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We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

Old Feb 16th, 2014, 01:26 PM
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What a wonderful trip report! I am along for the ride and waiting for more!
willowjane is offline  
Old Feb 16th, 2014, 05:35 PM
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Thanks willowjane. Glad to know you are enjoying it.
lateinlifetraveler is offline  
Old Feb 17th, 2014, 07:45 AM
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So pleased to find your trip report and now waiting for more! We're traveling to Belgium (home based Bruges) and The Netherlands (home base Amsterdam) for a couple of weeks in August. I'm excited to read about the rest of your adventures!
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 09:38 AM
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good report, I'm glad you liked the Haarlem station, I think it is wonderful
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 10:39 AM
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What a great trip report. I surely will refer back to it when hopefully I get to Amsterdam. Your style of writing is very enjoyable to follow.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 11:26 AM
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Day 5 (9/22) Zaanse Schans
The weather was sunny but a bit on the chilly side this morning as we walked to Solterdijk train station to catch a train to Zaanse Schans. There was a ticket office open this morning and we got two roundtrip tickets. It is about a 20 minute ride to the Koog-Zaandijk station and then about a 10 minute walk to Zaanse Schans. As we walked out of the train station, we could get a pamphlet with information about the village. As you cross the bridge over the canal you can see five working windmills in the distance. This was a great photo op.

We timed it to arrive when the shops opened and there weren’t many tourists for the first couple of hours. Coming into town, we found a lovely, quaint village with windmills, barns, houses and museums built in the Dutch wooden architectural style. It was the perfect Dutch postcard scene.

Our Museumkaart allowed us to visit all the museums without a charge and we took advantage of it. We visited the Zaanse Schans Museum where there is a magnificent collection of regional costumes, an outfitted Dutch kitchen of the period, Zaans painted furniture and utensils.

There is also a magnificent collection of graphic designs, paintings, photographs, a film on windmills, mailboxes. There were ship's models, paintings and original objects which let you see the history of shipbuilding and whale hunting here.

When you walk into the Verkade Pavilion you will find yourself in a factory from the early 20th century where authentic machines continue to run and show how the biscuits and chocolates were made. Watching the melted chocolate move through the machines, made us hungry for chocolate which they conveniently sell on the way out of the museum. Great marketing. Lol.

There was also a display of how little tea light candles were made. They had the original equipment as well as a short film showing the steps.

The next stop was the windmill museum. Inside you can see a working mill. There is a small gift shop where I bought two windmill cookie molds to make speculaas cookies for the feast of Sinterklaas. I asked the shop keeper and she kindly explained how to treat the molds before using. This will be exciting to try. We walked all over the village, taking photos and enjoying the sunny day which had warmed up nicely by this time.

We sat and watched Dutch dancers in authentic costumes in the village center which was very entertaining. Next we visited Catherine’s Cheese Shop which was advertised as having a cheese making demonstration. It turned out to be just a film. It was a bit dull. We tried a few cheese samples and then moved on quickly as it seemed mostly designed to entice tourists in to buy vacuum sealed cheese and cheese accoutrement.

The clog center was quite interesting with a demonstration of how clogs are made with an explanation of the carving and drying process. The man doing it was quite knowledgeable and we really enjoyed it. There were many styles of painted clogs on display as well as many for sale.

The Clock Museum had a very fine collection of clocks including many long case clocks as well as pocket watches, tower clocks, pendulum-clocks, regional clocks from Friesland and Amsterdam carillons. They ranged from 1500 to 1850 and were all in working order. We love old clocks so this really was wonderful.

The Albert Heijn museum shows how this large chain started as a small grocery when Albert took over for his parents in 1887. There was lots of interesting items from that time period.

We also popped into a chocolate shop where they were demonstrating the making of chocolate and explaining the different types. We didn’t linger as we are familiar with chocolate and its handling and tempering.

We stopped for lunch at De Kraai, located in a renovated barn that specializes in sweet or savory pancakes Dutch pancakes and tried two. One was of apple and cinnamon and one of ham and cheese. They were good however there were bees flying around inside at the tables which made things a bit difficult and spoiled our lingering over our meal.

We watched some tourists make fools of themselves posing for photos in giant wooden clogs. There was a nice pond with ducks and small farm animals.

We stopped into a shop to sample types of Jenever. It is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium. We learned there are two types of jenever: oude (old) and jonge (young) depending on how it is distilled. If you like gin, you should try it.

After a fun day, we took the train back to Amsterdam, stopping to pick up provisions for a picnic later. We had to grab a package of Verkade biscuits after seeing them made in Zaanse Schans . (subliminal messages?) We also grabbed some carbonated Lipton tea to try. We love trying foods and drinks we can’t get where we live.
lateinlifetraveler is offline  
Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:02 PM
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Still reading along and truly enjoying your travel story. Re trying new things not available at home: and isn't it disappointing when you cannot find them at "home"!?
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:15 PM
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I know. Sometimes I get such a craving for something I have eaten and can't get here.(sigh)
Well hold on because tomorrow we head to Bruges.
lateinlifetraveler is offline  
Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:21 PM
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Oops. One more day in Amsterdam and then Bruges.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 02:10 PM
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Enjoying your report immensely and wishing I was in Amsterdam.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 10:44 PM
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So much great information for our trip in April we are basing ourselves in Haarlem for a week.

