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Comments or suggestions on my Netherlands/Belgium itinerary?

Comments or suggestions on my Netherlands/Belgium itinerary?

Old Jan 16th, 2001, 01:08 PM
the turnip
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Comments or suggestions on my Netherlands/Belgium itinerary?

Greetings Fellow Fodorites and Trolls,

With your help I've begun to shape my itinerary for a late April, two week trip to the Netherlands and Belgium. If you would, please take a look and offer any suggestions and/or criticisms that you may have. This is our very 1st trip to the area and I've tried to balance both big city sights and small town activities. I've also left a day or two open at this point so that I may fill it in as more information and ideas come along.
I'm hoping on this trip to cut way down on hopping from a new lodging every two nights or so by home basing in just two or possibly three locations. Haarlem and Brugges.

1. Arrive at Schiphol airport and soundly curse Northwest airlines for scrunching up my ample 6'2" frame. Bus to Haarlem, settle in and then crash.

2. Day trip to Amsterdam for Van Gogh and Rijksmuseums and explore the city. Argue with wife as to how long I should be left to gaze upon the genius that is "Vincent" while she would rather find a diamond cutting tour.

3. Day trip to Amsterdam to see Anne Frank house, rent bikes to tour the city, pm wine and cheese canal ride. (Is there much difference in canal tour operators? Do you have a favorite?)

4. Expolre Haarlem. Relax. Dinner - rijsttafel? Plenty of beer to recover from said dinner.

5. Leave early for Aalsmeer flower market (thanks Wes). After lunch rent bikes and pedal from Haarlem to Keukenhof gardens. Spend future grandchildrens inheritance in film while taking more pictures than an entire busload of Japanese tourists only to get home and realize it's just not the same on paper.

6. Touristy day. Need some help here. Would like to see windmills and wooden shoes if you know what I mean. Currently debating between spening the day in Zaanse Schans and Alkmaar cheese auction OR the Kroller-Muller museum and the nearby Arnhem open air dutch museum. Please weigh in on this one.

7. Open day in Netherlands to possibly see Groningen, Leiden, Utrect or Delft???

8. Head to Brugges. Explore, climb the belfry etc. Eat chocolate and drink as many of Wes' suggested beers as possible.

9. Relax in Brugges. Eat more chocolate and finish off the beer list. (That is if I can remember those that I tried the day before.) Let wife go to as many antique stores as she wants AFTER securing her Visa card.

10. Day trip to Brussels, being sure to catch the evening light show in the La Grand Place.

11. Open day in Belgium to visit Ghent, Antwerp, Louvain or Mechelen?


13. <sniff snifff> Fly home.

Thanks for taking the time to read such a long post and I look forward to your thoughts.

Cheers, the turnip

Old Jan 16th, 2001, 08:04 PM
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Since the distances in those countries are so small you would not have any problem to visit two cities the same day. From you list I would pick Delft, Ghent, Antwerp and Louvain.
Old Jan 16th, 2001, 08:33 PM
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I also had two weeks in Holland and Belgium. Based myself in Amsterdam for the first week, and was glad I stayed in the heart of the city. I do not recommend renting bicycles within the city. I had enough difficult walking across a street, let alone riding a bike. We took some day trips outside the city via bus or train. Our loveliest day was by bus to Volendam. After spending time in Volendam we took the short ferry ride to Marken, a small, peaceful hamlet. We liked Marken very much. Other day trips included Aalsmeer. There's much to do within Amsterdam such as the museums, the Anne Frank House, wandering through the main park (I forget the name), wandering through the many charming streets viewing the canals, shops, and wonderful architecture. Take a canal boat ride. The evening were warm while we were there and I enjoyed walking around before and after dinner.

We rented a car on the last day at the airport. Spent the first night in Delft as we headed to Belgium. Spent two nights in Brugge and wished we had spent more time there. We visited the Lace Museum, wandered the shops, ate in charming restaurants, including one primarily for locals near our small hotel, Hotel Jacobs. The hotel is located in a residential neighborhood, but is close enough to walk to everything. There was enough street parking near the hotel that we did not have to worry about parking, which can be a problem in Brugge.

We spent a couple of nights in Brussels. Not my favorite location, but we enjoyed our time.

Have a wonderful trip.

