Tuesday 31 March 2015

Amsterdam to Lisbon to Ponta Delgada

We left Amsterdam, on the 1st March, not without some drama, as our son-in-law had forgotten his French ID card, which is too big to be kept in his wallet. As we were checking-in when he realized that, and called my daughter who was on her way to hand in the hired car. She raced home to go and fetch it and still made it in time. Luckily we had gone to the airport 2 hours ahead!

I still managed to get the IAmsterdam photo I wanted, as there is another sign (apart from the one at the Rijksmuseum) outside the Arrivals hall at the airport and it was crowd free too.

Cheese shop at Amsterdam airport
Dutch Clogs at Amsterdam Airport

On arrival at Lisbon Airport we were greeted by my sister, and that evening we had a family dinner with my parents, niece, sister and brother in law and chatted well into the night.

From right to left - my sister, my daughter, son in law, Father, niece, Mother, me and brother in law (husband taking pic)

Early the next morning, on my birthday (March 2nd), we got on a plane again to Ponta Delgada in the Azores island of Sao Miguel. 
Our group consisted of my sister and brother in law, our daughter and her partner and us.
We were picked up by my husband's brother J who lives there, and because of the large group a car had also been hired.

Because the hotel check-in was only after 2pm, we decided to do some sightseeing and only go to the hotel later in the day. Our first stop was at a local beach for a coffee and chat to catch up on family news with brother in law J.

Grey skies, volcanic dark sandy beach

Views of the city of Ponta Delgada

A short while later we were on our way to Caldeira Velha Park in Ribeira Grande, about 20km from Ponta Delgada. 

I still remember when you could actually drive all the way to the hot pools, but now the park has been renovated, it looks amazing, has modern facilities like showers (albeit cold) and dressing cabins and is more environmental friendly too. 

For an entry fee of 2Euro, you can swim in the bubbling hot thermal waters. At the top close to the mountain side is another pool  with a waterfall, but the water is cooler.

Take an old bathing suit and towels as the iron content in the water will stain them.
There are walking trails through the lush forest, and there is an Interpretation Centre explaining the island's volcanic formation. 

Entry to the Caldeira Velha 
Hot bubbling waters coming from the mountain into the pool
Where the water falls the temperature measures 61C ! Hot, hot, hot!!
The pool at the top close to the mountain side is cooler and has a water fall
The pool at the bottom of the park is hotter and more popular with visitors
Everyone I encountered from various nationalities was amazed with the pool, the hot waters, the park itself. We gave Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake) a miss as it was foggy and we wouldn't be able to see the view.
Nearby the Geothermal plant produces 42% of the island's electricity.

It was time to go for lunch, and we drove another 20km, to the town of Furnas, to eat the typical Cozido (meat stew) cooked in the hot spring waters, which had been ordered from the restaurant at the Camping place. 

At the end of this post you'll find a Youtube video about how the Cozido is made in the Furnas. This way of cooking in the hot geothermal waters makes the food taste quite different, so if you ever visit the Azores islands, don't miss this experience.

A big platter of Cozido (meat stew) 

The town of Furnas nestled against the mountain

After lunch we drove to the town's hot springs and walked around the park, tasted the sulphurous waters (tastes like rotten eggs or iron). The area is beautiful, green and peaceful.
The small pools of bubbling waters are now enclosed due to the danger of people falling into them. This is where the Cozido is "cooked" during a few hours.

At the Furnas Park each car pays and entry fee to visit the park (sorry can't remember how much we paid). We then walked around the lake and the hot waters (this is the area where they have the holes where the pots with food are cooked in).

The big lake at the Furnas Park

Me sitting on a  wooden elephant sculpture
The area had a few stray cats all huddled around the warm earth. I read somewhere that they get fed by the council.
Stray cats sleeping on the warm earth

Time to go to the hotel, check-in, have a shower and change so we can go out to dinner and celebrate my birthday.

My brother in law chose a restaurant in the city centre - A Tasca Tapas Bar and Restaurant - and ordered various Tapas. The food was delicious, service was great, atmosphere very good too. Booking is recommended.
At the end of the meal, my brother in law then surprised me with a birthday cake and I blew the candles and cut up the cake. There was still some left over and I took it to the hotel for the next day.

