Thanks to my friend Danielle who told me to sit on the right hand side of the plane whenever you come into Iceland. Views were spectacular.
I had a day and a half here. The town or Reykjavik is tiny but cute and colourful especially in summer when everyone is out and about enjoying the light nights. The white building bottom left is where the prime minister works. So unpretentious. Also like the simple main cathedral – very different from the ornate features in middle Europe I have been used to over the last few weeks!
Delicious degustation meal at Nostra restaurant downtown. This is just four of the six courses. All locally sourced ingredients. All delicious.
Needed an post dinner stroll after all that. The pics below were taken at 11pm so still pretty light. The galleon was visiting from Europe.
First stop on the Golden Circle tour was Pingvellir National Park which is stunning in whatever direction your turn.
Then on to the Golden Waterfall which was magnificent. No wonder they already make more electricity than they need from their hydro electricity – although luckily they left this place as nature intended.
Then on to the Secret Lagoon which is one of the very many natural warm spring swimming pools in Iceland (I was told that a town in Iceland is not really a town unless it has at least one natural swimming pool). Lying in the warm water and taking in the surrounding scenery is a national pastime in Iceland – summer or Winter. While the water was very warm the external temperature was only 15 degrees and those who know me know I would never get into any water unless the external temperature was nearer 30 degrees – so I declined to partake and just enjoyed the view.
The nice thing about all this free hot water is that this is how people heat their homes (underwater hot pipes that just tap into the geothermal springs) and things like showers and washing machines just auto fill with already hot water. So one of the few cheap things in Iceland is water and heating. Nothing else is remotely cheap though:)
I am heading off on a cruise covering a bit more of Iceland, Greenland and then Northern Canada and the US so will be blogging intermittently due to wifi limitations. Will catch up when I can though as I am hoping for some great scenery.
While Amsterdam is a wonderful city which can easily keep you amused for a week, I also wanted to take the opportunity to get out of town and visit some places in other areas of the country where I had never been before.
First visit was to Giethoorn – a picturesque village built totally on small canals. It is very popular at this time of year but when you get the chance to see through the people it is quite cute. It’s interesting claim to fame is that it has a place on the official international Monopoly board. They achieved this very cleverly. The place is very much loved by Chinese visitors and the locations to be chosen for the Monopoly set were to be set by a global vote so every Chinese visitor was asked to vote for the town and to ask their mates back in China to do the same – and Bingo – there they sit alongside London, New York and Sydney. The power of social media! Best to do Giethoorn via a coach trip as not easy to get to with public transport.
Next stop Haarlem – just 15 minutes out of Haarlem on the train and a lovely smaller version of Amsterdam with far less people so great place to visit in August when the city crowds get a bit too much. The artist Frans Hals was born here so there is also a museum about his works (I didn’t like how it was curated) and a very large church. The place has a great vibe.
Then finally to the Kroner Muller Museum. My friend Heleen who I first met in Melbourne and who now lives back in her home of the Netherlands kindly took me to this museum. It is another collection where a wealthy woman bought some amazing works of art and has shared them with the public. Unbelievably, since I’d never heard of it before, it has the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world – and this time pics were allowed so I am enclosing a chunk of his works plus others in her collection. It is also situated in a massive park so you can wander around enjoying the sculptures too and we got a glimpse of the Royal Family’s hunting lodge. Great day out.
It has hard to take a bad photo in Amsterdam as so much of it is really pretty and a good example of what UNESCO protection (the whole canal systems and buildings are protected so no changes allowed, no advertising on buildings etc). Yes there are some streets that are not that nice – usually the big ones where the hordes hang out but it doesn’t take long to find the good stuff. I particularly liked the Jordaan area which not only has nice canals and architecture but also great shops and restaurant.
Here’s what I saw – either wandering around or on a great boat tour called Pure Boats (max 10 people so you get to the smaller canals and away from the crowds – plus wine and nibbles!). Different perspectives in the day and the evening too.
Strongly recommend this tour. 12 people max and small amount of walking and lots of eating (!) in places that specialize in Dutch dishes. Company was called Eating Europe and tour was four hours. Tour guide was very good as was the food – so here we go.
In this section we have – (I will provide a mix of Dutch and English names) Brined herring with onions and pickled cucumbers; poffertjes (small puffy pancakes served with maple syrup – from Canada!); bitterballen – loved these deep fried breadcrumbed balls with a hot bechamel and ragout filling; and then kibbeling (fried cod0. All washed down with Tulip vodka!
And there’s more ……….but first a beer…..and then….
In the days of the Dutch owned East India Trading company there were large holdings in Indonesia so their food has become almost a staple in the Netherlands (even though the “empire” is no more) – hence the satay; then some Farmers Cheese (apparently the name Gouda was never patented which means things called Gouda are often pasteurized – this cheese was not which of course made it way more tasty. A variety of sausages followed – my favourite was called ossenworst – if you are a steak tartare fan this is for you and it is a cold smoked raw beer sausage – needs to be tried. Delish.
Finally a half portion (!) of Dutch Apple pie and whipped cream (the real kind). This was from a tiny place called Cafe Papeneiland which Bill Clinton once turned up at unexpectedly after hours (well his security detail did) and they eventually let them all in – in this part of the world when you are closed you are closed! Anyway, i can see why Bill and his team wanted a taste!
A few days in Amsterdam as I wend my way further into Northern Europe. Another amazing opportunity for museums of course but what was the first one I rushed to – Rijksmuseum? Van Gogh? Nope! It was the Museum of Bags and Purses – a lovely private collection of bags and purses from all eras. I loved it of course. The last bag is the one I designed online myself based on personality traits and style questions!
Of course I did also go to the recently renovated Rijksmuseum which looks splendid situated in the very nice museum quarter which has about 6 places to visit and lots of green space to just hang out. Beware the man waving below – he is one of the “silent assassins” of Amsterdam – otherwise known as the bike riders who rule the roads here – no question. Look left, right, left, right again and again……
The Rijksmuseum has a wonderful collection of Dutch artists including Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer. I also like Jan Steen – his is the picture of a family stuffing themselves and overindulging. It is called The Merry Family but the words in the painting make it clear that this is a warning that they way adults behave will influence their children. Very moralistic those Dutch – although they do look like they are having a lot of fun!
Also went to the Van Gogh museum (also newly renovated) but NO PICS ALLOWED:(. So you will have to go yourself to see it – worth it but book your ticket online.
Equally NO PICS in Anne Frank’s House (which I can understand). Last time I went there I was about 11 and had just read her diary, which I reread many times as a teen. Visiting again – despite the much larger numbers – brought back what an amazing young writer she was and how tragic it was that she was murdered before she could fulfil all her potential – nevertheless she did leave a poignant but positive message of courage and hope in desperate adversity. Again book well in advance – one month to secure your ticket — they are like gold dust.