I always find it interesting to see the juxtaposition of travelers on vacation interacting with the locals who are going about their daily life. In larger cities like Paris and London, there are many similarities to life in New York. People are bustling by, on their way to work, to home, to the gym, to dinner. It seems that people are constantly in motion. However, I noticed that in Santo Domingo the way of life was much slower than I was used to.
All around me there were families, friends, even solitary individuals enjoying the warm air, dining al fresco, taking a nap on the warm stones, and just enjoying the view of the history-laced buildings around them. There did not seem to be any sort of rush and it made me smile to see a country that had learned to truly enjoy even the small moments in life.
During my time spent exploring the Colonial District in Santo Domingo, I was solicited by an older man in Colon Park. At first assuming he was trying to sell me something, I brushed him off. Instead he launched into a history lesson of the area, explaining that he worked for the city as a tour guide. He seemed more proud of his country than out to make a buck, and quickly pointed out his favorite spots around the park. His first pick was the Santo Domingo chocolate museum, which immediately piqued my interest.
I stepped inside and the scent was intoxicating. Warm, melted chocolate simmered in cast iron pots, while bottles that presumably held various forms of the dessert were scattered around. As I tasted chocolate in more forms than I knew existed (jam, liqueur, soap, etc.) I realized just how inventive you could be when determined to enjoy something sweet.
My favorite chocolate treat? The cinnamon spiced chocolate liqueur.
On my last day in Santo Domingo, I decided to pull myself away from the sun-soaked poolside terrace and retrace my steps around the Zona Colonial. Whenever I visit someplace for the first time I typically get overwhelmed by the entire scene, drinking in as much as I can as quickly as I can. However, after a couple of days, I was able to relax and discover new corners and details that I had not discovered before.
I turned down a quiet, residential street just off the Colon Park and heard the soft tinkling of a piano. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the door to the house was wide open, and framing the doorway were an old woman and her (presumably) grandson, lost in the music and in the moment. It was such a beautiful scene, that I stood there, frozen, unwilling to leave and knowing that I could not disturb the peace. Finally I shuffled on, the clicks of my camera adding the only sound to the tinkling keys against the stiff heat.
When people think of the Dominican Republic, they generally imagine the sandy shores of Punta Cana, all-inclusive resorts, and raucous spring breakers, drunk off of the ever flowing rum on tap. On my latest trip I opted to explore a more historical side of this country, and flew to Santo Domingo, the site of Christopher Columbus’s first successful city in the New World.
The main historical tourist attractions in Santo Domingo are located in the Zona Colonial, or the Colonial District. In this ten block radius travelers can walk down Calle Las Damas, the first paved road in the New World, explore Christopher Columbus’s stately home, taste the home grown chocolate at the Chocolate Museum, and take a horse-drawn carriage ride down the cobble-stoned streets. The citizens of this city are very proud of their country’s heritage, many offering a history lesson to any interested parties.
Some of my favorite moments included a live, open-air music and dance performance, dining al-fresco in the Plaza Espana, and admiring the hand painted murals on the wooden horse carts.
“When it’s Spring again I’ll bring again, Tulips from Amsterdam. With a heart that’s true I’ll give to you, Tulips from Amsterdam.”
With those immortal words from a Max Bygraves tune echoing in your ears, why not experience a less well-known side of Amsterdam away from the bustling city center? Book one of the Amsterdam hotels with Hotels4U and head to the east of the city instead. This district is situated between the Amstel River and the IJ River and is made up of a variety of neighborhoods, each with its own culture and attractions – a real melting pot of nationalities.
In the Eastern Docklands there are some great examples of modern architecture, and the IJburg area is made up of lots of small islands connected by bridges and features the Blijburg beach and a harbor. With parks, restaurants, bars and cafés in abundance in this part of town, you’re sure to find some great places to explore, along with numerous culinary delights too. There’s a great market in the area as well as a world class music venue at Bimhuis. There’s even a fort in the IJmeer area which is a UNESCO world heritage site and forms part of the Amsterdam defensive line.
Of course no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to the world famous canals. Hire a bike or take a boat trip along these beautiful waterways throughout the city. The other must see here is Anne Frank’s house. Concealed by a moveable bookcase you’ll be able to see the secret hiding place of Anne Frank and her family, as you relive this moving story.
A trip to the Keukenhof Gardens and Tulip fields are a must if you love flowers. In spring the gardens simply burst with color. With more than seven million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowers, this beautiful garden comes to life offering the most beautiful of sights.
Not just for those seeking the bright lights of the city center, beautiful Amsterdam offers an awful lot more than you might think. Book your hotel in the city or on the outskirts and see for yourself!
*This post is sponsored.