Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Netherlands

Last weekend a friend of ours was visiting from Ireland. Having read about the Hoge Veluwe National Park in the March copy of KLM's Holland Herald, we decided it would be a great place to visit. Thanks to a bit of good luck with the weather our decision turned out to be a good one.

The view is not exactly what you would expect of the Dutch landscape, its quite unique and in many places looks more like something you'd experience on an African safari. The view within the park is changeable, switching from grassland and pet bog to tundra like heath covered with silvery reindeer moss as well as a dark pine forest. In all the park covers 5,400 hectacres, which you can explore, naturally as you are in the Netherlands, by bike. 

The park was created originally by Anton and Helene Kroller-Muller, who at the start of the 20th century were the Netherland's richest couple. She was an heirest, he was an industrialist and having fallen in love with the Veluwe, started buying it up, piece by piece.

Anton was a keen hunter and reintroduced red deer, wild boar and roe deer to the park, as well as importing mouflon sheep from Luxembourg. Helene was an art lover who acquired a staggering 11,500 works of art, including 90 paintings by Van Gogh. The park shelters the Kroller-Muller museum, which houses her immense collection, started when she was 40. In addition to the impressive art collection, you can explore the beautiful garden of statues.

The Hoge Veluwe is known throughout the Netherlands for its free white bicycles, 1,700 are available to visitors to explore this beautiful and unique area of the Dutch countryside. They are a fun way to experience this wonderful park, hidden in an area of the Netherlands called Gelderland. If you are visiting the Netherlands and are anyway close to the city of Arnhem, which is close by, check the weather forecast. If the sun is shining or at least it looks dry, take a visit to the Hoge Veluwe National Park. We had a great time and can highly recommend the cheese & ham pannenkoeken (pancakes), in the restaurant in the middle of the park.

We revisited the Park again in October 2012, this time to visit the Kroller-Muller museum, again we were lucky with the weather and really enjoyed both the museum and the statue gardens. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Famous city squares......

When you arrive in a new city, its often difficult to decide where to start your exploration of the city. One obvious choice is to look for the city's main square and head for it. If like us you enjoy a spot of people watching, that's an added benefit of starting in a city's central square. Here are some of our favourite city Squares/Plazas/Piazzas.....

Place Guillaume II Luxembourg
As the name indicates, the main square in Luxembourg City is dedicated to William (Guillaume) II of the Netherlands (1792 - 1849), Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The equestrian statue of the great man stands in this square. The hotel de villa, built in a traditional local style has overlooked Place Guillaume II since 1830.

Place Guillaume II

Piazza del Campo, Siena
Piazza del Campo is the principal public square of the historic center of Siena, Tuscany, Italy and is regarded as one of Europe's greatest medieval squares. It is known across the world for its beauty and architectural integrity. The Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia, as well as various palazzi signorili surround the shell-shaped piazza. Twice a year the Palio di Siena horse race, is held around the edges of this stunning Piazza.

Piazza del Campo

Plaza Mayor, Madrid
The Plaza Mayor is Madrid's main square. It is located right in the centre of the city, just a few minutes walk from the Puerta del Sol. The square is mostly surrounded by three-story houses with balconies looking out onto the square and still lived in by the fortunate few. Located at the north end of the square resides the four-story Casa de la Panaderia building, supposedly named after the bakery it replaced. 

Plaza Mayor

Plaza de Armas, Santiago de Chile
The Plaza de Armas is the main square in Santiago. It is the centre piece of the initial layout of the city which has a square grid pattern. Surrounding the sqayre are a number of important buildings which include the Cathedral of Santiago, Central Post Office Building, Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago and the building that serves as the seat of the local government.

Plaza de Armas

La Grand- Place, Brussels
La Grand-Place in Brussels is a remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre.

