Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wandering Wednesday - Sorrento, Italy

The picture perfect town of Sorrento on the Italian Amalfi coast was a much needed, relaxing stop half way through our travels in Italy a few years ago. I imagine that during the height of a European summer, it would be fairly touristy but seeing as we arrived prior to high season, it was a quiet little seaside town. We based ourselves in Sorrento while spending a few days exploring the rest of the Amalfi coast (which I can't even begin to provide justice to in just one blog post!) but also set aside some time to leisurely wander around the streets. We stayed in a lovely B&B 'Casa Chiaro di Luna' located in the town centre where we were made to feel at home by the owners. It wasn't the fanciest place we've ever stayed in, but really quite clean, spacious and a nice atmosphere compared to all the other Italian hotels we experienced!

Mitch and I both do love our food (me especially!) so it's no surprise that we spent a lot of our time relaxing with a glass of chianti and some tiramisu in one of Sorrentos many restaurants and cafes. Limoncello is a popular drink from this area and naturally, we decided to give this a go. We ordered shot glass sized portions of this lemony yellow liqueur but were served champagne glasses for some unknown reason - an experience I never wish to repeat. I managed a few sips of this thick, strong liquid that resembled melted Strepsils before feeling too ill to continue: it was revolting. One of my favourite memories of our time here was the gelato shops - although it was March and still quite chilly, we made sure we sampled some tasty Italian ice cream at least once per day!

Although the town itself was quite pretty, my favourite thing about Sorrento was the scenery. The views from some of the cliffside parks were spectacular, especially at sunset. On a clear day, we could even see all the way to Naples.

Our visit to Sorrento was really refreshing and if I was heading back to the Amalfi coast, I'd definitely stay there again. Next time we head to the Italian coast however, I'm determined to make it to the Cinque Terre... One day, one day....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wandelen in Hoog Buurlo

Last week, Dad and I spent the morning (prior to the foul herring episode) wandering around the Hoog Buurloo forest. The main reason we came here was because Dad had memories of fietsen through this forest to an old schaapskooi - sheep shed.

We were walking down this path, through the beautiful huge old trees and came across a young shepherd (employed by the bosbeheer) and his sheepdog. We got to talking in half Dutch/half English and he was really friendly and chatted away for ages, even giving Dad a bosbeheer plaque (which thankfully meant I no longer had to look away as Dad tried to detach them from signposts along the road).

The old schaapskooi that Dad remembered as a kid had since been torn down and replaced with this hay shed and the shepherds little shed/office area. The whole area is open to the public and the shepherd is there to not only tend to the sheep, but answer people's questions and show them around a little.

The oldest schaapskooi in the Hoog Buurlo was this one from the 1960's. According to Dad, it looks just like the one he saw as a kid. It was such a pretty area, I'd love to go back with my fiets and go for a bit of a bike ride through the forest!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Finally - a country where people have actually heard of and know how to spell my (maiden) surname...

Unfortunately though, it turns out I still don't know how to pronounce it - I had a lesson the other day from the hairdresser in how to correctly say Gerritsen but it turns out, my Dutch genes have failed me - I just can't manage that G...

--- Sign discovered on a random street in Amsterdam today ---

Ameland: a brief visit to a very beautiful island

Our road trip through North Holland last weekend led us to the West Frisian Islands. Out of this chain of islands, we chose Ameland for a brief visit as Dad went camping here as a child. We ended up borrowing tents off some friends and setting up camp for the night near the beach at Buren as being school holidays, there was no accommodation left on the island. I do love camping but it's something I associate with Australia - certainly not Europe - but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's still just as good over here!!!! (a tent is now on my shopping list!!!).

Ameland was absolutely beautiful: still quite wild and rough but also developed enough to give you some kind of sense of civilisation - plenty of decent pubs and cafes in the four townships. We awoke well before the rest of the campground on Saturday morning (at 7am mind you - Dutch people seem to sleep in while camping!) and headed off to the almost deserted beach for a stroll in the early morning sunshine.

Along the short walk to the beach, I was SO excited to see these bunnies!!!! I'd actually found one the night before outside our tent so wasn't really surprised to see more - they were everywhere and rather tame. The beach at Buren was long and sandy - a sandy beach is exciting as so many beaches in Europe are only pebbled. It actually really reminded me of our Aussie beaches - it was a proper beach in my opinion and I'd love to go back for a dip in the sea. While Dad worked on his writing, Mitch and I went for a wander, sighting rolling grassy dunes, sandcastles, oil rigs and even someone out for a ride on their fiets

After packing up camp, we spent the day leisurely exploring the rest of this island. The long dijks which protect the island from the sea are covered in these local sheep, which as we discovered later in the week (more to come on that) fetch a pretty penny. I have say, I think they are the ugliest sheep I have ever seen in my life - they resembled bull dogs gone wrong.

The beach at Holwerd was just as pretty as Buren, although much more crowded. Dad camped in the dunes here beside the lighthouse so we had a look around, amongst the many, many bikes. We saw plenty of Dutch Fathers taking their kids for a spin in these specially built bikes so Dad and I figured - better late then never...

