Parc Merveilleux is a wonderful place for children and adults alike in the way it bring wildlife and nature to your fingertips.
In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Come face to face with animals big and small, enjoy a walk through nature–or a train ride, have a picnic along the way or perhaps a relaxing drink at the cafe while kids go wild at one of the many exciting playgrounds.
Brunch at Le Paris
Le Paris in Mondorf is another place for everyone, with a fine-dining feel, (some) affordable food, and an outdoor play area for children.
Their menu is reasonably varied and has at least a few vegetarian items on it; by holding the cheese, they can easily be turned vegan as well.
Whether you’re a medieval nerd, a sword fanatic, a leather head, a metal head, a child, or none of the above, you’re certain to find entertainment among the various stalls, activities, and shows at this Celtic-themed festival.
At Bealtaine, you can converse with the craftsmen and women on their trade, take your child from activity to activity, drink local brews, and watch scantily clad grown men play at being gladiators–don’t worry, it’s child appropriate (enough).
If you’re willing to wait until the woods darken, you might catch a fire show as well.
Check out their website to see if you can spot these traveling Celts in your neck of the woods this year.
In under an hour, you can walk casually from Central Station to the most fabulous brunch in Amsterdam. You can pass the Dam, enjoy lots of canal scenery, and work up a solid appetite on your entirely doable 4 kilometer stroll. (My four-year-old daughter can do it and so can you.)
Get here when they open at ten and you’re guaranteed a table; any later and they might be packed. This American-owned brunch bar serves what they like to call “funky classics and daring dishes”.
From the menu, we ordered Rasco (that’s fried chicken, waffles, soft scrambled eggs, maple syrup, and butter) and Fuckin Everything (that’s tons of vegetarian stuff with a fried egg on top). For the little one, a side of fried chicken, a side of waffles with syrup, and ketchup.
Besides an inventive menu and delicious food, I loved how every server who came to our table had a different accent, from Italian to British and Dutch to American. The staff were warm, friendly, and entirely accommodating.
Walk to the Ten Katestraat tram stop on the corner of Kinker and Ten Katestraat and, if it’s a Saturday, enjoy a typically Dutch marktwith such treats as Hollands Nieuwe (fresh, raw haring), other fishes, poffertjes, and fried snacks to the tune of de hooiwagen (a street music wagon).
When you’ve had your fill of market goods, catch a tram to Nemo.
Nemo–Amsterdam’s big green boat–is a favorite spot in the city for all ages.
With six levels, each dedicated to its own area of science–elementa, fenomena, technium, elementa, humania, and energtica up on the roof–this hands-on museum has something to fascinate anyone.
Nemo is a place where babies and toddlers can perform their first scientific experiments and adults can learn new and amusing things about themselves and their world. I visited once at the age of six, once around sixteen, and again at twenty-six with my own daughter in tow; each experience stood out in its own way.
Tired of the touristy bars in the city center? Head east along IJ (the waterfront separating Amsterdam Centraal from Amsterdam Noord) to Oostenburg and you’ll find Roest.
Inside, you can raid the coolers for drinks and snacks and simply pay at the bar. Not that you can’t order food and drinks as you would at any bar, but grabbing a bottle for yourself is certainly a cheaper and more convenient option.
When you are ready to order food, this is an excellent spot for dinner with great options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
Outside, you can chill at tables and hammocks in the sand along the canal until the sun sets and you’re ready to leave or head back to the bar and check out the nights’ lineup.
Whether the sun has set or not, this another place to be in Amsterdam. However, if you show up too late on the weekend, you might not get in–which exactly what happened to us on Kingsday. It is a fun spot and worth checking out though and only a 30-minute walk from Central Station.
There are of course all sorts of bars and clubs in Amsterdam but if you’re serious about pulling an all-nighter, this may very well be the place: a high-school-turned-night-club that stays open until 6 AM on the weekend. It’s is more than just a club and live music venue, too; besides the basement and concert room, they have a fine dining restaurant, a casual cafe, art exhibits, and a gym.
Arriving before midnight at De School will save you a potentially hour-or-longer wait at Amsterdam’s most popular alternative nightclub. People line up around the block to go to school but if they don’t look the part they can just as quickly be turned away. Standards for who gets in maybe not be what you’d expect.
Fun fact: once a month, De School hosts Het Weekend and keeps its doors open from Friday night to Sunday morning. With such a wide range of facilities, they say everything you need to last that out is right there.
I would say: enjoy a quiet walk along the canals until you find something that’s open for breakfast.
As far as what’s open at 6 am in Amsterdam, I can’t say that I know. Any suggestions?
Standing on a riverbank inside Burgers’ Zoo, it feels as though you’ve stepped right up to the edge of an African safari.
Not long along, the zoo announced the birth of a baby rhino and from here we watched the stout little creature chase giraffes ten times its size: quite a spectacle for a random passerby to take part in.
