15 February 2017

Netherlands Travel Guide

Getting around

Travelling by train is quick, cheap and easy.
Register with http://www.ns.nl/en and download their app, then you can store all of your advance tickets and check train details on your phone.



Antwerp

Yes, we know it's in Belgium, but it's right on the border and you might as well stop in on the way past. Between the station and the river Schledt is a large pedestrianised area with plenty to see, do and eat.

Top sights:
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady), north of the large square Groenplaats
There's also impressive architecture in the Grote Markt.
Rubenshuis has many of the artist's paintings, and exhibitions about his links with the city, plus a large garden.

Top tips:
As you're still in Belgium, get some frites and waffles, maybe from a vendor down by the river.



Rotterdam

Only one building in Rotterdam survived World War 2, after the Germans razed it to the ground. This means that it has some of the most innovative and stunning architecture in the Netherlands. Not all is good, and it is a major port before it is a tourist city, but by land and sea there is a lot to discover.

Top hotel:
Hilton Rotterdam: only 8 minutes walk from the station, large rooms with enormous windowsills, and very little noise given that it's in the centre. The executive lounge is unusually on the ground floor, and serves a good hot breakfast selection.

Top sights:
Walk along the Westersingel canal down to the waterfront. You can see the Swan Bridge (Erasmusbrug) and many modern skyscrapers.
Just under the north end of the bridge, buy a ticket for the Spido boat tour (https://www.spido.nl/en/tochten-cruises/rotterdam-havenrondvaart), 75 minutes with a commentary in English showing you the industry and design in the port. Up to 10 tours a day, €12.50.
Watch out for the Euromast, a tower with revolving restaurant that you can visit if so inclined. You also get to see at least one windmill.
The maritime museum is on the way back to the centre, and has many outdoor boats you can visit for free, as well as exhibitions inside.
You will also want to see the White House, the only building from 1898 in the city, just along the canal.
Markthal is the most amazing market hall we have seen. While keeping the traditional food stalls, and mixture of cafes and restaurants, it's set in a giant glass and metal dome that is stunning whatever the time of day.
The Cube Houses are visible from the Markthal. Designed by Piet Blom, they are literally cubes but upended onto their points and making a bridge over the main road. One is open as a museum and you can explore every room and see the original 1980s furnishings. http://www.kubuswoning.nl/introkubuseng.html
For culture, the Museum Park is a short walk from the centre, and has the Kunsthal park and garden, the Boijmans art museum, and a natural history museum. In the area are several 1960s Brutalist houses, white concrete with flat roofs.
Other attractions: Tax Museum, De Hef transporter bridge, the Fotomuseum and the Cathedral.

Top shops:
South of the station is Lijnbaan, a shopping district reminiscent of Hatfield, or other "new towns" of that era.

Top eats:
In the Markthal, we recommend Elliniko (http://www.elliniko.nl) for their Greek food, including a giant platter of meat.
Vapiano is a great Italian restaurant where the pasta is cooked in front of you, we went to the one in the Plaza near the station.
If you haven't had Stoopwafels yet, buy some at an Albert Heijn. Delicious as snacking biscuits, or lovely warmed over a cup of hot chocolate.



Delft

A short ride from Rotterdam, the train deposits you on a windswept plaza with views of a tram and some scummy canals. Don't be put off! This beautiful historic town is only one block away.

Top sights:
Oude Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk: only in Delft could the "new church" date from 1351. The old church goes back to 1240, or even earlier. Both are worth visiting, the old down a quiet side street, and the new facing onto the Markt, opposite the Town Hall.
Vermeer Centre: While it doesn't feature any of his 37 original works, this building that Vermeer regularly visited has an exhibition of his life and influence. Around the town are rotating cubes that give more information on the locations where Delft lived, worked and painted.

Top shops:
De Diamanten Ring, "sinds 1796", is the oldest bakery in Delft. Now is your chance to try Dutch delicacies such as butter cakes, Scheve Jantjes, meringues, and Willem van Oranje-brood.
There are many shops on the Markt selling cheeses, clogs, cheeses in the shape of clogs, windmills, and Delft pottery made in China. Don't get fooled!



