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Trip Report Netherlands in 3 1/2 Weeks

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A friend and I (both 60’ish, active, well-traveled women) spent 3 ½ weeks in the Netherlands – that’s right only in the Netherlands. Although there was so much more to see, we got a good sample of this wonderful, small country. Our travel philosophy: see the arts, no more than one museum per day, see the major sights, experience the culture, keep costs reasonable, eat a pricey meal once in a while, and drink a lot of wine. One of us is a foodie and one just eats to live. Both of us had been to Amsterdam years ago. As the country is so small, we picked a few bases prior to arrival, staying one week in Amsterdam, 10 days unplanned on the road, and one week in Delft. If I was younger I'd want to bike around this country since it is so flat and there are bike paths everywhere.

Impressions: Bikes, canals, boats, Queen Ann's Lace (flowers in general), cheese, people---helpful, polite, patient, relaxed, laid back, quick to laugh; great transportation, houses---small, charming, mostly brick w/ tile roofs, large windows, tidy; English spoken everywhere, flat, green landscapes, churches and church bells, lots of cows, sheep and horses, roundabouts, peacefulness---cities, people in public, vehicles; separate traffic lights for bicycles, no helmets required, parking outskirts of city centers, abundance of birds chirping, short shop/museum hours, short work weeks, many festivals and market days, former churches converted to other uses e.g. pub and bookstore, reversible escalators, tiny, tiny sinks in cafe toilets, under construction - train stations, museums, etc.


General

VVV (vey-vey-vey) are the information centers in most every town and most require you to pay for a town map (1-2 Euros). The Amsterdam VVV is across from Amsterdam Central station and can tell you which buses/trams to take to various sights/day trips. Before you get on a bus – ask the driver to make sure it is going where you want.

English is spoken everywhere and people are very helpful.

Credit card – they use the chip and pin credit cards so we were out of luck for using machines to purchase train tickets and adding to the OV Chipkaart. We had to go to ticket offices to do this – not too much of a bother, but some small towns may not have ticket offices. You can use your credit card for hotels, restaurants, etc. We used cash for everything - ATM’s are very convenient.

We purchased a Museumkaart (44 Euros), which was more than worth it as it covered most museums in the country and is good for one year. You purchase it at any museum.

Shop hours are inconsistent at best – closed Sundays and Monday mornings + more days in small towns. Most museums only open from 11:00-5:00. Important to look up current info on museum, etc. websites as sometimes they were quite different from the guide books. I had my I-Pad which proved invaluable. Grocery stores were open most of the day and offered good wine for less than 5 Euros a bottle.

Weather: we went May 12 – June 4 to miss high season. It was chilly the first week – 50’s/60’s, then hot the next week – 70’s/80’s, then chilly last week again with some rain off an on the first and last week – usually when we weren’t outside anyway. Our last day it rained most of the day and limited our tour of Leiden. We missed the height of the tulips (end of April), but a lot were still around.

Costs: Overall I spent (per person costs) $2,750 excluding gifts and airfare (used miles) - $1,069 on accommodations ($45/night/pp), $914 on food/drink, $200 on sights, $564 on transportation. Euro exchange rate averaged 1.28.


Accommodations

We had prior reservations for an apartment in Amsterdam and a B&B in Delft, each for one week. We did require two beds and en suite for all accommodations. All accommodations had wifi and I’d consider them to average 3 star in quality.

Amsterdam: vrbo.com #63027, great location near Leidseplein, studio, two flights of stairs, washer/dryer available for free, on a canal/view, owner was absent most of the time, so no interaction. Delft: Swaenenryck B&B – modern, owner very efficient/English not great so not much interaction, although very helpful; husband is architect who designed the B&B and works next door in their home; 15 minutes from train station so not that convenient – upper middle class; two flights of stairs for our apartment/but two other apartments available, nice garden area, great breakfasts, on canal/view.

