Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Hieronymus Bosch retrospective

January 30, 2016
Statue of Hieronymus Bosch in Den Bosch

Statue of Hieronymus Bosch in Den Bosch

One of our favorite places to take visitors is the charming Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, locally known as the much-easier-to-pronounce Den Bosch. This year is HUGE for Den Bosch, as it celebrates the virtual return of its native son, famed medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch, who died 500 years ago. Though the city isn’t fortunate enough to own any of the artist’s paintings, this year it will present the largest retrospective of Bosch’s work ever, with all the pieces on loan from several leading museums. “Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of a Genius,” displaying 20 paintings and 19 drawings, runs from Feb. 13 to May 8 at Het Noordbrabants Museum. In addition, seven other museums in the province of North Brabant will present complementary shows. Timed tickets are already on sale, and the museum has expanded its opening hours.

Saint John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch

Saint John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch

But, wait, there’s more. In its elegant baroque center and along its small canal system, Den Bosch is pulling out all stops for visitors, with special events throughout the year, including nightly light shows on the market square, projected 3-D images of diabolical Bosch characters, themed tours of the canals, and rare climbs outside Saint John’s Cathedral, which is covered with fantastical gargoyles and sculptures. I hope to do one of those climbs myself, as soon as they’re available. Can’t wait!

Den Bosch is a secret Dutch treat

February 6, 2015

Lina and I spent last Saturday researching and photographing a story about ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Say whuh? I know, the name is so crazy that even the Dutch use the colloquial Den Bosch. Phew. Den Bosch is one of those off-the-beaten- path towns popular with Dutch day-trippers and virtually unknown by the average tourist. In short, our kind of place! An amazing bonus: it was sunny! Cold, yes, but the rare blue skies made up for it.

Eetbar Dit in Den Bosch

Eetbar Dit in Den Bosch

Den Bosch is only half an hour north of us, so will be one of our go-to spots for houseguests. I’d visited before, but it had been a decade. Its medieval town center remains a beauty, but a recent bonus is that hip and trendy food and shopping spots have opened, most notably Eetbar Dit, Mariapaviljoen (a medically themed hoot), Nom Nom wine bar, some cool vintage shops and a bunch of funky “concept stores” on Verwersstraat and Vughterstraat streets. (I hate the term “concept store,” but the Dutch use it often. Basically it’s a “lifestyle store” and usually cutting-edge contemporary.)

The Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

The Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

The other exciting Den Bosch additions are the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, in praise of Den Bosch’s famous native son, whose 500th “death-day” they’re honoring in big ways all of 2016; and the new contemporary art museum, The Stedelijk, not associated with the one of the same name in Amsterdam. It focuses on jewelry and glass and has an outstanding gift shop, down to its walls and displays of wavy wood.

That’s enough for now — the details are going in my article, for an American Auto Club travel magazine. But for you, dear blog reader, a short list of things you gotta do there:

The famous Bossche Bol

The famous Bossche Bol

Treat yourself to a famed ”Bossche Bol,” a puff pastry filled with fresh whipped cream and dipped in dark chocolate.

Take a canal tour (March to October). The canals here are special because they’re below the buildings and you’ll ride through tunnels, some with artful arches.

Visit the Stedelijk and the adjacent Noordbrabants Museum, and also the Bosch center. Make sure you’re at the latter on the hour to see the astronomical clock in action.

St. John's cathedral

St. John’s cathedral

Visit the city’s pride and joy, St. John’s Cathedral, one of the best known churches in the Netherlands. It was built between 1380 and 1530 and shows off 600 statues inside and out. Just gorgeous. If you’re up for climbing 218 steps, take a tour of the bell tower for a stellar view of the city.

Along with those helpful hints, do the usual: Shop. Bop. Eat. Drink. Eet smakelijk en proost!

