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Trip Report yk's solo trip report: Museum-hopping in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and so much more! 5/19-5/27/05

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Hi everyone-

I just returned from an 8-day solo trip to London, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Delft, Den Haag, and Rotterdam. It was an excellent trip! I would like to thank all of you who have directly or indirectly assisted me in planning my trip, but in particular, I would like to thank Robyn (artstuff), Myriam, Tulips, and 111op.

Some of you may recall that I recently went on a trip to Paris & London in end of Feb with my boyfriend (BF). Unfortunately he couldn't take time off, so I went by myself (plus he was slowing me down anyway - just kidding)!

Inspiration for the trip
This trip was planned on short notice - just 4 weeks before I left. I wanted to go back to London to visit Courtauld, which I ran out of time in my last trip. I also wanted to revisit Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. My last visit to Amsterdam and Brussels was in 1994 (also went to Bruges & Ghent that time), but I really don't remember much from that trip. Instead of going back to Bruges & Ghent, I decided to visit some place new - Antwerp, Delft, Den Haag, and Rotterdam.

This is a very much art-driven trip. I got interested in the Dutch Golden Age (Vermeer in particular), but also interested in the Old Masters, Flemish Primitives, as well as the "newer" artists like Magritte and Mondrian.

Preparation
Before the trip, I tried to read up on these artists as much as possible. I bought a few books and borrowed some more from the library. Before I left, I had read about Vermeer, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Bruegel the Elder, Magritte, and Escher.

I also checked on the web for special exhibitions and concerts and booked tickets for the ones I was interested in.

Warning
Before I continue on to the trip itself, I have to warn you: this was an extremely hectic trip. For those of you who felt my previous trip was too rushed, this was even worse. One of my friends who saw my trip itinerary (I posted it on my blog) described my trip as a "military campaign." I had so much packed into my itinerary that I had my daily activities planned down to the hour. Well, this is the way I want it to be (at least this time).

Read at your own risk!


May 19, Day 0
Uneventful flight

I flew AA from DFW - LGW. I picked the 777 flight which has more room through coach (MRTC) and individual seatback screen. I slept on and off for a total of 5 hours on this 9-hour flight. We arrived in London at 8:17am, 17 minutes late. It was raining in London.

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    May 20, Day 1
    London - Westminster Abbey and Queen's Gallery

    There was a long line at immigration at LGW. I got on the 9:30a Gatwick Express train to Victoria. I bought both a GE ticket as well as a Day-travel card.

    I had booked the Jolly Hotel St. Ermin's (at St James's Park) via Priceline. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention when I bid, so I overbid by at least $10/night. I got off the GE at Victoria, and changed for the tube for 1 stop to St James's Park. The hotel is a 2-minute walk from the tube station.

    I arrived at the hotel around 10:30a. Check-in was uneventful and the room was ready (thank goodness)! I decided to take a 1-hour nap to energize myself as I had a long day ahead.

    First stop was Westminster Abbey (admission: £8). My last visit to the Abbey was in Nov 2000. My memory is rather poor, as I don't remember what I saw inside.

    The Abbey is a 5-minute walk from the hotel. As soon as I entered, I was struck by its beautiful gothic architecture, especially the vaulted fan ceiling inside Henry VII's chapel. Also prominent are numerous statues, momuments and memorials for the famous dead. The Chapter House was open that day, which I have never been before. It is an octagonal building supported by a single pillar down the middle. The walls still have some frescos from the 13th century.

    An hour later, I emerged from the Abbey and found it sunny outside! I walked towards the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. I chose to walk through St. James's Park, my favorite park in London.

    I have never been to the Queen's Gallery before. The reason I wanted to visit was because of it's current exhibition: Enchanting the Eye: Dutch Paintings of the Golden Age which features one of Vermeer's painting.

    I had pre-booked a ticket for the 2pm entrance and I got there just on time (admission: £7.50). An audioguide is included in the admission fee. The exhibition is rather small - 3 small rooms, but features paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Gerrit Dou, de Hooch, Frans Hals, and of course, 1 painting by Vermeer - The Music Lesson. It normally hangs at Windsor Castle.

    Apart from the exhibition, there are 2 other rooms that house the "permanent collection." There is a great variety within the permanent collection: from a Duccio Triptych to the Guilded Silver table service for the Coronation for George III, to a collection of works by Faberge. There are diamonds on view, of course. The Diamond Diadem - the crown worn by the Queen on stamps, and 2 Cullinan diamonds (weighing 94.4 & 63.6 carats respectively).

    I was there for about 1 hour, then went back to the hotel. After a brief rest, I ventured out again to my favorite afternoon tea place, Patisserie Valerie.

    I stayed with cake this time (last time I ordered the cream tea set with scones, which wasn't good) and a pot of earl grey. I left Valerie with a few more pieces of pastries to go. I was going to Sevenoaks that night to visit my friends again, and I wanted to bring them some dessert.

    I had a great time with them, and finally got back to London to the hotel at 12 MN.

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    May 21, Day 2
    London, Part I - Courtauld Institute and Backstage tour of Royal Operal House

    Despite having a long day the day before, I got off an early start and arrived at Courtauld Institute (admission: £5) just before 10am. It had just started raining when I arrived. BF & I missed the Courtauld last time as we ran out of time in London. I wanted to go because of its Impressionists collection.

    There were about 3 visitors when it opened at 10am. The Courtauld turned out to be a huge surprise - apart from its Impressionist collection, I was amazed that it has so much more - from the Old Masters to post-Impressionist art.

    The Impressionist highlights are:
    - Manet's Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère
    - Renoir's La Loge
    - A good number of Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, Pissarro etc.

    It also has Van Gogh's self portrait - painted when he was in the asylum just after he had mutilated his R ear (the painting has his R ear bandaged, and a Japanese print to his L).

    The other highlights include:
    - 2 Bruegels (a complete surprise): Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, and Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery which is a grisaille painting.
    - Rubens's oil sketch of the Altar piece Descent from the Cross - which I planned on seeing in the Antwerp Cathedral a few days later.
    - Lucas Cranach's Adam and Eve
    - Bellini's The Assassination of St Peter Martyr. According to the catalog, there is a very similar piece by Bellini at the National Gallery. Unfortunately, I didn't know about this and didn't know to look for it when I went to the NG later.

    On the top floor of the Courtauld hangs more "modern" work - by Kandinsky, Kokoschka etc.

    Apart from picking up the catalog from the bookstore, I spotted a rather funny book titled, "The Cats Gallery of Western Art." Inside are 32 well-known paintings in which the humans are replaced by felines. I could not stop cracking up flipping through the pages. Of course I had to buy it. Here's a link to the book in case you're curious:
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0500283494/102-4901198-7450564?v=glance

    I left the Courtauld at around 11:30a (it was getting crowded by the time I left), and hurried on to Covent Garden for the 12 noon Backstage Tour (£8). I had bought my ticket online at home.

    I have attended operas many times at Covent Garden when I lived in London for a year in 1992-3, but I had only gone once since the renovations. I couldn't fit in an opera in my tight schedule, so I thought the backstage tour would be the next best thing.

    The tour turned out to be a big letdown. Instead of 90-min as it was advertised, it was only 75 minutes. During its renovation, the Opera House installed the latest technology for its backstage, and our guide kept spitting out numbers nonstop to impress us. However, the actual "backstage" we could see was quite limited. It wasn't worth it (both time and price-wise).

    After the tour, I walked towards chinatown in search for lunch. On the way, I spared a few minutes to stop in agnès b and Joseph. Unfortunately, the prices are so high that I didn't even bother to try on anything.

    I returned to Malaysia Kopi-Tiam (9 Wardour Street) which BF & I went last time. I ordered a Hainanese Chicken with rice, and an iced lemon-honey drink. The total was about £8.

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    May 21, Day 2
    London, Part II - Meeting 111op and National Gallery


    As fellow fodorite 111op was going to be in London (a stopover for his Scandinavian trip) the same day as I was, we decided to meet up. He had bought tickets for the Caravaggio exhibit at NG for 3pm. We arranged to meet at NG at 2:30pm. We decided to meet in front of a painting instead of at the entrance, and we picked the Bellini Doge. 111op joked that we may get a flash mob showing up at the Doge, as both of us had posted our itinerary on our respective blogs.

    2:30pm - no flash mob, no one at all.
    2:35pm - still no flash mob, and still no one.
    2:40pm - finally, a huffing and puffing 111op showed up. His flight was delayed that morning and he was running behind schedule.

    There were a few more complications with our meeting, but I won't go into it here (are you reading this, 111op? :) )

    We parted at 3pm when he and his mom went in for the Caravaggio exhibit, but we would meet up again later in the evening.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing in the NG. Last time, BF & I were in a big rush, and we barely managed to hit most of the "highlight" paintings. This time I concentrated my time on the Flemish and Dutch paintings.

    I checked out Dirk Bouts, Bosch, de Hooch, Avercamp, the 2 Vermeers, and the Rembrandts. NG has 1 Bruegel, Adoration of the Kings. I also went to the Impressionist section again, as last time I was in such a rush I missed a few paintings.

    Missed paintings due to "on loan": Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, Van Gogh's Van Gogh's Chair, Velázquez's Rokeby Venus.

    BTW, I got so exhausted in the NG that I sat down in one of the sofas and did a 15-min power nap.

    As I was getting ready to leave, I saw a sign for the "Westminster Retable" exhibit. I actually knew about it before the trip when surfing on NG's website, and I had put it on my itinerary. But somehow I had completely forgotten about it, so I was glad I saw the sign.

    Anyway, the Westminster Retable is from the late 13th century and thought to be the oldest altarpiece in England. Unfortunately, it was badly damanged throughout the years, so despite restorations, it is still in pretty bad shape.

    Mission accomplished. By then it was a little after 5pm, time to go.

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    May 21, Day 2
    London, Part III - An Evening at Royal Festival Hall


    As I left the NG, it was actually sunny out. I decided to walk across the Thames on the new (2003) Golden Jubilee Bridge to Royal Festival Hall (RFH). I took the "eastern" bridge. Halfway across, I looked eastward and saw the "Gerkin" building.

