Lauterbrunnen and Trümmelbach Falls

Visiting Bernard Oberland (also called Bernese Oberland) is a must do for anyone who comes to Switzerland.
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golden rail express

train ride

For a special treat we love to take the train (golden rail) through the mountain pass and into the little town of Interlocken Switzerland. Usually though we drive the short hour and are always spellbound by the views along the way.

brienz_

 It is easy to spend the day wandering the streets of Interlocken but from one of its two train stations you can get to many many enchanting villages in the surrounding area. Lauterbrunnen is arguably one of the most beautiful and often visited destination. Lauterbrunnen is situated in one of the most impressive trough valleys in the Alps, between gigantic rock faces and mountain peaks. With its 72 thundering waterfalls, secluded valleys, colourful alpine meadows, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in Switzerland. It is from here I recommend my visitors began discovering this region.

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When you arrive in Lauterbrunnen via train or car you will see Staubbach Falls. I have never been to the top of the falls but I think there is a way to do it? It is beautiful to see from the bottom too!do you see waterfall_

Lauterbrunnen is a tiny village and with only one main street it is hard to get lost. You follow the paved road and the marked signs to Trümmelbach Falls for a day inside a cave waterfall. Bring a picnic and stop along the way.

TIP: If it’s hot bring plenty of drinks.There are lots of tourist in the area but unlike disney land Switzerland does not capitalize on every money-making opportunity for concessions.

The walk through the valley is a long and constant jaw-dropping view of the worlds most beautiful alpine Valley, perhaps one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

swiss house 2

There are chalets dripping with geraniums at every turn.

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Barns and cows and every Swiss cliche can be found in this enchanting little valley.

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Along the way there are many mountain inns and even a cute campground. A friend of mine recommended it highly and it’s certainly a less expensive way to visit the region.

amanda in lauterbrunen3

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swiss grave yard

Be sure to stop at the grave yard and admire the swiss tradition of planting flower beds at the grave of ancestors (so much better than silk arrangements don’t you agree?).

amazing view!

Once at Trümmelbach Falls you will pay the entrance fee and make your way to the elevator up. Once you are lifted into the mountain you will still have plenty of stairs to climb so be prepared.

falls tryptic

spiral falls

It is the perfect attraction for a hot day because the glacier water pouring through the falls is icy cold and the whole cave like area feels like it has air-conditioning!

“Being at Trummelback Falls has been one my life’s best travel moments. Words cannot describe the excitement to experience being inside a mountain and seeing 20,000 liters of water falling down per second.- Chitra Agarwal”

Photos do not come close to the real experience- it makes you aware of your insignificance compared to the power of nature. Impossible to explain – you must visit yourself!

Highlights of Lauterbrunnen Valley:

  • Isenfluh – is one of the typical Swiss mountain villages and yet it is special. The access is via one of the few road loop tunnels and above the village the brows of Eiger, Mönch and Junfrau come into view.
  • Trümmelbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen: one of the wildest glacier ravines in Europe with the ten waterfalls of the Trümmelbach hidden amongst the rocks.
  • Staubbach Falls: on the edge of the village of Lauterbrunnen. The water plunges almost 300 metres from an overhanging cliff face. It was the inspiration for one of Goethe’s famous poems.
  • Schilthorn: on the trail of James Bond. Visitors to the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant at 2970 m can enjoy the view of 40 mountain peaks and 20 glaciers.
  • UNESCO world heritage themed trail in the depths of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the first themed trail in the Junggfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn world natural heritage site and devoted to waterfalls, alpine farming, power stations and mountain hotels.
  • Kleine Scheidegg : impressive view of the north face of the Eiger and the four-thousand- metre peaks of the Jungfrau and Mönch. Also the starting point of the rack railway to the Jungfraujoch.
  • Jungfraujoch (3454m): the Jungfrau railway has been plying its way through a 7-km-long tunnel to the ‘Top of Europe’, the ultimate excursion destination in the Bernese Oberland, since 1912

Paris- 5 Favorite Things

I just have to warn you now. I have just a few more things to say about Paris so I don’t forget.

1. Street entertainment

bagpipe player

We love the street entertainment in Paris. You can always find really good performers at Pompidou Museum.

street art

I thick they are actually organized and maybe licensed or something. There seems to be some organized rotation of acts…
not exactly an impromptu street performance… I digress.

mimeswide

Another great place to see free acts is the area around Notre Dame there is some renown gelato shops (We loved Berthillion and Pozzetto) in the neighborhood and this is a great spot to sit, and eat ice-cream.

