Cruising the Dutch Waterways and a visit to the Keukenhof bulb gardens.

Two chocolate Easter bunnies were on top of the cheeses

 

My garden is beginning to show signs of Spring.  I have purple crocuses, white snowdrops and yellow winter jasmine adding  touches of colour.  But  I am reminded of the old song “when it is Spring again, I’ll bring again tulips from Amsterdam”.  Before I met my husband I went on a barge holiday along the Dutch canals and I think Bill must be bored of my tales of visiting an Edam cheese farm, a Delft tile factory and several quirky museums. I also remembered the strange smells from the many small workshops along the canals.

The canal going through the town
Canals are very much a part of Dutch cities

Three years ago at about this time of year I was indulging in one of my favourite winter activities. I was looking through travel brochures and I spotted an advertisement for a cruise on the Dutch waterways including the canals, part of the river Rhine and even across the Zuidersee.  When I read that the boat would be my namesake “the Lady Anne” and that the trip included coach travel from Bristol, I was sold. Luckily my husband was easily persuaded to join me.

The Trip

We caught the coach to Arnham sailing on the cross channel ferry between Dover and Calais. My heart always lifts when I say goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover. We boarded the Lady Anne, an old canal barge  in Arnham and found our very small cabin.  There was time to view the very sobering Arnham world war museum and hear the story of the disastrous “market garden” expedition where so many young lives were lost.

We were all  disappointed to learn that we would not be able to cross the Zuiderzee as promised due to high winds. The Zuiderzee is a large lake which was left when the Dutch drained  part of the Iselmeer to make more farm land.  The captain decided instead  to sail to Enkuheizen  and moor by the Zuiderzee museum 

The open air museum contains a large number of old Dutch houses which have been rebuilt and furnished to show a vanished way of life and is very popular with children.  We were also taken on a coach trip to see one of the new towns that was built on the reclaimed land. There is a saying “God made the world but the Dutch made Holland”. It was very difficult to imagine that the land we were walking on was under the sea fifty years ago. Enkuheizen itself had been a fishing village and there were a lot of remains of the sea fishing industry.

We also had coach trips to Delft and the Het Loo royal palace. The Het Loo royal palace was the home of the Dutch Royal family until it was given to the state on the death of Queen Wilhelmena

A peacock is showing off his feathers #Het Loo palace
A peacock displaying in the stables of the Het Loo palace

 

Luckily the Lady Anne was able to travel through the canals and down the Rhine to Amsterdam.  It was very pleasant to sit on deck and watch the Dutch people go about their business. We noticed how neat and clean everywhere looked. There were also a lot of ducks and other water birds. We had a chance to explore some of the Amsterdam canals before we returned by coach to Bristol

Amsterdam deserves its own blog post but we had come to see the Spring flowers.

The Keukenhof Gardens

Smelling the tulips
Smelling the tulips

The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens.

The Keukenhof gardens which are opened between March and May claim to be the best Spring garden in Europe. They were established seventy years ago as a showcase for Dutch bulb growers. For 2019 it is estimated that  seven million bulbs have been planted in over 79 acres. The Netherlands are the world’s largest exporter of Spring bulbs and over one hundred growers plan their displays in Autumn. The grounds are immaculately landscaped in a variety of styles and there is even a windmill you can climb to get a panoramic view of the whole park. Growers   also display their latest wares in a series of large pavilions and you can of course buy bulbs to take home.  We were able to spend a long time ambling through the park admiring the bulbs and also enjoyed a good lunch in one of the restaurants.

The countryside around also looks very colourful with a patch work of tulip fields where flowers are grown for market.

 

 

A bed of yellow daffodils beside the lake.
Daffodil beds along the lake
I found this you tube video of
The Keukenhof gardens by Drone

 

Visiting the Royal Mint at Llantrisant

Croeso I Cymru  Welcome to Wales

This week Bill and I went on a coach trip to the royal  mint at Llantrisant which is near Cardiff in Wales.  I have been a coin collector for a number of years and was keen to learn a little more about how they were made.  The visitor experience centre was opened in 2016 and cost nine million pounds so we were hoping for an interesting visit.

