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Belgium and The Netherlands - Trip Report

Belgium and The Netherlands - Trip Report

Aug 25th, 2009, 04:09 PM
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Belgium and The Netherlands - Trip Report

My husband and I travelled to Belgium and The Netherlands for 2 weeks earlier this month, using frequent flyer miles to purchase our airline tickets. The exchange rate between the dollar and the euro is still lopsided, but not having to purchase plane tickets made the trip doable.

Day 1 and 2:

We flew United from SFO to London-Heathrow and then took a British Midlands flight to Brussels. Flights were uneventful and once we arrived in Brussels, we took the train to the central train station. There is a direct airport express train, which stops at the 3 main train stations in Brussels, fare is 3 euro per person - couldn't be easier.

Our hotel was Le Meridien, which we reserved through Expedia for $107 per night. The hotel is just across from the central train station and a few blocks from the Grand Place, so very convinient. There is major construction between the hotel and the train station, so they've set up a temporary lobby on the back side ofthe hotel - a bit inconvinient, but ok. The people at the hotel were perfectly friendly and our room was very comfortable, reasonably spacious, andthe bathroom was great.

We arrived in Brussels in the early evening on Friday, so we cleaned up a bit from the flight and then went out. A half block from the hotel is a small square lined with inexpensive restaurants, waffle places, and ice cream shops. We had a quick dinner of fries and chicken on a stick at one of the places there. Next we went to the Grand Place, which is a wonderful square - the town hall, the guildhouses - all beautiful and every detailed. There were plenty of people out and about in the square and the atmosphere was very festive and fun. We wandered around a while and then found a small bar down a side street playing salsa music, went in and had a couple beers. Duvel was my first and my husband had the Leffe Bruin. Both were good, although we decided that due to our jet lag, we needed to try them again at another time to make sure

Day 3:

We slept in a bit and then went out for breakfast at a little place in the square near the hotel - it was fine, but not overly memorable. We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon walking around the old town center just seeing the sights and soaking up the atmosphere. My husband took tons of pictures, of course (3000+ by the end of the trip).

Lunch was at a restaurant on the Grand Place called Le Roy de Espagne, where we sat outside on the terrace overlooking the square. I had a flemish beef stew cooked in Leffe Bruin beer with potatoes and pears, which was quite good - and of course a glass of Leffe Bruin to go with it. The people watching from the terrace was great.

In the afternoon we went to the Comic Strip museum, which we thought was just ok. The Art Nouveau building that the museum is housed in is great though. Afterwards we walked back toward the train station to see the St Michele Cathedral, I think it is called. Huge cathedral, absolutely stunning. A service was in progress, so we got to hear the organ, which was wonderful. The accoustics in the place were great. Afterwards we relaxed in the park in front of the church for awhile with snacks and a cool drink.

In the evening we got a light dinner on "greek street" as we came to call it, but it is actually called Kaasmarkt, which is a small street a block or so off the Grand Place lined with greek restaurants - each with outdoor seating. After dinner went to check out some bars. We found some live music at a British pub in the old center, so we went in there for a couple beers. We walked through the Grand Place about 11pm or midnight and stumbled on a light and music show - lights were projected onto the town hall from across the square while music played - very neat. I think it may have been part of the Meyboom festival which was going that weekend. Then we wandered around a bit more and found more live music at a bar called Cafe Georgette, also in the old center. Stayed out until about 3, sampled several beers, had a heck of a good time.

So far, Brussels has pleasantly surprised us. We picked it as an entry point because we could get good flights using our miles, but it turned out that we really enjoyed the city.

More to come...
november_moon is offline  
Aug 25th, 2009, 04:37 PM
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yk
 
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Enjoying this, november_moon! Looking forward to the rest!
yk is offline  
Aug 25th, 2009, 05:13 PM
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Thanks for posting the beginning of your trip report. Can't wait to read the rest of the story....

Robyn
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Aug 25th, 2009, 05:32 PM
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Great report - keep it coming!
Lavandula
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Aug 25th, 2009, 06:23 PM
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Another vote to have you continue your report. I'm enjoying it. Thanks!
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Aug 26th, 2009, 12:46 AM
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Good to read about some positive experiences with Brussels!

Although it is not my favourite Belgium city (Antwerp it is!), I do think Brussels deserves more credit than it gets here on Fodors.

Love to read more.
TommieG is offline  
Aug 26th, 2009, 09:06 AM
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I am travelling to Belgium and the Netherlands in the beginning of September, so this is especially of interest to me. Thanks for posting!
pixiedeb is offline  
Aug 26th, 2009, 10:32 AM
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Day 4 (Sunday)

We slept in quite late after being out most of the night, so this day was fairly short on sites. We hand lunch at Panos, which is a chain sub shop with a location in the square just down from our hotel. Good sandwiches, nothing fancy, but puts a place like Subway to shame.

