One Final Jaunt – Northern Ireland

map 2_LIIt was mid-October, 2019, and I had just enough time left to take one more little jaunt somewhere before I returned home to the US after a 3 1/2 month-long vacation in Europe. Northern Ireland is relatively close to Aberdeen, approximately 225 miles as the crow flies. Since our oldest known Frew ancestor, Sargeant John Frew, was born there in a small village, Lindsay and I decided to go on another road trip to see it in person together. He had never visited Northern Ireland before. I visited a few years ago and made some beautiful discoveries and new Frew friends along the way when I first started traveling. It would be fun to share those discoveries with Lindsay and have an opportunity to see the wonderful friends once again while we were at it!

We rented a car in Aberdeen for a week to make the journey and headed south toward Glasgow on Tuesday, Oct 15. We had a leisurely drive as far as the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis. We found a convenient place to park and were able to give our legs a good stretch by walking up to the necropolis, a vast old cemetery perched upon a hill overlooking the medieval heart of the city.

According to their interpretive sign, “The Necropolis remains one of the most significant cemeteries in Europe. It was designed as a botanic and sculpture garden to improve the morale and trades of Glaswegians and act as a historical record of past greatness.”

It sits right behind the ancient Cathedral and is the largest old cemetery I have visited in the UK. It’s immense and absolutely full of interesting monumental headstones.

These memorials of the merchant patriarchs of the city contain the remains of almost every eminent Glaswegian of its day. Monuments designed by leading Glaswegian architects, including Alexander “Greek” Thomson, Bryon, Hamilton, and Mackintosh, adorn it. Their designs are executed by expert masons and sculptures who contributed ornate and sculptural detail of the finest quality.”

The carvings and details are quite ornate and worth a look. Besides, the view from that vantage point of the surrounding medieval center of town below is also quite impressive.

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After we enjoyed looking at the monuments, we leisurely strolled back down the hill, walked back over the bridge, and visited the Cathedral as well.

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Evidently, according to the church’s website, St. Ninian came here from Whithorn in the Galloway region of southwest Scotland in the 5th century to dedicate a Christian burial ground. In the following century, another monk named Mungo came here as well. Tradition says St. Mungo was born near Culross. (We visited that cute little well-preserved town during our last trip to Stirling).  The ruins of St. Mungo’s chapel in Culross evidently mark the spot where he was born. He was brought up by St. Serf of Culross and trained for the priesthood before coming to Glasgow and serving as the Bishop. St Mungo died in 612! That is probably the oldest tomb I’ve seen yet. His tomb is located in the Lower Church of Glasgow Cathedral, where a service continues to be held every year to commemorate his life.

Unfortunately, there is little known about the earliest church buildings which stood on the site of the present Cathedral. It wasn’t until the early part of the 12th century that we get information about the current structure. Its first stone building was consecrated in about 1136 in the presence of King David I and his Court. Put simply, it is really, really ancient, has been here quite a long time, and is quite an impressive building in its own right. Its amazing that it is still standing whole and complete.

We ventured inside, looked around, and I even managed to get down to the “Lower Church” just in time before it closed for the day and was fortunate to find the tomb of St. Mungo and get a picture without another person in the frame! Amazing!

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After visiting the necropolis and the Cathedral, we returned to our car and proceeded to drive during the afternoon to the town of Ayr, our final destination for the day. Ayr is a lovely coastal town with a very long public beach that is great for sunsets. For dinner, we enjoyed a fish supper at a local Chip Shop as we looked out over the ocean, enjoying the view.

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After a hearty breakfast at our B&B, Turas-Mara, we set out on the road early in the morning. The route we drove hugs the coastline all the way down toward the southwest tip of Scotland at Cairnryan, where we had a date with a ferry that would take us across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

IMG_7807We arrived in plenty of time to catch the Superfast VIII ferry, and in no time at all, we were boarded and well on our way.IMG_7819

The ferry was quite large and felt like a big luxury liner compared to many of the smaller ferries we had ridden earlier this summer.

It had several decks, and on each deck were all kinds of restaurants. There was even a movie theatre, various lounges, and some play areas for children! We found a quiet and comfortable lounge to relax in at the bow of the ship and enjoyed the smooth ride.

