Exploring Europe’s Largest Urban Farm

What is it like to visit Europe’s largest urban farm?

The Netherlands is famous for many things especially water management, the country is for large parts below sea level , so it is a survival necessity to be the world’s leader when it comes to water management techniques such as flood protection, water treatment and supply. Major chunks of the Netherlands have not only been reclaimed from the sea, but 2/3 of the country would regularly flood if it weren’t for the many dikes and barriers.

There is a famous Dutch saying: God has created the earth and the Dutch have created the Netherlands!

It also rains a LOT in the Netherlands, which is another aspect of the Dutch having to manage water. Check out this really funny video on how to Survive The Dutch weather.

did you know that the Netherlands are an agricultural giant?

There is a great National Geographic feature about The Netherlands called: How this tiny nation feeds the Earth, which is well worth reading.

Photo Credits: National Geographic

Photo Credits: National Geographic

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to bore you with too many details, but just to put things into perspective, as it is quite impressive ( source of all below listed is the aforementioned National Geographic article):

# By 2050, the Earth will be home to as many as 10 billion people, up from today’s 7.5 billion. If massive increases in agricultural yield are not achieved, matched by massive decreases in the use of water and fossil fuels, a billion or more people may face starvation. Hunger could be the 21st century’s most urgent problem, and the visionaries working in Food Valley believe they have found innovative solutions.The challenge? Put in bluntly apocalyptic terms, he says, the planet must produce “more food in the next four decades than all farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years.”

# Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000 Dutch farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent.

# They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

# The tiny Netherlands are the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.

THE WESTLAND REGION- THE DUTCH SILICON VALLEY

The secret to how they do it is easy 1. technology and 2. massive complexes of high-tech greenhouses, particularly in an area between Rotterdam and The Hague called Westland. The Westland is the “Silicon Valley” for plant growing and green innovation.

We love to visit the Westland with our little one. The beaches in Monster and Hoek van Holland are great, we like to go raspberry picking in Monster or eat at a great organic restaurant in an old church Op Hodenpijl in Schipluiden,which has a great garden

Greenhouse in the sky: VISITING Europe’s biggest urban farm IN THE HAGUE

In 2016 an urban farming project run by Urban Farmers opened up in The Hague. The UK Guardian called the urban farming project in The Hague the Greenhouse in the sky and it is the the biggest Urban rooftop farm in Europe. After more than a year of regularly passing the building, I decided to book a tour and visit the project locally known as Urban Farmers “UF002 De Schilde“. They have a variety of tours available throughout the week in English and Dutch (most tours are 45 min, 90 min).

Here are the 4 things I learned during the tour:

#1 IT IS a GREAT WAY TO MAKE USE OF ABANDONED OFFICE BUILDINGS THAT ARE TOO COSTLY TO TEAR DOWN

The farm is housed in a former Philips TV and phone set factory built in the 50’s building. The building is very close to The Hague city centre and on clear days you can see the many greenhouses of the Westland from the Urban Farmers rooftop which is 35m high in the sky.

On the 7th floor of of this abandoned office building, you can find tomatoes, salad, paprika and baby leaf growing in the 1,200 sq m rooftop greenhouse, while on the 6th floor is a huge fish farm.

#2 URBAN FARMERS CAN PRODUCE A LOT!

Our tour guide told us that the project has the capacity to grow 45- 50 tons of vegetables and raise 19 tons of fresh fish every year. Customers are purchasing the produce directly on the Urban Farmers weekly rooftop marke they also deliver to local restaurants. Especially restaurants seem to often have specific requests for the urban farmers i.e. they want a certain type of bean. The Urban Farm is able to cater to specific growing needs and see themselves as a sort of extended kitchen garden that local chefs can utilise. The Urban Farmers team members I met were all very passionate and full of enthusiasm, there is a good friendly vibe.

#3 The Fish farm is smelly

I am sensitive to smell, and the fish farm was more smelly than I thought it would be. But it was very interesting to learn more about the technique used to farm fish. Makes me look differently at the fish I buy in my local supermarket. At Urban Farmers they use a technique called aquaponics to farm fish. It seems to be an ancient and sustainable food production technique with a modern twist. Our guide explained it like this: Nutrients rich waste water from fish production ( to ‘normal’ non-farmers that is poopy fish water) is used as fertilizer for the vegetables upstairs, the plants then purify the water that will be reused for the fish farm downstairs.

#4 URBAN FARM PRODUCTS ARE TASTY

Have you ever eaten a real fresh tomato? The kind that you can bite in and eat it like an apple with loads of aroma and flavour ? That is the kind of tomatoes they grow at Urban Farmers. You can buy pickled gherkins, tomatoes, the fresh produce and the fish at the weekly farmers markets held at the rooftop market every week. Also other local products can be brought there.

I really enjoyed seeing how successfully food can be grown locally on a rooftop, but have to say the fish farm was a bit off putting. I like the idea that fish get caught the good old fashioned way, but than again I know that probably the fish I buy locally has been farmed in a similar manner.

BONUS #5: VISIT THE MUSHROOM FARM IN THE SAME BUILDING

The HaagseZwam Farm on the 4th floor in the same building is all about farming oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds!

Its a vertical farm and the oyster muchrooms are suspended above the ground in large bags. Haagse Zwam is offering tours on the first Friday of each months (7,50 EUR per person) and also training afternoons on how to grow oyster mushrooms at home .Once a month you can get a joint tour of both farms together.

photo credit: haagsezwam.nl

IF YOU GET THE CHANCE VISIT URBAN FARMERS TO EXPERIENCE THE FUTURE OF URBAN FARMING

Tram 9 (Dynamostraat) stops right infront of the door and it takes less than 15 minutes to reach from The Hague Central Station. Urban Farmers offer a special kids tour ( for kids between 5 -14 years old) and kids are welcome to enjoy the little , cozy cafe and weekly farmers market.

The Urban Farm is also a popular event menu and hosts quirky events, such as a greenhouse yoga session (offered irregularly via Hidden Gym).

This blog is part of my Staycation project Being a tourist in your own city -The Hague/The Netherlands, check out our other posts about things to do and see in The Hague on our where we have been page.

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Witches Weighhouse in Oudewater

The day I got a certificate from the WItches WEighhouse in oudewater to proof that I am not a witch

Between The Hague and Utrecht is a small village called Oudewater, its most famous for its old weighhouse. Unlike in other cities people could not only bring their goods and livestock to be weighed before it was sold, in this weighhouse the scales were used to weigh people, mainly women, who were accused of practicing withcrafts. It is called the Heksenwaag (Witches Weighhouse).

BEING ACCUSED OF WITCHCRAFT LEFT WOMEN WITH LITTLE HOPE BACK IN THE DAYS

The old wooden scales used in this weighhouse date back to 1482 and have played a pivotal role in sparing many innocent women accused of witchcraft from being sentenced to death. It was fairly easy to be accused of placing spells on innocent people and being someone who was practicing witchcraft BUT to clear your name was often impossible Impossible tasks and tests were imposed on the accused and tested were rigged leading to innocent women being burned or drowned.

The Witches Weighhouse in Oudewater was the only hope for many people from all over Europe, and they trekked to Oudewater to get the certificate proving their innocence. As the witches weighhouse in Oudewater was run by honest citizens who refused to participate in the witchhunt trend of the time. All of the “witches”, who successfully made their way to Oudewater, were cleared of the accusation and received a certificate to proof their weight and innocence.

Our guide explained that the citizens of Oudewater believed in science more then witchcraft, they actually were very foward thinking for their time. They realised that the church had unofficially sanctioned the witchhunts to get ride of powerful local healers, often the healers were women with an in-depth knowledge of local herbs. Therefore defying the believe in witchcraft essentially was defying the church and believing in the power of citizens.

