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Trip Report Trip Report - London and BeNeLux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg)

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I recently found this trip report dating back to 2003, from my travels to London and BeNeLux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), which I never got around to posting on the forum... until now. I’m feeling inspired, thanks to several people who have recently asked questions about travelling in the BeNeLux region. I hope there is some information in the report that will be useful.

Robyn :)>-

BACKGROUND – In April 2003, myself, my husband B.J., and our dear friend Phyllis, ventured on a 15 day tour of the BeNeLux region, starting with 2 days in London. Since Phyllis had only traveled to Europe on the Globus Bus Tours, we wanted to show her a different way of travelling - riding the rails and booking your own itinerary.

We were able to land a deal with British Airways for round-trip tickets from JFK to Heathrow, then on to Schiphol, plus two free nights at the Royal National Hotel in London, for a cost of $473 each, total including taxes/fees.

Our Itinerary –

Day 1 – Fly JFK to Heathrow, London
Day 2 – Arrive. London. Royal National Hotel
Day 3 – London. Royal National Hotel
Day 4 – Fly Gatwick to Schiphol. Amsterdam. Hotel St. Nicolaas
Day 5 – Amsterdam. Hotel St. Nicolaas
Day 6 – Amsterdam. Hotel St. Nicolaas
Day 7 – Train to Utrecht, NL. Train to Gouda, NL. Train to Maastricht, NL. Hotel La Colombe.
Day 8 – Maastricht. Train to Clervaux, LU. Train/Bus to Vianden, LU. Hotel Victor Hugo
Day 9 – Vianden. Bus/Train to Luxembourg City. Hotel Carlton.
Day 10 – Train to Dinant. Train to Brussels. Train to Brugge. Hotel Cavalier
Day 11 – Brugge. Hotel Cavalier
Day 12 – Train to Ghent. Train to Rotterdam. Train to Delft. Herberg de Emauspoort
Day 13 – Train to Haarlem. Train to Leiden. Tour Keukenhof. Train to Delft. Herberg de Emauspoort.
Day 14 – Delft. Side trip to den Hague. Herberg de Emauspoort.
Day 15 – Delft. Fly Schiphol to Heathrow to JFK.

Hotels –

London – Royal National Hotel; 66 Russel Square;
Amsterdam – Hotel St. Nicolaas; Spuistraat 1a;
Maastricht, NL – Hotel La Colombe; Markt 30;
Vianden, LU – Hotel Victor Hugo; Rue Victor Hugo 1;
Luxembourg City – Hotel Carlton; Rue de Strasbourg 9;
Brugge, BE – Hotel Cavalier; Kuipersstraat 25;
Delft, NL – Herberg de Emauspoort; Vrouwenregt 10-11;

DAY 1, Sat, April 5, TRAVEL

Perhaps the most stressful part of travelling is getting to the airport on time. Since most of our driving is on Interstate 80, through Pennsylvania and New Jersey into New York, we are always worried about getting stuck on the limited access road because some lead-footed tractor-trailer driver has dumped his load across the highway again. Because of this, we left home in plenty of time to arrive at JFK by 12:25 for a 5:00 flight, or so we thought.

We were supposed to fly from JFK to Manchester, then connect to Heathrow, but they changed us to a direct flight right into Heathrow, which departed at 6:00, so now we had even more time to spare – time to play “look for the spy in the airport”, a game my friends and I use to play when we were kids, hanging out at the Philadelphia Airport, just wasting time.

Anyway, by 6:30 we were finally in the air, with our shoes kicked off and a silly grin on our faces. We had planned this trip for months (and before we had discovered Fodors), so we were giddy with delight to finally be on our way. The flight was uneventful - didn’t get too much sleep, but that’s okay....the adrenaline pumping through our bodies kept us going.

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    DAY 2, Sun, April 6, LONDON

    Landed in Heathrow at 6:36 am The airline shuttled us on buses to the terminal where we stood in a “cattle line” to get our passports stamped. We picked up our hotel reservation confirmation at the British Airways Holiday desk, bought a 3-day Visitor Travelcard, and got on the tube to Russell Square in London by 8:00 am. Since Phyllis works at a bank, she was able to purchase Pounds and Euros for all of us, at the bank rate, before we left, so we didn’t have to deal with exchanging money during our trip - one of the many benefits of travelling with Phyllis. Currency rates as of April 2003 – Dollars to Euros = $1.10; Dollars to Pounds = $1.625.

    Arrived at Russell Square at 9:15 and walked to The Royal National Hotel (66 Russell Square), which was conveniently located 2 blocks from the tube station. We couldn’t check in until 10:00 am, so we had coffee/tea in the internet/coffeeshop while Phyllis e-mailed home. We finally checked in to the hotel, which is a very large complex, divided into two sections, with hundreds and hundreds of rooms. Our room had three single beds (with the free room deal, since Phyllis was travelling as a single, she could have had 1 night free, or two nights free bunked in with us, so, what are friends for) and a decent size bath with tub/shower. The accommodations were fine, considering the price. We took a nap until 12:30, and then off we went to the British Library.

    We took the tube to St. Pancras Station and walked over to the British Library (96 Euston Street), which is free admission. I had a top 10 list of things to see which I culled from Rick Steves’ Mona Winks. They included: 1) Maps (1250-1570); 2) Bibles, including Codex Sinaiticus (350), Codex Alexandrus (425), Unknown Gospel & Gospel of Thomas (150), and King James Version (1611); 3) Lindisfarne Gospels & Illuminations (698), and Sherborne Missal (1400-1407); 4) Printing, including Diamond Sutra (868) and the Gutenberg Bible (c.1455); 5) Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519); 6) Magna Carta (1215); 7) Early English Literature, including Beowulf (c.1000) and the Canterbury Tales (c.1410); 8) Shakespeare, including the First Folio (1623) and Hamlet Good - & Bad; 9) Other English Literature, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1862-64), Jane Austen’s History of England (1791), Charles Dickens (c.1850), and Coleridge - Kubla Khan; 10) Music, including The Beatles (c.1960) and others.

    I also got to see the first “Penny Black” stamp and the press used to print them as well as several “Hawaiian Missionaries” stamps. This had special meaning to me because I was a stamp collector, and had made my living for 15 years using postage stamps in my craft.

    After the British Library, we took the #10 bus to the British Museum (Great Russell Street, free admission). Again, I had my list of things to see, culled from Mona Winks. They included (in no particular order): The Rosetta Stone (Egypt, 196BC); The Elgin Marbles, including the Frieze, Pediment Sculptures, and the Metopes (Greek, 450BC); the Lindow Man; the Portland Vase; the Mold Cape (1900-1600BC); the Rillaton Gold Cup (1700-1500BC); the Cuerdale Hoard (905-910); Sutton Hoo Burial (620-630); Lewis Chessmen (1150-1200); Hoxne Treasure (410-430); Mildenhall Treasure (350-400); Vindolanda Tablets (90-140); Snettisham Torcs (100BC); Fishpool Hoard (1464); the Mummies; and numerous other Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek artifacts.

    I bought some postcards at the Museum Gift Shop, and then we were off to look for something to eat. The Museum Pub (Gr. Russell Square), which was our first choice, didn’t have any tables available, so we walked over to Leigh Street to eat at the North Sea Fish Restaurant (8 Leigh Street), but it was closed. We ended up eating at the Norfolk Arms, which was a neighborhood pub. Our first meal in London was Fish & Chips and a couple of ales for B.J. & Phyllis (I had tea). Dinner was GBP 15.00 for hubby & me. We enjoyed just sitting back and savoring the ambiance of the moment - watching the locals come in for their evening imbibing and conversation. I love being on holiday.

    After dinner we went back to the hotel to freshen up and then went out to ride the buses. Our 3-day Travelcard provided unlimited travel on the tube and buses and we really utilized the card. We rode down to Marble Arch to go to Speaker’s Corner, but had a heck of a time trying to get across the street and into Hyde Park. We kept seeing a sign that said “subway”, and being from the northeast United States, we naturally thought “subway” or underground rail. It took a minute or two for the light bulb to go on (we'll blame it on jet lag) and realize that subway meant an underpass. So off we went, under the street and into the park. There was a large tent set up for a Star Trek convention (which had already closed), and by the time we got to Speaker’s Corner, there was only one guy left, asking people if they were circumcised, so we were quickly out of there.

    We jumped on another bus and headed over to Wellington Arch, where we got a little lost, which was okay. Finally, we found a bus that took us past Big Ben, the Strand, Fleet Street, St. Pauls and up to the Liverpool Station. We eventually made our way back to the hotel where we collapsed. All in all, it was a pretty good 32 hours and our first day in country! (British Library)

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    DAY 3, Mon, April 7, LONDON

    Phyllis woke with a headache, but after 3 Advil she was feeling much better. We had the breakfast which was included with the hotel, and consisted of cereals, some fruit, orange liquid, toast, coffee and tea. After eating, we took off for the tube station where a nice guard gave me a 2-for-1 coupon to the Tower of London.

    We got off at Tower Hill and made our way through the walkways to the entrance to the Tower of London (GBP 12.00 ea, but I got in for free). We had a most excellent Beefeater/Yeomen Warder, who did not mind the many questions we asked him. In fact, we later saw his picture in Smithsonian Magazine, from an article about the Ravens. We took in a lot of history in the two hours we spent wandering around the grounds. I particularly enjoyed the Chapel Royal and the oral presentation. Afterwards, we strolled along the Thames, took some pictures of Tower Bridge, bought a small watercolour from a local artist, then got on the tube and headed for Temple.

    From Temple Place we walked to Surrey Street and checked out the Roman Bath. We ate lunch at a sandwich shop along Fleet Street then strolled around the Inner Temple Garden afterwards. We walked past the Courts of Justice, made our way to Searle Street past Lincoln’s Inn, and then to Portsmouth Street to the Old Curiosity Shoppe, which was all closed up. On to Covent Gardens where we saw a 7-ball juggler (my husband does some juggling) and a street performer who enjoyed heckling the crowd. We checked out several old book stores along Cecil Street and Charring Cross Road, then on to Leicester Square.

    For three months before our visit to London, B.J. & I had been watching a webcam of Leicester Square (no longer available). We would watch the street artists set up their stands in the morning, sit there all day, and then take them down in the evening. We watched people as they emerged from the tube station and used one of the red telephone booths. We watched as barriers were set up and crowds would gather for a premier movie at a nearby theatre. We watched the leaves appear on the trees as winter turned into spring. We watched the older folks resting on the park benches, in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin. And now, we were finally here!!

