A Travellerspoint blog

Free Saunas in Seville

Getting hot under the collar in southern Spain

So for the last four weeks we have being enjoying the laid-back lifestyle in Seville, not that we had much choice in the matter. The place is known as the Frying Pan of Europe for a reason, and it is much too hot to do anything that requires excessive effort or speed – during daylight hours, anyway! The Spanish run on a different time zone to the rest of Europe: up early, siesta for several hours in the afternoon, then carry on through the evening and into the night. To be honest, my body clock never caught onto this way of life, and the only bit I actually mastered was the long afternoon nap!

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Pete loves the heat; if he had his way it'd be summer all year round.

Seville is a truly beautiful old city, full of cobbled streets with religious names and stunning Gothic architecture. Modern cars look out of place on the maze of narrow roads; it would seem a lot more natural if people drove around in horse and carts. Driving is actually quite nerve-racking through the back streets: the cars are too big to go round corners easily, and the pavements are too narrow in places for pedestrians to safely get out of their way!

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Seville street scene, taken during siesta when only mad dogs and honorary Kiwis were out in the midday sun.

Another hazard these little streets cause is the Air Con Drip. Watch out for puddles of water on the pavement, and avoid them if you can, ‘cos sooner or later you are guaranteed to feel a warm splash of liquid from someone’s air conditioning pipe. Decidedly icky!

The intense heat means that there are a lot of fountains around, usually with someone dunking their head in it. The authorities have also cleverly provided street sprinkler systems in some areas: these give a fine spray of water throughout the day, and are very popular with small children and shaggy dogs.

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Street sprinkler systems – probably the best idea Seville Council ever had!

As in so many other hot countries we’ve seen, Spanish life mainly takes place outdoors: people sit on their terraces and balconies chatting late into the night, or congregate at the many restaurants and bars for al fresco drinks and dining. We spent a great deal of time investigating many of these establishments ourselves, and felt right at home in Flaherty’s Irish Pub, conveniently opposite the cathedral in the city centre. (They serve a fabulous selection of British food - a godsend when you’re hit with fish and chip cravings!)

Spanish food tends to be based heavily around red meat – they love ham and heavy, spicy sausages like chorizo. You can find vegetarian versions of their traditional dishes, but you may have to look long and hard for them. One thing the Spanish don’t do properly, however, is sandwiches. Give ‘em two pieces of bread and they’ll generally stick one of three things inside it: ham, chorizo or tortilla. Don’t be fooled by the places that advertise ‘vegetal’ baguettes, either. Vegetal means ‘vegetable’ or ‘salad’ in Spanish, but both times I ordered it I got a tuna roll instead. (Tuna is ‘atún’, by the way, so I didn’t just order the wrong thing... twice.)

Actually renting an apartment rather than staying in a hotel meant that we got to experience more of the mundane day-to-day stuff than we usually would (including cleaning up after ourselves and cooking. Chambermaids and room service, oh how we missed you!) One of the first pieces of information we asked our landlord for –after nagging for the Wi-Fi login codes - was the location of nearby supermarkets, where the staff proved to be paranoid on one hand, and lackadaisical on the other. We were made to put our bags into lockers at the store entrance and Pete was pounced upon by one enthusiastic employee and made to wear plastic gloves when handling fresh produce, but toddlers using plums as missiles didn’t as much as raise an eyebrow. Oh well...

Shopping, naturally, leads to garbage, and disposing of this wasn’t as straightforward as we’d anticipated. Instead of sticking it into garbage/recycling bins and waiting for someone to come and collect it, you have to take it away yourself. There are huge bins on many street corners, with containers for organic waste, bottles, other recyclable materials and ‘everything else’. Every household is responsible for carrying their own rubbish down to these containers and disposing of it appropriately. Thinking about it, this make sense; the streets are so tiny you’d never fit a garbage truck down them, and if everyone stuck a trash can outside pedestrians would be forced to walk down the middle of the road. It’s just not practical! The other advantage of this mega-bin solution is that it provides an easy way for unwanted items to get recycled: if someone throws something away that is in decent condition, chances are somebody else will fish it out of the garbage and put it to good use. Better than clogging up the landfill sites anyway.

