Amsterdam is more than just a destination for hippies who are trying to be proactive in preventing glaucoma later in life. It has some splendid cultural activities for the traveler to take in. Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. The city is constructed in a semi-circle with Dam square in the center. Canals weave through the city, often making it hard for the novice backpacker to figure his exact location. At quick glance, most of the streets look the same, so it is very easy to get caught walking in circles.
The first thing you will notice in Amsterdam is that everyone has a bike, and by bike I am not talking anything new. Since new bikes are often targets to be stolen, the name of the game is: the crappier the bike the better. Many of these bikes are brought up from the bottom of the canals at the end of the year. It’s common for local hooligans to toss in a few unlocked bikes from a bridge.
Getting around in Amsterdam with English is pretty easy. The town is constantly flooded with tourists, so you should have no problem meeting some unique people from all over the world. I met some interesting travelers from the States, as well as travelers from Canada and Russia, who I still keep in contact with.
If you like to actually gain some knowledge now and then, Amsterdam offers some interesting museums. For starters, the Van Gogh Museum, dedicated to the famous Dutch painter is open. The Rembrandt House, where the artist lived from 1638-1659 is available for tours, and last but not least, the Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her diary hidden from the Nazis.
Although there are many attractions in and around Hong Kong, the buildings surrounding Victoria Harbor have to be near the top of list. During both day and night, the views are spectacular. Two International Finance Center, is currently the second tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. It towers to a height of 415m, holding 88 stories. Across Victoria Harbor, in Kowloon, sits the International Commerce Center. These two towers guard the opening of Victoria Harbor. While the ICC is still under construction, it has topped out at 118 stories. It should be finished sometime in 2010. The seven star, yes, seven star, Ritz-Carlton Hotel will occupy 300 rooms near the top of the tower. This will give it the distinction of being the highest elevated hotel in the world.
On the eastern coast of Taiwan sits the beautiful city of Hualien. The Spanish came here to mine for gold in the early 1600′s but it was not until around 150 years later, that the first permanent settlement began situated in the rocky coastal terrain. Hualien is a small city that is mainly known for being the starting point for anyone visiting Taroko National Park. Inside the park lies Taroko Gorge, which is a 19km long canyon that twists and turns through the jagged cliffs.
Hsinchu to Hualien is about a three hour train ride. The trek from Taipei to Hualien is especially nice as the train follows the coast for a majority of the ride. Be sure to get seats on the left hand side of the train for optimal viewing. My ride to Hualien was a bit rough. I was forced to endure the three hour ride sitting on the floor, in between cars, because I did not have a seated ticket. It did not matter too much though because the ride was late at night. My return trip during daylight was spectacular.
Taroko Gorge is a great place to visit. Not only did we get to see many different parts of the gorge, we also avoided the slow tour bus approach. This seems to be the standard way for many to see the park as multiple companies will try and get your business at the train station. We were lucky enough to find a great taxi driver who drove us to several beautiful beaches and other non-touristy areas that were located down slim mountain pass roads, too narrow for a bus to navigate. This approach was unbelievably cheap. We were astonished at our drivers rate to show us around for seven hours. Even though it is not common to tip in Taiwan, we gave our friendly driver some extra cash for his helpfulness. The smile on his face was priceless when he counted the money.
Note: Taroko Gorge is about 20 minutes from Hualien. The three main options to the gorge are: 1)to join a bus tour 2)private taxi 3)to rent a scooter. If you rent a scooter though you may be asked for a valid operating liscense.