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De Haar Castle, The Netherlands

Castle De Haar- A day trip from Amsterdam

Many consider de Haar Castle the most spectacular castle in The Netherlands. I can’t judge it since I haven’t seen them all… just yet. Nevertheless it is the biggest one in the country and it’s definitely stunning and worth a day trip from Amsterdam.

The first mention of the castle dates back to 1391 but since then almost its entirety has been destroyed on various occasions. The present look is the effect of a 15 year restoration project by Pierre Cuypers, the same man that has built the Central Station and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It sounds like a very long time but then again, a house with 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms can’t be created overnight. His vision and talent extended also on the surrounding gardens, chapel and even the nearby village Haarzuilens.

What is there to see?

You can see a great part of the interior of the castle including some of the rooms, bedrooms, office areas and even the old kitchen. Outside there is a giant park to visit with a Rose Garden, Chapel and a long canal in the end of which there is a quite a stunning view on the castle.

The park is a great place for a picnic or a nice afternoon with a book. There is even a small café to buy coffee and snacks.

The Castle also organizes various exhibitions all year round for example about celebrities visiting the baron and baroness. It’s a well-known tradition of the Van Zuylen family to stay at the castle for the month of September and throw parties. Even though since the year 2000 they are not the owners of the property they still kept that right. In the past the events were attended by for example Roger Moore, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurens.

How much does it cost?

Admission to The Castle costs 16 euro. If you want to visit the Park it’s an additional 5 euro.

How to get to De Haar Castle?

I have to admit the best way to get there is by car… However with a bit of patience and time at hand, it’s possible to reach it with public transport within 1.30 hr. First you would need to take a train from Central Station in Amsterdam to Utrecht and then bus number 9 that goes to Haarzuilens, so the nearby village. From there it’s just a short walk to the castle.

Castle Muiderslot- a bike ride away from Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of the greatest cities in the world which makes it one of the busiest as well, especially in the hotspots. I don’t know about you guys but crowds are not always my thing so I always search for a nice way to escape them from time to time. Muiderslot castle really does the trick.

The Castle

The castles is situated in the small town of Muiden. It dates back to the XIII century and although it’s not very big, it’s beautifully restored in a 17th century style. Which is a miracle considering it served as a prison in 18th century, probably not in its full glory already. And later on it got abandoned and finally put up for sale to be demolished. Thankfully that raised controversy and after 70 years even the money to restore it.

Nowadays it’s a perfect spot for a whole family. It offers a wide range of activities for kids as well as stunning gardens and perfect grass to start a little picnic on. Those who love water will be excited to know that Muiderslot is not only surrounded by a rather typical moat but also by something that used to be a sea…. Before the Dutchies put a dike on it. Looking at it you won’t notice the difference, I promise! It looks endless:)

What to do once there?

The Castle is divided in three routes: Tower, Knight and Golden Age. The first two you can visit on your own and the 3rd one is only available with a guide. Thankfully that is included in the price of the ticket (15.50 euro). Although the guide didn’t seem as enthusiastic in English as she was in Dutch it’s still worth attending since you get to see how people lived in the 17th century and what their habits were. I always find it interesting. For busy bees, who want to see the whole Netherlands in a day, it only takes 30 minutes so don’t stress.

The other two routes are really interesting and interactive with lots of videos. I have to admit that the information along the way seems to be more adjusted to the young part of the visitors.

Except for the inside, the castle offers beautiful gardens, a great walk around the building and even a few tables for those who would like to rest after a bike ride.

On our map below we also indicated a great view point to admire the castle from afar.

How to get there?

It’s very possible to bike all the way from Amsterdam which would take around an hour. For a little bit more of a lazy tourist, it’s also an option to get to Weesp by train (around 15 minutes from the Central Station) and then rent a bike there at the station (OV bike). That would shorten up the ride by a great deal. From Weesp it’s literally just a 15 min easy cycle. The advantage of this choice is that you could combine a great (but short) trip with a walk through the very charming town of Weesp which offers plenty of charming cafes, restaurants and stunning canals. Everything that a tourist in need would want. Surprisingly you won’t even have to share that joy with many others. That little gem stays far from the madding crowd.

There is also a possibility to take a bus from Weesp or Amsterdam Amstel and then from those… to walk.

For lucky people coming in the season there is even a possibility to take a boat from Amsterdam IJ burg (from 1st of April till 29th of October).

All of those options are well explained on the Castle’s webpage. Don’t forget to check the opening times! For a massive part of the year the castle is only open on weekends.