During our month here we did more than just eating, drinking and slobbing out. Not a lot more, admittedly, but that’s beside the point. Places of interest include:

Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Santa María de la Sede)

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This is actually the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Christopher Columbus is buried here.

I have no words to explain how jaw-droppingly impressive this is. I’ve seen renowned cathedrals before, including Notre Dame and St. Pauls, but neither of them can hold a big fat candle to Santa Maria. If you get a chance to see it, go. Not into churches? Don’t care about architecture? Go anyway. There are a whole range of words I could use to describe this place, from opulent to ostentatious, but mere words and pictures can’t begin to scratch the surface.

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Me at Seville cathedral, stupidly standing outside in the blistering sun instead of hiding inside the cool building, like a sensible person would do.

The Bullring (Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza)

Pete and I did much humming and hawing before we chose to take a tour of Seville’s famous bullring. Neither of us agrees with bullfighting, and we absolutely point-blank refuse to attend an actual fight, but we couldn’t decide whether or not it would be hypocritical of us to indirectly sponsor the ‘sport’ by paying to tour the arena. In the end we felt that we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see such a unique and unusual building. You just don’t get these places in many other parts of the world, and my nosy self got the better of my conscience (*).

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The arena seats 14,000 people, and is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists. (The lady at the front was our tour guide.)

Anyway, the bullring tour was an unusually short one, taking only 30 minutes. The guide gave explanations alternately in Spanish and English, so we were able to do more than just look and take photos. For the gore-lovers among you, this is what I learned about Spanish bullfights:

They have three stages, and always involve two bullfighters.

Stage 1:

The bullfighter, mounted on a blindfolded horse, provokes the bull by stick a lance into its neck to weaken the strong muscles.

Stage 2:

The fighter further antagonises the bull using decorated darts called “banderillas”.

Stage 3:

The bullfighter uses his red cape to bring the bull closer to his body. When the bull is weak and cannot charge any more, the bullfighter administers the death stroke with his sword. It is interesting to note that bullfighters are rarely injured or killed during fights; pity the same can’t be said for the bulls!

(*) I can't consider myself an animal rights supporter in any real sense of the word: I eat meat and wear leather, and am well aware that animals are not always raised in wholesome conditions; but I also feel that there is a big difference between killing animals for a use (food, clothing) and torturing in the name of fun, and I will never be a fan of bullfighting or fox hunting.

Rant over. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...

Free sauna at the Tower of Perdigones

By far the most memorable day trip for us was the one we made to the camera obscura on a boiling hot Sunday afternoon. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a camera obscura is basically a tall tower with a periscope on top. Inside the tower is a large screen, and by adjusting the periscope you can see the city for miles around. At first it looked like we were viewing an enormous photograph, but if you look closely you can make out details like washing flapping in the breeze, pedestrians walking, and tiny cars moving down the roads.

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The camera obscura is 45m tall and lets you spy on people miles away!

This is how we got the free sauna: We’d finished with the periscope viewing, taken a walk around the balcony for some great city photos, thanked the guide for his excellent and enthusiastic presentation, and got into the lift. The lift proceeded to move several inches, then abruptly stopped. The lights on the control panel went out. Our guide says, “We have a problem.” Possibly the understatement of the year, seeing as how we were between floors, couldn’t force the doors, and couldn’t get the control panel to respond in any way. To top it off, our guide was the only bloke on duty. There used to be two staff members, he told us, but now he was the only one. He also told us that the lift frequently broke down. Great. To top it off, it was a Sunday. Nobody does anything in Spain on a Sunday, except go to church.

Oh dear.

So the guide does two things: 1) he calls his wife; 2) he presses the emergency button on the control panel and has a long-winded conversation with someone at the elevator manufacturers. Pete and I don’t understand either of these conversations, but are reassured that help is on the way.

It’s funny what goes through your mind when you’re stuck in a metal box in forty-degree heat. My thoughts started off logical enough, given the circumstances:

“I wish I’d bought a book. I never go anywhere without a book. Why didn’t I bring one today?”
“I wish I’d bought an air conditioning unit, too.”
“And a Coke machine.”