Den Haag

aka The Hague, home of the International Criminal Court, and MC Escher. Again you can see this easily in a day, unless you want to visit Scheveningen, Den Haag's seaside resort, which is lovely in summer (and bracing in winter).
One of the best tourism websites we have ever seen: https://denhaag.com/en

Top sights:
Escher In Het Paleis: the optical work of the woodcut, lithograph and mezzotint artist whose works have baffled and inspired many.
Panorama Mesdag: another of the surviving great European panoramas of the 19th century, this one unusually shows a coastal scene, Scheveningen in 1881.
Mauritshuis: Girl With A Pearl Earring. Say no more.
Gemeentemuseum: Mondriaan's work, plus many others, in a modernist red-brick gallery.



Amsterdam

Once you're there, think about getting an Amsterdam City Card, with free public transport, a free canal cruise (4 companies on offer), free entry to most museums (not Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank Huis), and discounts on other attractions and food. €57 for 24 hours up to €77 for 72 hours.
http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/i-am/i-amsterdam-city-card/

Top hotel:
't hotel (short for Het Hotel, i.e. the hotel)
Leliegracht 18
thotel.nl
This tiny 8 room canalside haven is very easy to get to, and lives above an antique shop. The breakfast bar is in the basement, but light and nicely decorated. Some rooms look out onto the canal.

Top eats:
Pancake Bakery, Prinsengracht 191 (http://www.pancake.nl/en/)
Semhar, Marnix Straat 259: an Eritrean restaurant with great dishes including enjera (plates made of pancakes covered in meat) and vegetarian and seafood ones (http://semhar.nl/)

Top sights:
Amsterdam Historical Museum, Kalverstraat 92
Anne Frank Huis, Prinsengracht 267
Van Gogh Museum, Paulus Potterstraat 7
Rijksmuseum, Stadhouderskade 42
Jewish Historical Museum, Jonas Daniel, Meijerplein 2-4



Utrecht

The home of Miffy (or Nijntje in the original Dutch). You can't get away from her. The little rabbit created by Dick Bruna has her own traffic lights (at a rainbow pedestrian crossing, LGBT fans - on Lange Viestraat, outside de Bijenkorf), her own museum (opposite the Centraal Museum), and numerous bookshops have her stories in 8 Dutch dialects (and Latin).

Top sights:
Centraal Museum: Dick Bruna was a book illustrator and graphic artist as well as designing Miffy. The museum has a recreation of his studio, and film of him talking about his work. It also has a very nice restaurant.
Dom Under: an innovative combination of archaeology, history and fun. After an orientation talk about the history of Utrecht, from Roman times to the hurricane that divided the cathedral, you are given a torch and taken to explore the darkened ruins beneath. As your light shines on an artefact, the commentary begins in your headphones. Cue much waving torches madly looking for sensors!

Top eats:
Dogma: gourmet hot dogs served in a burrito-style cafe (http://dogmahotdogs.com/)



Eindhoven

The home of Philips electronics company, this city has a Philips Museum with designs for bulbs, radios, shavers, personal stereos and medical equipment dating back to 1891. Definitely worth breaking your journey for (which is perfectly OK in the Netherlands, by the way).



Maastricht

Though it's a long way from most other Dutch cities, Maastricht has a regional feel and is set apart in ways other than geography. Also, because it's so close to the Belgian border, taking the train back to the UK can be made cheaper by getting a cheap ticket to Liège, and then using your "Any Belgian station" Eurostar ticket from there back home, stopping off in Brussels for a bit on the way.

Top shops:
Boekhandel Dominicanen bookshop: combining a sight, a shop and an eat, this is the number one destination in Maastricht. The interior has been transformed, the cafe turns a sanctuary into a cruciform table, and the books (while mainly in Dutch) are food for the soul. https://www.libris.nl/dominicanen

Top eats:
De Bisschops Molen: a bakery with its own waterwheel, using only spelt flour (http://www.bisschopsmolen.nl/). They do delicious rice balls (with fruit), honey buns, platsen, knapkoeken, and more.

Out of town:
Trenches, shelters, grottos and tunnels. We're saving them up for our next visit, but you can check them out here: http://www.maastrichtunderground.nl/eng/caves

14 February 2017

Vienna and Salzburg Travel Guide

VIENNA

Getting There:

As well as flights to Flughafen Wien, you may want to consider travelling by train. Eurostar to Brussels, then Thalys or DB ICE to Köln, and finally the ÖBB Nightjet to Vienna. Your go-to guide is at http://www.seat61.com/Austria.htm
One bonus of booking a sleeper is access to the First Class lounge at Vienna on arrival, a chance to relax and freshen up before heading to your hotel. In fact, first class travel within Austria is usually only €5 or €10 more than standard, and you can then use the lounges at both ends of your journey - free drinks, food, wifi, and a space to relax.
Check prices at both www.bahn.de and www.oebb.at

Getting into town:

If coming from the airport, the S7 train (€4) and the CAT train (€11) both stop at Wien Mitte, which is an interchange with the U-Bahn system. Alternatively you can get the Railjet train (€4) to the Hauptbahnhof.
The Hauptbahnhof is also out of town, on the U1 line, so it is easy to get into the city and change.
http://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal3/ep/tab.do?tabId=0

Vienna Hotels:

You're in luck! We stayed at 3 different hotels and would recommend all of them.

