Aruba – One Happy and Windy Island

ARUBA, DUTCH CARIBBEAN: Located in the Southern Caribbean and just off of the coast of South America, Aruba, also known as “One Happy Island”, is one of the Dutch West Indies territories under kingdom of The Netherlands. The island is only 19 miles long and 6 miles across. This is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean (either by plane or by cruise) for its white sandy beaches, turquoise sea, warm water, natural landmarks, tropical climate, and lots of water/land activities for all ages. 

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Aruba’s stunning Baby Beach

Aruba is very dry and desert-like in some regions, therefore, you will see lots of cacti and rugged landscape. And the reason for it is that the island gets only about 18 inches of rain every year. Although it lies outside of the hurricane belt, this is a VERY windy island…just hold on to your hats, sunglasses, documents, plastic bottles or even your kids.

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And the breathtaking sunset in from Palm Beach, Aruba

 

Aruba is also one of the safest places to visit in the Caribbean. Use common sense and general cautions that you’d use when you go to a new place. Arubans can speak at least 3 or 4 languages, like Dutch, Spanish, English, and their local tongue, called Papiamento (which is spoken only in Dutch Antilles). 

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Picturesque downtown of Aruba

Here are some useful things to remember before you travel to Aruba. If you are a US citizen, you don’t need a visa for a short visit there. You can use your phone/laptop charger from USA/Canada without a converter in any hotel outlets here. Tap water here is perfectly drinkable. There are no currency exchange offices in the airport, but then again, this time I didn’t bother to exchange my USD to Florin at all. Because you can use USD everywhere, including restaurants, shops, taxis, public transportation, and etc. Major credit cards are also accepted in most places. Use sunscreens and hats when you are out in the sun. It gets very hot and humid from noon to late afternoon. Have plenty of water or juice in hands, especially for the kids. 

To get around, renting a car isn’t a bad idea…most of the tourist spots have good parking places, just have to learn the road signs. I have used both private taxis (make sure they have TX in their license plates and fix the price before you start the ride) and public minivans (minivans use same bus-stands as the big public buses, “Arubus” and costs $2 from Palm Beach to Oranjestad). Both are pretty safe and efficient. Just keep in mind, if you are going to take a bus from the downtown bus terminal, there are 2 sections. The big parking lot is for the big public buses. Since I took the public minivans, I came to the smaller parking lot. The minivans doesn’t say it’s anything outside…just ask the driver and hop in. 

TIME of TRAVEL: I was in Aruba during the long weekend of 4th of July. The island usually have tropical climate all year long. From a little before noon to late afternoon, the sun gets really strong…I had to come back to my hotel for a couple hours on the 3rd day after walking around downtown area for a few hours. It’s pleasant when you are at the beach because the gentle breeze makes it nice.

EATING and SHOPPING: Before I start this part, let me just say, Aruba is an expensive island to visit. I have visited Dominica Republic last year, but Aruba’s food and gifts are way more expensive than some of the other Caribbean islands. 

There are a lot of big American restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, Pizza Hut, Hooters, Hard Rock Cafe, and etc. There are also all sorts of other international restaurants near the big hotels and resorts. I had a hard time finding a local Aruban restaurant in Palm Beach…my hotel concierge said there were none within walking distance from my hotel. I was told that I would have to take a taxi to go to those restaurants. So, I mostly enjoyed other international dishes. 

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Top: 3 different types of ceviche at Sweet Pepper and Bottom: my one and only breakfast in Aruba

I didn’t have all-inclusive intentionally, because from my previous experience I can’t really try local food that way. But food in Aruba is not cheap. For the only breakfast I had near my hotel, at Joe & Guisseppe, I paid about $12 for scrambled eggs with toast and potatoes and I paid more than $5 for my cup of morning coffee. That was insane paying $5 for a basic cup of black coffee. My first snack was at Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach where I sat down by the water to have some pina colada and hot wings. Palm Beach Promenade or Plaza mostly has international restaurants from Mexican, to Italian, to American, South American, and etc. There are tons of other restaurants and souvenir shops near Hard Rock Cafe.

