Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Haarlem, a brilliant choice as a base, Delft and Utrecht

Haarlem, a brilliant choice as a base, Delft and Utrecht

May 2nd, 2009, 02:53 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
Haarlem, a brilliant choice as a base, Delft and Utrecht

This a reposting. The original was posted 11 months ago but doesn't show up on my Trip Report list. Hence the reposting. It is actually several posts combined, and thus long.

Following Antwerp our plan was to spend 6 nights in Haarlem and use it as our base. Both Mi Chica and I agree it was probably the single best decision we made on this trip. When planning our trip, I posted the question of Haarlem as a base instead of Amsterdam and our responses from hetismij and hopscotch’s postings encourage that thought. The clincher for us however was the advice of a Dutch neighbor recently arrived in the US. I was speaking to him about our then plans for basing in Amsterdam and he strongly suggested Haarlem instead. He felt that Amsterdam as a large international city does not have the feel of a “real” Dutch city and would not give a visitor a truly Dutch experience that one would get in a smaller city like Haarlem. The convenient train schedule to Amsterdam of 4 trains/hour for a fifteen minute trip and his contention that Haarlem was an excellent value compared to Amsterdam strongly influenced our decision. We have found that the ambience of a place and meeting local people has always turned out to be the most enjoyable and memorable parts of our travels.

Our trip from Antwerp to Haarlem was uneventful and we opted for a taxi from the station to Stempels, our hotel. We had researched hotel possibilities in Haarlem and chose Stempels simply because we liked the look of their web-site and the fact that they have a computer in each room that is free for guest use. We made our reservation through Hoteliers.com and it was quick and easy with almost instantaneous confirmation. Our request was for a standard room in a quiet part of the hotel. As neither of us had been to Haarlem before, we did not really know what to expect in terms of location and it was interesting to learn that as far as location is concerned, most hotels that we had seen on various internet sites were in fact quite close to one another clustering in and around the Grote Markt. One exception was the Golden Tulip that is just opposite the train station and as it turned out, not in a location where we would have been the most happy.

We arrived at the hotel with the carillon in the square playing and a wedding taking place on the terrace at the hotel’s entrance – what a wonderful start that was! Stempels is just yards from the cathedral, down the street from Haarlem’s Philharmonic Hall, around the corner from the Grote Markt and generally, in the heart of everything. We walked into the hotel and were immediately impressed by the elegance of the lobby. Although fairly new as a hotel, the building is historic and the original touches of elegance have been retained and restored. Our request for a room in a quiet part of the hotel had been noted before our arrival and as a result we were upgraded at no additional cost from a standard to a superior room (#21) on an upper floor. In fact, we had confirmed at a price of 85 euros before a 10 euro rate increase had gone into effect and our lower price was honored. What a deal. In contrast to the renovated public area, the room was thoroughly modern. The computer was there as was a flat screen TV. The room had ceilings that were at least 12 feet high, beamed ceiling, huge double glazed windows that had a motorized outside screen that could be lowered to cut the light while permitting a view. The bed was the most comfortable of the trip and the bath was large with plenty of hot water and excellent pressure in the enclosed shower. Needless to say, our initial impression was most favorable.

For lunch, we made quick work of several matjes herrings from the stand in the Grote Markt and made note of the nearby poffertjes stand nearby. Taking advantage of the weather and that we still had most of the afternoon ahead we headed off for Keukenhoff to see what was still in bloom.

We were concerned that we would be arriving in Holland (May 9) too late to see the Tulips. We should only have been half- way concerned. Arriving in Haarlem in the very early afternoon, we had plenty of time to take advantage of the fine weather and get out to Keukenhoff for the remainder of the day. We thought it would be a quick and easy walk back to the bus station, located just outside the train station. It would have been if we had not followed the sign on the far end of the Grote Markt shaped like an arrow and marked "station." Simply said it pointed down the wrong street and set us on a 90 degree tangent to the direction that we needed.

After walking for far too long, we asked directions and about 40 minutes later arrived at the station. It is actually a 10 minute walk on an interesting route that was actually very nice. We checked at the tourist office next to the station about buses to Keukenhof and it was suggested that we buy a ticket that combined admission with bus fare. We could use that ticket to return to either Haarlem, Amsterdam, or Leiden - it was 19 euro. Whether that is a good buy I really don't know but it was convenient. The 50 and 51 bus go to Keukenhof and takes about 45 minutes. We arrived about 2:30. We passed tulip fields on the way and they were mostly bare.

