August 7 - Wednesday
Flying into Amsterdam in late October of 2008 for a memorable Untours, I was very impressed with what seemed like hundreds of wind turbines out in the ocean turning around and generating power. This year I was looking forward to the same view, but unfortunately my seat was on the wrong side of the plane or our approach was different. I don't know the answer, but I do know if you fly into Amsterdam do try to look out the nearest window for an impressive picture.
After landing we successfully secured our rental car at the airport and made our way to the highway on our way to Delft. In 2008 we had made a day trip to Delft, but it was miserable day weather wise. It was cold, raining and windy, not a good recipe for sightseeing. Nevertheless, we made the most of it, but vowed to return in nicer weather. Delft is most famous for its blue and white porcelain, but this trip we just wanted to enjoy the ambiance of this quaint small town that was the birthplace of Vermeer and the setting for many of his paintings. After finding the parking garage our hotel had directed us to, we decided to just take our small bags, find the hotel, check in, find a place for lunch and then go back for our larger bags. We located the hotel just a few blocks away and, after checking in, we discovered we were only steps away from the main square and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). It was beginning to sprinkle a bit so we found a restaurant on the square with outdoor seating under big umbrellas. Just as we were served our respective club sandwich and pizza it began to pour. Guess where our umbrellas and rain jackets are? You guessed it - in the big bags in the car. By the time we finished lunch the rain had slacked off a bit so we made a dash for the Church.
By the time we had checked out this lovely old church the rain had eased even more so we quickly went back to the hotel and borrowed a couple of their umbrellas and went to the parking garage for our bags.
Back at the hotel we crashed for a couple hours after which we got a bit more organized and set about choosing a restaurant for dinner.
By the way, we are staying at Hotel de Emauspoort which is a family run hotel with a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The room was large and clean, but not elegant if that is what you are looking for. Besides the 23 rooms they also offer two "Gypsy caravans" which I may choose if I ever go back.
For dinner we chose a little French Restaurant recommended by the hotel. It's called Lef Restaurant and Bar and was charming. We sat near a couple from The Netherlands. The nice thing about the close tables in European restaurants is that you often strike up a conversation with other people and this was no exception. They had traveled to New York City in May with their children and loved it. For dinner I had perch, roasted potatoes, and veggies in a tomato based sauce. Dick had steak with butter and herbs, french fries and salad. We shared a crème brule and the waitress insisted we try some of their "famous" chocolate mousse. We each had wine, white and red respectively. All was very good. The waitresses were very friendly and one, Angela, even sat down with us and got out her personal iPad to check the weather for tomorrow when we asked if it was going to rain. We chatted a bit with her and luckily happened to mention where we were staying. I say luckily because after we were back in our hotel room, comfy in our jammies, there was a knock on the door. Looking at each other with a surprised expression, we opened the door to find one of the hotel staff with a note. It turns out Dick had inadvertently left his credit card at the restaurant and Angela had returned it to our hotel with a note from her. We were so very pleased and impressed with her honesty and commitment to good service. We tried to catch her the next morning, but the restaurant was closed, so we sent her a note when we got home and enclosed some Euros. Clearly, we recommend Lef if ever you find yourself in Delft.
August 8 - Thursday
The sun is shining and we decided to take a short stroll through our Delft neighborhood. Our hotel is where the red striped awnings are and the Church is just on the other side of the canal. Isn't it pretty?
It was also market day in Delft so we wandered through that. It always amazes me all the different things they sell in these European markets. There are all kinds of different food tents (cheese, meats, vegetables, etc.), then there are clothes, accessories like scarves, jewelry and even glasses, and here in The Netherlands a bike accessory tent. They put it all up for one day and then take it down in the evening and sometimes move on to another town for another market day there.
Our intention was to stop in Middelburg for lunch, but found it to be much bigger then we thought and very crowded. We drove around and couldn't find a parking place so gave up and headed out of town. We got lost in the countryside and after one stop for directions we found the little town of Veere. It was located on a canal (of course) and was very charming. After an enjoyable lunch and bit of a walk around town, plus an ice cream cone to sustain us, we took off for Bruges, our next stop. This time we finally hooked up our GPS system and let "Agnes" direct us. Agnes found our hotel (Hotel Bourgoensch Hof) where we unloaded our bags and got directions for the parking lot that was about 5 blocks away.
Back at the hotel I took a rest and Dick went out to check out the neighborhood. We ended up going for dinner at the same restaurant we had had lunch at in 2008 located on Burg Square. Dick had Dover sole and I had a sole rollup with lobster sauce. We shared croquettes for an appetizer and a sundae for dessert. If I remember correctly it wasn't as good as our lunch had been 5 years ago, was expensive, and the service was less then attentive. Oh well, the wine was good!
