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Trip Report The Low (and very wet) Countries: Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands

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This past July I took a 28 day trip to Europe, from Iceland to Slovenia and back again to Amsterdam. I spent the last ten days in Luxembourg (2), Belgium (3) and the Netherlands (5)
Photos are at: http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/belgium_netherlands_luxembourg

Italy through Switzerland to Luxembourg - It was warm and sunny when I left Italy (as it had been in Slovenia and Italy for the entire past two weeks). The SBB train (Swiss) isn’t even as roomy as the regionale Italian trains, but it’s clean and left right on time. Still sunny at the Swiss border. At the stop at the border a border control guy came through the train and checked some passports (the woman across from me, but not mine). We went through a long tunnel and came out in clouds - so didn't see much in the way of Alps. And other than a few hours here and there, that was the last I saw of the sun for the next ten days.

In Basel I WALKED from Switzerland to France. You go through a door, it's labeled "France". Then you get on another train. The Luxembourg train station is quite nice, but small. The ‘main hall’ (not very big at all) has a beautiful painted ceiling and a stained glass window (scene of Luxembourg skyline).

Hotel Empire (34, Place De La Gare www.empire.lu/ €95) is directly across the street from the train station, so nice to not have to look around for it or be dragging luggage several blocks. The street is the busiest one in Luxembourg, lots and lots of buses speeding by (and stopping) so I can see how it could be noisy in the hotel if you wanted your window open (given that it was 13C that was not a problem), and with windows closed it was very quiet inside. I was aware when planes flew by (the airport is very close so they are quite low) but it’s not very often. The hotel itself is “better than OK” – nothing special, but nothing really lacking either. Room was pretty large, everything clean, shower worked great (tile could use grout cleaning), free wi-fi worked fine, nice large flat screen TV with over 50 stations, but none in English (they said they had CNN but I looked several times and never found it). Breakfast was good – plenty of choices of meats, cheeses, spread, good baguettes and great croissants, yogurt, juice, etc. Staff were perfectly nice and helpful.

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    Luxembourg is nicer than I expected. I got lucky in that even though it had been raining just before I got there, after I checked into the hotel, the sun came out and so had some great light for about an hour. Then the clouds returned for the rest of the day. Then I really paid for it when it started pouring about two blocks from the hotel and despite my rain jacket and umbrella I got soaked. The hotel receptionist told me she got caught in a cloud burst that afternoon and her jeans were still damp.

    I love most things about Italy, but once I was in "France" (well really, it might as well be France; they speak French [well technically they speak Luxembourgish but either it sounds just like French or most actually are speaking French], they have French stores, it looks French) I realized that one thing the French do better than the Italians is croissants. Even with the amazing breakfast buffet in I had just had in Milano, with five kinds of croissants, they just did not compare with the one I had at this hotel's much more modest breakfast.

    My first morning it was actually partly sunny so I got out there around 8 and walked around for four hours - the city is built over a river gorge and part of it is down way below the rest of the city, so lots of up and down, plus there are walls and towers which of course I had to do. I did the one main thing there is to do in Luxembourg, which is the casements (UNESCO) and that is also a zillion steps. While I was in there it started to rain so I got pretty wet walking back to the hotel so had to stop in H&M which was having mega sales and got another pair of jeans. There were also a ton of shoe stores, all having sales so I did some shoe shopping – good rainy day activity.

    Luxembourg is really a very nice city – it supposedly has a population of 94,000 (103,00 in the metro area) and Reykjavik, where I had been earlier on this trip, 120,000 (greater Reykjavik is over 200,000) but Luxembourg feels much, much bigger and more like a real city. There are several main streets with cars and buses zipping around, and people dressed in business attire, it feels cosmopolitan whereas Reykjavik really felt like a small town/village – and a rural one at that. Luxembourg is so un-touristy that I couldn’t even find a keychain or something to use as an ornament for my travel Christmas tree (Had the same problem in Slovenia).

    There are a few tallish glass buildings around and more off on the edge of town; the ‘old center’ is very French looking, lots of grey slate slanted roofs and pretty grey or gold stone buildings. The setting on the river gorge is the main feature and it does make for some lovely views. The houses down by the river (the area is called ‘Grund’) are typical French country village type buildings, and there is significant amount of ‘forest’ down there also. Plus a pretty yellow church with tall grey spire, and nice views of the buildings up on the cornice. The Ducal Palace, doesn’t really look like a palace, it’s pretty small, but it is very pretty, and there are a few other elaborate French style buildings (Hotel de ville, Palace of Justice, etc). There are several squares, Place d’Armes being most attractive and lively, lined with restaurants (some nice ones, but also, Qucik, McD, Pizza Hut, and ChiChis.)

