Archive for May, 2019

We’ve been lucky with our walking tours and day trips in ALL my travels. Out of Amsterdam, we booked trips to Delft and The Hague. Because they’re near each other, we thought we’d book a combination day tour. Typical of me to prep and read up on the city or town attractions, dripping with excitement over the sites to see. Unfortunately, we had the worst tour guide ever. Lazy, inattentive and with absolutely no regard for making the tour worthwhile for the client visitors. We breezed through many of the sites riding the tourist coach, getting off only 3x in places where we were given an hour or so to roam — unguided — on our own. πŸ™„ Had we known, we could have just hopped on a train, skipped a few sites and DIY’d it. We could have covered more, lingered longer AND saved ourselves the frustrations.

The Royal Delft Factory and Museum was our first stop. A young lady from Royal Delft welcomed and escorted us through the factory and museum. The highlight was watching this lady artist do her stuff in this earthenware factory that’s been around since the 17th century. It was a good and educational tour, but no thanks to our Tour Guide. By the time we were done, this tour guide who must not be named was waiting, a tad dazed and reeking of alcohol. We were seated up front and I could smell him. His spiel by this time is slurred, and we had to strain to understand what he was saying. Still, we were excited that we are now headed for the city square of Delft — the birthplace of Jan Vermeer and the former royal seat of the House of Orange. Much to see right within this square. There is the 13th century City Hall, rebuilt in the 17th century in the Renaissance style. Then there’s the gothic New Church right across the square from the City Hall which is by no means “new”, dating back to the 15th century. Now the royal mausoleum of the family of William I of Orange, the Church has a tower one can climb up to for a panoramic view of the entire Delft. Between these 2 historical landmarks are quaint shops and cafes. Perfect for people watching if one has the time.

I must say this Tour Guide Who must not be named should have taken the time to guide us around this Square. But no, he simply instructed us to go explore on our own and to meet him back in the parking area where the bus would be waiting in an hour. He could at least have guided us the first 15 minutes before leaving us to explore more on our own. After all, he stayed right within the square, claiming a table and drinking more beer. Oh well. From the square, we rounded up a corner and chanced upon a lively Saturday Market which could have interested the others in our group. But no, this mister is far too busy downing bottles of beer. 🍺🍻🍺

If you think that’s bad enough, let me tell you about the last segment of the tour. We hardly saw The Hague except for an hour we were forced to waste in Madurodam, a miniature theme park which featured scale models of famous landmarks in The Netherlands. I’m sorry but this hardly excited me. I am willing to concede it’s a matter of personal preference but seriously, I would have preferred more time spent in The Hague’s more interesting and historical spots. Instead, we had a 5-minute stop at the Peace Palace and a “drive through” the many embassies in this city. Yes, a drive through of the embassies. I was hoping to see the iconic Protestant Church, International Court of Justice, the Maurithuis which houses Jan Vermeer’s “The Girl With the Pearl Earrings”, and other celebrated works of Rembrandt and other notable Dutch masters. Zilch.

Did I even manage to take photos of The Hague? Just one. And this was taken from a moving bus. So frustrated. But I’d stop ranting at this point. We’ve been lucky with our other plans. Can’t win them all.


That popular Dutch icon besides clogs and cheese — Windmills! And Zaanse Schans with its collection of historic windmills and brightly painted green wooden houses and barns is sooo near the capital. Just 30 minutes. Maybe shorter. Seriously. If you’re a good and confident biker, why not check this one out? It’s full of tourists mid morning so if you’re biking or driving, make an early start. or maybe go by boat? I saw some boat tours. We visited this site as a day trip in combination with other attractions. So there. It could be better. Fortunately, we had a pair of very competent and young guides with us.

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans

It was cloudy the morning we visited, but pleasant at 15-18C. Zaanse Schans is a good intro to Dutchland. Here you’d find a cheese and dairy factory, clog making shop, a tin factory and barns. That is, if you can stroll past the bakery where the aroma of freshly-baked cookies and those stroopwafels or syrup waffles waft so invitingly in the air. Had to stop. Sometimes, you have to allow yourselves to be led by the nose. Those 2 thin layers of dough sandwiching a layer of caramel (there are other flavours) syrup between them are too good to ignore. You just have to watch it because you find it nearly everywhere here and those thin waffles really pack some calories!

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans

Cloudy skies. Cool weather. A slight breeze. A fine morning to visit this recreated 18th century windmill village in Zaanstad north of Amsterdam. A few windmills still stand out of the 600 wind-powered machines constructed in the 17th century. Like a prelude to an Industrial Zone. The few standing now still hit a spot. So charming in this countryside. And hey, it’s soooo Dutch!

