Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kasteel Groeneveld: a hidden gem for walkers, hikers, bikers, et al

We had a rain check on our Friesland trip and since I was not in the mood to go all the way to Hattem for the Dikke Tine festival, I consulted my Dutch travel booklets; 2 of which I personally bought, 1 given to me by the Dutch sister. It’s been a while since we walked in the forest or in the plain fields, so I searched for a nice place nearby where a good combination of tea, a nature park and walking routes are abundant.

So half an hour later we arrived in Eemnes, a very pleasant village with horses grazing on the wide open fields and traditional horse carriages galloping the narrow cobbled streets lined with trees. We searched for the Tea House that was recommended on my travel booklet but helaas we couldn’t find it. I vaguely remember now but it did say that the place is not easy to find with a GPS as it is adequately hidden from the road, and with a grumbling Dutchman beside me, this surely is not a great combination. OK, as time was running out and we so desperately want our bums to get moving, we gave up looking for the Tea House, but I promised to go there another time.

With my Nokia Navigator GPS, we searched for alternative “attractions” in the area and one of the suggestions that came up was Kasteel Groeneveld which is just 3 kilometers away. Great, pronto, we will go there!

Kasteel Groeneveld was built in 1710 as a summer house. Amsterdammers who became rich by trading in Asia (Golden Age, colonial period, VOC, spices et al) bought land in Utrecht and in 't Gooi area to build their summer houses, away from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam.

The Ministy of Environment, Food and Agriculture now owns the whole estate. The castle is open to the public for a fee, exhibitions and many other types of events are held here too, there is a museum and a Grand Cafe in the basement.

Dutchman and I didn't know that Landgoed Groeneveld is part of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug until we saw this sign. I look very autum-ish here because its not really warm outside anymore. Goodbye summer!

I’ll have to say that I am so glad we went because Kasteel Groeneveld is a hiker’s paradise. Wow, the place is so tranquil and beautiful!

The nature and garden surroundings in the estate are well designed and very well maintained in French and English landscape styles. This is definitely one of the best estates in the country with walking and biking routes that I’ve been to so far. The visit was really worth it.

Most estates in the Netherlands are open to the public because a lot of them are castles that were sold to the government or to some type of not-for-profit organization while others are still manned by their landowners who have opened the estate partly to the public so they pay lower taxes. A good example of this is the mansions dotting along the Vecht River in Utrecht all the way to North Holland.

The castle grounds offer really nice walking paths.... under the trees with lakes on the sides and wide open spaces through the green fields.

Now this is a very countryside foto! There are actually cows at my back and you will see them if you check them at my Multipy foto album. The straight line of trees flanking on both sides of a walking path is so typically Dutch in design.

I asked Dutchman what's the purpose of those lone trees in the middle. He said its for the animals to sit under for shade when its too hot to bear. He added that there is always a purpose to most things. It can't be that someone just planted those trees because it would look nice. Alright, that's the utilitarian Dutch speaking in him.

If you ever come here, follow the Wijnenberg walking route and you'll come across this breathtaking view of the lake from the hill (there is a hill here!) and on top there are benches to sit and relax while listening to the breeze and the birds tweeting. When you exit at the back you will see a glorious expanse of land, so beautiful you'd want to stare at it for hours. The sun was setting and was against our direction so I couldn't really take a foto of the field (it's a glaring sheath of white on my camera) but did so on the corner that leads back to the castle.

More fotos can be found here: Kasteel Groeneveld - Utrecht, The Netherlands

The castle was built in 1710 by Marcus Mamochet as a summer house, away from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. Through the years, the castle estate has had many private landlords until 1940 when the government took control. Currently, the Ministry of Environment, Food and Agriculture (LNV – Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit) owns the whole estate.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit the castle. It closes at 5PM, same as the Grand Café in the basement where visitors can have a cup of tea. We however took some fotos of the castle outside but it was late in the afternoon and the light coming against our direction is causing my camera to shy away.

Kasteel Groeneveld is located in Baarn, Utrecht near the A1 highway. Website is www dot kasteelgroeneveld dot nl.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Marrakech Menara Airport

The Marrakech Menara Airport is very 1950’s and 1960’s in design but even if its old it still exudes a lot of character and personality. I like it. It is so unique.

