Spring Among the Tulips in Holland

Holland is the name given to the western part of the Netherlands that includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. One of the most densely-populated countries in the world, the Netherlands is also one of the most tourist-friendly, with most cities, towns and villages sporting at least one tourist information office providing maps and free brochures. Ocean currents keep the spring and summers very temperate and pleasant, but be prepared for the weather to change at the drop of a wooden shoe!

With over 800 bridges more than Venice, Amsterdam also sports nearly 900,000 bicycles. That’s more bicycles than inhabitants and four times the number of cars. This has led to the city being EXTREMELY bike friendly. In fact, one of the most photographed sights in Amsterdam is the bicycle parking in front of Central Station. Renting bikes to explore the city and take advantage of the more than €120,000,000 invested in bicycle infrastructure is a great way to experience life as a native. Amsterdammers bike approximately 2,000,000 kilometers (1,200,000 miles) every single day. There is even a bike-friendly museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, which is the only museum in the world you can cycle through.

There are 51 museums in the city (the highest concentration of museums in the world), which make it a wonderful place to explore art and history. The Netherlands lays claim to some of the world’s most famous painters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen, van Gogh and Mondrian. Besides the Rijksmuseum, people flock to the van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank house, so be SURE to get tickets in advance. The van Gogh museum tickets are available online and give you an assigned start time in order to control the flow of visitors through the museum. Don’t be late for your entry time, or you may not be able to get in. The Anne Frank house releases 80% of their tickets two months in advance, and the other 20% at 9:00 AM the day of.

For those with a more than passing interest in history, a canal cruise is a perfect way to explore the city and see the sights. There are over 60 miles of canals in Amsterdam, separating it into 90 different islands, and Grachtengordel, the historic canal belt, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many locals actually live in one of the 3,000 houseboats on the canals, and some of them are even available for tourists to stay in rather than bunking in a hotel.

Dining in Amsterdam is an exploration of world cuisine. There are the traditional Dutch foods such as Bitterballen (deep fried crispy meatballs), Frites (thick cut Dutch fries served with mayo), Snert (a thick green stew made from split peas, pork, celery, leeks and onions), and Stroopwafels (two thin waffles with a sweet syrup holding them together). But you can also get an Indonesian Rice Table dinner (25 to 30 small plates of veggies, meats and other delicacies), a Javanese Bakabana (fried plantain in peanut sauce), Tibetan Dumplings, and Eritrean Meat Stew (with beer served in a coconut shell).

For those looking for a shopping experience, there are numerous department stores and shopping centers, most notable De Bijenkorf in Dam Square and the spectacular Magna Plaza. Kalverstraat and Leidstraat sport numerous exclusive shops such as Paul Warmer, Filippa K and Shoebaloo, as well as more of the typical European fare such as Zara, Esprit and UNIQLO. For antiques and art, be sure to visit Spiegelkwartier. And no visit to the city would be complete without spending some time at Bloemenmarkt, the floating Flower Market and one of the most fragrant places in all of Amsterdam. You can even find flower bulbs certified for export so you can bring some of Holland’s colorful Tulips home with you. You can find tulips in every color in a 64-crayon box, and then some more colors and patterns Crayola never imagined!

A short tour bus ride from Amsterdam is Lisse, home to the famous Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world. Hyacinth, tulips and daffodils can be found in spectacular arrangements of colors, creating a display like no other. There are bikes available for rent which you can ride through the fields and surrounding gardens. But the garden is only open a VERY limited amount of time each spring, so if this is one of your chosen destinations, plan carefully, and be sure to take your allergy medication so you can enjoy the incredible smell without sneezing for days.

When your historic, artistic, floral and dining senses have all been overwhelmed, Amsterdam sports the ‘Literary Landmarks Walking Tours’ focusing on libraries, book cafés and the city’s most important writers. Holland’s industrial and mercantile history fostered a robust book trade, which wasn’t subject to the same degree of control that was imposed in countries such as France and England. This brought about a very stimulated cultural and intellectual life for the cities residents, one you are sure to fall in love with as you explore this phenomenal city.

Recommended Reading:

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, Russell Shorto
The Coffee Trader, David Liss
Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City, Geert Mak
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

Exploring Norway, From Fantastic Food to Opera and Vikings

The Kingdom of Norway is the westernmost country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northwestern Europe. With a land area slightly less than that of California, it boasts a coastline that is over 15,000 miles long lined with thousands of islands. The majority of its five and a half million inhabitants live along the coast and in the southern portion of the country where its capital, Oslo, is located.

Founded in 1070, Oslo is both a city and a county, serves as the economic and governmental center of Norway, and has been ranked number one for the quality of life compared to other large European cities. A modern cultural nexus labeled one of the ten best cities in the world to visit, visitors find museums, galleries, music festivals, theaters, sports arenas, and the world-renowned Operahuset, or Oslo Opera House.

