Tag Archives: photography

Leiden on a cloudy day

I’ve happened to be in Leiden last week, on a wet, windy, grey day. I wandered through the city, snapping random pictures, with my son sleeping in the stroller. The Leiden marathon was held that day, and the few people who were outside, gathered around the route to watch the race. The images, empty of people, make it seem like I had the whole city to myself on that Sunday in May.

Leiden 1

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Leiden 5

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Leiden 15

Leiden 16

All photos are made using my LG G3 phone, in automatic mode.

 

 

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Alsace and Schwarzwald – a photo essay

Alsace has been described as “where France crashes into Central Europe”. I don’t know about Central Europe, but it is definitely where France and Germany collide, albeit today the collision is much more peaceful than it was in the past. I just came back from a two-week vacation spent in Alsace and its German counterpart – Schwarzwald. Since I am a bit short on time to write about the trip, and since I have some great photos, I will just show you where I’ve been.

Classic Alsatian views in Colmar

Classic Alsatian views in Colmar

Toy museum in Colmar is fantastic

Toy museum in Colmar is fantastic

Dozens of trains in the Colmar toy museum

Dozens of trains in the Colmar toy museum

Colmar itself is not bad at all

Colmar itself is not bad at all

OK, the weather in Colmar helped a lot, too

OK, the weather in Colmar helped a lot, too

Hiking with children in France...

Hiking with children in France…

...and in Germany

…and in Germany

The vineyards in Freiburg are right in the city

The vineyards in Freiburg are right in the city

Sweet grapes of Alsace are ripe for the picking

Sweet grapes of Alsace are ripe for the picking

Smelly Munster cheese goes great with Gewurztraminer

Smelly Munster cheese goes great with Gewurztraminer

A Schwarzwald kindergarten

A Schwarzwald kindergarten

A young farmgirl :-)

A young farmgirl 🙂

Freiburg market from the catherdral tower

Freiburg market from the catherdral tower

Alsace and Schwarzwald 6

Radhaus square in Freiburg

Unmistakably Gothic  Freiburger Münster cathedral

Unmistakably Gothic Freiburger Münster cathedral

 

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A virtual tour of my Rotterdam

The Markthal at night - inside is the biggest art work of the Netherlands

Rotterdam’s newest and already the most popular attraction -the Markthal at night – inside is the biggest art work of the Netherlands

The last few days, spring has been in the air. The sun is shining, temperatures are in the double-digits, crocuses, narcissi and tulips are blossoming everywhere and a small army of orange jackets is trimming bushes all over the city. Other, less appealing signs of spring are the intense smell of fermented manure being sprayed on the fields and me getting a hay fever, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Rotterdam is firmly on the map as a tourist destination in its own right. In the last couple of years, the city I live in has scored big-time in international awards and “top destination” lists. And the publicity is bearing fruit – Rotterdam is literally swarmed with tourists. I am seeing more and more of them, gaping at the sight of the Markthal or standing at a street corner trying to figure out the map in their hands.

Spring is in the air and on the ground

Spring is in the air and on the ground

For the past 3 years or so I’ve been doing my best trying to help visitor find the best spots in Rotterdam by contributing to Spotted By Locals. But I’ve recently thought about it and realized its all very nice writing about spots, but that I think there’s more to it. I would actually like people to have the opportunity to experience Rotterdam the way I experience it – in a coherent, connected fashion. So whether you’ve been following my writings at Spotted By Locals or not, if you’re just visiting Rotterdam or lived here your whole life, let me take you on a city trip along my favourite spots. I’ve put them together in 3 “theme” days, so that if I inspire you, you can either get just the main highlights in 1 day, venture outside the city centre if you have another day, and should you be staying for longer, perhaps see a bit of the greater surrounding. Click on the day headers for the map of the day.