History of the Mint

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The first British coin

Coins have been minted in England for over a thousand years. The earliest coin found with a London mark has the head of King Alfred.  From about 1100 A.D. coins were minted inside the tower of London and  until 1970 coins were still minted in London at a site close to the tower.  However the government decided to introduce decimalisation. In 1971,  pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by 100 new pence to the pound  and  a larger site was needed to produce the new currency.

The site chosen was  in  South Wales. It may not have been a coincidence that James Callaghan the chancellor of the exchequer was M.P. for the nearby city of Cardiff. The new mint at LLantrisant was opened 50 years ago in 1968  and over 200 million coins were struck in preparation for D day.  At the time I was at university at Bangor in North Wales and I remember the excitement of getting the new coins. Predictably people were less impressed when they found that prices tended to go up.

Visiting the mint

Gromit covered with new pence.
Still on the Gromit trail. This one has been covered with new pence.

The royal mint is on a 35 acre site and is the largest in Western Europe.  It has an interesting visitor centre which is open every day from 9.30 A.M. to 17.30 P.M.  Tickets cost  a rather hefty  £13.50 for adults and £11.00 for children and  a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £40.00.  Concessions and group rates are also available.  There is free parking and a small café.  It is four miles from junction 34 of the M4.  For more details click here:  The Royal mint visitor experience

Part of the energy used is generated by a wind turbine painted to resemble a daffodil, the Welsh national flower and named Delilah in honour of Sir Tom Jones who was born nearby.

Our visit

After a security check we saw a short film which introduced the new range of coins for this year.  New coins depict Paddington bear and James Cook as well as a series of 10p pieces with letters of the alphabet. There will also be a commemorative coin with “New Pence” like the original decimal coins.

In the next room our guide showed us a display of tools used to mint the coins. She  also pointed out  some of the details we should  look out for when examining our change. For example the two pound coins have an appropriate slogan round the edge. The London underground £2.00 has “Mind the gap”.

Next we glimpsed a little bit of the production process. I was a bit disappointed to learn that no British coins will be struck this week. Demand has dropped considerably with the increased use of debit and credit cards. However the mint produces currency for about 60 other countries and we were able to watch Egyptian pounds being minted. Our party were  suprised to learn that coins are packed in cardboard boxes ready for transport.  For obvious reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of the production area.  You will also never see a lorry with Royal Mint on the side.

After the factory tour we had time to explore the exhibition area.  The mint also produces medals. All the medals for the 2012 London Olympics were made at the mint and copies were on display. There was also a cabinet devoted to the most famous master of the mint Sir Isaac Newton.

The mint has a small shop where you can purchase collector coins and other souvenirs including the largest chocolate money I have ever seen.

Our visit took about two hours including coffee and  rather tasty Welsh cakes in the café.

A famous car

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The Penny lane mini.

In 1967 the Beatles released the single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields forever. Two minis were covered with old pennies to promote the record and this one has been carefully stored and preserved for 50 years.

Celebrating new year in Linz, Austria

Pastry hearts with a jam filling

Two years ago we celebrated New Year in Linz, Austria. Our daughter who teaches  English as a foreign language had secured a  three month volunteer placement with the Austrian bilingual classroom project (ABC)  and we offered to help with her luggage.  The bilingual classroom project was set up so that village schools could have visits from native English speaking teachers. It gave my daughter  the opportunity to spend three months travelling to village schools throughout upper Austria and she met a large number of Austrian children. She was also able to obtain a CELTA P qualification to teach English to primary school children.

We celebrated Christmas with the rest of our family including a new grandson  in Bristol.  once we had digested the turkey and Christmas pudding we flew from Bristol airport to Frankfurt and then from Frankfurt to Linz. Linz airport  has the rather romantic name of the Blue Danube airport. We rented a flat for a few days in Linz.  I had previously visited the Tyrol and Vienna  in Austria over fifty years ago as a child but although Linz is the third biggest city in Austria. I knew very little about it.

