Sunday – Sunshine and good wine

Woke up, ate our breakfast and then set off to the train station.  Our destination today is the town of Zaanse Schans.  It’s a historical town with windmills, cobblers, bakery exhibits, cheese and much, much more.

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Amsterdam Central Train Station

We arrive at the train station, go to a ticket machine, enter our destination info, and then pay by credit card.  Hmm, credit card is rejected.  Cancel the transaction and voila – credit card not returned.  As the panic sets in, Sue finds two workers who try to help.  After a few minutes, the woman is able to retrieve my card.  Dank u wel,  dank u wel, dank u wel……

So, next stop is the ticket desk.  In just a few minutes, we have our tickets and head over to the train.  We check the schedule board and don’t see a train for almost an hour and a half, though they are supposed to run every half hour.  Since it was now almost 1:30, we decide to eat the cost of the train tickets and take the bus.

We saw that there was a bus coming in 11 minutes, so we hurried to the gate.  Just a few people waiting, so no problem getting on, except for the fact that the buses are on strike and running erratically.  A young man at the gate explained the strike scheduling problems and also knew that the trains were not running on time because of track work. Now they tell us!

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In true Herkey fashion, we said “screw it – boat ride!”

The boat docks are just across from the train station, so we follow the crowd.  You see some interesting sights on a weekend in Amsterdam.

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Not sure if he lost a bet or is looking for work in the redlight district.

We went back to the same Open Boat Company as yesterday.  This time, under ‘Skipper Bart’, we took a different route and enjoyed the mostly serene ride.  Mostly serene because there was a lot of traffic on the main canals today.

Skipper Bart was knowledgeable and hilarious.  He explained some history, related some anecdotes and wasn’t afraid to talk in adult terms about issues. The best was when he explained about the drunk guys in the Redlight district who often relieve themselves in the canals and wet all over the top of the canal walls.  He told us this as a warning about sitting on the walls or eating lunch there.  He then proceeded to wave, smile and laugh at all the people who were sitting there.

We took the tram back towards our hotel and then found a cafe wth table in the shade – rosé wine and gin & tonics came next.  Once our thirsts were quenched, we stopped by a small bakery for a nut cookie and an almond cookie.  Both were delicious.

Dinner is at 8:30 tonight.  We thought we would be away for a good part of the day, but alas, that didn’t quite work out.  So we rested up before getting cleaned up.

Our dinner is here at Brasserie Ambassade.  When we arrived, they ushered us over to a prime table overlooking the canal.  It was really romantic with the lights glistening on the water and the sun easing down below the roofs of the buildings.

Our previous server and wine expert from the other evening, Reink, had kept the table for us and was pleased that we were excited to be back.  He couldn’t wait to help us with the wines.  Tonight’s server is from France and grew up in Avignon.  Sue ordered and he responded “merci”. Seizing the opportunity, I ordered in French and he was blown away.  I had a new friend.

We saw Reink peruse our order and then came over with the wine list.  I had two choices in mind and one of them was also his recommendation.  We went with a Barolo, but a lighter one that would perfectly pair with our meals.  Sue selected artichokes as a starter, braised beef cheeks as her main and the crepes al’orange for dessert.  I had a warm goat cheese and fig salad, followed by a flat iron steak with frites and a Creme brûlée for dessert.

Everything was delicious and sensibly portioned – we’re still walking off our Italian dinner.  A few handshakes and hugs and we were on our way back to the room.

Post script… ouch!

 

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Canal cruising on a sunny day.

Woke up to another beautiful day.  After cleaning up, we went down for breakfast and my daily Dutch lesson.  We have basically been eating a good breakfast each day and then dinner.  No lunch, just an occasional snack and adult beverages.

We’ve been watching the boats cruising by our hotel, so today we are going to enjoy navigating the open seas.  Ok, the seas are a canal, but we’ll still be watching for pirates!

We started out looking for a boat that would suit us.  We didn’t want one of the big covered boats with a hundred people, we wanted one of the smaller open boats.  We walked in every direction and had a great tour in our quest to find an open boat.  Below are some pictures from our trek.