Day 1 – Downtown Rotterdam

Centraal Station - befitting Rotterdam's reputation as architectural capital of Europe

Centraal Station – befitting Rotterdam’s reputation as architectural capital of Europe

Cube houses at the Oude Haven

Cube houses at the Oude Haven

Since you’re probably arriving by train, don’t forget to look back as you exit the spectacular shining new Centraal Station. From here its a short walk to the Dudok, to start the day with a cup of coffee and Dudok’s iconic apple pie. If its Tuesday or Saturday, you’ve got the chance to experience one of the biggest outdoor markets in Europe, on other days the brand new Markthal is a good alternative. After exploring the market(s) and the weird architecture Rotterdam is so famous for, Seth’s Poffertjes are a perfect spot to lunch and do some crowd-watching. Walk to the river and cross to the Noordereiland over the Willemsbrug, that offers a panoramic view of the city’s skyline. Stroll along the south bank of the Maas past the Erasmus bridge (aka the Swan), not forgetting to pay your respects to the Holocaust victims at Loods 24. Take the water taxi at Hotel New York, moving back to the north bank, to the Veerhaven. If the weather is friendly, go up the Euromast for an unrivalled view of the city and the harbour, on clear days as far as the sea. And if its raining, take an indoor trip around the world at the Wereldmuseum. By now its probably dinner time. If you’re made of money, you can dine at the Michelin-starred restaurant of the Wereldmuseum. Those on a more reasonable budget can dine at the Wester Paviljoen, where you can also close the night with drinks. If, after all these efforts, you’re still up to it, in the wee hours Rotterdam gravitates towards the Witte de Withstraat, where De Witte Aap is the focal point.

The view from the Euromast is spectacular on a clear day

The view from the Euromast is spectacular on a clear day

Day 2 –  Ol’ Rotterdam (or what’s left of it)

Dragon boat race on the Kralingse Plas

Dragon boat race on the Kralingse Plas

Somewhere in Kralingen...

Somewhere in Kralingen…

As you might know, the centre of Rotterdam was pretty much levelled by the Luftwaffe in 1940. And what was left standing was torn down under the disguise of “urban renewal”. The old town was replaced with glass, concrete and steel and these are, in their turn, being replaced by even more glass, concrete and steel. But outside the city centre, the “old school” Rotterdam is still there. But first, its back to the Dudok for a solid breakfast to start the day. Its one of the few places that serve breakfast, so there’s not much choice anyway. Simit Saray just down the road is perhaps a bit more budget-minded. From here, take the subway to Voorschotenlaan, at the heart of Kralingen, Rotterdam’s rich suburb since about forever. Walk through the alleys following the pattern of ancient waterways to the Trompenburg botanical garden (don’t miss picture-perfect Slotlaan), where you can spend some time exploring the pathways. If you can find the tea-house, you can have lunch here in classical Continental style (which requires a lot of patience). Weather-pending (it’s a recuring theme, isn’t it?) take a detour to see the Kralingse Plas pond and perhaps feed the zillion ducks there, walking through a neighbourhood where kids on lunch breaks play tennis rather than football, I kid you not. Mme Masette is a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunset with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (they’re good at selecting those) before heading back to the centre through Rubroek, practicing your bird-watching skills along the way. Back in the centre, all you have to do is decide whether you’re in the mood for French, Spanish or Italian – and go to Pierre, Barcelona or Due Tonine. But regardless of where you dine, end up at Bokaal.

Day 3 – Beyond the city limits

Boompjes promenade

Boompjes promenade

The Water Bus is the best way to get to Kinderdijk

The Water Bus is the best way to get to Kinderdijk

Its time to see some of Rotterdam’s surrounding country side, and the best place to go to is of course UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk with its classic windmills. Rent a bicycle, get your groceries at the nearest supermarket and sit at the Boompjes for a breakfast in full view of the river. Board (with your bike) the Aqualiner water bus to Kinderdijk. Touring the windmills will probably take the best part of your day, but if you haven’t had enough pedalling, you can disembark on the way back at the Stormpolder and cycle the extra 10 km to Rotterdam. Back in the city, cross the Earsmusbridge again to the Kop van Zuid, and choose your spot to enjoy the sunset – Hotel New York, the rooftop terrace of nHow or just sitting on the quay wall. The Lantaren-Venster filmhouse is an excellent place to say farewell to Rotterdam, closing off with a dinner, a movie and/or a concert.