Palm Beach Promenade is a great place to go for a meal or do some shopping. You will find small ice-cream places to big restaurants like Lazy Turtle and from local small vendors carts to big brand names for shopping here. It is a trendy place for all ages to shop and eat. My dinner on the second day was at Lazy Turtle, where they have ceviche, soups, salads, burgers, pasta, seafood, and all sorts of local and variety of international dishes. I had ceviche/tuna duo, plantain and coconut soup (an African recipe), and for the main course…blackened grouper fillets…WHAT? I was hungry and I paid $40 to satisfy my tummy. All of those were recommendations from the waitress and each was better than the others. I got to sit outside, devour my delicious food, and do some people watching while enjoying the island breeze at night. On my third day, I picked up some passion fruit gelato from Gelatissimo. And after walking around a little bit more, stopped at Sweet Pepper for an early dinner. Sweet Pepper is right above my previous night’s place, Lazy Turtle. It’s upstairs…may climb the stairs or take the elevator. Since I LOVE ceviche, I got a variety of ceviche platter for $19 along with some bread and butter and tapenade that came before the main course. And of course, my favorite pina colada on the side to rescue me from all the strolling in the heat. When I took the cave/beach excursion, we were taken to a local restaurant, called La Granja, for our lunch. Although the place had a lot to offer in their menu, we were served a plate with rice, rotisserie chicken, pork ribs, fries, and salad. Downtown Aruba, Oranjestad is also a fantastic place for any meal. My last lunch was at Lucy’s by the downtown marina where I had “Whoaa” fish. After lunch and walking around in the heat, I was tired and ready for another drink.  So, stopped at Iguana Joe’s Caribbean Bar and Grill for a mango and strawberry drink to cool off.

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My dinner at Lazy Turtles in Palm Beach, Aruba (Top: ceviche, Middle: coconut and plaintin soup, Bottom: grouper fillets)

The Old Main Street on the trolley ride route is a place for locals to shop in brand name stores. If you want to shop in downtown, the Renaissance Mall has mostly major western designer shops. Renaissance Marketplace was very empty when I was there on a Saturday afternoon. The Royal Plaza is also another hub for big European brand name stores. But for generic souvenir hunting…small vendors opposite of the Royal Plaza are great and reasonably priced. If you want to buy cigars, Captain Jack on the Palm Beach Promenade is a good place. Palm Beach Promenade also is a fun place to shop, especially at night when the place is flooded with all the tourists and all the stores are open. 

A very popular souvenir or gift item is to get anything with the phrase “Biba Dushi” which means “Sweet Life”. You can find t-shirts, mugs, hats, and etc with that phrase. Wood curved items, Dutch ceramics, are also very common and they are everywhere. Some mini-markets and airport stores sell Dutch/Gouda cheese wheels if you want to risk bringing those back home. Another popular item is anything that displays the Aruba’s famous divi tree…magnets, paintings, arts, and decors. I bought a small 4×6 oil canvas of the famous divi tree from a lady for $20, a bracelet, some Aruban aloe products, Caribbean coffee, Biba Dushi t-shirt, sweatshirt, stuffed flamingo…all from Palm Beach. 

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“Biba Dushi”, meaning “Sweet Life”, souvenirs in Aruba

MY HOTEL: I stayed in Brickell Bay Beach Club in Palm Beach, Aruba. While their location is great and the rooms are perfect, customer service is very slow and was OK. Every time I had to ask something or needed help, I had to wait for at least 10 minutes in the line for the front desk guy. They do want a $200 deposit when you check in which they give you back after checking out. Also, this is an adult only hotel…so, anyone below 18 years of age aren’t allowed to stay here. But there are lots of parking space if anyone plans to rent a private car. 

Other than that, the hotel is located 20 minutes drive from the airport and only 2/3 minutes walk from the Palm Beach. Palm Beach Promenade is also about 5 minutes walk from the hotel, which was great, because the promenade is an absolutely fun place to hang out for shopping or meals or just to feel the vibe.

PLACES I’VE VISITED: With its laid-back and islandic vibe, Aruba is an appealing place for relaxing or taking part in any activities. I was in Aruba for 2 1/2 days. I know it wasn’t enough to really enjoy all the beauty that the island has to offer, but I loved whatever I could see and do in that short time there. 

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Colorful retail buses in Aruba where they sell variety of items

There are tons of pristine beaches here that tourists can explore and they are all beautiful…some more than the others. Some of the places that I didn’t get a chance to visit but would recommend are, Flamingo Island and De Palm Island as day-trip. For swimming, paddle boating, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, or water activities, beaches like Divi, Druif, Arashi, Surfside, Mamlok, and Natural Pool are supposed to be the top ones. There are some walking tours in downtown but I did it all by myself and it’s pretty easy. Wilhelmina Park is well known among the locals and tourists too. A statue of Anne Frank is located in this park. There is an old Dutch Windmill in Palm Beach that I could see from my hotel room, but didn’t get time to visit it. And if you are bringing your kids to Aruba, I’m sure they will enjoy the Butterfly Farm, Donkey Sanctuary, or Bubali Bird Sanctuary. And if you like hiking, Hooiberg or the Haystack would be a great place to climb couple hundred steps. Finally, if you are into museums and history, the Aruba Aloe Factory, Historical Museum and Archaeological Museum are probably worth visiting. There are couple submarine tours that you can book from downtown which only runs at 11 AM and 12 PM every day. For activities, jeep safari, submarine tour, ATV tours/4-wheeling tours, sailing, snorkeling, and scuba are pretty common. 

