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Trip Report Fall trip- Amsterdam and Belgium

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I want to thank all the Fodor folk who helped me with planning and executing this trip. We had planned on a trip to Italy, but have a relative who is in Belgium for a couple of years, so decided to switch up. We missed out when they lived in Turin for two years, so we had to take advantage this time! LOL.

Amsterdam:
We flew from Atlanta on Delta and arrived mid-morning. The airport is pretty easy to negotiate, even if you are jet-lagged. We took the train to town. There was glitch with one train and ours was diverted to another track. If it hadn't been for the kindness of a fellow traveler, we would be standing there still, as the announcement was in Dutch. Took a taxi to the Ambassade. I had requested a superior deluxe room, which overlooks the Herengracht. This happened to be absolutely perfect for us. We could walk to the Spui neighborhood in two shakes of a lamb's tail, the opposite way to shopping galore, the Flower Market and museums were very close by. We walked every where, never took a tram. Our activities for our 5 night stay included:

1.The Reichsmuseum- We were able to get our tickets from the front desk at the Amabassade the night before. This meant we could decide which rainy day we wanted to do which activity. I subscribe to the belief that you have to be the early bird for tourist events, and this was very helpful. We made a beeline for the four Vermeers. Unfortunately, one (Woman in Blue Reading a Letter) was not on display. But three in one day was great. Spent 7 hours there including lunch, but it was the main reason for going to Amsterdam!
2. The Van Gogh Museum- Again, got tickets the night before from the front desk for opening. They had just opened a Munch exhibit, so it was definitely a two for one experience. I really liked the way they had the museum laid out, once I figured it out. If you have ever been to the Musee D'Orsay, you can get overwhelmed very quickly from the number of paintings in a room. This was set up in chronological order, but also gave you an idea about who or what was influencing him at each period. The Munch exhibit also had some of the collection's pieces as comparison. It was very interesting. So much so that my non-art-loving spouse enjoyed it.
3. The Amsterdam Museum- Again, very helpful for getting an idea about the layout of the city and the history of Amsterdam's far flung reach. We live in the Caribbean and are aware of their colonial past...The building was once an orphanage and you can see some of the belongings that the children left behind.
4. Canal cruise- It is a must-do on everyone's list. It helps give an overview of the city. I wish I had researched a bit more as we saw some very interesting boats from our room, but never figured out where to catch them. Our tour came up the Herengracht, right past our hotel.
5. Strolling- We did a LOT of strolling! Walked by the Anne Frank House. Yes, there is a long line. Walked through the various squares. The Floating Flower Market. Went looking for the Albert Cuyp Market and ran into a red light type deal with the girls in the windows. Walked up and down the canals. And up and down some more canals!

Food and drink-
1. DeAdmiraal- It was a few doors down from the hotel, so our default bar. Great food and a great introduction to genever.
2. DeRozenboom- small place with Dutch food near the Amsterdam Museum. Had a cozy lunch with smoked eel and chicken soup.
3. Dante- Italian on Spui. Eh, it was okay. Pizza, salad, and wine.
4. Cafe Hoppe- great people watching, beer drinking, historic cafe!!
5. Cafe Zwart- Next door to Hoppe. Historic, but not nearly the atmosphere as Cafe Hoppe.
6. Haesje Claes- I'm sure this is a tourist trap, but we had such a great time there, we went back again. You sit so close to the other diners you can't help but get into interesting conversation. Fish pot was delicious, creme brulee with macaroons, too.
7. Trattoria Caprese- "We don't serve pizza!" But they do serve risotto, panne cotta and lots of goodies...
8. Hans and Grietje- Near the Reichsmuseum. We ended up going back there when we were in the neighborhood. Had a great introduction to beer from bartendress who only drinks Veuve! LOL.Friendly staff and good snacks.

We stopped at several more little bars in the afternoon to try beers and enjoy the people watching. We were going to take a day trip to the Hague, but I believe that my spousal unit was museumed out, so we stayed put. I appreciate you all telling me about the bicycles. I would never get on a bike there! I was glad we got out of that city with our lives! ;-)

Will do Waterloo and Brugge as a separate post.

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    Thanks so much, taking notes as Amsterdam is on our radar and the Ambassade is our hotel choice. Any more tips on the hotel, or photos, would be appreciated.

    Good restaurant description. I don't know about the smoked eel.
    Bartendress who only drinks Veuve? As in Clicquot? You got my attention!

    Any more info pn the boat tours?

