A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

Road Trip, Netherlands

Gouda, Den Haag, Delta Works and Gorinchem

sunny 75 °F

We were absolutely in love with Gouda from the minute we arrived. It is like a very rural, small, version of Amsterdam with walking streets, canals, windmills, and cute little shops. We met up with Ralf and had a great time walking around the streets sampling stroop waffles with the kids and talking with what must have been the world’s last living clay pipe maker.
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We then headed to the coast of Holland to Den Haag, home of the international court of justice, the flame of the Peace Palace, and a fresh supply of raw herring, which the locals like to cover in oil and raw onions and then pop ‘em down the hatch!
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Den Haag is also the home of MC Escher! About 75% of his artwork is on display in what used to be the Queen’s winter palace. It was really interesting to walk through a palace turned into an art installation. The paintings were fantastic and so were all the descriptions of Escher’s different techniques.
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Our last stop in the Netherlands was in Gorinchem where we met up with our friends Dan and Sam (whom we first met in Laos, and then again in Vietnam). We had an amazing taste of real Dutch life and visited one of the 7 Wonders of the Civil Engineering World… the Delta Works. Since Holland is mostly below sea level, there is an enormous amount of energy put into keeping the country from being under water.
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As we said our goodbyes, Dan and Sam surprised us with one last Dutch tradition – the Flugal! It is a syrup like shot that must be taken while wearing the yellow cap of the bottle on your nose, if the cap falls off, you must drink another one…
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:38 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A city of bikes and tolerance

sunny 75 °F

The first thing we noticed when we stepped out of the airport in Amsterdam was the bike path to the airport, way cool! Once we settled into the city we faced our first big problem: where were we gonna park our bikes?! We couldn’t stop smiling at how many bikes there were and in our stunned state almost got run over. There were kids, grandmothers, business men, everyone riding bikes! It was such a cool feeling, like being in critical mass every second of the day. There were bike paths everywhere, including special lanes in roundabouts and on sidewalks sometimes making it a challenging to be a pedestrian.
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We met up with Dan and Sam (whom we met in Laos and Vietnam back in March) for an Ajax football match. We arrived a little early and headed into the fan club. Everyone was totally staring at us! It turns out even amongst the white folks in Europe we still stand out in the crowd as a buncha tourists! This game was no Wednesday night A’s game. This stadium seats up to 80,000 people who all train in from every part of the country!
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We only had two bikes, so we road the Dutch way (where Robin and Sam rode sitting sideways on the back racks). Needless to say, the Dutch are very skilled at this, and you will see ladies riding with the legs to one side all the time. It took us a little getting used to, but by the time we were in the heart of the red light district we were pros.
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The next day we rode our Dutch Bikes north to visit Volendam and Edam. Although Edam is about 30k from Amsterdam, it only took a few kilometers to get out of the city and into the beautiful countryside. The bike network is clearly labeled with lots of maps and routes for riders to follow. We rode through farm land, small villages, and on some of the most beautiful bike paths!
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The Amsterdam history museum was definitely noteworthy. It took us through why the Dutch have such tolerant laws and how they have survived the low water table by building the entire town on pylons! We loved our stay here and are looking forward to more of Holland!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:41 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Top three nasty nibbles

What is the worst food you’ve ever tasted?

We heard stories about the infamous national dish of Scotland called haggis, and even after hearing how they made it, we were still gung-ho about giving it a try. We are sad to report that even if we didn’t know that it was made from leftover sheep pieces squashed together, we still would have hated it. We investigated the ingredients at the market only to see the marketing wizards trying to mask the (heart, liver and lungs) as ‘lobes’ or ‘pluck.’ To be honest we don’t know what lungs taste like, but from the dish that we were ‘lucky’ enough to sample, it was hard to taste anything but the ‘yuck!’
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Now the real question is; where does Haggis stack up in the “all time worst foods we’ve ever eaten list?” Well, without any hesitation it makes the top three for sure! Drum roll please…