Polar plunges will warm your heart

January 5, 2013

I seriously cannot imagine taking a “polar plunge.” Heck, I’m sitting here with cold hands and feet in my office as I type this. But I do love the concept, which is why I wrote this roundup of plunges for the Boston Globe’s travel section. Most take place on New Year’s Day, but one hasn’t happened yet — which means there is still time for you to sign up! Or, you can ready yourself for Jan. 1, 2014! Here’s the list:

MSP Polar Bear Plunge, Annapolis, MD (photo Steve Ruark)

MSP Polar Bear Plunge, Annapolis, MD (photo Steve Ruark)

MSP POLAR BEAR PLUNGE, ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

The largest plunge in the country, hosted by the Maryland State Police as a fund-raiser for Special Olympics Maryland, is held later in January, this year on the 26th. In 2012, some 11,000 plungers jumped into the Chesapeake Bay, raising $2.6 million.

CONEY ISLAND POLAR BEAR CLUB, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, founded in 1903, these days attracts about 1,500 participants who kick off the New Year with a daring dip in the Atlantic Ocean.

THE COURAGE POLAR BEAR DIP, OAKVILLE, ONTARIO, CANADA

While polar bear plunges are a New Year’s Day tradition all across Canada, the Courage event on the shore of Lake Ontario has become the country’s biggest, with more than 700 dippers and thousands of onlookers. To date, nearly $1 million has been raised to support clean water projects through World Vision Canada.

Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year's Dive) Scheveningen in 2010 (photo Alexander Fritze)

Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s Dive), Scheveningen in 2010 (photo Alexander Fritze)

NIEUWJAARSDUIK (NEW YEAR’S DIVE), SCHEVENINGEN, THE NETHERLANDS

As in Canada, New Year’s Day dips are held in dozens of communities across the Netherlands. The largest is in Scheveningen, a beach resort town near The Hague, where about 10,000 dive into the North Sea, many wearing sponsor Unox’s orange hats and gloves.

L STREET BROWNIES, SOUTH BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

In our backyard, upward of 700 swimmers jump into the frigid waters of Boston Harbor for the annual Jan. 1 plunge from the Curley Community Center. The Brownies, who started the event in 1904, are so named for their year-round tans.

Happy Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day)!!!

April 29, 2012

Diane celebrates Queen's Day in Amsterdam in 2010

Lina and I are having fond memories of our crazy Queen’s Day in Amsterdam two years ago. Koninginnedag is one of the world’s most-festive and famous street parties, and though it’s held all over the Netherlands, Amsterdam is the place to be.

The fun starts now, with all-night parties leading to tomorrow. Here’s a sampling of what we encountered in 2010.

So, dear readers, start making plans now for Queen’s Day 2013. Get your airline tickets and book your hotel room. We stayed in the wild and wacky Citizen M, which was far enough away to be quiet, but on the walking path from train to town, so still lively.

Of utmost importance, start pulling together the most outlandish orange outfit you can find. I can’t wait to take mine out of the closet again for another showing.

Hup Oranje hup! A Dutch victory!

July 6, 2010

Wessel cheers on his national team from Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.

We haven’t had great weather in rainy Florida this week, but we did have one big treat: the Netherlands made the World Cup final match for the first time since 1978! Woo-hoo. Today’s score: 3 to 2, beating  Uruguay. We don’t even have cable at home, but here in Florida we have an array of channels for our renters, including, of course, ESPN. Lucky us. We’ll be back in North Carolina for the championship game on Sunday. Germany or Spain, here we come!

Dutch players rejoice after referee finally calls the game

The Netherlands celebrates in Amsterdam after the big win

We survived Amsterdam’s orange crush

May 11, 2010

Early-morning Queen`s Day prep at Leidseplein square in Amsterdam

From the air, Queen’s Day in Amsterdam must look like one giant, pulsating orange blob. It certainly felt that way from the ground.  

Since the late Queen Juliana took office in 1948, the Netherlands has celebrated Koninginnedag on April 30. Now her daughter, Beatrix, sits in the throne in the House of Orange, but the day remains the same because B’s birthday is Jan. 31, and who wants to play outside then?

