Scheveningen

On the weekend before I left Holland, Fem and I decided to go away for one last weekend together. We went to Scheveningen which is on the coastline near The Hague. This is a very popular spot to go to in summer for it has some great beaches here.

We were staying in the Kurhaus which is one the most exclusive hotels in Holland. It’s website is here if you want to look at it in more detail.

All of Femke’s friends and family have heard of the Kurhaus but none have actually stayed there. They were happy and jealous for us when they heard we were going to be there for one night!

So on Friday 30th of January, we woke up, got ready and caught the train and then tram to Schevenigen.

The hotel itself was stunning!

Kurhaus sideKurhaus front

Hallway to our room

The insides were very fancy and elegant so we really enjoyed it. Silly me didn’t get any photos of the main dining area where it is truly stunning. So you’ll just have to go to the website for that.

After we settled in we went for a walk along the strand which is the beach front directly behind the hotel. It’s a very long walkway with lots of eateries and restaurants all along. It was nice but it was so cold and there was a strong north sea breeze blowing. There was even frost on the sand on the beach (in the shade)! Frost? On Sand? Never seen that before!

Frost on the beach? Us on the beach with the Kurhaus behind us The pier on the beach The front of the Kurhaus at night

After a long walk we then went to a popular sauna next door to the Kurhaus and spent several relaxing  hours there. After that we had a very enjoyable meal in the main dining section of the Kurhaus. We spent half the time time chatting and the other half of the time just looking up in awe at the size of the room. Very impressive indeed!

We decided to go for a stroll along the strand again at night, but I had left my beanie behind (stupid stupid stupid) and my ears were starting to go numb. There was also hardly anyone else out there as it was so cold and windy. Needless to say it was a short walk!

The following morning we had an incredible buffet breakfast in the same area where we had dinner the night before. I was annoyed that I was getting full so early as I wanted to try more of the plentiful food!

We went back onto the strand again and this time walked out along the pier.

Looking north from the pier Looking out on the pier itself Looking south from the pier

It was a great day, but again it was rather cold!

On our way back to The Hague we got off the tram at an attraction called Madurodam. This was a large miniature village. It had most of all the landmarks in the Netherlands. I thought it was a good way to see some of the things I would miss. We spent a while there just walking through and checking out the structures. They were very well done! There were a lot of structures that I had seen in real life and I was impressed with the attention to detail.

Minature worldDen Bosche church Fem in oversized clogsMe in oversized clogsA tall building! See our reflection? Minature world The RijksMuseum in Amsterdam The Dam Minature world Minature world ING headquarters Palace for the Queen Us at Minature world

After we finished up there we continued on to The Hague. In The Hague right next to the train station was one of the buildings that was in the miniature village. I took some photos of it and below I have one from the miniature village and one of the real thing. Can you tell them apart? :)

Is this a model or real?Is this a model or real?

When we returned to Waalwijk, we met up with Erik and Elske who wanted to say goodbye to me and they had a nice present as well. :)

I then had to pack up all my stuff for the plane trip. While I was doing that I found my beanie. It was in the outer pocket of my camera bag. Which I took with me to Scheveningen.  So I had it on me the entire time and didn’t know it. Sigh…

We then had a farewell dinner with Femke, Marijke and Auke at a good local restaurant. It was yummy food as usual! I received some farewell gifts from them as well. It was a nice dinner but a shame it would be the last one with the four of us for a while.

The following day I had to go back to Australia. :(

Amsterdam

Amsterdam!

Before all the major immigration dramas occurred (see the last three blog updates), on the 10th and 11th of January Fem and I travelled to and toured around Amsterdam.

One of the many canals It was a very cold weekend as usual. We were up nice and early on Saturday morning. We had breakfast and set off via bus to Den Bosch. From here we then caught the train to Amsterdam. This only takes just over 1 hour so it’s not too far away. Once we get to the main city, we exit and then decide what we want to do. Our hotel was at the south of city near where all the main museums were and the train station was at the north.  We had researched on the internet the previous night and we wanted to take a canal cruise. There was a company near the train station that offered canal cruise with dinner at night, which we thought was a great idea. Once the incompetent tour desk operator woke up and realised where and what her job was, we were registered (there was only 2 more tables open for that night!). We then bought a map from the tourist centre and then set off into the city.

Within 5 mins of walking we were in the middle, this was quicker than I had thought. The centre contains a big square with has one of the royal residences on the western side.