I took a few pictures before we left for Amsterdam via Agadir.

Morocco is a country I would like to come back. In the near future.

P.S. (this is a later edit) In the Sex and the City 2 (goes Abu Dhabi), the film was actually filmed in Morocco and this airport can be recognised in the film which was a year later after I have visited Marrakech =)

Travel Period: April 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Star Ferry in Amsterdam

I had a quick after work drinks at the Star Ferry in Amsterdam Het IJ haven (beside the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam). It was my first time to be there and I quite like the place. It wasn’t a weekend so the restaurant was half full and the terrace empty, and because of the liberty of breathing space, the high ceiling heights and the massive glass walls, the café restaurant looked quite intimidating. I could imagine how it would be like on a Friday after work or during a 25C lunch day. People will be swarming with energy all over the place.

Suggestion for this restaurant: please place plants outside and candle lights on the tables, the terrace would look more inviting and gezellig.

Love, love the space and the abundance of glass and next foto is the empty terrace looking over to the other side of Het IJ. Star Ferry website is starferry dot nl. Check out the clouds in altocumulus formation.

Finger food I like, a couple of these were enough to tempt me away from dinner. I went home and cooked dinner only for the Dutchman. I really and badly need to go back watching what I eat! Next foto is another nice capture of the dramatic clouds and the sun's last rays for the day.

And as much as I want to drink – an old colleague was paying a visit and ordered Chablis, I only had 1 glass. The glass that will bring me home we joked about. I am driving that’s why. At the strike of 8, I bid everyone goodbyes.

The next day at the office I heard that some people went back to their homes at 5AM but miraculously managed to come to work 3-4 hours later. It looks like after the Star Ferry drinks, many went on to have dinner together and finished the night in many different fashions.

Honestly, and this may sound boring, I just don’t have the “zin” anymore to party. I’ve really become old or I guess I’d rather be with the Dutchman at home.

Travel Period: August 2009
Destination: Amsterdam East (North Holland), The Netherlands

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Netherlands: Long Relaxing Fruit de Mer Lunch at Doen Beach Club in Scheveningen Beach

Blondine and I were planning on having High Tea somewhere in Utrecht but it was 24C on the weather forecast so we grabbed the chance to hit the beach.

Scheveningen is probably the most popular beach in the Netherlands, and the runners up would be Zandvoort and Bloemendaal. A lot of tourists come over here as well, mostly from the neighbouring countries such as Germany and Belgium.

When its beautiful weather such as today Sunday, the paved boulevard (approximately 1 kilometer long) and the white sandy beach (3 kilometers long) are full of people playing sports, strolling around, lounging and relaxing in the beach clubs, swimming and what else, tanning under the sun.

Trivia: During World War II, when the Germans were spying on the Dutch (they speak fluent Dutch), the Dutch use the word Scheveningen as a lock because the SCH is pronounced the same as the gurgling saliva spitting G. The Germans could never pronounce it, lol.

This is the kilometer long paved boulevard in Scheveningen beach. 

The beach was not as crowded as we had expected. Many times it happens that when the weather hits about 21C in this country, everyone flocks to the beach, but I realized its August, voila, summer month. A lot of local folks are still out of the country for their summer holidays.

Now, the ultimate challenge in Scheveningen beach is finding a parking space. Luckily, while turning to the street leading to town and this is after a desperate half an hour of going back and forth searching for parking, we saw a car leaving a parking slot! €1,00 per hour, not bad really as Utrecht and Amsterdam is about €5,00 per hour. But, the problem in Scheveningen is the parking machine only allowing 1 hour payment so that means we will have to take turns going back to the parking machine, paying, then slipping the parking ticket inside the car. Or else we get a traffic penalty of €50 (I’ve had this penalty before!).

These lounge beds go for €15 a day with towels... a lot of people were ordering champagnes and wines in a cooler in the beach. Did you know that too much sun exposure can make you look like an old ugly prune?

Blondine relaxing here...

My supersize sunglasses was not big enough for my face, I had a bit of burn on my cheeks.

