Giethoorn -The Captivating grace of the Netherlands

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“I beg your pardon?”

“That’s a hundred and twenty euros, please”, the lovely lady at the reception responded politely.

Catherine stared at me and I stared back at her. Then all of a sudden, we burst into laughter.

“Is everything all right?”, the lady asked.

“Yes, of course, would you mind if we pay in cash?”, I asked, but what I really wanted to say was, would you mind if we didn’t pay at all? I mean come on, seems a bit overrated for a three day breakfast, which honestly was overabundant, but we didn’t make the most of it, since I only had some coffee and Catherine did not eat that much at all.

Read the previous part of our trip here

We sorted ourselves out payed for our stay and walked out the door after sincerely thanking our host. It was our fault that although we had pre payed for our accommodation  we excluded breakfast and upon arrival we had unwisely asked for it without checking the price.

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Still, we could not allow such misadventures to harm our trip. Besides, we were about to visit one of the most picturesque places in Europe. Giethoorn stands for goat’s horn and it’s a magical small village filled with canals, Netherlands’s own little Venice, where there are no cars and peace and quiet reign supreme.

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The town gained popularity after the movie Fanfare, was shot there. It is highly pedestrianized and a grand canal along with several smaller ones endow the place its distinct beauty. We had to travel to Steenwijk through Zwolle by train and then catch a bus. Luckily the Dutch have developed a very sophisticated online system for finding train rides  (check Nederlandse spoortwegen and 9292), but we had a bit of a trouble since most automatic ticket vendors were only accepting coins, and – take it from the ones who have tried it, collecting about forty euros in coins is not an easy task, let alone carrying it).

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The train ride offered great viewings of the Dutch countryside, but that beauty was nothing compared to the beauty our eyes were about to feast upon once in our destination. Once in Steenwijk we caught a local bus to get to our lodging, Bed and Breakfast Duvenvoorde. The place seemed a bit like home, we were greeted by the owners who were kind enough to saw us a bit around and rent us a couple of bikes. Now, it would be inappropriate to visit the country and skip on bike riding, wouldn’t it be?

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After a fun bike ride all the way from our accommodation to the magnificent small town we dismounted and sought to do some exploration of the petite center of the place. That didn’t take long since it’s a tiny village, but what the place lacks in size, replenishes in sight.

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You can enjoy these views by taking a ride on a boat, or even better rent one small electric motored boat and roam the canals on your own, we did! First of all though we decided to have a bite since it was already noon and the bike ride contributed to us feeling starved. So, we decided to have a small snack at the most famous spot of the area, Grand cafe Fanfare, which is named after the film and is actually one of the places where the Bert Haanstra’s comedy was shot.

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The place is filled with posters murals and statuettes related to the film. It’s the most popular place in the area and with good reason, since the food and service are excellent and the prices were affordable. We enjoyed our cold beers and some bitterballen and after some much necessary rest from the bike ride we decided to walk around the place for a while and return to the cafe at a later time.

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We also made a small stop for some coffee and an apple pie at a small cafe near the village’s entrance and we regrettably gave the waiter a rather hard time when we asked him if he could throw some ice cubes on a cappuccino. Well, we have to say that this happens at least once in every trip, us trying to enjoy a fredo cappuccino wherever we are, trying to instruct any unlucky waiter or bartender that comes our way.

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After this refreshing break, we decided that it was about time to rent a boat and float over the canals. In all honesty, that remains one of our best experiences even to this day. The sun was graciously brightening the sky and the charming thatched – roof houses were surrounded by light, water and vegetation. Truly, a sight to have your eyes feast upon. We encountered a couple of ducks on our way and I have to say I adore those birds so much, that I keep shooting photos of them like a madman when I see them. We passed under a couple of wooden bridges, following the map we were given upon renting our boat. The route was extremely easy to follow since there were many signs along the way that guided to the proper direction. So, no need to be an expert navigator in order to find your way through the canals. Handling the boat is effortless a task as well. A wheel to guide left or right and a handle to accelerate forward or move backwards.

