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Best of Holland and Belgium Tour

Buckle your seatbelts, this is a bumpy and long ride (read).

My husband David and I signed up for the Heart of Belgium and Holland tour in mid-June 2021. All of the other tours that included Keukenhof were full. This tour was added after those filled up. Our tour started March 30th. It was a little early in the season for visiting Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as for Keukenhof. Different people told me that the gardens had something blooming the entire time that they are open. So, even if we were early in the season, there would be something blooming. After being confirmed on this tour, I purchased Rick’s books on “Amsterdam and the Netherlands” and “Belgium”. I read the books, studied the maps and figured out what I wanted to see in addition to the tour. My biggest desire was to go to Bastogne and visit “Battle of the Bulge sites”. My Dad fought in World War II in an area close to Bastogne. My husband and I are big history fans and are very interested in World War II. After doing all my research, I decided to add a week to the front of the tour and a few extra days at the end of the tour. The Belgium/Holland tour is 11 days. The total length of my trip was 22 days. I planned my itinerary and started shopping for airfare. I live in Central Texas, so I looked at airfare from Austin, (a 1 hour drive from my house) DFW (2 hr. drive) and Houston (3 hr. drive). There is a direct flight between Houston and Amsterdam, so I booked a flight on United from Houston to Brussels on March 22 with a return flight from Amsterdam to Houston on April 12. I picked the flight that worked best for me and watched the price for about a month. We don’t want to spend extra for Business class, so I usually fly on Premium Economy. It has a little more leg room and this particular flight had 2 seats by themselves / 3 in the middle / and 2 on the other side of the plane. This is my preference so I don’t have to sit by a stranger and have them take the arm rests. In November, the flight back to Houston was getting full in the Premium Economy seats, so I booked our airfare. I also did some research on Battle of the Bulge tours and found information on the Rick Steves forum about Reg Jans tours. I booked a group tour with him for Sunday, March 27 out of Bastogne. I was feeling very hopeful that all these plans would actually happen this year, since I had several tours/trips cancelled during Covid.

Omicron hits! The Netherlands has a quarantine in place after you arrive and frequent testing to even visit museums and go to a restaurant. Belgium required pre-travel Covid tests, a second test on day 1 and another test on day 7. Rick Steves tours required a Covid test 48 hours before the start of the tour. Here we go again! We received emails for the RS office saying there was a possibility that the tour would be cancelled and changed the date of our final payment to 1 month before the tour started. I was getting nervous that this tour would happen. Then, Putin decides to invade Ukraine and talks about nuclear weapons. My husband is now leery of traveling to Europe. My thoughts are that if we cancel / Putin wins. I would not allow this crazy man to ruin my trip. Finally, in late January we get the happy email from Rick that the Netherlands has dropped the quarantine. Then Belgium drops their requirements for all the Covid tests. I think this is actually going to happen! We send in our final payment in late February. About the same time I get an email from United Airlines that the flight back from AMS to IAH had been changed. Our new plane did NOT have premium economy seats. After looking at alternatives of flying home with layovers in either Newark, Dulles or O’Hare we decided to stay with the Economy Plus seats so that we would have a direct flight home.

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In early March, I start setting aside the clothes I'm going to take. The weather tlooks like the lows will be in the mid 30's and the highs in the mid 50's. I'm taking layers that are not bulky and will fit into my suitcase. I purchase KN95 masksand the "proctored" Binax Now Covid tests from E-med. I packed 1 test each for my husband and myself. (In hindsight, it would have been better to pack 2 for each of us in case we lost internet connection with the people who watch you take the test). After adding the extra covid stuff, I decided to get a little larger suitcase. I bought a new 22" Travel Pro and I loved it.

March 21, 22, 23 we drove to Houston the day before our flight. We stayed in a Hampton Inn close to the airport. On the morning of the flight, we received a phone call from United. Our flight from Newark to Brussels was overbooked. They offered 2 different options with cash that I refused. Then they offered First Class seats all the way from Houston to O'Hare to Brussels. I accepted. Our layover in Chicago was a little longer than Newark, but getting to lay down and sleep on the last leg was a no-brainer. We arrived in Brussels and took a taxi to the Hilton Grand Place. We used points for our 3 night stay. Upon arrival at the hotel we see an American woman chewing out the desk clerk that her Nespresso machine wasn't working. Geez, she was giving American tourists a bad name. Our room was ready and we dropped our bags, freshened up a bit and headed out to experience Europe for the first time in two and a half years.

Our hotel was across the street from the Central train station and a 5 minute walk to the Grand Place. It was wonderful to see the grand buildings that we have come to love in Europe. The gold was glittering on the town hall and guild buildings. There were artists in the center along with horse-drawn carriages. Little café’s dotted the base of all the buildings. It was so wonderful to experience it all again. We found and purchased chocolate at a shop that Rick had recommended in his book. We walked around and found a restaurant, or rather the owner practically grabbed us off the street when we stopped to read his menu. He said he would give us a free glass of wine if we ate dinner there. So we ordered a pizza. The wine – meh / the pizza was good. We were starving since we hadn’t eaten anything since our breakfast on the plane. It was almost 3:00. That evening I booked a history walking tour for the next morning. My body was still on Texas time, so I finally fell asleep around 2:00 a.m.