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Before we knew it, the port of Belfast was coming into view, and we could see towns dotting the shoreline of Northern Ireland beyond.

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IMG_8122From the port of Belfast, we drove straight to the Wellington Park Hotel that we would call home for the next three nights. It was centrally located in the Queen’s Quarter near the places we wanted to visit.  We were within walking distance of the Botanic Garden, the Ulster Museum, Queen’s University, and some really great restaurants. 

There is one quirky little cafe in particular on the corner near the entrance to the Botanic garden that I really like called ‘Maggie Mays,’ and we headed straight to it for our lunch after we got checked in. It is frequented by a younger crowd of students from the University and is usually a buzz of energetic and infectious gaiety. Besides, they are known for their stupendous shakes and great food, so we couldn’t pass up that combination!

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IMG_8103After a satisfying bite to eat, and a good dose of youthful energy, we walked a couple of doors down the street to Friars Bush Graveyard, but, unfortunately, they were closed. We took down the phone number hoping to make an appointment with a tour guide to gain access to where our 4th great grandfather, John Frew, may be buried. He died from cholera during the epidemic in 1832 that hit Belfast pretty hard. There is a mass grave of its victims buried within its walls, which his body might be buried amongst.

Unfortunately, we were never able to get an appointment with anyone during our visit, so we missed that opportunity. In the future, if we should ever return, we will know to make an appointment and arrangements for a tour well in advance of our visit!

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We continued on our way and walked to the botanic garden nearby and had a lovely stroll along its many meandering pathways through the glasshouse, which held all types of tropical plants and other various sections of the grounds.

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The enormous rose section of the garden was undoubtedly done for the 2019 season, and yet, there were still a couple of determined blooms having their final say as the season drew to its close.

IMG_7871As the afternoon faded, we made our way back to the hotel, passing this colorful building along the way, which is part of the University.

The glow of the low afternoon sun danced on the glass panels creating quite a delightful display of light and color in this beautiful example of architectural design.

map_LIThe following morning, we set out into the countryside northwest of Belfast in County Antrim to see a few sights along the northern coastline and visit the village our great grandfather was born in.

Our first stop was the Giant’s Causeway situated on the coast near Bushmills, where they distill delicious and lovely Irish Whiskey.

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The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder and consists of substantial interlocking basalt column formations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most are hexagonal, but there are also some with four, five, seven, or even eight sides. The tallest are about 39 ft tall!

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Much of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site is owned and managed by the National Trust, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Access to the Giant’s Causeway is free of charge. It is not necessary to go via the visitor’s center, which charges a fee. However, if you want to ride the tram down to the bottom of the cliffs and back up again, or you want an audio guide, you need to buy a ticket from the National Trust. If you are a member of the National Trust, you get in for free. If you’re young and fit and can easily climb a long steep hill, then it isn’t a problem, but it is oh-so-nice that they have a tram for the ‘not-so-able’ as well, nobody misses out!

After exploring the Giant’s Causeway, we drove along the coast for a while, enjoying the views in the clear morning light. For instance, the sight of White Park Bay with Rathlin Island in the distance (below) was stunning and oh-so inviting!

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The next place we stopped to visit was Dunluce Castle perched upon a little rock crag nestled in amongst high ocean cliffs. They provide excellent interpretive signage in each section, so its quite easy to go along by yourself without a guide and explore at your own leisurely pace.

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IMG_7925Lindsay and I leisurely enjoyed exploring this castle as we usually do. However, when he entered the lower part of the tower structure, he suddenly felt a very foreboding and uncomfortable feeling, and he immediately wanted to get out of that space as if it was haunted. He found it ironic because he had never felt anything quite like that with all the places he has visited over the years. Interesting…

Because he felt a bit spooked and uncomfortable after that encounter, we took one last look out of the castle’s windows to see the views up and down the coast that the inhabitants enjoyed once upon a time and then we turned around and found our way back to our car parked nearby.

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It was time for us to move on, we still had a bit of exploring to do that afternoon, so we got in the car and started looping back inland the way we had come.  Our next stop was where our 4th great grandfather, John Frew, had been born. A couple of tiny villages called Kells and Connor are usually referred to as twin villages and coexist as if it were only one. The twin villages appear to have been this way for a very long time too. Even though the villages are tiny in size, surprisingly, there were 11 separate historical and archeological sites to visit on the Heritage Trail, complete with interpretive signage. There was an ancient fort, a church, an old woolen mill, and a bridge, for example.

