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Trip Report: RS Belgium & Holland 4/6-4/16 2019 plus time in Paris!

I just got back from Rick’s Belgium and Holland tour and had a terrific time, as usual, lol! This Trip Report will contain a lot of detail so if that bothers you stop reading now.

Overview: I agonized more than I ever had over timing on this trip. I wanted to see Keukenhof at near peak but I also wanted to avoid Easter holiday crowds. I arrived in Paris on March 27 and took the train to Ghent on April 4 for an April 6 tour start. When I planned this last Fall I wasn’t sure if there would be train strikes again this year in France so always give myself a day or two ahead of a tour to get in place. The timing put me at Keukenhof on April 13. It was pretty perfect for me!

Safety: People on this forum who travel a lot realize that safety is not really an issue in Europe. Friends who don’t travel much either to Europe or as a solo traveler are always concerned about safety. While I was gone someone posted a question to me on FB asking if I was OK because they had heard Central Paris was on “lockdown” due to an explosion and fire. Someone posted a link and it was to an apparent apartment fire in the 19th right near the peripherique and had caused no issues in Paris at all. Unfortunately, the news story stated just that – that Paris was on Lockdown so those who don’t travel thought the story was believable. Many are also asking about the impact of the Saturday protests from the Gilets Jaunes. Those protests caused me to spend about 5 minutes on Saturday AM at breakfast looking at the RATP site to check on Metro station closures. None of the closures impacted my plans for the day at all. I planned to go to the Cluny, then work back to Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, managed to duck in to the Delacroix Museum which I hadn’t seen before and finished off at the Rodin because it was a spectacular sunny afternoon and I thought ice cream in the garden there sounded wonderful! (It was!) Walking back to my hotel I walked thru the Esplanade in front of the Army Museum and it was filled with people/families sitting around enjoying the sun, playing volleyball and having a generally wonderful Spring Saturday afternoon.

Pre-tour Paris: I love Paris! It’s such a neat city to visit on my own. There is so much to do and I never get everything done that I’ve planned. I had 8 nights there before I traveled to Belgium. I try to take the non-stop flights from Salt Lake City to/from Paris/London/Amsterdam for my International leg. It’s so much easier for me. The easiest airport to fly out of now only has flights to SLC so it’s a no-brainer. We must have landed at a time when no other International flights were coming in. Altho the plane parked at one of the distant gates on the tarmac and we were bused to the terminal it was pretty efficient. From landing to being in line at Border control was 30 minutes. The line was VERY short at Immigration and I was through in under 10 minutes which might be a record for me. I had missed the bathrooms between the bus exit and the lines to Immigration so good thing it was quick, lol. Very short line for taxis and in to town in short order. From landing to hotel was about 2 hours (including time waiting at baggage claim) which is very short – I usually count on it being 3 hours. My hotel room was ready so didn’t even have to leave off my stuff!

Flowering trees were in nearly full bloom when I was there including cherry, Japanese Magnolia, and others I couldn’t identify. Gorgeous gardens including Jardin des Plantes, the medieval garden behind Hotel de Sens near the Seine plus some smaller gardens dotted here and there.

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As usual I got the 6-day museum pass and purchased it at the Tabac down the street from my hotel. I kind of messed up because I also booked the King Tut exhibition and it fell on one of the museum pass days. Lesson learned – when booking something that is not part of the museum pass, do it on either end of the time frame so you don’t have a big exhibit on a pass day.

I also didn’t plan my days very well to be able to use a Navigo Decouverte. I arrived on a Wed so started using the Metro on Thursday, then left the following Thursday so would only have Mon-Wed that week on a pass. It was cheaper to use t+ tickets from a carnet. No evidence anywhere of the new pass that is supposed to come about in April. Not even any signs up in the Metro as far as I could tell.

I enjoy planning ahead for each day’s itinerary but am OK to vary it once on the ground. I wore myself out the first few days so at the end wound up curtailing some things I had wanted to see. I wound up not doing any Paris Walks I had planned, missed Pere Lachaise, Nissim Camondo Museum and the Jewish Museum of Art and History. I did make it to Notre Dame twice, once for the free tour in English they were giving on certain afternoons and again for the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns. I am SO glad I spent time here – after the fire it seemed even more meaningful. I enjoyed the King Tutankhamoun Exhibit very much although the facility seemed pretty run down at least on the outside. I also spent a bit of time tracking down cool things I saw on the free video walks from Corey Frye, A French Frye in Paris! He had mentioned the statue of Saint Genevieve on the Pont de Tournelle as well as old remains of the original Tuileries Palace that was burned during the Commune revolution in 1871 or so (Trocadero area). Also saw the slogan he had mentioned on one of the pillars at the Eglise Saint-Paul Saint-Louis, “Revolution Francais ou la mort”. Very cool!

