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Trip Report Amsterdam, Paris, and Bruges

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I didn’t realize a year ago when I was thinking about going to Amsterdam that when we did go we would find newly-renovated and reopened museums. Both the Rijks and Van Gogh museum reopened a few months ago, just in time for our late June trip. Timing was perfect that way, but not so much for timing Amsterdam weather.

My sweetheart and I ( I will be able to use the word “spouse” soon-thank you, Supreme Court!) together almost 25 years, have gone to Europe every two years or so for the last twenty and she says, “I make it happen; you make it work.” So I do. Although we have been to Paris three times previously, it made sense to end our trip there because 1. we were able to get a direct flight out in Business class…using our United miles, 2. Paris is one of our favorite cities, and 3. our traveling companions were eager to experience Paris. We traveled with a friend and her sister-in-law whose two college-aged daughters joined us in Bruges and spent two days with us in Paris before going off on their own.

Love, love, love doing the research before a trip. This board, tripadvisor, Frommers, Rick Steves, my Borch Amsterdam map and Streetwise Paris map---all are part of my cache of information. I spent about eight hours one Saturday last year combing reviews and materials on Paris hotels and decided on Hotel Relais Bosquet. It seemed the best hotel at our price point esp. considering the Facebook deal they had going and the strong reviews on tripadvisor. Breakfast (a 15 euro value) was included when reserving on Facebook along with a 30% room discount. We had stayed in the Rue Cler area before so I knew the area was near dining, shopping, the Eiffel Tower, and metro access so that anchored the trip. Hotel Fita in Amsterdam came up high on tripadvisor and also met our price point. This turned out to be a perfect fit for us in so many ways. Please read my hotel review on under Loves2TravelandRead. Bruges was an easy choice as Huis Koning, the top ranked Bed and Breakfast, had three rooms and all three were available for our dates. That, too, was a superb choice and you can read my review also on tripadvisor. Hotel Relais Bosquet was fine…didn’t review it because so many people before commented on the same things I would have: clean rooms, convenient, a breakfast buffet that checked all the boxes although don’t count on enjoying the rubbery, scrambled eggs, English-speaking staff, easy to sleep with the press-of-a-button room darkening shades. It didn’t have the character or flair of our other two picks, but it was functional, clean, and safe.

Amsterdam was cold, windy, and mostly rainy. In Bruges the weather was ideal for walking (not too hot) and in Paris there were only two occasions where we had to use our umbrellas. Folks in Amsterdam were especially vocal about how lousy the weather had been and the fact that there had been no real spring.

We used the train between our three cities and I have written about that experience in an answer to a thread begun by Sandy2 about train travel between Paris, Bruges, and Amsterdam. I had laid out an agenda for each day before we left keeping in mind which attractions/experiences were near each other, closed on certain days, etc. The agenda idea has always worked for me. Granted a rainy day or throbbing feet can alter it but it provides a good outline of our time. This year for the first time I scrolled through tripadvisor’s list of Things to Do for each city and mined a few things we did that didn’t necessarily pop strongly in the guidebooks. I will do that for future trips and encourage all travelers to map out the sites on a day-by-day basis. Among sites/museums we visited: Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh museum, the Rijks museum,and the Hermitage Amsterdam museum. For the Anne Frank house, I booked tickets on-line at home about a week prior and when we breezed in through a door adjacent to the main ticket line, my group was so grateful! The regular line stretched around the side of the building and around. Definitely book on-line tickets! The Van Gogh museum we stood in line for maybe five minutes on a Friday evening (their late night). For the Rijks, I used the hotel computer to buy and print out tickets for our use ten minutes later on a Sunday morning (although there turned out to be a fairly short line for people purchasing tickets). The Hermitage—we bought tickets at the door-no line at all. Other sites: toured the flower market, Jordaan area, Dam Square, walked up and down the canals and along the “Nine (shopping) Streets”, ducked in to churches when near one. If I had one more day would have wanted to visit the Dutch Resistance Museum, the Royal Palace (closed to visitors during our stay) and the Houseboat Museum. All in all, Amsterdam was vibrant and upbeat and so easy to navigate. We bought a 72-hour bus pass from the train station, activated on our second morning, and was able to use it through the last morning with enough time to get up to the train station on the tram.