I am sorry for those arriving in Holland after the gardens closed because they are missing a unique display of bulbs that I imagine is unmatched anywhere else. Not only were most of the tulips there still in bloom, but there were also some indoor displays that were spectacular, especially the lily exhibition. A half day was just right.

We were glad to return to Haarlem and the comfort of our hotel where we may have been the only Americans in the place. For whatever reason, we both were not particularly hungry so we found a broodjes shop near the hotel where we had some nice aged cheese, fruit salad and fresh squeezed orange juice. The owner had worked for a year in Michigan and we had a good conversation about Holland in general and Haarlem and Michigan in particular. All was just right! Getting ahead of myself some, I should say that we were very impressed by the friendliness of the people in Haarlem and found that we had a great comfort level there in general.

Afterwoods we saw a line outside a gelato shop that is one of the little shops that run along the side of the cathedral. There were flavors of gelato that I never heard of and it became a mission to try all of those that were unfamiliar before the end of our trip - I am proud to say that we succeeded although towards the end we had to get 3 and then four scoops at a time. Oh! the sacrifices made in the name of research.

Breakfast was not included in the room price and at 9.5 euro/person we were not sure if we would eat at the hotel or in one of the many nearby cafes and restaurants. We tried it our first morning and were sold. The hotel serves a buffet style breakfast that includes several kinds of bread including delecious brown bread, croissants both plain and chocolate, new cheese, aged cheese, fresh mozzerela, boiled eggs, herbed eggs, 4 kinds of meat including a very fine prosciutto and roast beef, yogurts, fruit salad, fresh juice, any kind of coffee one could want, etc. The quality of the food was first rate and baked goods are made in their own kitchens. You know a croissant is fresh when you tear off an end and scald your fingers from the steam.

We had breakfast there daily, and actually it was a money saver since the breakfast was so good and plentiful that we needed little if anything for lunch. A stop at a herring stand sufficed. Some people balk at the thought of raw herring, but it is something that I was brought up with since my grandfather sold it in his shop. I haven't had matjes herring nearly as good since I was a kid and truth be told, the matjes at the herring stands in Holland was better than I remembered. It was something that we looked forward to.

Having "done" Keukenhof we needed to plan our day trips. One or two days would be in Amsterdam, one in a greater exploration of Haarlem, one in Delft and one left to decide later. We decided to do two days in Amsterdam and one of those would be on Pentecost since places in central Amsterdam would be open, but we were told shops in smaller cities would be closed.

Plenty of posters have talked about Amsterdam and we do not have much to add that would be new. I had been there before with my son but it was the first time for Mi Chica. We did the usual museum things, took a canal boat ride that was very enjoyable and informative, and otherwise walked our feet off. One museum that stands out was the Jewish history museum. One does not have to be Jewish to appreciate it and IMO it is an examplar of what such museums should be. Two hours there was sufficient.

All in all, our Dutch neighbor was right as far as city tastes are concerned. Amsterdam is a large and busy international city and we prefer smaller cities that have more of a local flavor, not that there is not much to see and do, there is, but it is a matter of personal taste.

We spent an afternoon at the Frans Hals museum as part of our Haarlem day. This museum meets my tourist's ideal of an art museum in that combines art of the highest quality in a beautiful setting and is not too big to fully appreciate in the limited time that a tourist, who can not repeatedly revisit, can usually devote. Although the name of the museum implies that it is devoted to the work of Hals, it is much more than that. My father was an artist whose specialty was portraits and illuminated manuscripts and so I grew up with a special affinity for the art of the portrait. The specialty, but not sole focus of the Hals museum is his historical portraits of individuals and groups and those of other artists. When we were there, the museum featured a special collection of the works of Jan de Bray as well as other members of the de Bray family, also distinguished artists in their own right. Not being very familiar with the work of the de Brays we found this exhibition a special and most enjoyable experience that led to a greater appreciation of their work.

We also visited the Teyler Museum. We chose this museum because of its historical significance (it is the oldest museum in Holland) and were interested in its interior architecture as well as its collections. The word eclectic best describes this museum whose exhibits include fossils, minerals, scientific instruments, coins, paintings and drawings and even models used in early "magic" acts that showed how they worked, and more. It reminds of all of the Smithsonian museums rolled into one on a small scale. A most interesting place.