One of the Tapas board with cheeses and meats

Cutting up the surprise Birthday cake - it was delicious too
The family at the Tapas Bar

It was a day well spent, and we were exhausted by the end of the evening!
Time to rest to be fit for the next day.

Watch the youtube video about the Cozido, to see how it's made.

PS - I've noticed that all photos are dated 3rd March instead of 2nd, I had started using my husband's camera by this stage and must have programmed the wrong day.

Sunday 1 and Monday 2 March 2015 

Giethoorn - the village with no roads

In the rented car, the three of us set out to Giethoorn, 120km north east of Amsterdam, known as Venice of the North, or Dutch Venice.
On the way there through the A6 and A1  we came across a lot of fields full of wind turbines.

Fields of wind turbines

Giethoorn was founded in 1230 by Mediterraneans fleeing religious prosecution, and the name comes from the discovery of goat's horns (gietehorens) in the marshland, which were remnants of a 10th century flood.

The town became known after 1958, when a Dutch film director used the village in his comedy "Fanfare", turning it into a tourist attraction.

Nowadays there are about 2600 people living in the farmhouses from the 18th and 19th century which boarder the canals, and the only way to get around most of the village is by boat, bicycles and bridges that cross over the canals. 

Being winter the tourists weren't there, the boats were packed away, and there was only a tour boat operating and a couple of private electric dinghies for hire either from the restaurants or from private people. The town has a couple of Museums, but we actually didn't get to visit them. There is also a holiday park with bungalows, which must be quite popular in Summer.

The main road bordering the main Canal
We started by having lunch at the first restaurant we came across - Rietstulp - and we loved the set lunch menu comprising of soup, meat and dessert for 17,50 Euros. The young man in charge of the restaurant was very knowledgeable about world affairs, languages, etc., and we enjoyed having a chat with him.

After lunch, we decided on a private boat ride and were indicated a house where we could hire a boat for 20Euros to ride during 1h following a set route on the map. 

We had a great time, cruising the canals, looking at the beautiful thatched houses, the ducks and the birds...Magic!!

Lots of bridges criss crossing the canals

Beautiful thatched houses

My husband and I enjoying our canal ride

My daughter and my husband, while I moved to the front to take the photo

wildflowers in a corner garden

The map showing the canal route for the 1h trip

After we handed back the boat, we needed some warming up due to the cold wind, and returned to the same restaurant where we had lunch. 
Coffee, mint tea (with real leaves) and Gluhwein were our choices. You can see how beautifully served they were, with a special candied stick to stir the tea, and a small cup of cream and caramel for the coffee, plus a cookie on each plate.

Mint Tea and Coffee

The inside of the  Rietstulp Restaurant - I loved the saying on those plaques

What a great day we had! 
I would love to be able to go to Giethoorn again during summer to experience the different atmosphere. 
We arrived in Amsterdam just in time for dinner and to pack our bags for our flight to Portugal the following morning.

Saturday,28 February 2015

Sunday 29 March 2015

Amsterdam - boats, canals and parks

We returned our bicycles to the hire shop, and caught the Nr. 10 tram which goes around the outer ring of the city. We got out at the Elandsgracht stop and walked the two blocks to the canal to visit the House Boat Museum (Woonbootmuseum) - The Hendrika Maria-  at Prinsengracht 296 in the Jordaan district.

Boats are an integral part of Amsterdam life, and the canals are full of these barges of various sizes, some even have gardens and garages can you believe that?
The museum was interesting to visit so we could get an idea what it's like to live inside, although this was an old boat previously used for cargo, so not the typical residential boat.

Boats, large and small dot the wider canals of Amsterdam

Entry fee to the museum is 4,50 euros, free to I'Amsterdam city card holders, the boat only opens certain days of the week, depending on the time of the year, so check their site.

