last minute trip

Hi All, I'm thinking of taking a trip to Brussels, Brughe and Amsterdam the middle of November. I googled driving directions and learned they are only a couple of hours apart. I'm guessing I can get by without a car, and take a train between those cities. Is that a good idea? Also,I remember hearing the hotels in those cities are expensive. We are used to paying no more than 90 euros. Would that be possible? We've learned to eat on the cheap, so expect to be able to do that there. Reasonable idea? We are going for the art museums in Amsterdam, to soak up Brughe atmosphere, and in our ignorance chose Brussels because it's cheaper to fly in and out of there. We are expecting cold, rainy weather, but that's ok. Thanks,
Nancy

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
673 posts

The only reason to rent a car is if you want to visit smaller cities and towns between those you named. That's fine, but you also listed three cities that are good for, in total, at least ten days to two weeks. That number could be much larger if you consider 1/2 to 1 hour daytrips by train from any of the three cities. You need to use the search box in the upper right to read the hundreds of messages discussing whether Antwerp, Bruges, Gent, or Brussels is the most interesting city in Belgium, and whether or not Bruges is only good for one night, and boring in the evening (or not.) I don't think you can expect as much faux medieval "atmosphere" in November. And Martin McDonagh isn't going to be there. As you can see, my votes are for Antwerp and Gent. ... ... You cannot exhaust Belgium and the Netherlands in two weeks.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

How long is your trip? Those cities are easily reached by train.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2279 posts

Amsterdam hotels are pricey. Maybe some smaller B&B's will be reasonable as it is not prime tourist season. If there is a big trade show or convention in town, things could get tight. After you book the flights, nail down lodging in Amsterdam, then build the rest of the itinerary around that.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
673 posts

Nancy, check what my Professor brother calls "the font of all wisdom": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_McDonagh Lots of people who saw the film he directed, called "In Bruges", were not, I think, aware of the city, or what the magnificent old town square looks like. So they developed an interest in it. Like his stage plays, it's a violent and twisted view of human behavior, so it wouldn't actually make me want to go to Bruges. Go figure. I had to see four of his plays, in particular, The Lieutenant of Innishmore, which requires several gallons of stage blood, before I understood his bewildering early play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

I'll have to yield to someone else that's had more experience in Brussels and Bruges for accomodations. But I've been to Amsterdam a few times. For 90 Euros, you will have to look hard for rooms in Amsterdam. The city's very busy with UK weekend travelers, and prices are out of sight.
The absolutely nicest room in my world travels (for the price) was at Van der Valk Hotel A4 Schiphol, 2-3 miles past Schiphol Airport. They have a free airport shuttle, and you can catch the 15 minute train ride into the center city from there. Our room for 4 was 344 square feet, and the rate was much cheaper than we previously paid for a tiny attic on the fifth floor of a B&B in Amsterdam. And they're on Booking.com for $120-$130 for two people.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

Cheap food- find a frituur (very common in Belgium and the Netherlands), order a large tray (two people can comfortably eat one) and point to the mystery meat behind the glass counter that looks appetizing to you. You'll have a meal that will fill your stomach for the entire day for only about €5-7. PS- If they have it, go for the pindasaus on your fries. Delicious! Second choice would be zigeunersaus, third is yellow curry sauce. Despite popular perception, mayonaise on the fries is not obligatory.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1841 posts

I have stayed in Amsterdam and Haarlem (a short train ride away and much quieter and cheaper). I prefer Haarlem for the reasons mentioned. RS Best of Europe Tour starts there rather than in Amsterdam but does go there.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
556 posts

This part of Europe is extremely well connected by train. There are regions where it's hard to decide between train and car, but this isn't one of them. Definitely go on the train. Check booking.com on hotels.

Posted by Baz
Brisbane, Australia
43 posts

I've never stayed in Brussels so can't advise on that city but have stayed nearby in Gent (Ghent) only 45 minutes away by train. My suggestion would be to base yourself in Gent and do day trips from there to both Brussels and Brugge – both are only about 35 to 45 minutes away by train with plenty of trains at all times. Gent is a beautiful city, in my opinion far better than Brugge and far less touristy yet plenty to see and do within the city. We stayed at a great B&B in Gent about a five minute walk from the train station – we paid 75 euros a night. A great host and great breakfasts – it was called Bed in Gent. If you decide to stay note there are two main stations in Gent, you want Gent Dampoort not Gent St Pieters otherwise you're up for a long walk When you're finished in Gent catch the train to Amsterdam (2.5 to 3.5 hours) and then back to Brussels to fly out (2 to 3 hours).
We stayed in Zandaam about 12kms out of Amsterdam – if you book far enough out you should be able to get a good price at the hotel. We paid 95 euros in August this year – the hotel is the Inntel Hotel Amsterdam Zaandam, located right beside the train station but you never hear the trains, there are trains at all times into Amsterdam Central, it's a safe place to stay. That price was room only – there are plenty of coffee shops/pastry shops nearby for breakfast, the restaurants are about a ten minute walk from the hotel at the end of shopping strip heading away from the station.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

