We just returned from a recent Untours sampler trip. We spent one week in Leiden in the Netherlands, and one week on the Rhine River in Germany in the town of St. Goar. We received so much assistance from past Untourists as we planned our trip that we want to reciprocate with a short report on our trip for future travelers. This blog will cover the first week in Leiden, Holland.
We had Untours do our air as well and everything went very smoothly with British Airways from LAX to Heathrow and a change to Amsterdam. We were met by a driver. We did have to wait over half an hour and ended up calling our local contact but eventually the taxi arrived. He had been delivering other arrivals and was running late.
Overall....we LOVED Holland and would go back in a heartbeat. We did not know what to expect so it surpassed our hopes. The town of Leiden, being a university town, was very alive. EVERYONE speaks English so language was not a problem. Their first language is Dutch, but if we began to ask a question in English, it was always understood and responded to.
Arial view of Leiden from LaPlace eating cafe on the top of the VD Department Store.
We stayed in the Van Gogh apartment at Hogwoerd 144. It was a spacious apartment on the ground floor in the back of the building. The apartments have internet access and we had brought a little Toshiba Netbook that worked just fine. A canal was right behind our building and we were close to the bus stop, various restaurants and the food market.
Large living space with small TV. CNN in English...plus many movies in English with Dutch subtitles...not dubbed.
View showing the little kitchenette.
View showing the couch. To the right off the living room is the bathroom and bedroom...with two twin beds that we were able to push together.
Jay at the canal behind our apartment.
We were on the go each day. Some of our outings were:
1. Three trips into Amsterdam
...two on our own and one with Marike...the art historian that gave us our city tour and a tour of the Riksmuseum as the optional outing provided by Untours.
Marike with the group. Yes it was cold...and rainy!
On our own we visited:
The Dutch Resistance Museum - do not miss this!
From the Dutch Resistence Museum
The Van Gogh Museum
Anne Frank House (we bought our tickets in advance at the Visitor Center in Leiden)
The flower district with gazillion flower bulbs!
Other seeds as well!!
2. Train trip to Zaanse Schans
, described as a living museum of a Dutch country community with 4 windmills and demonstrations of crafts and farming. We found this rather disappointing. It was more of a tourist trap with the buildings filled with souvenirs etc. It was fun to take the train our of town, walk through the countryside and see the windmills along the waterside but we would not recommend it to others.
Approaching Zaanse Schans
3. Trip to Haarlem
...a lovely town nearby. From here we took a bus to the Cruquius Museum
. This was a wonderful surprise...seeing the largest steam engine pump used to reclaim land and create the poldars. We had a tour given by a volunteer and came away with a real understanding of the dikes, the canals, the polders and all the Dutch do to "keep their feet dry." Highly recommended!
Entrance to Cuquius Museum
Jay with guide in front of steam pump.
4. We spent some wonderful days in Leiden
itself. Ekatrina was our local contact and she was superb! She gave us a very comprehensive orientation, a tour of Leiden, lunch at a Pancake House as guests of Untours. We stayed in Leiden on the Saturday to not miss their Saturday market day which was a happy experience. It was the ONE day that we had sunshine so it was a great memory.
Leiden Saturday market
Yes...they do eat raw herring fillets.
Ekatrina explaining the bus system.
Also in Leiden:
the De Valk Windmill Museum
The Antiquities Museum
The Ethnology/Cultural Museum
Ledandall Textile Museum
The Boerhaave Medical Museum
Some restaurants we enjoyed in Leiden:
The Delphi Greek Restaurant
Olivier's (fantastic mussels!)
Scarletti's (next door to the McDonald's) for delicious salads
Went to Sorrento's but were not very impressed...it is close and inexpensive but...
A fried fish dinner to take out from the fresh fish market just two blocks from the apartment. Excellent!
Fast food we enjoyed: a Turkish pizza, pomme frittes with mayonaise,
Even at this fast food stand, we had to wait a bit because the french fries were made from raw potatoes...no frozen fries!
Bittenballen with mustard and beer in the afternoon down by the canal.
1. We discovered witte beer (wheat beer)
2. The Museum Card was a great value. We were able to use it at most museums and paid for itself quickly.
3. The bus cards that Untours gave us work like a charm and made bus riding a breeze.
4. There is a washer and drier right on the bottom floor of the apartment building at no charge.
5. Enjoyed our pedometer and tracking our walking. One day we clocked in 6 1/2 miles. Made the beer drinking a little easier.
6. As everyone has said...the bikes rule the highways. Do watch out for them. It is a wonderful system and works well for the Dutch.
Bike traffic on our street.
Free bike parking
Bikes in all shapes...very creative!
Kiddies stay dry!
Electric wheelchairs also use the bike lanes and they go FAST!
7. Untours provided us with a cell phone for local calling. We never had to use it, but it was comfortable to know it was in our pocket if we needed it.
8. Weather was a factor. Of our 7 days there, we had sun for 2 of them. We carried an umbrella at all times because the clouds can come in quickly and you find yourself in a downpour. But they seemed to pass as quickly too. It didn't stop us from sightseeing. Only one morning had heavy downpour.
9. The trains are a breeze to use. On time, the stations clearly marked with an English speaking info desk at each station. We had no worries using them and wished we had such a system in Los Angeles!
This was our second Untour and we realized what a difference the local contact can make in your experience. In our first Untours in Northern Tuscany our contact was very difficult to connect with. Here, the contacts are readily available. Ekatrina was so friendly and responsive. It was apparent she wanted us to have a great visit.
We highly recommend this Untour location and we could have easily spent two full weeks there. If anyone wants more specific information or has any questions, please contact us.
Jay and Patricia Edie
Playa del Rey, CA