Open post
Vuurtoreneiland, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Lighthouse island- middle of nowhere near Amsterdam

There aren’t many places around Amsterdam that make me feel like I’m at the end of the world. Holland is well designed, everything has its place and sometimes nature seems to be literally engineered. That and the fast pace of the booming city can be tiring which has brought us to a perfect afternoon escape on…

Vuurtoreneiland – Lighthouse island

As you might realize by its name it’s a tiny, tiny island with not much more than a lighthouse. It’s close enough to Amsterdam to reach it by boat in less than an hour but it’s also far enough to forget that there even is a city nearby.

The secret of its beauty is simple… there is just not much there. In such a densely populated country with almost all the areas carefully planned it’s an achievement to find gems like this.

Except for omnipresent sheep, there is just one house, fort leftovers and a stunning glass house that serves as a restaurant. That brings us to the essence of our journey there.

Why go there?

Vuurtoreneiland offers a unique dinning experience. It all starts with a boat journey that shows you Amsterdam and the surroundings from a completely different perspective. First, we got to see a bit of the modern parts of the city spread along Zeeburg and IJburg and then a bit more the rural parts. Already at departure we got a basket with some snacks for the way and some aperitif. Honestly, it’s not much so joining the experience on a completely empty stomach might be a bad idea.


After arriving on the island we had some time to walk around, sit by the water or go straight to the restaurant. Luckily the boat carries maybe around 30 people so it really doesn’t feel crowded in any of the spots.

Since we managed to visit the island in the summer season we could eat in a beautiful modern, glass building. From every side we had a view on the surrounding water or the lighthouse. It was just beyond beautiful especially during sunset. Since the kitchen is open and in the middle of the restaurant we could not only see how all the meals are prepared there but also estimate when was the right moment for a walk in between the courses.

In final end it’s a dining experience and so the main highlight is the food. It’s all freshly prepared on the spot. It’s cut, smoked, cooked and fried using the best local produce with lots of greens and love. We especially enjoyed the smoked turbot and sautéed chanterelle. But don’t get your hopes up on those since the menu changes all the time and you never know what you’re going to get until you’re there. The only thing you can be sure of is that with every dish there will be a delicious glass of wine 🙂


How to get there?

You can only get there with one company that organizes dinners, lunches etc. For summer season you really need to book immediately when they open a certain date (especially during weekend) which is 2 months in advance. For winter arrangements it’s less crazy but then you eat in the underground bunker. It's not a cheap entertainment but its uniqueness is well worth the price.


Open post
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.

A walk in Delft

On paper Delft should be the Dutch number two tourist destination. It’s where Vermeer created some of his most famous paintings and it’s where the famous white and blue pottery is made.

Mentally prepared for crowds we arrive at Delft central station on Sunday morning….

  1. The Central Station

Even though we came to Delft by bus we rushed to see the train station first. It’s really the best way to start the walk. Although nowadays it’s divided into an old and new part, it’s the new part that took our breath away. On the ceiling we immediately spotted panels with a massive map of Delft. It shows how the city looked in 1877. To accompany this masterpiece the columns and walls of the station contain pieces of broken Delft Blue.

  1. Museum Prinsenhof Delft

From the station we headed straight to the Prinsenhof Museum which provided us with a lot of insight into the history of Holland and quite some curious facts about the Delftware. Who would have thought it all started just as a cheaper, more accessibly replicas of Chinese porcelain?!

The building was a witness of one of the most important moments in Dutch history. It’s where King Willem of Orange was assassinated. You can still see the bullet holes in the wall. There is no way you will miss it as the whole scene is being projected on the walls…

  1. Oude Delft

Going out from the Prinsenhof Museum we came out on Oude Delft, the oldest canal in Delft. It was created in 1100 when the city itself didn’t even exist yet. Nowadays that’s where the most monumental houses are situated. Every single one of them is unique and has its own story. We walked along that canal various times and on both ways. We loved it from every perspective. Don’t forget to walk till the very end of it. Not only are there plenty of charming, little bridges to cross on it but also on each end there is quite something to see. On one side it ends next to the Royal Dutch Army Museum and on the other side with the Old Church. Both of which are spectacular.