Hilton Vienna Plaza
Schottenring 11
http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/austria/hilton-vienna-plaza-VIEPWTW/index.html
In the heart of town, with very easy access to Metro and trams, this luxury hotel is the priciest, but is absolutely beautiful, has a great bar, and the rooms are splendid.

Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront
Handelskai 269
http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/austria/hilton-vienna-danube-waterfront-VIEHAHI/index.html
This stylish hotel is right on the Danube, so has amazing views. In the summer you can use the outdoor pool. It's a little out beyond Prater, so you have to get the U-Bahn to Stadion, then walk (following the very clear signs) for less than 10 minutes through housing to a bridge over the Handelskai main road. It's a very safe area and has a local supermarket on the way for provisions.

Park Inn Uno City
Wagramerstrasse 16-18
https://www.parkinn.com/hotel-vienna
This was our cheap hotel taking advantage of a weekend deal, but in fact it was just perfect in terms of service and rest. Uno City is a modern area on an island on the east of the Danube, with futuristic U-Bahn stations. The hotel is less than 10 minutes from Kaisermuhlen VIC station, and its rooms are behind the hotel front, in a very peaceful courtyard.

Tourist Information:

Vienna Pass
We don't often buy city passes, and never go on the open-topped buses, but for Vienna we made an exception. Buy your pass in the Opernpassage, near the U-Bahn concourse at Opera station.

From 1 day for €70 up to 3 days for €110, it includes free travel on U-Bahn and city buses (though not the train to the airport). But you also get free, unlimited Hop On Hop Off bus access, which is the only way to Schönbrunn, and is a quick way of getting around the city without trying to find underground stations (which are few in the central pedestrianised area).

And then you get entry to 60 attractions: we used it for Ferris Wheel (€10), Cathedral (€5), Belvedere (€20), Schönbrunn (€15), City Cruise (€20 - AVOID, see below), Museum of Art History (€15), National Library (€7), Literature Museum (€7), Mozarthaus (€11), Jewish Museum (€10), Museum of Modern Art (€11), Freud Museum (€10), Transport Museum (€8) and the Prater Museum (€5). And that was in 3 days!

The full list is here: https://www.viennapass.com/vienna-attractions/

If you just want to get a travel pass, then the week-long pass runs Monday to Sunday and is worth it if arriving near the start of the week. It's under €20. Day passes are around €8. More info at http://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal3/ep/channelView.do/pageTypeId/66533/channelId/-47382

Eating:

Bitzinger Würstelstand Albertina
Operngasse, just behind the Theatre and the Opera
https://www.bitzinger-wien.at/
The best hotdog stand in the city. The rest are all pretty good, but this one has the best sausage selection, the best beer selection, and the best service
Also at the Ferris Wheel in Prater
Backup plan: the hotdog stand on Kupferschmiedgasse

Kolar
Kleeblattgasse 5
http://kolar-beisl.at/index.htm
In the back streets near Judenplatz, we sought out this little bar that serves the best Fladenbroten (filled pita breads) in town. They have 40 different fillings and a great beer selection.

Naschmarkt
http://www.naschmarkt-vienna.com/
A market half a mile long, with food stalls, small eateries, and sit-down restaurants, all in the middle of a busy street. You can buy anything here, the problem is deciding where to have lunch!

Sightseeing:

We're not going to list all the places we used the Vienna Pass for! Here are some tips for seeing a different selection.

Wiener Museum
Karlsplatz 8
http://www.wienmuseum.at/en/locations/wien-museum-karlsplatz.html
Not much of a looker from the outside, but the architectural detail inside is amazing, it has a well-designed extension, plus the smallest lift you have ever seen. Temporary exhibitions on aspects of Viennese life, plus maps and models of the city in development.