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    pariswat: I have Rijks in my notes and in my mind...only misspelled on the keyboard...Oopsie!

    TPAYT: The photos on the Ambassade website are pretty true to life.I had heard that the bathrooms are pretty tiny in Amsterdam and did not want that. As I said, upgrade to a canal view. It was endlessly fascinating watching the activities outside. As to the canal boats, I didn't spend enough time looking at the variety available. We took a generic one, but there are many smaller vintage boats that looked interesting. Re: restaurants,I tried to eat local fare, which was mainly a variety of fishes unknown to me...

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    BELGIUM!

    As I think I said, Belgium was not on my radar, but Kismet led us there.

    Amsterdam to Brussels- I booked 1st class on the Thalys train in advance. You print out your tickets at home, find the correct spoor and get on. In the wake of the attack on the train several months ago, we were expecting tight security. We were surprised that there was no one checking out the passengers. In fact, several in our car were a little unnerved when this guy pushed his way ahead of us, placed his suitcase in the storage area and then got back off. The whole luggage thing on the train is odd to me. There is definitely not enough space for all the Viking River cruisers who were returning with huge amounts of baggage. Where did they put it on the river boat?? Anyway, first class buys you extra room, free wifi, food and drink. The landscape was just like the Van Ruisdaels and Van Goghs we had just seen. No wonder they drew the sky taking up 2/3 of the canvas! As we came into Brussels, it changed back to big,kinda grimy city. Our relative met us at the stairs and off we went.

    WATERLOO
    Our next four nights were in a lovely village in the area of Waterloo. It was a lovely rural area where you could walk down the street and be in corn fields, sunflowers fields, horse pastures, walking on cobbled paths. Absolutely lovely. It was apple season, too! We ate lunches out, but dinners mainly at home. One of my favorite outings was to the Carrefour grocery store- my gosh, they had great food, and an entire cooler for trappist beers...
    Restaurants:
    1. Le Pain Quotidien- This must be a chain, because we saw one in Brussels and in Brugge. But it sure isn't like chains in the US. Great food and drink, like a French farmhouse. Had pot a feu with ham and wonderful bread.
    2.Les Deux Sil- In spite of its name, an Italian restaurant! Pizza for the younger family members, tuna carpaccio and lasagne for others. Their wine by the liter is better than most wines we can get at home. LOL
    3. L' Amusoir- We had a late lunch moules, burger and frites and a salad with salmon and fois gras. The food was wonderful as was the beer (Chimay Blue) and wine, again! Great atmosphere, too.

    We spent one day at the museum which has an audio tour along with the exhibit. Some of the events were a little difficult to understand, as they don't go in strict chronological order. But I learned a lot about Napoleon and his times. I did not know that he wanted the British to banish him to the US,for example. Unfortunately no one wanted to walk up the Butte de Lion with me as it was cold and windy and everyone was hungry. I guess I'll have to go back...

    BRUSSELS
    We took a day trip to the city. We did all the tourist highlights- Grand Palace, Manneken Pis, frites on the street, chocolate shop, Delirium Taphouse. We decide to get serious about tasting beers and make the trappist ones our goal. By this point we had a couple of Chimays and Orval. Brussels is a big city. We didn't go to any museums, so I can't really comment, but I was not enthralled.

    DINANT
    Another day trip! The countryside is again enchanting with rolling hills, "new" windmills, and down into the valley of the Meuse River. It was a weekday and off-season,so many cafes were closed. We took the required picture of the Collegiale and the Citadel from across the river. Looked at the saxophone sculptures from various nations. Walked up and down by the river. Took lots of pictures as the sun was out.
    Lunch at Cafe Leffe which was packed. We weren't able to get a table overlooking the river, but the Leffe beer makes up for it. After lunch we visit the old church, which has largely been rebuilt, visit Saxe Square and marvel at the cliff, then drive up to the Citadel. The views are perfect for a panoramic view on our iPhones. We spent quite a while in the museum learning about the events of August, 1914. You can feel the centuries of war throughout Belgium.

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    Hi,
    Thank you for your interesting trip report.
    My husband and I are traveling to Brunssum, Netherlands and then to Belgium in April We are spending 5 nights in the Netherlands and then a total of 5 nights in Belgium. We're still trying to decide if we want to spend all 5 nights in Brussels and do day trips from there, or spend 2 or 3 nights in Bruge and the last couple in Brussels.
    Did you stay right in Bruges?
    Thanks,
    Betty

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