  1. Lunch at Kek

An absolute must! Kek is the only busy spot that we saw in Delft, there was even a long queue to get a table. The waiting time went flying in this amazing interior and it was well worth it. Already in the door we realized we were in for something special. The interior is very green, full of plants, food and coziness. Everywhere we looked there was a little designed detail we loved. Some of those pieces you can buy directly in the café, others have info next to them to make sure you find the shop that sells them.

Not only our eyes got fed but also our bellies. Kek serves dishes from all over the world accompanied by homemade smoothies or great coffee. There is something for everyone and all of it is delicious!

  1. Stroll through the center

After a great meal it’s time to burn it walking through the center. Voldersgracht is possibly the most touristic part of the old town but it’s well worth a stroll. For Vermeer lovers- that’s where the Vermeer center is located. We have to admit we were not convinced enough by its content to visit.

Just around the corner there is the heart of the city, the main square with the City Hall. For those who would like a beer or more coffee… there is plenty of lively cafes, restaurants and bars over there.

If you come during the summer and it’s not raining we would recommend stopping at the Beestenmarkt Square. It’s where all the restaurants put tables outside under some trees.

  1. The Eastern Gate

It’s the only city gate still standing in Delft. It dates back to 1400. Not only is there a beautiful street leading towards it but also the Towers themselves are magnificent. I got a bit jealous that someone can call it home since it’s partially a residence, partially an art gallery.

TIP! For the best views on the Gate head to the other side of the river, where there are some benches to enjoy the sights in peace. The exact location is indicated on the map below

How to get to Delft?

Delft is just an hour away on a train from Amsterdam. You can easily check the timetables on google.

We decided to go to Delft from The Hague which was just a 15-20 min tram ride.

Where to sleep?

We really wanted to stay somewhere special and still be able to afford a living at the end of the month. We really couldn’t find a place like that in Delft so we decided to go for a hotel in The Hague. It was one of the most incredible stays we have ever had. Hotel Indigo is a brand new pearl, situated in plain center of the city. The hotel itself is worth a visit as such. It used to be an old bank and the designers embraced the idea. It’s a very modern but cosy interior with elements of an old bank. The bar in each room is in a safe, the pub in the basement is in an old vault and it features massive doors that once guarded gold and money. The past is warmly recalled on the pictures hanging on the walls. Highly recommendable stay!

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.

Open post
Girona, Spain

Girona – Game of Thrones day trip from Barcelona

Girona for many years was just a place near Barcelona where cheap flights were landing. Maybe because Jandirk is fascinated with Game of Thrones or maybe simply because we were searching for a nice day trip from Barcelona, we ended up going there AND LOVING IT!

Although it’s possible to visit the main sites in a day, I can imagine we could be walking around those little streets for days. Getting lost in the back alleys and finding our ways to the best restaurants. But well maybe next time. Below all the highlights that can’t be missed.

The Cathedral with its staircase

That’s where our day begun to avoid all the potential crowds and at 9 o’ clock we succeeded.

The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 18th century so as you can imagine it features many styles. Part of it is gothic, some Romanesque and some even baroque. For me the most spectacular part was the staircase leading to the church. The stairs (all 90 of them!) are wide, massive and provide plenty of space and interesting perspectives for beautiful pictures. At the bottom of it there is a charming, little square with cafes and as you climb up there are colorful houses on both sides and some terraces to enjoy the view.

Some of you might recognize the sight from the Game of Thrones TV show. I’ve never watched it but Jandirk reported to me all excited, that it looks pretty much like in the series.

Monastery of Sant Domenec

Another location from GoT. It looks a bit like the Cathedral but in mini-version. It also has a staircase leading to it and the same type of architecture. I absolutely loved the little street going to the left just before the stairs. It’s a perfect hideaway and the first step to explore…

…Girona’s old town’s streets and corners  

The part that we love the most about cities like Girona is that there is an old town where most of the people gather around the main sites and there are plenty of tiny cobblestone streets, archways and passages where you can be all by yourself to soak up the beauty. Even though by the time we started diving into the forgotten alleys it was the late afternoon (read. the sites were packed) we were still alone and managed to find even more GoT locations. Which made JD truly ecstatic.

Don’t forget the bridges!