Different towns celebrate with different levels of intensity, and not surprisingly, Amsterdam’s fest is the most intense. But all Queen’s Day events feature “vrijmarkten,” or free markets, where folks set up little yard sales/street sales/flea markets all over town, featuring the usual yard sale treasures and trash.

Diane out-oranged many locals (thanks to Wessel for hat loan)

In Amsterdam, where we were, the crowds started to pour into town around noontime, with many folks dressed in orange clothing, wigs, boas, hats, nail polish and even fake eyelashes. Wessel wore a lovely blow-up orange crown the entire day. I was decked out in orange sweat pants and an orange top. I felt foolish early in the day, and proud later, after fielding many compliments (at least that’s how I chose to interpret the attention).

By far the majority of partiers were in their teens and twenties, but there was a smattering of old folks like us. Beer and vodka were the drinks of choice, and the youngsters started early. We stopped at the Museumplein for a look at the pop/rock concert, then literally had to dance our way through a street party before we reached Vondelpark, a long, narrow park that on Queen’s Day becomes a haven for families.

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Vondelpark was our favorite stop, as it was plenty festive but not rowdy. Little kids and families set up their little yard sales, and also made games and sold homemade trinkets.  (This was also the only place with ample portable potties, FYI.) A lot of kids were drumming for dollars, and one man set up a drumming station, charging $5 for five minutes of drumming.  One man staffed a “compliment station” – 50 cents for a little compliment, 75 cents for a big one, and $1.50 for an “ego boost.”

Pilot of paper airplane challenges the ash cloud in the best game ever

Our favorite silly game was “Challenge the Ash Cloud,” created by three friends in Amsterdam. A painted half-collapsed umbrella signified the Iceland volcano. It “erupted” whenever one of them worked a bike pump that blew air from the bottom, pushing out a mountain of flour. The contestant had to fly a paper airplane over the volcano’s mouth and land it safely on the runway. Three throws cost about $1, but if you could spell Eyjafjallajökull (which we witnessed someone do), you got to play for free. It was hilarious.

The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

At around 5, we started to follow some of the more popular canals, which were packed with boats of all shapes and sizes. Several were set up like party barges, complete with DJs with turntables and giant speakers. Then we came upon the craziest sight of all – for about the length of one city block, from one bridge to another, the canal was so jammed that the boats could barely move forward. It was like standing outside of a dozen open-air discos. One boat even had a smoke machine on it. It was  joyous and crazy and loud.

By about 8, we realized we’d never make it to the very center of town without suffocating in a sea of people, most  of them by then filled with alcohol, so we headed away from the merriment, basking in the glow of the orange.

Friendly Turkey won her over

February 12, 2010

This was first published Sept. 27, 2009, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.”

Rob and Cindy Walsh at a restaurant on the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul

WHO:  Cindy, 57, and Rob Walsh, 63, of Wales, Mass.

WHERE: Turkey.

WHEN: Six days in March.

WHY: “We started traveling together out of the country about 12 years ago,’’ Cindy Walsh said. “We first went to London, then France, and Rob thought Istanbul sounded really interesting.’’

CHANGE OF HEART: “I kind of put him off; it sounded a little too exotic for me. Then after Bush attacked Iraq, I thought people wouldn’t be too fond of Americans anywhere where there was a Muslim population. Then I saw a great airfare, and someone on the fodors.com forum had come back and written a glowing report, and I thought, what am I waiting for? I felt really stupid when I saw how friendly everyone was. The Turkish people are the friendliest people I’ve met.’’

Galata Bridge fishermen, with the famed New Mosque in the background

TERRACE WITH A VIEW: Following the online advice of travelers, Walsh booked a room at Hotel Empress Zoe. “We loved it. It was very old-Turkish style but boutiquey. We decided to get the penthouse suite. It wasn’t luxurious, but it had a terrace with beautiful views.’’ They looked onto the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia, as well as Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque, the national mosque of Turkey.