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We were simply trying to take in all the beauty we were faced with, the place is quite frankly enchanting. Since it was high noon, we were lucky enough to enjoy it without the nuisance of crowds clomping through the tiny village and the canals. The harmonious serenity of the place was being briefly interrupted by our cheerful laughter, but most of the time we were overwhelmed by the images we were relishing.

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Stormed by nature’s elegance we ended our drift of the narrow canals that crown the place and we opted to pay another visit to the Grand cafe Fanfare. There, we enjoyed a small snack and some beer and we even had a chance to meet the manager, who politely sat at our table and shared with us some info about the village, even describing its beauty in wintertime. After a final stroll we returned to our bikes and started the ride back to our lodging. We would gladly spent more time at Giethoorn, but our journey was nearing its end and tomorrow we had to catch a train back to Amsterdam and then a bus to Bruge.

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A couple’s couple of days in Amsterdam

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Check out part one of our trip to Belgium and the Netherlands

… Having spend the first day of our trip on the road, catching up on the time we had been apart, we headed to our hotel in Naarden to rest. On the second day, after a light breakfast (which we enjoyed unaware of the mischance that was looming over us, preparing to strike a couple of days later, while we senselessly enjoyed the sun, the coffee and the snacks), we strolled all the way to the town’s train station to catch our ride to Centraal station, and get underway with…

Day 1

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The route was wonderful, Naarden is in itself a beautiful place, with a star shaped fort that sadly, we didn’t get to see, since we had to get to Amsterdam. The train ride was a mere twenty minute affair and we were finally ready to enjoy all the city had to offer. After a visit to Oudee Kirk and Our Lord in the Attic churches, we were back to Dam square to visit the Royal Palace and then off to Rembrandt Van Rijn’s house. On the way we visited an Old Amsterdam sales point and I highly recommend buying cheese and other goods and have some quality time picnicing at a park.

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If you are lucky enough, or a bit patient you can spend about an hour while in Rembradt’s house to delve into the master’s art, by participating in a workshop. We lingered around the museum for quite some time and after a small break for refreshments we headed to our final cultural destination for day 1, the maritime museum, in order to board Amsterdam’s replica. The vessel is a great way to have fun and learn at the same time (and testing your head’s endurance against woodwork if you are of average height, I, for once, tested mine alright). In all, everything was wonderful, we were impressed by the fact that there was even a guy in a rat’s costume that was entertaining the children, while probably teaching them at the same time. I have to say, even we felt a bit like playing pirates.

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Having visited so many museums, we felt it was about time to have a snack or a beer or even both. It so happened that on that day, the Dutch football team were facing Ecuador, on a friendly game due to both teams’ pre-season match program for the forthcoming world cup.  We hadn’t noticed at first, and regrettably we did not shoot any photos. The city looked like a huge orange party, everyone seemed cheerful, enjoying their bitterballen and beers, most people dressed in the country’s colors, a guy was even wearing an orange suit.

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After resting for a while we headed for Papeneiland cafe, established at 1642, situated  at the corner of Prinsengracht and the Brouwersgracht,.in Jordaan’s edge. A typical brown cafe, laid back atmosphere, Beer, snacks, Jenever, great time…

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So, after a couple of hours of walking around Jordaan’s streets, admiring the view of the canals and the colorful crowd parading through hemp museums, coffee shops, the girls behind the windows and numerous bicycles, we headed back to Dam square, had a quick bite at a Febo, had a couple of more beers and headed back to Naarden.

Day 2

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In the morning we happily enjoyed breakfast under the sun in the hotel’s garden. Then, we walked once again to the train station to reach Amsterdam, where after a short stroll on Dam square, we headed for our next destination, the dungeon.

