Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was € 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. 😉

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. 😉

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. 😉

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

Images from Keukenhof — part 2

More images from Keukenhof. If you are unable to make it to Holland in spring, let me bring Holland to you with these pictures…

My flower paradise every spring time - Keukenhof

My flower paradise every spring time – Keukenhof

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Light yellow tulips

Light yellow tulips

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Red and whites

Red and whites

Flower mosaic

Flower mosaic

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore...

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore…

White tulip

White tulip

Floral quilt

Floral quilt

White tulips among muscaris

White tulips among muscaris

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

There's no ugly corner in Keukenhof.  No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking.  ;-)

There’s no ugly corner in Keukenhof. No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking. 😉

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Daffodils

Daffodils

Red tulips

Red tulips

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Busy bee

Busy bee

White daffodils

White daffodils

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

White and dark red petaled tulip

White and dark red petaled tulip

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Other spring blooms

Other spring blooms

Images from Keukenhof — part 1

Our family in Keukenhof

Our family in Keukenhof

After a bit of absence from this space, I am back with some colorful spring pictures from our trip to Keukenhof last Sunday. Weather was fantastic with lots of sunshine, blue skies and pleasantly warm temperature. Spring has finally arrived after the long wait!

We were there at 11 in the morning but the park was already bursting with visitors from all over the world. Funny enough, it was like being at a UN summit in a park setting.

Perfect time to be at Keukenhof as most of the blooms are already out and at their prettiest. My fingers kept on clicking so this post and the several to follow will be from this one lovely spring outing.

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Reds and yellows

Reds and yellows

Whites and oranges

Whites and oranges

Reds and peaches

Reds and peaches

Heady hyacinths

Heady hyacinths

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl among the daffodils

Little girl among the daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Flowery path

Flowery path

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

Dancing diva

Dancing diva

Checking out the pond

Checking out the pond

Magnolias

Magnolias

Hiding behind the tree

Hiding behind the tree

My little girl

My little girl

Happy little girl

Happy little girl

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Pink hyacinths

Pink hyacinths

Tulips

Tulips

Peach tulips

Peach tulips

Red Tulip

Red Tulip

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Tree tops from the ground

Tree tops from the ground

White blooms

White blooms

White tulip

White tulip

Fountain

Fountain

A very Dutch journey through time

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.  Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn. Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

It’s springtime again and I can’t believe how fast the year went by. It’s been almost a year since we made this amazing journey through time by boat and steam train through the Medieval towns of Enkhuizen, Medemblik and Hoorn in the province of North Holland (West Friesland to many). This is one exciting journey to take if you happen to be in Holland in springtime because the whole trip takes just a day and these towns are within easy reach from Amsterdam. From Amsterdam to Hoorn, a direct train ride takes about 33 minutes and costs € 7.60. From Hoorn, you can then take the steam train to Medemblik and from Medemblik there is the museum boat that will take you to Enkhuizen. From Enkhuizen, you can take a direct train to Amsterdam that will take about 58 minutes and costs € 10.30. Here’s the link to the Dutch railway: www.ns.nl

I got the idea to do this trip from a colleague of mine who lives in Hoorn which in spring, is lovely to visit passing through tulip fields that seem to go on forever. For more information, here’s the link to the site of the museum: http://www.museumstoomtram.nl/en

Because our originating place was Dronten where my parents-in-law live, we approached the trip from the other way around. Our journey started in Enkhuizen where we boarded the museum boat “Friesland” headed to Medemblik. The trip was a very sentimental journey for my parents-in-law who used to travel in this very same boat over 40 years ago when they lived for a while in the island of Terschelling and this boat was still plying the Harlingen-Terschelling route. My husband, then the same age as Francesca also travelled in this boat so you can just imagine how sentimental that is. My parents-in-law checked out the boat and were amazed that many of the original features were still very much intact. The whole boat trip took a good hour so when we arrived in Medemblik, we looked for a restaurant to have a quick lunch to be in time for the steam train trip that will take us to Hoorn. We opted for a typical Dutch lunch favorite, the “Uitsmijter” which consisted of bread slices topped with ham, fried eggs, grated cheese with tomatoes and cucumber on the side. Francesca found another use for the cucumber though. 😉

The steam train journey was interesting as we were joined by museum volunteers who were dressed in period costumes. They were very enthusiastic at explaining the culture, norms and traditions of the people in West Friesland back then. Another interesting aspect of this train journey was the amazing landscape we passed through — from tulip fields in full bloom to orchards and quaint villages. Too bad that the weather was not on our side though.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The museum boat "Friesland" plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route.  My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

The museum boat “Friesland” plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route. My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Our family inside the "Friesland".

