Tag Archives: living like a local

Monday Market in Rural France

One of the joys in living in Europe is the quality of markets — no, not supermarkets (and those are frequently quite delightful, too!) — regional weekly markets where the products are straight from the fields or cheesemaker or butcher or fishmonger into your shopping basket. AND they are picturesque as well!

Here are a few scenes from our Monday market inside and outside the medieval market hall in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives in Calvados, Normandy, France. Enjoy!

Fruit & veg at Monday Market.

Fruit & veg including HUGE sacks of carrots at the Monday Market.

Market vendors outside the medieval hall.

Market vendors outside the medieval hall.

Feathered friends and pretty plants.

Feathered friends and pretty plants.

Shopping baskets (yes -- I'm going to buy a new one!) and flowering plants.

Shopping baskets (yes — I’m going to buy a new one!) and flowering plants.

And finally — the clothing on offer may not be to our taste — but someone must want it!

A variety of clothing is sold at the Monday market.

A variety of clothing is sold at the Monday market.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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6 Simple Steps To Save On Your Trip To Amsterdam

The misty mornings, the postcard-perfect views over almost every canal, the ease of getting around, the sensible and eco-friendly bicycle culture, the friendliness of every single person we met — these are just a few of the joys of travelling to one of my favourite European cities, Amsterdam!

Brouwersgracht Canalside

Here are 6 simple steps that helped us save money by ‘living like a local’ while we were there for 8 days recently.

1. Rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. I did a web search on “short term apartments in Amsterdam” and the links that caught my eye were not the very expensive commercial ones. Instead, I was drawn to two very similar sites — Roomorama and AirBnB. After searching through the options on both sites for an arrival on a prime travel-booking date of New Year’s Eve, I chose Roomorama based on the variety of apartments still available and was very pleased with the apartment that we rented in the Jordaan area. Both sites contain a range of prices and neighbourhoods.

2. Cook your own meals in that apartment — and that means shopping for groceries!

Cracker aisle in Amsterdam grocery

Grocery shopping in Amsterdam

Just by getting out and walking around the neighbourhood on our first day, we quickly discovered that Albert Heijn grocery stores were scattered all over Amsterdam in every district.

The word “winkel” means shop, so the click-on link above takes you to a map of their shops both within Amsterdam and in other parts of the country.

Even when you are moving past the obvious and easy choices of fruit and vegetables, food looks pretty much the same all over Europe, North America, and Australia or New Zealand in spite of the name on the package being quite different.

Besides, it’s fun to pick up your winkelwagon (shopping cart) and put some items in there like unknown cheese varieties, milk or butter in many shades and sizes, or these crackers to the left with mystery names.

Home cooked dinner in Amsterdam

Here’s an example above of one of the delicious meals that we cooked in the apartment with locally sourced groceries.

3. Use public transport such as trams, trains, and buses.

Tram at Museumplein

OV-Chipkaart for Amsterdam

One of the nicest things about Amsterdam is the ease with which you can traverse the city by using a combination of trams and buses along with trains for the suburban trips. A sensible way to save money is to refrain from buying individual tickets for each journey and to instead purchase a multi-trip pass sold by GVB — the public transportation company.

After doing some online research, we decided to purchase an OV-Chipkaart which would allow us several days of travel on any of the trams or buses in Amsterdam. These durable plastic cards are the size of a credit card, are valid for 5 years, and are rechargeable with a credit card at ATM style machines scattered all over the city. These ‘hole in the wall’ recharge machines are usually located right next to a bank ATM.

There is a wonderful series of network maps and tourism site maps on the GVB website. Just click on the link to find them.

We purchased our cards at the GVB Ticket Office in the Tourist Information building at Stationsplein, directly opposite the huge Central Station. But they are also available from dispensing machines in places such as Schiphol Airport.

4. Buy a Museum Pass and save, save, save!
Most visitors to Amsterdam will be planning on a visit to one or more of the stunning museums here such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, the Stedelijk Museum, the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, and many more.

For the avid museum-goer, you can purchase the Museumkaart which is sold at the entry of most of the major museums for €39 plus a one-time €4.95 administration charge for issuing the card. We used our card at all 5 of the museums that I have just named and once you get past 3 admissions at an average of €15 each, the card has paid for itself. Our next two museum visits after that were essentially free.

You will receive another plastic card that is the size of a credit card and this one is valid for a full year. It certainly encourages you to come back for another visit during that 12 month period because the card covers over 400 museums, castles, and sites of significance all over the Netherlands, not just within Amsterdam.

5. Shop and eat where the locals do and avoid the streets where the tourists are.

Taking a break in a local cafe

Expresso at a Turkish cafe

Whether you are buying a croissant at a bakery, taking a break for lunch and a coffee, or stopping for a cocktail and some snacks, save yourself a lot of money and get off of the main tourist thoroughfares. Run away from cafes or restaurants where you see tourists with guidebooks on the table! Instead, seek out the neighbourhood cafes where the locals are reading their newspapers in the local language.

A perfect example of the shopping locally concept was the pastry run that my husband made one morning for croissants. He was up quite early on one of our first mornings in Amsterdam and he walked down to one of the main tourist streets and purchased four of them for €7. The following morning, after we had done a thorough perusal of our neighbourhood, he purchased four much nicer and much fresher croissants in our local bakery for €3.20 — a more than 50% savings.

