HOLLAND, Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It’s hard to know where to start. We had wanted to go to Holland on an Untour for many years, and we weren’t disappointed. After leaving Orlando at 5:25 p.m. we arrived at London Gatwick Airport to change planes to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport arriving at 11:40 a.m. We were met at the “Meeting Place” by our taxi driver who delivered us (after a little confusion as to the address) to our apartment at Hogewoerd 144 in Leiden. We stayed in the Jan Steen where we were met by Marike who gave us our key, showed us different locks and pointed out the grocery store and canals. She also arranged the next morning’s orientation meeting where we would meet our fellow travelers. We walked around a short while, stopped in the grocery, had some of the nice supplies left in our apartment and went to bed by 6:00 p.m. local time.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The morning orientation meeting was extremely useful, and Marike’s tour of Leiden most informative and enjoyable. She is very knowledgeable about Leiden and offered many insights into Dutch life and Leiden history. Learning about the almshouses enabled us to find others. We all had lunch at a pancake restaurant, Oudt Leiden. Delicious. After our tour with Marike we went to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities), bought our Museumkaart (Museum Card) knowing we wanted to visit many museums and toured the museum while we were there. The reassembled Egyptian temple in the lobby is most fascinating. From there we went to the Ethnology Museum to use their free internet and computers. For dinner we had snacks on the rooftop terrace. What a beautiful evening and view!
Friday, August 17
Using a booklet found among the great collection of books and pamphlets in the apartment called “Leiden Walks” we started out the next morning following the route listed in the book. We made it halfway through including the Burch (where we saw our fellow Untours travelers) which is the old citadel. We encountered organ practice at Hoogeland Kerk, enjoyed the Boerhaave Museum named after a famous Dutch physician which is housed in the former city hospital and the Lakenhal Museum (Leiden city history). For dinner we went to Eigenwijs which is in our neighborhood. The meal was certainly plentiful and included tomato soup, salad, satay, and thick French fries served in a bowl for sharing. We found that the fries are always served with mayonnaise in Holland.
Saturday, August 18
Our early morning was filled with perusing the open air market where we bought some cheese and tried the excellent “kibberling”, fried white fish. We finished the “Leiden Walks” which included the DeValk windmill and the Botanical Gardens. We passed a Catholic Church and went to Mass on the way back to the apartment.
Sunday, August 19
Following the suggestions given to us by Marike and in the apartment’s journal, the next day we caught the bus at the bus stop and rode it all the way to Gouda, about an hour’s ride. We enjoyed the tour of the weigh house, had lunch in the square and toured the Museumgouda which interestingly enough was housed in a former hospital/insane asylum. Many of the rooms and the cells for the insane are still intact. It also included a chapel with an outstanding leaded glass window.
Monday, August 20
At our orientation meeting Marike had given us the assignment to take the 9:13 a.m. train to Amsterdam meeting her at 9:49 a.m. at the taxi stand. Once again we were treated to a tour of the city, a coffee break at Café “T Smalle (listed in 1000 to See Before You Die) and the Rijksmuseum with Marike giving us expert commentary. After lunch with Norm, Tracy and Nathan, our fellow travelers, we went to the Van Gogh Museum.
Tuesday, August 21
Europol is an agency located in Den Haag consisting of federal law enforcement agents from European countries, Canada and the U.S.A. We were able to tour the facility because of a mutual acquaintance who is also a postal inspector (Don is a retired Postal Inspector). We met agents from Canada, Bulgaria, Switzerland. We had lunch at Bodega “De Posthoorn” situated on a square across from the U.S. Embassy. We toured the Maurithaus Museum that houses Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and many Rembrandt and Rubens.
Wednesday, August 22
We took the train to Brussels, Belgium arriving rather late in the day. We walked through the Grand Place (as Don describes it, a man-made Grand Canyon), found the Hotel Arlequin (recommended by Untours) and checked into our 7th floor aerie. We enjoyed St. Katherine’s Cathedral for a short while not realizing that they were already closed when we arrived but found that out when we were asked to leave. We dined that evening at the Restaurant Royal Safir. We were greeted with a small glass of white wine mixed with cassis (black current). We ordered paella (with mussels, after all this was Belgium), wine. Wonderful, relaxing meal.