Our Haarlem day also included a walk along the Spaarne River that was only one block from our hotel, and a general walking exploration of the city as well as a canal boat tour. Note for those visiting Holland. Canal boat tours in general seem to stop running at 5 or 6 PM, so get them in early. Dinner was at our favorite sidewalk restaurant on the Grote Markt called Brinkmans. We found it to have the kind of food that we like, that is, mainly vegetarian and good prices as well. We particularly liked their vegetarian pancake that was huge and delicious with lots of veggies and of course dinner was followed by a gelato dessert at Bartoly's to cap off a perfect day marred only in that we had hoped to visit the Corrie Ten Boom house, a Christian home that served as a refuge during the Nazi occupation, but it was closed on that day.

To sum up, Haarlem was everything we hoped for and more. Our hotel was great with a fantastic location just opposite the St. Bavo Cathedral, around the corner from the Grote Markt and a block from the Spaarne. It was convenient to visit Amsterdam and is a beautiful and historic city filled with friendly people.

We continued to stay in Haarlem as a base and took a daytrip to Delft. I believe the trip from Haarlem was about 45 minutes but it was a direct train, thus convenient. From the train station it was a short walk to the center and the Grote Markt where Mi Chica found a small lace shop next to the tourist info office. This was a very small shop that had a number of antique and older items and we spent a fair amount of time while she picked up some lace that pleased her eye. The prices there seemed better than those in Brugge.

One of the things that we wanted to do there was to tour one of the workshops where Delftware is made and originally intended to visit De Delftse Pauw workshop because we particularly like their website but looking at our newly purchased map, we decided to visit Royal Delft instead because it was much closer. The tour was pretty interesting and we spent a lot of time in the shop now that we were experts, picking out a few items as we had planned to do - a goal had been to bring back some Delftware bought in Delft.

Leaving Royal Delft we saw a veloped pull up and hired it for a ride back to center city - it was fun and fast but somehow I felt like an exploiting aristocrat. The cost was 6 euro for the both of us and was a bargain on a hot day.

We did some exploratory walking using a walking tour guide that we picked up at the info office and ended up at the windmill. When there is blue flag flying from the windmill, it is open for visitors inside but we had no such luck. Our plan then was to take a canal tour and on the way back we saw a lot of black smoke in the distance. After grabbing a quick herring snack I went to buy the tour tickets and asked the young man in the booth if he knew what the smoke was from. It was the Architecture building of the University that eventually was completely destroyed along with invaluable historic archives. By coincidence the young man selling tickets was also the tour guide and was an architecture student at the university and his entire year's work and models were destroyed in the fire. Despite what he had to be feeling, his canal tour was the best and most informative of the tours we had taken. This kid knew his stuff!

Our day in Delft ended with coffee and poffertjes at one of the places in the Markt and a bit more shopping. A quick walk back to the station and a direct train ride and we were back in Haarlem

I neglected to mention earlier that Delft offers much of interest and beauty. The city's compact size makes it very walkable and it is well worth a visit. We passed a small Best Western hotel that was on the canal and looked very nice. If we ever have an opportunity to overnight in Delft we will check it out.

Our last day was May 14 and it had an inauspicious start. Our plan was to do the tourist thing and visit Volendam. I had been there once before and thought Mi Chica would like it - besides you can get some great herring there. To get to Volendam from Haarlem, you need to take the train to Amsterdam and a bus from there. One person told me there was a boat that would take you there from Haarlem, but that was not true - it would have been nice if it was.

We took our last walk to the Haarlem station stopping at the Wolky shoe store on the way for a look around - Mi Chica is a big fan of Wolky shoes and wanted to see the latest styles. The prices were higher than in the US but of course there was a much larger selection.

We boarded the train to Amsterdam and were on our way - or so we thought. About half way to Amsterdam, the train came to a stop. After standing for quite a while, I looked out of the window down the track and saw an ambulance and flashing lights. Word filtered back that the train ahead of us hit a car crossing the track. After a few more minutes, our train reversed direction and headed back. There was a long announcement in Dutch that we did not understand. Seeing that we were tourists with puzzled faces speaking English, a young man came over and told us that the announcement was that we would go back to Haarlem where there would be another train waiting to take us to Lieden where we would change trains once again to Amsterdam. He was a university student and told us he would stay with us to show us which trains to take. The fellow was quite a conversationalist and very interested in both Dutch and American politics and the time passed quickly to Amsterdam even though it took more than an hour to get there. The young fellow was an Obama fan which did not surprise us since everyone we met on our travels seemed to be rooting for Obama, young and old alike (this of course was before the election).