FERRY TO FREE TIME: Their favorite outing was a ferry trip up the Bosphorus. “It’s a regular state ferry run, and they stop at different ports on both sides. The river traffic is crazy, ferries crisscrossing each other and honking, freighters going through, pleasure boats, fishing boats, even sailing boats.’’ Their ride ended at the mouth of the Black Sea (which the Bosphorus connects to the Mediterranean), in Anadolu Kavagi, where they had a few hours free. “It was beautiful, forested with steep hills going down to the water and towns built into the sides of the hills. At the top of the hill there’s the ruins of a castle you can walk around.’’ Back in town, where stray dogs and cats wandered by the dozens, waiters worked to reel in tourists for lunch.

Rob on a Kadikoy ferry, with the New Mosque in the background

THE SHOPPING SPIRIT: Initially the couple was reluctant to bargain in the Istanbul bazaar. “The first time we even went out of the hotel a carpet salesperson followed us all around, even waiting for us to come out of the Blue Mosque. I kept yelling at my husband, ‘Put your head down, don’t look at anyone.’ But finally we started to get into the whole aspect of shopping and how to have fun with it,’’ Walsh said.

ONLINE FIND: Again following online advice, the Walshes sought out the restaurant Ziya Sark Sofrasi. “We were really impressed. It was small and good and very Mediterranean.’’

To Amsterdam from Russia with love

February 6, 2010

The Hermitage Amsterdam is housed in the Amstelhof on the Amstel River

Let’s just agree to put aside, shall we, the hookers and hash. The Amsterdam you don’t hear as much about is filled with beautiful historic buildings, great restaurants and cafes, funky design shops, and world-class art museums. That’s what the city is to us.

Most museumgoers associate Amsterdam with the world-class Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. But now there’s a third art attraction pulling in the crowds. Last summer, the Netherlands capital opened the Hermitage Amsterdam, a branch of the renowned State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (where I hope to some day go). This Hermitage is run by a local foundation and independently financed.

The 17th-century Amstelhof was formerly used as a state-run home for the elderly

Wessel and I had the chance to visit in November. The weather was dreary but the place was packed. Everything about it is magnificent, from its setting along the bustling Amstel River to its location in the Amstelhof, a 17th-century building formerly used as a state-run home for the elderly.

The restored 107,000-square-foot building holds rotating and permanent exhibit space, a restaurant, outdoor terrace, courtyard, auditorium, children’s wing, and gift shops.

Church Hall with a view of the river

Our favorite spot (and everyone else’s, it seemed) was the Church Hall, a grand gathering area with large windows overlooking the Amstel. A smattering of comfy chairs faces the windows and they’re always filled.

The exhibit we saw, the inaugural (it ended Jan. 31) naturally focused on Russia, specifically on the Russian Court. The pageantry, polish, and pearls were lovely, but I’m much more interested in the upcoming show, opening March 6 (through Sept. 17). Called “Matisse to Malevich: Pioneers of Modern Art from the Hermitage,” the 75-piece modern-art showstopper is expected to draw huge crowds. The Hermitage has one of the world’s finest collections of early-20th-century French masters and famed Russian painters, so this will be a blockbuster. Most of the works in this show are usually on permanent display in Russia.

Metal fence with camellia blossoms near the back side of the museum

We’ll be back in Amsterdam in April, and will gladly fight the crowds to see this collection. On this trip, it will (hopefully) be warm enough to rest up in the courtyard, admiring the Hermitage from the outside

Admission for adults is a stiff $22, but that’s Europe for you.

With Troubles over, Northern Ireland thrives

May 4, 2009

“Where They Went,” by Diane Daniel, published April 12, 2009, in the Boston Globe

Trish Gannon (left) and Jean Mello (right) with Paddy, Black Taxi Tour driver in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Trish Gannon (left) and Jean Mello with Paddy, Black Taxi Tour driver in Belfast

WHO: Trish Gannon, 43, of Winchester, and Jean Mello, 43, of Dublin.

