trip report: amsterdam/brugge

Old Apr 24th, 2004, 11:17 AM
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trip report: amsterdam/brugge

just returned from an interesting 9 day trip to amsterdam (incl. a daytrip to haarlem and a 2 day trip to brugge).

contrary to our usual MO of staying slightly outside the center (to save on hotel costs), we booked the hotel washington within walking distance of the museumplein/concertgebouw. the area is pricey both in terms of accomodations and food but, for once, was pretty much worth it.

the hotel, while no great shakes in and of itself (no lift/3 stories...whew!) was immaculately clean with nicely sized rooms. but the staff was extrodinary...knowledgable and accomodating beyond expectation. i would recommend it (ask for the lower floors). @ 120 E it is about 1/3 higher than we normally like to go but the location and overall ambiance were worth it for this trip.

it's been some 30 odd years since my last trip to amsterdam so it was basically a fresh experience. the weather started out marginal (overcast and chilly) but ended exceptional with temps in the low 70's. but that's early spring in northern europe...a crap shoot.

"the venice of the north" cetainly has the charm of the canals, the eccentric archetecture and the laissez faire reputation, but it's the people who really sell the city. yes, it's nice that almost all speak english (perfect) but it's their general attitude of friendliness and helpfullness that mark the city as such a great place to visit.

the dutch have a great sense of humour both belly laugh and ironic which they have no qualms about both sharing and inflicting (playfully) on their guests. while it has seemed off putting to some, i found it sort of refreshing. i really like these people.

that's enough of an intro. if there's any interest, i'll proceed within this same thread.
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Old Apr 24th, 2004, 11:22 AM
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Please keep going subcon!
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Old Apr 24th, 2004, 12:39 PM
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No more teasing, more please! We leave for AMsterdam and Brugges in Late May.
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Old Apr 24th, 2004, 04:51 PM
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subcon -

Please continue....I was in Amsterdam and Brugge last year and so miss it. I need to travel vicariously through you....we're waiting. Peace.

Robyn
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Old Apr 24th, 2004, 05:00 PM
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Hi subcon,
Please continue. I have been to Amsterdam but missed Haarlem since I was the only one interested in going there. Haarlem and Brugge are on "my list" so I am especially interested in them. Thanks
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Old Apr 24th, 2004, 06:29 PM
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I was about to start a thread with the exact same title as this one, so I figure I might as well just latch on. (Hope you don't mind, subcon.)

Just got back ourselves from Amsterdam and Brugge this afternoon. Got to A'dam on Sunday morning. Stayed at the Hotel Wiechmann at the intersection of two canals - Prinsengracht and Looiersgracht (sp?). We had a view of both canals from our "first" floor room. Nice room furnished with some quite attractive antiques, modern bath. Great staff. Excellent breakfast room with a two-sided view.

Did a great bike trip to the tulip fields on Tuesday. We were going to go on a guided tour, but it was cancelled for lack of any other interested customers. The tour guide, however, e-mailed us some rather detailed instructions for do-it-yourself. We took a quick train trip to the bedroom community of Heemstede-Aerdenhout -- just south of Haarlem -- and rented bikes at a place beside the station. Cycled down to Lisse, passing lots of massive tulip fields, and toured the Keukenhoff gardens (too crowded!)... then cycled some more.

On Thursday morning we took the train to Brugge... 3.5 hours, changing in Antwerp. Stayed at the Relais Bougondische Cruyce... VERY old building (nicely restored) just of Markt square on the most scenic stretch of canal in the entire town. Did a lot of walking around the town, eating, and checking out some of the museums. On Friday afternoon we took a countryside bike tour with Quasimundo Tours (very highly recommended!) that took us to the Netherlands border and back. A very easy-going 4.5 hour trip with lots of stops and a great guide (native of Brugge who owns the company). Cycling along the bike path along the canal from Damme to Brugge was fantastic!