 

musicians everywhere- played guitar behind his back

 On the Metro there are always someone playing music

one of the love lock bridges- just east of Notre Dame

gellato face dancing

 2. An hour sitting in the grass under the Eiffel Tower, reading and acting like locals!

eiffletower hour

So I am really proud of this one because we brought books in bag packs and then just found a lovely spot and sat in the sun and enjoyed an hour- A WHOLE HOUR of quite bliss. And there were tons of sales guys walking around trying to get people to buy little statues of the Eiffle tower. They circled and circled and asked EVERYONE EXCEPT US if we wanted to buy one. I am sure its because we looked like locals but if there was another reason than so-be-it, just remember if you want to avoid being hustled at the Eiffel Tower- than bring a bag of books and sit your little family in the grass and just read!

more boats

3. The boats at Luxembourg Garden- This is a no brainer, ever tourist and local in Paris comes here to watch people. I snapped a few shots of Street Fashion at the Park on the weekend.  The kids pushed boats around for a half hour and I snapped shots of what the french (& tourist) are wearing. The days of high fashion on the streets seem to be gone, but here are my top picks.

best women picks

1. I love the platform heels the wash on the jeans and mostly LOVE the layered necklaces and especially the tassel one!
2.The Bermudas, navy jacket with gold buttons, big navy bag and ballet flats.
3. A mix:  bad top half and a really cute bottom half- I love the long socks and the chunky ankle boots.
4. I thought the short sleeved puffer paired with jeans was really cute!

cute kids2

Love all the classic separates sans-cartoon characters. Love the colored sneakers.

cute kids1

1. Love ruffles. 2. Love horizontal blue stripes. 3. So chic!

french family

This lovely little french family was the epitome of classic french fashion! Navy leather shoes, and the barret! Oui!

man best dressed

 The men in Paris were routinely stylish. 1. Horizontal stripes are a french classic.
2. This cute old man had on a tan suit and an overcoat so its hard to see how perfect he wears french casual.
3. The trick seems to be the classic sport coat paired with just about anything.
4. The Navy sport coat is a staple in Paris.

love the hat

I captured this shot the next day at the market, I love his hat- and with feathers people! In Paris the men know how to accessorize!
I saw scarfs and hats and jackets and colored socks. I adore the sharply dressed old men.

orangerie 3

4. Guided Tour- So I really love guided tours. I love learning hundreds of years worth of history in the place were it happened. Versailles was great but I could have done 30 more hours of history in 4 days… my traveling companions may not have been so eager. Paris is full of interesting things to learn about, last time we were there I did a fantastic tour of the Lourve, and next time maybe I will have time for more.

formage

5. French Markets- The french just know their market culture. Everything about their markets scream ambiance.

fish

 We have a thing for fish at the markets, there are such fresh and beautiful varieties. I’ve never seen langoustines for sale in America they are delicious! Specked flounder, squid, sardines, snapper, octopus everything fresh from the ocean.

meat

 The charcuterie is delish, the meat all tied up beautifully makes me want to cook, the roasting meats made me want to eat and the pig tails and pig feet made me want to snap photos that prove every bit of the pig aint just for rednecks in south Alabama.

beautiful eggplant

produce

6. Food- gelato, pastries, fish tocos and great big burgers- the food in Paris is Delicious! Try to avoid places that have menus in book format with laminated pages (like Dennys or IHOP) and if they offer the menu in 3 or 4 languages thats a dead giveaway to try and find something… more intimate, more local. Look for chalkboard menus, recommended restaurants and big crowds of french people reading french papers and talking in french- those are probably good places to eat.

bread

pastry art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardens of Versailles 101

family photo caos1This is a little glimpse into the reality of traveling with kids. Most of the time it looks like this, which is fine and can even be fun if you are outside in a 2000 acre garden. Versailles was a good way to kill a day in Paris. Especially with beautiful weather touring the palace was not a temptation. Even if you do not know all the history or hire a guild to walk around and teach you about Versailles, anyone can enjoy wandering around, renting little row boats, or having lunch at a cafe in the gardens (which are surprisingly good and priced very average). Visiting the gardens are free, so just visit and enjoy it. Heres the main things to know about the gardens of Versailles:

luis 13 statue at versailles

 Louis XIV/ Sun King

Since we had a guilded tour of Versaille I am now an expert. The statue just above is at the entrance before the golden gates. This dude is Louis the fourteenth. He inherited the thrown at the ripe ole age of FIVE and lived a long time~ 77 years. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history. He is the man responsible for the lavish palace and gardens of Versailles, the perfume industry in France and perhaps the beginning of the economic recession the eventually led to the French Revolution, quite a legacy. The most interesting thing I know about him is that he had only a handful of baths in his entire life, which probably explains the popularity of perfume.