WHERE: Northern Ireland.

WHEN: Three days in October.

WHY: Gannon took the opportunity to visit Mello while Mello was living in Dublin as part of her job for a Boston-area bank. The two have been friends since attending College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

GIANT STEPS: Because the weather was nice when Gannon arrived in Dublin, they decided to head right away to Northern Ireland, where one of their prime destinations was Giant’s Causeway, a lunar landscape of interlocking basalt columns and the country’s top tourist destination.

COASTING: ”We booked a coach tour that took us up the coast of Antrim and stopped at sights along the way,” said Gannon, whose ancestry is Irish. “We stopped at castles and sea villages. The coastline was really dramatic.” About half the travelers were American, including US soldiers visiting from their post in Germany. “About 2 miles from Giant’s Causeway, our goal, this nice new bus ran out of gas.” Luckily, they were at the crest of a hill and coasted a mile down to Bushmills, home of the 400-year-old Bushmills Distillery. “We went straight to the gas station and filled up,” she said.

Trish at Giant's Causeway, Antrim Coast

Trish at Giant's Causeway, Antrim Coast

MILITARY INTERVENTION: ”Apparently when any vehicle, especially diesel, runs out of gas, it’s hard to start. It turned out one of the military folks was a maintenance guy for Apache helicopters, and he got it going,” Gannon said. “We took a vote on the bus and decided to skip the distillery and head straight to Giant’s Causeway. Luckily we got there before dark. You could walk all over the formations. It was really amazing.”

Trish Gannon at Belfast Botanic Gardens

Trish Gannon at Belfast Botanic Gardens

BANKING ON TOURISM: The friends stayed at the Hilton Belfast in a newly redeveloped waterfront area. Having visited the city briefly a decade earlier, Gannon was impressed with the progress made in Northern Ireland since the peace accord. “It’s officially a tourist destination now. It’s so hopeful and encouraging. They’re even capitalizing on being where the Titanic was built. There are a lot of new hotels and restaurants, but also the city has a lot of beautiful Victorian buildings, including banks converted to hotels and restaurants.” One of their favorites was the Merchant Hotel. “It was so opulent I couldn’t believe it had been a bank.”

TROUBLES SIGNS: They took a Black Taxi Tour to see political murals and other sights around West Belfast, the center of the Troubles, the decades-long conflict between the country’s nationalist (mostly Roman Catholic) and unionist (Protestant) communities. “It was good to see that some of the murals have been painted over with more contemporary political issues. Many of the schools are integrated now, and there’s more integration in the workplace.”

The roads traveled are two-way streets

April 27, 2009

I wrote the essay below for a special travel section in the April issue of Ode MagazineIt’s on their website as well.  If you don’t know Ode, I suggest you check it out. It’s at a magazine stand near you. (Borders, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, etc. Or better yet, buy a subscription and keep Ode alive.  Its tagline is: For Intelligent Optimists. Hey, that’s me! And I’m guessing you, too.

This farmer in Lombok, Indonesia plows with an ox-plow

Farmer on Lombok Island, Indonesia, plows his fields the traditional way

The Eiffel Tower. Big Ben. The Taj Mahal. Only 20 years ago, these were the notches on the traveler’s money belt, which, incidentally, was stuffed with travelers’ cheques. Today we’ve been there, done that. Affordable airfare and Western wealth (yes, we’re still comparatively wealthy even now, in the midst of the credit crunch) have brought travelers to every corner of the globe. We hop on transcontinental flights armed with our debit cards, functional in cash-dispensing machines from Dubai to Denali.

But simply seeing the sights is no longer enough. We want to stray from those beaten paths, dig deeper, get a read on how the locals live, work and play. This can include eating at a restaurant favored by residents instead of Westerners, participating in an outdoor adventure or visiting sites not found in most guidebooks. In industry jargon, it’s called “experiential travel”-travel we live through instead of look at-and it’s never been more popular. It’s popular because it’s typically cheaper than traditional travel; money is tight but we still want to go on vacation, some of us to faraway places. And it’s popular because we want to tread more lightly during our trips, in terms of our impact on the environment and on the people we visit. We want to give something back.

