A Travellerspoint blog

October 2015

Zaanse Schans

CLOGS, WINDMILLS AND CHEESE - A TRUE SLICE OF HOLLAND

rain 9 °C

This little village was the very postcard of Holland I had carried in my mind. Beautiful majestic windmills, ladies wearing Dutch bonnets, wooden clogs and gorgeous countryside dotted with cows and sheep. If only I could have found tulips, my postcard would be complete.

There is a direct bus 391 that leaves every hour from the Amsterdam Centraal to Zaanse Schans and the entire journey takes a little over half hour. I was staying at a B&B in a quiet village around the small quaint city of Purmerend because I wanted to experience the Dutch countryside for longer.

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Pretty much the minute I got to the village I ran into my first roadblock - how to navigate through the vast Dutch countryside? My happy B&B owners thankfully answered my present dilemma when they wheeled out an old bike they had in the woodshed for me to use during my stay with them. At this point, my behind hadn’t been on a bike saddle in more than a decade but once I got on, it was as easy as going for a spin on my scooter back home - only the view was better and much more scenic. As the transportation problem solved itself, I was moving right along and even caught myself smiling like a kid again as I pedalled away.

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Biked all the way to Zaanse Schans from my little village (8 kilometers!!) on a bike path parallel to the road that cuts through farmland and marshland. The roads were not at all busy and as I passed by fields, dairy's, lily ponds, farms and ranches, all I could hear was the rustle of the reeds bordering the small canals dividing the fields and the hum of the tyres on the smooth path. The constant drizzle added to the overall experience and made the landscape appear lush green.

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Zaanse Schans is picturesque to say the very least - complete with working windmills, green wooden houses, small hump-backed bridges, a clog workshop and a million picture opportunities at every corner (Side note: I realised during my time in Holland that you get prone to keeping your eyes open to signs of all things clichéd-ly Dutch). The village currently has 6 windmills in working condition, but a plaque I read inside one of the windmills "De Kat" stated that there were almost a 1000 windmills dotting the landscape of this village a few centuries ago therefore, being referred to as the first industrial site in the world.

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What an experience it was to watch the sails of the windmill go faster or slower depending on the speed of the wind. The way they sound when you are inside one of these mammoth machines is something that is better experienced than written. I recommend you go up the steep ladder and step out on to the deck as the sails of the windmill pass in front of you.

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Note : It costs 4 Euros to gain admittance and there is a lovely little coffee shop on the ground level inside the windmill that serves hot chocolate and little else. But My-God they serve that hot chocolate with flair!
The two options available are :
Hot chocolate with whipped cream and
HOT CHOCOLATE WITH DARK RUM AND WHIPPED CREAM!!! ;) ;) ;)

The Clog Workshop in Zaanse Schans was a place you could not have pried me away from even if you tried. One has to experience what it feels like to clomp around in klompen because one has to! Spent hours at the workshop being a child with no inhibitions and every time I slipped into a quirky handcrafted wooden shoe, I would hopelessly succumb to giggles. There was an interesting demonstration on clog making by the gentleman at the workshop which was a very insightful experience into a tradition that date back a thousand years. Along with work-clogs, sunday-clogs and clogs made as a wedding present, I saw smuggler's clogs too.

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This wonderful Dutch village has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world.
I’m leaving you with happy pictures.

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Tot ziens!!
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 10:18 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

The Golden City Of One Thousand Spires - PRAGUE

overcast 10 °C

At first sight the layout of Prague is definitely medieval - with its narrow-winding-cobblestone streets, tight imposing architecture and the gorgeous Charles Bridge straddling the Vltava river. Within an hour of walking through this city, it dawns on you that the buildings and history of this beautiful part of Europe is not simply years old, they are centuries old and I could only stand in awe and try to envision what it must have been like to live in a time and period far removed from today's modern times.

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Prague's layout comprises mainly of 4 sections which in the earlier days were 4 separate towns: The Castle Town which houses the Prague castle , the Old Town, the New town which holds the Wenceslas square and a section around the Castle Town called the Little town.

The Old Town seems to hold some sort of magnet, because whichever direction you walk in Prague, you're guaranteed to end up at this square. Once here, you tend to lose all sense of direction staring at the grand churches, castles, bell towers and clocks all around this beautiful square. I found that most people wander into the square single-mindedly to watch the astronomical clock put on its hourly show. The oldest working astronomical clock in the world is magnificent and forms a part of the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. Do spend some time in between the hour change to just marvel at this amazing piece of history and art.

I would recommend going up the tower to take in the sight of the red roofed, spire filled view of Prague just as the sun dips over the horizon. The effort pays off grandly by providing you with opportunities to make gorgeous pictures like the one below.