At this point I start fantasising about someone pushing a big straw under the door, attached to an unlimited supply of something cold and delicious. I started thinking about rescue dogs, and how St. Bernards will walk for miles through ice and snow to provide some poor frozen sucker with a keg of brandy; me, I’d have settled for a labradoodle with a carton of cheap white wine.

Finally Pete and I decide to find out the nature of our potential rescue:
“The technician is coming?”
“Yes, he is coming.”
(pause)
“He’s coming from Sevilla?”
“Yes.”
“Not from Madrid?”
(amused) “No, no from Madrid.”

You can laugh, mate, I thought. You haven’t been exposed to umpteen years of British incompetence and excuses! It was a totally reasonable question to ask as far as I’m concerned. He’d understand if he’d had any experience of British workmen.

Boredom inevitably led to a series of increasingly silly thoughts, my most vivid one being of slapping hysterical women. I eventually realised that I was the only female present, so I’d have to both have the hysterics and provide the sobering slap. I soon ditched the idea; it was way too hot to cause a fuss. It took all my energy to sit on the floor and ooze quietly from every pore. (Too graphic a description for ya? Sorry about that, but it’s true. Pete’s fingers actually went prune-y, like he’d been sitting in the bath for too long. Who’d a thunk that was possible?)

Finally the guide’s wife turns up. She tries unsuccessfully to reset the lift from the outside. Any hope of immediate rescue dies – we have to wait for the technician. I did, however, feel somewhat better knowing that someone else was in the building and knew where we were.

When I was a teenager, I remember there used to be questions girls would ask each other for fun, along the lines of, “Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with, and why?” Invariably at that age the answers would involve an actor/singer/heartthrob-du-jour; after this experience I assure you that I was not thinking of Johnny Depp, mosh-band Carcass when they all had super-long hair, or the entire elf-boy contingent from Lord of the Rings. These days the person I would most like to be stuck in a lift with is a lift repairman, preferably one who has a work buddy and a van full of tools parked outside the building. Sorry, Johnny and Legolas, the man with the gadgets cinches this one!

Rescue came sooner than we’d expected, much to everyone's relief; we were actually only trapped for forty minutes (though it felt longer!) I think I handled things remarkably well, given that I’m not keen on enclosed spaces.

So there you have it: one free sauna (free because the guide gave us our money back at the end by way of apology). Somehow I don’t think either of us will forget Seville in a hurry... and I also suspect we will be taking the stairs more often from now on!

Take care,

Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 18:49 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Being Accommodating

Somewhere to stay in Spain

Spain is not a new country for us. We spent a week in one of the Costas many moons ago (Brava or Blanca, I can’t recall), and weren’t terribly impressed. The place was set up for – and heaving with - Brits, so we didn’t really get much of a feel for the country at all. The highlight of that holiday was a day spent driving through the Pyrenees Mountains, so we knew there were authentic Spanish experiences to be had – the Costa Whatever-It-Was just didn’t provide it, is all.

This time we decided we would do a two-centre stop, trying to limit our time in the popular British tourist spots. First we stayed in Barcelona for a little over a week, and then we headed south towards Seville, where we’d booked an apartment for a month.

One of the problems we have had travelling on a whim has been finding affordable last-minute accommodation. As you may recall from my last post, we’d only decided to come to Spain a couple of days before, so had left it horribly late to find a hotel. Add in the fact that it’s high season, and you can find yourself making a huge hole in your budget. Pete’s mum and dad had generously given him with a Hostelling International card for his birthday, but our experience has been that these places are usually booked solid, so you have to make your reservations well in advance.

This left us with a dilemma: a) pay extortionate prices in the city centre, or b) head for the outskirts and put up with the extra travelling to and from the main tourist spots. We chose option b), as this had worked out wonderfully for us in the past.

We ended up in an area called Sabadell, in northeast of the city. It meant that we had to take a train to get to the centre, which took a little under half an hour, but as we noted at the time, it’s not like we’re in any hurry! The trains in Spain are cheap, fast, frequent and air-conditioned, so the journey was quite pleasurable (especially with a good book or a fully-charged MP3 player!) Also, to make up for the (minor) inconvenience of longer travel times, we ended up in a very affordable 3-star hotel. The rooms were gorgeous, the Wi-Fi was free, they had a bar downstairs, mini-bars in the rooms, and would deliver pizza to you any time of the day or night, even on a Sunday when everything else was closed. What more could we ask for?

