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Yesterday, I received an URGENT message from Rick’s office re: Heart of Belgium & Holland

Our tour that starts in Ghent on March 30 has a change in the first hotel. Unfortunately Hotel Harmony made a mistake with our group reservation, so now the group will be split between 2 hotels. My new hotel is: Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel Reylof. We will still have the welcome meeting on March 30 at the Harmony Hotel. We will also start our morning tour from the Harmony House. The new hotel is about 1/2 mile from Hotel Harmony. So, I guess that some of us will be walking an extra mile the first 2 days. Hopefully, our breakfast will be at the Pillows and not at Harmony. I was remembering that the RS tour in Dingle, our guide paid for taxi’s to get us to downtown. Perhaps they will run a shuttle for us.

I’m a little miffed that we get this information 5 days before the tour starts. I am already in Belgium. I called and the recording said to leave a message. Since I am on the road now, I sent an email with my questions. Unfortunately the email comes on a Friday, so there will probably be no response until Monday when most of the people on the tour will be flying over to start the tour. I guess this is what it means to “Be Flexible”.

In the meantime, I am enjoying Belgium. We spent 3 nights/2 days in Brussels. Today we traveled by train to Marloie, then took the bus to Bastogne. Tomorrow we have a full day “Battle of the Bulge” tour. The new tour hotel looks very nice.

Posted by
6349 posts

Be flexible means just that.

That’s an assumption about walking an extra mile.

Things do happen and from what you’ve said the Hotel made the error not the RS office.

You are there. Keep enjoying yourselves and remain positive.

Posted by
53 posts

Honestly, I am really bad about checking my emails when I'm on vacation in Europe. So, I would have found out when I got to the hotel. Hope they call you back sooner than later. Enjoy your trip. It would be a bummer if your pre-hotel stay was at this hotel and you had to move for the Rick Steve's portion.

Posted by
11246 posts

That happened to me with a different tour company. Three days before the tour was supposed to start I received an email saying the hotels would change in the middle of the tour. One hotel screwed up and couldn't accomodate us. So, that town was out and another nearby was put in its place. We didn't miss anything,

The tour company, although not at fault, felt bad, so they included an extra day of sightseeing, an extra dinner and gave everyone a $250 voucher towards another tour.

That's customer service.

Posted by
8618 posts

The hotel you got moved to looks way more posh than anything I have had on an RS tour.

I suspect the RS staff are at least as distressed as you about the last minute change.

Be sure you pick the 'buddy' you pick is at the 'other ' hotel.

Happy travels.

Posted by
7695 posts

We also had a change on a trip in Vietnam. Only eight of us on the tour could not be given rooms on a large boat on Halong Bay. We were all upset. We were pulled aside as others left and got the boat.
Then they gave the eight of us the ship company’s owners smaller private boat with staff, chef, yoga instructor, the works. It was an incredible upgrade and experience. Enjoy Ghent. I bet you’ll love the new hotel!

Posted by
2644 posts

I'm thinking what I pinch I would have been in if it was a self-guided trip and my hotel didn't have my reservation, which I may not have learned of until I got to that hotel if it really was a screwup. At which point I'd have to forego whatever plans I had to arrange new lodging, likely at last minute prices.

This reinforces my decision to leave the planning (and these sorts of headaches) for my spring trips to Rick Steves Europe!

Posted by
1739 posts

@ Frank II - I bet I know who you are traveling with. A reputable company compensates their customers when this stuff happens even when it’s not their fault. Odysseys Unlimited and Lindblad Nat Geo come to mind as doing this for us.

Posted by
5157 posts

I looked up both hotels and they are both highly rated. If 10 minute walk will be a problem, just spring for a 3 minute taxi. It simply couldn’t be that big of a cost and you could share with other tour members.

I know it can be distressing when there are last minute changes, but I am sure you will have a great time on this tour and this will fade away in importance.

