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Trip Report Family trip to Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels

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Our group was DH and I and our 24 year old daughter (DD24) and 21 year old son (DS21). We flew into Amsterdam and flew back home from Brussels other than DS21 who left home a week before us to visit a friend in Spain.

Arriving and settling in:

We left Detroit on Friday night on Delta and were pleased to have a non-stop flight to Amsterdam. The flight left about 2.5 hours late due to mechanical issues but was only about 1 hour late in arriving. We were able to text DS21 before leaving so that he knew we'd be late. DD24, who has always been the world's best sleeper, slept 4 - 5 hours. DH and I, despite our best efforts, barely slept at all. We purchased our train tickets to Amsterdam Centraal station at the ticket window since I knew from my research that few if any of the ticket machines would accept our American credit card. Normally we would have used an ATM in the airport first but a friend who'd recently been to Europe brought back some Euros for us. The ticket window also would not accept our credit card.

It was confusing as to what platform to use to get the train to Amsterdam Central station, but eventually we figured it out and since the trains come about every 5 minutes, it wasn't a big deal. The train was packed. The ride to Centraal station was fairly short. Getting off the train took many minutes as the platform was shoulder to shoulder with people. We all had to get to one escalator. When we came out of the station, there was a lot of construction around it. It seems like every train station we saw on the trip was under construction! Once outside, we easily found DS21 waiting for us outside the tourist office where we'd arranged to meet. He'd arrived in Amsterdam the day before from Madrid and stayed in a hostel for the night. We had decided that we wanted 96 hour tram passes and if our flight had gotten in on time the place to buy them wouldn't have been open yet so DS21 purchased them for us the day before. We easily found the right tram, there were 4 different tram lines that all went to our hotel. The tram ride to the hotel was fairly short, 5 minutes.

The hotel was only about a block away from the stop, across the street, across the canal. The road and sidewalk in the street on which are hotel was located was totally torn up and being reconstructed, which was a bit of a nuisance. The walk way to the hotel was made of 6 foot by 3 foot rubber maps, sort of laid end to end.

The hotel was Hotel Residence Le Coin. We were pleasantly surprised that our room was ready when we arrived. We had the family room which was 230 euros a night. The room was on the 4th floor. You could go as far as the 3rd floor by elevator and then you had to go up some windy stairs to the 4th floor. When you entered the room you were in an entrance with 2 doors in front of you and one door to each side. The first door in front was a tiny room with a toilet and a little mini sink. The other door in front was a shower room with a full sized tub/shower (with a shower curtain) and a full sized sink. The door to the left was to a very large room containing 3 twin beds, a sofa, chair, coffee table, and desk with chair. There was also a mini kitchen with 2 electric burners, a sink, and a small refrigerator. A small closet contained a roll-away bed. The door to the right was a slightly smaller room with 2 twin beds pushed together and most of the same furniture and the same kind of mini kitchen as the other room. The kitchens were equipped with some basic plates, glasses, and silverware and also teakettles.

The hotel worked out well for us since we were traveling with the kids and the location was pretty convenient. Breakfast was 11.95 euro so we didn't try it. However, the place had zero charm and I doubt we'd stay there again if we returned to Amsterdam.

Next: Our first day of touring

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    We all enjoy street markets so started off by taking the tram to the Albert Cuypmarkt. The market was stalls on each side of the street for about a mile. There was some food, but everything else imaginable, clothes, kitchen goods, lots of cheese, some fresh fish, fresh meats, fresh vegetables. There was a stall that made delicious waffles, covered with chocolate and strawberries, nuts etc. There was also a stall that sold french fries. Actually everywhere in Amsterdam there was a place that sold french fries.

    We stopped at a local restaurant, behind the stalls for lunch. We had a pretty basic lunch and for dessert tried the poffertjes which we all enjoyed. On the way back through the market we decided we were still hungry and shared some fries and then a waffle topped with chocolate and strawberries. Both were delicious!

    From there we took a tram back downtown just past our hotel to go the Amsterdam Historical Museum. We got off the tram in this packed, "foot traffic" shopping area. It had many small retail, mostly clothing, stores. We wandered a bit but we eventually found the museum. We bought our museum passes there. The museum was ok, but seemed difficult to follow the (lack of) organization of it. They had an exhibit on the disappearing local food stores being replaced by the super markets. The early history, guilds and trades, was the most interesting. The later history was pretty dull.

