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Please help us plan a 10 day mid to higher end trip to Netherlands & Belgium!

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Please help us plan a 10 day mid to higher end trip to Netherlands & Belgium!

Old Mar 8th, 2008, 10:03 AM
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Please help us plan a 10 day mid to higher end trip to Netherlands & Belgium!

My wife and I are fortunate in that we have plenty of frequent flyer miles to travel business class on trips to Europe. However, that requires that we plan our trips way in advance. We would appreciate your help putting together a "clean slate" plan for tulip season trip to Netherlands & Belgium in April, 2009.

Unless y'all let me know otherwise, this will be a nine or ten day trip PLUS travel days. $400 to $500 per day for hotel is OK. However, would prefer less. The most important thing is convenient location with European flair. Have seen good post on Hotel Prinsenhof in Brugge and Banks Mansion in Amsterdam. Would like to skip the chains.

Based on preliminary research, it would appear as if we would need 4 nights in Amsterdam, 4 nights in Brugge and 2 nights in Bussels (on way back to Texas). Hopefully, will not need to rent an automobile.

Would appreciate any help in getting me started in my research. We love beautiful scenery, local architecture, etc. Could you help me, including:

Nights in each location...

Any day trips from each location (e.g., surrounding small towns)...

Hotels (on canals?)...

Absolutely, don't miss attractions...

Other daily activities...

Best dining experiences (not most expensive)...

Anything I forgot to ask...

I appreciate your sharing your expertise with us.
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 11:45 AM
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I think 4 nights in Bruges is a bit much, I'd add one more to Amsterdam instead.

While in Amsterdam, you can easily visit Haarlem. My favorite day trip from Amsterdam is actually Delft followed by the Mauritshaus in Den Haag.

While in Belgium, you should visit Ghent and Antwerp. Both are easy day trips.

As for hotels, I normally don't stay at places anywhere close to your price range, but I did stay at Le Dixseptieme once in Brussels. It is a lovely small hotel and great location (few minutes from the Centraal train station or the Grand Place).

http://www.ledixseptieme.be/main.html
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 11:50 PM
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hi there,
First, I agree with the other poster that 4 days in Brugge will feel like ALOT of time. I would certainly consider giving more time to Ghent and even more to Antwerp since it has great museums and a very current fashion and design scene.

I really enjoy staying at the hotel t' Zandt www.hotel-sandt.be in Antwerp as it's very close to the main square and the harbourfront.

Banks Mansion in Amsterdam doesn't have a particularly European flair. that being said it's a good place to stay in terms of location and many "extras" elsewhere are freebies there, making it a nice, if slightly less atmospheric choice. I don't want to sound too negative on it, it just doesn't really have a unique feel...and it is in a small chain (the Carlton group) I think.

While in Belgium you may be interested in visiting some of World War One's most significant battlegrounds and towns; google Ypres Salient tours and pick one. They'll take you through the trenches and monuments and give you lots of context.

Go to Antwerp for Rubens paintings, a thriving Hasidic community, super-chic fashions, and excellent art galleries including contemporary and photography galleries.

Of course the Keukenhof is the place to go for Tulips, but if you feel inspired, go to the train station in Lisse and rent a bike to tour the bulb fields.

Visit Rotterdam if you have an interest in contemporary architecture, and go to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen because it has an excellent, chronoligically arranged collection of Dutch and international art.

Utrecht has the most beautiful canals in NL, and the Utrecht Centraal Museum which is worth visiting.

If you want to see the stereotypical Dutch things like windmills, cheese, and wooden shoes, you should go to the touristy but interesting Zaanse Schans...an easy half day trip for Amsterdam.

In Belgium, the town of Leuven has a very charming feel, and there is a UNESCO recognized area that makes for a lovely stroll.

For dining...in Amsterdam try the restaurant De Kas. Good organic food and you dine in the very greenhouse where some of your meal will have been raised! You should try to eat some Indonesian food, and the place to do that is Tempo Doeloe in Amsterdam. For a really cool experience and to meet some locals, you might try Saskia's Huiskamer where you'd dine at a communal table with locals in a setting that is intended to create a dinner party atmosphere. Book ahead on all of those but particularly at Saskia's since they only seat 26 on Fri and Sat only.

For an excellent day in Holland consider going to the Kroller Muller Museum. It has a very special Van Gogh Collection and an outdoor sculpture garden, but the best part is that the museum is located in a nature area and free bikes are provided to allow you to tour the park.

It's probably a no brainer, but the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museums shouldn't be missed in Amsterdam. I also really the the Resistance Museum.

