Red Light District I might be able to do it.

What did we enjoy most about the trip?
The pancakes and seeing Anne Frank's house.

What was the food like?
The food was really good. I had lots of pancakes and waffles. I had some for breakfast with bacon, cheese, and ham in them. I also had several desert ones. They also had really good pear juice that I had with my pancakes.

Least favorite food?
I don't think I had anything that I didn't like.

Favorite food?

Would we want to go back?
I wouldn't mind going back to Amsterdam. I do think that 5 days was the right amount of time to explore the city before it felt like it was time to go "home." If we do go back I'd like to go when it is warmer outside. It was pretty cold while we were there.

What was I most surprised by?
Other than the red light district . . .the number of bikes we saw and that no one wears helmets.

Did we do anything we thought we wouldn't do?
The Sinterklaas parade was something Jake read about a while back but we forgot about it until our Segway guide mentioned it. It was really neat to see how other cultures celebrate Christmas.

What did I learn about myself on this trip?
I learned that I can explore a new city without the security of a cell phone with internet access.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Similarities and Differences between Taipei, Beijing and Stockholm

Now that we have moved to another country I have a feeling that every new place we visit Jake and I will talk about if we think we could move there.  We had that conversation in Taipei and Beijing and I'm guessing we will have it again in Amsterdam.  Taipei was a maybe.  It felt really safe, the weather was nice but the 13 hour time difference was hard.  Beijing was a no.  It was very busy and the smog really bothered me.  Plus you can't access Facebook while in China.  I realize that sounds really silly but Facebook has really helped me keep in touch with friends and family since we moved.  I use Facebook chat daily to talk with friends.  I'm glad we visited Beijing but I can't imagine living there.

Here are some of the similarities and differences between Taipei, Beijing and Stockholm.
Public Transportation
In Taipei the metro was very easy to use.  It was actually easier to use than Stockholm for a couple of reasons.  They had lots of information in English and thee exits for the metro were very easy to figure out.  There were maps and signs telling you what exit you should take to get to different things.  
This tells you what you can find at each exit.
This map shows you the metro stop and then what is around the stop.  I don't know why all cities with metros don't do this.  It is so helpful!

Another map with the metro centered on the map showing you what surrounds the metro station.  The exits are also numbered on the map so you know which one to take and be on the correct part of the street.

There were more exits our of metro stations in Taipei than in Stockholm but the exits were easier to use.  I really wish Stockholm had maps or signs labeling which exit to use. There was more security in Taipei at the metro stops than there is in Stockholm.  In the bigger stations they usually had a guard or two working making sure you followed the rules getting on and off the metro.  They had whistles that they would blow when the doors were closing. 
There were lines on the floor showing you where to line up to wait for the train.

There were screens as you waited for the trains that told you how many minutes until the next train, the weather forecast, announcements, etc.
They had priority seating on the metro if you are elderly, pregnant, with a child or disabled.  You could even get a sticker to wear just so everyone knows that you get to sit in those seats :).  I didn't see anyone wearing a sticker while we were there.
The metros in Stockholm and Taipei were really quiet.  Hardly anyone talks to each other and if they do it is usually pretty quiet.  I haven't been on many metros in the US but I'm guessing they aren't as quiet.  Maybe they should get a sign like this one.

This isn't a great picture but inside each train was a map that lit up telling you which way the train was going and what station the train was heading towards.
This picture is a little blurry but on the wall next to me is a flying squirrel :).
One of the metro stations in Taipei.
There are 17 metro lines in Beijing.  There were only 2 metro lines before 2002.  All of the rest have been added in the last 11 years.  10 Million people use it on average during the week.  Riding the metro in Beijing was really stressful.  There were times when people couldn't get on or off when they wanted too and they got split up from their group.  After Jake and I saw that we decided to come up with a plan in case that happened to us.
 To compare, there are 5 metro lines in Taipei and there are only 3 metro lines in Stockholm.  We typically  only use one line in Stockholm and that gets us to most of the places we need to go.
Beijing also had nice maps to show the exits.
Every metro had public bathrooms you could use.  I felt like there were bathrooms everywhere in Taipei.  Some bathrooms even had a real time electronic board outside the restroom telling you which stalls were available and which ones were occupied.  That seemed like a little much to me but I guess it is helpful.  Stockholm is a different story.  It is very hard to find a public bathroom in Stockholm and there are no signs telling you if they are available :).  There were also breast feeding rooms at most metros in Taipei.

