'Tulip Island' opens in Amsterdam's Vondelpark

Tulip Island, Vondelpark

ABOVE: Tourists and locals mingle amid the flowers on Tulip Island, Amsterdam.

Tiny Tim would have loved Amsterdam's newest tourist attraction: "Tulip Island," on the tiny islet of Muziekkoepel opposite the Blue Teahouse in the city's Vondelpark. As you follow the late singer's exhortation to tiptoe through the tulips, you can pick your own bouquet while learning about the cultivation and history of Holland's most famous flower.

Couple on Tulip IslandAs a bonus, you'll meet other harvesters, and you'll have the opportunity to sell or trade your pickings in front of the traditional auction clock. The Tulip Experience Foundation, which runs the island, is also offering classical music and a high tea during the inaugural 2014 season, which runs from July 4 through September 7.

(Fun fact: Tulips normally grow in the spring, but Tulip Island's organizers are using specially-prepared "ice tulips" to keep the island in full bloom during the summer months.)

To schedule your 30-minute visit to the Island, go to www.tulip-island.com, where you can pre-order your tickets for a specific data and time. (Tickets cost  €7,50, and the booking form is in six languages.)

More photos:

Tulip Island, Amsterdam


Photos courtesy of Tulip-island.com.

TrustedHouseSitters.com: Matchmaking for pet-loving homeowners and travelers

Alpacas in Umbria, Italy

ABOVE: Have you ever wanted to spend the summer with a herd of alpacas? TrustedHouseSitters.com can match you up with an apartment and alpaca farm in Umbria, Italy.

INSET BELOW: A friendly dog at a home in Ayvalik, Turkey, where the sitters will watch eight cats, two dogs, and three tortoises for two weeks in June.


When we travel, we often rent apartments for a week or two, but now we've discovered something even better--at least for certain types of trips--thanks to TrustedHouseSitters.com.

TrustedHouseSitters.com is the brainchild of Andy Peck, who created the site four years ago. James Cave tells the story:

"Andy Peck stumbled across a family in the North of Spain who needed someone to come and look after their home and dog Dave while they were away on vacation. Andy got in touch and was accepted for the house sit. A few weeks later, he was looking after Dave and the family home in Spain.

"Realising that there were potentially thousands of other house and pet owners who would benefit from a service that connected homeowners and sitters, Andy launched TrustedHouseSitters.com in 2010."

How it works:

TrustedHouseSitters.com is an international, UK-based matchmaking service for homeowners and sitters that offers a number of membership plans.

To join, you pay as little as US $7.49 a month (billed annually), which allows you to register as a housesitter and create a profile on the site. (You'll also get daily e-mail alerts of new listings 24 hours before the listings go online.)

When you see a listing on TrustedHouseSitters.com that interests you, you apply via the site's secure messaging system. The homeowners will then decide whether you get to stay in their London townhouse, French vacation cottage, Umbrian apartment with alpaca farm, etc.

Normally, there's no exchange of money: You get a free vacation stay, and the homeowners have someone to watch their home, plants, pets, etc. while they're out of town.

What your responsibilities are:

Dog in Ayvalik, Turkey

James Cave writes: "Most house sits involve pet care, and a homeowner's main reason for using TrustedHouseSitters.com is not wanting to put their pets into a kennel, so house sitting is best suited to to animal lovers."

He adds: "It's also not uncommon to see people asking for their plants to be watered or the mail collected. in areas with particularly cold winters (France, for example), many people get a house sitter to keep the pipes from freezing over."

And that's pretty much it. You live in the house, take care of any living things that need watering and feeding, and enjoy the surrounding city, town, or village. If the homeowner is satisfied, you'll earn a positive reference in your profile, and that will make it easier to get more house sits in the future.

What kind of people sign up for house sitting:

According to TrustedHouseSitters.com, "House sitters are usually mature professionals or retirees, looking to house sit for any number of reasons." The site's registered sitters have included "veterinary surgeons, pilots, clerics, medics, retired police, CEOs, writers, and animal rescue staff."

Still, you needn't fit into one of these categories to apply for house sitting, although you may find it trickier to land a cottage sit in Midsomer Mallow if you're a twenty-something tattoo artist. (Then again, you might get lucky if the homeowners are having trouble finding a sitter for their pet python or tarantulas).

Where to get more information:

To learn about house sitting (or finding a house sitter), visit www.trustedhousesitters.com.


BELOW: Why rent a cottage on this 17-acre property in Normandy when you can stay free for three months in return for keeping an eye on the pool, gardens, and two young helpers?

House sit in Vimoutiers, Normandy

 Photos: TrustedHouseSitters.com

New guide: Germany for the Jewish Traveler

Munich Synagogue and Jewish Museum

ABOVE: The Jewish Museum in Munich opened in 2007. (The museum is on the right; the building on the left is Munich's new main synagogue.)

The German National Tourist Board (GNTB) has published a new e-brochure titled Germany for the Jewish Traveler.

The English-language brochure contains travel tips and information about Jewish life, culture, and places of interest in 64 German cities. It also features interactive maps and Web links.

According to the GNTB, Germany is home to the third-largest Jewish community in Western Europe--and the only one that is growing, not shrinking.

In 2013, the GNTB reported an increase of nearly 15.4 percent of overnights from Israel to Germany, so the country is attracting plenty of Jewish tourists as well as residents.

To download the free brochure, visit the GNTB's brochures page.

BELOW: Erfurt's Alte Synagogue, or Old Synagogue, was rediscovered in the late 1980s after being hidden behind other buildings for nearly 600 years. It is now a museum of medieval Jewish life in Erfurt.

Alte Synagogue Erfurt


Photos: Durant Imboden.