Belgium and Holland Tour Impressions

Guides: My lead guide for the Belgium and Holland tour was Ellen who is Dutch and the assistant was Nico who is Belgian. Ellen was wonderful – very knowledgeable about history of the lowlands, geography, culture, everything you come to expect in a RS guide. Excellent with her bus presentations, walking tours and administrative stuff. Because of her planning we were able to avoid a massive traffic jam around Keukenhof. We visited on the day of the flower car parade which started at noon and included road closures around Keukenhof. She planned ahead, had us leave Delft at 745, arrive at Keukenhof at 830, leave there at 1215 and head for the beach at Noordwijk aan zee for an extra covered lunch which got us out of traffic, then on to Amsterdam in the middle of the afternoon. Fantastic planning on her part with excellent support from the RS home office. Nico has been a guide for Viking for years but wanted to guide for Rick. After a couple of days I asked him his impression of the tour group and he laughed and said – well, the first day he had jumped to his regular station by the bus steps to help people off and he was shocked when everyone just popped off the bus on their own and off they went! I saw him counting a couple of times on the bus and teased him about it as he is not used to the “buddy” system. A few days later my buddy wasn’t on the bus when we were ready to go and he saw how well it worked. I called out “no buddy” and he went off to look for her. She had gotten turned around coming back from lunch and was easily found. I think he will be an excellent asset to the guide contingent.

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Tour Hotels:

  • Ghent, Hotel Harmony. This was a great canal-side location and a really, really nice hotel. I had 2 nights ahead of the tour here and my room was huge and fabulous. Did not have to move after the tour started which was really nice. Gorgeous breakfast. Fairly quiet room even though it fronted the street and canal.

  • Bruges, Hotel Adornes. Excellent location, very nice hotel, very quiet room. Much smaller room than the Ghent hotel but adequate as a single. Nice breakfast. Lovely staff.

  • Delft, Hotel de Plataan. Yikes. Nicely located but so glad a forum friend warned me that the rooms are weird. Very large but individually decorated along some theme. Mine was Eucalyptus Tree/Australia, painted orange, orange fuzzy bedspread on the round bed, mural of an aboriginal child staring at me in the shower and a giant snake over the bed. Room was large but dark so I didn’t unpack much as I didn’t want to have to hunt for stuff. Stairwells and entrance area could have been cleaner but my room seemed clean enough. In spite of the weirdness, the bed was comfortable, shower hot and hotel quiet.

  • Amsterdam, Hotel Espresso. Basic business type hotel. Well-located near the Vondelpark and Museumplein. I spent my free time at the museums so this location was excellent for me. Pretty quiet in spite of it being on a main thoroughfare.

  • I don’t mind listing the tour hotels at all. If this helps someone make a decision to take or not take a tour that works for me. Do keep in mind that the same hotels may not be used for every tour although there are not as many tour dates for this particular tour so they probably use the same ones. All hotels had elevators although the one in Delft was odd as well. The guide will give you instruction on how to use it. Although it was cool weather I know that the Ghent and Amsterdam hotels had AC. Bruges might have had AC. Not sure about Delft but it is a very “green” hotel so maybe not. Check if this is a concern for you.

Packing/Clothing: I’ve traveled with about the same capsule wardrobe over the last 2 years. I do sink wash in a 2 gal ziplock bag including the jeans. 3 pr cotton/poly blend jeans (dark wash navy, black and gray). 4 SS Land’s End Cotton Modal Tee shirts (black, white, cobalt, aqua), this time I added in 2 LS Land’s End Cotton Modal Tees (black and pale pink – based on someone else who recently traveled with a black/gray/pink capsule which sounded SO spring-y!). I had 2 LS Dri-fit Ideology brand (Macy’s) ¼ zip shirts to layer over the tees. I started traveling with one of these in Jan 2018 when I was headed to the airport and realized I had not changed out of a kind of ratty thermal shirt to a nicer one so buzzed in to Macy’s and pulled this off the rack. I traveled with the black one I purchased then and added in the gray one I got last fall and have worn all winter over a warm tee. I also had a gray puffy vest (Costco 32 degree brand purchased last year and worn all winter as well), a black Cabelas waterproof jacket, a Lands End Cardie (black), Smartwool glove liners plus Ex Officio underwear and a nightgown. I had 2 pr of shoes – both Altra Lone Peak trail shoes. One in black, the other a gray waterproof pair. I wore one, packed one. While I wore both I did not really ever need the waterproof quality and could have gotten by with the one pr of black ones. Because the weather was cooler than expected, I only wore one of the SS tees and that was in Paris. I wound up alternating between the LS tees which I would wear for about 3 days then sink wash. I washed the dri-fit shirts a couple of times but didn’t feel they needed washing as often as the LS tees. If I had it to do again this time of year, I’d do 3 SS and 3 LS just for some variety. I never had the cardie out of the packing cube so I won’t take it again.

