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Honeymoon Trip: Amsterdam & Belgium, August 2017

Thank you to so many of you who gave me great advice and helped along the way with the planning of this trip! I promised a trip report but I'll post it in stages and just as a warning, I tend to be pretty wordy (my degrees are in English, I can't help it). I'll have to post this in multiple comments. Please feel free to post any follow-up questions and I hope this is helpful/interesting! :)

Some context/random possibly helpful things to know:
- We are 29 & 30 years old and new to European travel. This was a three week trip for our honeymoon that I had been planning since December 2016! We definitely made some first-timer mistakes which I may post a separate thread about, but we learned as we went. ☺
- We are not big on art or museums, so our trip reports may look a bit different and be missing some of the typical “must-sees.” We are leisurely travelers and we stuck with the attitude that we will be back one day and didn’t feel the need to pack our days full.
- Husband wore the money belt with both passports, 200 euro back-up cash and a back-up credit & debit card
- I carried a Baggalini brand crossbody bag and kept my wallet attached to the little carabiner style clip it came with. I usually walked with my arm/hand resting over the bag naturally, but would make sure to do so when we were in crowded areas or on public transportation. I never had an issue or felt unsafe. On our travel days when we would be using public transportation or taking trains or flying, I put my purse inside my Herschel backpack (so my wallet was clipped inside my zipped purse which was inside my zipped backpack). Again, we were aware of our surroundings but didn’t overthink anything and tried not to get paranoid, and had no issues with pickpockets.
- We both have Verizon cell service and we decided beforehand that I would keep my phone on airplane mode and just use when we had WiFi access, and we would use my husband’s phone whenever we needed to access it using data. We opted to just use the Verizon Travel Pass, which allows you to use your regular data plan for $10/day (24 hrs). For the convenience factor and with this being our first trip, we thought it was 100% worth it. As we got more comfortable, we ended up not needing to even use the phone every day, so our total extra cost for cell phone usage ended up being $140.

Sunday 7/30
Our IcelandAir flight departed from Seattle around 4pm with no issues at all. We were seated in an exit row, which was great for the extra legroom, and service on the flight was excellent. As usual, I wasn’t able to sleep (even after taking two Ambien) which was frustrating but not unexpected as I’ve never once managed to actually sleep on a red eye flight. Our layover at Keflavik was uneventful and we landed at Schipol right on schedule, around 1pm.

Monday 7/31
After landing at Schipol International Airport, we made our way to the main area of the airport and followed the signs to find the train into the city. We managed to purchase tickets without any trouble using a kiosk, and the train ride to Amsterdam Centraal was super easy and took about 20 minutes. Once there, we walked for 10-15 minutes to our bed & breakfast. We stayed at Bees B&B, which is in a lovely area on the Leliegracht, just bordering the Jordaan. We did break one cardinal rule of European travel and took a nap when we arrived, but we made sure to keep it short (probably about 45 minutes) and got ourselves up and out quickly afterward. We did have some trouble with jetlag while we were in Amsterdam, so I’m not sure if that nap really did have an impact, but I honestly don’t know if we would have functioned for the rest of the day without it as I really did not sleep at all on the flight (and my husband’s sleep was pretty minimal as well).

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We originally had a tour of the Red Light District planned for that first evening, which was my clearly overly ambitious attempt at scheduling something to make sure we stayed up til a reasonable hour on that first night. However, we ran into an issue when we went out to explore and attempted to withdraw cash from an ATM for the first time: Bank of America had shut off all of our debit cards (we had three) for suspicious activity. And yes, we did contact them beforehand and inform them of our trip, including the exact dates we would be in each country. So we ended up spending about an hour and a half, maybe longer, sitting on the curb in Dam Square going back and forth on the phone with various Bank of America representatives trying to get our accounts sorted out. It’s a bit of a catch-22 because of course you would want your bank to be paying attention and freezing your cards if they suspect theft of some sort, but it was also incredibly frustrating because we had taken the time to inform them that we would be traveling and so it felt like that was pointless since we had to deal with this issue anyway. Being in the middle of a very crowded area of a new city on your first night in a foreign country without any access to your finances was not the best way to start things off (we had 200 euro in cash that we taken out previously for back-up emergency money, so we would have been okay for the first day or two, but still). In retrospect, I am sort of glad it happened on the first day because at least we were able to get it sorted out and it wasn’t an issue on the rest of our trip at all. However, because of the stress and time it took to deal with that, we did end up missing the RLD tour we had booked. So, lesson #1 for my first European adventure: don’t book (and pre-pay) anything for your arrival day!