St Stephen's Cathedral
Stephansplatz
https://www.stephanskirche.at/index.jsp?menuekeyvalue=11&langid=2
An incredible building, for many the highlight of Vienna, with a decorated roof, and two towers, one accessible by stairs, the other by a lift. The tour takes in views of the organ loft and cathedral treasures.

Prater
http://www.prater.at/GeneralInformation.php?LI=1
http://www.wienerriesenrad.com/en/?_wb=en/&lang=EN
Not just for fans of the film The Third Man, this Ferris Wheel and amusement park date back to the 1760s, though they have been renovated since then. You arrive at Praterstern station, and follow the crowds into the park. It's worth getting tickets for the Wheel online, though you still have to queue. Some people book a private compartment to have dinner on the wheel, but you have a lot of eyes on you! Amazing views at any time, but twilight as the city dims and the lights come up below, is a great time to travel.

Ring Tram
https://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal3/ep/channelView.do/pageTypeId/66533/channelId/-47394
This distinctive yellow tram is the only one to completely circumnavigate the Ring. It runs every 30 minutes. Board at Schwedenplatz and pay the €8 on board - travel passes not accepted.

Museum Quarter
https://www.mqw.at/en/
Four big hitters here - Architekturzentrum Wien, Kunsthalle Wien, LEOPOLD MUSEUM, mumok - plus 10 cafes and 9 shops. Plenty of lounging space in the courtyards.

Boat Trip:

AVOID. Of all the cities and boats we've been on, this is the one time we say no go. The DDSG boats from Schwedenplatz do not go on the beautiful Blue Danube. They go along a narrow canal backed onto by graffitied walls and office buildings. Just as you get within sight of the Danube, it turns around and heads back. It's not even a nice canal like in Copenhagen. Wait until you get to Salzburg. Now THAT'S a boat trip.
https://www.viennapass.com/vienna-attractions/city-cruises-vienna.html



SALZBURG

Getting There (and Back):


Travelling on ÖBB, we'd again recommend first class travel as it's not that much more expensive, and you can use the lounges at both ends of your journey. www.oebb.at
There is another train company, Westbahn, which has a fixed price that you can buy on the train without reservation. It depends how organised you want to be. Note these leave from Westbahnhof, not Hauptbahnhof. https://westbahn.at/en
Again, a go-to guide is http://www.seat61.com/trains-and-routes/vienna-to-salzburg-by-train.htm

A final tip. If you plan to break your journey, eg at Linz (see below), it may be cheaper to buy a through ticket, and just get off at Linz. There's no barriers to stop you doing this. Obviously you'd need a separate ticket for the rest of your journey, but it's still an economy.

Tourist Information:

Salzburg Card
Another good value card, €27 for 24 hours, including buses, free boat trip, and entry to lots of museums, some of which are worthwhile.

Salzburg Hotels:

Holiday Inn Salzburg
Sterneckstrasse 21
https://www.ihg.com/holidayinn/hotels/gb/en/salzburg/szghi/hoteldetail
A 15 minute walk from the east side of Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, along a safe main road, served by buses 12 (to the station) and 2 (to the centre of town). Friendly, spacious, and quiet.

Sightseeing:

St Peter's Bakery
Kapitelplatz 8
http://www.salzburg.info/en/shopping/long-_established_shops/bakeries/stiftsbaeckerei_st_peter
Salzburg's oldest bakery, cooking sourdough in the wood-fired oven, using wheat ground by the waterwheel

Festung Hohensalzburg (Fortress and Funicular)
http://www.salzburg-burgen.at/en/hohensalzburg/
open from 9.30am, worth getting there early for a prompt ride up to the fortress and lots of viewpoints, Regency State Rooms and the marionette museum

Weihnachtsmuseum (Christmas Museum)
Mozartplatz 2
http://www.salzburg.info/de/sehenswertes/museen_in_salzburg/museen/salzburger_weihnachtsmuseum
opposite the Mozart statue, this collection of German and other Christmas decorations and traditions was accumulated over 40 years. Unsurprisingly there is also a Christmas shop!

Mozart Birthplace and Mozart Residence
Getreidegasse 9 and Makartplatz 8
http://www.mozarteum.at/en/museums/mozarts-birthplace.html
if two Mozart museums in Vienna weren't enough, there are another two here!

Museum of Modern Art - high and low
http://www.museumdermoderne.at/en/home/
take the Mönschsberg Elevator for clifftop views across the city and the river and the upper museum. The lower one is behind the Franciscan church in the Old Town. The lift costs money but is cheaper with a museum ticket, valid at both venues.

