Phil Douglas

Retired teachers making up for lost time.
Joined September 2015Living in: Hervey Bay, Australia

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  • The final day of our holiday in Europe. Tomorrow we head to the airport and Thursday we fly out on the long road home. But there could be no better place to charge up the batteries for all that lies ahead than Monet's Garden. We have been looking forward to our little trip to Giverny, the little French village where Monet made his home for over 40 years until his death. And of all his achievements perhaps the one which filled him most with pride and certainly brought him most pleasure was his garden. The garden was completely rejuvenated in the late 1970s and today attracts hordes of visitors from all over the world. Luckily there are not nearly so many of them late in October when we visit. Also luckily, the garden still has plenty of colour to share with us. The famous water lilies are pretty much finished for the year, but the autumn colours of the trees surely make up for the lack.
    We stay in a charming BnB - Le Petit Giverny - which is run by a French couple. It is a bit rough around the edges, but very pleasant and a small taste of French village life.
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  • Our trip is winding down and today was a big travel day to get us from Brussels to Giverny for our day poking around Monet's old stomping ground and, in particular, his garden. It was to be a 5 step journey, but there turned out to be complications. The first step was to get a taxi to the Train station which turned out to be very easy. But the second step meant catching the fast train from Brussels to the Gare Nord in Paris. We had heard of problems with a train drivers' strike and even had an email from the train company suggesting our train would go ahead, but that they couldn't be sure. So we were relieved when the train was actually there and started off on time.
    The Third step was to get a taxi from Gare Nord to Gare St Lazar. As we were heading out of the station towards the taxi ranks a guy chatted us up and offered to take us - a 20 minute journey - for 65 Euros. Well that was interesting, after we thanked him for his kind offer we continued to the taxi rank to pick up a 10 minute ride that cost 10 Euro. What a saving!
    The fourth step was a train from the Gare St Lazare to Vernon-Giverny. We bought a return ticket with no problem from a super helpful young lady at the train office. But when we went to board the train we found out that someone had left an unattended bag on or near the train (our French is not very useful) and they didn't know if or when the train would leave. In the end everyone had to get off the train (which was pretty full) and mill about for a while. Luckily they sorted out another train and we only lost about a half hour (thanks to the French guy who kept us informed of what the announcements were saying).
    Thankfully the final step getting from the Vernon train station to our BnB in Giverny went without a hitch. Our BnB is very quaint - the village is just beautiful and we are looking forward to our day in Monet's garden tomorrow.
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  • We only had a few hours to fill in here - Brussels was really only a stop between Bruges and Giverny. Our hotel was pretty basic, but it was walking distance from the train station and right in the middle of the tourist centre of things. We managed a pretty good look around in the time available and there certainly was a lot to see. It was somewhat amusing that the first tourist attraction pointed out on the map for us by a lovely young girl at the tourist office - which had the somewhat doubtful name of Manikin Piss (even written down for us by the same lovely young girl) turned out to be just that, a quit small and decidedly tacky statue of a man passing into a fountain. And it definitely had the biggest crowd of tourists on the day.
    Tomorrow we head off to visit Monet's Garden at Giverny near Paris.
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  • We seem to have lost the sun for the moment, but Bruges has been more about poking around the backstreets and finding little surprises. We are staying in a 17th century summerhouse which we have all to ourselves. The landlady filled us in on some of the history. It seems that such constructions were common at the time as people were going through a 'get back to nature' phase and building themselves little retreats in the garden so they could get away from their busy lives. It may be small for a summerhouse, but it is enormous compared to the places we have been staying in for the last 5 weeks. It wasn't really a surprise as we could read the reviews on Booking.com, but you still don't really believe it will be quite that Nice until you can see for yourself.

    We tracked down one of the few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy in an old church here in Bruges called the Church of Our Lady. We were surprised to be able to walk right in for the grand sum of 3 Euros and have a really good unhurried look at the sculpture and church. Just as we were finishing there were suddenly people lined up and crowds coming in. We think it may be that the day trippers had just arrived.
    Bruges was every bit as lovely as everyone says and small enough to make getting around on foot quite easy. In the afternoon we decided to walk out to the main canal at the edge of the old town area to see a couple of old windmills and one of the last remaining gates to the city.
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  • Another train trip from Amsterdam to Brugge (Bruges) which went quite smoothly and the taxi ride to our BnB was quick and quite reasonable. Our hostess was very welcoming and had maps and information for us. As we only have two night here we got straight out to have a look around.

    We got our timing just right with Bruges. We had just about done all the museums, art galleries and palaces that we could muster any enthusiasm for and the little walled 'old town' where we were staying in Bruges was just perfect to wander about and simply enjoy. We could easily walk around it and there was plenty to look at and enough history, as always, to keep it interesting.Read more

  • Our last day in Amsterdam was a real hodge podge of poking around the old town centre and visiting a few of the places for which our city card provided access. One of the best was Rembrandt Haus which was interesting. A few paintings but the main attraction was the house itself which was set up, as far as possible, to be the same as when he lived and worked there. His studio and printing room were the pick - with demonstrations in each at regular intervals. We had no problems getting into any of the museums and attractions we visited. There was a bit of a line here and there, but nothing serious. On the other hand, if we had wanted to see Anne Frank's house we would have been out of luck. You have to book months in advance even in the off season. (and you certainly have to pay separately, no city pass for this one). Another nice meal to finish off our stay - we ate at three different restaurants over the four nights and they were all very good.Read more

  • The day was a bit grey and chilly so we mixed some exploring with some museums. And what museums they were. First we took in the Van Gogh Museum and it was a revelation. After so many art museums located in old palaces and fortresses, the Van Gogh Museum building was quite new and designed as an art gallery from the very beginning. A comprehensive collection of Van Gogh's work shared the walls with a wide range of artwork from other artists he admired. Most of these were obtained in exchange for works of his own.