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We don’t know who John’s parents were, whether he had siblings, where they might have lived in this parish, or much else about him except that he was a ‘nailer’ in the mill trade. Having so much history available to us on the Heritage Trail interpretive signs scattered about were quite helpful. We learned a lot about this tiny area that we otherwise would not have necessarily discovered on our own. We visited most of the sites and ended up in front of the remaining walls of the old medieval fort that were still standing after all these years. Just being in the immediate area where John may have lived and getting to see structures, such as the old bridge which he may have also walked upon, helped us feel more connected to our distant ancestor.

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By the time we explored the various sites around the village, we had noticed it was getting late in the afternoon. We had a dinner date with a whole bunch of Frew friends about 10 miles away at 5 o’clock. We drove to the small village of Ahoghill, where Stewart Frew has a delightful Fish & Chips Shop, met up with our various Frew friends, and enjoyed a scrumptious fish supper together!

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Deirdre, Roy, Heather, Florence and all the cute little ‘wee ones’ came out to see us! It was fantastic to see them all once again and hear all the latest news! Each time I come to Northern Ireland, I make a special effort to see this delightful group of ladies, and luckily, we had another opportunity to enjoy each other’s company once again. Fun was had by all, especially for Lindsay, since this was the first time he had been able to meet them in person. Before that, he had only met them online.

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The next day, Friday, Oct 18, we spent most of the day exploring the many exhibits at the Ulster Museum.

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Upon entering, we were greeted by the whimsical flying dragons overhead…

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On the first floor, they had an intriguing display of costumes from Game of Thrones made out of paper! It was utterly fantastic!

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We spent quite a while meandering around the museum looking at ancient gold jewelry, mummies, and everything else you might imagine is in a museum.  Here are just a few chosen samples of what we saw.

Naturally, since this is Northern Ireland after all, there were political exhibits about “The Troubles” during the late 20th century, and there were also delightful paintings and pottery as well.  So many exciting things to look at. I always enjoy the museum.

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We had worked up an appetite. Maggie May’s cafe was just across the street, so we headed over there for a bite to eat.

The afternoon was still so nice and lovely, we decided to take one last stroll to the glasshouse in the Botanic Garden and have a look around.

Back at the hotel, we noticed a pub on the corner that has its timing right! Yet another full day of exploring in Belfast; it was time to relax and enjoy a brew!

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The next day, we left Belfast in the afternoon on the 3:30 ferry back to Cairnryan, Scotland. Before we did, however, we went to the Titanic Experience in the shipyards nearby. The Exhibition is an extensive presentation all about the famous ship, and it is built on the very site that the actual ship was built upon. There are various levels of exhibits to explore, which cover all aspects of the ship’s conception and construction all the way through to its sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The tour is quite fascinating, informative and entertaining, you won’t want to miss it if you are in Belfast!

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Unfortunately, when I went to retrieve my folder of photos for that day to share with you in this blog, I came across an empty folder! Somehow I managed to lose every single photo I took that day! Hmm, I wonder how that happened? Oh well… not gonna let that spoil my day. Sorry. If you would like to see more about this place, just click on the link above which will take you to their website where you’ll get the whole story and all the info you need.

When we landed in Cairnryan, Scotland, it was early evening, and the sun was about ready to set. We spent the night at a lovely B & B called Kildonnan in Stranraer about 5 miles away from the ferry landing. It was a nice quiet spot on the bay, and we had a delightful view in the morning at our breakfast table. Rita, and her husband, were delightful hosts and thought of everything in their lovely home.

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After our peaceful and relaxing breakfast, we began to leisurely drive north back to Aberdeen, taking a different route than the way we came. Instead of heading north to Ayr, we headed east toward Dumfries and made a point of taking the back roads through the Galloway Forest Park instead of the main thoroughfare. It was a lovely drive full of beautiful landscapes.