The old town of Girona is separated from the rest by Onyar River and to cross it there are 5 stunning bridges (in the center, 11 in total). We especially liked the Eiffel Bridge that was built around 1877. You can probably guess from the pictures and the name that it was designed by the same gentleman that created the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The bridge itself is honestly quite a sight but the views from it are truly one of a kind. On both sides you can see the vivid facades of the riverside homes. The flags hanging from many of them will leave you in no doubt that it’s Catalonia you’re in, not Spain.

Another bridge that we loved was the Princess Bridge. It’s probably the most romantic one of them all and also from this one we got a great view of those colorful houses.

The last one that we would recommend to see is the Stone Bridge. It’s the biggest one and when we were there it had a lovely arts& crafts market. I don’t know if that’s a rule or just a temporary thing though so don’t get your hopes up.

Arabic bath

It’s a really tiny spot but for Game of Thrones’ fans it’s a big joy. Another location! I was not too impressed but JD was over the moon. And that for just 2 euros p.p. More info here.

TIP! Some of the GoT locations didn’t knock me off my feet so I didn’t include them as a must see on here but you can find them here and here.

Walking over the city walls

Passeig de la Muralla as they call it, it’s the best way to get a gorgeous panorama of the city with a backdrop on the distant Pyrenees. It shows you the old and the new harmoniously together. The oldest parts of the walls date back to the Roman times. I was shocked to read that the passage was in pretty good shape until the 19th century when the city started to expand… Thankfully nowadays it’s reconstructed and this 3 km walk is seamless again.

I would recommend to do it in the afternoon, if you come here in the summer, to avoid being exposed to the worst heat.

There are various entrances (all of them free). You can enter through Jardin de la Infancia or Jardines de la Francesa (those are close by the cathedral) or Jardines de John Lennon.

Ice cream time!!

Girona is practically a fine dining capital so to deny yourself at least that top notch ice cream would be a sin! That's what we told ourselves when on our way to Rocambolesc Gelateria.

This tiny shop with a massive queue stretching outside is the baby of Jordi Roca, the dessert chef at the three- star legendary restaurant El Celler de Can Roca… where we wouldn’t be able to eat because of a months of fully booked waiting list and a potentially ruining receipt coming with the experience.

However the ice cream place is a more affordable option to try some wicked flavors… and shapes 🙂

The prices start at 2.5 euro for a “normal looking” sorbet ice cream like bloody mary, gin tonic, mojito or pina colada. The more twisted the shape and flavor the more expensive it gets. Rose water and strawberry ice cream in the shape of a nose costs 4 euro, chocolate, raspberry and yogurt “birthday cake” is 5.50 euro. There is also a Lord Vader, a bear, a hand (GoT 😉 ) and God knows what comes next 🙂

If you don’t get a chance to visit that shop, where it all started, you still can enjoy the same flavors at one of their other shops in Barcelona, Madrid or Alicante.

Sangria or two at the Independence Square

This 19th century square is a perfect place to end your day in Girona. It’s full of life, nice cafes and restaurants. Every building surrounding it has a nice passage with arches and plenty of tables to hide away from the sun.

Montserrat- the most epic day trip from Barcelona

I traveled to Barcelona many, many times. It’s one of my favorite European cities and I have a very good friend living there. Somehow all those times I never thought of visiting Montserrat. I knew it was a monastery in the mountains and to be honest I was never a big fan of catholic sites like that. But this year JD and I decided to give it a try. After all if it’s bad it’s only one day wasted.

I love to be wrong like that. It’s literally the best day trip from Barcelona.

What is so special about it?

On paper it doesn’t sound too great. Monastery in the mountains. It’s not as boring as that. The mountain range looks as if there were huge stone giants walking around the region, got tired and decided to lay down and stay. On those people they built a monastery but that’s not even the most spectacular part of the site. There is a little church built in a rock, crazy serpentine of roads in between the peaks and incredible views from numerous places. But let’s go step by step through…

…what is there to see?

Benedictine Monastery

That is by far the biggest and most famous attraction in there. Attraction is an adequate word to describe this site as there is even a bar that sells beer just next to the monastery. Quite shocking honestly. The Santa Maria de Montserrat abbey was founded in 10th century and is still fully functioning with around 70 monks living in residence. It doesn’t look much different from a usual church unless you look from afar. The sight of the monastery surrounded by almighty peaks is just jaw dropping.

