The limestone cliffs of Etretat

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

Monet's "End of the day" painting of Etretat

Monet’s “End of the day” painting of Etretat

Monet has immortalized in his canvas the limestone arches and cliffs of Etretat over a century ago. I can imagine why this fishing village along the Atlantic coast fascinated him then and why its charm still draws many to this day.

Almost five years ago, in late summer and my daughter was still a baby of just 10 months, we spent a week in this lovely seaside town. It was me and my husband’s second time to be in Normandy but a first for my parents-in-law who joined us in this holiday. We stayed in a pretty much secluded but lovely house owned by a French farmer perched on the hilltop that’s about two kms from Etretat’s town center.

Etretat is a town with character still intact in terms of those lovely half-timbered houses apart from its ever famous limestone arches and cliffs. While commercialism has unavoidably taken its root as well, the old charm still prevails. We had days spent on its pebbled beach watching just about everything — fishing boats coming onshore and the seemingly timeless manner of auctioning off the fishermen’s catch to restaurant buyers who boast of fresh catch of the day on their menus, busy cockle gatherers at low tide when the bottom of the shallow part of the Atlantic gets exposed, to magical sunsets that brought us a good understanding of why Monet fell in love with Etretat in the first place.

Etretat despite being romanticized most times, is like the rest of Normandy which has not been spared from the scourge of WWII. Along its picture-perfect coast, one cannot miss the heavily-fortified and macabre looking German bunker which must have seen some of the fiercest battles back then.

At the far end of Etretat’s picturesque limestone cliff is a quaint chapel which we visited in late afternoon just close to sunset time. It is not a real chapel but a folly, its placement there was more for aesthetic to further Etretat’s charm. Despite that discovery, this part of Etretat is simply spectacular with the most amazing vantage point to see the waters of the Atlantic as it stretches far into the horizon on one side, the town of Etretat below and the limestone arches further on.

We had a wonderful time during this holiday exploring not just Etretat but other historic places in Normandy as well.

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

Monet's painting

Monet’s painting

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

Etretat's pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Etretat’s pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Our family

Our family

Our family

Our family

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The folly chapel

The folly chapel

Etretat's limestone cliffs

Etretat’s limestone cliffs

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

Our family

Our family

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Francesca in Etretat

Francesca in Etretat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca with opa and oma

Francesca with opa and oma

At the shores of Etretat.  Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

At the shores of Etretat. Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

One sunny day in Etretat

One sunny day in Etretat

Our family

Our family

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Drive through Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and carpet of wild alpine blooms

Spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and carpet of wild alpine blooms

Many say that driving through the hairpin bends of Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the ultimate test for a good driver. There must be some truth to that because this road that goes up to about 3,798 meters above sea level through some 36 tricky bends and steep mountain cliffs is no laughing matter. It is a tall order to negotiate through such challenging conditions and not fall under the spell of amazing mountain sceneries that can make one lose focus which even for just a matter of seconds can be catastrophic.

We made two attempts at Grossglockner with the first one characterized by poor visibility. We were told that we could come back another time without paying the €33 toll fee. When the weather improved a few days later, we were back again and certainly it was worth the effort. The drive was exhilarating — what with the amazing sceneries of snow-capped mountains, scented pine forests, meadows blanketed with colorful alpine blooms, mountain tarns with turquoise colored glacial waters, waterfalls and culminating at the glacier that is Pasterze.

We brought our picnic basket with us and stopped by a nice picnic area close to a waterfall. Nothing can be far nicer than that, to have our meal in such a surrounding and savor all that beauty. Along the way was a restaurant with a lovely children’s playground and flower garden teeming with wild alpine blooms.

I’m looking forward to another trip up Grossglockner this summer. I am already imagining my little girl in her nice summer dress running around in that flower garden, picking a bloom or two to clip in her hair and singing the “Doe a dear” from her favorite movie, “The Sound of Music”.

Glacial mountain tarns

Glacial mountain tarns

Pine-scented forests, meadows carpeted in wild blooms and snow-capped mountain peaks

Pine-scented forests, meadows carpeted in wild blooms and snow-capped mountain peaks

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Our family

Our family

A tunnel

A tunnel

Inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel

A map of Grossglockner

A map of Grossglockner

Little Francesca at Grossglockner

Little Francesca at Grossglockner

Grossglockner

Grossglockner

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

At the children's playground:  "Let's go this way, Francesca."

At the children’s playground: “Let’s go this way, Francesca.”

"No, I go this way, Papa."

“No, I go this way, Papa.”

Beautiful garden of wild blooms

Beautiful garden of wild blooms

Lovely sign

Lovely sign

A butterfly

A butterfly

Forget-me-not blooms

Forget-me-not blooms

Alpine bloom

Alpine bloom

Some bugs

Some bugs

Alpine blooms

Alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

Mountain huts

Mountain huts

The Mr.

The Mr.

Hotel in Grossglockner

Hotel in Grossglockner

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Groeneveld Castle in spring

Groeneveld Castle when the sun eventually showed up

Groeneveld Castle when the sun eventually showed up

After a very busy week at work and in between was a work-related one day trip to London that saw me rushing very early to the airport to catch the 08:00 a.m. flight and returning very late in the evening, I just felt the need to unwind with a little walk in nearby Groeneveld Castle. This castle and its grounds are just perfect for a little stroll at this time of the year because the many decades-old rhododendrons are in full bloom.

