Holland: Amsterdam & Bussum

The instructions of Gijs, Annie’s second cousin, were good and after landing at Schiphol airport we caught the train to Bussum, 20 minutes East of Amsterdam, where Gijs & Florence Lamsvelt live.

Welcome to Holland!

Vintage poster.

They visited us in Sydney two years ago, just before Gijs retired as a judge on his 70th birthday. He has since missed the bench and is now doing pro bono work for victims of crime, sparring with his ex-colleagues in court. Florence is still involved with volunteering and has received the Queen’s medal for her work.

Gijs and Florence Lamsvelt's house in Bussum.

Gijs and Florence Lamsvelt’s house in Bussum.

Florence's excellent Nasi Goreng dinner.

Florence’s excellent Nasi Goreng dinner.

On our first day, Gijs took us to his yacht club, The Royal Dutch Sailing and Rowing Club, founded in 1847, a 100 years before I was born.

The Royal Dutch sail and rowing club.

The Royal Dutch sailing and rowing club.

A traditional sailing boat coming in to tie up.

A traditional sailing boat coming in to tie up.

Muiderslot (fort) opposite the yacht club.

Muiderslot (fort) opposite the yacht club.

Gijs recently sold his yacht Cordelia with which he has sailed the North Sea and crossed the English Channel many times. He and Florence also did a canal trip with Cordelia, from Holland to the South of France for 3 months in 2012. With the mast down, they travelled 2,200km and went through 524 locks on the canals!

Gijs's book cover.

Gijs’s book cover.

After the visit to his club, he showed us through Muiden, the old town next to the club and a suburb not far from Bussum. These parts used to get flooded before the Afsluitdijk (Cut off dyke) was built in the 1930’s. It is amazing to think that half of the Netherlands is reclaimed land (Polders), below sea level. For example, Schiphol airport, built on a reclaimed lake, is 4 metres below sea level.

Muiden street scene.

Muiden street scene.

Monday was a relaxing day with Gijs showing us Naarden Vesting, (a fort built to protect Amsterdam) with a quaint town built inside the fort, after the military moved out. This is a beautiful town, where evidently, wealthy divorcees tend to buy their boutique townhouses.

Muiden street scene.

Naarden Vesting street scene.

The following two days were devoted to exploring Amsterdam. There is so much to see in this city, so we walked a lot, to visit the Rijksmuseum where the Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer and others are on display. The red light district near the centre of Amsterdam offered some amazing scenery, not least the ladies on show in windows, next to a church!

Amsterdam Central Station.

Amsterdam Central Station – our arrival point each day.

The Rijks Museum.

The Rijksmuseum.

"Walletjies" the red light district.

“Walletjies” the red light district.

Typical Amsterdam canal.

Typical Amsterdam canal.

Amsterdam street scene.

Amsterdam street scene.

The highlight for us, was the Van Gogh Museum. I was overcome by similar emotions in Liverpool when I visited the Cavern Club. Vincent has been my favourite artist, since high school. We spent the whole morning to explore this vast museum of Van Gogh’s work, before visiting the “Concertgebouw” Amsterdam Concert Building.

The original Gerrit Rietveld designed museum of the 70's at the back with the turn of the century additions of in the front.

The original Gerrit Rietveld designed Van Gogh museum of the 70’s on the right with the turn of the century additions of Kisho Kurokawa on the left.

Interior of the Kurokawa designed entrance lobby.

Interior of the Kurokawa designed entrance lobby.

Me and Van.

Me and Van.

A walk to Rembrandt’s house brought us to the Ship’s museum on the harbour. There were many other sights, but enough of that.

Rembrandt's house.

Rembrandt’s house.

The house with the narrowest street frontage in Amsterdam: 1 metre wide!

Number 7, the house with the narrowest street frontage in Amsterdam: 1 metre wide!

On our second last day Gijs and Florence drove us across the Oostvaardersdijk (dyke) to Lelystad for lunch and across the Houtribdijk (dyke) to Enkhuizen to visit the Zuiderzee Museum. It is very interesting to drive across a dyke with the sea on one side, about 3 metres higher that the cattle grazing on the polders, (reclaimed land) on the other side. We finished the day on a liquid note at a lovely “Brown café” in Naarden Vesting.

Zuiderzee museum: Dirk, Annie, Florence & Gijs.

Zuiderzee museum: Dirk, Annie, Florence & Gijs.

Enkhuizen.

Enkhuizen.

And look: Uncle Dirk's cafe!

And look: Uncle Dirk’s cafe!

Dinner at Maarden Vesting.

Dinner at Naarden Vesting.