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans

Oh…. and how to say Zaanse Schans? I won’t even try. Listen to this.

Back in 1986, I visited a couple of fishing villages near Amsterdam. I thought then how sooo Dutch these fishing villages were. Cheese, herring, clogs, and more cheese. It was an unforgettable experience especially for someone traveling solo. No digital camera. No credit card. No ATM or debit card. And just one jacket. I came to Holland for the tulips and windmills. I found them but my fondest memories were those spent in Volendam and Marken, eating herring and cheese. 😜

Fishing Villages Near Amsterdam


I tried to relive that 1986 episode by revisiting these 2 villages. Those cheese wheels still leave me salivating and I was in heaven tasting all kinds of Dutch cheeses in this shop where the staff offers cubes and cubes and slices of aged cheese. By the time I was lined up to pay for my purchases, I’ve had a good sampling of them cheeses. Dipped in mustard, honey or herbed oil, this tasting left us buying more. Someone is happy πŸ’•

Volendam Cheese Shop

Fishing Village of Volendam

There is also the excitement over the prospect of an herring lunch in Volendam. Kibbeling fish and chips plus a bottle of the local beer completes the deal. My love affair with pickled herring began in 1986 and still burns strong this 2019. I craved for it daily since this day trip to Volendam. I heard that snacking on one herring sandwich a day won’t hurt and is actually good for one’s health. Naaaah…… I made that up. πŸ˜‚

(But we need our omega -3, right?)

Herring and Robust Beer for Lunch

A Cheese Shop in Volendam

Marken is just a 30-minute ferry ride away from Volendam. Separated from the mainland after a storm in the 13th century, then reconnected in 1957, it managed to preserve its many local traditions. Like Volendam, seafood delicacies abound and you’re never short on choices. A clog making workshop still exists and draws in many tourists. It’s not a chore to circle the “island” if one has the time. The stilt houses may look more modern than traditional now, but I still find these colourful wooden houses quite charming. Lovely day trip and it’s so near from the capital!

Fishing Villages Near Amsterdam

Fishing Villages Near Amsterdam

Say that again….. Giethorn or Giethoorn. Either way, you pronounce the “o” or “oo” like a single “o” as in horn. But roll your “r” and have an imaginary “e” between r and n. Got it? Oh, never mind. North of Amsterdam is this water village popularly called “Venice of the North”. Don’t ask me why but I do think Giethoorn’s beauty is so different from Venice and it won’t be fair to compare the two. With its centuries-old thatched-roof houses lining the canals, its charm can be appreciated from a boat or by walking its many footpaths and bicycle paths. It is worth the 2-hour trip from the capital, for sure.

Village of Giethoorn

Village of Giethoorn

There is a Museum and art galleries and curio shops abound. Plus you’d love the quaint coffee shops, aromatic cheese shops and dining areas where we partook of a delectable steak and some fish with chips and garden salad. Fortified with a good meal, we had the energy to walk around the village, crossing many tiny bridges and even checking out the gelato bars. All that time, the waterways were filled with boats, some manned/rowed by tourists who likely held an oar for the first time in their lives. I have to give credit to the professional boat men who never lost their cool while watching them amateurs navigate the canals, bumping left side, right side and rowing in a circle!

The Village Of Giethoorn

I’m told the waterways aren’t that deep. Was actually thinking how many bikes (and bikers) may have lost their balance and dropped/slid to the waters. I’m also curious how the residents can put up with a village teeming with boatfuls of visitors, some too curious nosy to actually step on a private garden just for one damn instagram shot. We went on a weekday and can just imagine the crowds and the noise on weekends in this car-Free village lying in the northeastern Dutch province of Overijssel. I can’t even imagine how crowded those tiny, narrow 170 bridges could be while punters carrying nosy and noisy tourists pass under.

Village of Giethoorn

Village of Giethoorn

Most tourists who rode the boats took time to walk around the water village, the church, cheese shops and ice cream bars. The narrow bridges make for “friendly encounters” especially when you cross paths many times. I’ve also met many dogs πŸ• who seem to enjoy seeing the colourful boats plying the canals. By the 3rd time you cross paths with someone, you’ve grown “close” . πŸ˜‚ If I were to head back here, I’d likely go much earlier in the morning or much later in the afternoon when the crowds have gone or haven’t arrived. It must be quite an idyllic experience to take one of those small boats called punters or to simply walk around crossing as many of the 170 wooden bridges connecting the tiny islands. Yes, that’s what I’d do. Nonetheless, it is still a wonderful experience. Let me just say I can do with less noise.