When we walked down near the train station, we spotted them – Open Boat Tour Company.  Hooray!!

For €21, we took a 75 minute tour in a boat with just twelve people.  Our skipper Saskia, took us on a tour that was a little off the beaten path where there would be less boat traffic.  It was really pleasant and informational.  We learned a few things about Amsterdam and its history while cruising down little side canals that the big boats can’t navigate.

After our ride, we walked back to the hotel where we introduced ourselves to the bartender.   Just a little something to cool down after the walk back.  Like everyone else in the hotel, he was friendly and we chatted about just about everything under the sun.

We made an early dinner reservation for this evening at Casa di David.  We’ve been enjoying all of our meals and thought we would try Italian.  The restaurant is family owned and authentic Italian.  We totally enjoyed our meals – insalata, a shared plate of pasta carbonara.  For our mains, Sue had scallops and ravioli, while I had a veal chop with mushrooms and tomatoes.  We started with a glass of prosecco and then on to a bottle of Avighonesi Nobile di Montelpuciano.  Though I had my eye on it, there was no room for tiramisu.

A nice stroll back and then relaxed in the room.  Early plans for tomorrow.

 

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Which way did that Van Gogh?

Another hotel with a great breakfast.  Many choices from the buffet, plus they will make you eggs or pancakes.  Fresh squeezed orange juice is also available, which is the way I like to start the day.

Really enjoyed our first full day in Amsterdam.

We took the tram to the museum quarter – home to the Van Gogh museum,  Rijksmuseum, the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign, a nice, grassy park, and a concert hall at the far end.  Lots of people in the area and shade is at a premium.

We are going to the Van Gogh Museum today.  We pre-purchased our tickets so we don’t have to wait in the ticket line.  Since we were not sure how timely the tram would be, we arrived a little early, so we have about a half hour to kill before our time in the museum.

Whenever they were available, we pre-purchased our tickets and really saved time not having to wait in the long lines.  That was especially true in Paris, as the lines at the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay were long.

The Van Gogh Museum was very good. There were paintings by Van Gogh, plus others that he bought or were from his friends.  We had the multimedia guide and found it to be very useful and extremely well done.  We spent about 1 1/2 hours in the museum and felt that was adequate time to fully enjoy it.  Overall, it’s a wonderful museum and it’s well organized.  Unfortunately, they don’t allow you to take photos of the paintings.

We walked around the area a little bit before hopping on a tram back to the hotel.  As it was a warm day and hydration is important, we stopped for a couple of drinks in the hotel’s library lounge.  Sue had a glass of bubbly, while I was introduced to Dutch gin in my gin & tonic.

Up to the room to clean up before heading to dinner.  We decided to walk down to the restaurant as it was a nice night.  Tonight’s restaurant is called “Der Silveren Spiegel”, which roughly translates to the “silver mirror”.  It’s a highly rated restaurant that has been around for many years and the building dates to the early 1600’s.

For the weekend evenings, De Silveren Spiegel only serves specific meals based on a number of courses.  We chose the seven course menu and absolutely loved it.  We started with an Amusé-bouche, then a smoked Dutch trout, a vegetable medley, mussels in champagne cream sauce, a cod dish, braised lamb, duck pate, and finally berries & sorbet.  Each course was paired with a light pour glass of wine.  Every course was delicious and rich in flavors.

We walked back to the hotel.  Even though it was 10:30, it was still a little light out.  Our walk took us past the edge of the redlight district, where we saw one of the women in her room waiting for a customer.  Sue said she didn’t want to wait around for three minutes, so we just continued back to the hotel.

We were both a little tired, so we washed up and went to bed.

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From Bruges to Amsterdam

Up early to clean up, pack up, eat breakfast and head to the train station.  It’s hard to believe that we’re heading to our last stop on what has been a fabulous trip.  Bruges was a delight.  It is such a pretty town with its canals and architecture, not to mention the friendly people and wonderful food.

