A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about golf

Amsterdam: Fly-by-night (and rail by day)

The Venice of the North

overcast 22 °C

One final European dream (or bucket list entry as they now like to say) had yet to be fulfilled - a trip on the 'chunnel' train, and a visit to Amsterdam. Thanks to Lisa's generosity ... and running up an enormous slate of credits to the better half ... I was able to complete this trip off just before our London departure to Hong Kong.

London, St Pancras International, an impressive space

London, St Pancras International, an impressive space

Whilst the Eurostar train was a bit underwhelming - efficient enough, but the carriages were pretty dated - the connecting Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam was a ripper. I arrived late in the evening, and after catching the straightforward #1 tram down to the suburb of Overtoomse Slius, checked into my Airbnb apartment where I was greeted by owner Hans, who turned out to be a good bloke.

Wednesday was a frantic day of sightseeing. Nearby Vondelpark was the first stop, and this 150-year-old park was peaceful (despite plenty of energetic citizens) and beautiful in the mid-morning sunshine.

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A slew of standard tourist activities followed - mainly on foot - although I did succumb to a canal boat trip as recommended by Hans, and this turned out to be better than expected. It didn't take long for the charms of this magnificent city to win me over, and I eventually just let the bulky Canon hang around my neck as the photo opportunities were so frequent.

Singel canal

Singel canal


a fairly typical scene, but the importance of bikes in Amsterdam cannot be  underestimated

a fairly typical scene, but the importance of bikes in Amsterdam cannot be underestimated


no, not a container ship, but the Science Center Nemo

no, not a container ship, but the Science Center Nemo


Prinsengracht

Prinsengracht


bobbies and trams; officers of the law get on their bikes!

bobbies and trams; officers of the law get on their bikes!

The highlight of the day was yet to come however ... a trip to the Rijksmuseum, recently re-opened after a 10 year/375 million euro renovation. The Dutch Masters were abundantly represented, and it was a magical three hours spent (along with many others) touring the impressively remodelled rooms and spaces.

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A drink was called for after this engrossing visit, and an innocent beer turned into quite a few more as I got chatting to a German guy called Toby on one of the main tourist drags. Educated in Denver, he was amusing company, and I paid for it the next morning with a shocking hangover. This was not part of the plan, as I had an early start on my way to the KLM Open out at Zandvoort - a 30-minute train ride from Centraal Station.

Zandvoort is a seaside resort, and Kennemer Golf & Country Club - founded in 1910 - is not dissimilar to many British links courses. The tournament as per normal did not draw a cracker field, but I was content enough to follow the quality grouping of Ross Fisher (UK), Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium), and Mikko Ilonen (Finland). It was easy enough to watch a bit of the trailing group as well, which included local hero Joost Luiten (pronounced Joast Loyten), who to the delight of the local fans went on to win the tournament.

Johan Edfors - typically unorthodox

Johan Edfors - typically unorthodox


8golf_sign.jpg6golf_gen.jpgColsaerts, Fisher, and Ilonen ... average scoring, but quality ball-striking

Colsaerts, Fisher, and Ilonen ... average scoring, but quality ball-striking

Anyway, the hangover eased as the day wore on, and I managed to board the Easyjet flight from Schiphol Airport in a reasonable state. A highly enjoyable mini-trip was capped off by getting a big upgrade on my cheap-as-chips car rental at Gatwick (new Mercedes A180 ... lovely), and a big greeting from Gabi and Nat as I returned to Newbury.
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Posted by happellfamily12 09:52 Archived in Netherlands Tagged canals amsterdam golf thalys rijksmuseum vondelpark Comments (0)

Scotland The Brave

Temperature gauge struggled to get past 20 degrees, but this was no obstacle to a great time

all seasons in one day 18 °C

After spending a busy week in London, catching up with Wills, Kate, and baby George, we then sought refuge in nearby Newbury with Lisa's friend Michelle. A few quiet days were spent reviving tired legs and wallets, and we were ready for our foray north.