    The 2005 World Press Photo Exhibition is held in the foyer at RFH. The photos are journalistic photos, so as expected, most are sad, traumatic images such as the Belsan school seige, the aftermath of the tsunami etc. The expressions that the photos captured - horror, angst, sorrow, shock - no further explanations were necessary. Unfortunately it was rather crowded (it was free) and I could only see about 2/3 of it before it was time for dinner.
    If you're interested in the photos, here a link:
    http://www.worldpressphoto.nl/index.php?option=com_photogallery&task=blogsection&id=7&Itemid=87&bandwidth=low

    I made reservations for dinner at 6pm The People's Palace on the 3rd floor of RFH. It is operated by the Capital Group, which also owns the Capital Hotel & Restaurant. When I looked on the restaurant's website, the photos look really nice. Well, here is an example of photos being deceptive. The place looks nothing like the photos. Also, one cannot really see the Thames because it is blocked by the trees on the esplanade.

    I wasn't too hungry, so I ordered a soup (tomato, cumin & fennel), a mixed salad and dessert (berry and mascarpone creme brulee). The food was ok, not great. The total bill came out to £21.

    At 7:10pm, I met up with 111op and his mom again. We had tickets to see Paolo Conte in concert. Even though Paolo Conte has been famous for a long time, I didn't know much about him until I found out about his concert at RFH. I bought a CD of his and realized he sings the famous "Via con me." The concert was great. 111op and his mom had to leave a little early to make it to their 10pm dinner reservations. I stayed until the end of the concert and the 3 encores he gave. The concert ended at 9:45pm. It was still light out (unbelievable!). I walked back across the Golden Jubilee Bridge (the "western" one) before hopping on the tube back to the hotel.

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    May 22, Day 3
    Part I - First Class Eurostar to Brussels, and a reminiscence


    I got up at 6am in order to get to Waterloo on time for the 8:34a Eurostar to Brussels. I opted to take the tube there instead of a cab. It was quite easy.

    As I bought my Eurostar ticket rather late, there were no discounts available. I could either buy a $150 2nd-class ticket, or a $170 1st-class ticket. Well, I decided to go First Class. This was the first time I've taken 1st class, well, it didn't seem like it was that much more luxurious than 2nd class except a little more spacious. First class comes with complimentary breakfast, served by very attentive staff.

    It was a rather big breakfast: juice, tea/coffee, yogurt, bread, and a choice of smoked salmon or omelette + sausage. Before long, we arrived at the Chunnel and I could not help but reminisce the past.

    Back in 1994 when I went to Brussels and Amsterdam, I took the overnight coach from London Victoria to Paris and back from Amsterdam to London. It was such a pain - getting on and off the bus at Dover and Calais, and not getting any sleep at all. It was also a backpacking, youth hostel trip as I was a student then. Now I'm sitting in Eurostar 1st class eating breakfast. Wow, time does fly.

    We arrived at Brussels-Midi on time at 12:08pm.

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    May 22, Day 3
    Brussels, Part II - 3 museums in 4 hours


    I had to move fast. I had allocated 1 day in Brussels and I wanted to visit 3 museums. Unfortunately, the following day, May 23, is a Monday and all museums are closed. That means I had to see all 3 museums before they close at 5pm today.

    The Eurostar arrived a Midi station, and thanks to fellow fodorites' advice, I took a train (instead of tram or metro) to Central Station. The trip was 3 minutes and the Eurostar ticket was good for it (the ticket actually allows one to go to any Belgian station.)

    I found my hotel, Le Dixseptième, without much difficulty. I checked in and dropped off my luggage and rushed back out.

    BTW, I usually don't stay at such luxury hotels, but I found an excellent deal which was too good to pass. See more details on this other thread:
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34608458

    I will also post my hotel reviews (London, Brussels, Amsterdam) at the end of the trip report.

    First of all, I had to find an ATM. There are NO ATMs at the train station! I ended up wasting precious 15 minutes looking for an ATM for some €.

    Museum #1: The Museum of Ancient Art of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts (admission: €5 - includes the Museum of Modern Art)

    I arrived at 1:15pm, got the audioguide (€2,50) and hit the galleries. The main attraction (for me) is the Bruegels. The highlights include:
    - Rogier van der Weyden's Lamentation and Portrait of Anthony of Burgundy - the illegitimate son of Philip othe Good
    - Dirk Bouts's huge panels of Justice of Emperor Otto - with blood splurting out from the severed neck
    - Bosch's copy of Temptation of St Anthony triptych. The actual one is in Lisbon
    - Lucas Cranach's Adam and Eve - similar to the one I saw at Courtauld, but this one you can see the teeth mark on the apple left by Eve
    - Bruegel room: it has 4 works by Bruegel, Fall of the Rebel Angels, Census at Bethlehem, The Fall of Icarus, and Adoration of the Kings (tempera on canvas). The Adoration is a different composition than the one at the NG, and as it is on canvas, the color has faded dramatically. Of all the Bruegels, I was most impressed by the Rebel Angels. I have seen reproductions, but the actual painting boasts vivid colors, and it has the most Bosch's influence among the works shown. The Fall of Icarus is famous with its poem by WH Auden. There are actually 2 copies of Census of Bethlehem in the room - one by Bruegel, and one by his son. Bruegel's 2 sons are known for copying their father's work, so it was interesting to see the 2 Bethlehems together (unfortunately they hung them at separate walls, I would have much preferred them being hung side by side).
    - Rubens room (seems like there is a Rubens room in every museum. From what I've read, Rubens produced some 2500 paintings in his lifetime, so it's not surprising that one sees his work everywhere). I'm not crazy about Rubens, but his Martyrdom of St Lieven is shocking - with the pale face of St Lieven after his tongue had been ripped out, and the tongue being fed to the dogs. I shuddered.

    Museum #2: The Museum of Modern Art of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts

    The Modern part is connected to the Ancient part via underground. However, it's 19th century section currently has a special exhibition, but it will remain closed for renovations until 2006. Fortunately, it moved some of the 19th-c works to the 20th-c section.

    The first painting I came across was David's Death of Marat. Obviously this was a somber subject, but I couldn't help giggling as the "Cats Gallery" book I bought the day before has a reproduction of Death of Marat with a cat in the tub instead. Moving on, I zipped through paintings by Picasso, Dali, CoBrA artists and finally arrived at the Magritte section.

    Magritte is such an enigma and I find his paintings fascinating. Before long, it was 3:15p and time to go.

    Museum #3: Musical Instrument Museum (admission €5 - includes an infrared headphone)

    The highlight of the museum is the actual building itself. I remember the building from my last visit in 1994, but it wasn't the MIM at that time. The museum itself I found a bit disappointing/over-rated. Maybe I just had too high of an expectation. To add annoyance to the visit, there was a "concert" during my visit by Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor - 2 Australians who play music on wire fences with violin bows. To me, it sounded more like noise than music. To read more about these 2 musicians, here's the link:
    http://www.mim.fgov.be/expositions_uk.asp

    I also took the elevator to the top floor where the cafe is. 111op had told me to go up there to check the view. I didn't eat there, but took in the panorama.

    I left MIM and returned to the book store of the Royal Museums in search of a catalog. The bookstore stays open until 6pm (whereas the museums close at 5). Unfortunately, they had sold out the English version of the catalog. After much deliberation, I picked up the Dutch version.

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    May 22, Day 3
    Brussels, Part III - Chocolates, Belga Queen, Jazz Marathon


    It was still sunny and warm out, so I walked towards Grand Sablon. Lots of people were hanging out at the various sidewalk cafes, with Wittamer being the most crowded.

    I went inside the Wittamer chocolate store and bought 8 pieces (just less than € 0,50 each). I then went across the street at got more chocolates at Pierre Marcolini. I bought a box of 30 chocolates, and again, came out to less than € 0,50 per piece. This is much cheaper than what I had paid in Paris. I also spotted a Dandoy store, so I popped in and picked up a small box of Earl Grey flavored cookies. Shopping done, I went back to the hotel exhausted.

    I took a 1 hour nap, then freshened up and headed out for dinner. I had dinner reservations at Belga Queen for 7:30pm. It was a former bank and has a beautiful vaulted stained-glass ceiling.

    I am not an alcohol drinker, but how can one be in Belgium and not have a beer? I asked the waiter to recommend a light-weight beer, and he recommended the Steendonk Blanche. For the meal, I had:
    Appetizer: Salmon marinated with Rodenbach (Belgian beer) and herbs
    Main dish: Braised cod on mashed potatoes, white celeriac chips, deep-fried herbs on an alambic (Belgian beer) sauce
    Dessert: champagne-flavored cake (they had gaufres aux Bruxelles on the menu, but wasn't available that night)

    The food was quite good, though not a WOW. The dinner came out to € 50.

    My visit wasn't complete without a trip to the bathroom. It is a unisex bathroom with transparent doors. The door turns opaque only when one locks it. I was a bit tipsy from the beer, but still remembered to lock the door. :)

    After dinner, I strolled back to Grand Place to catch the last act of the Brussels Jazz Marathon (May 20-22). It was very crowded as it was a beautiful evening. I walked around Grand Place for a bit and finally retired to the hotel around 10pm.

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    May 23, Day 4
    Part I - A Morning Stroll in Brussels


    As I have mentioned before, today is Monday, so all museums are closed. I checked out of the hotel - unfortunately, my discounted rate did not include free breakfast. I left my luggage with the concierge and headed out.

    I first went back to Grand Place to check out the guildhouses. Moving on, I headed to Mannekin Pis. It is smaller than I remembered from my last visit, and it is quite an ugly thing. Next, I went to Notre Dame de la Chapelle where Bruegel was buried. Unfortunately the church doesn't open until 12:30pm. The surrounding streets (rue Haute and rue Blaes) are collectively known as Quartier Bruegel, so I strolled along the streets to check it out. It turns out to be mainly home furniture, home design stores, which is a nice change from the touristy Grand Place shops selling miniature Mannekin Pis.