ARE YOU A WITCH?

The museum is housed in the original witches weighhouse building. Downstairs you find a little museum shop, can listen to an introduction movie about the witches’ scales (various languages) and can stand on the actual original scales to be weight yourself. Like the witches back in the day you have to stand on the scale infront of all the other visitors and once the weighing is complete they will call out your weight to confirm that you are not a witch (If you don’t want your weight to be announced publicly, do mention it before!)

If you pass the test, you will get a certificate that certifies that “your body weight is in proportion to your build.” why is the weight so crucial? Back in the days it was believed that a witch has no soul and therefore weighs significantly less than a normal person, hence a witch can fly on a broomstick and a normal person cannot. My son and I were both brave enough to step on the scales and both received the certificate confirming that we are no witches, my husband refuses to be weight. Suspicious right?!?

It’s a very child friendly small museum

We visited the museum, which has plenty of information and videos available in English, on a quiet day and we stayed about 40 minutes. Upstairs you can find a small children’s play area and the museum regularly hosts child friendly events. Strollers cannot be taken upstairs and need to be parked in the small cloakroom. They offer a small witch treasure hunt in the museum, and organize witch themed birthday parties on request.

The area around the museum is lovely. Oudewater is a quintessential Dutch village. we found a small playground next to the church and just walked around town, then got some snacks at the local bakery, which is also at the main square (on the same side as the museum) before heading home.

USEFUL TO KNOW

# Oudewater is close to the A12 highway between THe Hague and Utrecht and can also be reached by public transport from Utrecht. We parked our car within walking distance to the witches weighhouse in a side street, which had free parking available.

# 1 Apr. – 1 Nov. the museum is open daily expect Mondays 1100am – 5.00 pm and from 1 Nov. – 1 Apr. it is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the same opening times.

#On the square infront of the museum you find some lovely little cafes where you can stop for lunch or some coffee and cake.

The website of the museum: www.heksenwaag.nl

Have you ever visited Oudewater ? What were your highlights ?

Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.

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Panorama Mesdag -A Unique 360° Painting

Panorama Mesdag is a unique experience, It is like stepping back in time to see the fisher village of Scheveningen back in 1881 when H.W. Mesdag painted it.  It is the largest still existing circular canvas in Europe.

The Building that surrounds the panorama was purpose built

The museum building houses the  panorama and more work of the painter H.W. Mesdag , and it was constructed specially for the painting, which is no less than 120 x 14 meters!

The core of the building is a large dome in which on wodden stills an artificial dune has been created on a roundabout and covered with sand. A bird’s nest  viewpoint above the dune is from where visitors get to experience the panorama; it feels as if the visitor is standing on the Seinpost dune on which Mesdag stood when painting in 1881. The large canvas with the panorama painted on it is hanging on a dome like structure shows an impressively painted beach and seaside scene.

A 360° masterpiece full of optical illusions

Back in the 1880s there seem to have been several maritime panoramas similar to Panorama Mesdag, but none of these exist anymore. Panorama Mesdag’s surface area is +/-1680 m2 and it took several local artists together with H.W. Mesdag 4 months to complete it. The roundabout on which the sand dune is has a diameter of 36 metres.  The dome that houses the painting has several hidden skylights in the white tent roof these make sure that the canvas always changes.

On a dark grey winter day the painting looks different than on a bright sunny one. The skylights illuminate the dome structure and create the illusion of being part of natural environment. The artificial sand dune that guides the visitors eye towards the painting is angled in such a way that the transition between sand dune and painting is fluid and it appears as one.

 

THINGS TO DO WHEN VISITING PANORAMA MESDAG

#1 TAKE A BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK

When you leave the Panorama you will see some small holes in the wall on the right near the end of the tunnel. Don’t walk by, do take a look. You will see the structure of the dome that houses the painting.

#2 MARVEL AT THE REACTION OF OTHER VISITORS

Whenever I have guests visiting The Hague I take them there and so far everyone has been impressed and was surprised by the paintings magnificence.  One of the nicest parts about visiting the Panorama is looking at the faces of the people that see it for the first time once they walk up the staircase leading up to the dome in which the painting is displayed and catch a first glimps of it. Everyone gets a sparkle in their eyes and you can see that they are immediatly drawn into the world that H.W. Mesdag has created in his 360° masterpiece full of optical illusions.

# 3 Enjoy a cup of coffee in the museum cafe

The museum cafe serves delicious Dutch food and it is filled with little quirky  details, such as the Panorama Mesdag umbrella lamps.

How to get there?

Panorama Mesdag is right next to the Hilton Hotel in The Hague at Zeestraat 65

Website of Panorama Mesdag: http://www.panorama-mesdag.nl

This blog is part of my Staycation project  Being a tourist in your own city -The Hague/The Netherlands, check out our other posts about things to do and see in The Hague on our where we have been page.

If you like what you see, please share it

Top 20 Hidden Attractions in The Hague

There are  a lot of hidden gems and attractions  in The Hague, which the average tourist will miss out on, as they are not listed in any guide books. These hidden attractions in The Hague are know to locals only. Find out more about the 20 hidden attractions in The Hague or Den Haag, as it is known locally.

The Hague is a beautiful city, with a small town feel,  known for  its Gothic-style Binnenhof (or Inner Court) complex which is the seat of the Dutch parliament, and 16th-century Noordeinde Palace the king’s workplace. The Hague is also home to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, headquartered in the Peace Palace, and the International Criminal Court and many other international institutions and companies. The Hague is connected to the lively seaside city of Scheveningen and there is plenty to see and do in The Hague all year round.

The Hague has a split personality -ROYAL CHARM vs. Down to earth pragmatics

One thing I learned to love about The Hague (and the Dutch for that matter) is that they have their unique sense of humour and are down to earth. The Hague is the royal city, seat of parliament and loads of embassies and reputable institutions are based here, but the city has a bit of a split personality! The official symbol of the city if a stork (ooievaar in Dutch).

And the word “ooievaar” or “odevare” actually can also be interpreted to mean: good-luck charm. The official name of The Hague in Dutch is s’Gravenhage i.e. small forest of the counts of Holland. So far this makes sense, right? But then let me tell you what the inoffical symbol of The Hague is -The Haagse Harry.  There is even a statue dedicated to him on the Grote Markt in The  Hague city centre.

Who is the Haagse Harry? ” Haagse Harry is a Dutch comic  by Marnix Rueb. It shows the life of Harry, an unemployed loudmouth from The Hague, who swears and complains about everything. The comic is very much politically incorrect, showing offensive stereotypes of literally everybody starting with The Hague people.  ( source )”. And this is typical for Den Haag, walking the fine line between being a small average town of less than 1 million inhabitants, while being a big player when it comes to name recognition around the globe.

Top 20 hidden attractions in the hague

Having lived in The Hague for 15 years on and off, I am proud to fill you in on the Top 20 hidden attractions in The Hague. You won’t find the obvious tourist attractions as the Pier in Scheveningen or the Mauritshuis on this list, the 20 attractions listed are all  hidden gems of The Hague.

1 The Royal Waiting Room at Holland Spoor Train station 

I never knew that the Holland Spoor station has a royal waiting room, these rooms have been renovated recently after having been closed to the general public for many years. Holland Spoor Station itself is one of the stations where you can see it has a glorious past, but currently it is a bit run down, hence I was very surprised to find out about the hidden gem it hides.

