Magical Efteling in The Netherlands

EFTELING, THE NETHERLANDS: Efteling is one of the oldest theme parks in the world and one of the biggest in Europe which is located in Kaatsheuvel in The Netherlands. The whole park is themed around legends, fairy-tales, magical stories, and folklores. We took our girls there in September of 2013 for some summer fun before their school started and spent a whole day there. You can find rides for different ages, scenes from many folklore stories like Hansel and Gretel, The Red Dancing Shoes, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Gnome houses, and many more. I have been to many theme parks in the USA but this one is really makes you feel like you are in a fairy-tale story book. The park dresses up differently in different seasons, winter is probably one of the best time to see its fabulous lighting and decorations. The day we went there was also a water, fire, lighting, and music show on its lake near the entrance right before the closing time…which was fabulous.

It was about little more than hour drive from Tervuren, Belgium. The ticket 40 euros per person plus the parking. But parking is not a problem here. There are couple hotels inside the park and of course many cafes, restaurants, and snack bars.

Enjoy these picture from our trip to Efteling. But if you have time and kids be sure to visit this place in The Netherlands and be mesmerize as soon as you enter Efteling’s world.

The grand entrance to Efteling
The grand entrance to Efteling
"De Bazar" section of Efteling
“De Bazar” section of Efteling
A gnome's house in Efteling
A gnome’s house in Efteling
"The Long Neck"
“The Long Neck
A talking tree in Efteling
A talking tree in Efteling
Fire and water show near the entrance at the end of the day in Efteling
Fire and water show near the entrance at the end of the day in Efteling

Modern Dutch city Eindhoven, The Netherlands

EINDHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS: Eindhoven is a thriving ultra-modern Dutch city with lots of bold and futuristic buildings. The actual city is very spread out and big but the city center is walkable to all the main spots. Unlike many other European cities, Eindhoven doesn’t have an “old town” per say; look of its city center is very up-to-date and stylish.

Walking towards St. Catherine Church in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Walking towards St. Catherine Church in Eindhoven, The Netherlands was very empty that Sunday

TIME of TRAVELING: We visited Eindhoven when my elder sister and her family came to visit us in Belgium. It was one Sunday in May of 2013. It was a very pleasant day but empty in the city center.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in an Egyptian place beside St. Catherine Church. It was some good food for good price.

Since we were there on a Sunday, everything was closed! There were lots of stores in the city center but too bad we could only do window shopping.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent only half a day in Eindhoven since everything was closed and crowdless, we decided to go to Antwerp in Belgium before heading back home. It seemed like there wasn’t anything to do except looking at some good-looking buildings and some squares. I think, the nightlife here can be very lively…but that didn’t suit us really. Some of the great buildings of this city are De Admirant (the highest building in Eindhoven), Evoluon – a mushroom/UFO shaped building from 1966, and more sexy architectures in “Around the Admirant” which are basically shopping area.

Evoluon - an UFO shaped futuristic building in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Evoluon – a UFO shaped futuristic building in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

“Around Admirant” is one of the most stylish squares I’ve seen in whole of Europe with many creative looking buildings. Small streets from this square have many shops and some fast food places. I can’t imagine what it would be like on Saturdays when everything is open and people are gathering in to hangout in this cool place.

Another cool architecture "The Blob" in "Around Admirant" in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Another cool architecture “The Blob” in “Around Admirant” in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Sint-Catherinekerk located in Catharinaplein. Exterior of it looks fascinating but couldn’t go it (forgot that most of the churches in the Netherlands are closed on Sundays).

Markt looked the liveliest place while we were roaming around the city center. It is probably one of the best places for lunch with many options.

Restaurants in the Markt in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Restaurants in the Markt in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Weekly Photo Challenge – Foreign

After moving to Belgium as an ex-pat last year and traveling to so many new places, I’ve got hundreds of pictures that look “foreign” to me. I was going thru some of those photos (and also going down the memory lane while looking at them) I finally picked 4 pictures that I usually don’t see in my daily life. Hope you enjoy them as much I did when I first saw these …

First picture is of the unusually shaped cubic houses of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. These fun architectures were built somewhere in 1970s. We went inside one of these houses. It is a bit tight inside with all the furniture and other stuff, but if I was a single I wouldn’t mind living in one of these fun-looking apartments.

Cubic houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Second picture is something that I am not used to seeing normally…carrying breads/grocery in baskets. I took this picture in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This is very common among the locals to stuff their products in these different sizes and shapes of baskets.