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Thousand years old tribal art in Ayo Rock Park in Aruba

Just to give you some ideas on distance from Palm Beach to other areas of the island (by the way, the airport is located closer to downtown/Oranjestad):

To the airport – about 25 minutes

To Oranjestad – 25 minutes

To Eagle Beach – 10 minutes

To Divi or Druif Beach – 10 minutes

To Surfside Beach – about 25 minutes (closer to Oranjestad)

While I couldn’t see many of the places or do a lot of the things that people recommend to do in Aruba, below are some of the places I did visit here:

  1. PALM BEACH: Palm Beach area is popular for its high-rise resorts and hotels. It is home of variety of water activity operators, piers, restaurants, beach bars, and of course, lots of palm trees.  If you want to enjoy white sand, calm water, and a spectacular sunset, this is the place. There are 3 piers on this beach and Piet’s Pier is the smallest one from where some of the sunset catamarans and few other boat tours leave. The water is quite calm here…makes it perfect for swimming, sailing, or floating. There are lots of water activities that you can do in Palm Beach. If you are a photographer, sunset on this beach is pretty amazing which I got to enjoy on my second day on this island. 
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Palm Beach, Aruba

This was only 2 minutes walk from my hotel. I checked in at around 3pm and this beach was my first place to explore. There is a bus stop right around the corner of the beach, if you are planning to use public transportation. 

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Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach, Aruba during susnet

2. SUNSET CATAMARAN CRUISE: I booked this mini cruise online with Viator 3 days before I left for Aruba. It was $60 and supposed to be for 2 hours where only drinks were included and was supposed to start at 5:30pm. A company called Red Sail operated this and when I went to our meeting point at Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach, I was told the time changed to 6:30pm and it’s for 3 hours. I went back, walked around near Hard Rock cafe a bit and came back to the pier around 6pm to board. The lady at the dock looked at her customer list, said my name was not there, and started helping others to board. When I said I already paid, have a reference number and that I wanted to speak to her supervisor…she called her boss while I had to wait for about half an hour for them to figure things out. I don’t know if it was Viator or Red Sail who messed up my booking, but was slightly frustrating. But eventually, I got on board and we sailed off.

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Our DJ in the sunset catamaran cruise in Aruba

The whole purpose of getting on a catamaran sunset cruise was to actually enjoy the sunset and to cruise around. First of all, the boat was small and cramped with too many passengers. And after about half an hour of sailing, when we came near California Lighthouse, we just sat there for the whole sunset which followed by a 4th of July celebration dinner. Yes, that was the only best part of this cruise, that we got a surprise dinner with our price, which they usually don’t include. The price only includes bottomless drink and a live DJ.

I have been to these sunset cruises or catamarans in Mexico and in Dominican Republic, but those are more fun where people aren’t inside your personal bubble and have more space to breath. And you would actually be cruising the whole time. The music added some fun to this ride…some passengers were even dancing. And the food was ok. Another nice part that after dinner, our captain took us near the Renaissance hotel for the 4th of July fireworks, which we got to watch from our boat. 

3. PALM BEACH PROMENADE/PLAZA: It was only 9:30pm when we got off the catamaran. I was tired from my previous red-eye flight. But fun things are only starting in Aruba at that time. From the Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach, it took me about 5 minutes to walk to the promenade. This is the heart and soul of the Palm Beach. Tons of restaurants, bars, brand name shops, local boutiques, vendor kiosks, and souvenir places are here. The street is lined with big chain hotels and resorts. I was there every night during my stay. It’s an exciting place to hang out after dark…although may seem very dead during the day time with no one there and when all the stores and eateries are closed. 

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Paseo Herencia alley in Palm Beach Promenade in Aruba

The plaza has striking 3-level outdoor mall which is the largest of its kind with lots of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Paseo Herencia has a gorgeous fountain surrounded by international and local retailers and restaurants that features nighttime water and musical show at every hour starting from 7:30pm to 9:30pm.

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Light and musical show at night in Palm Beach Plaza

Go inside Texas de Brazil pathway/alley to enter the outdoor shopping plaza. It is a cozy place to walk around, do window shopping, or sit down and enjoy any drinks or meals. 

4. BEACH and CAVE EXCURSION: This day-trip was also booked with Viator few days before my flight to Aruba. It was $74 per person for 6 1/2 hours of guided tour (by a company called Pelican Aruba) in an open-air bus. The tour starts at 9:30am and lunch was included along with hotel pick-up/drop-off. Our guide and driver, James, was an extremely funny and knowledgeable man. We were supplied with cold water, punch, soft and hard drinks whenever we wanted. 

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Baby Beach in Aruba

This was definitely an excellent trip and a nice way of exploring the island’s landscape. The bus passes thru lots of neighborhoods and small villages. It is a scenic ride over all…you may even spot a donkey or two on the road. It was a relaxed way to see the island in a short time, except that they advertises we would go to Arashi Beach, but we weren’t taken there. The trip ended with Baby Beach and I was dropped of at my hotel by 4:30pm. 