Old Jan 16th, 2001, 09:39 PM
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Dear Turnip,
Sounds like a nice itinerary! Some remarks:
re 2: there is a diamond place almost opposite the Van Gogh Museum (1 minute walk), so you AND your wife could be happy!
re 3: if you decide to rent bikes, don't stay IN the city, but do a tour outside the city. I recommend going to Driemond (about 10 km South East) then follow the river Gein to Abcoude (very scenic route, 6 km) and from Abcoude back to Amsterdam 10 km again) If this sounds too much for you, take the metro (bikes may be taken in the metro) to Gein station, which is much closer to the river Gein.
re 6: Definitely go to the Kroller Muller Museum, National Park de Hoge Veluwe, and either Paleis (Palace) Het Loo or the Open Air Museum. Zaanse Schans is OK, but very touristy.
re 7: You could easily combine Leiden and Delft in one day-trip.
Have a great trip!
Old Jan 16th, 2001, 11:08 PM
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As to the suggestion of Sjoerd regarding day 6 and if you still have the courage to bike some more: there are free bikes at the disposal of the visitors of National Park De Hoge Veluwe. Personally I would go for the cheese auction in Alkmaar (= in the morning).
I also second the opinion of Diane regarding Volendam and Marken, these are lovely places.

As far as Belgium is concerned, I think that all foreigners are charmed by Brugge because of its medieval character. Another beautiful city is Antwerp. It has great architecture, antique shops as well fashionable boutiques, it is the world diamond centre, has plenty of cafes, bistros and restaurants, museums, a world harbour, etc. I would highly recommend Antwerp over Brussels.
For more information, look at www.trabel.com/antwerp.htm
Have fun in the low lands!
Old Jan 17th, 2001, 07:31 AM
wes fowler
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I'd forget about renting bikes on day 3 to tour Amsterdam. Unless you're as skilled as Lance Armstrong, you'll never be able to cope with the auto and bike traffic and still see anything of interest. Amsterdam's ring canals are conducive to walking. Do so instead and revel in the distinctive gables, interesting cartouches of the mansions and warehouses that line the canals.

When in Haarlem, check with the tourist office to see if an organ concert is scheduled in St. Bavokerk in Grote Market. It's a magnificent organ; Handel played on it; Mozart may have as a child. Note, too, the former medieval buldings clustered along the walls of St. Bavo's. Do visit the Franz Hals museum if time permits.

The cheese market in Alkmaar is a Friday event; you might schedule accordingly. Rather than Zaanse Schans, consider Enkhuizen, a charming town with handsome buildings dating from the 15th through 18th centuries. The Zuiderzee Museum complex is highly impressive, with both an indoor museum and an outdoor museum detailing life in the old fishing ports. More enlightening an experience than Zaanse Schans.

I'd opt for the Kroller-Muller museum and De Hoge Veluew National Park, too. You can bike the grounds at no cost for rental. The museum and sculpture park, the latter particularly, are filled with art dating from the Impessionist period in an ideal setting.