We salvaged the night a bit by finding a place to sit and have dinner and decompress, and then we ended up walking to Winkel43 to have their famous Dutch apple pie and a glass of wine and it definitely lived up to the hype and was a nice way to end our first evening!

Tuesday 8/1
Our first full day! And we were both wide awake at around 4am. Sigh.

We started our day with a lovely breakfast in our B&B. I had upgraded us for the first morning of our honeymoon to a champagne breakfast, so we had a half bottle of Moet & Chandon with our bread, ham, salami, cheese, orange juice & boiled eggs. It was a perfect way to get us ready for our day!

I had prebooked tickets to the Anne Frank Huis for 10am before we left for Europe, so we headed out shortly after breakfast and realized it was an even shorter walk than we thought: the B&B was literally just around the corner. So we were a little early, but around 9:55 we were able to get in line and it was just another 10 minutes or so before we actually entered. I thought it was very well done and a moving experience. My only slight disappointment was that the diary itself was undergoing some work so it was actually a facsimile on display, which really does not matter at all in the end as the experience, for me at least, was more about seeing the Secret Annexe, but I can’t say I didn’t feel a tiny twinge of “that’s a bummer” when I saw those little signs. From there, we meandered to the Albert Cuyp Market where we picked up some frites and stroopwafels and did some people watching (we otherwise weren’t super impressed with the market itself, but the fries were delicious!) After that we did the Heineken Experience, which was… definitely skippable. I had a feeling this would be the case based on other posters here and on TripAdvisor, but my husband is really into beer and someone purchased this on our honeymoon registry, so we felt obligated. There was a huge line, so we just pulled out our phone, purchased tickets online and walked right in. It was pretty terrible.

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Very cheesy, and maybe we are just spoiled being from New England and having regular access to some great brewery tours, but we were very underwhelmed. To be fair, it isn’t meant to be a brewery visit but an “experience,” it just wasn’t my type of experience. The view from the rooftop bar where you drink your free Heineken was lovely (but the loud bumping music sort of detracted from it).

Anyway, after that we considered checking out the Van Gogh Museum, but we hadn’t pre-purchased tickets and they were sold out for the day. Instead, we decided to head to the MoCo which had exhibits of Dali and Banksy and we really enjoyed that. My husband is big into street art, so he loved it and got himself a Banksy hoodie. ☺ After enjoying the museum, we relaxed in the Museumplein area and checked out the I Amsterdam sign before heading back to our room to rest for a bit.

That evening, we took a 7pm walking tour of the Red Light District (I managed to rebook the one we had missed the first night!) with a man who is engaged to one of the prostitutes working there. The tour company is just called “Amsterdam Red Light District Tours” and we thought the tour was excellent. Our guide, Mark, obviously had tons of first-hand information that he was happy to share, and the group was only six people so it didn’t feel like too much. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to be in the area and walk past the windows, but our guide made us feel super comfortable and I was really intrigued by the area in general and its history. Definitely recommend a tour with them! They have a few different options that all sound great. By the end of the tour we were pretty hungry so we ended up stopping at a Vietnamese restaurant near our B&B which was fine but nothing special, and then went back to the room and crashed hard!

Wednesday 8/2
We definitely slept better thanks to the help of some melatonin and we actually woke up with our alarms instead of hours earlier. However, the jetlag seemed to hit me harder today and I wasn’t feeling great, so we opted out of a walking tour of WWII history that we had planned and instead had a leisurely morning. We did some sink-washing and then went wandering around the Negen Straatjes (9 Streets) area which is known for its shops. It was lovely even though we didn’t end up buying anything! Since we were feeling kind of tired and a little off we decided to have a picnic lunch, so we got some cheese, ham, bread and wine and sat up on the rooftop terrace at our B&B.

