Archive for August 2019

Milan Day 2   7 comments

The sun had gone in leaving us with a hot and humid day. Time to explore the west of the city and its churches. This is the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio.

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A huge building with what I was recognising as the northern Italian style of red brick and white fresco exteriors. I rather like the look.

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This is the Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (the painting not a leftover sandwich and packet of Jaffa Cakes)

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Even bigger and more impressive and seemingly very unspoilt and quiet, off the tourist tracks.

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We wandered the pleasant and wealthy looking streets back to the Castello Sforzesco.

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We were heading back to the Parco Sempione with a idea to climb this, the Torre Branca. Sadly it doesn’t open in the morning. 😦

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We wandered about the park as its rather nice, up to the Arco Della Pace, and then decided we were hungry and needed to eat.

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Onwards to the modern Piazza Gae Aulenti (more on that in a minute) and then down to a luxury food store called Eataly which had a fine cafe for lunch.

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Milan has a few old trams like Lisbon.

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Back to the Piazza. I’m a big fan of tall buildings and glass and steel skyscrapers so I liked it here. This tower block seemed be sprouting a forest. It was really odd.

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The Unicredit Tower is the centrepiece and a striking sight. I rather liked it, as you’d expect.

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We’d walked a long way so everyone wanted some R&R. I on the other hand wanted to explore some more so I was soon out beating the streets again.

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I wanted to see one of Milan’s more unusual sights, the Torre Velasca.

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It divides opinion in the city, some think its a unique and arresting example of contemporary modernist architecture, others just think it’s plain ugly. It appeared derelict and pretty much ready to fall down. Worth a walk though.

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I got thoroughly lost on the way back although I did find a few more interesting buildings while I searched for a way back.

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Another wonderful meal out to end our stay and a last lingering look at the courtyard of our apartment block.

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And the grandiose Milan Central station before we hit the tracks to the South of France.

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Milan Day 1   14 comments

Leaving Zurich for or continuing journey south leaving behind the grey gloomy skies and a large chunk of the children’s inheritance. I mentioned how sometimes the weather on the southern side of the Alps can be radically different to the north. We entered the new Gotthard tunnel with the mountains smothered in cloud. We emerged on the other side to this.

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And so to Milan. I’ve only ever been here to change trains so we decided that as we had to do so again we’d stay a couple of days for a look around. It was hot, very hot when we got there but we had a really nice and air-conditioned apartment to ease the burden. After settling in we headed out for a meal. Milan has canals in the Naviglio district and its been revamped into a an area bustling with crowds and restaurants. I loved it

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We ate down here every night and had some superb food. Everyone talks about France as being the home to great cuisine, but for me its Italy all the way.

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Our first full day the grey clouds cleared to a glorious blue sky. We went straight to Milan’s premier site, the Piazza del Duomo. This the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, shopping arcade full of designer brand stores and ludicrously expensive fashion.

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The square is stunning, huge and less packed than the main squares of Rome or Venice.

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Its dominated by the huge Duomo di Milano.

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Its a gleaming white and huge building and breathtaking in its detail.

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You can enter for free but the queue for security checks was in full sun and we couldn’t be bothered. The sun was in the wrong place so see it ints full glory so we’ll come back here later in the post.

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A walk through the Galleria to see the eye popping prices – think four figures for a dress!

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Small pleasant square with a statue of Leanardo da Vinci, a famous resident of the city

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Onwards to the Castell Sforzesco. Not something I’d ever heard about before before but its massive and very impressive. It also has a mighty fine fountain outside which is always a winner for me.

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There are various museums, galleries and the like inside but you can wander through the courtyards for free and I decided I liked Milan.

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Behind the castle is the equally impressive Parco Sempione. Huge lawns interspersed with ponds of wildfowl and turtles.

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After an excellent lunch the rest of the family needed some air-conditioned comfort so I took another stroll around the streets on my own. I went straight to the Piazza del Duomo to see if the sun was better placed and I caught it perfectly.