 

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

The Wax Museum

To the south of the square is the Madame Tussauds wax museum. I had never been to one of them so off we went. As you would expect it was filled with lots of wax dolls, from singers to movie stars to politicians and Dutch personalities. They were all incredibly well done. I have included numerous shots below.

Old Dutch people Chinese PMMe and Dubya Ghandi, Dali Lama and MandelaDianaFem with a Dutch celebrity Spice GirlsKylie "Midget" MinogueFem with Robby Williams Fem with tiny Tom Nic CageRembrandt with his new masterpiece

After the wax museum it was off to the Amsterdam Dungeon to learn about Amsterdam’s shady past. There was a small scary section in the wax museum which Fem did not enjoy, so I was thinking she would not like the Dungeon. Oh well…we had already paid for the tickets so we gave it a try. This was a live museum, so imagine just being shuffled from room to room with actors decked out in middle ages clothes and chatting about the plague, religious persecution and the different types of torture they had back then. It was morbidly interesting. Fem had enough of the dark arts after the first section, so she left and I went through the rest with the remaining group of about 5 other girls. We weren’t able to take photos so I can’t share any here. It was not too bad and I think I had been expecting some more gore but it was interesting. There was a cool maze section which we had to go through where all the walls were mirrors. It was very disorientating but fun at the same time.

Anne Frank House

After the dungeon, we continued walking further south and found our Hotel. After dropping off our gear and having a 5 min powernap we were off again to the Anne Frank house. This time we took the tram back north and when we were close enough we got off and walked west a few blocks to the house. Again I was not allowed to take photos, so if you want more info, click here.

The Anne Frank museum was very good, very interesting and sombre, since you were in the actual house where she and her family hid during World War 2. You were also able to see the original diary itself.

Red Light District

Afterwards it started getting dark, and it was time to go on the canal boat cruise and dinner. We still had some time to kill so I suggested we walk through the red light district. After walking past a lot of pot shops with lots of interesting stuff in them we then walked up the main red light district street. It was still reasonably early (about 6:30pm) but there were already quite a few girls in the windows. And yes it’s just like they say, they try to get you to come to them as you walk past. Some were good looking, others were not and I am pretty sure one was a male (or used to be). There are a lot of live sex shows as well (no we didn’t go into to any), sex shops and pot shops all along the one street. There’s plenty of red neon lights and there were a lot of groups of young men hooting about. Also a few of tourist shops full of shirts saying that you had visited the red light district in Amsterdam. So yeah that’s about it. You can take it or leave it.

Canal Cruise

After waiting in a heated room for a little while as they prepped the boat, we were then lead down a ramp onto the boat. We had a free bottle of red and white wine for the cruise which I enjoyed. Since fem does not like red wine I almost finished the whole bottle in 2 hours! It was a nice and romantic cruise down the many canals of the city. Because it was that cold there were sections of the canals that had thin layers of ice. The boat found itself breaking through these icy sections to pass through. You could not help but wince at the grinding sounds and seeing big chunks of ice go past your view. I was glad we were not in waters like this!

The front of the boat The narrowest house in Amsterdam. 2 metres wide! 

The tour guide pointed out all the sights of the city as we passed them both in English than in Dutch. The meal itself was pretty average, but enjoyable. I liked the red wine!

Lights on lots of canal bridges Most expensive hotel in Amsterdam

It was very dim to create the mood and allow us to easily see outside, so I had to use a very high ISO setting for these shots. 

After a pleasurable 2 hours, we left and caught a tram back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum The next morning after a good breakfast at the hotel we were off again. Right next to our hotel is the Rijksmuseum. This is the main art museum in Amsterdam. It is currently under renovation and only a section of all the artworks were available to the public. It turned out this was just enough for us to see  (before getting culture fatigue) and it included all the main artworks. Again we were not able to take photos but it was incredible. Some of these artworks are massive and fill an entire wall. You can see some more info from Wikipedia here.

The main artwork is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. One of my personal favourites was one of a young Dutch couple smiling. I liked it because it was very unusual for that time period to show a couple together smiling casually. Most paintings were of single people in stiff poses. Also because it was so big and the detail in the artwork was incredible.

I always have preferred the photorealistic artworks from the old masters. Some of the modern artworks today which look like a bored toddler’s finger-painting are a joke and an embarrassment.

 

We came across the Amsterdam sign, and had to wait a good 15-20 mins before we were able to get a shot with just either myself of Fem on the sign. There were always tourists climbing over the thing or getting photos or getting in other peoples photos. We just had to be patient and eventually we were rewarded.

