Holland

Holland
I spent 5 days in Holland with some friends and was very impressed by it.  I got there, from Germany, by train which took me approx 6hrs. The journey was an easy one and took me past bulb fields full of flowers, which was stunning
The first thing you notice about Holland is how flat it is and the many canals, this is due to a lot of the land being reclaimed from the sea. Holland is a very beautiful place and I am so glad I got to visit it and one of my old students who lives there now. I stayed in Hoofddorp, a town outside of Amsterdam, this is a great town to use as a base…easy access into Amsterdam and near the Keukenhof garden – a must see place in Spring.  This is a garden surrounded by bulb fields, that comes to life in Spring with masses of flower beds. It has more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that fill over 32 hectares. You will also see a windmill and exhibitions here. My advice is set aside at least half a day to go around this garden.  It cost 16€ to get in and was well worth it.  We cycled from Hoofddorp to the gardens (quite a feat for someone who hasn’t cycled in a few years lol) but, it was definitely the best way to get there. You cycle past the canals, bulb fields, through pretty towns with places to stop and eat or buy cheese (at a much lower price than the main cities). Kinda got me back into wanting to cycle more lol.
   

  Talking about cycling; well you will probably be stunned at how many bikes are used here, but then again who wouldn’t cycle in a flat country 😉 It’s great to see the kids going to school on their bikes, or parents using the special child carrying bikes (see below). And not surprisingly, I didn’t see many people who were obese here. It’s a good, healthy lifestyle.

  

On my first day in Holland I went into Amsterdam, a city with a lot of character and many old buildings.  I went to the Rijksmuseum, a great museum to visit and one that would take about 2 or more hours to walk around. It has a heap of paintings, statues, furniture etc to see. I didn’t go to the Van Gogh museum because all lines were too long and in honesty I didn’t have the patience to wait in a queue for up to an hour lol, I wanted to explore. So, off i walked into the city centre. It only took me about 35 mins and was a really nice walk along the canals, past the bulb market (well worth walking around), past the cheese shops (SOOO many of these, and all with free sampling…yum) down the main street with a heap of shops to explore.
   

      Museum

 This is the bulb market

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Goettingen

It’s been a while since i wrote and I have a lot to tell you about 🙂

I have stayed mainly in Goettingen but taken some time out to visit The Netherlands (more on that in the next post). At the moment i am heading to Rothenberg ob der Taura.  But before i jump to that, let me tell you a bit more about Goettingen.
Goettingen was one of the towns that was protected from bombing in World War 2 (there was an arrangwment netwwen Germany and UK to not bomb each others university towns). So, because of this, Goettingen still has many of it’s old buildings.  If you go into the town centre you will see a lot of these old buildings dating from 14th century.  Most have dates on so that you know when they were built…handy if you don’t know your architecture lol.  The other thing to note is that a lot of streets and buildings have names on them of famous scientists.  Now, that shouldn’t be a surprise because Goettingen is the town for science.  Over 40 Nobel Prize winners have come from here.  
   

     

  
In the town, next to the Town hall there is a statue of a young girl herding geese.  This has become a well known statue because of the many PhD students who kiss her after getting their PhD (and nope don’t think about the multiple germs possibly on her lol).
  


Germany: Gottingen

I arrived in Gottingen, Germany by IC train (from Paris) 2 weeks ago.  On the first leg of the route I was served a full meal and given free drinks which was great.  The second leg of the trip I was served a tiny (or rather miniscule) bag of sweets and the tea/coffee was not complimentary.  Quite a contrast between the two legs.  The trains were on time and the connections on route were easy to follow.  I found that the staff on both trains spoke English and were very helpful.  

Some things I have observed about Germany so far: 

1) The Germans are very friendly, though not many smile at you when you smile at them…my son explained that it was a cultural thing.  

2) The Germans LOVE cakes etc and they are very cheap to buy, in fact food is a lot cheaper here than in France.  

3) They use bikes here like the Dutch, sooooo many bikes around. Saying that, while walking you need to make sure you are walking on the correct side of the path (one side is for bikes, the other for pedestrians), otherwise you will get ran over. 

4) Using buses is easy, and they run very frequently and on time.

5) You can’t buy large packets of ANYTHING 😳. Everything is sold in small packets, makes buying ingredients for baking frustrating, but hilarious to try to work out what is what ingredient in the shops ie baking powder lol.  I must look very strange to the Germans, I walk around with my phone held up to items to use Google Translate to read what the labels say lol.

6) During the war, Germany and the UK agreed not to bomb university cities, that has meant that Gottingen still has lots of buildings from the 1500’s etc.  

7) The Germans love to practice their English.  Often I ask if they speak English and they say ‘ohhh only a little’, and then promptly hold a conversation with me in perfect English…wow I wish I knew German ‘only a little’.

All in all Germany has been a big surprise for me. It is a beautiful place with very warm and welcoming people in it.

My Final Days in Paris

In two days I head to Germany, so today I spent another 4 hours walking around Paris.  I went to the Parisian Statue of Liberty, which was well worth seeing. It sits on an island in the middle of the Seine, but I would recommend taking a map or using the Google app to find it.