Viewing terrace

Very close by the religious sight there is a whole serpentine of roads going back and forth and presenting incredible views on the mountains below as well as Santa Cova Chapel that looks imprisoned in between the rocks. We wandered around quite a bit and managed to find a balcony with two seats and the best views on the valley. We indicated where it was on our map below. Maybe because of the stairs that led to it and the fear of going back people didn’t dare to go there. Their loss was our win, we enjoyed these views with just the two of us.

The Instagram staircase

Just as we were walking around Montserrat we realized that it’s where the famous Staircase to Heaven was. We saw it on soooo many Instagram photos. Although on each and every one of those people climb on the very last of the nine stacked concrete blocks, it’s forbidden. Nowadays there is even a fence to prevent that. It was meant to be a piece of art not an Instagram installation. To be frank I would die of fear if I had to climb it… One false move, could be the last one. Also the view surrounding the staircase is not that spectacular compared to many others in the surrounding.

Santa Cova Chapel

It’s a hillside cave where the Virgin of Montserrat was hidden before being found by shepherds in the IX century. Centuries later a tiny chapel was built here. Although it’s possible to get to it by a funicular, it’s actually a short, not very challenging walk. A return trip would be about 1.5 hour all together. I think it’s the best way to visit it especially since funicular is not really cheap and it doesn’t take you all the way to the chapel anyway.

The church is really tiny but the views and the path leading to it are mind-blowing.

San Miguel’s Cross

From the monastery it might seem that you can visit the Santa Cova Chapel and then continue walking to the Sant Miquel’s Cross. Unfortunately there is no path behind the chapel so those are two separate walks. But going to the cross is a very short, 20 minute stroll that is not really challenging and the views are well worth it. We could admire the monastery from a distance and the gorgeous mountains below. Compared to views that we saw from Santa Cova (which we liked better anyway) these ones were more open simply because it’s a much higher point. I guess we prefer to feel “in the mountain” rather than on top of it but you might like this one better 🙂

Sant Jeroni Mountain

To reach the highest mountain in the area (1236m) we took the funicular that goes to the highest station and from there we followed a very clear path that led us through some forest patches and some beautiful view points over the mountains to the top. As much as we loved the views we recommend this hike to very motivated people. It’s not very strenuous and the path is easy, well maintained and clear but… we did it as the last thing on Montserrat and the sun was just excruciating. What’s more it’s a 3 hour return trip that does indeed provide beautiful views but not much different than the ones from previous places.

How to get to Monserrat and how to get around?

There are so many ways to get to Montserrat that it’s almost too confusing. So which one is the best and which one did we take?

By train and rack railway

That’s the option we chose because we wanted to be on the site as early as possible and the rack railway was beginning earlier in the morning than the cable car. Besides it was a bit cheaper than the option with the cable car (we paid 20.10 euro p.p). It takes about 90 minutes in total from Plaza de Espana to the top, so a bit longer than if we took the option with the cable car.

So with that option you take a R5 train from Plaza Espana to Manresa. You get off at Monistrol de Montserrat right next to that platform is where you have to take the next train. You can’t miss it. The whole route is really beautiful and it gets more and more impressive the higher you get.

Prices, timetables and combined ticket options here.

By train and cable car

It’s pretty much the same option but instead of the rack train you take a cable car from Montserrat Aeri. The cable car takes you up there in 5 minutes. If you’re going off season it’s worth checking if you can actually go with that option since during winter it’s only open on weekends and public holidays.

This mean of transport is best for those who want to get there fast and have the most spectacular views on their way. Additionally it’s few euros more expensive…

To check the cable car timetables and if it's even running go here.

By bus

I heard that there was also a bus going to Montserrat but it’s not frequent and so I didn’t take it under my consideration when we were going.

By car

If you’re into photography and you want to get there for the sunrise or stay till sunset or have the place all for yourself, car is the best option. There is plenty of parking spots up there. Unfortunately I have no idea how much it would cost to park there.

Getting around there

We did most of our sightseeing on foot except taking the San Joan funicular (8.10 euro one way) to shorten our journey to the Sant Jeroni peak. There is also another funicular shortening the trip to Santa Cova Chapel which we considered too expensive for too little (3.25 euro for one way). There is also an option of combining those two tickets for 16 euro both return. More info here.

Posts navigation

1 2