Giethoorn, Venice of the North

When you search Wikipedia for  Venice of the North, you will see that quite a few towns in various countries are so nicknamed. In my opinion Amsterdam really deserves that title, with its numerous canals and about 1500 bridges. But Giethoorn is also sometimes called the Small Venice of the North.  It is a village in the Dutch province of Overijssel. In the map of Holland I have indicated the location.

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Giethoorn is a tourist attraction, especially popular with Chineset tourists. I had been there once, many years ago, it was Aric who had read about it and was interested to visit it. We went by public transport, first by train, then by bus. Giethoorn is located in what was in earlier times a peat swamp. What remains are lakes and many canals, used in the past to transport the peat. In the map below I have shown the route we have walked. Cars can not enter this part of the village, you have to walk or rent a boat.

map-giethoorn

We were advised at the tourist office to walk. Most (mainly Chinese) tourists rent a punt. In the past you needed a pole to move it (not easy), now they are provided with a silent electric motor and called “whisper boats” 🙂 Restaurant menus and the timetable for the bus were available in Chinese.

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When you reach the foot/bicycle path, you feel like entering a different world. Thatched houses, many on their private island, only reachable by wooden bridges. We were lucky to visit Giethoorn off-season, it was relatively quiet.

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Here a collection of pictures, it is difficult to stop taking photos. Click to enlarge

Halfway we got a bit hungry and decided to stop at the Smits pavilion, surrounded by water. I was expecting they would serve “uitsmijter” , a traditional Dutch lunch, but that was not the case. The frikandel with fries was an acceptable alternative.

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Refreshed we continued our walk, with more photos of bridges, thatched houses, whisper boats…:-)

For Chinese couples it is customary to make a wedding album before the actual wedding takes place. A professional photographer chooses romantic locations for the photo shoot. Here a couple had come to Giethoorn! It proves the popularity of the place with Chinese..:-)

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When you mention Giethoorn to a (senior?) Dutchman, they probably will reply: Of course, Fanfare! Fanfare is an iconic Dutch movie, shot by movie director Bert Haanstra in 1958. You can say that the movie put Giethoorn on the map. The cafe where part of the action took place, still exists and is of course now called Fanfare 🙂

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The movie is available on YouTube. It’s a comedy, worth viewing. English subtitles.

We enjoyed the trip tremendously. The statue which Aric is trying to imitate, depicts Albert Mol, one of the Fanfare actors. Of course he also had to try the giant wooden clogs. The giant leaves in the last picture you would expect rather in the tropical jungle..:-)

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Many houses in Giethoorn still have traditional thatched roofs. They are beautiful but expensive, € 90 – € 110 per m2. Thatching a roof or repairing it, requires skill, as you can see in the last picture.

One last image of Giethoorn. Visit this Venice of the North when you get the chance!

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Bukit Apek waterfalls

Almost ten years ago, in 2006, a friend took me to Bukit Apek. It is the blue track in the image below (click to enlarge). At that time I was not aware that there were waterfalls…:-). When I was told there were waterfalls, I went two more times, one time to the lower fall (red track), a second time to the upper fall (green track). It resulted in a page on my waterfall website: Bukit Apeh falls (I understand now that Apek is the correct spelling).

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On this page I wrote:

It will be interesting to see if it is possible to follow the 
stream down into the Ulu Langat Valley. The distance to the 
nearest road is about 1 km, as the crow flies. 
Altitude difference about 200 m

When I talked about it with my Kiara friend Peter Leong, he got interested and recently he and a friend did a recce. It is the red track to the right. At the end of the road, passing a water treatment plant, a clear trail led to a water catchment. Here the trail split, they explored the right fork, it might lead to the Lookout Point. The left fork should lead to the falls.

To check if that was true, we went back with a few friends. From left to right Steven, Chee Seng, Suat, Chee Kwan and Peter. An afternoon trip, we started at 2:15 pm


To reach the trail, we had to pass the water treatment plant, which was heavily fenced with barbed wire. Warning us to be careful, Peter himself got hurt and needed a bandage.

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The trail follows an old pipeline to a small reservoir. One of the most scenic trails I have walked! Shaded, mossy, Lord of the Rings atmosphere.

Here a few pictures of the pipeline

The small reservoir, where the trail forks

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From the catchment we followed the left trail, well marked, must be used regularly by hashers, many hash papers. This part is less interesting, a bit monotonous. After a few hundred meters  it joins the trail leading to the two waterfalls. I wanted to see the lower fall and that meant we had to descend a steep slope.

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Here is the lower fall.