A generational zoo with a myriad of ecosystems and Europe’s largest live coral reef, Burgers’ is unique for being managed by the same family since its meager beginnings as not more than a petting zoo over a century ago.
My daughter–who had never been here before–insisted that she had a number of secret places to lead us to as she mock followed the map and picked random directions. When we stumbled into a beautiful aquarium, she announced that this was it: her secret place at last.
There’s a restaurant in “the bush”–a domed section mimicking the hot and sticky topics–where you can grab a terrasje even in winter. Coming from Manila, I found the humidity almost comforting on this otherwise chilly day.
(As Dutch as een terrasje pakken is–enjoying food and drink in the outdoor seating area of a cafe or restaurant–the wait for warm or at least sunny weather can be long.)
Besides the safari, tropical bush, and aquarium, there is a reptile area, a dessert zone and a vast expanse of outdoor enclosures with lions and tigers, no bears (oh my) but lots of other animals.
There is a massive apenkooien playground, another smaller outdoor one, and an indoor playground by the restaurant as well.
(Literally, apenkooien translates to “monkey cages” and refers to an obstacle-course style play area where kids can climb, swing, and jump around.)
The zoo is a beautiful place where unexpected things can happen and when you’re watching animals in near enough their natural habitat every visit provides a new experience. We watch animals do crazy like be born, chase each other around, and get into fights, yelling matches, and displays of power.
But we people do crazy things there too. Maybe we carry to our day out ordinary worries and fears and maybe our time there is so otherworldly that it brings us to tears. We see the bond between human and animal and our mutual dependence on nature. We see children and parents and couples and maybe even proposals.
Burgers’ Zoo is a wonderful place for all of this because it is respectful to all: people, animals, and nature.
While I’ve only discussed snippets of Burgers’ here, I would strongly encourage making a zoo trip of your own if you find yourself near Arnhem.
With an outbound flight coming up this Sunday, my last full weekend was spent enjoying some of Sydney’s grandest attractions.
Saturday at Bondi Beach
After an interview with proactivist Lance Lieber of Transition Bondi, it felt important to spend the last chunk of daylight down by the seaside.
However, Bondi Beach itself looked as crowded as it would on a sunny Saturday afternoon and it already seemed a bit chilly for a swim.
Under such circumstances, one must hang a right from the beach and take the scenic Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk past Tamarama instead.
You can catch some breathtaking views from Mackenzies Point and lounge on the Tamarama Rocks while watching the surfers out on the waves.
Sunday on the Bridge Bridge
On Sunday, you can ride trains, buses, and ferries all around Sydney for only $2 with an Opal card.
This last Sunday–in the company of a few good people–I took a train to Milsons Point, right on the northern end of the Harbour Bridge.
Before beginning the bridge walk, we lingered at the Kirribilli Markets under the bridge’s arch on Burton Street and enjoyed a little picnic in the grass outside to the tune of some smooth live jazz.
At the end of our walk across the bridge, we climbed up the Pylon Lookout for a breathtaking view of the city sprawled across the harbor. We even watched a wedding take place beneath us on a small patch of green near Circular Quay.
There are fascinating pictures and stories of the bridge building in a museum inside the lookout as well.
The bridge will take you from the north of Sydney to The Rocks–a narrow-alleyed, a cobble-stoned precinct reminiscent of old European towns.
Once across, we made our way to an authentic Bavarian beer hall, formerly known as Lowenbrau Keller and now named Munich Brauhaus.
Not only were all the wait staff dressed as though it were Oktoberfest; indeed, the barman was a real-life German.
We sat outside to enjoy the last few rays of the sun’s warmth and, as it set, noticed a street lamp with a gas-lit street lamp.
With beer (and some very tasty french fries) in our bellies, we walked past the Overseas Passenger Terminal and happened to catch a massive cruise ship waving its farewells while enjoying some live music from the Cruise Bar.
In one random alley, we happened upon a small window which revealed what may very well have been the rock upon which the first settlers landed in Sydney.
Also to be found on a Sunday: The Rock Market, though, to our misfortune, we got there just as they were closing up at 5 PM.
Eventually, we found a spot in the grass to sit and enjoy the sunset with a bottle of wine.
Nearby, devotees turned towards Mecca and prayed Maghrib. We were approached by a security officer with the Hindi name Sanjay, who, in the most friendly manner possible, let us know that we were drinking in an alcohol-free zone.
There were five other officers in the area who, he informed us, were not as friendly as Sanjay and would readily issue a $200 fine for our offense. Sanjay was merciful, however, and simply asked us to cap the bottle and put it away.
At times like these, I am grateful for the dazzling and diverse city that is Sydney.
Honestly, we didn’t do much planning for this trip other than deciding that we wanted to spend at least part of the long Easter camped out on a secluded beach.
All we needed to pull it together was:
A phone to check train schedules;
An overnight bag with beachwear;
A day or two’s supply of food;
A water bottle to refill;
A tent, sleeping mats, and a light blanket.