9 million dollar reproduction fence

At Versaille everything that glitters IS REAL GOLD. There is gold leaf on the entrance gates and embellishing the central palace. This kind of lavish spending became a bit of a problem for starving peasants. During the French Revolution the people tore down the gates (probably cashed in some gold) and for many years there were no gates at all. About 10 years ago France approved construction for replica gates that cost about 8 million dollars! France brings in more money in tourism than any other country in the world so pouring some of it back into popular attractions is a good idea.

all the gold is real gold leaf

dragon fountain 2

dragon fountain 1

apollo rising fountain

Water Problems / fountains that are never on

Louis the 13th fancied him self the sun god apollo and so there are many beautiful sculptures sitting in pools of water. People say they are fountains depicting mythological scenes, especially showcasing the god Apollo. We never witnessed a single fountain turned on because they only turn them on a few times a week and I think you pay extra to see that, or click here to get the idea. At the time they were built the whole plumbing system what quite an engineering marvel, but even back then they never had enough water to activate them all at the same time. And the same pipes and infrastructure is still in place today.

this is what its like trying to do paris with kids

trees all in rows

French Garden Design/ Formal and Ordered

Versailles is full of great examples of classic French garden design. Formal, symmetrical, nature conforming to man.
winter fountain

summer fountain family

orangerie 1

The Orangerie is my favorite part of the garden.

I love the patterned lawns but also I imagine when the citrus trees are blooming the walk through the garden must smell so sweet!

 

orangerie 4

By the end of the day this is how we all felt.

this is how sophia felt at the end

part of versailes with arch
arch of versailles modern_classic

TIP: Snacking my kids through a long hike or a long day of walking and listening is my best strategy. Sometimes I bring chewy candy that keeps their mouths busy but I also make an effort to pack healthy snacks like nuts and squeeze fruit. These applesauces had funny faces that kept the kids amused for days, but I like them because they are portable and easy to pack.

axel and squeezy fruit faces

Heres a little video about our day at Versailles.

Holiday in Paris for 600 bucks

family at eiffleWe just spent a 4 days in Paris (not long enough) and did it for about *450 Euro! We had a few days off work and school and thought that it would be a nice time of year to go to the Gardens of Versailles, Jardin des Plantes and the Eiffel Tower- believing that we would beat the crowds. And just in case you did not know- Paris is ALWAYS crowded. The Eiffel tower ALWAYS has really long lines!

There is nothing that I can tell you about visiting Paris, or visiting Paris with kids that has not already been written in a million places on the internet. But, I wanted to share some budget tips for how we managed a 4 day holiday to Paris for a family of 4 on less than 650 bucks! Even a cheap hotel in Paris will likely run you 200 bucks per night (probably more). We were not intentionally trying to stay with in a certain budget so If you wanted to spend less, I am sure it is possible. I will share what we did, and how we did not feel deprived or like we skimped.

  • We did not eat in the best bistros – which I was a little sad about- but, to be honest, most of them do not start dinner service until 7:30 and this old lady hates to eat that late. Plus with two tired kiddos in tow, it just wouldn’t be a fun experience.
  • We also didn’t go inside many of the museums($) because this time of year we wanted to visit the (free) gardens and enjoy the beautiful weather.
  • We drove to Paris rather than flying or taking the train- this saves a lot of money and if you live across the atlantic your going to have a tough time with that one. Here is the breakdown on what we spent and where we spent it.

Total transportation to/from cost: about $204

First advantage was that we can drive. It was about 7 hours (4 hours too long) but we plowed through and saved $$$ on the train or flight. France will squeeze you for some expensive tolls but hey- somebody has to pay for the highways and it might as well be the people who use them. In the states we spend a lot of time complaining about gas prices, mostly because we have never made a decent public transportation system a priority, (yes I am on my soapbox) but the price of gas in Europe would have my dad throwing up. That’s why we bought a diesel car, and consequently we made it to Paris and back to Switzerland on two tanks of gas (still pricey but…).

Total accomidation cost: $0

So ya’ll have heard me sing this song before but accommodations are one of the most expensive cost of travel. We did another great home exchange and we were so lucky to be able to stay in Paris for free, but also to have the insiders tips on the neiborhood, on transportation, restaurants and kid friendly activities. If you live in New York City and want to swap for ANYWHERE you will not have a problem. If you live in Florida, you can almost always swap for Europe and will not have a problem. If you live in California you have a great chance of organizing a swap for Europe. If you have a home near the beach or a city of interest, you should be able to find a good exchange, especially if you are willing to “sell” you hometown and help your partner organize flights, and places of interest. Unfortunately many Europeans only know about Florida, California, and New York City, we probably have Holly Wood to thank for that.

