Thursday, May 5, 2016

Amsterdam in the rain, Raleigh in the sunshine

Cold and Wet Amsterdam.

I was in Amsterdam in April with the rain that would bring the tulips and other bulb plants to this hub of the floral trade. Fortunately, my plan was to see the newly renovated Rijksmuseum and as many as possible of the smaller museums that I had never had time to visit much less explore. Rain kept me on course except for one day when sun had me making a beeline the glorious Keukenhof Gardens.

Pannier supreme at the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijks is better than ever, with a well-lit spacious atrium lobby and more spacious exhibition spaces

Vermeers are wonderful but don't miss other collections at the Rijksmuseum.
Give yourself time to inspect beyond the Rembrandts and Vermeers. I was surprised to find there was a costume collection, not to mention how good it was.

Amterdam's canal houses are fascinating.
Visiting smaller museums has two benefits. You can see some amazing things and in many cases, you can also see the insides of the city's famous canal houses.

The best way to do both: go to the Museum of Bags and Purses and the Van Loon Museum.

 Purse Museum

As you walk through the purse museum you see not only the trends and art of superbly decorated bags from the 16th century to present day designer beauties, but two period rooms where visitors can enjoy lunch and high tea.

The Van Loon Museum

The Van Loon Museum is authentic and period throughout, from front entrance to gardens and carriage house in the rear. The van Loon family were among the founders of the Dutch East India Company and prominent members of the highest Dutch society.

Micropia showcases and explains microbes.
For something entirely different try Micropia, the world's only museum of microbes. Trust me, it's fascinating for kids and adults. The little "bugs" that get us down or keep us going are not only powerful, some are pretty and colorful.

Keukenhof is unbelievably beautiful.
Speaking of colorful, if you get a sunny day don't miss Keukenhof Gardens. Designed to showcase the best of each season's bulb plants developed in the Netherlands, it is closed and dug up in September and reopened in April with all new designs. Spectacular isn't powerful enough a word to describe the array of color and glories there.

Downtown Raleigh.
Warm and worth a visit Raleigh.

It was sunny and breezy in Raleigh, NC, a surprisingly interesting city with a lively arts community and a thriving food scene.

Symphony in rehearsal.
All of the arts are booming. The North Carolina Symphony is filling also concert halls all over the state as well as in the handsome concert hall downtown. Keeping it company is CAM the non-collecting Contemporary Art Museum, where the exhibits change every 16 weeks. Admission is a nominal $5 but no one is ever turned away for lack of it. Best of all, middle school students are taught to be docents, giving them public speaking skills and art education as well as hefty doses of self confidence.

Artists find studio and gallery room and camaraderie and everyone finds classes and workshops at Art Space, a re-purposed 1911 livery and car dealership.

Rodins in the reflecting pool.
Beyond downtown, the North Carolina Museum of Art sits amid a 164-acre park with sculpture, a theater and a separate building for special exhibits. Consider it a must-see, with its history-spanning collection strong in pre- and Renaissance work of Giotto and Botticelli, the 29-statue Iris and B. Gerald Cantor collection of Rodins and 20th century modern and contemporary art.Time your visit for lunch at Iris, the museum's excellent restaurant.
Now that food has been cited, here are two that impressed me. Raleigh Beer Garden is perfect to while away a casual, balmy evening. The variety of local, regional and imported brew is expansive and the food fits it to a T.

One of many delicious courses at Babylon.
Inside or out, Babylon is a treat. Moroccan to the core, thanks to its ebullient owner Samad Hachly and his long-time French chef John Paul Fontaine. Everything from decor to food is impressive. Entrees run $14 and up, but splurge for the Moroccan sampler at $45 per person; your taste buds will thank you.

Wherever in Raleigh you go, take a ride on a pedicab. "Drivers" work for tips alone and know all about their city. Fun way to go.

Golden Isles specials. 

Jekyll Island Club Hotel
It's a good time to plan some time at Jekyll Island Club Hotel. From May 31 to August 4, room rates are 20 percent off.  Packages include the July 4th celebration, July 3-5 or July 4-6, with daily breakfast buffet and annual cookout at the Morgan Center, $689 for two nights, double occupancy. August 1 to September 1 Escape for $250 a night with Clubhouse or Traditional accommodations,  a four-course dinner for two in the Grand Dining Room or Courtyard at Crane Cottage with a bottle of signature wine, still or sparkling.

Kids Cooking Camp convenes June 26-29 with three days of breakfast buffet, a welcome reception, hands-on cooking classes, education in kitchen safety and food handling, chef demonstrations, a graduation dinner and two tickets to Summer Waves Waterpark and Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Cost is $999 for one child and one parent. Relax at a Yoga Retreat Weekend August 5-7 led by Savannah Yoga Center's founder Kelley Boyd, $539 single, $699 double.

Discovery Days are coming at Little Simons Island. During Shark Days, July 10-15, guests join shark researchers from the University of North Florida, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and NASA  to learn about Georgia's sharks. Two spots on the special charter boat fishing trip July 14 are included in the special $1,999 inclusive package for two. Three days without the fishing trip is $1,425. Taxes and 18 percent service charge are extra.

During Turtle Days, July 17 to August 18, the 100 Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests on the islands's 7 miles of beach are expected to erupt with newly hatched baby turtles heading out to sea. Guests get to learn about monitoring techniques, participate in post-hatch nest evacuation and data on and data collection and possibly watch hatchlings go from nest to ocean.he Afieldst

Polar Ice, Bears and More.

Want to go where almost no one else does? Explore Franz Josef Land, an archipelago of 191 islands in the high Arctic, now the Russian Arctic National Park. Poseidon Expeditions is your only way in and space is still available aboard the Sea Spirit July 7-20 and July 30-August 12 sailings from Longyearbyen, Svalbard, starting at $7,295.

Don't forget your long johns.