The hotel was also conveniently located for bars and cafes (at least one on every corner, it seemed!), there was a supermarket next door, and if you wanted a more serious shopping experience you could walk into Sabadell centre in about 25 minutes.

One other downside to our location was that we were outside of the tourist areas, so the merchants weren’t really used to dealing with English-speaking patrons. We got a few funny looks as we sat and ate our I-dunno-what-I’m-ordering-but-I-hope-it’s-edible lunches outside the cafes ‘cos we so obviously didn’t belong there, but we had few problems making ourselves understood. (Pete is very good at combining sign language with a few words of the local lingo and getting results!)

Our first proper excursion into Barcelona proper confirmed that we had made the right choice. The centre is crowded, noisy and expensive, and we would have ended up paying upscale rates for a downscale room had we chosen to stay there. Our long-distance solution isn’t for everyone - we found that many people criticised our hotel’s location in the online reviews - but it works well for people like us who value peace and quiet over convenience. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes ‘nice’ hotels but can’t afford city centre prices.

So, on to Seville!

Here we decided to do something a bit different and stay put for a month. It was a good move, as the cost of renting an apartment is way cheaper than booking a room in a hotel. (Pete actually worked out that it'd be cheaper to live here permanenntly than go back to New Zealand. Interesting idea, hmmm?)

The apartment itself is lovely (combined bedroom/living area, separate kitchen and bathroom, plus outside terrace area), and in a quiet area of town. I’m going to be lazy and let someone else provide the photos today. Have a look at this website for pictures of the apartment and more information about booking, etc.

The owners (also lovely) live in the apartment downstairs, although they are actually away on holiday themselves at the moment, so we are having noisy parties every night and terrorising the neighbours. (No, we’re not. We’re being good... ish.)

We are situated next door to a monastery, so we do hear bells throughout the day (though thankfully they don’t start at 4 o’clock in the morning or anything silly like that!) For the first couple of weeks the bells were barely audible, but I reckon Quasimodo has moved in recently ‘cos the ringing has become increasingly enthusiastic. I shall have to see if I can see anyone swinging from the ropes and shouting, “The bells! The bells!” (Or “Les cloches! Les cloches!” Well, we are in Spain, after all.)

I shall do a more typical 'out and about' type of entry very soon, complete with pictures.

Until then,

Ding dong from Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 11:21 Archived in Spain Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Sprouts, chocolates, lace and chips with mayonnaise:

Where else could we be, but Belgium?

Well, my computer’s finally fixed (thank you, Pete. Please don’t break it again!), and, after much procrastinating, I have decided it’s high time I caught up with my blog entries.

After Amsterdam we decided to spend a bit of time trudging through the Siberian Wastelands. Actually, that’s a lie: we decided to go to Brussels, which comes a close second to Siberia in terms of temperature. We had howling winds, rainstorms... I’m amazed it didn’t snow!

We went to Belgium on a bizarre whim: Pete and I both really liked the comedy series The New Statesman, the final series of which was set in Brussels. (I wish we could say we had deep and meaningful reasons for travelling to these places, really I do! Maybe I can think of some for my next entry.)

Actually, we were a bit disappointed with the place at first. We expected that the centre of the European Community would have a certain vibrancy about it; in reality the city was dingy and run down, graffiti was everywhere, and many of the buildings needed a good clean. Not what we were expecting, at all!

Of course, one of the wonderful things about new places is their ability to surprise you, just when you least expect it. We were on our way to nowhere in particular, when we turned into the Grote Markt, the central market square in the city. After a morning spent walking down boring, shabby streets, this place was a feast for the eyes! All four sides of the square were surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings. I wish these photos could show just how impressive it all was:

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Pretty-looking buildings on a pretty cloudy day!

It is commonly described as one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe, if not the world (although Pete overheard another tourist remark to his companion, “This is my second favourite square in Europe.” I’d love to know what his first favourite one is!)