    We spent several minutes taking in all the sights we had stared at for months, and then walked down to Trafalgar Square, which was another square we had been watching through a webcam. After savoring the moment, we walked down Whitehall where an anti-war protest was going on across from the Houses of Parliment (we were travelling during the beginning days of the Iraq war). B.J. and I joined long enough to yell a few chants, and then we walked past Westminster Abbey.

    From there, we took the tube over to Harrods and wandered around the different departments. We made our way to the Diana & Dodi memorial, the Egyptian Escalator, and bought a tin of cookies just to get the Harrod’s shopping bag. We took the #9 bus back up to Trafalgar Square where we walked over to the Sherlock Holmes Pub (10 Northumberland Street) for dinner.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many of the Sherlock Holmes novels at this location when it was the Northumberland Hotel. There is a re-creation of his sitting room upstairs, which was quite interesting to look at while we were waiting for our food to arrive. Phyllis and I had Toad in the Hole and B.J. had Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. There was a lot of food on the plate and we all had trouble finishing our servings. Dinner for B.J. & I, with drinks, cost GBP 26.60. After dinner we went back to the hotel and crashed.

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    DAY 4, Tues, April 8, LONDON & AMSTERDAM

    We began our day with another exciting hotel breakfast, then packed our bags and departed for Gatwick Airport. We took the tube to Victoria Station, where we caught the Gatwick Express (GBP 11.00 ea) to the airport. We met an older woman on the train who has rose bushes at her home in London that are over 100 years old. She was on her way to Croatia with her art supplies - she prefers to paint the things that she sees on holiday, instead of taking photographs. I thought it must be nice to afford to travel so leisurely.

    Our plane took off about 13:15 and we arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam just after 15:00 (1 hour flight, 1 hour time difference). We gathered up our bags, stopped at the NS counter and purchased a Strippenkaart and a train ticket into Amsterdam, took the escalator down to the train platform and off we went. Schiphol Airport has got to be the easiest and nicest airport to navigate through.

    On the train ride into Amsterdam, we spoke with a young man named Mark. He is originally from London, but now lives in Portland, Oregon, and was excited about his first visit to the city. He found it ironic that he had to fly half-way around the world to visit a city he could have travelled to in an hour during his youth. All four of us were giddy with anticipation as we arrived at Centraal Station.

    First stop was at the VVV, which is located directly across from the station entrance. We purchased our 2-day Amsterdam Pass, which includes admission to most museums (NOT Anne Frank House), 2 canal rides, and tram/bus travel. The cost was EUR 36.00 each and we felt the pass was well worth the money. Since we were using our pass for the following two days that we were in Amsterdam, we used our Strippenkaarts to take the tram to our hotel. Strippenkaarts can be used anywhere in the Netherlands, so what we didn’t use here in Amsterdam was used later on the trip.

    We checked into the Hotel St. Nicolaas (Spuistraat 1 - EUR115.00 double, EUR95.00 single - We stayed in room #23, which was the same room we had stayed in during our 1997 travels. Back then the hotel was just “okay”, but we had read on their website that they did renovations to the hotel, so we decided to give it another try. But all they did was upgrade their elevator/lift and add T.V.’s and phones to the rooms. The rooms were still as sparsely furnished as they were seven years ago! And, for some reason, they still don’t believe in shower curtains at the St. Nicolaas, so showering in the morning also meant mopping up the floor afterwards with the towels.

    After unpacking, we immediately headed out to The Bluebird by way of the Dam. We walked past the Nieuwe Kerk, the Palace, and the National Monument and checked out the St. Nicolaas relief on the Square. We made our way past Oude Hoogstraat #22, which is a Narrow House (2.02 meters wide), then finally to St. Antioniesbreestraat and the Bluebird coffeeshop.

    The Bluebird (St Antoniebreestraat #71) is our favorite coffeeshop in Amsterdam, probably because it was the first one we ever visited back in 1997. You have to walk up the Dutch staircase where you will find the “dealer”. He has several loose-leaf notebooks you can look through to make your selection. We ordered a few grams of White Widow and twisted up a few joints. Although Phyllis does not partake of the herb, I think she did enjoy just watching and being a part of a tolerant society. We ordered some beverages (non-alcoholic) and a little snack and sat down along the counter. I took the seat at the end, by the window, where I could look out over the early 17th century Zuiderkerk and portal, and just relax and watch Amsterdam go by.

    After strolling around the Zuiderkerkhof we walked over to the Red Light District by way of the NieuwMarkt and the Waag. It was still daylight so we could enjoy some of the beautiful architecture that can be found in this old part of town. We walked past the Casa Rosa and stopped to take a picture of the Penis Fountain. NOTE: Do NOT take pictures of any of the ladies in the windows. This is terribly frowned upon. We used discretion and caution when taking pictures during the day of various buildings in this district.

    We decided to head up to the Rembrantplein, by way of the Kalverstraat, but never made it. There was a movie premiere event happening in front of the Tuschinski Theatre, so we decided to stop and join the small crowd. It turned out to be a Rowen Atkinson movie, so we stood for 45 minutes watching as guests arrived, including the “Ex-Porn Star” Ron Jeremy (?whoever?). Rowen never arrived and we were getting cold and hungry so off we went in search of food.

    We snaked our way through the canals over to the little section of Chinatown, located along the Zeedijk and had dinner at Nam Kee (#111 - EUR20.00). This is my favorite Chinese restaurant anywhere and I always order their Teppen Noodles with Chicken and Vegetables at least once when we are in the city. There is nothing fancy about the restaurant, but the food is good, there’s plenty of it, it’s affordable dining, and the service has always been excellent.

    After dinner, we strolled through the Red Light District, so Phyllis could see the comparison from day to night. We made our way back to the Bluebird for after dinner coffee/tea, dessert. We ended our evening by touring the Sex Museum on the Damrak (#18 - EUR2.00). If you can handle walking through the Red Light District, then you should definitely consider visiting the Sex Museum. Many parts of it were kind of hokey, but there were other parts that I actually found historically educational. It did give us a lot to laugh about as we walked back to our hotel, cold and exhausted.

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    Oh my, Robyn... I saw you mentioned about this trip on another thread, and I was wondering at that time, "Hmmm... did I miss THAT trip report???" I guess I found out the answer now!

    I'm saving this for some fine reading tomorrow with my morning coffee1 ((c))

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    Hi yk - Thanks for reading. I was planning on posting this report the last two Saturday mornings, but the site was down. It was frustrating because I only have weekends and evenings to give up to Fodor's. So please be patient while I muddle through this trip report.

    nyse - I know what you mean. There's hardly any info on Luxembourg on this site, and it's such a pretty little country - or Grand Duchy. It's like the hidden little gem of Europe. Thanks for reading my report.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 5, Wed, April 9, AMSTERDAM

    We started the day with the traditional Dutch breakfast - ham, cheese, breads, jams, juice, coffee, tea. Using our Amsterdam Pass, we took the tram to the Koningsplein, where we visited the Blomen Markt and bought flowers for our rooms. We stopped at the Albert Heijn grocery store, just down from the tram stop, to pick up some provisions, then trammed back to the hotel. Having the Pass with unlimited tram & bus usage gave us the flexibility to make little trips like this around town.

    After we got our flowers in vases that the hotel was happy to provide, we headed out on today’s journey. First stop was an internet store so Phyllis could e-mail home. From there we walked over to the Red Light District, the location of the Amstelkring (A’dam Pass - OZ Voorburgwal #40), which is a wonderful church hidden in the attics of several canal houses. This was our fourth visit over the years to this hidden homage to tolerance, and we were excited to share it with Phyllis. I remember the first time we toured the church (it use to be a guided tour, but now it’s a self-guide), we were expecting a small alter and some seats or benches, but the Amstelkring (Our Lord in the Attic) is actually a three story church, with a beautiful folding alter, a pipe organ, and elevated choir chambers! The story behind the Amstelkring is as beautiful as the church - a lesson on tolerance. We spent 45 minutes to an hour wandering through the church and canal house.

    From there we made a short stop at the Oude Kerk (A’dam Pass - Oudekerksplein #23), which was the first time in all our trips that we had gone into this church. It had a beautiful gilded ceiling and pretty stained glass.

    Next stop was the Amsterdam Historich Museum (A’dam Pass - Kalverstraat #92) where we spent 2 hours walking through 24+ rooms of exhibits about Amsterdam and the Netherlands. From the museum we strolled through the Begijnhof, then down the Kalverstraat to the Muntplein, eventually making our way back to the Blomen Markt, where we ate lunch at het Singeltje pancakehouse located at Singel 494. I had my favorite, banana pannenkoken - B.J. & Phyllis had chocolate pannenkoken.

    After lunch we decided to stroll along the canals looking at the beautiful architecture, with a quick stop at De Witte Tanden Winkel (Runstraat #5), a store dedicated to keeping your teeth clean - they have all kinds of toothbrushes. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out the Toothbrush Ferris Wheel in the window.

    Next stop was the Houseboat Museum (A’dam Pass - across from Prinsengracht #296) for a quick look around and a free poster (we printed off coupons for a free poster from their website before we left the States). There is a pissor almost next door to the Houseboat Museum, so B.J. had to stop and pee. It’s kind of gross that the pee just goes into the canal, but then I guess they do open the sluice gates (?I think that’s correct?) on a regular basis to flush out the water.

    From there we walked over to the Knopen Winkel (Wolvenstraat #14), which is a really cool button store with all kinds of different buttons (I sew/quilt), only to find it closed (bummer). We continued on our way down the Herengracht to visit the Theatre Museum (A’dam Pass - Herengracht #168). We chose the Theatre Museum over the Willet-Holthuysen Museum (not enough time to do both) since all three of us are interested in theatre and have worked on several productions with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble ( None of us particularly enjoyed the Museum, although, perhaps if we were Dutch, we would have had more of an appreciation for the displays.

    We had heard a lot of good things about the Grey Area Coffeeshop (Oude Leliestraat #2), so we decided to check it out for ourselves. It is a tiny little coffeeshop, and we found the prices very high and the staff unfriendly. We did meet a young couple who had just landed in Amsterdam 1 1/2 hours earlier (Jason & Emily). We watched as they walked past the front door several times, deciding whether to enter. This was there first coffeeshop experience, and they were giddy all over. They also had no idea where they were, so we pointed out their location on a map, gave them some pointers for getting around the city and then we were on our way.

