Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans and Zaandam, The Netherlands

So the very first thing we noticed when we arrived in The Netherlands is just how flat it is compared to Ireland – no wonder everybody is on bicycles! We started our trip in Zaandam (a little town about 15 minutes by train from the centre of Amsterdam) and then we moved in to the city for a few night after that. I had seen the Inntel Hotel Zaandam on Instagram a few years ago and decided to make it my mission to stay there someday. Mission accomplished!

Zaandam

Zaandam is a lovely little town; there was a fun-fair on during our visit so obviously John and I went on the rollercoaster. Pre-that though we had the most amazing pizza at de Pizza Bakkers in the main square in Zaandam – the staff were fabulous and it was the best pizza I’ve had in aaaaaages!!

Inntel Hotel Zaandam

You know it!

Zaanse Schans

We took a morning trip to an area called Zaanse Schans in the Zaandam region too. It’s a very relaxing area and the perfect spot for a wander after a huge breakfast – it’s a little village with a grouping of historic windmills. De Kat Colour Mill is the last working colour mill in the world – they’ve been producing natural dyes and pigments in this mill since 1782. You can take a self-guided tour for €4.50 (€2 for 6-12 year olds).

Zaanse Schans – so pretty!

Zaanse Schans area

Zaanse Schans

SO green!

De Kat Colour Mill

De Kat Colour Mill

Old school charm

Inner workings of De Kat

Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM!!

On arrival to Amsterdam (we did take a couple of trips in and out from Zaandam as it’s so close) the first thing we all noticed was the architecture – the buildings are quite quirky. Tall, tiny, crooked, cramped, palatial – they have it all! Camera click bait! We had a jam-packed few days in the city but managed to arrive on a morning when there was a market on – first stop: cheese, please! The market was the Biologische Noordermarkt, an Organic Farmers Market held every Saturday from 9am – 4pm. It’s 100% worth a stop. Right across the street from the market you’ll find Amsterdam’s famous apple pie spot, Winkel 43. There was a major queue for this so we didn’t check it out on this trip but it’s on the list for next time! We happened upon a tiny little Puglian/Italian cafe, Rigoletto, so we stopped here for a lovely breakfast. Amsterdam is a very walkable city, you could get a lot of it seen in 1 or 2 days. After the market we wandered in to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. This one’s a shop at the front and a tulip museum at the back. Mum and I got lost perusing this spot for about an hour. We bought SO many tulips – Spring is going to be colourful! They have tulip bulbs here that you can send all over the world. The staff are very helpful. There’s a cheese museum next door too that’s worth a little perusing. There are cheese stores on every street corner – they’re the Starbucks of Amsterdam!

Touristy Things

We took a trip to the Heineken Brewery. I booked online around 2 hours beforehand. You take a self-guided tour which takes a couple of hours. Tickets are €18 and you get a couple of tokens to have two beers at the end of the tour. It’s an interactive tour and definitely worth a visit. We walked down here after a visit to the Flower Market/Bloemenmarkt. The market is a row of floating barges awash with an assortment of tulips. Bulbs, slippers, fridge magnets, knick knacks – any item you can put a tulip in or on 😉

I’d been following the Avocado Show on Instagram for a few years so HAD to have lunch there. It’s very close to the Heineken Brewery (address:Daniël Stalpertstraat 61 HS, 1072 XB Amsterdam) and if you like avocado then this is the place to have some lunch. The food is oh so colourful so I’m taking that as it’s oh so nutritious too!

We visited the Anne Frank Museum/Anne Frank Huis – I also booked this one online the night before we visited. We visited on the last booking slot of the evening. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold or rainy buy you so have to queue outside for your allocated time slot. Once inside you’ll receive headphones which you use for a self-guided tour. Tickets are €10 online plus a booking fee. It’s a small museum and the stairs are pretty small. You’re basically standing in a queue of people listening to your headphones. There’s a sombre vibe here, obviously, but it’s a must visit destination in Amsterdam.

My favourite part of our whole trip to Amsterdam was our visit to the Moco Museum. We only had time for one museum and there was a Banksy exhibition, Laugh Now, on at the Moco Museum so that was an easy decision (Moco Museum are open about the fact that Banksy did not collaborate with them on this exhibition nor did he consent to it. They sourced his work from collectors). I think my Dad is a Banksy convert now so that’s a great result!

 

Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms

This is one GIGANTIC mushroom!

Cheese, please!

Amsterdam Tulip Museum

So much cheese!

Just need some vino…

So pretty!

Unicorn Doughnuts!!