La Grand-Place
Trafalgar Square, London
Trafalgar Square is home to Nelson's Column, those iconic stone lions, the famour Fourth Plinth and thousands of pigeons. Its also home to the fambulous and free of charge to enter National Gallery. During the Christmas period you'll also come across the biggest Christmas Tree in London, an annual gift from the city of Oslo.

Trafalgar Square

To see more about the cities or countries where these beautiful public places are located, simple click on one of the following links: LuxembourgLondon,  SienaMadrid, Santiago and Brussels.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Five, very different Museums

The Albertina, Vienna, Austria
The Albertina was once the Hapsburg palace of Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen and his wife Archduchess Marie-Christina. Today it houses one of the world's finest collections of graphics including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer, Rubens, and Manet. It is also home to the Sammlung Batliner, a collection of paintings under the motto "Monet to Picasso". As you can imagine the Albertina is very popular so to avoid the queues try and book your tickets or buy them the previous day.

Albertina, Vienna

Blasket Centre, Dunquin, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland 
If while visiting Ireland, you make it down as far as Dunquin, be sure and visit the Blasket Centre (also signposted as Ionad an Bhlascaoid). Within sight of the islands themselves on a headland, this centre was established to highlight the history and culture of the Blasket islands. It more than succeeds, even if you've never heard of the Blaskets before, you will leave impressed. You'll also learn about Peig Sayers, an Irish woman who lived both in Dunquin and on the Great Blasket Island after marrying a fisherman who lived there. Her autobiography was for many years (and may still be) on the curriculum for secondary school students in Ireland. She has been described as "one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times". I'll leave you to form your own opinion either by reading the book, Peig, or by asking for the opinion of some of the people you meet whilst travelling in Ireland.

Blasket Centre, Dunquin

Palau Nacional/Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
The Palau Nacional, or Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya is a must to visit during your stay in Barcelona. In 1990 the Catalan Museums Law reunited the collections of the old Museu d'Art de Catalunya and the Museu d'Art Modern under one roof, and declared it a national museum. The museum is easy to get to as it is one of the city tour bus stops. Entrance fee is just €10 with many discounts for families, students etc as well as with your tour bus ticket. For more information you'll find the museums website listed under our favourites.

Palau Nacional, Barcelona

Art Deco Museum, Salamanca, Spain
The museum has 19 collections of decorative art dating from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. It contains almost 2,500 pieces, including glass, porcelain figures, gold and ivory statues, enamels, bronze items, paintings, ivory pieces, furniture, jewels, toys, a Faberge egg....It also has a major pictorial exhibition with 19th century works and pieces by painters from Salamanca, such as Celso Lagar and Mateo Hernandez. Highly recommended is a break in the lovely cafe where the pasteries are delicious.

Art Deco Museum, Salamanca

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
As the website will tell you, its not "the Heineken Museum", its the "Heineken Experience". Why is this? Because four levels of interactive experiences in the former brewery will plunge you into the world of Heineken. See it, hear it, smell it and finally taste it. Enjoy the experience, we did!

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam
To see more about the cities where these museums are, simple click on one of the following links; Vienna; Dingle; Barcelona; Salamanca and Amsterdam

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Viva Las Vegas

We returned late last week from a great break in Las Vegas, so we're just starting to get over the jetlag which hit us on the return journey. If you've not experienced Vegas, hopefully our photos will give you some idea of what you will experience if you choose to visit this larger than life city, in the Nevada desert. We chose to spend a week there as some friends were getting marrried in Vegas midway through our break, most people stay for just 2 or 3 days.

Bellagio hotel with Caesars Palace in the background
We stayed at the Bellagio which has a great location, fairly central on the Vegas Strip. That in itself is a great reason to chose a hotel in Vegas, especially in the summer when temperatures soar well into the forties, the heat is incredible. Don't forget sunblock and a cap of some sorts. Perhaps the most well know attraction of the Bellagio is the lake in front, on a daily basis the famous Bellagio Fountains perform to music, a fantastic sight. For those of you who have seeen the movie Ocean's 11, you'll know what I mean. From 8pm onwards the fountains perform every 15 minutes and to get the most impact from the show you need to see it at night and ideally from the Strip.