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    Even with the amazing breakfast buffet in I had just had in Milano, with five kinds of croissants, they just did not compare with the one I had at this hotel's much more modest breakfast. >>

    probably Isabel they buy them from the local bakery possibly after you sit down. When we were in Brittany last year, we found a small bar that offered breakfast, though we could see no pastries on the bar. still the patron assured us that he had croissant and pain au chocolat so we took him at his word and sat down.

    5 seconds after taking our order, he was out the door and across the square to the bakery and within the minute, the croissants were on our plates. a great system - we got the freshest pastries and he didn't have to carry stock he might not shift.

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    ann - well these croissants weren't THAT fresh, but they were still wonderful. I had had two hotels with the best breakfasts buffets of any place I've ever stayed (The one in Milano and one in Piran Slovenia) but this one croissant was still amazing.

    Here's the link to the rest of reports from this trip. I am realizing that it's a bit clumsy to have to read different reports but I was thinking that someone searching on a report for Luxembourg probably wouldn't be interested in Slovenia or Iceland and this would make it easier for people doing research for their own trips. http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/from-iceland-to-slovenia-a-month-across-europe-photos-and-impressions.cfm

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    Luxembourg continued:

    The impressive steep rock walls of the gorge have been tunneled out over the centuries – these are the ‘casements’. On top of the casements the area overlooking the gorge and the Grund, is the cornice. There are two different parts of the casements that can be toured – each costs 3€. The ‘main’ one is the Bock Casement, on the edge of town with fabulous views. This one is self guided and while they give you a map it is still a little confusing where you are, some routes resulted in steep spiral staircases and tunnels only to find a dead end and have to go back up. The footings in the tunnels are quite uneven and the lighting was poor in some places. The views were not as good as from outside, on top of the casements (this area is free to wander around any time) but it was cool to see how they carved such extensive tunnels and rooms out of the rock and to imagine what it must have been like to shelter down there (over the centuries including during WWII). The vast length of the tunnels is impressive especially considering that what is there now is only a fraction of the original. The Petrusse Casemates entrance is right at the edge of the pedestrianized shopping area, next to the parking lot for cars and busses. The Petrusse Casemates are by guided tour only.

    Doesn’t seem to be much in the way of ‘street food’ in Luxembourg – no gelato, no waffle carts or frites (as in Belgium), no creperies (some restaurants say they have crepes, but no street crepes as in Paris). Nada. There are lots of chain restaurants – McD, subway, Pizza Hut, Chi-Chis, and French chains as well – Briochee Doree, Quick. A few kabob places and lots of restaurants and ‘bristos’ that were all pretty upscale and expensive. Luxembourg is supposed to be a very expensive city, and certainly a lot of the stores have exorbitant priced things in the windows, but there is a ‘downscale’ shopping area (with H&M, and C&A, and the like, and their prices are reasonable, even better than reasonable in July since everyone was having sales of 50-70% off).

    At 4pm it was still raining/drizzling and in the mid 50s (14C). Quite a come down from sunny and 90 (33C) in Italy. I went out to the train station to get my ticket for Antwerp the following day. There is a nice modern ticket area with at least 6 desks – but that’s just for travel within Luxembourg (it’s smaller than Rhode Island, how much travel can there be?) Then a whole separate area, with another 6 or more desks, for International Travel.

    The sun came out again and I had a nice walk around town and dinner. There was a band playing in the center of Place d’Armes – only a handful of people watching. There was one street near the Ducal Palace with a few pubs and people spilling out onto the pavement having happy hour but otherwise the center was pretty dead. I saw a few tourists with cameras, but really very few. I noticed somewhat of a lack of tourists elsewhere on this trip, but not as few Luxembourg. In Place de Paris, on the way back to the hotel there was another band playing and a few more people watching that one. But overall a rather sedate city.

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    Next country: Belgium

    Rain, And that’s all that’s in the forecast. In the local paper the forecast for Europe: Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, south of France – all sunny; Amsterdam, London, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Stockholm, Dublin – all rain.