We planned to see the Brussels City Museum, which is in the building oposite the town hall in the Grand Place, but when we got to the Grand Place, there was a big festival going on for Mayboom and we got side tracked and didn't make it to the museum because by the time the festival wrapped up, it was too close to the museum closing time. The festival was loads of fun - marching bands, dance troupes, huge "puppets" with people inside, horse-drawn carriages, people in historical military attire, etc. Lots of good stuff.

After the festival, we took a self-guided walking tour to see some of the comic murals around the city. My husband loves comics and he loves murals, so this was one of his pickes. I thought it was neat though because by following the route to see the murals, we walked through some neat neighborhoods. We saw lots of cool art nouveax architecture, some churches, fun plazas, etc. One church that I really liked was on Kolenmarkt, which we found on the walk. I don't remember the name, but it was a little round church crammed in a block with a bunch of other things. Inside was quite peaceful with an understated beauty. We spent a little time just meditating in that church, and we aren't even religious people. Oh, we passed by Mannekin Pis on our walk, so we DID see the symbol of Brussels

The mural walk took us past the Comic museum, which we had been to the day before, but we when we arrived, we found that the Meyboom festival had regrouped and was going strong. There were vendors selling sausages on rolls, drinks, and other food items. They had music playing, people dancing, and just generally looked like a good time. So we hung out, had some food and listened to the music for awhile.

We went back to the hotel to relax a bit - this hotel location was great, we could basically go back any time. Stopped for waffles on the way though. We stopped for waffles a lot.

Later on we went back out for dinner - since we'd recently snacked on a bunch of things, we didn't want a full dinner so we went back to "greek street" for gyros and sausages, and of course beer. This time we had some Chimay bleu and Leffe Blonde - both of which we liked very much. After dinner we wandered around a bit, got some chocolates, and made it an early evening (to make up for the night before)

Day 5 (Monday)

We had planned a day trip or two from Brussels since we weren't sure if we would even like Brussels, but we were enjoying ourselves so much and because we hadn't seen some of the things we wanted to, we decided to scrap the day trips and just stay in town.

We decided to be really touristy and take the Hop-On-Hop-Off sightseeing tour. It was really fun. The recorded information was reasonably good, but it was just fun to ride around in an open air double bus. We stopped at a few places, but our main stop was the Atomium. I am a nerd, so I thought this was great. I mean really - a giant iron atom that you can go inside. What's not to like? Well, it was fun, but be careful on the stairs because they can be slick. I slipped and ended up going down a flight a bit faster than I had planned. But other than a few bruises and some pulled muscles in my arm (fortunately I WAS holding the handrail) I was fine. The views from the Atomium are great. It was rather crowded though, so we were glad we went on a Monday rather than over the weekend.

The Atomium is in a fairly large park, so afterwards we walked through it to one of the other tour stops to pick up the bus again. Very nice walk with some monuments and things along the way - and the weather so far was gorgeous. Absolutely perfect.

Later that evening we had dinner at a place called Le Circe (I think I spelled it wrong), but it is in an old general store, I think it is. Had toasted sandwiches and salads, which were quite tastey. And of course, beers. We wandered around a bit after dinner looking for some bars with live music, but being Monday, not much was going on. We decided to to to one of the places on the Grand Place to sit out, have a couple beers and people watch.

That was our last night in Brussels and overall, we had a really great time. I'd definitely return to that city.

Next up...Bruges
november_moon is offline  
Aug 26th, 2009, 11:24 AM
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Loved your travel diary. It is quite helpful. We leave on Friday so I hope to read more before we go. Thanks for posting.
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Aug 26th, 2009, 01:49 PM
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I am glad people are enjoying my report. I will try to get the rest done over the next few days
november_moon is offline  
Aug 26th, 2009, 02:28 PM
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Day 6 (Tuesday)

This was the day we moved to Bruges, which we loved.

Breakfast was at Cafe Aroma in the Grand Place - there were some shots my husband wanted to get of the town hall that he hadn't gotten on our last (10?) trips through the Grand Place, so we walked over there for breakfast. Afterwards, we did a little bit of shopping, picked up our luggage, and headed to the train station.

The train to Bruges was very easy and only about 26 euro for the 2 of us. I had a little troule with my luggage because of the pulled muscle in my arm, but not a huge deal. The train was reasonably crowded, but we got a seat no problem.

In Bruges we stayed at the De Barge Boat Hotel, which is just south of the old city and maybe a 10 minute walk from the train station. We were there before check in time, so we stored our luggage and went into the old center to have a look around.