If I had to do you trip, I would probably leave Amsterdam at four days or maybe bump it up to five. I personally think that Brugge and Ghent could take a day each, that Brussels is fine at two and that Antwerp could take two if you are art fans.

Finally, if you are foodies; When in Brussels head to the Petit Sablon and buy chocolate from Pierre Marcolini, THE place to buy it. Also stroll the street for the excellent pastries and other snacks
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 04:30 AM
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I agree with yk and global_guy: four nights in Brugge is more than enough, unless you are a rabid Dorothy Dunnett fan (like me).

You might consider the restaurant Den Dyver in Brugge (www.dyver.be). It has been a couple of years since we were last there, but I have noticed other posters recommending it since. Expect a hospital welcome, good service, and wonderful food. We chose one of the set menus and drank happily the various beers they paired with each course.

Anselm
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 09:39 AM
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Investigate the Benelux railpass, covering all trains in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg (don't overlook this cute cute town and Principality) - but depends on how many trains you'll take - like day tripping from Amsterdam to such gems as Delft, Alkmaar (for the oldtime very popular Friday Cheese Market) in this historic old town
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 09:56 AM
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We did a similar trip last year - it was wonderful, we hope to go again! In Amsterdam we like the Canal House - we got a huge room at the front of the house with three large windows looking out on the canal - fabulous - I think last year it was 190E (their highest priced). You can look on Tripadvisor for more suggestions - I think the Pulitzer is another nice hotel on the canals.

The earlier suggestion about renting a bike in Lisse to bike through the tulip fields is a good one. We did Kuekenhoff one day and then the fields another day - very different experiences, both wonderful.

We stayed five nights in Amsterdam, there is plenty to do for that amount of time and more esp. if you enjoy lingering slow travel instead of rushing around checking off sights.

We went to Brugge for three nights - one day there was spent biking as well. You can bike alongside a canal to the little town of Damme. I actually liked Amsterdam quite a bit more than Brugge. Amsterdam is a thriving city, Brugge is a tourist sight but lovely. If you don't mind the F word, go and see In Brugge - will give you a taste of the city and atmosphere. Have a great trip!
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 10:32 AM
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HI; If you plan on visiting both Delft and Den Haag you can do it in one day easily by train. BUT, keep in mind that the train splits in Delph and you have to be in the right section. Otherwise you will go directly to Den Haag as we did. ENJOY Iris P.S. We visited Delft on our next visit. Also view d'theeboom.com for your dinning enjoyment.
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Old Mar 14th, 2008, 01:00 PM
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As an alternative to the Benelux rail pass, you might also consider simply purchasing an "NS Kortings Kaart". The pass is issued by the Dutch rail system, and costs about $50 US. It allows the bearer and up to three travel companions, a nearly 50% discount on any train trips within the Netherlands so long as you start your journey after 9am weekdays. There's no weekend restrictions and if you buy a return ticket to Belgium you will also save substantially since the majority of the trip will be on Dutch land and the pass will apply to the journey up until the border(and back). The discount offered to two people travelling from Amsterdam to Antwerp return will pretty much cover the 50 bucks. The pass can be purchased at any major Dutch rail station.

Likewise, if you plan to see many museums in NL, you might purchase a "year card" for 30-something Euros. There is an Amsterdam museum card, but this one covers virtually any museum in the Netherlands and it will pay for itself simply by visiting three or four of the premier museums and galleries...though over 400 are included in the pass. You can buy it at any major museum.
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 07:32 AM
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But the Benelux Pass gives five days of unlimited travel for about $115 2nd class

So it seems if you buy the 50% off pass at $50 for an extra $65 you'd get five days unlimited travel and no need to buy tickets - since Dutch station ticketing machines don't currently take U.S. credit cards this means waiting in often horrific lines i saw this Jan - seems Dutch stations are cutting back ticket window service to force folks to use the machines or the Internet to buy tickets - and tickets even cost more at the ticket window. Not sure of current price of Benelux Pass - a always recommend pass questions to call Byron at BETS 800-441-2387; www.budgeteuropetravel.com as he's so helpful. www.ricksteves.com also has good info on passes. There is also a Holland only railpass at around $85 for three days of travel - both Benelux and Holland Passes are flexipasses good for 3 or 5 days of unlimited travel of your chosing within a month period. But if you go to www.ns.nl and www.b-tourrail.com the Dutch and Belgian sites you'll be able to compare regular prices with 50% card and the pass. (Not positive about the exact web name of Belgian rail)
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 08:21 AM
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Hello Philip:

Understand the aversion to chain hotels, but check out the Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam. Gradyghost
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 04:25 PM
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PalenQ does raise a decent point about the short term rail pass. However, I still think you'd want to price out your trips before buying one. Keep in mind that only one person has to buy the discount card and your travel companions (up to three of 'em) will also get discounts.