We got word that Michelle our daughter, arrived in Amsterdam with some friends for a music concert. We met with her for breakfast at a café in Amsterdam Central station with Gijs, who hadn’t seen her in 26 years. Then we took the train to Schiphol for our flight to London on Easyjet and our connecting flight to Singapore.

Gijs and Michelle.

Gijs and Michelle.

And finally, for those weekend 4-wheel drive warriors around the world: A parking garage for fairly average bicycles. Lycra and helmets optional.

And finally, for those weekend 4-wheel drive warriors around the world: A parking garage for fairly average bicycles. Lycra and helmets optional.

Michelle warned us to book a flight to Heathrow, but no, us cheapskates had to fly to Luton. This meant catching a bus to Heathrow with about three hours to spare. Problem was, the bus from Cambridge was about an hour late because of Friday afternoon traffic. We arrived at Heathrow terminal 5, an hour before our scheduled departure on British Airways flight BA11 to Singapore. The flight was overbooked, but Annie with her usual charm and a very helpful BA staff member, saw us upgraded from departure lounge/runway, to cattle class.

Full marks to BA, who showered us with wine all the way to Singapore, to drown out the 3 wailing babies in bassinets, 6 rows in front of us. No complaints, we remember those days, travelling with babies!

Next instalment: Getting to know Changi airport – Again!

 

Basque region.

With the Tour de France behind us, we explored Bordeaux the next day, before collecting a rental car for the following week. Bordeaux was deservedly voted the best city in Europe in 2015. We enjoyed walking through the city and visiting its landmarks.

La cite du Vin

La cite du Vin

Pont Chaban-Delmas.

Pont Chaban-Delmas.

Church

Rue Notre Dame

The Toyota Yaris is a hybrid vehicle and getting used to it was hilarious. After leaving it in the hotel’s parking garage for the night, I couldn’t get it started the next morning. After 10 minutes on my mobile to Toyota, I discovered that the engine does not need to start – it quietly pulls away on battery power, only starting the engine when required. Now that we have learned the ropes, I can recommend this car – it has all the features you find on the luxury BMW’s and Merc’s. The difference? It’s exceptionally economical and easy to drive and park – particularly on these narrow roads.

Following: Saint-Jean-de-Luz street scenes.

Following: Saint-Jean-de-Luz street scenes.

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Due to a painful sternum and coccyx, after my Lance Armstrong impersonation, I asked Annie if she could drive down to Spain and back, while I shifted from cheek to cheek and enjoyed the scenery. The drive down to Saint-Jean-de-Luz took less than two hours, with Annie “Fritterpaldi” hurtling down the freeway at 130km/h cheek by jowl, with all the big trucks. Talk about scenic – it will be difficult to beat Saint-Jean-de-Luz on the Bay of Biscay. Even Louis the 14th had a weekender down here!

Louis, lead lute player for the heavy medieval rock band "King"

Louis, lead lute player for the heavy medieval rock band, King. (Apologies to Brian May of Queen)

Street scene Saint Jean

Street scene Saint Jean

And another one.

And another one.

At Daan and Gretel’s recommendation we drove to the vintage rack railway dating from 1924, to take the 35-minute ride to La Rhune’s summit at 905m. The first summit of the Pyrenees mountain range, it overlooks the Basque coastline from Biarritz to Saint Sebastian and the seven provinces of the Basque country.

Le Petit train.

Le Petit train de la Rhune.

Mountain sheep on the tracks.

Mountain sheep on the tracks.

View from the top.

View from the top.

Crazy mountain bikers.

Crazy mountain bikers.

After two days in this area, we drove into Spain to follow the coastline to San Sebastian and Bilbao in Northern Spain. I relived a similar journey along this coast to Oviedo, with four friends in a camper van back in 1975. Much has changed since that time, notably the new motorways and the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. But first San Sebastian: Marketing itself as the new cultural capital of Europe.

Bridge design: Baroque, LSD? wtf!

Bridge design: Baroque, LSD?

Old city streets.

Old city streets.

The Basque pub where we were feted with tripe and bacalao.

The Basque pub where we were feted with tripe and bacalao.

Every city needs and icon: Sydney has its Opera House, Coffs Harbour has its Big Banana, Bilbao has the Guggenheim Museum.

More sculpture than architecture - this building left me breathless.

More sculpture than architecture – this building left us breathless.

On the river bridge, with a busker playing classical clarinet - can it get any better?

On the river bridge, with a busker playing classical clarinet – can it get any better?

So relieved I didn't have to do the working drawings.

So relieved I didn’t have to do the working drawings.