    We next took the tram to the Heineken Brewery Tour. This was backtracking some since we had passed it on the way back and forth to the market but we weren't sure that we were going to have enough time to fit it in. It was a bit of a mob scene getting in because the ticket line area was pretty disorganized. I was dubious about this attraction since it seemed kind of pricey and DH and I aren't beer drinkers. But it was surprisingly well done. The tour was a self guided tour. Bar scenes telling the history, then into the original brewery rooms, then the "4D" experience where they brewed you. A tasting area and eventually a bar where you got your two drinks. After that you exited into the gift shop (of course). By this time it was 6:30 and jet lag was catching up to DH and I. For dinner we just stopped at one of the many pizza places where they sold pizza by the slice. It was quick and easy. We walked back to our hotel room where DH and I proceeded to go to bed and the kids went out and checked out the nightlife. Having the two basically separate made it easy for us not to be disturbed when they returned!

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    We ate breakfast in the room, bananas and pastries the kids picked up the night before. We then headed out for the Anne Frank House. It was a pleasant walk, the city was very quiet at that hour on a Sunday other than the church bells. We had pre-purchased tickets online for the Anne Frank house for the 9:45 introductory program. We could only get 3 tickets for the program so I purchased a 4th tour only ticket but it was no problem to add the 4th person to the introductory tour when we arrived. There was already a line when we arrived so I was glad to have our reservation. By the way, they recently started accepting the museum pass. The introductory program was very well done and worth doing since I was the only one in our group who had read the diary. The tour was a highlight of the trip for me, it was so stirring to see the place where the Franks and their friends hid for two years. I was amazed at how small it was.

    From there we walked a couple of blocks to the Pancake bakery for lunch. The pancakes were more like crepes, both sweet and savory. Although we came in with sweet in mind, we went for savory. There were lots of choices and we all enjoyed it.

    We walked to the Rijksmuseum, about 1.2 mile. The museum is undergoing extensive restoration. Consequently only one wing was open but still there was a long line to get in and the museum pass didn't get us to the front of the line. It took only about 15 minutes to get in. No photos were allowed which was disappointing to DH. We checked coats which was a good move as it was quite crowded. The fact that most of the art was secular pleased DH.

    Next was the Van Gogh museum which also had a long line, but our museum pass got us to the front of it. Over 200 Van Gogh paintings arranged in order of painting / period were displayed. After a snack break, we went up to the third floor to see a number of other artists like Gauguin, Monet, Seurat, and Pissarro.

    With the museum closing and the gift shop closing 15 minutes earlier, we quickly exited the 3rd floor on which they had revolving art displays and went to the gift shop. We were puzzled to have the gift shop closing before the museum. They were extremely strict about it and once it was closed they wouldn't even let the woman in whose daughter was already inside but needed money to pay for something. So if you want to pick up a few postcards or something, make sure to allow time for that.

    From here our intention was to have dinner, but we stopped first to take a canal boat cruise. It took about 75 minutes and overall was fairly boring. The most interesting part was when we went out into the harbor. The commentary was made in Dutch, English and Italian. It was hard to understand the English and got harder as people lost interest and just spoke to each other in their groups.

    We ate dinner at an Irish Pub in the Leidesplein area. It was kind of chilly and rain was threatening so we ate inside The food was good. The food was good especially the roast lamb, the potato leek soup, and the salmon.


    We went to Enkhuizen to see the Zuiderzeemuseum, a re-creation of a fishing village. The first adventure was the train. We just missed the first train but no big deal, they ran pretty often. According to the signs, the next train was at a different platform so we went there. There were lots of people there with suitcases which didn't seem right. A few minutes before our train time, the sign changed from our train to a Thalys train for Paris and a minute or 2 later the Thalys train arrived. Perhaps there had been a platform change announcement in Dutch? If they announced it, we missed it. Back to the main hall to check the signs for the next train and then off to that platform. About 5 minutes before the train was due everyone on the platform abruptly left so we followed them to another platform where we were able to catch the train.

    The train ride was uneventful. Seemingly we were traveling through farm land. About every 50 yards there was a canal between plots of plowed land. One wondered how they got plows onto some of the plots as they often seemed to be surrounded on 4 sides by canals.

    We got to the town and walked to the museum, about 15 minutes.

    We first went into the indoor museum. Other than a boat display, this was separate and seemingly had little to do with the outdoor museum. The displays there seemed to be arts and crafts installations but there were no English descriptions so we couldn't make much sense of it. The best room was one with blue modeling clay and molds where you could make your own sculpture. I don't have a creative bone in my body so I tired of it quickly but the others enjoyed making a sculpture. We moved onto the outdoor museum. It was five areas of buildings brought from around the Zuiderzee area. Each building had a sign telling where it came from, what it was, and who owned it. The signs were in English as well. But generally, the buildings were empty and they had nothing to help you understand what life was like. On certain days of the week, they had local re-enactors, however Monday was not one of those days.