Fem with Amsterdam sign Me with amsterdam sign 

Once we returned to the main central square we got some more shots. There were some costumed people just standing there in the square. You had to pay them some money in order to your get photo taken with them. Hmm.. pass for me. We also went into the main church which was right next to the royal residence. But the church was housing the contents of another art museum. Since we had just been to the Rijksmuseum we were cultured out and passed on it. There were a flock of pigeons in the square too that constantly flew at head level in a giant swarm to the next person who was dropping some food for them. We found ourselves having to duck our heads every few minutes as all these birds just flew at high speed right above our heads!

Main squareOld style

 Bird man in the squareWW2 memorialFem at the Square

We hit the shops for a while and had a nice lunch. Then it was back to the train station for our trip home. When we arrived there I was able to get some shots of the thousands of bikes that were locked up at the train station. Incredible to see!

 Lots of bikes! Another view of the bikes Amsterdam train station

The last photo shows the train station itself. In front of it are the canal cruise boats that we were in the night before.

We caught a train and headed off to Den Bosch and then home to Waalwijk. It had been a great weekend away!

Snowy Landscapes

We have had a bit of snow over the last few days and the temperature is always usually below 0 degrees. I was told that out in the countryside about 15 minutes drive from Waalwijk, you get frost in the trees which makes them all white and beautiful to look at. So today, I was just going to cycle to the dunes where there are a lot of trees there, but Auke offered to drive me around.

There was no wind (which was nice), but as you could imagine it was very cold! I was glad I rugged up well for these shots. It was great to be parked under the trees and have small snowflakes gently coming down on you. It was very still and peaceful and pure. I used a circular polariser to darken the blue sky and bring out the white landscapes slightly more. The views were incredibly stunning. Judge them for yourselves!

Snowy landscapes (main image)

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

 Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes Snowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes 

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes Snowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes 

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes 

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

I also have a smugmug gallery up containing the full size version of these photos. You can get to that page here.

Many thanks to Auke for driving me around to see these sights!

Trip to Antwerp and Maastricht

Day 1: Antwerp

Since my Visa situation is still not resolved, we are trying to get me to see as much of Europe as we can in case I might have to go back to Australia in a few weeks.

On the long weekend of 2nd to 4th of January, Fem and I toured Antwerp and Maastricht. Antwerp is in Belgium so now I can say I have been to at least 2 countries in Europe :)

We took the train to Antwerp. The train system is pretty good here, although they have a first and second class. We were in second class which was not really any different. The first thing that hit me once we got out of the train at Antwerp was how massive the train station was.

Antwerp train station Antwerp train station Antwerp train station

There were 3 levels of trains arriving at the station. There was a glass cylindrical dome over the entire station. But the best part was the main concourse. It is one massive room, with very detailed and stunning statues on the walls and a gigantic dome for a ceiling. It would easily be about 12 stories high. Absolutely stunning.

So off we go to our hotel for the night. We learnt our first lessons for travelling by train: Always make sure the hotel is close to the train station.

We walked and walked and our baggage became heavier and heavier. We ended up in the Jewish section of the city. I have never seen so many Jews all dressed in black trench coats with black hats. Interesting to see. With our bags finally dropped off at the hotel, we walked back north into the main city to check it out. Naturally we were drawn to the main church in town. It was a massive one, as shown below.

Main church in Antwerp

It was pretty impressive inside. But again all these churches are very dark inside which make it rather tricky to get sharp photos without the aid of a tripod.

Antwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiorsAntwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiorsAntwerp church interiors

There were a lot of paintings inside this church. Some are rather well known. the most famous (according the church guides) is the one below. These are truly massive artworks. I have included a second photo with some people in it to give you a sense of scale. I personally know very little of artwork!

a big painting a big painting

For afternoon tea we had some genuine Belgian waffles. They were yummy!

In one of the main city squares they had a medium sized ice skating rink. There were plenty of people skating away around inside it . I was not game enough as it was too packed and fast flowing and I knew I would be shit at it. The city itself is more densely packed that your typical Dutch city. Plenty of narrow alleyways and side streets and shops really clustered together. It was very pretty though. I did enjoy it.

main square at Antwerpmain square at Antwerp

It started getting very cold, so we decided to go and see a movie. We saw “Australia”, which I thought was ok. The battle scenes on Darwin could have been a lot longer.