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Its a truly stunning building now that its detailed facade was lit up by the afternoon sun.

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Away from the crowds, Milan has some lovely streets and churches and other intriguing buildings.

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The Basilica di San Lorenzo.

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Porta Ticinese Antica.

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I loved this church for its complex range of towers and features, the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio.

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The Arco di Porta Ticinese

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And another stroll around the Naviglio Canal basin.

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As the evening draws in, crowds of people line the banks, picnicking and drinking wine. It’s all rather fine.

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And back to the street where we stayed.

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Off out in the evening for another meal. Well, you have to when in Italy.

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I’d read that Milan is more an industrial and finance capital than a tourist destination so I wasn’t sure what to expect. From a first day of wandering I really like it. Doesn’t have the charm of Rome or Venice but nor does it have the crowds. Well worth a visit and another day to come

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Zurich For a Day   8 comments

Onwards from Amsterdam to places new. A very early start and a long walk with luggage to the station (public transport seems a bit slow off the mark on a Sunday) for a long train ride to Switzerland. Luckily the enlightened fare structures in Europe mean First Class travel is often affordable and we travelled in style all the way.

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Zurich was in full flow of a festival and the place was packed. There were clearly storms around but most of the first evening we saw plenty of sunshine.

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Views across the lake and back into town were superb as we wandered about among the fast food stalls and fun fair rides. We would have taken a few rides but this is Switzerland. Zurich, we discovered was one of the most expensive cities in the world. A fact hammered home by the poor exchange rate. When I spent my summer hols here in the 80s and 90s, climbing mountains, the exchange rate was three Swiss Francs to the pound. Now is pretty much 1:1. End result (a few costs to scare you out of a visit), £15 per person for a fairground ride, £10 for a kebab, £35 for burger and chips in a restaurant. Needless to say we didn’t eat out and were lucky that the fair was in town where junk food was, by Swiss standards, relatively affordable. It reminded me of my youthful visits and looking at prices of pretty much everything and being appalled at how much the most basic of items cost. It was a recurring them of our short stay and became something of a comedy routine to look in shop windows and restaurants to be aghast at the prices.

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Still, the views were good, the atmosphere happy and cheerful and the junk food acceptable.

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Me and TJS went out for another wander later and as the sun set the views were even more stunning.

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It eased the pain of spending money – to some degree.

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We watched a few people looking green on fairground rides, us looking green with envy that anyone could afford £15 to have a go.

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The views got even better as evening moved into night and I felt a little more generous in my feelings towards Zurich if not from my wallet.

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We were stopping in Zurich as we had to change trains on our way south so I thought it would be worth a day to see what it was like. The next day we took a stroll into the city along the waterfront.

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Grossmunster Church across the river Limmat

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Views over town from Lindenhof Square

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We then took a train to the top of the small mountain that overlooks the city, the Uetliberg.

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I like views down over city landscapes so I was pleased to see Zurich from a new angle even if it was a bit cloudy and grey.

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After lunch (an expensive decidedly disappointing sandwich from a bakery) we went for a waterfront stroll and a boat ride on the lake.

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We weren’t sure how far our day transport pass would take us, which turned out, unsurprisingly, to be not very far, one stop down the shore in fact and no more than a 20 minute walk back. This is Switzerland remember.

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Still it was a nice boat ride while it lasted and on the way back we managed a brief swim in the lake, refreshing on a humid day.

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The local ducks enjoying the waterfront

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A short stop and whilst I wouldn’t go out of my to see the city again, I’m glad we stopped over and gave it a look. Always good to experience another city, another country, another culture even if every potential purchase brings you out in a cold sweat!

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Amsterdam Parting Thoughts   4 comments

Or put another way, our last day when it rained a bit and we didn’t do much.

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The city does at least have a windmill, the De Gooyer so an excuse to hop on a tram and take a look. I think its now part of the local brewery.