    On the way back towards Grand Place, I happened to pass by a section of old city wall dating back to the 12th-c. By the time I got back to Grand Place, the shops were open, so I bought more chocolates - at Galler and then at La Maison du Chocolat Artisanal. I had previously planned on buying chocolates from Mary and Manon also, but I decided against it as I had already bought way too much chocolates.

    I had hoped to have mussels for lunch at Chez Leon. It was only 11am and Chez Leon doesn't open for lunch until 12 noon. I didn't feel like hanging around Brussels for another hour, so I decided to skip it and move on.

    Before I reached the hotel to retrieve my luggage, I passed by a cafe that advertises gaufres (waffles). Tempted, I sat down and ordered the gaufres de Bruxelles (with strawberries). It was light and crispy, delicious! It wasn't until I finished the waffles when I realized the cafe is called "Gaufres de Bruxelles!"

    I picked up my luggage and caught the 11:57am train to Antwerp. This concluded my 23 hour and 49 minutes stay in Brussels.

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    May 23, Day 4
    Part II - 7 hours in Antwerp; dining at Flamant and Horta


    The train ride took about 50 minutes. I arrived at Antwerp station and stored my luggage in a locker (3 sizes available). There is a Tourist Info (TI) inside the station, so I picked up some free brochures. The Antwerp train station is a beautiful building, in stark contrast to the ugly (IMO) Brussels Central station (more about that later).

    My first stop was the Bibliotheek Permeke (26 De Coninckplein) - which I had read about in a magazine the night before. The building used to be a Ford garage owned by the painter Oscar Permeke. It was recently remodeled to become a library in the style of a green glass cube.

    I was starting to get hungry, where to go for lunch? I suddenly remembered a thread on Fodors about Flamant. I couldn't remember where Flamant was, except that it was near Verso. I headed towards Lange Gasthuisstraat and voilà! Flamant is right across the street from Verso.

    For those of you who don't know, Flamant is a home interior store which has a restaurant inside. The restaurant is actually located upstairs. I was greeted by a very friendly and good-looking host. He apologized that the menu is only in French and Dutch, but he would be happy to translate the entire menu into English for me. :) I told him that would not be necessary, but I'd ask him questions if I need to. I ordered a Thai Crab wrap.

    The restaurant decor is minimalistic, but with a warm brown tone with lots of wood. The lunch crowd there consisted of the rich and the fashionable (of which I am neither). The host was curious to know how I found out about the restaurant, as it had just opened in Dec 2004. I couldn't really go into the details of the world of Fodors... so I told him that someone had recommended it.

    There was nothing Thai about the Thai Crab wrap, except for 1 sprig of cilantro. Instead of a rice wrapper, it was wrapped in tortilla. Instead of a fish sauce, it was a mayonnaise-based sauce. However, it was still delicious. The lunch came out to just under € 20 (I had water and coffee).

    After lunch, I went downstairs to check out the store. It has nice stuff but nothing spectacular. I crossed the street to Verso - I wasn't impressed at all. Granted, I normally don't buy or wear the clothes they sell anyway.

    I headed to Grote Markt to check out the Antwerp Cathedral. En route I passed by Louis (mentioned in my guidebook) and again I was unimpressed. The fountain in Grote Markt features a sculpture of Brabo (a Roman soldier who freed Antwerp) throwing a severed hand.

    The Antwerp cathedral is famous for the Rubens paintings inside, specifically the Descent from the Cross. Afterwards, I went to St. Jacobs church where Rubens and his family were buried.

    Having seen enough churches for the day, I headed towards Leopoldstraat in search of the botanical garden which Myriam had recommended. Even though not too many flowers were in bloom, it was a nice oasis. I also checked out Bourla Theater (went upstairs to check the 1/2 dome ceiling), Rubenshuis (closed that day), and passed by Museum Mayer van den Bergh (also closed - and Bruegel's famous Mad Meg is inside).

    I went to look for Walter (St.Antoniusstraat 12) - the store of Walter Van Beirendonck, one of the Antwerp Six. It looks more like a garage/gallery than a store, and I decided to pass on.

    I also dutifully checked out Het Modepaleis - Dries Van Noten's boutique. I was curious to see where the clothes were made. It turns out that some were made in Belgium, some in Slovenia, some in Romania. Regardless, everything was way too pricey for me, so I left empty-handed.

    It was almost 6pm by then, so I walked towards Grand Cafe Horta for dinner. The iron framework of Horta's Maison du Peuple (demolished in the 1960s) was used to decorate the restaurant. The interior is very airy and bright. BTW, I didn't realize until then that Horta also designed the Brussels Central station (which I thought was ugly).

    The restaurant was practically empty as it was early for dinner, and I debated whether I had time for appetizer + entree or just entree. I planned on catching the 7:23pm train to Amsterdam. Of course I made the wrong decision - I opted for appetizer + entree. I assumed the restaurant being empty, it shouldn't take long for the kitchen to cook the food. I ordered a mustard soup with salmon and dill to start, followed by boiled white asparagus (in season!) with boiled egg and potatoes in butter. Unfortunately, it took the food forever to come, and I had to wolf it down. The food was a lot better than I had expected. Dinner came out to € 27,50. I ran out of the restaurant at 7:05pm.

    I kept running and running and actually got to the station a little ahead of time. I caught the next train to Antwerp-Berchem and changed for the train to Amsterdam (all trains to Amsterdam leave from Berchem station).

    The train arrived in Amsterdam 2hr 15 mins later, on time. I bought a 15-Strippenkaart from an automatic machine and boarded Tram #5 to the hotel - Hotel Washington near Museumplein.

    I arrived at the hotel around 10:30pm.

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    May 24, Day 5
    Amsterdam, Part I - Rijksmuseum


    After an early breakfast at the hotel (included in room rate), I walked to Rijksmuseum. I arrvied at 8:50am and was among the few who were waiting for it to open at 9am. As most of you know, Rijks is undergoing renovations and the main museum is closed until 2008, but it moved its "masterpieces" to the Philips Wing.

    9am, doors opened. I bought the Netherlands Museum Card (€ 29,95) at the entrance. (This is the best deal, IMO. More about it later.) The regular admission price is € 9. I rented an audioguide and bought the museum guidebook also, as it is cheaper to get both together at the entrance (€ 7,50 for both, instead of € 9 if purchased separately).

    I had expected the Philips Wing to be filled with paintings, so I was quite surprised to find the first many rooms focus on the Dutch sea power in the 17th-c. Obviously this makes sense, as if it weren't for its sea power, the Dutch wouldn't have been so rich and powerful and it wouldn't have its "Golden Age." Other surprises include a room displaying delicate Delftware, including a porcelain violin, and an extravagant dollhouse complete with paintings, procelain, silverware, weaved baskets etc, all made in 1:9 ratio. Apparently the dollhouse cost roughly the same amount for an actual canal house back then.

    The majority of the paintings are housed upstairs. The highlights include:
    - Avercamps's Winter Landscape with ice skaters - this is one of the larger-sized paintings of Avercamp (who, BTW, was a deaf-mute). It features a birdtrap in the left foreground, which likely he had borrowed the idea from Bruegel's Winter Landscape with Bird Trap (which supposedly is in the Brussels museum but I didn't see it). The painting also shows someone's buttocks, as well as a couple making love in the haystack (took me forever to spot that).
    - Saenredam's church paintings
    - Rembrandt's first self portrait at age 22. This is rather funny. I had seen this painting in 1994 and bought a poster of it. The poster has been hanging on the wall since. This is an example of how memories are fickle. When I saw the actual painting, I was shocked by how tiny the painting is (about 7.5"x9")!
    - Rembrandt's Jewish Bride. Apart from it being a tender-loving scene, the painting is known for Rembrandt's use of thick paint to accentuate the clothings. Apparently when Van Gogh saw this painting, he said, "I would give ten years of my life to sit in front of this painting for another fortnight, with nothing but a dry crust of bread to eat."
    - Rembrandt's Syndics of the Amsterdam drapers' guild
    - 3 Vermeers. Rijksmuseum owns 4, but only 3 are on view: Milkmaid, Little Street, Woman reading a letter. The Milkmaid is by far the best of the 3. Vermeer put in meticulous detail into the painting: holes in the wall, shadow of the nail in the wall, broken window pane, the crusty bread etc. It is such a delicate piece that I could almost hear the milk being poured.
    - Jan Steen and de Hooch
    - Lastly, Rembrandt's Night Watch. It is so nice to see the actual painting and be able to fully appreciate the contrast between light and dark. I also got a good look at the little girl (what is she doing there?) with the chicken tied to her waist. There is also the half-hidden face in the back, which supposedly was Rembrandt himself, peeking over a soldier's shoulder.

    By the time I was done, at arond 11:30am, the museum had gotten quite crowded.

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    Great report. You are one active person, for sure!
    Sorry you had to run for your train in Antwerp. I should have told you there is a metro that would have brought you there in, say, 3 minutes ...

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    May 24, Day 5
    Amsterdam, Part II - Anne Frank House, churches


    Before I continue, I forgot to mention a painting I missed at Rijksmuseum. It is Rembrandt's Self-Portrait as the apostle Paul. I asked the guard, who told me that it was on loan.

    When I left Rijksmuseum, it was raining. I caught the tram to Westerkerk (opens 11a-3p only) to pay my respect to Rembrandt. He was buried at Westerkerk in an unknown grave. But before I went in, I checked Anne Frank House next door. The line wasn't bad, so I went there first.

    I waited for 5 minutes before I got in. It was a very moving experience, even for someone like me who had never read her Diary (don't flame me!). The Westerkerk next door plays its carillon daily from 12n-1p. I could hear it loud and clear inside Anne Frank House. The visit lasted for just under 1 hour, and I went next door inside Westerkerk.