Our family inside the “Friesland”.

Francesca with opa.

Francesca with opa.

The Mr. with his mom.  Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

The Mr. with his mom. Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

Me

Me

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

The harbor of Medemblik.

The harbor of Medemblik.

Hubby and his dad.

Hubby and his dad.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik.  We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik. We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite - the Uitsmijter.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite – the Uitsmijter.

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber.   ;-)

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber. 😉

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

A lady in period costume.

A lady in period costume.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

An old lady in period costume.  She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

An old lady in period costume. She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Dutch countryside scenery -- Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Dutch countryside scenery — Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Orchards in full bloom.

Orchards in full bloom.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Medieval Elburg some summers ago

It is almost three summers ago when we first visited Elburg. Lucky with both the weather and the timing of the annual market day, we had wonderful memories from that visit.

In this post, let me take you back to that glorious summer day.

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The harbor

The harbor

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture...  ;-)

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture… 😉

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

My favorite arched bridge

My favorite arched bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

A closer look at the arched bridge

A closer look at the arched bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Lotus-filled canal

Lotus-filled canal

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

They became instant friends

They became instant friends

Best of friends some summers ago...

Best of friends some summers ago…

Wild blooms everywhere

Wild blooms everywhere

Ducks

Ducks

Lotus blooms

Lotus blooms

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca

Francesca

Everything was just so green and beautiful...

Everything was just so green and beautiful…

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Francesca with her ice cream

Francesca with her ice cream

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Dutch cheeses

Dutch cheeses

Mustard

Mustard

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Cheeses

Cheeses

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries -- products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries — products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Strawberries

Strawberries

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Fresh summer fruits

Fresh summer fruits

Speculaas - Dutch spice cookies

Speculaas – Dutch spice cookies

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

Cozy windows

Cozy windows

Cozy row houses

Cozy row houses

Lunch of fried eel

Lunch of fried eel

Francesca's choice of bread with friend egg

Francesca’s choice of bread with friend egg

The sky when it was time to leave...

The sky when it was time to leave…

Exploring Medieval Elburg one chilly second Easter day

Every country seems to have peculiarities in observing religious holidays. In the Philippines where I grew up, Good Friday is a holiday. Apart from church activities like the observance of the “Seven Last Words”, the country comes to a standstill. Basically all establishments from schools, offices, shops, etc. are closed for business on this day. Activities would resume to full speed comes Easter Sunday when everyone feels that as the right time because “Christ is risen after triumph over death”. The opposite is true here in Holland because for many establishments except schools and banks, Good Friday is a normal working day. Easter Sunday and the Monday after, on the other hand, are observed as religious holidays. Second Easter day is like Sunday with all establishments closed for business. It is on this chilly second Easter day that I will take you with me to a little known charming place here in Holland called Elburg.

After the Easter egg hunt and dropping over at the place of my friend Marie for Easter dinner, we went over to my parents-in-law’s place to spend the night and celebrate second Easter day together with a nice brunch. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly that it was a pity to spend the day indoor. We opted to go out for a bit of fresh air and headed to the lovely Medieval town of Elburg, just some 11 kms. from my in-law’s place. Francesca was happy to stay with Opa and Oma.

This is just my second time here in Elburg despite the frequency of our visits to my in-laws and its close proximity to their place. What a big difference it was to be here on a very chilly day when my earlier memories were of a very nice warm summer day when flowers were blooming all over and it was such a joy to see this town filled with locals and tourists alike checking out not just the town’s attractions but also the many local produce on display. That first visit happened to be the town’s annual celebration of their market day.

With very few people out and the shops closed saved for restaurants and cafes that opened their doors, we had a rather quick exploration of the town. It was interesting to discover new places that we never saw the first time we were here such as the Jewish cemetery which was just a short distance from the huge Protestant Church.

I look forward to coming back when the weather warms up, when flowers start to bloom as this town will be even far alluring then.

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

Moi

Moi

The Vischpoort  -- Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

The Vischpoort — Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

Moi

Moi

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year.  Had to still wait a while this time...

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year. Had to still wait a while this time…

Another angle of the church

Another angle of the church

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

Jewish cemetery

Jewish cemetery

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death -- victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death — victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

The Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church

Elburg

Elburg

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg.  Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg. Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Always a big fan of arched bridges -- couldn't resist taking this picture.

Always a big fan of arched bridges — couldn’t resist taking this picture.

Moi

Moi

I love this type of building -- old farmhouse style.

I love this type of building — old farmhouse style.