Unicorn Doughnuts!!

Just a typical Amsterdam street

Aw 🙂

Flower Market

Tulips and more tulips and more tulips

Moco Museum

Banksy

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Two Days in London

Celebration time!

We made an impromptu 1 year anniversary trip from Dublin to London on our way to a family wedding. Oh gosh I LOVE LONDON!! It’s such a bustling city, the weather was perfect and our hotel stay was just perfect. We just had a one night stay in the newly refurbished ‘The Principal‘ hotel right on the Piccadilly tube line at Russell Square, overlooking Russell Park. The location is excellent. And the bathrooms! Brass, marble and a roll-top bath and I’m 100% set. It’s currently in the midst of a soft opening so everything looks quite fresh and the staff are fabulous. I’ve never stayed anywhere with such lovely staff. There’s a nice coffee shop attached too, Burr & Co.

Welcome welcome welcome!

A welcome coffee

After checking in our first port of call was straight back on to the tube and off to London Bridge station to check out Borough Market. More specifically it was a coffee pitstop, to the Gentleman Baristas just outside the market to help himself get through the day. 4 out of 5 rating on this one. There was a queue for a little gelato spot called Gelateria 3Bis so obviously this was pitstop number 2. This one is worth a small queue so again, 4 out of 5. Pretty good start to the day! We ended up wandering around Covent Garden a few times so we popped back here after our gelato stop and went to check out the Deciem/Abnormal Beauty company little store. J’adore!

Ooh London!

Quintessentially London

Charing Cross

Oh what you come across…

DRURY LANE!!!!

The Ivy

What a beautiful day!

Guiding us towards the Gentleman Baristas

We had a 3pm booking for the Art Afternoon Tea at the Rosewood Hotel just off the Holborn tube stop. Afternoon Tea is served in the Mirror Room, a copper-hued beaut of a location. Again, epic bathrooms. That’s really how I judge a place!! We just missed the Rodin art tea by one day so we got in on the new Cubism/Pop Art theme. It was delicious and they gave us their signature Banksy concoction with a little candle to celebrate our anniversary; so lovely. It’s an exceptionally sweet afternoon tea so prepare for a major sugar rush!

Here we go!

Round 2!

Inside the signature dessert

Some more sugar was called for on our second day so we got ourselves to Belgravia to check out the Dominique Ansel Bakery and to see the queues for the Peggy Porschen Cakes. Holy crap that cookie shot with Tahitian vanilla milk is the tastiest morsel I’ve come across. Probably devoured it in 10 seconds flat. By probably I mean actually… I also tried their frozen s’more – also absolutely delicious. John got a Cuban sandwich (mainly because we had recently watched that Chef movie) and he loved it too. He was super impressed that a bakery actually sold something savoury. Yes, he’s the person that orders a cheese board as dessert. Opposites attract!!

So, this is a thing…

Peggy Porschen

Getting excited!

Current special: Strawberry Fields

Decisions, decisions!

Paris-London

Kinda talented

I’ve been waiting for this!

SO GOOD!

We also made a quick stop at the Victoria & Albert Museum, for a quick mooch around. The jewellery collection is astounding – Beyonce gifted her Papillon ring which I’m sure is worth a gazillion pounds so that’s definitely worth a look. We didn’t get too much of the museum done, more of a drive-by but I cannot wait to get back!

V&A

Stairs to nowhere

So ornate!

Honeymooning in…PARIS!

We chose to finish off our honeymoon in très romantique Paris. We stayed in the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg which is in a fantastic location, right around the corner from Concorde metro station and the Hotel de Crillon (side note: that’s one amaaaaaaazing hotel). The Sofitel is on the same street as the American embassy and there were police on each end of the street blocking vehicular access…just a little odd. The Sofitel has Hermès toiletries so let’s just say we now have quite a collection 😉 We didn’t really hang around the hotel at all (there’s not really that much to it), instead we spent as much time as possible traipsing the cobblestone streets. The hotel is just across the road from the Jardin des Tuileries so it’s really a wonderful location if you like pottering about.

We had cocktails at Les Ambassadeurs at the Hotel de Crilllon just around the corner one evening. One should be overdressed for this activity!! Luckily, I had my wedding shoes (read: rent) to ‘spruce up’ my holey jeans. HA!