Interior of the Royal Waiting Room on Hollands Spoor railway station in The Hague. The rooms, lobbies and toilets are abundantly decorated with sculptures, stucco, stained glass and natural stone. However, this part of the station is situated out of the sight of the 'ordinary' traveller. You can visit the Royal Waiting Room on a guided tour via www.artifex.nu. Photo: Arjan de Jager. More images on https://denhaag.com/nl/koninklijke-wachtkamer #thisisthehague #koninklijkewachtkamer #hollandsspoor #ns #nederlandsespoorwegen #koningwillemalexander #koninginmaxima #koninklijkhuis #architecture #netherlands #nederland #holland #denhaag #thehague #travel #instatravel #instatraveling #travelgram #travelingram #sight #sightseeing #tourism #thehaguebygaps #railwaystation #railwayarchitecture #royal #royalty #artifex

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Once a month Artifex.nu organises tours ( In Dutch, 1 hr) of the royal waiting rooms at Den Haag Holland Spoor Railway Station.

2. Bunkers & Atlantic Wall

During WW2 the Nazi’s constructed the Atlantic Wall. “The ‘Wall’ was in fact a strategically places line of  concrete bunkers, manmade barriers and natural obstacles like cliffs and rocks, stretching along the  North Sea and Atlantic coast from northern Norway to the Spanish border, altogether it was nearly 5000 km long.The occupied Netherlands were managed from The Hague, meaning the city had a great strategic importance to the Nazi’s and The Hague got an additional defence line. Over 135,000 people were forced to leave their homes and 2,400 buildings were demolished to make place for the Atlantic Wall. Nowadays information panels stand at notable points along the route of the Atlantic Wall and it is possible to follow an Atlantic Wall citywalk and visit some remaining bunkers. A map can be downloaded here.

3. The Lighthouse IN SCHEVENINGEN

The Lighthouse in Scheveningen can be visited only twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, you need to reserve in advance.  For more information on how to reserve a tour visit the website of the Muzee Scheveningen. You can walk up the 159 steps of this lighthouse which has been operational since 1875. Its light still guides the boats along the shore and can shine up to 53km over the sea.

4. The EARLY MORNING Fish AUCTIONS AT THE HARBOUR

The harbour in Scheveningen is all about fish, several  thousand tons are traded here every year and daily there are fish auctions held. These auctions at the Visafslag are generally not accessible to individuals, but once a month they are. Every first Friday of the month at 0630AM a group of visitors is welcome to visit the fish auction.  The tour is in Dutch only and you will learn about the history of fishing in Scheveningen, which types of fish are traded and where in Europe they are sold to. For  more information about how to register for this unique behind the scenes tour, visit the website of the Visafslag United Fish Auctions

Met een klant naar de visveiling 🐠🐟🦐🦀🦑🐙

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5. Urban Farmers – The largest rooftop farm in Europe

The area between Rotterdam and The Hague is called the Westland. The Westland is the world’s “Silicon Valley” for plant growing and green innovation.The tiny Netherlands are the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value and are an agricultural giant.  And therefore it should come as no surprise that a unique agricultural project decided to open it is doors in The Hague. The Urban Farm project is Europe’s largest urban farm and has the capacity to grow 45- 50 tons of vegetables and raise 19 tons of fresh fish every year.The farm is situated on the 6th and 7th floor of an abandoned office building. Read about our visit to Urban Farmers or check out their website for booking a tour directly.

6. AN Old Catholic Church AND ATTIC CHURCH HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

In the 17th century the Netherlands  became largely Protestant and Catholic churches had to go into hiding, this church in The Hague hid in plain sight. These hidden churches looked like regular buildings from the outside, but had churches hidden in the attic or backyard. One of these clendestine churches is right in the city centre of The Hague, it’s called H.H. Jacobus & Augustinus parish church, aka the Old Catholic Church. A great review about the church can be found on Dutchgems.com  (English). For more information about the guided tour visit their website (Tour in Dutch, every Saturday).

Source: Dutchgems.nl

7. The hidden hofjes

Hofje is Dutch and refers to a courtyard which is sourrounded by almshouses (charitable institutions). The concept has been around since the Middle ages and there seem to be 100 existing hofjes in The Hague nowadays.  We visited 2 hofjes, in the city centre,  both are only open for tenants who are single women with a low income, hence keeping the tradition of a hofjes as a form of social housing alive in the 21st century. Read more about The Hague’s hofjes here

hofje den haag entrance archway

8. The Salamander Windmill in Leidschendam

The first wood saw mill was built in Leidschendam around 1643 and  was largely destroyed in 1773 due to a fire, it was rebuilt several times by the various timber merchants who owned it over the years. At one point the mill was modernised i.e. a steam machine was installed to keep the mill operating during calm weather times. It was closed down in  1953 and from then on it started to decay and fall apart. But thanks to  subsidies of various local stakeholders the mill was rebuilt in 1989 nearer to the river bank in the old beam hole. Since 1995 it is operational again and the sawmill cuts lumber in the old traditional way again. For opening times, entrance fees and access information visit their website.

source: molendatabase.nl

9. The Scottish Highlanders at Westduinpark

When biking or walking through the dunes in the Westduinpark area of The Hague, you might run into free roaming herds of Scottish Highland cows! Yes you read that right,  the Westduinpark (West Dune Park) between Scheveningen and Kijkduin is one of the largest nature reserves in The Hague. The park is adjacent to the beach and is a great place to go for a walk or hike, it offers dense forests and open spaces, dune valleys and high dune tops, bunker ruins from World War II and the Scottish Highland cows that roam about freely. The cows are easily approachable, but it is recommended to keep at least 25 metres away, especially when there are young calves in the herd.  Read more about Westduinpark and how to get there.

10. The NDT (Nederlands Dans Theatre ) Ballet Company

It is not a ‘place’ as such, but the NDT is a world reknown ballet dance company which calls The Hague home. It is a local institution and personally I think the NDT performances are nothing short of amazing. I have had the pleasure to see many of their performances over the years. My favourites often tend to be the pieces choreographed by Hans van Manen,Jiří Kylián and  The UK Guardian describes the NDT as:”Fifty years ago, Nederlands Dans Theater forged a middle path between classical ballet and modern dance, creating a “modern ballet” style and approach that spread across Europe. […]NDT has been enormously influential, not only as a pioneering company that established a particular style of modern ballet in Europe, but as a seedbed for new directors and choreographers.” So make sure to visit one of their performances when you are in town. Check out their schedule

11. Celestial vault

This permanent art work by James Tureell plays with an optical illusion. It was built in 1996 and it is in essence a crater, which you need to enter via a hobbit tunnel, and in the very centre is a concrete bench. The bench is flat and slightly angled to allow visitors to lie on it with their heads towards the lower end. This angle will allow you to see the edge of the crater and the open sky at an angle that makes the sky appear as a curved dome. Read more about the celestial vault and its location in Kijkduin.

12. Sorghvliet Park AN UNTOUCHED OASIS IN THE CITY

This 25hectar park is pretty much in between Scheveningen and The Hague within walking distance to the Peace Palace. The unique thing about it is, that people bike, walk or drive past it hundreds of times without realizing that you can actually visit it. It is surrounded by a high stone wall and only accessible with a valid annual ticket, that cannot be brought at the park entrance. It is an untouched and well preserved oasis in the city. I had lived in The Hague for 12 years and had never visited the park, always thinking it was part of the Catshuis, which is situated in the park ( Catshuis has been the official residence of the Dutch prime minister since 1963).  The annual pass cost 7, 15 EUR (2017) and  can be purchased at the local Tourism Office (VVV) or Paagman bookstore.

13. JARREAU – A WORLDCLASS PATISSERIE

In the quiet residential neighbourhood of Benoordenhout you will find a pattiserie, which can rival many of the big names in France. The owner Roel van Everding has won national and international awards. Several times a year they organize patisserie masterclasses and macaron making workshops. If you are a foodie, these are workshops you do not want to miss. You can also visit their shop or Paluco lunchroom , next  door.

