Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Crowne Plaza Hotel – Amsterdam

During our recent trip to Amsterdam, we chose to stay in the Crowne Plaza hotel which is situated quite close to Schiphol airport. We took advantage of the free shuttle bus service to the hotel rather than try to walk as the roads were really busy.

On arrival we had a bit of a wait in the lobby as there were a few people in front of us and although we had already paid before arrival we were asked to pay a city tax charge which came to around €8.00.

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The hotel room had the usual layout of a bedroom and bathroom, neutral décor in a brown and red colour palette and all the amenities we needed, including a comfy chair complete with some tourist magazines and a foot rest and a desk which I had no intention of sitting at. Although there were big windows, there wasn’t much of a view. We overlooked the car park and were mostly surrounded by roads but being five floors up it was probably better than some.

I do like when they leave something a little personal and on top of the huge bed (which we were most impressed with) was a little bottle of lavender sleep spray. There was also a huge dressing gown, but only one which was weird as there was two of us booked in the room!

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The TV showed all the channels so we didn’t miss any of the soaps when we got back after a day of exploring, and tea, coffee and hot chocolate was available, although I’m not really a fan of those tiny milk pots and tend to use them all in one cup.

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The bathroom was pretty basic with a bath rather than a walk in shower but had everything we needed and was clean and fresh.

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There was a restaurant situated just off the lobby and room service available 24 hours but we found it to be quite expensive. On the first night after a busy day visiting Keukenhof gardens we were too tired to go out looking for food so chose to order a takeaway, which the hotel didn’t seem to have a problem with.

The following morning we went to the Royalflora auction in Aalsmeer and the staff were really helpful in giving us directions, although during our stay there were some bus strikes going on so we chose to book an Uber so we didn’t end up stranded in an unfamiliar city.

We didn’t actually spend much time in the hotel but there is a fitness and wellness centre and a shop to pick up all those souvenirs you forgot on your travels.

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It was a comfortable stay, nothing quirky or particularly special but all that we would expect from a large hotel group.

 

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Keukenhof gardens – Amsterdam

Keukenhof gardens are situated in Lisse, 30 minutes from Amsterdam airport (a bus service runs continuously during opening hours) and are open to the public annually so visitors can see the amazing flowers that have been grown across the 80 acres of land.

The beautiful spring gardens are open for 8 weeks each year between March and May. I visited at the very end of April and everything was in full bloom. It was a pretty miserable day, raining on and off throughout, but with it being spring you never can tell what the weather will be like! This however didn’t put anyone off visiting, it was heaving with people and the amazing displays certainly brightened up the day.

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The history of Keukenhof

In the 15th century the Keukenhof estate was owned by Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria (Dutch – Jacoba Van Beieren.)  She decided to use the space to grow herbs and vegetables to take back to her castle which is where the name originates from: Kitchen garden.

The Countess lived a very eventful life. She was born in France in 1401 and between 1417 – 1433 became the ruler of Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen. During her short life of 35 years she was married four times, spent a couple of years in prison, was exiled to England and after being forced to abdicate she withdrew from public life. She died of Tuberculosis not far from Keukenhof a few years later in 1436.

After the death of the countess, the land was passed through the hands of several wealthy merchant families and the design of the English landscape garden was created in 1857 and formed the basis of what the park is today.

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In 2018 the park celebrated it’s 69th anniversary and went with the theme of ‘Romance in Flowers’ I thought this was pretty fitting with it being open right before a royal wedding and all.

Benches and bridges

The gardens are huge (we did get lost on more than one occasion) with a large lake in the middle and rivers of water flowing throughout so you often have to walk over small bridges to get around and rest your feet every now and again. There are a total of 280 benches throughout the park and 32 bridges.

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Trees and fountains

For some reason I assumed the gardens would be flat but it was full of rolling hills and enormous trees, even though there were loads of people, there were moments of tranquillity when you strolled through the trees and didn’t notice anybody else around. The calming sounds of the water created an oasis and the there was an array of fountains in different designs to admire. In total there are over 2500 trees in 87 varieties and 15 fountains.

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Sculptures

It is not just the flowers that are on show in the gardens but also around a 100 art objects by different artists dotted about for you to spot on your walks. There is also a maze which we wanted to visit but after realising that the whole park is a bit of a maze we gave up looking for it.

