Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Slot Loevestein through the years

Last weekend was just perfect for a castle call. The reluctant Dutch sun shone and the weather was dry.

The Hollandse Waterlinie flows through here.

On our way to “Slot Loevestein” (Loevestein Castle), we got tangled a bit. We circled Zaltbommel Centrum twice, which I didn’t mind really as the place was quite pretty, but alas we couldn’t find the tourist information desk or at least a huge map of the vicinity. Thus, we re-traced our steps and reached the Golden Tulip Hotel who was nice enough to print the direction for us. The attendant told us that the castle is still a 15-minute drive away.

Lesson learned: Write down the directions and do not always trust your memory. The older you get, the more you forget.

Loevestein was built by the knight, Dirc Loef van Horne in 1360. The castle was originally called, “Het steen huis van Loef”, which means - The stone house of Loef, thus it came to be known, Loevestein.

In the Middle Ages and during the 80 years of war with Spain, Loevestein was used as a state prison by William of Orange. “Hugo de Groot” (Hugo the Great) born in Delft during the revolt, and the jurist responsible in laying down the foundation of international law, put this castle in the map during his 2 year exile in one of the towers. He managed to escape in 1621 when he hid inside a wooden book chest that was smuggled out of Loevestein Castle. He then fled to France.

This wooden book chest can be found in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

18th century soldiers - The old man with the shot gun did some trial shots when we were there. I liked the way the soldier in the 3rd foto posed sideways with his sword. And, they look quite funny though in the middle foto, ha-ha.

Slot Loevestein is also part of the “Hollandse Waterlinie”, both the old (late 1600s) and the new (early 1800s). The Hollandse Waterlinie is a military line of water defense with a series of forts that used to protect the country. This water line defense spans from Muiden in North Holland down to Werkendam in Brabant.

The castle is right in the middle of nowhere marshland. In order to get to this bastion, you must have your own private vehicle, or at least a bike, as there is no public transportation that services this area.

They were doing some re-enactment of historical importance of some sort.

The castle is guarded by a moat and the only way to get inside is through the wooden draw bridge... on the second foto you can see the kruittoren -- there is a video player here where you can watch the medieval Dutch movie called 'Floris'.

That is a massive red door (entry to the castle)! The key to this door is big as an axe (maybe a little axe).

More pretty views of the charming medieval citadel. Most Dutch castles are what I call SMC - Small to Medium sized Castles. I took these fotos from higher ground, actually from the dike.

Nowadays, the castle is used as a tourist attraction in the Brabant region, a museum and a multi-function point for children’s parties, weddings, concerts and special fairs.

I did not join the castle tour though - €6.50 fee for adults. When you are with someone who is overdosed with culture and history, you will learn to hoof it wisely.

If the weather cooperates next weekend, and I am in the mood, maybe we visit another castle. This time the Dutchman will have no choice but overindulge in his very own Dutch medieval civilization. So if you are into these enchanting strongholds of the past, do watch this space.

Slot Loevestein is situated in Poederoijen, Zaltbommel (in the south of the Netherlands), about 100 kilometers from Amsterdam.

Visit Period: March 2007
Destination: Poederoijen (Zaltbommel - Gelderland), The Netherlands

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Bratwurst and CeBIT in Hanover

Welcome to CeBIT 2007 in Hannover, Germany!

Well, I did not primarily went to Hannover to visit the world famous CeBIT 2007 trade show, but because I had a meeting with one of the big names in the IT industry there. Thus, no choice really.

CeBIT 2007 in Hannover, Germany, the biggest trade show exhibition in the world. This is only a little section of the HUGE exhibition area - this I believe is part of the communications exhibit halls.

This is the skywalk stretch from the CeBIT exhibition grounds moving towards the train station. I took this shoot on my way out.

The films were very badly taken, but I promise I will try to improvise my 1-minute filming skills next time.

It was also snowing, at least last Monday and I was so glad I had my hat with me to protect my just blow-dried hair. Quite strange when spring is right at the door. March though has always been a very tricky month. Last year, we were flooded with snow, in some areas knee-deep, for a whole week. To sum it up, anything can happen in March.

Bratwurst vendor - Would you trade your job with his? That is a real open charcoal grill oven he carries with him by the way. And I just love how the rainbow umbrella gives flavor to his get-up. It basically completed his whole Bratwurst vendor ensemble - very practical, ha-ha.