Now, some may find this silly, but I think that this show was a great thing to see, especially if one is not accustomed to such sights. You get to be part of a show and learn a couple of historical facts (true or fictional) at the same time. An amusing experience in every aspect indeed. Our greeting gesture was an offer to have my head cut off by Catherine, who was acting as an executioner (luckily for me not as judge and jury as well) and document this on a photo. Afterwards, we joined our group and we were accompanied by our guide, who was an imposing figure dressed in 17th century outfit, who kept us locked in a cell for a while, shown us the torture chamber, where one of our party was acting as a tester of the torture instruments (poor lad…we never saw him again) and later we were introduced aboard the Batavia, a ship of the era, that suddenly began to sink, the anatomists lab reminded a bit of Rembrandt’s famous painting, and then the Spanish inquisitor looking a bit biased towards Catherine accused her of witchcraft.Well, I ‘ll be … I always thought of witches as old hags, pimple faced with huge noses, but that sweet thing? On the other hand, that’s the guy’s job, identifying witches. So, after a short trial, which offered some laughs,  Catherine was found guilty and burnt at the stake. And this blog about a couple’s travels is over. I am now free to create my own blog about  the secret life of pandas. Or not. After Catherine rejoined our party I was asked by another witch, who pronounced my name with a hissing sound, “SSSSpyrosssss“, to lead everyone through a mirror maze. Come on! How much effort did they have to make to pick Mr Disorientated out of everyone in there?

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Anyway, that was extremely funny, but took about a couple of hours and then we decided to visit Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum.  We foolishly walked all the way to the museum quarter, spending more time admiring the city, so, afterwards we had to skip on Anne Frank’s house, which was left for a late visit, due to its later closing time.

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Subsequently, we went to nearby Vondelpark, where we lied on the grass and enjoyed the sun and the crowd that just like us relished the chance to cherish life. After a while though, hunger stroke and we headed for a tasty African experience in the heart of Europe. Fenan Klein is a great way to experience Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine and the manager was extremely helpful.That was our first experience of African cuisine and we savored it by washing down our throats with banana and coconut flavored beers which we drank from coconut shells.

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Then we retraced our steps back to Vondelpark, where we lied on the grass once again and later back to the museum quarter, where the I amsterdam letters await visitors to climb on them and lastly, we found ourselves back to Dam square and an interchanging routine of walking and enjoying refreshments we were back to our hotel for some rest, in order to catch a train towards the lovely small town of Giethoorn in the morning. We slept serenely in the greatest and most pleasant bed we had ever laid on. Little did we know that our budget was about to suffer a terrible blow…

Check out our highlights of Amsterdam here

or continue reading here

Spending a couple of days in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is a city with much to see and do, so a few days are not sufficient to fully experience the city. However if you let yourself loose and enjoy it, the city has much to offer the average traveler. Although, having such a limited amount of time at your disposal, it would be wise to limit your sightseeing desires to the admiration of outside views of some buildings while regrettably, you must skip some of the sites and at the same time you might find out that you have overestimated your physical stamina or simply loose yourself sightseeing or enjoying some bitterballen and a cold glass of beer and run out of time.

On our trips we are trying to combine sightseeing with relaxation on popular spots, while we roam the cities’ streets mostly on foot and occasionally public transport. It’s a bit tiresome but it’s a good way to catch a glimpse of the couleur locale. When planning to visit lots of museums, it’s wise to buy a city card if available. On this occasion, we chose to use museumkaart. So here’s a list of suggestions on what to do based on our own choices, arranged after our own itinerary.

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Oude Keerk (The old church). This is the oldest building in Amsterdam situated in the red light district near the secret Catholic church. It is founded on an old cemetery and the surrounding area seems quite typical of the city, architectural monuments coexist with tourists and Amsterdam’s version of sex labor.

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Our Lord in the Attic (Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder). This 17th century house, built by a canal, houses a secret Catholic church on its top three floors. The inhabitants offered their house to serve the religious needs of those who could not express their faith in public at the time. Nowadays the building houses a fine museum that offers the visitor informative multilingual audio tour guides and a great experience of old Amsterdam (The city not the cheese).

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Dam square and the Royal palace. The city’s main square which you could say is its heart, since it is located on the same spot where a dam on the river Amstel was built, hence the city’s name. A WW2 monument is erected on the site, while beside the square are the Neuwe kerk (new church), the Madame Tussauds museum and the Royal palace. The palace, originally built as a town hall, dominates the plaza and it is a great place to visit and admire some great artwork.

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Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt’s house and workshop). A great place to visit and wander around the Dutch master’s house and retrace his footsteps in the place that was his residence for about two decades. Apart from the paintings and etchings, you can admire his personal collection of paintings and objects.