Really enjoying your trip report. Thank you.
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 06:48 AM
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Aussie We absolutely loved Haarleem. It is smaller than Amsterdam and we could have spent more time exploring the surrounding area if we would have had the time.
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 11:41 AM
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DAY 6 (9/23) Amsterdam
It is a bit cloudy today but no rain as yet. We went back to the Rijksmuseum to finish up viewing the areas that we missed earlier in the week. It is a fantastic museum with so much to see. You are guided through a chronological circuit of paintings, sculpture, applied arts and historical objects and period furnishings which are combined to produce an overview of Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. They are divided over the various floors and this makes it so easy to understand the evolution of the arts and see the contemporaries of artists.

An alarm sounded while we were there and everyone had to exit the building. They even made us exit the garden as well. The garden had a temporary exhibit of twelve sculptures by Henry Moore which were stunning. Many took refuge across the street at a café ordering drinks or sitting in their courtyard. After about 45 minutes, they let us back in. Lucky we had our pass so we didn't have to dig out a receipt and queue up to reenter as many did.

We had lunch at the Stedelijk Museum restaurant again since we had enjoyed dinner there earlier in the week. I had the truffle mayo egg salad on grained bread with olives, cocktail onions and cornichon pickles. It had big pieces of shaved truffle in it. DH had a burger with frites.

Amsterdam feels so lively and full of energy or maybe it just appears this way because the locals are whizzing by on their bicycles. You must take care when crossing a bike lane and be ready to stop or jump if you hear a bicycle bell. Lol. They are swift and silent. I loved watching them. Women in high heels and skirts, mothers with children in carriers and business men in suits with a brief case sitting up straight and moving in synchronization with their bikes as one fluid movement. It seems almost a graceful dance the way they move in and out around people, cars and trams. There are rows and rows of parked bikes in racks along every street.

After lunch we did some last minute souvenir shopping.

Our next stop was the Dutch Resistance Museum where we saw interesting photos, videos, period objects and recordings of their fight during WWII. It shows the atmosphere of the streets and the effect of the Holocaust. It is quite a moving experience. If you look toward the top of the peaked building, you can see the building bears the Star of David and the name of Petrus Plancius, the Renaissance Amsterdam clergyman and geographer.

We left the museum just as it was closing and walked about the city until we were hungry for dinner. We stopped at an Argentinian restaurant. We knew this would just be a meal not a great meal as we so close to Central Station which is a very touristy area but we were tired and wanted to be able to relax our last evening in Amsterdam. The meal consisted of tough steak, salad with sweet, watery dressing and frites. Oh well. Memo to self: stay away from the blatantly tourist restaurants.

This being our last day in Amsterdam, I note some observations. Amsterdam is a really clean city. No cigarette smoking is allowed in the buildings. We would get whiffs of pot as we walked about however people were discrete about smoking in public areas. The locals are some of the friendliest people I have ever met and their English is impeccable. In fact, we had helped a couple of older ladies on the train yesterday with their bags and they asked if we were British. We said no we were American and they were surprised because they said we spoke such impeccable English. They were school teachers. Lol.

Well tonight we pack up our carry on bags and head on to Bruges, Belgium.
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Old Feb 19th, 2014, 12:33 PM
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If you are still reading, come along with us to Bruges, Belgium.

Day 7 (9/24) Amsterdam to Bruges
After eating one last early breakfast at the hotel, we got an early start to Bruges. We took the Sloterdijk train to Schiphol where we purchased intercity train tickets to Bruges. You do not need to reserve or buy these tickets in advance. Just walk up and buy a ticket and hop on the next train. The IC train takes a bit longer but costs half as much as the Thalys and you don’t have to make a certain train departure. There was plenty of seating.

We arrived around lunch time in Bruges and took a city bus to the city center. Bus tickets to the center are 1.60 Euros or you can get them before boarding at Lijnwinkel outside train station for 1.20 Eruos. Any train marked Centrum will take you to Grote Markt. The bus was packed so we stood in the back by the door and got an overview of the city as we went along. It is only about a 5 minute ride. The city was absolutely jammed with tourists.

We found our hotel, Martins’ Bruges right behind the belfry. We were told we couldn’t check in until three so we left our luggage and decided to walk about Grote Markt. The Markt is a pleasant mostly traffic free zone with no parking. You must watch out for bicyclists however. There are many horse and carriage rides and the place is packed with cafes loaded with hungry tourists. The bell tower was built in 1240 and is the star of the markt. Its carillon is comprised of 47 bells which play on the quarter hour. You can see and hear it from further out from the center and is a good way to get orientated when walking about.