Said shoes/babies…

We bought some tickets to the Moulin Rouge one afternoon for that evening. There are a few sittings most nights; we chose the 9pm with a bottle of champagne. The seating in there is super tight but the cabaret show is worth seeing. They do have live animals as part of the show which we were not expecting; not really necessary to be honest but something to bear in mind…

Moulin Rouge

Visiting the Louvre

We purchased tickets online a couple of days before visiting the Louvre. It was our first visit and hopefully not our last so we just decided to do a little of the museum, check out the Mona Lisa, good ol Venus di Milo and just a little bit more. We need to leave some stuff for future trips to Paris so we only went in for about 3 hours – I think you could spend a month just getting meandering the halls here.

Lots of people queue outside the Pyramid but if you go downstairs in to the shopping centre, Le Carrousel du Louvre, you can pick up tickets in the tobacco shop, La Civette du Louvre if you fancy skipping any queues 🙂

Carrousel Arc de Triomphe

The Louvre Pyramid

Pavillon Richelieu

You can pick up Louvre Tickets here

We used this entrance – in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre

Already lost

Getting all artsy

Beautiful inside, beautiful outside

Venus di Milo

View from inside the Louvre

She’s beautiful at night too

Visiting Musée de l’Orangerie

After a trip to the Louvre it only makes sense to walk down the beautifully manicured Jardin des Tuileries to the Musée de l’Orangerie. Although we’ve been before it’s going to be forever on my list to do in Paris since Monet is without question the greatest artist that ever did live. For sure next visit we’ll do Monet’s garden in Giverny.

Jardin des Tuileries

Oh to look at this Renoir every day…

Renoir

Miles of Monet

Getting a closer look

Water Lillies

 

Visiting the Eiffel Tower

We took an evening trip to visit the Eiffel Tower after pizza and a wander by the Seine one evening. It was a last minute decision (like most experiences when we’re travelling) but when there’s no queue you just seize the day!

Sunsets

Pont Alexandre III

The perfect evening

Eiffel Tower

In all her splendour

I don’t even know how to explain this chap!

What can I see!!

View from the Eiffel Tower

Oh so pretty!

Rue Gustave Eiffel

 

Parisian Wanderings

Are there any ugly buildings in Paris?

Strolling the Seine

Coffee stop!

Shop fronts

Petite street strolls

Les Deux Magots, Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Saint-Germain-des-Prés

A stroll through Chateau de Versailles

We took a taxi (c.€50) from Paris to Versailles because we just could not be faffed getting on public transport PLUS it was before 9am AND we were on honeymoon. Easy decision!

Tickets (Versailles is not open on Mondays)

We didn’t purchase a ticket in advance as visiting was a last minute decisions for us; even though we arrived quite early we still had to queue for a good hour. I’d definitely recommend picking up a ticket in advance. It was worth the queue though!

On admission we high-tailed it upstairs to get a hot chocolate from Angelina, sustenance for the hours we knew we’d be walking around the gardens! We checked out the Hall of Mirrors first, actually we ended up inadvertently skipping the queue (which starts outside in the main entrance courtyard – to your right if you’re looking in the entrance gate), by going in the opposite direction to everyone else! After we checked out bedrooms, hallways, ceilings and floors we wandered out to the stunning gardens and spent most of our visit out there. During the summer months, there are musical fountain shows; basically there’s classical music playing and the fountains are ‘dancing’ to the rhythm. We meandered through the gardens for a couple of hours and after we exited the Chateau de Versailles we crossed the road and visited the Coach Gallery. It only opens in the afternoon and is quite small but houses the most ornate horsey paraphernalia you could possibly imagine! It’s free so worth a little trip in. We caught the train back (RER C) in to Paris after lunch in a local spot. Such a lovely morning and afternoon!

Kind of an ornate entrance

What an entrance gate!

Queuing…

I could wake up here!

Beautiful ceiling

You know what this place needs more of? Gold.

A bust at Versailles

And another…

Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Pretty epic first impression!!

Garden Arches

Those colours!!

Latona Fountain

The Coach Gallery

The Coach Gallery

Sleds!

Rome, Italy

We drove from Florence down to Rome, stopping in beautiful Siena and then the Abbey of San Galgano (a gothic roof-less church – great pit stop!) en-route. It’s a nice leisurely drive with stunning scenery if you get off the main roads.

Olive Groves

Olive Groves

Abbey of San Galgano

Abbey of San Galgano

We stayed in a lovely AirBnB just off the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna; it was a wonderful location – walking distance to everything!! We headed straight for cocktails on our first evening in Rome. The Hassler Hotel has a great garden bar called the Palm Court. It was very quiet so we just had some cocktails and played our first game of backgammon. Hooked…

Babingtons Tea Rooms (so English in the middle of Rome) sits right next to the Spanish Steps and is a great (albeit with a saucy price tag) place for afternoon tea or a light lunch. I opted to go all Audrey Hepburn and chose their Vacanze Romane tea…all about those little roses.