We parted ways in Amsterdam and walked over to the bus station where the Volendam bus would be. Strange, it was almost empty - that is when we learned that it was the first day of a 2 day day bus driver strike. We could have taken a private tour bus but looking at its schedule - three tourist stops on a four hour tour- decided it was not for us. No Volendam for us on this trip.

Our Dutch neighbor had mentioned that Utrecht was one of his favorite places so we decided to go there and check it out. This turned out to be another example of good coming from bad because we very much enjoyed Utrecht and we are glad that we did not miss it. Utrecht is a good sized city, larger than Haarlem and Delft but much smaller than Amsterdam. The canal and many of the places of interest are but a short walk from the station, so it is convenient as well.

The skyline is dominated by the Dom of St. Martins Cathedral - a 13th century cathedral that should not be missed with its spectacular stained glass windows depicting old and new testament characters and scenes. The tourist info office is just outside the cathedral.

Walking along the canal, we came upon a small antiques shop and stopped in. Among the usual eclectic collection of small items they had some very interesting blueware plates. There was an interesting set of plates that dated to WW I depicting scenes of the war and of the people. We passed on those not wanting to break up the set and finally chose 3 plates, 2 of which celebrated the end of WW II and one that Mi Chica said had some historical significance in the design of blueware. The owner said that one of the WW II plates we chose was ubiquitous in Dutch homes following the war. This plate made in Mastricht depicted a Dutch Soldier on a horse trampling the Nazi flag with the sun rising over a Dutch city in the background. The inscription referenced the end of a long night and the sun rising over Holland once more. The other WW II plate was from Gouda and is multicolored with a central orange tree symbolizing the royal family with an inscription that Holland will bloom again. These are the type of souveniers that we prefer - they have so much more meaning than a mini wooden shoe with a windmill picture on it.

The canal in Utrecht is different from those of other cities we have seen in that it is at a lower level than the street - sort of Utrecht's basement. There are walkways along the canal reached by stairs as well as restaurants on that lower level.

The return to Haarlem was easy and we arrived in time for a late dinner that we had at Brinkman's followed by one last pig out at Bartoly's gelato shop where our goal of trying the flavors that were new to us was met with a four scoop extravaganza. We loved the pear flavor that tasted like the best quality fresh fruit.

Because of the bus strike, we had to alter our plan to bus to the airport the next morning. It would have been easy with a bus every 10 minutes in the morning and a direct route. I am told it would have taken 30-40 minutes. Instead we ordered a taxi that showed up promptly at the hotel and at 6:30 AM and got us to the airport quickly. The fare was 47.5 euros.

Collecting our VAT rebate was a bit more of a hassle than we had previously experienced at other airports and the rebate was much less than expected. If you are collecting a rebate there you must first go to customs with the items as well as the receipts, your ticket or official itinerary and passport to prove you are leaving the country, so pack those purchases seperately from your checked baggage or if you are planning to check your purchases, go to the customs counter first. The place to collect the refund is in a different part of the terminal and doesn't open until 8:30 AM.

One pleasant surprise was that our British Midlands ticket entitled us to use the lounge - a fine way to wait. Our flight back to JFK was via Heathrow and was uneventful other than a hour delay in our departure on AA from London.

All in all this was a terrific trip where we captured new memories and met wonderful people. Although there were some unexpected problems, everything worked out for the best and all of our lodging choices exceeded expectations. We loved having an apartment. We had checked into the possibility of an apartment in Haarlem too and did find some, but all were far more expensive that the hotel we chose,so on this trip we experienced an apartment, B&Bs and a hotel, hitting the trifecta.
basingstoke2 is offline  
May 2nd, 2009, 02:56 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
Adding pictures for this report:www.flickr.com/photos/basingstoke2/sets
basingstoke2 is offline  
May 2nd, 2009, 03:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,317
hi b'stoke,

how nice to read your report. it brought back memories of our trip to amsterdam and the keukenhof gardens about 3 years ago. we went to Haarlem one evening for a change from amsterdam and immediately felt that we'd have enjoyed staying there more.

thanks for posting,

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
May 2nd, 2009, 06:02 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 569
I enjoyed your report. Gives me thought to stay in Haarlem as a base. It seems to be a good fit for me.