March 24/ History Tour - we had the breakfast buffet that morning and for the next 2 mornings. We met Sancar in the Grand Place. There was 1 other person on our tour. We learned a lot of history of the guilds, the Galleria, saw the Mannekin Pis (very small), St Michael’s Cathedral, Uptown, the King’s Palace and ended up at another church up at a high point where we finished. We had a great view of all of Brussels. Our guide then helped us with directions to other places and had a list of recommended restaurants and Belgian food to sample. We walked back to the Grand Place, ate lunch and people watched.

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March 25 / Museum Day -we went to the Grand Place and found our guide from yesterday. He helped us with some questions we had. Our first stop was the City Museum. It covered the history of Brussels. There were tapestries, a model of the walled city, the original Mannekin Pis and some other historical items. Our second stop was the Fashion and Lace Museum. I was very interested in the lace making. There was a video of the history of lace. My favorite thing was a chest with drawers that you could pull out showing hand-made lace in each drawer. The detail was so beautiful. This type of lace was made using wooden bobbins with silk or cotton thread. These women worked long days in dark rooms for 6 days a week. Most of them became blind because of the conditions they worked in. The vast majority of lace is now made by machine, but the hand-made lace will always be much more intricate and beautiful. Lunch was at Chez Leon. I had a Beef Carbonnade, which is a Flemish beef stew made with beer. It was accompanied by Flemish fries and mayo for dipping. They were both delicious. We visited the train station to get information and purchase tickets for our travel tomorrow.

March 26 / Travel Day - I had done research at home on how to get to Bastogne. We wheeled our bags across the street to the train station and took the train from Brussels Central to Marloie. We got off the train and looked for a bus terminal or a kiosk to buy bus tickets. There was none. We found the sign where the bus would pick us up and asked a young lady where to buy tickets for Bastogne. My lack of French and her little bit of English didn’t work well. When the bus arrived, I tried to buy tickets from the bus driver, but because of covid partitions all the way around him in the bus, he just motioned for us to get on the bus. So despite being nervous of having to pay a fine for no ticket we had a nice FREE ride to Bastogne. I had printed out a Google map at home before leaving so we would know how to get to our hotel, Le Merceny. This is a very nice hotel. It is part of a gas station/convenience store. There is a separate entrance and check-in area for the hotel. All 8 of the hotel rooms are upstairs, and our bags were carried up for us. Our room looked like it had been recently remodeled with a nice walk-in shower and lot of room to move around. It was mid-afternoon and the stress of the bus ride tired us out, so we went to the very nice convenience store and bought things for a picnic lunch in our room. They had fresh baguettes, great cheese, sliced salami, beautiful raspberries and water and soft drinks. We had a delightful meal and had the opportunity to veg out.

March 27 / Battle of the Bulge tour - Unfortunately, Reg Jans who I had arranged to lead us had to cancel and he fixed us up with Roby (Robby). Roby picked us up in his Stinky Cigarette smelling car and drove us around to different sites that pertained to the battle. He was very knowledgeable, but he was rude and yelled at us if we asked questions. We saw several areas where there were still bullet holes in buildings and foxholes in the ground. The area around Bastogne is all farmland with rolling hills. When you watch the Series “Band of Brothers” you are led to believe that the entire area is woods. It is actually about half woods and half farmland. There were some other inaccuracies about the tv drama, but the weather and the difficulties of the battle were correct. Roby had to do something else at 14:00, so we paid him the 65 euros per person he requested, without a tip.

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He dropped us off at the Mardasson museum. We spent around 3 hours at the museum. It is very well done, except the audio equipment is not very good. We have so much respect for all the soldiers that took part in this historic battle. We left and walked about 1.5 miles in to the center of town. We hadn’t eaten lunch, so we looked for a place to eat and nothing was open until 5:30. We were too tired to wait, so we walked back to our hotel and ate some more cheese, sausage and fruit. We tried to book bus tickets from Bastogne to Liege, but the app. wouldn’t work with sending a number to our American cell phones.
I wish that Rick Steves would change the Heart of Belgium and Holland tour and include Bastogne, the battle of the bulge and the American Cemetery in Luxembourg.