 Hannover Centrum 

At any rate, I didn’t expect CeBIT to be sooo damn huge. It’s like having 20 Jaarbeurs exhibition centers in Utrecht in one single exposition location. And I realized too that wearing high-heels was not a wise thing to do. Or at least, I could have made use of the free shuttle buses? But then again I am the too impatient type to wait for a bus.

SIGH. Fashion can indeed make women naive. Or stupid. At least I do not have to stand all day in my high-heels selling Bratwurst.

Travel Period: March 2007
Destination: Hanover (Lower Saxony), Germany

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Filmpjes: Dutch highway and Take-off

Our 2-year old Fuji camera has this 1-minute filming functionality. Obviously, as everyone might have known, I have discovered this a long time ago. As a matter of fact, Dutchman has been quite busy entertaining himself that we now have more than a hundred, no, make that two hundred 1-minute films of all sorts. But I am a lazy butt and have never uploaded them online. Today I was in the mood. Hallelujah, amen!

A2 highway, from Utrecht to IJsselstein, taken last weekend. Driving against the ray of light, thus film reception is not good enough.

More of A2 highway, from Utrecht to IJsselstein, taken last weekend.

The short trip to visit the 2 Dutch sisters and their families; they both live in IJsselstein down south from us. It’s just a few minutes away by car from Utrecht. If by bike, it’s approximately 30 minutes. 45 minutes to an hour if the wind is blowing hard against the direction you are cycling to.

And Dutchman brought these with him the other day from his recent trip:

Take-off at Southampton Airport, UK going to Guernsey Island. Airplane type: Havilland Canada DCH-8-400. The first film is actually quite cool - reason why I am posting this.

Dutchman travels from time to time to Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands for business, and one of his new found self entertainments, or shall I say, distractions, during take-off and landing is taking 1-minute films with our Fuji camera.

He has loads of these short films, usually airplane or airport related that he took during his business travels. When I have the time, I should upload them.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Het Slot Zeist

The synonym of “slot” is “kasteel”, which means castle. And, a castle is most often called a slot when it is a small one. In the Netherlands one can find many slots. During winter, most of these little castles are closed. Some though, the popular ones, are open on weekends, while a few are currently (shall I say, always?) under restoration. Come April, many of the castles in the country will be open for visitors.

Het Slot Zeist (The Castle Zeist) in Utrecht from a slanting angle showing its little bridge. Most castles in the Netherlands are protected by a surrounding body of water, which is called a moat. And if you look closely at the first foto, I was trying to get near to a duck!

Click the second foto with the -Het Slot Zeist. On the right side text is a summarized English version of its history. If you have good eyes, you can easily read it.

The Zeist Castle in my opinion is one of those not-so-romantic and not-so-fairytale-like castles in Holland. The structure and design is just very straightforward. The lines and patterns are less ornate, and there are almost no superfluities added to the whole show. With its very simplistic Dutch Classicism style, no one would expect that this historical building stood there since 1686, the year its restoration and construction was concluded.

The coat of arms of Willen Adriaan van Nassau van Odijk who commission this castle to be built in 1686... and the pretty row of lean trees along the walkpath of the castle leading towards the Centrum of Zeist.

And contrary to the not-so-romantic impression I have, the Zeist Castle is a popular location for weddings. I am more inclined to believe that the serene and dreamy ambience of its surroundings has something to do with the romantic appeal.

These old buildings (2 compounds adjacent to each other) are located near the grounds of the Zeist castle, they are religious home quarters built exclusively for priests and nuns. There was even a graveyard beside it. Dutchman argued that in our secular and hedonistic days, perhaps no more priests and nuns live there, but normal commoners. On the second foto, see mom and kid on the bike - very normal every day scene in Holland.

When you get out of the Zeist castle main gate and you walk a few meters further towards the Centrum, you will not miss this very pretty site, the old gemeentehuis (old municipal office) of Zeist. I have no idea though what they use this building now for since its definitely too small to hold government office there.

The 4 half-diamond window shutters artwork are traditionally Dutch design. You will see them all over the country. Most are represented in red and white colors. There are a few in blue and green with white, but rarely you will see a black and white combination such as the above.

We had coffee at the Figi Hotel across, and where we sat, the view was terrific. It gave us, well in particular me, the pleasure to enjoy the beautiful piece of art. I love great works of old art and architecture.