14.  Japanese Garden in Clingendal Park

A Japanese Garden is hidden in the Clingendael Park in The Hague , this magnificnent garden can be visited only during 2 short periods in spring and autumn each year, due to its fragility. It was opened in 1910 and has a high historical value, as it is the only Japanese garden in the Netherlands of its kind. It has original lanterns, statues, a shrine and water features and can be visited free of charge when it is open.

Japanse Tuin Clingendael Den Haag. #denhaag #thehague #japansetuin #clingendael

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15. Library  in the parlament

Unfortunately it is not open to the public, also not on Monumentendag ( Open Day for Monuments around the country), but I am hoping that one day I will get to see it for real. I am a sucker for libraries, and the fact that I walked past the building that houses it millions of times, but have never gotten to see it, bugs me a little.

16. Lourdes Chapel

Scheveningen it a busy beach resort with the pier, the casinos, the circus musical theatre and a multitude of bars and restaurants, but locals will tell you that you can escape the hustle and bustle at the local Lourdes chapel. It is a replica of the famous Southern French Lourdes Grotto that attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. The Lourdes chapel in Scheveningen is a place for silence and meditation. It is at Berkenbosch Blokstraat in Scheveningen and open daily from 9am-6pm.

source: tripadvisor.nl

17. Bonfires on New Years Eve at the Beach

The Bonfires (Vreugdevuur) on new years eve even made it into the Guiness Book of World Records. Every year, on the North and South beaches of Scheveningen between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the towns of Scheveningen and Duindorp compete with each other and try to build the largest bonfire. When I say largest bonfires, I mean stakes that are as high as 3-4 story houses. In 2015 the Scheveningen bonfire was 8,695 cubic metres (307,061.03 cubic feet) tall.

source: winkelstraat-scheveningen.nl

18. YI JuN Peace Museum In Chinatown

The Yi Jun Peace Museum is a homage to the Korean independence fighter and diplomate Yi Jun.In 1907 he was send to the Hague to a Peace Conference to  announce to the international community that Korea was an independent state and that the Japanese invasion was unlawful. However Japan blocked the participation of Korea at the conference and Yi protested against the decision. He was later found dead at the  Hotel De Jong in the Wagenstraat, which nowadays houses the museum. The small museum is one of the most quirkiest local attractions. It is focused on welcoming visitors with an interest in Japanese and Korean history or heritage and most information available is in Korean.

19.  De Haagse Markt

The Hague Market (‘De Haagse Markt’) is one of the largest multicultural markets in Europe and is visited by more than 120.000 visitors each week on average. It is a melting pot, you can find exotic fruit and vegetables, halal butchers, a fishmarket and visitors can also buy electronices, flowers, bikes, clothes and many more household related items.  It is easy to reach with public transport, has a underground parking garage and is open 4 days a week. Visit their official website for more info.

Source: Haagse Markt Facebook

20.  Het Spaanse Hof

It a UNESCO monument with a long history dating back to 1469, over the years it has been the residence to many ambassadors and nowadays it is a popular meeting and wedding location. This city palace oozes old glamour and has a big inner courtyard and a big catholic church (Kerk van Teresia van Avila) within its grounds. In the Spaanse Hof you can currently also find a great yoga school, which offers rooftop yoga during the summer months.

Den Haag masquerading as Southern Europe. #denhaag #architecture #church

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I could list plenty more of local attractions in The Hague, but lets stick with these 20 for the time being. The

Any hidden gems and quirky local attractions in The Hague that I should add to the list? Let me know!

This blog is part of my Staycation project  Being a tourist in your own city -The Hague/The Netherlands, check out our other posts about things to do and see in The Hague on our where we have been page.

If you like what you see, please share it

Exploring Ghent with a toddler

We have visited Belgium several times over the years, we have been to charming Brugge and exlplored the beautfiful Ardennes. One city that we have passed through but never took the time to explore until we were looking for a quick weekend getaway last month was Ghent. I had heard friends talk fondly of their time in Ghent ,especially college friends who back in the day went to the Ghentse Feesten, which is a music and theatre festival dating back to 1843 (!) taking over the entire city. Our verdic after a weekend in Ghent with a toddler -We were very positively surprised by this charming mid-sized city and all it had to offer.  Ghent’s old town centre has charm, is easy to explore by foot and is a very toddler friendly destination.

Ghent is a great choice – a toDDler friendly city destination

During our weekend in Ghent we did a lot of walking around the city centre and enjoyed exploring  the small allyways, the quays and checked out Ghent’s major sights.

We went to see the Belfry ( you can climb up to the top, but the queues were really long, so we decided against it) and the city square. Unfortunately the weekend we were in Ghent  the entire city square area was under construction, as preparations were made to set up the annual Christmas market stalls  and in the late afternoon there was a demonstration, with a strong police presence, so needless to say we did not spent a lot of time there.

Our 6 Ghent Highlights (AND ONE LOWLIGHT)

# 1 THE WORLD OF Kina Museum

We absolutely loved the Kina kids museum. It has a diverse and engaging permanent exhibition, which kept our little one entertained for  nearly 2,5 hours.  They have a great gemstone exhibition, which our little one was fascinated with. Their interactive displays are mainly in Dutch, but are intuitive enough to be understood even without any Dutch skills. The Kina Museum is housed in an old former monastry and is split up into 2 locations. The Kina world: house (museum)  and the Kina world: garden. When you buy a ticket to visit either, you automatically are also allowed to visit the other one within a 3 months period using the same ticket. The Kina garden is in the North of the city and to walk from one to the other it would take about 30 -40 minutes. Strollers area not allowed and can be parked in the cloakroom.

# 2 Gravensteen Castle

The castle (castle of the Counts) is in the city centre opposite of the local tourist information. It is an easy to navigate medieval fortress, which houses a small historical weapon exhibition and torture museum. Our little one was eager to explore the castle and tried to climb some of the many stairs (strollers are not allowed, can be parked next to the ticket office). Part of the self-guided tour (took us about 40 minutes) through the castle leads you along the  castle walls on one side these are open and there is no railing, which was  a bit nerve wrecking with a toddler eager to explore the castle by himself. From the top of the castle you have a beautiful view overlooking Ghent.

# 3 Holy Food Market

The Holy Food Market is housed in the 16th century Baudelo Chapel a former church and cloister, which now houses a food market offering diverse cuisine –  Asian dim sum, Lebanese food, Russian delicacies, as well as Belgian street food.  We like food markets (see our post about the Markethal in Rotterdam) and this one in Ghent did not disappoint. It was a unique location , offered plenty of high chairs and delicious food. Make sure you eat there when visiting Ghent with a toddler.

# 4 Street Art GHENT

Ghent is a mix of old and new and the streetart all over the city certainly adds to that unique city vibe. The tourist office has a  free street art city map available,which helps you to find the best ‘official’ street art and the famous graffiti street.  It was a nice way to explore Ghent with a toddler, walking  through non-touristy neighbourhoods to track down the colourful street art, wich sometimes was not easy to find even with the map. The offical walk is known as the Sorry, not Sorry Art Walk, and there is also an App you can download.

# 5  Design Museum

This museum was a great find. We really enjoyed our afternoon at the Design museum. The current exhibition is great if you visit Ghent with a toddler, as it is all about robots. We were introduced to the world of robots and how these are used nowadays, influence our daily life and will shape our future. The museum itself is not too big and can be explored within an hour. It is all-white, clean-cut and modern, yet the entrance is housed in an old mansion and the contrast worked very well for a design museum. Strollers are not allowed and there are a lot of stairs to navigate. The museum cafe is in the courtyard in a glass tent, they had a good selection of snack type food.