March 28 Travel day - We checked out of our hotel after eating their wonderful buffet breakfast. We rolled our suitcases to the Information center in the town square and waited 30 minutes for the office to open. They told us of 2 businesses in town that would sell bus tickets. We went to the first place and they had no tickets. The second place, a book store had some tickets. We bought them and huffed and puffed up hill to the bus stop we where we had gotten off 2 days earlier. We travelled to Liege. The bus stop was in front of the beautiful train station. We found the ticket machine and bought our tickets to Ghent. The train ride was very smooth and easy. We took a taxi to the Marriott, our hotel for the next 2 nights. The starting tour hotel was Hotel Harmony. I tried to book a room as soon as I booked the tour, but they had none available. The Marriott was the closest accommodations to the Hotel Harmony. It was a very nice hotel in a great location. We walked out the back door of the hotel and we were right on the main canal. The desk clerk recommended a restaurant that would be open for a late lunch/dinner. The buffet breakfast at the Marriott is 25 euros per person, so we found a grocery store and bought some pastries for breakfast. We brought along some tea bags and made tea in the room. I love European hotels because they all have a teapot to heat hot water in. I wish American hotels would consider us “Tea Drinkers”! Today was our last day of sunny, warm weather. We have had a week or beautiful weather. The highs were in the mid 60’s, lows in the mid 40’s and no rain or wind.

March 29 / Ghent -we have to take a covid test before we start our Rick Steves tour tomorrow. The hotel had booked an appointment for us at a pharmacy that was close by. Our test was to be taken between 9:00-9:30. We arrived at 8:45 because we didn’t want to be late. Nine o’clock rolled around and no one showed up. At 9:25 a woman showed up and she said she was the one who administered the test. She didn’t know where the owner of the pharmacy was. Finally at 9:45 the pharmacy owner showed up and we took our tests. She gave us a piece of paper that told us how to get our results later in the day. We left and went to Gravensteen castle or The Castle of the Counts. There is an audio device that you use to hear different stories at each location in the castle. It was a very humorous rendition of all the things that took place in each room. It kept your attention while you walked from room to room and up and down all the stairs. Then we went to St Nicholas’ church. It has a beautiful interior. The organist was actually practicing the organ and we enjoyed listening to her. Then we went next door to the Belfry and went up some stairs and an elevator to the top for a great view of the city and watch the carillon play. We found the Van Hoorebeke chocolate shop that Nigel recommended on the RS Travel Forum. We bought some chocolate and the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. I don’t think there was any milk in it. I think it was all just liquid chocolate.

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David got his Covid test code, but I didn't. We went back to the pharmacy and found that my email was entered incorrectly. I finally got my code, which had to be entered on a website along with the last 4 digits of our cell phone number. I couldn't get it to load. We'll work on it tomorrow. For supper tonight we had waffles, with strawberries and whipped cream. We found out later in our tour that Belgians don't eat waffles for breakfast. It is a snack or a dessert. The weather was gray with a few showers and windy. The temperature reached 48 today, but the wind chill made it feel colder.

March 30 / our tour starts this afternoon at 4:00. We took our covid information to the Marriott front desk and asked if they could help us get our code. A desk clerk figured it out and said that we were negative, but she couldn’t get it to print. So we walked to the Hotel Harmony to see if Nico (our RS guide) was there and could help us. Nico was standing outside the hotel along with Ruby our apprentice. They accompanied us to the pharmacy and got our data and he was able to send the info to himself so that he had a copy. We went back to our hotel and got our bags to move to our next hotel. (The day after we arrived in Europe we received an URGENT email from the Rick Steves office. The Hotel Harmony was our first hotel on the tour and they made a mistake with the reservation and didn’t have enough rooms. Our new hotel was called the Pillows Boutique hotel. It was ½ mile from the Hotel Harmony where we would meet each day.) We dropped our bags at the Pillows hotel and walked around town and found a restaurant for lunch. We were able to get into our room around 2:00. This hotel was the nicest hotel on our tour. It had a small container of Van Hoorebeke chocolates on our coffee table! We ate the dark chocolates and brought the white chocolates and milk chocolates home to give to our grand-daughters. Belgium has turned us into chocolate snobs!
At 3:30 we walked over to the other hotel and met our tour mates. Our group had a total of 19. There was another David and Janet on the tour. So we were the Texas David and Janet and they were the North Carolina David and Janet. What are the odds? We all picked our buddies and then had a canal cruise before heading to supper. We have a fun group.

March 31 / First full day of RS tour - it is cold, cloudy and windy. We start our day with Tomas, our local guide. We visit the Museum of Industry which covered the textile industry of Ghent. We were very interested in all the looms and production of cloth since David, my husband grew up on a cotton farm. They had some old equipment that took the raw cotton from the USA and spun it and turned it into thread. The difficult part was seeing pictures of children working in the factory.

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We left and walked through the designated graffiti walls to St. Bavo’s Cathedral where we saw the Ghent Altarpiece. During Covid, the Altarpiece was moved to a new location in the church. It allows more people in to look at this magnificent piece of art. The colors are brilliant and beautiful. The entire piece is behind glass and you are able to walk around to see the back side of this architectural piece. We left and ate lunch with some of our tour mates. We visited Van Hoorebeke’s chocolate shop one last time for 2 cups of hot chocolate before heading to our hotel.