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Fife

We spread the trip up from the south of England over 2 days, so we were feeling fairly fresh as we crossed the impressive Forth Road Bridge, and turned right for the fishing villages of East Neuk. I'd memorised the B&B we were staying at in Lower Lago, but hadn't bothered to write down the name and address.

As we cruised through this sleepy town, none of the names along the road were ringing any bells, so I turned around and tried again. Same result ... so plan B was to stop at the main hotel in town, and ask to use their wi-fi. No dice - they were too busy! Frustration was building now (not to mention some increasingly fidgety children), so I drove to the villages on either side ... still no joy. Finally I stopped at a little B&B and asked the very nice lady (Evelyn) if I could use her wi-fi, explaining my predicament. Just as I called up the reservation email, she said "you're not the family of 4 coming tonight are you? I would have said something earlier, but you don't sound Italian!" Another one for the travel memoirs ...

the ever kind Evelyn with some slow Aussies ...

the ever kind Evelyn with some slow Aussies ...


18th hole at Carnoustie ... just one of 100's of golf courses dotting the countryside

18th hole at Carnoustie ... just one of 100's of golf courses dotting the countryside

Anyway, the main purpose of our brief stop here was to show Lisa and the girls St Andrews, which happily enough was hosting the Women's
British Open that week. Gabi and Nat were underwhelmed at the chance to watch the best players in the world on the world's most famous course - the highlight was getting a golf ball each from the nice South African pro Ashleigh Simon - whilst Lisa enjoyed herself, and thought it was a much better spectacle in the flesh than on TV. I returned again on the last day of the tournament by myself, and witnessed an exciting finale with Na Yeon Choi coughing up a three shot lead, and allowing the charging Stacey Lewis to claim the prize [photos posted shortly].

Banffshire Coast

Following on from Fife, we spent a week on the north coast of Aberdeenshire near the charming town of Banff. This was a chance to explore the nearby fishing villages in an unhurried fashion, which included Cullen (home of the famous Cullen Skink - a haddock based soup); Pennan (location for the filming of Local Hero); and Crovie (pronounced 'Crivie', and Europe's best preserved fishing village). Many of the villages along this coastline are absolutely gorgeous, and one suspects it is only their remoteness and less-than-warm climate which keeps them under the tourist radar.

Aberdeenshire is also the home to many of Scotland's famous distilleries, so we squeezed in a trip to Glenfiddich along the way, which was surprisingly interesting and good fun.

Duff House, Banff

Duff House, Banff


part of the walk from our apartment down to the village of Portsoy

part of the walk from our apartment down to the village of Portsoy


Gardenstown x 4

Gardenstown x 4


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Pennan

Pennan


Pennan, and the phone box Peter Riegert's character used to call his boss in 'Local Hero'

Pennan, and the phone box Peter Riegert's character used to call his boss in 'Local Hero'


Portknockie and the Bow Fiddle Rock

Portknockie and the Bow Fiddle Rock


bottlenose dolphins elusive at the Moray Firth, but we found some nice Mancunians instead

bottlenose dolphins elusive at the Moray Firth, but we found some nice Mancunians instead


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Cairngorms

The largest national park in Britain, the Cairngorms didn't disappoint despite the drizzly weather throughout the day. Our main mission was to visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd (reintroduced to Scotland in 1952), but we also enjoyed canoeing on Loch Insh, and a drive up to the funicular base station of Cairn Gorm (the mountain). The station is at 635 metres, and the peak - the 6th highest in the UK - is 1245 metres and provides reasonable skiing in winter.

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Isle Of Mull

A visit to Scotland wouldn't be complete without seeing one of the famous islands, so after some careful consideration we opted for Mull. Like most visitors, we caught a 50-minute ferry ride from the 'mainland' town of Oban, then continued on foot to our campground. Now, before anyone thinks that we actually got down & dirty with tents, campfires, and drop dunnies, please refer to the photos below! Glamping, as I think it is now referred to, would be a more accurate description, and these 'shielings' (originally a shepherd's summer dwelling high in the hills) provided all the creature comforts.