Clad primarily in white granite and white Italian marble, the main auditorium stage tower evokes old weaving patterns with its white aluminum sheath designed by Løvaas & Wagle. It is the Opera House’s roof, however, that earned the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2010. Sloping gently to ground level, the roof creates an inviting plaza encouraging visitors to walk to the top to enjoy spectacular views of Oslo. Nothing beats a cocktail on the rooftop as you watch the sunset!

Foodies are always thrilled to explore the many Oslo food markets, especially Mathallen Food Hall at Vulkan which is home to more than 30 cafes, eateries and specialty shops. The areas around the center of the city all have a high concentration of cafes and restaurants, and for the discerning palettes, there are six Michelin Star restaurants located within the city. Traditional cuisines vary from classic Norwegian fare such as lamb and cabbage stew (fårikål), brown stew (lapskaus), Norwegian meatballs (kjøttkaker), and steamed salmon or fish soup to specialties such as moose, reindeer and lutefisk (cod cured in lye). But while you visit, be sure to try the traditional heart-shaped waffles and their assorted toppings such as current jam or sugar and butter.

Bus and rail transportation will get you from place to place in Oslo, and the daily bus ticket also covers the inter-island ferry allowing tourists to explore some of the nearby islands for hiking, swimming, or sea views of the city skyline. Ikea, the Swedish home goods store, also offer quite popular free buses around town to encourage people to visit for shopping and food. And for those who want a bit more flexibility, bike rental stands can be found throughout the city if you want to take one out for a few hours to see the changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace.

No visit to Norway would be complete, however, without a bit of Viking history. It is quite simple to take a train or rent a car to head south to Sandefjord, the richest city in Norway and home to Europe’s only whaling museum. Known as the Viking Capital of Norway, it is also known as the Whaling Capital and has also been dubbed Badebyen (Bathing City) due to the many beaches and spas. History buffs can also visit the Gokstad Mound (Gokstadhaugen), which is a large burial mound at Gokstad Farm. Gokstadhaugen is also known as the Kings Mound (Kongshaugen) and is the discovery location of the Gokstad Ship, which is now in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

And finally, for the well-read visitors, Norway is home to literary greats such as playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Nobel Laureates Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun. The Ibsen Museum in Oslo is always a treat, his restored apartment is open for visitation, and if time permits, you can even take a day trip to his childhood home in Skien. If you are traveling in late May or early June, be sure to check out the Norwegian Literature Festival in Lillehammer and don’t forget a trip to the Litteraturhuset, or House of Literature, the national arena for literature, culture and debate.

Southern Norway abounds with treats for all the senses. Find out what else is in store with a visit arranged by Endless Travel.

Post written and photos provided by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach.


Travel Book Club!

Announcing a Travel Book Club!

Hosted by Endless Travel Literary Tours and HearthFire Books and Treats

Thursday, May 31st @ Noon

Whether you’re an armchair traveler, or you travel all the time, join us for a Travel Book Club.

Our Travel Bookclub is heading to the land “Down Under”

Australia – May 31st @ 12PM – Discussion led by Kappy Kling

Highlighted Book:

The Secret River – Kate Grenville              Historical Fiction
In 1806 William Thornhill, an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion, steals a load of wood and, as a part of his lenient sentence, is deported, along with his beloved wife, Sal, to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. The Secret River is the tale of William and Sal’s deep love for their small, exotic corner of the new world, and William’s gradual realization that if he wants to make a home for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him.

Other Australian Books to transport you there:

In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson                   Travel Essay
Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.

The Fatal Shore – Robert Hughes               History/Non-Fiction
In this bestselling account of the colonization of Australia, Robert Hughes explores how the convict transportation system created the country we know today.   Digging deep into the dark history of England’s infamous efforts to move 160,000 men and women thousands of miles to the other side of the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hughes has crafted a groundbreaking, definitive account of the settling of Australia.

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsey     – Mystery
A 50th-anniversary edition of the haunting novel about the disappearance of three boarding school girls that inspired the acclaimed film.   It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature.

The Songlines – Bruce Chatwin                   Travel Essay
Part adventure, part novel of ideas, part spiritual autobiography, The Songlines is one of Bruce Chatwin’s most famous books. Set in the desolate lands of the Australian Outback, it tells the story of Chatwin’s search for the source and meaning of the ancient “dreaming tracks” of the Aborigines–the labyrinth of invisible pathways by which their ancestors “sang” the world into existence.

The Dry – Jane Harper   (Also “Force of Nature”)            Mystery
Kappy’s note:   This one is just for fun by one of the hottest, newest Australian authors – it is a detective mystery but creates the sense of place we are looking for.

“After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

And if you want to check out some of Linda’s favorite current Australian Authors whose books take place in Australia.

Markus Zusak – Best known for “The Book Thief”, however, “I am the Messenger” takes place in Sydney and portrays the suburbs and attitudes of the young.

Liane Moriarty – “Big Little Lies, “The Husband’s Secret”, “Truly Madly Guilty”. All occur in the Sydney suburbs and are fun intrigue.

Liane’s sister, Nicola Moriarty, is also now writing and her books are similar. Try “The Fifth Letter”.

Andy Griffiths – These are children’s books, but if you have children or grandchildren, they are must have’s.