We saw many locals carrying these baskets with grocery/bakery inside covered with cute, lacey fabric…very unique I thought

Third picture was taken from our trip to Doha, Qatar. You may think its weird (haha), but I thought this was a classic picture of two arabs smoking sheesha wearing traditional thoub and turban. Sheesha is very popular among westerners now a days but being in Middle-East and see the locals doing it is something very unique.

I had to take this picture of 2 Arabs in their thoubs smoking sheesha/hookah in Souk Al Waqif – classic

And the last picture was taken in Keukenhof, The Netherlands. We were there in April, 2012 for the big flower parade and tulip festival. We were hungry and decided to try this traditional Dutch food raw herring fish with onions…to my surprise, I actually liked it, so did my 6 years old daughter. I won’t deny it was very fishy but chopped onion adds loads of flavor to it…I don’t mind trying it again if I am really starving :/

Raw herring with onions

A modern city of The Netherlands – Rotterdam

ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS: Rotterdam is a big and spread-out city, nothing like Amsterdam where most of the tourist spots are concentrated near Dam Square. You have to know where you are going here and what you want to do here, otherwise you will just keep wandering around the city not finding the real place to have fun. I am warning you, this is not a traditional Dutch village/city where you will see an old church, a decorative town hall, or big squares with statues of famous people. This is a spontaneous city with big and shiny architectures and busy life-style. It’s a highly diverse city unlike some of its neighboring small villages…people from everywhere are here.

City center of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

After spending some time on where to park, we were a bit confused as in what to do and where to go exactly. Although we had our to-do list for Rotterdam and asked some locals, nothing really helped us to give us some directions. Then we saw the World-Trade Center and the underground mall near it. It was a relief to finally see some crowds and shops there…phew, I thought to myself, if we can’t find anything, the least we can do is spend some time on shopping 😉 So, that was our starting point to explore Rotterdam and as we kept walking following the long stretch of long pedestrian zone, we were exactly where we wanted to be in the beginning.

TIME OF TRAVELING: My parents visited Belgium in May 2012. The Netherlands was our first destination and Rotterdam was our second city there (after Gouda) to get some ultra-modern taste of Holland. The weather was fantastic and we were energetic to explore this not-so-typical Dutch city.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Holiday Inn in Leiden, a very nice, big, and spacious place to accommodate you with free parking and play areas for children. The location was great, because Leiden is about half an hour drive from other Dutch cities like Rotterdam, Gouda, the Hague, Utrecht, and Delft. All of these places are perfect to experience real Dutch culture and people.

WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN ROTTERDAM: There are lots of open-air markets near the World-Trade Center of Rotterdam or the Cubic houses. This is a perfect place to do shopping and taste some traditional Dutch knickknacks, like raw herring sandwich or fried whole fish/fillet with white sauce. I saw lots of natural cosmetics and bath supplies stores in the underground mall, if you are into these stuffs.

Fried fish in open market of Rotterdam on Hoogstraat, The Netherlands

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent about a day, may be a little less, in Rotterdam. We lost some time in finding a proper parking garage and the hot spots where locals actually go.

1) UNDERGROUND MALL BEURSPLEIN or KOOPGOOT: Koopgoot means “Shopping Gutter” in Dutch and it is very close to Rotterdam City Hall and right beside World-Trade Center. The design of this marketplace is very unique and a must-see in Rotterdam. This is a pedestrian area and is very crowded in weekends. Go down the stairs to go to Beurspleain underground shops.  The whole Buersplein is a combination of indoor and outdoor shopping center, probably one of the liveliest places of the city. If you keep walking straight, keeping the shopping center behind, you will see the pedestrian path stretches long way to some more open-air markets (I think it’s called Korte Hoogstraat). This whole area is a lovely place to do shopping, to take a stroll, or just to stop and do people watching.

Beursplein underground market in the center of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

2) GROTE OF SINT LAURENSKERK (GREAT or SAINT LAWRENCE CHURCH): The church is standing here since 1449. The late-Gothic design of this building looked really nice from outside but unfortunately we couldn’t go inside since it is closed on Sundays, like any other Dutch churches. It is a historical landmark of Rotterdam city center, not too far from the Cubic houses or the World-Trade Center.

3) CUBIC HOUSES (KIJK-KUBUS): The yellow Cubic houses are something very unique and original of Rotterdam. Architecture Piet Blom designed these “playful” buildings in 1970s to give a different look to the city when Rotterdam was booming with many of these architectural evolutions. The apartment complex which features these cubical shaped houses is very close to the National Library and metro station Blaak.

