Category Archives: Reviews

Haarlem, the Dutch city with many hidden secrets!

My trip to Haarlem started not exactly problem free! First of all I spent the biggest part of an afternoon hanging around at Stansted airport waiting for my plane to arrive, let alone leave for Amsterdam. Before that I had some issues at security. Due to several beeps they wanted me to take off all my jewellery, shoes, belt and for a moment I thought more items….

Then they asked me if I was carrying a breathing machine or some other type of health gadget in my hand luggage. They had seen a suspicious shape in my suit case that turned out to be my Nespresso coffee machine! It really does look a little bit like a gun, doesn’t??

The airport was extremely busy but this little bar just had the perfect spot for me. Therefore I decided to kill the time with a glass of bubbly.

flight delay, prosecco, airport

When your flight is delayed, you might as well enjoy the extra time!

Finally after almost 3 hours delay – still only with one drink though – I hit the ground in Amsterdam.  And at 9 pm I was greeted by my cousin and family.

Haarlem, my next stop

I was staying in Haarlem, the capitol of the province of North Holland with a history dating back at least until the 12th century. Haarlem was once one of the most important cities in the Netherlands. It has attracted several Flamish artists and a large number of rich people.

It is also a city of pioneers. They claim to have housed the inventor of the art of printing, Laurens Coster. Plane designer Anthonij Fokker did his first spin around the tower of the St Bavo Church. The same church also is the home of the famous ‘Müller’ organ. Apparently Mozart played there when he was only 10 years old.

Müller organ, Haarlem, St Bavo kerk

The famous ‘Müller’ organ that was played by Händel and an only 10 year old Mozart

The first rail line was from Amsterdam to Haarlem and of course they have several breweries. They are also home to the oldest news paper in the world (1656) – Het Haarlems Dagblad. The one where my host is a journalist.

They claim 😉 to have quite a lot of significant history!

What I have seen is that it is a very pretty city with lovely old streets, dozens of little ‘hofjes’ or hidden court yards and a vibrant cafe life. The hofjes are quite unique. You can find them behind closed doors but if you don’t know they are there you would walk straight past them. We did a discovery tour of most hofjes. I believe we have seen more than 20.

hofje, Haarlem, inner city

One of many ‘Hofjes’. Hidden by a normal door on the street, they are a very private quiet inner city area.

Haarlem also has lots of tiny narrow streets. The people who live there like to put pot plants and tables and chairs outside. I constantly mistake them for cafes! It gives a very green inner city life.

Haarlem, inner city, small street

Inner city little street with cottages and an active ‘green’ scene

Haarlem, inner city, outdoor living

Outdoor living in Haarlem. I quite often thought some of the houses were cafes!

There was another attraction that I wanted to see in Haarlem. A friend in Brisbane lent me a book about the Dutch family Ten Boom who helped Jewish people hide during WW2. Their house was and still is a watch shop. It is in the center of Haarlem and is now open for visits and a tour.

Haarlem, Corrie ten Boom

The house of Corrie Ten Boom, the watch maker who helped Jewish people hide during WW2

Haarlem, hiding place

The small cavity in a bedroom that they built specially to hide Jewish people during the war

It was amazing to see how they managed to help and hide many Jewish people for years before they were betrayed and taken to concentration camps. Corrie ten Boom who wrote the book survived the ordeal and travelled the world for 30 years promoting her life philosophy. It was an inspiring and also sobering experience to see how this family lived and managed to help so many people during the war.

A family reunion at Haarlem

The reason I went to Haarlem was a family reunion. A year or so ago we had a spontaneous cousin reunion at my sister’s place. It was great to catch up and we decided to do it again. My cousin in Haarlem offered to host it this time.

I stayed for a couple of days and it was nice to get to know my cousin and his wife a bit better. It must have been 40 years since we saw each other last. His daughter was familiar to us as she came to stay in Australia with us. And it was great to see her again.

My cousin’s wife has a rather unusual tradition. She invited me to join her for a ‘breathing meditation’ on the beach followed by a brisk walk. The adventure was continued by a dip in an ice bath and as icing on the cake a swim in the North sea. It was very ‘tempting’ but fortunately the weather was on my side! She is doing this every Saturday morning all year round in rain or shine. Quite admirable.

As a seasoned Queenslander I am used to water temperatures of over 21. So for me the North Sea might have been the ice bath in itself 😕

All in all Haarlem seems a lovely city – a bit of small Amsterdam. I could live here I think. Well let’s see what the future holds for us…. For now I am off to Groningen in the North of the Netherlands where I will be staying in an authentic old farm house.

See you there!

Why a weekend to Hobart is worth your time and money!

Many, many years ago I spent 3 weeks backpacking through Tasmania. As I haven’t been since and my husband has never set foot on the island, we chose Hobart as the destination for our 30th anniversary trip this year.

A weekend to Hobart

Harbour of Hobart, historical, water views

Harbour of Hobart with its historical buildings that have been turned into trendy upmarket hotels and restaurants

The opinions about Hobart tend to be diverse. Some pull their nose up and others have fallen in love with it. For those whose geography knowledge is poor.  Hobart is the capital of Tasmania, an island south of mainland Australia and it is one of the states of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Abel Tasman discovered the island in the 17th century and gave it the name ‘Van Diemen’.  The English renamed the colony in 1856 to honour its original finder, Abel Tasman. As a Dutch person I am often curious what Australia would be like if the Dutch would have taking ownership. They discovered Australia but left it for what it was.

Anyway enough history!

So what did we discover in Hobart that is worth writing about?  When I was there many years ago in 1987 I found Hobart had the most charm off all Australian cities and I still do now.

