Monday, July 30, 2012

Tilburg & Eindhoven

I had never been to Tilburg before and as most travel guides usually neglect Tilburg from touristic routes I had never been curious about it. But taking into acount the small possibility that I could go to study there I decided that it was about time to find out what Tilburg was really like. And after wandering around for a couple of hours I could somehow understand that the only lines that Lonely Planet dedicates to Tilburg in its Netherlands guide are to describe the Tilburgse Kermis (Tilburg Street Fair) which was actually taking place until yesterday. Tilburg is not specially beautiful and it does not have many interesting sightseeing points, just a couple of museums and the first art school that Van Gogh attended. Besides, there are some nice small boutiques full of cute things (most of them on the Nieuwlandstraat, where the tourism office can also be found), but that alone is not reason enough to visit Tilburg. And at least you have a penchant for street fairs, the Tilburgse Kermis is also not reason enough. The best thing of the trip was finding a Pull&Bear store, one of my favourite Spanish brands, which I hadn't visited since last Christmas!

Tilburg is a former textile centre in North Brabant with approximately 206000 inhabitants, so I was expecting a greater city atmosphere. My first surprise was the train station, which is really tiny with just three platforms (Maastricht's population is half of that of Tilburg and the train station has 6 platforms and, well, it's really beautiful). I arrived in Tilburg at 11:30 am, not really that early, but the city was totally emtpy, as if no one had been around for ages. And people did not show up until 1:00 pm or so, when most fair rides started functioning. I walked around the city for a couple of hours, did some window shopping and went to see and exhibition of old fair rides (very cute!). Finally I took the train and paid a visit to the Tilburg University, my primary reason to be there, and it wasn't very impressive either. The university campus is on the outskirts of Tilburg, just near a forest. All the buildings are rather new and look a bit the same, which is a bit boring! The only thing I finally did not do was visiting a museum, so maybe, but only maybe, I might go back sometime to Tilburg to visit the Textile Museum.




On my way back I decided to make a pitstop in Eindhoven. Again, I had never been in Eindhoven before and I wasn't expecting that much either. Eindhoven is best known for being home to Phillips and the PSV Eindhoven football team (and more recently for being the cheapest entry door into the Netherlands, thanks to  a certain Irish airline). I only stayed in Eindhoven for a short while and I just walk around the city centre, which is mainly a shopping district full of chain stores and boutiques. However, even though it is also a modern city without the antique charms of many other Dutch cities it was rather nice. And I came across a very beautiful (gothic?) church with some crystall windows on the floor just opposite the main entrance. I looked down, expecting to see some old walls but instead,I just saw some ols skeletons laying there ... I gotta do some research about it. And I will probably go back to Eindhoven some other time to discover the city more calmly!



Friday, July 27, 2012

Tenerife with all 5 senses

This week has been incredibly hot in Maastricht so by now I am totally in the mood for summer holidays. Luckily enough I just have to wait for three weeks before flying to my belove home island, Tenerife, and I am really looking forward to it. I can't wait to land there and spend some time with my family and friends, as well as enjoying some shopping, some time on the beach and why not, some sightseeing in my favourite places. In the following three weeks I'll be counting the days down and making plans about all the wonderful things I want to do there. I have also been thinking about the things which make Tenerife so special and I came up with such a list that I would not even know where to start. So, I decided to do something challenging and reduce the list to five experiences, one for each sense. Enjoy!