Cubic houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

There are tenants inside these apartments, but you can visit its museum by going to the courtyard and following the sign. The tight spaces inside these cubes are just fine for students, single tenant, or may be a couple. But you definitely should check-out the life-style and how it is decorated with contemporary furniture inside these apartments. It is 2.50 euros per person to go inside. The display apartment is open until 5 pm in weekdays and 6 pm in weekends.

Inside a cube house in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Another Dutch city Maastricht, The Netherlands

MAASTRICHT, THE NETHERLANDS: Unlike some of the other Dutch cities we’ve visited recently, i.e., Gouda, Leiden, and Delft, Maastricht is more like a modern city with some old touches. Ofcourse it has old churches, a prominent town hall, and a big market place, but somehow it didn’t feel like I am in The Netherlands. Either way you look at it, this is a great place for a day trip if you are nearby.

Maastricht by the River Maas, The Netherlands

TIME OF TRAVELING: We drove to Maastricht in end of June, 2012 on a Saturday. It’s about little more than an hour drive from Tervuren, Belgium. The weather forecast said it was going to rain, but luckily it didn’t and it actually turned out to be bright and sunny day.

WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN MAASTRICHT: We really didn’t try any Dutch food this time. We saw KFC in the Markt and we were missing some American good food…so, there we were eating some fried chicken with fries (they don’t sell biscuits here) while enjoying Dutch environment.

Maastricht is a great place for shopping. The small alleys from Vrijthof to the Markt and towards the river Maas have many brand name stores, local boutiques, and sweet treat places which are hard to pass by.

Fashion streets in Maastricht near The Markt, The Netherlands

PLACES WE HAVE VISITED: We reached Maastricht little bit later than we intended to around 1 pm. By the time we had lunch and visited all the churches and other sites, we figured that we didn’t have enough time to explore the museums, which I really wanted to do in this trip.

A white Cadillac waiting for the newly weds outside Basilica of St. Servatius, Maastricht

1) VRIJTHOF SQUARE: This is a huge square featuring 2 of the main churches of Maastricht, St. Jan’s Cathedral and St. Servaas Church. The square has couple museums which we didn’t cover this time. It’s a perfect place for to have drinks or meals or just simply admire the atmosphere. When we went there, this square was a playground for the kids with some bouncy castles, music, and other play areas. The surrounding is beautiful with the churches and long red tower of St. Jan’s in one side and all the cafes and restaurants on the other side.

Cafes and restaurants in Vrijthof, Maastricht, The Netherlands

a) BASILICA of SAINT SERVATIUS: This church was built on the site of the grave of St. Servatius. This Romanesque style church is beautiful both inside and out. It’s a huge church when you go inside with many doors and small chapels. We didn’t go to the courtyard of the church (costs about 4 euros). There was a wedding going on when we went there, so couldn’t get near the altar or walk around the church freely, but it is absolutely gorgeous inside with its blue and white high-ceiling. The altar looked sophisticated with pretty lights and shiny decors.

Inside Basilica of St. Servatius

b) ST. JAN’S CHURCH: This Gothic church can easily be recognized by its unique 70 meter high red tower looking over Vrijthof. The church, built in the 12th/13th century, is rather simply inside with stone pillars, memorial stones on the walls, and a few murals. There are 115 tombstones dating from 1378 to 1771. The new organ, built in 1992, replaced the original one which was built in 1780.

St. Jan’s Church on the left with red tower and Basilica of St. Severatius on the right, Maastricht, The Netherlands

2) STADHUIS & MARKT (TOWN HALL & MARKET PLACE): Another great place to hang out in Maastricht is the Markt, not too far from Vrijthof…just follow the signs. The Stadhuis is standing right in the middle of this big square, surrounded by many shops and cafes. Every Saturday there is a farmer’s market in the market place selling fresh produces, flowers, fish, and bakeries. The only souvenir store we found in Maastricht was here near McDonald’s. You will find some American fast food here like Subway, Burger King, KFC, and McDonald’s along with many local restaurants. On one side of the square, there is a statue of Johannes Petrus Minckelers holding a torch with eternal fire.

Stadhuis (Town Hall) of Maastricht, The Netherlands

3) RIVER MAAS: You don’t see small canals making their ways to the different parts of the city in Maastricht like many other Dutch cities. Here River Maas is the heart of the city. It is only 5 minutes’ walk from the Markt. It is amazing to stand on the pedestrian bridge that continues from the street Maastrichter and enjoy some great moments by the river.

City of Maastricht by River Maas in The Netherlands

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