Thank you for your informative and interesting post.
ggnga is offline  
May 2nd, 2009, 06:25 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 4,108
Thanks for your report. I used Haarlem as a base for a 7-day stay in the Netherlands a few years ago. Loved it. It was summer long after Keukenhoff was closed, but lots of other wonderful things to see.
irishface is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 05:26 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
annhig, ggnga and irishface, It is hard to describe the feeling that we both had in Haarlem. Returning to Haarlem after a day of touring had a "coming home" feeling - it was that sort of comfort level. There is a very lively cafe scene in and around the square at night with great people watching. There is also a typical weekly market. Looking at what we paid, I very much doubt that we could have found a place as nice in Amsterdam at twice the price.
basingstoke2 is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 09:00 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 7,294
fmpden is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 04:16 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 1,691
I've enjoyed reading your trip report, basingstoke2. As much as we enjoy visiting Amsterdam, we decided to stay in Delft on one of our visits to Holland. I know what you mean by that "coming home" feeling. We really enjoy the small town atmosphere. If you do decide to give Delft a try next time, consider the Hotel de Emauspoort, located directly behind the Nieuwe Kerk. www.emauspoort.nl

BTW, those plates that you found sound wonderful. (I wish I could get my DH to stop at little antique shops.)

artstuff is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 07:07 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
artstuff - What a wonderful hotel website!! The Dutch language one especially - I'll be humming that tune all day tomorrow. Thanks. Got to try one of those Gypsy Caravans. Did you stay in one?

I happen to get a kick out of little antique shops and have a weakness for glass, crystal, ceramics and porcelain.
We come back with some pieces every trip.
basingstoke2 is offline  
May 22nd, 2009, 09:23 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 16,658
Great report! I was going to stay in Haarlem as a base when I planned a trip with dd that we ended up canceling - and recall the you writing about it. I wanted to stay at the Stempels as well. If I ever do get to Ams - I would stay in Haarlem. Great TR!
MomDDTravel is offline  
Jan 30th, 2012, 06:06 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,957
Thank you basingstoke2 for your terrific trip report!

I read your trip report from beginning to end in my decision-making process regarding Haarlem vs. Amsterdam as a base. I enjoyed so much seeing what you did...especially since it seems that we have similar travelling styles. Some incredibly useful information for me too... for example, I learned that the Grote Markt was lively and there's a direct connection to Delft; nice to know I'll not have to *always* transfer in Amsterdam if I pick Haarlem as the base (which I'm leaning toward).

Thanks again, Daniel
Daniel_Williams is online now  
Jan 30th, 2012, 08:16 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
Daniel - W

I'm glad you found the TR useful. DW says that she would not mind living in Haarlem! She has never said that about any other place we visited in Europe. If you stay in Haarlem, check out Stempels Hotel, it was fabulous and cost about the same as a one star in Amsterdam. The cafe scene is indeed lively and right at your feet. Our room, #21 overlooked a side street and had no noise problem.
basingstoke2 is offline  
Jan 30th, 2012, 03:54 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,957
Thanks for the suggestion of Stempels Hotel, looks lovely and centrally-located in Haarlem!
Daniel_Williams is online now  
Jan 30th, 2012, 04:13 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
I don't know if these are the pictures of Stempels that you saw. The first and last pictures give you a good idea of the night scene in Haarlem. In the first, The cathedral is on your left and the hotel on your right. In the last you see the chandelier burning in the hotel. Our room overlooked the street on the right so the room was quiet. That street goes down to the Spaarne.

Near the hotel is a violin maker - an interesting shop to visit.

here is the link
basingstoke2 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 06:51 PM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 2,006
Basingstoke: I am so happy that I found this wonderful report. Thanks for saving me months of research in trying to decide for myself and my friends whether to stay in Amsterdam, or to try Haarlem for our trip next May!,

Lots of good information and suggestions, and they will help so much for us in making the decision.
taconictraveler is offline  
Apr 28th, 2012, 06:02 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,558
I'm glad this report got topped. I am staying in Haarlem in July and am now even more sure it was the right decision. Did you do a report on Antwerpt. And where else did you go in Belgium. I'm staying in Antwerpt to do Belgium trip reports before Haarlem.