    We waited until the evening to do the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht #263 - Eur6.50), when there usually aren’t any lines to deal with. This was my third visit through the bookcase, to Anne’s bedroom and hideaway, and as always, I find it a necessary and moving experience when in Amsterdam. Afterwards, we walked past the Westerkerk and down to the Keizergracht, where we took a moment to reflect upon the Homomonument. We then jumped on the tram and went back to our hotel to freshen up, change socks and tend to forming blisters.

    After resting for a bit we decided to take an evening canal cruise (A’dam Pass) so we trammed over to Centraal Station and took the cruise line based outside the station. The city looked so lovely with all the lights on, reflecting in the water. After the boat ride, we walked up the Damrak and found Karales (Damrak 57), an Italian restaurant with a really delicious house wine. Dinner with dessert and drinks cost EUR 42.35 for the three of us.

    After dinner we visited de Dampkring (Handboogstraat #29), which is a very popular coffeeshop (celebrities have visited). Tonight it was VERY crowded and we ended up sharing a table with a couple from Israel (Elana & Simone). We had a great time chatting with them about their adventures squatting in the city. Simone read palms to scrounge money – not sure what Elana did. We finally dragged our asses out of there at 1:30 in the morning and waited for the tram to show up, but it never did, so we ended up walking back to the hotel. Along the way, it started to snow, not a lot, but just enough to lightly dust us and the slumbering city. It was after 2:00 by the time we crawled into our warm bed; the end of another great day in Amsterdam (of course, any day in Amsterdam would be great).

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    DAY 6, Thurs, April 10, AMSTERDAM

    Ham & Cheese for breakfast again. All three of us are tired and dragging, but we’re on our way by 9:00 am. Using our feet and the 2nd day of the Amsterdam Pass for tram transport, we made our way over to the Oudemanshuispoort to check out the book dealers. We stopped in the Stopera (City Hall) and checked out the Normal Amsterdam Peil, which shows you how far below sea level you are actually standing, thanks to the ingenuity of the Dutch and their canal systems.

    We did a quick cruise through the Waterlooplein Flea Market, picking up a few little souvenirs, and then arrived at the Rembrandthuis (A’dam Pass - Jodenbreestraat #4). This was another little museum that we hadn’t visited before, so I was really glad that we purchased the Amsterdam Pass, which gave us the incentive to utilize it to the max, and tour museums we previously overlooked. It was interesting to see where he lived, and made a living, particularly the printmaking process.

    From there we boarded the tram to the Plantage Middlaan where we went to the Hollandse Schouwburg (Middenlaan #24 - free), the Jewish Theatre Memorial to victims of the holocaust. Many of the Jews in Amsterdam were rounded up at this theatre before they were shipped off to concentration camps. When we were there the main exhibition area was closed. (Although we didn’t have time for it on this trip, we have visited the Joods Historisch Museum on previous trips and have found it very moving.)

    Next stop was the Resistance Museum (A’dam Pass - Plantage Kerklaan #61) which had some interesting content and exhibits, and a wonderful history lesson. We spent an hour at the Museum, and could have easily spent more time there, more thoroughly studying some of the exhibits. If you’re a real history buff, particularly WWII, allow yourself several hours to tour this hall of Resistance. This museum is definitely on our list to revisit next time we are in Amsterdam.

    By way of tram, we travelled to the Museumplein, where we discovered a little brown cafe. Phyllis and I had Croquetten & Friets with mayo - B.J. had a ham & cheese sandwich (like he didn’t get enough ham & klaas at breakfast! B.J. feels very at home in Dutch society - he could eat ham & klaas every day.)

    We spent the afternoon visiting the van Gogh Museum (A’dam Pass - Paulus Potterstraat #7) and the Rijksmuseum (A’dam Pass - Paulus Potterstraat #42). We’ve been to both museums several times, but never tire looking at some pieces over and over again. Plus, I really like the dollhouses in the Rijksmuseum. I want to shrink myself down to that size and live in them.

    After our museum crawl, we took a different canal cruise (A’dam Pass), during the day, which embarked near the Museumplein. This cruise took you further out into the harbour, behind Centraal Station. Afterwards we took the tram back to the hotel for a little respite, then decided to go back to Nam Kee (Zeedijk #111) for dinner (EUR 20.00). B.J. wanted to try the Teppan Noodles that I keep raving about. This time I had the Chicken with Cashews and Phyllis had Sweet & Sour Beef.

    After dinner we walked over to the Bluebird for desert, but the music was horrible (something about the f***ing nig**rs, WHAT!?!) so we quickly departed. We meandered back to the hotel and packed for a travel day tomorrow. Farewell Amsterdam....for now.

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    I'm amazed by how much you guys did (plus yours was a very aggressive itinerary). I guess if you had posted your itin here on Fodors before your trip, people here would be screaming "too much! too much!" and "Are you NUTS?" comments at you.

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    Our last ham and cheese breakfast, at least from the St. Nicolaas, that is. We finished packing our bags and then trammed it down to Centraal Station and went to the International Counter to validate our rail pass. This was the first day of travel on a 5-day BeNeLux Tourrail Pass that we had purchased through Rail Europe before we left on our trip. The cost was USD $254 for hubby and I travelling together, and USD $168 for Phyllis travelling as a single. Fares were for 2nd class. It took a little longer in line than we had anticipated, so we missed our scheduled train. But, no problem, we just took the next one arriving 15 minutes later, at 9:16. We wrote the date on our rail pass, boarded the train, and we were off.

    We arrived in Utrecht (VVV - Cathrijne Baan #90) after a 31-minute ride, stashed our bags in the luggage lockers (EUR2.50/24 hours), and proceeded to trek through the maze of mall stores in the Hoog Catharijne, which is Holland’s largest mall, and just so happens to also be the train station. We finally got outside to the Elisabethstraat and started walking towards the magnificent, gothic Domtoren, which dominates the skyline.

    B.J. and I had climbed the Toren on a previous trip, all 465 steps. The view from the top was spectacular, but the climb, up and down, was trying at times. You can buy tickets for a tour and partial climb, which is very easy and I recommend to all. However, the long climb up the skinny spiral staircase to the very top I would NOT recommend for anyone who is claustrophobic. It’s quite a tricky maneuver to pass someone going the opposite direction, particularly if they are carrying a backpack or extra pounds on them. And at times I felt like a corkscrew, just going around, and around, and around, and around.... Occasionally I had to stop and walk the opposite direction (back up, or down) for a few steps, just to feel like I was unwinding.

    Having already done the Toren once, and Phyllis having no desire to experience such a climb, we spent time wandering around the Domplein, which lies between the Toren and the Domkerk. Embedded in the square is a line of paving stones which indicates the layout of the nave of the church which was destoyed by a hurricane in 1674. It’s impressive how large the Domkerk originally was.

    After wandering around the church gardens, we walked over to the Nationaal Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement (Buurkerkhof #10 - EUR6.00), which is a wonderful little Mechanical Musical Instruments Museum. There is a guided tour that you take (English spoken) where the guide demonstrates many of the different instruments. They all sounded so melodically - there were clocks, street organs, music boxes, player pianos, calliopes, etc... There was a small elementary school class that was in our tour group, and when the guide operated one of the instruments, it played a traditional Dutch folk song, and the beautiful voices of the little children started singing along. Even though I didn’t understand a word they were singing, it still made me feel all weepy. We spent about an hour at the museum, purchasing a large but thin book (easy to pack) with photographs of many of the highlights on the tour.

    We eventually made our way over to the Vis Markt to The Andersom Coffeeshop. Whenever we stop in Utrecht we try to stop in for some tea/coffee, a snack and a smoke. The staff has always been very nice and fair. You can visit the dealer on the ground floor, and then go downstairs to purchase a snack and beverage and find a table. If you enjoy playing chess, they have a board you can use. On a previous trip our friends played a round with this old man that hangs out at the Andersom, but we didn’t see him today. We rested for about 1/2 hour and then made our way back to Centraal Station.

    A note about Utrecht - The old center of Utrecht definitely has a medieval feeling about it. Utrecht’s canals are different from other Dutch cities’ canals, in that the canals run at basement level, instead of street level. If you wander around the canals, you can find steps that lead down to little paths along the canal, which makes for a nice, peaceful stroll.

    By 13:02 we were back on the train, heading to Gouda (VVV - Markt #27). The trip only takes 22 minutes. We left our luggage at Utrecht Centraal Station, (and will pick it up on the flip-flop). We arrived around 13:24 and made our way over to the Kleiweg, the main Pedestrian Walk. Passing Bart’s Bakkerij (which is a chain, I believe) we spotted the most delicious looking fruit pastries and decided to stop for a quick on-the-go lunch of Ham & Klass Croissanwichs (go figure?!?) and pastry for dessert.

    We walked around Marktplein, which unfortunately was under construction, so it was hard for Phyllis to get the full effect of this quaint Dutch town and their fairy-tale like Stadhuis. We were lucky enough to make our way around to the side of the Stadhuis just in time to see the carillon, which begins every 1/2 hour, with little figures depicting the Count of Holland granting Gouda its city charter in 1272. We walked around the plein, stopped in at the VVV, checked out the Waag, and then went in to St. Janskerk (a few Euros).

    St. Janskerk is known for there magnificent collection of 70 stained-glass windows, many from the 16th century, which also miraculously survived many sackings and wars. Most windows depict scenes from the Bible, but there are several dealing with the history of Gouda and Holland. We spent about 30-45 minutes wandering through the church, mesmerized by the beautiful colors.

    Our next stop was Adrie Moerings Pottery Shop, located at Pepperstraat #76. We had discovered this potterer on a previous trip, had purchased several items from him, and he was kind enough to give us a little tour. But, today he had other customers, so we just looked around. There were several pieces that I would have liked to buy, but we were travelling out of our suitcases on this trip, so my purchases would have to wait.

    We made our way back to the train station, where we caught the 16:09 back to Utrecht Centraal Station. We arrived 22 minutes later, picked up our luggage from the lockers and snacks for the train (we had 1/2 hour built into our schedule), then boarded the 17:04 for a 2 hour ride to Maastricht (VVV - Kleinestraat #1).

    We arrived shortly after 19:00, and had planned to take the bus to the Markt, where our hotel was located. After waiting for 25 minutes, no bus or taxi in sight, we gave up and decided to walk, rolling our bags behind us, across the Sint Servaasbrug and down to the Markt. On the map, it seemed a much shorter walk than what it actually was - and I’m sure the bus came right after we took off on foot. Oh well!

