Monday, September 24, 2012

North Holland, Friesland & Groningen

 Earlier this September, we spent a long weekend exploring some more of the Netherlands. Our first port of call in North Holland was Zaanse Schans, which is the heart of the Zaan region. This area has typical Zaan houses, buildings and of course windmills. On a windy day, you'll be able to see the windmills working.

Zaanse Schans
All the houses are built from timber, as stone houses would sink into the soft peat earth. Also, at the time that they were built, wood was readily available from the local sawmills. If you're familiar with the Netherlands, you'll know that Albert Heijn is a major Dutch supermarket chain. A visit to Zaanse Schans will introduce you to the first shop from 1887, a baking museum, a cheese factory was well as a mustard mill.

Many people when they visit The Netherlands, tend to head for Amsterdam and thats it. Zaanse Schans and our next destination, Edam, are easily accessible from Amsterdam, so a great way of extending a traditional city break or long weekend. Having really enjoyed our first stop in North Holland, we had a short drive to Edam, the home of the famous Edam Cheese. During the months of July & August you can visit the cheesemarket and see how they are sold. Edam is a really pretty town, very relaxed, where you can visit the Edams Museum and enjoy the many historical buildings in the town.


Delicious Edam cheese
From Edam, we had a short drive to Enkhuizen, our home for the night. We stayed at a hotel called De Koepoort, fine for one night, although it felt that it hasn't had any money spent on it since the 1970s. Enkhuizen is still one of Holland's largest ports and its many fine buildings are evidence of the wealth of Holland's Golden age. That evening we had a great meal at the Markerwaard restaurant, whilst the service could do with a polish, the food was delicious and the set menu is great value for money.


Our main reason for staying in Enkhuizen was to visit the Zuiderzee Museum, which has both an Binnenmuseum (indoor) and Buitenmuseum (outdoor). Indoors we visited an exhibition of ING owned artwork along with an impressive collection of boats from the Zuiderzee. The outdoor museum is a a construction of an old Zuiderzee town, fascinating to walk around. Along with Zaanse Schans, we highly recommend visiting this museum. Below are some photos from our visit and you'll find more information on

Zuiderzee, Binnenmuseum (Indoor)

Zuidersee, Buitenmuseum (Outdoor)

From Enkhuizen, we drove across the impressive Afsluitdijk, into Friesland, where we stopped for lunch in the Frisian capital of Leeuwarden. One of the city's claims to fame is that Mata Hari grew up here. As it was Sunday there wasn't too much open, however by chance we parked right next to the museum, Het Princessehof, the former residence of Maria Louise van Hessen-Kassel. These days the palace is home to a unique collection of ceramics of international importance.

Het Princessehof

Our final destination for the weekend was Groningen, the cultural and historical capital of the province bearing the same name. We stayed in the NH Hotel De Ville, a lovely hotel with great staff and a very nice restaurant. If your looking for a great bar for a drink in the evening or a coffee in the morning, look no further than De Drie Gezusters on Grote Markt, a huge place with the feel of an old London Pub. 
Groninger Academie
Groningen is another very nice Dutch city, fun to just walk around and enjoy the lovely old buildings. One thing to remember when visiting The Netherlands, is that generally on Sunday, with the exception of museums, most things are shut. Also on Monday, be warned that shops tend not to open till after 1pm.

Groningen Stadhuis

We had a great long weekend touring these Dutch provinces. If you haven't visited the Netherlands and were thinking about visiting Amsterdam, perhaps now you'll have some more ideas as to how you can extend your stay.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Some of our favourite hotels

Here are some of our favourite hotels from our trips over the last few years. What helps them make it onto this list? A combination of factors, including for example: location, service, atmosphere not forgetting value for money.

Suitehotel Pincoffs, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Rotterdam is the 2nd largest city in the Netherlands and is perhaps most famous for being the largest port in Europe and one of the largest in the world. We've visited twice, staying in Suitehotel Pincoffs and on both occasions really enjoying ourselves. In the words of, Suitehotel Pincoffs offers stylishly decorated rooms and suites whilst still upholding its historic charm. Dating back to 1879, this 4-star hotel is a shining example of classic design amidst a city of modern architecture. Whilst the hotel doesn't have a restaurant, you can order some very tasty snacks in the bar. Pincoffs stands out in terms of service, the very professional welcome and the extremly stylish rooms. On the minus side, it comes at the higher end of the price scale.

Hotel Rua, Salamanca, Spain
When we visited the historic Spanish city of Salamanca, we stayed overnight in the hotel Rua Salamanca, which is a matter of minutes from the impressive Plaza Mayor. Great value, good breakfast and the best welcome we've had in a Spanish hotel. The staff are very helpful and only too happy to explain all you need to know about the city. The rooms are spacious and give you the feeling of being in someone's home rather than a characterless hotel. Highly recommended for a short break in this lovely city.

Inside Hotel Rua

Blue Haven Hotel, Kinsale, Ireland
Whilst visiting Kinsale in 2010, we stayed at the Blue Haven Hotel which was great, easily accessible, parking near by, great room and wonderful breakfasts. The only downside is that the hotel doesn't have onsite parking, that said there is public parking just a short walk away. The Blue Haven has a large bar area, a great restaurant and is right in the middle of Kinsale, so the location is ideal.

Blue Haven Hotel

Halong Ginger, Halong Bay, Vietnam
Now for something very different, a floating hotel. Whilst visiting Vietnam on our honeymoon, we spent a night on the Halong Ginger, one of the many boats touring Halong Bay. This was a quite magical experience which we can't recommend enough. Great service, wonderful food, lovely cabin, amazing scenary....I could go on and on. You really have to spend some time on Halong Bay to really appreciate this amazing place, our experience was made even more memorable by the staff and crew of the Halong Ginger.

Halong Ginger

Hotel Calagrande, Las Negras, Spain
Situated in the stunningly beautiful national park of Cabo de Gata, Las Negras is a relatively small and sleepy town with a few bars and restaurants, it also has some of the most beautiful beaches in southern Spain, like Cala de San Pedro which you can hike to from the town. We spent a couple of nights here in 2011, in the lovely Hotel Calagrande which we loved. Whilst the restaurant area lacks atmosphere, the hotel has a great position, lovely clean rooms, great outdoor bar/pool area and only a short walk into the town and to the beach. If you like a great G&T, you'll enjoy those served at the pool bar.

Hotel Calagrande

If you'd like to read more about the town or city where these great hotels are located, enter the name into the Search This Blog box, on the right hand side of your screen or click on the links in blue font which you'll see throughout this post.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Five fabulous views from Ireland

Throughout 2013, Ireland will open its arms to hundreds of thousands of friends and family from all over the world, calling them home to gatherings in villages, towns and cities. Communities throughout Ireland will showcase and share the very best of Irish culture, tradition, business, sport, fighting spirit and the uniquely Irish sense of fun.Over 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry. The Gathering Ireland 2013 provides the perfect excuse to reach out to those who have moved away, their relatives, friends and descendants, and invite them home. 

Below are five of our favourite photos from around Ireland. Even if you don't have Irish Ancestry, why not visit Ireland in 2013 and experience all that Ireland has to offer. 

The Burren

The Cliffs of Moher

The Blasket Islands

Kinsale Harbour, County Cork

View of Dalkey Island from Colimore Harbour, Dalkey

The Gathering will kick off in spectacular style at the New Year’s Eve Festival in Dublin and will be celebrated through gatherings of the people and Ireland’s major festivals during 2013. For more information check out the official website