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Restaurants and shops

There are lots of buildings around the park, great to seek refuge when the rain gets too much! The indoor pavilions including Willem-Alexander, Beatrix, Juliana and Oranje Nassau house all sorts, from exhibitions to flower arrangement demonstrations and bulb growing information services as well as 7 souvenir shops and 6 restaurants. The restaurants seemed quite busy and we didn’t eat inside but if you were feeling peckish or just wanted a snack there are pop up eateries all over with everything from burgers to strawberries and cream.

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Windmill

The windmill at Keukenhof is over a century old and was donated to the gardens by the Holland – America line in 1957. Situated at the end of the park, the windmill has great views of the tulip fields across the way. I thought there would be long queues to go up the windmill as there isn’t very much space up there but it moves really quickly as other than looking at the view there isn’t much else to do at the top.

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Child friendly

I didn’t think of Keukenhof as somewhere to bring children as I thought it was just flowers on show and as much as they look pretty they don’t really capture the attention span of the smaller people for very long! I was surprised that on our walk around we came across a large play area, a zip wire, a Miffy house and even a small petting zoo with a variety of animals including pigs, goats and chickens.

Every year the gardens welcome more than a million visitors to Keukenhof and 75% of those are tourists from abroad. Every year the visitor numbers are growing with more people bringing their families and they were recently awarded the Certificate of Excellence from Trip advisor.

Tulips

Although there are lots of flowers on show, with over 7 million bulbs planted every year, the tulips are definitely the stars of the show with their variety of vibrant colours and the neat way they are all laid out.

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The tulip is a Dutch icon but hasn’t always been that way. Here is a story of the journey of the tulip…

The tulip travelled far before arriving in the Netherlands. Tulips were originally found in the Tian Shan mountain region of the north-western Himalaya. Dozens of different types in all kinds of colours still grow there each spring. In the 11th Century the Seljuks, who lived there at that time, took the tulip with them to Turkey, where they drove out the Byzantines. The tulip became a cherished flower in Turkish culture, and is still so today. Sultans organised tulip parties each spring. And the most extraordinary tulips were illustrated in beautiful books. Tulips were also depicted on tiles and other household objects.

Dutch trading, including with the then Constantinople, increased towards the middle of the 16th Century. The tulip was a new flower to the Dutch. Botanists such as Dodeneus and Clusius managed to obtain tulip bulbs and by 1560 the first examples were flowering in Antwerp and Mechelen. Clusius was extremely interested in the tulip, wrote a lot about it and, via his network across Europe, maintained a lively barter trade including in tulips. When Carolus Clusius became Hortus Prefectus, or Director, of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden in 1593, the tulip was one of the things he took with him. This is how the tulip became established in our country.

The purpose of my trip was to take photos for my project on the production of flowers and after seeing the gardens online I was eager to see it in person and so glad that I made the effort! Although it was just a flying visit I also managed to see the auction rooms at Aalsmeer Royalflora and the press photo exhibition in the city centre so it was quite a productive trip. (I still want to go back and see so much more!)

If you think you may want to visit Keukenhof when it reopens next Spring, it will be open from March 21st – May 19th with the annual flower parade taking place on April 13th. For opening times and prices see the official site closer to the time.

Posted in London, Photography, Uncategorized

A floral perspective – Photography book

I am just getting my head around the fact that I am no longer a photography student and thinking about what my next steps in life are, does it mean I am now a professional photographer?

Well I am the owner of a new photography book! When I say photography book I don’t mean that it is available to buy in a store near you…not yet anyway. This is a book that I created for my final degree show to display alongside a couple of prints that I took on my recent trip to Holland’s Keukenhof gardens and Aalsmeer auction market.

The book is a collection of still life images, some of which I shared on a previous post and are of one of my favourite subjects…flowers!

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The photos are accompanied by simple definitions of parts of a flower to get the viewer thinking about the flower as a whole and seeing them in a different perspective.

I have only included a few of the pages so if you want to see the full thing you will just have to visit our degree show which will be shown at the Free Range festival, at the Truman Brewery, in Bethnal green between 22nd and 25th of June. There will be loads of work on show from graduates across the country and it is a free event so you don’t want to miss out!