Hotel New York is flanked by modern high-rise

Hotel New York is flanked by modern high-rise

Its a boat... its a bus... its... SplashTour! Hotel New York's water taxi is on the background.

Its a boat… its a bus… its… SplashTour! Hotel New York’s water taxi is on the background.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Rotterdam and perhaps will be inspired to visit for real.

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Yesterday I woke up to a white morning

It seems that the European winter is teasing me. In the end of December I’ve complained here about the lack of proper snow in our parts. And as if to show what the Dutch winter can do, yesterday morning I was surprised to wake up and see a properly white winter. The city was covered in 4-5 cm of pure, crisp, dry snow under a clear blue sky. Of course, by noon most of it was gone and what was left melted together into deadly patches of ice. But I still managed to capture the magnificent views from my balcony.

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To put things into perspective, this was a very local snow event. The map below shows the extent of snow cover in the Netherlands yesterday. Most of the country appears to be snow-covered. But the orange parts indicate a patchy snow cover of less than 1 cm, so only the green areas are really snowy (Rotterdam is in the lowest most left green patch).

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Snow cover in the Netherlands on Thursday, 5th of February 2015 (source: KNMI). Numbers indicate depth of snow (in cm), 97 means less than 1 cm, 98 means broken snow cover.

 

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“Europe’s high points” – another man’s view on “what is Europe”

First of all, yes, I actually read books like “Europe’s high points” for pleasure. Briefly, its “A guide to reaching the summit of every country in Europe – driving, walking and climbing routes to the tops of 50 countries in Europe”. I’ve been to some of these high points, and am a hiker and mountaineer experienced enough to enjoy reading descriptions of routes to peaks. Its a bit like I’m hiking there myself, but while laying home on my couch. I find reading passages like “Cross the stream and follow a pleasant shady path through the forest” (Bobotov Kuk, Montenegro) rather soothing. Of course, the book has other qualities beyond the soothing effect – it contains great photos, some interesting background information, and can actually be used as a guide for some of the easier high points. Plus, I intend to use it as an inspiration in choosing travel destinations.

Mont-Blanc - not the highest point of Europe, just of the Alps

Mont-Blanc – not the highest point of Europe, just of the Alps (that’s me there!)

This book is more controversial than you may think. The exact height of some points is debated, borders are disputed and new countries keep emerging. The section in “Europe’s high points” I find most most curious is the one in which the authors make an attempt to resolve “what is Europe”? It is much the same question I’ve had when I started this blog and defined Europe as all those countries that are a member of UEFA (a definition mentioned in the book). The definition of Europe offered by the authors of “Europe’s high points” roughly coincides with mine. But our definitions vary in some points and these are of course the differences that are most interesting.

Bobotov Kuk - contrary to what they tell you, not the highest point of Montenegro

Bobotov Kuk – contrary to what they tell you, not the highest point of Montenegro

“Europe’s high points” excludes Israel and the Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan from their definition of Europe on geographical grounds. This argument is a rather peculiar one. Cyprus and Malta are also not “Europe” geographically, Cyprus lying on the Asian plate and Malta on the African one. But Cyprus is included citing cultural arguments and Malta’s geographical belonging is not discussed at all. Iceland’s inclusion can be disputed as well, as Iceland is nowhere near the continent of Europe and is as European as the Azores, for example (see below) Parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan are inside Europe’s geographical definition, being North of the Caucasus watershed, so it would be reasonable to at least include the high points of those areas, like the authors have done for Turkey.

A view on Mount Hermon - Israel's "disputed" high point from Mount Meron, Israel's "undisputed" high point (for as much as there are undisputed things down there)

A view on Mount Hermon – Israel’s “disputed” high point from Mount Meron, Israel’s “undisputed” high point (for as much as there are undisputed things down there)

Speaking of Turkey! Kazakhstan, like Turkey, has a portion of its territory in Europe, the part West of the Ural river. That part is rather flat, I agree, but there must be a high point somewhere. I can’t imagine the authors not being aware of Kazakhstan’s geography, and have the impression they (literally) cut a corner there. The miss is even bigger considering that for the sake of completeness “Europe’s high points” also lists mount Ararat, the highest point of all of Turkey. Including Khan Tengri, the 7010 meters high highest point of Kazakhstan (called “undoubtedly one of the most beautiful peaks in the world” at SummitPost.com) would surely add an extra edge to the book.