 

# 6 The Cafe Culture

Belgium is known for it is chocolate, fries and beer, so expect to find plenty of cafes and restaurants all over town. While our little one enjoyed his afternoon nap in his stroller, we enjoyed some quiet time at the used book cafe. Which is just as the name says a cafe full of books. It is an inviting cafe , perfect for sittting down to read a book, while enjoying a good cup of coffee, overlooking one of the cities market squares.

We also tried the famous Ghent nose ( Gentse neus) candy, a cone-shaped candy that resembles a human nose, hence the name. We were both not too impressed with it, and stuck to munching on waffles and Belgian chocolate ( how could we not when visiting Belgium).

And now let me tell you what you do not need to go and see when you visit Ghent.

Our Ghent Lowlight – The Glass Passage

I had briefly studied the local Ghent guide we got from the hotel and read about a protected historic passageway (built in 1844), called the Glass Passage. It was on the way to one of the museums we wanted to visit that afternoon. On the way to the museum I guided my 2 boys  to the Glass Passage, to have a look. Well,  turns out this Mom had not read the entire description…The Glass Passage turned out to be the local red light district.   Since the girls are sitting behind windows ( like in the Amsterdam’s red light district) it has the name Glass Passage. NOT because it is a beautiful historic passage with a lot of glass. When we showed up with our little one, one of the half-naked girls started pulling funny faces and waved  at my little one (he waved back and giggled) .My big one turned bright red and was visibly embarrassed, while another girl walked up to me to say that this is ‘the place for the girls, Madame’ and gestured for us to go back out into the street. Mom fail!

I can assure I  will NEVER  live this incident down, but we had a good laugh about it. The area around the red light district passage was NOT shady or seedy at all, loads of cafes full of hipsters and students, local families enjoying brunch….so it was not obvious to us where we were headed.

WHERE TO STAY In GHENT WITH A TODDLER

We stayed at the NH Ghent Belfort, which is in a prime location and offers underground parking. It allowed us to walk to all of Ghents main attractions and offered easy access to restaurants and shopping. They had a great breakfast bufffet with a special kids corner and a waffle maker.

 

Have you ever visited Ghent ? What were your highlights ?

Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.

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Book mountain: An amazing public library in Spijkenisse

One of our facourite travel planning apps is Atlas Obscura, whenever we plan a roadtrip we check out the site to see if there are any unusual,quirky places along the way. On our trip home from a weekend away in Ghent/Belgium, we found a real gem on Atlas Obscura -The Book Mountain in Spijkenisse. If you are in the area and like books and architecture this award-winning public library is not going to disappoint.  While  Spijkenissen itself is not really a city that we felt was worth a visit, it is a pretty plain suburban town close to Rotterdam, it was great to climb the book mountain (De Boekenberg  in Dutch).

The library was opened in 2012 and seems to be a very popular meeting place for the local community.

Go inside to really experience the book mountain, the outside facade only comes to live in the dark

Photo Credit: MVRDV Architects

Through the glass facade the books are visible from outside, and when looking towards the library from the old market square the library looks like a mountain of books, hence the name.

The book mountain has 5 floors (connected by a lift) of bookshelves. These are connected by more than 480 meters of stairs, pathways and indoor terraces. All is stacked upon another to spiral up to form a pyramid.

 

The inner core of the pyrmid houses the offices, meeting rooms and study rooms.

When we visited on a rainy Monday afternoon, the place was packed with senior citizens meeting up for coffee at the cafe, plenty of students sat  in the alcoves/study areas working away on their computers and families enjoying the  kids  corner, which has a cabinet full of costumes and some child-friendly toys.

HIDDEN FUNCTITONAL DETAILS

The book mountain has no less than 1006 windows, allowing the community to look in and giving the visitors a great view of the city.

Higher book shelves which are out of reach are actually the libraries archive and the easy to reach lower areas are the bookshelves are the books ready to be borrowed.

The entire building is very eco-friendly and sustainability overall is high on the agenda in the day -to-day operations, as well as the design. For example the bookshelves are all made out of recycled flowerpots and the architects worked with a lot of wooden details as a hommage to Spijkenisse’s agricultural past.

The Library has a little cafe, which serves great coffee! If you want to eat lunch we recommend  The Brownies & Downies Cafe, which is about 5 minutes walking from the library. It is a cafe run by people with a handicap and/or Down syndrom. It has a lovely little playarea with books, toys and games to entertain their little guests.

The Library is open 6 days a week and there is a car park adjacent to the library (  Karel Doormansraat 3). The official website of the Book mountain is available in English and has further information about events, opening times and architectural details.

Spijkenisse is very easy to reach from Rotterdam. Also read our blog post about Rotterdam: A vibrant and diverse city.Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.

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Vintage Style Pin-Up Makeover in Rotterdam

Mom’s day out- My Vintage Pin-Up Makeover in Rotterdam at Sugarcoated

Guilty! I am guilty of wearing the Mom uniform -Jeans and an easy to wash shirt quiet regularly since my little one was born. I do miss making an effort and going out all dressed up,taking time for doing my make up & co.. When I heard about a vintage pin-up makeover studio in Rotterdam I knew I had to give it a try.  Browsing the Sugarcoated website  I immediately was in awe of all the  over the top and fabulous results of previous makeover participants.

Who is Sugarcoated?

The mastermind behind the Sugarcoated team is no one other than @TheDutchPinup Vivian Kramer.

Vivian embodies the vintage rockability look and her love for pin-up photoshoots is sincere. She lives and breathes the livestyle and it is no wonder she is not only an experienced and internationally renowned stylist, but was also the 2nd runner-up at the Viva Las Vegas Pinup Contest 2017!

With Sugarcoated Vivian is trying to make the distinctive vintage (life)style accessible to others in a down to earth way. But let’s not forget her great team, all the girls are professionals and help to make the makeover experience a truly unique day out. I had the pleasure of getting my hair and make up done by @_bobbyknows  another inspiring lady living the vintage lifestyle to the fullest.

How does it work?

Step 1: GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER

I contacted the Sugarcoated team via their website and  heard back from Vivian within less than 24 hours. I was thrilled and nervous to find out that they had a free slot less than 3 weeks later for my makeover. After confirming the date and paying a downpayment (50% of the total price) I was send a lengthy questionnaire to complete.

The questionnaire is  all about your look, your personality, asking fo your Pin-up style preferences and co.  It was quiet hard to choose which looks I liked the most, as they have 30+ PinUp looks – Sailor, Screen siren, Army, Housewife, Hawaiian Hoola, Singer, Secretary,Gatsby Glamour….and the list goes on. It took me about 30 minutes to complete it all. I also had to attach 2 recent pictures of myself – a close-up and a full-body one. Then the Sugarcoated team worked their magic behind the scenes. A couple of days before the shoot I got an email confirming the styles they thought would work best for my makeover. Then it was time for the actual makeover.

STEP 2: THE MAKEOVER

You will make your way to the Sugarcoated studio, which is within walking distance to Rotterdam Central Station.  It is actually in a side street of the Rotterdam Chinatown area.Parking (paid!) also seems to not be a problem in the neighbourhood.

The second you set a foot into the studio you feel like you are back in a different era. The outfit selection, massive shoe cabinet, the glitzy and glamour jewellery,  the original vintage furniture pieces, the teams outfits. It is all perfectly curated to be part of the overall experience.

As  I mentioned before the Sugarcoated team is very professional, they are all fans of the vintage rockability/Pin-up look and carry it off so well. The second you walk into the quaint studio you feel at ease and want to try on everything. The girls make you feel empowered and body positive, while helping you to get in the mood for your  pin-up and vintage inspired transformation. It took about an hour to do my make up and hair. They then had 2 outfits pre-selected for me in different sizes.