As I’ve mentioned previously, having seen many typical tourist attractions in the last five months or so, we are now on the lookout for places to visit that are can be considered unusual in some way. Brussels had a few of these, enough to keep us busy for the two days we were there.

The Comic Strip Museum

I have to confess that a large part of the appeal of this place was that it was indoors. It was blooming cold outside that day, and I think we would have happily gone into The Museum of Watching Paint Dry to escape the weather. As for comic books, the only Belgian cartoon character either of us knew was Tintin. (Incidentally neither of us liked Tintin when we were kids. After comparing notes, we discovered that, in both our households, when Tintin came on, the TV went off!) Happily there was a lot more to it than that. The first part of the display covered the A-Z of comic-book production, which was interesting, and we got to spend a happy half hour watching really old Smurfs cartoons in black and white.

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Pete and a troll. Pete's the one on the left, by the way.

The Atomium

I have only one thing to say about the Atomium: balls. Big metal ones. This weird-looking monument was built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair:

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The Atomium was designed to look like the cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

Once the expo was over, the Belgians decided they liked it and decided to keep it, and now it is one of those tourist attractions like the Eifel Tower, where you get to queue for a silly amount of time so you can get a lift to the top and get a bird’s-eye view of the city. (Though, to be fair, the queue at the Atomium was nowhere near as bad as the one for the Eifel Tower. In Paris we waited for 3½ hours; here it was a little over 30 minutes!)

Miniature Europe

Next door to the Atomium, they’ve built a model village containing replicas of some of the major monuments and landmarks in the EU. Given the lousy weather, we didn’t know if we’d get to see this or not, but, on the day we were due to leave, the weather decided to clear up for about ten minutes; shocked and amazed, the entire city went outside to gawp at the strange round yellow thing in the sky. Having been to Asia and places where sunlight is not a novelty, we passed on the sun worshipping and went to look at some diddy buildings instead:

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Miniatures of the Town Hall in Leuven, and Big Ben in London.

The models are actually very detailed (and some of them cost a fortune to make. The Brussels’ Grand Palace model cost 350,000 Euros!) Pete walks around for a while then says, “Well, that’s saved me the bother of going to any of those places, then.”

Honestly, I can't take him anywhere!

We only had a few days in Brussels, and I think that was more than enough to see the main attractions and get a feel for the place. We aren’t especially keen to return, but we both agree that the Grote Markt will be one of the memorable highlights of our trip.

Leaving Belgium, however, presented another problem. We had only 2.5 days in which to decide on our next destination and book transport and hotels. Quite frankly, this process is more of a pain in the backside than I’d anticipated. Pete and I generally agree on where we want to go next, but sometimes arranging to go there is an effort. (I see now why some people pre-plan their trips and buy round-the-world tickets!)

We needed to head south through Europe towards Spain, and decide that the best way to do this would be via France. Okay, then. I get on the Internet, and after two hours of Google-ing, fail to find information on a single flight or train to Paris, or any other major destination in the country. Pete says, “You’re doing it wrong!” and takes over. He also gets zip (at which point I gleefully tell him he must be doing it wrong, too. Immature? Me? Yup, ‘fraid so.) We come up with a Plan B, and brave the gale-force winds to get to the train station, where the nice man behind the counter also draws a blank. (Note: I resisted the urge to tell him he was doing it wrong as well!) Finally his colleague solves the mystery: France is on strike! Airlines, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers, train drivers and taxi drivers are all striking; the only way we could get there would be to hire a car and drive ourselves.

We decided to bypass the entire country and booked direct flights to Spain, glad that we hadn’t already pre-booked flights to France. (Could you imagine how annoying it would be to have tickets that you couldn’t use?)

The moral of this story: Spur-of-the-moment travel, although tedious, sometimes has its advantages!

Sorry about the delay; I'll try and post again very soon.

From

Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 05:37 Archived in Belgium Comments (1)

A Mouse Lived in a Windmill in Old Amsterdam

Notes from the Netherlands

Note: This is going to be a somewhat reduced entry compared to the one I had planned (what d'you mean, "Hooray!"?) 'cos Peter has managed to total my computer. His is off in the UK having its screen fixed, so he commandeered mine... and as of yesterday, it no longer works! He's on his way into town to find someone who can fix it. So now I am sitting in an Internet cafe, seeing this blog on a full-sized screen for the first time in ages, and making lots of typos 'cos the keyboard layout is different. Anyhoo, if it seems like we've dropped off the planet recently, this is why. Computer sharing is bad enough; computer-less-ness is intolerable! I am hoping that Pete can get my machine sorted soon. (He is so banned from ever using it again, by the way!)