April 1 / April Fools’ Day - Mother Nature played the prank on us today. We got on the bus and drove to the Flanders’ Field in a snow storm. Today we visit several cemeteries from World War I. After visiting these sad locations I read that the number of WWI casualties for military and civilians are around 40 MILLION! Deaths – 20 million / wounded – 21 million. That number is staggering. Our first stop was at the American cemetery where there are 368 of our military dead. It was very beautiful and peaceful with a frosting of snow. We found out that the city of Waregem has a citizen that adopts every soldiers’ grave. Every year all the 5th graders in town adopt the grave of Karl Ross. They learn the US National Anthem and sing it on Memorial Day. It was very moving to hear about the people who appreciated the sacrifices of our young soldiers. Then we visited the cemetery where John McCrae wrote the Poem “In Flanders Fields”. He was a physician from Canada who worked in terrible conditions to try and save the soldiers. We visited more cemeteries of the Allied and German soldiers. At lunch we went to a farmhouse, where a meal of cheese, salami, ham, bread, fruit and hot coffee and tea had been prepared for us. It tasted wonderful after being in the cold, windy, snowy sleety weather. This farmer has collected all kinds of items from the war as he plowed his field. They are still finding unexploded shells and it’s over 100 years since the war ended! After visiting one last British cemetery and a spot where you can walk in the trenches and see the bomb craters we arrived in Bruges and Hotel Aragon. Our room was nice, clean and very compact. We had a nice group dinner at Boem Patat.

April 2 / Bruges - We had Danielle as our local guide. She was so excited to be leading tours again. We walked around this lovely city and learned its history. Our final stop was the Church of Our Lady where we saw the incredibly beautiful “Madonna and Child” by Michaelangelo. (You might have seen the recent history of this and the Ghent Altarpiece in the movie “The Monument’s Men”) She is smaller than I thought, but still incredible. This cathedral also has some other incredible works of art. I am so sad that this building is no longer used for worship, but as a museum. Next we headed to a chocolate shop and learned how chocolate is made. We got to taste several different chocolates and then most of the tour members bought some chocolate. We managed to get a few bags of chocolate as well. We have been savoring them since our return home and allow ourselves one per day. They will be gone soon.

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April 3 / Free day in Bruges – we had a museum pass and headed to the Groentge art museum. Most museums and businesses open at 10:00 or later, so we were able to sleep in a little. It was a delightful museum. Then we visited the City Hall which has a beautiful meeting room that was decorated in murals which tells the history of Bruges. Next, the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It was a Sunday, so we waited until after mass was over. It was very gothic and dark, but had beautiful frescoes. We ate lunch, shopped and rested in our room before our group Happy Hour. Nico and Ruby had some Belgian beers, and Belgian meats, cheeses and sweets to sample. It was fun to get to know our tour mates a little better. This tour has very little bus time.

April 4/ Storm Surge barrier and Storms – today was bitterly cold and very windy as we drove along the North Sea. The entire group got off the bus and walked to look at a dike. The rain was like needles in our faces. We were all soaked to the bone on our legs since they weren’t covered by our rain jackets. We had a brave group! We stopped and found a restaurant for lunch where I had some hot tea, soup and a sandwich. There was a fried something on my plate that I tasted. I found out later that it was called bitterballen. It was good. We drove by thousands of greenhouses in the Rotterdam area. This is where the Dutch grow all their cut flowers along with a lot of their fruits and vegetables. We finished our bus ride at the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. This is an engineering marvel that is used to keep a large part of the Netherlands from being flooded by the North Sea. We walked out to one of the arms and it is huge. These engineers have consulted with New Orleans and Venice, Italy to help them with their flooding issues. Then we arrived at Delft and Hotel de Plataan. I had been warned about this place by Pam (RS travel forum). We actually had the same room as she did on this tour. Our room had an Australian outback theme. We had a round bed with an orange velvet bedspread. The walls had pictures of kangaroos and different Aboriginal designs painted on them. Our bathroom had one wall with a mural of an Aboriginal boy looking at you. Everyone visited all the other rooms which all had unique décor. The Group Dinner that evening was at De Waag restaurant, which used to be a weight house. We had a private room and a fantastic dinner.

April 5 / Walking tour or Delft - we enjoyed the intimacy of this small community. We visited 2 cathedrals and learned about Willem of Orange, one of the most loved rulers of the Netherlands. We stopped mid-morning for a coffee/tea break at a delightful coffee shop. We had the upstairs all to ourselves. We finished our tour at the Candelaar delftware shop. We learned how delftware is made and that there are only 2 places left where everything is made in-house. The porcelain is made, fired, glazed, fired and hand-painted all in this shop. We then shopped for a beautiful piece of blue and white porcelain and had our purchases shipped back to us. We shopped and found a gelato shop where we ate lunch. Since it was cold and a little rainy, we were the only people eating gelato, we visited with the owner of the shop. It was interesting to hear how he survived covid and what his future looked like. I love this part about traveling in Europe. Talking with the locals is so interesting.