STEP 3: The PHOTOSHOOT

Vivian is the photographer of the team. She will choose a background colour and lead you through a room with all the props into the photo corner where all is set up for your photo session.

She will guide you through the poses and is awesome at making you feel at ease. She will literally tell you that the more over the top your gestures and mimicry are the more likely the photos will be stunning -so stop being shy and let  your inner Pin-Up out!

It is a hard work to be a Pin-Up. Bottom out, chest out, foot flexed, Legs slightly bend, one foot off the ground, arms to the side, shoulders relaxed but active.I felt like I was taking a pilates class while being dressed up in the most amazing vintage clothing. And let’s not forget you will be wearning high heels while doing all of this. The day after the makeover my lower back and calf muscles  hurt, just as much as hitting the gym after a long break.

Then it is time for a break and a make-up touch up before putting on outfit number 2 (I booked the classic package, which meant I got to take pictures in 2 different outfits).

Step 4: WAIT FOR THE PICTURES TO LAND IN YOUR INBOX

I went home by train, and let me tell you I was still wearing the full make-up and my hair was all curly  and I  got plenty of strange looks. Some people were better at hiding their curiosity than others.

I had taken some pictures while at the studio and some selfies for family and friends. Over the next days I often looked at them wondering what the real professional pictures would look like. It felt like having to wait to open my presents on Christmas eve. Within less than a week I got a pre-selection of pictures out of which I could choose the ones I wanted.

STEP 5: LOOK AT THE PICTURES IN UTTER DISBELIEF THAT IT IS ACTUALLY YOU

Vivian and her team told me that once they make their final selection of pictures it takes about an hour per picture to make sure it is all the way they want it to be. Within 2 weeks depending on how many pictures you ordered I got the final pictures. Seriously whenever I look at the pictures I still cannot believe that it is me.

I proudly present to you my Pin-Up self

No introuduction needed the final Pin-up makeover pictures speak for themselves.

 

I had so much fun during my photoshoot and can warmly recommend treating yourself (or your wife/girlfriend/mom) to this special experience. The studio also organizes bachelorette parties , maternity  and couples vintage makeovers.

Thank you Sugarcoated  team !

I am for sure going to be addicted to your Instagram  and Facebook feed for a long time to come.

Also read our blog post about Rotterdam: A vibrant and diverse city.Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.

 

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Being a tourist in your own city: Museum Voorlinden with a toddler

We went to Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar with our toddler and had a great time! You might think we are crazy for taking a toddler to a contemporary modern art museum, but let me tell you it is not as scary as you think.

Visiting museums, not the kid-friendly kind, to see abstract painting or objects is something that we feel is a great way of learning about the world for our little one. It’s all about fostering creativity and seeing the world through his eyes. Our little one builds connections between the things he knows and things he sees in his books.He starts to understand that the concrete and literal world around him can be interpreted differently. That is a great basis for future learning!

Tempted to skip visiting museums and exhibitions until your toddler is older? 

⇓ Find below our 6 golden rules for visiting museums with a toddler ⇓

The Voorlinden Museum

It is a relatively new museum which opened at the end of 2016. The beautiful museum was founded and is privately owned by Joop van Caldenborgh.

It is on the outskirts of Wassenaar on an old estate called Voorlinden.

The museum building is very modern yet fits into its surroundings.

It’s easy to combine your museum or restaurant visit with a relaxing walk through the surrounding woodlands and dunes.

The old English-style manor next to the museum houses the museum’s restaurant. It has a big terrace and overlooks a well-maintained estate. You know the kind of estate that looks rugged, but is anything but. On the grounds of the Voorlinden estate you can also find a  child-friendly hiking trail.

The museum building itself is an architectural  pearl,which has been designed with a focus of “actively contributing to the experience of nature inside the building.” The latter is obvious as of the moment you walk through the revolving doors and enter the museums main hall. 

Upon entering the building our son immediately pointed at the big windows and the ceiling. He loved the ceiling and kept looking up to announce that the ceiling was full of ‘bubbles’. What he saw were a series of 115.000 diagonal ducts arranged over the entire roof.  The ceiling is  made of transparent glass, with additional indirect LED lighting incorporated into it, which means the exhibitions spaces are lit by natural daylight. The interior is divided into three general sections in accordance with the museum program: collection presentations (1), temporary exhibitions (2) and the permanent exhibition (3).

OUR 6 GOLDEN RULES for a museum visit with a toddler

# 1 Keep the visit short: Their attention span is short, most kids start becoming fussy after about 30-45 minutes. We know that we can only visit a museum for max 1 hour before we have to deal with a frustrated toddler. We always tag team and set realistic expectations. Visiting a museum with a toddler means you will be able to get a feel for the exhibition, rather than really having the time to appreciate some of the art pieces on display.

# 2 Set yourself up for success : We make sure we arrive at a museum with a well-rested and fed toddler.Furthermore we always either try to visit museums right when they open in the morning or just before they close in the evening. At Museum Voorlinden we arrived about 1 hour before closing time (5pm), as we assumed that the museum would be rather empty just before closing .We were right, there were +/-10 people in the museum. This allows our lively little one a lot of freedom to explore without disturbing too many other visitors.TIP: Book tickets online to avoid queues at the entrance, often museums have combi tickets and discounts on their website that are not available at the ticket desk.

# 3 Expect your toddler to be excited about the colourful art installations: He did try to explore the art installations, as some admittedly looked like oversized toys waiting to be explored. He did thrown more than  one  tantrum and sat down to cry in frustration when we ( and the guards) crossed his plans to touch the flying kits and pick up the piano keys, but that was to be expected. Don’t panic ,tantrums never lasts long, it is just something he needs to do to voice his frustation and we as parents need to endure. From experience I can assure you the vast majority of people in museums give you a knowing smile and walk on. TIP: Take regular snack breaks. We always after about 30 minutes walk back to the cloakroom for snacktime.

# 4 Make it interesting to a toddler: We knew we had to make the exhibition interesting to him and museum Voorlinden did not have any child-friendly museum guides or games available. So we asked our little one to identify objects he saw. That game kept him occupied for a good 20 minutes. He recently started to use more words and thankfully a lot of the art on display had elements that he could correctly and proudly identify as ‘fish’,’bird’, ‘dog’ and ‘bubbles’.

# 5 Don’t forget to enjoy the museum: Ideally you did your research before you arrive at the museum. i.e. Checked if bags are allowed? Checked if you allowed to bring in food or drinks? Researched if the museum offers kid-friendly guides & co? Does the museum providing strollers or can you bring in your own one? (At Voorlinden we were allowed to bring in our stroller.) Check all this out beforehand so you can plan accordingly. Normally it is easy to find all the info in the ‘plan your visit’ section on the museums website. Once you arrive and hold your entry ticket in your hand, take a deep breath, go with the flow and enjoy your time at the museum.

# 6 Have a plan B: We agreed that since museum Voorlinden has a big park around it, if our little one would not play along, that my hubs would take him to play outside while I was allowed to enjoy the exhibition.  Luckily our plan B was not needed on this occassion, as museums Voorlinden permanent collection is very family friendly.

THE PERMANENT EXHIBITION IS VERY CHILD FRIENDLY

We thouroughly enjoyed the permanent exhibition, as that part of the museum is very child-friendly. The fact that we showed up an hour before closing time meant the museum was virtually empty and we had the entire permanent exhibition space to ourselves! Our 4 favourite exhibits were:

Couple under an Umbrella by Ron Mueck

Open Ended by  Richard Serra ( fun fact: It weighs almost 216 tonnes. The corten steel work is 4 metres high, 18 metres long and 7 metres wide.)

