Historical monuments of Belgium
Contributor: Dr. Sunita Rajani
They say the best birthday gift you can give yourself is a solo trip…I couldn’t agree more after I did so on my birthday.
I really wanted to be in Amsterdam for my birthday this year but none of my friends were free at that time. So I decided, come what may, I am going to visit Amsterdam and I’m so glad I did. I never thought I would enjoy a solo trip so much!
I have travelled a lot with my family and friends earlier, but solo travel was something I never thought I could do until this trip. A lot of people discouraged me from going on a solo trip but I am so glad that I did not listen to them. It was a lifetime of an experience and I personally believe that everyone should go through it as travel teaches you a lot.
I spent seven days traveling alone and here’s a daily account of my experiences as a solo traveller in Europe:
Postcards from Amsterdam
Day 1– (22/04/2017) I travelled from London to Amsterdam. This day went in getting oriented to the city, trying to sort the rest of my days. I took a ‘Hop On Hop Off’ bus tour, had local food and rested. By then I had already figured how friendly the locals were.
Day 2 – (23/04/2017) I began my day early to see the Flower Parade stalls at Haarlem Centre. I got into the bus only to realize that my pass was not valid on this particular bus. I asked the driver if I could buy tickets on board, and he said I could and asked me to take a seat in the bus. He asked me where I am going and when I mentioned that I am going to see the Flower Parade he said you don’t need to buy a ticket for that. He even explained to me in detail where I am supposed to get down and where exactly to go to see the flower stalls. I reached the lane where the stalls were installed and was absolutely stunned. I had never seen such creativity with flowers. I was speechless; I took numerous turns in the lane to see the flower installations again and again. I just couldn’t get enough of it. With a heavy heart I left from there to begin second half of my day.
Floral beauties in Holland
The second half of my day was a guided tour to Delft, Hague and Madurodam. We visited The Royal Delft Factory and Museum and I was once again impressed by their creativity where every year they make something special for King’s birthday.
Day 3– (24/04/2017) The third day was a guided tour to the fairy tale land Giethoorn. I came across this place while searching for off beat things to see and do and decided to visit this place. Our guide for this tour, Cherry was an amazing lady who herself organises and accompanies passengers. She was the best guide I have ever met in my life. She took personal care for everyone. Cherry had looked into all tiny details of the tour from the journey to lunch to boat ride everything was just perfect. She gave us good local tips to enjoy our stay in Amsterdam. We reached Giethoorn after a beautiful drive across the tulip fields. Our guide had organized an authentic Dutch lunch for us at de pergola restaurant where we had hake fish filet, kibbeling and poffertje. It was delicious.
Sunita and Cherry on the tour
After lunch we began our boat tour of Giethoorn. Our captain ‘Jack’ was a lovely person too with a good sense of humour. It was a wooden boat driven by wooden hand controls, nothing fancy. He even offered us to take turns at riding the boat and I volunteered happily. It was actually like living a fairytale. I was enjoying the scenic beauty with beautiful houses in between canals with lush greenery and peace. We took a walk around after the cruise where our guide showed us a three-day-old baby horse, a rare opportunity I must say! 🙂
While walking, I made friends with some girls from Argentina who were from different fields like IT , banking and management and were on a holiday to Amsterdam for eight days. One of them was a trained photographer who made my day by clicking some nice pictures for me. They made me try their local drink called ‘Mate’ which is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink! I was quiet impressed by the container that I have asked my colleague from Argentina to get one for me. This whole experience of meeting people from different cultures and interacting with them was giving me such a high. On our way back to the hotel, I got a chance to chat with my guide about her off beat travel plans and so the day ended with loads of wonderful memories.
Enjoying the breezy boatride
Day 4 – (25/04/2017) It was the day I was waiting for – a visit to the tulip gardens. It was always a dream to be here since my childhood. The weather gods decided to play on us, giving a forecast of some snowfall as if sending me a birthday gift. I was awestruck with Keukenhoff Gardens. There were Tulips everywhere in such varied colours. I could spend days and days here admiring the tulips. The colour combinations they set were awesome. We were greeted by some snowfall. I made friends Mia, another solo traveller from Brazil. Jo was in Europe for few days attending a course. We decided it is better to explore the garden together so that we could even click pictures for each other. There were some lovely props to pose for pictures within the gardens. I did not want this day to end. But all good things have to come to an end and so did my visit to Keukenhoff Gardens. I actually wanted to be in Keukenhoff on my birthday but I had to change my plans a bit as the King’s birthday falls on 27th April and public transport is closed for two days. It is the biggest street party and people visit Amsterdam from all over the world for King’s Day.
Later in the day we visited historic windmills at Zanche Schans and a cheese factory at Cheese Farm in Zaandam followed by a visit to the wooden shoe workshop at Zaandam and taking pictures in a Dutch dress. I was in love with the Dutch land by now but alas; it was time to say good-bye.
On my way to the hotel, I met two more solo travellers. Mrs Jadhav from Pune, retired as a banking professional and Smita from Kuwait who is a pathologist. I was very impressed by Mrs Jadhav’s enthusiasm to travel solo at this age.
Day 5 – (26/04/2017) I travelled to Belgium from Amsterdam. It was a very comfortably journey. After arriving I was a bit confused as to where to board the trains and trams from and so I asked a young lady from there who helped me with tickets and platforms. My hotel was near Grand place and the Brussels stock exchange. Walking through the lanes I started feeling like a kid who imagines a fairyland of chocolates where I could build a castle of chocolates. I had Belgian waffles to satisfy my cravings. It was heavenly. Grand Palace is an architectural marvel where I spent my evening admiring the Brussels Town Hall.
Day 6 – (27/04/2017) This was a day visit to Bruges and Ghent, two beautiful towns with a medieval period architecture. Our guide was an elderly Gentleman who had spent all his life in this area so knew a lot about the place. He explained us in detail about the history of various buildings and the local stories behind it. He took us on a lovely to walk through tiny lanes admiring the beautiful architecture. On my bus were a group of friends from Mumbai in their 50s. They travel each year to a different country. They were full of energy and enthusiasm. I joined their group for the day. They were all from different walks of life like banking, teaching , businessman to a house wife. Speaking in Marathi in a foreign country felt so nice. We exchanged travel tips and had a nice lunch with Belgian burgers and fries. It’s so wonderful to meet people from different age groups and cultures enjoying travelling. Our day ended with an Indian dinner together at La Maharani. I hope I can keep up my enthusiasm when I reach that age.
Making friends & new memories
Day 7 – (28/04/2017) It was time to head back home. I was taking so many memories with me and I was looking forward to more solo trips. I urge each one of you to go on a solo trip at least once, I bet you will not regret.
About the writer:
I am a Paediatrician by profession and I am currently pursuing my super specialisation in Paediatric Gastroenterology in London. I completed my primary medical qualification from Pune D Y Patil Medical College .I got a transfer on basis of merit to KEM Hospital Mumbai for internship I then went on to complete my Masters in Paediatrics from Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai. I have also cleared the MRCPCH (Member of Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) exams and became a member of Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. I was conducting my private practice in Mumbai before moving to the UK in April 2016.
I love my profession. I don’t think I could have done anything else as being with kids daily makes my day.
I am a passionate traveller. I have extensively travelled in India. I also like to do adventurous activities. Have done various treks, rafting, parasailing, scuba diving, cycling events etc. I plan all my trips on my own. I have done six countries in six months in 2017. My other passion is music and I hope to learn music someday.
Photo & text: Sunita Rajani
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Postcards from Europe