The highest point in Luxembourg has been redefined since Dave here ironed his shirt there (now its a couple of km away and a few cm higher)

The highest point in Luxembourg has been redefined since Dave here ironed his shirt there (now its a couple of km away and a few cm higher)

Further, the highest points of the Azores and Canary Islands, that lie outside of geographical Europe are included in the “disputed” section. The reason is that the highest points of Portugal and Spain are actually on these islands, and not on the mainland. If the book will be updated, the highest point of Saba will have to be included. Saba is, since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, officially a part of The Netherlands. Its highest point, Mount Scenery, is 887 meters high and almost 3 times higher than the previous high point of Vaalserberg (aka Drielandenpunt).

The Vaalserberg is no longer the highest point of The Netherlands

The Vaalserberg is no longer the highest point of The Netherlands, so me (left) and Erik (right) will have to go to Saba some day to conquer the top with an iron and a board

Last but not least, I was delighted to read that “Europe’s high points” lists the high marks of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland separately. The listing is more due to the Britocentrism of the authors and less due to them sharing my UEFA-membership definition, but its always a pleasure to get an independent confirmation of one’s views. They even provided an entry for Faroe Islands (another UEFA member that I count as a “country”) in the “disputed” section. Djeravica, Kosovo’s high point, was deemed worthy a fully separate entry, despite Kosovo’s debatable status, but I’ll let that one pass.

Ben Nevis - highest point in Scotland, or the UK?

Ben Nevis – did I iron on the highest point in Scotland, or the UK?

I’m glad to have “Europe’s high points” in my possession and I’m sure I will have a great time reading it and following the routes it describes. My adventures around Europe’s high (and low) points will continue being posted here, so stay tuned! And if you have a tale of an adventure on one of the peaks, disputed or not, I’ll be happy to publish it here as a guest post.

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Our annual Christmas market weekend getaway – this year to Antwerp

Its been a while since I’ve published one of those photo posts. You know, the “I’m too lazy to write but look at the cool pictures” kind of post? Well, here’s one. Last weekend me and the missus dropped our daughter at her sister’s and drove off to Antwerp for our annual Christmas market weekend getaway. We both have been there before, but a long-long time ago, so even though Antwerp is only a 100 km drive from Rotterdam, it was quite new to us. There are overwhelming similarities between the two cities – both are a major European harbour, of roughly the same size and with a long common history, having for a long time been part of the same country, and even the language is the same. But despite the many parallels between Rotterdam, our hometown, and Antwerp, we’ve really enjoyed exploring those subtle differences in culture and experience, that make cross-border travel in Europe so much fun. So without further due, here’s Antwerp:

We got SO lucky with the weather!

We got SO lucky with the weather!

A fanfare band playing on the Christmas market

A fanfare band playing on the Christmas market

There was also the regular Sunday market, under the roof of the Stadsschouwburg theatre

There was also the regular Sunday market, under the roof of the Stadsschouwburg theatre

Its not the Netherlands, but they do have an impressive array of bikes

Its not the Netherlands, but they do have an impressive array of bikes

Supreme view from our hotel window

Supreme view from our hotel window

Our stay in Antwerp, Hotel Banks was rather modern and neat in design

Our stay in Antwerp, Hotel Banks was rather modern and neat in design

Yes, leave it to the Jews to sell air (an exhibit from the ‘Sacred Places, Sacred Books’  at the MAS museum)

Yes, leave it to the Jews to sell air (an exhibit from the ‘Sacred Places, Sacred Books’ at the MAS museum)

The centre of Antwerp from the MAS rooftop

The centre of Antwerp from the MAS rooftop

A view of the harbour from the MAS rooftop

A view of the harbour from the MAS rooftop

Belgium is the absurdity capital of Europe, no one is even surprised by having a 9 1/2 th floor here

