Monday, 10 October 2011


We arrived here in the morning and easily negotiated the subway system to Stephandom. Our hotel the Marc Aurel was not far from there and easy to find. It is a good middle of the road hotel close to the centre of Vienna.

We wandered around re-acquainting ourselves with familiar places.  In the afternoon we went to the Albertina as they had an exhibition on Monet and beyond which was worthwhile. We visited the rooms of the palace this time which always prove interesting.

Ferris Wheel at the Prater

The following day we visited the Technical Museum which had some wonderful interactive displays.  Later in the day we went to the Prater which is a large garden area which was once a hunting ground for the aristocracy. It also has a fun park with the famous Ferris wheel hat was featured in the movie ‘The Third Man’.
When we arrived at the station we saw many people of all ages in the national costume, leather knickerbockers for men and the dirndl outfits for women, which ranged from long skirts to mini skirt versions, some girls even wore the leather shorts as hotpants. There was a wine/beer and music festival and it was fun to watch the various tents with music playing the more traditional music and the enthusiastic participation of the young.
The next day I decided to get out of the city and go to the Vienna Woods. It seemed that Mayerling would be an interesting jumping off point for this.  Mayerling is famous as the place where the crown prince and his 17 year old mistress committed suicide together. We arrived and what was there? Nothing!  A hotel and a chapel! No paths into the woods. We walked to the next town Alland and being Sunday nothing was open except a couple of restaurants. So we had lunch walked around the town which didn’t take long. We certainly didn’t want to miss the next bus out as they only came once every two hours.
At both Mayerling and Alland there was a map of the Vienna woods but no directions or signposts pointing to possible walks, so the day didn’t quite work out as planned.
The following day we enjoyed walking around the Hofburg area, then went to Karlskirke and back via the Burggarten. It was just nice to sit in the sun
After much discussion as to where we wanted to revisit, we decided on the Belvedere, it was good to do as we were able to appreciate more he paintings we had seen previously. You have more time to reflect on the works. We were surprised that even though it was our second time at the Belvedere we still spent the whole day there.
We revel in just wandering around Vienna looking at the vast range of beautiful buildings. We spent the day around the Rathaus area then we went back to the Vienna Opera House for a tour. It was very informative. Only a small amount of the original building remained after the war. The audience capacity is 1700 and the stage is the largest in Europe. The last treat for us was to have afternoon tea at the Sacher Hotel and have the original Sacher Torte. I must admit it was a bit too much of a chocolate and sugar overdose for me, but the surroundings were wonderful.
The one thing in Vienna I hate is all the ‘Mozart’ music touts you can count over 10 around Stephendom and various numbers around famous buildings. Even with head down and no eye contact you can’t avoid being pounced on, but I still love the place.
Now it’s an overnight train to Freiburg Germany.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Netherlands- continued

We had a smooth run from Den Haag to Amsterdam which took just under an hour. Our hotel Park Lane was easy to find and very pleasant. This time we were on the second floor, the first flight of stairs was OK, but the second flight was the ‘stairs of death’- very steep, shallow steps and a spiral near the bottom. These are typical of many Dutch buildings, the building is narrow, and the stairs are steep.
As this wasn’t our first visit to Amsterdam we took a more relaxed attitude to sightseeing. Our first day consisted of catching up with some friends for lunch and then spent the rest of the day with them. It was very pleasant and good to see them now they have a baby.
The following day we wandered around to familiarize ourselves with Amsterdam again. It attracts more tourists than Den Haag. The red light district and the cannabis cafes are more of a feature here. Again we caught up with our friends for lunch going across to north of the harbor which was a nice change of view.
Afterwards we took a short canal tour which was very interesting. Amsterdam is known as Venice of the north with its hundred canals and a thousand bridges. It was an extremely prosperous and important city in the 18th Century which went from nothing to nothing in about 100 years.
 For the first time since we left home it looked rain and it actually rained just as we got close to our hotel. The little café Smit & Voogt at the corner of our street turned out to be a great find and was definitely out of the tourist area as there was no English menu, the waiter was happy to translate for us.