 

Leandro Erlich’s Swimming Pool

 

When we walked up the stairs leaving the swimming pool, we  heard a little elevator ping, and it  was our toddler who discoverd this miniature piece of art. It is by Maurizio Cattelan and called Lift.

( We forgot to take a picture, so credit for this pictures goes to:http://www.elevatorworld.com/blogs/tag/miniature-elevator/)

Good to know

# Strollers are allowed in the museum

# The museums restaurant can also be visited without a museum ticket

# Parking is free of charge. It is easiest to get there by bike or car. There is a bus (Connexxion bus 43 and 44 to stop Wittenburgerweg Wassenaar) that stops in the vicinity which connects you to Den Haag and Leiden Centraal Station both within less than 20 minutes. However the walk from the bus stop to the museum is at least 15-20 minutes through a residential area.

# Entrance for adults is 15 EUR, while kids below the age of 12 are free of charge. 13-18 year olds get a 50% discount on the standard price i.e. pay 7, 50 EUR.

This blog is part of my Staycation project  Being a tourist in your own city -The Hague/The Netherlands, check out our other posts about things to do and see in The Hague on our where we have been page.

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The 2 amazing Transatlantic stopover destinations you should know

First of all let’s clarify what I mean by transatlantic stopover destination.

A stopover is an airfare hack that can double your vacation and is not to be confused with a layover.  Still the word stopover often is met with ” we prefer to fly directly, nothing worse then being stuck in a random airport waiting for your connection”, but that is not what a stopover is about at all. Stopovers allow you to  visit a country, leave the airport to go and explore at no additional airfare costs. Layovers mean you will be spending a lot of time at an airport . Several airlines are offering stopover fares which allow their passengers to enjoy their hub city for a few days at no extra airfare costs to them  before flying on to their final vacation destination. Did you know that en route from Europe to North America there are 2 airlines that offer Transatlantic stopover options? Yes,there are two major international airports en route to Europe ⇔ North America.

THE BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL TRANSATLANTIC STOPOVER DESTINATIONS

I am sure you will easily guess Transatlantic stopover destination number 1. Yes that it is right it is Iceland! Iceland- the land of Ice and Fire. The country that has been on everyones travel wishlist and is popping up on Instagram daily. It is a very unique place with amazing nature, hot springs, plenty of volcanos and glaciers.  And IcelandAir is doing a great job at promoting Iceland as a Transatlantic stopover destination.

Source: Flightradar24.com

But then you scratch your head and think -there is only a lot of water between North America and Europe and there is no other major airport on the way…maybe Bermuda (part of the United Kingdom, about 2 hours flying to New York)…but no, that is not what I am talking about. Have you ever heard of the Hawaii of Europe? Say What? The Hawaii of Europe that is right- The Azores! The Azores are still very much flying under the radar, but trust me once you see pictures you will be visiting the website of AzoresAirlines to book your trip.

On your next journey across the Atlantic, take advantage of the option to stop in Iceland or on the Azores (Island of São Miguel or Terceira Island) for up to 7 nights at no additional airfare.

Iceland vs Azores

Both destinations are breathtakingly beautiful and well worth visiting. Another thing both of these isolated Transatlantic stopover destinations have in common is that they have both been breaking their own tourism records continously since 2016, in that year the Azores started to permit lowcost carrier flights, from airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.  Iceland, was once a rarely-visited island but has now grown into one of the most popular countries in the entire world for travelers.

Award Winning Destinations

Both are award winning destinations which  offer unspoilt nature, volcanoes, amazing hiking trails, waterfalls, beaches, whale watching and are mainly heated by geothermal energy. The Azores have won” the most beautiful landscapes of Europe by Best Destination”, are continously listed as “one of the Global Top 100 Most Sustainable Destinations” and The Azores were considered “the most beautiful place in the world by Belgian Dutch edition of National Geographic Traveller”.  When googling ‘Iceland the most beautiful place on earth’ google has no less than 1.720.000 results listed. While the beaches of Iceland are cold and stormy, the Azores are more of a beach destination and also when it comes to exquisit food, the Azores beat Iceland hands-down, unless you consider the Icelandic inofficial national dish of  hot dogs and ice cream, haute cuisine.

Some facts about Iceland
  • Foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was around 8 million in 2016, a 40.1% increase from 2015 , compared to less than 500.000 visits in 2010!
  • Population : +/-335.000
  • Currency: Icelandic Krona
  • Language: Icelandic
  • Iceland is an independent country
SOME Facts abot the Azores

I will let the  pictures speak for themselves to show you just how beautiful and unique both Transatlantic stopover destinations are:

    

While all the Iceland images are my own, the ones from the Azores. I got from the VisitAzores Instagram account.

Lets compare the 2 Airlines THAT OFFER THE STOPOVERS

I have been to Iceland and flew Icelandair and have nothing but good things to say about the country and the airline! When looking for reviews on the airline for this article, to confirm my positive experience, I found that the general consensus about Icelandair is that it serves yummie food, has good service on board, a modern fleet (fleetsize: 33) and load of travellers praise them for their outstanding service.

Azores Airlines, formerly known as SATA Internacional, on the other hand seems to be a solid reliable airline  (fleetsize: 7) without much glamour and some growing pains. They are more of a low cost carrier it seems when reading the reviews. We have a flight booked with them in spring 2018 and I will be able to report back on my actual experience them then. Stay tuned.

FLIGHT TIMES & ROUTES

Both Airlines have various international connection options in Europe and North America.

Azores Airlines

 

Icelandair

ONBOARD ENTERTAINMENT

IcelandAir offers complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and free access to a personal in-flight entertainment system in the seat in front of you. A good selection of food and drinks is for sale (with a complimentary meal for children), as well as Wi-Fi access on all flights.

Azores Airlines, seem to have old planes. The in-flight entertainment seems to be some mediocre movies screened on overhead screens. One review I read sums the airline up nicely:” Its a budget airline. Bring your own water, some nibbles and a tablet, try to sleep and remember that the destination [The Azores] is so worth those tiny seats. And you will not mind the short flight.

 

Stopover T & C

For up-to-date Terms & Conditions visit the airlines websites:

                            

AzoresAirlines website                                   Icelandair website

Have you ever been to Iceland or the Azores?

Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.

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Rotterdam: A vibrant diverse city

When I first moved to the Netherlands many many years ago,  I initially set up home in Rotterdam. Back then I was a student and liked Rotterdam for it is nightlife and ‘big city’ feel. However I also thought it was industrial, rundown, uninspiring and sometimes I did not feel safe when walking home alone at night. In the last years Rotterdam has gone from strengths to strengths and it is nowadays a very inviting, young and vibrant city, which is well worth a visit. It has really cleaned up its act and our little family enjoys going to Rotterdam on our days off. From The Hague ,where we currently live, it is only about 25 minutes on the train and there is a train ever 15 minutes, while travelling from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train takes takes about 40 minutes and they also run in 15 minute intervals.

TIP: Train travel in the Netherlands is easy and very well organized. All information is available in English, the trains have Wi-Fi and all ticket machines accept credit cards ( with pin!) and have multiple language options. You can also buy your tickets online. A day return ticket is valid from 00.00 until 04.00 the next morning. You can break your journey, provided you complete your journey on the same day. Children under 4 years travel for free. For children 4-11 years old special Railrunner tickets are available for 2,50 EUR → More information on Dutch NS Rail.

Visiting the Netherlands soon?

When people ask me which cities they should go and see in The Netherlands, I always tell them skip Amsterdam.  It is generally overrated,  expensive and full of tourist traps. The Netherlands is such a charming country and has beautiful cities and villages to explore. The ones that come to mind immediately and can all be reached from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport within less than an hour, by car or train are  Delft, Leiden, Haarlem,The Hague, Utrecht and Rotterdam.  And then of course the Netherlands has some  unique countryside to explore, the famous tulip fields in the spring, windmils, dykes and  castles. The Dutch all tend to have an excellent command of the  English language, are great at signposting things  and their public transport system is excellent – so it is hard to get lost in this tiny country.  But let’s for today focus on Rotterdam!