    Our accommodations in Maatricht were at La Colombe, located at Markt #30 (Double EUR 75.00, Single EUR 63.50 -, a 300-year old hotel with a pub downstairs and rooms above. We stayed in Room #8, which was tiny, had two single beds, a little table with chairs, a television and heart-shaped pillows on the bed. Our window looked out on one corner of Markt Square. What we didn’t realize when we made our reservations was that a band was playing in the pub downstairs until 1:00 am, and we heard them practicing when we arrived, and they weren’t very good. Apparently there was a music festival happening that weekend in town and all the hotels were booked, and all the pubs had live music. It was a loud, partying weekend, and we just wanted some food and a good night’s sleep.

    After getting settled into our rooms, we went off in search of dinner. We ended up on the Vrijthof, where there were numerous bars/restaurants to choose from. We ate at Vrijthof9, where we all had ribs with friets and a salad and a bottle of wine (EUR 44.00 for all)

    After dinner we took a night time stroll around Maastrich, eventually making our way back to the hotel. By now, the band was playing and the pub was getting crowded. There is a back entrance to the pub, with a little room and the staircase to the hotel rooms above, but the band was using it as a dressing room tonight. After pushing our way through the crowd, and stepping over all the band equipment to get to the stairs, we finally arrived at our rooms. Phyllis retired, but B.J. and I decided to head back out because the noise was too loud. We had a room on the first floor - Phyllis was lucky and had a room on the second floor.

    B.J. and I walked around for a while, until we eventually stumbled upon Kosbor, a coffeeshop which was located around the corner and down the street from the hotel. We ordered Jack Herrer off the menu, which wasn’t very good at all. Kosbor was definitely geared toward the younger crowd...of which we are not (anymore).

    We left after a half hour, and walked back to the hotel, which was packed by now. It took us several minutes to make our way through the pub, rubbing up against many drunken strangers, while the lousy band blared distorted music. We finally made it to our rooms, just before midnight. It was a little scary, though, trying to get to sleep, what with all those people downstairs, many of them smoking, in this old, stick-built hotel. I noticed a smoke alarm, but thought it wouldn’t do me any good, considering how crowded the building was. Despite being worried about a fire, the din of the crowd, and the obnoxious bass beat that resonated through the floors, we soon passed out.

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    We awoke, amazed at the good nights sleep that we had, despite the noise. And we were equally surprised when we went downstairs to the pub, where breakfast was served, to find there were no traces of the massive partying which occurred in the room just 7 hours earlier! Instead, there was a very nice Dutch breakfast buffet spread out on the bar. We helped ourselves to the usual ham, cheese, bread, jelly, etc., and........a hard boiled egg!!! It tasted so good.

    After breakfast, we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel - but stashed our bags there - then headed out for a walkabout Maastricht. Winding our way along the cobblestone streets, the town had an eerily medieval feeling. It was early in the morning, and stores were not yet open. There were a few people scurrying about, but for the most part, we had the town to ourselves.

    We eventually turned onto Stokstraat, stopping briefly to look at #12, the In de Moriaan, a very narrow pub. We turned right onto Morenstraat which led us right to the Op de Therman, 3rd century Roman baths that had been excavated. We continued walking, ending up at the Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek, with it’s massive stone facade. We went inside the chapel for a look around, and to deposit a few coins in the box and light a candle.

    We spent the next hour wandering through the streets, stopping to view the waterwheel by the Bisschopsmolengang; the out-houses hanging from the back of the house, suspended over the river (peek through the iron bars next to Achter de Oude Minderbroeders #16); the In ‘t Knijpke at Bernardustraat #13,which is, or was, a bar/artists studio located in a cave; the Helpoort (Hell’s Gate) and remains of the 13th century fortified city walls; and the cave-like houses built into the old city walls along the Lange Grachtje.

    We ended up on the Grote Looiersstraat at the Martinushof. We had been informed that you could open the doors and go into the courtyard gardens, but we found the doors locked. As we were leaving, a gentleman appeared inquiring as to our business. When we explained that we were tourists, he was kind enough to allow us to peek inside. Apparently this hofje is no longer open to the public.

    This kind man also spent several minutes chatting with us, about the history of the Looiers (leather) and Maastricht. (I love these moments when travelling, mixing with the locals and really learning about the area.) As we were saying our thank-yous and good-byes, the nice Maastricht-Man asked where we were from. He seemed disappointed when he replied, “Oh, I thought you were all from Canada.” (Remember, the U.S./Iraq War had just begun.) Oh well.....

    Off we went again, stopping on the Looiersgracht at the bronze Donkey statue and a nice view of the river and a “bridge house” suspended over it. We made our way through several streets, finally walking up the Sint Servaasklooster to the Sint Janskerk, with it’s red tower. We took a few photos, and then continued on the road, through a pair of archways, to the more impressive 10th century Sint Servaasbasiliek.

    We were excited about visiting the Schatkamer (Treasury Room - EUR 2.50) at the church. Ever since B.J. and I had visited a special exhibition at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, de Weg naar de Hemel (The Way to Heaven), we have had an interest in reliquaries. The Treasury at Sint Servaasbasiliek was known for their vast collection, including remains of St. Servaas and pieces of wood from Jesus’ cross.

    After spending time in the Treasury and the Church, we walked back to our hotel on the Markt, picked up our bags, and waited for the bus to take us to Centraal Station. Luckily for us, Bus #1 arrived quickly, and before we knew it we were there. The Saturday morning Flea Market was in full swing across from the station, and I used the excuse to take a picture of the rail station to cross the street and do a quick sweep of a few vendors wares. (I have pictures of most train stations that I have travelled through).

    Since the rail system is so efficient, we usually have time built in to our itinerary, so if I wanted to spend an extra 15, 20, 30 minutes at the flea market, we would just take the next train. Unfortunately, the next leg of our journey was either NOW, or wait another two hours.

    By 12:10 we were on the train, using the second day of our 5-day rail pass. After 31 minutes we arrived at the Liege-Guillemins Station, where we had a 37 minute layover. Our initial thought was to buy a quick snack at the station, but there wasn’t much to offer, and the area around the station looked depressing, so we just decided to wait on the platform. By 13:18 we were back on the train, for a 1 hour, 35 minute ride to Clervaux, Luxembourg.

    We arrived in Clervaux at 14.53, with the intent of stashing our bags at the station while we spent a couple hours touring through the town. Clervaux has a small station, where you can normally leave your luggage, but just as we arrived, the stationmaster was heading home. He’d already put in his day and he was tired. We weren’t looking forward to dragging our luggage behind us through town, so Phyllis went into the hotel across the street from the station to see if we could leave our bags there. I don’t remember the name of the hotel, but they were kind enough to allow us to park our bags in their coat closet.

    We walked down the road to the Parish Church, and went inside for a look around, light a candle and deposit a few coins in the box. As we continued down the road towards town, we stopped and turned around to admire the unusual roofs of the two towers that flank the church. The roofs are diamond shaped, and make for an interesting geometrical design.

    We eventually arrived at the 12th century Chateau, and discovered several WWII relics and memorials on the grounds. There is a Battle of the Bulge Museum located in the Chateau, but we came for the photographic exhibition, the Family of Man (EUR 4.50). In 1955 Edward Steichen assembled 503 images taken by photographers from around the world, depicting the Family of Man. First displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the exhibit is now housed in the Chateau in Clervaux. We were taken back by how poignant the photographs were, and the written prose that accompanied them, even 50 years after the exhibit was first displayed. I have since purchased the book depicting all 503 images, which has a place on my coffee table.

    We spent more time at the Chateau than we had anticipated which left us no time to explore the little town of Clervaux. We picked up our luggage from the hotel, and then boarded the train at 16:54, heading to Ettelbruck. We arrived 25 minutes later, but now had a 55 minute layover waiting for the bus to take us to Vianden.

    We crossed the street from the train station and found the Cafecoin, where we had a snack and some beverages. Before we knew it, we were on Bus #470 heading for Vianden (we purchased tickets from the bus driver). The ride was a pleasant 26 minutes, through the rolling countryside. It very much reminded us of the area we live in, just west of the Poconos in Pennsylvania.

    We arrived in Vianden at 18:40 and checked into the Hotel Victor Hugo (1, Rue Victor Hugo - Double EUR 68.00, Single EUR 49.50 - www.hotel-victor-hugo-lu). We stayed in Room 16, which had been recently renovated. The Victor Hugo was a lovely hotel, considering the price. After a 45 minute respite, we decided to look for dinner. We walked out of the hotel, and gazed up at the castle sitting high on the hill, illuminated in light. It was one of those “Ahhhh” moments.

    As it was, all we had to do was cross the street to the Auberge, where we had an excellent dinner, sitting on the enclosed terrace over the River Our, with the castle looming above. B.J. had the trout with chicken noodle soup, and Phyllis and I had Weinerschnitzel with Cheese Crocquettes. Dinner came with a salad and friets. We shared a bottle of the house white wine, and ate an incredibly good strawberry cream cheese roll for dessert (EUR 54.30). After dinner we all went back to the hotel to call it an early evening, actually getting to bed before midnight.

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    yk - What's ironic is that I planned and took this trip right before I discovered the Fodor's forum. That's why I never posted a report, until now. But you're right, I probably would have had a talking to by several posters about my full itinerary.

    There's so many different ways to travel, and our travel philosophy is to cram as much as we can see and explore into a 13 hour day - what we humorously refer to as "Punch Your Ticket Touring". It's aggressive travelling, but it's what works for us, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it for everyone.

    Stay tuned.. I'll try to post a few more days over the weekend.

    Robyn :)>-

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    Wow, so organized, even pre-Fodor's. I don't think I've read a Benelux report in a while; I remember reading another very inspiring Benelux journey from a poster who must no longer is active on this board. But each time I read one, I think "I must go."

    But maybe not as quickly as Robyn, BJ and Phyllis. For a lazier traveler, what would you have skipped, if absolutely necessary, knowing you'd rather not skip anything?

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    Great report Artstuff - Many many many years ago we stayed at the Royal National Hotel, and I was wondering what was the rate you paid recently? It is very basic as you say and I got the feeling I didn't want to be in that "maze" of rooms if a fire broke out! We now prefer the Ibis in Cardington street diagonally oposite the back entrance to Euston station for about the same money I would think?.

    Sorry you also had no luck with North Sea Fish restaurant - we are going to try again this May - last time only found the take-away section!

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    Leely2 - You asked, "For a lazier traveler, what would you have skipped, if absolutely necessary, knowing you'd rather not skip anything?"

    Wow! That's kind of like trying to unring a bell. There's absolutely nothing I would have skipped. If anything, there's more that I would have like to have seen. I regret not stopping in Antwerp, or getting to the American Cemetery outside Luxembourg City.

    The three one-nighters in a row were a little rough - we should have had an extra night in Luxembourg somewhere, but we simply didn't have the time in our schedule.