  • SIGHT: Tenerife is home to El teide, the highest mountain in Spain. El Teide is a 3718 m high volcano which can be seen from most points of the island on a sunny day. It is much higher than all the mountains surrounding so it looks majestic with its caracteristic form as you ride towards it. El Teide and its surroundings are part of the national park Las Cañadas del Teide, an amazingly beautiful park with pine forest and volcanic plains covered by sand and stones of hundred colours. I love riding to the north of the island and suddenly getting a glimpse of El Teide, especially if it is winter and it is covered with snow.
  • TOUCH: Tenerife lies in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and while it enjoys a mild weather the whole year, bathing in the sea can be a breathtaking experience as water is much colder than one might expect. The north of the island has some beaches which are usually tourist-free, they have black sand or pebbles and water can be incredibly cold. And even though I don't go to the beach very often and it takes me a while to get into the water, I really enjoy the feeling of swimming in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, even if it just once in a while!
  • TASTE: I absolutely love most of typical food of the Canary Islands and now that I am living far away I miss it from time to time, specially these sauces called mojo which go with absolutely everything: fish, meat, bread, cheese and specially potatoes. Papas arrugadas con mojo is probably the most typical dish of the Canary Islands, really simple but very tasty. Potatoes are cooked with lots of salt and then enjoyed with mojo verde, a green sauce made of coriander, garlic and olive oil, or mojo picón, an spicier red sauce made of paprika and oil. Both of them are delicious when home-made!
  • HEARING: Spanish spoken in Tenerife (and in the Canary Islands in general) can be quite different from the standard Spanish taught at schools. We speak slower, pronounce hard sounds, such as the c and z, softer and use a wide arrange of different words which might be unintelligible for Spanish-speakers from outside the island and sometimes even for me, as my family comes from the mainland and I did not have the chance to adquire such vocabulary at home. All these features together make the Spanish spoken in Tenerife something distinctive and usually highly appreciated by other Spanish-speakers.
  • SMELL: This is probably the most difficult sense to describe. However, there's one typical smell which will not be found outside the Canary Islands and which I particularly like, the smell of gofio. Gofio is a flour made of roasted cereals which has been produced in the Canary Islands for centuries and which can eaten with milk for breakfast, with soups or mixed with stock, vegetables and meat, of with honey, raisins and nuts. Whichever way you eat gofio, it is delicious and a very healthy food! And even though the number of mills producing gofio has declined in the last years, I still enjoy passing by some hidden mill and smelling the sweet, powdery smell of gofio which has just been roasted and grinded.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Home-made high tea on a Saturday evening

Yesterday a friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a home-made high tea, after getting some inspiration from a post at the Travelettes site, which is currently one of our favourites blogs. So, we prepared some fresh cucumber and celery sandwiches, got some strawberries and indulged in some already baked fruit cake and poffertjes (Dutch mini pancakes, which were a good alternative to scones). Finally we boiled some water and enjoyed all this delicious food with some cups of fruit-scented green tea. That was the result!


What more could a girl wish for? Well, maybe for a real English high tea in England. I was totally delighted at the thought of being doing something so tipically British as enjoying a cucumber sandwich with a cup of tea, but it left me craving for more. And being as obesessed as I am with everything related to the UK (and specially with London) I just had to add a new to do to my London's to do list. 

English was always my favourite subject at school and ever since I can remember I always had a penchant for all anglophone cultures. I actually remember when it started! I was just 8 years old and I received a two small guides of London and New York as a Christmas present. What an amazing present! I spent so many hours looking at their many pictures (now totally outdated) and learning all the touristic sites by heart, that I could not wait to actually go there. But back then all I could do was grab some monopoly money and pretend that the living-room was Trafalgar Square and my bedroom a room in any fancy five-stars hotel. Now, many years later I still have not been to New York but I have been four times in London and it is never enough! I love London! There's something very special about it, about its atmosphere. The best way I could describe it is as being home to everyone:it does not matter where you come from or which language you speak, you will always feel welcome and feel familiar to the city, even if you have never been there before.


The four times I have been in London I have visited many of its most important museums (the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and Tate Modern, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History and Science Museums), I have walked along the most known London streets and spent some time in its most iconic departments stores (Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty's), I have relaxed in Hyde Park, seen the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and been to Greenwich. But still, there's always something new in London, some place I want to go back to, or something I have not done yet. So this is my little list of things I still have to do in London.