Never mind. On with the waffling...

Can I just say that after dashing through Oslo and Copenhagen I am now officially worn out, and am refusing to go anywhere else for the next seven days. If anyone so much as mentions aeroplanes, passports or internal cavity searches I am going to lock myself in my hotel room and board up the door! I really hope this won’t be necessary, however, ‘cos I’ve wanted to visit Amsterdam for many years and it would be a shame if I had to spend my entire time here sulking in the hotel.

Actually, this is a 12-year belated birthday present for me. Back in the Good Old Days, on my 25th birthday, Pete bought me my first backpack in preparation for a trip to Italy. Inside one of the pockets he put a note which said:

IOU one trip to Amsterdam’.

Bizarrely, despite living in the UK within easy flying distance of the Netherlands, we never made it. We tended to opt for laze-on-the-beach holidays rather than busy city breaks, so my IOU remained unclaimed until now.

Tell you what, though, it was well worth the wait. Amsterdam is a fascinating city! Here are a few bits and pieces that have grabbed my attention while we were out and about:

Beer bikes

Imagine, if you will, a huge platform with pedals, comprising a table, seats for up to twenty people, and a bar. That is a beer bike, and I can honestly say I’d never seen anything like it in my life before. I didn’t think to take a picture, unfortunately, but happily Google will provide: for a photo and short commentary click here.

The one we saw was weaving around the city centre, operated by a bunch of drunken lads who did well not to fall into the path of an oncoming tram. I later discovered that they do a karaoke version as well; I’m sure I’m not the only one who was grateful that these boys preferred drinking to singing!

Hemp lollipops

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A lollipop with herbal additives? It'll never catch on... will it?

I am not a drug-taker beyond the occasional aspirin (*), but these lollipops with hemp extract made me laugh. They must be good: I haven’t even eaten mine yet and I’ve already got the giggles! (For the record, you can also buy hemp-enhanced biscuits, cocoa, tea, chocolate, jelly sweets and rock.)

(*) Okay, okay, I confess that I have experimented with Beecham’s Powders, but I did not inhale… Or was that Bill Clinton?

Update: Hemp lollipops taste bloomin' 'orrible at first. It's like eating basil-flavoured candy, or something. You soon get used to it, though, and I quite enjoyed mine on the train to Belguim. I didn't see any singing mice in windmills or anything like that, though, so I suspect that hemp lollies are not the way to go if you are after a real high!

The Red Light District

This place is so notorious, I couldn't resist taking a stroll through the neighbourhood. (It mainly consists of lots of ladies standing around in windows in their underwear!) Of course, the tour operators have managed to find ways to make a buck or two out of it. If you are so inclined, you can go on a Red Light District Walking Tour; alternatively, if you are a girlie, you can have yourself a Lady of the Night experience:

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(Clicky to see a bigger picture.)

Iron Maiden and other instruments of torture

And no, I’m not talking about the heavy metal band, thank you very much. I happen to like noisy head bangers and have fond memories of Maiden playing at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre back in my misspent youth. I’m not gonna dwell on this, however, ‘cos it’s making me feel old! No, I am referring to this Maiden, as seen at Amsterdam’s Medieval Torture Museum:

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To quote Bill and Ted: "Iron Maiden? Excellent!" *Plays air guitar*

We’ve seen a lot of museums on our travels so far, and are now at the point where we are looking for something a bit different. This place fitted the bill perfectly, being a macabre collection of grizzly torture devices - a testament to medieval human cruelty (*).

The museum had a bonus purpose, too, providing research for the book I’m writing. (Seriously, I’ve been working on this thing for over ten years now; I might even finish it one day!) The other tourists were walking around saying, “Eww!”, “Gross!”, “Ow!” and words to that effect; I was taking notes and saying, “This is brilliant!” They probably thought I was a trainee psychopath or something.