One thing I didn’t like was you had to pay to use the public toilets at all the places we went to. About 40 cents a go. This is something I am not to happy with as everyone “needs to go” at some stage. It’s not like you have a choice. Although at restaurants or McDonalds you didn’t have to pay. Ah well.

Afterward we caught a taxi back to the hotel as we we didn’t feel like walking in the freezing dark night.

Day 2: Antwerp to Maastricht

We had a relaxing morning, followed by our free buffet breakfast in the hotel. We then headed back into the city to get some Belgium chocolates before we headed back to the train station. It was frighteningly cold. We had to be rugged up big time and walk at a brisk pace to keep warm. My face which was the only exposed area was going numb and I found it a little hard to talk.

The chocolates were very nice and cheaper than I thought. We slowly ate them over the next two days. Yummy little treat :)

It was a very sunny day, so the train station looked a lot better than the previous day so I got a few more shots while waiting for the train to take us to Maastricht.

Sunlit shots of the train station Sunlit shots of the train station Sunlit shots of the train station

This was definitely the most impressive train station I had ever been in!

The train ride took 3 hours and we had to change trains at a small town in the French section of Belgium. We were there for only 30 minutes but saw a lot of French complaining and whining so we were glad to get out of there and back into Holland.

Maastricht is the southern most Dutch city and is very close to both the German and Belgium borders. Our hotel was right next to the train station so we avoided any long difficult walks! Once we were set up we then head into the city.

Maastricht river Maastricht river

We crossed the Maas river and into literally thousands of people shopping. Maastricht to me seems like a very stylish city with old architecture and lots and lots of shopping.

Maastricht main square statue with a flame

There was a carnival in the main city square so we browsed around there. There was a rows of restaurants and I felt like spare ribs again so we went to a place that apparently specialised in them. The dinner was yummy and afterwards we walked through the carnival again. There was another ice skating rink and yet again the temperature dropped like a rock. Luckily the 50D has very good high ISO performance so I was able to get these handheld shots with out too much motion blur.

Ferris wheelIce skating at night

Us at the park Nice lighting on a resturant

Day 3: Maastricht

Yet another very cold day. We woke up and packed up and left our bags with reception and went back into the city again. Being a Sunday morning the city was deserted.

We didn’t have a free breakfast this time so we just had a cheapie feed at McDonalds. After getting some more shots of the bridges over the calm river we then explored the old fortified walls to the south of the city.

View from our hotel Cool statue in the street

Bridge over the river Maas Houses along the river Fem posing on a cannon IMG_1939_resize

The walls of Maastricht A frozen pond

Canals in the city Fem listening to the statue

We went back to the Carnival and went on the Ferris wheel to get some higher view shots of the city.

Church view from the ferris wheel City view from the Ferris Wheel

Then it was off to the main church in town for some shots and sightseeing.

While it was indeed an impressive church, we both found ourselves quickly becoming “churched out”. So we didn’t spend as long as the other churches.

There were some interesting things though. I could swear the statue in the image below left has horns on him. Click on the image to zoom in and see if you if you agree!

Does he have horns?? Impressive detail on the archway

Below you can see the main chamber of the church. There was a rather macabre image of Christ on the cross and for most of the stained glass windows in these churches are the traditional type. I noticed that one of them was rather modern. You can see the differences yourself by clicking on the two images below on the right.

The main area in the church What a weird painting? Modern stained glass window Traditional stained glass window

After that and some more looking around, we had had enough. After a short walk back to the train station we caught a train and then a bus back to Waalwijk. Overall it was a great weekend away. Plenty of churches, cold weather, Belgium waffles and chocolates and fine food. A great time!

This weekend we are off to Amsterdam for the weekend. Stay tunes for more soon!

More snow

Yet again we shivered in Waalwijk with below zero temperatures recorded each day in 2009. It snowed a reasonable amount during the morning of the 5th of Jan. However it didn’t melt away like before. It stayed there. I have heard reports that tomorrow it will go down to –9. This will make cycling to swimming (indoor heated pool) rather tricky. You have to watch out for the slippery iced sections.

The backyard I guess the car was there when it was snowing

Fem's backyardClose up of the garden

Today I cycled to a small park close to the centre of town. Not many people had walked or cycled through it so I was able to get some great untouched snow shots.

So while the majority of my readers are in sunny hot humid and sweltering Brisbane, I offer you some photos from the north end of the world. Hopefully looking at these photos might make you feel a little bit cooler. :)

Pond at the park Snow on flowers at the park

snow on treesThe Park 

Ducks at the park snow on tree

Signing my name Snow at my feet