Also notice you were using a Panasonic FZ18 on that trip - I am a big fan of that camera. I currently use the FZ40 and am thinking of getting the FZ 150 for the next trip.
isabel is offline  
Apr 28th, 2012, 08:24 AM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 75,913
Love Haarlem and have based there now for several years!

marking this great thread for later digestion.

Tot ziens!
PalenQ is offline  
Apr 28th, 2012, 12:35 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 15,193
Isabel - you asked about Antwerp - we visited Antwerp on the way to Haarlem and had an amazing time there due to the kindness of a fellow fodorite who is a local resident. I brought up excerpts from the Antwerp part of the TR. They are a long read because I want to bring in some things that are "different," maybe a bit unusual, and perhaps of interest to some who might want to visit that most interesting city.

A morning train brought us to Antwerp. We approached the first taxi in the line, told him the address of our B&B and he replied that it was very near by and not worth a taxi trip. It did not look that close on the map and the Garmin was of little help in giving total distances at the time. However, the taxi did refuse to take us and rather than go to the next one in line we decided that since it was a nice day we would walk. It turned out to be about 2km, not too long considering all of the walking we had been doing but feeling much longer in the hot sun and with suitcases dragging behind.

The B&B, Monique Vermeire was very interesting and very different from the one in Brugge but not in a negative way. It was one found on the internet but with only 2 reviews, both positive. Monique Vermeire is an artist and a recognized and accomplished one at that. The B&B was like staying in a museum. Not only was it full of her art but the public areas of her home had unique antiques, wallpapers and ceiling frescoes. When I post pictures you will see what I mean. Our room was on the 3rd (read 4th)floor, this time one flight more than in Brugge and it was quite a haul up there. I had thought that the room would be ensuite but it was not - put that down to miscommunication due to language. However, the WC and shower were right outside our door and as we were the only folks on that floor, it was not shared, so all was well. The clean,large rooms show the age of the house, and are furnished with a combination of antiques and simply old furniture. It was like staying with an aunt and was comfortable. One room that we saw did have a shower in the room, but it was a free standing shower cabinet along one of the walls - something I experienced once before and would not recommend.

Ms. Vermeire welcomed us serving a beverage choice and chocolates in her beautiful courtyard garden that was in full bloom and we had a very nice discussion of Antwerp, Art, and life. She is a lovely woman.

After settling in we took a walk to Antwerp's main square, about 10 minutes or so but not an especially interesting route. We looked around and not yet being ready for food settled for a soft drink on the square and just people watched for awhile. I found the nearby tourist office, asked some general questions, picked up a better map and learned that there was a nearby shopping mall nearby behind the Hilton that has a WC on the 3rd level - a valuable piece of info.

We were not too interested in touring that day since we were to meet a fellow fodorite the next day for a city tour - I'll devote a full post to that.

We did though want to see Antwerp's Jewish section in some detail and thought it would be cool to have dinner in a kosher restaurant just to see if it was any different from those that can be (increasingly rarely) found in the US. We knew we had reached the Jewish section when we saw a number of people in the streets wearing what I would consider Hasidic clothing. I approached a pair of young men hoping they would speak English but they did not really. Mi Chica, although born in Cuba speaks fluent Yiddish which is the street language of Hasids in the US but it is not socially acceptable for her to approach them.

Many years ago, I spent a year plus on an assignment in Jerusalem and learned enough of the Hebrew language to get along. Reaching into my memory banks I asked them in Hebrew if they spoke that language and they did. It turns out that Hebrew is the street language there rather than Yiddish. I was amazed at how the Hebrew that I had learned came flooding back and we had a nice conversation ending with directions to a restaurant called Mama Mia, which they claimed was the best kosher dairy restaurant in Antwerp.

An enduring image will be of Hasidic men in black coats, hats, long beards and side curls riding bicycles - not something seen in the US. We finally found Mama Mia asking direction clarifications on the way with my newly resurrected linguistic skills. I am still amazed.

With a name like Mama Mia I was expecting Italian. OK, Italian dairy but it had an eclectic menu. The restaurant is pretty bare bones even for a dairy place (sorry, I couldn't help it) . There were a couple of orthodox families eating there each with about a half dozen kids all whom were running about the place. No one seemed to mind. A different kind of ambiance for sure but we got with the program and half way enjoyed it.