A map of Austria showing Linz on the Danube
Linz is close to the Czech border

It is located in upper Austria close to the Czech border straddling the Danube. It has a distinctly eastern European feel with a well preserved old town. Public transport is very good. We caught the trams which were clean, reasonable and ran on time despite the weather.

A rainy street with christmas lights
Commuters going home through the rain. Note the tramlines and Christmas decorations.  photo Angela Fraser

I was surprised how cold it was. It was raining when we arrived but this soon turned to snow.  In German New year’s eve is known as Silvester Nacht after Saint Sylvester. In Austria, particularly in Vienna there are lots of Sylvester celebrations with balls and concerts.  We did not make it into the centre but we did hear and see a lot of fireworks. I was  also surprised  how many gardens were decorated with gnomes and other Christmas figures.

Sightseeing

The highlight of our trip was  taking the Postlingberg tram up to the top of a snow covered hill.  The Postlingberg Bahn  leaves from the main square and climbs up the Postlingberg  through woodland to give great views over the city. The return fare is a very reasonable 6 Euros 50 and it is used by locals and tourists. At the top is an interesting church and also more unexpectedly a grotto trail with life size gnomes and dwarves.

We also visited the castle museum and had lunch in the restaurant which overlooks the Danube.  The castle museum had a lot of interesting displays about German history and technology though the information was only in German. When we were there they had a special exhibition of Austrian nativity scenes. These can be enormous and depict an entire village.

Life size wooden nativity figures in the snow
A wooden nativity scene photo Angela Fraser

This shows the Danube in the snow
The grey Danube

In 2009 Linz was the European capital of culture and it has a rooftop sculpture trail, a large modern  art gallery and an electric arts museum.

Food and drink

Austria is famous for its coffee shops which also serve delicious cakes. The people of Linz claim that Linzertorte  is one of the oldest cake recipes in Europe. Normally the top has a pastry lattice but at Christmas special shapes are cut. The food in the restaurants had a very Eastern European feel with a lot of meat, root vegetables and dumplings.  Hearty fare ideal for a cold winter.  You can also eat in a large variety of international restaurants.  Austria and Czechia have the highest beer consumption in Europe.

Pastry hearts with a jam filling
Linz hearts

Going home

It  snowed heavily the night before we were due to leave Linz. Luckily our taxi driver got us to the airport in good time but we had to wait for four snow ploughs to clear the runway before our plane could take off. Lufthansa gave all the passengers a bar of chocolate when we got on the plane to thank them for their patience.

 

 

A day out in Wells

The photo shows a pair of swans with seven small cygnets

Sightseeing in Wells, England’s smallest city

Anyone who is following this blog knows that I earn some pocket money by mystery shopping.  Last week I was asked to go to Wells to buy some chocolate  ice cream. My husband came with me and we had a good lunch at the Quarter Jack and visited the first world war exhibition in the museum.  We both love Wells so I have written a few notes and taken some photos to encourage you to visit.

Wells is England’s smallest city with only 12,000 inhabitants. It is a very easy bus ride from Bristol or Bath across the Mendips hills. You can also combine a visit to Wells with a trip to Glastonbury, home of the music festival, the Clark’s shopping village in Street or Cheddar caves.  The tourist office has a town trail map and this provides  a  short walking tour of the main attractions.  Wells takes its name from a spring in the garden of the bishop’s palace and water from it is still made to flow through the gutters to clean the streets.  The Wells tourist website has more information about the city and its history.

The Cathedral

Wells_Cathedral_2008

Wells is probably best known for its enormous gothic cathedral built between the 12th and the 15th century.  It has one of the oldest clocks in England and a chained library.  (Think Harry Potter).  Admission is by donation and free guided tours are offered every day except Sunday.  The city has a famous choir school and choristers sing at many of the services. Also be sure to look out for the resident cathedral cat.  More information can be found here Wells cathedral website

The Bishop’s Palace

Men playing croquet in front of the bishop's palace Wells
A croquet match in progress on the lawn in front of the bishop’s palace

The bishop’s palace is next to the cathedral and is famous for having its own moat which is home to a family of Swans.  For centuries they have rung a bell when they need feeding.  Once a year the bishop holds a raft race on the moat.  Wells has adopted the swan as its emblem.  The palace has been home to the bishop of Bath and Wells for 800 years.  It also has a beautiful 14 acre garden  and a tea shop I can personally recommend.  You can buy tickets from the gift shop.    Bishop’s palace website

The photo shows a pair of swans with seven small cygnets
This was the Swan family on the moat taken a couple of years ago.

