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TRIP REPORT - 8 Days in the Netherlands and Belgium

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Jun 3rd, 2010, 12:11 PM
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TRIP REPORT - 8 Days in the Netherlands and Belgium

This is an 8-day trip with 2 days in Bruges, 5 in Amsterdam, and 1 in Brussels that my wife and I took May 24-June 2. I am posting it here even though the first two day (below) are Bruges.


DAY 0 – MONDAY EVENING

USAir 751 nonstop from Philadelphia to Brussels took off a little late. Unlike when I was young, I have difficulty sleeping in an airplane seat (back issues), and the plane was 100% full. Probably got a couple of hours of real sleep.


DAY 1 - TUESDAY

We arrived at BRU from Philadelphia pretty much on time (scheduled for 8:00 a.m. arrival). We went through control and customs pretty quickly – did not have to wait for luggage, since we always only take carry-ons. Managed to make the 8:52 train to Nord station and connect to the 9:23 train to Bruges. This was a good start to our trip, since I really thought we would have to take a later train.

[NOTE: All our train tickets except the Haarlem day trip were bought and printed in advance online.]

[MONEY NOTE: Brought with us leftover euros from our last trip, so we didn’t have to go to an ATM right away. We used two cards the entire trip. A 1% surcharge ATM card from my credit union, and a no-surcharge Capital One credit card. All the charges came in between $1.22 and $1.23 per euro. Nice!!

Took the bus to Markt and walked the two blocks to our hotel, Hotel Cordoeanier. Very nice hotel; great location. Though very tired from the lack of substantial sleep on the flight, we immediately went out and took a Rick Steves walk around town. Had lunch at a sandwich shop.

Since the weather was iffy for tomorrow, we took the canal cruise today – nice little rest, too.

Then back to the hotel for a short nap.

We then decided to explore on our own (and save the museums for rainy tomorrow). Walked north along the canal on Potterieri Straat, then to the windmills on the ring.

Along the way we had spotted a restaurant that looked good for dinner (Uilenspiegel‎ at Langstraat 2), and we stopped there after the windmills. Had a great meal at a beautiful canal-side outdoor table. here’s a pic:

http://sanderhome.com/Amsterdam1005/...G_2370_web.jpg

[Go to www.SanderHome.com for all pix.]

Beef (very nicely done) with pepper sauce, frites, salad, and beer for 20€ each. I highly recommend this place, with the caveat that this was the special of the day and the only dish we tried.

[NOTE: We do not generally spend a lot of money on food. We look for inexpensive places, so we sometimes get a mediocre meal. That’s something we’ve learned to live with when we travel. The above place, IMO, was a real find.]

Then to bed.


DAY 2 – WEDNESDAY

NOTE: While Bruges’ Markt is a lovely square, most of the buildings are 19th c. reconstructions made to look like 15th c. buildings. It’s a little Disney-esque. Walking the streets and canals outside the immediate center is a much nicer experience IMHO.

With rain off and on (but gentle), this was to be our museum day. We had picked up 3-day museum cards (15€ each) and made the most of it. Many of the following that we visited were covered: Stadhuis, Groening, Memling, Gruuthuis, Church of Our Lady and Church of the Holy Blood.

The nice thing about the card is that you are not afraid to go into any of the museums for fear of finding it uninteresting, and you can pop in for short multiple visits to those you really like. I really liked the huge fireplace at the Gruuthuis and the Groening Museum.

During the walk we had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien – I had a smoked salmon sandwich and Linda had lentil soup (we shared) – and beer. Nice place – apparently a chain.


After our nap, we headed out to check out the bus schedule back to the station for tomorrow morning – we had to get an early train (with reserved seats) at 8:31 and did not want to miss it. Then we walked to l’Estaminet Restaurant for dinner. This is a small café – very atmospheric. We both had spaghetti with meat sauce and beer and shared a large salad. The salad and beer were great. Linda did not like the spaghetti – it had some non-Italian cheese in it – but I found it interesting.

We got back to the hotel to get our money belts (with passports and extra cash) out of the safe and pay our hotel bill. There was a problem! The man at the desk did not have authorization for the combination. The manager (with whom we had dealt with yesterday and earlier today) was in Brussels. He would not be back till 7:30 in the morning.