Our taxi arrived just before 9:45 am and we were at the train station by 10:00 am.  We sat for ten minutes before they announced the track location of the train.  We were able to take an easy walk up and get situated in our seats before the other passengers even arrived at the station.

We were seated near a couple who we had seen at the restaurant last evening.  They were really pleasant to chat with and also loved to travel when they can get away.  It was fun watching all the people cramming into 1st Classe and then having to haul their belongings out when the ticket checker told them they had to move to 2nd Classe.  For some it was a game, for others, it was probably just a simple mistake. Right!

The train ride to Brussels takes about one hour and with chatting, it seemed to go by even quicker.  Said our goodbyes in Brussels and then we waited for our train to Amsterdam.  We are taking the Thalys train, which is a high speed train.  The journey should take just under two hours.  Once the track is posted, we headed over to the track.  When they were ready, we hopped on, stored our luggage and took our seats.  First Classe on this Thalys train was comfortable and nice and quiet.

We zipped along and it was interesting watching the scenery change as we moved from Belgium to the Netherlands.  As we neared Amsterdam there was also a marked increase in graffiti.  Nothing like young, rebellious youth to ugly things up a little bit.

Right on time, we arrived at Amsterdam Central Station.  It’s a large, modern station that was very organized and clean.  We walked over to get a taxi to take us to the hotel and fifteen minutes later we were there.

We are staying at the Hotel Ambassade, which is located right on the Herengracht Canal.  The hotel looks beautiful, they are very much connected to the literary world and even have a library room with over 4,000 signed copies of books from authors who have stayed here or visited for book lectures.  There are a few other little lounges or sitting areas and they also have a restaurant called ‘Brasserie Ambassade’  that is supposed to be very good.

After checking in, we are led up to our room.  Room 53 is a lovely room with a canal view, nice comfy bed and a huge bathroom.  There is both a tub / shower combination and a self-contained shower with a rainforest shower head.  There’s a nice sized closet, minibar and facilities for coffee and hot water.  The room is not as large as the one in Bruges, but equally nice.

We unpacked, and since it was only a short while until dinner, we decided to stay in and relax.  We were watching the various boats cruise down the canal deciding which one we wanted to take and which one to avoid.  The “party boat’ is definitely not one for us.  It’s a bit on the raucous side, usually laden with younger folks and lots of alcohol.  Jeez.. I sound like my grandparents.

It was time to get cleaned up for dinner.  We are staying in and eating at the Brasserie Ambassade tonight.  The restaurant is decorated with modern art from something called the Cobra Movement.  I’m not usually inspired by modern art (remember – PPP) but the ambience was nice.  They had a nice window view table for us that was overlooking the canal.

The menu theme is French, which is always a favorite.  Many delicious choices- we may have to come back if the food is as good as it sounds.  Our main server Reink was terrific.  Great service, friendly and provided some great wine tips.

For our meals, I had the house smoked salmon and then the duck confit.  Sue had artichoke hearts and wolffish.  For dessert, Sue had Crepes a l’orange and I had a molten chocolate cake with cherry sorbet.  Everything was so good that we did make a reservation for Sunday night.

We started with Kir Royals, then moved on to a fabulous wine from Germany.  It was a Martin Waßmer Weisser Burgunder  that was delicious.  I had originally selected a more expensive white burgundy, however Reink steered me away from it – too young!  With my duck, he poured me a glass of Dry Creek Zinfandel, our only wine from the US so far.

To cap off the evening, we just had to ride the elevator to get back to the room.  An hour later, we were asleep.

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Last day in Bruges

Our last full day in Bruges and we have some items that still need to be checked off our list.  We eat a light breakfast and then head out.

When we were walking out of our street, we could hear a commotion in the Grote Markt or Grand Square.  It turned out today is market day.  The entire square is loaded with vendors of every kind and lots of people there to make purchases.  Very colorful and the smells filling the air were delightful – not that I didn’t think the horses were also wonderful.

We waded into the crowds to have a peek.  There were vendors selling beautiful flowers, baked goods, fruits and vegetables, cheese and sausages.  Others were selling cooked rotisserie chicken, wine, candy, meats and waffles.