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Weather: How do you tell a tourist from Idaho in Paris in the spring? She’s comfortable in long sleeves while everyone else is bundled up in winter gear ranging from puffy jackets to heavy wool coats, winter hats, gloves. Weather in Paris was very nice and I was comfortable in a SS Tee shirt with a LS Dri-fit over it most days. I needed my rain jacket a couple of days (but mostly for wind) and my puffy vest a couple of days. Highs were 50’s and 60’s. By the time I got to Belgium a cool front had moved thru and it was about 20 degrees cooler than normal temps per our guide. Highs were 40’s to low 50’s. Overnight lows were as low as 32F a couple of nights (cars and bus had frost on them) and we got a teeny snow squall on our Keukenhof day. Really, to me it was graupel but the RS guide who is Dutch, called it snow. My “uniform” for the tour days was a LS tee under the aforementioned LS dri-fit, often with puffy vest and rain/wind layer nearby. While we had rain a couple of days it never really affected touring and there was no need for waterproof shoes. Most of the folks on the tour wore puffy coats every day. You definitely needed a wind layer. I also wore my Smartwool glove liners many days during the tour.

Fitness: I was concerned about my level of fitness this “early” in the travel year. February and March were dismal months here in N. Idaho with snow, snow, snow. I spent so much time managing snow and the usual trails were snow or ice-covered so I could not get in the distances I like to put in before a trip and/or tour. I managed 3 miles a couple of days a week and 4 miles once or twice. Shoveling/managing snow, while tiring, did not in any way get me fit for walking in Europe. In Paris I covered 5-8 miles per day and it was pretty tiring for me. Tour days were mostly around 5 miles with the longest day being the Keukenhof/Amsterdam day coming in at 8 miles. That day I put in 5 miles in the gardens then we did a longish walk/Amsterdam city tour on the way to dinner which added another 3-ish miles. Thank goodness we took the tram back to the hotel!

Group: As usual, FUN group! The youngest was 32, oldest? Might have been me at 69 or there might have been others that were in their early 70’s. There were 2 groups traveling together, a group of 3 couples from CA and a group of 2 couples from Indiana. I’ve been on other tours where the presence of sub-groups changed the dynamics of the main group but this was not my experience at all with these folks. Everyone made an effort to get to know everyone else and spent meals with people other than their group members. There were 2 solo women other than me and they had opted to share a room. There was one solo man. There were 2 solo women friends traveling together from Canada but they also mixed with the entire group. I found everyone interesting and interested in all aspects of the tour.

WOW moment: Keukenhof! Wow…unbelievable. I was so happy we got there early as by 10:30 it was packed. On the day we went they were expecting 900!! buses. I was ready to go by 1200, feeling overwhelmed by both the crowds and the sheer amount of flowers/textures/colors/designs. This was why I took the tour this time of year and it was totally worth it. 2nd Wow experience was the day we did the WWI sights. Amazing in a different way as the amount of casualties was staggering.

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Museum experiences/suggestions/ideas:

Paris – I always get a Museum Pass and usually get the 6 day one. I purchase it at the Tabac down the street from my hotel. I kind of screwed up my timing this time as I scheduled King Tut before I actually thought about which day would be the best and it fell in the middle of the Museum Pass days. Next time if I plan to take in a special exhibit I’ll try to remember to make reservations for either the first or last days of my stay and work the Museum Pass days around that. BTW, the King Tut exhibit was very nice so if you’re in Paris this summer consider going! Crowds were slim the last week of March/first of April. I walked in to the Louvre Pyramid entrance with essentially no line on the Museum Pass side. One of the times the security guard was just doing the unzip your purse and take a quick peek and had the MP folks go around the metal screener. Inside was a different story – jammed on the route to the Mona Lisa (and oddly there were NO other pictures hanging in that entire gallery! Not sure if they are re-doing the walls or what but the huge Wedding Feast picture that used to hang opposite was gone as was everything else) and hot as heck in that area. I was looking for the rooms with the Vermeers (Lacemaker is on tour to Abu Dhabi) and Rembrandts and those rooms were empty. Short line at d’Orsay and no line at the Orangerie. I knew the Cluny was undergoing reno and that many rooms were closed. Well, wow, there were only about 5 rooms open. I could get to the Frigidarium (directly from the new entrance), then upstairs was a small exhibit of church related decorative works, 2 connected rooms with tapestries and the room with the 6 tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. TBH, unless you have a big interest in the Lady and the Unicorn (I do) I’d skip the Cluny at this point. None of the heads from Notre Dame were on display, nor any of the stained glass from Sainte-Chapelle.