If you will make alot of long distance (by Dutch standards) trips, then the rail pass would make sense. Otherwise I would still consider the discount card.

If you're staying in Amsterdam and decide to go to Utrecht for the day, you'd pay about 7.5 Euros return per person (for example).

As for purchasing tickets at the desk? The "even more" that PalenQ refers to is 50 Euro cents. And while it's true that the machine don't take North American credit cards, but they do take coins and can be operated in English.
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 04:33 PM
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How do you pay with coins for say the 20 euro tickets - a lot of coin?

global guy - i'm just fooling - of course with 10 2 euro coins - do they take bills as well?

and this info that you give that is hard to get anywhere for noive travelers is priceless and how Fodor's and other sites have really revolutionized independent travel - all the options are inevitably outlined.

Why these machines don't take American credit cards that are otherwise widely accepted all over Europe, except in train station machines it seems, is a mystery to me.
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 08:42 PM
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Global Guy: Question-WHAT is it about Pierre Marcolini chocolates, other than the name, that is so great? I think I'm a pretty good judge of sweets, and food in general, and I'll be darned if I know what is special, or even, particularly good about PC chocolate. I can tell you after my first chocolate there, an Irish girl and I both turned to each other and went, "not so great." In fact, I'll take Italian chocolate over Belgian, in most cases, and I'll take a Godiva chcolate bar ANY DAY over the much vaunted and oh so hip PC-in other words, it don't impress a me much-at all! (but I do like their chic shopping bags!)

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Old Mar 18th, 2008, 11:02 PM
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PalenQ - I agree; that the train ticket machines don't take credit cards is a little unusual, but if it's any consolation, they don't take Dutch credit cards either. I am sure it has to do with some "security" issue, but Dutch debit cards and pre-loaded "chip" cards are the only ones that the machines accept. The biggest stations often have machines that can make change.

Girlspytravel - Whether or not you particularly adore Marcolini chocolates or not, you can't really deny that it's the place to go to experience premium Belgian chocolate in Brussels. Personally I would say that Marcolini is quite good but not the best I've ever had. It merely ranks among other premium European chocolatiers, but I would qualify that by saying that the shop, the presentation, and yeah, even bags, contribute to an exceptional experience, making Marcolini THE place to go to. I'll concede that it might not be to your taste, that it's pricey, and that Italians, particulary Torino chocolatiers, and specifically Cafe Bicerin, make the best chocolate I've ever had
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Old Mar 18th, 2008, 11:36 PM
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First of all, you don't need to rent a car with Amsterdam, Brugge and Brussels as destinations.

Secondly, four nights for Brugge may be too much for Brugge itself to some, but you can easily use it as a home base; by train Gent is some 20 minutes and Antwerp is less than an hour away. You can also go for a walk at the seaside or rent a bicycle and have a tour alongside the sea (Ostende or Knokke, each some 15 minutes by train). You can also tour in and around Brugge with a bicycle, to Damme and surroundings, and get a fair view of the regional topography. Some hotels have bicycles at the disposal of their clients.
Furthermore, you'll appreciate Brugge in the evening, when all the daytrippers are gone.
Brugge will serve you best in nice scenery and local architecture.

For hotels:
- less expensive, alongside a canal, see www.adornes.be and read tripadvisor comments. it is at a 7 to 8 minutes walk from the Grote Markt, in a very quiet setting.
- Orangerie Hotel and Tuilerieen Hotel come close to blow your budget...
- another excellent canal experience is Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, 2 minutes form the Groote Markt, maybe a bit noisier in the surroundings but that shouldn't bother you when you are in the inner court.

I just read the tripadvisor comments on brugge hotels and finally, you can't miss when choosing in the first 12 hotels listed. It will be a matter of setting (canal view) and a matter of price. All hotels are in the city center, at walking distance from the Grote Markt with the Belfry.

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Old Mar 18th, 2008, 11:47 PM
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The kortingskaart is €55, so more like 78USD than 50USD, and gives 40% dicount on trains after 9 am. You also need a passport sized photo for it.
If you are planning on a lot of train travel within the Netherlands it is worth it especially as you only need one card for up to 4 people travelling together. HOwever I'm not sure it is worth it in the OP's case - 9-10 days in the Netherlands and Belgium means they would have to spend most of their time on Dutch trains rather than exploring the country.
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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 06:00 AM
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I wonder if the OP has been following this thread. He has not replied since he started this thread over a week ago!
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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 04:09 PM
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Thanks for all the good advice. Will incorporate into final itinerary. Problem with having to plan so far in advance is that it is so far in advance.

Philip
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