Belgian Waffles?  Those are on todays list, so we stopped.

Rather than filling ourselves up, we asked for an order of baby waffles.  Same great waffles, just smaller sized.  They were delicious – crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and warm.  We had ours with just a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  Others opted for Nutella or fruit sauce and everyone seemed to enjoy them.

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Our baby waffles – time to dig in.

Exiting market square, we headed to find another culinary treat – Belgian Chocolate.  We have heard that one of the best makers  is Dumon Chocolatier.  We turned a corner and there was the shop – but it was closed.  Luckily, I knew that they had another shop in town – we just had to find it.

We passed some shops that had great old-styled signs out front.

 

As lunch time was drawing near, we were zeroing in on a place to try the mussels and frites.  We passed by one or two restaurants that showed them on the menu, but we continued walking.

And then we saw it – the other Dumon Chocolate shop.  We wandered in and it smelled like I would expect Chocolate Heaven to smell.  I restrained myself and we bought just a few pieces of chocolate with nuts and raisins. Mmmm…

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As it was warm, we thought it would be best to take the chocolate back to the room.  While walking, we found our lunch place – Poules Moules.  Pretty easy to guess their specialty from their name.  A quick stop at the room and back we went.

We both had the moules and frites.  They have a few choices for preparation and a few sauces you can add.  We went with the moules cooked in white wine.  So we were able to cross off another item from our list – moules and frites with Belgian beer.

I don’t know if you can tell from the photos, but a portion is five dozen moules.  By the time we finished we needed to walk them off and then rest for a while.  Luckily dinner is not until 8:00 pm tonight.

We not only rested, but actually snoozed for a little while.  Full tummies and beer will do that to you.

Our last dinner in Bruges would be at a restaurant called – “Le Chef et Moi”.  Google maps says it is a one minute walk from our hotel.  We’re old – it took us three minutes.  The restaurant is in a beautiful building and is owned by a husband and wife.  He is the chef, she runs the the front and serves.

We both selected the Chef’s menu – it consisted of a half-lobster, delicious cod with pasta, cheesecake for me and a caramel flan for Sue.  Everything was wonderful!  Truthfully, it was a steal, too.  They could probably raise the price of the Chef’s menu by 10€ and it would still be priced reasonably.

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Afterwards, we took a nice walk back and enjoyed the canal views one last time.  We leave tomorrow and we are SO glad that we didn’t make Bruges a day trip from Amsterdam as some websites suggested.

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Enjoying the day in Bruge

If I told you I woke up before the alarm at 6:50 am, would you even believe me ?!?

It’s true!  We were showered and ready for breakfast early today.  Enjoyed a hearty breakfast and then headed out for a walk.  Today we headed in the other direction, away from the main square towards the Burg Square.

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Tucked away in the corner is ‘The Basilica of the Holy Blood’.  It is a Roman Catholic basilica and a major landmark in the city. The building dates back to the 12th century and is said to have a relic of Jesus – two drops of his blood.

Next to the basilica was the city hall.  Very interesting architecture and carvings on the facade.

Next to the city hall is the court of justice.  We loved the city mascot – a bear that we named Charlie – because we could.

Exiting the Burg Square, we started walking along the canal. The scenery was gorgeous!  Houses and gardens basking in the sunshine with the canal flowing peacefully.  Cutting back through the town, we saw a guy maneuvering the cool red car out of a garage.  Eventually we found one of the original gates, which just so happened to lead back to our hotel.

After our walk, we freshened up a bit for our afternoon High Tea. It was a beautiful day to sit on the patio and just enjoy ourselves. We started off with a glass of champagne followed by our tea.  We chose a nice green tea rather than going with Earl Gray.  Next came the rack of goodies.  The bottom layer held the finger sandwiches – king crab, egg salad and cucumber sandwiches.  The second layer was homemade scones with clotted cream and jam.  The top tier was various sweets – macaroons, cake, mousse and berries.  It was a fun “snack” fit for a queen.