LONDON's to do list

  • Having a traditional high tea in London: as I said earlier, if there's something better than enjoying a home-made high tea with a friend it must be enjoying a traditional high tea in London with a friend.
  • Going back to the British Museum: I was just 13 the first time I went to London and my parents took us to the British Museum, which is a huge building full of treasures expoliated by the British all over centuries. I was too young and it was too little time to appreciate it, so it is still on top of my list!
  • Taking a look at London from the London Eye: this amazing wheel is also on top of my list, so next time I won't mind the queues or the price, I want to step inside and enjoy the ride and the views.
  • Enjoying London in the summer: I have always been to London in the winter or ealy spring, which means short, dark and usually rainy days. I am looking forward to discover the city on a sunny long day, eve if it still rains
  • Indulging in some retail therapy: the British high street is something wonderful! Edgy, stylish, beautiful, there's a bit of everything and prices are relatively cheap. I really have to spend some time in Topshop´s flagship store in Oxford Circus.
  • Eating a warm meal in a traditional English pub: just because!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Maastricht, the place I currently call home


I have now been living in Maastricht for almost a year and I thought that it was about time to write some lines about the charms of this small town in the south of The Netherlands. I had been here once before moving here, so I already knew that Maastricht was not a big, vibrant city. However, in the last months I have found out that Maastricht is a very charming city, specially to be enjoyed when the sun shines, sitting on one of the many terraces which are spread all over the city. Just like the Dutch would say, gezellig!


Maastricht is actually very small and all the main sights can be reached by foot. The train station, a small delicate building with coloured glass windows, is usually the main entrance point to the city. The city center is just a 5 minute walk from the station along cobbles streets full of boutiques and deli shops. The city center is almost exlusively a pedestrian zone, in fact, the whole city is totally pedestrian (and cyclers) friendly. There are some traffic lights near the station but after a year here I have almost forgotten how they work! 
Maastricht is very different from the rest of the The Netherlands and some Dutch even joke (or maybe they are serious!) that this southern city is not really part of their country. While most Dutch cities pride on their cannals and typical 16th and 17th century houses, these are not to be found in Maastricht. Most of the main sights, including the Vrijthof and the Onze Lieve Vrouweplein, date from the Middles ages and indeed, they are unique buildings in The Netherlands. After all, Maastricht claims to be the oldest city in The Netherlands, Romans were already around here in the 1st cenury BC. Old walls and town gates can still be found around the perimeter of the city center, surrounded by green parks. Other sights are the Markt (market square) and the Saint Servasius Church. There are also some museums, but I haven't been to any of them yet (shame on me!). South of the city there are many tunnels caved by former inhabitants who attempted to protect themselves from ongoing wars and sieges. Some of them can be visited and they offer a very interesting insight into the history of the city. Sint Pieter caves are a good example, and the whole city can be viewed from the top of the hill.




So, this is very brief overview of Maastricht and as for my year here, well, so far it has been really fine. I have been working for the past nine months at an Internet company, I made a new best friend and even though I haven't travelled as much as I would have liked to, I cannot complain. I have been to Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Haarlem again, I have discovered new places like Den Bosch, Zandvoort, Liege (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany). I don't know how much longer I will stay in Maastricht, maybe another year or maybe just another month, but so far I have really loved living here. So, here are some tips to enjoy this little, charming city!

WHAT TO DO IN MAASTRICHT

  • Walk around: Maastricht is a small city with a pedestrian city center, so it is really nice to just walk around its cobbled streets.
  • Enjoy life sitting on a terrace: as soon as the sun begins to shine all cafés put some tables outside and terraces get totally crowded.
  • Shop, shop, shop: the city center is always crowded with people indulging in some retail therapy. As Maastricht lies on the border with Germany and Belgium,even foreigners come here to enjoy the multiple possibilities. This is specially truth on Saturdays, Thursday evenings and the first Sunday of every month.
  • Do some picnic in the sun: it is possible to lay a blanket over the grass at both sides of the river and many people do so on sunny days, to enjoy a bottle of wine or simply to read a book while enjoying the scarce sunrays on this region.

Any other suggestion?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A day at the beach - Haarlem & Zandvoort aan Zee

Even though I am no beach babe (I don't like sunbathing and I am unable to spend more than one hour  lying on the sand doing nothing) once I am far away from my beloved home island I am often looking forward to a  sunny day to spend somewhere nearby the coast. This weekend I finally made it to the Ducth coast for the first time this year and, despite weather reports forecasting rain and storm for the whole week, the sun was shining until yesterday night when it finally began to rain. So, luckily I could enjoy a sunny day at the beach while sipping some ice-tea. 

I bought a train day pass and I went up to Haarlem and Zandvoort from southern Maastricht, thus an almost four hours trip on four different trains thanks to the always ongoing maintenance works on the Dutch rail system, otherwise it would have just been a 3 hours trip changing trains just once.