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

World Press Photo – Dam Square

I am a bit of a sucker for a photography exhibition so while recently in Holland working on my own photography project, I had to take the opportunity to visit the World Press Photo exhibition in the stunning setting of De Nieuwe Kerk in Dam Square.

World Press Photo is an international press photo contest featuring over 160 photos by 42 press photographers, many of which were taken at events that shook the world and featured heavily on the news but also some that documented incidents that I hadn’t previously read about.

As the walls were not suitable for displaying the large scale images, they were mostly hung from wires attached to the ceiling or on wooden display units on the floor.

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One of the images that stood out to me was Earth Kiln (below) by Li Huaifeng. It is of two brothers that live in a cave that has been cut out of a hillside in central China. As well as the interesting story, the photograph has an artistic effect and I actually thought it was a painting.

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As well as photos there was  also a digital storytelling contest with some really interesting documentary films on show. One of the films I found captivating was 30 videos all edited together to create a 10 minute timeline mapping the Las Vegas massacre.

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I was really impressed with the work on show and glad I made the effort to travel into Amsterdam city centre to pay it a visit. If you happen to be in the area up to 22nd of July and you are a fan of photography then you may want to check it out! Tickets cost €11.00 and entry is free for under 11s. There are also concessions available.

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Aalsmeer flower auction – Holland

 

I recently took a trip to Holland (the hub of the flower industry) to work on my photography project, looking into the production and importation of flowers, and was pointed in the direction of Aalsmeer by the lovely Catie who lives not too far away.

Aalsmeer (also known as Royal Flora Holland) is the largest trade centre for flowers in the world, described as a portal to a world full of scent and bloom, it is open to the public on certain days so they can take a look at the amount of work that goes into ensuring fresh flowers are available in your local supermarket whenever you feel like purchasing them.

A statement from Royal Flora…

FloraHolland is a cooperative venture belonging to the growers of flowers and plants. They bring their supply together to perform a single international trade platform, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. The members/growers are the owners of this company. We are also a ‘Royal’ firm and have been ever since our centenary in 2011 when FloraHolland was presented with the royal title.

On arriving at FloraHolland we were met with coach loads of tourists queueing at the door which I was quite surprised about because compared to other flower attractions in Holland, particularly Keukenhof, this was not advertised anywhere. As you enter the reception area you can purchase tickets priced at 7.50 euros and receive a map, although this isn’t really needed as the route is very straight forward.

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You are basically on a viewing platform above the market floor in the form of a bridge which you walk the length of the building and back again on the opposite side. It is quite a surreal experience to just be watching normal people go about their daily work and you do wonder if they are aware, or care, that people are watching and taking photos of them. At the same time, for the sheer size of the place, I did feel like I was at one of the wonders of the world and really intrigued by the whole process.

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Along the journey we came across a room that is used for research purposes and was filled with flowers. A guy saw us taking photos outside and asked if we would like to have a look around inside, which we were privileged to do so as it is not open to the public. He explained that they are sent new crops of flowers that haven’t as yet been grown for sale and they test them to see how they react to certain lights and temperatures and give them a value depending on their life span and quality.

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As you reach the other end of the bridge you can see the auctions taking place through the windows, unfortunately they were not in full swing when we arrived but there were still a few people bidding on flowers so we got to observe the process.

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After we had watched the bidding and had a bite to eat in the small café we made our way back down the other side of the bridge. As we reached the end of the viewing platform, there was a room that looked like a museum that gave out some information about the history of FloraHolland through videos and photographs and some statistics on the industry via posters.

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If you are a fan of flowers then this is a great place to visit, it is different to other attractions as all the behind the scenes action is the actual show. There is nothing fancy or put on about it and it is a bit dated but I found it to be a real spectacle and so glad I visited. I also purchased some tulip bulbs from the gift shop so I can think of my trip when they grow in the garden.

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Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Currently reading

It seems like forever since I last posted a currently reading post and I must admit I am behind with the amount of books I have wanted to read so far this year (I think I am currently on 10) but I have a new pile to get stuck into and hopefully with the sun making an appearance I can spend some time in the garden getting my tan on and catching up!