    In the recreation, they had lots of canals as well separating areas and buildings from each other.

    We stopped at the museum restaurant for lunch. The selection was pretty limited here but it was something to eat.

    Fairly soon after lunch, we took the boat back to the train station. All in all this museum didn't work for us. Perhaps it's more lively on the weekend. The town was pretty though.

    Once we returned to Amsterdam, we walked to Dam Plaza to do the Rick Steves Red Light District tour. I didn't particularly enjoy this and thankfully after the first half or so the others decided they'd seen enough.

    After the red light district and a stop in a souvenir shop in Dam Plaza, we walked to Spui and had dinner at a small Italian restaurant. It was a nice meal, slow and relaxing.

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    Today we took a train to the Hague and then on to Delft. We checked the board downstairs for the platform and waited until 10 minutes before boarding to go to the platform. It still didn't list the train below or at the platform. About 5 minutes prior to leaving, the train was listed. What we noticed was the locals waited on the platform just as one enters to see the sign. Only once the sign changes and lists the train, do they venture further down the platform. Platform changes must be a regular occurrence. Live and learn.

    Once we arrived, I realized I had left the printed map with our destinations at the hotel. We made do with the map on the wall of the train station and DS21's cached maps. Note on cached maps: DS21 found out that Google maps now caches maps. He therefore referenced the maps of his trip every day before leaving on the Nexus phone. This kept the maps local to the phone, so he had maps with him on his phone without having to have telephone access. It ended up being very handy.

    We walked to the Dutch parliament building. It looked like a church within a court yard. There was no visible security. Unfortunately no tickets were available that day for tours, so we just walked around the outside.

    Next we went to the Mauritshuis museum. It was included in our museum pass. This was right immediately behind the Parliament complex. The building was a former residence built in the 17th century by a local wealthy merchant. It was donated to the government. It was a nice sized museum with 2 floors of displays.

    Although popular, the museum was not packed, unlike the Rijksmuseum. There was also a place in the center of each room where you could sit and look at the paintings. Upon entry, everyone was given an audio tour player and head phones. This made the museum very quiet. The audio tour was excellent. As the building was built as a house, no room was too large to not be able to see each painting from the center of the room.

    Upon leaving, we had lunch in the nearby square. We decided to eat at Subway as not to take too long since we still had a lot planned for the day. By the time lunch had ended, it had turned quite sunny, but was cool most of the day.

    We walked past queen's palace/house. It was a large gated house in the middle of a street, a couple of "beefeater" guard boxes by the door, but no guards.

    From there we walked to the Peace Palace. We had made reservations to tour but they were cancelled a few days before we left due to an an international court trial going on.

    It was a beautiful building with a large clock tower on lovely grounds.

    From the Peace Palace, we walked through a large park to Madurodam. It was quite amazing the detail of the buildings. It had a model of the Rijksmuseum, Schipol airport to name just a few. Some had sound and some for 10 cents would move. They did a great job of trimming and dwarfing plants to look like trees and shrubs. The kids took several pictures of each other being the monsters in a miniature world. There were walking paths throughout the area. There was probably a good acre of models. There was also an indoor laser light show that told the story of the Netherlands fight against the seas.

    We took a tram back to the central station and caught the train to Delft. Unfortunately we didn't get there until about 5:00 PM when it was closing up. We walked around the old town and then had dinner at a doner restaurant. The food was fine and inexpensive, 27 euro for dinner. Delft was so pretty, I'd like to return someday!

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    Got up and caught the train to Bruges. I had pre-purchased the tickets online in advance. We changed trains once in Antwerp and arrived in Bruges around 11:30. Ticket checking in The Netherlands was spotty, I think our tickets were checked only once on all of our various train trips. But in Belgium they were checked every time.

    We arrive at Bruges and bought the city pass at the train station. I think this was a bit of a waste as we didn't end up going to as many museums as we thought we would. For 12 euro we decided to take a cab to the hotel instead of the bus. That was a good choice as it made it very easy and we did not need to find our hotel from the Market Square.

    Our hotel was the Hotel Patritius and I loved this hotel. Once again our room was spacious with the ubiquitous 2 twins pushed together for DH and I and a small alcove containing 2 twin beds for the kids. The hotel had a lounge where you could sit and relax, a lovely garden out back with chairs and tables, and breakfast was included. Our family room was 180 a night. The breakfast was very nice with meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, breads and rolls, coffee(several kinds), tea, and juices. They also offered you a soft boiled or scrambled egg when you arrived and cooked it fresh for you. I highly recommend this place.