The Reddingsmuseum (Rescue Museum) on the island was well worth a visit - one of the key features of this island is it's horse drawn lifeboat that was used for real rescues until 1988. The museum provided a fantastic insight into this brave means of rescue, which at times proved to be deadly - a terrible mishap in the 70's resulted in 8 horses drowning. Today, there are still regular demonstrations of the lifeboat on the island, which we happened to miss by only a week :-(

And of course, being Dutch there was a windmill on the island - just as pretty as always...

While having the car was great, next time I'd like to go back on my bike (and see how much camping gear we can load on it!) as so many others do. The island is so well set up for bike riding and I think you'd get to see even more while leisurely riding along the bike paths. Or perhaps, we could roll up our pants and hit the mud flats - at low tide, you can actually walk all the way over to the island... I think the ferry is more appealing though!!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gouda galore, fishing boats & a very long dijk: some travels through North Holland

On Friday, Dad, Mitch and I headed up north for a little road trip to the West Frisian islands. Although this is practically the other end of the country, it's still only 2hrs drive (yes, it's a very small country!) so we decided to go via a few places in North Holland where none of us had ever visited.

Our first stop of the day was in the cheese filled town of Alkmaar. Every Friday morning between April & September, there is a traditional cheese market on the town square. The traffic getting into the parking lot in Alkmaar was pretty awful and so we were a little late getting to the markets. By the time we arrived (about 15mins after it started), there were so many day trippers and tour groups we couldn't see a thing. Dad held a bike still so Mitch could stand on it to snap a few photos while I jumped up and down on the spot in the hope of seeing something.

After a big downpour, a lot of people cleared the town square and we could finally watch the men in traditional outfits running around the town square carrying a 25kg cart with 8 blocks of gouda weighing 12kg each - it's no wonder they had a couple of accidents, sending the big mounds of cheese rolling onto the town square!

Alkmaar was quite a pretty town from the little bit we saw of it, although I have to say one visit to the cheese market in my lifetime will probably be more then enough. Although, the free taste testers were pretty good!!!! After filling up on komijnenkaas, we escaped the touristy crowds and headed for the fishing town of Hoorn for a lunch break. We spent some time wandering down to the harbour and checking out the old fishing barges and crooked buildings. I was especially pleased to find a craft store that had a decent selection of wool and an awesome knitted toys book - once I translate the patterns and start knitting, there'll be photos to come!!!!

Our final destination on the mainland for the day was the ferry terminal at Holwerd. To get over to Friesland, we took the 32km long Afsluitdijk. This impressive piece of engineering was built between 1927 and 1933 to dam off the Zuiderzee and reclaim land. There were stopping points along the way with monuments and explanations/photos of how the Afsluitdijk was built which made me realise just how vulnerable this country would be to the sea without all these man-made reinforcements.

After a rather roundabout route to Holwerd (I love having a GPS but sometimes I do wonder what it's thinking when it takes us off the highway and onto tiny little roads that resemble driveways and back onto the highway for no apparent reason), we arrived with plenty of time to spare and Mitch and Dad ran around taking photos of the mud flats before we headed over to Ameland for the weekend. More to come....

Wandering Wednesday - Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand - Mitch and I visited this pretty location on the south island en route to a skiing holiday in Queenstown back in 2006. After having read about the fantastic pie shop by the lakeside, we decided to take a break in this little town - and we weren't disappointed, the area is spectacular and the range of yummy gourmet pies available at this local bakery (the name of which I've long forgotten) provided a tasty lunch!!! There's not much in Lake Tekapo itself but it's such a beautiful location to stop and enjoy the scenery.

Many people stop here to look at the quaint little church which allows for a great photo opportunity over the lake. Like others, we had a look and took the classic window shot before spending some time crunching through the snow around the lakeside.

A couple of days prior to our arrival in New Zealand, there was a massive snowstorm and so the entire drive from Christchurch to Queenstown was white. It was my very first time seeing snow and so I was rather excited!!!! We only had such a brief (8 days) holiday in New Zealand - I can't wait to go back one day and explore it all a little more in depth!!!

Slimy, salty & stinky - and yet, I ate it!!!!

Yesterday marked a key occasion of our time in Holland - my very first taste of zoute haring. I'm not much of a fan of fish to start with, but I'm always up for trying something new so considering Dad and I were in the fishing village of Harderwijk at lunchtime, I decided it was about time to hold my breath and give this slimy little fish a go!!!!

We went for the popular way of eating this Dutch delicacy: on a soft white bun with raw onion. First impressions: FOUL!!!!!!!!!!!! Ugh, ugh, ugh!!!!!!!!!!!! I managed to swallow down half of it but I have to say, it wasn't particularly pleasant. The nice white bun and onion sure helped, but it was so slimy and the smell stuck with me all day. According to Dad, it tasted nothing like what he had as a child - we both felt slightly ill for the rest of the day, so Dad decided to bring home some gerookte paling (smoked eel) to wash away the taste.

The verdict:: I'm in no hurry to eat some more haring but the gerookte paling was lekker!!!!! A bit oily, but surprisingly tasty!!!!


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