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We went back to our room and Face-timed our daughter for her birthday. We had another Happy Hour in the evening. We had purchased some spicy cheese and a very good aged cheddar to add to the buffet. Nico and Ruby set up a great smorgasbord of food and beverages from Holland. Ruby demonstrated how to eat herring that was covered in diced onions. They also wore their orange wigs that is the celebratory apparel for King’s Day in Netherlands. We had a fun evening!

April 6 / Keukenhof Day! - This was the highlight of our trip. Before we retired David and I owned a garden center and landscape design/installation business. David is a landscape architect and I was the flower lady. So we were in HEAVEN. We walked all over this beautifully landscaped park that was filled with tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and more. The color was different around every corner. I took 144 pictures of all this beauty. There is also a big greenhouse filled with orchids and all kinds of tropicals. Another greenhouse was filled with hundreds of new varieties of tulips and other bulbs. It was a rainbow explosion. After 4+ hours of walking all over we made it back to the bus right before the skies opened up with rain. We actually had several moments of sunshine today even though it was still cold. Our hotel in Amsterdam is Die Port van Cleve, which originally housed the Heineken brewery. Our room is nice but cozy (which means small). We took a canal boat cruise that went through several canals and the harbor. There are lots of buildings that are leaning due to the moist soil conditions of a location that is below sea level. We ended the evening with an Indonesian Rijsttafel, which means rice table. We tasted lots of different food. I don’t know what some of it was, but it was all good.

April 7 / Remembrance – This morning we visited the Anne Frank house. This was a very somber place. I’m glad that people learn about this, so we don’t repeat it. It isn’t as sad as the concentration camp that we visited on the G.A.S. tour, but it is so much more personal when you hear the thoughts of a single young girl. Amsterdam covid rules won’t let you tour the town with more than 10 people in a group, so half of us did a walking tour of the Jordaan with Ruby. The other half went with Nico. After our tour for the day finished, we ate some lunch, did some shopping. We purchased a stroopwafel from a shop across the street. Oh my! They are delicious!

April 8 / Last full day of our tour - We used our tram passes to get to the Rijksmuseum. Our group broke up into 2 groups each with their own Art Historian. We saw some beautiful works of art and learned about the artists and the symbolism of things in each picture. These guides were fabulous. We left the museum a little early because Ruby was taking anyone who was interested to a street market. We walked for about 20+ minutes to Rudi’s Original Stroopwafels. These are freshly made and when you eat them right off the waffle iron they are sooooo good. We walked back to the Van Gogh Museum which is across from the Rijksmuseum for our timed entry. There was a special exhibit of a series of paintings of the Olive groves. He painted several of these while he was at the asylum. We also visited the permanent collection. I love the passion and the color of Van Gogh’s paintings. It was a great afternoon.

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Our farewell dinner was at Café Americain. We didn’t have a private room, but we had a very nice dinner. We said goodbye to some of our new friends who had early flights in the morning.

April 9 / Last goodbyes - We ate breakfast with some of the people with later flights or who would be staying a little longer. We were staying an additional 3 days, but we had reserved a larger room. So we packed our bags and left them with the front desk while we went out. We used our tram cards to go to the Dutch Resistance Museum. I had read several books on this subject, so I was very interested in seeing this museum. We learned a lot more and enjoyed our visit. The museum really needs to move to another location. It is very small and somewhat claustrophobic. Everything was creatively presented, but they need more room. We shopped for family and were able to move to our new room that had a sofa and chair to actually sit on. We met the sisters Joyce and Jan from our tour for supper at the hotel. David had the pan-fried salmon/trout and proclaimed it one of the best he’d ever had.

April 10 / post tour fun for 2 - We had planned to take a train to Zuider Zee open air museum today. When we woke up, David looked at the temperature. It was 37 degrees. We decided to do something else today and we went back to sleep. Our breakfast wasn’t included, so we went to the Albert Heijn supermarket the day before. (They were everywhere we traveled on this tour). We purchased fresh croissants and turnovers and ate them with tea we made in the room. Then we used our tram passes to go to the Centraal station and get on a bus to the Maritime Museum. We had a beautiful, clear, sunny day even though it was cold. There is a great cargo ship to visit as well as maps and lots of ship compasses, sextants, mastheads and more. We went back to a restaurant we had seen earlier called the Butcher. It had great Burgers and fries.

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What a great trip report!!! Thanks for taking the time to make is so detailed. I’m planning a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands for next year and this report will be a great resource.

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April 11 / last full day of Amsterdam - We had to take covid tests to fly back to the US. They had to be within 24 hours of our departure, so we couldn’t do anything until we finished those. We brought along 2 Binax Now “Proctored” tests. We watched a Youtube video before we started so that we’d know what to expect. We both had negative tests. If we had used the covid testing site next to our hotel it would have cost 89 euros for each test. The ones we purchased from E-med were $150 for 6 test kits! So the day was pretty much shot. We went our for lunch, we re-packed our suitcases and bought some stroopwafels to take home.