The top three worst foods we have had so far on our trip around the world:

  1. 1. Italian Chicken Liver Risotto (we thought we were so cool ordering from the Italian menu when we could read two words of the menu item “pollo” and “risotto” little did we know that one of the words we didn’t know was actually the most important. In fact, liver has snuck into our meals in several different countries, it is like liver is haunting us aroudn the world!
  2. 2. Scottish Haggis (one bite was one too many).
  3. 3. Dirty armpit/sock smelling Chinese Durian Fruit that has been banned from being carried on public facilities (including the metro and busses).

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:30 Comments (0)

Road Trip, Scotland

The Scottish countryside

all seasons in one day 70 °F

We hired a car in Glasgow and had so much fun. We can’t really do justice to the feeling of being in the open country and experiencing Scotland. We saw, ate and learned so many new things but will spare you all the details and only highlight a few in this post. Here what our route looked like:

Highland Coos! (aka “cows” pronounced with a Scottish accent). These coos are a rare breed; they look heavy and medieval but stay up with the new fashions by sporting dreadlocks.
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Urquhart castle on Loch Ness was empty at dusk so we had the castle grounds and the sunset all to ourselves. They have great info placards, a good lookout spot for ol’ Nessy and a house sized catapult to play with!
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The roads are sign posed with clear driving routes for places of interest. We followed a few different trails including the “Malt Whisky Trail” that stretched for mile and miles across the country. Distilleries here were like coffee shops in Seattle, they are all over the place and could barely drive for 10min before we had stop for another sample!
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While the Greeks have the Olympics, Pitlochry has the Highland Games! We watched competitions like ‘tug of war’ and ‘tossing the caber’ (a kilted man trying to flip a telephone pole lengthwise). They had a hospitality tent stocked with whisky and homemade treats for foreigners with an up close view of the 27 bagpipe bands each taking their turn to circle the field.
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We participated in a reenactment of the Battle of Stirling at the Sir William Wallace monument and climbed up the monument to see the sword that Wallace himself used in that very battle.
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The on-and-off drizzle in Scotland makes for some fantastic rainbows! We must have seen at least one rainbow every other day… here is one we saw while staying in the quaint little village of Stromeferry.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:39 Archived in Scotland Comments (2)

Road Trip, Ireland

Kilkenny, Dungarvan, Midleton, Cohb, Cork, Kilkarney, Burren

sunny 75 °F

In order to get a little bit off the beaten path and into the countryside, we hired a car in Dublin to drive around the countryside for a week. Here what our route looked like:

We were impressed with how friendly the locals were, for example, in Dungarvan we stumbled across a pitch a putt with a beautiful course, but there wasn’t anyone in the clubhouse when we arrived. Luckily a nice lady was just finishing up her round, offered us her clubs to use, and said she would be back in 2 hours or so. So she gave us tees, balls, clubs, and a scorecard and we were on our way. . .
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We absolutely lucked out and got to experience the only 7 days of summer that Ireland seemed to get this year. The countryside is very similar to that of England and Wales with the green pastures and of course, Barley fields for the Guinness brewery and for the Jameson Distillery. But what makes the Irish countryside a little more unique is the enormous amount of castles and gothic churches they seem to be everywhere. We visited a few of them including the famous Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice's Cathedral.
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We couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone (one of the Discovery Channel’s top 99 things to do before you die). So we can now say that we are blessed with “the gift of gab” which apparently means that we can speak Blarney and NOT baloney.
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We enjoyed all of Ireland’s beauty by exploring endless fields of rocks in Burren National Park, trekking on the highest mountain in Ireland (Carrauntoohil - 1,038 meters) and visiting the infamous Cliff of Moher (commonly known to those who have seen the movie Princess Bride as “The Cliffs of Insanity!”)
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We also enjoyed all of Ireland’s whisky and stouts by visiting the 18th century Jameson Distillery in Middleton and popping into pubs for Irish Folk music and taste tests of the finest Irish beverages in little country villages with only a few buildings scattered around the focal point of the town… the pub.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:22 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Dublin, Ireland