We stayed in the 13th arrondissement which was not in-and-of-itself architecturally beautiful or rich with landmarks, but we could easily hop on the bus or metro and get anywhere. And we were still close to many of the places we wanted to go in the 14th, and the 5th, and 3rd arrondissement. In general Paris transportation system is excellent and it was easy to get around no matter where we were.

gellato face

pastries are no joke

Total food cost: $ 251

SO the food is a good reason to go to Paris. Honestly 4 days is just not enough time to even begin a sample of what Paris has to offer. We certainly did not eat enough! We ate out at a good Viet-Thia restaurant that was close to the flat where we stayed for our first meal and we followed Anthony Bordains recommendation for Mexican at California Cantina ~ some good fish tacos and carnitas! And y’all maybe asking why you’d go to Paris and eat mexican but we just can’t get good Mexican in Switzerland so we jumped on the chance to eat it in Paris. And that’s the thing about Paris, and other big cities, you can get great ethnic food from all over the world. We managed to visit 2 of Paris’s top rated Gelaterias, and they did not disappoint! We bought groceries and made visits to the boulangerie across the street for fresh croissants in the morning. While browsing the market for fun we would pick up lunch and ate really well, and inexpensively compared to sitting down at a restaurant. Of course I know that there are some to-dye-for french restaurants that I am sure would have been a luxury worth enjoying, but for this trip were were just trying to give the kids a taste of paris- and fancy restaurants were not in order. It didn’t feel like we were trying to budget but, when you are traveling with kids, the idea of sitting in fancy french Bistros with tired whiney children waiting for-ever for escargot, just does not hold the same appeal as it once did when there were just the two of us.  Consequently we ate dinner at home at night and fell into bed exhausted. And fortuitously, it saved us some money.

kids and mom at orangerie

Total admission and entertainment cost: $90

One of the smartest thing we did was a guilded tour of the Gardens of Versailles. The kids were free but adults were $81 which included train fare to the Palace. The tour guild did an awesome job of giving us History and explaining the monuments and fountains and information about the French Aristocracy and their downfall during the Revolution. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip.
A favorite for the kids was boat rental at Luxembourg Gardens. For $4 you can rent a little sailboat that floats from one side of the fountain to the other with the help of long sticks the kids use to give them a push in the opposite direction. The sun was shinning until about 10:30 at night so even though we were at the gardens in the evening 6:00-7:00 ish, there were still people everywhere relaxing in the sun.

coco and boat

Parking: $20

Thanks for your Homeexchange.com host we were able to get the “locals” deal on parking at an extra space in a neighboring building for the length of our stay.

metro rides

Public transportation for the entire trip:$ 36

We used the buses and metro and as I mentioned above we were able to easily navigate the whole city. The metro and bus tickets are reasonably priced, but if we had figured it out sooner we might have saved a little money of 3 day passes. 4 days for $36 in Paris aint bad.

*Technically we left on a Wednesday evening and spent the night in a glorified family hostel for $46 about an hour from Paris. I did not count it in the numbers above because we only did that to get a head start and could have done the trip for the same amount with a well coordinated home exchange. In our case we were lucky to find someone to do a non-simultaneous exchange on such short notice and they were not leaving until Thursday- plus arriving before they left gave us time to meet them and chat and get loads of great tips- instead of just leaving keys behind. The people you meet is my favorite part of Home Exchanging!

Dear Switzerland, what is it with playground rules?! (rant)

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I have received 3 pages of new/reminder rules for the neighborhood playground this week. Most people who live here probably read german and with in a minute or two can absorb the info and share it with their family, and implement what ever new and unusual procedures are being required this season. But not me, I don’t speak good enough german for this. I can tell you where I purchase my apples and what time I have german classes but I have no idea what most of the words on these papers are saying. However I get the gist, be quite, don’t play, clean up, etc. Doesn’t this just seem completely contrary to playgrounds? Shouldn’t we just LET THEM PLAY?! I mean if they are to be quite-and-still at school, and quite-and-still inside these little tiny apartments, and certainly quite-and-still in the hallways and laundry rooms and anywhere else “inside”, shouldn’t they just go outside and PLAY!?? REALLY! I know you have anal tendencies here, it is like DNA that has been passed on for generations, but really, do we have to have sooooo many playground rules? What if we let the kids just PLAY?! What if they got to wiggle and jump and run and draw with chalk and squirt water and dig in the dirt and do summersaults and pick the wildflowers and climb up the slide the wrong way and heaven freakin forbid jump on the trampoline in the rain (the horror!). Or even more import and how about we let them jump on the trampoline when they are actually home- at lunch- on break from school- the place they are supposed to be quite and still? Instead you dear Switzerland forbid them to make noise at lunch- really? Is that why your children are walking around with pacifiers till they are 5? Is it because they have to be quite every freak-in where, every freak-in day? Heaven Help me already- I have been trying to hold this in for a whole year! And by the way check out this TEDEX talk… it can apply to you too. Hello Pilatus, maybe trust you employees a little more to just get the work done and still be able to get on the internet outside of the timed lunch hour (seriously? they are grown professionals) and if you really have people abusing your trust- fire them.

Windmills and Friday Links

windmills

No week of posting about Amsterdam would be complete with out a few Windmill photos.

windmills_1

Even the modern ones are beautiful to me.

lots of modern windmils too

I can’t wait to carve out a week or 2 one summer for a relaxing trip to the Netherlands, because doesn’t this place just scream.. SLOW DOWN!?

