The world’s leading travel guide has just announced their Top 10 Europe destinations, highlighting the hidden gems you have to visit when you want to avoid mass tourism. Being a self-proclaimed traveller myself I’ve crossed of a whole three of them: Vilnius (you can read my findings here), Dundee (maybe one day I will find words to describe my experience) and the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. I lived in Leeuwarden during a lost few months in my life so as an expert and expat I can tell you what to see and do there.
When you think of Netherlands you think of Amsterdam and perhaps Rotterdam or The Hague. But according to Lonely Planet, Friesland is where it’s at. It’s located in the North West of the Netherlands and stands out as it has its own language, traditions and lovely nature (very hard to admit from someone from the the rival province). What are some things to see, do and eat then?
Visit One Town Visit All Towns
No matter which city of town you visit they all have the same blueprint: cute historical city centre with an old church, a random museum that showcased why it was important at some point in history and boats to escape to other places. If you have time to visit one city then make it Harlingen: get lost in the compact city centre and check out the charming houses, visit the port and see the #AccidentalWesAnderson light house and top it off with an ice-cream at Min 12. It was where I lost my salted caramel virginity and it changed the game (and jeans size) for me.
Culinary Sugar Explosion
The French have a croissant, the Scandinavian have cinnamon buns and Friesland has … sugar bread. It’s literally a white loaf of bread, with large lumps of sugar mixed in with the dough. Wait … what? It gets better… To top it off you it’s best when served with a layer of butter. So definitely not for the ones working on their #Summerbody2018.
Bring Out Your Inner Water Rat (It’s a weird Dutch phrase, but bear with me!)
Friesland is the watersport capital of the Netherlands and many school trips have taken me there. Canoeing or sailing are great, but you really want to go traditional rent a sloop and explore by boat. The engines are silent so you can also combine it with nature and visit a reserve like De Alde Feanen.
If you like climbing poles Fierljeppen might be for you: you basically jump and grab your pole (usually between 8 and 13 metres) and then climb to the top of the pole while trying make sure it moves forward and lands on a designated spot.
Or perhaps mudflat hiking: Twice a day – when it’s low tide, the Wadden Sea gets all dry and you have can actually walk in the gooey seabed to one of the nearby islands. I did it twice and ended up crying both times, once out of frustration and other time out of happiness that I made it. Make sure you book a guided tour unless you want to end up stuck in the mud!
Have you been to any of Lonely Planet’s Top Europe Destinations?
Getting lost in a city isn’t something you always want on holiday, but places like Dubrovnik practically beg you to escape from the crowd and savour the architectural treasures of the old town, imagining all the drama that took place on these cobbled streets over the centuries.
Though most people rent out their place in summer you will still spot signs from the locals: the old ladies who are chatting, hanging laundry out to dry, and cats sunbathing all day and give you a fuck off when you try to take a photo. While you, me and everyone’s grandma seems to have discovered the place, it suffers from overtourism (there are plans to only let 4,000 people a day in) so enjoy those views while they last.
If Dubrovnik was a travelquote it would be something in the line of: every alley leads to new adventures so don’t be afraid to get lost in the labyrinth. Like you might stumble upon a hidden bar built into the side of the cliff that also happens to be a cliff diving spot. You can watch people jump or decide to actually to embrace your inner daredevil and take the leap.
Kew Gardens’ revamped Temperate House re-opened the other day and it’s all over the press and Instagram this weekend. I went a few weeks ago and found the place a lot more building site than world class botanical garden.
It was a ‘glass half-empty’ kind of experience for me, I knew the Temperate House was still in the works, but nowhere was it mentioned on the main website or when you booked tickets that the famous Pagoda was closed for refurbishment, so I was a bit shocked when I saw it under cover as my bus approached…It was a day of mixed emotions, and got me thinking about the previous times I’d encountered hiccups in my adventures.
Times it wasn’t so good:
- Cinque Terre is known for its beautiful winding walking trails descending high above the Tyrrhenian Sea, aside from my time there, when half of them were closed.
- Hiking up the Alps in Innsbruck and joining Maria in the Sound of Music is every girl’s dream, except when the ski-lift is closed for the season and you have to walk all the way back down on blistered feet.
- Putting on my belle of the ball gown and dancing down to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria was meant to be Disney-worthy trip of a lifetime- except the Beast had the builders in…
When every cloud has a silver lining and it turned out for the best.
- I went to take rightful place at the seats of gods at Athens’ Akropolis (I’d be the Goddess of Tea) and sections might have been closed, but you get a half discount, so more money to spend on souvlaki!
- Dover Castle managed to withstand the Avengers assaulting it, but when I headed down there, it was a tad too windy to be able to open for the public. But this meant I went on an adventure of mine own to nearby Canterbury and the following day the castle was empty so it was even better!
- In the paradise of Kotor, me and my friend thought we could just rock up and expect two beds in the town’s only hostel – of course it was fully booked, but the kind owner went out of her way to find us a lovely space in an old grandma’s house, which ended up being one of the highlights of the trip (local knowledge!!)
What was your best/worst ‘when travel gives you lemons’ experience?
Medieval ruins and bluebell forests? 30 Minutes from Central London? Sign me up!
This year I promised myself I’d really delve into London’s unseen secrets, and that’s how I found myself crossing Abbey Road… but not the one you’d think! It was less 70s album cover and more abbey ruins, woods with bluebells and more dogs than you can shake a stick at.
No, you haven’t been transported to the set of yet another grim medieval fantasy show, this is actually within easy reach of London and you can explore to your heart’s content. What I loved was imagining the monks going about their daily lives. While most of the walls have long ago fallen, the abbey layout remains intact so it’s like starting a Sims game – wondering how you’d decorate and which room went where. Otherwise, the main activities I saw were playing hide and seek, family picnics and dog walking; there’s also a cute cafe selling lovely slices of banana bread.
Here’s the TL:DR take on the history – the abbey was originally built around 1180 and everything was fine and dandy until Henry VIII couldn’t keep it in his pants so all the monks and monasteries had to go.
I can’t believe the place hasn’t been transformed in apartments. At the moment it’s 30 minutes from London Bridge, but once Crossrail opens you’ll make it to Abbey Woods in 12 minutes from central London. That’s basically prime location.
If/when the apartments come I hope the mulberry tree survives – planted by King James I (well, his entourage), it looks so old it makes Pocahontas’s Grandmother Willow look like Baby Groot.
Once you’re all abbey-ed out you should explore the Lesnes Abbey Woods – ancient woodland carpeted with bluebells and other natural wonders – you’ll forget you’re in a huge city until you accidentally walk into someones backgarden.
Do you have any historic city secrets you can share?