Does Guinness really taste better in Ireland?

sunny 70 °F

Of course everyone talks about Guinness as an Irish beer, but do the Irish really drink Guinness? Or is it a marketing gimmick like Fosters beer – which is NOT the choice amongst the Ausies. We headed straight for the pub with our hosts Barry and Bownie for some classic Celtic music. Luckily, the rumors are true, and almost everyone in the pubs drink Guinness! So we decided to head to the Guinness Brewery and find out how to pour the perfect pint. It hard not to notice how much land the Brewery owns in the middle of the city center, and were quite impressed with their multi story interactive tour.
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We must have easily walked 10 miles a day in and around the city. There are loads of parks and free museums. Our favorite was the Natural History Museum, also known as the Dead Zoo because of all the stuffed animals. We were quite impressed by the vast display of countless animals.
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Through our walking around we learned about Oscar Wilde, the Yeats family, and Trinity College. With a picnic lunch we sat in the sunshine to enjoy the beautiful college courtyard but were sad to have been forbidden to walk on the grass… we imagined how weird Berkeley would have been if we wouldn’t have been allowed to play Frisbee, read, or sunbath on Memorial Glade.
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We liked the feel of Dublin, the bus system and scattered castles. There is an interesting contrast throughout the city between the new and the old. Even the Dublin Castle had a colorful addition to contrast to the old black stones.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Road Trip, Whales

Montgomery Castle, Lake Vyrwyn, Bedleggert, Snowdan, Conwy Castle, Morfa Nefyn, Abersoch, and Pwhelli

all seasons in one day 65 °F

We went with Robin’s parents on a road trip through Wales. Once we crossed into Wales from England, it seem as though all vowels had been replaced by ‘w’ and ‘y.’ Seriously, how would you tell someone to take the A5 exit after Vyrnwy towards Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll to reach the Cynorthwywyd gan Fwrdd Tourist Office?!
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There were Castles and Bed and Breakfast’s as far as the eye could see! Our favorite castle was probably Conwy because you could explore lots of rooms and climb up the tall towers for a panoramic view of the city, but we also really enjoyed the feel of Montgomery Castle (c. 1280) which had an old ruin of a castle set in the mist of the country side looking down on squares of farm land.
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Wales has a fabulous coast line with lots of beaches, bluff walks and ridgelines to follow.
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One of the hikes we did took us up into the clouds onto the highest mountain in Wales, Yr Wyddfa Snowdon at 3559ft.
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We also spent some time exploring the Llyn peninsula where one of the highlights was catching the Pwhelli rafting races. Once a year the town’s folk build their own makeshift rafts and race then in the harbor for charity. It was reminiscent of the concrete canoe competition in engineering school, and we loved the creativity. Our favorite raft was built by a brave father and son who used an upside down chassis of an old Reliant car. While they didn’t win due to lack of speed, they didn’t sink like some of the others!
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We said our very sad goodbyes, as Robin’s parents dropped us at the ferry dock in Hollyhead, where we jumped aboard for our journey across the Irish Sea to Ireland.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:45 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

England v. USA

The contrasting ways of life in America and England (from an American’s point of view)

You would think the English language and culture in Great Britain would be at least sort of similar to ours wouldn’t you? On the contrary ‘my dear boy!’ With all of the contrasting customs between us Americans and the English, we might as well have been traveling in China. We composed a short list of our favorite differences, neither point of view is right or wrong, we were just amazed at how opposite they were:

  • For breakfast at home, put the carton of milk and the jar of jam directly on the table; they pour the milk into a craft, spoon their jam into a bowl, put their toast in a toast rack and place their eggs in fancy little egg cups.
  • We have finger food and napkins, they eat everything with a fork and knife and never set the table with napkins. For example, we eat our hamburger between two buns with our hands, they serve it without a top bun and eat it off a plate with a fork and knife. They even have funny looking oversized double pronged toothpicks designed specifically for making sure you don’t use your hands when eating your ‘chips’ (aka french fries).