Other places were reserved a day or two ahead of time when we were on the road – all by e-mail. On the road, we stayed one night in Einkhuizen at RecuerDos Hotel, parked at train station for free (short walk) – breakfast included, nice owner, able to walk to harbor easily. We spent two nights in Groningen at Tuinkamer Court en Geertje B&B: bottom floor of middle class family home, convenient to bus stop, parked for free around the block from B&B, nice garden, small but several rooms (bedroom, kitchen, dining area, bathroom), interesting conversations with owner Court (found B&B’s on great website: www.bedandbreakfast.nl). Three nights in Deventer - stayed at wonderful B&B Ijsselpalais: free parking, artist owners, 20 minute walk to town so not too convenient/although not too far from train station, Room #1 – shared balcony overlooking the river, nice room/en suite; breakfast with owners in their kitchen was great – a lot of interaction – don’t miss it. Three nights in Nuenen outside Eindhoven at Auberge Vincent Hotel (holiday weekend so no B&B’s had vacancies), convenient to bus stop, 15 min bus to Eindhoven central station, business hotel, air conditioning didn’t work, expensive restaurant.

Schiphol Airport– stayed at Etap Hotel – free shuttle to/from airport (15 min) – inexpensive, small room with double bed and bunk bed above.


Transport

In general, transportation was expensive. Nothing was more confusing than the payment for public transport, so I’ll try to explain it here. You can pay for the tram or bus when you get on. If you plan to stay longer than a few days and don’t want to walk everywhere, you need an Anonymous OV Chipkaart (OV) for buses and trams as it is much less expensive. You scan the card every time you ride, both getting in and getting out. When you scan in, the card is temporarily charged 4 Euros (the maximum of any trip in the country). When you scan out, the actual distance is calculated and your card is charged the exact amount for the trip (average 2 Euros). There is a formula that is something like .83 Euros + .18 Euros for every km. I lost 12 Euros due to problems not checking out correctly, i.e. I was charged the full 4 Euros – if you don’t see the balance left on your card when you checkout, you have done something wrong. You will see a green light above the scanner when you check in if you have done it correctly. Once you know what to look for, it is not difficult. The OV costs 7.50 Euros and you can buy it at any GVB or train station office. We bought it at the GVB office across from the Amsterdam Central train station. You then add Euros for how much you plan to spend on transport – at any train or GVB office. It is much cheaper than buying a ticket every time for buses and trams – we were told half the cost. Trains – we bought a ticket for each trip since it is not cheaper with the OV Chipkaart and you need a minimum of 20 Euros on your card for a train. The tough part is planning on being close to zero on your card when you leave the country – I left with 7 Euros still on it. But the card is good for 5 years and you can give it to someone else to use since it is anonymous (although I don’t think they consider this legal).

We rented a car for 10 days in the middle of our trip, although you could use public transport for most of what we did – it would just take a lot longer – the roads were excellent, minimal traffic and the GPS was a must! We used BB&L Carrental, which included free insurance and GPS. Cost for the car was 330 Euros. They met us at Schiphol Airport (Arrivals 3 info desk), took us to the car parked at Departures 3, explained the car and GPS, then we were on our way. We dropped the car off at Departures 3 and they were there to meet us – you let them know when you plan to arrive back. Gas was close to $9/gallon – we spent 125 Euros on gas during the 10 days.


Sights/Towns and Some Recommendations

Amsterdam sights: De Pijp & Jordaan neighborhoods, Tuschinski Theatre, red light district, canal tour booked through Boom Chicago in Leidseplein (small boat), Bejinhof courtyard, Dam/Palais square. Museums: Van Gogh, Rijks, Six Collection (need prior reservation), Foam.

Recommended restaurants/food: Holtkamp Bakery (apple tart), Burgermeester (De Pijp), Lanskroon Bakery. Croquettes (Van Dobben) and bitterballen – horrible/skip them.

Haarlem – nice old town, museums: DeHallen, Hals; 15 min. train from Amsterdam – don’t miss it Recommend brewery/restaurant in old church Jopenkerk

Aalsmeer – Flower auction; buses – don’t miss it

Keukenhouf Gardens – only in season, bus/combi ticket from Schiphol – buy at Arrivals 3

Zanse Shans – touristy, but worthwhile for demonstrations on windmills, wooden shoe production, cheese production; bus or train from Amsterdam Central/ferry

Edam, Volendam, Marken – picturesque small towns/harbors, great strolling; Volendam only to catch ferry to Marken - crowded harbor area since holiday when we were there. Took bus to Edam from Amsterdam Central and back from Marken to Amsterdam.

Enkhuizen (1.5 hr from Amsterdam by car) -Zuiderzee Museum, nice harbor town – museum is open air, touristy, but interesting – similar to Williamsburg in US - you should see at least one of the open air museums if you can.

