Saturday, December 21, 2013

Prague, the lost photos

We are preparing for a move next month to England and whilst clearing out one drawer full of assorted bits and pieces we came across a memory card. Much to our delight it contained some of our photos from one of our first trips together, to Prague in December 2006. As one of our cameras was stolen during a break in, these are the some of the only photos we have left from this trip.

This should really have been one of our first blogposts however now that the memory card has been recovered it becomes one of our last of 2013, so rather than talking too much I'll let the photos hopefully show you what a beautiful city Prague is. A great starting point to explore the city is Prague Castle, from where you can enjoy some wonderful views of the city. Its quite a steep walk from downtown but well worth it as you can easily spend a day exploring all that there is too see.

Much of the history of the city's Jewish Quarter is preserved in the synagogues around the Old Jewish Cemetery. 

The Old Town Square in the centre of Prague is surrounded by baroque buildings, vibrant cafes, street entertainers and artisans selling their wares. If you visit during December you'll also be able to enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas market.

So after a gap of close to 7 years and some missing photos, this post is a little incomplete but hopefuly you can see from some of the photos we still have that Prague is an amazing place to visit.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A short October break in Hamburg

Towards the end of October we spent a couple of days in Hamburg, Germany's second largest city. In part it was an opportunity to see this impressive city however the main reason for our trip was to meet up with a friend who lives close by.


Having come across a good deal online, we altered our plans and stayed two nights in the impressive Sofitel on Alterwall. The staff are great, friendly and professional and the location is perfect, just a couple of minuites from the Rathausmarkt which puts you smack bang in the centre of the city. The only downside of the hotel is the price charged for breakfast; €14 for an express breakfast, €24 for a continental and €29 for the buffet breakfast. We chose the express breakfast which was ok but you have to stay seated whilst they serve it which feels a little bit like being at school.  Having experienced it once, the following morning we went across the road to Starbucks and paid less than €10 for the two of us, much better value for money.

Having driven from where we live in the Netherlands, we arrived in Hamburg early afternoon and set out to explore the centre of the city on foot. Our initial impression of the city was one of surprise as despite having a population of around 1,7m the city feels relaxed and not too crowded. The centre is elegant and full of lovely shops, so be warned. The city centre can be easily explored on foot, including the area between the main railway station and the lake (Binnenalster), along with the rest of the old town and the port. 

That evening we were looking for somewhere not too formal to eat, the hotel concierge recommeded one of the Block steakhouses of which there seem to be a few in Hamburg. The food was good, the service fine, our waitress spoke very good English, so worth a visit if you like a decent steak. The following day was our change to get a feel of the city and as always one of the best ways is to catch one of the Hop on/Hop off tour buses which we did at the stop in front of the Sofitel.

Hamburg Dungeon
Situated 104km inland along the Elbe river, the port of Hamburg is Europe's second largest after Rotterdam and our tour guide recommended taking a boat tour of the port. As our time was limited we stayed on the bus until we got to the impressively restored Hafen (Harbour) City where we hopped off to enjoy some of the impressively restored warehouses.

Maritime Museum

Waiting for the bus
Rejoining the bus tour we stayed on board and completed the tour hopping off back in the city centre with the plan to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city on foot. By this time we needed a break and some lunch, so by chance we came across Restauant Alex in the Alster Pavilion on the edge of Binnenalster where we relaxed before setting out on foot.  

Fully recharged and ready to go we set off on our afternoons "walking tour", starting with a walk around Binnenalster, the lake at the centre of the city to enjoy the view back towards the city.


St. Petrikirche
That evening we met up with our good friend Norbert and he took us to the Fischmarkt area (Fish Market) for dinner. We had a delicious seafood dinner at L├╝hrs Fischmarkt Restaurant.  The actual fish market is an attaction for early risers as from 5am (7am in winter) on Sundays, the Auktionshalle and the nearby waterside turn into a colourful marketplace.

The following morning after a great evening out and a good nights sleep, we left Hamburg for the drive back to the Netherlands. We only really spent the best part of a day exploring the city of Hamburg, its a diverse city with lots to see from the Port to the Altstadt to the neon-lit Reeperbahn in St Pauli. So is it worth visiting? The answer is yes!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

London, jam packed with things to do

We returned earlier this week from a really great long weekend in London. We were there for the best part of three action packed days and enjoyed every minute of our time in this great city. Normally being based in the Netherlands we'd fly to Heathrow, this time we drove as far as Brussels and and boarded the Eurostar service for London St. Pancras. A great service, so much more relaxed than flying, less time consuming and more pleasureable as  you have a lot more leg room and the seats are much more comfortable. So if you were thinking of trying Eurostar, go on and give it a go.