I then walked back upto the Eiffel Tower, it was a cloudy day and there were no queues for tickets – wow! Still military and police around guarding it though.  I then walked back to Montmartre from there. Now, the funny thing is, I popped into a shop called Marks and Spencers (M&S)…those of you who are British will be very aquainted with this shop 🙂 After buying some things I headed back to the studio following the directions of Google Maps (you’ve got to love this app for getting you around).  The app took me down a road that had lots of business men and luxury cars. Eventually I started paying attention to the shops and people…all well dressed carrying Ives San Lauren or another top brand shopping bag and there I was carrying my M&S bag, kinda felt out of place lol.  Eventually I got to the end of the road and saw that I was walking on a side road of the Champs Elysees :). By the way it was a very nice area to walk around, lots of top brands so if you like buying these brands, this is the place to go.

Also wanted to share the following warm and fuzzy story.  On Saturday I went to the local supermarket and after paying for my shopping, the girl on the checkout turned and gave me a single stem yellow rose, what a lovely gesture and one that made my day. Just another example of the friendliness of the French.

My reflections on Paris: a place with beautiful architecture, a lovely setting, kind and helpful people, easy to walk around or use the trains and lots to see. In my time here I have fallen in love with Paris and the French, definitely a place I would come back to and also recommend to bring your loved one to (Paris is known to be the city of love and it holds up to that name very well, a truly romantic place to visit). 



Safety while travelling alone: being followed

Today I was followed by a man, when I walked from the city centre to Montmartre, in broad daylight. Though this was disconcerting, I automatically slipped into ‘alert’ mode.  For those that I have taught self defence to, what I am about to say will just be a reminder.  When out walking, don’t walk with your ear buds in (it means you can’t hear what or who is approaching you), keep to busy areas, be aware of your surroundings, if followed either slow down and look in a shop window (to let them pass), or try to outwalk the person or run. Head to a shop or busy restaurant/coffee shop and above all try to keep calm.  I did all these things; I tried to outwalk him, then slowed down to let him overtake me (but after overtaking he would slow down until I had passed him), I crossed the road and he followed (did this numerous times) I also kept a ‘proximity awareness’ of where he was at all times (eventually he was walking so close to me I could hear his breathing). At this stage I headed to a supermarket where they have security guards (here in Paris). My plan was to approach the security guards, if he followed me into the shop, and tell them about him. Fortunately for him (after following me for 25mins) he wasnt game to enter the shop and literally disappeared.  Before leaving the shop I looked around and checked he couldnt be seen before heading back to the studio. 

Some additional advice: if he produces a weapon, scream and run towards people, and don’t stop screaming. If he threatens to shoot you, still run, it’s harder to hit a moving object and if you don’t know him then he is less likely to start shooting at you but instead will head off for an easier target. If he grabs you then fight, scratch, kick and continue to scream. Try to get away to a busy area, shop/home etc and seek help.  And ultimately my advice is: learn self defence…it empowers you, helps to protect yourself and may one day save your life.



Basilique du Sacre-Coeur and the bracelet guys

Before, in a previous post, I mentioned about the guys who stand on the steps of the Sacre-Coeur and try to give you tread bracelets. I have had them approach me two times, the second time one of them grabbed my arm. Both times I said very sternly ‘Non’ and kept walking.  Well, I have been doing some further research on them, turns out this IS a scam, as i thought. They target single women or couples and thread the cotton around your hand then demand payment.  They may seem frindly at first but that changes when they demand money.  Here is a link written a few years ago, but still very relevant http://www.outandaboutinparis.com/2011/06/bracelet-guys-near-sacre-coeur.html My advice is the same as appears in this article…walk with purpose and don’t stop, ignore them and they will leave you alone. Don’t let them put a damper on your Paris trip, Paris is a beautiful place and I believe safe (I will test that next Tuesday when I need to get a flight to the UK to see my sick dad, so will need to walk to Gare de Nord at 5:15am then back to my studio, when I return to Paris, at night).







The Louvre

Well yesterday was the day for a trip to the Louvre.  Now before you go, go onto their website and download their app which has guided tours on, well worth it. I turned up at the Louvre at about 10am and the queues were HUGE, hundreads of people. Fortunately I had researched which entrance to go to and so headed across the courtyard and to the outside of the Louvre block to an entrance called the Porte des Lions, it does seem a bit of a distance from the pyramid but you know when you have found it because it has two lion statues outside.  When i finally found it there were only 15 people waiting…wow, yep myself and anyone that turned up there questioned whether this was the entrance to the Louvre and yep it was…wooohooo score!!! (As my son would say lol)

So, after security checks and buying my ticket I raced to the Mona Lisa (to try and beat the crowds) and it worked…I had access right up to her. It’s funny but even the narrator on the Louvre app says they don’t know why she is so famous, the painting style is typical of that era. Anyhow, she is behind protective glass and is a lot smaller than I thought., but worth going to see to check it off my list lol. 





From there I went towards the Roman and Greek statues section, this is where Venus of Milo is.  Amazing sculptures. Come and join me as I walk around the Louvre (spent over 5 hrs there and still didn’t see it all).





From there i went to Napoleon’s chambers…so much extravegance, but amazing:





Here is a selection of other pics I took…enjoy 🙂



At Napoleon’s coronation.