This month I have a mix, I cant resist a bit of a thriller but have also added a true story and something a bit more light hearted.

The loving husband – When Fran wakes one night to find her husband Nathan missing, she makes a devastating discovery. Questions about their relationship start to mount and Fran’s life begins to spiral out of control.

I am already three quarters of the way through this and enjoying it. It is quite creepy particularly reading it at night time with a quiet house as I usually do! Although I have nearly finished it, I’m still not sure where the story is going which is always a good sign.

It started with a tweet – When Daisy’s social media obsession causes her to make a catastrophic mistake at work, her sister Rosie suggests a digital detox at a remote cottage but will the hunk next door be enough of a distraction to survive without her phone?

I imagine this story is something we can all relate to, I know I could probably do with a digital detox but it is hard to imagine life with our online world nowadays! I love that fellow blogger Louise Pentland’s review is on the front cover and she says it’s “The perfect laugh-out-loud love story”

Secret child – The inspiring story of a boy born in 1950’s Dublin and raised as a secret child in a home for unmarried mothers as his own mother was so determined to keep him, he was hidden from the world including the rest of her family.

I do love a true story, particularly those based in a different era as it gives a great idea of what the time was actually like. Looking forward to reading this one!

In a cottage in a wood – Neve comes across a stranger named Isabelle on a bridge, who hands her something before jumping to her death in the Thames below. A couple of weeks later she finds out that a charming cottage has been left to her by Isabelle, is this a solution to her problems in London or the beginning of her worst nightmare?

I really like the sound of this book it seems quite dark and I imagine it will be a gripping read, I think I’ll read it in the day rather than at night though!

As well as these I have also been downloading books onto my Kindle and have realised that with my Prime subscription I can borrow up to 10 books/magazines from a selection so have a long list waiting for me. I am currently making my way through these two…

From my last list of books my favourites were Behind Her Eyes which I thoroughly recommend just for the unexpected ending and When I was Invisible because I love the way Dorothy Koomson writes. I was expecting a lot from Truly Madly Guilty as it was praised by so many people but I was left disappointed. It was a good book but I felt it dragged a bit and with six main characters I had to keep going back to remind myself of who was who.

Hopefully I will get through these quicker than the last, what have you got on your reading pile at the moment?

Posted in London, Photography, Uncategorized

A transformation at the Natural History Museum

I haven’t posted any photos of flowers for a while so I thought it was about time I shared a few for you!

I recently attended an event being held at the Natural History Museum where it was transformed into a wedding reception venue. I was there just to photograph for the event florists and had to have all the photos taken before the bride and groom made their entrance, which was no mean feat considering there were around a hundred people working in there and the lighting was constantly changing!

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My next adventure will be photographing flowers before they have been arranged into beautiful centrepieces, in fact before they have even been picked from the fields as I am taking a trip to Holland next week to visit Keukenhof gardens. Have you ever been?

Posted in London, Travel, Uncategorized

National Gallery – Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery is hard to miss as it takes pride of place at the top of the steps at Trafalgar square, with free entry and a vast amount of artwork on show it is no surprise that it is listed as the number one thing to do in London on Trip advisor!

I have visited the National Gallery once before but I was photographing an evening event so didn’t get much time to peruse the rooms. So as I was recently killing some time around the area I thought I would pop in and see what all the fuss was about.

There are some really beautiful pieces in the collection and the gallery is huge, I didn’t actually get a chance to make it the whole way round so will need to make another visit in the future! As you enter on the ground floor there is a map to help you find your way around, these are also dotted around the gallery and as it is a bit of a maze they are quite useful.

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The architecture of the gallery itself is also like a piece of artwork with high ceilings and beautiful ornate windows, it seems like the perfect home for some of the great masterpieces!

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I arrived at the museum as it was opening and there was already a queue outside but as it is so big inside and you can wander as you wish, rather than following a path, you may find yourself as the only person in the room. I imagine later in the day it gets really busy but the rooms are spacious and the seating is pretty fancy compared to the plain benches you normally see in gallery spaces.