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I had brought a stove to make coffee, here Chee Seng is boiling the water. Of course Suat had brought her delicious homemade cake…:-)

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Time to take pictures

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I don’t remember what I said here to the two alpha-males…:-)

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At the waterfall we met another friend, Michael, who had started the hike from the other (Saga) side. He joined us on our way down, after we had taken a group photo. After about one hour we were back at our car, where cold beer was waiting for us..:-)

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Here is a GE screenshot of our hike.

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Rotterdam & Dordrecht

When my friend Inez and I decided to make a day trip to an interesting town in the Netherlands, the original plan was to visit Dordrecht. Then other friends told me about a nice way to travel from Rotterdam to Dordrecht, by Waterbus ! Public transport by boat. Twice an hour between Rotterdam and Dordrecht.

Waterbus

So we changed our plan a bit and combined Dordrecht and Rotterdam. That is actually too much for one day, both historical Dordrecht and modernistic Rotterdam deserve more time. So in this report only some impressions…:-)

We arrived at the impressive Central Station of Rotterdam, finished last year. Not easy to take good pictures. Next to it the skyscraper complex of the Delftse Poort. We took the metro to the iconic Markthal, a combination of  residences with a shopping center. The interior is spectacular, but unfortunately we were too early, as it opens on Sunday at noon only. Nearby are the famous Cube houses of Dutch architect Blom, built already in 1977. From there we walked to the Erasmus bridge, passing on our way many other interesting buildings. The picture of the Erasmus bridge shows at the other side of the river the fascinating building of De Rotterdam by architect Rem Koolhaas.

As an Amsterdam guy I am supposed to be negative about arch-rival Rotterdam, but honestly, I was impressed and will come again.

The boat ride was fun, although the weather was not very favorable. Big container ships and other boats on the river, several ship docks, this is the heart of maritime Holland. Several stops between Rotterdam and Dordrecht, you can take your bicycle with you. It took about one hour to reach Dordrecht and the Waterbus took us right to the old historical center.

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Here is a video clip of the Waterbus

It was almost lunchtime when we arrived in Dordrecht, so first we walked around to find a place to have food and a drink. It had started to drizzle, we could not use one of the many cafe terrace, but had to go inside. I had an Uitsmijter and a glass of karnemelk, both delicious. An Uitsmijter is a very Dutch lunch dish, here is a recipe . Karnemelk is a kind of buttermilk and also very Dutch..:-)

Lunch

 

For Dordrecht the same holds as for Rotterdam, you could spend days, exploring the many gems in this historical town. Also here a few impressions only

We were lucky, the Town Hall is still used by the council, but on the first Sunday of a month it is open to the public for a couple of hours…:-). Interesting architecture, mixture of Renaissance and Neoclassic style, many restorations.

At the end of our walk we visited the Museum of Dordrecht. There was an interesting exhibition of the Haagse School and one with paintings by Breitner, one of my favourite painters. We spent quite a long time there

What could be a better way to end this pleasant day than with a Lente Bok beer…:-)? Especially when it carries my name…:-)

Lunch

Lentebok

 

 

Taiwan trip videos

During our recent trip to Taiwan, I have take quite a few video clips, which are now available on YouTube. Here they are presented with some additional comments and links..

The first clip was taken in the Longshan temple in Taipei. This temple was originally built in 1738 by Chinese settlers from Fujian, It was destroyed many times by earthquakes and fires, but every time rebuilt. The last time was after the Americans had bombed the temple in 1945, claiming that the Japanese had hidden weapons inside the temple. It is an iconic example of classical Taiwanese architecture.

Also a temple, but in a completely different style and much more recent: the Shell Temple in Dangshui. In the hills, north of Taipei, remote, we hired a taxi to get there. Completely built from sea corals and shells. Amazing.

During our trip we had lots of nice and often unknown food. One of them was this dish with I think  is called Milk Mochi. It has a Japanese origin and was very refreshing. Aric shows here how to eat it.

One of the tourist attractions of Taipei is the Maokong Gondola. It connects the Taipei Zoo with the Maokong hill. Opened in 2007 it was closed in 2008 after structural damage of the supporting pylons was discovered. Reopened in 2010. Some of the cabins have glass bottoms.

Maokong is a tea growing region, so one of the attractions is to drink tea in one of the many tea houses that can be found near the gondola station. It was misty, so the famous night view of Taipei was disappointing. But we had tea and here Aric is showing how to do a tea ceremony (more or less…haha)

In Xin Beitou I took two videos of the geothermal activity there. The first one on our way back from our  hot spring bath experience in the remote location. Note how there is a small stream with cold water just next to the boiling water and the steam. Transported with numerous pipes to the baths.

In Xin Beitou itself, walking distance from the center, there is a “Thermal Valley”, a small lake of hot water, greenish colour, with a lot of steam coming from the water.

