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Friends of That Dam Guide

I love travelling and when I travel I always go on tours of the place I’m visiting. I either go on small group tours or private tours and have been on some really terrible tours over the years. I’ve also been on many great ones. Here is a collection of tour guides and their companies who have enhanced my stay in their home towns and I can confidently recommend them to you.

Starting with my home town, Amsterdam…

Amsterdam – Reypenaer Cheese Tasting

Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room

I always describe Reypenaer cheese as the kind of cheese that Dutch people buy each other for Christmas.

Reypenaer is a cheese company run by the Wyngaard family and they ripen cheese in an old fashioned way and produce an exceptionally high quality end product.  There are 2 vital elements to this, first, to buy a great quality cheese and second, to age it properly in their classic old warehouse.

The starting product is cheese that is made from milk from cows that graze on quality grass high in nutrients grown in the rich clay of  North Holland’s drained lakes. These lakes were drained iin the 1600s to make fertile farmland and they keep delivering!

Next, the warehouse. In Woerden, the Wyngaard’s have an antique warehouse where the temperature and humidity are controlled by cheesemasters opening or closing shutters and vents. The fluctuation conditions impart a complexity to the cheese. The cheeses are ageded on wooden shelves and are frequently turned and checked and ripened for up to 2 and a half years.  Cheese from this warehouse is labelled ‘Reypenaer’, which is a reference to this special ripening process.

The antique warehouse is used to its capacity so what they have done to increase production is have sensors in the old warehouse and they replicate the same conditions in a new warehouse. They ripen cow and goats milk cheeses here on stailess steel shelves. The scheese aged in the new warehouse are labelled ‘Wyngaard’.

If I could only eat 2 more Dutch kinds of cheese in my life, ever, they would be the 10-month goat’s cheese (Wyngaards Chevres Gris) and the 2-year cow’s milk cheese (Reypenaer VSOP).

It comes vacuum packed, so it lasts for 3 months out of the fridge and you can take it into the US.

Drop into the shop and try their cheeses. Or, you can do a 1-hour tasting in their very stylish basement tasting room, see picture, where you are guided through a tasting which comprises 6 wedges of cheese and 3 glasses of wine: white, red and port, to pair with the different kinds of cheese. They are very generouus with the cheese, you decide how much you eat!

The shop gets busy on the weekends and the tastings sell out so it is best to book online in advance.

 

Amsterdam – Hungry Birds Food Tours

A full 4-hour food adventure in small groups of between 2 and 8 people.

Hungry Birds invited me on their Daytime Experience’ and I loved it.  I was curious to see how they would make a whole tour out of Dutch street food, which, let’s face it, people can be quite dismissive about.

The food was super, I never knew yogurt could taste so good.  We ran through many Dutch staples, from Herring and Kibbeling to Krokets, Stroopwafels, Poffertjes and Apple Pie. Cheese was also naturally on the menu, as well as drinks were thrown in too.

For me, the high point was an Indonesian ‘Toko’ or little supermarket/take away. The meat pasty was superb, so much so that I have become a regular customer there. The toko also makes their own sambals and I have tried every single type they make and always have them in the house and even give them as presents.

If you are in Amsterdam and staying in De Pijp, this takeaway also offers an affordable way of eating superb Indonesian food. The place is called Toko Ramee and is found next to the MacDonalds at Ferdinand Bolstraat 74. They also have a few tables now so you can eat there too.

Rachel, the guide I had, was an absolute delight to be with and made every single person feel welcome and special. It’s about time I did their other tours. They have a great selection now of food tours of various neighbourhoods, a special Sunday tour, and varying durations from 3 to 5 hours.

2019 update, Hungry Birds are going strong and they have incresed the numebr of their experiences which now include the following: Daytime Original, Daytime East, Daytime de Pijp, Evening Experience, Sunday Experience.

And now for: Budapest, Istanbul, London & Paris

Budapest

Andrea of Budapest Guide is the owner/operator of Budapest guide and gives excellent and affordable private tours. Disclaimer: I’ve not actually been on a tour of her’s yet but I added her here as she comes so highly recommended by customers on my tours.

Andrea is not only recommended by my clients but also Rick Steves and her Tripadvisor reviews are exceptional. Her tours are either walking tours or minivan tours for up to 6 people and more by arrangement, they cover the city, both sides, obviously as well as surrounding area, villages, wine farms, castles, and caves. Half-day, full-day, multi-day, everything seems possible!