Belgium is the absurdity capital of Europe, no one is even surprised by having a 9 1/2 th floor here

Liquors are THE Christmas market drink in Antwerp

Liquors are THE Christmas market drink in Antwerp

I can warmly recommend Antwerp and in particular the following places:

  • Hotel Banks – not the cheapest one around, but with excellent facilities and services, including a free bar at the evenings!
  • Daily Roast – excellent coffee.
  • The MAS – Museum Aan de Stroom – a spectacular building with a fascinating variety of exhibitions.

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Little Europes

Overseas countries and territories (OCT) and Outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union (by Alexrk2, via Wikipedia)

On a wide cobbled space on the sea front they found a guard of red-coated militia drawn up to receive them, and a crowd—attracted by their arrival—which in dress and manner differed little from a crowd in a seaport at home save that it contained fewer women and a great number of negroes.

The words above describe the arrival of a ship full of slaves – white slaves – to Bridgetown, the capital of the British colony Barbados, in late 1600’s. These lines are from one of my favourite books, “Captain Blood: His Odyssey”, a novel by Rafael Sabatini. “Home” refers to England, and today, crowds in most European seaports differ even less from the crowds in Bridgetown, Papeete or Paramaribo, as the ports of mainland Europe are rather diversified by the influx of immigrants from the (former) colonies. The colonial empires that were so dominant in the past 5 centuries are gone, most of the colonies have gained independence years, or even centuries ago. But a few remain attached to the “mother-country”, either too small to be able to stand on their own or too valuable as a honey-moon destination to be let go. Most of these bits and peaces of Europe scattered around the globe are French, as France has had the most difficulties ditching the notion of it being destined to rule the world (most French still cherish the thought that one day, the world will call upon them). But quite a few are British, some are Dutch, and even Norway has “colonies” in the southern seas.

For the most part though the so-called Outermost regions and Overseas countries and territories of the EU are either a rock in the ocean, like the famous Saint Helena where Napoleon was banned to, or a tropical paradise, making a living of newly weds and smuggling. The effect of these “little Europes” is rather unique. You fly out of the frozen European winter for 10 or even 20 hours, and suddenly you’re on the French Riviera, but on the other side of the globe. The heat, the white-washed buildings, the magnolias – its as if you’ve driven to Nice or Marseille. Even the number plates on some of these islands have the EU flag. And, as immigrants from Aruba and Martinique are drawn to Europe, there is a steady trickle of white Europeans to the tropics, nowadays for the most part not buccaneers or white slaves, but retirees, searching for a better climate to warm their elderly bones.

So are the differences between Europe and “little Europes” really blurred? Are Reunion, Saba and the Cayman Islands as European as Bristol or Vilnus? Yes and no. Being “Europe” seems less and less about pure geography. Although by now, pretty much every colony that had a serious desire and capacity for independence has become independent, the political and economical ties of the remaining colonies with the “mother country” are too strong to endanger by such a radical move as a declaration of independence. Its not the whole story though. Slower changes are simmering under the surface. Semi-dormant independence movements exist in most French overseas territories. The Dutch Antilles have been dissolved, some becoming states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while others have become direct parts of the Netherlands. And regional ties are becoming more important than ties to the distant mainland Europe, as evidenced by the recent Samoa time zone change.

One thing is certain – these specks of Europe in tropical seas will remain a prized tourist destination, regardless of the geopolitics. Check out the map – Europe may be closer to you than you thought it is!

Curacao 9 Curacao 8 Curacao 7 Curacao 6 Curacao 5 Curacao 4 Curacao 3 Curacao 2 Curacao 1

All of the photos below were taken at Curaçao, a constituent country within The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is a member of the European Union. However, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten have the status of overseas countries and territories (OCTs) and are not part of the EU. Nevertheless, only one type of citizenship exists within the Kingdom (Dutch), and all Dutch citizens, including the Curaçaoans, are EU citizens. Got it? Me neither. But it somehow works.

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