Anywho, it was a relaxing day at the beach. The sun was not really that strong but I still got a tan. Dutch mother told me tonight when they had dinner with us at home that I have colour. Well, I am a woman of colour anyway ha-ha. Plus I got a little burn I think on my cheeks as they appear reddish than normal.

We had lunch in Doen Beach Club and apart from the bad service we have had, and we didn’t tip at all because of this, the lounge restaurant was really a heavenly place – all white everywhere, the ambiance is so so comforting. I could sleep on the huge lovely soft pillows on my lounge chair!

Well, we called Doen Beach Club in advance and reserved for one of their lounge areas. When we arrived, all the lounge areas were full, so we asked them why when we reserved a day ahead. They apologized and promised to give it to us once one of them becomes available. However (and I expected this, mind you), they never kept an eye and when an area indeed became available someone else took it quickly. So we complained to the manager who managed to take a few lounge chairs that were not used and created a small area for us. Thank you very much!

The manager was kind enough to give us 2 glasses of Chardonnay on his tab as a token of apology for the inconvenience we’ve had. But we never tipped. The waiters were just awfully lousy; they don’t keep an eye if you need something. When you ask for the menu, they forget and when you finally want to order, they are nowhere to be seen. Hello, where are you? Then you have to wait for ages for your drinks to arrive, and when you complain – they retaliate. Very, very distressing.

This I think is truly the perfect illustration of customer service in the Netherlands. I almost believe that it will be the same if we go to another bar or restaurant next door.

Fruit de Mer for lunch with dry Chardonnay from France. The oysters were yummy but they only served us 2! =(

We are loving the "whiteness" of Doen Beach Club. 

We had some ice cream after as dessert - pistachio and strawberry.

Scheveningen Beach.

Travel Period: August 2009
Destination: Scheveningen (The Hague - South Holland), the Netherlands

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dry Pasta Vegie alla Diavola

Dinner for tonight Friday 21 August...

Ingredients: spaghetti, ground beef (wee bit), courgette, onions, mushrooms, green paprika, tomatoes, pasta alla diavola herb-spices, parsley, garlic, capers, parmigiano-reggiano... to season: balsamic vinegar, paprika, pepper, salt, olive oil.

My own version of what a pasta should be -- loaded with vegetables and very little meat! I use the pasta alla diavola spices and replaced the tomato sauce with just olive oil. Give me dry pastas anytime. Seriously Dutchman and I have been eating this same pasta dish for straight 3 days already!

So I'm looking at a busy weekend: Major cleanup of our 3rd bedroom which I'm using as my walk in closet,... visiting a Home & Garden center (searching for Eucalyptus),... lunch with a friend in Scheveningen beach in Den Haag (I am ordering Fruits de Mer!),... and dinner at home with the Dutch family (I'm cooking! Menu: Gambas green salad; Pasta Genovese w/ courgette, paprika and peas; Greek yoghurt w/ honey, walnuts and dates).

These are actually my updates in Facebook and I've had an interesting discussion there about Italians eating pasta as a primi, meaning first course and not as a second or main course. If that's the case I wouldn't last after a primi.

Keep in touch and follow me on Facebook: Travel & Lifestyle Diaries by Dutched Pinay Travels
Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Calabarzon: Tagaytay 9 years ago

I have mentioned in my earlier entry that my Cebu and Bantayan vacation fotos were gone. We copied all the fotos to a USB stick but something went totally wrong when I accessed the files. Anyway, I have an appointment with my mother this Friday (she’s a very busy business woman!) and I will try to remotely access her laptop and see if I can copy and transfer the fotos, if not I will have to ask her to copy them to another USB stick and send by post mail. This is really an example of Murphy’s Law =(

So while waiting for my Cebu and Bantayan vacation fotos, I’m posting the only 6 fotos I have of Tagaytay, taken almost 9 years ago. Wow that’s how long ago these memories were. I think I shot more fotos but this was pre-digital camera days and I had to scan each picture and store them in my computer. Miraculously a few of them survived. I actually have very few pre-digital age fotos scanned.

Taal Volcano, an active volcano within a caldera in the middle of Lake Taal in Batangas. Travel excursions to hike to the volcano are available for tourists. A row of fierce looking pimped jeepneys in Tagaytay.

