Thursday, November 29, 2012

Five images of what you'll find in the Netherlands

Having lived in the Netherlands for the last 6 years we've managed to see quite a lot of what the country has to offer. It's know for being flat and that is true, but escape from the motorways and you'll see that there is a lot to do and see, so much more than just Amsterdam.

Referred to as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof is situated near Lisse and is the world's largest flower garden. According to the official websire for the Keukenhof Park, approximately 7,000,000 (seven million) flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares. The blend of colours is amazing, a real treat for flower lovers, photographers and tourists from all round the globe.

Ask many people what they think of when asked about the Netherlands and more often than not, you'll hear the word windmills. If this is what you want to see, then you need to head for 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

So whats next after bulbs & windmills? Its gotta be cheese and in particular Edam cheese. If you visit Zaanse Schans, you'll find that you are only a stones throw away from 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.

downtown Edam
So, we've covered bulbs, windmills, cheese...what now? Perhaps one of the most famous exports and equally famous Dutch brands is of course Heineken, especially now that James Bond has added it to his list if favoured beverages. You'll find the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam. Why "experience" and not museum? Easy answer, because four levels of interactive expereiences in this former brewery will plunge you into the world of Heineken. See it, hear it, smell it and finally taste it.

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam
Finally, we come to canals & bicycles, the connection between the two? Well, this is a bit weak but when cleaning the canals, one of the most found items in the canals are bikes. Bikes in the Netherlands are a form of transport as the country is covered with bike lanes which reduce the hazards faced by cyclists in most countries. A word of warning, when you visit the Netherlands, watch out for cyclists, especially in Amsterdam as they won't stop if you step out in front of them.

beautiful Delft
To read some more about the cities or places in this post, simply click on the following links; KeukenhofZaanse SchansEdamAmsterdam and Delft

Monday, November 26, 2012

Five of our favourite Markets

Here are five of our favourite markets from Chile, Spain, Vietnam and Germany, selling a mix of food & handcraft. All which give you a sense of what the countries are about and add to your experience when you visit them and the cities where they are located.

In 1817, Bernado O'Higgins, the then ruler of Chile ordered the building of a purpose built food, fruit and fish marketplace which lead to the construction of the Mercado Central, in Santiago.  A drive to exploit the tourist potential of the Mercado has led to a partial loss of its original use. Today you'll find sevarel restaurants in the Market's main hall offering exactly what visitor's want: simple and authentic Chilean dishes with an emphasis on freshness. The stalls around the central hall offer an unrivalled and impressive selection of fruit, vegetables and fish, making this a true "foodie" heaven. We ate at the Mercado twice during our stay, both times at Augusto's restaurant in the main hall. Without doubt the best known restaurant in the Mercado

Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile

Moving away from food and in particular seafood, another great market to visit whilst in Santiago selling traditional Chilean Handcraft in the Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos. You'll find this wonderful country style market in Las Condes, located next to the San Vincente Ferrer Church. It is well worth a visit, lots to see in a very relaxed atmosphere with a couple of bars/restaurants to take a break,. Below are some more shots which I hope will show you why this lovely location is well worth a visit.

A visit to Valencia is imcomplete without spending some time in the city's Mercado Central, situated in a huge iron, glass and tile Art Nouveau building. It opened in 1928 and is one of the largest and most attractive markets in Europe. Every morning around 350 stalls are filled with an amazing variety of food. We had a great time taking in all that the market had on display and left wishing that we had something similar near to where we live, sadly we don't. The Mercado Central is a great showcase for the very best in Spanish food, here are some images which will hopefully whet your appetites....

Mercado Central, Valencia

Whilst we were in Vietnam, in 2009 we visited the city of Hoi An and spent a couple of days there exploring. Hoi An's market is a blaze of colour and noise with an incredible array of fresh fruit, vegtables, meat and flowers. 

Moving away from food, our list of favourite markets takes a more festive direction as we approach the end of 2012 and the Christmas period. Traditional Christmas Markets have been common on mainland Europe for decades and their success has led to them appearing further afield too. One of the first we visited together was in the city of Aachen, the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, 65 km (40 mi) west of Cologne. Aachen really comes to life at the end of November, when the Christmas Market opens. For me this is the best time to go there, you can visit the Cathedral whilst sampling the unique atmosphere of a German Christmas Market. People travel from far and wide to visit Aachen at this time of year, so it can get very busy as the day progresses.

In December last year, we visited the magnificent city of Vienna and had a great long weekend enjoying the city's historic architecture as well as its impressive Christmas markets. Our next Chistmas Market trip will be to the city of Cologne, so watch out for some images from this trip coming soon. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five more great City Breaks (2)

Following on from our previous post, here are some more photos from five more great City Break destinations. Five cities which are perhaps, less known and less visited than those featured in our previous post, but which are still really worth visting.