Spanish Steps with the Babington Tea Rooms on the bottom left

Spanish Steps with the Babington Tea Rooms on the bottom left

Babington's tea choice

Babington’s tea choice

Babingtons

Babingtons

Just down the street, on Via Condotti, is Antico Caffe Greco, Roma’s oldest cafe – established in 1760. Wowsers! Make like a local and grap a cappuccino in the morning standing at the bar. Apparently it was quite the spot for the literary crowd back in the day. It’s dark, with red walls adorned with art, absolutely worth a look. There’s plenty of shopping around this area. & Other Stories was hit up 😉

Caffe Grecco

Caffe Grecco

We did a lot of meandering around Rome’s streets; taking in many, many gelato spots. We happened upon the Trevvi Fountain on numerous occasions, a nice little treat. It’s jammed packed with people 100% of the time – coins are flying left, right and centre and there are police screaming at tourists not to touch anything. Not a relaxing spot but beautiful all the same.

Trevvi Fountain

Trevvi Fountain

This car needs to be in my life

This car needs to be in my life

We happened upon the Pantheon a few times – it’s absolutely worth a wander in – it’s beautiful (and free). The doors are amazing – they’re bronze and mega #doorsoftheworld. It’s a good stop en-route to La Gelateria Frigidarium. Must visit. We tried a few but I’m a stracciatella lady all the way. Dipped in chocolate. Oh yeah. There’s a stunning square called Piazza Navona just around the corner from here, it’s probably the world’s most beautiful square. The perfect location for a romantic evening stroll (with gelato dripping down your arms)…

Pantheon

Pantheon

The oculus or roof of the Pantheon

The oculus or roof of the Pantheon

Pantheon entrance

Pantheon entrance

Those doors!

Those doors!

You can’t go to Rome and not visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum area. The queues and heat there are INSANE. Pre-book so you don’t have to queue and definitely bring water. Sorted!

Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Surprises around every corner

Surprises around every corner

Walking away from the Colosseum we came across a Botero exhibition at Museo Central del Risorgimento, on Piazza Venezia. We first came across Botero in Colombia so we’ve been admirers ever since.

Botero's bronze horse

Botero’s bronze horse

Forgotten Rome

Forgotten Rome…beauty

 

The Vatican

We got up bright and early to go visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel on our last day in Rome. Got there and turns out the Sistine Chapel was closed!! There are a few odd dates in the whole year when it’s closed and pretty typically we picked one of these dates haha. I had seen it on a school tour a while back but it sucks that John didn’t get to see the Sistine Chapel. Guess we’ll have to go back!

This way!

This way!

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

Siena, Italy

Well, Siena’s rather pretty!! We only had a couple of hours here as we were travelling to Rome but we got a great vibe and can’t wait to return! We were really lucky with our timing as the whole city was decorated beautifully for the Palio di Siena, a horse-race held twice a year (July and August) with 10 horses racing from the city’s 17 contrade/districts. Each contrade has a unique colourful flag and they’re hung with pride out of the buildings in the city. We were in Siena a few days before the August race and all of the main square, Piazza del Campo, is encircled with a grandstand. There’s lots of restaurants underneath which were open – the heat was ridiculous there so we sat in for a drink in a cafe that had misting machines over the tables – look out for them – my favourite invention EVER!! Siena’s Palio features in James Bond – Quantum of Solace. There’s a great article on the event here.

Arriving in Siena

Arriving in Siena

Siena's contrade

Siena’s contrade

I think this should be my team!

I think this should be my team!

We started our morning at Caffe Fiorella Torrefazione for cappuccinos standing at the bar. How very Italiano of us!! As we meandered around the cobblestoned streets, sidestepping the crowds and visiting little shops. We came across a little deli called Pizzicheria De Miccoli which is an attraction in itself. It’s brimming with charcuterie, cheeses and paninis out the door! The exterior is insta-worthy for sure. It’s worth a trip in for a takeaway panini for a picnic later in the day…unless you’re vegetarian.

Morning!

Morning!

Piazza del Camp

Piazza del Camp

I'll take it all!

I’ll take it all!

Siena has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever seen. There’s so much pink!! It’s stunning. The queues start early and there’s no shade so I’d recommend going as early as possible if you want to get inside.

Siena's beautiful Cathedral

Siena’s beautiful Cathedral

Up close

Up close

Getting ready...

Getting ready…