The cathedral close

This is a beautifully preserved street originally used to house officials from the church.  The houses date back to the 14th century and the street is still cobbled.

Terrace houses with high chimneys from the cathedral close in Wells
This shows part of the cathedral close in Wells

The last fighting Tommy

Outside the museum is a memorial to Harry Patch the last surviving soldier from world war 1.  He died in 2009 at the age of 111 and his funeral in Wells cathedral was televised by the BBC.  In later life he became a very fervent pacifist.

The photo shows a soldier sitting in a trench
Wells museum has an exhibition to mark 100 years since the end of the first world war.  I took this photo of a Tommy sitting in a trench.

Eating, drinking and shopping

Wells has a very busy high street with a variety of shops  coffee bars and restaurants to suit all budgets. A farmers market is held twice a week where you can buy a wide variety of West country delicacies including cheddar cheese and Somerset cider. We normally eat in the Quarter Jack (named for the figures who strike the quarter hours on the cathedral clock) which I can recommend for a reasonably priced meal.

If you want to find out more about Wells, Cathedrals or Harry Patch.  Here are three books I recommend.  If you are staying in the area you might want to check out a couple of my other blog posts: Two national trust properties to visit near Bath or Westonbirt Arboretum

 

 

Visiting the Alhambra

An Islamic arch

 

 

Gateway to the Alhambra photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in Spain.  It is probably the main reason  why most people visit Granada and it has certainly been on my bucket list for quite while. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

So when my son said he would like to visit it I was keen to join him.  We had been advised to book tickets online before we flew to Spain  to save time.   I was surprised how reasonable ticket prices were at between seven and fifteen  Euros each.  We also booked an English tour and we were very pleased we did.  Our guide actually had an M.A. in Islamic studies and was able to translate the classical Arabic inscriptions which decorate the walls. We were given headsets which enabled us to hear her clearly.

Click here to book tickets up to three months in advance

If you are visiting the Alhambra you will need to show your passport or identity card.  We caught the bus from Malaga which took about two hours and then took a taxi to the Alhambra.  I am lucky that my son speaks Spanish and was able to act as our interpreter.

The Alhambra was built between the 11th and 15th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain. The name means the red one and reflects the colour of the local clay. I had not realised quite how big it is.  It is a fortress and palace complex covering  35 acres. It was once home to several thousand people including a sizable Jewish population.  We did a three hour walking tour and my pedometer recorded almost twenty thousand steps.  Yet I still felt I had only seen a small part of it.

This shows the layout of the soldier's quaters
The remains of houses for the soldiers. The modern city of Granada is in the background. photograph Richard Fraser

The complex evolved organically over time but most of the palaces were built in the 14th century by the Nasrid dynasty.  In 1492 the Moslems were defeated by king Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the Alhambra fell into disrepair. Now Ferdinand and Isabella are probably best known for backing Columbus’s voyage to America and for historians 1492 marks the end of the middle ages.

Looking out through an Islamic window in the Alhambra
A window with Islamic arch and decorated plasterwork

Our ticket did not include the Nazerini palaces but did include the Generalife gardens. The Generalife palace was used as a summer palace and the gardens are planted with fragrant roses, oranges and jasmine. Like most Arabic gardens they are filled with pools and gentle fountains. Water was suppled by a five mile conduit from the local river.

Garden showing a pool and low hedge.
The Gardens of the Generalife palace. photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is on top of a steep hill and we walked through pine woods to reach the top. Although it is in southern Spain it was quite windy and cold at the top and I wished I had worn a coat.

The site has cafes and souvenir shops and for the less adventurous a car and coach park near the entrance.

You can see the White walls and redish brown roofs of Granada
The modern city of Granada seen from the Alhambra

This post follows on from Half term in Malaga