    Rufus - Ahhh, Vianden! What a quaint little town, and an impressive castle. It's like it holds a magical spell over the valley, hanging off the side of the cliff. It was definately worth the bus ride to get there.

    tod - You asked, "...Royal National Hotel, and I was wondering what was the rate you paid recently?"

    We were lucky enough to get our room for free - it was included with our air fare (we travelled in April 2003) - so we were just happy that the room and linens were clean. Overall, it was an okay hotel. But I know what you mean about the size and maze-like layout (now which wing are we in?).

    Thanks for your responses, everyone. And now... back to working on my trip report.

    Robyn :)>-

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    We had a lazy morning and slept in until 7:30. The bed felt so warm and comfy we didn’t want to move, but then again, we had a castle to explore! We packed up our bags and went down for a delicious breakfast consisting of several types of meats and cheeses, breads, hard-boiled egg, cereal and a yummy apple cake roll.

    We stashed our bags at the hotel, and then ventured off to explore Vianden and its castle. We walked over to the chairlift, which you can ride up to the castle, only to find it was closed - bummer! I had even e-mailed the Vianden tourist folks before our trip and they assured us that it would be open, but apparently, we discovered, they do not open until after Easter, which is next week. We wandered around town, which doesn’t take long, then went back to the hotel to inquire about a taxi to the castle.

    The hotel-folks assured us that it was an easy 10-minute walk up the road. Phyllis was feeling a bit under the weather, so she decided to hang out on the benches along the River Our and wait for us while we ventured off to conquer Vianden's Castle. I felt bad leaving her, but she insisted that we go. So, up the road we started walking - it was a gentle climb, and we took our time, stopping to look in the windows of a few stores which were not open, and to take a picture of a memorial to “dem DICKS”. It was Palm Sunday, and a church along the road had just concluded their service and people were flowing out of the church with palm fronds. Twenty minutes later we were at the top of the hill, passing through the castle gate.

    We spent about 45 minutes wandering around the Chateau de Vianden (EUR 4.50 ea. - self-guided tour), which is sparsely furnished, although there are several rooms which are theme decorated, such as the kitchen, parlor, bedroom, etc. The chapel, I felt, was just exquisite - sparse, but painted with beautiful, bold colors. And the architecture of the room was very interesting - the base was 10-sided with a six-sided, two story chancel/alter. There is an exhibit about the history of the castle, and lots of armor. There are several spots where you can stop and enjoy the beautiful views over the Our Valley. We could see Phyllis sitting on the bench, watching the ducks in the river, and decided we should get on our way.

    As we started our descent down the hill back to the hotel, we spotted two young boys playing on the rocky crag surrounding the castle, just outside the gated wall. They had sticks in their hands and were using their “weapons” to defend their castle. My husband desperately wanted to join them, and we thought how lucky they were to grow up with a fantasy-land in their backyard.

    Before we knew it, we were back down the hill, where we picked up Phyllis and our luggage and boarded the 11:58 bus to Ettelbruck, for a 31-minute ride, then picked up the train at 12:35 for a 35-minute ride into Luxembourg City. Since our travel is so short today, we are NOT using our rail pass, but instead bought a book of 10 tickets for the train ride (3 each per person), and waited for the conductor to come around and “punch” them....only he never came. And, we discovered later that we should have “punched” our own tickets at the station to validate them. Oops! As it was, we ended up leaving our unused book of tickets for the cleaning person at our next hotel in Luxembourg City.

    It was an easy walk from the train station to Hotel Carlton (Rue de Strasbourg 9 - Double EUR90.00, Single EUR 75.00 - We stayed in Room 205, which was a nicely furnished room, geared toward the business traveller. After a quick respite, we went out to explore Luxembourg City.

    We walked down Avenue de La Gare, across the Pont Viaduc, and stopped to take in the interesting view of the Petrusse and Alzette Valleys, and the compact neighborhood of the Grund. We walked along the Chemin de la Corniche, stopping several times to snap off a few photographs. The sun was shining, the temperature was warm, and the views were spectacular.
    We made our way to the Bock Casemates (EUR 1.75), where we spent about 1/2 hour wandering through the maze of tunnels. For hundreds of years, people have sought refuge in these “caves” during times of war. We could have spent more time exploring, but we were all getting hungry, so decided to head over to the center of the city. We walked past the Palais Grand-Ducal and ended up on the Place de Arms, where we found a little Italian restaurant, Le Beaujolais (EUR 23.00).

    It was such a beautiful spring afternoon/evening, so we decided to walk over to the Petrusse Casemates (which were closed), and eventually we made our way down several flights of steps to the Valley floor. The scenery was just breathtaking. You must understand that part of the draw to Luxembourg City is not for any man-made building, museum or monument, but for the unusual natural landscaping that the city is built around. The city center sits on top of a rocky outcrop, with two lush valleys running around the perimeter.

    After walking along the Petrusse to the Alzette and the outskirts of the Grund, we took the lift back up to the top of the hill, crossed over the Pont Viaduc and headed back to the hotel for a quick nap. It was 20:00 when we awoke and dusk was coming on. We walked back across the Viaduc, and along the Chemin de la Corniche to take in all the views we had seen this afternoon, only now the natural geological landscaping was basked in light. The cliffs seemed to glow from within. It was quite the sight, but by 21:30 all of us were ready for bed, so we walked back to the hotel and called it an early evening.

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    DAY 10, Mon, April 14, DINANT, BRUSSELS, BRUGGE

    Oh my Gosh! No ham and cheese on the breakfast menu!! What will my husband do? Soft-boiled eggs were served to us at our table in the breakfast room, as well as toast, bread, jams, orange juice, coffee/tea. We checked out of the hotel and shuffled our way over to the train station, along with the daily commuters (Rail Pass Day 3). We were hoping to catch the 9:21 to Dinant, but got to the station just in time to catch the 9:08. The train was going in a different direction, but ultimately landed us in the same place, giving us an extra 27 minutes in Dinant. COOL!

    We had to transfer trains in Namur, which had a really neat citadelle/fortress up on the hill, which we passed on our way into town. We only had enough time to grab some beverages and use the WC, and then we were back on the train.

    By 11:45 we arrived in Dinant (Tourist Info: Cadoux 8 -west end of bridge), stashed our luggage at the station, and crossed the bridge into town. There, in front of us was the massive Church of Notre Dame, nestled between the river and the encroaching rock cliff behind it. Towering above the church was the Citadelle de Dinant and its outstretched fortification walls, which seemed to cling to the rock cliff. It was a beautiful, sunny day - temperatures in the 60’s F.

    We found the ticket booth next to the church, and purchased our tickets (EUR 5.50 ea) for the Teleferique (cable car) to the top of the hill (and back), and entrance to the Citadelle. You must take one of their guided tours through the fortress, so we had to wait for one to begin (we had just missed the last one by a few minutes). We wandered around the courtyard, for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like 30 minutes. Then, after the long wait, the tour guide we had didn’t even speak English, so we just followed the group around. Luckily, they did have some signage in four different languages, including English, so we could get an idea of the cruel history perpetrated against the city and its residents.

    We took the Teleferique back down to the city. We had wanted to go to the Birthplace of Adolph Sax (inventor of the saxophone), but the Citadelle tour took much longer than expected, so we walked quickly over to the Maison de la Pataphonie (Rue en Rhee #51), where we had a 14:00 appointment for a tour of their little musical museum.

    My husband and I had been commissioned to build a sound sculpture for our local Children’s Museum, and I had discovered the Maison de la Pataphonie during our research. The three of us old folks took the tour with a class of 12 kids, about 8-10 years of age. We were fortunate (as language-challenged Americans) to have a docent who could speak some English.

    There were five large rooms that we toured through, with musical instruments made from found objects, which we were encouraged to play. The first four rooms were theme driven - ringing metal, wood, water and stone - the last room was the symphony hall with 15 different instruments, such as a plastic bowl with bungee cords stretched over that you pluck; plastic rulers between two pieces of wood that you twang; nails of different length driven into wood and played with a violin bow; etc.... We had a wonderful time playing all the instruments and culling a wealth of ideas for our project.

    We had such a great time that we ended up staying longer than we had scheduled and didn’t have time for a sit-down meal before we boarded the train to Brussels. As an alternative, we ordered some burgers and friets from the lunch counter at the train station, which turned out to be some kind of mystery meat on a roll and the world’s largest orders of friets we had ever seen. One order would have been sufficient for the three of us; instead, we had three huge servings of friets. We even tried to give them away to a group of scouts travelling on the train, but they weren’t that hungry. After an hour and a half ride we arrived in Brussels for a quick whistle-stop.

    I’ve been to Brussels before, during the day, but I’ve never seen the Grand Place at night, all lit up, so that was really the only reason for stopping (and so Phyllis could see it also). It was around 19:00 and still light outside. We stashed our luggage at the station, and then headed straight for the Grand Place so Phyllis could see the beautiful patrician houses during the daylight. We did the obligatory stop and photo op at the Mannekin Pis then walked through the Galleries de St. Hubert. We bought some beverages then went back to the Grand Place to wait for dusk to fall and the lights to come on. We people watched, and waited, and walked around, and waited, and read about all of the different merchant buildings from our tour book, and waited. It’s was finally 20:40 but still, only a few lights had come on. Darn these long, spring days. We just didn’t feel like waiting any longer for darkness to fall, particularly since we still had to get to Brugge tonight.

    We headed off to the train station, retrieved our luggage, and caught the 21:04 to Brugge (Tourist - Burg #11). Within an hour we were pulling into the station. Since it was so late, we decided to take a taxi (EUR 10.00) to our hotel. We checked in to the Hotel Cavalier (Kuipersstraat 25 - Double EUR 62.00, Single EUR 52.00), which is conveniently located around the corner from the Markt, with a bus stop just down the street (restricted road access). We were in room 2-A, in the front of the building, which was nicely furnished, with a table and two chairs, a small couchette, chandelier and a double bed. Our favorite part of the room, though, was the pelican statue sitting in the corner. We were exhausted after a full day of travel, and looked forward to spending two nights in this cozy little hotel.

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    Robyn - Have to previously been to all these cities and towns before? If not, what made you choose them (specifically, the towns in Luxembourg and Dinant)?

    If you're not in a rush, would you say Utrecht and Maastricht both deserve at least a full day? I've never been to either one, and both sounds wonderful towns to visit.

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    I hope you were eating ham and kaas not ham and Klaas, at least in public ;). Interesting trip report.
    Canadians have a special place in many older Dutch peoples hearts as they were often the "liberators"of their home town. That may explain the reaction rather than the Iraq war.