Regarding Belgium's itinerary, while Leuven has a Stadhuis that is a marvel of European architecture, it offers little else other than its university. Antwerp is a far better choice for exploration.
Old Jan 19th, 2001, 07:04 PM
the turnip
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What excellent suggestions! Any others?
Old Jan 19th, 2001, 07:18 PM
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Excellent suggestions, indeed, Turnip. So glad you've elicted these responses - which we can use when we head to NL/Belgium the first part of March. We'll be back 3/15 (thereabouts), so I'll be sure to post any addtions we come across, in time for your late April trip. One of this forum's most worthy contributors pretty much indicated that where choices have to be made - Brussels doesn't have to be among 'em.....
Old Jan 19th, 2001, 07:46 PM
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I must agree about not renting bikes in Amsterdam. But the finest day I ever spent in Europe was the day we rented bikes in Brugge and rode straight north along the canals to the Dutch border, dodging in and out of tiny little towns, and riding beside the canal, stopping at windmills. It was like some mystical scene out of a travelogue.
Old Jan 21st, 2001, 12:07 PM
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Hi, There is a canal trip you can take from Brugge to Damme that is beautful and relaxing. I think it lasts about an hour or less. You can wander through the small town of Damme, have lunch and return via the boat again. You don't need more than an hour or two in Damme, but it was worth getting out into the countryside. They also offer bike tours to Damme.
Old Jan 21st, 2001, 02:57 PM
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Mikki: that was the start of the above mentioned bike riding day I was talking about. When we were there, the boat wasn't running--closed for repairs--so we substituted the bike ride to Damme and then on to a lot of other little places. Never saw the boat, but it would be fun as well if you aren't into all the bike riding. Or maybe you can even take a bike on the boat with you for the way up or back. I think that might have actually been our original plan, I forget.
Old Jan 23rd, 2001, 05:54 AM
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I also would suggest you go to Damme... it's old, very small, has a huge church, and has some excellent restaurants - either take the boat or go by bike on the dike next to the Canal...
I would not go as far as saying don't go to Brussels, f.ex. if you like art nouveau do go, the tourist office has a list of architecture to see...
Otherwise, Ghent & Antwerp are lovely as well - would rather go there than to Leuven - unless you like students. The town hall is a lovely building though !
Enjoy your stay !
Old Jan 24th, 2001, 07:42 PM
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I have to jump in and agree with those that suggest Antwerpen over Brussels, and not just because my father was born near there..
Brussels is a beautiful city and for all intent and purposes is now the capital of Europe, but with it's new place in the "New Europe" is has become a little less attractive to visit if what you are looking for is that mysterious "old world charm" we all look for in Belgium.
Antwerpen is everything! You can wander the streets and find yourself in any number of situations: Working district harbor; Red light district (officially illegal, but very safe feeling); Small neighborhoods with great restaurants for mussels & beer; Beautiful small galleries and museums; Antiques?...Everywhere!
Of course there is the Stadehouse and the central part of the city with stunning architecture.
Just a short bus trip takes you to Lier. A beautiful little town/city that has the most remarkable clock you will ever see and steel sculpture that will make you realize the Flemish did more with their time and spend it painting! Lovely small restaurants here and make sure to try the local specialty: Lier Cakes (I am afraid the Flemish word for them is escaping me right now! I have been away too long)
Have a great time! I hope to be there in early September myself.
Old Jan 24th, 2001, 10:38 PM
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The Flemish word for the Lier cakes is "Lierse Vlaaikens". I personally don't like them that much but maybe that is because I live too near and can eat them as much as I like!
Old Jan 25th, 2001, 10:13 PM
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Would skip Zaanse Schans trip... not really a lot to see. The windmills (three or four) are interesting but not original to the area. The diamond factory tour (the one across from the Van Gogh) is not very lengthy and could be done while you're still looking at Van Gogh's works. The diamond prices are roughly twice what you pay in the states... We went to Amsterdan in early April last year and did not have to wait in line for any museums. The locals told us by May, you're looking at a 3 hour line. By the way, DON'T miss the Anne Frank musuem. It gives a new perspective that can't be gotten from the books. Also, remember that the bikes have the right of way and have no compunction about letting you know that. And let your wife know that to blend in, wear black pants (not jeans) at all times. I felt like we were out of uniform! Have a great time.
Old Jan 26th, 2001, 03:01 PM
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Kathy, the prior poster, burst my bubble on believing I could dress casually in Amsterdam (i.e., blue jeans). Please say it isn't so (had read of their great tolerance for everything, including dress.
Also, since we'll be there in late May (primarily to visit museums), what is this 3 hour museum line wait? Ugh!
Is there a way to buy tickets in advance & avoid the crush?
Old Jan 26th, 2001, 05:45 PM
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Though distances in the Netherlands are never great to an American, Groningen will definitely be out of your way - not a great deal to see there, anyway. I have not been to Utrecht (except its big train station), but hear it is an interesting place. Delft is pretty, but rather touristy. Lieden is one of the nicest cities in Europe, in my opinion, and is, as stated above, very close to Delft, and to Den Haag, for that matter.
Old Jan 26th, 2001, 11:14 PM
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Susan, dress as you like. Thousands of Amsterdammers wear jeans, too.
There are no "three hour waits" for museums. Yes, it can get crowded, but the lines seldom take more than 30 minutes - 45 minutes. Best is to arrive early, or around lunch time, or later in the afternoon. (4 PM) You can not get tickets in advance for most museums. If you plan to visit many museums in the Netherlands, you can buy a "Museumjaarkaart" (annual museum pass) for 70 guilders. (about 30 US$) This card is good for entry to more than 400 museums in the Netherlands.
Old Jan 27th, 2001, 12:15 PM
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Susan, this is Kathy again. Definitely did not mean "dress" black pants... everyone was very casual. Just seemed that most everyone walking the streets was in dark pants (and brown or black walking shoes.) By the way, we were in blue jeans the whole time and no one yelled "Tourist!" at us. And be sure to try their pancake-type dishes... they're delicious.
Old Feb 2nd, 2001, 07:15 AM
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If you are keen on a bicycle ride without traffic consider biking past the 19 working windmills at Kinderdijk.

One windmill open each day. and the bike/walking path is closed to autos.

If you do a yahoo search on the name, I believe you will find a web site on them.

In general, your choices sound great.

Bon voyage,

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