Finally it was time for some cappuccino...

Finally it was time for some cappuccino…

We shared this cake -- a very Dutch thing I guess.  ;-)

We shared this cake — a very Dutch thing I guess. 😉

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy...typical Dutch concept of "gezelligheid".

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy…typical Dutch concept of “gezelligheid”.

Picnic and fishing at the Dordogne River

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

It was yet again another very warm summer day and my parents-in-law’s last day in the Dordogne. After checking out from Le Chambellan which has been their home away from home in the last few days, we all headed to the nearby Dordogne River for one last visit to this idyllic place from where we all had a great time — having picnic and fishing before driving to Bergerac for their flight back to Holland.

With her pink net and just slathered with a thick layer of sunblock, Francesca together with her father spent a great deal of time netting baby and juvenile trouts in the shallow waters of Dordogne while me, Opa and Oma watched with delight in the shades by the river bank. Lunch was a picnic of French goodies which can never be any nicer than in such a setting.

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Fishing in action -- the trouts were quite fast

Fishing in action — the trouts were quite fast

Two excited fish catchers

Two excited fish catchers

Birds in the sky

Birds in the sky

Other holiday makers

Other holiday makers

Aiming for the baby trouts

Aiming for the baby trouts

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet

My prawn flambee

My prawn flambee

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Dad buying mom's French basket

Dad buying mom’s French basket

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The overhanging gardens of Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees - Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees – Chateau de Marqueyssac

Dordogne is reputed to be the land of a thousand chateaus (castles) so it is mecca to a castle fanatic like me. Further to that reputation are its many amazing parterre (formal) gardens which have behind them centuries of history.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely Chateau de Marqueyssac and its amazing gardens of boxwood trees carved in fantastic shapes. Certainly well worth a visit if you happen to be in Dordogne, this chateau and garden is nestled on a hill with splendid views of the medieval Chateau de Castelnaud and its fierce rival, the Chateau de Beynac as well as the lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne river.

We had a great time exploring this garden, even taking the five kilometer walk to explore every nook and corner of this lovely place. At the end of that walk, we enjoyed a lovely picnic at the chateau’s grounds with amazing view of the farmlands below the hill and the Chateau de Beynac in the distance.

By the way, Chateau de Beynac has served as location for several films, among them Ever After by Andy Tennant in 1998 and Jeanne d’Arc by Luc Besson, in 1999. The village of Beynac below the chateau, also served as a location for the film Chocolat by Lasse Hallström, in 2000.

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees

Carved boxwood trees

Among the carved boxwood trees

Among the carved boxwood trees

Trees and carved boxwood trees

Trees and carved boxwood trees

My little girl

My little girl

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees

Carved boxwood trees

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

My little girl

My little girl

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Chateau de Beynac in the distance

Chateau de Beynac in the distance

The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud

The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud

Lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne River

Lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne River

Playground

Playground

Playground

Playground

Chapel at the chateau's ground

Chapel at the chateau’s ground

Oma ensuring that Francesca does not fall over the cliff

Oma ensuring that Francesca does not fall over the cliff

Curious visitors checking out what's inside the chapel

Curious visitors checking out what’s inside the chapel

Alley of santolina and rosemary

Alley of santolina and rosemary

Another chateau as seen from Marqueyssac

Another chateau as seen from Marqueyssac

Hut made of stones

Hut made of stones

Tree house

Tree house

Tree house

Tree house

Water system to maintain the gardens

Water system to maintain the gardens

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

shop articles

shop articles

Lovely shop articles

Lovely shop articles

Family picnic

Family picnic

Francesca with Opa and Oma

Francesca with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma joins us on holiday

Oma!!!!

Oma!!!!

To a little girl who have her grandparents a constant presence from day 1, three weeks feel like eternity to not see them for that length of time. Thus, when we were planning our summer holiday last year, we took into account that opa (grandfather) and oma (grandmother) can also join us for a few days.

As driving the over 1,000 kilometers distance is not my father-in-law’s idea of driving pleasure especially at the height of the European summer holidays when highways are filled to the brim with traffic, we arranged for them to fly from Rotterdam Airport to Bergerac Airport which was a good hour’s drive from where we were camping. Though we have quite a spacious six-person tent, camping is no longer their idea of holiday convenience so through booking.com, we found a cozy two-star hotel in the village of Le Coux et Bigaroux, about 10-minutes drive from our camping place. My mom-in-law fell in love at first sight with the charms of Le Chambellan. Nothing fancy, the hotel’s magic is woven from its gardens filled with many lovely plants, canopies of grapes under which we would have our dinner on a balmy summer night and its close proximity to the Dordogne River from where we would enjoy carefree moments throwing stones and snaring little trouts in later days.