    Maastricht and Utrecht are definitely worth at least a full day, if not two.
    Hire a car in Maastricht and get out into the very un-Dutch countryside and the US war cemetery at Margraten. Or take a boat ride along the Maas, visit Eben Emael for more WW2 memories.

    In Utrecht there are many museums worth visiting, plus the botanical gardens, and nearby are castles, palaces, lovely countryside.

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    Robyn - thanks for posting your report. I'm enjoying it very much so far, especially the section on Maastricht (my husband is from Limburg). Can't wait to read the remainder of your report ...

    yk - I agree with hetismij that Maastricht is worth some extra time to explore. The countryside outside the city is beautiful and even hilly in some areas. For a unique dining experience, go to Chateau Neercanne - a wonderful terraced castle right on the border with Belgium. It has gardens and an upscale restaurant (I think it's even rated a Michelin one-star). You can drink an aperitif in the caves under the castle which serve as their winecellar.

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    I am in awe (have I said that already?) of both the breathless pace of your travel and the the detail of your report. Really great that you decided to post this, Robyn.

    In your honor: :)>-

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    yk - This was our 4th trip to Amsterdam, Delft and Rotterdam, and our 3rd to Gouda and Utrecht, so we knew our way around, which is probably why we could cover so much territory in the amount of time that we spent in each city.

    We chose to visit Luxembourg because it was included with the rail pass, and after doing research, it sounded like an interesting country, which is was. I am really glad that we decided to visit Luxembourg. It's not a very popular country, and doesn't get a lot of tourists, which I think was one of the things that really appealed to me - it's off the beaten path. Kind of like we're part of a special secret that not many people are in on.

    Our visit to Dinant was primarily for the Maison de la Pataphonie, but also because we saw a picture of the town in our Michelin Green Guide and decided that was a place we wanted see in person (the same reason we visited Positano, Italy on a previous trip - based solely on a picture in a guide book).

    If we had more time to travel, or if we had chosen to visit fewer places, we could easily have spent a full day in Maastricht and Utrecht.

    Hetismij - Oh my! I hope we didn't do anything to embarrass ourselves by eating Klaas. Thanks for the correction.

    And thanks also for the information about the Canadian liberators. The gentleman that we spent time with in Maastricht was so informative and kind to us, and we could all see his disappointment learning we were not Canadians. I much prefer your explanation; it makes me feel more resolved about our parting.

    globetrotterxyz - Thanks for reading my report, and enjoying my recollections of Maastricht. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes a picture in a guide book is enough to peek our interest into visiting a town. When I saw a picture of the Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek and its massive edifice (in the Michelin Green Guide) I was really drawn to visit Maastricht.

    Please hang in with me. I'll try to get Day 11 posted tomorrow.

    Robyn :)>-

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    Hey Leely, thanks for checking back on my report. You must have posted while I was writing my previous response.

    I'm able to remember details only because I carry a journal with me when I travel, and am constantly pulling it out of my backpack to jot down notes about our travels. Sometimes it's a pain to do (I won't go to bed until I have my thoughts for the day written down), but I'm glad I disciplined myself to do so, otherwise I wouldn't remember the details of half the places we visited. Peace!

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 11, Tues, April 15, BRUGGE

    When I got up this morning, at 4:00 am, for my “I’m gettin’ old” trip to the bathroom, my glasses broke - the screw came un-done and the lens fell out. Luckily, I was able to retrieve the screw from the bed sheets and Phyllis had an eye-glass repair kit with her, which I utilized before breakfast. They had a nice breakfast room at the Cavalier, with meats, cheeses, breads, soft-boiled eggs, orange juice, cereals, and coffee/tea on the menu.

    After breakfast, we strolled through the Markt, stopping to take pictures of the Belfort and Hallen, then on to the Burg, where we visited the Bascillica of the Holy Blood (EUR 1.50). Since this was the week leading up to Easter, they were having a special ceremony at 14:00 where they take the vial of blood out of it’s special resting place, and parade around with the reliquary. Unfortunately, we would be too busy visiting other sights in Brugge to make it back for the ceremony. We walked through the church’s Treasury, deposited a few coins in the donation box, and lit a candle, then left, stopping afterwards at a little store to buy some lace. The shop owner was more than happy to chat with us, and taught us two sayings which are very familiar in Brugge - “Don’t buy a cat in the sack” and “Release the tension on your bow (as in arrow) or it will break”.

    Next stop was the Vis Markt, where we boarded a boat for a 1/2 hour canal tour (EUR 5.20 ea). The boat was jam-packed with tourists, the three of us among them. It was difficult to follow our tour guide, as he was delivering his speeches in several different languages, and he kept getting his words twisted around. But, hey! At least he knew more than one language.

    After our boat ride we visited the Onze-Lieve Vroucathedral to view Michaelangelo’s Madonna & Child. We then stopped for beverages and a snack at the Coffee Link, a little cafe with internet access, so Phyllis could e-mail home. We walked over to St. Salvator’s Kerk, only to find it closed, so we decided to go back to the hotel, gather up some laundry, and spend the next hour and a half at the wasseri, for the sake of having clean underware and non-crusty socks (I tried doing undies/socks in the hotel sink, but they just didn’t feel comfortable to wear). Conveniently, Mister Washery was right around the corner from the hotel, so we were able to accomplish this task without problem.

    With our clean laundry safely stored in the hotel room, we went out on a quest for lunch. We found a little pizzeria, with a few tables that were empty. We ordered and paid for several slices and some drinks from the counter, then went to sit down at one of the tables. The woman behind the counter started yelling at us, that we weren’t allowed to sit at the tables unless we had ordered from their menu (I guess all the Euros we had just spent with her wasn’t good enough). We would have gladly paid a small surcharge to use the table, but she would have none of it. If we hadn’t already paid for our pizza, we would have just left. Instead, we stood there, like dopes, waiting for our food. The whole scene was very bizarre. We finally took our food and high-tailed it out of there.

    We ended up finding a shady little area on the Jan VanEyckplein where we could eat our lunch, nestled between a statue and a water wheel. After our picnic lunch, we walked over to St. Anne’s Church, where we found the organist practicing. It was really cool walking through the church with the music resonating. We eventually made our way to the Jerusalemkerk (which was a bit gruesome) and the Kantcentrum. Admission to both places was EUR 1.50.

    Being a quilter, I really enjoyed the Lace Center. It reminded me of an old-fashioned quilting bee - with all the old ladies sitting around, there jaws flapping as fast as their hands were going. The way they moved those bobbins around was incredible. I bought a tiny piece of lace that was made by one of the ladies (EUR 25,00), a wooden bobbin for my nick-nack shelf and a T-Shirt for B.J., which was designed by the woman that waited on us.

    Later, we walked over to the Bonne Chiere (wooden stilt mill) and the Kruispoort. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up some more snacks, and then headed back to the hotel for a little respite. It was getting later in the evening, and we decided we needed a beer, so we went out in search of a little bar that a friend had told us about - de Garre. It is located down this skinny little alley, just off the Markt, or was it the Burg, and they have their own brand of beer. We all enjoyed a glass and some complimentary cheese, and then we were ready for dinner.

    There were many places to choose from; it was hard to make a decision. We finally chose the Huyze Die Maene, located at #17 Markt. B.J. was disappointed to learn they were sold out of mussels, so we all decided to try the Waterzooi. We weren’t sorry - it was the most delicious chicken soup, made with leeks. We had friets on the side, and Phyllis and I shared a bottle of wine, while B.J. preferred to sample more beer. For dessert, B.J. and I shared a Belgium waffle with strawberries and cream, and Phyllis had Creme Brule. Total tab was EUR 72,50. It was such a relaxing, beautiful warm evening, sitting on the Markt, under a full moon, which lit up the entire square. After dinner we strolled around the Markt and the Burg, then went back to the hotel, happy and sated.

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    Hi Robyn-

    My mom and I visited Luxembourg City several years ago for a day (daytrip from Trier). We enjoyed our brief visit, but I never thought about stopping at other towns in Luxembourg; though we were on a rushed itin anyway.

    In fact, we were there in 2003 as well come to think of it, but our trip was in July.

    Your description of Brugge brings back good memories as DH & I were just there last Sept. The town feels so lovely & magical in the early morning and evening when the daytrippers aren't around. We really enjoyed our walk around town at night - often finding ourselves the only people on the streets.

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    yk - Luxembourg was not even on our "Top Ten Countries to Visit" list, and we knew absolutely nothing about the Grand Duchy. But it was included in the BeNeLux Rail Pass, and when we started to do research on what there was to see, we found our itinerary quickly filling up.

    I enjoy photography, so when I read about "The Family of Man", I knew we had to stop in Clervaux, plus it was a convenient stop on the rail line. However, I really underestimated how long it would take to go through the exhibit. If I had it to do over again, we would probably have spent a night in Clervaux, so we had time to also explore some of its WWII history (but then I'd have to give a night up somewhere else).

    When I saw pictures of Vianden, I just knew we had to spend a night in this little medieval town, with its castle and literary history. If we weren't there on Palm Sunday, we would have toured the Victor Hugo Museum, which was closed. Our perception of this sleepy little hamlet was that people from a five country region enjoy travelling there to eat, drink and make love - kind of like the Poconos in Pennsylvania use to be (I'm not sure if it's still a lover's destination).

    Although taking the bus to Vianden took a little bit more travel time, sometimes we find that travel is the destination. We really enjoying taking public transportation because it gives us the opportunity to talk with the local people.

    The landscape of Luxembourg City sounded really intriguing, although, beforehand I kept trying to envision it in my mind from descriptions, which just didn't do it justice. I'm sure being there on a sunny, warm, spring day helped make our experience all that more memorable. My husband keeps talking about returning to Luxembourg City, to spend more time exploring the Bock Casemates (that's the little boy in him coming out).

    If we had more time, and weren't travelling pre-Easter, before some bus lines were running, we would have taken the bus out to the "Petite Suisse" area of Luxembourg, to the medieval town of Echternach. I imagine the bus ride itself would have been the "destination", through the lovely countryside.

    Oh well, there's always next time. And my husband does keep reminding me, "You can't do it all".

    Oh yeah!, Well, I can still try.

    Robyn :)>-

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    Hi yk - Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to this trip report. My husband had a medical scare recently - he's allright, as long as he listens to his doctor - and I had to finish two quilts I was sewing, which were Christmas presents waiting to be given.

    But I think my life is finally back in order again (whatever that might be), so I'll try posting the next installment of my trip report, without the luxury of the preview and edit options.