Groeneveld was just a perfect venue for our little girl’s seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for tree-climbing, catching dragonflies and a chasing game with her father.

Everything is so green around Groeneveld Castle

Everything is so green around Groeneveld Castle

Groeneveld Castle from the distance

Groeneveld Castle from the distance

Choosing the best ice cream flavor

Choosing the best ice cream flavor

Francesca at Groeneveld Castle

Francesca at Groeneveld Castle

My little girl up the tree

My little girl up the tree

My little tree up the tree

My little tree up the tree

My little girl and me

My little girl and me

My little girl and me up the tree

My little girl and me up the tree

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Yellow iris

Yellow iris

Prickly flowers

Prickly flowers

Dragonfly on yellow iris

Dragonfly on yellow iris

Dragonfly on the iris before it was chased away by the bumble bee

Dragonfly on the iris before it was chased away by the bumble bee

Reflections

Reflections

Lotus-covered lake

Lotus-covered lake

A carpet of lily of the valley

A carpet of lily of the valley

Checking out hole in a dead tree

Checking out hole in a dead tree

Tree branch is always a good find for the little girl

Tree branch is always a good find for the little girl

Trying out a tent made of tree branches

Trying out a tent made of tree branches

One of the many huge trees in the castle grounds

One of the many huge trees in the castle grounds

A crow up in the tree

A crow up in the tree

Yellow scented rhododendrons

Yellow scented rhododendrons

Ferns

Ferns

Francesca with her dragonfly

Francesca with her dragonfly

A dragonfly she caught

A dragonfly she caught

Dainty spring bloom

Dainty spring bloom

Father and daughter chasing game

Father and daughter chasing game

Relaxing after the chasing game...

Relaxing after the chasing game…

Francesca atop the remnants of a dead tree trunk

Francesca atop the remnants of a dead tree trunk

The dead tree trunk proved to be a good spring board

The dead tree trunk proved to be a good spring board

Groeneveld Castle just before we left

Groeneveld Castle just before we left

Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was € 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. ;-)

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. ;-)

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. ;-)

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

Images from Keukenhof — part 2

More images from Keukenhof. If you are unable to make it to Holland in spring, let me bring Holland to you with these pictures…

My flower paradise every spring time - Keukenhof

My flower paradise every spring time – Keukenhof

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Light yellow tulips

Light yellow tulips

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Red and whites

Red and whites

Flower mosaic

Flower mosaic

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore...

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore…

White tulip

White tulip

Floral quilt

Floral quilt

White tulips among muscaris

White tulips among muscaris

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

There's no ugly corner in Keukenhof.  No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking.  ;-)

There’s no ugly corner in Keukenhof. No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking. ;-)

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Daffodils

Daffodils

Red tulips

Red tulips

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Busy bee

Busy bee

White daffodils

White daffodils

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

White and dark red petaled tulip

White and dark red petaled tulip

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Other spring blooms

Other spring blooms

Images from Keukenhof — part 1

Our family in Keukenhof

Our family in Keukenhof

After a bit of absence from this space, I am back with some colorful spring pictures from our trip to Keukenhof last Sunday. Weather was fantastic with lots of sunshine, blue skies and pleasantly warm temperature. Spring has finally arrived after the long wait!

We were there at 11 in the morning but the park was already bursting with visitors from all over the world. Funny enough, it was like being at a UN summit in a park setting.

Perfect time to be at Keukenhof as most of the blooms are already out and at their prettiest. My fingers kept on clicking so this post and the several to follow will be from this one lovely spring outing.

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Reds and yellows

Reds and yellows

Whites and oranges

Whites and oranges

Reds and peaches

Reds and peaches

Heady hyacinths

Heady hyacinths

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl among the daffodils

Little girl among the daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Flowery path

Flowery path

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

Dancing diva

Dancing diva

Checking out the pond

Checking out the pond

Magnolias

Magnolias

Hiding behind the tree

Hiding behind the tree

My little girl

My little girl

Happy little girl

Happy little girl

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Pink hyacinths

Pink hyacinths

Tulips

Tulips

Peach tulips

Peach tulips

Red Tulip

Red Tulip

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Tree tops from the ground

Tree tops from the ground

White blooms

White blooms

White tulip

White tulip

Fountain

Fountain

A very Dutch journey through time

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.  Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn. Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

It’s springtime again and I can’t believe how fast the year went by. It’s been almost a year since we made this amazing journey through time by boat and steam train through the Medieval towns of Enkhuizen, Medemblik and Hoorn in the province of North Holland (West Friesland to many). This is one exciting journey to take if you happen to be in Holland in springtime because the whole trip takes just a day and these towns are within easy reach from Amsterdam. From Amsterdam to Hoorn, a direct train ride takes about 33 minutes and costs € 7.60. From Hoorn, you can then take the steam train to Medemblik and from Medemblik there is the museum boat that will take you to Enkhuizen. From Enkhuizen, you can take a direct train to Amsterdam that will take about 58 minutes and costs € 10.30. Here’s the link to the Dutch railway: www.ns.nl

I got the idea to do this trip from a colleague of mine who lives in Hoorn which in spring, is lovely to visit passing through tulip fields that seem to go on forever. For more information, here’s the link to the site of the museum: http://www.museumstoomtram.nl/en

