A Day at Kinderdijk

There are some places in this world that – with their natural beauty – remind me why I travel. Kinderdijk in western Holland is one such magical place that will transport you into another time.

Kinderdijk from Marsh, Netherlands

View of Kinderdijk from the marsh

It’s hard to believe that Kinderdijk is just a few miles away from Rotterdam. In fact, Rotterdam’s modern architecture and developing skyline offers the perfect contrast. You exit a multi-lane highway and pass through a small town and then down a winding road. This transition gradually prepares you to experience something completely different.

Kinderdijk Boat, Netherlands

View of Kinderdijk from a boat tour

We began our day by taking a boat tour around the whole Kinderdijk site. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kinderdijk has 19 windmills dating back to the 1700’s. They were used to gradually pump water out of this low-lying area into the Lek and Noord rivers which meet at Kinderdijk. You get a sense of the sheer scope of the site from this boat tour.

I personally find the idea of a mill fascinating. Think of a time where your job is ensuring that the neighboring village doesn’t get flooded. You need to vigilantly manage your windmill/home to advert disaster. Talk about a high pressure job. If you are a science/technology nerd like me, you will enjoy the video in the visitors’ center. You can learn all about the history of Kinderdijk and evolution of mill technology. If that isn’t enough, you can enter and explore a fully functioning mill!

Kinderdijk Spinning Wheel, Netherlands

Spinning wheel of Kinderdijk mill – keep your hands clear!

Perhaps the most fascinating thing I learned was that millers and their families lived within the confines of the mill. The rounded walls and tiny windows have a certain charm. I’m sure that after awhile the ambient noise could almost be relaxing. Almost.

Kinderdijk is a jewel of The Netherlands and is among the most wonderful destinations I have ever visited. I say this not just for the pure ‘Put me on a postcard’ scenery. Yes, the mills are complimented by dynamic clouds and wildlife while modern civilization is barely visible in the distance. I think there is an even greater significance.

Kinderdijk Mill with Reflection, Netherlands

Kinderdijk Mill

The people in the village of Kinderdijk in the 18th century learned a lesson that at times eludes us today. They understood that they all needed to work together to keep their feet dry. I think we can all learn a little from that.

Please click here if you would like to see some additional pictures of Kinderdijk and other locations!

Madurodam and Miniatur Wunderland

The Hague’s Madurodam and Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland are big attractions in their respective cities. They take historic buildings and skylines and break them down into accessible miniature replicas. The architectural accuracy of the models alone at both sites makes them worth visiting. However, they each have a number of additional features that you will remember for years to come.

Madurodam is pretty straightforward as a tourist attraction. The models there focus exclusively on The Netherlands and will give you a great representation on the architecture across the country. I can tell you this; many people had a lot of fun putting together Madurodam.

Madurodam, The Hague

Madurodam, The Hague

Scattered around the park are dozens of videos (in Dutch, but with English subtitles) that explain buildings, Dutch culture and weird facts. The humor really strikes a tone with all ages. Even if you think looking at scale replicas isn’t your thing, you will be pleasantly surprised. You can try your hand at a simulated flower-auction, purchase a pair of mini-clogs delivered by truck from a mini clog-factory, watch model boats go through fully functional locks and lift weights that look like cheese wheels!

Madurodam clog factory

Madurodam’s mini-clog factory!

Madurodam, Dike

Madurodam – Molly is holding back the flood!

I personally enjoyed the birds wandering through the outdoor site clashing in scale with micro buildings and vehicles. Tons of fun. Pro tip: Don’t go when it’s raining.

Madurodam, Binnenhof

Madurodam, Model of Binnenhof in The Hague

Madurodam is a great way to feel like you’ve seen all of Holland in about two hours. Just a note, it took us three hours. We were simply having too much fun.  If you want to see more of the world in miniature, you need to head west to Hamburg.