April 12 / Home – We had an 11 hour flight from Amsterdam to Houston. We watched 3 movies, drank lots of water and had lots of bathrooms visits. My husband is prone to blood clots, so we needed to move often. After customs and getting our car we got out of Houston as quickly as possible. We stopped for a Mexican food fix on the way home. Our daughter texted us that there was a tornado on the ground in our county. Unfortunately, it hit in a small community about 15 miles from our house. There were 73 buildings that were damaged or destroyed. Not so good for them, but there were no deaths. We had some rain and hail. Welcome back to Texas! Time to get a new roof!

Here is my list of clothing that I packed: (in addition to what I wore)
3 button-up No-iron Talbots blouses
1 cashmere cardigan
1 cashmere pullover sweater
1 quilted vest (Talbots)
1 long sleeve T-shirt
1 cotton-silk turtleneck
1 Smart-wool long-sleeve undershirt
1 pair of Cuddle-duds long john pants
2 pairs of pants (1 slightly dressy)
1 pair of shoes
1 Columbia down jacket
1 Marmot hooded water-proof rain jacket
3 silk scarves
Undies and merino socks
gloves and a hat (purchased in Bruges).
I brought 1 dressy top, but it was light weight and I never wore it. I wore all of the other items. Several days I wore the Smart wool undershirt, turtleneck, cardigan, Cuddle-duds, jeans, down jacket, rain jacket, scarf, hat and gloves and I was still cold!

All the hotels had elevators, although the one at the Delft hotel is the size of a telephone booth.

Our tour group was wonderful. Even with most days having terrible weather, we had no grumps. Nico was fabulous and fun. He really worked hard to build comraderie on this short tour. Ruby was a lot of help and she will make a great guide in a few weeks. Everyone was good about following the Covid protocol that was required by Rick Steves tours. In most places like trams, museums and cathedrals we were about the only ones wearing masks in both Belgium and the Netherlands. It was sad to see empty buildings in areas of good visibility. I'm afraid Covid took some casualties. I'm sorry this was so long, but when I get asked to make a report, I am thourough! Happy Travels Everyone!

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Thanks Carrie. Belgium was our favorite of the 2 countries. We did get to go into Luxembourg on our Battle of the Bulge tour. It was beautiful.

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Thanks for a great recap! I have always been curious about that tour. I really appreciate your details.
We just got back from three weeks in Germany, and also had unexpectedly cold/ wet/ windy weather. Despite that, it was wonderful to be traveling again!

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Thanks very much for taking the time to write such a detailed report. We are hoping to take this tour next year and I will be book marking your report. I really enjoyed reading it!

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What an outstanding trip report. I'm visiting a lot of these places in September and this will be helpful. I can't wait for all that chocolate!

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Janet . Wow. Love love your report. Thank you.we did this tour in 2016. It was my 2nd and husband 1st. It was awesome tour and glad my husband is hook. I agree with you that I wish RS would extend this tour. I wanted to go to Luxembourg but the weather was rainy and did not feel like going. We had about the same experience. It snowed on us when we arrived in Amsterdam. Our tour was the first one with new itinerary due to the Belgium airport bombing. So we had to change flights in/out of Amsterdam. Train to brussels because we were staying there days before tour. We had 18 tour mates. Think it was my favorite out of 7. I enjoyed reliving my trip. I would do this again if they revised it longer.

💗💗 kim

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Hi Janet, you mentioned above that Belgium was your favorite of the 2 countries. I know this is subjective, but would you mind elaborating on this. I’m curious if it was the food you preferred, the sights, the people. I’m planning to see both countries next year and am in the process of figuring out how best to divide my time between the two. Thanks!!

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Traveling Mom - I hope you stayed warm on your trip to Germany, and YES, it was great to be traveling in Europe again.

Fischersl - you’ll enjoy this tour. Take it in the Spring so you can see the tulips at Keukenhof Gardens.

Roubrat - enjoy your trip in September. The chocolate is Incredible!

Kim - I think there should be a longer option and a shorter option of this tour. (Rick has 2 Ireland tours, some things overlap, but there are differences). I think a lot of people would like to see Battle of the Bulge sites and the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. Our tour guide, Nico has some great ideas of additional things to see on this tour.

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Carrie,
You asked why I liked Belgium better that the Netherlands. The biggest reason is probably because I like smaller communities. Bruges and Ghent felt comfortable and easy to walk around in. We also enjoyed Bastogne. The scenery around Bastogne has rolling hills filled with farmland and beautiful forests The food was pretty much equal in both countries, but the chocolate in Belgium puts it over the top. (It’s really that good!). The one negative to the area around Bastogne is that French is spoken. We did have a few issues communicating. A lot of people give Brussels a bad rap. We only visited the area around the Grand Place, but we enjoyed our time there. The Brussels airport was easy to navigate.