Because our originating place was Dronten where my parents-in-law live, we approached the trip from the other way around. Our journey started in Enkhuizen where we boarded the museum boat “Friesland” headed to Medemblik. The trip was a very sentimental journey for my parents-in-law who used to travel in this very same boat over 40 years ago when they lived for a while in the island of Terschelling and this boat was still plying the Harlingen-Terschelling route. My husband, then the same age as Francesca also travelled in this boat so you can just imagine how sentimental that is. My parents-in-law checked out the boat and were amazed that many of the original features were still very much intact. The whole boat trip took a good hour so when we arrived in Medemblik, we looked for a restaurant to have a quick lunch to be in time for the steam train trip that will take us to Hoorn. We opted for a typical Dutch lunch favorite, the “Uitsmijter” which consisted of bread slices topped with ham, fried eggs, grated cheese with tomatoes and cucumber on the side. Francesca found another use for the cucumber though. ;-)

The steam train journey was interesting as we were joined by museum volunteers who were dressed in period costumes. They were very enthusiastic at explaining the culture, norms and traditions of the people in West Friesland back then. Another interesting aspect of this train journey was the amazing landscape we passed through — from tulip fields in full bloom to orchards and quaint villages. Too bad that the weather was not on our side though.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The museum boat "Friesland" plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route.  My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

The museum boat “Friesland” plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route. My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Our family inside the "Friesland".

Our family inside the “Friesland”.

Francesca with opa.

Francesca with opa.

The Mr. with his mom.  Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

The Mr. with his mom. Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

Me

Me

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

The harbor of Medemblik.

The harbor of Medemblik.

Hubby and his dad.

Hubby and his dad.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik.  We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik. We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite - the Uitsmijter.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite – the Uitsmijter.

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber.   ;-)

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber. ;-)

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

A lady in period costume.

A lady in period costume.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

An old lady in period costume.  She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

An old lady in period costume. She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Dutch countryside scenery -- Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Dutch countryside scenery — Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Orchards in full bloom.

Orchards in full bloom.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Medieval Elburg some summers ago

It is almost three summers ago when we first visited Elburg. Lucky with both the weather and the timing of the annual market day, we had wonderful memories from that visit.

In this post, let me take you back to that glorious summer day.

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The harbor

The harbor

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture...  ;-)

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture… ;-)

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

My favorite arched bridge

My favorite arched bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

A closer look at the arched bridge

A closer look at the arched bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Lotus-filled canal

Lotus-filled canal

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

They became instant friends

They became instant friends

Best of friends some summers ago...

Best of friends some summers ago…

Wild blooms everywhere

Wild blooms everywhere

Ducks

Ducks

Lotus blooms

Lotus blooms

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca

Francesca

Everything was just so green and beautiful...

Everything was just so green and beautiful…

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Francesca with her ice cream

Francesca with her ice cream

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Dutch cheeses

Dutch cheeses

Mustard

Mustard

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Cheeses

Cheeses

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries -- products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries — products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Strawberries

Strawberries

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Fresh summer fruits

Fresh summer fruits

Speculaas - Dutch spice cookies

Speculaas – Dutch spice cookies

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

Cozy windows

Cozy windows

Cozy row houses

Cozy row houses

Lunch of fried eel

Lunch of fried eel

Francesca's choice of bread with friend egg

Francesca’s choice of bread with friend egg

The sky when it was time to leave...

The sky when it was time to leave…

Exploring Medieval Elburg one chilly second Easter day

Every country seems to have peculiarities in observing religious holidays. In the Philippines where I grew up, Good Friday is a holiday. Apart from church activities like the observance of the “Seven Last Words”, the country comes to a standstill. Basically all establishments from schools, offices, shops, etc. are closed for business on this day. Activities would resume to full speed comes Easter Sunday when everyone feels that as the right time because “Christ is risen after triumph over death”. The opposite is true here in Holland because for many establishments except schools and banks, Good Friday is a normal working day. Easter Sunday and the Monday after, on the other hand, are observed as religious holidays. Second Easter day is like Sunday with all establishments closed for business. It is on this chilly second Easter day that I will take you with me to a little known charming place here in Holland called Elburg.

After the Easter egg hunt and dropping over at the place of my friend Marie for Easter dinner, we went over to my parents-in-law’s place to spend the night and celebrate second Easter day together with a nice brunch. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly that it was a pity to spend the day indoor. We opted to go out for a bit of fresh air and headed to the lovely Medieval town of Elburg, just some 11 kms. from my in-law’s place. Francesca was happy to stay with Opa and Oma.

This is just my second time here in Elburg despite the frequency of our visits to my in-laws and its close proximity to their place. What a big difference it was to be here on a very chilly day when my earlier memories were of a very nice warm summer day when flowers were blooming all over and it was such a joy to see this town filled with locals and tourists alike checking out not just the town’s attractions but also the many local produce on display. That first visit happened to be the town’s annual celebration of their market day.

With very few people out and the shops closed saved for restaurants and cafes that opened their doors, we had a rather quick exploration of the town. It was interesting to discover new places that we never saw the first time we were here such as the Jewish cemetery which was just a short distance from the huge Protestant Church.

I look forward to coming back when the weather warms up, when flowers start to bloom as this town will be even far alluring then.

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

Moi

Moi

The Vischpoort  -- Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

The Vischpoort — Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

Moi

Moi

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year.  Had to still wait a while this time...