It was a very hectic day for opa and oma who had to start early with their trip starting with a bus ride from their place in Dronten to the train station in Kampen from where they could take the train to Rotterdam. From the train station in Rotterdam, they then took a bus to Rotterdam Airport and then boarded the Transavia flight to Bergerac. Weary but happy, it was a wonderful moment for all of us to see each other again. The little girl was overjoyed to see her beloved opa and oma and could hardly wait to keep them up to speed on what to do and see in the coming days.

Oma!!!

Oma!!!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

"Opa, you are here at last!"

“Opa, you are here at last!”

Can't wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Can’t wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Charming Le Chambellan

Charming Le Chambellan

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Beautiful skies

Beautiful skies

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Summer blooms

Summer blooms

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Opa

Oma and Opa

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Looking for flat stones

Looking for flat stones

Waiting for dinner

Waiting for dinner

Steak and fries

Steak and fries

Typical Dordogne dish -- Duck

Typical Dordogne dish — Duck

Chocolate dessert

Chocolate dessert

Strawberry dessert

Strawberry dessert

Dessert

Dessert

Francesca

Francesca

Our family

Our family

Weary but happy after the long trip -- bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

Weary but happy after the long trip — bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Topiaries at Eyrignac

Topiaries at Eyrignac

Dordogne was the logical option for us to go to after spending the first part of our camping holiday in the Bordeaux area as it was just a good three hours drive eastward. I had no clue as to what can be expected in this part of France. The husband went camping here with his parents and older brother when he was small (that was over 3 decades ago) and his memory were only of the caves for which he became claustrophobic. He still dreams of those stalagmites and stalactites and how they would grow into monsters that would suck the life out of him. Another friend from Scotland (we became friends when we stayed in the same agriturismo in Tuscany two summers earlier) holidayed in Dordogne the year before and only had horror stories to tell from unending bad weather and compounded by car breakdown. Thus, to be honest, I had my worries too that this might not be the place to go for summer holiday.

What a pleasant surprise! Our whole stay of 1.5 weeks in Dordogne were only characterized by blue skies and warm temperature. We skipped the caves but there were so much to see from markets to Medieval castles and parterre gardens. We were able to enjoy as well a step back in time, a kind of re-living of childhood memories when we spent wonderful idyllic moments fishing in the Dordogne River, having picnic most times in the best of surroundings, swimming in the pool at the camping, etc.

One of the many gardens that caught my eye was the French gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac. It was about an hour’s drive from our camping and was well worth the visit. Nestled in the heart of Perigord Noir, these gardens feature plant sculptures, box embroideries, fountains and fields of wild blooms.

Sculptured plants at the Gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at the Gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at Eyrignac

Fruit-bearing trees

Fruit-bearing trees

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Shop and entrance to the gardens

Shop and entrance to the gardens

Restaurant at the manor

Restaurant at the manor

Topiaries and box embroideries

Topiaries and box embroideries

Star corner

Star corner

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants

Sculptured plants

Topiaries and plant boxes

Topiaries and plant boxes

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Centuries-old chapel

Centuries-old chapel

View from inside the chapel

View from inside the chapel

The chapel's altar

The chapel’s altar

The little girl inside the chapel

The little girl inside the chapel

Sculptured plants

Sculptured plants

Plant sculptures

Plant sculptures

The little girl among sculptured plant boxes

The little girl among sculptured plant boxes

Our family

Our family

Chinese pagoda

Chinese pagoda

Sculptured arches

Sculptured arches

My idea of a countryside home and garden

My idea of a countryside home and garden

Plant arches and flower garden

Plant arches and flower garden

I can spend hours here in pure delight

I can spend hours here in pure delight

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

My little girl

My little girl

Wild blooms

Wild blooms

zinnia

zinnia

Dahlia

Dahlia

Lilly

Lilly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Not sure what this flower is called but was pretty interesting

Not sure what this flower is called but was pretty interesting

Bee

Bee

Busy bee

Busy bee

Butterfly among wild blooms

Butterfly among wild blooms

Pruned apple trees

Pruned apple trees

Wild blooms

Wild blooms

Dahlias

Dahlias

Fountains

Fountains

Perigord Noir countryside from the Eyrignac gardens

Perigord Noir countryside from the Eyrignac gardens

My little girl

My little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Enjoying the pricey milkshake on a very warm day

Enjoying the pricey milkshake on a very warm day

Our family

Our family

Goodies from the gardens' shop

Goodies from the gardens’ shop

Goodies from the gardens' shop

Goodies from the gardens’ shop

Market day in Le Bugue

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

Open markets never fail to cast their charm on me and I won’t give them a miss if I can find one on any given day. Checking what are on offer from different stalls will make me lost my sense of time as my mind wanders off to what nice meals I can make from the many fresh produce that I can get my hands into. Unfortunately, I don’t have a big family to feed so I always have to try to control the urge to overbuy and overstock especially on those stuffs with limited shelf life.