The only places we visited in the Netherlands was Amsterdam, Delft and Keukenhof Gardens. We loved the gardens more than anything else on the tour, but it’s only open in the spring. Amsterdam, with all the bikes flying by seemed overwhelming to me. It has great museums, architectural buildings and history I really liked Delft because it was easy to navigate. A lot of the Netherlands is below sea level, so it is very flat. You don’t really visit the Netherlands for the scenery. There are thousands or maybe millions of greenhouses around Rotterdam and Amsterdam. So, not much to see there.

I live in a small community (75,000) and I don’t really like big cities. I will visit them because they have the great museums and cathedrals, but they aren’t my favorite. Someone else might like the Netherlands better. I enjoyed each country and their own uniqueness, but this is entirely personal.

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1595 posts

Thanks Janet, that’s helpful. I’m like you in that I prefer the smaller cities. I probably won’t do more than a day trip to Amsterdam. Bruges, Ghent, and Delft are at the top of my list so I’m happy to hear you found them easy to walk around. And I’m excited to see how the Belgium chocolate compares to the Swiss chocolate I had last year. 😊

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394 posts

Carrie,
I’m headed to Switzerland in September, so I will be doing a comparison test as well. We will have to make a trip report on the best chocolate - Belgium or Switzerland! Ha Ha! If the weather is cool when you’re in Ghent go to Van Hoorebeke for hot chocolate. THE BEST EVER!

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932 posts

Carrie - I agree with Janet. I loved bruges( best), ghent, delft, but add the Hague too! Small walkable towns are the best. You can also ride bikes down to Damme . There is a windmill you can stop at on the way. Ride the bikes down the canal to Damme

Have fun

Kim

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1383 posts

when you’re in Ghent go to Van Hoorebeke for hot chocolate. THE BEST EVER!

Taking note of this 🤤

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1383 posts

Small walkable towns are the best.

The Netherlands has so many of these I've had the hardest time narrowing them down.

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455 posts

“ A lot of the Netherlands is below sea level, so it is very flat. You don’t really visit the Netherlands for the scenery. There are thousands or maybe millions of greenhouses around Rotterdam and Amsterdam. So, not much to see there.”

It seems you only visited the small and densely populated western area of the Netherlands. There is beautiful scenery to be enjoyed when you venture outside that area. From the hills in the province of Limburg, to the historical Hanzesteden in the east with their cobblestone streets and fortified walls to the historical cities in Friesland, a province known for its waterways.
Saying that there isn’t much to see in the Netherlands when you’ve only seen a very small part of it, would be like me saying that the USA is crowded and filled with skyscrapers after only visiting New York.
For those who love cities like Ghent and Bruges; you will definitely love Dutch cities like Zwolle, Leeuwarden, Maastricht, Amersfoort, Den Bosch, Maastricht, Zutphen, Arnhem, Breda, Utrecht, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft etc etc

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Dutch_traveler - you are correct in calling me out for my statement about how to see the Netherlands. I only saw the highly populated coastal areas. I apologize to you and all the locals for talking about things I know nothing about. I am the same way when I ask Europeans what they see when they come to the USA. A lot of them only visit New York City or Miami or Los Angeles. I tell them that they have missed the best part of America, which is our National Parks. They are the Crown Jewels of our country. Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion are all fabulous. I have talked to many Europeans that are visiting our National parks and they enjoy seeing all the natural beauty. I go to Europe to see things that we don’t have in America - history that is more than 400 years old. So, thank you for setting me straight.

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1697 posts

Janet thanks for your trip report, a perfect amount of detail. I will be in Amsterdam in June and I made note of your restaurant recommendations (taking my nephew, he loves burgers!). We're also lucky that the olive paintings at Van Gogh museum will still be there - exhibit closes the weekend we are there. We're also making a very short overnight in Brussels but probably won't be able to see much. Anyway, thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

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1595 posts

Janet, I appreciate the additional info. and I didn’t mean to get you in trouble with dutch traveler. 😊 It’s normal to form opinions based on the places you have actually visited. I’m excited for you that you are going to Switzerland!!! I can’t wait to hear who wins the chocolate battle.

Kim, I’ll have to take another look at the Hague. I have it marked in my notes as being a large city and not a must see for me. I’m still in the early planning stages so I have lots more research to do. I’m looking at Belgium and the Netherlands for next Sept. with 4 trips ahead of that one.

Dutch traveler, I appreciate the list of Dutch cities comparable to Ghent and Bruges. I have added them to my notes to research.

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10690 posts

Janet, what a great TR!! I am actually lying on my hotel bed in Amsterdam after spending the afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum!! I loved that Olive Trees exhibition.

—> For those that are going, I recommend you do the Olive Trees, then take the elevator up to the top floor, work your way down, then pop back in to the exhibition again, lol.