Groningen (2 hrs from Enkhuizen by car across dike) -College town, day trip to Menkemaborg (country house in Uithuizen) – don’t miss it, Groningen Museum

Bourtange (on German border) – day trip from Groningen, fortress town, touristy

Deventer (2 hrs from Groningen by car) - Small town with great Brink Plaza (reminded me of Provence plazas); Walstraat – good shopping street; De Salon gallery; Taste of Honey café in Deventer for pear/apple tart – great atmosphere -loved this town

Elberg and Zutphen (1/2 day trip from Deventer by car) – both picturesque small towns, great strolling

Kroller-Mueller Museum (30 minutes by car from Deventer) – a must for sculpture garden & Van Gogh collection, etc. - full day trip and don't miss riding the white bikes that are free. Go see the castle/house where the Kroller-Mueller's lived.

Day trip planned by Margreet (B&B owner in Deventer): Museum de Fundatie, Kasteel het Nijenhuis in Wijhe- excellent castle/museum/sculpture garden; Hattem – small town; back roads tour of country along Ijssel river – this day was a highlight of our trip, but need a car

Nuenen (2 hrs from Deventer by car – it was a holiday weekend so more traffice than usual). Vincent Van Gogh spent time here and the town has played this up; nice suburb of Eindhoven once you get off the main street; found free parking space next to hotel. There was an interesting multicultural festival when we were there.

Day trip into Eindhoven by bus – blah city; Van Abbe Museum was interesting, but somewhat of a disappointment since known works not on display, but temporary exhibits were great and don’t miss the elevator ride. Designhaus was closed – other museum I wanted to see.

Day trip to Maastricht from Eindhoven Central train 1 hr– nice college town, great walking around, known for shopping – we were here on a holiday weekend and it was crowded.

Delft – drove back to Schiphol (2 hrs from Nuenen) and dropped off car, then took the train to Delft (30 min) -Nice small town with great plaza and leaning church tower, nice strolling. We were in Delft for a festival that was interesting. Royal Delftware Factory – good shop, but expensive, did not take the factory tour since no one working. Het Prinsenhof – interesting history of William of Orange – worthwhile. Recommended restaurants: Café Vermeertje, De Klikspaan, Burlwag Street cafes. Great location for day trips to Rotterdam, Den Hague, Gouda – we spent several days in Rotterdam and Den Hague to see it all.

Rotterdam: Train/tram/ferries to Kinderdijk (directions here were very confusing – see below for how we got there), rented bike and rode around for an hour – don’t miss it. Delshaven neighborhood – one part of Rotterdam not bombed (ok – but great homemade ice cream store on this street). Dinner at Bazaar Hotel – recommend. New York Hotel – great apple tart/atmosphere – don’t miss it. Architecture and sculptures – go to VVV and get brochures for walking tours. Cube houses + tour inside worth it; Boijmans Museum – good; Euromast – took ride to the top – worth it if the weather is good – great views; Dinner at Ballentent Eeten for famous meatballs – ok.

Kinderdijk directions from Rotterdam Central: walk or tram to Williamspade, take the Waterbus to Ridderkerk (40 min-can use OV Chipkaart), take small ferry to Kinderdijk (5 min). The small ferry runs every ½ hour except at lunchtime – the ferry comes at the end of the Ridderkirk dock, i.e. not where the Waterbus drops you off, so look for the yellow schedule posted near the end of the dock when you get to Ridderkirk. When the small ferry drops you at Kinderdijk, ask the ferry operator where you go from there as you have to walk a ways along the water and behind the town to get to Kinderdijk. Don’t rent a bike from the first place you see – best place is at the main bar/eatery in town or at Kinderdijk. It is a big place and renting a bike is the best way to experience it and get away from all the tourists near the entrance.

Gouda –½ day trip from Delft – nice town plaza, cheese stores were amazing, great strolling town

Den Hague – tour of Binnenhof worthwhile, Peace Palace – you see outside only, Gemeentemuseum (also housed Mauritihaus paintings since under renovation at the time) – a must see; Mendag Panorama – very interesting + see renovation video in gift shop; Schevenigan on the coast – Kurhaus, sculpture garden on beach – worthwhile to visit although very touristy place – no one there when we went on a weekday; Lange Voorhout – nice street w/ sculpture garden; Denneweg street – nice walking area; Escher Museum – a must see, good galleries on Noordeinde Zee Straat

Leiden – nice town to stroll, pancakes at Oude Leyden – recommended.

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