Ghent – DO go to the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) to see the restorers working on the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece. Amazing to watch them work with Q-tips and things that look like fine dental scrapers. Then go spend time at the church to see the Altarpiece. It’s currently sited to the left when you enter the cathedral in a special room. There are plans to move it to the actual chapel for which it was designed.

Bruges – On the tour you’ll get a Bruges Museum Pass. Take a look ahead of time at the museums that are covered and pick out some to see. We went in to the Memling Museum during the tour and had some guided time in there as well as going in to the Church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child with the group. You’ll have a full free day here so many borrowed bikes from the hotel and rode out into the country, others did museums and walked around.

Delft – On the tour, plan to head to Den Haag in the afternoon to see the Mauritshuis Museum. Wow, what a fine museum! It has a wonderful collection and was uncrowded the afternoon I went so you could spend plenty of time in front of the Girl with the Pearl Earring. DO download the Mauritshuis app. It is not audio but has some excellent information on one or two pieces in each gallery. On the morning walking tour the guide points out the closest tram stop to the hotel and the walking tour ends at a porcelain demo located a couple of doors down from the Tourist Information office which is where you can by a day pass for the tram. (7.10 E) The locals on the tram were extremely helpful in making sure we had all tagged in correctly with our passes. The guide had instructed us but it was extremely kind of the locals to help out. About 8 of us wound up on the tram together heading to the museum, so if you are traveling solo, want to do this but are worried about managing on your own, there will be plenty of others on the tour who are doing this so you will have company.

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Amsterdam – Look to see if there are special exhibits at the Rijksmuseum that might require a reservation. I had called the RS office about 6 weeks before our trip to ask a question and the staffer mentioned a special exhibit at the Rijksmuseum that needed a ticket. She suggested a time frame so I booked the special exhibit, All the Rembrandts. Unfortunately all the tickets were sold for our time frame so I don’t think anyone else from my tour group got to get in. DO download the Rijksmuseum app (and take your earbuds with you) as it is excellent. It even has a locator function in case you get turned around in the galleries, hahaha. You’ll have a guided tour of the Rijksmuseum, then your guide will give you your ticket which allows reentry anytime during that day so you can run out for lunch, some fresh air and then go back. I wound up skipping the group visit to the Anne Frank Huis (had been before) the next day and going back to the Rijksmuseum. I purchased my ticket online thru the Rijks app on the hotel wifi. It downloads onto the phone and in you go. Ticket lines were long and I don’t know why those people just didn’t jump on the museum wifi and buy that way! Also pre-book the Van Gogh Museum as this books out as well. There is not an official app for this museum and the ones I saw at the App Store had low ratings. I suggest for this museum you head immediately to the 3rd floor where the good stuff is, then work your way down. I started following the time line so started on 1 and was flagging by the time I got to the bulk of his work. I love his work but didn’t particularly like this museum. Lots of guards shouting “No Photos” like at the Sistine Chapel plus it’s a new museum so I have no idea why they don’t have escalators to the top floor!

Miscellaneous thoughts:

-Purses/suitcases: I travel with the RS 21” rollaboard, have a LeSportsac Deluxe Everyday bag for city touring and a small LiteGear day pack for my bus bag. I also have an old Eddie Bauer cross body wallet that I wear on the plane and have it available if it’s going to be a rainy day and I need something I can zip up under my rain jacket. I think my suitcase weighed around 23# which was fine. I did wind up carrying it up the stairs in the Bruges and Delft hotels. There were elevators but there was a line of other tour members so when I’m able I just lug mine up the stairs and leave the elevator for others.

-Walking: On tour my daily step count ranged from a low of 4 miles to a high of 8 miles.

-Money: My expenditures on the tour part of my trip were mostly for meals not covered by the tour. Rick usually recommends $50/day for expenses and mine are usually way less than that. I’d say on average I was spending $10-15 for lunch and maybe $20-25 for dinners. A couple of times I just popped into a grocery store for a premade salad or hummus and crackers. I paid for museum entries to Mauritshuis (15.50E), Van Gogh Museum (19E) and an extra visit to the Rijksmuseum (19E) plus the tram ticket in Delft (7.10E).

-Wifi in tour hotels: I had good reception in all my hotel rooms. Some had difficulty in Bruges but signal strength was good in the lobby.

-Departure times on tour: Earliest day was 745 departure from Delft in order to get to Keukenhof early. Latest departure was 10A for our city tour in Ghent. Most days were 830 on a travel day to 930 on a city day.