Jeff Koons' Tulips outside.

Jeff Koons’ Tulips outside.

Richard Serra's enormous corten steel sculptures inside.

Richard Serra’s enormous corten steel sculptures inside.

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The best busking act ever!

Jeff Koons' "Puppy" at the Guggenheim entrance: 12.4 m high with 38,000 plants. Being re-vegetated when we visited.

Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” at the Guggenheim entrance: 12.4 m high planted with 38,000 plants. Being re-vegetated when we visited.

Regular Bilbao, non-Gehry architecture.

Regular Bilbao architecture.

Statue of a comedian named Tonetti.

Statue of a comedian named Tonetti.

After two delightful days in Bilbao, we headed back to France, stopping in Biarritz for a day to enjoy the fine weather, beaches and restaurants.

Surf's up, straight off the Atlantic.

Surf’s up, straight off the Atlantic.

The Biarritz harbour.

The Biarritz harbour.

Annie drove us back to Bordeaux for our last night before flying out to Amsterdam. The little Toyota Yaris hybrid went like a dream and she drove like Emerson Fittipaldi.

Three things about this region of France which I really enjoyed: 1. There are more wine varieties in the supermarkets than food; 2. The women have great dress sense – not a pair of torn jeans in sight; 3. People are courteous and patient, both on the road and when you are trying to explain yourself. A final bonus for those interested: The property prices are extremely affordable – AU$250,000 will buy you a lovely place like Daan and Gretel’s in Cognac.

Bordeaux: Lost in France – and the vines were overflowing.

Gretel dropped us off at our hotel in Bordeaux.  We then walked through the old city, along the river to orientate ourselves. On the way back, we stopped for a beer at a pub to discover that the owner was a rugby tragic. Couldn’t wait to tell us that Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Wallabies, is now playing for Bordeaux. He also has autographed photos of Wallaby, All Black and Springbok players.

One of a number of gates into Bordeaux's old city.

One of a number of gates into Bordeaux’s old city.

Another Bordeaux gate.

Another Bordeaux gate.

Electric cars everywhere!

Electric cars everywhere!

The following morning our bikes were delivered to the hotel and our luggage picked up for the 50km journey to Cadillac (for us, 62km due to wrong turns!). We settled in on these touring bikes with Bosch electric motors in the crank housing, powered by a Lithium battery behind the saddle. This is the answer to the up and down terrain of the Bordeaux region – it doesn’t allow you to free wheel, but assists you when you go uphill. (4 settings: Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo)

Annie and her bike in front of the hotel.

Annie and her bike in front of the hotel.

A stop along the river path.

A stop along the river path.

Annie unfortunately, picked up a puncture in the front tyre, which we repaired. The next puncture on the rear tyre, happened downhill at 45km/h, which managed to cause multiple leaks in the tube. After 6 patches, I gave up and replaced the tube. Fortunately, the bike company provided a range of tools and spares!

Puncture no. 2.

Puncture no. 2.

We arrived in Cadillac which is a beautiful town at 4:30pm. After a shower we explored the town and had a dinner of duck, salads and frites, washed down with a bottle of local wine. Then, early to bed.

Cadillac town.

Cadillac town.

Cadillac street.

Cadillac street.

The next day, we set off to St Emilion over much hillier terrain, giving the Bosch systems a good workout. Again what was supposed to be a 54km journey, stretched to 68km because the route directions included in our pack, was in English for the first day, with the following 3 days in French! Annie gallantly navigated using her patchy school French, with me trying the new English-French app on my phone. I was hoping Google and GPS will get us there, while softly humming the Bonnie Tyler song of 1977.

On the road to St Emilion.

On the road to St Emilion.

Chateaux along the way.

Chateaux along the way.

Getting quite hilly!

Getting quite hilly!

The landscape is really beautiful with old Chateaux and rustic buildings dotting the landscape. It is also grape harvest time and we looked in amazement at the mechanised harvesting. We arrived in St Emilion at 5pm, with an aching bum in my case – Annie being ever chipper. Our route included dinners and breakfasts at the 3 star hotels we stayed at, and the food was exceptional. The French know how to prepare fantastic 3-course meals in small portions. How they stay so slim, we can’t figure out!

Riding into St Emilion late afternoon.

Riding into St Emilion.

The town from our hotel.

The town from our hotel.

Street scene.

Street scene.

After a walk around St Emilion the following morning, we headed off to Blaye for the 64km trip, which we did in 73km! At this point my derriere was really aching, but the historic hotel in the Citadelle, (Fortification guarding the Garonne river entrance to Bordeaux) plus a fantastic dinner washed down with a Bordeaux sauvblanc, eased the pain.

