Lockdown Armchair Travel – The Netherlands – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leiden, and The Hague

More lockdown armchair travel and today, N is for The Netherlands, and some memories of a few visits to that delightful little country over the years. So, what do you think of, when you think of The Netherlands? Probably here:

AmsterdamAmsterdam, Amsterdam, de stad waar alles kan. So sang Maggie MacNeil in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. But The Netherlands is more than just Amsterdam. Leiden, for example, is a beautiful city – home to (amongst other things) the Windmill Museum.

LeidenYou can see the workings of a windmill really close up – and it’s a fascinating experience.

Windmill workingsWhen we were in the Netherlands in 2009, we also visited Rotterdam, famous for its cube houses. They’re an extraordinary feat of architecture!

Cube Houses

We also visited The Hague, seat of government and a pretty grand place all round.

But with humour

Horses

and superheroes!

But most people just want to see Amsterdam, and it is a pretty special place. Lots of bikes…

Bikes

Churches

Cheese

Partygoers

Did I mention the bikes?

Possibly the best way to see Amsterdam is from the canals, and on our last morning we took a canal boat ride. The things you notice…

You expect Van der Valk to walk around any corner. I’ll leave you with a look at our canal boat

Some old Delft tiles

and a pleasant drink on a street corner.

I know there’s much more to Amsterdam and the Netherlands than I’ve been able to share with you today but hopefully this gave you a little insight into what some of it is like!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Malta – August 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve done a lockdown armchair travel post – and, for most of us, we’re still not going anywhere exciting in a hurry. So M is for Malta, and a lovely sunny week in the summer of 2012 (plus a couple of old snaps from our stay in March 1993). We stayed in the resort that I think is probably the best place to be based in Malta –

St Julian's Bay

St Julian’s Bay. It’s chic, elegant, close to Valletta but also a good springboard to other parts of the island. And considerably more attractive than Bugibba, which is where we stayed in 1993. You can spend hours here just drinking in the scenery.

It’s also an easy walk to Sliema, with its beautiful views overlooking Valletta.

They love a good parade in Malta. When we were there in 1993 it was carnival time, and we watched the arrival of King Carnival (to a very repetitive but upbeat pre-recorded soundtrack).

King Carnival

Meanwhile, in 2012, we were in St Julian’s at the same time when an effigy of the saint is paraded around the town.

St Julian

To a live band accompaniment, of course.

Live band

One of my favourite places in Malta is Mosta, with its incredible Dome Church.

It’s notable for having survived a bomb attack during the Second World War when a bomb fell through the hole at the top of the Dome – but didn’t explode.

Dome

That was a lucky break. (Or God was on their side, whichever you prefer).

Mosta Dome

From Mosta it’s easy to carry on to the beautiful and blustery old capital of Mdina.

Mdina

The wind really whistles around your wotsits when you’re perched up there, even in full summer.

Mdina Gate

Lion statues guard against you – or welcome you, depending on how you see yourself – as you wander round this quaint and very narrow old town.

Mdina

But the views are stunning.

View from Mdina

Of course you have to pay a visit to the modern capital, Valletta, with its steep streets.

Valletta

St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must-see.

Cathedral

The Hospital of St John perches near an attractive outcrop

The Hospital of St John

A harbour cruise is also worthwhile

Harbour cruise

This is a picture of the so-called Three Cities taken from a harbour cruise in 1993 – very moody

The Three Cities

I’d also recommend a trip to Gozo. Full of charming sights.

Gozo

Here’s stunning Ramla Bay

Ramla Bay

And lovely Xlendi

Xlendi

We did a boat trip to the Azure Window

Azure Window trip

It was a stunning sight

Azure Window

Sadly no longer there

A Window

The islands are also littered with ancient temples. Here you can see Altar Niches at the Ġgantija Temples

Altar Niches

Here’s an interesting thing: Maltese horse races are the “trot” variety!

Horse Racing

I could bore you with many more pictures, but that wouldn’t be fair. Here’s just a few quirky parting shots.

Mussels in SmellsMussels in Smells?

No construction worker would be seen dead without his parasol

No construction worker would be seen dead without his parasol

 So pleased to see Michael Gove has got a proper job

So pleased to see Michael Gove has got a proper job

Synchronised drinking

Synchronised drinking?

Who's captain of this ship?

Who’s captain of this ship?

I’ll leave you with an image of me nicking some chocolate almost thirty years ago.

Chocolover

Let’s hope we can go on holidays safely again soon!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Latvia – A December Weekend in Riga, 2006

L is for Latvia and a weekend in Riga in December 2006 to celebrate Mrs Chrisparkle’s birthday. My overriding memory of Riga in December is that it was TOTALLY UTTERLY COMPLETELY FREEZING COLD – in fact, I’ve never felt that level of cold before or afterwards. Apart from that it was a fascinating mix of the Western and the Soviet, set in a beautiful old town that is small and delightfully compact, to walk around easily. I don’t have that many photos from that weekend but I hope this gives you a flavour of what it was like.

So what do you think of, when you think of Riga? I’ll always think of this….

Snow in RigaSnow everywhere! It’s a beautiful, stately city. Perhaps its most impressive sight is the House of the Blackheads, which isn’t anything to do with poor facial hygiene, but a 14th century guildhall for unmarried merchants, shipowners, and foreigners in Riga.

House of the BlackheadsMore modern buildings include the Freedom Monument, constructed to honour the soldiers who died in the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920)

Freedom Monumentand the Rainis Monument, commemorating the Latvian poet – and yes he does look like Lenin,

RainisRiga has plenty of attractive bridges over the river Daugava

Bridge over riverPlus generous open spaces

Open spacelike this area beside the one of the many ornate churches. There are also stunning views from the top of St Peter’s Church

View of the cityIn many directions!