All in all I had a wonderful time both on my own and on the tour. While this tour doesn’t have the blockbuster sights some locales offer, it is a very comfortable look at a lovely and interesting part of the world. The people were terrific and welcoming and the towns and landscapes beautiful.

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884 posts

I LOVE reading detail, so really enjoyed the report! Thank you for the time it took!

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2015 posts

As always an excellent, in-depth trip report, Pam! Thank you!

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812 posts

Thanks Pam - I relived my trip of Holland/Belgium to the "T" in 2016. Did just about all you did. We did the bike ride Bruges to Damme with about 11 of our tour buddies. Loved Den Haag (I went and found the house where my Grandparents lived in the early 60's when we went over there for the summer I turned four. I also love K gardens. Our guide was Hans and he got us there early also. Had all the same hotels you had. Delft house is a RS "quirky" hotel. We had adam and eve room above the breeze way. Had same hotel in Amsterdam but I thought it was a little disappointing. Glad you like the Amsterdam hotel, I was a little disappointed in that hotel. This was one of my favorite tours. Thinking we might try to squeeze in Bruges for a few days before or after our RS tour in 2020. My work is sponsoring a stitching cruise with AMA waterways on the Holland/Belgium waterways. they will on Wednesday. Kinda jealous that my stitching friends are going and I am not.

Thanks again for your trip. Love Love this tour.

Kim

PS …. we went to the Resistance museum in Amsterdam. It was good

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623 posts

Pam, I enjoyed your detailed write-up. Long but well organized. At a few years younger than you I now have hope that I could deal with a RS tour after several years traveling with a more all inclusive co that takes care of things like my luggage. I'm also interested in this itinerary as the other co doesn't have a land tour there.
I too am a big fan of Lands End modal blend tees. Two ss in the mail right now bringing my total up to 7. I have a couple of the long sleeve but actually for layering prefer the 32 degree version - thinner, higher neck for warmth and dry faster. Not as many colors as the LE version though.
Will be in Amsterdam in June at the end of a river cruise (2nd time there) and already have Van Gogh tickets which I missed last time. Am debating about getting the audio guide. Will follow your advice on the starting at the top.
I too like SLC airport. Flying out the end of next month and (arg!) have a 7 hour layover. Was 2 hours when I booked it then they kept moving up the dep time to the point prudence caused us change ohr flight from home to the only available time that morning - 6am.
TTfn

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3640 posts

Pam, what a wonderful trip report with the added details! Wow, you picked the perfect timing to be able to see the Keukenhof!

I looked up images of your Delft hotel - quirky, but fun and memorable! Nice that CDG was efficient this trip for you, too. This winter has been a hard one; glad you could get away with a great trip!

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97 posts

Pam, your report was fantastic. Thanks for taking so much time to write this. It makes me want to go on that tour.
Pam

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635 posts

Thank you, Pam, for the wonderful trip report! My husband and I are traveling to Belgium and Holland this summer, so it was helpful to read about your experience. Also, I appreciate your clothing advise!

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930 posts

Pam, such a nice, thorough trip report and it sounds like it was a fine time. A trip that starts with uneventful flights and quick passport control always seems better, doesn't it? I'm sure you weren't enthused but I love that you got a little snow, even if it was more graupel like. I guess you could pretend you were in a snow globe tehehe.

I'm so happy that you got to spend a good amount of time in Paris before heading on to your tour and that Notre Dame was part of your visits. Is this the first time you have visited Paris in spring? The flowers were gorgeous and overall it seems you had decent weather - big plus! I am sorry though that you were worn out and missed getting to take some Paris Walks, although you did some interesting self guided walks. I just love those historical walks and would take one every day if I could.

I have many of the same missed items on my Paris list since we ended up substituting on our last itinerary. I've been so disenchanted with all of the strikes that I've held off making return plans for a bit. Maybe next year. I'd love to visit some other parts of France too.

Sounds like you had a great RS guide and driver, but puh-leeze... snakes over the bed and a little someone spying into the shower? What is this world coming to? Hahaha - sounds like a most interesting room and I would have loved the orange fuzzy covered round bed! Unique I can deal with. And elevators in all of your hotels - how surprising and luxurious. I can see being overwhelmed by Keukenhof. Those crowds would have made me want to tiptoe away through the tulips but I'm thrilled for you that you got to see it irl!

Loved all the details and advice for rare travelers.

Thanks for writing. You were quick on the draw.

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2506 posts

Pam, I enjoyed every detail of your report. Glad you had a wonderful, memorable journey. Great tips in Amsterdam for our upcoming trip. I am bookmarking this! Thank you.

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8009 posts

Thanks all for wading thru all the detail! I left so much out, hahahaha!! Darcy knows because I've talked her ears off about it!