Bruges was storybook picturesque: the canals, the architecture, the foliage and flowers, the churches, the CHOCOLATE. Market Square, Burg Square, City Hall (Gothic and Renaissance rooms), several churches (saw the altar with the Holy Blood storage unit in one church and a Michelangelo sculpture in another). Visited three different chocolate shops (Dumon, The Chocolate Line, and Confiserie de Clerck), tasted samples, and bought a few pieces. I think I have a fairly discerning palate but none of the chocolates or truffles measured up to my Sees chocolate here in the US. Blasphemy, some might say. Give me a dark chocolate marzipan, or a California crunch, or a Chelsea any day. Still, it was fun trying different chocolates and seeing the various chocolate creations. I will say the Dumon dark chocolates were the best of the lot. Market Day was on Wednesday so we were able to see more varieties of flowers and sniff chickens roasting on spits. Bruges was just fun to meander over this bridge or that, walk by that canal or this one, stop in this store or that one. Two days was about two days too short. Perfect honeymoon destination…one that I now add to my two other favorite, romantic, small cities: Arles, France, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

This was the fourth time we had been to Paris so my partner and I were able to drill down a bit and see some new sites. Granted, no trip to Paris is complete without visiting the Impressionists galleries at the D’Orsay, marvel at the old train station’s architecture, or walk among the marble statues on the main floor. To avoid the line, I had read in Rick Steves’ book that you could buy a fast track pass of sorts called the “coupe fils” allowing you to use the museum pass entrance and avoiding the regular line. This made the most sense to me because I knew that, for this trip, the two day museum pass would not pay for itself. So following Rick’s instructions, I found an information booth at the far end of the Gare D’Est train station upon our arrival and purchased two tickets specifically for the D’Orsay. There was a charge of an extra half a euro per ticket. OK, no problem. On top of that, though, the gal told me that as of about four months ago, there was also a one euro and one half transaction fee, so keep that in mind if you use the booth. Our two friends bought a two day museum pass and hit the D’Orsay when we went, then went on to the Orangerie, and fit in a quick visit to the Louvre to see a few key rooms, followed by a trip to Versailles the following day (the day we went to Rheims). Across from the booth was another ticket office where we each bought a carnet of metro tickets.

We also went inside the Opera Garnier (magnificent-wished we could have gone on a day with an English tour but it didn’t work out-again, that could be reserved ahead of time on-line), walked along Rue Rivoli making a stop at Angelina’s for some hot chocolate, day tripped to Reims to visit the cathedral, explored the area around Notre Dame, shopped at the Galeries Lafayettes big sale ( bought a few scarves..everything else was priced high) as well as the shopping streets around the Bon Marche, visited the Musee Jacquemart-Andre (rich with art-reminded me of a small scale Hearst castle or Getty villa in that respect), and explored Rue des Rosiers. Our first night there, we attended a concert at St. Chappelle. Ordered the tickets on-line (printed them out at home) from about a month before we arrived. Did some research and decided that the cheapest seats were fine for us (closer up would have given us a better view of the musicians), but it was all about just sitting…encased in stained class…listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

We paid a total of 90 euros for the taxi to take the four of us to CDG the morning of our departure. Part of the expense, I think, was the fact that there was four of us and four pieces of luggage and the fees incurred for that. In addition, the driver made two stops at the airport as we were departing from two different terminals. The ramp for the Delta flight terminal was slow-going that morning and really added to the bill. Crossing over to the United terminal went much faster. If I recall the bill came to 83 euros and the driver rounded it up to 90. We probably would have given him 90 anyway without him rounding it up but I figured he did that due to hauling the luggage in and out.