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Matsuyama, Japan

6 reasons to visit Matsuyama

As soon as we arrived in Matsuyama we realized that it’s not on every traveler’s list. Western faces disappeared and only Japanese and Korean tourists passed us from time to time. We were actually wondering ourselves what we would do in there. Initially we wanted to visit one of Japan's most famous bath houses (Dogo Onsen). We changed our minds and thankfully we discovered mind blowing sights that kept us busy.

  1. Matsuyama castle

Although it was damaged by fires and World War II, walking through it we realized there was not much of the original construction left but we didn’t regret visiting it. The wide view on the city and lower parts of the castle is already a good enough reason to buy the ticket. Except for that, we got to find out a lot about the history of the castle and specific parts of it from extensive info in English. A treat really! The castle is situated on top of a hill which sounds and looks like quite a hike but it really isn’t. It’s just a nice walk up through a forest passing through a big garden and other smaller parts of the castle.

  1. Hidden bamboo forest

One of the most famous and most visited sights in Japan is a bamboo forest in Kyoto. There is no reason to wake up at dawn or line up with other people to see it. You can just go to Matsuyama. There is a really big one in there, completely overlooked and it's really a hidden gem. We stumbled upon it by accident. I guess we are just attracted by bamboo. There we really could hear the music that bamboo trees make when moved by the wind. Something that with crowds and cars passing you by just can’t be appreciated.

  1. The secret tunnel

While exploring the outside part of Matsuyama we saw a weirdly looking tunnel just on the side of the road. Interested we just went right in there. It turned out to be a tunnel leading to Ishiteji Temple. It was dark, a bit spooky and mysterious. We were passing statues of Buddha dressed up in crochet clothes and chandeliers with weird hangers on them. That tunnel alone was enough to impress us not to mention the temple.

  1. Ishiteji Temple

Getting out of the tunnel we reached the Ishiteji Temple which is part of an important pilgrimage route. There are walking sticks everywhere with intricate inscriptions and colorful chains of origami cranes. The main square is surrounded by many temple buildings and a three-storied pagoda.

  1. Isaniwa Shrine

The shrine raises impressively over the center of the city, already from the street we saw what looked like a million stairs to the top. It’s definitely worth a walk for the view of the city as well as for the shrine itself. It’s quite small but full of little details and ornaments.

  1. Public spa

Matsuyama is mainly famous for one of the oldest onsens (Dogo Onsen) in the country. But for those who don’t like that kind of entertainment or are travelling on a budget there are a few spots across the city where one can rest with their feet in warm water. In the one just opposite the Bocchan train station there is even a place to warm up your hands. Perfect spot to stop and take a break from a long, winter walk 🙂

How to get to Matsuyama?

From Hiroshima Port we took a slow ferry which takes 2.5 hrs and costs 2000 yen (around 17 euros). That’s a special, low price available only for foreigners. For those who can’t wait or just want to go there for a day trip there is also a speed boat (3800 yen(32 euros) and takes a bit more than 1 hr).

How we fell in love with Japan. Our first days in Osaka

For Jandirk Japan has been a dream waiting to happen. He loves manga, Japanese food, origami and Studio Ghibli. For me it was a brand new destination on my bucket list. A few years ago I didn’t even want to go to Japan. In my mind it was a futuristic country without proper culture and with plenty of cold people… ow boy was I wrong…

Flying from Sri Lanka to Japan we knew we were in for a big shock but nothing could prepare us for what was coming. We landed in Osaka where we met our Japanese friend Juri, that we became friends with back in Panama. She offered us the most incredible experience we could ever ask for. We stayed at her grandmother’s house! 🙂 Juri and her family were just so warm and open for us. Her grandma talked to us all the time 🙂 It was all in Japanese but sometimes we could really understand her and her smile was just warming our hearts. On the other hand the homemade food was warming our stomachs. Most associate Japan with sushi and maybe sashimi but it’s not just raw food. There are varieties of soups, fermented beans and dried ingredients. As weird as they sometimes sound (dried fish with sesame seeds as a snack) they are delicious, full of flavor and mild. Such a relief to our stomachs after spicy curries on Sri Lanka.

Then the technology struck us. First visit to the toilet and we were charmed. Warmed toilet seat, built in bidet and even relaxing sounds in public toilets were inventions that surprised us. Those were not the only ones. When the evening came it turned out that the Japanese like to relax and take a bath rather than a fast shower. We literally dived into the bathtub which turned out to be way deeper than the ones we have in Europe. If we have them… Here even those can be really brought to another level, computer pouring the exact amount of water, bringing it to the right temperature and keeping it that way… Traditional but yet so futuristic and modern.

