April 25, 2011


I’ve been to Amsterdam twice in the past, but never during spring, when Keukenhof, touted the most beautiful spring garden in the world, opens its doors to visitors. So when I found out that Keukenhof opens its doors on March 24 this year, two days later than my scheduled flight home, I postponed my trip home. It was just early days of spring, and most bulbs may not have blossomed, but if I missed it this round, I don’t know if I’d ever find myself in Amsterdam so close to Keukenhof opening dates.

Keukenhof used to be a hunting area in the 15th century, and herbs for the kitchen of the castle of Jacoba van Beieren were collected here; hence the name Keukenhof (the garden behind the kitchen). It occupies an area of 32 hectares, and contains 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties. It is one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands, and has clocked up more than 44 million visitors in the last 60 years.

I took but #58 from Schiphol Airport, and the journey to Keukenhof took about 35 minutes. The all-in ticket, which includes the entrance fees to Keukenhof, and return bus journey, costs €21.

The unassuming main entrance

Trees are still barren

Some of the seven inspirational gardens to showcase how different flower bulbs fit in any garden style

Orchid exhibition

Variety of tulips


April 19, 2011

Amsterdam in passing

After Prague, I travelled to Amsterdam for a visit to the company's R&D Centre with a group of customers, as well as my induction program at the company’s HQ located at Schiphol World Trade Center, a stone’s throw away from the Schiphol Airport. After the visit to the R&D Centre, we took our guests’ to visit Zaanse Schans, a delightful windmill village on the east bank of the River Zaan, since we had few hours to spare before their departure flight at night. I visited this village back in 2007, so it was a walk down memory lane snapping photos of the windmills, visiting the clog- and cheese-making workshops.

I didn’t plan to extend my stay in as I’ve seen most of Amsterdam in my last two trips but extend I did, at the very last minute, when I found out that Keukenhof would open its gate the day after (more about Keukenhof in another post). I spent that one day wandering around the many canals of Amsterdam, before taking a walk around what used to be the Jewish centre of Amsterdam.


Amsterdammers enjoying the beautiful spring day by a canal.

Hollandsche Schouwburg, an old theater where Nazis processed many of Amsterdam's Jewish victims before they deported them to concentration camps.

Wertheimpark, a small park with a memorial to Auschwitz victims. Broken mirrors laid flat on the ground reflecting a shattered sky, with a dedication that reads, NOOIT MEER AUSCHWITZ (Never Again Auschwitz).

Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum), once comprised of four separate synagogues built by Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries.

April 15, 2011

Josefov (Jewish Quarter)

Prague is considered one of Europe's great Jewish cities: Jews have been here since the end of the 10th century, and by 1708 more Jews were living here than anywhere else in Europe. Today, Prague's Jewish community numbers less than 3,000.

Maiselova Street is one of the two main streets of the previously walled Jewish quarter. About halfway down the street is the Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagóga). The original synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1689 but was rebuilt. During the Nazi occupation of Prague, it was used to store furniture seized from the homes of deported Jews. It is now home to the Jewish Museum's collection of silver ceremonial objects, books, and Torah covers confiscated from Bohemian synagogues by the Nazis during World War II.

Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova synagóga) is Prague's second-oldest Jewish house of worship. On its walls are inscribed the names of more than 77,000 Czech Jews who perished in Nazi concentration camps. The upper section of the synagogue houses the permanent exhibition “Childen’s Drawings from Terezin”. Displayed here are the sketches by children who were held at the Terezín concentration camp west of Prague. They provide a moving testimony to the cruel fate that befell the children and the only relics of those who did not survive.

The walls with inscriptions of names

Access to the Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý zidovský hrbitov), Europe's oldest Jewish burial ground, is via the Pinkas Synagogue. The oldest grave dates back to 1439. Because the local government of the time didn't allow Jews to bury their dead elsewhere, as many as 12 bodies were placed vertically, with each new tombstone placed in front of the last. Hence, the crowded little cemetery contains more than 12,000 tombstones, although the number of persons buried there is much greater.