This weekend we will do some long walks, and bikerides which is really one of my favorite things to do on the weekend, especially after a long busy week : Axel spranged his wrist and is almost helpless, Sparticus was in Germany for a aviation conference, everyone is suffering from a little hay fever and, well, we are all worn out from sunny days in the sandbox, & playground. We are still on the hunt for a different flat with no luck, but since we are traveling and outside playing so often lately I’m not obsessing about it as often. Fathers day is coming up and of course schools almost out in the states and we are counting down the last 4 weeks of school before we hop on a flight stateside for the summer. Here are a few inspired links to check out over the weekend:

  1. Heres a project I can relate to.
  2. These kids and their story made me cry.
  3. Here is a list of cute (except for the tie, its ugly, don’t make goofy ties) homemade Fathers Day gift ideas.
  4. Sorry, another list but look at the last one- I think we are so doing this!
  5. Here is a new-ish Ted talk about parenting anxiety- have you watched it? It might make you feel a little better.

 

 

Keukenhof and Noordwijk~ Among Europe’s Must do Attractions


flower sign

I love visiting Botanical Gardens. I have been luck enough to live near several really impressive ones over the years – Long wood gardensbelingrath gardens, Missouri Botanical Gardens and loved to visit especially when the tulips bloom and the cherry blossoms blow good luck though the air.

petals fall under cherry trees

petals fall under cherry trees2

under the cherry tree

The world famous Keukenhof doesn’t try and be the biggest, it doesn’t have to advertise much, it is just the mother of all tulip gardens. Its only open for about 7 weeks, from the end of march through the end of may. People, buses and trains full of people, descend upon the tiny farming village for 7 weeks a year. The tourist invade the tulip fields (of course we did) for photos and the Keukenhof welcomes them with the efficiency and precision of a swiss watch. From parking to ticketing to feeding the massive amounts of guest, you’d never know that this is just a temporary-seasonal operation.

flowers everywhere2

The question of the day was “where to start?”.

big landscapes

Kuekenhoff is world famous and must be geographically located in the absolute perfect spot on earth where bulbs thrive because they are not only abundant but perfect. I didn’t see a wilted, drooping, scorched, or dead bulb in sight.

beautiful dark purple mascari too

beautiful coco

gardens

There were simply acres and acres of color (mixed with a whole lot of tourist).

flowers everywhere

Even with the massive numbers of people around I never felt crowded, Its like a huge park with room enough for everyone and their cameras.

flower petals in canal

flower petals floating in canal

We studied the weather for days and picked the afternoon with the most sunshine to visit, it was lovely.

rows and rows

montage flowers

The kids got to pet baby animals.

coco and lambs

petting zoo

roosters

I got to talk to a peacock.

peacock2

What tulip garden in Holland would be complete with out a windmill? Not this one.

complete with windmill

color

There was a playground just in case you needed a break from sitting and looking at flowers.

playground

playground 2

There was also a shrub maze that fascinated Axel but it wasn’t blooming so I didn’t take any photos of it. The GIANT cotton candy however was very impressive. I use the kids begging as an excuse to buy it and “share” with me. So pretty much the Keukenhof thought of everything.

giant candfloss

a little bit heavenly

Oh and there were swans, and fountains and ponds too.

swan too_

fountains

beautiful whites

beds of color

plantings between rocks

almost as big as her head

The tulips are almost as big as Coco’s head!

hydreangea macrophylla

Some of the hydrangeas were much bigger than her head.

hydreangea dress coco

river of mascari

And when Keukenhof closed at 7 pm we decided to stop a million times to try and photograph the unbelievable fields, miles and miles of fields packed with rows of colorful flowers.

mom and me and the tulips

rows and rows!

tuplip fields at 7-00pm

tuplip fields at 7-00pm 2

coco in field of red2

And I couldn’t resist jumping out of the car time after time to stand in the middle of all those flowers and snap a few shots of my baby girl- who of course wanted to pick them for her teachers, and for her friends, and the neighbor, and the bus driver, and the nice people at the grocery store, and, and, and. 
coco in field of red3We drove until the road ended at the Atlantic ocean in a town called Noordwijk and what we saw made me cry a little.

beach path

It was beautiful wide sandy beaches.

so happy to see the sea

sparticus at sea2

beautiful beach boy

It looked like it could have been Florida, or South Carolina, it was the most familiar looking place I had seen all year.

coco running from sea

And we ran through the warm-ish sand with bare feet for an hour until dark. And we loved it, and we had missed it. And we sent silent wishes across the big Atlantic Ocean to our loved ones on the other side.

running to camera

And it was a perfect day. Amen.

me at beach

Amsterdam Flower Market & Canal Tour

flower market cut flowers-forget me not_1
A visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market is worth your time especially if you are looking to purchase any variety of bulbs for your garden back home or if you are interested in Canibis starter kits.

pot kits

pot seeds

canabis lolipops

Of course the kids wanted lollipops the minute they spotted them… only 5 Euros for 6!