Valencia is Spain's third largest city, sitiated in the middle of the  huerta, a fertile plain of orange groves and maket gardens. With its warm coastal climate, Valencia is known for its outdoor living and nightlife. Its a perfect city for wandering round with a map in hand, as most of the monuments are in easy walking distance from Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the triangular main square where you will find the town hall. Great places to visit include the City of Arts & Science and the mouth watering Mercado Central.

Plaza de la Reina

City of Arts & Science
Mercado Central
Next on our list is Luxembourg City, the capital of Luxembourg. The main attraction, the Vielle Ville (Old City) is perched high on an escarpment over the rivers Alzette and Petrusse. Down in the valley you'll find the three Villes Basses (Lower Towns) of Grund, Clausen and Pfaffenthal.  If you're looking for a destination for a relaxed weekend break, Luxembourg city is ideal. Its a compact city with no need to hop in the car or take public transport to see the old town.

Place Guillaume II

View over Grund

The Casemates du Bock
As a tourist destination, the city of Ghent has long been overshadowed by its neighbour, Bruges. In our opinion Ghent is just attractive to visit if not more. In fact, the best option is to visit both and decide for yourself. This can easily be done over a long weekend as neither city is too big to enjoy in a relatively short period of time. The main sites in Ghent include; the Design MuseumGraslei and St-Baafskathedraal.



Het Gravensteen
Next stop, Seville. The Catehdral and the Alcazar of Seville are perhaps the two most famous tourist destinations in Seville. The immense cathedral with its five naves is the largest Gothic edifice in Europe, it is home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus.  Another site not to miss during a visit to Seville is the Plaza de Espana. Representative of much of the regional architecture, this magnificent construction is highlighted with polychromatic ceramic tiles. For those of you who have seen the film, The Dictator, you'll recognise it as the location used as the Dictator's palace. To get the most from a visit to Seville you need some sun, so April & May before the real heat of the summer sets in, should be good months to visit. 

Plaza de Espana

Seville's cathedral

City view over Seville's bullring

Finally, Delft, a city and municipality in the province of South Holland(Zuid-Holland), the Netherlands. It is located between Rotterdam and The Hague. Delft is primarily known for its typically Dutch town centre (with canals); also for the painter Vermeer, Delft pottery (Delftware) and its association with the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. As with Luxembourg city, it is small, compact and very relaxed. A great place to visit to get a real feel for a typical Dutch city. Close by you will find the city of Leiden, you can easily visit both during one short trip.

A typical Delft street scene

Delft's Oude Kerk, in the background

Delft's Stadhuis, stands at one end of the Markt

You'll find more on these great city break destinations by simply clicking on one of the following links; ValenciaLuxembourgGhentSeville and Delft

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Five Favourite City Breaks (1)

What better way to escape from the routine of working life or what ever you need a break from than a City Break. So what are the ingredients of a great City Break destination? Well, for us;

  • Limited time travelling, if a flight is required, then less that 2,5 hours in the air
  • Limited transfer from airport to your destination, so try and avoid unpleasant Ryanair flights to airports which are a surprisingly long trainride from where you ultimately need to be
  • A city which is easy to get around, either by train, metro or on foot
  • Sun is obviously a plus, so Spain tends to tick this box at the right time of year
  • Cities where you can simply enjoy the time wandering around taking in the sights and sounds of the cities
  • Some great art galleries or museums which act as an escape form the elements, if you can't be guaranteed some sun
  • Finally, some great places to eat and enjoy the atmosphere of the nightlife
Below you'll find some of our favourite city break destinations, listed in no particular order of preference.

Amsterdam ticks most of the points listed above, except perhaps the one about sun, although lets be honest, where does these days?? The city's canals and waterways embody the spirit of Amsterdam, you'll have a great time walking around this city enjoying the architecture of the waterside mansions and houses or simply relaxing at a canalside cafe. If it rains, just head for one of the well known art galleries....

Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, Berlin has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. This is truly a city which has something for everyone, whether you simply want to shop till you drop or experience the amazing bravery of those who tried to escape across the Berlin Wall, through a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie museum. The city is littered with iconic landmarks that visitors from all over the world, flock to see.

Barcelona is another wonderful destination that will keep you busy from breakfast through to the early hours. Transformed following the success of the Olympic games in 1992, it has to be on a par with the greatest European cities. From the amazing architecture of Gaudi, world class football, great shopping, and delicious food through to relaxing on the beach, Barcelona really does tick all the right boxes.

Spain's capital, Madrid, a city of well over 3 million inhabitants is situated close to the geographical centre of the country. Madrid's attractions include three internationally famous art galleries, a royal palace, grand public sqaures as well as many museums filled with the treasures of Spain's rich history. If you love football, its also the home of one of the most famous clubs in the world, Real Madrid.

Finally, but by no means least, the stunning city of Vienna. Austria's capital city is beautiful and easy to find your way around, equipped with a tourist map. Forget the weather and visit Vienna in December, the sights, sounds & smells from the Christmas market make the whole experience even more memorable.

You'll find more on these great cities by simply click on the following links; AmsterdamBerlinBarcelonaMadrid and Vienna