More viewsAs it was near Christmas, they had a lovely Christmas market too!

Thanks for joining me on this little travelogue. Stay safe!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Laos – March 2013

Whilst we’re not all (currently) still in proper lockdown, travel is still a risky business, so let’s continue with L – which is for Laos, one of the three countries we visited in 2013 as part of our Indochina tour. A gentle, spiritual, welcoming country with some fascinating secrets.

So what do you think of, when you think of Laos? Do you actually think of anything?! Maybe this:

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Young novice monks, seen everywhere – but more of them later. We started our five days in Laos in the capital – Vientiane.

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Of all the world’s capitals, this must have the least traffic. The statue of Chao Anouvong, the King of Vientiane from 1805 – 1828, welcomes you from his plinth alongside the Mekong.

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This is where the President, Bounnhang Vorachith, lives. Laos is a one-party, Communist state, but you wouldn’t really know it from day-to-day life. Not as a tourist, at least.

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In the centre of a roundabout is a stupa, which many believe is inhabited by a seven-headed nāga (a snake deity) who tried to protect them from an invasion by the Siamese army in 1827. If it gets in your way you can refer to That Dam Stupa – which is exactly what it’s called.

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Our tour took us first to Buddha Park, 25 km out of town, which is a somewhat bizarre place. Opened in 1958, and with so many proper temples around, one wonders why they felt the need to create a kind of Disneyland to Buddha. None of the buildings is sacred.

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Weird. But they do sell great barbecued bananas.

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Back in to Vientiane, and time to see some temples. Pha That Luang is a reconstruction of a temple that was destroyed in the Franco-Thai War and was rebuilt after the Second World War.

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Nearby is the Lao Tripitaka Research Centre, another temple/library where the monks learn and study.

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and the temple at Wat Sisaket – built in the early 1800s.

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In the centre of the city is the Patouxi Gate, built in the 1960s to commemorate the country’s struggle for independence from France. Amazing view from the top!

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Then we had a trip around the food market. At times you needed a strong stomach…

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Our final sight in Vientiane was the fascinating – and sad – COPE centre. This is a museum/visitor centre relating to the prevalence of the use of prosthetic limbs in Laos due to the amount of unexploded land mines. It makes for a sobering visit.

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The next day we flew to the beautiful city of Luang Prabang for three fantastic days. We stayed at the wonderful Xienthong Palace hotel, which was perfectly located by the banks of the Mekong – and why not, it was the last residence of the Lao Royal Family!

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The centre of Luang Prabang is very small and everywhere you want to go is easily visited on foot. Our first port of call was to visit Wat Ho Pha Bang, a Royal Temple completed in 2006 to house the Phra Bang Buddha image.

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It’s stunningly beautiful.

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With ornamental nagas

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exquisite architecture

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ornate decorations

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moody windows

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majestic columns

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and picturesque views.

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Next we went out of town to visit a silkworm factory – here are the little blighters

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and this is where they make clothes and material out of the silkworms’ hard work!

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Back in town, we visited the Wat Xieng Thong, a very striking Buddhist temple that’s now over 450 years old.

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I particularly like the ornamentation on this pink wall!

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One of the fun aspects of Luang Prabang is that there’s a good variety of bars and restaurants for an enjoyable night out!

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and I can definitely recommend:

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The next day was mainly devoted to a delightful Mekong River Trip. I could bore you with hundreds of photos of the Mekong. Here are just a few.

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During the trip we visited the Pak Ou Caves, and had lunch nearby. The caves are full of miniature Buddhist sculptures, and make quite an extraordinary sight in that particular location.

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At sunset, we did what all tourists to Luang Prabang do, and that’s to ascend Mount Phou Si and watch the sun go down over the city.

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After the sun has descended, so do the tourists, into the waiting arms of the stallholders of the Night Market.

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and our favourite watering hole, the Opera Bar. (This, however, is the Xieng Muan Garden Restaurant, also very nice!)

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On our final day we got up early to offer alms to the monks. You do this by giving them lumps of sticky rice. Sounds neither appetising nor healthy, but it’s a tradition that goes back a long way. The rice is cooked like this

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Then dried like this

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And then the monks all file out of the temple

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and collect the rice, that has been given to them by the people, in their shoulder bags

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It is then taken back to the temple kitchens for the monk chefs to prepare it into something pallatable for breakfast.

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This particular temple houses an Emerald Buddha.

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It’s actually made of glass but I don’t suppose that matters.

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I caught this boy looking wistfully out of the window. I often wonder what he was thinking. I’m not sure he was happy with his lot. I wonder what has happened to him.

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There’s a school nearby, which looks surprisingly modern in comparison with the simple lifestyle of the monks.

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Later we took a trip out to the Kuangsi Waterfall Park

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which also houses the To Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre

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and those bears have a great, safe time!

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The waterfalls are beautiful and are a great place for people to relax.

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Coming for a swim?

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At the end of the day we headed to the airport to get our flight to Hanoi, more of which in a few weeks time! On the way we stopped at a rather sad little craft village where desperate villagers made all sorts of desperate attempts to sell you their rather desperately underwhelming products. Wasn’t a great experience, to be honest.

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Mind you, it was worse for the rats

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And there you have it – Laos in a nutshell. I remember its beauty, its tranquillity, and its sense of humour, which you could see everywhere!

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This is where you go for remedial treatment for venerteal disease – nasty!

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I didn’t fancy the testes of tea

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Two more things – incredible spiders!!

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and the usual quirky sights – novice monks everywhere

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hard-working fishermen