When we arrived in Dordogne for the second half of our camping holiday, we got some info on what to do and see in the area. The suggestion of open markets in the nearby towns and cities came in handy especially as I was really looking so much forward to exploring a few during this holiday. The nearest to our camping was the town of Le Bugue, a 15-minute drive and where most times we will also get our groceries.

The open market in Le Bugue as compared to the open markets I’ve seen in the west of France has less seafoods and was more oriented to the produce of the land and wood crafts which was pretty understandable from a geographic perspective. We had a great time exploring this market, my little girl so especially loved the trinkets, toys and also the hat that we got her for protection from the strong sun. I enjoyed admiring the fresh vegetables and other food stuffs on offer as well as got myself a nice typical French basket which would later came handy when we get groceries or go on picnics.

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Admiring the trinkets

Admiring the trinkets

Trying out a hat

Trying out a hat

Checking out the toys

Checking out the toys

Wood-carved slingshots -- I played with them a lot as a child

Wood-carved slingshots — I played with them a lot as a child

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Bread stall

Bread stall

Stall for roast chicken

Stall for roast chicken

Artichokes

Artichokes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Radishes

Radishes

Paprikas

Paprikas

Red paprikas

Red paprikas

Green plums

Green plums

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Olives

Olives

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Olives

Olives

Black olives

Black olives

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Snails

Snails

Mussels

Mussels

Fish

Fish

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Got myself a French basket

Got myself a French basket

El Nido, our little paradise on earth

El Nido at dusk

With the snow and ice gone, this last bit of winter is just such a drag. There is still more than a month to go before the official start of spring but I can hardly wait to move on into the new season. Even my little girl is already longing for the time when she can go outside and pluck some flowers because at the moment, there is hardly anything of color anymore.

The weather is not helping either to cheer me up. Today it is wet, windy, cold and grey. Thus, I am going down memory lane to a wonderful holiday we had way back in 2006 in the Philippines. This particular place is called El Nido (or the nest) in Palawan and is so-called because of the limestone cliffs that are so typical in this area which are home to a special type of swift, the cave swift that are renowned for building the saliva nests used for the Chinese bird’s nest soup.

This place is special to me and the Mr. because this is where our love story started with a coincidental meeting on its shores over 15 years ago. We call this place our own little paradise for being here is like no other from the wonderful things to see — beautiful uninhabited islands, pristine beaches, scenic limestone cliffs to amazing things to do — island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving or simply relaxing on the beach listening to the gentle to and fro sway of the waves on the shores and the chirping of the birds and crickets in the trees (or at times being pelted with fruit stones by monkeys who do not like intruders). Add to that the pleasantly warm weather, the friendly people and the relaxed if not lazy pace of life which is a comforting interlude from the busy lives we lead back here in the west.

We enjoyed our almost one week stay in this paradise…island-hopping every day and having our simple meals by the beach. Though I have this fear of the deep water, I was caught up in the magic of snorkeling, oftentimes forgetting the time while observing the amazing world beneath the waters…schools of colorful fishes, beautiful corals, sea turtles, clams, and many more.

My husband when he first came to the Philippines has really made it his goal to see El Nido because Jacques Cousteau has remarked that it was the most beautiful place he ever explored. He described El Nido as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world.

I miss El Nido and I look forward to returning one day…that time with the three of us. I am sure that our little girl will in a heartbeat get fascinated by these islands and its limitless charm.

US on one of the many uninhabited islands

Early morning on the shores of El Nido town

El Nido at dusk

Island scene -- pristine beach, wild plants and flowers

Typical feature of the islands - white beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Coconut trees

Mangroves

White sandy beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Sea shell

a local fruit (not sure if edible)

Limestone cliff

Approaching an uninhabited island

Limestone cliff island

A local flower

Coconut trees

Wild orchids growing abundantly on the limestones

Fruit-laden coconut tree

A local plant

a lovely shell

Sea shell

Coconut trees along the beach

The limestone cliff up close

This monkey was maybe not happy with intruders to his world - he kept on pelting us with fruit stones 😉

Lazy pace of life in the islands

An uninhabited island