    When I bought my train ticket the day before I asked for Antwerp and that’s what I got: Luxembourg-Antwerp, no mention that I would need to change in Brussels, or which Brussels station. Good thing I had internet and could look up schedules so I knew what I was doing. I could see how it could be confusing to someone who didn’t do their research or didn’t understand how trains work – that you need to change in Brussels, not to mention there are four Brussels stations. All announcements in French only.

    Antwerp: The station is gorgeous, probably the nicest one I’ve ever been in. The walk out the front of the station is mostly pedestrianized and the major shopping route - every chain known to North America and Europe. It started raining, so I got pretty damp.

    Residentie Elzenveld (Lange Gasthuisstraat 45, www.elzenveld.be/hotel/index.cfm?langue=nl) is amazing. €76/night A restored 11th Century monastery with courtyards, old church buildings. Like a museum. It’s been converted into a hotel conference center and the lobby area is very modernized but the place is still extremely charming. The room was recently renovated and spotless, very comfortable, quiet, large flat screen TV, free wi-fi, water bubbler in the hall. It’s about 10-15 minutes from the Grotte Markt, the shopping street is only about 5 minutes. The train station though is close to half an hour walk, and while there is a tram stop just in front of the hotel, it requires a change to go to the station.

    As soon as I got into my room the sun came out so I didn’t even unpack and just grabbed the camera and almost ran to the historic center and shot as many photos as I could in the half hour I had until it got cloudy again. But there is so much eye candy that it wasn’t hard to shoot a lot. The main squares, the buildings, cathedral, castle are all gorgeous. Plenty of tourists around but not overwhelming. And it was about 22C which was much more comfortable than the 15C it was in Luxembourg. So I just wandered around, to the castle, the historic center. I left so fast that I left my information behind, I did have the map they gave me when I checked in but still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to be looking for (besides cathedral, Grotte Markt and castle which I easily found). So I had some excellent frites and ‘special sauce’ – the Belgians really know how to do fries – and came back to hotel to rest before going out to dinner. Antwerp is just beautiful after dark- the main squares and buildings beautifully lit.

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    I have been following your trip and truly enjoying the story of your travels. Also your pictures. Your night shots are stunning.! I love the detail shots as well--especially the gargoyle heads.

    I enjoyed Rubin's house in Antwerp. I guess he was one of the few artists who made money in his lifetime. I liked seeing how someone lived in that era. The kitchen was one of my favorite parts of the house and the private garden.

    Thanks so much for sharing. I llok forward to reading the rest of the report!

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    Enjoying this report and the accompanying photos too. I think Belgium is very underrated. I've only spent an afternoon in Luxembourg but would like to go back. Looking forward to more.

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    Day 2 in Antwerp

    I woke to cool, dark and grey out. Lingered over the hotel breakfast – at least it’s kind of nice not to be in a hurry to go somewhere. Walked pasted the Ruben’s House but it wasn’t open yet so went past St. James’ Church (boring) and on to the Begjinoff. It’s really quite pretty, unfortunately it started raining just as I got there. Then headed for the train station to get my onward tickets to Haarlem.

    The train station really is beautiful – the day I arrived I hadn’t even been in the main section. It looks like a museum, reminded me of the Museum of Natural History in London. There is a very cool video on You Tube of a flash dance that was filmed in the station. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EYAUazLI9k )

    The station is next to the diamond district and there are numerous shops right across the street (and actually something like 40 diamond stores INSIDE the station itself). Most of the shops were closed (not that I could have afforded anything anyway) since they are apparently all run by Jews and it was a Saturday. Then walked along the Meir, the pedestrianized shopping street, which has some gorgeous buildings – Parisian like as opposed to typical Belgian architecture – but the stores are mostly chains. But it certainly has a nice buzz to it, much more interesting than a typical American mall and more pleasant than a shopping street full of traffic.

    The Rubenhuis Museum was open so I went in there. Many rooms, some set up as they would have been in his time, others just holding art; Ruben’s and others. Great courtyard and nice garden – unfortunately it started to rain again as I got to the garden part. And continued to rain for most of the rest of day, necessitating my buying a better umbrellas than the travel one I had brought with me.

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    Day 3 in Belgium Gent and Brugge

    It was cloudy but not raining so I stopped at the Bejinhoff on my way to the station. There is more to it that I didn’t see the other day. All of the buildings have been turned into homes but the public is still welcome to look around. A man standing outside his door invited me to go into the central garden, which was not particularly pretty itself, but the setting surrounded by old houses was nice. It’s a bit away from the main touristy part of Antwerp but I thought well worth the detour.