Our next destination was Jiaoxi, on the north-east coast of Taiwan. Here Aric had discovered during his research a nice waterfall, the Wufengqi falls. Walkable from the town.This is the lower tier

The upper tier is quite impressive, a tall vertical fall. We were not the only visitors, although it was  a steep climb. This is a popular tourist attraction.

One of the must-visit places for food in Jiaoxi is the Wengyao Roast Chicken restaurant . Their specialty is chicken, slowly smoked over tropical longan wood.

WengYao restaurant

First here a video about how they prepare the chicken.

What a job! The chicken is cooked in its own fat, with some herbs. You can only order a whole chicken. They bring it to your table with two pair of gloves and you have to dissect it yourself. Here I am doing that, it became a kind of slapstick video. Watch it full screen and have a good laugh.

By the way, I have never in my life eaten a more juicy and delicious chicken!

From Jiufen, the last village where we stayed, we made a few trips in the north-eastern hills of Taiwan. One of the places Aric liked to visit was the grave of Teresa Teng, a Taiwanese Chinese pop singer, passed away at a young age in 1995 and still very popular in Malaysia and other Asian countries. Elaborate grave, with her songs being played. Interesting.

On our last day we explored the Pingxi line, a single-track railway line, built in 1921 to transport coal. Now a major tourist attraction. On a day ticket you can stop at each station, walk around and then proceed to another one. From the Shifen station you can walk to what is considered the most scenic waterfall of Taiwan, the Shifen fall. Kind of Niagara falls in miniature.

The Shifen station itself is an interesting one, with the railway tracks running in the middle of the village main street! When no train is arriving these railway tracks are a center of activity with people preparing huge Chinese lanterns, writing messages on them and then let them go up in the sky.

Chinese lanterns

Thaipusam Festival

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival, celebrated, mostly by the Tamil community, on the full moon day in January/February. The festival is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the son of Shiva and Parvati and it commemorates  the occasion when Parvati gave her son a spear (the Vel) to vanquish the evil demons. Years ago I had attended the celebration at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur. This time I decided to go to Penang where Thaipusam yearly attracts hundred thousands of visitors.

Here is a characteristic Thaipusam picture. The devotee has pierced his cheeks and tongue with a miniature Vel and is carrying a Kavadi on his shoulders

Kavadi bearer

Other devotees attach fruits or small milk pots with metal hooks to their body. Most of them are Indian, but also some Chinese take part in the ceremony.

Many devotees carry pots with milk on their head. They carry this up the more than 500 steps to the Hilltop Temple.

Carrying Milk pots

Carrying a pot with milk

Carrying a pot with milk

Carrying a pot with milk

Quite a few devotees have their head shaved by barbers at the foot of the hill, as a sign of submission to Lord Murugan and in the hope that it will bring them good luck.

Shaved head

shaved head

We were prepared for massive traffic jams in Penang, so on Thaipusam day we left our car at the hotel car park and took the bus. It was well organised, buses went on and off to Gottlieb road, dropping thousands of visitors. From there we had to walk, past numerous stalls, it was quite a carnivalesque atmosphere, more than I remembered from the Batu Caves in KL (but that was many years ago). Kavadi bearers, often carrying really elaborate (and heavy) contraptions on their shoulders, devotees carrying pots with milk for offering in the temple later.

Along the road there were also many places where you could have free (vegetarian) food. Near the start of the stairs there was a place where barbers where shaving heads. Kavadi bearers can not climb up until the temple, compared with the Batu Caves where there is a special “lane” for them. Climbing up the more than 500 steps was a slow process, step by step, it took us more than two(!) hours to reach the temple. But not boring there was a lot to see. And the festival is a photographer’s heaven…:-) Here is a gallery of pictures

It was a nice experience, but when I compare it with (my memories of) the Batu Caves ceremony, I prefer that one, as I felt it had a more “sacred” atmosphere.

Computer migration

You may have have been wondering if all was well with me, as I have not written any post for some time. Don’t worry, I am alive and kicking. Just busy migrating my data to a new computer.

For some time my Dell laptop has been showing signs of old age. Time to look for a replacement. Another Dell?  Windows 8 with a touchscreen?

Not so long ago Aric has bought a MacBook Air, but he hardly uses it, not even in the kitchen to cut an apple , as he prefers working with the big-screen iMac. He suggested that I could take over this small(!) notebook, make it dual-bootable with both Mac OS and Windows 7 and buy a (wireless) keyboard and mouse. When I travel I can just take the MacBook with me

That is what I have done. Not really complicated, but it took time.First I had to transfer all my data to a new backup HD, then install Windows 7 and software on the MacBook. Here you see my desk during migration. To the left is the MacBook Air, in the middle my 22 inch monitor and to the right my old Dell.

Computer migration

The intermediate mess

Intermediate mess

And  the final result.

Final result

I have a backlog of posts, so be prepared…:-)