The weather in Mull was extraordinary to behold. Think of Melbourne in early Spring or Autumn, and multiply the effect tenfold. In a thirty minute period we would experience drizzle, then sunny calm, then the clouds would roll in with a breeze, and finally either solid rain or a sun shower. Sounds like a trial for the traveller, but watching it unfold inside our tent was actually quite enjoyable.

Gabi and Nat loved our campground, as it was car free, and had plenty of other Scottish and English kids to play with, along with a playground and a communal campfire (monopolised by the young French group of around twenty uni students ... how did they find cold, bleak Mull I wonder??). We made the short trip to Duart Castle - home of Clan Maclean - and also caught the local bus around to picturesque Tobermory where we lunched on some fine fish & chips.

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Tobermory day trip

Tobermory day trip


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After three nights on Mull our Scottish trip came to an end, so to finish with a flourish we drove back through the magnificent Glen Coe region (see photo at the start of the blog) on our way to the Lake District in Cumbria, England.
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Posted by happellfamily12 14:04 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland golf highlands st_andrews mull cairngorms Comments (0)

Big game hunting in the Middle East

Tracking Tiger, the Goose, and Wee-Mac

sunny 24 °C

Turkish Airlines (voted Europe's best airline for the last two years ... querying the strength of this form however) dangled the bait with cut-price fares to the Middle East, so with the blessing of the 'trouble & strife', I booked a return ticket to coincide with Abu Dhabi's annual pro golf tournament. Normal direct fares with Emirates, Qatar, or Etihad are around 650 euro return, but the TA ticket was 340 euro, the catch being a stopover in Istanbul each way. On the journey over the break was 6 hours, allowing a quick city visit, but only 2 hours on the way 'home'.

ISTANBUL

Upon arrival mid-afternoon, a very efficient metro train ride, followed by an equally efficient and interesting light-rail ride (I kid you not), deposited me right near the blue mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) in the city centre. It cost around $3 for these fairly lengthy rides ... can someone remind me again why this is so hard in Sydney and Melbourne? Anyway, the blue mosque is quite simply mind blowing - and that's just from the outside - so hopefully a return visit in the future will allow time for an internal tour.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

A brisk walk (it was only about 8 degrees) takes you past the Topkapi Palace - home to the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years - and down to the Bosphorus. Ever since 007 cavorted with Tatiana Romanova on this famous strait of water in From Russia With Love, it has been an ambition of mine to visit, and what a frenetic, fascinating scene it presents. Cars, ferries, street vendors, fishermen, locals, tourists, mosques, neon signs, honking & tooting ... it has it all, and in the gloaming this evening was especially beautiful. A chicken shawarma and a local Efes beer provided an effective filler until the 8:30pm Abu Dhabi leg of the flight.

twilight on the Bosphorus

twilight on the Bosphorus

ABU DHABI

A 2:30am arrival time saw most passengers stagger off our flight, but a subsequent 130km/h taxi ride into town quickly blew away the dozy cobwebs. A prompt check-in at the Cristal Salam Hotel was followed by four fitful hours of sleep, and then it was off to the golf course (please see below).

Abu Dhabi fails to flatter on the city approach - the buildings, whilst modern, are uninspiring - and it is only when you get to the waterfront that you gain an appreciation of the development over the past ten years. The catalyst for the city's rapid ascent was the death of then ruler Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan in 2004, and the subsequent succession by his son Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan. Whilst not on the same scale as Dubai, it is still an incredibly impressive, albeit slightly surreal city, and has further ambitions with projects like the Louvre Abu Dhabi expected to be completed in 2015 (the Frenchies apparently receiving 500 million for allowing the association!).

wall of glass ... Jumeirah Etihad Towers etc.

wall of glass ... Jumeirah Etihad Towers etc.


Emirates Palace Hotel - self proclaimed 6 stars - after peeking inside, hard to argue

Emirates Palace Hotel - self proclaimed 6 stars - after peeking inside, hard to argue


world's first gold dispensing ATM (in the EPH lobby) ... it's a cliche, but what will they think of next!

world's first gold dispensing ATM (in the EPH lobby) ... it's a cliche, but what will they think of next!