    When researching this trip Gent had sounded more interesting than Antwerp but my dates coincided with an annual music festival and I was afraid the crowds might make it unpleasant to stay there so I just planned a day trip. The train ride there is quick and easy but there was no TI at the station, just a map outside. My info had said it was a long boring walk to the center so take Tram 1 under the bridge to the left of the station. Of course the only bridge like structure, part of the station itself, was all closed off by construction fencing, and no trams in sight. A group of British women also studying the map and I decided to walk across the street and past what looked like a bus station and found the tram. I asked the driver if it was going to ‘centrum’ and he said yes, also asked if you could buy tickets on the tram (you cannot do this in Italy), again yes. But the tram was so crowded I never was able to buy a ticket.

    The center of Gent is a freaking mess. There is a huge amount of construction, construction fencing, road torn up and all muddy. They are building some kind of very modern, ugly wood and glass structure right in the main square in front of the belfry. Plus the Gent Music Festival was going on that week and had just totally taken over the whole town – two story stages with huge tarps and scaffolding and beer and coca cola signs, temporary wooden floats covering the canals with stages on them, tons of craft fair/state fair type tents set up everywhere. It looked like the buildings were actually quite beautiful but you really couldn’t appreciate them at all. Hugely disappointing. Plus it was pretty cloudy, drizzling just a little. I got a little lost since all I had was a guidebook map since I never did find the TI despite seeing signs pointing to it (and following them). The castle looked pretty good but I was still looking for the beautiful canal views I’d seen photos of so I didn’t go inside, planning to go back later, but I never did.

    The sun was trying to come out but Gent was just not pleasant so I decided to continue on to Brugge. I’d been to Brugge on one of my very first trips to Europe, about ten years ago and was undecided if I wanted to go back but since Gent wasn’t doing it for me and it was only a half hour away I did. Good decision. Brugge Station is modern, so no beautiful old building, but it’s well laid out, large, has all the necessary services (including a TI, although it was closed). But very clearly marked way to walk to the center of town. And it was sunny! And even sort of warm.

    Brugge is larger than I remembered and very beautiful (the sun sure helps!). The main shopping street, several blocks long, has all the usuals (H&M, the mark of any ‘real’ town) but housed in gorgeous Belgian style stepped roof buildings. The main square is as breathtaking as I remembered. Not huge like Antwerpen or Brussels, but stunning nonetheless. For the next several hours I just wandered all over Brugge soaking up the atmosphere, taking photos, eating frites and buying chocolate. A really enjoyable afternoon. Although it had been ten years since I’d seen the inside of the churches or done the museums, it was such a nice day I just wanted to be outside.

    There is something to be said for towns that know they are attractive to tourists – lots of good signage, plenty of stores and food options offering things tourists want to buy (like tapestry pillow covers and Belgian chocolate). The waffles and frites are everywhere and cheaper than in Antwerpen. Yes there were a good amount of tourists here, probably more than any of the other towns I visited, but it was not overwhelming.

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    On to the Netherlands

    Train to Haarlem; I was supposed to change in Rotterdam but the train was late so instead of 14 minutes to change I’d have had 2 minutes so I stayed on to Amsterdam. Pouring rain. Changing in Amsterdam was pretty easy – they have lifts but not escalators so had to drag the heavy bag down the stairs (then took the lift up to next platform). There are very frequent trains to Haarlem (there are two Haarlem stops, Centraal is the 2nd) and it takes less than 15 minutes. The walk to the center was pretty obvious and through semi pedestrianized shopping areas, but it was a good 15 minutes, and it was raining pretty hard (again!).