    Then who could possibly pass up a visit to the 'sheep fart museurn' which actually was a maritime museum (probably better than sheep farts). As the history of the Netherlands is quite a bit a history of shipping, this was an interesting visit and a good follow up the the Rijksmuseum. Those were the main activities with a lot of moseying in between.
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  • Day 2 in Amsterdam and we decided to break with our usual approach and purchase 'Amsterdam City Cards'. Most cities seem to have some variety of discount card or multiple entry card which will get you into multiple attractions for one price. We have decided that most of the time the cards just don't suit our rather slow paced approach to fitting in all the highlights. This time we decided to go for it because the 3 day cards seemed like a pretty good deal, transport was included there were a couple of items on offer that we were definitely planning on anyway.

    We started off at the Riyks Museum which was located in a very beautiful and interesting building and featured Dutch masters as well as displays and a great deal of information on Dutch history. We also managed a cruise on the canals which was pleasant and informative. The contrasts here in the heavily protestant Netherlands compared with Germany and France were evident even to the casual tourist. None of that big noting yourself in Amsterdam with ornate palaces and grand portraits. Utilitarian was the name of the game and yes, by all means, portraits but only groups of soldiers or burgers or even family groupings. As long as no one was singled out. It does mean that the artworks on display were more often of normal people going about their business and added significantly to the public record.

    We got around quite well on the trams once we got used to the idea that you had to scan your city card when you got on the tram and then again when you got off. Otherwise the card would cease to function after a couple of hours. We could have done without that little extra level of complication, but we made it though without actually having to get a new card so it was ok.
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  • Another big train trip today - Amsterdam to Bruges (Brugge) with two changes, one slightly harem scarem one in Antwerp, a huge station, which involved a fair hike up escalators and around corners and a fairly easy one at Ghent St Pieters, the smaller station in Ghent, which was quick but relatively easy.

    We found our BnB fairly easily and were met by a fellow who was really useful in giving advice and directions in particular for the area around the accommodation. Our room was really a decent sized studio apartment. Breakfast was provided but we fixed it for ourselves.

    Thanks to good old daylight savings, we had plenty of time to go for a bit of an explore. We wandered along and found a beautiful park which suited us after a day on trains. We found a very chilled coffee shop in the park where they served coffee (not all chilled 'coffee shops' in Amsterdam sell a lot of coffee) with good music and a very relaxed vibe - I felt very at home very quickly in Amsterdam.
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  • It was a beautiful day for our last chance at Berlin. But the weather while gorgeous had a distinct bite to it - especially for a couple of Aussies from North of the border. We had a couple of museums up our sleeves so we managed to mix some time in the brilliant (if chilly) sunshine with some time soaking up some culture.

    The Purgamon Museum on Museum Island was our first stop. We didn't time it very well and had nearly an hours wait, It was quite brilliant inside however, Even considering the Purgamon Alter, which is one of the most famous exhibits is closed for refurbishment and won't be available for the next 5 years, Some of the enormous exhibits they did have included the Ishtar Gate of Babylon (6th century BC)- enormous and colourful as well as the Market gate from the town of Militus a Turkish town of antiquity and many more treasures from the middle east.

    We also made it to the Deutsches Historisches Museum a very interesting collection arranged chronologically to trace and elaborate on the History of Germany from the year 500 to 1994 after reunification,

    Some great photos, but that wind was chilly!!
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  • How many ways are there to say palace - more than you might think. We had one of those perfect days that come along when you are travelling and the stars align. Having settled into Berlin on our first day with a tour jam packed with history and sights, we decided to head off to Potsdam today to visit Frederic the Great's summer palace, Sanssouci. No history lessons here, but it seems like Frederic the Great was really .... Great. According to our guide from the first days, he was one of the few historical figures to actually be called 'Great' while he was still around to appreciate it. He didn't mind a good fight and put his dad's vast army to good use, but he also valued art, science and culture - and having a good time. He set up a university and invited the best scholars from around Europe to come and study. And if that wasn't enough he seems to have been a pretty good politician as well.
    One thing for sure, his summer palace is Devine. Not a huge monstrosity - elaborate, but not ridiculous and the whole thing blending in so well in the huge garden around it. The vineyard in the front yard is gone but most if it is lovingly restored and tended. It was easy to get to, easy to get around and the weather was just perfect - if a bit chilly. It seems others approved of his choice because there are at least 6 palaces scattered around the place and he didn't build them all. He was much influenced by Roman and Greek architecture and even had some ruins built which were visible in the distance from the palace.

    All in all a fabulous day in Potsdam.
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  • After a rainy travel day and a rather wet arrival in Berlin we were a bit worried about the weather for our first full day in the capital of Germany. Being determined spirits we packed our umbrellas and set forth to join a 4 hour walking tour. The tour was in the afternoon and we paid a quick visit to a museum dedicated to the history of Berlin along the way. The visit wasn't a complete success, we didn't really have enough time to get very far with it, but the bit that we did pick up actually came in quite handy on our walking tour as we had some background for the information we were getting during the tour.
    The tour was really good - even if the guide and half the group were Australians! We picked up a lot of historical background which we kind of knew about, but not really, as well as getting a feel for the city and what sites and attractions we might like to visit on our own. Berlin is a huge city, but the area in which so much history in terms of the 20th century and most of our lives took place can be wandered around in a couple of hours. We had a chat with one of the fellows that rents out the apartments - one of which we are in - and he was saying it is a big year for him, he has lived now for 25 years with the wall and 25 years without it. When he goes to see the bit of the wall still standing it just looks so small compared with how he remembers it from childhood. At least he missed the war.
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