TravelMom and Darcy, thanks for reading!

Kim, I'm glad my report helped you relive your trip! Truthfully, I was on the fence about the Amsterdam hotel. I've stayed in canalside hotels before and both Ghent and Bruges were on canals so I didn't mind that this one was not in a scenic location. Because of what I wanted to see this location worked very well as it was walking distance altho with the guide's instructions we all figured out the tram system. I'd done the Resistance Museum on a former trip and thought it was wonderful.

CJ Traveler you'd do fine on a RS tour, just pare down your luggage to essentials. I just get antsy waiting in the line up for the elevator when the tour arrives in a hotel so I'm more than willing to hump my bag upstairs.

Jean, I was thrilled at the flowers....so wonderful after this winter!

Pam - sign up!

Christine, I'm sure you all will have a wonderful time. BTW, no Dutch needed!

Nance - I visited Paris in April of 2017 so I've had some spring time there but not this early. I liked that the crowds were less. No reason not to go to Paris! People just seem to be carrying on as normal! BTW, the first thing I did in Delft was move the orange fuzzy bedspread to the chair, hahaha!

Janis, I didn't realize how handy the museum apps were. I've tried to use the one for the Louvre before and it's not terribly helpful but the Rijksmuseum one really caught me! The museum wifi there is excellent as well.

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1526 posts

You do wonderful trip reports - enough detail to get the flavor while also mentioning handy tips. I especially appreciated the comment about ticketing in the Paris metro.i had been concerned about the roll-out of the new system as our trip starts in Paris on the 30th.

Again, thanks for the time you took doing this.

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219 posts

Love this trip report Pam! Many thanks for taking all the time to fill us in. Sounded like a wonderful adventure. You are always so helpful and kind!

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86 posts

Pam, thanks so much for the detailed trip report and the suggestions/ observations for things to do. This tour has been on my wish list for several years and I'm hoping to do it next spring, early in the season, when I really need a change from winter which lasts until May here in Maine!

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366 posts

Thanks Pam for another wonderful trip report. Hope you will add some info on the WWI sites. I'm off on the MyWay Italy this fall after numerous guided RS tours, but this is one that I haven't done yet. After becoming somewhat of an expert on purchasing tickets to the sites I want to see, I realize how much work must go into planning things on a guided tour.

Thanks again and I'm sure you already have another trip in the works.

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3 posts

Thanks so much for the great description of your tour experience. Your trip reports always help me to make the decision on what RS tour to do next!

Posted by
4450 posts

Thanks, Pam. Great job, as usual.

We did this tour some years ago - 2012, I think, and the itinerary was somewhat different. We started in Brussels, and just had a short day trip to Ghent. The Bruges and Delft hotels were the same as yours, but we had a lovely hotel in Amsterdam not far from the museum area. With parrots in the back yard. I just went to look it up: the Alexander. And we didn't go to Keukenhof, which was fine with me. We did eventually see it on another tour, and once was enough.

And thanks for the new word: graupel. I had to look that one up.

We always sink wash, but I think this year I'll try the 2-gallon bag method. I pack in 2-gallon bags anyway, so I'll just toss an extra one in next time

Love the detailed tips about clothing, passes, and apps.

Thanks again for a great report. And for reminding people not to believe all the reports warning of dangers of travel.

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799 posts

I always enjoy reading your posts, Pam. Thanks for a great trip report! My daughter now lives in Amsterdam, but my three trips last year did not include tulip season. Obviously I need to plan better for next year!

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2661 posts

Pam, It sounds like you had another wonderful trip. March and April is the ugly time around here so I like to travel during that period, but, yes, it is difficult to physically get up to snuff for the extensive walking at that time of year! Of course, I have a packing question. During your airport travels do you use the sport sac or the backpack as your personal item? Or, do both bags travel in your suitcase?

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8009 posts

Patty, I'd just count on either using carnets or a Navigo Decouverte if you are going to be there on the right time frame.

Diveloonie and Luv2travel, thanks for the kind words!

Kathy!! My GAS buddy! Yes, you would like this tour! I know some of the people from CA were cold the whole time but I was fine and you would be too. There were a few gray days but more bright blue sunshine days which certainly gave me a lift from the Idaho winter.

Katya and Traylaparks, thanks for reading!

Jane, I know Rick is going for shorter tours but I think this would be better with one more night added in Ghent so the group could do a day trip in to Brussels. I know Brussels has been in and out of the tour. I've been to Brussels before so didn't attempt to get back there this time but at least a visit to the Grand Place and the Museum of Fine Arts would be good. I was surprised at how helpful the apps were. I don't have data in Europe so depend on wifi and the museums generally had really good wifi for their apps. By the way, reinforce the seams on the 2 gal bag with mailing tape for some strength especially if you are doing something heavy like jeans.