Looking for Panadol and anti-inflammatories in my saddle bag.

Searching for Panadol and anti-inflammatories in my saddle bag.

Entrance to the Citadelle.

Entrance to the Citadelle.

View from outside the hotel across the

View from outside the hotel across the Garonne river.

View from the dining room at sunset.

View from the dining room at sunset.

A ferry took us across the river to Lamarque the next morning, to cycle the last 62km back to Bordeaux. After 15km, we crossed a railway line and I spotted a railway station next to the road crossing. After feigning an impending heart attack, Annie gave me money to catch the train back to the city, while she set off doggedly to complete the trip – clocking up 82km!

Ferry approaching the Camargue shore of the river.

Ferry approaching the Lamarque shore of the river.

Vines pruned so that all the fruit hangs at the bottom for mechanical harvesting.

Vines pruned so that all the fruit hangs at the bottom for mechanical harvesting.

After a pleasant train trip, I arrived at our hotel at 2:30pm, the same time as our luggage and after a shower and two calming Cognacs, had a relaxing recovery on the bed.

There are so many beautiful photos of this area in our photo collection – if there was more time and internet bandwidth, we would have uploaded them all.

 

Cognac

The TGV train from Paris to Angouleme near Cognac took two hours, reaching speeds of up to 320km/h. Daan Prins, an old friend from University days, met us at the station and drove us to his place in La Maurie on the Charente river, about 15 minutes from Cognac.

Train spotting: The TGV beast.

Train spotting: The TGV beast.

Daan and Gretel his wife, bought this house a couple of years ago and renovated it beautifully. Gretel certainly has an artistic touch and has collected an eclectic mix of furniture at the local flea markets.

Gretel & Daan's front gate. Note the date: 1825.

Gretel & Daan’s front gate. Note the date: 1825.

Inside the gate.

Inside the gate.

Lounge room.

The lounge room.

Our room.

Our room – check out the timber beams.

Our room 2.

Our room 2.

They showed us around their village and the adjoining village of St. Brise, on our drive into Cognac on the Sunday. This is of course the heart of Cognac production where all the well-known Cognac brands are distilled. Late Sunday afternoon, we packed a few bottles of wine and snacks for a scenic river cruise in their dinghy to Cognac. Eye wateringly beautiful!

Entrance into Cognac's old town.

Entrance into Cognac’s old town.

The oldest house in town - now a Cognac tasting centre.

The oldest house in town – now a Cognac tasting centre.

Park in the centre of town with Municipal offices.

Lovely park in the centre of town with the Municipal offices.

Beers after all the walking: Daan & Gretel.

Beers after all the walking: Daan & Gretel.

River, boat and jetty at the bottom of the garden.

River, boat and jetty at the bottom of the garden.

Sundowner cruise.

Sundowner cruise.

River reflections.

River reflections.

The following day, we drove to La Rochelle on the coast, about 90 minutes from La Maurie.

La Rochelle old town.

La Rochelle old town.

Covered colonnades.

Covered colonnades.

This popular coastal resort has a historic town centre and an enormous marina, giving access to the Bay of Biscay. As luck would have it, there was a Boat Show on in the marina, which we explored at length. With the Jeanneau and Beneteau yacht factories a short distance to the North of La Rochelle, there was a comprehensive display of all their sailing and power vessels. Conservatively speaking, this show is about 3 times the size of the Sydney International Boat Show!

La Rochelle boat show.

La Rochelle boat show.

Jeanneau exhibition - please, don't tempt us!

Jeanneau exhibition – please, don’t tempt us!

La Rochelle harbour - where all the persecuted French Protestants departed from to the rest of the world.

La Rochelle harbour – persecuted French Protestants departed from here to the rest of the world.

On Tuesday we did a long walk through the surrounding vineyards and saw first-hand how everything from pruning to harvesting is done mechanically. After lunch we visited Baron Otard, one of the oldest Cognac Chateaux’s, for a tour of their cellars and a Cognac tasting. Annie, a brandy lover, was in her element and we had to purchase some VSOP Cognac.

A walk in the vineyards.

A walk in the vineyards.

Early morning jetstream trails over Cognac.

Early morning jetstream trails over Cognac.

Entrance to Chateau Baron Otard.

Entrance to Chateau Baron Otard.

Barrels of Cognac ageing for up to 40 years.

Barrels of Cognac ageing for up to 50 years.

And now, for the tasting.

And now, for the tasting.

On Wednesday after another sumptuous breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Daan, and Gretel kindly drove us to Bordeaux, where she had some other business to attend to. This was a truly wonderful four days in the company of good friends.

