Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Dutch Golden Age in Amsterdam

Amsterdam simply bulges with culture, cuisine, coffee shops and hot pink windows yet right now the city is glowing with the shine of the Dutch Golden Age.

Roughly spanning the 17th century (The Golden Age is officially dated from 1585 to 1672) this was a time when the Dutch ruled the waves and Amsterdam saw a glorious explosion of wealth and culture.

To celebrate the Dutch Golden Age there are city-wide exhibitions from now to mid February that talk about the creativity of the time. Here’s where you can see it:

Flinck and Bol – The forgotten masters
Everyone has heard of Rembrandt but his pupils are hardly household names. This is changing with a long-awaited double exhibition “Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck: Rembrandt’s Master Pupils” showing at Rembrandt’s House and the Amsterdam Museum until February 18 2018.

Both born around 400 years ago, the pupils completed their training at Rembrandt’s House and became two of the most celebrated painters of the time. By late 1640 they had even surpassed Rembrandt in commercial output. Yet after their death they disappeared into the shadow of their master.

At Home with Rembrandt
Start at Rembrandt’s House where the master lived and worked for 19 years. Here you can see where the two pupils honed their skills as painters of portraits and historical scenes, working in the style of Rembrandt.

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Once Flinck and Bol had completed their training, they branched out and tailored their styles to the changing taste of the time. The story continues in the Amsterdam Museum with elegant portraits and imposing historical scenes by the now established and successful duo. While Rembrandt painted his sitters exactly as he saw them, warts and all, the commercially smarter pupils produced flattering and more colourful portraits of their sophisticated and wealthy patrons.

Flinck had a network of friends and relatives in high places and Bol acquired a useful circle of clients when he married the well-connected Elisabeth Dell. The artists’ commissions for Amsterdam’s new Town Hall in Dam Square, now the Royal Palace, were the ultimate proof of their success. The works are still in situ and open to public viewing.

You can’t help but compare the lives of these rising stars to that of their master, Rembrandt. Although he was to produce creative and highly moving works of art right up until his death, he suffered personal tragedy and financial ruin. He had lost his first three children, then his wife, Saskia, while the later years were beset with bankruptcy and an acrimonious relationship with a former lover. As if that weren’t enough his common-law wife and only surviving son, Titus, predeceased him.

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Camino de Santiago

Pilgrims taking the many Caminos, or Ways of St James, always end up at Santiago de Compostela and gather in the Cathedral to be blessed. A few carry on to the Atlantic Coast, feeling that this westernmost part of Europe is a more fitting end to their journey. Indeed this was an ancient spiritual route, long before the Catholic Church commandeered it for its own purposes. They were drawn to the sunset at what was then the end of the known world. That’s how it got its name – the Latin “Finis Terrae” translates as Finisterre.

Finisterre sunset
Finisterre sunset (c) Rupert Parker
I’ve already walked the classic Camino Frances (The French Way), from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and was disappointed by the crowds of people on the trail. When I set out from the city going west, numbers are far fewer, and it’s an altogether more pleasurable experience. It’s going to take three days to get to Cape Finisterre and then another couple of days to the fishing village of Muxia, a place once sacred to the Celts.

Santiago de Compostela to Negreira
In late October, there’s a moist drizzle as I negotiate my way out of Santiago but I’m soon plunged into oak woods with the bracken turning all shades of brown. The route takes me through tiny hamlets, crammed with Hórreos, distinctive stone granaries raised on pillars above the ground, still used for storing corn husks.

Hórreos
Hórreos (c) Rupert Parker
Three quarters into my first day I reach the charming medieval town of Ponte Maceira, named after its distinctively arched 14th century bridge spanning the Río Tambre.

Ponte Maceira
Ponte Maceira (c) Rupert Parker
My destination is the town of Negreira, a sleepy little place, although it does have the Pazo do Cotón, a 14th century medieval fortress. It once formed part of the city walls and it makes a fitting exit as I set off next morning.

Pazo do Cotón
Pazo do Cotón (c) Rupert Parker
Rain is forecast, even though it starts sunny, and the clouds open as I climb out of the town. Unlike the Camino Frances, cafes and bars are in short supply, so there’s little shelter.

Abeleiroas to Fisterra
In the morning, there’s a change in the weather and sun is poking through the clouds. Most of the day’s walking is now on dirt tracks, giving my feet a welcome rest, and the first part follows the Xallas River, lying in the valley below. I climb steadily to the tiny hamlet of Hospital, named because it once provided care for pilgrims and then reach a crossroads. The right branch goes to Muxia, but my way leads left to Finisterre. There’s a pair of battered boots balanced on the stone marker, but no sign of the owner.

Ski Review

Mayrhofen – The Lowdown
Mayrhofen is one of Austria’s great ski areas with a huge array of slopes mixed with a pretty town replete with typical Tyrolean architecture and a lively nightlife.