Women's restroom real time display.  Seems like a little too much info but maybe some people find it helpful.
The bathrooms in Taipei and Beijing were different.  After seeing them I remembered hearing about squatty potties at some time in my life but I didn't know they would be in Taipei   That took a little while to get used to.  In Taipei there were usually a few regular toilets in the public bathrooms but there weren't as many regular toilets in Beijing.  If the public toilet in Beijing was near a popular tourist destination then they might have one or two but most of the time those weren't an option.  

*I’m about to go into more detail than some might want to read about toilets so skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to read about that :).  

The stalls are really small for squatty toilets and they tend to be really dirty, in my opinion.  It could be that there are lots of people using them who don’t know how to and therefore the floor is dirtier than normal but I can’t figure out how the floor wouldn't get dirty even if you are used to using them.  By dirty I mean, it is covered in pee, either because someone missed or because it splashed out since there really aren't any walls on the toilet.  The toilet is in the middle of the stall so you have to be careful when you walk in that you don’t step into it.  I was always carrying a backpack so I had to go into the stall and turn around carefully, without stepping in the toilet, and then hang up my backpack before attempting to go to the bathroom.  There are places to put your feet on either side of the toilet but for a while I wasn't sure which way to face.  I eventually figured it out but even knowing which way to face didn't help much since the toilet is directly in the middle of the stall and you don’t have much room.  Some stalls had a hand rail to help you squat but most did not.  I can’t figure out how you are supposed to go to the bathroom without getting pee on your shoes from the pee on the floor or if pee splatters out of the toilet. (TMI, but I warned you.)

In Taipei and Beijing you don’t put your toilet paper in the toilet.  I have done that before when traveling to Mexico but I didn't realize other countries did that too.  There are trashcans for toilet paper right next to the toilet.  In Taipei you were supplied with toilet paper but in Beijing you had to bring your own.  I didn't realize that and it took me a few times to realize that they don’t give you toilet paper; I thought they were just always out.  Thankfully I always carry Kleenex with me.  In Beijing and sometimes Taipei they usually don’t have paper towels or anything to dry your hands after you use the restroom which means the floors by the sink are usually really wet and that bothered me.  To sum up the bathroom situation, I liked how available they were in Taipei and the ones there were typically really clean.  The ones in Beijing weren't very clean and I definitely wished I was a boy a few times.
A Squatty Potty
I really enjoyed our time in Taipei.  I felt very safe there.  It was easy for me to walk around and explore on my own.  I never felt unsafe even at night walking to meet Jake and his coworkers for dinner.  It helped that one of his coworkers that lives there reassured me that it was a really safe city to walk around in, even at night by myself.  We also bought a SIM card for me for the week.  It was about $10 and I had a local phone number so I could text or call Jake at the Taiwan office or on the cell phone they had for the week.  Plus I also had internet on my phone which really helped me to figure out what metro to take and where to meet Jake for dinner.  I don’t know what I would do without technology sometimes. 

I enjoyed most of the food we had in Taipei.  In general, I am a very boring eater.  I like to find my one favorite dish at each restaurant and then I get that every time.  I like things to be predictable.  I like knowing what it is going to taste like before I get it, it helps me enjoy the food more.  Jake couldn't be more opposite of me when it comes to food.  He hardly ever orders the same thing at a restaurant even if he loves it because there could be something else on the menu that is even better and he has to find it.

Before coming on this trip Jake mentioned that he was worried for me about what food I would be eating.  Jake is NOT a worrier.  I can’t think of a time in the last almost 12 years of being together, that he has ever told me to worry about something.  One of his favorites sayings when I tell him I am worried about something is, “Don’t worry about that, worry about something else.” In fact, I thought he was joking when he told me to worry about the food and I just brushed it off.  But as we were on the plane headed to Taipei he mentioned it again.  That is when it really sank in with me, maybe I should be worried.  I thought he was joking but it turns out he wasn't.  Then I started to freak out.  I knew I liked Chinese food and I thought I would be fine.  Since it was a little too late to do anything about it I was just hoping I had packed enough granola bars, dried fruit and crackers to make it through the trip.