A perfect short vacation. The tulips and hyacinths were in full bloom, and the weather was consistently better than the daily forcast. I even got some sunburn in Brugge on a day that was supposed to be rainy!
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 04:36 AM
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trip report continued:

we arrived on friday mid afternoon. as is becoming an air france habit, we missed our earlier connexion to schiphol from CDG. never schedule any connecting flight with AF with less than 1 1/2 hrs. to spare. you simply won't make it.

we opted for the train (unbelievably cheap) into amsterdam which led to a real harold lloydesque series with the dutch rail system. first one must exit the terminal to buy tickets and then reenter it to get to the platforms. that is unless you're some kind of mechanical genius able to figure out the ticket machines.

there are several trains leaving from the airport with more than one designated to amsterdam. after one decides ams centraal is the ticket, a game of musical platforms ensues with all manner of people running up one set of stairs and down another in response to frequently changing platform numbers. after two go rounds of this, we simply parked it and waited for the train to match our platform.

pretty much the same situation with the trams outside the central station but once you buy into the chaotic logic of it all, travel within the city is not only convenient but rather charming. the tram operators are some of the most patient and pleasant public servants i've ever encountered.

a further note on the tram/metro system: a single ticket good for unlimited transfers for one hour's time within zone 1 is 1.6 E. zone 1 covers almost all of what the average tourist needs. if you'll be staying a while, buy a strip ticket which saves a few euro and the hassle of individual purchases.

despite recommendations to the contrary, unless you're in your twenties or a competitive cyclist, i'd avoid renting a bike at least for doing the downtown area. there are indeed a lot of bicyclists all over amsterdam and this would on face value seem to be the way to go. just remember that these folks do this every day. they know the rules of the road and are in great shape from a lifetime of pedaling to and fro. plus the rental bike is your responsibility and needs to be secured every time you want to wander on foot. my hat is off to any intrepid tourist who is willing to compete with cars, buses, pedestrians, trams, other cyclists and bicycle thieves.

anyhow, we made it to the hotel washington which is a few blocks from the concertgebouw on a nice little residential street. after check in, as is our wont, we went in search of a local cafe to make as a base. our first try was a winner. the cafe lusthof on the baelestraat was all that i expect from my local bar: dark, well used, somewhat tawdry with that patina of nicotine covering a wild array of concert, film and sports flyers. i can recommend it unreservedly and it was our afternoon and after dinner spot thruout the trip.

tomorrow...the museumplein and indonesian rice table.



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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 05:01 AM
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Loving your report. I only managed a half-day trip to Brugge from Brussels, so I would enjoy hearing more!
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 06:21 AM
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oh, what the hell. it's sunday and i've got nothing better to do:

after the very fortuitous discovery of the lusthof and a little saunter around the neighborhood which includes the museumplein, we went back to the hotel for a couple hours nap before supper.

we've found that quickly acclimating oneself to local time on the day of arrival helps a lot even if you must force yourself to get back up that first night. fortunately we rarely dine before 8pm even at home so with a little rest, dinner and a normal local bedtime, we're all set for the next day.

at the hotel's recommendation we ate at de knijpe the first evening.also located on the baelestraat just up from the lusthof, this is a cozy bi-level restaurant serving traditional fare. the menu was good if unspectacular other than a tomato soup with goat cheese which my wife swears is one of the best she's had. the tagliatelle with lambs tongue was interesting. the service was good and the overall ambience of the place was pleasant. the evening we were there it was all locals.

general notes on dining in amsterdam: it pays to reserve. we usually found a place we liked, popped in around lunch and reserved for either that or another night. tipping is tricky. theoretically, by dutch law, service is included in the price. if i got better than average service (which was frankly about 90%), i rounded up the check not to exceed 5 to 10 %. about dressing, the dutch are universally known as no slaves to fashion and go to dinner in an astounding array of attire. so casual is generally acceptable other than michellin starred places wherein a jacket will suffice.

saturday after the breakfast offered at the hotel, we walked to the rijksmuseum. trust me, the earlier you arrive the better. the line is staggering. note that the museum is undergoing a major renovation over several years and the entire collection is not available. in fact only a selection of the top 100 paintings from the 17th century are displayed but that is well worth your nine euros.

another note about the line: in so far as the collection is condensed but the ammount of visitors remains consistent, the staff try to pace entry in an effort to have an even flow. don't make the mistake of assuming that you can leave and immediately reenter. noooo...you must go to the end of the line. you don't have to pay again, but you've got to wait your turn. this put the kabosh on our usual MO of doing half the museum leaving for a cafe and returning later.

