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 Travel, Uncategorized

10 benefits to staying at a villa

We have been on many family holidays and are always torn between booking a villa or a hotel. With the miserable weather outside and my current dreaming of sunnier climes, I thought I would put together a list of advantages to staying at a villa.

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Exploring the James Villa holidays website, I came across lots of Villas in the Gran Canaria region. Gran Canaria offers beaches with an expanse of white sand and is architecturally rich with numerous cultural scenes. With the annual temperatures rarely going below 18 degrees across the Canary Islands it is a great place to visit all year round.

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So if the pictures are not convincing enough, here are a few reasons to stay at a villa…

  • Spaceit is no fun, particularly if you have a large family, being squashed together in a couple of rooms and racing to get a chair by the pool is not a problem when you don’t have to share it with other holiday makers.

 

  • ComfortA villa is a real home away from home with all the amenities you would find in your own house, unfortunately this includes the washing up but most have a dishwasher to help you along with that.

 

  • Self cateringthis may be a negative for some but I love exploring the local supermarket when I go away and seeing the price difference compared to home is so amusing (I’m easily pleased) plus I want to eat when I’m hungry not when the hotel announces that it’s lunchtime. Eating out is great a few times but the cost soon adds up when you have a lot of mouths to feed so being able to cook is a great alternative.

 

  • BBQNothing gives you the feeling of being on holiday like a BBQ and most villas have a built in one accompanied by an outdoor dining space.

 

  • PrivacyNo need to feel self conscious in your bikini by the pool when you are the only one there! Also nobody likes to be interrupted from their afternoon nap by somebody paying a visit to change the sheets!

 

  • Energy savingIt’s a short walk to the pool when it’s outside your back door and you don’t have to drag wet towels across holiday complexes when you’ve finished drying yourself off. You can also chose how close you want to be to the town centre or beach at your convenience.

 

  • SecurityI always worry about leaving my possessions poolside when I go for a swim but no need to hide your phone or other valuables inside your shoes while staying at a villa.

 

  • RelaxingYou want to let your hair down on holiday and let the kids be themselves (which often means making noise) but you don’t want to worry about disturbing the room next door or in turn, having to listen to annoying neighbours through the walls. You don’t have to at a villa.

 

  • FreedomA holiday is the perfect time to forget about your daily routine so why follow one on holiday? If you want to go for a moonlight swim and eat your breakfast at lunchtime then why not?

 

  • EconomicalYou are charged one rate rather than per person which can work out a lot cheaper for larger families and does not include a lot of the hidden costs that hotels have.

 

Well I think I have managed to convince myself that a villa is a great choice of holiday home, now I just have to find the flip flops!

Have you stayed in a villa before? What would you add to the list?

*Written in collaboration with James Villa holidays, all thoughts and opinions are my own

 

 

 

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Chania – Crete

It is that time of year where we are starting to feel the warmth of the sun on our skin and the summer holidays don’t seem so far away. Some people may have a holiday already booked and others are researching where to go so I thought I would share our family trip to Crete last year.

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Crete is one of those holiday destinations that everybody travels to at some point in their lives and who can blame them? Glorious weather, scenic mountain views and beautiful beaches it does seem to have it all.

Over the summer we travelled to Chania (pronounced Hania) on the western side of the island for a week, staying at the Sirios village resort.

The first thing I noticed on our trip from the airport was the very dry landscape, but this is understandable with the long, hot summers and mild winters. Another thing was the amount of buildings that seemed to be abandoned. There were houses that had either gone into ruin and left or had started to be built and then left unfinished. This seemed such a shame but the financial crisis in Greece over recent years has probably been a factor.

The Sirios hotel was a large complex with three pools, an outdoor bar and a play park for children. The large dining area had a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner but hot food was also available at other times throughout the day so nobody was ever hungry! There was a large selection of food (and a never ending supply of drinks) to suit all tastes and I’m sure I came back home a couple of pounds heavier!

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The hotel had everything we needed for a relaxing week away, great food, and clean pools but whats the fun in that? We wanted to get out and explore what Crete had to offer.

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We travelled with  Thompson and we had a travel rep that gave us a presentation about all the excursions available through them. We found being in a group of six that the cost of these would be way too much for our budget. The cheapest trip out was a boat ride in the harbour for €28 each. We took a short stroll from the hotel, caught a bus for €1.50 into town and found the harbour ourselves, taking a boat ride for €10 an adult and €5 a child making it at least half the price and we were able to explore the town without any time constrictions.

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I loved exploring the old town with amazing looking buildings and people riding around in a horse and cart. The shopping area was really busy but that led onto the harbour area which was more tranquil and I could have sat watching the world go by for hours, unfortunately I was with a bunch of teenagers who find that sort of thing boring (They’ll appreciate it one day)

One place that the kids didn’t mind visiting was the local beach. It was about a ten minute walk from the hotel and I don’t think t was the main beach of the area because it wasn’t very full but we liked it that way!

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The views on the beach were so beautiful, we had to go down there a few nights just to see the sun setting. With my children getting older and doing their own thing it is not very often that we all spend time together so it was great to find such a lovely city that we could spend some quality family time together. I cant wait for our next adventure!

Have you been to Crete? Where is your next holiday destination?

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

A weekend in Tenerife

On my return from Greece in the summer I wasn’t quite ready to give up the idea of spending my days at the beach and sitting by the pool sipping cocktails so when my friends suggested a winter weekend getaway to sunnier climes I jumped at the chance.

To be honest, the idea of just having a weekend away wasn’t too appealing but because of work commitments it was our only option and I was surprised at just how much we could fit in those two short days… although I may have sacrificed a bit of sleep in the process!

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Tenerife is the largest of the canary islands and is situated close to Morocco. We visited the Playa de las Americas which is a purpose built holiday resort. In one way this is great because it is full of everything you need on a package holiday with bars, clubs, restaurants and attractions all within a stones throw away but it was quite disappointing for the photographer within me that loves to find historical buildings and local culture of which there is none, at least not where I was staying. One thing that struck me about Tenerife was just how clean it was, the floors were mostly spotless and they obviously take pride in the area which is probably one of the factors of why it is so popular.

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We stayed at the palm beach hotel which had everything we needed although the Wifi was a bit dodgy and kept disappearing and the third bed was a pull out sofa which you don’t really want to deal with if you roll in drunk from the many bars along the strip at 4am (not that I did that of course)

Considering we visited in November the whole area was quite busy and I’m not sure I would like to visit during peak season because I’m sure it will be packed and I much prefer having the opportunity to chill out in the Jacuzzi without a queue of people waiting to use it.

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The beach was really nice and considerably empty which I think is because although it was 24 degrees it was really windy, particularly along the sea front. The weather was perfect if you have your surf board with you but a bit messy if you are covered in sun cream and the sand blows all over you making you look like you haven’t shaved in a couple of years.

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One thing you will not struggle to find in Tenerife is places to shop or places to eat because they are never ending! We ate at quite a few places which I will blog about separately (watch this space) including a steak house inside the Safari shopping mall. Prices were really reasonable with one restaurant we visited offering a 3 course meal for 7.50 euros. If you like a tipple it is also worth buying alcohol in the shops before venturing out as we found beer for 49 cents and bottles of wine for 1.10 euros.

It was really lovely spending some quality time with my friends who I don’t get to see very often and we are already planning our next trip away. The canary islands have been on my list of places to visit for a long time and I am glad I went to Tenerife, I would love to see what is on offer on the other islands in the future!

Have you ever been to any of the canary islands?

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