Haarlem, the capital of the province of North Holland, is a very charming and quiet city, which lies very close to the sea. When you step out of train station, a beautiful Art Nouveau building, you can already smell the sea and hear some gulls. The city center is small and it most interesting pint is the Grote Markt (main square) which is surrounded by the Grote Kerk and some museums and terraces. Many beautiful backyards (hofjes) are hidden all over the city center, waiting for curious visitors to discover them. Haarlem also offers a couple of the most typical Dutch sights: cannals full of sailing boats on their sides and a windmill almost at the heart of the city.  

Haarlem the Netherlands

Haarlem the Netherlands

Haarlem the Netherlands

After a nice stroll in Haarlem, I got back on the train to reach my next destination: Zandvoort aan Zee, a popular beach resort, as it lies just 25 minutes away from Amsterdam and the train station is almost right on the beach. As I always do, I took off my shoes, refreshed my feet in the cold waters of the North Sea and then enjoyed a long walk along the coast. Zandvoort isn't really beautiful, all you see around are appartment blocks (some really tall and ugly) and the only hints of nature are the beach itself. Still, there are some natural reserves in the area with sand dunes, coast vegetation and birds galore, which must be amazing to explore. But yesterday I chose to sit at a nice beach club and enjoy a chilled ice tea before starting my four hours journey back home on four different trains.

Zandvoort aan Zee

Zandvoort aan Zee

Zandvoort aan Zee

p.s. I had already been in Haarlem last year (that's why I knew it was a lovely city and embarked on a four hours trip to go back there) and I also spent some time at the beach. But last time I went to Bloemendaal aan Zee, which was a lot more beautiful. Not so many appartment buildings around, just a few beach clubs, but an amazing landscape and a long and cleaner beach. The only downside to Bloemendaal aan Zee is that it cannot be reached directly by train, but buses run often from Haarlem, just besides the train station, and the ride lasts only 15 minutes, so it's really worth it! So far, Bloemendaal aan Zee is my fave bath place by the North Sea.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My travel history (so far)

I have always loved travelling and I have been lucky enough to travel quite a lot since a was a little child. However, I've never been outside Europe and I still have a long list of places I would like to visit some day. But until then, I'll keep on enjoying every little trip and taking every chance on traveling. So I decided to compile a list with all the countries I've been to and the cities I've visited. Hope I still remember most of it!

  • Spain: I was born in Tenerife and as my family comes from the mainland I have been travelling to and fro regularly. The first time I got on a plane I was just two months old, my parents took me to spend my first Christmas in Malaga. I have been to many towns in the province of Malaga and I've also visited Cordoba, Granada, Madrid, Toledo and Zaragoza, as well as some other towns in Guadalajara and Aragon, including Milmarcos, the village where I spent my holidays with my grandparents as a child. Back to the Canary Islands, I've seen most of Tenerife and I've also been to Gran Canaria, La Gomera and Fuerteventura.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife

  • 1998: that's the year I went abroad for the first time and I love it!I went to London in February with my parents, my brother and my grandparents. In the summer I went to Madeira with my parents.
  • March 2001: I went to Paris and Disneyland on a school trip and it was amazing! I travelled with my school friends for the first (and only) time and I finally got to visit the city that had been on top of my list for almost 10 years!
  • December 2002 and December 2006: I went back to London with my parents and my little brother. I visited Greenwich during the 2006 trip.
  • August 2007 - June 2008: I lived in Antwerp!!! I was living abroad for the first time, even if it was just as erasmus student, and I truly loved it!!! Antwerp wasn't my first choice and I had never considered living in Belgium but I don't regret it at all. It was an amazing year, I met a lot of nice people and I did many day trips, getting to know a big part of western Europe. Here's a list of places I visited: Belgium: Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges, Ostende, Ghent, Lier, Mechelen; The Netherlands: Bergen op Zoom and Amsterdam; France: Paris and Lille; UK: London (again!); Czech Republic: Prague, Karlstein; Germany: Koln and Bonn; Luxembourg City (Luxembourg).
Antwerp Belgium