Fruits stalls selling fruits of the season along the roads of Tagaytay. Banana reminds me always of my mom because she loves them.

Lush mountains of Tagaytay and these fields in the valley are pineapple plantations as seen from the main road.

When I brought Dutchman to Tagaytay in the Calabarzon Region (acronym for the following towns, Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) he was like, OK is this all it? He was clearly not very amused of the place. He’s a beach lover so perhaps that’s why, and the Taal volcano, he didn’t really care. The views were nice he admits but helaas he isn’t the mountaineering type. I think he enjoyed more the ride from Manila to Tagaytay and vice versa, the scenery, the locals, and even the pineapple plantation we stopped to view. These he enjoyed more.

I know exactly what he likes in a village, town or city. Like every European they love staying outside when the weather is nice, sitting in open-air cafes and restaurants, having a drink, people watching, street musicians playing beautiful music wafting in the air.... you get the drift.

Anyway, I told Dutchman it’s too hot (and humid -- sticky! ugh!) in the Philippines to be staying outside that’s why malls are popular because people are dying to take refuge in the coolness of the air-conditioning away from the sharp rays of the sun. But I guess Tagaytay would be an exception, right. The climate there is cooler and fresher is it not.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Canal biking in Oudegracht

Um, why is it like this? That if you are a local you tend to overlook the most basic touristy attraction of your place. Utrecht has been my home for 7 years. I actually turned 7 years in existence in the Netherlands last 14 August, funny, I just remembered now! Wow, time flew out the window so fast. I should write a meaningful post about this anniversary in this blog. 7 long years.

Anyway, there are 2 things I would like to do in Utrecht that most tourists did: 1) Climb the celebrated 11th century Dom Tower and 2) Take a boat ride through the Oudegracht and the Nieuwegracht.

Waterfiets aka canal bike, the suggested route (see on the map with the dark blue line) is via Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht. Unlike the canals of Amsterdam, Utrecht is peaceful and smaller, you can enjoy a bit of serenity and the town feel in the city.

Venetian gondolas of real Italian replicas. Utrecht has quite a number of bridges and the canal banks are not far from side to side. In the main part of the Oudegracht by the big shops, the canal banks are flanked with cafes and restaurants.

These are some of the Oudegracht views I love, unchanged throughout the changes in time.
I did the second choice although not quite really. Dutchman and I did the canal bike ride weeks ago and we were screaming at each other because none of us could pedal the right way. Now that makes us a fantastic duo. Other tourists on their canal bikes were already eyeing us apprehensively, out of their way, afraid we might collide into them, haha. We just can’t seem to wheel the canal bike straight? we always end up smacking the canal ridge or going backwards, lol. What a joker really.

It took us a while to figure out how to maneuver the canal bike and by then we lost half an hour already of – “Why can’t you glide straight?” “Leave it to me; you are useless with these things.” “For goodness sake, we will slam into that houseboat!” “Watch out!!!”

Stressful; this is a great team building activity for strong type individuals in a relationship, where both want to be the captain of the ship. That’s why relationships only last when you are friends with your partner. I’m glad we are friends; we can laugh about our temper and our stupidity.

Relaxing by a canal terras, there are many of them in Oudegracht; some of these houses cost a lot of money and if you have a car you need to take into consideration parking which is always a hassle and expensive. That's the Dom Tower on the third foto. I'm going to climb her one day.

These rows of lean antiquated buildings always have a dramatic aura in them. On the canal bike, it says - Keep to the right but respect the privacy of the houseboats. Towards Nieuwegracht, there are many houseboats. Families live in them and they are not cheap.

This is right under the Vismarkt bridge and looking towards Utrecht old city hall (the one in yellow). These gorgeous edifices are preserved and if you look under the buildings, you see cellars, they are used to store the spices and wares the Netherlands traded during the Golden Age under the flagship of the VOC.

More fotos can be found here: Oudegracht, Utrecht - The Netherlands

Enjoy the images of Utrecht from the Oudegracht (old canal). We enjoyed it and now that we know how to maneuver the canal bikes, we plan to do this again together with our nieces and nephew. Soon.

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