The desire to experience a different culture through activities and people goes deeper than adding another notch to the money belt, though that plays a role, too. It’s as basic as life. It’s our fellow human beings who transcend us. At the end of the day, we recall the burka-clad woman on the train reciting prayers as much as we do the centuries-old treasures in the museum.

A polar-bear-shaped license plate from Northwest Territories

Diane's much-coveted gift from locals in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada

When I think back to one of my life’s highlights-seeing the northern lights in the Northwest Territories, Canada, during 2002-I also relive the hospitality of the citizens of tiny Fort Smith, who cooked for me, took me dog sledding and gave me a polar-bear-shaped license plate that hangs in my house today. The most lasting impression of my 11-week backpacking trip to Europe in 1982 is my still-enduring friendship with Federico, who lives in Vicenza, Italy. In my home state of North Carolina, as I travel to research a farm-travel guidebook, the farmers stand out as much as their bounties or the sweeping rural landscapes.

Diane (left) met Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s

Diane and Federico Lauro in Vicenza, Italy, in 1986. And, yes, they're still in touch.

My reaction is hardly unique. While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling of my own, I’ve also interviewed hundreds of people over the past eight years for a column I write for The Boston Globe called “Where They Went,”  about other people’s trips. Without fail, these travelers will recount adventures, sights, tastes, but almost always add: “The people were the best part. They were so nice, so warm, so welcoming.” Those people’s stories are the ones they recount to me again and again, especially if they were allowed a look inside a community or a family.

These days, even the most mainstream tour operators include experiential travel on an otherwise-standard tour. For example, in the 2009 Grand Circle Travel land and cruise tour “China and the Yangtze River,” participants will not only visit the Great Wall, Beijing and Hong Kong; they’ll tour a kindergarten or senior center and have a home-hosted lunch. “You’ll see local customs enacted first-hand as your gracious hosts prepare and serve a typical Chinese meal,” the itinerary reads. For the traveler wanting a less-staged version of hospitality and sightseeing, many cities have forms of community-based or locally led tourism, which originates with citizens instead of national or international tour operators.

A local guide prepares a meal for a 2-day hiking trek on Lombok

One of our local guides prepares an Indonesian meal during a hiking trek up Mount Rinjani (12,224 ft.) on Lombok.

Digging deeper also requires that we set aside our demands for a money-back-guaranteed quality and “safe” experience. That can be instructive in itself. I recall a community-based “ecotourism” hiking trek my husband and I chose on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. The guides lit our campfires with the help of splashes of gasoline from the jugs they carried and they littered along the way. I later reported these issues to the organizer, who lived in the capital of Mataram, miles and worlds away. He was extremely apologetic, as he’d been trying to get the villagers to understand tourism basics. On the other hand, I saw the real way of life there. It was worth the trade-off. And I was much happier to donate money to people in the village than to an international travel outfitter.

These school children on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

Schoolchildren in a tiny village on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

After hearing me speak about the virtues of getting off the tour bus, one African safari tour operator told me proudly how at the end of his luxury lodge-hopping trip in Tanzania, he takes his clients into the city of Arusha to visit poor neighborhoods and give trinkets to the local children. “Everyone came away deeply moved,” he said. “The crazy thing was, after seeing all that big game, what I heard from them was it was the most memorable part of the trip.” I suggested he consider moving the outing to the beginning of the tour, so it would be on their minds as they met Tanzanian workers along the way. “Oh no, that would be too much for them,” he said.

Perhaps our challenge as citizens of the world is to decide how much is enough-and then go soak it in. Even if the recession has wiped out a quarter or more of our wealth, we’re still rich by global standards. Experiencing how other people live, whether in Appalachia or Addis Ababa, will make us even richer. And likely them, too.