 The market host vendors of cut flowers, stunning mixed bouquets and 100′s of varieties to buy and mix-match yourself.

flower market bouquet

flower market cut flowers

But the bulk of the market is dedicated to Holland’s bulb business and while tulips are certainly the most famous I think the Amarylis stole the show. The size of these bulbs were impressive- I once purchased a giant double white amaryllis from a specialty “boutique” grower I lived near. It was beautiful. I remember the bulb seemed bigger than any of the discount kits (that include pots and soil) you can purchase at christmas time. This bulb was expensive- may 20 bucks?! These bulbs make that one look like a wee-baby-amyrilis bulb. In the photo below I set a 2 euro cent on the bulb to give it some perspective (its a little larger than a quarter) I know its hard to get an idea about how big these suckers are but trust me. AND the price…. 4.50! maybe 25% the cost I paid for the wee-one.

giant amarylis bulbs

incredible bulbs and incredible prices!

Giant Alliums are impactful but also expensive… not at the flower market- you can buy 3 for 5 Euro, normally you could order these 3 for 25-30$. A good price for 100 mixed quality bulbs would be at least 30$ in Amsterdam… less than 7.00 Euro! Oh how I wish I had a garden.

flower market 2

venus fly trapThe only souvenir we brought home is Axels new pet, a venus flytrap. It is growing in the window ledge and has 5 leaves now. It might just come in handy during the summer because we have no screen and no air-conditioning and the house flys are abundant (thanks to the cow manuer being sprayed all over the fields).

canal tour at train station

Next stop was the canal tour which is touted to be a must-do whilst visiting Amsterdam.

canal boat2

There are lots of different tour operators but the prices seemed to be consistent.

_axel is a beautful child3

Axel could almost reach up and steer the boat from his seat in front.

canal boat

We boarded a full boat and chose a seat up front- unfortunately the trick is (TIP) make sure you get a seat that the windows open up for good photo opportunities- sadly ours did not. I spent the whole tour trying to shoot photos over the guy behind me’s shoulder and he was not overly cooperative. All in all the tour leaves room for improvement, the recorded “guild” was hard to hear and its always tricky trying to time a tour with a recording. It’s a super touristy attraction and a nice chance to rest and see some beautiful examples of the typical architecture. 

love high contrast

I love high contrast trim and Amsterdam did not disappoint.

love high contrast and unique architecture

hooks on houses for moving in

Notice the big hooks on the tops of the buildings, these are used to hoist furniture up to the windows instead of trying to bring it up through narrow staircases. They are on all the houses in Amsterdam but also often seen in many larger European cities with narrow multistory houses. 

LOVE!!! archetecture for canal house_1I loved this row of houses, from the uber-traditional to the more modern designs, all playing together nicely side by side. And speaking of modern, along the harbor amsterdam’s new EYE is a architectural landmark, inside is a large cinema and eateries.

amsterdam eye_ cool architecture

amsterdam architectureHotels and Condo’s along the harbor are also home to great examples of big modern statement to the cities progressive ideals.

advertising on your houseboat helps pay rent

The most fascinating part of the canal tour was the house boats docked one after the other along the canals. There are a limited number of “slips” and none to be added so if you want to live on a houseboat in the city you practically have to wait for someone to die. I loved how some of the boats used there prime tourist real-estate to sell advertising space… we did not visit the cheese museum, it somehow felt wrong, disloyal to our host country Switzerland. But I could really see my self living in the Netherlands… at least April- October. 

Marken Island & Tiny Fishing Villages/Neighborhoods North of Amsterdam

more houses and street signs

hanging laundry pennants

Marken Island Is a small island (now connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway) just about 20 minutes drive north west of Amsterdam. It is easy to find on a map and can also be reached several times daily by tourist boats as it is a popular destination for tourist seeking a representation of traditional dutch architecture and lifestyle. For some time during the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Marken and its inhabitants were the focus of considerable attention by folklorist, ethnographers and physical anthropologist, who regarded the small fishing town as a relic of the traditional native culture that was destined to disappear as the modernization of the Netherlands gained pace. Today the town reluctantly welcomes many visitors daily who walk or bike through the island to see the old lighthouse, visit the wooden shoe factory/museum, and eat at one of the quaint restraints by the marina.

wooden shoe shop

Notice the old dead tree covered in carved wooden shoes to the right of the bridge. It was a little creepy.

 cute use of wooden shoes

wooden shoe shop with museumleft: shoe museum display center: Coco sporting souvenir painted wooden shoes right: impressively ornate carved wedding shoes

harbor_1

pastoral landscape with sheep

Pastoral European backdrops that once provided inspiration for Dutch landscape artist are at every turn.

baba black sheep

painted grout, details!!!