That was cutting it too close for me (with an 8:31 train to catch). They contacted him, and he called me – he agreed to come back that evening (albeit pretty late) and open the safe. A few hours of tension!! They did try to make amends, however, by giving us some sandwiches, juice, and bread & jam to take in the morning (since we would miss breakfast). If you ever go to this hotel, keep this potential problem in mind.

[cont'd]
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Jun 3rd, 2010, 12:12 PM
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DAY 3 - THURSDAY

Up early (and tired, because of the safe problem last night) – took the bus to the station. We had originally planned an 8:31 train to Antwerp (changing trains in Ghent) where we would catch the Thalys to Amsterdam. But we got to the station early enough to catch an 8:19 direct train to Antwerp. This gave us extra time in the Antwerp station to relax and get a blueberry muffin and coffee. Antwerp station is beautiful – a beaux arts classic!! Then we took the Thalys to Amsterdam.

We needed a transport pass. It took 45 minutes in the GVB building!

A word about passes: For our 5 day stay, we used a 5-day transport card (22€) and a 1-year Netherlands museum card (40€). I’m pretty sure this was the best option, particularly since 3 of the museums we planned to see in Haarlem were covered. The iAmsterdam card would cost nearly 100€ for 5 days and would not include Haarlem. Our museum card got us into museums totaling (for each of us) 134€ in admissions.

We checked into the Hotel Brouwer on the Singel at about 1 p.m. Our room, the Mondrian room, was on the top floor…and what a slanted floor it was! (We subsequently noticed that many buildings were tilted in Amsterdam. A little disconcerting at first, but we got use to it, and the view out the window was great:

http://www.sanderhome.com/Amsterdam1...G_2387_web.jpg

We took a Frommers guided walk ending up at the Jewish Museum, where we could buy the Netherlands museum card. The walk took us along the three “golden age” canals, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. I spent a good portion of it practicing how to pronounce “gracht.”  Lunch was a hotdog and drink from a vendor as we walked.

After a short nap, we then took a walk through the Jordaan neighborhood, which was only three blocks from our hotel, looking for a place to eat. That was a lot of fun. We found a café called JUR Eetcafe, which looked very atmospheric. Unfortunately, the food was not so great. Nice salad, but Linda’s marlin was overcooked and tough. My pork with mushroom sauce was OK, but the sauce resembled mushroom soup a little too much. The beer was great, of course.

We were really beat – went straight home and slept 9 hours.


DAY 4 – FRIDAY

Finally rested, we were ready for a full day.

Our breakfast at the Hotel Brouwer was the same every day…but it was very good. A boiled egg, bread, cheese, croissant, really good jam and what they called French press coffee. The ground beans sat in the container of boiling-hot water for a few minutes, then we pushed down on a permeable plunger at the top of the container to squeeze the coffee from the beans. Never seen it before!

Got on the hop-on bus and went to the Hermitage. This is an Amsterdam adjunct to the incredible Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. They rotate (6-months duration) exhibitions of works from the main museum. We were really lucky to see an exhibit on Matisse and his contemporaries…some really beautiful paintings that we have never seen before.

Next was the Houseboat Museum – something unique to Amsterdam I suspect. We really enjoyed it.

We had lunch at a little place on Wolvenstraat (between Herengracht and Keizersgracht). Not sure of the name, but it was across the street from Loup (which is on Google maps and streetview) and seemed to share staff with it. Linda loved the yoghurt (which had in it fresh fruit, cereal and orange juice). I had a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich and a berry yoghurt shake. We liked this place so much we came back two more times.

Next we went to the Amsterdam Historical Museum…very nice (lots of maps and artifacts)…and continued on one of our “book” walks through the city center. Saw the Begijnhof, some churches, canals, the university area, red-light district, etc.

After the obligatory nap, we had dinner at Spanjer and van Twist (Leliegracht 60). We had the menu of the day, kip sata (chicken kabob?) with salad and frites, which was just so-so. Had a an Asian sauce to it.