PS again- stay in Gent if you want a little nightlife. Stay in Brugge if you want the old city to yourself after dark.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Unless the Brugge Christmas Market is in town - will it be whilst you are there, dunno, dunno exactly what middle of November means. Bruges in the run up to Christmas is quite lively in the evenings in my experience. In Brugge stay at a B&B for a better price and experience, many of the hotels are quite expensive and Bruges has being doing B&Bs very well for a very long time. If you can drive from Brugge to Amsterdam in 2 hours you must be related to Michael Schumacher. It is nearly 300 km, the speed limit in both Belgium and the Netherlands is 120 and there are speed cameras everywhere, not to speak of the Dutch and Belgian traffic - and Belgian driving style (or lack thereof).

Posted by Nancy
Boston
158 posts

Our plans got sidewacked, but we may be able to go Sunday Nov. 10, returning Wed. Nove.20. We will be flying into and out of Amsterdam. Our interests are primarily in the museums in Amsterdam, and spending some time in Brussels and Brughe, which our son is strongly advising we visit as he loved both places. We are thinking now that Gent (sp?) may be where we should stay in Belgium. Any suggestions for an itinerary? Our return flight is around noon, so we need to stay in Amsterdam, at least the night before. I will google the museums to check hours. Does anyone have any tips for visiting them? Also, we think it best not to rent a car this trip because of parking costs and general hassle, but not sure.
Thanks all so much!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

With your intinerary, take the trains. All of the cities on your wishlist are easily linked together. A car is mostly a hassle for those locations, particularly Amsterdam.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
588 posts

Just curious why you spell the name of the city "Brughe" in that particular manner? I've seen it spelled Brugge (in Flemish), Bruges (in Waloon French, but not that way.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
588 posts

I thought it might be a typo but it was spelled with the "h" in two separate posts on different days.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

This area is well served by trains. They will get you easily into the old centers with no parking hassles. I'd pick a train with only a couple of exceptions - some planned sights that can't be reached by train or planned lodging that is very inconvenient by train. Yes, the weather will be generally cold, dark (early sunsets and cloudy) and rainy. Don't forget to pack warm layers, wool socks, and your waterproof shell.

Posted by Nancy
Boston
158 posts

Thanks, Everyone. We booked the Hotel Weichman for four nights in Amsterdam; from there to Bruges for 3 nights at the Absoluut Verhulst; then to Haarlem at the Hotel Malts for the last 2 nights. We will figure out the train when we get there, I guess, and hope it's not too expensive. Does anyone know if there is public transportation from Bruges to Flanders? We will buy tickets to Rijks online; not sure about Ann Frank online because they are timed and dated. We plan to go to the Dutch Resistance Museum, and the Van Gogh, also buying online. The room rates range from 125 euros in Amsterdam, to 95 euros in both Haarlem and Bruges. All include breakfast. Does anyone have any favorite restaurants that serve local cuisine? One of the hotels asked for a phone number; my verizon phone does not work in Europe. Are there public phones common in Belgium and the Netherlands? They seemed to be easy to find in France.
Thanks so much for all of your help!

Posted by T.
Seattle, WA, US
154 posts

Regarding public transportation between Burges and Flanders, I think you mean "Flanders Fields," the site of many World War I battles. There isn't very good public transportation. Instead, book a tour that will pick you up at your Bruges hotel and take you to the battlefields. Also, if I were going to Amsterdam, I would definitely reserve ahead of time for the Anne Frank House. The lines can be very long any time of year.

Posted by Nancy
Boston
158 posts

Thank you, I did mean Flander's Fields, and we will book ahead for Ann Frank.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

"Does anyone know if there is public transportation from Bruges to Flanders? " I assume you mean the Westhoek region around Ieper? You can easily take a train between Brugge and Ieper (or a train-bus combo), but the WWI-relates sites are mostly spread out piece-meal over a large area outside the city. To explore, you would need either a car or take a tour.