    Eating in Bruges wasn't cheap. Unfortunately we didn't discover the less expensive options on the other side of town until the last day. We ate lunch in the market square which was tasty but over-priced. Next we went off to see the Bruges folk museum. It was away from the center of town in the direction of our hotel.

    The museum told of what life was like in the recent history of Brugge, probably the late 19th century. All the signs were in Flemish and the museum consisted of about 20 rooms where a setting was displayed, a school room, a cobbler, etc. The largest display was on lace making. There wasn't much to the museum and there were no English descriptions so we weren't there long.

    Next, a couple blocks away, we went to the Church of Jerusalem and the lace museum which were on the same ticket. The church was small. The lace museum was entered via the interior court yard of the church and was in a series of connected rooms. The exhibit had some quite impressive lace objects that dated from about 1700 to 1930. They were so beautiful! Across the court yard there was supposed to be a lace making demonstration, but it was disappointing. There were just some people making lace, talking among themselves.

    From there we went to the chocolate museum. It was a very repetitive exhibit giving a history of uses, making and references to chocolate over history, South American and European. At the end there was a demonstration of filling chocolate molds with an inner chocolate different from the outer chocolate, with a sample distributed as you left. The demonstration and samples were the best part!

    For dinner we went to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. One of the kids had tweeted about being in Bruges and a friend responded that we had to try it, so we did. It had over 400 beers. While not cheap, the food was excellent and each beer came in its own unique glass.

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    We went to the Groeninge-museum. Only 4 rooms were open as it is reopening gradually. It had a collection of Flemish Primitive Painters. There was a second museum that came with it that had modern art, just a couple of rooms. This didn't have much appeal for us.

    Next we took a canal boat ride. By this time it was bright and sunny and it got a bit hot as we waited alongside the canal for the boat. The narration wasn't very good but it was pleasant to see the town from the water.

    Today was Ascension Thursday, the day of the annual Procession of The Holy Blood which has been taking place for centuries. It was only by coincidence that we were in town for this and we weren't sure what to expect. I bought tickets online for bench seats along the route. I had no idea which area to pick so we chose Wollestraat which turned out to be the very end of the procession. We had been told that it was a good idea to get there early so since it started at 2:30 we were there around 2:00. We had a long wait since the parade didn't reach us until around 3:00. But we had a place to sit and people watching was fun. And the waffles we bought didn't hurt either! Boy Scouts were selling program books and I was glad that I bought one since it described each float or group and made it a lot more meaningful.

    The procession had about 40 biblical scenes acted out, with sheep and camels, 300 people (adults and children) as well as floats, some of which were quite large. It was fascinating and we were glad we had a chance to see it.

    Once the procession passed us, it was on the way to the grand finale in the market square. We did not follow, but went around it. It did not seem like anybody did.

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    This was a full day because many things weren't open on Thursday afternoon due to the parade.

    We went to the Bruges Belfry, the large clock tower in the central square. 366 steps up and you got to see a picturesque view of Bruges. At times, the town's valuables were stored in the Belfry. It was good to get there early, we arrived at opening, because when we came down there was a line to go up. They limited the number of concurrent people in the Belfry. This is good as the same stairs are for up and down.

    From here we went to the Burggemuseum-Gruuthuse. This former city palace held art and objects on the 1st floor that date prior to the Flemish Primitives. On the second floor was an exhibit of Bruges over time. The Gruuthuse had a room connected to the church so that the residents at the time could walk to this room and look out onto the church to pray without leaving the second floor.

    Next we went to the church, Welcome Church of Our Lady. It had a Michelangelo statue of Madonna and Child. It is one of the few found outside of Italy.

    We had lunch across the street from the church at Gruuthuse Hof which was quite good.

    Next we went to the Half Moon Brewery which is the only brewery left in Bruges. The tour here was quite interesting. The kids though the beer was ok, but it was not their favorite.

    By this time it was getting late so we skipped the remaining things we were considering doing so we could get to the beer store (for the kids) and the cross stitch store (for me) near our hotel. We stopped at one of the many chocolate stores and bought chocolate to bring home. The kids picked up some souvenirs for their friends at the beer store.

    For dinner, we had made reservations at the Cambrinus 400 beer place again. Seemingly it was a good idea as Bruges was packed with tourists on Friday. Afterwards, DH and I walked to the square to get some pictures (without the seats in place for the previous day's procession) and then got an ice cream.

    It wasn't until we returned home that I realized that we never took the time to see Bruges after dark. I'm kind of sad about that but maybe we'll return again some day.