What grueling weather you had! Glad you had those layers.

I thought the Flanders Field day was very poignant as well.

Glad you enjoyed Nico! He was the Assistant on my trip in 2019 and I knew he’d be awesome on his own!!

Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

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Carrie,
I’ll add one more thing to your list. After we returned from our tour we watched a program called Tim’s Vermeer. It’s about this guy in the US that figured out how Vermeer was able to achieve all the detail on his paintings. It’s a very interesting program. You can think about it whenever you see a Vermeer on your trip (the Girl with the Pearl Earring at the Mauritshaus museum at The Hague )

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Carrie-

I guess the main reason I wanted to go back to The Hague. My grandparents use to live there . We worked for shell oil. They paid for my family of four to go the summer I turned 4 in 1962. I found there house. I actually went up to the door and knocked but they were not at home. Our guide Nica (not nico) … she said to go, people here are so friend, they may invite you in. Then I saw an older lady down the street come out. I went to visit here. She wax there watching her grands. She even invited us in. They she and her granddaughter took us to a nearby botanical park, just beautiful. Then they walked us back to the bus stop. Then we went to see the girl with the pearl earring.

We also took the tram to the ocean and got our feet wet one day. Harlem is a nice town. We took the train from Amsterdam. Boy you can do so much by train in one day

I so want to go back to Holland/Belgium one day

Kim

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For CL.
My daughter and I had an unplanned stay in Brussels ( flight delay from US and missed flight to Nairobi) We had no guidebook or info, but took the train from the airport to “ Central” and spent a few hours walking, having lunch and buying chocolates. Glad we had eaten as our comped dinner at the hotel was not good. We then had to catch a very early flight the next day. It was a bump in our travel plans, but those bumps can be fun. Brussels was easy to navigate to and from the airport.

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Patty, I’m glad you were able to make lemonade out of the lemons you got because you missed your connection. You probably visited the Grand Place. It is just a beautiful square. We enjoyed our time there. I hope you had a great trip to Nairobi!

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Kim, what a wonderful experience you had. I’m so glad you met the grandmother on the street. You made such a beautiful memory.

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14043 posts

Janet, what a terrific trip report! My goodness, you really put a lot of time and detail into it! It's always fun to "see" some of the places we've been through the eyes of other travelers so I was particularly interested in your recap of Bruges, Gent and Amsterdam (only had 1 day in Brussels). While we didn't do them on an RS tour, we liked the two Belgium towns very much, and had some of the same feelings as you did about Amsterdam but enjoyed a day trip in little nearby Edam. We've much more of the Netherlands still to explore!

One comment about Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk)in Brugge? The expanded tourism site lists services there on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, and they still hold weddings and funerals there so no need to feel "so sad that this building is no longer used for worship." :O)

https://www.visitbruges.be/church-services
https://www.visitbruges.be/highlights/churchofourlady

OMG Flemish stew.....soooo good!

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8622 posts

I hadn’t realized how much the Rick Steve’s Holland and Belgium tour shortchanges The Netherlands before reading this trip report. Personally, we greatly preferred The Netherlands to Belgium.
Thanks for taking the time to write your report including your independent travel time.
My father also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and would like to explore that area someday too. .

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Suki
I wish that Rick Steves would offer a longer tour (14 days) that spent more time in Holland smaller cities and then visited Luxembourg and “Battle of the Bulge” sites. The scenery in Bastogne is gorgeous. I talked to Nico our guide on this tour and he said he has made recommendations of other places to visit besides Amsterdam and Delft.

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Janet, thank you so much for this excellent and detailed trip report! I am sold on taking this trip in the future. We independently traveled to Amsterdam and Keukenhof gardens before covid and so this year we took a different Rick Steves trip instead of Best of Holland and Belgium. But you have described so many interesting sites that I have changed my mind and really hope to go on this trip next year, adding in some additional side trips as well. Your details really are so complete I can almost taste the chocolate and feel that cold rain. I will however, need to do some of my own research to see if Belgium chocolate is really as good or better as the Swiss chocolate I had last fall on my Switerzerland trip.

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1383 posts

I'm procrastinating work and just re-read this. So different to be able to picture these places now 😊

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Hello,

My name is Tosin and I'm surprising my family on a day trip to Brussels. We're coming in from London. Any suggestions for a day?

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Tosin
It depends on the ages of your family. If they’re younger and you only have a day, I might go to the Grand Place and walk around there and maybe take a carriage ride. Then I would take a Chocolate tour. If they are older, then perhaps take a walking tour of the area around the Grand Place. You might also look at the Atomium. It is supposedly the top tourist attraction in Brussels. We did not go there, but it looks really cool. There is also a museum for comic strip aficionados. We walked by it on our way to the Grand Place from our hotel. It is all about TinTin and the Smurfs.

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1937 posts

Wonderful trip report, Janet! I love the thought of retired garden professionals enjoying Keukenhof.