(*) We still have torture today, of course, but these days it’s more subtle: Boy bands and reality TV immediately spring to mind.

Windmills

We really didn’t think we could go to the Netherlands and not see a windmill. 150 years ago there used to be 10,000 windmills all over the country, but now there are less than a thousand. These remaining mills are popular tourist spots, and there are many tour operators who will drive you out for a trip to a windmill farm. Unfortunately these same tours inevitably take way too long and include way too many ‘shopping opportunities’ – usually at cheese factories and clog manufacturers – so Pete and I did our usual trick of avoiding these organised tours like the plague and heading out to a windmill on our own. This is the one we found:

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Molen van Sloten, a 19th century mill used primarily for draining water.

We were given a walk-through by an extremely knowledgeable guide, with the added advantage of having only six of us in the group. Well worth doing, if only because you don't see many working windmills these days.

Pancakes

When I was a stoodint in London, a long, long time ago, I was introduced to the delights of enormous pancakes at My Old Dutch in High Holborn. However, twit that I am, I confess to being extremely surprised when I saw pancake houses in Amsterdam. (You'd think think that the name of the London restaurant would have given me a clue, eh? D'oh!) Anyway, stupidity aside, these things are to die for. Here's the one I had:

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What do you mean that's not a proper dinner? It's got cherries on it - that counts as one of my five-a-day fruit and veg, right?

So there you go: you can buy Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam. Amazing, huh?

Rock Planet

Oh boy, have you guys been saved a rant and a half due to the unfortunate demise of my netbook! As it is, I'll give you the condensed version:

Pete and I like a) drinking and b) heavy metal music, so on our travels we have been looking for establishments that will provide both of these things. Unfortunately such establishments seem to be thin on the ground (mainly Hard Rock Cafes that don't play much hard rock!), so imagine our delight when we discovered Rock Planet on our final night in the city.

The place certainly looks the part: lots of posters of bands and rock memorabilia adorn the walls. And from outside we can hear music... loud music. We just had to go inside. Unfortunately, while the beer was good, the music wasn't quite what we'd being hoping for. The video screen is showing a performance by some awful soft rock band we'd never heard of. Pete goes up to the bar and says, "I'd like two pints of lager and some better music, please." The barmaid is able to produce the beer, but regretfully informs us that she is unable to change the music - even though she agrees that it's rubbish - 'cos her manager won't let her. Mr. Manager, as it turns out, is a terrible DJ. He likes old 70's bands way too much, and pretty much ignores the more modern stuff. Pete harrassed the guy constantly, and we occasionally got him to play songs we actually wanted to listen to, but it all went downhill when Mr. Manager decided to put on the Jonas Brothers. The Jonas Brothers! Silly boy band pop music! In a rock bar! It shouldn't be allowed, I tell ya!

Anyway, to give you an idea of Pete's frame of mind, check out the two pictures below (**):

Pete-happy.jpg Pete-sad.jpg
On the left is Pete when listening to Metallica, Guns and Roses or AC/DC; on the right is Pete when forced to endure the Jonas Brothers. He actually said to me, "If I sit here and look really, really sad, maybe the barmaid will feel sorry for me and make him turn this rubbish off!" (His plan didn't work, unfortunately, but it was worth a shot.)

My plea to the owners of Rock Planet is this:

People, scrap the Manager-as-DJ system and invest in a video jukebox. Pete and I would have spent as much money on music as we did on beer that night, and surely the point of a business is to keep the punters happy? We were the only ones sitting inside, so that manager dude didn't even have the excuse that he was catering to the other customers' tastes. He was indulging himself, plain and simple!

That being said, a fun, noisy and drunken night was had by all, and the pub is well worth visiting if you don't mind listening to old rock music (and the occasional boy band!)

(**) I know these pictures are too dark; I'll fix 'em when - if - Pete gets my computer up and running again.

More soon, hopefully before too long

from

Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 12:10 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Confused in Copenhagen...

Disoriented in Denmark... Scatterbrained in Scandinavia... or all three at once!