Walked around the Jordaan and saw a nice sunset out of our bedroom window.

[cont'd]
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Jun 3rd, 2010, 12:12 PM
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DAY 5 – SATURDAY

Busy morning today. The Rijksmuseum and the Dutch Resistance Museum – both outstanding.

Hadn’t been to the Rijksmuseum since 2001. Of course, it is being renovated now, but that is not such a bad thing, especially if you are pressed for time. The best (and most popular items) are on the display in one wing. I am one of those folks who think that Vermeer is the greatest painter ever – but I also love Steen and de Hooch.

This was our first visit to the Dutch Resistance Museum – WOW! This museum is a treasure trove of history. It is extremely well organized, easy to understand, and comprehensive.

Lunch at our Wolvenstraat place. Linda stayed with the fruit and yoghurt – I had Caesar salad with chicken and berry yoghurt shake.

The weather seemed to be at its best, so we took the canal ride. Been there, done that…but it’s still fun. Then we took a guidebook walk around the Jordaan. Had some ice cream there, stopped at an ATM, and then went back for our nap.

Dinner was at Vergulde Gaper (Prinsenstraat 30). This was the best place to eat so far. For about 42€ the two of us had great food in a charming location. Linda had salmon, string beans, frites and beer. I had really good beef done perfectly with mixed roasted vegetables and roasted potatoes and beer. A find!


DAY 6 – SUNDAY

Our day trip to Haarlem. Rain threatened, and we toyed with the idea of not going, but sucked it up. When we arrived it was raining hard, but it stopped within 30 minutes or so. We did a guidebook walk starting at the markt.

Haarlem is a beautiful town with many small streets loaded with flowers and other plants. The main square has great buildings.

We visited three museums. The least interesting was the Teylers Museum, mostly the scientific and art collection of Teyler. The Haarlem History Museum was small but interesting.

The best was the Frans Hals Museum. To be honest, I did not expect it to be very good – IMHO after the first dozen Hals paintings (they’re great), you’ve pretty much seen it all. However this museum actually did a better job of describing Haarlem in the 17th C. than the history museum did – very extensive. We had lunch in the Hals Museum café. I had a smoked salmon club and Linda had a great tuna sandwich on dark bread.

When we got back to Amsterdam it was about 4:15, so we hustled over to the hidden church and got there with about a half hour to spare. It was a church hidden in a plain building that Catholics used when they were forbidden to meet. The church is undergoing severe renovation, so much of it was not in the best viewing condition (the altar was not there), but with the museum card, it was worth a quick look.

After our nap, dinner was at de Prins (Prinsengracht 124). We both had pork, frites and salad and beer. Just OK. Not in the class of Vergulde Gaper but nice atmosphere and staff.

After dinner we decided to take a tram ride out and back to Vondel Park. In 2001, we had stayed near there (Hotel Acro) and decided to take a quick look at the neighborhood.

[cont'd]
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Jun 3rd, 2010, 12:13 PM
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DAY 7 – MONDAY

Our last day – gotta pack in a lot of things.

We started with the Van Gogh museum (a very good museum, but some of his best work is in the US); then stopped in at the van Loon Museum (a wealthy family’s house – of limited interest to us).

After a stop in the New Church, we had lunch again on Wolvenstraat – same food, too.

We had pre-booked the Anne Frank House online before we left. Our tix were for 1:15, but when we arrived at 12:45, they let us right in. Everyone should see this museum at least once in his/her life. We saw it in 1970 and weren’t sure whether it would be worth it to see it again. It was! The museum is much more comprehensive now. It took nearly an hour for us to go through it.

We then decided to go back to the Hermitage and see the Matisse, et. al., paintings again.

Only a few blocks away is the Rembrandthuis. Linda tells me we were there in 1970, and it was a good place to go, but I couldn’t remember it. However, I always trust her judgment, and she was right. It was a very nice museum, with a lot of displays and information concerning his life and times.

Before returning to the hotel, we stopped in at the Old Church and walked around our neighborhood a little, too. Also went to the ATM and paid our hotel bill.