At this time of year, it wasn’t cold enough to need sleeping bags; we also didn’t have any.
With two people, the supplies were easy to carry.
For food, we brought plenty of fruit and veggies, along with some cold cuts and hummus, for salads, sandwiches, and dips.
We didn’t roll out the door until quite late in the day and had to make a few stops to get last-minute groceries (e.g. freshly baked bread) and pick up the tent and sleeping mats we were borrowing.
From Central Station, we caught the 6:36 PM South Coast Line to Kiama on Platform 25 and disembarked at Wombarra Station just after 8.
You can get the South Coast Line train schedules on Google maps.
Wombarra is the station just after Scarborough but it is the closest to Scarborough Beach–our camping site of choice.
On the train, you’ll likely be charged between 2 to 6 Aussie dollars on your Opal card each way. Spend what you please on groceries and the trip is highly affordable.
I suppose I should mention that camping is not technically allowed on Scarborough Beach; however, locals have confirmed that it is conventionally condoned. Don’t be leaving anything behind, is all.
We arrived at the beach after sundown but were fortunate to have plenty of light from a gorgeously full moon to set up the tent and have a bite to eat.
From the beach, there is also a pathway leading up to a well-lit building with bathrooms and showers that stayed open all night.
The next morning, we unzipped the tent to this spectacular view that made a somewhat uncomfortable sleep on mats that were, on the one hand, small and easy to carry but also just a bit too thin, entirely worth it.
In all, a full 24-hour cycle was spent enjoying the beach-dwellers life at Scarborough.
At the break of dawn, surfers were out on the waves. As the morning progressed, flags were set up and Surf Rescue volunteers took their stations.
There never appeared to be more than two or three groups of people on the beach at any given time, from yogis doing handstands to couples walking their dog and families with young children playing in the swash.
Regardless, we had enough privacy on our end of the beach to feel quite comfortable doing as we pleased.
Although we had enough food to stay another night, we decided to leave at sundown that day so we could make it back to the city by 9 PM, buy alcohol (bottle shops had been closed over the holidays), and enjoy such luxuries and modern comforts as beds.
Nonetheless, being beachside was exhilarating and wonderfully relaxing at the same time.
Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.
Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.
Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.
As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.
We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)
Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.
He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.
We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.
What I enjoyed about Maroubra:
It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.
Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.
If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.
Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.
Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.
With hardly a day left to 2017, I’m ready to breathe a sigh of relief that this crazy ride of a year is coming to an end.
I can look forward, with hope, to a new one of excitement but to look back with gratitude, I find it best to single in on three simple things: sun, sand, and waves.
If there is one thing I can say about 2017, it’s that it’s taken me to many a beautiful beach–possibly more than in any other year of my life. Goals!
From a relaxing vacation in Puerto Galera and a surf trip to Baler in the Philippines to camping in Port Macquarie and road tripping to Byron Bay in Australia and of course all the day trips to beaches in and around Sydney, it’s been one sunny year.
I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this (half) year of blogging than with a write-up of four beautiful beaches I’ve visited this month, all of which have some standout features that make them excellent spots to bask in the hot, hot glow of summer as you start the new year right.
Here’s a quick look at our four beaches.
1. Manly Beach
Manly, the first beach I visited in Australia, is still a favorite.
It’s a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and the walk from the wharf to the main beach takes you through warm streets graced with park benches, fountains, sandwich shops, bookstores, cafes, surfboards, and the occasional talented musician.
While it can get crowded in summer, it appears to be an excellent surf spot and one I look forward to trying out in the new year.
When the sun starts to dip behind the trees and cast shade on the beach, you can chase it back to a nice little bit of sand just beside the wharf.
2. Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach is a 15-minute walk along the coast from Manly but you can also drive there directly, park just up the path, and have a nice barbecue in the shade. The waves that hit Manly don’t reach this little spot so it’s great for little kids and snorkeling.
From the parking lot, and before heading down to the beach, catch this gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean.
3. Whale Beach
Whale Beach, north of Sydney, features a pool and fun rocky area for adventure play and exploration. On the opposite end of the beach, there is a surf rescue and, coincidentally, a gnarly surf spot. Those seen slashing the waves over here certainly had a seasoned appearance.
This beach has also got tables and grills for barbecues and a little playground in the shade for the kids.
4. Wattamolla Beach
Wattamolla is south of Sydney and tucked away in a beautiful nature reserve. You’ll have to drive here and once you get off the main road you’ll lose signal on your phone–a beautiful thing, really.
This stretch of cool ocean water is perfect for a swim because the waves are very mild. If the open sea is a little too chilly for you, however, you can hang out in the warmer pool of water on the other side. There is plenty of shallow water here for little kids to wade in and rocks off of which the older ones can jump.
There you have it, just a small taste of Sydney beaches but I dare say it’s a good start.