Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Off the Beaten Path in Holland: Utrecht and the Keukenhof Gardens

This was not a bargain discount weekend trip, but it was a nice treat. Last year, Jeff took a bus tour which departed shortly after midnight from Kaiserslautern, visited the famous gardens by day, and returned on the bus shortly before midnight the same day! Oy! He recommended the destination so highly, but I kept asking if it was worth it to drive 5 hours each way to see some flowers? He said yes, and I suggested that we make an overnight of it.

We decided to skip Amsterdam, and stayed in De Bilt, a town next to Utrecht. For some reason, our drive times are always longer than what a computer route planner says, so it took us over 4 hours with 2 short breaks from K-town. After checking in to the hotel, we popped over to Utrecht for sight-seeing and dinner. We didn’t have a big lunch, so we had dinner first, and by the time we were done with that, all the stores were closed. I guess this is good for people who work in the stores, but we were disappointed to find everything shut down by 6pm. The architecture in Utrecht was very nice, and we walked along some canals. On our way back to the car, we found a huge department store that was closing in 10 minutes (7pm!). As we drove back to the hotel, we passed through De Bilt, and found several shops still open…didn’t buy any souvenirs but enjoyed the stroll.

We are used to getting up early in the morning for work every day, so it was easy to wake up without an alarm clock and get to the Keukenhof gardens early enough to avoid the legendary lines of people. There were already a bunch of tour busses and several dozen cars parked ahead of us, but we breezed in. Car parking 6 Euros per vehicle, adult admission 16 per person. I am fortunate that daffodils are my favorite flower, so while some people might have complained that the famous tulips were not yet fully in bloom, I was thrilled to see so many varieties of daffodils in all their glory. 

We elected to take the 45 minute boat tour along the canal (8 per person), which was interesting even though many tulips had not yet shown their colors. The gardens were beautifully designed. Don’t go if you allergic to hyacinths, as their fragrance perfumed the air. There were snack carts in several areas (fresh strawberries, waffles, ice cream), a few food trucks (sandwiches, smoothies), and cafeterias with soup to salad to hot entrees. According to the European culture, many people brought their own food and were picnicking on the abundant benches, so feel free to bring your own. 

The large building within the gardens had many tulips in bloom, along with hydrangeas, lilacs, and lilies. After 4 and ½ hours, we were ready to call it a day, and headed to the seashore, a quick drive away. How nice to see the ocean again, even with our jackets and shoes on!

We drove back to the hotel with a stop in the town of Gouda! Guess what was closing down just as we arrived shortly before 5 pm? Yep, the market, stores, and museums. So, get thee to Gouda and Utrecht way before 5pm! Again, the architecture was beautiful, and we strolled along some canals, then headed out.

After dinner at a greek restaurant in De Bilt, we returned to our hotel, passing happy cows (well, assuming that frolicking cows are happy), more canals, more flowers along the side of the road, and swans in the canals and on the meadows. The drive back to K-town the following day took us on another route (why? Don’t know), but it was quite scenic, with more sheep and horses.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Slightly off the beaten path in Germany: Wiesbaden

I took photos on our recent day trip to Wiesbaden because I realized too late that I took NO photos a couple of weeks ago during a day trip to the city of Worms. We liked Worms and want to go back, but it was so cold that day, I didn’t feel like taking my phone out of my bag. Pathetic. So, please go to Worms if you have time. Here is proof of our time in Wiesbaden:

If you can take the train into town, you won’t have to pay for parking, but there are plentiful garages in and near the center of town (about an hour away from Kaiserslautern). You’ll see signs with arrows that list how many spots are available in the garages as you approach the main tourist areas. We had lunch at Vapiano, Jeff’s favorite chain of Italian restaurants, which is happy to prepare a variety of vegetarian options. You can elect to have chicken, shrimp or beef added to any dish.

We walked through many pedestrian streets and squares, passing a farmers’ market wrapping up at about 2pm, and dozens of stores. This is the town of 100 Euro leather belts, though I’m sure more affordable options are available in some of the larger department stores that we didn’t go into (Karstadt, Kaufhof). Many of the shops in Wiesbaden are also in Kaiserslautern, but there are also unique offerings such as stationery stores (fancier than McPaper), arts/crafts and health food. We didn’t buy much, but were amazed by the many streets with elegant homes, churches, restaurants, and chocolate, ice cream, book, clothing, d├ęcor, etc. etc. stores. 

The park near the theater included flowers growing freely out of the grass! We were recommended to have dinner at Aurum, and would return. The sliced beet appetizer was fantastic, and the electric heaters above the windows kept us cozy outside. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, so look at the outdoor menus wherever you are, and enjoy.