What is better after a good, warm bath than a long comfortable sleep, right? We were a bit anxious we wouldn’t be able to achieve that as we were about to sleep on a tatami floor so essentially many straw mats put on top of each other. On top of that we put a futon which is a Japanese style, very thin mattress. And voila a beautiful and potentially very uncomfortable bed is ready! We fell asleep immediately and we slept just great.

Then we got to see the city with Juri. Strolling through the streets we were surprised by how modern but not western they were. How the people took their time in everything they did and how everything was just done to the best of their abilities. There was just perfection everywhere we looked. Walking between blossoming plum trees in the park next to the Osaka Castle we met a lovely old man who sketched a little map including every plum tree from the park. All that to visit the trees, write down how they blossom, when and for how long. He has been doing that for many, many years. There was just so much love and passion in his story and in the way he spoke about it. We felt enchanted but also sad… Because in Japan it’s hard to talk to people unless you speak Japanese and we knew Juri wouldn’t travel with us forever.

There is no way I could write about any Japanese city and skip the food and street life. In Osaka it’s absolutely essential. There is nothing better than to stroll through the Dotonbori District in the evening surrounded by neons and crowds. Every cafeteria and bar looked cozy, spectacular and inviting. Every shop had a beautiful display. I thought plastic food on display would be off putting. Here it just looked realistic and mouthwatering. Every restaurant showcased what they had on the menu so I think the fake dishes were actually made to order and customized. Sometimes we really had to look closer to see if it was the real deal or a great imitation.

Juri took us out with her friend and made us realize how different everything seemed. We thought we knew what karaoke was. People getting drunk singing their hearts out to more or less pleased public at the last call of the night. Not in Japan. Here you go with your friends, you rent a room in a kind of entertainment center you sit down on a couch like if you were home and then it starts. There is nothing uncomfortable about it, you sing and have fun with the people you know and like. You don’t have to be drunk either and it doesn’t even have to be the middle of the night. We went at 5 pm with our green tea and soft ice cream we sang our souls out to the western hits and even Disney songs.

Although normally we don’t go to zoos/aquariums we decided to do an exception for Osaka. We didn’t regret it for a minute. Osaka aquarium was massive and except for the usual we also saw a whale sharks and an incredible selection of jelly fish. Something we could have never seen diving. Or better we would prefer not to see them diving as many are just really dangerous.

In Osaka we felt we were off for a great start of what could be the best part of our journey so far. So a bit sad but excited we were off to Kyoto.

Książ, Poland

History and kitsch under one roof
Castle Książ

The first thing that we see entering the Książ property is a line of cars and German retired tourists. Passing through the gate all we have in front of us are restaurants/bars with kitsch umbrellas and Golden Train in all the names of the menu. Everyone needs to earn a few zloty on the supposedly found train full of German treasures. We can’t help to think it’s been commercialized just a little bit too much. Thankfully we didn’t decide to sleep in one of the hotels that they have there.
To see the castle we sneak in between all the German groups. Already from the first floor we hear a weird music. As ridiculous as it sounds it’s the soundtrack from Star Wars… I guess the castle doesn’t earn enough from all the tourists and restaurants around it so they decided to have films’ costumes exhibition. To bring it to another level in the middle of a beautiful corridor there is this “American” movie booth with the most bored girl ever. By her face it’s easy to figure that they won’t earn much from this one either.

The Castle itself dates back to XIII century but more recent history has not been kind to it. During World War II it was taken by the Nazis. Many say that it was supposed to be Hitler’s resident. One way or another the Nazis started changing the Castle destroying a lot of its beauty and historical value. Their reconstruction included also tunnels built under the castle. The Nazi style and lack of ornaments is especially prominent in the “ball room” that doesn’t look like one at all. Here there are no ornaments, it’s very basic and it looks like it just serves the purpose of a reunion room. On the lowest floor we find out how the Nazis reconstruction looked like as there is one room left as it was, with stripped walls…and painful history. It presents a very interesting exhibition about Książ when it was a sub concentration camp. It tells the story of the camp and their workers which is really shocking. Honestly for us it was the only interesting thing in the castle. The rest of the interesting furniture and things were taken by the Soviet Army…

After the visit to the castle we decided to walk to the Palm House. It's not nearly as old as the Castle, it was built in the beginning of the XX century. But maintenance doesn’t seem to be the top priority there so it seems much older. While walking around our level of disappointment is only going up. The Palm House is small and doesn’t have anything spectacular except… an exhibition of bonsai trees. There are not only many trees but also information about the age and descent and even a short explanation about different types of bonsai. As we walk between the trees we are being followed by the eyes and body of a not so kind, old lady. She must think we want to steal one of them because she doesn’t leave us even for a second. Thank God we are only the two of us otherwise the lady would probably lose her mind.