For most of the trip I was fine with the food we had.  I started to struggle towards the end.  When we were in Taipei Jake’s coworkers who live in Taipei arranged our dinners every night.  They picked a restaurant and made reservations.  They also took care of all of the ordering.  Sometimes they would ask us what we would like to eat but most of the time they ordered before we even realized it.  I did let them know that I don’t like fish or seafood.  They were very kind and told me what each thing was before I tried it so I didn't eat any fish.  

 We had lots of different kinds of Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese food during our trip.  For me, most of those types of food all get lumped together as “Chinese food.”  His coworkers also enjoyed getting really traditional dishes, that even most Taiwanese people don’t eat, just to have us try it and to see our reactions.  I got pretty tired of that and didn't try most of it.  Jake tried pretty much everything we were offered during the trip.  Towards the end of our week in Taipei I was getting pretty worn out eating the same kind of food.  I felt like I was having the same thing every day for lunch and dinner for 10 days in a row.

When we went to Beijing we were on our own for picking the restaurants and ordering the food.  Thankfully Tim, Jake’s coworker from Stockholm, who is half Chinese and half Swedish can speak and read the language.  Some of the menus had English and were easy to order from but some didn't have any English at all.  Tim would sometimes order for us or he would ask what we wanted and then order it for us.  By the end of the trip I was done with Chinese food.  I had more fried rice than I thought possible in one week. 

One of the things I really had a hard time understanding was stinky tofu.  It was really popular in Taiwan but they also had it in Beijing.  It is tofu with the worst smell possible!  Apparently, it tastes like regular tofu but just smells awful.  Lots of people sell food along the street in both Taiwan and Beijing and you can always tell if stinky tofu is available.  It made me lose my appetite so quickly. Tim had it a couple of times and Jake had it once.  I tried to stay upwind when they were eating that.

Other random tidbits
In Beijing kids wear diapers until they are one and then they wear pants with a split in the middle so they can squat to go to the bathroom whenever they need to.  While we were eating dinner one night a kid squatted on the sidewalk and just started peeing.  I'm not sure how common that is but I did see several kids with splits in their pants.  I realize the split pants must be normal for their culture but it took me by surprise seeing little kids with their private parts hanging out of their pants.

One not so pleasant habit we noticed in Beijing was how much they spit.  You could be walking down the street and someone would just hock a loogie.  We heard this multiple times a day. At least 15 times in a day you would hear that while walking around.  I did not handle that well.

In Taipei and Beijing stores were open so much later than they are in Stockholm.  In Stockholm stores close anywhere between 4 pm and some are open until 8 pm.  On the weekends they close even earlier.  When Jake and I first moved to Stockholm we had a really hard time getting things done after Jake got home from work since store close so early.  In Taipei and Beijing stores were open all hours of the day and night.  I'm not sure some of them even close.  In Taipei stores typically open at 10 or 11 am and then close at 10 or 11 pm. In Beijing it looked like most people who owned stores also lived in their store, or maybe behind their store.  Tim told us that people will stay there all day and night and just sleep when they don't have customers and then wake up when someone walks in.  We saw people getting haircuts at 7 am and 11:30 pm.  On our last night in Beijing we tried to get a foot massage after dinner.  We started walking around to different spas around 9:30 pm on a Sunday night.  We found a place we liked but we couldn't get a massage until 10:30 pm because they were booked until then.

I did a blog post after moving about people speaking English in Stockholm.  Even though pretty much everyone speaks English there isn't much written in English. Menus, signs, and metro information is almost always in Swedish.  In Taipei and Beijing they have English on most menus, signs and in metro stops however very few people speak English there.  That was really confusing.  Since I was reading so much English I would forget they didn't speak the language and I would go up to people and start asking questions before I realized they couldn't understand anything I was saying.  I think I prefer traveling with people who can speak English over having it in writing.  Thankfully Tim was with us and he could help translate things that would couldn't figure out on our own.

Hope you enjoyed reading all about our time in Taipei and Beijing.  We are heading to Amsterdam next! 

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