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year. Had to still wait a while this time…

Another angle of the church

Another angle of the church

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

Jewish cemetery

Jewish cemetery

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death -- victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death — victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

The Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church

Elburg

Elburg

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg.  Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg. Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Always a big fan of arched bridges -- couldn't resist taking this picture.

Always a big fan of arched bridges — couldn’t resist taking this picture.

Moi

Moi

I love this type of building -- old farmhouse style.

I love this type of building — old farmhouse style.

Finally it was time for some cappuccino...

Finally it was time for some cappuccino…

We shared this cake -- a very Dutch thing I guess.  ;-)

We shared this cake — a very Dutch thing I guess. ;-)

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy...typical Dutch concept of "gezelligheid".

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy…typical Dutch concept of “gezelligheid”.

Chilly Easter egg hunt

The Easter egg hunters

The Easter egg hunters

The chill was unmistakable and the forecast was true to the dot that the temperature will not rise beyond 3 degrees Celsius but to the kids, that was no excuse to enjoy this year’s Easter egg hunt.

The whole adventure started with the egg painting that I organized at home last Saturday and punctually at 3pm, I have them at the door ringing the bell. It was fun to have all six of them — my Francesca, brothers Evan and Ilyaz, brothers Luuk and Job plus their soon to be three-year old sister Vera. Together at the table, they all took to the work at hand, painting the 40 hard boiled white eggs and showing off their creativity and artistry.

The Easter egg hunt was agreed to be at the same place as the previous year…at Soesterduinen. We love this place which is just a few kilometers away but is simply perfect for very energetic kids to run around as it is a wide expanse of sand dunes with sparse islands of pine trees that are perfect for climbing and also for hiding the Easter eggs.

We stayed in the usual place, a perfectly shaded area of several pine trees with branches that spread far and wide. The grown ups enjoyed the usual catch up conversations over everything — family, career, holidays, etc. while the little ones were crazily looking out for the eggs hidden all over.

It was a lot of fun save for the chilly wind that made the 3 degrees Celsius felt even far colder.

The egg painters

The egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

Soon to be three -- now officially joining in the fun.

Soon to be three — now officially joining in the fun.

Francesca at work

Francesca at work

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

Eggs!

Eggs!

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids' energy were boundless

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids’ energy were boundless

Egg hunters

Egg hunters

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Francesca in search for eggs

Francesca in search for eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Easter bunny

Easter bunny

Delight at every egg find

Delight at every egg find

Soesterduinen -- such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Soesterduinen — such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Sands and trees -- perfect spot for kids to play

Sands and trees — perfect spot for kids to play

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

One happy family

One happy family

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Francesca with her friends

Francesca with her friends

Our family

Our family

Another happy couple -- their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

Another happy couple — their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

Heading home -- tired Francesca on her father's back

Heading home — tired Francesca on her father’s back

What happened to spring?

Snow-covered "forget me not" blooms

Snow-covered “forget me not” blooms

Spring is always a much awaited and celebrated season in Holland. In this very flat country, the Dutch ingenuity of creating flower wonderlands in spring has always attracted millions of visitors from all over the world.

Dutch flower fields - typical spring scenery

Dutch flower fields – typical spring scenery

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago -- weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago — weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Egg hunt from 2 years ago -- we're longing for that weather this time.  Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

Egg hunt from 2 years ago — we’re longing for that weather this time. Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

As soon as March starts, I’m already in extreme anticipation of the new season with plans to hit the flower fields and visit to Keukenhof topping the agenda. This year, however, that usual enthusiasm is tempered by the current reality of freezing temperature which if forecasts are to be relied upon, is very discouraging as it is expected to persist till most of the month of April.

What happened to spring? Why the big snub this year? Will it still ever come or are we just going to progress to summer and skip spring all together? I hope not….

We had an infinitesimal glimpse of spring three weeks ago for two days with the mercury tipping at 15 degrees Celsius at the warmest and enough to awaken the croci from their winter slumber. My little girl and I went out as she wanted to pick a few blooms and that was all that spring has been so far from our end.

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Snow bells

Snow bells

Snow-covered blooms

Snow-covered blooms

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow-covered leaves

Snow-covered leaves

Snow dusted plants

Snow dusted plants

Snow-covered bloom

Snow-covered bloom

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Croci

Croci

Crocus

Crocus

Francesca

Francesca

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet

My prawn flambee

My prawn flambee

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Dad buying mom's French basket

Dad buying mom’s French basket

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Discovering the Atlantic

First glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean

I grew up in a country bounded on one side by the Pacific and the other side by the South China Sea. Imagine turquoise blue waters and coconut-tree lined beaches with powdery white sand… yes, the classic definition of paradise.

The Atlantic on the other hand, paints a totally different picture. Forget the coconut trees (this place is too cold for that) but there is certainly lots of charm in its beaches whose sheer breadth is astounding, its golden sand that’s an amazing contrast to its turquoise blue waters and the dunes dotted with amazing flora.

We had a lovely time discovering this piece of paradise on earth. No busy structures along the beach, no ships or boats in the horizon and save for a few others soaking in the sun, this place was totally our own.