Miniatur Wunderland – e.g. ‘Miniature Wonderland’ – is Hamburg’s most popular attraction for good reason. It is the largest model railway in the world! There is a good chance your first reaction will be “Who had the time to put this whole exhibit together?” As the truth would have it, there are many people spending a lot of time painting and crafting these convincing scenes.

Miniature Wonderland - Switzerland exhibit

Miniature Wonderland – Switzerland exhibit

The level of detail is astounding. Figures just millimeters high are bursting with character. It’s like playing a huge 3-D version of Where’s Waldo without knowing exactly who you are looking for.  The scenes themselves also have their moments of levity as well if you look closely.

Miniature Wonderland - Santa and Frosty!

Miniature Wonderland – Santa and Frosty!

Miniature Wonderland - Rabbits in School

Miniature Wonderland – Rabbits in School

Miniature Wonderland Tractor Race

Miniature Wonderland Tractor Race

Miniatur Wunderland has permanent exhibits which feature Switzerland, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, and the United States. (Coming soon – Italy!) The models effectively capture some of the most recognizable features of these regions. Authenticity of these regions is also enhanced by day/night cycles. Speaking of authentic, the working replica of an Airport is a wonder to behold.

Miniature Wonderland Carnival

Miniature Wonderland Carnival at night

In addition to these giant exhibitions they also have several rooms devoted to special exhibits which capture historical moments in miniature form. You can spend the entire day looking at miniatures and still feel like there is more to experience. We spent 6 hours at a very crowded Miniature Wonderland!

We enjoyed both of these museums and would highly recommend a visit to one or both. You will be surprised how compelling and engaging something so small can be!

For more pictures of Madurodam and Miniatur Wunderland, please check out our new Travel Gallery page!

Street Art in East London – Alternative Walking Tour

The Alternative London Walking Tour was a highlight from our trip to London. It is a tour that features the diverse culture and history of London’s East End all revolving around street art. A shout out to Abby Bean who recommended this tour to us and covered it on her blog – A (soy) Bean.

What is special about the art in East London is that there are incredibly intricate pieces, may of which are created with permission by the building owner, done by artists from all over the world. One such example is this piece by Belgium artist ROA:

Crane, ROA, Artist, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Crane by ROA in London.

ROA is well known and his works can be found all over the world in large scale. London is home to a few outstanding examples of his work. The Crane by ROA above was painted by hand in about eight hours according to Keir, our tour leader. That’s a fast brush.

ROA painting in London, Alternative Walking Tour

Painting by ROA in London. Not 100% sure what animal this is.

Many people associate street art with quickly scrawled tags and property damage. I think the pieces above and below break from these assumptions. There are a number of artists around the world such as ROA who look to elevate the art form and enhance the setting where it is found. Just look at this ‘Elephant Octopus’ mural recently completed by Alexis Diaz.

Alexis Diaz, Elephant Octopus mural, London , Alternative Walking Tour

Alexis Diaz mural in London. Looks like an Elephant Octopus to me.

This meticulously crafted piece is catching eyes in an alley just off of Brick Lane. I thought it was one of the more impressive pieces I have seen on our trip – in a museum or otherwise. These larger scale pieces you see above were created with permission from the owners of these buildings. Not all street artists have this luxury. They may look for other ways to quickly, and illicitly, display their work. A personal favorite of mine were the works of Invader, or, Space Invader.

Space Invader, London, Alternative Walking Tour

A Space Invader piece in London. Looks like this one lost a fight.

Invader uses ceramic tiles to enliven walls all over the world. Many of his pieces are inspired from the pixelated aliens from the game. The example above seems to have fallen victim to a chisel removal attempt. Others of his work are of larger scale and certainly go outside the box.

Space Invader, Star Wars, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Star Wars Space Invader in London.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This actually exists on the side of an office building in East London for Star Wars (and Space Invader) fans everywhere to enjoy. Pieces from Space Invader are fairly common once you know where to look for them! Other artists also have signature techniques.  DALeast is an artist who also falls in this category.