The painted details on individual houses are what separate one from another, while otherwise very uniform in style and color palette. I love the shutters and the white grout striping and the fence post tipped in white!

marken is drawbridge cananls montage

A traditional dutch style lunch of fish and chips called Kibbeling, tomato soup, (real) dutch apple pie and lemon aid was served at a cafe dockside. While waiting for the food I snapped a few shots of the family, the lighting was pouring into the window just perfectly.

daddys girl

kids and I

hot tomatoe soup2_1

hanging laundry

 

houses with matching outbuildings

We wandered around snapping photo after photo of the beautifully painted wooden houses with sharply contrasting white trim. Some where striped with white and green and others a solid shade of dark green or grey. The architectural review board must be very rigid but I admit that the uniformity adds to the charm. And the grassy yards dotted with shaggy little sheep, color pennant flays hanging across canals and alleys, beautiful tiny little fences doted with colorful flower-boxes, laundry drying in the breeze and children in waistcoats running through the brick streets make this village a peaceful postcard-perfect afternoon destination for long walks along the sea.

why white stripes_ beautiful but work!!!

darling houses- imagine constand painting

flower boxes on fence

beautiful sailboats

gables and harbor

long prominade lined with wildflowers

coco & dad

boys dressed in waistcoats_

For second-dessert we ate poffertjes- mini little dutch pancakes cooked in a hot iron mold and served up by a nice dutch couple in traditional outfits.

mini pancakes

mini pancakes_1

Outside of Marken Island there were example after example of lovely little cottages with traditional dutch details. In Switzerland we have beautiful old dark wood chalets and a multitude or rather sterile modern multifamily housing. I was daydreaming of a dutch cottage for days: painted shutters and little animals dotting the front yard, chicken houses that match the rambling little fairy tail cottages they are built next to, painted birds over windows and doorways, lace curtains and heart shaped wreaths, gates and fencepost and dutch doors and flower boxes and intricately carved gabel trimmings held my fascination as we drove and drove through charming little hamlets.

little houses with ornamental gabels

decorated gables

charming cottages

esparalles trees

Someday I am going to train espalier (a technique to train any type of plants to grow flat against a wall or fence) trees to line the sidewalks in front of my cottage too.

a few entrance details

painted details

little houses with paver streets2

I love the brick roads and sidewalks that seemed to line all of Amsterdam and its surrounding area.

duch gable design on facade with hiped roof_

Check out the traditional dutch gable detail that exist as a sort of dormer facade- breaking up the boring hipped rooflines.

houses with cute shutters and chickens in yard

farm animals in the yard2

look at all the decorative painting, colors, texturesI should have driven back to this property and taken proper photos, but just look at the painted trims and shutter details!

fairy tale house with little outbuildings

This photo absolutely does this little fairytale cottage in justice. The rambling assorted outbuilding and house additions were all matching down to the dog house and chicken coup. What might have looked like a hot mess is totally darling!

solo 2

I could have stayed here into the last warm days of autumn content to take photographs and long walks, paint like the old dutch masters and maybe even learn to shear sheep… but as you know that will have to wait for another season in life. In the mean time I think meeting up with a couple of girlfriends to properly explore the seaside and put a dent into the shopping opportunities that Amsterdam offers is going to have to be a priority next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Home Exchange in Amsterdam & What the Other European Cities Can Learn from the Dutch.


one of my FAVES!!!

i am amsterdam sign pose2

Hello friends! If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you may have seen a few photos from our recent trip to Amsterdam, which was for me, the highlight of spring break and one of my “Worlds Best Cities”.

typical bikes and canals

We had planned to dive the Red Sea in Egypt back when winters grip was draining all the life from me. Imagining hot weather and sunny beaches gave me something to look forward to as we pressed on through those long dark winter days Jan.-Feb. that really haunt me. And then when (in comparison to last year) we started having a really lovely spring with flowers blooming by March I began to dream about cramming in a visit to the Netherlands to see the tulip fields (which has long been on my life-list). So with little encouragement from a friend who raved about Amsterdam being one of her families favorite destinations, I frantically searched for a home exchange who would be willing to drive about 9 hours to swap for a less than a week. I was not terribly hopeful since my experience with many Europeans is that they plan holidays a year in advance and they like to stay somewhere for 2 weeks at a time.

We visited the beach at Noordwijk (near-ish to Kuekenhoff, we haven't seen the beautiful Atlantic Ocean since leaving Charleston. This was an unforgettable hour well spent!

We visited the beach at Noordwijk (near-ish to Kuekenhoff, we haven’t seen the beautiful Atlantic Ocean since leaving Charleston). This was an unforgettable hour well spent!