I think you have to be super organized and have few possessions to be able to live in such confinement, so not for me!
Nowadays these boats are connected to the main electrical, water supply and even pay rates and taxes. What actually amazed me were crazy prices these boats fetch on the Real Estate market, some were more expensive than an apartment! 
The Hendrika-Maria houseboat

The kitchen and dining room
The sunny lounge

Check the prices of houseboats!!
This boat even has very artistic statues at both ends, a bbq and patio chairs...
Just across from the Houseboat museum on the corner of Prinsengracht and Elandsgracht is a Square unofficially named - Johnny Jordaanplein. Johnny was a folk singer who lived in the Jordaan district, and upon his death money was raised to honour him with a statue (1991). Later the statues of 4 other musicians were added. 

We cross two canals towards the city to visit the Museum of the Canals (Het Grachtenhuis). This museum housed in a beautiful 17th century building that belonged to a wealthy merchant, at Hereengracht 386, brings to life in 40 minutes the story of the canals around the city, where trading has taken place, festivals are celebrated and life is lived inside the boats from 1600 until recent times.

Entry costs 12 Euros, free to City card holders, and the museum is opened from 10am to 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday and is worthwhile a visit!

The huge entrance door and impressive hall
Houses built on pylons driven into the canals
Replica of a house and garden where you could see inside the furnished rooms
The city and it's canals in 3D

Very fancy high ceiling rooms with fireplaces, chandeliers and lots of wide windows
The visitors bathroom had a tile freeze depicting Hereengracht buildings

At this stage our daughter joined us and we walked back to Prinsengracht (where we had visited the house boat museum) as we would like to visit the Anne Frank House at nr. 263. Apparently you can buy tickets online and avoid the the huge queues, but we hadn't done that. The wait period was over an hour and a half and we decided we wouldn't wait and went to buy lunch from food caravans on the Westerkerk square, close to Anne Frank's house.
Westerkerk - a Protestant church built in the 17th century, where Rembrandt is buried

The lamps by the Westerkerk also have the blue crown at the top matching the Church

By the Westermarket, there is a memorial dedicated to Niek Engelschman, a Dutch actor, resistance fighter in WWII and a gay activist, who was born in Amsterdam in 1913 and died in 1988.
The monument honours all gay and lesbians subjected to persecution due to their homosexuality.

It was a sunny day and decided to walk for about 30min until Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam which received 10 million visitors a year.
It's a lovely park with ponds, statues, kids play areas, etc and we found a lovely coffee shop and sat down with some drinks enjoying the sun and the birds.
This area also houses high-end shops and expensive old apartment buildings.

On the way there we went past a lovely square where hundreds of people enjoyed the sunshine at the outdoor cafes.
Enjoying the  sunshine
One of the Vondelpark's lakes
The outdoor tables and a fireplace in the Coffee shop we went to
After our coffee break we walked to the Rijksmuseum nearby. 
It's probably one of the most important museums and the most popular too, but my husband had enough of museums by now. 
So we just went past to take photos of the "IAmsterdam" sign in front of the museum, which proved to be as popular as the Museum, with people jumping on the letters and doing all sorts of poses. We still took photos, but can hardly be seen among the crowd!

The museum opens daily from 9am to 5pm and entry costs 17,50 euros and the City card only gives you a 2,50 euro discount.
On the Museum Square (Museumplein) a man-made pond was transformed into an ice-rink and lots of kids were enjoying themselves.
My husband and I standing in front of the S

The ice-rink in front of the Museum
The other side of the Rijksmuseum
From the Museum we walked south along the canal until we reached Holland's largest street market with 260 market stands -  the Albert Cuyp market in the Pijp District.
Here you can buy fruit and vegetables, flowers and other plants, cheese, fish, bread and cakes, fabrics, clothing, leather goods and jewellery.
We bought some strawberries and a packet of stroopwafel (syrup waffle) a typical Dutch biscuit. I couldn't help notice the fish was very good and well priced and the fruit was very cheap compared to our Australian prices.
Market stands
Fish, fruit & vegetables and cheese
Shoe shop
It was time to go home, and while my husband and I caught the tram home, my daughter went to hire a rental car so that she could drive us to a lovely village the next day.

Later that night we went to dinner at Odessa Restaurant, housed in a boat which is moored on the canal just metres from my daughter's apartment building in Rietlandpark, in Amsterdam's east.
A lovely experience once again, and it was nice to know that the young owner is half-Portuguese, and actually spoke the language relatively well for someone who was born and bred in Amsterdam.

Odessa interior - photo from the net