The Ceremonial Hall, where rites for the dead were once held, is located at the exit of the cemetery. It now houses the permanent “Jewish Customs and Traditions” exhibition devoted to illness and medicine in the ghetto and burial rituals for the death.

The Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagóga), built around 1270, is the oldest Jewish temple in Europe and one of the largest Gothic buildings in Prague. It is among the three Prague synagogues in which religious services are still held.

April 12, 2011

Staré Mesto (Old Town)

I had half-day free before flying off to Amsterdam for the second league of my trip. I filled the time by wandering around Staré Mesto (Old Town) and Josefov (Jewish Quarter), Prague's former Jewish ghetto.

The historic Staré Mesto, founded in 1234, was the first of Prague's original five towns. Its establishment was the result of Prague's growing importance along central European trade routes. Staré Mesto's ancient streets are lined with many stately buildings, churches, shops, and theaters. The Old Town Square (Staromestské namestí) is surrounded by baroque buildings and packed with colorful cafes, craftspeople, and entertainers. In the middle of the square is a status of Jan Hus, a 15th-century preacher who challenged the Roman Catholic hierarchy and was burned for it.

The Old Town Square is perhaps best known for the Old Town Hall (Staromestská radnice) and its Astronomical Clock. Every hour, at the top of the hour, there’s a parade of saints and sinners.

Close up of the Old Town Hall

Notice the opened windows with two figurines on the picture on the right. That's the hourly parade going on.

At one corner of the Old Town Square is St. Nicholas Church (Kostel sv. Mikuláse).

The pretty twin spires looming over the Old Town Square belongs to the Church of Our Lady Before Týn (Kostel paní Marie pred Týnem).

One of Prague’s most photographed cultural and historical monuments, the Municipal House (Obecní dum) was built between 1906 and 1911. The Prague Symphony performs in this grand Art Nouveau building. Next to the Municipal House is the Powder Tower, built in 1475, was once part of Staré Mesto's system of fortifications, which later became a gunpowder storehouse.

I had the privilege to dine inside one of the grand halls inside the Municipal Hall, complete with a mini orchestra and opera performance.

On another day, we happened to return for lunch at a café within.

April 10, 2011

Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

Prague, famously known as the City of a Thousand Spires, is reputed to be one of the most romantic cities in Europe. I first visited Prague when I was pregnant with Yiu Yiu. At that time, I was on a working trip to Vienna, and extended my trip with hubby to visit Salzburg, Prague, Budapest and Bratislava. Prague is still pretty much how I remembered it from six years ago. I took a walk around the Charles Bridge & Malá Strana (Lesser Town) and the Prague Castle late one afternoon. Dating from the 14th century, Charles Bridge is Prague's most celebrated structure. As the primary link between Staré Mesto and the castle, it has always figured prominently in the city's commercial and military history. For most of its 650 years, the 510m-long bridge has been a pedestrian promenade, as it is today. There are 30 sculptures on both sides of the bridge.

View of the Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Sculptures on Charles Bridge

This view reminds me of Amsterdam :-)

From here, I headed to the Prague Castle, popularly known as the "Hrad" via Mala Strana.

St. Nicholas Church and a nearby monument

Streets of Mala Strana

A pretty open field near the Prague Castle

Prague Castle dates to the second half of the 9th century, when the first Czech royal family, moved their seat of government here. Entrance to the St Vitus Cathedral and the Royal Palace was already closed by the time I was there, but the castle ground is still open for anyone who wishes to stroll within.

Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral (Chrám sv. Víta), Prague's most celebrated Gothic cathedral

St. George's Basilica (Bazilika sv. Jirí) and the Convent of St. George (Kláster sv. Jirí)

Toy Museum

Views of Prague from the castle

On the way back to the hotel, I went down to the bank of River Vltava and took this beautiful shot of Charles Bridge.