    Even though there is no actual tomb of Rembrandt, there is a wall plaque inside the church. The plaque was modeled after the plaque painted by Rembrandt in the Night Watch. To my surprise, the organ inside the church was playing. From the sound of it, the organist was practising. Nonetheless it was still a delight.

    By the time I left, the rain had stopped. I walked towards Nieuwe Kerk (admission: € 3, free with Netherlands Museum Card (NMC)) which is where the Dutch monarchs are crowned. I saw a pamphlet at the entrance - there will be an organ concert from 12:30p-1p on May 26. I made a mental note of it, hoping that somehow I can squeeze it into my tight schedule.

    Next I walked to Oude Kerk (admission: € 6, free with NMC). This is where Saskia, Rembrandt's wife, was buried. It also is hosting the 2005 World Press Photo Exhibit, which I had seen in London's RFH. Since this exhibit requires paid admission, there were far fewer people. I got to check out the photos which I had missed in London.

    By the time I was done, it was way past lunch time. I opted for some fries with mayonnaise from a random stall on the Dam. By the time I finished, I had burnt the roof of my mouth with the hot oil, and clogged up all the arteries in my body.

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    Myriam - Well, I could have taken a cab also. But I figured I had enough time to make it. The waiters at Horta were a bit annoyed that I kept demanding the bill. I don't blame them. :)

    Thank you for suggesting the botanical garden. It was a nice little break for me from my hectic schedule. Also, without you mentioning it, I would NOT have gone upstairs of Bourla to check out the ceiling.

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    May 24, Day 5
    Amsterdam, Part III - An erotic afternoon at Foam and Van Gogh...


    Did this catch your eye? :)

    After having the artery-clogging fries for lunch, I took the tram to Foam Photography Museum (admission: € 6, free with NMC). Foam didn't make it onto my itinerary until the very last minute. I had read about a retrospective photo exhibit by the Ukranian Boris Mikhailov in the Wall Street Journal. I figured if it made it on the WSJ, it probably is worth checking out. BTW, I've never heard of Boris Mikhailov.

    Well, it wasn't my cup of tea. I simply just don't "get" it. All I saw was plenty of nudity pictures.

    Another exhibit on view is far more interesting to me: photos of Lodz Ghetto by Henryk Ross. Ross was an "official photographer" hired by the Ghetto council during WWII to take propaganda pictures, but he also took pictures of the atrocities and sufferings going on inside the ghetto.

    After Foam, I walked to the CD store Concerto (Utrechtsestraat 52). I didn't find what I was looking for, so I left empty-handed.

    I decided to walk to Van Gogh museum (admission € 10, free with NMC). It looked like a 15-min walk from the map, but in reality, it took 30 minutes. I arrived just before 3pm and the museum was still rather crowded.

    Audioguide was € 4,50. The majority of Van Gogh's paintings are on the 2nd floor, which is arranged chronologically. This provides a clear view of the progression of his painting style throughout the 4 main periods of his artist life. The major highlight paintings include:
    - The potato eaters
    - Still life with quinces and lemons (the only original painted frame by Van Gogh that remains)
    - Van Gogh's bedroom
    - Gauguin's chair
    - Sunflowers
    - Wheatfield with crows
    - one of his last paintings

    I was also happy to see Gauguin's Self portrait in which Gauguin titled it "Les Miserables" and depicted himself as Jean Valjean.

    Missed: Still life with Bible, The Yellow House

    When I was last at Van Gogh, the new wing did not exist. The new wing is reserved for exhibition, and the current exhibit is on Egon Schiele. I have absolutely no interest in it, but I do want to check out the new wing.

    The new wing was designed by Kisho Kurokawa and I thought it is quite different from the original buidling by Gerrit Rietveld (one of the De Stijl members). The 2 wings are connected by an underground tunnel. There is a nice "pool/waterfall" in between the 2 wings.

    The Egon Schiele exhibit is in some ways, a different kind of exhibition. Apart from showing his paintings and drawings, there is a partnership with a dance company which has scheduled live performances, as well as other "visual arts" performances. Now I understood what another poster, beanie0300, was talking about in his/her recent thread:
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34611156

    Egon Shiele is known for his erotic paintings with nudity abound. During my visit there was no dance performance scheduled. However, there was a live "performance" - if that's the correct word. On a platform, a man was wrapped in aluminum foil - his head, and from waist down. He was standing up, but kept banging his back against a wood plank, repeatedly. Next to him is a hanger with a black suit, and a pair of black boots on the floor. I don't know how long he has been banging before I arrived, but he was still banging when I left, about 30 minutes later. Doesn't that hurt?

    Apart from that, there are also video screenings of "movies" made by other artists who are inspired by Egon Schiele. One is titled, "Egon & Edith," a 30-min film showing all the word combinations using the letters in EGON/EDITH. Another one called "Removal" is a 30-min film showing closeup of a person (a woman, I think) using a pair of tweezers removing body hair. No, I didn't stand there and watch the entire film. :) At that point, all I wanted to do is laugh out loud! I left the exhibition and laughed my head off outside.

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    May 24, Day 5
    Amsterdam, Part IV - 2.5-hour dinner at Bordewijk


    After Van Gogh Museum, I walked down PC Hooftstraat and did some window-shopping before heading back to the hotel around 6pm and rested until 7pm. I changed into something nicer, and headed out to Bordewijk (Noordermarkt 7) for dinner.

    When I arrived, the restaurant was only half full, but it filled up completely by 9pm. As I looked around, about 1/2 of the diners were tourists. The decor is relatively plain and simple, which wasn't what I had expected. From the few photos I had seen, I thought it was nicer.

    The chef himself came out to pass out the menu, while describing his 5-course dinner special (He did this for every table). One can either order a la carte from the menu, or order 3, 4, or all 5 courses from the 5-course dinner. I ordered the 5-course dinner.

    Every diner was given a complimentary starter. It was marinated lamb liver. I don't think I've ever had lamb liver, but it tasted similar to foie gras.

    First course - Seared tuna, artichoke hearts and tapenade, served with a small green salad
    Second course - Grilled red mullet, squid and clams in a bouillabaisse sauce
    Third course (main dish) - Young lamb with greens, new potatoes and mushrooms
    Fourth course - cheese course - I picked 5 different cheese, including a bleu from Spain, a hard cheese from Holland, and a goat cheese flavored with truffles. Unfortunately, 3 out of the 5 cheeses were way too salty!
    Fifth course - Ice-cream profiteroles with strawberries

    Bordewijk receives great reviews from all the sources I read, and many desribed it as one of the "best" in Amsterdam. I don't think it is that good to be regarded as the best. My favorite was definitely the second course. The 5-course dinner was € 52 + drinks.

    I was thinking of exploring the Red Light district after dinner, as I hadn't had enough of sex and nudity earlier in the day. But by the time dinner was over, it was past 10:30pm and it had started raining again. I ended up going back to the hotel, as I have another long day tomorrow.

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    Dear yk:

    Fabulous report. If I had the money I would commission you to check out every gallery in Europe for me :)

    Personally, I think your itinerary was excellent and definitely one I would do myself in a heartbeat. Best not to do it with a significant other: I remember my first visit to Paris with DH (my third visit). On day three, he said “Ger, I just can’t take another *expletive* art gallery!” In fairness, he enjoys an art gallery as much as the next person, but he WAS hoping for some “down-time” where he could sit in a side-walk café drinking the excellent coffee and enjoying the ambience of Paris and did not expect been forced-marched through every art gallery and museum in Paris. He went back to the hotel for a well-earned nap and I managed to fit in four hours of paintings. When planning the last vacation in Provence he asked: “Just HOW many Roman ruins am I expected to visit?”

    I am very grateful for your review of the galleries. Please keep it coming. My thoughts: I am fascinated by Bruegel, recognize his genius, but I don’t like him: I find his works really disturbing and I am not sure I buy into his ethos. I adore Cranach and always visit him when I am in the Louvre. I am ashamed to admit that I have been in Amsterdam at least a dozen times and have never visited one museum, as I was always in a hurry to catch the first available train to Paris. Rubens is hilarious. He has some great works that establish him as a great master, but I find many of his paintings absolutely vile. I “discovered” Magritte, as a penniless student, in the Pompidou Centre, on my first visit to Paris. I was enthralled. I bought a poster, which meant I could not eat that day (my friends fed me their scraps). I still love his bizarre sense of humour and irony. Rembrandt: A wonderful sensitive artist and a complete genius; I can’t get enough of him.

    Thank you so much for this excellent review of the galleries. I look forward to more.

    Best regards Ger

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    Ger-

    Thank you for your kind remarks. I am by no means knowledgeable in art, and I am just trying to report what caught my eye in each museum, rather than really a "review." I think one has to have a certain depth of knowledge on a subject before being able to write a review.

    It is a very good point you brought up - if BF had come along, I most likely would not go to all the museums that I ended up going.

    Maybe this report will give you an excuse to visit Amsterdam, or you can wait until 2008 when Rijksmuseum reopens.

    I have yet to like Rubens. Maybe it's because of the excessive amount of paintings he had done that puts me off? Another one I have yet to like is Frans Hals.

    I'll try to finish the report by the weekend as I have to return to work Monday and will never have the time to do it then. I only have 2 more days to report, but still 4 more museums to come.

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    May 25, Day 6
    Part I - 2 hours in Delft


    I'm in a hurry again. I got up early and caught the 8:10am train to Delft. Breakfast at the hotel doesn't start until 8am, so I had to skip breakfast. The train ride to Delft took about 1 hour (2 direct trains/hour).

    There is no TI at Delft train station, but there is a computer TI kiosk right outside the station. I managed to get the computer to print out a map for me. In reality, one doesn't really need a map, as there are plenty of signs around.

    The station is a short walk from the Old Center (maybe 5-10 mins?). I found the actual TI which has 2 computers inside with free internet access. I got a free visitor's guide, but also spotted a "Vermeer guide" which retails for € 2,20. I bought the Vermeer guide, which in retrospect was not worth it. It lists the approximate locations of where Vermeer had lived, and a few other sights. It also lists the shooting locations of the movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring." Unfortunately, I hadn't seen the movie, so I didn't bother checking out the film locations. Given the limited time I had, I also skipped touring the porcelain factories. With a real map in hand, I set off for some sightseeing.