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The National gallery is home to over 2300 pieces of art and they date from the mid 13th century to 1900 so more for the lover of classical art rather than the modern stuff. They do however play host to temporary exhibitions if you prefer something more modern. At the moment they are showing Tacita Dean: Still life which is a collection of mixed media including paintings, video and sound, displayed between two rooms. Unfortunately you cannot photograph this collection but you are free to photograph the rest of the gallery provided you don’t use flash.

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I would say whether you are a tourist or a Londoner you should definitely take advantage of the amazing collection of art from some of the most iconic artists of all time. Although I am a fan of modern art I can’t help but marvel at the talent of these artist for what they created during their period.

Which is your go to gallery to see great artwork?

Posted in Lifestyle, Travel, Uncategorized

Summer activities with National Citizen Service

The summer holidays are approaching and if your kids are anything like mine they will be complaining from day one that they are bored but not interested in going to any of the places you suggest. If like me you also have a child in year 11 you will know that the summer holidays are even longer than usual as they undertake their GCSE exams and will need something to keep them busy before embarking on new adventures come September.

I first heard about National Citizen Service (NCS) a few weeks ago when my daughter was told about it at school, a few of her friends have already signed up and she is still contemplating it, her biggest worry is that she wont know anybody that goes at the same time as her. My 19 year old daughter says one of her biggest regrets was not signing up to NCS. She didn’t even tell me about it when she left school because she wasn’t interested in going but loads of her friends went and still rave about it and meet up with people that they met on the residential and she feels like she missed out on a great opportunity!

So you are probably wondering what NCS is?

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What is NCS and how does it work?

NCS is a 4 – 6 week programme aimed at 15 – 17 year olds where they come together in their local community to build life skills and take part in a residential trip full of adventure. The programme is split into 4 phases:

  • PHASE 1 – ADVENTURE
A five-day, four-night residential based away from home with fun activities such as canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. A chance to meet new people and enjoy some adventure, fun and freedom!
  • PHASE 2 – DISCOVERY
A further 5 days and four nights in a uni-style environment where you’ll develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication to boost your CV or UCAS personal statement.
  • PHASE 3 – ACTION
Working in teams, you’ll put your new skills into practice by delivering a community project of your choice. Plan, fundraise, make a difference!
  • PHASE 4 – CELEBRATION
You and your mates will get together to celebrate your achievements. NCS opens up a world of opportunities, giving you exclusive access to work placements, volunteering and events
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We all know that it is easy for teenagers to get caught up in certain crowds and with individuals that we may not think is a great influence or our little cherubs and many people complain that government cuts mean there is nowhere for their kids to go to pass time and enjoy themselves. NCS is a government backed scheme and was established to help build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society. NCS helps them to become better individuals, and in turn better citizens by bringing young people from different backgrounds to share in this unique experience.
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It is inevitable that there will be marathon sessions of FIFA or Fortnight and probably binge watching a few Netflix series but if you want to get your teen off the sofa this summer then checkout the NCS website where you can sign up! There are still plenty of places available and you can fit it around other commitments over the summer such as family holidays. This year more than 100,000 teenagers from different backgrounds will come together in common purpose on NCS. That means one in six of the cohort of 16 year olds will live together, develop skills together and build community projects together.

So I imagine you are wondering how much it costs to keep a teenager busy for four whole weeks?

Well this is the good part… It’s £50!

Yes £50 includes all food, activities and accommodation, probably less than you spend on one days childcare, and bursaries are also available on a case by case basis. More than 400,000 teenagers have already taken part in this government backed scheme since it started in 2011 and I am off to try and convince my daughter that taking part is going to be so much more fun than me dragging her around all the museums in London over summer.

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*written in collaboration with National Citizen Service and all images provided by them
Posted in Photography, Uncategorized

Still life floral photography

I am currently working on my major project at university and the theme I have chosen is the importation of flowers. I am going to travel to Holland later in the month to visit the flower gardens and look more into the floral industry. In the meantime I have been researching lots of other photography projects and the way people photograph flowers.

Although I have come across some really amazing pieces of work by talented artists, I have found that in general flower photography is very generic. Flowers are normally displayed in vases to look their best so I have decided to try and create some images that break the rules and focus on the flower as a whole not just the pretty part at the top, and displaying them in an unconventional way.

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