Wide beach and hilly dunes

The road leading to the ocean – tough on the calves but the sheer beauty of this place was worth the hard walk

The Atlantic Ocean from the dunes

The dunes with its amazing flora and the blue waters of the Atlantic

One of the many interesting floras in the dunes

The beach, the dunes and the immense sky

The ocean, beach and dunes underneath the immense sky

The beach, the ocean and the immense sky

Golden sand, turquoise water and blue skies

The dunes and the Atlantic Ocean

Father and daughter heading to the beach

Footprints in the sand

Despite the absence of coconut trees, the Atlantic has other charms like this dune teeming with amazing flora

The Atlantic and its dunes

Shells…

Father and daughter all poised to test the water

The little girl attempting to surf (inspired by a Barbie film she’d seen)

The little girl with her Dora floater

Our shelter from the sun and wind in this very empty beach

Our family

Our family

Fun in the sand

Sheer delight for the little girl

Father and daughter

Papa’s girl

Papa’s girl

Father and daughter enjoying the water

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Duomo and the leaning tower of Pisa

After a lazy day yesterday of just being at the pool and not having anything else on the itinerary, we decided to do some sightseeing in Pisa, a place whose claim to fame is its leaning tower. It’s a case of “been there, done that” kind of thing that we can cross off our lists of what to see in Tuscany.

Pisa was about an hour’s drive from Pelagaccio (40+ kilometers with about 20 kilometers on secondary road and the rest was through the highway). The trip took us a bit longer because I got distracted by the sight of sunflower fields with the perfect backdrop and wanted to take some pictures. Unfortunately, the fields that I saw were not accessible, being barricaded by road blocks. Another time I’ll be lucky!

When we reached Pisa, the temperature was hitting the 40’s (Celsius) so it was not so pleasant to go around exploring an unfamiliar place with a very young child. My father-in-law Dad couldn’t stand crowds and busy places, my mom-in-law couldn’t stand the heat and was prone to hyperventilation.

We found a parking area which was pretty close, about 2 blocks away from the Torre Pendente (the Leaning Tower). I had mixed emotions in seeing the tower with my own eyes for the first time. It was like stepping into a dream because I never thought that I would even see this place for real. What came to mind was a story in my high school science class of Galileo conducting an experiment of dropping two objects of different mass from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test his theory of gravity.

The tower was not as high as those other towers where I´ve been but the leaning was very obvious. What was striking about the place itself was the amazing contrast of all the elements – the tower and the duomo were all built from white marble that glistened against the blue sky creating an amazing picture.

Pisa was extremely busy with many people all wanting to execute poses of either holding off the tower from leaning further or of holding the tower from top to bottom in their hands. I tried to do the same but wasn´t very good at it as you can see from my pictures. My father-in-law won´t do that pose either but my mom-in-law did her own version.

After the photoshoot with the tower in the background, we decided to see the interior of the duomo. Unfortunately, we needed to first get entry tickets which were being sold at the museum about 100 meters away. Hubby went to get the tickets while we waited in the shade at the church entrance.

The interior of the duomo was impressive with those frescoes, paintings and murals that really told much of its history. Francesca loved it being inside the duomo although she also did naughty stuffs — jumping, talking too loud, pointing at things she found interesting and climbing the pews. It was very strict there when it came to the dress code – visitors who were deemed inappropriately dressed such as women in sleeveless blouses and plunging necklines were asked to put on the light blue blouses that can cover their naked arms and cleavages.

After the church visit, it was time for lunch. We found a restaurant nearby where we can rest our tired feet and chill out after the exasperating heat outside. The menu was simple and the prices were reasonable considering that the restaurant location was a typical tourist trap. Hubby and his mom opted for pizza, Dad for tuna sandwich, the little girl had her fries with fried eggs sunny side up and I settled for the grilled shrimps and squid on a bed of salad. I truly enjoyed my meal especially as I can dissect and suck the shrimp heads Pinoy style with gusto. Lunch was capped with some cappuccino and of course, tiramisu which was really yummy. The bottom was an ice cream, again a different version from the tiramisu that I´ve eaten before.

Then it was time to head back to Pelagaccio as the little girl needed her afternoon nap for we had an invite for the pasta party at Diacceroni in the afternoon.

The Baptistry, the Duomo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Duomo and the Leaning Tower

My parents-in-law

My family minus me

Holding off the tower but missed! ;-)

Father and daughter

Our family

Holding off the tower from further leaning…

The leaning tower

Top of the tower

Details of the main door of the Duomo

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Taking a break…

Intricate craftmanship

The confessional

Church ceiling

One of the altars — Madonna and child

The altar

Oma and Francesca

Couldn’t resist being a child inside the Duomo…

The little girl and her tricks…

Horsey encounter… ;-)

The little girl and the Baptistry behind

Part of the wall surrounding the Duomo

Detail of the wall inside the restaurant

Grilled seafood on a bed of salad

Pizza

Souvenir items

Fake designer bags being peddled by African immigrants — they almost took my camera because they don’t want this picture taken

Father and daughter making a purchase…

…wiggly spiky ball

Funny aprons ;-)

Funny aprons… ;-)

Trying a hat…

Volterra

Volterra

After a relaxing day spent at the pool and not doing much after that, we were off to some sightseeing. Volterra is one town that we can see from the distance, perched on top of a hill. The strange thing about driving in Italy is that while we can see Volterra from our place and seems so nearby, to get there through those circuitous roads through the hills takes a lot longer. In a straight line, I guess Volterra is just about 7 kilometers.