Bruges was so neat - we loved it right away. Our first stop was a tour of De Halve Maan Brewery, which was lots of fun. Great guide, neat stuff to see, definitely recommend it. Plus the Bruges Zot beer was great. Afterwards we wandered a bit more and then went back to the hotel to check in.

The De Barge was cool - definitely a novelty to stay on an old boat. We had the Officer's Room, which was larger than the standard room, still small, but we managed just fine. Our room had nice windows on the back of the boat with a view of the canal - very nice. And the people at the hotel were very helpful. The one complaint that I had, which wasn't the hotel's fault, but one night some people in a couple large buses in the car park across the way decided to have a loud party about 2 am. Not cool. Otherwise, being across from the car park wasn't an issue.

We had dinner at a place called Opus Latino, just off the Burg. A little hard to find, but worth the effort. The terrace overlooks a small canal and is a very nice place to hang out. They serve a selection of tapas style dishes and plenty of drinks.

Day 7 (Wednesday)

Breakfast at the hotel - nothing out of the everyday, but perfectly good. Then we met up for our bike tour with Pink Elephant tours. Definitely recommend this tour - the guide was great, the bikes were in perfect working order, and the route was very interesting. We went through Bruges, then cycled along the canal to Den Haan where we toured the town a bit and stopped for a snack.

Afterward we had lunch at a place that was less-than-memorable since I don't remember anything about it other than the bottle of San Pellegrino for 8,50 euros.

Then we took a canal tour, which was good - neat to see the town from the waterways. Then the weather turned rainy, so we found a cafe to hang out in for pancakes and coffee. The Eetcafe on Simonsplein is a rambling place with a nice courtyard that they cover in the rain. We spent quite awhile there having coffee and hot chocolate and reading our books. Just a nice, relaxing place to be. I was introduced to the hot chocolate where you stir a hunk of chocolate on a stick into a mug of hot milk from choco-o-lait. OMG - this stuff is heavenly. I found some in a shop and bought a bunch to take home with me.

Since it was still raining and it was getting toward evening, but we weren't hungry, we just stopped at a store to buy some beers and walked back to the boat in the rain. I don't mind walking in the rain one bit, but my husband is not so jazzed about it, so the distance to the hotel from the center of town became a negative for him. Once we got back to the boat, we hung out in the room watching the rain on the canal, enjoying our beers.


Day 8 (Thursday)

We had planned to take the train over to the coast and then bum around all day, but it was still raining in the morning, so we decided to just stay in Bruges. We went to Choco Story, which is the chocolate museum - very well done and quite interesting. It was crowded because of the rain, but still good. They have a combo ticket with the Frites museum, so we did that too - learned all about Belgian Fries. Surprisingly, it was a good museum and we learned a bunch.

The weather improved, so we wandered around some of the areas north of the main square that we hadn't seen yet, and then went to the main square to climb the belfry. 366 steps, some of them quite narrow, but a great view at the top.

By this time I was craving the hot chocolate from the day before and we could use a good long rest after the belfry climb, so we went back to the same cafe from the day before - got more panckake, hot chocolate, and coffee. Then we hung around long enough that we were actually hungry, so we ordered dinner too. Good stuff all around.

We liked Bruges a lot and it made for a nice break between the cities of Brussels and Amsterdam.
november_moon is offline  
Aug 26th, 2009, 02:54 PM
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Enjoying your report very much. We were in Bruges earlier this year - wish I'd known about the Frites museum!
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Aug 26th, 2009, 06:13 PM
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Yes, "Bruges is so neat" isn't it? Look at our recent report on "Springtime in Holland and Belgium" where we ended up there. Took in Brussels another earlier trip but in this cruise based trip enjoyed quaint towns in Netherlands plus the stays in Belgium. As it happened we lucked out with sunny days till the end...especially wonderful for the tulips in Keukenhof gardens. I collected some 30 different beer coasters in Belgium...I don't know why!

Ozarksbill [email protected]
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Aug 27th, 2009, 01:56 PM
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Next up - Amsterdam
november_moon is offline  
Aug 27th, 2009, 01:57 PM
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Day 9 (Friday)

This was the day we said good-bye to Bruges and travelled to Amsterdam by train. We bought our tickets that day, 44 euros a piece and took the next available train. We bought sandwiches and beverages at Panos at the train station to have on the train. The ride was uneventful - changed trains in Antwerp, which is a really neat station.

First impression of Amsterdam was sort of chaotic - tons of people at the central train station, bikes everywhere, lots of traffic. But people seemed to be having a good time. We laughed about the number of people who seemed to exit the train station and then light up a joint within 30 seconds.