I have to confess that for the past several days I have being feeling somewhat confused. I had no idea that Oslo and Copenhagen could have so many similarities. For example: their money has the same name (kroner); the languages overlap to a large degree; both cities are clean, modern and attractive; the weather is on the damp and chilly side; and, yeah, everything’s still expensive. Half the time I have no idea which country I’m in! I mean, I am the first to admit that I have no sense of direction and that only takes a corner or two before I am hopelessly lost, but I am usually able to point to my current location on a world map without having to stop and think about it. It might be better if we’d spent longer in each place, but, like Norway, we’re only making a brief pit stop in Denmark.

The reason I wanted to visit Copenhagen in the first place was because I saw the Hans Christian Andersen movie with Danny Kaye when I was a kid, and I really like his fairy stories, so I wanted to see Hans C.’s house and the Little Mermaid statue. Smart people would have done their homework, however, and discovered that Mr. A. was not actually born in Copenhagen but Odense, two hours outside the city. Smart people would also have factored in enough time to take a day trip to Odense in order to see said house and museum. I, sadly, was not a smart person, so the nearest I got to anything Hans-related was looking at a plaque on a wall next to a house he stayed in when he visited Copenhagen.

Bugger.

I did see the Little Mermaid, though, when I went on a canal boat ride. It was almost impossible to get a decent photo, though, ‘cos of all the people taking pictures on the shore. (Blooming tourists – they spoil everything!) Never mind, that’s why graphics editing programs were invented, right?

little_mermaid.jpg
The Little Mermaid after some serious crop-and-delete treatment!

I think the most unusual evening we spent in Copenhagen was at the famous Tivioli Gardens theme park. I’m not a huge fan of these places, as a rule – got no stomach for the gut-churning rides – but as our hotel was just round the corner we decided to give it a shot. We also chose to go at night so we could see all the pretty lights.

tivoli_at_night.jpg
Tivoli is the second oldest theme park in the world and is said to have been Walt Disney’s inspiration for Disney World/Disney Land.

As I say, I don’t like fast rides much, and I’m not good with heights, so what possessed me to go on this thing I cannot say:

sky_carousel.jpg
This is the Star Flyer, the world’s tallest carousel. High, innit? Pete says I crushed his hand the entire time we were up there. I was pretty brave, though; I didn’t scream my head off, and I even opened my eyes at one point!

Pete, the big showoff, likes all those fast, head-spinning rides, and doesn’t even have the decency to feel ill afterwards like normal people. Here he is looking smug:

Pete_at_Tivoli.jpg Tivioli_ride.jpg
Pete went on the Golden Tower (right) and was dropped 63 meters. Me, I stayed on terra firma, watched and felt nauseous on his behalf.

Tivoli is more than an amusement park, though. It has extensive sculptured gardens, a variety of restaurants, and a concerts and theatrical performances throughout the day.

Julie_at_Tivoli.jpg
Me in the gardens, before I went on that scary Star Flyer ride, so I’m still looking calm and relaxed. (You should see the picture Pete took of me when I got off that ride. Talk about manic!)

We had a great time, and I would recommend it for both kids and adults. One thing I would say, though, is invest in the prepaid armbands that allow you to go on the rides as many times as you like. They may seem expensive, but it’s better value for money than buying tokens individually.

Before I go, I have some info for anyone who is considering visiting Denmark:

When it comes to eating out here, veggie options are thin on the ground! I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t like to eat meat every day of the week, and I’ve had a heck of a job trying to satisfy my non-carnivorous cravings. If you are lucky enough to find a menu that has a vegetarian section, it usually only has a few items, and one of those will be pizza. However, we accidentally stumbled upon a solution. We’d dropped into a pub called The Southern Cross (being honorary Kiwis, we had to with a name like that!) and got talking to the landlord. He recommended a nearby buffet restaurant which operated on an all-you-can-eat-in-an-hour policy. For a bit extra, you can add an all-you-can-drink option from the bar. This place was excellent! It had a humungous salad bar, a few hot meat-based options, plus pasta, so Pete and I were both able to (over)indulge.

So if you’re in Copenhagen, you might want to check ‘em out:

Ad Libitum at Rådhuspladsen 75, Copenhagen
The Southern Cross at Løngangstræde 37 Copenhagen (good if you like watching sport on TV!)

Posted by Julie1972 08:37 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

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