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Driving by these cacti during our excursion in Aruba

Below are the places where we were taken to in this tour. Before stopping anywhere, we drove by Mamlok Beach which is famous for the ruins of an old shipwreck from Aruba’s last major hurricane. 

a. CALIFORNIA LIGHTHOUSE: This was our first stop of this trip. The lighthouse, built in 1914, is located on the northernmost tip of the island. Surrounded by blue water, this is a quiet and calm place to visit anytime of the day. We spent only 10 minutes here. There isn’t much to do, unless you climb up the stairs with a fee. There were some small carts and a bright colored bus selling fresh coconut water, other drinks and snacks.

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California Lighthouse in Aruba

b. ALTO VISTA CHAPEL: After a scenic ride from the lighthouse, we arrived at Alto Vista Chapel in a pretty isolated area. This is a small but historic chapel on the northern side of the island surrounded by lots of tall cacti. The altar is pretty simple and modest. And the surroundings were very peaceful. Again, not much to do here…we had 10 minutes to spend and that was a good amount of time to look around the chapel. 

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Alto Vista Chapel in Aruba

c. NATURAL BRIDGE: Third stop was the Natural Bridge where we spent about 15 minutes. The original and bigger natural bridge collapsed in 2005 but a smaller one is there beside the one that collapsed. The newer bridge is there for visitors to enjoy and to walk on the bridge. Do use caution to avoid any accidents.

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Natural Bridge in Aruba

Water color is darker in this part of the island because the ocean is very deep here. There are also sharks in this water. There is a natural crack beside the new bridge where visitors aren’t allowed to go to…follow any danger signs and listen to your guide while visiting this area. 

Ruins of which once was called Bushiribana Gold Mine is a few minutes of drive from the Natural Bridge. We didn’t stop there. But saw people climbing and exploring the surrounding area.  

d. AYO ROCK FORMATION: Our fourth stop was Ayo Rock Formation site where we spent about 15-20 minutes. This is like a very small version of the Jumbo rock in Joshua Tree NP in California. The park houses lots of large boulders, tall cacti, and few walking trails. You can explore these rocks (or even climb them) to get a better view of the area. The guide showed us a protective cave-like small place where you can see thousand years old tribal arts under a rock. Those arts and symbols are still a mystery to the locals since no one could decipher them yet. 

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Ayo Rock Formation in Aruba

e. ARIKOK NATIONAL PARK: After our lunch at La Granja, we arrived at Arikok National Park which takes up about one-third of the whole island. This is a place to explore Aruba’s natural treasures. You can see ancient lava and limestone formation in this park. There are few hiking trails if you want to experience Aruba’s flora, fauna, unique geological formations, and historical sites. The entrance fee to the park was included in our ticket. We spent about a little less than half an hour in and around the cave. 

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After entering Arikok National Park in Aruba

The only place we got to see in Arikok NP was Guadiriki Cave. This was a highlight of this tour where we could go inside the cave. After climbing a few stairs we went inside the not-so-claustrophobic and dark cave. But it was thrilling to scout around different sections of Guadiriki Cave, even the parts where small bats live. 

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Guadiriki Cave in Arikok National Park, Aruba

The cave is famous for the natural light that pours in through openings in the cave roof. There is another cave in Arikok NP, like Fontein Cave, which we didn’t get a chance to see. 

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Guadiriki Cave in Arikok National Park, Aruba

f. BABY BEACH: Our last stop of the tour was Baby Beach, which is a man-made lagoon on the southern end of the island. It is called Baby Beach because of its shallow depth of only 5 feet of water at any point and for remarkably calm beach without any current. Therefore, Baby Beach makes a prime destination for families with small children. You can walk out for a long distance and still touch the sea bottom here. This is also a great location for snorkeling. Certain spots of this beach has the dangerous rip current (those spots are specifically marked and tourists aren’t supposed to go there). 

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Baby Beach…a man-made lagoon in Aruba

On clear days you can see Venezuelan mountains…Venezuela is only 19 miles across the ocean from Aruba. 

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Baby Beach in Aruba

5. EAGLE BEACH: This is supposed to be one of the top 10 beaches in the world and was voted as #1 Caribbean beach by a USA Today survey. With its calm crystal-clear blue water, light waves, and soft white sand, this is a perfect place for relaxation. Additionally, taking leisure walks is an ideal activity here because of its long stretched sandy beach. To me, the highlight of this beach and the ONLY reason I went there was to photograph the famous divi-divi tree of Aruba. 

Under a Divi tree Eagle Beach in Aruba

Under a Divi tree Eagle Beach in Aruba

This pair of divi-divi in Eagle Beach is quite famous where people only come here to take pictures with these. The constant trade wind from the north-east shapes Aruba’s national tree divi-divi to always point to the south-west direction. It has become an iconic sign of Aruba and its image are on lot of the souvenir items as well. 