Volterra is an Etruscan town and many artifacts from that period had survived to this day. The town was very nice but we took it easy because of Francesca. It was just fun to look at the shops and see Italian goodies. One thing that Volterra is known for is its alabaster so a lot of shops sell souvenir items made of it. I bought some small stuffs (a jewelry box and a pendant in the form of a lady bug for Francesca) and Mam Sil got for herself a small ash tray.

We went inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta which was pretty cool, a great respite from the sweltering Tuscan heat. Francesca wanted to linger there but the caretaker of the church has asked everyone to leave – the church was closing for the day. Francesca was furious!

It was then time for lunch. We found an Italian version of the Pinoy “turo-turo” where there was an incredible choice of Italian specialties. Me and my mom-in-law Mam opted for something vegetarian which turned out to be so yummy that I ended up asking for the recipe to give it a try back home. Aubergine and courgette hallowed and filled with carrots, peas, potatoes sautéed in olive oil, garlic, ginger and a bit of basil leaves topped with parmesan cheese and egg then baked in the oven. With bread on the side, the dish was just perfect.

My husband opted for the simple spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil leaves. So simple yet very delish! For Francesca we ordered a pasta with white sauce (she doesn’t like the red sauce) but she did not have the appetite for it, spoiled by the Italian gelato which she had earlier. My father-in-law had his fried quartered potatoes and sautéed string beans to be on the safe side (no garlic please!) yet there was plenty of finely chopped garlic in those beans! It tasted so well that he finished it nonetheless. We were so hungry though that I forgot to take pictures of those lovely dishes. ;-)

For dessert, we went to a small patisserie and had the typical Italian tiramisu and some cake.

Volterra

Facade of an old church

Town square of Volterra

Palazzo dei Priori

Palazzo dei Priori

A closer look at the walls of the Palazzo show these emblems

Palazzo dei Priori

Old buildings

A street name that gives men the creeps ;-)

Souvenir shops

Outside a souvenir shop

Inside a souvenir shop

Home-made soaps

Inside the souvenir shop

Italian delis – wine, olive oil, bread, pasta, etc.

Italian delis

Open air restaurants

Amazing choices of gelato at a typical Gelateria or “ice cream parlor”

The little girl enjoying her strawberry gelato

Inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Lighted candles inside the cathedral

An altar inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

A gallery selling Tuscan landscape paintings

Torture museum ;-)

Museum

Narrow medieval street

Old door

Green door

The way to the Palazzo

A small chapel

Volterra

Italian tiramisu

Piece of cake

Relaxing under the Tuscan sun and skies

Tuscan countryside early in the morning

While sitting under the tree and enjoying the cool breeze blowing off the 40°C heat, I can’t help but wonder why we’ve never gone to Tuscany before. Our next door neighbor in Holland has been going to Tuscany year after year, staying in the same place over the last 10 years and I used to wonder why they never go elsewhere when there are simply hundreds if not thousands of amazing destination in Europe.

The place is simply stunning and now I can understand why there has always been so much buzz about Tuscany and life under the Tuscan sun, why the place has been gloriously immortalized and romanticized in many books and movies (the recent and pretty popular one being “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes and its movie version starred Diane Lane).

At 360° around me and under clear blue skies, my vista consisted of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, blooms of various kind (geraniums, oleanders, roses, lavender, jasmines, etc.), which charm butterflies of incredible colors, bees and other flies, quaint old villages on which time seemed to have stood still, vineyards, olive groves and wheat fields gone gold.

We’re pretty far from the highway, the only sound that can be heard of are the birds and crickets, occasional cars in the dirt road and the churning of the combined harvesters harvesting the wheat.

Is this life under the Tuscan sun? Pretty laid back and the only thing we can do is sit down and relax, dip in the pool to cool down the Tuscan heat and let time pass by over glasses of chilled prosecco with those delish Italian cheeses on the side.

The place we are staying is an apartment in Agriturismo Pelagaccio. It is a typical Tuscan farmhouse with a small annex building divided into a total of 8 apartments on a 200-hectare property. There is enough privacy just as there is enough company, a perfect balance. (I remember staying on a Centre Parcs holiday home in Germany which I found to be extremely busy and on an isolated holiday home in Normandy which at Francesca’s age now, she would have found too lonesome as she loves the company of other kids).

The place is just ideal with a playground that meets Francesca’s approval and the perfectly situated swimming pool that I’ve ever seen – on top of a hill with a 360° panorama of the Tuscan landscape.

Everyone except me had already tried the pool this morning. I just had fun taking snapshots of everyone and everything – from Francesca, Siefko, Opa and Oma to the Tuscan landscape and those amazing butterflies which cast their spell on me and my cam.

After swimming, Siefko and I headed to Volterra for the groceries (Italian supermarkets are open on Sunday from 8-13 hrs) plus we needed to gas up because our car was running short on petrol. Good that in another village before Volterra (La Sperza) there was a petrol station where we can gas up but it was self-service and the machine would only accept small Euro bills and not bank or credit cards.

We reached the Coop supermarket in Volterra just in the nick of time. It was kind of weird to shop in another country given the language barrier. Doing the self-service thing on those veggies (weighing but the names are in Italian and most times there are no pictures on the weighing scale for the stuff) is like solving a riddle.