DALeast, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by DALeast, London

DALeast, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

DALeast Mural, London

DALeast’s technique is instantly recognizable and translates perfectly to this format. I think that the surrounding setting is also a huge part for these pieces. Would they have the same effect in a gallery on a unblemished white wall? They certainly stand out in the city on their huge wall-canvases – much like this piece by Martin Ron.

Martin Ron, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by Martin Ron, London

This mural by Ron is beautiful and also has a message. The animal in the lower left hand corner being pointed at by the huge hand is a badger. Did you know that there is a Badger cull going on in England right now? I didn’t until this mural started that debate in our group. Help do your part to stop this atrocity by signing the petition HERE. The goal of Ron’s piece is to get a message across, but other artists are pushing the physical medium farther. Vihls has a technique that does just that.

Mural, Alexandre Farto, Vhils, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by Alexandre Farto (AKA Vhils) in London.

The depth created in this work by Vihls is stunning. His technique involves first plastering the whole wall and then physically removing parts of the wall (often using a jackhammer) to create an image with great depth. This portrait looked very realistic in person. Seeing his work up close in real life is quite different than looking at the picture above.

The Alternative London Walking Tour is pay what you wish. Whatever you choose to pay, you will get good value for your money. Just make sure you sign up in advance on the website. There is a rich world of art in London outside of the museums that you may walk right by if you don’t know where to look or what you are looking at. I found it quite liberating to see wonderful works in the open air instead of behind a rope line in a museum or gallery. In a museum you need some luck to be featured prominently. To be noticed on the street? Only talent and some passers-by. Our guide, Kier, is an artist himself and shared his knowledge of the local art scene and the provided insight into pieces throughout the tour. He really brought the art to life for us and opened our eyes to street art even beyond London. (Even the NYTimes is noticing that street art is news-worthy. Shortly after our tour they posted this article about New York street art!) We heartily recommend Alternative London if you are ever in London for a few days.

Prior to this tour we were already noticing pieces from other cities on our trip. I will post some others that caught my eye soon. In the meantime, you can read some more about London! Please check out some of the great vegan options in London in our series of one, two and three posts!

What does 97 square feet of space look like?

The Pod Works Hotel in Liverpool would like to ask you a question: What would you do with about 97 square feet of space? Please see below.

Podworks Hotel

Pod Works Hotel “Pod” – More interior space than than most American cars. Bathroom located just to the right of this picture.

The answer is probably sleep and not much else. Since the “pods” do not actually have windows, you will be waiting an awfully long time if you are the kind of sleeper who relies on the sun to wake you up. An exceedingly comfortable bed does not help matters. Pro tip: You may want to go ahead and set that alarm if you want to go and see the historical sights.

The Pod Works Hotel is an interesting lodging destination that forces you to re-evaluate how much space you really need. So, what do you get when you combine the following?

  1. An awesome, yet underground, downtown location
  2. Adorable dollhouse-sized rooms with comfortable beds
  3. About a $50.00 per night price tag on most days

Probably an awesome, affordable hotel in Liverpool and a great night’s sleep. I hope, after reading this, everyone is better able to appreciate their space and current living conditions! I’m looking at you, Manhattan studio-apartment renters.

There are still some kinks that The Pod Works Hotel needs to work out such as no Wi-Fi in the rooms and only a sporadic connection in the lobby. Also, there are only about 25 channels but half of them seem to be BBC variants or other news programs. Raise your hand if you knew there was a “BBC 4″ channel that only starts broadcasting at about 7PM every evening? Still, the Pod Works worked perfectly for us as a place to rest our weary heads at the end of the day, for a price we could afford.

Has anyone ever stayed in a room smaller than the one pictured above? If so, please leave a comment!

Dublin Vegan Food Post

Dublin has many options for vegan diners. We spent 6 days there and tasted some standout vegan options. Below are some of our highlights.

Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant

Govinda's Restaurant (one of three Dublin locations)

Govinda’s Restaurant (one of three Dublin locations)

Govinda’s restaurants can be found in various cities around the globe. It is a Hare Krishna chain of vegetarian restaurants. I only hope that the other locations serve food of the same quality (and volume) as we experienced in Dublin. There are three locations in Dublin and we ate at two of them. The restaurants offer small plates for €6.95 and large plates for €10.45.  This price may seem like a lot but the large plate did feed both of us for two full meals.  Below is what you can expect from large plate:

Govinda's large plate

Govinda’s large plate

In addition to the plates being almost comically overloaded with food, the food was genuinely excellent. There are new items each day and you are able to pick and chose from about a half dozen dishes each day. Just ask which options contain dairy products, as usually one or two of the dishes do. This was the first restaurant we visited in Dublin and I was reluctant to even try another place with the value and quality of food provided at Govinda’s. Sadly, not all restaurants in Dublin take a page out of Govinda’s ‘wallet-friendly’ approach.

Cornucopia Wholefood and Vegetarian Restaurant

Cornucopia

Cornucopia

Cornucopia Vegetarian Restaurant in Dublin is considered the top of the line in regards to veggie cuisine. Let me start by saying that I really wanted to like the the restaurant.  The Cornucopia cookbook is on sale online and in the store for a price of just under €40.00 (which is about $53.00 US).  In my mind this sets the bar quite high. One concerning trend I noticed while waiting in line was that several plates being bused had a substantial amount of food remaining. Conversely, there were positive trends such as the lengthy line and number of patrons in the restaurant. We chose one entree and also the soup of the day – with extra bread!

Cornucopia pastry with salads

Cornucopia pastry with salads

Cornucopia soup with extra bread

Cornucopia soup with extra bread

In the end the food was not all that memorable. The pastry was outstanding but the soup and salads did not match that level of quality. If you do order soup and want try more than just one variety ask for the ends of the loafs! Our server indicated to us that no one wanted them and additional bread is always a welcome addition to soup.

One item I will point out is that the chefs at Cornucopia compose new menu items each and every day. This certainly provides a lot of variety for the local vegan community but some of the dishes may miss the mark with such a quick turnover.

Beirut Express

Beirut Express

Beirut Express

Beirut Express is a Lebanese restaurant in Dublin that serves meat and also offers several vegetarian and vegan options. It is just a few minutes walk from the middle of the Temple Bar district across the street from City Hall and Dublin Castle. We chose this location after we were unable to successfully locate Lurve – a vegan cafe located in the Temple Bar district. We later learned that Lurve is only open Thursday through Sunday and is located in Lucy’s Lounge.

Beirut Express offered a diverse menu and we shared three smaller dishes.

Beirut Express salad

Beirut Express fatoosh salad

Beruit Express hummus

Beirut Express baba ganoush

Beirut Express platter

Beirut Express falafel platter with hummus and pickles

The food stood out and you could tell that great care was taken in both preparation and presentation. We observed that the portions on entrees were generous if you choose to skip appetizers and dive right in. It is in a prime location and is a worthy stop after spending a few hours touring sights such as Dublin Castle.

Bubblicity

Bublicity, Dublin

Bublicity, Dublin

Bubblicity is Ireland first bubble tea shop. We happened upon it totally by accident. It is quite vegan friendly while also offering fresh-squeezed juices. Bubblicity is located in a small indoor shopping center at 26, George’s Street Arcade. If you are looking for a dessert option downtown it is a wonderful place to check out. Pro-tip: go for a mix! They will let you mix and match any of the bubble tea flavors. A large strawberry/pineapple combo comes highly recommended. And all the flavors are vegan if they use soy milk powder instead of cow’s milk powder!

Look at all of those bubbles!

Look at all of those bubbles!

If you are visiting the United Kingdom and Ireland, make sure you check out our previous posts on vegan options in London!

London Vegan Food Part 1 

London Vegan Food Part 2

London Vegan Food Part 3

A round up of the amazing vegan options in Glasgow will be coming up soon!