So, what does one order in kosher dairy restaurant? I started with onion soup that was prepared with a vegetarian broth. Not bad at all if you don't think about what real onion soup should taste like. We followed that with a vegetable omelette that came with a huge mound of frites. That omelette was something else. The waiter said it had 3 eggs but I swear it had to be more like a dozen or maybe he meant 3 ostrich eggs. I never saw an omelette that size. We regretted that we had already ordered cheese blintzes for dessert.

Now, for the uninitiated unfamiliar with blintzes, think filled crepe. But we were puzzled why cheese blintzes would be on the dessert menu since they are more of a entree thing. Fruit filled blintzes for dessert yes, but cheese? The cheese used in a cheese blintze is usually a farmers cheese blend often with cream cheese. The blintzes were served and they were nothing like grandma made. Two were on the plate, each about a foot long (about twice as long as usual). They were filled with what seemed the traditional filling with the addition of creme fraiche. They were topped with chocolate sauce and about a pint of whipped cream each. We never saw anything that called itself a blintz like it. Reluctantly leaving some on the plate we paid a not inconsiderable bill and crawled out to the street and back to the B&B through the Staadspark . This time we were grateful for a long walk as an aid to digestion. Will we ever be able to eat again? At the time the answer seemed that it would be in the negative.

The following day we were to meet jeepeegee and his lovely wife. jeepeegee is a fodorite that I had met on this forum after I contacted him about his posting of pictures of old Antwerp and mentioned that we would be there in May. He offered to meet us and show us the Antwerp sights and sites that tourists usually never see. How could I pass up an offer like that?

Before I write about jeepeegee and our Antwerp tour I would like to say a few more words about Monique Vermeer's B&B. Simply put her place is something very different and perhaps not for all tastes. We both quite enjoyed it. The public rooms are very special with true museum quality antiques, intricate woodwork and some unbelievable rare wallpaper. There is artwork all over, mostly her own paintings and she really is very good. There are other items of art or whimsy on almost every surface. The stair railing is also antique and one of the most unusual that I have ever seen ending in a carved hand that clutches the first upright post. But, the home is largely original and that means old and if you require ensuite facilities then this is not the place for you although the rooms each have a sink and mirror, some that are antique and quite spectacular.

M. Vermeire serves a nice and different breakfast. Different in that she serves a variety of preserves and jams that she makes herself and they are outstanding. We particularly enjoyed her rhubarb apricot jam. It makes for a very interesting and tasty combination.

The neighborhood is a good one and although our room faced the street, we were not bothered by noise even though the windows do not have double glazing. As mentioned, it is about a 10 minute walk to the main square and the walk takes you past some interesting shops but on the whole is not an interesting one. There are several nearby restaurants and cafes that we were told are good, but we did not try them.

I should have mentioned that a double room is 60 euro/night including breakfast [2008]. A very good rate for Antwerp.

So, to continue on a most amazing day. Some months ago, a fodorite, jeepeejee posted on this forum a fascinating set of pictures of old Antwerp [correct URLs below] and I replied to the post mentioning my interest in the post and that we were planning a visit to Antwerp. As I mentioned earlier, jeepeejee offered to show us the places most tourists do not see and so began emails back and forth where we learned that we had much in common in our professional and travel interests. If you have seen his travel stories and pictures you will know that he is very well travelled and has much to share. If you haven't seen his travel blogs they are well worth finding through the above links and through this forum.[see below for the URLs]

jeepeejee and his lovely wife Nicole met us bright and early at our B&B and the adventure began. This man is organized!! He had a planned a full day's itinerary of 30 sites and Nicole had researched historical and other notes on each place. To discuss each place would take a book of writing but I will touch on some of the high points. We began with a tour of the Jewish section and diamond district and even though we had been there the evening before, we saw many places that we had missed such as the old synagogue/bombing memorial.

Highlights were visits to the Universities attended by jeepeejee and Nicole and very special was a visit to the national library and archives. Nicole is a librarian and teaches library science. She arranged for a student of hers who worked at the library to take us on a tour of some archive rooms that are usually closed to the public. The interior architecture of these old rooms and arrangement of books were very interesting and our guide told us that even many Antwerpens are unaware that these treasured rooms exist. We were very privileged.