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Feeling full and a little warm, we retreated to our room to relax for a little while.  Some reading, some music and some creative writing took us to dinner time.

Tonight dinner is at a restaurant called – ‘Quatre Mains’.  It’s a tapas restaurant that was recommended by one of the staff at the hotel.  When we asked her to make reservations for us, she guided us away from another place as being “not so good for us”.

The restaurant was cute, busy and filled with all locals.  We started with our kir royals, and then at our server’s suggestion, we went with four plates to share and a bottle of  Sancerre rose.

Our four plates were: Cheese croquettes, Iberian ham with tomato bread, Cod with tomatoes, tarragon and green onions and then roasted pork cheeks prepared similar to a Shepherd’s Pie with mashed potatoes.  Our fifth plate was a shared Creme brûlée.  Everything was delicious and prices were very reasonable.

We took a nice walk back to the hotel and digested our meals before heading to bed.

 

 

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Visiting Beautiful Bruges

We both woke up early after a good night’s sleep.  After the little bit of walking around last evening, we were excited to explore the town.  The hotel’s breakfast provided many choices and we found out that everything is homemade.  Suffice to say, we both enjoyed a hearty breakfast.

Since the maid was working in our room, we decided to go for a little walk.  We ended up  taking some pictures and then a canal boat ride.  Being earlier or pre day-trippers, the boat wasn’t jam packed and provided for a nice tour.

Funny item, when we were boarding the boat there was a young Japanese couple already on.  When I hopped into the boat and sat on the same side as them, the boat rocked a little and they were giggling nervously like we were going to tip.  For a brief moment I felt like Godzilla.

Anyways, the boat ride was really nice.  Each ride lasts about 35 minutes and you cover a good amount of ground.  The captain provides commentary and points out the highlights of Bruges in an entertaining manner.  Below are some pictures from our journey.

Walking back to the hotel, we stopped by a place that they call the beer wall.  There are 1,100 different beers made throughout Belgium and they have the majority of them available and on display.  We browsed the display picking out some of our favorite labels.

We had to make a stop back at the hotel to grab our sunglasses and to slather on some sunscreen before going for a walk.  We walked along the canal and headed for the Church of Our Lady.  It was built in the fifteenth century, took two centuries to complete and has a bell tower that is 122 meters tall.  It has beautiful stained-glass windows and contains many artistic treasures highlighted by the only sculpture by Michaelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime.  It is a statue carved in 1504 that is the Madonna and Child.

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Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child.

Leaving the church, we continued our walk under skies that we will remember as being “Bruges blue”. We wound our way along the canal passing by quaint little bridges and houses.  Every few minutes another boat would cruise by loaded with camera-wielding passengers.

Sue and I were thinking about digging canals between the retainage ponds back home and giving people tours of the neighborhood.  Our HOA probably wouldn’t approve it without getting a cut of the profits, so that idea bubble has been officially burst!

Upon returning to the hotel, it was time for drinks on the patio and a little people watching.  The drinks were glasses of champagne and the people watching was at the expense of those lining up for the afternoon boat rides.

Heading upstairs, we just chilled in the room and listened to Helmut Lotti tunes for a while.  Since he is Belgian, we hoped there was a chance that he might have a concert while we were here.  Unfortunately, we found out he actually lives in Germany these days.

Dinner tonight was at Restaurant Couvert.  It was literally a three minute walk from the hotel and that’s because we walk slow.  It is a wonderful restaurant and was recommended by many people.  We selected the tasting menu with the wine pairings.  We now know why people recommend the restaurant.  Everything was delicious!  We had a starter of smoked salmon, followed by dorade fish, then a main of roast veal and vegetable medley and dessert was a watermelon and strawberry mix with a mint chiffonade.  The paired wines went well with the courses.

Before heading back to the hotel, we took a little night walk and took some pictures.

All in all it was a beautiful first day in Bruges.  I can see why people say it is like a fairy tale city.  It has a little of everything for travelers – historic buildings, canals and boat rides, beautiful architecture, delicious food and friendly people.

 

 

 

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