Kathleen, yes definitely go during April!

Wray, for travel days I pack the LeSportsac and use the Litegear day pack. It fits under the seats of the Delta planes I fly on with room for my feet on either side. Usually during the tour I'll have both the LeSportsac and the day pack with me on the bus.

Leslie, as to the WWI day. We stopped at 4 cemeteries, starting with the American Cemetery. The locals still adopt a gravesite for the US soldiers and visit and bring flowers during the year. At least one of the men is adopted by a local school who spends time learning about his life as well as WWI. During the Memorial Day service often the local school children will sing the Belgian National Anthem as well as the Star Spangled Banner. There is a nice video in the Visitor Center with one of the children saying they will never forget how these men died for them so they didn't have to speak German. Very touching. BTW, the families all had the choice of whether to leave their loved one buried in Belgium or have them brought back home at no expense to the family. Many decided to leave them essentially where they fell with their fallen comrades. We then drove under the Menin Gate and picked up the local guide in Ypres and headed to Essex Farm Cemetery which was the forward aid station where Canadian MD Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields". After that, lunch at a local farmhouse where the owner still farms. Just the week before we visited he had dug up FIVE live ammo shells when he was doing his spring potato planting. He had them set aside waiting for the Belgian Army unit to come destroy them. He said every year farmers all over Flanders still dig up WWI ammo. After lunch we did the German cemetery at Langemarck which is the location where the Germans first employed a gas attack. Very somber and not many visitors except Americans, English and Canadians according to the guide. After WWII there was a lot of anti-German sentiment and some of the original WWI cemeteries were dug up with all the remains being placed in a mass grave here. There are a couple of British soldiers buried here as well. One of the German dead is WWI flying ace Werner Voss who had 48 aces and was killed at age 20. After that we finished up at Tyne Cot, a Commonwealth Cemetery with many graves of men from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and I think maybe Newfoundland was separate then? The guide said there were some Newfoundlanders who had a moose symbol on their headstones as opposed to the maple leaf but we did not walk by any of them.

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366 posts

Thank you for that info, Pam. I have two great uncles that are buried in one of the cemeteries in Belgium. As you said, the family chose to have them buried there instead of bringing them home. Someday, I hope to find them. I am always amazed how well the graves are kept up by the locals. I have visited the American cemetery outside of Florence and Normandy American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and though sad, they are very beautiful places.

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8009 posts

Actually, the Flanders Field Cemetery is the only American Cemetery in Belgium for WWI. It should be relatively easy to find their resting places. The superintendent, who is the one who toured us around, said the only agency that has been fully funded by Congress is the American Battlefields Monuments Commission. The staff they have there in Flanders is full time including I think 8 gardeners and maintenance people who tend to the grounds. The area is immaculate and beautifully landscaped. The locals place flowers on individual graves.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flanders_Field_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial
https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/flanders-field-american-cemetery

The American Battlefields Monuments Commission has very complete listings of the dead so you can probably find the names of your uncles and whether they are buried in Belgium or maybe France. Either go to the 2nd link above and click on Browse Burials for the complete list of those buried in Flanders or if not there go to this site in case they were buried in France.

https://www.abmc.gov/database-search

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1171 posts

Pam, thank you so much for the detailed trip report. I especially appreciate you including packing + luggage information, expenses, group dynamics and physical activity. We leave in 10 days for our first RS Tour, South of Italy, and now I am even more excited and less apprehensive. Your experience and insights are very helpful to those of us who do not travel much.

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8009 posts

Horsewoofie, you are welcome. You know all of us on the forum hope you have the best experience ever on your trip! I try to put in things that I would want to know about a particular trip or what I would have wanted to know as I faced my first group tour experience. I don't think of myself really as a group tour person but I enjoy the Rick Steves tours so much. There is time on your own and while someone could sit back and be spoon-fed I get so much more out of the trips with some research, particularly for the free time!

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743 posts

Great report, Pam. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have a future trip in mind, beginning with a return to Paris for a few (or more) days, followed by a Eurostar run to Brussels and the RS Belgium/Netherlands tour.

We'll be on our Best of Scotland tour next week. Aren't you the one who said that was the only tour you ever wished you had rain pants for?

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8009 posts

Yes! The day to Iona the very smart RS guide had her rain pants tucked into her daypack and I wished I had had them! She did wear them about 1/2 the day.

Did NOT need them for Belgium and Holland tour even though we had some rain it wasn't of the blowing a gale variety as I saw in Scotland. IF you have ANY interest in seeing Keukenhof, the April tour dates are excellent. Sometimes by mid-May the flowers are kind of gone if it's a warm spring.