The next day we left the city for Haarlem, the train conductor told us that the town is often used in films to depict Amsterdam. The market square is dominated by a magnificent church (aren’t they all). The construction of the present church was from 1370 to1538. There are many interesting features in the church, which incorporate the history of the town. A magnificent Christian Muller organ which consists of 5088 pipes and was almost 30 metres high was played by Handel and in 1766 by the 10 year old Mozart.

Windmill at Leiden
We visited Leiden for the day, an old university town. It was unusual as it didn’t have the usual market square. There was a marked trail you can follow which takes in the various interesting points in the town.
The weather was perfect and as we wandered around we discovered the local market on the banks of the main canal. Here we had lunch sitting by the canal enjoying the passing parade of people soaking up the sun and atmosphere.
We visited the Franz Hals museum which was a small interesting gallery. Then off to the Leiden Museum which was both an art gallery and displayed information about the cloth manufacturing industry of the past.
Back in Amsterdam that evening we went to a wonderful small restaurant called ‘Marius’. The chef goes to the market everyday and chooses the freshest produce then cooks and 5 course market menu that night, so each day the meals will be different. The food was delicious and not heavy like so much of Dutch cooking .
On the last day we went to the Rembrant Haus. This house help bankrupt the artist as it cost him 130,000 guilders at the time and he had to borrow a great deal of money which eventually he was unable to pay back.
This museum had a range of paintings from various artists who worked in Rembrandt’s studio as well as some of Rembrandt’s work. The house and studio were set up as it would have been then and we had a demonstration as to how his etchings were done as well as information about the type of materials used.
We left Amsterdam that night for Vienna. 


Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Netherlands

The Hague
We arrived in Den Haag around 10 am from London via Rotterdam.  The first purchase was a map of the city, just so we could find our hotel. We seemed to take the long way round but finally arrived without too many detours. The hotel was small and simply presented. We were thankful they moved our room from the third floor to the first on our arrival as the spiral staircase was rather steep and carrying our cases up further than one floor would have sorely tested our stamina.
Peace Flame
We then went to explore the city. The Hague is one of the best kept secrets of tourism; it is a charming city that has much to offer. It is has its share of canals and 17th century classic Dutch buildings. It is the home of the Dutch Parliament, royal family and the international courts of justice Near the Justice Building is a perpetual flame for world peace which was sent from every continent this is surrounded by various stones from all the countries of the world, a very optimistic symbol.
We visited the Mauritshaus, a 17th century mansion which is now a museum full of old masters and includes some of Vermeer’s paintings of which one is Girl With a Pearl Earring. These smaller museums are often more satisfying than the large ones as you don’t become totally overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of paintings, You can spend more time really appreciating them.
Another interesting gallery is that of Prince Willem V which consists of a mass of paintings collected by him.
A typical view in The Hague
The Hague has the custom of high tea, even small cafes offer this. Two tier plates filled with cakes, pastries and sandwiches with a pot of tea. What a civilized way to while away an afternoon. There is definitely an air of wealth and refinement in this charming city
A day excursion to Delft was a 20 minute tram ride away. This was the centre of the Netherlands famous blue and white tiles and china. It is ironic that the blue and white ceramics from China inspired the original Delft ware and now all the cheap ‘Delft ware’ in tourist shops is imported from China. You can still buy Dutch produced Delft china but expect to pay a premium price.
In the centre of the town is the usual market square which is dominated by an imposing church called Nieuwe Kerk. A climb of over 350 steps to the top of the tower was worth for the spectacular view of the town.
Delft from church tower
As Vermeer lived in Delft it was only fitting they had a museum dedicated to him and his works. They had no original paintings only copies, however it was very interesting as it presented a lot of background about him and his works. There are only 37 paintings by Vermeer and three of those are disputed by experts. He wasn’t a prolific painter but as he had 16 children, that probably explains it.

Kurhaus Hotel
A short tram ride takes you to vast beach area with a promenade along the shoreline which stretches from a fishing harbor at one end to grass covered dunes at the other. One glance along the shoreline you get the feeling that its Blackpool meets St. Kilda. There is a long pier which houses a casino and a bungee jumping platform. The only real refinement in the area is the Kurhaus Hotel with its 19th century elegance whose past guests included Winston Churchill and Igor Stravinsky. A ‘Who’s Who’ of entertainers have performed in the vast Kurzaal Room beneath the glittering chandeliers. We had to have a coffee in the café to suck in the elegance before we returned to the city.