The famous Divi tree pair in Eagle Beach in Aruba

The famous Divi tree pair in Eagle Beach in Aruba

I took a taxi from Palm Beach to Eagle Beach couple hours before sunset, which costs about $9 for one way. Just keep in mind, on your way back you may have to walk to a hotel or call for a taxi, since there are no taxi stand near the beach. My agenda was to stay here until the sunset and take some shots of the divi-divi tree. But after waiting under the sun for more than half an hour, I couldn’t take the heat anymore and had to head back to my hotel. 

6. ORANJESTAD: My 3rd and last day in Aruba was set aside to roam around its downtown. Oranjestad is the main hub for many resorts, hotels, casinos, expensive brand name shops, and finally the cruise port. This is Aruba’s original shopping mecca for its tourists with vast selections of shopping venues. LG Smith Boulevard is the main street in downtown and everything is on or around this street, including Renaissance Mall & Marketplace, The Parliament, the marina, and The Royal Plaza. If you plan to go to Surfside Beach, going from the downtown is easier, since it’s closer from here (only 2 km). Also, look for the blue Paardenbaai Horse sculptures when you are walking around Oranjestad…there are multiple of them scattered throughout the downtown area. 

These blue horses are everywhere in Oranjestad, Aruba

These blue horses are everywhere in Oranjestad, Aruba

I left at 10:30 in the morning and was back In the hotel by 4 PM. I didn’t go to the park in downtown where Anna Franks statue is located. To go to downtown, I took the public minivan for $2 one way from the Palm Beach bus stop and I was in downtown in less than half an hour. Bus stop in Oranjestad is centrally located and very short distance from most of the major spots. 

Some souvenirs shop opposite of Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

Some souvenirs shop opposite of Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

a. TROLLEY RIDE: From the bus terminal, it was only 2-3 minutes walk to the cruise terminal where I got on to this trolley. This is a free double-decker hop-on/hop-off bus ride around the downtown area. These are battery operated trams that run very slowly that passes thru some main tourist spots and some not so popular among tourists spots. The street bus passes thru the Archeological Museum, the old Main Street with shops, some small plazas, hotels, and smaller alleys.

Downtown trolley ride in Oranjestad, Aruba

Downtown trolley ride in Oranjestad, Aruba

It’s a short, 45 minutes ride maybe and has a 20 minutes break at a small square. I got off at Plaza Daniel Leo on our way back to the terminal. 

b. PLAZA DANIEL LEO: There isn’t much to do in this plaza but I had to stop here to admire the Dutch/Flemish looking architecture in this square. Most of those are shops. You can find a blue horse sculpture here by the water fountain. Opposite of the plaza is where the famous European store Zara located. There is also a tourist info booth in this plaza, where I got my free Aruba street map from and asked a few questions about surroundings. 

Plaza Daniel Leo in Oranjestad, Aruba

Plaza Daniel Leo in Oranjestad, Aruba

c. RENAISSANCE MALL: If you cross the street from Plaza Daniel Leo, you are at the Renaissance Mall, an elite and trendy shopping mall beside Renaissance Resort & Casino. There are few restaurants and a casino in the mall. 

d. “I LOVE ARUBA” SIGN: If you just walk straight to the mall and keep walking straight you’ll come out of the mall and to the main street. A left turn from would take you to this I Love Aruba sign. This is located right next to Renaissance Mall, in front of the Parliament of Aruba, and across from the marina. 

I Love Aruba in Oranjestad, Aruba

I Love Aruba in Oranjestad, Aruba

e. PARLIAMENT of ARUBA: As I walked by the I Love Aruba sign, I came in front of the Parliament of Aruba. I am not sure if publics are allowed inside the building. It’s a simple building with a statue outside. Not much to do here, I kept walking towards the opposite of the Renaissance Marketplace to see what’s on the other side…didn’t go too far and saw the Historical Museum of Aruba. From there, just turned around, crossed the street to go to the marketplace. 

f. RENAISSANCE MARKETPLACE: It was really empty when I was there with most of the stores being closed…maybe because it’s like the Palm Beach Promenade…dead during day but crowded with tourists at night. It has one side surrounded by the marina. One of many other places in downtown for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The architecture itself of this mall is modern and glassy.

Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad, Aruba

Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad, Aruba

g. RENAISSANCE MARINA: This is the official name, I think, but most people probably know it by just the downtown marina. Taking an easy stroll by the water is what I did here. There are few spots I found by the marina to be very photogenic. 

Walking by Renaissance Marina in Oranjestad, Aruba

Walking by Renaissance Marina in Oranjestad, Aruba

h. ROYAL PLAZA: After my lunch at Lucy’s by the marina (which is across the street from Renaissance Mall, I walked a couple blocks to reach a line of souvenirs stores. They were right opposite of the Royal Plaza…another trendy shopping plaza and a paradise for exquisite shoppers. The Royal Plaza consists of 3 distinct pink and white Dutch-Caribbean style victorian building with multi-level experience of shopping and dining. Go inside the plaza, which is basically an outdoor mall and walk around to do some window shopping…heck, if you have money to spare, this would be the place for those bills. 

Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

This was a great way to end the downtown tour, since the bus terminal is right there. I was back in the hotel by 5 and off to Palm Beach Promenade for a lazy walk and dinner. 

IF I VISIT ARUBA AGAIN: If I visit Aruba for the second time, I would definitely stay in Palm Beach again. While public buses are very good, next time I would definitely rent a car since parking in all the touristic places are pretty good. And since Aruba is a small island with tons of beaches, having a car is much easier to hop beaches and not worry about bus or getting a taxi. Next time, I definitely want to try some Aruban food, which I couldn’t this time. Again, having a rental car would make it a breeze. 

 

 

 

 

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Modern Dutch city Eindhoven, The Netherlands

EINDHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS: Eindhoven is a thriving ultra-modern Dutch city with lots of bold and futuristic buildings. The actual city is very spread out and big but the city center is walkable to all the main spots. Unlike many other European cities, Eindhoven doesn’t have an “old town” per say; look of its city center is very up-to-date and stylish.

Walking towards St. Catherine Church in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Walking towards St. Catherine Church in Eindhoven, The Netherlands was very empty that Sunday
       

TIME of TRAVELING: We visited Eindhoven when my elder sister and her family came to visit us in Belgium. It was one Sunday in May of 2013. It was a very pleasant day but empty in the city center.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in an Egyptian place beside St. Catherine Church. It was some good food for good price.

Since we were there on a Sunday, everything was closed! There were lots of stores in the city center but too bad we could only do window shopping.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent only half a day in Eindhoven since everything was closed and crowdless, we decided to go to Antwerp in Belgium before heading back home. It seemed like there wasn’t anything to do except looking at some good-looking buildings and some squares. I think, the nightlife here can be very lively…but that didn’t suit us really. Some of the great buildings of this city are De Admirant (the highest building in Eindhoven), Evoluon – a mushroom/UFO shaped building from 1966, and more sexy architectures in “Around the Admirant” which are basically shopping area.

Evoluon - an UFO shaped futuristic building in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Evoluon – a UFO shaped futuristic building in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
            

“Around Admirant” is one of the most stylish squares I’ve seen in whole of Europe with many creative looking buildings. Small streets from this square have many shops and some fast food places. I can’t imagine what it would be like on Saturdays when everything is open and people are gathering in to hangout in this cool place.

Another cool architecture "The Blob" in "Around Admirant" in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Another cool architecture “The Blob” in “Around Admirant” in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
   

Sint-Catherinekerk located in Catharinaplein. Exterior of it looks fascinating but couldn’t go it (forgot that most of the churches in the Netherlands are closed on Sundays).

Markt looked the liveliest place while we were roaming around the city center. It is probably one of the best places for lunch with many options.

Restaurants in the Markt in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Restaurants in the Markt in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
   

Another Dutch city Maastricht, The Netherlands

MAASTRICHT, THE NETHERLANDS: Unlike some of the other Dutch cities we’ve visited recently, i.e., Gouda, Leiden, and Delft, Maastricht is more like a modern city with some old touches. Ofcourse it has old churches, a prominent town hall, and a big market place, but somehow it didn’t feel like I am in The Netherlands. Either way you look at it, this is a great place for a day trip if you are nearby.

Maastricht by the River Maas, The Netherlands

TIME OF TRAVELING: We drove to Maastricht in end of June, 2012 on a Saturday. It’s about little more than an hour drive from Tervuren, Belgium. The weather forecast said it was going to rain, but luckily it didn’t and it actually turned out to be bright and sunny day.

WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN MAASTRICHT: We really didn’t try any Dutch food this time. We saw KFC in the Markt and we were missing some American good food…so, there we were eating some fried chicken with fries (they don’t sell biscuits here) while enjoying Dutch environment.

Maastricht is a great place for shopping. The small alleys from Vrijthof to the Markt and towards the river Maas have many brand name stores, local boutiques, and sweet treat places which are hard to pass by.

Fashion streets in Maastricht near The Markt, The Netherlands

PLACES WE HAVE VISITED: We reached Maastricht little bit later than we intended to around 1 pm. By the time we had lunch and visited all the churches and other sites, we figured that we didn’t have enough time to explore the museums, which I really wanted to do in this trip.

A white Cadillac waiting for the newly weds outside Basilica of St. Servatius, Maastricht

1) VRIJTHOF SQUARE: This is a huge square featuring 2 of the main churches of Maastricht, St. Jan’s Cathedral and St. Servaas Church. The square has couple museums which we didn’t cover this time. It’s a perfect place for to have drinks or meals or just simply admire the atmosphere. When we went there, this square was a playground for the kids with some bouncy castles, music, and other play areas. The surrounding is beautiful with the churches and long red tower of St. Jan’s in one side and all the cafes and restaurants on the other side.

