We've just returned from another wonderful vacation/holiday. Our destinations were Bruges, Belgium and Amsterdam (The Netherlands). We had 3 nights in the former and 5 in the later. This was a nice, relaxing vacation that enabled us to see a different part of the world and enjoy things and at a somewhat relaxed pace. Now, I wouldn't put this trip in the Rome/Paris/London category but it was quite enjoyable and we are glad we went.
Hopefully you enjoy the pictures -- I know there are a lot!
We had a hybrid transportation scheme for this trip -- train in / fly (and bus!) out. Part of that was to specifically try new things like the Eurostar high-speed train from London to Brussels. We took the train from Derby to London St Pancras and then the Eurostar to Brussels. We took a very short inter-city train from one Brussels station to another (Midi to Central), stored our bags, and walked around for a bit in Brussels.
We had 2 main objectives for the Brussels mini-visit. The famous Mannekin Pis was #1. Having been before, I had properly warned the crew to be underwhelmed. He's only about 18" tall.
Still funny to see a peeing boy, though. He apparently has different outfits on during the year.
another interesting window display: cat butt art for all the cat fans out there
This is for my buddy, Jay, who is on a quest to acquire different branded beer glasses in the UK. Come to Belgium my friend where they have a different size/shape for practically ever beer.
beer, beer, beer, beer -- :-)
In Bruges, we stayed at a wonderful B&B called the Gallery Yasmine. Yasmine (the daughter) is the artist and the ground floor was her gallery. Albina (the mom) was a wonderful host. Could not have been nicer.
Belfort (Bell Tower) first thing -- 366 steps.
another view across Bruges
a view of the Bell Tower from below
after the tower, we jumped into this small art exhibit nearby
not sure why this struck my fancy . . . Confucius? Kung Fu? Grasshopper, snatch the pebble from my hand . . .
and a look down a canal from the brewery
Next up: Church of our Lady and the rare Michelangelo outside of Italy.
w/ kids (I must have said something funny as Alex doesn't normally smile during photos)
Historically significant (if I could remember) Charles the Bold and daughter, Duchess of Mary. I think their premature deaths led to some different management (royals) running the show
impressive stained glass inside the Church
Bruges is known for chocolate and The Chocolate Line was highly recommended (and good).
Perhaps a little foreshadowing for Amsterdam, but this (lingerie?) store had live models in the window. (I was encouraged to take this picture, btw). We called it even after the Abercrombie (male) display we saw at Christmas.
Still on our first full day in Bruges, our final stop was at the Basilica of the Holy Blood. (The actual blood of Christ!!! -- or so they say). I tried to get the churches out of the way on Saturday rather than on Easter. Since it was Easter weekend, the vial was out on display rather than on the wall. I found it quite comical that this priest was watching/guarding it. People could walk by to take a closer look though there was a "suggested" donation. I guess you know where you get to go if you don't pay. Alex was fascinated and actually walked by 3 times (he took off his jacket and then his glasses to go in disguise). Probably didn't fool anyone. LOL.
They also had a collection of some pretty scary looking medical instruments.
as well as a painting of an early autopsy
Next museum: Gruuthuse (mansion of a very wealthy family next to the Church of our Lady). Artwork and collectibles. A guillotine is always a big hit at the dinner parties.
I thought it odd that there were silver platters with scissors but these were from the Tailor's Guild.
They were so rich, they had a private balcony to the church so they wouldn't have to mingle with the commoners.
a little closer look -- background info on the legend of Cambyses here
not sure why they horned hair do look didn't stick
I liked this deal with Death
Not the massive selection of more modern places, but fun nonetheless.
cute bar dog
with a guilty past!
Best part was the demonstration (and sample) at the end.
my two cocoa beans
Day 4 (Monday): After having breakfast, we took the 4-hr train journey from Bruges to Amsterdam via Antwerp. Amsterdam is the Venice of the North and a very pleasant city though it is known for its sex and drugs. We stayed on the quiet side of town (in the Jordaan neighborhood) in a very spacious 2-BR apartment. The space and location were wonderful (apartment link here). The day was pretty much spent getting to Amsterdam, finding the apartment, settling in and buying some groceries.
Loads of canals in Amsterdam.
The national monument in Dam Square. You can tell it was a rather ominous looking day.
singing in the rain back down by Central Station
link). I was surprised at how many people turned up given the cold and rainy weather. We split up into 4 groups (3 English) and ours had about 30 people. We all really enjoyed the tour and fortunately the weather cleared.
This is the Oude Kerk (Old Church) that dates back to 1306. On the way there, we did pass through the Red Light District (purposefully) to show how the sex workers and the church have lived close to each other (symbiotically) for all these years. We did see a couple of workers in the window on the way and that was that. There were plenty of "coffee" shops (marijuana houses so to speak) around but we of course let them be as well. I guess there are plenty of people that go to Amsterdam for those reasons but it doesn't have to be. We had a really nice family vacation there (though it helps to be naive like us!).
A hidden scantuary within the city called Begijnhof (link).
another inside Begijnhof
After a short break, we walked to the nearby Houseboat Museum. Not really worth it.
link). It's only open 2 months of the year in the height of tulip season (and is one of the main reasons I chose to visit at Easter). We were perhaps a few weeks early but it was still a nice display.
The climate and soil make Holland ideal for bulb growing -- an information film said 10 billion bulbs are grown per year.