    Thanks for hanging in there with me, yk. This one's for you...

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 12, Wed, April 16, GHENT, ROTTERDAM, DELFT

    We started the morning with another delicious breakfast, and then packed our bags and we were off to the train station, via the bus, which we were able to board close to the hotel. Using day 4 of our rail pass, within 20 minutes we arrive in Ghent (Tourist - St. Baafsplein 17A in the Crypt of Belfry), where we stashed our luggage in the lockers, and boarded the tram to the Koerenmarkt.

    Our first stop was the Belfort, where we took the lift to the near top for a beautiful view of the city. There was a stone spiral staircase which you could climb for a higher view, but we chose not to. We checked out the clockworks and the bells, cast by the Hemony Brothers. Apparently the Hemony Brothers were quite popular bell makers in their time; we’ve visited several churches in the BeNeLux region with Hemony carillons.

    We stopped briefly at the St. Nicolaas Kerk, then onward to St. Bavo’s Kerk, to view the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck, and explore the treasury in the crypt (we love those reliquaries). Afterwards, we walked over to the Develhuis, but we just didn’t have enough time to go in and explore.

    We back-tracked to the bridge located between the Kornlei and the Grasslei, where we took several pictures of the Three Towers of Ghent. Eventually, we caught the tram back to Central Station where we grabbed some broodjes and boarded the train to Antwerp Bercham, then transferred trains to Rotterdam. Total travel time was about 2.25 hours.

    We stashed our bags at Centraal Station in Rotterdam (VVV - Coolsingel #67), then hopped back on the train to the Rotterdam Blaak Station (6 minutes). There must have been an AJAX game that day, as we kept encountering happy revelers dressed in orange. We walked out of the train station and onto the plein, and just stood there for awhile and admired the unique architecture of Rotterdam - Station Blaak, which resembles a flying saucer; the “Pencil” Building, which looks like a pencil standing upright, the point extending to the sky; the Centrale Bibliotheek, which reminded me of the Pompidou Center in Paris; and the grand-mama of them all, the Kijk Kubus Complex, with it’s series of tumbling blocks weaved into a community area. We toured through #70 Overblaak, (EUR 1.75), which is the one apartment cube that is open to the public. Standing inside the cube, looking out the slanted window hovering above the sidewalk, gave me a bit of vertigo, but the whole complex is uniquely interesting and should not be missed, particularly if you have any interest in architecture.

    Now that we’re back in the Netherlands we decided to stop at De Koffieshop (Halstraat 10A) for a quick break. The first time we stopped here was in 1998, when we were doing the “Dutch Hashcoffeeshop Tour” with friends of ours. The tour is a published book which lists different coffeeshops that you can visit, and then get your book signed and dated by the dealer. That’s when we first met Willem, who was working at the De Koffieshop as part of his probation!!! Apparently, he was caught growing too many marijuana plants, and his sentence was to find a “real” job and limit the number of plants he grew. Only in the Netherlands....ah, tolerance. Anyway, Willem was still there, but I’m not sure if he really remembered us from our previous visits, although he was very gracious to us, and flattered that we remembered him.

    Our next stop was the Oudehaven, where we enjoyed looking at the boats. It was such a warm beautiful spring day, and we were all roasting in the sun as we walked down the Wijnhaven. We eventually made our way to the Water Taxi station (EUR3.10 each RT), got into the little boat, and off we went across the Nieuwe Maas to the New York Hotel, dodging a very large barge along the way. For many immigrants from Europe, the New York Hotel was their last stop before they embarked on their journey to America. We were parched, so we stopped at the Harbor Lounge for some beverages, and then walked around outside, admiring the Erasmusbrug and checking out the “Lost Luggage” on the dock.

    We took the water taxi back across the Maas, only our driver misjudged the wake from a passing ship, and B.J. and I got soaked. We were sitting all the way in the back of the boat - Phyllis was smart and sat up front by the driver, who was quite embarrassed, and kept apologizing. Luckily, it was so warm outside that the water quickly evaporated from our clothes, although we did smell a little “fishy”.

    Safe on the shore, we jumped on the tram to Centraal Station, stopped at the Albert Hein for some provisions, grabbed our luggage, and then boarded the train to Delft (VVV - Markt Square #83) for the 14 minute ride. We took a taxi (EUR 10.00) to the hotel, which was located behind the Nieuwe Kerk, just beyond the far side of the Marktplein. Our taxi driver was very friendly, and told us he had recently visited New York City, and found the taxis there just disgusting.

    We arrived at the Herberg de Emauspoort (Vrouwenregt 10-11 - Double 82.50, Single 72.50 -, and settled into Kamer 8, the Anthoni van Leeuwenhoek Room (inventor of the microscope). The room was on the second floor in a detached building in the back courtyard of the hotel, and if I stretched out the window I could see the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk. Since we were so close to the church, we were able to hear the bells tolling every half hour, which added to the charm of staying in this quaint old town. We were relieved, however, to find out they turn the chimes off around 10 - 11 pm, and turn them back on around 7.00 am.

    We took a little respite, changed out of our fishy clothes, and set out in search of dinner. We ended up at the Cafe Restaurant Royal, on Voldersgracht 10. B.J. had Chicken on a stick with sate, Phyllis and I had ribs and friets and split a 1/2 carafe of wine (EUR21.45). It was a pleasant meal, on a pleasant evening, at the end of a pleasant day. After dinner we walked around a bit, finally making our way back to the hotel, where Phyllis retired for the evening. Since it was such a beautiful night, and still warm outside, B.J. and I decided to go out for another walk along the medieval canals and streets, before returning to our room to pass out.

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    Hi Robyn - So sorry to hear about the medical scare of your husband. Glad to here he's okay, as I'm looking forward to your next trip (I'm sensing... Belgium in the fall, right?) ;)

    This is quite a whirlwind day - Ghent + Rotterdam in one day, plus the onward journey to Delft! About the Ghent Belfry, my husband insisted on climbing the stairs. I thought about joining him, but after 5 steps my thighs were screaming (We had just climbed the Bruges Belfry the day before), so I took the elevator instead.

    I was in Rotterdam for a brief visit a few years ago, mainly for the museum. But I didn't have time for a detail look at all the architecture, so a repeat visit is needed.

    Looking forward to Delft... another place I only had 1/2 day for. Would love to go back there to spend a few days.

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    We woke up to the lovely sound of the bells tolling from the Nieuwe Kerk. Little did we know then, that this was the beginning of one of the most perfect days of travelling in Europe. This was the day that inspired our trip to the Netherlands with Phyllis.

    Several months earlier, while the three of us were having dinner, Phyllis mentioned that she would like to take another trip to Europe during the spring, but she couldn’t decide where to go next. In unison, my husband and I both stated, “Holland, for the tulips. We’ll take you!” And so, the planning and anticipation began.

    As we walked across the courtyard, from our hotel rooms to the breakfast room, we were overcome by the sweet aroma of fresh-baked pastries. As it turned out, the Emauspoort has a bakery attached to their hotel, right off the breakfast room, so we were admiring all the yummy looking baked goods while enjoying our morning Dutch feast. Afterwards, we walked to the bus stop, just around the corner from the hotel, and took the bus to Centraal Station, where we boarded the 8:58 train to Haarlem (VVV - Stationsplein #1), Day 5 on the Rail Pass.

    The 38 minute train ride through the countryside was breathtaking at times, with fields of colors spreading out in all directions. The last 3-4 days had been exceptionally beautiful and warm (70-80’s F) spring days, which had forced all the bulbs in the fields to bloom. We were giddy with delight that Mother Nature had been so kind to give us this incredible array of colors.

    We arrived in Haarlem at 9:36, purchased some additional Strippenkaarts, and then boarded the bus towards the Grote Markt, only to find the entire Markt Square occupied by a carnival. There were carnival rides, and games of chance for cheap prizes, and crappy carnival food stands. Yuck!

    We dashed into the Grote of St. Bavokerk (EUR 1.50 ea), and much to our surprise and delight, someone was playing the organ!!!! No, wait, they’re only tuning the organ.... darn… well, maybe we’ll get to hear them play some music before we leave. We spend quite some time wandering around, checking out the Christiaen Muller organ (once played by Handel and Mozart), the chancel screen, the painted arched ceiling, the wooden arched ceiling, the ships hanging from the ceiling, the fire engines, and the markings showing the shortest and tallest height of their parishoners, all the while single note drones are emitting from this massive organ - but still no song. We finally can’t take it anymore, and leave.

    We strolled through the streets and made our way to the Teyler’s Museum (EUR 5.50 ea), which we found interesting and fun to explore. They had a special exhibition on body piercing (ouch!), that had disclaimer warnings posted all over, advising people that they may become “queasy” while viewing certain parts of the exhibition (they were right). None the less, it was a very interesting peek into other culture’s customs.

    We stopped for lunch at de Karmeliet Brasserie (Club Sandwiches for Phyllis and me, an omelet for B.J.). After lunch we strolled around the town for awhile, and then eventually took the bus back to Centraal Station, and we were on our way again.

    Nineteen minutes later we arrived in Leiden (VVV - Stationsplein #210), and made the short walk to the Molen de Valk (EUR 2.50 ea), a grain windmill from the 1700’s, which is now open to the public. We toured through the first few floors, which houses the living quarters for the millers family and a little museum, and then climbed to the top floor, and walked out on the deck for a great view of Leiden. We were lucky enough to be there when the sails were turning, which was such a treat.

    We walked back to Centraal Station, and bought tickets for the Keukenhof and the Bus #54 Connexxion (EUR 15.50 ea), and within 20 minutes we were being dropped off at a side entrance to the garden. We then spent the next 2 1/2 hours just wandering through the gardens, greenhouses and pavilions, admiring all the beautiful sights and smells of millions and millions of bulbs. The Gardens were at their peak! It couldn’t get any better!!! This was our 3rd visit to the Keukenhof, and we have never seen the bulbs more magnificent, thanks to the perfectly warm weather.

    We didn’t want to leave this palette of colors and smells, but we decided to bug out before the park closed, and try to beat the rush back to the train station. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, and the bus was jammed with people. Phyllis got the last seat, B.J. stood up, and I found a little stoop to sit on for the 20-25 minute ride back to the station. The worst part, however, was the American family with 4 young kids, who each took their own seat (two of their little hineys could have easily fit onto one seat), but the kids kept running around, jumping up and down. I should have just gotten up off the stoop, and plopped down on one of the vacant seats, while the kids were acting like maniacs in the bus aisle. Why were the parents so thoughtless?