    Delft is a beautiful and tranquil town. I fell in love with it the moment I arrived. There were almost no tourists around, though I have to admit it was rather early when I got there. I headed to the Markt where the Nieuwe Kerk and the Stadhuis are located. It was so quiet there that I couldn't even find one person to take a picture of me!

    Nieuwe Kerk (€ 2,50; includes admission to Oude Kerk) houses the tomb and mausoleum of William of Orange. It is very elaborate, and has been a tourist sight ever since the death of William of Orange. At the bottom of his feet lies his dog, which died a few days after him.

    I strolled around, following the "Vermeer" guide. Visited a few addresses where he used to grow up & live. None of the houses survived from his days. I then went back to the Markt and checked out De Porceleyne Fles's store. The store has a photo of Bill & Hilary Clinton, who visited Delft back in 1997. I couldn't leave the store without buying some Delftware.

    I headed next to Oude Kerk and found both Vermeer's and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's tombs. Leeuwenhoek was a friend of Vermeer and the executor of his estate after Vermeer's death. He also invented the microscope, and was thought to be the person depicted in Vermeer's Astronomer and Geographer.

    Time flew by very quickly in Delft, and I was very sad when I had to leave 2 hours later. I'll have to return in the future and spend much more time there to truly absorb its ambience.

    With Robyn's (artstuff) advice, I opted to take Tram #1 to Den Haag instead of the regular train. There is a stop for Tram #1 just one block west of the Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsnhof (where William of Orange was assassinated). The tram route is very scenic, and took 25 minutes (and 4 strips on the strippenkaart) to reach Den Haag. I arrived in Den Haag at 11:50am.

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    May 25, Day 6
    Part II - 5 hours in Den Haag, 3 museums


    I got off Tram #1 in Den Haag at the stop right after the Centrum stop - just past the lake. It was lunch time, but what/where to eat? I vaguely remember 111op mentioned in a thread about some fried fish near Binnenhof. As soon as I got off the tram, I saw a guy in business suit passing me with a tray of fried fish in his hand! I stopped him in his tracks and demanded him to tell me where he got it. :) He pointed to a stall next to Binenhof, and I let him go. I ordered the fish at the stall and ate it on a bench facing the lake. For € 3, I got about 7-8 pieces of fried fish (I think it's herring). It was a rather filling portion, and I was convinced I had clogged up any remaining arteries that weren't clogged up the day before with the fries.

    I walked past Binenhof's courtyard and headed straight towards Mauritshuis. I arrived there at 12:15pm.

    Museum #1: Mauritshuis
    Mauritshuis is named after Johan Maurits, who was governor of Brazil for about 8 years. Interestingly, his grandfather was the brother of William of Orange. Anyway, the attraction of visiting Mauritshuis is obviously its Vermeers.

    Mauritshuis (admission € 7,50, free with NMC) owns 3 Vermeers, but currently, the "Vienna" Vermeer - The Art of Painting is on loan at Mauritshuis.

    I got the audioguide, which is only € 1!

    Currently there is an exhibit titled, "The Eye Deceived, Trompe-l'oeil paintings by Cornelius Gijsbrechts" on the first level. He was a 17th-c Flemish painter who painted for the Danish court in Copenhagen. He was known for painting scenes that appear 3-D. I found it quite entertaining.

    The floor above is where the permanent collection resides. The first room is the Vermeer room with 4 paintings hanging one on each wall. The painting that caught my eye immediately was View of Delft.

    I have seen numerous reproductions of the painting in various books before, but none of them did any justice to the actual painting. I find this painting truly exquisite: the light effect, the blue sky, the dark clouds, the shimmering of the water... Now I finally understand why Marcel Proust was so taken by this painting and called it "the most beautiful painting in the world." I wish I could turn the clock back to 1996 when 21 paintings of Vermeer were brought together on exhibit, so that I could attend.

    I found Girl with a pearl earring wonderful also. This work is known as a "tronie," meaning that it portrays a certain type of character rather than a portrait. It was interesting to read in the catalog that the true bright colors finally emerged after the painting was restored in 1994. They removed the darkened varnish so that the reflections on her lips and the pearl once show again. It is her glistening, slightly parted lips which I find so captivating.

    The other 2 paintings, The Art of Painting and Diana and her nymphs are far less exciting.

    Moving on, other highlights include:
    - Rogier van der Weyden's Lamentation - it looks like he had painted at least 3 different versions of Lamentation, one at London's NG, one at Brussels' Royal museum, and one here. I guess I saw all 3 on this trip!
    - Avercamp's On the ice - another one of his winter ice-skating paintings. This one he painted a woman falling on the ice with her buttocks exposed!
    - more Saenredam and Jan Steen
    - Gerard ter Borch's The Louse Hunt
    - Rembrandt's Anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp - a commissioned painting which made him famous in Amsterdam. The painting was done in the building now known as "De Waag," which housed the Guild of Surgeons back in the 17th-c.

    Paintings missed:
    - Rembrandt's Self Portrait in 1669, believed to be one of his last self portraits. The painting is undergoing restoration.
    - Carel Fabritius' The goldfinch - I don't know how I could have missed it! This is one of the most famous paintings by Fabritius, and he was a student of Rembrandt and thought to have influenced Vermeer on the play of light. He died young at an explosion and had an oeuvre of about a dozen or so paintings.

    Museum #2: Escher Museum at Het Paleis
    The Escher Museum (admission: € 7,50, not covered by NMC) is a short walk from Mauritshuis, near the US Embassy. Before the trip, I read (well, 2/3 of it) a book titled, "Escher on Escher," which is a collection of his lectures (he never gave the lectures becase he fell ill). It gave me a good idea of his works and the book has plenty of illustrations.

    I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Most of the works on view are the ones I had already seen in the book. Slightly more interesting were his early works, before he became known for his repeated patterns and illusions. His early works were etchings of places which he had visited.

    The 3-D virtual reality experience on the top floor was interesting. However, I get motion sickness very easily, and I got nauseated halfway through the "movie" and really didn't enjoy it. :&

    The most interesting aspect of the museum, IMO, is the 15 huge chandeliers hanging in the rooms, designed by Hans van Bentem. Each one is of a different shape, inspired by Escher's works. There's sea-horse, upside-down umbrella, skull, bird, amphora, pipe etc.

    Instead of spending 2 hours in the museum which I had allocated, I was done in 1.

    Museum #3: Gemeentemuseum
    The Gemeentemuseum (admission: € 8, free with NMC) is located outside the city center, but easy to reach by tram #17. There is a tram stop on Korte Voorhout, about 50 yards down from the US Embassy, and it drops me off right in front of the museum entrance. The museum was the last building designed by Berlage, who also designed the Beurs van Berlage building in Amsterdam.

    The main attraction (for me) is its Piet Mondrian's collection - the world's largest - and Victory Boogie Woogie, his last work which remained unfinished when he died of pneumonia in 1944. Other highlights of the museum include a fashion/costume section and a collection of musical instruments.

    I was very disappointed when I arrived. The museum is preparing an exhibition, so over half of the museum was closed! No costume section, no musical instruments section, and just a handful of Piet Mondrian (instead of 9 galleries of Mondrian as described on its website). Fortunately, Victory Boogie Woogie is on view.

    I was surprised by the piece. On reproductions, it looks like the painting has just different "blocks" of colors. Looking at the real thing, a lot of these blocks are not paint, but colored tapes! Some even have multiple layers of colored tapes.

    The rest of the display was rather dull for me, except for a room display of Delftware. The current exhibition is on Kees Verwey, whom I have never heard of nor interested in. I ended up going to the museum cafe and had a tea and a piece of pastry. I was in the museum for no more than 1 hour.

    I took tram #17 to Den Haag's central station and took the train back to Amsterdam.

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    May 25, Day 6
    Part III - A Restaurant with No Menu; Dinner with new friends


    I got back to Amsterdam just after 6pm. My dinner reservation wasn't until 9:15pm, so I figured there is time of a canal boat cruise.

    There were plenty of companies to choose from right at Amsterdam's central station, and I ended up going with Holland International, as it has the next cruise leaving soon. It cost € 8,50 and lasted 1 hour. I got to see Renzo Piano's NEMO building, other than that, nothing out of the ordinary. After the cruise, I returned to the hotel for a brief rest before heading back out to dinner.

    Dinner reservation was at Balthazar's Keuken (Elandsgracht 108), which I had read about on NYT. It is only open 3 nights a week, Wed-Fri, so I called several weeks ahead to make my reservation. They do 2 dinner seatings each night and I picked the later one at 9:15pm.

    When I called last week to confirm my reservation, the guy who answered the phone sounded surprised when I said it is just for ONE person. He then added, "One person? Don't worry, we'll be nice to you."

    I arrived early at around 9pm, but my table was ready. The place is completely no frills, small, very crowded, smoky, with an open kitchen. The tables are very close to each other.

    I got seated. To my right, the table was empty. To my left, 2 women just finished their meal and were leaving. I asked for some tap water and waited for the menu.

    I waited and waited, and still no menu. The place was very busy, as this was the time when the guests from the 1st seating were leaving and the 2nd seating ones were arriving. Then, a group of 4 guys got seated to the table to my right. The guy who sat next to me, Giovanni, and his companions were from Rome. They were in town for 3 days shooting a reality show. They only had a 1-hour dinner break before they had to return to shoot some more. Giovanni then told me that the restaurant has no menu. (BTW, the restaurant's website is in Dutch only, so I couldn't quite figure out what it says.)

    The waitress finally came over and explained to me their "menu." They offer a 3-course menu. Appetizer is an assortment of various tapas, main dish is a choice of meat (veal that night) or fish (some white fish from the North sea), and dessert. I picked the fish.