Salamanca Market and Battery Point – historical Hobart

When I mentioned Hobart to people, most of them knew about the well known markets on Saturday morning called Salamanca Markets. They were already there in 1987 when I was in Hobart, have over 300 stall holders and are still going strong. They are definitely worth exploring.

Salamanca markets, Hobart, life music, good food

Salamanca Markets have been around for decades. Over 300 stalls with everything you can dream of…

From the markets you can climb some steep stairs up to Kelly street and this will lead you in to Battery Point, the birthplace of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn. Battery point, ‘The Rocks’ of Hobart, is well preserved and is lovely to wander through.

Make sure you make a stop at a wonderful bakery that is open every day. We googled cafes that were open early on Sunday morning and the result was none according the online info.

Hobart, coffee, cafe, french pastries

Jackman and Ross, baker of French style pastries and yummy breakfasts open at 7 am in the morning!!

Well, we found this little treasure called Jackman and McRoss.  It was open fully stocked with yummy pastries, breads and an appetising breakfast menu from 7 am, even on a Sunday. Its little ‘sister’ in the city of Hobart is open early throughout the week but closed in the weekend.

Mount Wellington, Hobart

We were dying for a hot coffee around 7 am on Sunday as we had just returned from a trip up to Mt. Wellington, 1271 meters high. This excursion was a rather spontaneous once we saw that the weather would be clear on Sunday morning. The views therefore promised to be spectacular.

Mt Wellington, Hobart, sunrise

Sunrise over Hobart from the top of Mount Wellington on a clear but fresh, 9 degrees, day

Be aware of the changing micro climate on the top of the mountain, though. One moment it can be clear and before know you are surrounded by a layer of thick fog. It was rather fresh and it was only autumn so prepare well for the colder winter month.

We concocted that it could be worthwhile to rent a car on Saturday afternoon so we could drive up to Mt Wellington to see the sunrise. It seemed a bit tricky to do without transport and taxis would cost a fortune. So would any organised excursion!

Hiring a car from Saturday afternoon 4 pm for 1 day was around $35. We chose an agency that had a drop off point at the airport so we could avoid a taxi fare of almost $60 back to the airport. In the end we saw Mt Wellington, historical village Richmond and got ourselves to the airport for a total of $65. Worth considering…

Richmond bridge, Hobart, Richmond, heritage

Richmond Bridge – Australia’s oldest known large stone arch bridge completed in 1825 and spanning the Coal river

Mona – Hobart’s pride

Then the MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. Located upstream on the Derwent river it is worth taking a boat trip to this interesting and very different art gallery. Now there are boat trips and luxury boat trips. We enjoyed the trip to the museum while sipping on a glass of sparkling and sampling a variety of tapas. Very classy!

The museum itself is interesting for a variety of reasons. First of all its founder and owner seems to be a character in itself. Do your own research!

 

MgONA, setting, Hobart, Derwent river, review

The setting of MONA is quite special. You have no idea about its hidden secrets.

Secondly the building is amazing, built into rocks and a maze of levels, corridors and rooms all underground it seems.

Thirdly you can finish off the experience by a wine tasting at Moorilla Estate situated right next to the museum. All in all an amazing experience and a must when visiting Hobart.

MONA, museum, collection, Hobart, review

Quite an amazing object. A carpet that seem to go fluid. It is huge and impressive!

The collection is a compilation of old and new as the name suggest. You should keep in mind that the museum is based on a private collection of the owner and founder. So if you are after Rembrandts, Monets and Van Gogh’s you may not find them.

A day trip to Port Arthur

As we were 5 days in Hobart we wanted to include Port Arthur, a huge former convict settlement with over 30 buildings built in the 18th & 19th century. We found an excursion that combined a visit to Port Arthur and a boat trip along the outside coast line of the Tasman Peninsula. Probably a bit pricey for some but oh so worth every dollar.

Tasman peninsula, near Hobart, coast line

Spectacular coastline with scenes suitable for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit

The swells on the ocean are not for the faint hearted and everyone gets a tablet against seasickness. Also you must wear a type of rain/wind coat that covers you from top till toe. The boat trip takes 3 hours and the views of the coast line are ‘in one word’ spectacular.

They certainly can compete with the much more famous ‘Great Ocean Road’ in Victoria. There are many chances to take pictures and admire the dozens of seals sunbathing on the rocks.

seals, Tasman Islands, near Hobart

Dozens of seals sunbathing on the rocks of Tasman Island

Port Arthur is an amazing site. There is a lot to explore and it is easy to while away half a day. You can do tours including ‘ghost’ tours at night.

Port Arthur, Hobart, review

The main building at Port Arthur. The site is much more than a prison for convicts.

What else I liked in Hobart

  • Other things I liked in Hobart are the good quality food, seafood, beers, whiskeys and wine. Sometimes a bit pricey, but…
  • The fact that waiters can be over forty and professional. So European as it happens to be a career over there….
  • The visit to the Cascade Brewery and the 3 km walk back to Hobart centre along the pretty rivulet.
  • I love the fresh air, the ability to enjoy a twilight of over an hour surrounded by beautiful skies, NO mozzies nor humidity. I live in Queensland so such things are a novelty for us.
  • The Friday night food markets, right in the middle of town. If we would have known, we would have made sure to be hungry that day!

All in all, Hobart is a very pleasant place to be. It offers enough for foodies, lovers of wine, beer and whiskey tastings, art, history and stunning natural beauty.

So I challenge the negative opinions and the naysayers.  I believe you either did not look around you or you were blinded by pre-conceived opinions. In either case you missed the boat and the opportunity to have a wonderful experience.

So next time, make sure you read the reviews!