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  • We wash our dishes with soap and then rinse them off, they skip the rinse.
  • We server our beer cold and carbonated, theirs is more like tap water; flat, a wee bit warmer and missing a whole lot of flavor.
  • We have straight highways and multi-lane roads with sidewalks, they have a maze of curvy hedge lined single lane roads that are used for two way traffic. The hedges are so close to road that pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the street and the brambles scratch up cars as they pass by.

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  • Our humor is lush, and moist with insinuation, theirs a wee bit dry and missing some expression.

We tried our best to fit in by speaking with an upward tone and ending our sentences with ‘isn’t it?’ or ‘doesn’t it?’ but our nasally accents didn’t fool them. We have now come to the shocking conclusion that to other people we actually have American accents. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 13:21 Archived in England Comments (0)

Pipe Aston, England

Our engagement party on the farm

semi-overcast 70 °F

Robin’s aunt, Claire, and her husband, Roy, live on a small farm in a little village called Pipe Aston near Ludlow. They had graciously agreed to host an engagement party for us to introduce Kevin to the rest of Robin’s English family. For the party, we also put together a map including a quiz and photo match game of our travels thus far. We counted up all of the travel legs of our trip; it took us 55 buses/autos, 23 flights, 16 trains and 11 boats to get to England for the party :-)
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The little farm is surrounded by other farmer’s fields and other open space in the Shropshire Hills. It has 26 chickens, two geese, two ponies, two dogs, and a buncha bunnies!! The ‘right to pass’ law in England gave us way to explore the whole countryside with the Oakley and Tiggy!
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The geese (Christmas and Easter) would follow us around the farm, and the ponies (Ringo and Robby), were kind enough to let the kids go for rides (but only after the kids suited up for battle with bullet-prof vests, hats, and boots).
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Even though they speak English in England, we always had a laugh at translations and misunderstandings. For example, Robin’s parents ordered two kegs of beer from the local brewery and since the English serve beer much warmer than we do, we were discussing how to keep them cold. . . well, that turned out to be the least of our problems! We soon found out that since the English also serve beer with out as much carbonation as we do, a ‘keg’ is actually much like a boxed wine with only 18 pints each. Luckily, English pints are larger!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 02:05 Archived in England Comments (0)

Farnham-Polzeath-Portowan, England

Southwest England road trip with Robin’s parents

sunny 75 °F

It had been 10 months since Robin’s parents saw us off at the beginning of our trip, so it was an exciting reunion at the Farnham train station. We hopped into the parent’s rental car and set the SatNav on a route for Polzeath, Portowan and eventually Pipe Aston. Below is a zoomed in view of our full trip map. For reference, London would be in the top right corner (you can zoom out to see it).

So began our tour of the English countryside! We visited a number of Lee family friends, a handful of classic British pubs and chippies, ate Cornish pasties and scones with clotted cream, walked through small towns past ports and castles and ventured into many of country side greenways.
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On the drive towards the coast, we made our way through the tiny hedge lined B roads towards Stonehenge. There they were, the legendary stones out in an open field wedged between the V of two main roads and nothing else around it except about a thousand tourists constantly circling it.
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Once on the coast we met up with Robin’s cousins, one of which lives in Cornwall with his fiancé and her bunny (Bobby). They were fully stocked with wetsuits and surfboards so we ‘had a go’ at boogie boarding and surfing in the English waves. This area of coastline gets some big swells and one of the days we actually were turned away from the massive waves by a life guard who advised us not to go in “swim at your own risk, but we are not going to save you.”
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So we had some pints instead and played some cards.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 12:57 Archived in England Comments (1)

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