We covered a lot of ground and saw many of the hidden gems of Antwerp, cathedrals including one that had burned and had been "resurrected," and the cathedral that jeepeegee attended as a youth that had some of the most beautiful woodwork and carvings. Some things that we saw were not quite gems such as a walk through the red light district. It is smaller than the one in Amsterdam but has the lady in the window thing. The ladies were of all shapes and sizes and a few were senior citizens. Something for everybody who likes that sort of thing.

The waterfront was also quite a sight with the maritime museum housed in a castle as was the nearby old meatpacking area transformed into a music museum and place of interesting architecture. Throughout, jeepeejee and Nicole had a wealth of commentary and historical information. jeepeejee and Nicole had their car parked in a garage near a park and had packed a picnic lunch that Nicole had prepared - a real treat and we particularly enjoyed the smoked salmon salad. Later, we stopped in at the theater which has a stunning dessert restaurant for drinks and to enjoy the view of the street below. That is just one more place that the casual tourist would have no knowledge of. Anyone going to Antwerp should seek it out. We finished with some drinks in a courtyard restaurant while we waited for our dinner reservation nearby and enjoyed a dinner of comeraderie and conversation that lasted nearly 3 hours. Thank you jeepeejee and Nicole for giving us a memorable day and an appreciation for Antwerp that we simply would not have had doing the usual tourist things. If you are reading this, we learned a lot and very much enjoyed the company of you, our newly found friends. We sincerely meant it when we urged you to visit the Washington, D.C. area so we can reciprocate by giving you a tour of the hidden gems of our city and surrounding area.

This amazing day would not have happened had it not been for the Fodor's Forum, so thanks to Fodor's as well.
stands were the best. In Antwerp, there is a frites place in the Markt next to McDonalds that although it seems geared to the tourist and probably is, also has excellent frites. BTW, if you just want a soda, McD's has the best price in the Markt and sidewalk tables too.

[a following post by our host jeepeejee] Indeed, we had a great day in Antwerp ! I'm glad you both enjoyed the day we planned and we are pleased with your friendly words here !
For the visitors hereby the correct links basingstoke2 mentioned in his report above...

Antwerp in old days:

Travel stories:

Mail contact:
[email protected]

I hope you all enjoy the url's.


Fororites - do yourself a favor and look at these URLs, particularly if you have any interest in Belgium and Antwerp - they are a a most excellent find with photos of many of jeepeejee's world-wide travels and give a good insight into the travel world of one of our fellow posters.

A final thought about Antwerp. In many ways it reminds me of Brussels. Both are large cosmopolitan cities many of whose best delights are not obvious to the casual tourist. Unlike cities like Paris, one has to do some research above and beyond the usual to really appreciate the place. One can walk around Paris without any planning at all and still be "blown away" and the same for many other cities - Prague comes to mind as another. I can honestly say that jeepeejee and his DW made the city come alive in a way that I know we would not have known given our own casual travel style. We do research places that we are about to visit and have somewhat of a plan but we often end up doing much based on seat of the pants whims based on what looks good at the time. We find that this way of travel suits us but it is obvious, that some places require more thought and planning for full appreciation.
basingstoke2 is offline  
Apr 30th, 2012, 11:02 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,567
Thank you for this reposting. I'm heading to Belgium and The Netherlands this summer. I'll be staying in Ghent, Amsterdam, and The Hague. Hoping for some day trips to Antwerp, Delft, and Haarlem. Great advice.
luvtotravel is offline  
Jun 18th, 2012, 08:40 PM
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 7
This certainly brought back memories. My parents were both Dutch, and we had the chance to bring our three teens to the Netherlands two years ago. We loved Haarlem and Utrecht, too. Utrecht has a wonderful market -- we found huge bouquets of two dozen roses for five euros, which made a nice thank you gift for our hostess.

I apologize if this isn't appropriate for this forum, but I was especially interested in the plates you found. I had a plate from my mother and it sounds like the one you found in Utrecht -- it had the orange tree, and the words "Oranje bloemt op eigen grond" (spelling?). It broke many years ago and I've always mourned its loss. My question ... my husband is headed to the Netherlands for a couple of days next month. Would you have any idea of the name of the antique dealer (hoping he specializes in that sort of article). I know it's a long shot, but I'd so appreciate a note if you happen to have that information. Denk u wel!
EvelyninPDX is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:40 PM.