    Happy to be off the bus, we took the train from Leiden back to Delft (18 minutes), enjoying the last glimpses of the beautiful bulb fields surrounding us. Finally in Delft, we took the #61 bus to the Burgwal, and then walked back to the hotel. We took a little respite in our rooms, and then went off in search of dinner.

    We decided to walk towards the Burgwal and eventually ended up at Eetcafe ‘T Walletje (Burgwal 7), where B.J. had salmon and Phyllis and I had the Pasta Pici, and we all shared a carafe of wine (EUR 46.30). We had a delicious meal and relaxing time, and decided that, despite the carnival in Haarlem, and the droning in the Grote Kerk, and the ugly American family on the bus, it was the Keukenhof Gardens in all their glorious bloom, and the train ride through the countryside, which made today the most perfect day of our travels.

    After dinner we wandered along the canals and streets of Delft, soaking in the last moments of the evening, until we ended back at our hotel, just as the bells on the Nieuwe Kerk were tolling for the end of another day.

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    DAY 14, Fri, April 18, DELFT, den HAGUE, SCHEVENINGEN

    Our last full day on holiday, and it was another beautiful day, although it was bit cooler and windier. We had our traditional Dutch breakfast, and then decided to head off to De Delftse Pauw, one of two Delft pottery factories that you can tour, and then afterwards visit their gift shop. There are only two factories in town that provide a Certificate of Authenticity from the Delft Chamber of Commerce for each piece of Delftware that you purchase. We prefer De Delftse Pauw (over De Porceleyne Fles, Rotterdamsweg 196, EUR 3.00) because their tour is free and their prices also seem more affordable.

    On the way to the tram stop, around the corner from the hotel, we discovered a little toy store, so we decided to go in and explore. Much to my surprise, as soon as I walked through the doorway, into the store, I set off the alarm. Shocked!, I immediately exited the store and tried to enter again. Once more, the alarms started to ring!! So this time I took my backpack off, and tried going through the doorway for a third time, and still the alarm rang!!! Now I took my coat off, and tried once more, and still the alarm was ringing!!!! What the f#@k!! By now, everyone in the store had turned around, and was looking at this freaked out woman just trying to get through the doorway to do a little shopping. After much scrutiny by a bewildered sales assistant, we soon discovered that the Falkplan map of Delft, that I had purchased on a trip in 1998, stashed in the back pocket of my jeans, was setting off the alarm!!!! The sales assistant was nice enough to deactivate the security sensors in my map, and we set about shopping, picking up several gifts for a couple of kids.

    From there we headed on over to the Burgwal, where we picked up the 60/62 bus for Vrijenbanselaan (you can also take Tram #1). We missed our stop, and had to back-track on foot a bit, but eventually found Pauwhof and cut through the little housing development, which brought us right out at Delftweg (across from the water tower, which doubles as an apartment). A few buildings down the canal is De Delftse Pauw (Delftweg 133) We took the free tour, which takes you through the different stages of making Delftware; molding, firing, and my favorite, the painting process, where a room full of women gingerly applies the designs to the pottery. Our tour ended in the gift shop, where we did some shopping - ashtrays and vases for Christmas presents, a salt-n-pepper set and a thimble for me (to add to my collections).

    With our purchases carefully wrapped, we made our way back to the Vrijenbensalaan tram stop and took Tram #1 to the Binnenwatersloop stop. From there, we bobbed and weaved our way across town towards the hotel, stopping along the way to pick up more souvenirs to take home with us.

    We had been eyeing the many varieties of pastries every morning, at the Baakkerij, located just off the breakfast room at the hotel, and so we decided to finally give in to their house specialty, cherry in cheesecake and meringue. It was incredibly delicious.

    After stashing our morning purchases in our hotel room, we took a leisurely stroll through the Markt, stopping to finally take pictures of the Nieuwe Kerk and Stadhuis, then past the Oude Kerk with its wonderful lean, then finally to the tram stop, where we picked up Tram #1 towards den Haag (VVV - Koningin Julianaplein 30).

    Tram #1 is a wonderful alternative to train travel between den Haag and Delft, as it takes you through the neighborhoods, where you have more of a chance to see and meet some of the local folks. It’s about a 15-20 minute enjoyable ride.

    At the den Haag H.S. we transferred to tram #8, towards the Korte Langehout. We walked over to Palais Lange Voorhout #74, the location of the M.C. Escher Museum.(EUR 7.50 ea). I always found Escher’s work interesting, but only saw it on posters, calendars or T-shirts, so I was pleased to have a chance to see it in person...and I wasn’t disappointed. You can view his works pretty much in chronological order through a series of rooms on two floors. I particularly found interesting his work with printmaking. On the third floor, however, I was completely blown away by the virtual reality tour. Phyllis decided not to participate, so B.J. and I sat down in the chairs, put on the helmets and hand pieces, and went for the most fantastic ride through some of Escher’s more famous pieces. It took a while to figure out the controls, but I had it mastered in a few minutes and soon discovered that the tour was actually a game that you were playing with the other people seated around you. As it turned out, I won the game for that session!

    After spending money in the gift shop we were off to the Panorama Mesdag (Zeestraat #65, EUR 4.00 ea), by way of the tram. What I found interesting is that the Panorama Mesdag is one of only eight remaining panoramas in the world (can’t remember where I read that). At one time, before motion pictures, panoramas were a big form of entertainment. I find it sad that only a handful of this art form still remain. There was quite the crowd (a bus tour must have just arrived), and we walked around the circular room, waiting for the narration to begin in English (it was just finishing when we arrived in the room, so we knew that English was part of the tour). The Panorama of the coastline of Scheveningen was pretty neat to see, when we could finagle a spot in front of the Plexiglas divider. After 10 minutes of viewing, we got tired of the crowds and waiting for the English narration, so we decided to leave.

    We found the tram stop and took the #8 to Scheveningen and walked to Bosschestraat 63, where we stopped at the Blue and White, a coffeeshop/cafe. We first found this place in 1998, and at that time they offered a larger menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc., but since then it really scaled back. We ordered tostis, which turned out to be grilled sandwiches, and watched as the after work crowd came in, purchased their evening stash, and left.

    After eating, we headed off to the North Sea. The beach, the promenade, the mall and the whole town were just swarming with people. The sun was shining bright and the temperatures were in the 70’s F, and everyone had the same idea - to head to the sea. We had no intentions of swimming; we just wanted to see it and perhaps stick our toe in the water. Instead, we strolled the promenade while people watching, walked down and around the Kurhaus, then found the tram stop across the street and took Tram #1 all the way back to Delft, to the Binnenwatersloop. It took about 40 minutes, and was quite a pleasant ride.

    At one of the neighborhood stops, B.J. and I got excited when a young teenager got on the tram with his wirehaired dachshund, and sat down next to us. Our little wirehaired doxy, IGY Pup, was at home, at “summer camp”, and we sure did miss him. We were happy to be able to give a couple of scratches behind the ears, and get a couple of kisses from this substitute pup, before his owner exited the tram with him at the next stop.

    We took a little respite at the hotel, and then B.J. and I decided to go out for a bike ride, while Phyllis took a nap. The hotel offers free bike rentals to hotel guests, and we had never rode bikes in the Netherlands before, and after our experience, we probably never will again! I thought B.J. was going to end up seriously injured - he just wasn’t getting the ebb and flow of the heavier bike traffic. We finally found some out-of-the-way back streets, away from the center of town, and spent about 30 minutes riding around, before our behinds couldn’t take the uncomfortable seats anymore.

    After resting a bit, the three of us went out in quest of our final dinner on our travels. We actually did real well, and found a little restaurant just around the corner from the hotel, The Happy Corner. We walked in and found ourselves the only guests in the restaurant. The waiter took our order - B.J. ordered the mussels, Phyllis and I had Weinerschnitzel, and we shared a bottle of white wine from France. After serving us our wine and bread, the waiter disappeared into the little kitchen, which was separated from the dining room by a half wall, and quickly became our chef. He banged around dishes for about 20 minutes and emerged with some of the most delicious food, including stuffed mushrooms, salad, friets, some other fried potato and cheese delicacy, as well as our entrees. I kicked myself for not ordering the mussels - the little nibble that B.J. allowed me was a delight to my taste buds. It was an excellent meal, with excellent service. It was as if we were guests in this man’s home for the evening, and he was cooking just for us. A family of four arrived just as we were finishing our dining experience, and we all thought that they were in for a wonderful treat. We were very happy when we left The Happy Corner. Until we got back to the hotel and reality set in. We had to pack for our flight home tomorrow.

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    DAY 15, Sat, April 19, DELFT, TRAVEL

    We slept in this morning, just lying in bed listening to the chiming bells of the Nieuwe Kerk. We had our last Dutch breakfast, and then back to our rooms to finish packing and check out. We left our bags at the hotel while we wondered around the canals of Delft for the last time, checking out several of the little shops and markets that we stumbled upon, and trying to absorb the last fleeting moments of our holiday. But alas, the time had come for us to go.

    We retrieved our bags at the hotel, took the #60 bus from Burgwal to Centraal Station, where we caught the train to Leiden, then transferred to Schiphol. We arrived three hours early, so we had a little snack from the delicatessen and finally drank a bottle of wine that we had been schlepping with us since Maastricht, and reflected on the wonderful, if not tiring trip we just had.

    We caught the puddle jumper to Heathrow (lousy sandwiches on the British Airways flight) and soon learned that they had bumped us to another flight that was leaving an hour later for JFK in New York. Oh well, that gave us lots of time to look for the spy in the airport.

    The flight to New York was uneventful (dinner sucked, imagine that), but when we arrived at JFK there was a definite lack of buses taking travelers to the long term parking lot. There were several buses for employees only, with just 3-4 riders on them, but none for the crowd of tired tourists. It was near riot proportions when a bus finally arrived.

    Safely at our car and luggage all packed in, we began the 3 1/2 hour ride home, Phyllis at the wheel. We were exhausted, but filled with memories to last a lifetime.

    Robyn :)>-

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    yk - That's a shame that you got sick on the virtual tour, because it was so cool. Phyllis chose not to take the tour because she was concerned how it would affect her physically. That was probably a good thing.

    By the way, thanks for hanging in with me to the end of my report. I work full time, and sometimes it's hard to find the time for my travel hobby, so thanks for being patient.

    Have a great day!

    Robyn :)>-

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    anumerix - I'm always glad to hear that someone has read one of my trip reports, and learned something useful. Have a wonderful time on your journey, and if you have any questions, just ask. I check in to Fodors on a (mostly) daily basis.

    Robyn :)>-

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