Cafes and restaurants in Vrijthof, Maastricht, The Netherlands

a) BASILICA of SAINT SERVATIUS: This church was built on the site of the grave of St. Servatius. This Romanesque style church is beautiful both inside and out. It’s a huge church when you go inside with many doors and small chapels. We didn’t go to the courtyard of the church (costs about 4 euros). There was a wedding going on when we went there, so couldn’t get near the altar or walk around the church freely, but it is absolutely gorgeous inside with its blue and white high-ceiling. The altar looked sophisticated with pretty lights and shiny decors.

Inside Basilica of St. Servatius

b) ST. JAN’S CHURCH: This Gothic church can easily be recognized by its unique 70 meter high red tower looking over Vrijthof. The church, built in the 12th/13th century, is rather simply inside with stone pillars, memorial stones on the walls, and a few murals. There are 115 tombstones dating from 1378 to 1771. The new organ, built in 1992, replaced the original one which was built in 1780.

St. Jan’s Church on the left with red tower and Basilica of St. Severatius on the right, Maastricht, The Netherlands

2) STADHUIS & MARKT (TOWN HALL & MARKET PLACE): Another great place to hang out in Maastricht is the Markt, not too far from Vrijthof…just follow the signs. The Stadhuis is standing right in the middle of this big square, surrounded by many shops and cafes. Every Saturday there is a farmer’s market in the market place selling fresh produces, flowers, fish, and bakeries. The only souvenir store we found in Maastricht was here near McDonald’s. You will find some American fast food here like Subway, Burger King, KFC, and McDonald’s along with many local restaurants. On one side of the square, there is a statue of Johannes Petrus Minckelers holding a torch with eternal fire.

Stadhuis (Town Hall) of Maastricht, The Netherlands

3) RIVER MAAS: You don’t see small canals making their ways to the different parts of the city in Maastricht like many other Dutch cities. Here River Maas is the heart of the city. It is only 5 minutes’ walk from the Markt. It is amazing to stand on the pedestrian bridge that continues from the street Maastrichter and enjoy some great moments by the river.

City of Maastricht by River Maas in The Netherlands

City of blue and white – Delft, the Netherlands

DELFT, THE NETHERLANDS: Delft is the type of city where I don’t mind going over and over again just to hang out and enjoy Dutch people and their culture. Yes, it is a typical Dutch city… meaning small canals running thru the city, old windmills here and there, cheese stores (one of my favorite features of Netherlands), and not to mention the crazy bikers. It is not a heavily touristic city, like Amsterdam, but the charm here is no less than Amsterdam. This small town is world famous for its history, famous University (TU Delft), and its tradition with blue and white ceramics. Even if you are not into ceramics, you will love watching master painters working on their projects and how they have kept their traditions alive over the centuries. Delft is also very close to (less than half an hour drive) Rotterdam, Gouda, Leiden, Dan Hague…perfect to combine these places.

Old town of Delft, the Netherlands

TIME OF TRAVELLING: This month my sister and her husband came to visit us from the USA. They’ve visited Amsterdam before. Delft being only hour and half drive from our home in Tervuren, Belgium, Delft was where we wanted to go before their flight back the next day. Although it was almost mid-June, it was a windy and cloudy day, no sun at all.

WHAT TO BUY AND EAT IN DELFT: The most memorable (and expensive) souvenir you can buy from Delft is of course the blue and white Delftware. If you want to be cheap or don’t care about real stuff, you can get these ceramics in replica items in any store in the old town. But if you want real hand-painted Delaware made in Delft, then you gotta empty your pocket bad. But hey, who knows when you will go back there again…so why not get the authentic Delft porcelain for some a lot more extra cash? Other than that, you will find wooden shoes, tulips, Dutch cheese, miniature windmills in almost all the souvenir shops.

Original hand-painted Royal Delftware

If you want to try typical Dutch dishes, have a raw herring fish sandwich with onion, or battered deep fried fish. You will usually find people selling these in the open marketplaces on weekends. We had our lunch in a restaurant little bit outside of the old town. I had a croquette (kroket in Dutch), which is a deep fried Dutch snack prepared with minced beef, potato, and breadcrumbs. It looked like a hot dog when the lady put it on a bun with ketchup and mustard.

PLACES WE VISITED: We spent about half a day in Delft, mostly in the old town. I just wish the weather was more favorable. If we had more time we could have check out some other famous pottery places in town. Another fun thing to do in this town would be taking a boat tour around the canal, which we didn’t do this time.

1) ROYAL DELFT (KONINKLIJKE PORCELEYNE FLES): Royal Delft, established in 1653, is one of the original 32 Delftware manufacturers and is the last remaining Delftware factory from the 17th century. The world famous Royal Delftware is still entirely hand-painted according to centuries-old tradition.