Posted by melissa
Austin
799 posts

Oh, please go to Waterloo when you are in Brussels ( we rented a car with a GPS)- it's not far & it is quite a large site. Not a lot of markers unlike the US battle sites, so take the 40 minute tram ride around much of it and imagine- so much of Europe is as it is due to this battle.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2702 posts

Hi, I recommend Waterloo too. If you do intend to see Waterloo, first, have a car; second, be prepared to spend a few hours at least, not only to see the museums in the town but also to get around to the different sites and markers connected with the battle.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
111 posts

Glad you got a B&B for Brugge. As Nigel said above, B&B's are the way to go in that town. Regarding Ieper (Flemish/Dutch) a/k/a Ypres (French), the "In Flanders Fields Museum" on the Grote Markt square downtown is excellent, with interactive WW I displays showing various viewpoints. The town was almost completely leveled in 1917, but buildings on the square have been rebuilt to match the original medieval style. The square also has outstanding chocolate shops (as do most towns in Belgium). There's also the large Menin Gate, with memorial tributes to Allied soldiers killed in the area during WW 1. At 8 PM a bugler plays the moving Last Post there, which draws a big crowd in summer, but I'm not sure how many people turn out in November. Just north of town are the concrete bunkers that served as a field hospital, and where Canadian Dr. John McCrae, who wrote the In Flanders Fields poem, operated before he was killed. Regarding language, in Flanders they pronounce "G" as an American would pronounce a breathy "H." Needing a hardware store during a bike trip in 2008, a local in Brugge gave directions to what we thought was the "Hammer" store. After riding up and down the street a few times, we finally spotted the sign that said "Gamma," and realized what he'd said. Also, having been in France the week before, we said "merci" to our Brugge/Bruges B&B hostess a few times. At one point, she said curtly, "We are not French, you know." Some gents we met in Kortrijk (in Flemish, or Courtrai in French) also described their views on "Dutch-speaking Belgium vs. French-speaking Belgium." Although the country is officially bi-lingual and unified it was clear there is some dynamic between the two cultures.

Posted by Nancy
Boston
158 posts

Sorry, I meant to thank you, not to sound so snippy! I guess we'll have to forgo Flanders's Fields, which I would have liked to experience (maybe too depressing, though, after Anne Frank), and I hadn't thought of Waterloo, but what a great suggestion!

Posted by Nancy
Boston
158 posts

Cyn, I just saw your post. Thanks I appreciate the info about Ieper and the suggestion about avoiding 'merci'. I will be careful about that sort of thing. I'm excited to see the museum you mentioned as well as the town. Would you know if there would be a spot in town to stash our luggage? Perhaps we could go there on our way back to The Netherlands? I guess I will look for a book with Flemish phrases.
Thanks again.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

My experience in Belgium is limited to a two night stopover. My host at my Bandb stated it was easier to speak English with guests than to deal with their attempts to speak his native language. Just ask if they would rather converse in English.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
111 posts

Hi Nancy- If you're on the go with luggage, many train stations will have a baggage check area where for a few Euros they will hold your suitcases in a secure area and you can pick them up before departing again. Museums will often let you stash bags, or sometimes it's compulsary to leave your day bags/backpacks/suitcases at the museum's bag check before going in. Sometimes it's free, or there could be a small fee. I'm not sure what the situation is around Ieper, as we had our stuff at that B&B while we visited around town, but you might be able to get info off the Internet for luggage facilities at specific stations or sights, or get their e-mail addresses to make specific inquiries. English is pretty widely spoken across Belgium, especially for anyone who deals with travelers, but we try to learn and use a few words in the local language. Saying "thanks" in any language shouldn't result in problems, and our B&B hosts in Brugge were really quite nice, but we didn't attempt French anymore around them after her comment. It seems west of Brussels is predominantly Flemish-speaking (which is basically Dutch), and east & south of Brussels they speak predominantly French. In Brussels, it's either one or both. Enjoy your trip either way, whether it's "Thank You", "Merci," or "Dank U Vell." One last thing, full-fledged restaurants throughout Belgium are fairly expensive but usually really good, and you get fries on the side with every meal, even when you're having pasta.

Posted by Nancy
Boston
158 posts

Thanks Cyn and Swan, and everybody else. I can't believe how much help you have all been!

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

Enjoy tour trip and save your appetite for those great breakfasts! Also, try the fresh mussels. Delicious!