Posted by
4462 posts

Wow, that’s fortunate that they could find a comparable hotel with extra rooms within a 10-minute walk from the other hotel!

Posted by
149 posts

Upon our Venetian arrival my daughter and I, on our inaugural RST years ago, were informed that our tour hotel was overbooked and we would be relocated to another hotel nearby, that was quite posh. It was a 'see how the other half lives' kind of experience and quite the lucky break, that time. We giddily assumed we'd be there both nights but sadly, our guide let us know at meet up the next am we needed to scramble back to place fabuloso to pack our bags as they would be transferred to the tour hotel for our 2nd night. Heavy sigh and sad face. Hope you enjoy your HBH tour and please report back on your experiences.

Posted by
348 posts

Why do you need to call them? Why do you even need to know in advance? Sounds like if you turn up at the original hotel arrangements will be in place

Posted by
9706 posts

Janet! I'm so sorry there is a mix-up from the hotel. What are your plans for the day the tour is to start? Were you going to Ghent that day? Or were you going to be in Ghent a day or so ahead?

There are a couple of times when other groups are split. In Ireland we were split between 2 B&Bs but they were right next to each other. In Cinque Terre on the Heart of Italy (and it looks like Best of Italy) tours groups are divided between 2 hotels.

It also looks like the substitute hotel offers breakfast so I can't imagine you wouldn't have breakfast there. That hotel looks beautiful! I've stayed in the Harmony and will stay there in a couple of weeks before my Road Scholar tour starts at a different hotel so maybe I need to contact them to make sure the reservation is good.

Let us know how it works out. I'd want to know ahead of time (if indeed the RS staff knows) which hotel so I could go directly there with my luggage. I also don't like surprises. I can flex but I so better if I've got warning.

Posted by
375 posts

Thanks for all the positive replies. I think the Pillows Hotel will be very nice. I just get a little frazzled when things don’t go according to my plans.

Pam, tomorrow we are headed to Ghent. It will take us about 4-5 hours depending on what time the bus gets to the train station in Liege. We are staying at a Marriott (2 nights) that is half way between the Hotel Harmony and the Pillows Grand Boutique. We are staying at the Marriott because they have washing machines. I looked for a hotel where I could do some laundry as we will have been on the road for a week. So, on the day that the tour starts (Wednesday) I will have a shorter walk to Pillows than to Harmony. On Tuesday morning the day before our tour starts, we have an appointment to take our Covid test (48 hrs before the Rick Steves tour starts). I had contacted Hotel Harmony about places to test. They gave me 2 places and asked if I would like for them to make an appointment. I said yes. We will be in Ghent for 2 nights before we meet up with the RS tour. I haven’t made any definite plans. I have looked at visiting Gravensteen Castle and the Museum of Fine Arts. We will probably do some shopping there as well. (Some family members have requested chocolates). We didn’t want to do a lot of shopping in Brussels because we would be handling luggage on the train and bus.

We have already had several changes on this trip. Most have been good. The morning we flew out of Houston, we had a phone call from United Airlines. Apparently our flight was overbooked and they wondered if we were willing to change. Their first option was $300 per person. The second was $500 per person. Neither one of those had 2 seats together, so I declined. Then they routed me through Chicago and offered First Class on both legs of the journey and I said yes. We had to hustle to get to the airport on time, and had a longer layover. The fully reclining seat that turned into a bed from Chicago to Brussels was worth it. Now my husband is spoiled! We stayed at the Hilton Grand Place because I was using points. So…free hotel room for 3 nights. We ate at their fabulous breakfast buffet every morning. I figured it would be 12-18 euros per person, per day. When I looked at the bill that was emailed to me, I see that the only charge was 12.72 for taxes, so Free Breakfast! What a deal!!! Then on our travels yesterday, I couldn’t find a machine to buy a bus ticket. I tried to buy tickets from the bus driver. He didn’t speak English and just motioned for us to get on the back of the bus. So, Free Bus Tickets! My only negative was my Battle of the Bulge tour today. Regjans had to cancel, so he referred his friend Roby to take us to the battle sites. I had heard great things about Regjans and was excited to see all the different areas. Roby was a little gruff and not very personable. He drove us around in his car that reeked of cigarette smoke. We didn’t have a full day tour, so it was less expensive. He did say he would do some research on where my Dad fought (Alsace region) and email it to me.