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Nemo. A science center and museum situated near the maritime museum. Five floors of activities that make science a fun way to learn and enjoy yourselves and a cafeteria that  enables great views of the city.

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The National Maritime museum and Amsterdam’s replica. Dedicated to Maritime History, the museum’s highlight is definitely the replica of this old Dutch East India Company’s cargo ship (left side of the photo). The original lies buried in the muddy shores of Hastings, but we guarantee that the experience of visiting this ship deserves the continuous neck bending to prevent your head hitting on the upper decks. We enjoyed the sunny day on a living museum and the happy faces around us.

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The Amsterdam Dungeon. A terrific way to be part of a show about the history of Amsterdam and have some fun. Check out our own experience of the show in this post.

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Museum square. As the name suggests this is a place where one can find some great museums surrounding it.  We only managed to visit Van Gogh museum and of course the Rijkmuseum, which are both a must see while in the city. We also wanted to visit Stedelijk museum of modern art, but time was not on our side. Rijksmuseum is awesome, the building itself is an architectural masterpiece which houses treasures such as Rembrandt’s Night watch and Asian artifacts. Van Gogh’s museum consists of the largest collection of the painter’s work, so if you are a fan of the artist like we are, you should definitely pay a visit and delve into his world.

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If his house and his paintings are not enough to fill your need of Rembrandt, you can head to the square that bears the painter’s name and walk among his famous night watch. Go on then! Be a part of the painting!

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Vondelpark is the largest park in the city and in close proximity to the museum square. Popular by locals and visitors alike, its a wonderful place to relax and take a break from city exploration, while sightseeing at the same time. Find a spot, lie on the grass and feel the city’s pulse. .

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Jordaan, is one of the most renown neighborhoods in Europe. Developed in the 17th century it was originally destined to house the working class of the rising vibrant Dutch economy of the time. It’s an area with many hidden gems, great cafes and art galleries and bars.

As stated earlier, two days is not sufficient time to experience everything the city has to offer. We decided to skip on the Heineken experience (Lord knows I’ve experienced enough Heineken in my life), but we wanted to visit Ann Frank’s house and regrettably we missed the chance to do so, big waiting lines are not helping either. No need to emphasize the importance of this sight and it’s a definite must on our next visit.

 

Our trip to Belgium and the Netherlands

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A mural on Amstel station

This trip was our first outing together, therefore it does have a special place in our hearts. Catherine was working in Belgium at the time while I was living in Greece and we had been apart for months, communicating mostly through skype. We would have about a mere week to enjoy together, so we started planning on where to spend those days. Many ideas came up, among them Paris, Germany, even London. Finally we decided to meet in Brussels and travel northward to Amsterdam, where we would stay for a couple of days and then we would visit the charming town of Giethoorn, until we would finally head back to Belgium for a short stay in Bruges.

My trip to Belgium was a bit tiring since I had to travel to Salonica to catch my flight.That meant I had to sit on an old bus for five hours, in order to catch a two hour flight.  I spent the evening in Salonica and next day I flew to Charleroi airport, where I boarded a shuttle to take the one hour trip to Brussels.  We finally met at Midi station and we were extremely happy to see each other after five long months apart. We were now ready to visit our first destination, Amsterdam.

In order to get to Amsterdam we booked bus tickets, there are many companies throughout Europe that offer good bargains for traveling between various countries. We chose this company and the trip took about three hours. As we were used to travel quite short distances in long time due to the condition of Greek roads and buses, we had a fun time journeying  to the Netherlands. Let alone the ticket price was ridiculously low (You can pre-book a fare and get a discount) compared to the Greek company’s fares .

Upon arrival at Amstel station we headed for Amsterdam Centraal, strolled around a bit and then off to our hotel, which was situated in Naarden – Bussum. We had foolishly delayed to book a hotel in Amsterdam, but at 20 minutes away by train, Naarden seemed like a very comfortable option and it proved an excellent choice. However, physical weariness was strongly demanding its toll and we had no choice but to pay the price and go to bed after wandering a bit aimlessly,  while in search of our hotel…

continued here