one unusual aspect of the collection is how many of the paintings are framed with glass. this would be a disaster if the lighting were not handled so well. there is very little glare and of course the larger "night watch" and "syndics" have no glass.

without going thru the whole catalog, even in this small selection the rijksmuseum counts as one of the greats of europe. my favorite rembrant "jeremiah lamenting the destruction of jerusalem" resides here along with a nice group of vermeers, ruysdaels etc. while i was somewhat bummed about the unavailability of the early netherlandish collection, i enjoyed what was on display immensely.

so many people walk into the museum without ever walking around it. it's a staggering archetectural monument and should have some attention given to that aspect.
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 07:55 AM
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subcon,

You've mentioned something that is one of my biggest impressions; the wonder of the Rijksmuseum as a building! I thought it was just incredible! I understand the work is asbestos related but I have been wondering how much of the building is obstructed by scaffolding or whatever. Could you still see all the stained glass windows and most of the structure itself?

Great report!
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 09:03 AM
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Grasshopper: the Rijksmuseum is undergoing a major renovation that will take until 2008 to complete. So unfortunately at this time you can only visit the Philips-wing and of course you can still see the exterior of the building.
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 10:41 AM
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trip report continued:

grasshopper...you can see the exterior of the building just fine but the stained glass which would need to be viewed from the inside is in the closed off area.

after a morning in the rijksmuseum, we headed off for the almost obligatory stroll thru the leidesplein, down the leidestraat, the rokin and on to the damrak. personally, i'm not all that thrilled with the leidesplein atmosphere which i see as the ultimate tourist mecca or its offshoot the leidestraat, a series of tacky novelty shops.

on moving to the rokin we encountered a large anti-globalisation rally which was later to cause us some problems and a lot of laughs. the people were loud, enthusiastic and amazingly well behaved. i was surprised to see the communists still a viable political entity that far north.

a real find was the p.g.c. hajenius tobacco store on the rokin. established in 1915, it deals in mainly cigar related items with a fine selection of havana puros. they are a real gentleman's purveyor with a comfortable smoking area and numbered storage humidors for their patrons. dutch prices are only beaten by spain. if you love cigars, this is very close to heaven.
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 11:37 AM
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trip report continued:

grasshopper...you can see the exterior of the building just fine but the stained glass which would need to be viewed from the inside is in the closed off area.

after a morning in the rijksmuseum, we headed off for the almost obligatory stroll thru the leidesplein, down the leidestraat, the rokin and on to the damrak. personally, i'm not all that thrilled with the leidesplein atmosphere which i see as the ultimate tourist mecca or its offshoot the leidestraat, a series of tacky novelty shops.

on moving to the rokin we encountered a large anti-globalisation rally which was later to cause us some problems and a lot of laughs. the people were loud, enthusiastic and amazingly well behaved. i was surprised to see the communists still a viable political entity that far north.

a real find was the p.g.c. hajenius tobacco store on the rokin. established in 1915, it deals in mainly cigar related items with a fine selection of havana puros. they are a real gentleman's purveyor with a comfortable smoking area and numbered storage humidors for their patrons. dutch prices are only beaten by spain. if you love cigars, this is very close to heaven.

we finished the dam square and the damrak and were ready to take the #5 tram back when we were told that due to the demonstration we would have to take the metro and reconnect with the #5 in the burbs and come back in. well, it seems simple until you actually start getting to the burbs (which are in zone 2) and realise you're now off your trusty little foldup map with no clue as to where the two lines intersect. we thought we might end up in bruxelles. anyhow it all worked out and we got a good laugh out of it.

back to the lusthof for a couple of beers and to the hotel for a couple of hours of nod before supper. tonight was to be our intro to indonesian cuisine.

orient is a oft and highly recommended restaurant also on the baerlestraat. while we later found kantjil de tiger to have somewhat better food, the ambiance here was nicer and the service good. as an intro it was perfect.

rijstafel or rice table for two is basically a large bowl of steamed white rice accompanied by varying dishes of beef, poultry, pork, shellfish and vegies in equally varying degrees of spiciness. the ammount of dishes is your call.