We stopped in Dumfries at a church where one of Lindsay’s maternal great grandfathers is buried. His name was Joseph Johnstone Glover, and he served as the Provost for Dumfries for 12 years in the early 20th century. Lindsay’s paternal great grandfather, John Rose Frew, also served as a Provost about the same time in Dingwall!

In the same churchyard, another extremely famous Scotsman and Poet is also buried, the beloved Robert Burns.

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Lindsay’s great grandfather, Joseph, also played an instrumental role as Provost when this mausoleum was built and dedicated. Here’s a picture of him at the “placing of the wreath” celebration. He’s the one with the big mustache to the left of the center next to the wreath.

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There are several Robert Burns’ friends, and contemporaries also buried in this particular churchyard. If you’re really into the works of Robert Burns, this appears to be a place to definitely visit. His contemporaries and friends even wanted to be buried near him; he was so beloved!

Afterward, we climbed back in the car and started driving north. We enjoyed a nice lunch break at a garden center just north of Dumfries somewhere. I just love stopping at garden center tea rooms. They’re affordable, have good local home-cooked style food, and they sell flowers! What more could I want?

Many tea rooms also proudly display a collection of teapots as well that are fun to look at and admire.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the countryside all the way to a town near Edinburgh where Lindsay’s cousin, Keith, and his wife, Helen, live. We had the chance to visit with them in the evening, and the following day finished making our way back to Aberdeen, hugging the coastline in Fife all the way to Dundee from Edinburgh.

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It was a lovely drive. Its a very slow and winding road, as coastlines almost always are, but we weren’t in any hurry, so we enjoyed stopping at various harbors and fishing villages along the way.

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It was a perfect way to slowly bring our travels to an end for the season, and we both enjoyed our final jaunt immensely.

About a week later, I flew back to Portland, Oregon, and officially ended my traveling for the year.

Not long after returning home, Lindsay and I began planning my next trip the following summer. We made great plans for my return in July. We had plans to fly over to the Netherlands and Belgium from Aberdeen to explore that region for about a month.  Like usual, I planned on staying abroad most of the summer.  We had airline reservations, rooms at hotels and hostels booked, and we created personalized travel maps in anticipation of this year’s travel adventures.

However, like everyone else on this planet, there was a bit of a hitch in our get-along – the coronavirus! After traveling every year for the last 5 or 6 years, it seems strange not getting ready to pack my bags once again. Lindsay and I have decided to postpone all of our plans until next year (hopefully) and just hope for the best.

Being part of the older generation, I fall into the category of “more vulnerable” these days, so I have been in lockdown mode with my granddaughter Grace, who also has an immune system that is weakened. Luckily we have each other to keep us company. We’ve been developing a strong gardening bond this spring too. You should see our gardens!

I’ve been gardening for years, and although I am certainly not an expert, I do know a few things about plants, so I’ve been more than happy to share that knowledge with hands-on-training outside in our backyard this spring. My daughter, Errin, keeps us supplied with all the seeds, bags of dirt, mulch and manure, and all the plants we can possibly stand. It’s been quite an adventure right in our own backyard! It’s been an adventure in itself. Instead of visiting gardens in Europe this year, I’ve been investing my traveling money into my own garden and expanding its footprint alongside my granddaughter in my own backyard.

Until such time as I can start traveling once again, this, my dear friends and followers, brings me to the end of my traveling tales for 2019.  Eventually, sometime in the future, I will pick up where I left off, but who knows when that will be.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing a book entitled “Road Trips in Scotland – The chronicles of an American woman discovering what lies beyond Edinburgh.” I will be concentrating my efforts on my book now that my blog posts are finished. I hope to finish it soon.

If, by chance, you would like to order a copy of the book, you can place a “pre-order” by leaving a message on this post in the remarks section.  Thanks in advance for your order – I appreciate your continued support and encouragement.

Until next time… hope it’s not too terribly long of a wait until we can once again resume our traveling.  Keep well, and safe in the meantime.  ~ Claudia

 

 

 

Amsterdam on Bicycles!

We had two full days to enjoy and explore the fun and quirky city of Amsterdam. There is so much to see and do in this canal city. When we were here a couple of weeks earlier, we only spent one night. We walked around and took trams and buses to get from point A to point B during our limited explorations. This time I thought it would be more exciting and a whole lot more fun for the girls to experience Amsterdam on a bicycle instead. Literally, everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam to get around, young and old alike. It is an integral part of their culture, and I didn’t want Errin and Grace to miss out on that unique aspect.