Dining room at Chez Prins.

Dining room at Chez Prins.

These croissants are much too nice!

These croissants are much too nice!

Next: Madness? A five-day cycle tour through the Bordeaux region.

Paris

Our last evening in London with Michelle was at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, a community urban garden on an old railway site, to listen to some live music and eat pizzas. It was an opportunity to hear about Michelle’s work at her NGO, as a specialist in abused and sex trafficked women. She is passionate about her work in this field and apart from support to these women, she liaises with the Metropolitan Police task force on trafficked persons and spends time in court with lawyers to support the victim’s cases. On this subject, she is doing additional work on her master’s dissertation to have it published. She will be interviewed by the BBC on this work next week. We are very proud of her.

When this beast get's going, the shit flies, as is evident!

When this beast get’s going, the shit flies, as is evident!

Annie, having just bought a Metro 10 ticket deal.

Annie, having just bought a Metro 10 ticket deal.

The Eurostar is a quick and comfortable train under the English Channel from London to Paris, travelling at a top speed of 335km/h and taking about 2 hours. We got on the Metro at Gare du Nord and found our way to our modest Hotel le Manhattan near Garibaldi station. After a Nanna nap we caught the Metro to Montmartre, the artist quarter and did the steep walk up to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

Sacre Coeur cathedral.

Sacre Coeur cathedral.

Portrait artists at work.

Portrait artists at work.

A walk down past the Moulin de la Galette with a few beers at a street bar to quench our thirst, brought us to the Moulin Rouge to take the obligatory photo. Annie did not pass the audition for the chorus line-up as she was too voluptuous.

Montmartre.

Montmartre.

Calming ale.

Calming ale.

OK You have seen it before. I couldn't afford the T-shirt, so here's the photo!

OK, you have seen this place before, but Annie is devo about her audition.

Friday was a busy day starting with the Metro train from Garibaldi to Champs-Elysees station. From here we launched the big walk (in hindsight we should have utilised the rental bikes available all over Paris – with the first 30 minutes free!). First, the Grand and Petit Palais’, then the Invalides bridge, past the Place de la Concorde to the Musee de l’Orangerie.

Bridge

Invalides bridge.

Monet donated his 8 panels of “Grandes Decorations”, Water Lilies, to France and designed this beautiful vestibule to house the culmination of a lifetime’s work. Breathtaking! The lower level houses the Paul Guillaume collection of works by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Derain, Renoir, Utrillo and Soutine. This small gallery has a quality collection, worth visiting.

Water lilies.

Monet’s water lilies.

From here, a relaxing stroll through the Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. The queues of people waiting to enter, stretched around I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid. Having visited the Louvre before, we continued along the Seine and turned into the Marais district to visit the Pompidou Centre.

Rodin's lovers outside the

Rodin’s lovers outside the Musee de l’Orangerie

Tuil

Tuileries gardens

This Piano and Rogers designed building was quite revolutionary in the 70’s, expressing its structure and services on the facades. Sadly, as with other similar Rogers designed buildings in London, it hasn’t aged well. The pigeons have a field day with all the perches it provides, and the pollution settling on the ducting and services, makes it look tatty. High maintenance!

Pompidou centre.

Pompidou centre.

Pompidou centre

Pompidou centre

Not far from here is the National Picasso Museum, where we spent some time after lunch viewing the extensive Picasso collection, curated in sequence from his early days in Spain to his final years in Paris, as well as the works of other artist’s he had collected.

Picasso's sketchbook

Picasso’s sketchbook

After crossing the bridge onto the Ile de la Cite, we visited Notre-Dame cathedral, my favourite French Gothic cathedral.

Notre Dame'sflying buttresses.

Notre-Dame’s flying buttresses.

Notre-Dame interior.

Notre-Dame interior.

Getting foot sore, we caught the Metro to the Museum d’Orsay. Michelle our daughter, recommended this museum and I must agree, this former railway station has the best collection of western world art from 1848 to 1914. It has the most extensive collections of Impressionists like Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Pissarro, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh; Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, Signac, Cross, Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis; Art Nouveau like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. This is a breathtaking museum and we spent the whole afternoon there, until they closed at 6pm.

After Michelle.

After Michelle.

Museum d'Orsay interior.

Museum d’Orsay interior.

Van Gogh.

Van Gogh.

 

Degas.

Degas.

We arrived back at Garibaldi metro station at 6:30pm and bought cheese, wine and salads to have in our room, as we were too knackered to go out for dinner. A good night’s sleep and we were ready to take the fast train to Bordeaux on Saturday.