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NOTE : There will be a 1000 cameras pointed up at the astronomical tower at the turn of every hour and you will be pushed and shoved by people in pursuit of a good picture or video. Mercifully, the entire spectacle lasts under a minute.

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Once you are done watching the show the astronomical clock puts up and take in the view of Prague from atop the tower, I recommend you stroll down to the square and take in the sounds of Prague, and spend the rest of the evening tasting the best of the local fare. The Old Town square buzzes with activity and the atmosphere in the evening with the street performers and cafe life is hard to miss. Walk the side streets off of the Old Town Square and grab some of the famous local beer which in my opinion is brewed to perfection and goes excellently when paired with some succulent ham straight from the source, as it roasts on a spit over an open fire.

The freshly made Trdelnik are a must try and a local favourite. The dough is rolled onto metal bars turning over hot glowing coal and pulled off the bars at just the right moment as they turn a golden brown colour and immediately rolled in a bed of sugar. The end result is a lightly sweetened pastry that smells like heaven and tastes divine and goes perfectly with coffee. There seem to be stalls everywhere selling them at a very affordable price of approximately 60 CZK.

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A short walk to the right of the Old Town's square, past the fashion street is the Old-New synagogue (which was unfortunately closed by the time I got there). Would have loved to pay a visit to Europe's oldest active synagogue that mercifully survived the bombs of WWII.

The maps and the locals say that the famous Charles bridge lies to the left of Old Town's square, but I got lost in the narrow streets only to realise that there are signs pointing in its direction on most major street corners. The only problem is that it is defined by its Czech name - Karluv Most on all those signs as well as on the map.

Karluv Most or more famously the Charles Bridge is a half a kilometer long pedestrian bridge that seems to be where all the action in Prague is. Artists, musicians, beautiful views that adorn postcards, nice picture opportunities and not to mention crazy tourists with selfie sticks pack the length of this bridge at all times. I quickly realised that to enjoy this city in its true splendour one has to make the effort and get to the bridge early in the morning whilst it is still quiet. As the sun gets higher in the sky the number of feet treading the length of this bridge keeps rising astronomically.

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You can get around just about anywhere in Prague by walking, without having to take the metro or the bus or even the tram – but they are such a lovely things that I did end up hopping onto a tram (ok just once - while going to the Prague Castle). To my lovely surprise, my cousins description of the experience fits to a T - they do shake and quake quite a bit as they go ;)

Spent some time exploring the Castle town which houses the Prague Castle. The steps leading up to the gates of the Prague Castle are in my opinion one of the most charming places in all of Prague and I guess its not much of a secret since it looks like it is the most frequently used access paths. I took the tram up to the castle but walked on my way back. The Prague Castle complex includes courtyards, churches, museums and is considered the city’s historical and political center. Located within the walls of the Prague Castle is the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral that seems to rise up above and dominate the skyline from the city below. The view of Prague from the Castle is something that leaves a permanent imprint on your mind - complete with red roofs, medieval architecture and incredible old world charm. You cannot help but be thankful that the city escaped major structural damage from World War II bombings therefore retaining its old world glory.

Side note : There are stores selling HOT WINE on the steps of the castle. I found one past the Toy Museum and it was the perfect accompaniment to the walk on a cold windy evening. If hot wine is not your thing, then I would recommend some delicious Grog ;)

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A 20 minute walk brought me back to familiar territory - under the the Charles Bridge where the 1000 or so swans were busy preening themselves or posing for pictures. There are lovely views of Prague from this point and is a great place to make pretty pictures, I clicked a few and headed back towards the Old Town. As I set foot on the bridge again, found myself amongst thousands of people taking pictures during the golden hour and even ended up getting thumped on the head by an enthusiastic selfie-stick waver in pursuit of the right angle.

Side note : I wish they had never invented selfie sticks. When you arrive at a gorgeous place that you've always dreamt of visiting, all that one wants to do is just take in the scenery and the atmosphere of the place. But instead, on almost every street, every square, in front of an old church, inside the old church, over the bridge, under the bridge and next to the nose of extremely irritated swans who just wanted to preen themselves in peace, there were people waving their selfie sticks. There were times I wished I could just yank it off their hands, break it in half and throw the bits in the Vltava.

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Found myself at Wenceslas Square which has seen many important events that have shaped Czech history. This boulevard - almost a kilometre long, was originally a horse market and I couldn't help but find it amusing that this section of Prague is known as the New Town - especially when you consider Wenceslas Square has history that pans 700 years!!
Flanked by the National Museum with the statute of St.Wenceslas in front on one side and the entrance to the Old Town on the other, the entire area holds great cafes, restaurants and places to shop. Made a few pictures and proceeded to rest my aching feet and the painful bump on my head after a long day spent exploring the sights, smells and sounds of this gorgeous city.