I tell myself that Paris is an excellent location for recovering from jet-lag but really I go just because I love it! IF I had thought ahead I'd have added another night to Ghent so I had 2 full days and a partial day, and then done a day trip in to Brussels. Train from Paris to Brussels is easy and fast - just an hour and a half or so. Book the Thalys ticket that is "ABS" - any Belgian station, if you want to go from Paris to Ghent.

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2528 posts

Pam, excellent trip report, as usual! I am just blown away by your detail! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. I never dreamed this tour would be so terrific! Makes me want to take it.
Thanks for the details of clothing, packing, laundry, info on museums, buying tickets to special exhibits, and transportation advice.

Congratulations on breaking 6000 posts! A new milestone! You have helped a lot of travelers and Forum members.
Thanks for all your very helpful posts and great information over the years!

Posted by
1173 posts

I either want to do this tour in the future or go to the same places without the RS tour with a friend. Found the list of hotels and other comments interesting and helpful in my future bookings.. Going to Paris & then on to the Eastern France tour in a few weeks! Can't wait to be back in Paris and see new parts of France. Going with a dear friend so this will be a special trip for us.

Glad you posted this trip report, will use it for reference for my future travels.

Ann

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59 posts

Hey Pam!

So glad you are home safe and sound/ I for one was happy to see your amazing photos of the garden, making it all the more on my future bucket list!

I am really sad we will not be able to see Norte Dame in September when we go, but it is fine excuse to stop in Paris again in a few years!

Thank you for all your details, as usual they are MUCH appreciated!

Nancy, in Texas.

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8009 posts

Rebecca, thanks! Knowing what you enjoy, I think you would like this tour!

Ann, I hope you enjoy Paris and Eastern France and will get to enjoy the Belgium and Netherlands area. I think I remember that you enjoy gardens so I hope you can make it some year when Keukenhof is open. It is spectacular.

Thanks Nancy! I restrained myself on posting pictures, hahaha! A friend was there a few days after I was and she wound up posting 3 sets of 40 pictures each at Keukenhof, lol!!

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277 posts

Pam, I enjoyed your trip report. I have Keukenhof gardens on my bucket list, but I hate crowds. I can't believe that there were 900 bus loads of people. I may leave this place on the list and visit Holland , Michiagan instead. I can ever get my fill of gardens. I loved Bodnant gardens on the Best of England tour and planned that trip around a visit to the Chelsea Garden Show. I'm glad you had a little time before the crowds invaded. How early do the gardens open during Tulip time? Thanks also for the packing list.

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8009 posts

Janet...I loved Bodnant Gardens but Keukenhof is unbelievable. The gardens open at 8A. We were there on a Saturday AND on the day of the Flower Parade AND the week before Easter Week (so the Saturday before Palm Sunday). If I were doing this on my own, I'd go on a weekday, not of a holiday week. I'd be there between 8 and 830A. By the time we got off the bus and into the gardens it was 845 or so and was NOT busy.

One of the gals on the tour said she had read there were long lines at restrooms so to plan ahead and give yourselves time to make a pit stop. I hurried my way to one of the pavilions (Juliana) and there was no wait at all. I also went a few times during the morning with no problems. I decided on the way back to the exit to go again and wound up heading for the Irene Pavilion when I saw the lines out the restrooms in the entrance pavilion. There was about a 5-minute line at Irene but much longer at the Entrance area.

IF you decide to do this as a Rick Steves tour, I'd take one of the departures that leaves on a Wednesday. During tulip season there are 2 departures a week, one on a Wednesday and one on Saturday while during the rest of the season the departures are all on Wednesdays. The Wednesday departure hits Keukenhof on the next Wednesday, Saturday one, obviously on Saturday.

BTW, the 900 buses was IN addition to cars and local drop off buses. That was the amount of parked buses. We were early enough that we parked in the first line of buses next to a canal. The guide wanted us to make sure to note the location as it is easy to get confused on the way back to the bus.

Here is the link to the Keukenhof site.

https://keukenhof.nl/en/practical-information/

I would love to see the Chelsea Flower Show! It's on my list!

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599 posts

Loved reading your report! I am so thrilled that you loved Keukenhof. The while trip sounds lovely! I have a hard time imagining 8 days in one city because we move too fast, but I definitely see the appeal to a longer stay. If I ever do that, it will be in Paris, I am sure!

Posted by
19 posts

Pam, Fantastic trip report. Great info and insight. Now I just have to decide July or August, 2020.

Thanks, Jersey Joe

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8009 posts

Joe! Glad you hopped over here from your thread to read the Trip Report and also happy it was helpful in making a decision, lol!!

I’m not sure either July or August makes much of a difference? It’ll probably be warm for either.