Dinner was such a very anticipated affair as the idea of barbeque became a foregone conclusion – grilled pork Pinoy style (in short, “inihaw na baboy” which were thick slices of pork belly marinated in garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper and a bit of soy sauce), grilled aubergine and paprika which I seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber with the simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper — served with steamed rice, beer for the guys and ice-cold white wine for the ladies. That was at almost 10pm as we forgot the passing of time under the Tuscan skies.

Tuscan countryside — view from the pool

View of Pelagaccio from the pool

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The medieval village of Fabbricca as viewed from the pool — we go there each morning for bread and other supplies

Cypress trees

Tuscan countryside

The path leading to the swimming pool

Location-wise, no pool can be far better than this…on top of a hill with an unobstructed view of the Tuscan countryside

Perfect place to cool down the 40-degree Celsius heat

Fun in the pool for everyone

Father and daughter

Oma joined in the fun

Opa, Papa and the little girl

Enjoying the cool waters

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The family

Finally I joined in the pool party

Tuscan roses

Tuscan rose

Fiery red roses

Yellow blooms

Pink oleanders

Tuscan roses

Butterfly

Butterfly

White butterfly among the lavenders

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Unripe grapes

Tuscan horses

Pelagaccio

The barbeque man

Grilled pork belly

More on the Dutch tulip fields

Our little queen among dandelions with the tulip fields in the distance

I know that my posts lately have been more on the Dutch flower fields but seeing that much beauty makes it impossible to not be carried away and have that overwhelming desire to share them.

On this particular day that we celebrated Queen’s Day (30th April) we were simply super lucky with the weather of warm temperature and blue skies as the days after were again chilly, wet and grey.  That day was a one-off and I am glad that we had these pictures as reminder of that one seemingly rare warm spring day.

Our family

Our family

A field of dandelions

Our family

Queen’s Day at the tulip fields

Our little queen on Queen’s Day at the tulip fields

“Never let an opportunity pass by without giving it due consideration.” Weather-wise, this is my standing motto these days because in the whole month of April, we’ve hardly seen the sun and the temperature has been for the most part, chilly.

In yesterday’s Queen’s Day celebration, the weather did an unusual turn-around. Less than 24 hours before, I was still in my winter coat and then it was off to temperature soaring to as high as 28 degrees Celsius during the day. The party mode was on fever-pitch for the Dutch.

Not wanting to waste such a lovely day, I managed to persuade the Mr. to also do a side trip to the flower fields in nearby Flevo polder where we saw the tulips already in full bloom when driving through last weekend. We normally go to the Noordoost polder for our annual foray into the flower fields and our original plan to do that is still next weekend but seeing the blue skies, I just can’t wait for almost a week for that. Besides, there is no guarantee about a nice weather either and who knows, most tulips would already be gone by then when the farmer cuts the flowers to enable the bulbs to grow further. These fields are just a short drive of 20 minutes from our place so I see no reason why we can’t spare some time on this day.

Under sweltering heat at the height of the day, we were at the tulips fields in the polder. My little girl changed outfit to something close to the Dutch royal color and reigned over the fields in her faux jewelry ensemble which were hard won from throwing balls to a stack of tin cans from a distance in the fancy fair we went to the other weekend.

Year after year, I remain amazed by this staggering vista of tulips in various colors and varieties. I try not to give this sight a miss and why not, it is all for free, gratis et amore.

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Our family

Our family

Cheap date in the flower fields

Hubby and I always love our cheap spring date where we would normally drive around the bulb field areas in the Noordoost Polder, have coffee by the flower fields sold by some enterprising farmer’s children and have lunch of fries and kroket in a snack bar that we would find open in one of the village centers along the flower route. We don’t see the need to go to any fancy restaurant for what can we ask for when already surrounded by so much beauty that we are literally drowning from the sight of millions of tulips in full bloom.

It is kind of funny that this activity that we do every springtime comes as too corny and tacky to a lot of people. Many Dutch would not want to be seen in the flower fields, more so, to have their pictures taken in such a setting. I don’t mind being branded as corny and tacky in my appreciation of this incredible beauty. To me, seeing this amazing wonders of nature every spring is a testament of God’s existence and infinite love for us.

Hubby enjoying his coffee sold by an enterprising farmer's daughter who had a thermo of coffee and biscuits for visitors like us. A cup with a piece of cookie costs a mere Eur 50 cents.

Tulips (part 4)

April is about to draw to a close but this month which used to be in recent years the nicest time in spring has been for the most part wet, cold and grey. I still can’t say “Adieu” to my winter coat with the temperature still too cold and oftentimes unpredictable. Still, spring is inching its way forward but I haven’t really managed to take new pictures.

Here are spring pictures from last year, a continuation of my Tulips series.

Sunset walk along the dike

Sunset

We first laid eyes on each other around sunset over 15 years ago on the shores of El Nido in the Philippines. Call us incurable romantics but sunset still weaves its amazing magic to us each time.

Being parents to an overly active 4-year old, we are constantly busy and in a rush but we found ourselves enjoying some quiet moments together last month when our little girl was fetched by the grandparents for the weekend. Finally, a bit of time for ourselves and those sleep-outs that we badly needed after many short nights.

On this seemingly warm early spring day, we enjoyed a quiet walk along the dike not so far from our place. On this dike is also a steam mill (Stoomgemaal Hertog Reijnout) which was built in 1882 and drains the water from the polder.