Bellagio Fountains

Like most of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip the Bellagio is huge with almost 4,000 rooms, despite this it doesn't make it into the top 5 largest hotels. One of the bizarre attractions of Vegas is the hotels themselves, they are huge and many have specific themes such as New York New York, Excalibur, Treasure Island and Circus Circus. Added to this, all of the hotels have multiple reasons to visit them aside from the obvious, the casinos. You'll find fine art exhibitions, shark tanks, roller coasters, botanical gardens and even a replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel. In the Venetian you can even take a ride on a gondola on the canal which runs through the shopping mall in the hotel. Yes, many of the hotels have their own shopping centres as well as concert/show arenas.



There is no doubt that Vegas is not a cheap destination and to be honest some of the prices charged are way over the top. Tickets to visit the Leonardo di Vinci exhitbtion in the Venetian were $27, in the Luxor they were charging $32 to visit their Titanic exhibition. When you compare these prices to those charges by some of the great museums in other cities they are a bit of a rip off. That said, there are ways to make Vegas a while lot cheaper and some great things to do without having to pay that much. One activity is simply to spend some time visiting the hotels, there are many and as they're spaced out along the strip you can easily spend a couple of days just doing this. Its also a great way of cooling down from the heat outside by escaping into the airconditioned interiors.


New York New York
Mandalay Bay & Luxor
So, touring the hotels won't cost an arm and a leg and the Fountains show at the Bellagio will cost you nothing. Next best free show is the Fremont Experience in downtown Las Vegas. Fremont Street has been covered with the "worlds largest lightshow", on a nightly basis you'll be entertained by a breathtaking show above your heads which costs nothing, as well as that there are free concerts in ths street and a whole lot more going on. Downtown Vegas is also a lot cheaper for hotel rooms, meals etc than the more commercialised areas on the Strip. Its also said that the slot machines tend to payout more than their cousins on the Strip, sadly I can't say whether thats true or not.

 Fremont experience

Another of the of the famous attractions of Vegas are the Shows, and there any many to chose from with all of the large hotels having at least one running. We were lucky enough to see two of the seven Cirque du Soleil shows that you can visit in Vegas, "O" in the Bellagio and "Viva Elvis" in the Aria. These were our first experiences of Cirque du Soleil and after seeing "O" on the Friday evening we were hooked and booked the following afternoon to see "Viva Elvis" on our last night. It's hard to find enough words to describe just how amazing they are, if you get the chance to see one of the Cirque du Soleil shows anywhere in the world, don't miss out as they are simply out of this world.

A toast to the King if Rock 'n Roll
The nightlife in Vegas is legendary and it has something for everyone with hundreds of places to dine, we enjoyed a great meal in the Jasmine Restaurant in the Bellagio, it overlooks the lake so in the evening you are entertained by the fountains if you ask for a table towards the front. We also had a wonderful meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Paris, you won't find a nicer steak in town. For a great view of the Las Vegas Strip at night, visit the Ghostbar at the top of the Palms hotel.

View from the Ghostbar
If you get the chance don't leave Vegas without visiting the Grand Canyon, you can chose from a coach tour or a helicopter tour. It takes you about 4.5 hours to get to the Canyon by bus compared to 45 minutes by helicopter, that said the prices are obviously very different. The helicopter trip is a once in a lifetime experience so if you can choose this option don't miss out.

Valley of Fire

Lake Mead

Grand Canyon
I could go on for ages about Vegas as there is simply so much to do and see, however I don't want to bore you so I'll end here. One thing not to forget if you're travelling from Europe is the shops, the Americans do retail in style and in Vegas you'll find everything from Prada and Tom Ford to H&M and  GAP. There are two Premium Outlet Malls, one at either end of the strip and the Nike Shop in Caesars Palace is also really worth a visit. That's enough for now, enjoy Las Vegas.