Dinner back at Vergulde Gaper for that great beef dinner. I went with the pepper sauce; Linda had garlic butter on hers. Then a short, final walk around the Jordaan and some ice cream.


DAY 8 – BRUSSELS

Got up early, bought an orange, milk, and pastry at the corner market and ate this breakfast in our room. Took the 8:16 Thalys to Brussels. Picked up day passes for transit and a pair of single tix for tomorrow’s ride to Gare du Nord (for the airport). Then checked in at the Hotel Opera (Rue de Grétry 53). Very nice room in a fantastic location – two blocks from Metro, three blocks from Grand Place. Checked in around noon.

We knew we had very little time here, and we wanted to see art nouveau architecture. We had a guidebook walk for that – pix on my website. During the walk, we stopped at tiny pizza place for lunch (Roni’s Pizza, Rue Defacqz 87). Excellent veggie pizza and inexpensive.

The walk ended at the Horta Museum. Words cannot describe this place. Victor Horta was, perhaps, the number one art nouveau architect of his time. This is the house he designed for himself. No cameras were allowed, so you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s the Mecca of art nouveau architecture.

After our nap, we went to the restaurant ‘t Spinnekopke. Fantastic ambience and great food. Linda had beef carbonade and I had chicken Spinnekopke. Both came with Belgian frites and vegetables. Both were delicious. For dessert we shared a waffle with ice cream and flaming orange liqueur.

We walked over to the Grand Place as it got dark and enjoyed this wonderful square; then a quick couple of block walk to see the menneken pis (no trip to Brussels can miss this). Then back to the hotel to pack.


DAY 00 – WEDNESDAY

A great journey home! Two block walk to the tram; Tram to Gare du Nord; train to the airport.

Got through security and passport control without major delays (though security was a bit disorganized). Our plane was waiting for us. Took off on time, and we had an empty seat between us – ahhh, what luxury!

The plane got in a half hour early at about 1:10 p.m., we breezed through immigration and customs, and we were home by 2:30 pm.

Hope you all enjoyed this report – we certainly enjoyed the real deal.

ssander
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Jun 3rd, 2010, 05:26 PM
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Hey ssander - Welcome home and thanks for the great trip report. It sounds like you and your wife had a great time. I'm glad you had a chance to check out the Resistance Museum. It's a fantastic museum which often gets overlooked.

Robyn
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Jun 3rd, 2010, 05:38 PM
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Will copy your trip report as we will be in Amsterdam for 4 days in September. Thanks for the info! wow! A lot to do in 4 days.
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Jun 4th, 2010, 03:11 AM
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One thing I forgot to mention about the Victor Horta house in Brussels:

He didn't just design the building. Every detail of the interior, from the wallpaper to the moldings to the door handles and lights is seamlessly art nouveau.

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Jun 4th, 2010, 04:21 AM
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What a pleasure to read this this morning - I leave in a few hours! Looking forward to trying Vergulde Gaper!! The Hermitage wasn't on my list before, so thanks for the info!
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Jun 4th, 2010, 05:00 AM
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Thanks for the report. We were in Amsterdam last year, first visit to the city, and loved it. The Hermitage had not yet reopened when we were there in May and we (really more me- the trip planner) have been thinking maybe we should go back this year.
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Jun 4th, 2010, 07:16 PM
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Hi, thanks very much for your report! Certainly enjoyed it.

I'm interested in where you picked up the 15 Euro museum card... I can find a free Brugge city card that hotels give you for discounted admissions and a Love Brugge City Card for 33-38 Euro for 48-72 hours for free/discounted admissions, parking, transportation, etc.

But, I can't find any info on the card you purchased. Can you provide a link to info on it, please?

Thanks very much!
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Jun 5th, 2010, 03:26 AM
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joannyc...

Here is the link to the info. This PDF doc is on the site that describes all the covered museums. They are also listed on the document.

http://www.brugge.be/internet/en/con...2010_LR_EN.pdf

The last section (headed in gray) shows the 3-day card for 15E. If memory serves, we bought ours at the entrance to the tower, but I think you can get it at any of the covered museums.

Note that it does not cover every museum in Brugge, but it does cover most of them.