So, I am learning to be flexible!

Posted by
9706 posts

Well, so far the changes seem to have been good except for the Battle of the Bulge tour. I was hoping that would be excellent but it doesn't sound like it. Poo.

I enjoyed the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent. I have not been to Gravensteen Castle. I did go to St Bavo's before my tour because I know I like to spend more time than you might get on a tour and that was a good deal. This time I'm considering booking the "Augmented Reality" tour of the cathedral as it looks like you can go into the crypt. I'm not sure I actually want my reality augmented, lol, but I suspect I'm not the target audience.

https://www.sintbaafskathedraal.be/en/ghent-altarpiece-ar-tour/

Wait to buy chocolate until Bruges. I think the tour will have a chocolate tasting and I'd buy chocolate from them as it was delicious and I'm not really a huge chocolate fan. Well, I like chocolate but I generally like cheap chocolate, lol.

Have a good journey tomorrow. Enjoy your washing experience, lol!!

Posted by
5157 posts

I would call a first class upgrade the best type of last minute change! It sounds like you are a planner like myself and it is tough on us when our careful plans get changed. You have come through with the right attitude though and I can hardly wait for your trip report.

Posted by
325 posts

I would have had a moment of "why us, again", but, with all the stress and extra work the RS employees have gone through and continue to go through, I would have responded to the email with a "Thanks, for the update." Hopefully, the new hotel should be able to answer all your questions upon arrival. Enjoy the tour!

Posted by
375 posts

Pam, thanks for letting me know about buying chocolate in Bruges. I like good dark chocolate, but my grandkids don’t care, so they’ll get the cheap stuff. I might also check out St. Bavo’s as well.

Estimated Prophet, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to go on Reg Jans tour. Apparently this is not high season for war tours. We were the only ones on the tour. He showed us some interesting places, just wasn’t very personable.

Carol, I am indeed a planner, but I am ready for Rick to take care of all my details. I am having a hard time with bus tickets. I loaded the app which is the only way to purchase tickets, but they have to send a code to my phone for me to proceed further with the purchase. The app recognizes my phone, but not the extra 1 and 0’s needed to call a number from out of the continent. I still can’t purchase tickets. I will try again to give the driver a 10 euro note for them tomorrow morning.

I’ll be posting a travel report in a few weeks after we get home.

Posted by
9706 posts

"I’ll be posting a travel report in a few weeks after we get home.'

Uh, Janet...the TR is due before you start the laundry, hahahah!!!!

The chocolate shop the tour used to use was so neat. They even had vegan chocolate for me which was SO thoughtful!

Wondering about your transport for tomorrow. Is there not a train instead of a bus or were the times better?

Posted by
27720 posts

about chocolates for souvenirs for the folks at home - the very best chocolates are fresh cream pralineé. All the best artisanal makers make them. Unfortunately they don't travel well, and any amount of heat will ruin them. March maybe you'll be ok for a while but be careful.

As you say, the cheap stuff can travel.

After you discover good or very good chocolates (I hope they take you to very good) in Bruges, visit the very best in Gent. Near the Sint Baafs cathedral with the Mystic Lamb is the Belfort. On the corner (same side of the street) between them is Chocolaterie Luc Van Hoorebeke. You'll know you're in the right place by the aroma... Just try it. Try to get out without a purchase. Just try. It is all - all - made downstairs under the glass floor. As I say, just try to get out.

We discovered the place several years ago during what we have called several previous years of scientific study to find the best in Antwerp, Brussel, Brugge and Gent.