Panorama Museum
Residenzplatz
http://www.salzburgmuseum.at/index.php?id=1830
Dating from 1829, this panorama shows Salzburg and the surrounding countryside, and went on tour around Europe at the height of the panorama craze

Boat Trip:

Free with the Salzburg Card, these trips are very popular so you will want to book one early in the day and come back later. If there aren't cheap spaces, you can upgrade to A Class, which gets you into a different queue, and better seats on the boat, behind a velvet rope! Only €3 extra!
The boat gives excellent views up and down the river, and it shows off its speedboat motors right at the end!
https://www.salzburghighlights.at/en/Boat-Sightseeing/Boat-Sightseeing



Day Trips:


Innsbruck

If you want to explore the Tirol region of Austria, Innsbruck is a great place to start. The train journey from Salzburg is mostly in Germany so have your passport handy, but you won't need it. Railjet trains make it in under 2 hours, and run every hour.

The Hauptbahnhof is to the east of the city, and it is easy to get about on foot. The biggest highlights are the Hofkirche (a memorial tomb surrounded by 28 giant bronze statues), the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) and the Cathedral (Dom).

There's an even bigger attraction that you can get to with zero effort, and it's 2,256 metres high! Right from the centre of town (find Congress station) there is a cable train that goes under the river, then up to 860 metres stopping at Hungerburg. From there you can take a series of cable cars to Seegrube and Hafelekar, a short walk from the summit. There are views over Innsbruck itself, and the Karwendel national park.

We recommend lunch at the Seegrube restaurant, on the first floor (not the self-service cafe). The views from there are amazing, and on a warm day you can dine outside. We had 2 types of soup with meatballs, and then Hünnerbrust and Käsespätzle for some local flavour.

Buy your tickets at Congress station, €30 isn't cheap but they are the best and easiest views in Austria!

https://www.innsbruck.info/en/innsbruck-city.html
http://www.nordkette.com/en/home.html


Kufstein

This fortress town is on the border of Austria and Germany, and in fact the train journey is mostly in Germany! Have your passport handy, but you won't need it. Railjet trains make it in just over an hour, and run every two hours, so avoid catching local trains that need a change at Rosenheim.

The fortress dates from 1205 and is reached by a funicular. One of the best things about the fortress is the pipe organ, which booms out from the tower each day at noon, and you can watch the organist at the foot of the fortress playing remotely in a small shed. The restaurant in the fortress is great with genuine local fare, like Gröstl and Schnitzel.

Also in the town are a distinctive City Hall, a fountain, two churches and the Old Town.

https://www.kufstein.com/en/
http://www.festung.kufstein.at/index.php/en/


Linz

Halfway between Salzburg and Vienna, this is a good place to stop off at on your way between the two, or even for a night in itself. Remember our tip: it may be cheaper to buy a Salzburg-Vienna ticket, and just get off at Linz. There's no barriers to stop you doing this. Obviously you'd need a separate ticket for the rest of your journey, but it can work out a lot cheaper.

Next tip: the Hauptbahnhof is about 30 minutes walk from the town square, and there are lots of trams, but you need to get the right ticket! The Mini-Karte is €1.10 and good for 4 stops, but cunningly the town square is 5 stops from the station. Up to you how you want to risk this! A Midi-Karte will get you all across town, but is €2.20. The Maxi-Karte is €4.40 and lasts for 24 hours.

One more ticket fact ... to get a ride on the funicular (Pöstlingbergbahn), tram 50 leaving regularly from Hauptplatz (which has ticket machines), it's a further €6.20 return (the ticket is called Berg Und Tal), and Maxi-Karte is not valid. OK?

The funicular is amazing. Taking in gradients of up to 12%, it wanders through some pretty suburbs and cottages, until reaching Pöstlingberg at an altitude of 540 metres. There's a church, a cafe, an art gallery and incredible views.
http://www.linzag.at/portal/portal/linzag/privatkunden/freizeitfamilie/erlebniswelt_poestlingberg/poestlingbergbahn_poestlingbergbahnmuseum

Linz has set itself up as a centre of excellence for technology, and has some of the most modern museums and galleries in the world. There's the ARS Electronica Center on the north bank of the river, and the modern art gallery Lentos on the south bank. Further into town is the Nordico city museum. The Tooth Museum (yes, really) is in the Old Town Hall next to the Tourist Information.

One shopping tip: the chocolate shop Isabella Confiserie, at Landstrasse 33, has a great selection, and is a good place to buy the famous Linzer Torte.