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After a satisfying breakfast at the Vondelpark Hostel, we headed outside and entered Vondelpark from the convenient access gate at the hostel’s doorstep. Although the hostel has lots of bikes to rent to their guests, unfortunately, they had run out, so they referred us to another rental place close by called Black Bikes.  They had plenty, and soon, we were on our way!

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To get used to our new mode of transportation and to become accustomed to the rules of the road locally, we rode back to Vondelpark with its extensive configuration of bike and footpaths in a vast park setting.  Doing so really helped the girls get used to all of the other bike traffic zipping in and out, the designated bike lanes in the streets along the way, etc.

I always enjoy a pedal around Vondelpark. It’s such a beautiful park filled with ponds, statues, pavilions, fountains, wildlife, and a wide variety of interesting people to watch.

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After getting used to the bicycles and enjoying the park, we headed out into the streets and decided to go across town a ways to find the Anne Frank house. We had a good ride, but unfortunately, we didn’t realize we had to buy our tickets online to enter. Since we didn’t have access to any Wifi, we decided we would have to return another time. Still, we got a picture of the statue and the building and front door of where she lived for starters.

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For lunch, we found a street vendor selling delicious sausages. We had found gluten-free hot dog buns in the supermarket for Grace, and she had said she wanted to find a street vendor who sells the sausages. The street vendors do not generally carry gluten-free buns, so we were prepared. Our luck would have it that we actually found one and enjoyed every delicious bite! She was enjoying it so much I almost didn’t get a picture of her and her precious hot dog before she devoured it! They were so yummy!

Our next stop was the Friendship Amsterdam loading dock, where we could cruise around the canals to experience the next busiest mode of transportation in Amsterdam – boats!

We had purchased some discount tickets from the hostel. I was rather impressed when we arrived at our destination. The last time I had bought canal cruise tickets from the hostel, they were affiliated with a different tour company, which was (how can I say this nicely?) somewhat ‘typical touristy type’ with seating for about 50 or more.

This experience was a step or two above! While we waited for our designated tour boat to arrive in a few minutes, they sat us inside their other boat reserved for special occasions like weddings, big private parties, etc. It was quite comfortable and served as an elegant waiting room at that. They even provided snacks!

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Not long afterward, our boat pulled up to the moorings. It looked like a whole lot of fun too! Since we were the first to board, we got our pick of the seats also! Guess where we headed? Yep, that’s right – up on the comfy looking bow.

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The cruise was about an hour-long, and it wound its way through the various canals in a circuitous route filled with all sorts of beautiful and picturesque architectural specimens along the way.

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About 3/4 of the way along our route, I noticed the expression of the woman that was serving us beverages and snacks in the photo below. I also saw the ominous dark clouds just above the skipper’s head gathering together and looking slightly menacing.

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Thank goodness for bridges! We hunkered under this one for quite a while. The deluge of rain that released from those clouds looming overhead was impressive and I was thankful we had shelter from the pelter.  

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After quite a long wait for the rain to subside, we were on our way once again and equipped with handy umbrellas. It was still raining slightly on that open deck, so they took us the quickest way back to our starting point before it started on its second onslaught.

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There were still some fascinating buildings, canals, bridges, and houseboats to be admired along the way, even though it was a bit rushed.

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That was fun, but we were wet, and the afternoon was turning into evening, so we unlocked our stowed bicycles once again and rode back to the hostel to change into dry duds.  Upon entering, we noticed a lovely smell emanating from the kitchen, and the ‘Chef’s Special’ marquee announced that they had some hot homemade tomato soup. I promptly ordered 3 servings for us while we warmed up and relaxed in the hostel’s cozy surroundings after a day’s adventures.

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The morning light greeted us with a bright blue and sparkling sky.  The hostel had some bikes available onsite so it wasn’t long after a hearty breakfast that we were on our bikes and headed out for more adventures.