    I choose to stay in Haarlem as I had been to Amsterdam and although I did want to spend a couple of days there, on this trip I also wanted to visit several other Dutch towns and Rick Steeves is a big fan of staying in Haarlem. He likes this hotel – but I have to wonder if he’s been to it recently. Hotel Amadeus is right on the main square, it’s over “The Square” restaurant (which is really very good). There is a lift in the restaurant that hotel guests can use but it’s way in the back and not visible from outside or even the doorway, and if you enter the door marked “hotel entrance” there is just a steep set of steps up to the hotel reception. There was a rather gruff guy at the desk when I checked in but most of the other times it was closed and a sign directed people to the restaurant for hotel assistance. Once you check in your room key gets you entrance to the hotel itself as well. The hotel is old, the furniture cheap and seen better days. The TV gets lots of stations including CNN, bed was OK, and there was an electric kettle and tea/coffee. Wi-fi was available for a charge from the hotel, but there was another free wi-fi available which worked so I was able to use that. The lighting in the room was pretty dim. Breakfast just minimum. Basically it’s a budget option that’s not really worth it. The fact that they want you to pay the bill before you check in should be a clue. The Hotel Brouwer right on Single Canal in A’dam is the same price, far nicer and no commute. Haarlem is quite a pretty town and worth a half day at least, but not really worth it as a base for Amsterdam and or Leiden/Delft, etc. The main square is a good ten minute walk from the train station, and it’s 8€ round trip to A’dam.

    Given that it was still raining pretty hard I took an extended siesta, with cappuccino/chocolate to drink and biscuits from Italy, a banana from Antwerp and Belgian chocolate as a snack, watching CNN and using the free wi-fi.

    Eventually I decided I should check out the town despite the rain. Well it was so rainy, dark and windy and unpleasant that I didn’t stay out long. Umbrella broken, jeans soaked. Change of clothes and decided to just go to The Square Restaurant – well the menu they have in the rooms, which says ‘available all day’ they tell me is only available until 6pm, after that it’s much more expensive (it is a very nice restaurant). They did let me order off of it and the roasted chicken and fries was quite good.

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    Day 2 in the Netherlands Delft and Leiden

    Cloudy, but not raining, forecast looks like this might be as good as it’s going to get so I walked to the station, via the canal/windmill, and got a ticket to Delft, that allows me to stop at Leiden on the way back if I want. I ended up seeing all three towns this day.

    Haarlem – the Grote Markt is a fairly large square with the main church, Sint Bravo’s and the Stadhuis as well as lots of traditional Dutch houses, including one very nice building, the Vleeshal. There are a number of restaurants with tables all set out and a couple of trucks selling herring and hotdog sandwiches. A short walk leads to the main canal and the Waag and Windmill. There’s another canal, another nice church and several shopping streets. Nice enough, but not especially beautiful (although it looked better in the sunshine a few days later).

    Delft – forty minutes from Haarlem. Short walk to the first canal and about ten or fifteen minutes to the main square. Very pretty, lots of canals, trees, pretty houses, several churches. The main square is very impressive – extremely tall steeple on the ‘new’ church, and a very elaborate town hall, lots of beautiful buildings, now housing restaurants and souvenir shops – selling Delft ware – both the real stuff and the knock offs. A ten or so minute walk along another canal in the other direction is the old town gate which is quite pretty, and has a white iron bridge leading to it. Went to the Vermeer Centrum – none of his actual paintings, but reproductions of all of them along with extensive descriptions plus a short movie about him and Delft in the 17th century and about his style of painting. It was pretty interesting. Had lunch at a restaurant on the main square. So very pretty canals, impressive main square and Vermeer, not to mention Delftware. Definitely enjoyed going to Delft. The sun even came out for, literally, ten minutes. Was there from just after ten till around three.

    Leiden – twenty minutes from Delft (half way between Delft and Haarlem). Extremely new modern train station, with lots of services. The first canal, with a nice windmill, is almost directly across the square from the station, and then another major square where several canals come together is just another five minutes on. There is no main square in Leiden, there never was. But there are not just canals, but rivers which flow through the town – so more than most towns, and the major buildings are all along the canals and where the canals cross each other. There is a really large, elaborate town hall, a nice Waag, and some really nice canal houses. The main church is huge but so crowded by buildings built near it that you can’t really see the church. The old Castle De Burcht, a circular tower built on an earthen mound, is just past the church and has really nice views of the church, as well as the town itself. Walked around, had a waffle with ice cream and whipped cream, took a lot of photos. I was considering going to the Pilgrim Museum but by the time I got to that part of town it was too late. It didn’t really get sunny again, but it was fairly bright and at least it was dry. I spent another four hours walking around here so my legs were really tired.

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    isabel, we spent 3 nights in Delft and were very impressed with it as a touring centre - lots to see in the town itself but also a good place for making day trips.

    we even came away with some Deflt-ware bowls that we are using for our cereal every day.

    thanks for continuing with your excellent TR.

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    Day 3 in the Netherlands Amsterdam (Bring an umbrella and a map!)