August 9 - Friday
Since we have been here before we have already explored many of the main museums and our plan for this trip was just to enjoy this lovely city and soak in the ambiance without having to push ourselves. It also allowed us to get our brains in the right time zone at a more leisurely pace. By the way, if you get to Bruges, do visit the Groeninge Museum. When we were there in 2008 we enjoyed both the art and the little light weight camp stools they offered for free. You just folded them up, carried them around, and when you wanted to study a painting you just opened them up and had a comfortable seat. I wish all museums would offer this amenity.
After breakfast in the pleasant hotel, we set out to wander the streets; going into some shops and just window shopping at others. They were having a special exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum so we stopped in there. Then we decided to take a boat ride on the canals. This was fun, informative and quite pretty.
The last picture is our hotel from the canal side. People are standing on the outdoor eating area deck.
After walking the streets a bit more, we found a restaurant for lunch. I had a ham/cheese sandwich and Dick a hamburger and then we went back to the hotel to drop off our umbrellas and jackets. It didn't rain and the sun has come out!
We decided to check out the Historium. This is a collection of seven themed rooms where sets, films, fragrances, and music take you back to a day in Bruges in the fifteenth century. It's a bit hokey, but somewhat interesting and it does give you a grand view of the main square and the famous bell tower from an upper vantage point.
Next up was another "touristy" thing to do, a carriage ride. We don't usually do these things, but on this sunny day it just seemed like the thing to do. It turned out to be very fun. This was our driver and here is our horse. Halfway through the ride we stopped so he (the horse that is) could have a snack.
Following our carriage ride we returned to the hotel. I checked email and sent birthday greetings to our granddaughter, Kate, and we both rested a bit.
We headed out for dinner about eight and chose The Olive Tree, a delightful Greek restaurant in the neighborhood. We shared some tsazki for a starter and for a main course Dick had calamari and I had a chicken breast stuffed with feta, onion, and tomato. Both were served with rice and potato and were excellent. We had a bottle of wine and the waiter also brought us a wonderful dessert. It was a yellow cake, soaked in lemon and honey and drizzled with chocolate. When our credit cards wouldn't work and we had to pay cash he also gave us complimentary fruit ouzo. I'm not usually a fan of ouzo, but this fruit ouzo was really yummy!
August 10 - Saturday
After breakfast we packed up and walked to the parking garage with the little bags. It was about five blocks to the hotel and with narrow streets and one-way streets; we never would have found it again without Agnes as we couldn't just drive back the same way we had walked. We found it, but the one and only loading parking place was taken so we pulled into the small side street and took a chance parking. Dick went back for the two big bags and I stayed with the car in case there was a problem. When he returned we noticed a sign that said, "Don't even think about parking here." The police station was at the end of the block too. I guess we got lucky!
Agnes got us out of town, but the trip to Haarlem took much longer then we anticipated. No real problem, though, until we got into Haarlem and tried to find the hotel. We drove down the same road a couple times and Agnes kept telling us, "You have arrived at your destination," but we sure didn't see the hotel. Finally I got out with a couple bags and walked into a little plaza. Sure enough, there it was. I checked in and found out where to park and went back to tell Dick. Of course, we were probably about 20 yards past the entrance to the underground parking, but couldn't back up. Around the corner we went again.
We got settled in and went out to explore. We found an outdoor restaurant for a late lunch on the busy market square and shared a salad and some veal croquettes along with our coke and beer respectively.
As an aside, if you are visiting Haarlem, do visit the Frans Hals Museum. During our 2008 visit we found it to be a wonderful exhibit of Dutch art. In Hals early years he painted pictures of everyday people such as musicians, actors, brewers, workers, and housewives, but later focused on painting Civic Guard portraits in settings that showed them at their feasts and social gatherings having great fun. Previous painters had painted the Guard members very stiff and all lined up in neat rows.
Today, though, we are going to visit the large 15th-century Grote Kerk (Great Church) that dominates the market square. The entrance is a bit hard to find as it is small and is surrounded by stores that seem to be actually set into the sides of the church.
Back at our hotel, we read, relaxed (read that napped for Dick) and checked emails. When it was time for dinner we chose Wilma and Albert's Steakhouse and were not disappointed. It was noisy, crowded and appeared to have many local customers. We did get a young waiter who spoke English and translated the menu for us. He had lived in Chicago and helped us out in ordering our steaks, as "rare, medium, etc" don't seem to mean the same here as in America. I had a filet and Dick had a sirloin and we shared a large baked potato with sour cream. Great bread and garlic butter, along with wine and ice cream with Grand Mariner topping completed the meal. It was excellent and we would recommend it to anyone.
After dinner we strolled along the Haarlem canals and took in the boats lining the waterways and buildings. Somehow to us the canals throughout The Netherlands make this a very different and attractive country to visit. I don't think we would ever get tired of walking alongside them, no matter which city or town we were in.
Coming up: Cruising down the Rhine River