We rented a small house just off the Neumarkt, so only about a 10 minute walk with luggage from the train station. Very easy. The house was great - funny little place with 3 rooms stacked on top of one another, steep staircases, and a very small bathroom. It also had a rooftop deck. And the location was terrific - close to the main train station and the metro, practically on top of plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars, yet on a quiet street where we hardly heard any noise at all.

After we got settled, we went out to buy groceries at AH, right around the corner - very convinient - and then had dinner at a thai restaurant on Neumarkt square. Quite good, although we did have to ask for chile. We sat outside and the people watching on the square was good - plenty of people out and about.

Then we wandered around a bit through the red light district to see what that was all about - what a trip. The area is actually quite small, so easy to avoid if people want to. We thought the whole thing was quite interesting though, and very ironic that the alley behind the Old Church is lined with red light windows and coffeeshops.

We stopped for beers at a couple places - Rick's Cafe has a nice spot on a canal with good outside seating. The people watching is great, the staff is very friendly, and we had good conversations with the other customers.

Day 10 (Saturday)

After breakfast at the house, we went for a bike tour with Mike's Bikes. We did a tour with them in Munich a few years ago and had a blast, so we thought we would give them another try. Really fun tour - definitely worth the money and time. Biking in Amsterdam is not for the faint of heart though. My husband and I ride bikes all the time, so no problem, but there were a couple people on our tour that were downright dangerous. One person almost got hit by a tram, literally, because she was so focused on trying to keep up that she wasn't watching the traffic. The tour itself was really terrific though - we saw a ton andthe guides are great.

After the tour we went over to the Leidesplein where there are bunches of bars and restaurants - picked one and had lunch and a beer. The beers offered tended to be a mix of Belgium, English, and Irish, with Heinekin all over the place. We actually saw some Budweiser offered in a couple places too - that surprised us. Anyway, lunch was fine and the peoplewatching was great - I think we spent half our time in Amsterdam just watching people. We were "treated" to a little show while we were eating - a man in a green thong doing acrobatics in the square. Not exactly what you want to see when you are eating, but at least he had the decency to shave.

After lunch we wandered around a bit more, stumbled on a troupe of Brazilian dance fighters putting on a show for tips beside one of the canals in the canal ring, and then went back to the house to relax for a bit.

For dinner we went to one of the Doner Kebap places for shwarma and then hit a few bars to relax and have some beers.

Day 11 (Sunday)

Slept in a bit later than usual since we were up late the night before. The weather was beautiful so we decided to get things for a picnic and head out to the Vondelpark. We bought picnic things at AH market - meats, cheeses, bread, chips, cookies, beer, etc. and then took the tram over to the park. We had 96 hour transit passes - the chippenkaart - which turned out to be really handy. I think they were 18 euros each.

At the park there were tons of people out and about, picnicking, hanging out, roller blading, etc. We found a good spot on the grass near a small lake. Nearby a concert started up - we couldn't see the band, but we could hear them quite well - some kind of rock band, but didn't we recognize the music. So we spent most of the afternoon there, just relaxing and enjoying the day. Finally decided to pack it in after the concert was over andthe weather got a little chilly.

The evening we went to an Argentinian restaurant in the old center called Ter Steakhouse. Really good quality steaks, but a small little place so not too many tables. I had some Argentinianwhite wine that was great, but I can't remember the name - this is what happens when I don't write things down!
november_moon is offline  
Aug 31st, 2009, 06:16 AM
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"We laughed about the number of people who seemed to exit the train station and then light up a joint within 30 seconds."

I doubt you really saw people lighting up a joint. A lot of people in the Netherlands smoke 'handrolling tobacco': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drum_(tobacco)

These cigarettes look a lot like joints, but they are just regular cigarettes!

My own little contribution to 'The truth about Amsterdam'

Keep it going though!
TommieG is offline  
Aug 31st, 2009, 11:46 AM
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TommieG - I can tell the difference between a joint and a handrolled cigarette, thanks though
november_moon is offline  
Sep 1st, 2009, 05:08 AM
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Okay! But maybe it is useful information for others!

Here in The Hague I fortunately do not see that many people with a joint in public! It isn't my kind of thing.
TommieG is offline  
Sep 1st, 2009, 09:31 AM
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I have been to Amsterdam 3 times and have never seen anyone smoking pot on the streets. well, except me, i did pause for the cause on a bridge one evening. very discreet, no one was around. im respectful.
jetsetj is offline  
Sep 1st, 2009, 12:00 PM
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Interesting - maybe it was the time of year, who knows? We saw (and smelled) plenty of people smoking pot on the street.
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