    Cloudy but dry when I woke up. Walked past the windmill again (makes the walk to the train station 15 instead of 10 minutes but more pleasant). The trains are so frequent that you don’t really need to worry about the schedule, just show up and there’s a train within ten minutes, the trip takes 15 minutes and costs 8€. But I still think I would have preferred staying in A’dam itself instead of Haarlem.

    Found the TI after walking the long way around the major construction site that occupies the front square – it was full of construction equipment eight years ago and still is. The TI is not well marked but is a very pretty building, to the far, far left as you exit A’dam Centraal) but no free maps! What the hell. What kind of TI doesn’t give at least a basic map. Fortunately I had copies of guide book maps but I usually find the ones that TIs give out are better.

    I walked around that area of the city, which is the red light district and Chinatown. The Waag and the Zuiderkerk are nice enough, and the canals are OK but it’s not the nicest part of the city. The main part of the red light district is right around Oudekerk – there are literally ten or more ‘windows’ in each block and there were girls in almost every single one of them (this at 11 am – just standing there in their underwear. Some quite pretty, thin and young, some really not so. Tons of erotica and headshops, just hundreds of them.

    Walked to the main square, Dam Square – huge and full of people, a band playing, several hot dog stands, horses and carriages waiting for customers. Went into the Magna Plaza as I remembered it was pretty plus I figured there would be a WC. Well there was, but even in there (essentially a mall) it costs 50 cents. But Magna Plaza is a really gorgeous building.

    Next I found a place with broodje rookwurst (bratwurst sandwiches) for 2€ and a line out the door (always a good sign). It was really good. But then it started to rain (again!). Walked up the main shopping street, which parallels Damrak, but aside from a few shoe stores and a couple of H&Ms it was mostly head shops and shops selling erotica and ‘cheap’ souvenirs. And they advertise the ‘cheap’ part.

    Figuring I’ve spent enough rainy days in Amsterdam (My last trip there it also rained every day) I got the train back to Haarlem, where of course it was also raining. It was also very windy and as the wind broke my second umbrella and the horizontal rain drenched me I said something unprintable and a guy walking behind me then says the same thing – then says, ‘you don’t like our weather?’ I said no, is it always like this? And he says, ‘yes, in July it rains a lot’.

    Around 5:00 it had stopped raining so I went to check out Haarlem. This time I went in the other direction, away from the station. The main shopping street is quite long and has a good selection of types of stores. There are several little alley type streets that are quite cute and there were a few canal houses reflecting in the canal at the end of the shopping street. Opposite the Frans Hals Museum, which is in a very nice building itself, are some old almshouses that are really pretty. Then going back along the main canal there are some really nice views of the church, the Wagg, the metal bridge, the houses. I found the road to the town gate and just as I got there it started pouring. Went in the wrong direction and ended up with a very long walk in very, very, very windy wet weather – raining horizontal and blowing the umbrella inside out. Just horrible.

    I took the elevator down to “The Square” as there was no way I was going out again in that rain. Fortunately it really is a nice restaurant – got lobster bisque and a salad with chicken and ham and sparking water – all delicious and 16,50€ not too bad.


    Day 4 Amsterdam

    An actual spot of blue sky when I looked out the window that morning. Mostly cloudy, walked by the canal, town gate and windmill on way to the train station. For some reason train tickets round trip to A’dam are only 7.60€ from the machine, as opposed to 8,10€ at the ticket counter. Machines only take coins (no bills) though, and some only take cards (which do not work with American credit cards without chip and pin).

    In Amsterdam I walk around the Jordaan, and found one ‘hof’ – behind a closed door that was indeed unlocked and lead to a nice garden, as the guidebook had promised. Otherwise the Jordaan is just ‘okay’ –certainly better than the red light district.

    But the nicest areas are lining the main canals. Mostly I just wandered up and down the canals. I went by the Brouwer Hotel, where we had stayed the last time I was in Amsterdam, it really is in one of the nicest areas of the city and is one of prettiest canal houses. I wish I had stayed there again. They had a no vacancy sign on the door.

    I walked through the Dam Square which was pretty lively with street musicians, horses and carriages waiting for customers, etc.

    The line to the Anne Frank house was blocks long.