    Then 2 men were seated at the table to my left. They are brothers, Jean-Pierre and Gerard. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by 6 men (all good-looking) and became the center of attention, as they found me rather intriguing traveling alone in a foreign land. I was bombarded with non-stop questions, "Where are you from? Where have you visited? What do you do? How come you're by yourself?"

    The tapas appetizer arrived: ham, prosciutto, shrimp, cheese etc. Giovanni and his friends skipped the appetizer and went for the main courses as they had to leave soon. I talked about my 2003 trip to Rome, Amalfi Coast, Capri, and he talked about how life is like living in Rome. He was shocked when I told him that I went to Paolo Conte's concert in London. Before long, he had to leave.

    I then turned my attention to Jean-Pierre and Gerard. They are Dutch and live in Amsterdam. J-P is a freelance photographer for a national newspaper and magazines, while Gerard is a lawyer specialized in refugee law. Over the rest of the dinner, we discussed different European cultures, traveling, languages (the Dutch learn a minimum of 3 languages in school), history and Dutch imperialism. By the time we were having our dessert (creme brulee and a small glass of almond-flavored liqueur), we were talking about alcohol, drugs and sex in Amsterdam. :)

    The food was good, but the company was even better. I finally left just after 11pm. The 3-course menu is € 23,50.

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    May 26, Day 7
    Part I - Morning in Amsterdam: Hortus, Rembrandthuis, Organ Concert


    After breakfast, I took the tram to Hortus Botanicus (admission: € 6, not covered by NMC). I arrived there just after 9am. It is small in size, but is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, and jam-packed with plants. It is a nice little haven and a great way to start another hectic day.

    It has a butterfly house. I am terrified of insects, and it took me a lot of courage to enter the butterfly house by myself. I survived. (Last year, BF & I went inside a butterfly house. A huge butterfly landed on his forehead. I screamed!)

    It took me a while to find the "prized" plant - a 300-year-old Easter Cape giant cycad brought back from S. Africa. I left after 1 hour or so.

    It was almost 10:30am, and looking at my map, the Jewish History Museum is nearby. I decided to pay a quick visit. Unfortunately, it doesn't open until 11am, so I had to pass. I walked past the flea market at Waterlooplein (just behind the Muziektheater) and arrived at Rembrandthuis (admission: € 7,50, free with NMC).

    Rembrandt lived in this house for over 2 decades during the height of his career. His extravagant lifestyle was what brought him to bankruptcy. When his belongings were auctioned to pay off his debt, a detailed inventory was made, and gave us a good idea of what he owned back then.

    I arrived just in time to catch the print-making demo. Apart from his paintings and drawings, Rembrandt did lots of etchings. The demo explained how etchings are made, and did a printing of an etching with a wooden press. Rembrandt made all his prints himself, whereas some other artists of the same era sent out etchings to professional printers to have prints made. Upstairs on the top floor are displays of many of his etchings.

    My visit lasted about 45 minutes. I walked to the Waag, which is now a cafe/restaurant. Next to the Waag is Chinatown district. It was 11:30am and I decided to grab a quick bite before the 12:30p organ concert at Nieuwe Kerk.

    I saw the sign for Nam Kee. Sadly, it doesn't open for lunch until 12noon. I ended up eating at a random restaurant, Wing Kee (Zeekijk 76). I ordered a roast pork noodle soup and a hot tea. The amount of roast pork was about 50% more than what I normally get here in Dallas, but the quality of the cut was suboptimal. The roast pork should be 1/2 lean, 1/2 fatty, but the cut I got was all lean, which made it very dry and chewy. To my surprise, the tea was free. The noodles cost € 7.

    I walked past numerous XXX stores in the Red Light District and headed for Nieuwe Kerk. The admission is still € 3 (no extra charge for the concert, and still free with NMC). The wings of the organ case remained closed until just before the concert started. The 30-min concert program consisted of works by Louis Marchand, Dietrich Buxtehude, and 2 pieces by JS Bach.

    It was such an awesome experience to enjoy organ music inside a church, and a peaceful break amid my hectic schedule.

    The concert ended right on time at 1pm, and I immediately switched back to "rush" mode. I walked quickly to Central Station to catch the next train to Rotterdam.

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    May 26, Day 7
    Part II - Rotterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen


    Rotterdam was not on my itinerary until 111op mentioned Boijmans van Beuningen Museum to me. I checked the museum's website and decided that there is NO WAY I could skip it.

    I took the 1:23pm train from Amsterdam Central Station. An hour later, I was at Rotterdam station. The train station is one (very) ugly building, remindes me of soviet-era commnunist style. There is a huge construction project going on in front of the station, so all the tram stations were moved - about 150 yards from the station entrance.

    I took tram #5 to the museum (2 stops) and arrived at 2:30pm. Normally the admission is free with NMC, but as they have a special exhibit on Dali, I had to pay a € 5 supplement. (Normal admission € 8, € 12 for the Dali special.)

    While everyone rushed to the Dali exhibit, I headed upstairs for its permanent collection. I found the desk for the audioguide, which was free.

    I started with the Old Masters section. Highlights include:
    - van Eyck brothers' Three Marys at the Open Sepulchre
    - Geertgen tot Sint Jans' Glorification of the Virgin - here, Mary and Jesus are surrounded by 3 rings of angels playing musical instruments. G t SJ painted every single instrument known during his time.
    - Bosch's The Pedlar, aka The Vagabond or The Prodigal Son - the audioguide was excellent in explaining in detail the significance of each element in the painting. Every attribute on the house in the background (a brothel) is very interesting
    - Bruegel's Tower of Babel - this is the most famous piece of the museum. Bruegel painted 3 (not 2) copies of Tower of Babel. The earlier (and larger) copy is in Vienna. Another copy is a miniature copy painted on a piece of ivory. Its current whereabouts is unknown. This piece shows the Tower in a more close-up view, and does not have the scene of King Nimrod. There are no less than 1000 figures depicted in the painting, all in minute detail. The audioguide also pointed out the 2 trails of white and red on the side of the tower, depicting the colored bricks falling off from the top and staining the walls the respective colors. It also pointed out the tower is a lot redder at the top, indicating newly built; whereas at the bottom of the tower, its color is similar to the surroundings, indicating that it has been built a long time ago and has faded its color.
    - Rubens rooms - one room consists of oil sketches which he made as studies for his larger compositions. I took a quick look and spotted a sketch of Martyrdom of St Lieven which I had see a few days earlier in Brussels.
    - the usual Dutch masters (ie, more Avercamp and Saenredam)
    - Rembrandt's painting of Titus

    Before I continue, I have to go back and talk about Geertgen tot Sint Jans. Apart from the piece I mentioned above, there were a few more paintings by him. One large piece was The Holy Kinship. I was perplexed. I thought the painting is at Rijksmuseum, and thought it was odd that he had 2 pieces with the same name. It wasn't until I went back to the galleries a 2nd time when I saw a posted sign: 22 paintings from Rijsmuseum are on loan at Boijmans during its renovation. When I looked at Holy Kinship's sign, yes, it is the piece that normally is at Rijksmuseum. Another life mystery solved!

    After the Old Masters section, I moved on chronologically to the Impressionist section - apart from the paintings, there are sculptures by Rodin and Maillol.

    As I was entering one of the gallery rooms, my heart stopped. In the middle of the floor, there was a man climbing up through a hole in the floor board! On closer inspection, it was actually a wax sculpture. I suppose this is some artist's idea of a joke.

    Boijmans van Beuningen has a good collection of Magritte's work, including The Red Model, Not to be Reproduced.

    I walked quickly through the modern/contemporary art section. I have yet to learn to appreciate contemporary art. The only artist I recognized was Dan Flavin with his signature florescent light fixture.

    After seeing the permanent collections, I went to the Dali exhibit. I made the assumption this was just another Dali show, and I wasn't crazy about it as I had already been to 2 Dali shows this past year in Dallas area. Well, I was wrong. Titled "It's all Dali," the show focuses on his multifaceted oeuvre: in film, fashion, photography, advertising etc. In fact, there are very few of his paintings on view.

    There is a 12-minute introduction movie which sums up the exhibition very well. The exhibit itself is divided up into 5 (or 6?) sections, each section focusing on 1 aspect.

    The "film" section shows 3 of his movies on different screens: Un Cien Andalou, L'Age d'or, and the "Dream" sequence in Speelbound.

    The "fashion" section includes the clothes he designed for Elsa Schiaparelli: a shoe-shaped hat, a lobster dress etc.

    The "advertising" section shows commercials he had made, including one for Alka-Seltzer. He also printed his own newspaper called "Dali News" which I thought was quite ingenious.

    The "photography" section displays photos he had made with famous photograhers - images of his surreal world. One was a photo of a skull constructed with 7 naked women's bodies. He also worked with photographer Philippe Halsman and produced the Atomica series, in which Dali himself, 3 cats, and a bucket of water all appear floating in mid-air. Pretty amazing stuff.

    There was a lot more on view than I can include in here, but the exhibit is very well-done.

    By the time I was through the exhibit, it was almost closing time for the museum (6pm). I was so glad that I visited it. Definitely a must-see for any art buff.

    Missed:
    - I'm embarrased to say that I had missed the entire Prints section. I skipped past it as I didn't think it would be interesting. It wasn't until later on when I realized it has plenty of gems. The most famous is Albrecht Durer's Study of two feet. There are plenty of other prints and drawings by all the great masters.
    - Carel Fabritius self portrait

    How can one visit Rotterdam and not see its Erasmus bridge? I didn't have a map of Rotterdam, but fortunately the info desk at the museum has free maps and even a Rotterdam guide. I grabbed one of each and headed out.

    It was about a 10-minute walk to the bank of Maas River, where I had a good view of the bridge. Rotterdam is also famous for its architecture, with Koolhaas firm based there.
    Unfortunately, I was running out of time and I also left my cliff notes (2 NYT articles) at the hotel. I hopped on one of the trams and headed back to the train station.