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Unlike the Anne Frank museum the day before, I did know that I had to buy entrance tickets to the Van Gogh Museum online ahead of time if we wanted to get in. In fact, I had purchased the tickets before we had even left home! The museum is just a few blocks from Vondelpark, so it didn’t take us long to get there in time for our designated tour time. We hung around outside until the appointed time and enjoyed the activity in the plaza surrounding it.  There were even classical musicians serenading the crowd while we waited. It was lovely.

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The museum does not allow any photography of the artwork once you’re inside, so I’m sorry, but I do not have any pictures to share with you. It is a fantastic museum about an incredible artist that is a must-see when you’re there. Just be sure to get your tickets online ahead of time to do so!

After a couple of hours touring through that huge museum, we headed on our bikes to the Bloomenmarkt, which is an outdoor, year-round flower market. They have every sort of bulb you might want and then some! There was a collection of Calla-Lillies I would love to have in my garden at home – at least one of each variety and color!

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At the end of the lane of the flower market, we spied a little cheese museum, so we popped in there to check it out, and the yummy samples of Dutch cheese.

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Instead of walking back down the lane and through the crowded and busy flower market, we crossed the canal and walked back to our parked bicycles in the direction of the Munttoren Tower with the clock. It has a pedestrian passageway under the tower that was originally part of the medieval city wall and where the city gate was long ago.

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According to the ‘Amsterdam Welcome’ website: “The Dutch word ‘munt’ means ‘coin.’ Inside the tower, 36 bells were cast in 1651. The whole process of installing the bells in the tower was very complicated. Some of the bells weren’t even meant for this tower! But they ended up there, and they are still used today. Every 15 minutes, a happy jingle comes from the tower, so you will always know the exact time when you are in the neighborhood.”  It is lovely to hear the bells chime too. I particularly enjoy them.

Occupying the building the tower projects from is the Heinen Delft Blue shop. It holds exquisite pieces of the famous Delft Blue pottery to drool over and admire.

We also found this bakery with all manner of yummy treats tempting our every step.

We realized just how hungry we really were about this time, so we decided to pass on the temptations and instead ride over to the botanical gardens nearby. I knew of a beautiful quiet spot away from the crowds that we could enjoy our picnic lunch at. We even had a few guests join us!

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After lunch of ham and swiss cheese sandwiches and a couple of our new favorite snack – Stroop waffles, we rode a short distance to the zoo! A surprise I knew Grace would enjoy immensely because she loves animals so much.

It’s really quite a pleasant zoo with a wide variety of animals scattered in various sections of the well-kept grounds. A nice little green space and oasis in the middle of the city too.

There were birds…

Large mammals…

Some adorable small mammals…

Some more birds…

A few reptiles and tortoises…

A shining star in the Seal Show…

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Awww, a baby elephant!

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Some marsupials…

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Some adorable and curious meerkats… and a pair of dueling rams!  They had it all!

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We strolled back to the entrance enjoying the colorful flower beds along the main promenade, passing the motionless camel on the way back through. He hadn’t moved an inch since we went past him earlier!

It had been yet another full day of beautiful sights. We were ready to relax with a couple of made-to-order lattes back at the hostel and enjoy our last evening chilling out in Amsterdam after touring all over on bicycles for two days.

IMG_2123We also had some packing to do because, in the morning, we would be headed back to Schipol Airport to catch a flight back to Aberdeen, Scotland. It was hard to believe we had come to the end of our 3 solid weeks on the European continent, exploring The Netherlands, Germany, and France. It felt like it had just flown by!

We still had a couple more weeks left of our vacation together once we got back to Scotland, and those tales are yet to come. Stay tuned for more adventures and escapades back in Scotland!

 

 

Montmartre Museum

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Monday, August 12th, was kind of a lazy, hang-out at the hostel kind of day. We were all just a tad bit tired from all of the explorations around Germany for a couple of weeks. We slept in on the quiet Monday morning and lounged around most of the day. It was nice to kick back and not do anything. Later in the afternoon, however, I wanted to do something even though the girls still wanted more rest.

I remembered a museum close by that I had wanted to visit the first time I visited Paris about 3 years ago – the Musee de Montmartre! It had been closed for renovations on my earlier visit. Now was the perfect time to go and check it out, so off I went.

The museum has a permanent collection of paintings, posters, and drawings signed by Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, Kupka, Steinlen, Valadon, and Utrillo.