    It only rained for a couple hours, in the middle of the day. It had been partly sunny in the morning, mostly cloudy but a little bit of blue sky and the sun would come out for five minutes at a time occasionally. It was around noon when it started raining so I found a place for lunch and while I was there the sun came out again, so I walked and walked some more. Went to the Beginjhof which was quite pretty in the sun. Floating flower markets were interesting, obviously very touristy.

    Back in Haalem – drizzling. A trip report here on Fodors talked about the V&D department store as having a decent restaurant and a good view. There’s a large buffet restaurant on the 6th floor with a big eating area with decent views. Actually there’s even a sign at the entrance to the store telling about the top floor view. Lots of people obviously go there for dinner, not just a bite to eat while shopping. They had grilled meats, fishes, pizza cooked in a wood fired oven (tile covered, quite interesting looking). All the hot food is cooked to order. I recommend this if you are Haarlem.

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    I've been reading all of this, but I just want to go back and say that I think that Luxembourg is a lovely city that can be appreciated by anybody with reasonable expectations.

    The modern section with the European institutions and the modern bank towers is nice in a different way and should probably only be visited by people who are driving -- the Auchan hypermarket at Kirchberg is incredible, if only because, on a weekday afternoon, most of the shoppers are men wearing expensive suits grabbing as much alcohol, chocolate and miscellaneous goodies as they can carry after a banking or EU day before continuing on to the nearby airport. And yes, there is also an H&M, a Séphora and lots of other stores in the Auchan mall for other needs.

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    Kerouac - I agree about Luxembourg. I'm glad I finally got there, after many trips where it got dropped off my itinerary because it wasn't as compelling as other places, or it just didn't 'fit'.

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    Last Day Gouda and Leiden

    Woke to blue sky. It was mostly cloudy most of the morning though, and even rained for a tiny bit, but the sun came out by noon and was a beautiful afternoon. I went to Gouda first – not as ‘pretty’ as the other towns but the town hall and main square are really impressive. It also has an interesting canal (river) around the center of the city with much larger boats than on the canals in the other towns. There’s even a lock, that was kind of interesting to watch opening to allow a boat through. And the windmill was pretty scenic. But the town is small so it was easy to walk all around the center in an hour or two

    Since I had to change trains in Leiden on the way back anyway I decided to stop again, especially since it was sunny. I was thinking of going to Pilgrim Museum but it was closed, despite being the hours it was supposed to be open. The guidebooks made it sound like a ‘real’ museum but by looking at it from the outside I gather it’s not much. I guess it’s really only of interest to Americans. But it was really pleasant to just walk around beautiful Leiden in the sun.

    It was still sunny when I got back to Haarlem so I finally got some photos of Haarlem in the bright sunshine and blue sky.

    The sunshine this last day and (some) the day before really made a difference. So many more people out and about. Still, lots of people were wearing leather jackets and boots – not sure I’d want to live somewhere where that’s the standard outfit for July. Some people even wearing Ugg type boots and down jackets. And lots of raincoats. People in the train stations, De Haag, Leiden, etc. – on their way to work, all dressed like New Yorkers dress in March.

    But overall, if you can get past the weather (or if you are more lucky than I have been in all three of my trips) Belgium and the Netherlands are beautiful little countries, with so much more than the three places (A'dam, Brussel, Brugge) most tourists seem to go.

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    Still, lots of people were wearing leather jackets and boots – not sure I’d want to live somewhere where that’s the standard outfit for July. Some people even wearing Ugg type boots and down jackets. And lots of raincoats. People in the train stations, De Haag, Leiden, etc. – on their way to work, all dressed like New Yorkers dress in March.>>

    sadly, isabel, that IS how a lot of us have had to dress this summer. [though i agree that the Ugg boots are going a bit far, especially as they are pretty impractical for the wet].

    but it is not the standard outfit for July - just for THIS july.

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    Splendid report, as always, isabel--thanks!

    I hope to make a similar trip at this time next year and am more or less resigned to plenty of rain. Here in the NYC area, we've had thundershowers every other day all summer long, so I'm getting used to it. Anyway, your fine report and gorgeous pictures prove that a smile can be a very effective umbrella!

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    great report and thanks for posting the pictures. we are planning on going sometime april or may next year. i hope it will not be as rainy. i do better in very hot weather vs rainy :/

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    flyme2themoon, rain is pretty typical for Belgium and the Netherlands. Try to go in the summer. Temperatures are a little unpredictable but the weather is generally better than in April. And do bring a rain jacket and footwear that can stand up to the weather.

    Lavandula

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