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Not much else to detain us in the eastern end of the city. Pleasant enough in a residential sort of way but nothing more. We hopped on a bus back to town. It took us past the Nemo Science Museum, the sort of thing the kids loved when they were younger but they are more serious and grown up these days. It had a rooftop terrace that I assumed you’d need to pay the entrance fee to ascend but in fact it was free to access.

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We hopped off the bus a stop early and walked back along the waterfront to take a look.

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There waterfront was actually rather nice in a modern office complex sort of way. We were starting lose the sun now though and the clouds were building for the promised afternoon rain. Considering we could have had cold and wet weather typical in northern Europe we’d done really well for sunshine so no complaints.

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The Nemo Centre is a distinctly odd building, perhaps as you’d expect for a science centre.

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The views from the rooftop were pretty good through and there were interesting water features to play with

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A panorama of the Amsterdam Skyline from the top

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After a brief stay we headed back down and across into the city.

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The Montelbaanstoren Tower which I quite liked.

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And the Waag, an old fortified gatehouse that’s now a mix of museums and coffee shops.

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One of Amsterdam’s narrowest houses (this one slightly more respectable than the other one we found which housed a shop selling products for the more discerning buyer!)

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And one last final shot of the canal near our apartment (after another feast at the Albert Cuyp Market and before the rain set in).

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A fine start to our trip and another favourite city to add to the list. A new city and new country to try out the next day.

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Posted August 12, 2019 by surfnslide in Amsterdam, Cities

Tagged with , , , , ,

Amsterdam on the Water   13 comments

Amsterdam, like all great cities is built on water so its a given that a boat trip should be involved at some point in a visit. We were going to find ourselves a guided tourist tour but noticed that people seemed to be hiring boats. This was much more our thing and a short bit of internet research found a boat rental place that offered much better value for 3 hours self guiding than an organised tour likely lasting only an hour. We’d miss all the historical facts and figures (not really our thing anyway) but would be able to go where we wanted at our own pace.

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Piloting the boat felt a bit daunting at first and it takes a few minutes to get used to the movement but its much easier than I thought and the canals are not that busy. You just need to watch out for the bigger tourist boats who have right of way and pull over to the right to let them past.

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Armed with suggested routes we pottered about and took in most of the main canals of the city and it’s not only a great way to see the city from a different perspective but of course its also great fun.

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We had a few bumps where we didn’t quite make the sharp bends but other than that it was just gentle cruising for 3 hours that seems to fly by.

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The Montelbaanstoren tower.

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TBF takes over the controls.

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TJF enjoying the sun.

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TJS looking happy in a photo for a change.

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We went through the old part of the city, around some of the residential districts, and then a tour around the Jordaan and its many canals.

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The Prinsengracht

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The t’Smalle bar we drank at on our first day.

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One of the larger canals opening its road bridge.

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Along the Brouwersgracht.

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Houseboats along the canal. Lots available to rent if you fancy a water based overnight stay.

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The Westerkerk.

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The Rijksmuseum.

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And the Reguliersgracht with its line of bridges.

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And heading back to base along the Amstel and past the Magere Brug bridge.

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An absolutely splendid trip and one of the highlights of the whole holiday. What better way to celebrate than another trip to the market for some poffertjes pancakes.

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There was still plenty of day left so we went for another wander around the Jordaan from the Dam Square which looked much nicer in the sunshine.

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And of course no trip to the Jordaan would be complete without a couple of beers at our favorite bar.

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Afternoon finished off with a walk along the Brouwersgracht.

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And through the Westerpark.

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Evening sunshine meant another canal-side stroll into the Jordaan for a meal. Evening sunshine brings the canals to life in such a wonderful way. I could have walked for hours.

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The Westekerk looked especially grand.

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After a meal the Funsters went home while me and TJS decided to, well, have another beer at the bar. It would be rude not to.

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Finishing off the day with walk to the Centraal station and back along the Amstel to the apartment.

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Wonderful day’s entertainment.

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