Amsterdam / Budapest is a well established Rhine river cruise route and doing a tour at both ends of that journey is a great start and finish!

I’m going to add more here just as soon as I’ve been to Budapest, watch this space and until then…

Istanbul

Lee and I went on 3 tours with My Local Guide Istanbul: The Secrets of Istanbul and Istanbul Heritage, with Yunus. Both were excellent, he has such a broad knowledge of the city and its history and was very open to changing the content and route of the tour to suit us, given that were the only 2 people on the second tour. The Secrets tour gave a great overview and orientation of the old town and Yunus answered all our practical questions about tram cards and where to eat. The Heritage was a way of exploring a part of the city that is just not known by tourists. Yunus’s knowledge and comments on the social changes, from refugees to gentrification gave added depth to our understanding of this amazing city and, for us, the newly discovered ancient old Jewish and Greek districts.

The Taste of Turkey on two Continents was given by the owner, Salih and was superb.  We started on the European side and had a very pleasant 15-minute boat trip over the Asian side to a part of Istanbul I would never have thought to visit.  We wandered through a food market and into specialty shops to try Turkish and Kurdish delicacies, meat, pickles, cheeses, olives.  There was no pressure to buy anything but I did and am still enjoying my purchases here in Amsterdam.  We had a sit-down meal in a local restaurant with lots of explanation about the food we were eating.  We caught a ferry back to the European side for dessert, perfect baklava and ice cream.  This was all topped off with an agile/hubbly bubbly and tea and conversation late into the night in a tucked away cafe full of locals doing the same, and the friendliest and most endearing cat in Istanbul.

London

At last, I’ve found a London tour that I can confidently recommend! I went on 2 thoroughly enjoyable tours, both given by Jonnie who owns a tour company called Bowl of Chalk (Cockney rhyming slang for ‘walk’).

Because London is so big, Jonnie has 3 different 3-hour weekend walks that break it into smaller pieces. There are 2 walks on Saturdays, the morning one is from Trafalgar Square to St Paul’s Cathedral. The afternoon walk is from St Pauls to Monument. The sunday tour takes place on the Eastern edge of the City, Old Street/Shoreditch area

The tours gave a great overview and were also packed with interesting details about London’s history. Jonnie’s style is not to lecture but is conversational, like being shown around by an informed, interesting and amusing friend who is attuned to your interests. As a tourist in London, the saturday walks are the best to start with as they cover the more known part of the city. The sunday walk is about the more ‘alternative’ side of London in an area with a lot of street art.

Jonnie started his tours, some 6 years ago, advertising in a local cafe and his first customers were Londoners who he coaxed out to learn more about their own city. He still offers these weekend walks like a ‘pay what you wish’ type of tour. You don’t just turn up at the start and it’s certainly not a big ‘free tour’ type of thing, his group size is usually in the region of 10 people. You do need to book a place on the tour which is done by email on his site. I suggest paying between 20 and 30 pounds per person if you enjoy the tour, which I am certain you will.

Jonnie also offers private tours on weekdays so you get him all to yourself and can tailor the tour to your tastes. These are arranged by e-mail too.

Paris

One of the great things about living in Amsterdam is being so close to Paris! Lee and I love tours and we make a point of trying other tour companies in different cities. We saw a good deal on the TVG train and hopped on board for a day trip to Paris to try out Sight Seeker’s Delight and were indeed delighted.

We chose the 4-hour ‘Paris Along the Seine’ tour and had Steph as our guide. She was fun and amusing and a gave us a huge amount of info that we absolutely loved. There is a maximum of 12 places on this tour but we were the only people on the tour. Steph found out that we love history and detail, and took us on a highly entertaining romp through Paris’s incredibly rich past.

I popped down to Paris again with my significant other and mother-in-law, to try out their Keys to the Louvre tour, a 2-hour highlights tour of the museum. Again we had Steph as our guide and again she was wonderful. She knows her stuff backward and showed us around, picking out interesting pieces and giving us in-depth explanations and anecdotes, all peppered with humor. The tour was a small group tour with 6 people in total, which is their limit on this tour. We went back to the Louvre the next day and spent the entire day there, having had the tour the day before we knew our way around and the place which was a great help.

Next on my list with this company is their Jewish History of Le Marais with Karen, the owner.