Spring is around the corner, so there will be more castle visits scheduled in the agenda.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Claiming frequent-flyer airmiles & cheap flights

Thanks to Dutchman’s KLM frequent flyer air miles, we are traveling to Asia for almost free! I am reserving my own frequent flyer air miles, and the Dutchman still has enough left, and hopefully we will be earning more this year for our next long-leg travels.

Thus, summer is already booked; we will be flying over to Singapore, Cebu and Manila respectively to spend our holidays.

What we have learned from this recent booking exercise is that one must book as early as January for the summer months travel to Asia. And I say this again - please book before March! I highly recommend this approach because when we started looking at flights 3 weeks ago, we were completely left scrambling with our keyboards in front of the computer screen trying to figure out available re-tour flights. For a flight that will happen in 6 months time, we could only find flights over twelve hundred euros each, business and first class flights, if not slightly after August. I mean, WTF – is everyone in Holland flying over to the Philippines? Even flights to Singapore too were full. Kortum, we got creative.

We thought of other options. Exiting on the first leg flight somewhere else in Asia and taking a cheap inter-Asian carrier flight either to Manila or Cebu. And indeed, we got lucky.

Firstly, when claiming air miles from the KLM frequent mileage program, bear in mind that the claim mileage system calculates not the value (price) of the seat of your choice destination, instead the system calculates the distance (miles). In this regard, one can book one-way flights to and fro and multiple destinations, which price-wise would be quite expensive, but with the air miles theory, it is only beneficial to you.

Secondly, Cebu Pacific Air was, and still is, having a 1–[insert local Asian currency here] promo! For Singapore and Philippine flights, they are offering very aggressive 1$SG and 1PHP price flights. You only pay the extras, i.e. tax, of the ticket.

So roughly, per person from Amsterdam to Asia (this goes to all countries in South East Asia, Japan and China) is calculated at 80,000 miles re-tour on economy level. This means for the 2 of us, we spent 160,000 miles on Dutchman’s KLM flying air miles. He still has enough left, which we will use together with my own saved air miles in the near future when visiting far-flung continents, i.e. Asia and Australasia. It’s really value for money as these places are quite expensive to fly to from Europe. I am eyeing Japan and Australia... but anyway, I won’t let the topic digress into that direction - we only paid a little fraction, i.e. tax, of our ticket.

From Amsterdam, we fly into Singapore direct, the first leg of our summer holiday. After staying for a couple of days, we will fly next to Cebu, where we will stay most of the bulk days of this summer holiday. We are thinking of going to another island somewhere in the Visayas region to enjoy some tropical paradise relaxation and beach life. Thereafter, we fly into Manila, our last destination of this holiday. From Manila we exit to Amsterdam direct.

You might want to know, KLM is the only European airline (after 2002) that flies direct from Europe to Manila (they do not fly to Cebu). All other European airlines have a stop-over somewhere in Europe, or Asia. Direct flight from Amsterdam to Manila is approximately 11-12 hours. Non-direct flights begin at 14 hours at least.

For the curious ones, on the Cebu Pacific Air flights, we paid €52 (€26 each) for two persons, one-way Singapore to Cebu, and €33 (€16.5 each) for two persons, one-way Cebu to Manila. The Cebu Pacific promo ran from 2 March to 8 March and good news is tadaah! --- they have extended the promo until Sunday, 11 March, but only for domestic flights as all international flights were sold out(!). Please take note that this is an early bookings flight promo and applicable Philippine domestic flights are only between June and December 2007.

This is really what the Philippines need in order to boost tourism in the country (and encourage travel-related cottage industries and give jobs to the locals especially in the provinces and islands where many tourists love to go). And although the flight schedules are not optimal for convenience, and they only fly to a few Asian destinations, the aggressive pricing is a good start to begin with.

On the subject of air miles, I was talking to a friend, and found out from her experience that some companies actually take the benefit from the air miles their employees spent on business travels (which you might say just right).

Some companies have official travel agents that control business travel bookings of its employees and all the air miles earned from the business travels goes back to the company. Of course, this can be translated to lots of €€€ in cost savings for the company.

However, I truly believe that only a fraction of companies are doing this. Even large multinationals do not have this quite advanced and restrictive business travel policy. Well, unless they get the idea and start implementing it, which will definitely hamper the employees’ freedom and flexibility to book their own business flights, and so much more.

I am pretty sure though that many companies are very much aware of this travel cost savings benefit but many just turn a blind eye to it because everyone who travels for work from top to bottom is personally benefiting from it.

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