Although we all enjoy good food, I’m not what you’d call a foodie. We had mostly OK meals, although in Amsterdam because of the rain, we hung around the Leideseplein for dinner on two nights and had mediocre food. Some dining highlights:
• Café Restaurant de Reiger: two blocks from the Anne Frank House; recommended In Rick Steves, on a side street in the Jordaan; nice ambiance; tasty and well prepared food
• Bierbrasserie Cambrinus—went with the college girls as the restaurant advertised 400 different beers and a friend of theirs (who is a beer distributor and going to be married in Bruges next year) gave them a list of beers to try; good food, too.
• Passion for Food-stumbled on this one about a block and a half up the street from Cambrinus Great vegan option. Variety of soups and salads. Mediterranean/North African flair.
• Ribs N’ Beer-made a reservation about two weeks before we left, figuring we might all want a hearty, meaty meal five days into the trip. Excellent choice for the six of us. All you can eat ribs, served with fries and a salad. Five or so different types of sauces: spicy, smoky, etc. and the house favorite: beer and chocolate—yes, combined in one sauce. I was skeptical and ordered the smoky ribs. Fall of the bone tender. I was ready for more. Anything after the first rack is served in half rack portions. I think the five of us who ordered ribs all had a second half rack serving and zeroed in on the chocolate/beer sauce. Really good! I had made our reservations for six at six (emailed request and email confirmed) when it opened and by the time we left it had filled up.
• Galeries Lafayette department store near Opera: Don’t laugh but we enjoyed two lunches in the top floor restaurant. They had a food court-like area with a pasta section, a salad bar—featuring a variety of different salads, entrée window, dessert window, bread area, etc. We piled a small salad bar plate to share and split a tasty, rich, and creamy lasagna. Very reasonable price.
• Café Central: on Rue Cler served up a long, rectangular pizza sans red sauce with fresh, sliced, uncooked mushrooms and slices of thin, delicate ham on a bed of melted cheese.
• Café Les Rosiers: on Rue Des Rosiers near the dead end closest to the St. Paul metro station. Just a small, hole-in-the=wall, family run operation that we, again, fell upon. Delicious entrees posted on a chalkboard…another customer had to translate. A delicate salmon with potatoes in a tarragon sauce and an eggplant dish were the two entrees we sampled. We shared a lemon meringue pie slice for dessert. The husband was in charge at the front while the wife cooked in the back. It was nice to support such a hard-working couple.

So there you have it! Other random thoughts in closing. I had purchased a hair dryer from the BHV department store near Hotel de Ville during our last visit to Paris in 2006 which I subsequently used in Italy. It was a babybliss brand and still worked fine. So much stronger than the hotel dryers and without the fuss of the plug and voltage issues of my own American dryer. I think it was a good investment. I bought a collapsible flower vase from the Van Gogh gift store (since I forgot the one my sister gave me) so I was able to buy some beautiful, deep pink peonies from a flower vendor in Paris for our hotel room. For free phone calls and texting while on WiFi, we use the VIBER app. Have those you want to communicate with do the same. Our no-service-charge-for-international-withdrawals Schwab ATM card worked in all three cities. My United Explorer charge card recently eliminated foreign transaction fees just in time for the trip.

Ahhhh! On days at school when 160 7th graders are driving me crazy, I can flit back to a travel moment in the past and escape for a beautiful moment in my head-the dancing figures on Marc Chagall’s ceiling in the Opera Garnier, discovering a hidden courtyard behind a church in Bruges with my sweetheart, or the vibrancy of color in Van Gogh’s paintings. Where to next? Asheville, North Carolina at Christmas, Costa Rica in February or April, and our second visit to Spain in 2015-focusing on new cities for us: Barcelona, Seville, and Toledo. Would like to visit Elizabeth I sites in England, too, and pay homage to the Bronte sisters. Safe travels all!

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