We don't go anywhere else now...

Please, don't go there until you have been on the behind the scenes tour the RS guide will take you on. You wouldn't want to spoil it. Save the best for last... By the way, they don't sell any factory made or cheap stuff at Chocolaterie Luc Van Hoorebeke.

I shouldn't be telling you this because I don't want it to be over-run before we get back there. But you seem like a nice person, and Pam is helping you and I owe her one...

Posted by
9706 posts

Hahah...you're so sweet Nigel! Just like the finest chocolate!

Unfortunately the tour is in Ghent for 2 nights, then goes to Bruges for 3 nights after that and not back to Ghent.

I looked back in my notes and I think the chocolate place my RS tour visited in 2019 was Pralinette.

https://www.pralinette.be/en/

However, since I will be in Ghent at the end of April I'll look up that chocolate shop! I knew you had a special place there so yum and thanks for sharing!

BTW, I got the impression there is a lot of cheap chocolate around Bruges but you can tell the shops that are really marketing to mass tourism tourists. IF they are still in business after 2 years of no tourists from Asia!

Posted by
375 posts

Nigel, thanks for the chocolate information. We will check them out tomorrow. Your description had my mouth watering. I am a dark chocolate fan. The grand-daughters will get milk chocolate. My son-in-law hasn’t informed me of his request. He’s going to have to hurry. I feel really special that you have shared your secret chocolate information.

Pam, I’ll let you know whether we visit Pralinette in Bruges.

We arrived in Ghent this afternoon. Our hotel backs up to the canal and Gravensteen castle is about a 5 minute walk. It looks like a lovely city. Can’t wait to explore more of it.

Wish us luck. We have our Covid test (for our RS tour) in the morning.

Posted by
375 posts

Pam, you asked about taking a train to and from Bastogne instead of a train/bus and bus/train to Ghent. I looked on several web sites. The trains don’t go directly to Bastogne. Saturday, we took the train to Marloie and then the bus to Bastogne. Today, we finally found a book store that sold bus tickets. We purchased them and rode from Bastogne to Liege. Then bought our tickets at the really cool train station in Liege. We didn’t have to change trains, so that was easy. Our information from Rick Steves said that after arriving at Saint Pieter’s station, to take the tram to the area of our hotel. The price is 3 euro per person. I was tired and didn’t want to deal with more travel, so we went to the taxi line. Our taxi driver got us to our hotel in about 5 minutes. The cost was 9 euro. Money well spent!

Posted by
9706 posts

Oh gosh...I am glad you are in place! I was google-walking around Sint-Baaf's and saw Nigel's chocolate shop in it's lovely corner location! I'm very excited for you and the start of your tour. You've got Nico, right? Or was that someone else?

Posted by
375 posts

Our tour met yesterday afternoon. What a great bunch of travel buddies. Nico is great! We also have Ruby van Engelsorp Gastelaars as an apprentice. Our hotel “Pillows Grand Boutique Reyloff” is very nice. The breakfast buffet is huge. The weather has turned very cold and tomorrow we have a chance of snow. Flanders field’s will be blustery.
Nigel, we visited the Van Hoorebeke chocolate shop. We bought some chocolates and they are delicious. They also had THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE I have ever tasted. We shared a cup on Tuesday. Today it was cold and we each had our own cup after visiting the Ghent Altarpiece and lunch. Thanks for the great suggestion. We have a sample of Van Hoorebeke chocolate wafers in our hotel room. Can’t wait to try them. We’ll probably sample them tonight with a cup of tea.

Posted by
959 posts

Nigel, I spent 3 nights in Ghent back in 2018 and visited that chocolate shop, and I agree that it was incredible! I did not want to leave, but when I did, I had lots of chocolate with me. I still dream of that chocolate!

Posted by
27720 posts

I had them send me a box last week and we have just about a quarter of it left. It hasn't suffered...