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    We checked out of the hotel and took the train to Brussels.
    When we arrived in Brussels, we put our luggage in lockers and walked and toured the lower central part of the city. The central square was very impressive with the large intricately decorated buildings surrounding it.

    We made the mandatory stop at Mannekin Pis. We had planned to take the bus to the upper town but the street where the bus was supposed to be was under construction, the day was hot, and we decided we were running out of steam.

    After a mediocre lunch we returned to the train station and fetched our luggage. One locker would not open and we had to track down the attendant to open it for us, which was very time consuming. For our last night we stayed at the Sheraton Hotel at the airport. We had two rooms here, paying 107 euros for each room. The rooms were spacious and clean and literally across the street from the airport.

    The next morning we left DS21 at the hotel since his flight was later than ours. DD24 had to check her suitcase because she had beer in it, and DH's was deemed too heavy to carry on for the intra Europe flight so I checked mine too. I was a little concerned about our shortish layover in Amsterdam (1 hour 20 minutes) but it wasn't a problem.

    DS21's flight was Brussels to JFK to Detroit and unfortunately his flight from JFK to Detroit was cancelled due to mechanical problems, so he stayed overnight at JFK with an airline voucher for the hotel. We had to return to the airport the next day to pick him up.

    Final thoughts:

    The trip was pretty hectic, but unfortunately limited vacation time makes it hard to go for more than a week. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably skip most of the Bruges museums and just relax and enjoy the town.

    I hesitated to post this because I suspect it's rather dull, but there doesn't seem to be tons of info posted about these places so I thought it might be helpful to someone.

    Thanks for reading and I'd be happy to answer any questions!

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    Yes, thanks for your report. I'm going to Belguim and The Netherlands next month and found your information helpful. Most folks might mention where they went, but not what they thought of the attraction and why.
    Did you find that you needed to use trams, buses and cabs a lot or could you walk from place to place? This will be my first train travel trip.

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    Thanks for sharing; it brought back memories of my travels to these places.

    If you go back to the Netherlands, go to Zanse Schans. There are lots of windmills and all have someone to explain the workings and different types of mills. The town has lots of pretty houses and one or two are open so that one can see what life was like 100 years ago. I liked this better than Einkhuizen.

    Like you I was surprised at how small the rooms were at the Ann Frank House. From reading the diary, I had somehow gotten the mistaken idea that they were larger than they actually were.

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    Hi Pat,

    I missed your TR when you posted it first time around.

    One question for you: it sounds like you purchased the Netherlands Museum Card, right? I've used it in the past but I'm interested in learning more about using the museum card for Anne Frank's House, which you said it's a new thing for them? Do you still need to make a reservation even w/the museum card?

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    I really enjoyed reading your posts.We are traveling to Amsterdam and then Belgium in November. Can you recommend hotels at all to Brussels and Bruges? I wrote down your lunch and and dinner spots, are there any you would skip on those or highly recommend..any further recommendations would be greatly appreciated...

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    Thank you for the info about Brugge. You are correct, there is not a lot of info about what the attractions are there. Since I will be there for several days on my own while DH has meetings, I really appreciated reading this.

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    I just got back from a road trip and saw these questions so here are some answers:

    yk: As far as I can remember the museum pass at the Anne Frank house does not give you front of line access so a reservation is highly recommended. When you reserve, there is a place to indicate that you have a museum pass so your tickets will be free unless you add the special introductory program. When you reserve, you can print your tickets at home. They did carefully check our museum passes.

    sljap: Our hotel in Bruges was the Hotel Patritius and I would highly recommend it. In Brussels we only stayed at the airport because we were returning home the next morning. The Sheraton there was very convenient. In Amsterdam we really liked The Pancake Bakery. In Bruges our favorite was Gruuthuse Hof. It appeared that the restaurants over in that area were more reasonable than the ones closer to our hotel but we didn't discover that until the last day. The ones on the square were mostly overpriced IMO.

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    A nice family trip indeed. No doubt your gang has good recollections. Seems you weren't taken with Enkuisen as were we. There are many interesting villages in the Netherlands, yes Zaans Schans is one as irishface says, and also Leiden, Hoorn, Delft, Veere and Kinderdijk with the windmills. Forget touristy Volendam many say. Museums are very worthwhile in Amsterdam and the Maurithuis in Den Haag. And other sites but not the "coffee houses."

    So you were bored with the scenic canal ride in Amsterdam and didn't even mention the canals in Brugge? Oh my. Yes, Brugge is indeed a place to just stroll and relax which is what we did for some days recently.


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