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As I did one last shot of Becherovka Lemond on this trip, I realized that this city is truly a postcard from any angle and couldn't help but hold tight to the memory of watching the sun come up over the horizon early in the morning while being the only person on the Charles bridge. What a wonderful thing to consider an achievement in this lifetime!!!

Prague to me was pure magic - especially when it was quiet.

Until next time,
Na zdraví!!

Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 11:31 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague town red old morning wine sticks tourists hot roofs thousand spires wenceslas smoked postcard most ham selfie kurlov trdelnik karluv wencelas Comments (6)

A little town of breathtaking views HALLSTATT

sunny 5 °C

Situated in the heart of the Austrian lake country, Hallstatt is the crown jewel of the Salzkammergut area and is home to the view that adorns every calendar or postcard featuring the Austrian Alps. Most people who visit Hallstatt make it a day trip from Salzburg as it is easily accessible by both the bus and the train. The buses take you directly to the village (after a change in Bad Ischl) whereas, the trains drops you off at the Hallstatt railway station, from where you can catch one of the the frequent ferries to the village.

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This remote village with its 7000 year old history dates back to a time in the past when salt was the most important of commodities, due to its use as a preservative and has an entire era dedicated to it in Austrian history. Its a small village nestled between the Austrian alps and the lakes and takes approximately 15 minutes to cover from one end to the other on foot, but can take a lifetime if you stop to explore its alleys and pathways that it has hidden within itself over many a millennium. When it is bathed in sunlight, Hallstatt resembles the elven cities described in "The Lord of the Rings" (or rather how they have been imagined within the confines of my imagination while reading "The Lord of the Rings").

On a beautiful warm sunny day - like the one I chose to pay a visit, the blue sky seems to perfectly compliment the cleanest blue lake imaginable. The air was a joy to breathe and I could almost feel my health being enhanced with each breath. The lake is filled with noisy ducks and a few elegant (but hungry) swans that keep you company and entertain you while you sit by the lake.

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The view from the water is something that can be only experienced and I don't think I'll do justice by even attempting to frame sentences to describe the experience. However, I highly recommend that you hire a boat and get on the lake by yourself for a bit for a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the perfect panorama view of the lake, the mountains and the village. There are electric or paddle boats for hire all around the place, that cost approximately 14 euros per hour.

You can pay a visit to the salt mine that involves almost an hour and a half of hiking up a hill and walking through tunnels. You can slide down a 60 meter wooden slide in a manner by which blocks of ice were transported through the ages once you finish the tour. I am slightly claustrophobic and decided to give this entire experience a pass.

There seemed to be thousands of people about when I paid a visit in the later part of September, that it came as a shock when I learnt that the original population of this town is less than a 1000. It gets tricky to walk around or even take photographs because of the tourists taking pictures everywhere and of everything or brandishing those repulsive selfie sticks. If it was this crowded in the early part of fall, I cannot imagine the volume of the crowd thronging these narrow streets during the summer months of June, July and August.

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All that walking helped build a world class appetite and I paid a visit to a lakeside restaurant to try the local fare. The salmon caught from the lake was fantastic and it was served with some baked and buttered potatoes on the side - a perfect meal for when the temperatures dips below 5 degrees celsius. Also tried the traditional potato soup which came in a super-sized bowl but was a bit too salty for my liking.

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The last of the ferries and the tour buses leave the village by 5:30 in the evening and Hallstatt emerges in all of its original splendor, as it falls back into its quiet and breathtaking ways. My taxi driver who also is an inn owner mentioned that even though she has lived here her entire life, she wouldn't live any place else.

Attended the morning service at church and while leaving noticed what a happy place they've made the final resting place of many. With flowers and names engraved beautifully on tombstones, the cemetery makes for a wonderful space for people to visit the final resting place of a loved one. The Ossuary of Hallstatt stores the skulls and bones of the departed inhabitants of this lovely little town. Because the cemetery was too small, the old graves are reopened and old bones exhumed to make way for the new ones. These bones are placed in the Ossuary, where they are painted with their names to mark their identity. The painted skulls were done beautifully, and it makes for a pretty unusual site.

There is a square in middle of the town area complete with a fountain in the middle and a waterfall in the background. The old quaint buildings surrounding the square are adorned with flowers on the balconies, each building different from the next. There are many cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels on this square, so during the day it's packed with people and gets quite busy.

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As I made my way back to the edge of the lake, I impulsively gave in to the temptation of getting on the lake again. Spent hours on the lake making pictures all the time wondering if all of this was a dream or did I just get that lucky.

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I am writing this sitting on a pier with my toes touching the lake water and I almost feel like I'm leaving my heart back here. A visit here has turned out to be many parts fantasy intermingled with some small parts of reality.

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So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, good night.
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight. Good Bye.

- Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 02:50 Archived in Austria Tagged night salzburg hallstatt austria ducks swans halstatt Comments (2)

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