    I caught the 6:48pm train back to Amsterdam, hoping that it will arrive on time. I have ticket to a concert by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at 8:15pm.

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    May 26, Day 7
    Part III - To Change or not to Change? and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performance


    On the train ride back to Amsterdam, I contemplated on whether I would have time to change my clothes before the concert.

    My seat at Het Concertgebouw is in the orchestra section, 9th row middle. I bet I would really stand out if I showed up in T-shirt and sneakers.

    The train arrived on time, at 7:40pm. With great luck, tram #5 was waiting at the stop! I got on and decided that I would have time to change, as my hotel is only a 5-minute walk to the concert hall. This is assuming a 20-minute tram ride to my stop, 5 minutes to walk from the stop to the hotel, 5 minutes to change, and 5 minutes to walk to the concert hall.

    The tram ride took longer than I thought. It arrived at the concert hall station at 8:01pm. Should I get off? But my stop is just the next one! I stayed put. 8:02pm, the tram arrived at my stop. Instead of walking, I ran all the way down the street to the hotel, and ran up 2 flights of stairs to my room. I quickly changed and ran back down. 8:08pm!

    I ran all the way to the concert hall and got to my seat at 8:12pm.

    The Concertgebouw is beautiful inside, with a huge organ behind the orchestra. But I was more excited about experiencing its acoustics. Concertgebouw is considered to have one of the best acoustics in the world.

    (BTW, I just realized that I have been rather spoiled. In the last 15 years, I have lived in Boston, Philadelphia, and now in Dallas. All 3 cities' concert halls: Boston Symphony Hall, Verizon Hall, and Meyerson Center are considered as having excellent acoustics.)

    That evening's program was:
    1. Hindemith's Symphony "Mathis der Maler"
    2. Walton's Cello Concerto
    3. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an exhibition (orchestrated by Ravel)

    The first 2 pieces I had never heard before, so I really can't comment on it, except that I could hear every instrument crisp and clear.

    Mussorgsky's piece requires a large orchestra. I could not ask for a better piece to fully appreciate different sections of the orchestra, as well as the full orchestra as a whole. This was truly a wonderful experience.

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    May 27, Day 8
    Going home, but not without one last art stop


    My flight was at 12:15pm. I had my last breakfast at the hotel and checked out at 8:45am.

    The trip to Schiphol was uneventful. I checked in at BA's desk at 9:45am. I had to fly BA to LGW and then change for AA LGW-DFW.

    Why did I get to the airport so early? I wanted to check out the Rijksmuseum-Schiphol outpost, and their current exhibition: Mondrian and De Stijl.

    The Rijks-Schiphol is located after passport control, between "E" and "F" section, and free admission. It turned out to be a lot smaller than I had expected.

    There are 2 walls of exhibit. One wall hangs paintings from the Golden Age, the other hangs 10 paintings for the "exhibit." The exhibit paintings all came from Kröller-Müller Museum. Of the 10, 3 of them are by Mondrian. It didn't take me long to see the paintings there.

    Well, as I didn't have time to do any shopping during the entire trip (except for the chocolates in Brussels and porcelain in Delft), I browsed through the shops in the airport. I was tempted to get some Gouda cheese, or some tulip bulbs, but I was worried if I could bring any of these back to the US. (The answer is "yes," I think.) I ended up buying a pair of sunglasses, to shield my eyes from the Texas sun when I return.

    The rest of the trip was uneventful. I read most of the museum catalogs I had bought on the return flight. The AA flight I picked was also 777 with MRTC. Despite an individual video screen, I did not watch any movies as none of them appealed to me.

    I think this is all I have to report. I appreciate any of you who bothered to read this tiring report. I'm happy to answer any questions.

    I will post my reviews on the hotels below, as well as a link to photos from the trip.

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    yk: I am breathless just reading this :) It strikes me that you are a logistics expert. I could never have managed to have packed so much in as I would never be able to negotiate the transportation challenges.

    It was great reading. Thanks so much for taking the time to provide such a detailed and enjoyable report.

    Regards Ger

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    Review of London hotel: Jolly Hotel St. Ermin's

    I got this hotel via Priceline: I paid $100/night + tax/sevice charge. I had overbid this by at least $10/night (my mistake).

    It is located at St. James's Park tube station. The location is convenient for Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Victoria station.

    The hotel though really needs a facelift. If the Hilton Waldorf (where I stayed last time) is a 4*, this is a 3* at most in terms of luxury.

    There is only 1 elevator and it is tiny. My room is of a good size with 1 double bed and a small sofa. It has basic amenities: ironing board, mini-bar, water kettle, hair-dryer. Bathroom amenities include bath foam, bath salts, shampoo (NO conditioner), lotion. The decor of the room reminds me of a 4* hotel from the 80s period.

    My major complaints:
    1. The mini-fridge in the room is rather noisy. I had a hard time sleeping the first night. By the 2nd night, I was so exhausted that it didn't bother me.
    2. No in-room safe
    3. No full-length mirror

    Despite all that, it is still a bargain for a hotel room in central London. I probably would have been happier if I had paid $85 or $90 a night, instead of $100. But next time I may just stick with bidding in the Mayfair/Soho zone.

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    Review of Brussels hotel: Hotel Le Dixseptième

    As I had mentioned earlier in the thread, I got an excellent deal for this. Normally, the rate for the cheapest room is € 180. Luckily, they have weekend promotions and all rooms are half-price on weekends, so mine came out to € 90 (no breakfast).

    I had a little trouble with making my reservation and getting them to confirm my reservation via email. See this thread for more details:
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34608458

    The hotel is about 1/2 way between Central station and Grand Place. It used to be the residence for the Spanish Ambassador.

    Having reserved the cheapest room, I wasn't surprised at all when I was told my room was on the 5th floor, aka attic. All rooms at Le Dixseptième are named after a Belgian artist, rather than by room number. Mine was Spilliaert.

    It is in the "modern" section of the hotel - I'm not sure which section is better. The hotel staff politely informed me that my room is on the 5th floor, and the elevator goes up to the 4th. I had to walk 1 flight of stairs up.

    Even though it's an attic room, it is huge and still charming. One half of the room holds the bed, while the other half is a sitting area, complete with a sofa, a coffee table, and a desk. There's also a CD player (but only 2 classical CDs were available).

    The bathroom is also of decent size, with marble countertop. The bathtub is located right below the "slanted" ceiling. For me, at 5'2", it wasn't an issue. But anyone taller than 5'6" will have a somewhat difficult time taking a shower, as he/she will hit the ceiling!

    Amenities include: hair-dryer, CD player. There's probably an iron, but I didn't look for it. No coffee-maker or electric kettle. Bathroom amenities include the basics. NO conditioner (what is up with these european hotels?)

    Since I didn't eat breakfast there, I didn't check out other parts of the hotel. But from what I could see, it's beautiful. Now I understand what "charming hotel" means.

    Major complaints:
    1. No full length mirror.
    2. No in-room safe.
    3. Have to walk up a flight of stairs to my room - well, I'm cheap.
    4. There tend to be a few bums who like to hang out nearby.

    http://www.ledixseptieme.be/

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    Review of Amsterdam hotel: Hotel Washington

    This hotel is ranked very high on tripadvisor (#2 or #3). I really don't understand why. It is fine, but I'm sure there are plenty of nicer hotels in Amsterdam!

    It is located in the museum area: 5-min walk to Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum, as well as to Concertgebouw. The street it is on is very quiet. I booked a single room (with private bathroom) for € 80, breakfast included. My room faces the street, but I didn't hear any street noise. The hotel itself though is a typical regular hotel. I could hear the floor creaking if someone is walking upstairs, or guests talking in the hallway. Fortunately, I was out late every night and up first thing in the morning, so I wasn't bothered by my neighbors' noise.

    The breakfast includes: cereal, fruit, OJ, tea/coffee. Every guest is served 1 egg (cooked according to your preference), 4 pieces of toast, 1 slice of ham and 1 slice of cheese.

    Since I got a single room, it is tiny. The bed is a single twin bed. Amenities include: hairdryer. Each room has a closet that can be locked. Bathroom amenities include: conditioning shampoo, and shower gel. My bathroom has a shower only, no bath-tub. And yes, there IS a full-length mirror in my room!

    The reason why the hotel is ranked high on tripadvisor, I think, is because of its staff. Everyone is extremely nice and helpful. When I checked-in, I was given a map, an Amsterdam Day-by-Day guide (which lists all the events going on that week), and a business card for the hotel. There are no elevators in the hotel, and the staff insisted on carrying my luggage for me to my room, even though I declined his offer. There is also a laptop in the reception area with internet connection, free for hotel guests to use.

    http://www.hotelwashington.nl/

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    A few more thoughts

    I have made a few lists after returning from my trip.

    Top Highlights
    1. Vermeer's View of Delft
    2. The town of Delft
    3. Boijmans van Beuningen museum
    4. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra concert
    5. Dinner at Balthazar's Keuken

    Top Disappointments
    1. Backstage tour of Royal Opera House (London)
    2. Gemeentemuseum (Den Haag)
    3. Musical Instrument Museum (Brussels)
    4. Escher Museum (Den Haag)
    5. Dinner at The People's Palace (London)
    6. Shops in Antwerp (not my price-range nor my style)

    Top Pleasant Surprises
    1. Courtauld Institute
    2. Organ concert at Nieuwe Kerk
    3. Lunch at Flamant
    4. Chandeliers at Escher Museum
    5. Dali exhibit at Boijmans van Beuningen

    Best Deals
    1. Netherlands Museum Card - for € 29,95, this card provide free admssion to many museums all over the country and is valid for 1 year. In the 3 days I was in Netherlands, I would have spent € 67 in museum admissions if I had to pay each one individually. It does not provide free admissions to: Anne Frank House, Hortus Botanicus, Escher Museum. Unlike the Amsterdam card, it does NOT provide free canal rides or public transportation.
    http://www.amsterdam.info/museums/museumkaart/
    2. Strippenkaart - a 15-strip ticket costs € 6,50, and is valid throughout the entire country. Most rides within Amsterdam require 2 strips = € 0,87. An indivdual ticket is € 1,60! That's almost twice the cost using the strippenkaart.
    3. Free audioguide at Boijmans van Beuningen, and € 1 audioguide at Mauritshuis
    4. Chocolates in Brussels
    5. 3-course dinner at Balthazar's Keuken (€ 23,50)

    Safety
    The only city I had reservations about was Rotterdam. It was fine. I didn't think it was any different from any other cities I went to on this trip.