I love it there to just watch the many birds that converge on the flood plains in the polder and the tranquil view of the setting sun in the distance. On this particular day, the birds were mostly sea gulls but there were times when I’ve seen an incredible number of geese. Oh, they’re still in flight this time of the year from Africa where they stay till the cold season is over here in Europe.

Steam mill (Stoomgemaal Hertog Reijnout)

Stoomgemaal Hertog Reijnout

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

Me

The Mr.

the Mr.

Our shadows

Sunset

Glorious skies

The dike

Eemmeer, used to be Zuiderzee and is now partly reclaimed into the Flevopolder

Birds in flight in the distance

A boat in the distanc

Sunset at the dike

Swans

Sunset

Steam mill in the distance

a little jetty on the Eemmeer

Numerous birds in flight

Birds

Birds in flight

Birds in flight...steam mill in the distance

Birds in flight

Tulips (part 3)

We are still to have that annual visit to Keukenhof and our usual foray to the flower fields. Weather lately has been pretty weird as the disturbance up north sent chills our way these last couple of days.

Still, spring is here and frosty nights and chilly days haven’t dampen our spirits. I share with you more tulips pictures from last year.

Easter egg hunt in the dunes

My little girl and her basket of Easter eggs

My blog stood silent in the last couple of days as the frenzied activities during the Easter holidays left me with hardly any time to sit in front of the PC.

We sure had a great time doing this year’s Easter egg hunt though the temperature was not as warm as it was the year before. Thanks to the suggestion of our neighbor, we did the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen, a lovely nature reserve area which is pretty close to our place. The kids had a great time being let loose in a seemingly endless sand box. There were also trees that were just perfect for climbing and before long, all of them were up in the tree.

This place is one perfect paradise for kids and one cannot help but be charmed by everything it has on offer. To us parents, we could enjoy moments of lively conversation without worrying about our kids who are safe in all the games that they can think about in this place.

We will surely be back again when the weather warms up and all of us have a free Sunday to spare. The kids can hardly wait…

The sand dunes of Soesterduinen look like an endless sand box

Pine trees sparsely populate the sand dunes

These low lying pine trees with outstretched branches are perfect for climbing

Under the tree, we could have that perfect picnic

The kids cannot resist the lure of tree climbing

Such a huge area to run around and look for the Easter eggs

More eggs!!!

Too many eggs to hunt

Eggs were everywhere...even up in the tree

There is always that look of wonder and amazement with every egg find

Easter eggs ... both real eggs and chocolate ones

Seeking for more eggs

Tree climbing

Playing in the sand

Sand rolling

Friendly banters

Picnic fare

Easter bread

Orange chiffon cake

Pistolet with smoked salmon

Pistolet with Nutella

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Sometimes it is easy to climb but difficult to get down

My husband comes to the rescue

The rescuer

Our family

Family picture

The kids

The egg hunters minus one

Tulips (part 1)

Busy time right now preparing for tomorrow’s Easter egg hunt. The little ones are already so excited. We will have the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen which is just a few kilometers away from our place. It sure will be a lot of fun because there is so much space to run around for the very energetic and hyper kids. Lots of secret places to hide the eggs as well.

Nonetheless, let me share with you these tulip images which I took last year from a showcase of various types of tulips which we chanced upon while driving through the Noordoost Polder.

My little girl’s fourth foray into the flower fields (Spring 2011)

Ask a typical Dutchman if he/she have pictures in the flower fields and you will get that bewildered look. It is also against their “principle” to go to Keukenhof which they say is just meant for tourists.

My husband never really cared about the flower fields nor ever been to Keukenhof before we met. It was like, “Why would I go to Keukenhof or why would I have my pictures taken in the midst of the flower fields?”. Being in the midst of flower fields or standing in front of the windmills are simply the most uncool things to the Dutch, especially the younger generations. They prefer to travel abroad and have their pictures taken in the most exotic locations. Don’t get me wrong there. I was the same, wondering when I was still in the Philippines and my husband (then still the boyfriend) wanted to have our pictures in the middle of rice fields or his pictures on top of the jeepney or among coconut trees.

Human nature I should say… We take for granted those things or places which are familiar and ordinary and we give more importance to those which we do not have or are unusual.

These days, we appreciate what is within reach, what is right before our very eyes. Our daughter provides us with a different perspective in looking at things through her young eyes. She shows appreciation and enthusiasm in everything around her. We hope that she will continue appreciating nature and its beauty and the many simple things in life.

These pictures were taken last year in the area around Zeewolde. We were on our way home after spending a lovely weekend with my parents-in-law in Dronten when we took a different road (a secondary road as opposed to the usual highway that we take) and saw these fields of tulips. It was already late in the afternoon but with the nice weather, we were seduced to have this photo session with our little girl.

Our family

Afternoon sun

Father and daughter playing the statue game

Pink tulips

Papa's girl

Among the red tulips

Me and my little girl

Among the white tulips

Playful pose

I got the odd one out!

Playful pose

Tulip fields

My little girl and me

Our family

Hurrah!

White tulips in the afternoon sun

Can I pick some flowers????

Let's hide from Mama!!!

The afternoon sun

White tulips

The apple did not fall off far from the tree -- A picture of us taken by Francesca

Setting sun

Mama, can you see me????

Our family

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