The Al Nahayan family are said to be worth 150 billion collectively, and were instrumental in bailing out Dubai a couple of years ago when the Maktoum family ran into some strife. Our Dubai friends - see next section - said that the previous trend of living in Abu Dhabi and commuting to work in Dubai has now reversed, with Abu Dhabi living costs rising so rapidly that it is now cheaper to live in glitzy Dubai. Funny old world ...

looking north along Corniche beach

looking north along Corniche beach


popped this one in for the Dumas boys - quirky street poster worked well I thought!

popped this one in for the Dumas boys - quirky street poster worked well I thought!

DUBAI

A painless 90 minute bus ride on a luxury coach - for the very reasonable price of $7 - deposited me into Dubai, and onto a much anticipated catch-up with an old buddy from my Hong Kong days. I attempted to purchase some wine before our dinner, but at the carefully hidden liquor store (in the otherwise garish shopping centre), was told I needed to be a citizen to make the purchase - the only alcohol consumption for tourists has to occur in (hotel) bars and clubs. Nevertheless I somehow managed to gain a sore head from our dinner, and struggled a bit on the early morning trip back to Abu Dhabi for Day 4 of the golf.

looking back to the city centre from what (I think) is the new suburb of Ibn Battuta

looking back to the city centre from what (I think) is the new suburb of Ibn Battuta


from the apartment balcony of our dinner venue which is based in The Palm development ... massive and impressive

from the apartment balcony of our dinner venue which is based in The Palm development ... massive and impressive

ABU DHABI HSBC GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

The Middle East is now a key part of the European golf tour, and always manages to attract strong fields with good prizemoney, beautiful weather for January (mid-20's), attractive golf courses, and well-run tournaments. Combine that with some serious appearance money dished out to the game's superstars, and you get a very attractive package for players and spectators alike.

What cannot be relied upon however, is for said superstars to play some decent golf on Thursday & Friday, and thus qualify for the weekend rounds. I was desperate to see both Tiger and Rory McIlroy (Wee-Mac, after compatriot Graeme McDowell was branded as G-Mac!), but fate intervened and sent them both packing on Friday night ... with their million plus appearance fees. Rory was not so surprising - he signed with Nike the week before for a reported 200 million - so had to contend with new equipment. Tiger actually made the 'cut', but was then later penalised 2 shots for an incorrect drop, so missed by one.

giant oversight : confirm that overpaid stars make the cut before committing!

giant oversight : confirm that overpaid stars make the cut before committing!

Five years ago this may have been a problem, but the Euro tour now has such depth that there was still plenty of good players to see. Without wishing to bore non-golf fans, I particularly enjoyed watching established stars Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Peter Hanson, and Martin Kaymer, and was also excited to see rising stars Thorbjorn Olesen (from Denmark), and Bernd Wiesberger (Austria), who is built like a brick outhouse, and hits it into the next postcode.

Jason Dufner ... The Doofster hails from Auburn, Alabama, and is one laid-back dude

Jason Dufner ... The Doofster hails from Auburn, Alabama, and is one laid-back dude


Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie play up 18

Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie play up 18


sartorially splendid Matteo Manassero ... 19 years old and already three tour victories

sartorially splendid Matteo Manassero ... 19 years old and already three tour victories


SSP Chowrasia - India's golfing answer to VVS Laxman. 5 foot 'nothing'; comfortably last in driving distance; can play however.

SSP Chowrasia - India's golfing answer to VVS Laxman. 5 foot 'nothing'; comfortably last in driving distance; can play however.

Warm weather, attractive and tough golf course, not too many spectators, and good facilities made for a fun couple of days. In the end, the very likeable Jamie Donaldson from Wales triumphed, making it two wins in eight months after playing for 11 years and 255 tournaments without a victory ... dare I say there is hope for us all!

Paddy Harrington ... one of the true good guys on tour

Paddy Harrington ... one of the true good guys on tour


possibly one that got away from Justin Rose; Thorbjorn Olesen an emerging talent

possibly one that got away from Justin Rose; Thorbjorn Olesen an emerging talent


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Posted by happellfamily12 13:11 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged trains golf friends buses abu dubai dhabi modernisation Comments (2)

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