How to get to the Książ Castle from Wrocław?
So you take a train to get to Wałbrzych Szczawienko and from there it’s a 5 km walk mostly through the Castle Park so it’s nice and easy. It took us around an hour to get there. You can check the timetable on (as Polish as it sounds… it’s all in English).

How much does it cost and what shall I see?
Ticket prices vary depending on what you want to see. We took sightseeing of the castle with its terraces and the palm house. It was 30 zl each. All the prices are on the official web page which is also in English It’s important to know that the Palm House is not really close to the castle, it’s an hour- walk away. We wouldn’t really say it’s a must see anyway. But what is really nice and worth seeing, is the viewing point which is in the Castle’s park. It gives you an amazing, classic view over the forest and the castle.

Moszna, Poland

How to feel like a king without spending like one?
Moszna Castle

History has not been kind to Moszna Castle… It was build (as it is right now) between late XIX and early XX century. After World War II it was occupied by the Red Army. Especially then a lot was damaged and even more was stolen. The Soviets decided to use a tiny chapel as a horse stable just to show their hate for the religion. Which can be seen even now on the stairs from the chapel. Later the Castle was a mental hospital for over 40 years up till 2013. Now finally it is a museum, restaurant and a hotel.

It was always my dream to sleep in a castle. I guess it’s a dream every little girl has and well maybe I still am one. Not to mention Moszna is supposed to be one of the most beautiful castles in Poland. It’s a bit of a weird place when you look at it closely. Every wing represents a different style but somehow they go really well together.  I thought sleeping there would be a budget breaker for us but I always check things like that just in case… And it turns out a night there starts from 150 zl per room… too cheap to be true?

We just couldn’t resist the chance and we decided to take the cheapest room and check it out. It was supposed to be just a double room with a bathroom on the corridor. We hope the corridor wouldn’t be too long. Arriving we are shocked. So not only the bathroom is private and just next to our room but tickets to the sightseeing of the castle are included in the 150 zl for the room. In disbelief we walk to our room and when we open the door we are amazed… We thought we would get the servants room somewhere on the roof or in the basement. Nothing like that. The room is enormous. We could play hide and seek in here. And it’s beautiful, all kept in style. Not to mention we have a view on the huge garden with a fountain and on the entrance to the castle. As I look outside of the window I see 4 newlywed couples on their wedding session. It looks hilarious as they all try to have the most amazing pictures with the castle but without the other couples in the frame. On our way to see the castle I comment that to the receptionist who tells me that’s nothing. One time they had 17 couples. That must have been entertaining.

As we go through the castle on sightseeing we kind of imagine how it was a mental hospital. Those long, endless corridors and tiles in some places are a bit creepy. And it’s not popular so the emptiness gives it the extra spookiness. But on the other hand it looks a bit like a fairytale castle with its 99 towers, 365 rooms and charming café and restaurant. Both serving good and not too expensive food.

Moszna castle is like another dream coming true for us. It’s relaxing, soothing and peaceful. The garden is amazing as well, perfect to picnic, read a book, walk around, stare at couples taking their wedding pictures.

For the receptionist I assume we are more of a nightmare really. Especially when we ask her to open the door before the sunrise because we absolutely have to take a picture of the castle…

How to get there from Wrocław?

First you need to take a train from Wrocław Główny to Opole and then from over there a bus to Moszna. The whole route with timetable you can check on I know it sounds very polish but it is in English.

How much does it cost?

Cheapest room is 150 zl per night. And that includes a huge breakfast consisting of absolutely everything: lots of fruit, granola, yogurt, sausage, eggs, ham, cheese, bread of all kind and much much more. Except for the breakfast it also includes visiting the castle. You only need to pay if you want to see the towers but you have a discount even for that so it’s 6 zl per person. On weekends Moszna Castle organizes other kinds of sightseeing or parties. To check it out and to check out all the other rooms and the restaurant menu go to . May google translate be with you 🙂 You have to call them or write them an email to reserve.