at orient they were presented on a warming burner which was nice since one doesn't necessarily want to (or can) fill one's plate with all. there is as usual the ubiquitous peanut sauce of southeast asia but in this case rather nicely spiced and not quite as overbearing as thai can be. in fact, at both restaurants, there was no hint of the heat that can characterise thai or vietnamese cooking which suited me fine.

the trick as in dim sum is to sample a bit at a time and to balance the spicer with the bland and the meats with the veggies. the rice cuts the heat effectively and either a dry white wine or beer is a good accompaniment. we did the wine at orient and the beer at kantjil...both worked.

after a satisfying meal, we sojourned up the street to the lusthof for cafe, a ramon allones cigar and remy martin. tomorrow would be easter day. what would be open?

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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 04:01 AM
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subcon: Thanks for all so far. We're looking forward to your next installment.

And thanks to BaltoTraveler for the contribution. The Heemstede station is also a good jumping off point if you want to bicycle out to Zandvoort through the dunes.
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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 06:47 AM
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This is terrific! Please continue the trip report.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 11:51 AM
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easter sunday...

the van gogh museum will be open. by 9am there is a huge crowd but it's a weekend and a holiday weekend at that. my advice would be to buy tickets the day prior to your visit but moreover to avoid the morning crowd.

unlike the rijksmuseum, everyone is allowed in on a full surge and virtually all head for the second floor where the "major" paintings are. this makes for a really unpleasant viewing experience. there is little time or patience for intimate study. the crowd pushes along from one to the other walking in front of you or jostling for position.

my suggestion would be to save this museum for the afternoon and start at the third floor which has the studies and supposed minor work while waiting for the crowd to thin out. actually the closer to closing time the better but leave yourself at least an hour to one and one half for the more popular work on the 2nd floor.

well we're out by 1300 and have already been informed that the flea markets will be shut down for today and the next (the dutch celebrate the easter monday as well with many shops, cafes, restaurants etc. closed).

we decided on a really diferent alternative: the holland casino. gambling is legal in holland and there is a large casino on the max euwe plein not far from the leidesplein. they have most of the traditional casino games and while the actual tables and atmosphere are somewhat different, the action is the same. they have slots, blackjack, roulette, etc. as is typical, i went strong on blackjack for the first couple of hours and then gave it all back plus some. oh well, i guess i wasn't born to get something for nothing. but the experience is worth it.

after a brief nap and not being overly hungry we decided to find a pizza spot. the quattro stagione located just behind the concertgebouw was local and lots of fun. the place is packed all evening long. no reservations but there is a stand up bar in the front. the owner/hostess is a real firecracker full of energy and fun perfectly suited to the pace of the restaurant which is frenetic but yet seemingly unrushed at the same time.

my pie was okay but the wife's was exceptional. i think they call it a ciffonella: a nice blend of light easily spiced tomato sauce w/ arugula, parma ham and fresh sliced cherry tomatoes and covered with ultra thin slices of reggio parmagiano as opp to mozzarella. the crust is paper thin.

again, no tourists altho there was a british resident with his family. however, mind you, this is far from any romantic dinner. it's a fun place that the locals come to eat and interact with a lot of table to table greetings and even get up and over to interaction. as in all amsterdam restaurants some drink wine/some beer either way you'll like it.

after dinner drinks (and a very nice cohiba) at the lusthof and back to the hotel by 1 am
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Old Jan 11th, 2005, 06:28 PM
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Subcon, great report. I have bookmarked it because my husband wants to check out some of the cigar places. He loved the Cuban cigars when we were in Playa del Carmen, so he is looking forward to getting some good ones in A-dam.
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Old Jan 12th, 2005, 11:34 AM
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ilovetulips...

amsterdam has the best cuban cigar prices other than spain. as i said i suggest the hagenius store on the rokin. it's fun just to shop there.

also, i really don't remember if i finished this report but look under my screen name for my recommendation of the cafe bern. the place is truely unique.

enjoy your trip!!!
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Old Jan 12th, 2005, 03:29 PM
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Thanks! I hope to see a few tulips while I am there even though it will be late in the season.
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