Master painter at work in Royal Delft

Royal Delft is about 20 minutes of walk from Delft Stadhuis or New Church. It is open every day from Monday to Sunday and all public holidays from 9-5pm (closed on Sundays and public holidays from November to March). There is an entrance fee of 12 euros per person to enter the factory that includes an audio tour (available in 8 different languages). The tour starts with 2 short films (1st one is the history of Blue Delft and Royal Delft and the last one is more like an interactive movie on its development and production process). After that you get to see the master painter at work, antique Delft pieces, building ceramics, ceramic tiles, one of a kind courtyard, the factory and finally their showroom. The museum also features a collection of Delftware that was owned the Royal Dutch families. Good part about the showroom is that while it has a comprehensive collection of hand-painted Delft Blue by Royal Delft, it also carries an extensive selection of earthenware and souvenirs from other Dutch companies. There are other stores in the old town which sell Royal Delft products and what I have seen, prices are the same.

Historic garden of Royal Delft

2) TOWN HALL (STADHUIS) & HUGO de GROOT MARKT: Delft Town Hall is located in the heart of old town, surrounded by many old buildings, Blue Delft shops, cafes, and other souvenir stores. Facing the town hall is a big bronze statue of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a jurist in the Dutch Republic.

Delft Stadhuis (Town Hall) in Groot Markt

3) NEW CHURCH (NIEUWE KERK): New Church was built between 1383-1510. Its present spire dates from 1875 and is 375 ft. in height. Many famous Dutch citizens and royal members were buried in this church including Hugo Grotius. The church is huge inside but rather a simple one with no grand alter or eye-catching ornaments. The stained-glass windows are also beautiful to look at. But the Mausoleum of PRINCE William of Orange, the FOUNDER of Dutch independence, in the back (1st to be buried in this church) is the focal point of this church. The tomb is nicely decorated with marble pillars, coat of arms, 4 female figures on the 4 corners, and then an image of the lying, dead Prince in the middle.

New Church (Nieuw Kirk) of Delft

New Church is also located in Hugo de Groot Markt, facing the Stadhuis. The church is open from Monday to Saturday 9-6pm. It is 3:50 euros to go inside, which covers entry to Old Church too.

Tomb of Prince William of Orange in New Church of Delft, the Netherlands

4) OLD CHURCH (OUDE KERK): This Brabant-Gothic style church is Delft’s oldest church, being built in 1246. This looked very similar to the New Church, especially its floor, organ, seating arrangement, altar, and the stained-glass windows. This also houses tombs of famous Dutchmen including famous Delft painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). All the way in the back is the tomb/monument of Lieutenant-Admiral Piet Heyn, which is there since 1639. The most INTERESTING FEAUTRE of this church is that it’s 75 meter high brick tower, built in 1350, LEANS about 2 meters from the vertical. During the construction, it became apparent that the base soil was not strong enough to support the building, so the church began to lean. Eventually they had to compensate for the tilt by building counter curves on the upper part of the tower.

Inside Old Church (Oude Kirk) of Delft, the Netherlands

Je suis tres excite!

Oui, I AM very excited to finally start my French class. Its a relief, because atleast now I know after 10 lessons I will be able to communicate with that lady in the cash register or ask for direction when I am lost in small villages of France much easily. Living in a country without knowing their language (in our case its plural…languageS, because in Belgium, you have to know both Dutch and French to get around) is not only hard, but its kinda irritating going to the grocery where you don’t know what you are buying 90% of the time. I still can’t find many things that I want when I go to the supermarket; sometimes it happened that I even bought wrong stuff.

Its been about 4 months now since we moved to Belgium. All this time I tried to get by with my 1 year of high school French that I took some 14/15 years ago. Few things that I still remember are Bonjour, Au revoir, Merci, Vou parlez anglais (do you speak English) and Je ne parlez pas francois (I don’t speak French). You really can’t do much with these few phrases/sentences especially when you are living amongst the French/Dutch. After all, we will be here for a while, so its wiser to just get out of the comfort zone and start getting involved with this new culture. And you can’t really enjoy a culture thoghourly unless you can interact with the locals.

I tried taking some free online courses, but it doesn’t help much with the pronounciation and doesn’t teach me any interesting facts about French culture. Whereas, my teacher (its a lady) not only corrects when I am wrong, conversates with me one-on-one, she also gives me lot of insights on this very sophisticated and rich language.

So, my plan is to first get done with this 10 lessons of French, then if I want to continue and move on to the next level, at that time may go for some more advance French classes, where hopefully I can actually read a French newspaper/magazine/understand French lyrics…WOW. Then after I am done with French, will start with Flemish (Dutch) lessons. I get too excited thinking that by the time I leave this country I will be able to speak/understand 2 more languages very well, these will be my true assets for the whole lifetime.

Ok, Au revoir (bye) for now and Bon nuit (goodnight). A bientot (see you soon)

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