Thankfully we found Willemiek and Bram who must be like-minded last minute vacation planners and fellow creative spirits. I was delighted to meet their family when they arrived a few hours before our scheduled departure to exchange keys and tips. Willemiek works as a renown Documentary Film Maker in Amsterdam (check out this trailer) and Bram is the Theater Creative Director. They were both friendly and excellent English speakers, whom with out HomeExchange experiences, we would never have the opportunity to meet.

exchange partners

exchange partners enjoying Switzerland

Our children were of similar ages which is really helpful because the toys on both ends of the exchange were age, interest and gender appropriate when we needed the kids to play for a while when planning the next adventure or searching for the next good eats. The tips on public transportation helped us to have a smooth and stress free experience. I should also add that Amsterdam is well organized, signs are easy to identify and understand, and the people are sooo nice and friendly, which makes asking for directions a great excuse to chat with the locals. Their flat was a perfect spot to discover the city as well as some really quaint and easily accessible small fishing villages to the north of the city. One of the other perks to home exchanges is that it forces you to give your home a thourough scrub down before you leave. Yes that means that for days you are packing and cleaning, but doesn’t everyone prefer to arrive home to a clean and organized home?!

Here are a few things that the big cities around the world can learn from Amsterdam:

  • Amsterdam is the perfect mix of old and new. They implement modern transportation (kids loved the trams) and efficiency (and some architecture) seamlessly with quaint historical architecture and landmarks.
kids love trams

kids love trams

  • I was impressed with how well they accommodate mass tourism- better than any city I have ever seen. The main train station is easy to find and a hub for purchasing tickets to anywhere (the airport and the Keukenhof for example) but also to anything (like canal boat rides and prepaid museum passes).
  • I found that pricing to attractions was very standardized- there were some ways to save but I did not find different pricing at the train station than was offered down the street or across town. Getting ripped off was not a big concern- how refreshing!
canal boat tours & central train station

canal boat tours & central train station

  • In large public squares we spotted mobile phone charging station that allow all kinds of phones to plug in and charge up for free.
cell phone power pole

mobile phone power pole

  • We planned to visited the Van Gough early in the trip but arrived at the ticket office (a short distance from the museum ) and were advised that the lines for general admission were long (like as in hours and hours of standing and waiting for people to come out ~reminiscent of a JCrew sample sale). The sales agent informed us that the timed advance tickets for the day and the following day were sold out.  The idea of trying to wait in line with young children to enter a museum and stay for maybe an hours worth of attention-span was just not going to happen for us. We re-organized our itinerary and purchased an advanced TIMED tickets (please do this if you want to visit the art museums in the area) for later in the week. (Milan-could you take some notes? I know you have really popular museums (we waited in the really long lines) but maybe the Nederlanders can teach you how to more efficiently move people around, after all if they aren’t waiting in line, they are out spending money somewhere else in your city- I can testify to that!)
this is the only photo we were allowed to take in the Van Gough museum- its a photo of "Sunflowers" which was out on loan to another museum. So we have recorded proof of the only painting there that we did NOT see- haha.

This is the only photo we were allowed to take in the Van Gough museum- its a print decal of “Sunflowers” which was out on loan to another museum. So we have recorded proof of the only painting there that we did NOT see- haha.

  • I admit I am partial to English, and thank heavens I learned it growing up because I have discovered that learning a new language just aint easy from this old brain. Amsterdam is incredibly English friendly. In highly touristic areas (like the train station and canal boat trips) the employees do not even speak Dutch at all, everyone is spoken to in English. It seemed to me that all signage was in Dutch and English. It also seemed that everyone, was speaking english- boat captains, bus drivers, ticket operators, waitresses, random friendly person in restraint, grocery store cashier, etc. It seemed that there were 100 English book stores near the flower market where we  took and hour to stroll around the shops. For foreign travelers – English signage, brochures and speakers are ideal. Its not about being less nationalistic or patriotic, its about giving the guest and easy and enjoyable experience- this allows them to happily empty their bank accounts in your country.

cute shops

  • For the Keukenhof I was really impressed how well organized they direct 1000′s of tourist a day. The gardens are only open for a few months every year and are a famous destination world wide. The traffic to this rural village out side the city is reduced by well planned and thought out public transportation routes that offer comfortable and easy travel from Amsterdam city center. In addition to the inexpensive public travel incentive they still do a great job of managing traffic and parking for those (like us) who prefer to drive ourselves. I saw lots of management parking cars and constantly filling spaces that had been earlier vacated. We were there during their busiest weekend of the year and we did not wait in long lines of traffic, nor did we have to take trams from satellite parking lots. We did not wait in long lines for tickets and concessions. A visit to the Keukenhof is worth the trip to Amsterdam all by itself.

gardens

I have so many photos from our trip that this will be Amsterdam week all week long. If you are dreaming about a European destination but maybe you weren’t considering Amsterdam- rethink your itinerary. Maybe all you know about Amsterdam is the red-light district and the legal drug scene? After reading this weeks post I hope you will realize how much this small country has to offer! I expected to accidentally run across “seedy” areas (like when you are strolling through the french quarter in New Orleans) but I never even accidentally happened upon the red-light district. Everything we encountered was charming, clean, delicious and friendly! (Yes I will probably go-on-and-on like this all week).