Thursday, October 31, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - Amsterdam City

The Chinese have an old saying - “I'll send you to Holland”. This used to mean sending someone to the end of nowhere, as Holland used to be as remote a place from China or Hong Kong as can be imagined. Today in the age of globalization, no country can be considered as remote anymore. In fact Holland - or more correctly Netherlands, is one of the most popular tourists destinations in the World. One look at Amsterdam and you can understand why.

Criss-crossed by countless canals, Amsterdam is a visually striking city filled with lots of beautiful heritage buildings. And because it largely avoided the destruction during the 2nd World War that many European cities suffered, most of these buildings are the real thing and not replicas. That gives it a sense of authenticity that rebuilt cities don’t have, and that is a big part of its charm.

Netherlands is a very low lying country with much of its land mass sitting at only 1m above sea level. In fact around 20% of its land mass is actually below sea level, and the sea water is kept out through an extensive system of dykes. It is also made of of mostly peaty swap areas, which pose a challenged to construction. That is why most of the buildings in Amsterdam are quite low, and even many of  those have suffered some form of settlement in the foundation, causing the buildings to lean and tilt in different directions. If you look carefully, you can see that most of the buildings are in fact not straight but lean to the front or to the side, given it a fairy-tale sort of rickety look.

One of the most handsome heritage buildings in Amsterdam is the Central Station. Located right at the end of Damrak - the main street, this red brick building has an imposing scale but unfortunately cut off the city from its waterfront.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dusseldorf 2013 - Carlsplatz Markt

At the edge of  the Old Town - not far from the Market Square is the famous Carlsplatz Markt of Dusseldorf. Like many of the markets in Europe - you can find the most common as well as the most premium ingredients all in one place. From cabbages to carrots, tomatoes to asparagus, ham and sausages to white or black truffles - you name it and most likely they will have it here. To me this is one of the must visits on your Dusseldorf itinerary.

The market stalls are neatly laid out in rows and divided into different product sections. All the stall keepers take pride in displaying their produce in the most attractive way. This place is so clean, so calm and yet visually alluring that it turns a marketing chore into a pleasure to look forward to. Of course - expect to pay prices commensurate with the quality on offer here.

It was here that we caught the first glimpse of tulips which were just starting to bloom.

It was also here that we found the archetypal friendly butcher. He was so generous he let us try several of the hams and cured sausages. With a smile like that - language is no barrier. We bought a beautiful pork liver sausage from him which we ate with the Sternchen Bread we bought at Hinkel Bakery back at the Old Town. A marriage made in heaven.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dusseldorf 2013 - Kunstsammlung Standehaus Museum (K21)

If you have the time, it is always worth checking out the numerous museums in European cities as they hold many artistic treasures. The main art galleries in Dusseldorf - called the Kunstsammlung - is actually spread over a few buildings in different locations. The collection that I most wanted to see - the Paul Klee collection is housed in a neo-Renaissance style building called the Standehaus. This building used to be the Parliament house and is located within the Old Town.

Standehaus focuses on art of the 20th and 21st century. The entrance fee is quite reasonable - around 10 euros. Their Paul Klee collection includes over 100 works by the German-Swiss master. I've always been fascinated by Paul Klee's work due to their affinity to architectural forms. Some of his works bear great resemblance to stained glass designs - which is not surprising as he once taught at the workshop in the famous Bauhaus School which specialized in mural painting, bookbinding and stained glass. 

Some of the other contemporary exhibitions in the Museum.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dusseldorf 2013 - Konigsallee Shopping Street

Konigsallee is like the Champs Elysees of Dusseldorf. It is a premium shopping street where most of the major high end brands are represented. It is a beautiful street with tree-lined boulevards on both sides of a canal which runs along the middle of the street. On the West side are luxury hotels and offices, and on the east side are the branded shops. This is one of the most beautiful sights in the City - and a must visit if you are in Dusseldorf.

Not much of a shopper myself, I was more interested in exploring the side streets which are full of interesting lifestyle shops and cafes. On Steinstrasse off the main boulevard I came across an interesting home and living store named ManuFactum. Everything in the shop looked so well made and sturdy. Wish we have one like it back home. There is an attached cafe called Brot & Butter where many people were enjoying their nice cup of java and sandwich. I wished I could stay for a warm cuppa especially on a cold day when I visited - but unfortunately had to take a rain check as I had to catch up with the others.

A luxurious copper bath tub. Great for those who truly enjoy a good soak.

It was also a haven for bike lovers - as they had a handsome collection of bicycles on sale. There were also lots of bike accessories. I know someone who would go absolutely crazy in this shop !

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dusseldorf 2013 - Dinner at Bierbrauerei Schumacher

We only stayed 1 night in Dusseldorf and our dinner was at Bierbrauerei Schumacher - a typical German Brauerei which brew their own beer. The place looks vintage and is huge. There are many different nooks and crannies which takes a while to explore. 

Once you sit down a glass of beer is immediately put in front of you. I am not much of a beer drinker, but the dark "Alt" beer - their house brew - is very nice and easy down the throat. One thing to take note is that they will keep filling your glass until you say stop.

Being a dinner which was part of the tour package - it included a soup, a salad, a main and dessert. The soup was really nice - a tomato soup with nice strong flavours.

The salad was a generous serving of mixed lettuces with a tart and refreshing German dressing.

The chicken was panfried and served with a light cream sauce and buttered rice - a very simple yet tasty dish. The chicken was nicely crisped on the outside and still tender on the inside.

We augmented the meal with an order of their mixed platter - which included 2 pork knuckles and assorted sausages. It was all porkie goodness.

The stand out of the meal was the dessert. It was a fruit compote which looked great on the plate - and tasted even better in the mouth. Not too sweet - the creamy sauce helped to round out the bursts of berry flavours on the palate.