Enjoy the numerous photos -- I had a hard time filtering them down! It was a gorgeous day though still a touch cool. We took a picnic and had a nice leisurely walk through the park. Those bored with flowers can keep scrolling down . . .
had to start with our tourist photo
little man as well
blue skies -- rare during our visit
Another reminder that we should take the time to play and not rush. Alex enjoyed this and the other playground equipment that they had here -- it was good to run around and be a little boy! It's not always about the sites, Dad!
Okay, back to the regular (non-flower) programming. On our return, we stopped at the Hermitage Museum for some Flemish paintings (Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens). Nothing really grabbed me so no photos. We picked up our Museum Cards (link) there. One reason we like to do that is to encourage us to try extra museums even if we don't necessarily "save" money in the process. I don't think the Hermitage is "worth it" on its own but it was okay since it was "free" with the Museum Card. (Kuk liked it -- she appreciates the art a little more than the rest of us).
Couldn't pass this up. At least it wasn't a whine shop (though to be fair, he was pretty good this trip).
Day 7 (Thursday) -- every morning when we set out we would see all the commuters going about their daily business. I tried to capture all the cyclists -- many more than I could capture in a single shot, that's for sure.
link). Fortunately, it was under reconstruction so they've condensed the highlights into a manageable section. This was our favorite art museum of the trip.
large doll house
The Threatened Swan -- a typical (?) style of the era
Alex's favorite -- heh-heh
Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid
Vermeer's Woman Reading a Letter
After the Rijksmuseum we went to the nearby Van Gogh Museum (no photos allowed). So glad we had the pass to skip that line. It was very crowded and Van Gogh doesn't do as much for me. I'd pick the Rijksmuseum if only going to one (but that's me).
After a picnic and playground break for Alex we headed to the very good Dutch Resistance Museum (link) which tells the story of the Dutch people during WWII when they were occupied by the Germans. I continue to be fascinated by the European WWII experience -- it really wasn't that long ago. Lots of reading but well done and informative (though not too many photos for the blog). The photo above is of an Amsterdam census map that plots out where all the Jews were living (you can see the dark Jewish neighborhood). Jews either went into hiding or were eventually forced into concentration camps in Germany and elsewhere.
we liked this red shuttered building along one of the canals
Day 8 (Friday) -- starting off with a visit to the Anne Frank House (link). Extremely well done and a definite can't miss site. Pre-book, pre-book, pre-book. This is the actual location where the Frank's hid out during WWII until they were discovered. The rooms are unfurnished so you get an idea of the size of the place that 2 families stayed for over 2 years. There are lots of photos and videos to help with the story. Very sad, but an important message to hear.
This is the line at 8:55 a.m. We had 9 am reservations and walked past all of those people and were the first ones in. It pays to plan, my friend.
This is the line when we got out.
link), the green flying saucer in the background. The museum was excellent; very hands on, and we all enjoyed it. This was the kids favorite activity of the trip. It offered a range of activities for all ages. The adults particularly liked the psychology area.
Alex's favorite part was the bubble area, though he had fun all around.
This display had slotted mirrors so you saw half your face and half of your partner's.
more mirror fun
this activity enabled you to spell out letters using a binary code which Alex enjoyed
As I mentioned, we were pleasantly surprised by the food during the trip. We did our usual strategy of having breakfast in the B&B or apartment and something lite for lunch (a picnic when staying in the apartment) and a nice meal at dinner. I did some research ahead of time to get some ideas that were close by (for Amsterdam). For Bruges, I asked our host for some recommendations and she even made the reservations for us since it was a holiday weekend.
Another travel lesson for us is that our overall enjoyment is highly influenced by food. It pays (for me) to do some planning and throw a few extra euros of our budget this way.
Cambrinus (Bruges). Excellent beer and food. We both went with local specialties and I took a chance with the rabbit, prunes and applesauce in a brown beer sauce. Excellent.
Kuk had white asparagus with smoked salmon
Alex taking a break from his pasta
Second night in Bruges at Pro Deo near our B&B. Two more beer examples.
Breydel de Coninc in the heart of Bruges. A different salmon and white asparagus starter.
mussels for the kids
mussels and lobster for the adults
Amsterdam Night #1: La Perla. This got really good reviews on Trip Advisor and wasn't too far away. I didn't realize that it was mainly takeaway with limited seating but the pizza was good (and one of our cheaper meals).
Amsterdam #2: Pancakes! Amsterdam. Perhaps a bit casual for dinner but we wanted to try it anyway. Nice to try but nothing that special. Alex got the "make your own" pancake.
I had a weirder one with Camembert, ham and raspberry sauce.
Long Pura, an Indonesian restaurant. The kids even got in on the act and enjoyed (most of) it.
The adults had the 3-course Rijsttafel/Rice Table. Excellent!
and a hearts of palm and avocado salad (Kuk loved it)
Amsterdam #5: Toscana Italian Restaurant. Decent but not outstanding (though cheaper, to be fair). We tried to get into the highly rated Toscanini but they were booked up. For the most part, I had still had Belgian beer in Holland, but much more cheaply at the apartment. I thought I should at least have 1 Heineken while here.
funky toast starter
veal scallopini with mushrooms
Long blog entry -- hopefully you made it this far and enjoyed the journey as we sure did. Have a good week.