Enroute via Eurostar
Prior to leaving for London we pre-ordered a London Pass for both of us. London is jam packed with places to visits and other activities to take part in. Most, not all charge some sort of fee, for example it costs £18 for an adult to visit Westminster Abbey. So quite quickly a trip to London can become very expensive. If you buy a London Pass you get "free" entry into over 60 of London's top attractions. Take a look at their website, you'll find the link under Travel in the Our Favourites section at the side of your screen.  Plan what you want to see as well as the time it will take and work out if buying a pass makes sense for you.

Illuminated South Bank
We stayed at the Waterloo Premier Inn which is very close to Waterloo station. With great staff and really comfy beds, the location is great for exploring London. The London Eye, situated on the South Bank of the river Thames is just across the road and Westminster Bridge is about 5 minutes away. The South Bank itself is full of activity from street performers, bars, restaurants and independent shops, its a great place to spend some time.

After quickly dumping our cases at the hotel, our next stop was Oxford Street for a visit to Nike World, from there we made our way back through the city via Regent StreetPicadilly Circus, Covent Garden for dinner, down through Whitehall and back across Wesminster Bridge to our hotel. All on foot, the best way to see London.

Regent Street

Picadilly Circus

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

Westminster by night
The following morning fuelled by a great Full English breakfast we were ready for a days sight seeing, first destination Westminster Abbey about 10/15 minutes walk from our hotel. An easy walk back across Westminster Bridge and past the Houses of Parliament.

Houses of Parliament

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is an amazing place, packed with history and you could easily spend two or three hours there. It does get very busy, do get there early if you want to avoid the queues. If you plan to visit  London, be sure and visit this historic landmark. Sadly as with many of London's historic attractions it is forbidden to take photos inside. 

After leaving the Abbey, Buckingham Palace was next on our itinerary. We walked through St. James's Park, stopping off for a coffee at the Inn in the Park on the way. The coffee was fine but the filthy pigeons outside were a bit of a pain.

Horse Guard's Parade

5 Mins to Buckingham Palace
As you'd expect there was a crowd of tourists from all over the globe milling around Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial.

Buckingham Palace

After spending some time enjoying the sights and sounds around the Palace we walked back up the Mall to Admiralty Arch.
Victoria Memorial

Admiralty Arch
By the time we reached Trafalgar Square we were ready for a break to rest our feet and sought refuge in the Silver Cross Pub, heading down into Whitehall Direction. After a beverage and some delicious crisps we were on our way again back up to Trafalgar Square where a gigantic Blue Cockerel is currently in place on the 4th plynth.

Our final destination for our days sight seeing was St. Paul's Cathedral in the heart of the City of London. So we hopped on a tube from Charing Cross and where there in no time. As with Westminster you can expect to queue to enter, however if you have a London Pass there is a separate desk for pre-paid tickets and you also get a free audio guide. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the cathedral is magnicent and well worth a visit.

St. Paul's Cathedral
As time was ticking by quickly as it tends to do in London, we made our way back to the South Bank via Blackfriars Bridge for a very late lunch.

Blackfriars Bridge
We came across Gabriel's Wharf on the South Bank and had a really tasty lunch in Studio 6, see below for visual proof. Good food, decent value for money in a nice location.

From there it was back to the hotel for a very quick rest before departing for the Victoria Palace Theatre  and the evening performance of Billy Elliot. If you've seen the movie you'll love this inspirational stage musical. It is brilliant so if you are in London, don't some tickets.

The following morning we were up earlish for a run along the South Bank of the Thames,  this was like a mini London Tour as we passed many famous landmarks,  as you'll see from the following photos.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

HMS Belfast & Tower Bridge

The Anchor, Bankside with the Shard in the background

The Tower of London

So after a refreshing shower and a "healthy" cooked breakfast, our destination was Greenwich, along the Thames on a City Cruises boat from the London Eye Pier. Another excursion covered by the London Pass. With the Cutty Sark, the Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, two markets and some lovely shops you could easily enjoy a day at Greenwich.

Arriving at Greenwich

The Cutty Sark

The fabulous Greenwich arts & crafts market

The old (Greenwich) & the new (Canary Wharf)
We could have stayed a lot longer in Greenwich but our feet declared enough was enough for one day and we headed back to the pier to catch the return boat back into London. That evening we went to see Rush, the movie about the rivalry between Nikki Lauda and James Hunt in one of the cinemas in Leicester Square.

Kensington Palace
The following day was our last in London and Kensington Palace was our the last destination for our busy weekend. Far more relaxed than some of the other Royal homes, it too is well worth a visit, easy to get to from the tube station on Kensington High Street. There is plenty to see inside the Palace including an insight into the life of Queen Victoria as well as some of the dresses belonging to the Queen, her sister Margaret and Princess Diana.

From Kensington Palace we popped back into London for some lunch at the Shakespeare's Head on Great Marlbourough St, just before Carnaby Street. The Chip Shop Platter was delicious. After that it was back to the Netherlands via Eurostar to Brussels, the end of a fantastic weekend.