The art recounts the history of Montmartre, including the innovative artist studios and the infamous cabarets of the Lapin Agile and the Moulin Rouge.

The buildings the museum occupies were built over three centuries ago as the Hotel Demarne and the Maison du Bel Air. The Bel Air House is the oldest building in Montmartre. In its heyday, it was a residence and a meeting place for many artists, including Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon, and Émile Bernard, who had their studios here. Artists started to move to Montmartre in 1870, and the cafes and cabarets multiplied in the 1880s. The effervescent bohemian spirit and its creative energy soon came to characterize Montmartre.

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IMG_1422The buildings and the grounds surrounding them were worth looking at for starters, let alone the treasures I might find inside. I noticed the map hanging on the wall and decided to explore the grounds first and then tour the rooms inside the museum.

IMG_1434Quite a lovely garden it was too, with various levels and unique little nooks and crannies hidden here and there amongst all of the plants and greenery. It was absolutely delightful. I could easily spend a good deal of time here. I can see how it could lend itself so well to stir the artistic creativity of its inhabitants!

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Here’s a perfect example, The Swing. Renoir painted the picture in this very garden, and this is the swing in the garden that inspired his imagination in 1876! That’s cool.

 

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Montmartre sits upon a hill, and apart from its artistic inhabitants, it has quite a history of its own. In the 15th century, the north and northeast slopes of the hill, there was a village which was surrounded by vineyards, gardens, and peach and cherry orchards. The first wind-generated mills were built on the western slope in 1529, grinding wheat, barley, and rye. There were thirteen mills at one time, but by the late nineteenth century, only two remained.

A flight of stairs in the garden leads down to the remaining current-day vineyard and gardens. Although that area is not open to the public, there is a spot along the fence that you can see the loved and well-tended gardens.

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IMG_1494If you look near the center of the picture on the right, you will see a small terra-cotta colored section of a wall just beyond the grapevines, which are draped with protective cloth in the vineyard. Behind that small wall is a building. (See picture below.)IMG_1492

 

It is the site of the Lapin Agile – a famous cabaret. The mascot, a rabbit, was painted by André Gill, and the rabbit was known as ‘Le Lapin à Gill’ (Gill’s Rabbit). The name was later changed to Lapin Agile (which has the exact same pronunciation) and means Agile Rabbit.  I can just imagine the many artists who lived on this property traipsing down this staircase, past the vineyards and gardens as they headed to the cabaret nearby!

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The gardens and the atmosphere have a certain ‘rustic feel’ to them, making this is an exceptional site in the very heart of Paris.

After touring the gardens, I headed inside and began surveying each of the many exhibition rooms of various artists. The first I came across was George Dorignac. 

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Next, I explored the studio and the apartment of Suzanne Valadon.

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Above right, the studio as seen from the garden; below, the studio from the inside…

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Their apartment was in adjoining rooms.

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In another section, the rich history and culture of Montmartre was presented with numerous old photographs and paintings depicting what it looked like way back when with its cabarets, gypsum mines, and windmills.

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According to the information provided, “theatre, music, circus, and dance have all played an essential part in the make-up of Montmartre and revolved around the cabaret performances. The most celebrated cabaret, the Chat Noir, welcomed several performances of the shadow theatre, which was created in 1866 by Henri Rivière and Henry Somm. At the end of 1887, Rivière managed to transform a small shadow show into an extraordinary technical and elaborate artistic performance according to the displays.”

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There were so many paintings by numerous famous artists in the various rooms of the two main buildings. I was really enjoying the multiple exhibitions of each.  I have only shared a smidgeon of the treasures it held. For such a small museum, it sure had a plethora of colorful treasures by some very talented artists.

Then there was a whole room dedicated to the can-can! Ooh-la-la! That was fun!

Montmartre Museum is perhaps Paris’ best-kept secret! An art museum that is not crowded at all. I almost had the entire place to myself most of the time, which is hard to say in this city! It is also the perfect size for a museum, with enough things to look at but not so massive you need an entire day to see it! Montmartre Museum has a lot to offer in a quiet and unassuming atmosphere.IMG_1420

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Next time you’re in Paris, you should try to check it out! It even offers excellent views of the big city below and its iconic landmarks!