Our 7 Rotterdam highlights when travelling wITH KIDS

Rotterdam has a lot to offer for families, architecture lovers and foodies. These are our 6 highlights that you should not miss out on when visiting Rotterdam.

#1 Blijdorp Zoo

The Rotterdam zoo is big award winning  zoo which has been in operation for more than 160 years.  Diverse animals, plenty of indoor and outdoor playgrounds and a great aquarium are all part of this well-maintained zoo. It  can be enjoyed all year round. It is also one of the top zoos worldwide when it comes breeding programmes for endangered species. TIP: Buying tickets only will give you a discount and allow you to by pass the queues.

# 2 PlaswijckPARK

Plaswijckpark in  Rotterdam  is hard to describe. If I give it a try I would say it is a family park with playgrounds and rides for children (up to age 12), a boat tour, a zoo and petting farm, a rose garden and an outdoor swimming pool all in one. It is like someone decided to mix together all of my kids favourite activites in one park to guarantee a great day out for the entire family. The park is small but big enough to spent an entire day there without getting bored.

#3  Foodie Heavens – Fenix Food Factory and The Markethal

Rotterdam has plenty of great restaurants including some Michelin star ones.  Our two favourite places in Rotterdam to enjoy with the little one are, the Fenix Food Factory and the Markthal. Both are host to an array of market stalls, artisan food shops and restaurants.  From the Fenix Food Factory, which is housed in a former warehouse on a peninsular within easy reach of the city centre, you have a great view over the river and the city skyline. While next to the lovely colourful Markethal you will find one of Rotterdam’s most famous sights -the Cube houses. One of them is accessible to the public, it is a nice stop over if you have time and are interested in architecture.

#4 Maritime Museum

Rotterdam has some really nice museums for all ages. Our little one likes the  Maritime Museum. It is all about shipping, its history, effect on our daily life and it has plenty of vessels, ships and harbour cranes to explore. It is interesting for the parents and fun for  little ones. The museums top floor has a big playground area which we like to spent time at. TIP: If you stay overnight on the SS Rotterdam (see below for hotel recommendations) you can get a watertaxi to drop you off right next to the museum.

#5 Take a watertaxi

In Rotterdam all is about water and the maritime industry, so it should come as no surprise that apart from busses, trams and trains Rotterdam operates watertaxis. They have 2 types, there are black-yellow  speed boats, which cruise along the Maas river at speeds of about 50kph and some old fashioned slower boats, which only operate on 2 set routes. The black-yellow watertaxis have 50 pick/up and drop off locations and are a cheap and fast way to get around the port of Rotterdam and to surrounding villages. You can also book a watertaxi sightseeing tour and book the boats to take you to local tourist attractions, such as the windmills of Kinderdijk.

Photo source: watertaxirotterdam.nl

#6 For adrenaline junkies: Ziplining of the Euromast

By now readers of this blog know that my other half is an adrenaline junkie and loves to challenge himself. Last year for his birthday I gave him a voucher to zipline down the Euromast. He utterly loved it. If you are into climbing over the barrister of a tower about 100 meters  above the ground, while only being attached to a tiny harness, this is what you are looking for. You will fly down the zipline at  100 km per hour on the fastest zip-line of Europe! Within just 15 seconds you will be back on the ground with adrenaline flowing through your veins. During the summer months on every last Sunday of the month the Euromast organize a zipline day (reservations required!). For the non-adrenaline junkie members of the family,  the Euromast has a great restaurant from which you can enjoy the panorama view of the city , there is a big park around the Euromast too, which our little one likes to explore.

#7 Exploring the harbour : Futureland and the Pancakeboat

Rotterdam is known for its massive harbour, which is the largest port in Europe. From 1962 until 2004 it was the world’s busiest port, but Shanghai has since claimed that title. It is impressive to take a harbour tour to experience  the sheer vastness of the port area. There are various port tours organized in Rotterdam and these are easy to find.

The ones we like most with our little one  is a boat tour through the harbour on a pancake boat, so in essence it is a swimming pancake restaurant with ball pit and playground on board. For older kids there is an information centre of the Port of Rotterdam called Futureland, which is all about the Maasvlakte 2 area of the port. The MV2 are is a manmade part of the harbour and houses one of the most modern container terminals in the world, they offer terminal tours by bus, boat and virtual reality- take a  3D trip through the MV2 port area with the FutureFlightExperience.

Picture source: pannenkoekenboot.nl

Rotterdam has so much to offer it will be hard to get bored. If you do want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city we would suggest to head south along the river to visit the city of Dordrecht.

DAYTRIP – Dordrecht

A really great way to combine your trip to Rotterdam with a traditional Dutch town, away from the tourist masses,  is to visit Dordrecht. Dordrecht is Holland’s oldest city and well worth a visit. It has a  lot of charm and a history as an important merchant city. The former wealth of this quintessential Dutch city is clearly visible in it is historic city centre. Parts of Rotterdam feel like Amsterdam with all its bridges and houses, but without the tourist masses.

For a daytrip to Dordrecht we would suggest you take the train from Rotterdam to Dordrecht ( approx 17 min) and then while there visit the Huis van Gijn museum (Huis Van Gijn is a beautiful home museum of an extremely wealthy family. It gives a glimpse how upper class lived in the late 18th and early 19th century)and enjoy a cup of tea in their lovely backyard lunchoom. Afterwards stroll through the old centre along the cathedral and old harbour and head over to the lovely Villa Augustus (a former Watertower, which is now a great hotel/restaurant). Then you can walk along the water to the Waterbus, which is just what the name indicated,  a bus (ferry) which will take you back to Rotterdam within an hour.

Picture source: booking.com

It is a great boattrip and a good way to experience the busy waterways around Rotterdam  and shows how the entire region  is shaped by the maritime industry. The waterbus is used by many commuters and you will see school children get on and off, people with their shopping and plenty of bikes will be rolled on and off the waterbus along its route. If you got yourself an OV Cards (a rechargable public transport card used all over The Netherlands), you can just swipe in using your card.  The Waterbus also has routes from Rotterdam taking you to some beautiful touristic sights, such as Kinderdijk.

Where to sleep in Rotterdam

For a unique location, which is also fun with kids, we highly recommend the SS Rotterdam.  It is a bit out of the city centre at a quiet quay. The hotel is actually a decomissioned former flaghip of the Holland-America Line. Sleeping on a permanently moored cruise ship which has been carefully restored to its former 1950s style glory is a really fun experience. There is a museum on board and you can get to and from the city centre within 10 minuted by car or watertaxi!

Picture source: voordeeluitjes.nl

If you are travelling to Rotterdam without the kids,stay at the NHow overlooking the Erasmus bridge. It is a very modern hotel within the De Rotterdam building (architecture lovers will appreciate the location and building!) with a great rooftop bar and fabulous views; overlooking the river and famous Erasmus bridge. It is within walking distance to the Fenix Food factory and the famous historical landmark/hotels/restaurant Hotel New York. It is from this small island in the Maas river that the emigrant boats started their journey to the West towards Ellis Island.

TIP: Rotterdam-The Hague airport has daily flights to big hubs such as Berlin and London. The airport is small and very easy to navigate and waiting times are  short. It is often easier and hassle free to fly out of Rotterdam-The Hague airport than to fly out of Amsterdam Schiphol airport, which can get very crowded with long waiting times at security.

Have you ever visited Rotterdam? Tell us more about it in the comments.

Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.

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