Everyone from Eddie Izzard to The Prodigy has partied here while appearing at the Snowbombing and (now gone) Altitude festivals. And when you feel the need for a change of scenery there are plenty more resorts on your lift pass.

Crystal Ski Mayrhofen
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Mayrhofen Ski Areas
The main ski area is reached by the Penkenbahn, a swish modern supergondola (20-plus comfy seats) from the centre of town, next to the big Sporthotel Strass with its bars, and across the road from Hans the Butcher whose hot pork rolls make a perfect lunch to push into your pocket.

At the top there are beginner runs tucked away with their own lifts while most skiers head down into the huge bowl that combines lots of charming, tree-lined runs with the likes of Harakiri, the steepest run in the Alps.

There are lifts up the other side of the bowl, not least the Tux cable car 150 to the resort’s high point at 2,590 m. Other pistes head to Finkenberg and Lanersbach while in the other direction an off-piste route will get you down to valley level at the Horbergbahn, for a bus hop back to town.

With access right from the centre of town, Mayrhofen is perfect for families with the ski school meeting area as you pour off the Penkenbahn cable car.

Mayrhofen children on piste
Mayrhofen children on piste
Skiing is safe and away from roads. Intermediates can enjoy the gentle paths and the broad pistes – great for families who want to ski together. Boarders have fun at the Vans Penken Park probably one of Europe’s best snow parks.

There’s a full day’s skiing to be had heading to the resort’s far corners, and plenty of mountain restaurants with fabulous cakes and children-friendly meals such as Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal of chicken cutlet) and chips.

Don’t miss lunch at the Schneekarhütte, twin stone and glass pyramids sitting on a ridge at the top of the Horbergbahn lift, serving modern takes on hearty Austrian cuisine.

Just up the main street from the Penkenbahn is the Ahornbahn that reaches a separate peak and ski area with plenty of space for beginners to improve, and to relax at the White Lounge bar, a real igloo with deckchairs outside. Or stay over in one of the 28 bedrooms.

A Budget Ski Break In Zakopane

Poland doesn’t have lots of mountains, but they make the most of it in Zakopane, nestled at the foot of the Tatras. This popular resort, around two hours south of Krakow is an appealing mix of chocolate box quaint, accessible ski slopes.

Add low prices and Zakopane makes for a value for money ski break that is a good alternative to big budget spending of Val d’Isere even if there is no real ski in/ski out option and the mountains are not especially high. The fact is you’ll find snow, mountains and nightlife to rival plenty of other budget resorts.

Budget skiing for families and beginners
The town of Zakopane serves as the gateway to the mountains, so visitors need a taxi or the use of a daily transfer service to access the ski stations.

Zakopane – Gubalowka Hill a nursery ski run
Gubalowka Hill – nursery ski run (c) Jonathanawhite
Bialka Tatrazanska is the most Alpine of Zakopane’s ski stations, with 16 kms of ski runs spread over a series of small valleys. To the experienced winter sports enthusiast that may not sound like much, but beginners or the undemanding intermediate will find the terrain extremely pleasant and forgiving. Wide runs and beautiful woodland scenery make for a pleasant skiing experience.

Those looking for mountain runs will find the best option in the imposing Kasprowy Wierch, the mountain that towers over the city. The 15 kms of runs will be more of a challenge and are better suited to intermediate skiers and boarders.

The closest slopes to town are at Gubalowka, which is accessible via a funicular ride from the centre of town. From here you’ll get great views across the town plus an excellent market which is fun diversion for bargain hunters.

Zakopane – Gubalowka Hill Funicular entrance
Gubalowka Hill Funicular entrance (c) Jonathanawhite
We headed to Zakopane fairly late in the season, in mid March and although there was snowfall on the day we arrived it didn’t stick around for long. But, thankfully the ski areas have invested in great snow making facilities. Kasprowy Wierch is mostly pretty snow sure and offers skiing up until late March or April.

Ski day passes vary from around 62 PLN (approx £12) up to 120 PLN (approx £25).

⇒ For more ski guides, click here

Eating & Drinking
One thing is for sure, you won’t be short of dining options in Zakopane. Most of the fare is of the hearty meat and veg type with a healthy side of beer or vodka. The main drag, Krupowki, is packed full of authentic wooden panelled eateries, with grills stacked with sausages and joints of pork. The rustic vibe is often completed with live traditional music.

The best of the bunch was at Watra (Hr. Władysława Zamoyskiego 2, 34-500 Zakopane), a restaurant and brewery a short walk off the main drag. The stills in the window aren’t just for show, their selection of beers are perfect for warming you up.

We also found a great vegan burger joint, Mountain Bar (Ulica Weteranow Wojny 2, Zakopane), which serves some of the biggest vegan burgers I’ve ever seen.

Nightlife is lively with lots of bars and nightclubs off the main drag.