Thursday, August 23
The Hotel Arlequin has a wonderful breakfast in their 7th floor dining room with wonderful views of the city. After touring the Musee de la Ville (history of the city), Manneken-Pis statue, eating Belgium waffles and visiting the lace shops we decided to go on to Brugge where we visited the Basilica of the Precious Blood and saw the relic of Jesus’ blood. We had lunch in the square where there was a large crowd. We decided instead of staying in Brugge we would go on to Luxembourg. We took a late afternoon train and arrived in the early evening checking into the Hotel Carlton (which we highly recommend). Upon the recommendation of the concierge we walked into the downtown, had a terrific dinner at the Café de Paris in the Place D’Armes section. There was some kind of monthly music fest going on, and we were able to hear a live jazz quartet throughout our dinner and beyond.
Friday, August 24
Our breakfast at the Hotel Carlton was excellent with the staff providing an English language newspaper and offering to keep our bags while we toured the city. We took them up on their offer and toured the Casemates (former fortifications for the city), Our Lady Cathedral and took a city bus to the American Cemetery and viewed General George Patton’s grave. We took a late afternoon train back to Leiden which included an adventure of sorts. Our train was supposed to be a direct to Amsterdam where we would change for Leiden. Instead at Roosendahl the entire train had to debark, walk to another area of the station, wait on a different train to go on to our destination. The good thing was this one stopped in Leiden. We also met a very nice young woman (Salima) who made sure we caught the proper train.
Saturday, August 25
Ah, the Saturday market again. We knew a little more what we wanted on this day so we bought bread, cheese, flowers and the excellent “kibberling.” It was a wonderful start to the day. Later on after dropping our purchases at the apartment we took the train to Delft, took in some of their market, had lunch (including fries with mayonnaise) and bought some lovely plates and souvenirs.
Sunday, August 26
Following our visit to the American Cemetery we wanted to visit Arnhem, site of another WWII battle. We took the train to Oosterbeek (a local train which was interesting), exited the train at an open air stop and walked to the cemetery which was a little bit of a walk. The cemetery is beautifully kept, and we were glad we went. We walked all the way back and then on further to the Airborne Museum which is housed in the former hotel, the Hartenstein, that was the headquarters for the Allies during this battle. We then had a late lunch and took the bus to the Arnhem Centraal Station and took the train back to Leiden.
Monday, August 27
Since we had spent only one short day in Amsterdam we decided to visit again. Fortifying ourselves with an apple roundje from the nearby bakery we walked to the train station and proceeded to Amsterdam. We walked to the Oude Kerk, went inside and were approached by the director (?) who spoke with us at length about the church prior to our touring it. We did a 100 Highlights Cruise which was a disappointment. We later read in the journal in the apartment that we should have taken the Leiden cruise. We then went to the Anne Frank Huis hoping the line would not be long, and it wasn’t. It was a moving experience and one that everyone should do. We had a break at the Café ‘T Smalle again, and it was the same pleasant experience as before.
From all the reading (both from Untours) and in the journal in the apartment, plus recommendations from Marike and our fellow Untourists we wanted to do a rijsttaffel (rice table) which we did and was all that we anticipated. We would love to do it again and have looked for Indonesian food in our area without success.
Tuesday, August 24
Since this was our last day in Leiden we took time to walk some of the areas we had not been to (including a very brief stop at Seibold House), did a little shopping to take back home (chocolate sprinkles, etc.) and then joined the other Untourists for a pizza dinner at Sorrentos at the end of our street.
Wednesday, August 25
Our taxi arrived right on time and took all of us on one trip to the Amsterdam airport. We all regretted having to leave. The ride was visually beautiful with the fog drifting among the windmills and fields.
We arrived home with no difficulties on our trip but, alas, our luggage did not arrive with us. Luckily it came the next day.
Our trip was all we could have asked for, and we know we want to go back to see the many things we missed. The three days spent traveling to Belgium and Luxembourg could have just as easily been spent in Holland and still not seen everything.
As I re-read this triplog I noticed how many places I said “the end of our street”, “our apartment”, etc. That is how you feel with an Untour trip: that you are a part of the area and it begins to feel like home.