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Trip Report rkkwan's budget trip report: Belgium, Normandy, Loire, Paris

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Inspired by almesq's nice high-end trip report today here: fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34871788 I finally decided to write my own for my relatively low budget trip to Belgium, Normandy, Loire, and Paris. Very different trip than almesq's. ;)

Background

My friend D from Hong Kong called me late July, inviting me to join her on a bus tour from Paris to Italy. I said, "no thanks", but proposed that she got to Paris early around Labor Day, and we could go around Western France for a few days. That is how the trip was born. I decided to make it a driving trip, and because I could only got award ticket to AMS, I decided to spend a few hours in Belgium on my own as well. Later, D's friend H decided to join, so it became a 3-person trip.

Day 0, Fri 9/1/06

IAH-AMS. Flight report in this thread: fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=126&tid=34866819

Day 1, Sat 9/2/06

AMS

Amsterdam Schiphol airport was a real delight to use. First time there since 1995, but looked very familiar. I was in Schiphol Plaza buying train tickets 8 minutes after the plane door opened. I have only carryon.

Now I know manned ticket counters in the Netherlands charge money for tickets, so I tried to use the machines. Unfortunately, they require PIN for using a credit card, which I don't have for any of mine. So, have to pay 3.5€ extra at the counter for my 26€ ticket to Antwerp.

Schipol-Antwerp

The IC train left Schipol at 12:40p, 5 minutes late, but it arrived Antwerpen Centraal right on-time at 2:32p.

As many already knows, the IC trains cost less and takes just 12 minutes longer than the Thalys for Amsterdam to Brussels-Midi. The main time difference is at Antwerp. The IC train goes into Antwerpen Centraal, a dead-end station while the Thalys only stops at Berchem.

Antwerp Train Station

First thing I did was find a locker for my rolleraboard. Three sizes of coin-operated lockers. Smallest cost 2.6€ and will fit my 21" with room to spare. Public bathroom cost 0.3€.

Second thing, er I guess third, was to use a ticket machine to print my Thalys ticket for my trip down to Paris. There are 4 machines right in the main hall, and one of them is for Thalys/TGV/Eurostar. Very easy to use.

I bought the Thalys Smilys ticket in advance as a Brussels-ABS to Paris-CDG roundtrip ticket, at 53€, cost less than a regular one-way. The ABS part adds 1.5€ each way to the ticket but allows connection from any Belgium station. So, my Antwerp-Brussels trip cost 3€, as they don't allow ABS one-way and non-ABS for return. Saved myself 1€ as regular ticket cost 4€.

Antwerp

I had exactly 3 hours to spend in Antwerp, so I headed straight west from the station towards Meir. Lots of shoppers on a nice Saturday afternoon. I turned left onto Wapper to take a look at the exterior of Rubenshuis, then continue west to buy chocolates at Pierre Marcolini on Huidevettersstraat. Fodorite yk recommends them, and I wouldn't have time to go to their store in Brussels, so I got them here.

Continue west I came to the Antwerp Cathedral. It was almost 4pm, and they had mass starting at 3pm, so no visit. NW of the cathedral is the Grote Markt. Spectator stands were put in the square for events later that evening to commenerate Belgium Liberation Day 9/4/1944. Nearby were displays of WWII Allied vehicles which I saw parading in central Antwerp earlier.

Finally, I walked out to the Scheldt river, and it was time to go back. Passed by Sint-Jacobskerk where Rubens was buried, but it had just closed at 5pm. No time to visit the Diamond Museum either.

Got back to the station, used the bathroom again (these were only two times I spent money to use one for the whole trip), got my rollerboard, and got on the 5:42 IC to Brussels.

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