  • August 2008: I went back to Belgium and The Netherlands to visit some friends. The trip was Antwerp - Brussels - Amsterdam - The Hague - Antwerp.
  • November 2008: Madrid with my erasmus best friend.
  • April 2009: back to Antwerp -Amsterdam. This time I took some time to explore the northern part of The Netherlands: Leeuwarden, Hindeloopen, IJselmeer and Groningen.
  • August 2009: Italy! This one had never been on my list of countries to visit but a cousin of mine was doing her erasmus there so I took the chance to go there and enjoy some terribly hot weather. Surprisingly, I wasn't disappointed at all and I fell in love with the Colosseum in Rome. I also visited Milan, Siena, Pisa and Florence. The highlight of the trip was a flight ticket Milan- Florence for just 0.99€
  • September 2009: The Netherlands, once again! Nimega and Maastricht were the new places this time.
  • March 2010: Back to school and back to Antwerp! Another exchange programme took me to Antwerp. I enjoyed my beloved Antwerp and I visited Ostende, Ghent and Bruges again. Leuven was a new Belgian city to get to know this time.
  • April 2010: I stayed in Brussels for the first time, despite having been there 6 or 7 times before, but always for a day trip. I was busy getting to know the European district and I visited the Atomium for the first time.
  • June 2010: love took me to Switzerland. Based in Basel, I also visited Interlaken, Zurich, Bern and Lucerne.
  • August 2010: I made a road trip from Zaragoza to the French Pyrinees. Zaragoza, Jaca, Barbastro and Pau (France) were on the itinerary.
  • September 2010 - December 2010: I lived in Switzerland and I tried to make the most of my time there travelling around. Trips include: Zurich, Schaffhausen and Rheinfell, Geneva, Zermatt, Sion and Leukerbad (all in Switzerland), Lichtenstein (the whole country in just 4 hours!), Heidelberg and Freiburg in Germany and Strasbourg in France.
Basel Switzerland

  • New Years Eve 2011: I flew to Edinburgh to celebrate what the Scots call Hogmanay.
  • March 2011: Back to Switzerland to enjoy some nice days in Basel.
  • July 2011: once again I'm back in The Netherlands to do a language course for the first time in my live. I spent three weeks in a hotel in Zeist, all inclusive (lessons and homework too). The course included some trips around the country: Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam and the Kroner-Müller museum at the Hoge Veluwe national park. After the course I spent some days in Amsterdam visiting a friend and I visited some other towns in North Holland: Haarlem, Bloemendal aan Zee, Edam and Volendam.
  • September 2011 - now: I have been living in Maastricht ever since and even though it might seem like a logical step after so many trips to The Netherlands, I had never thought that I might end up here. However, I love Maastricht and I've had a great year here. I haven't travelled as much as I would have liked to, but still I've been to some new places: Spa, Liege and Charleroi in Belgium, Den Bosch and Valkenburg in The Netherlands and Aachen in Germany. 
Maastricht the Netherlands

So, that's all so far but I really hope to keep going and to discover many other wonderful places in Europe and even further. And everything that happens from now on will (hopefully) be found on this blog :)

UPDATE April 2013: After almost two years in Maastricht I've kept on traveling and daytripping quite a lot but mostly to places I already knew. So, the only new places to add to this list are Zandvoort aan Zee, Tilburg, Eindhoven and Heerlen, all of them in The Netherlands.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

This blog & I

Dear reader, dear blog (and dear me, in case not so many readers pass by ...)

The last years have been totally amazing for me, as I've had the chance to travel quite a lot around Europe and I have been living in four different countries. I've seen wonderful places, met many nice people and enjoyed great moments, thus I have quite a lot beautiful memories. Sadly I've never been the type to write a diary, which means that some of these cherished memories will eventually fade away as time goes by. That's why I have decided to start writing this blog so that I can keep track of my trips and special moments, to have some sort of travel journal which will always remind me of the great times I had, and will have, in all those wonderful places.

I have written some blogs before but none of them lasted for a long time, however, I'm really hoping this one will be different. This time I'm also writing for myself, I want to together all my past, present and future stories,  to write down my impressions about the places I visit and the not so common things I do. So, this is it, a collection of tales of now and then, from here and there. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Love,
Irene


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