    I felt safe the entire trip. There were the usual annoyances of random men on the street trying to talk to me. But none of them were as persistent as the ones I had encountered in Italy or Paris. I didn't get pickpocketed, nor did I see any pickpockets going on. I didn't even use my money belt (I brought it along).

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    Ger-

    The transportation logistics wasn't difficult at all. Granted, I spent some time researching it before I left. Most of the transportation issues could be answered on the WWW. And when I couldn't find the answer, I would post a question here and someone would answer it. Without fodors, this trip would have been a disaster. :)

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    Hi yk:

    Thanks for the photos and the hotel evaluations.

    I see what you mean about the Hotel Washington; it looks pretty dismal. It reminds me of the single room I stayed in the Russell hotel in London, about 8 years ago. In addition to the fact that it was the size of a broom closet, the paint was peeling off the walls, there was enough mould growing in the bathroom to provide penicillin to the entire Western world and it was filthy! After that experience, I refuse to stay in a single room and always book a double room. In Italy, Spain and parts of France, in the smaller boutique hotels, they usually have a reduced rate for a single person in a double room. I have become a bit wary of “Tripadvisor” recommendations. I am not saying that hotels are using the site to post positive recommendations for their hotels (although we know that HAS happened) its just that I have found that “cheap” becomes the prime consideration, which is not necessarily what I am looking for. Also, they are posted by travelers I know nothing about, so I don’t know their standards and their criteria for “good”, “excellent” etc. I always check this site first, review the old trip reports and get a feel for how the poster travels and what their priorities are. Personally, I really need a good room and prefer a great one, as I often have to spend a few hours working in the room even when I am on vacation. One of the things that gets me really annoyed is when a great hotel has set aside a few rooms that are two grades below what is standard for their hotel and decide to give me one because I am a female travelling on my own!!!

    I love the picture of the white asparagus. Two years ago, I was in Germany during their “white asparagus harvesting” or whatever and I had asparagus soup for the starter, the main course and the desert.

    Thanks, once again for your report. You mentioned many paintings that I know from my art books and I look forward to meeting “in person” in the future.

    Regards Ger

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    yk, thanks so much for your report with such excellent, interesting detail. Of course my daughter and I will be looking at it very carefully to help us figure out what to prioritize in Amsterdam.

    How did you like the location of the Hotel Washington? And to be particularly picky, how good were the four pieces of toast? Do you think you would choose this hotel again instead of a 4* Priceline bid in Amsterdam?

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    Regarding the Musical Instruments Museum, it is still a very young museum--it's only been open a few years. So of course its collections are still a little sparse with space for future collections, but more is being added every year. In 10 years' time, the museum should be much more complete.
    Flamant also has a restaurant in Brussels, in their large store on the Sablon.
    Re Le DixSeptieme, I have heard that it's a lovely hotel, but I don't particularly care for that location. It is close to the GP and the glass covered galleries, but it's also surrounded by souvenir shops and cheap restaurants (Hector's chicken for example), street people, etc. I wish the hotel had a more peaceful setting.

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    a note about the hotel washington...

    yk definitely had bad luck with her single but the hotel is far from dismal. we had a double on the top floor which overlooked a small garden at the rear of the building.

    the room was really rather spacious by european standards and immaculately clean. the absence of a lift is most assuredly a minus particularly since the stairs are VERY steep and narrow.

    while the breakfast is mediocre, it's sufficient to carry thru to lunch. while we were there one could be served at 7:30 but they may have changed that. actually, as yk says, the staff are very accomodating; some of the nicests hosts we've had. anywhere.

    many musicians from concertgebouw concerts stay at the washington and often practice in the late morning/ early afternoon. it's a nice atmoshere and the location is excellent for concert and museum goers as it is only a short walk to the museumplein and the concert hall.

    i really liked the washington and recommend it (with the caveat about the stairs). i'm sorry yk had a less than satisfactory stay.

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    Re: Hotel Washington

    I didn't mean to have a "negative" tone in my review. It was fine, and I wasn't surprised by the size of the room. I've stayed at many single rooms before in Germany and Switzerland which are about the same size. What I wanted to point out was that the hotel wasn't that exceptional to be ranked #2 or #3 in tripadvisor for the entire city of Amsterdam.

    The location was OK - it is 1/2 way between 2 tram stops (on different routes). Amsterdam is actually more spread out that I thought, so I ended up taking the trams a lot more than I had expected. It is convenient for the museums, but to get to Central Station, it is a good 20-25 min ride. Also, for me to get to the 2 dinners (Bordewijk in Jordaan and Balthazar's), it was a slight hassle. But then, it was my idea to eat at those places.

    The 4 pieces of toast for breakfast include 1 piece of white, 1 wheat, 1 "mixed nut", and 1 big biscuit. I normally don't eat breakfast at home, so 2 pieces of toast were enough for me. I still got hungry by lunchtime though. The cereal (3 kinds, including museli) is all you can eat, and so is the fruit.

    I may not stay at Hotel Washington again if I can find some other hotel of similar price - just to try it out. I didn't research much on hotels for Amsterdam. I don't think I would want Le Meridien's location, though the Marriott's location is excellent.

    Re: MIM
    I was disappointed because of high expectations, I guess. Since there was the "wire fence" concert going on, it was very noisy and hard for me to listen to the infrared headset. I also think maybe my headset was defective, as it didn't always get reception. I probably should have gone to exchange it, but I was too lazy.

    Re: Le DixSeptieme
    It's actually very peaceful and quiet once you step into the hotel. It looks like there's a lot of sitting area inside and a tiny courtyard. I was there for such a short time that I didn't take full advantage of what the hotel has to offer. BTW, it also has free WiFi in the rooms. But as I didn't have a laptop, I asked if I could use the internet, they told me I have to pay them to use their computer in the lobby. I passed.

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    I decided to refrain from reading yk's report until I had time to blog about meeting yk. I see that yk was pretty charitable. :-)

    Anyway, I'm still writing my report, but for those who want to read about my meeting with yk, you can find more detailed versions here:

    http://makeashorterlink.com/?V1D522C2B

    http://makeashorterlink.com/?I2F523C2B

    There were a few funny complications -- I suppose that's not unexpected when I'm in the picture. :-)

    Bottom line -- I enjoyed meeting her!

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    Just skimmed the Brussels bits -- sorry you found the MM museum disappointing. I did enjoy it (but as I said, an hour was plenty).

    Re ATMs in the train station -- don't know if there're any. But there's a Citibank right nearby, and I usually go there (well, I've only been in Brussels like three times?) since I bank with Citibank anyway.

    I'm looking forward to more chocolates review.

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    I'm taking a break from writing my report and reading yours. I'm at Day 5 or so.

    Yes, didn't I tell you Verso was a waste?

    I see that you weren't able to find Lazar Berman's CD (1958/9 recording of Liszt "Transcendental Etudes") at Concerto. :-)

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    I've skimmed the entire report -- maybe I'll read it more carefully when I get a chance.

    Congratulations on making some new friends during your dinner!

    Maybe Winston would have been a better choice (cheaper, anyway). Your experience reminds me a little of my experience with Guldsmeden in CPH in a way, but I'd still recommend that hotel.

    Seeing the "Holy Kinship" in Rotterdam would have been interesting. Now I see why I didn't see it in Amsterdam in February. I saw the painting in 2001 and found it interesting. I believe that I saw the Geertgen in National Gallery when I was on my mad rush last week.

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    111op-

    It was good to meet you also.

    There is no ATM in Brussels' Central Station. I know the Citibank you're talking about. It's right across the street from the station (at the Le Meridien). For some reason, it wouldn't take my debit card (Bank of America). I tried both ATMs inside and both spitted it out. It got me concerned for a while as I thought something might be wrong with my card (and I only had 1).

    I finished all the Galler and Wittamer chocolates during the trip. I prefer Galler to Wittamer. Galler's chocolate has more intense flavor. I haven't opened the others yet. I've gained almost 5 pounds on the trip and need to lose them before indulging myself on more chocolates.

    Yes, I forgot to tell you, Concerto didn't have your CD. The guy at the store said he may be able to order it, but I told him that wouldn't be necessary. :)

    If you hadn't mentioned about "The Holy Kinship," I would have just walked right past it without given it another thought. His "Glorification of the Virgin" was interesting too (I have a link to the painting on my blog.)

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    I know that the Rotterdam Museum has a Geertgen (it's in one of my art books) -- wonder if it's the one you're referring to.

    Anyway, as I told you, I bought a book on the restoration of "Holy Kinship" when I was in Amsterdam in 2001 (from the museum). It was fascinating. If I remember right, the painting had just been restored. The book says that the work was misattributed in various times -- finally it was compared to another known Geertgen at the Kunsthistorischesmuseum.

    Will have to check out Galler chocolates on my next trip. I thought that Wittamer was good when I tried them in February.

    Has Pierre Marcolini fallen out of favor? :-)

    We've been enjoying the Tina Jacobsen chocolates from Copenhagen.

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    I know. It's about twice as expensive in Paris -- and then NYC is about twice as expensive as Paris (if you can imagine it).

    A *piece* of chocolate at Richart or PM in NYC is about $2.25-$2.50.

    I think that Maison du Chocolat is the best bargain in the city for me (if one can think of premium chocolates as bargains).

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    Wow! Didn't think this thread will resurface after almost a year!

    universitylad - No, I didn't think the IAMsterdam card was worthwhile for me. The Museumkaart was an excellent deal.

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