Village of Giethoorn

Village of Giethoorn

Village of Giethoorn

The first time I (solo) visited Amsterdam was in 1986. I couldn’t get Keukenhof out of my mind then. The next one was in 2000. Quite a long time till this visit. We snagged a free walking tour of the City, a (first) lunch in a pancake house before visiting the Anne Frank House, a 2nd lunch in that Bohemian Jordaan neighbourhood and finally a quick visit of the Red Light District.

This tiny country packs a lot. This time, I won’t miss the chance to do more day trips in the next 6 days out of Amsterdam. There’s Giethorn, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Haarlem, Volendam (this one I visited in ’86) and many more. Never realised how easy this was to do with each out-of-the-city site a mere half-hour to 2 hours max away. The train and bus systems work, and there are plenty of things to do even within the city. The museum and art scene is very vibrant. Think Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bosch. And the coffee and bar culture? We even found a tiny church converted into a bar complete with a pulpit, a cross on the panelled wall and some Turkish lamps! No wonder there are sooo many tourists especially at this time of the year. There’s always something for the art and culture geek, for the camwhoring tourists, the gay lovers (the first gay marriage was legitimised here), and yes, there’s the “sex and drugs” scene. Weather was a very pleasant 17-20C — perfect weather for walking.

There’s something about (clean) canals that fascinate us. Like Venice. But unlike Venice, the bridges crossing the canals are wider here, and not as easy to get lost πŸ™„. I could have skipped the Red Light District but we have a couple of first-timers in our group of 6, so we went. Our 24-hour travel pass was put to good use. More so since we chose a hotel outside the city center but just a mere 1-3 stops away via the bus or train station right next to our hotel.

It was a good first whole day in this city. Since we were blessed with good weather, we thought the museums can wait. Walking around and day trips to outside towns and big cities are the order of the day. Watch this page!

Or make that 6 in a million tourists who visit Stonehenge annually. Most definitely one of UK’s iconic sites. Its UNESCO World Heritage status attracts tourists from all over the world eager to tick it off a bucket list yet allowing only a quick photo opportunity of this ancient world wonder. I am just as guilty as many. Stonehenge is one big, mysterious circle of stones that likely fails to fully satisfy one’s curiosity. Who built them 5,000 years ago? What and how was the entire stone formation used for? Why was it built here in an open field in Wiltshire, England? Speculations abound, ranging from a religious ceremony site to some (alien) spacecraft landing pad. Whoa!

So many theories. But what’s for certain is where those stones in the inner circle come from. Scientific studies point to the Preseli Mountains in Wales. I know…. you’re curious too who moved these stones from 240 kilometres away or who orchestrated such a major project. Whatever. I’m attracted to prehistoric stuff — anything ancient — and curious over sites and architectural wonders whose purpose remains a mystery. And hey, the vast field surrounding this Neolithic structure is dotted now with blooming canola flowers and really stout sheep who looked soooo cute running across the field. Just beautiful!

Touchdown, London

It has been a while since I visited London. Back in 2000, there was a teenage goddaughter and her family whom we visited. Soon after, I was back on a business trip in 2003. My goddaughter is a full-grown adult now, ready to march down the aisle to meet the man of her dreams. How time flies!

I arrived to the same London I remember, except only that there’s the “Harry Potter” phenomenon and London Eye attraction adding to those sites from Canterbury Tales, palaces, and Westminster icons. We arrived nearly midnight in Central London. Still sleep-deprived, we managed a very productive first day outing the next morn. The usual drill: Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Borough Market, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, British Museum, Tower of London, Saint Paul’s Cathedral and London Bridge. Oh ok, add Dragon Alley and Bridget Jones apartment to that.

It is a pity that Big Ben and parts of Westminster Abbey and Cathedral are up for major restoration work. No photo op with all those scaffoldings. The Nelson’s Column still stands dead Center of the Trafalgar Square. It was teeming with tourists the time we visited. And you’d find them again at the British Museum amidst the Nereid Monument, Elgin Marbles and around the Rosetta Stone.

London’s and Westminster’s major attractions maybe all must-see’s but we enjoyed Borough’s Market best. It was a very late lunch here after a 3 hour walking tour and we weren’t just bushed when we got here. We were hungry! Hard to resist those empanadas and Argentinian steaks in a bun! Walking around the market, we likewise didn’t miss the Scotch eggs, asparagus and doughnuts!

By the time we were back at the hotel, we were very tired. All of 18,000 steps in a day. Skipping dinner, I called it a night early. Phew!

PorteΓ±a at Borough Market