We opted against the 33E card that included transport, because, except for getting to/from the station (a couple of 1.20E bus tickets), everything is close enough to walk.

SS
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Jun 5th, 2010, 09:06 AM
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Thanks very much, ssander!
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Jun 8th, 2010, 06:47 AM
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Thanks for an interesting report and great pictures!
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Aug 8th, 2010, 10:03 AM
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Great report! What website did you use to purchase and print all of your train tickets?

Thanks!
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Aug 8th, 2010, 11:51 PM
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Nice to hear you enjoyed art nouveau in Brussels - what guidebook did you use?

Thanks

Lavandula
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Aug 10th, 2010, 08:23 AM
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Jersey1977...

This is the link I used to buy tickets for Any belgian Station:

http://www.thalys.com/fr/en/frequent...elgian-station

Where it says On Sale In, I clicked the Belgian link (I think some of these do NOT do PDF tickets).

On the left where you pick your stations, Any Belgian Station is at the very bottom of the drop-down list.

Pick your stations and click Book.

At this point you will have to enter WHICH station in Belgium and confirm your date and time (All Thalys seats are reserved).

At the bottom, click Belgium for where you will collect your ticket (even though you want a paper ticket)...then click Book A Paper Ticket.

You will be shown the available times and fares.

NOTE: These fares can vary alot...if you are flexible and book well in advance, you can get often cheaper fares.

NOTE: If your credit card is rejected, first be sure your bank knows about your inteded purchase...if that still doesn't work, try loging out and starting over. Overseas web sites are finicky with US credit cards sometimes.

After than you will be able to save/print out a PDF of your ticket. Be sure to save the file and print lots of copies.


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Aug 10th, 2010, 08:27 AM
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Lavandula...

For the art nouveau walk we used the Western Ixelles and Saint-Gilles walk in Frommer's Brussels & Bruges Day by Day, p. 80. (But we skipped the tram ride part of it and walked instead).

If you love art nouveau, do not under any circumstances miss the Victor Horta House -- note that it has limited hours.

SS
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Aug 10th, 2010, 11:30 AM
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Thanks so much for the response and guidance! Is this also the link you used to purchase and print tickets for the IC trains (ie Brussels to Bruges)?
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Aug 10th, 2010, 01:19 PM
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Thanks for a great report. somehow I missed it the first time around back in June. Glad that someone topped it. I am delighted that you enjoyed the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem. I enjoyed it a lot! Likewise the Resistance museum and return to Ann Frank House.
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Aug 11th, 2010, 02:45 AM
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jersey1977...

No...I used the regular Belgian Railways site:

http://hari.b-holding.be/Hafas/bin/query.exe/en?

Here are the steps we used - your stations may vary:

STEP 1: Enter stations, date and time.

We went right from the airport to Bruges...the two stations are:

Bruxelles-Nat-Aeroport
Bruges

STEP 2: Zero in on exact station if ambiguous.

There appears to be more than one station in Bruges...they will give you choice..select Bruges [B] and Bruxelles-Nat-Aeroport [B]. You'll change trains in Bruxelles-Nord, a very easy connection.] If you are going from the city, you'll not need to transfer. I believe all the trains to bruges stop at all three Brussels stations - Midi, Nord and Central. Pick the most convenient for you.

STEP 3: View preliminary list of trips.

STEP 4: View details of each trip, so you can purchase.

Click the orange button that says Details for All, and you will see any connection times, other details and a BUY ONLINE button for each trip.

STEP 5: Select your preferred train and start the purchasing process by clicking the BUY ONLINE button. [Note: You are not really committed to a specific time - just stations].

STEP 6: Choose type of ticket.

We just used standard (and there is a small "Diablo" fee - I think it's an environmental surcharge).

REMAINING STEPS:

You'll now have another chance to confirm/change your ticket details. NOTE: No times are shown because regular (not High-Speed reserved) tickets can be used on any train.

Next screen summarizes everthing - then a series of screens for the personal information and credit card information.

You will get a PDF of your ticket that you show on the train. I can't remember whether they emailed it or displayed it online for printing/saving (or both).

Hope I didn't make too many typos in this.

SS
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