We strolled and took pictures of the buildings flanking the markt and then decided to stop for lunch. We ate at one of the touristy cafes along the side of the markt where we had moules and frites. The sun was shining and the day was warm and pleasant. The moules frites were very good. The server was a bit odd, complimenting us on our selection of food and beer. He introduced himself and wanted to know where we were from and talked about the US and made conversation whenever he was near our table.

Virgil brought our bill upon request and then he showed his hand. Although there was no place on the bill for a gratuity, he said “my good friends, how much of a tip are you planning to give me to show our new friendship?” He proved to be a self serving, ingratiating lounge lizard without the cheap polyester suit. When DH pointed out that the tip was included in the bill and wouldn’t give him more, he suddenly lost his “my good friends” attitude and stomped off.

We went back to the hotel and checked in and then walked over to Burge square. Here you can see the Basilica of the Holy Blood, City Hall, the Old Recorders House under the golden statue and the Provost's House. The Basilica of the Holy Blood was not open, so we took photos of the outside and continued on. We found this nice statue of two lovers kissing. It is located on the square at the opposite of the Burge, in front of the city hall. If you come close you will read the word "Love" written in many different languages.
We sat for a bit and enjoyed the pleasant afternoon since there weren’t tourists around this area.

The crowds seemed to thin out by five and it was quite pleasant to just walk about. The city is so beautiful that it made me feel like I was in the middle of a fairy tale. The bright coloring and shapes of the gingerbread like old houses are just incredible. The architecture of the public buildings is lovely and ornate. We wandered around in the small narrow streets without a city map enjoying the unique scenery and discovering picturesque views. We would just start walking on a street at random and see what was there before turning to head in another direction.

We decided to stop for dinner at a place around the corner from our hotel and ordered a beer. DH had the Croque Monsieur and I had the Croque Madam. The sandwiches came with a small salad. It was not anything special; just something you would serve to those (tourists) who you do not expect to return. The beers were excellent though and were a welcomed reward after a long day of travel and sightseeing. We passed a young couple reading the menu on our way out and DH told the young man not to eat here.

The Grote Markt in the evening after the tour buses leave becomes tranquil and pleasant. There are benches in the center where you can people watch and see the city at night. After enjoying the markt for a bit we returned to our hotel for the evening. They had free wifi and I sent pictures to my friends back home and we settled in for the night.
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Old Feb 19th, 2014, 12:50 PM
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The sandwiches came with a small salad. It was not anything special; just something you would serve to those (tourists) who you do not expect to return.

I think that Bruges is absolutely lovely and should be seen by anybody with the opportunity to do so, but I also believe that it is perhaps the quintessential concept of the "tourist trap." By that I mean that one should avoid at all costs spending any money there and reduce any eating, drinking and shopping to a strict minimum. It's fine to spend money on the canal tours or climbing the belfry and other official tourist sites, but my own opinion is that one should avoid spending a night there or going to a restaurant. I took my parents there once and we had lunch on the main square, ordering the traditional mussels and chips, a dish that we ate regularly in various parts of Belgium and France. What was served was a half portion at double the price.
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Old Feb 19th, 2014, 03:36 PM
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This was our experience as well with the two meals taken on the markt. The next day though we ate at a lovely restaurant off the main tourist route that was a small mom and pop spot with wonderful food. The other patrons were locals because she greeted them by name when they came in. besides basic meals we only spent money on chocolates.
lateinlifetraveler is offline  
Old Feb 19th, 2014, 04:46 PM
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I am enjoying your report very much - the more so since we're going to Amsterdam and Bruges in late April/early May.

I had wanted to visit Kinderdijk but it ain't gonna happen, so I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Zaanse Schans. I shall also make a point not to read your report when I'm hungry. Truffles. Mmm.....

May I ask what hotel you stayed in in Amsterdam?
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Old Feb 20th, 2014, 12:26 AM
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Just came across this TR, you are doing a great job! Nice and easy to read with plenty of information.

We had a similar experience in Bruges with regards to the tipping. We did a canal boat tour and paid what we thought was a reasonable price, towards the end the driver started on about tipping. He rattled his tin and went on and on about it, one sure way to turn us off! We got off, said thank you and walked away without a backwards glance.

Looking forward to the next instalment.
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Old Feb 20th, 2014, 01:13 AM
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Sue_xx_yy we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near Solterdijk station. The rate was about 75 Euros a n
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Old Feb 20th, 2014, 01:23 AM
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So sorry. I am doing this on my iPod and it loaded y answer without my even hitting "submit". To continue it was about 75 Euros a night with huge breakfast buffet each morning. It was very clean and staff were very helpful. The rooms were a good size by European standards. We would chose this hotel again if we returned. The tram is about a 10 minute ride into the heart of the city but we enjoyed the ride each day.
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