You can apply that same principal to just about everything including the ubiquitous cup of coffee. Instead of paying €3.50 for an expresso or €3.90 for a far-too-milky latte, why not head down to the local Turkish cafe for a rich, fragrant, and strong cup of java at the budget friendly cost of €2.25 or less. Yum!

6. Sort out how to access money before you leave home.
Two of the fastest ways to burn up extra cash are by making too many visits to the ATM machine for cash whilst travelling and by using your credit card too liberally. A far better set of strategies are to
(a) have a few hundred euros with you upon arrival. We ordered this currency from our local bank in Australia and it was free of any transaction fees. Your own bank will almost always give you a much better exchange rate than those airport stands or street-side foreign exchange shops.
(b) keep your withdrawals to a minimum and take out more than you normally would back home. Your linked bank back home will most likely charge you a foreign ATM fee in addition to the foreign currency exchange fee. If you are withdrawing €100 at a time instead of €300-500, you will be paying an average of $8.50 in US or Australian dollars/£5.50 in British funds for each of those €100 withdrawals. So it is far more sensible to take a larger amount out each time.
(c) use a linked banking network. You will probably always be charged the currency exchange fee by your bank since they are simply passing on the cost of conversion to you. But what if you could find a way to bypass the on-average $5-or-more fee for using an overseas ATM machine that does not belong to your own bank? I made a point of opening an account in Australia with a bank that was a member of the Global Alliance. By using a bank that is associated with this international group of banks, I can access my money for FREE (not including the mandatory currency exchange fee) at banks throughout the world. Check with your own bank prior to departure to determine if they participate in such a network. Then you can use the same method to save you some money that you can happily spend on food or fun instead of fees!
(d) find out what it will cost you to use a credit card overseas for purchases. You certainly get the most accurate foreign exchange rate when you use credit cards, but they also attract rather a lot of fees with every purchase. On average, most banks charge a whopping 5% of the cost of the purchase for the ‘convenience factor’ of using your credit card abroad. And on top of that, you will also be charged a currency conversion fee. Save yourself the resultant shock when you check your online bank statement and be informed about your options and the costs involved before you depart on your trip.

Hundreds of euros can be saved by following the strategies that I have outlined above. By doing a bit of advanced planning, you can relax and spend your travel money where you want to spend it, not where you are forced to spend it.

NOTE: All prices were current at the time of writing in 2011.

Copyright © Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Living Like A Local at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

Intense glare, stunning heat, sunburnt bodies sprawled on every inch of sand, men in swimming trunks wearing Santa hats, and the unmistakable fragrance of coconut-scented suntan lotion — it all conspired to give me a serious flashback moment to childhood Christmas holidays spent on Florida beaches. But then the smell of beer and sizzling sausages combined with the overlapping Aussie or British or Irish or Scottish or German or French or whatever other accents and it jolted me back to the 21st century. I looked around and knew that I was in Australia for Christmas at the beach.

I didn’t try to take an expensive professional camera with me on Christmas Day because we would have gotten jostled in the thick crowds. The picture below was taken on Boxing Day — the very next day after Christmas — and the crowds were back to a manageable size. But this gives you a glimpse of this little piece of heaven.

Boxing Day at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia

Even the ‘Mums and Bubs Pool’ (aka Mothers and Babies Paddle Pool to you non-OZ folks) was thinned out compared to the previous day. But as you can see by the clock on the Surf Life Saving Club building, it was late in the day and rather a lot of people had already packed up and gone home.

Beachside Mums and Bubs Pool at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

We are currently enjoying our final week in Australia and the beachside Christmas which is quintessentially Aussie. We were able to have this final holiday in Australia because we were quite generously given the keys to a friend’s apartment which sits just up the hill from these scenes — a less than ten minute walk away. She lives in such an idyllic spot and we feel very blessed to be living in her gorgeous apartment while she is out of town.

Sometimes it’s the little things that allow you to relax into your holiday a bit more thoroughly — and having a full sized kitchen, a big deep bath tub, a spacious living room, and a view of a beautiful beachside neighbourhood has certainly contributed to our sense of well-being. I’m not a loving-the-sand kind of person but Mark certainly is. There are days when he goes down for a swim three times in one day. And watching the stress of our former lives just melt off of his face is quite joyous.

I do enjoy the beach scene as a spectator and observer. And as you can see, there is always something worth taking pictures of!

Gateway to the Baths — a natural pool set in the rocks.

Coogee Beach is around the bend from the well known surfing spot, Bondi Beach, but Coogee is definitely more laid back and family oriented.

Back down the hill from the apartment where we are “living like a local” is a very convenient street that contains well over a dozen cafes and restaurants along with pharmacies, gift shops, numerous banks, doctors and dentists, and a full-sized grocery store. Just like our previous stay in North Sydney, the proximity of all of these stores allowed us to shop for food and supplies every few days and cut our daily expense budget in half or less.

I’ll be sorry to see this end tomorrow, but we are off on an evening flight to Kuala Lumpur, a one day layover, and then it’s on to cold and wintery Amsterdam for a week before we travel to England. What a shock to the body that change of temperature is going to be!

We will be arriving in Amsterdam on the morning of New Year’s Eve. After a bit of sleep to recover from the jet lag, we will be ushering in a New Year AND a new life in the Northern hemisphere. And yes, we will be “living like a local” there, too.

Stay tuned for more travel adventures and a wrap-up of our temporary life in Sydney!

© Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website.
All rights reserved.