After lunch we walked down to Damrak and decided to take the open boat canal ride with Stromma Tours. Rene was our guide and we thought it was well worth the time. It was informative, interesting and it really took me by surprised how different it felt to see the city from the water! After we docked, we walked around once more through the Red Light District and did a bit of shopping before heading back to the room to get ready for dinner, which was really the highlight of our entire stay in Amsterdam! I had booked a reservation at De Silveren Spiegal before our trip as I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as crowds in Amsterdam in August. About a week or so before the reservation, the owner reached out to make sure I knew that they only offer their chef’s tasting menu during August and wanted to make sure I was okay with that. We were planning to order that anyway, but I really appreciated that gesture. The restaurant itself is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam and although we sat outside on their heated, covered patio (it was raining), I was able to get a taste of the building when I went in to use the restroom and it is really beautiful and unique. We chose the five course tasting menu (you could choose anywhere from 4-7 courses) and they were all beautifully presented and tasted wonderful. There was only one course out of the 5 that I wasn’t absolutely in love with.

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What I loved most, though, was the atmosphere: fine dining quality of food but with no pretension, friendly service without being intrusive, and food that actually filled you up and was approachable. We were able to chat with our server, who I think may also be the owner, and it turns out the chef is actually her son and is only 23 years old which makes me wonder what I’m doing with my life. She was so kind and lovely to talk to, and really seemed interested in us and how we were enjoying the food. It was by far our favorite dining experience in Amsterdam (and one of the overall highlights of our 3 week trip). Including a tip, we paid around $140 for a five course dinner and a glass of wine for each of us. I highly, highly recommend checking them out!

This was our last day in the city as on Thursday we hopped on a train to Brugge! A few thoughts to wrap up Amsterdam: I really was not expecting it to be as beautiful as it was. I loved just walking around and wandering the city. I also think it was a great choice for a first stop, as it lends itself (for us, at least) to recovering from jetlag and also there isn’t much of a language barrier since nearly everyone speaks English. That being said, we wished we had a bit more Dutch in our repertoire (we focused on learning Italian & French for the rest of our trip). I do feel like I didn’t experience Amsterdam in all its glory because of the jetlag, so I’m looking forward to returning. I really wanted to try some jenever and experience a brown café, but that just didn’t happen this time. I also wish we had booked the Van Gogh in advance—but all of those things will just go on our “must-do” list for the next trip!

I’ll have my Belgium trip report up soon!

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Glad you had a happy honeymoon! I am going to Vienna in late September, but it was a toss-up between Amsterdam and Vienna; I'll do Amsterdam next trip. Looking forward to your Belgium report; the Amsterdam report was enlightening. Jet - lag: the only trick I have found is to find a flight that deposits you in EU during the late afternoon. Adrenaline will get you through 3-4 hours; then you can crash.

Question on your phone program (I'm not getting one for the 2 weeks I will be gone). Would Skype have been OK? (I'm planning on emailing and using Skype to connect with my family at home.)

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Thanks, Shelley, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'll be interested to hear about Vienna as it gets such mixed reviews. We'd like to do a Prague--Vienna--Budapest trip sometime in the near future.

For the phone plan, we didn't try to use Skype but I believe it would have worked while connected to wifi. I used an app called WhatsApp to text with my family that don't have iPhones (I can iMessage back and forth with those that do on wifi), but there are other apps that will allow you to make calls as well... I think one is called Viber? You might want to look into that, it could suit your needs!

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Great report - thanks for taking the time to post it.

I recommend just putting the rest of your report in this thread. If you start separate threads for each section, they get separated and other people can't find them later. You can change the title to, for instance, "Honeymoon Trip: Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris."

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"We did break one cardinal rule of European travel and took a nap when we arrived." A short nap after securing our accommodation is generally a requirement for me. Gosh, how many sacred rules do I violate on each trip? Ha!

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Enjoyed your posting. Can't wait to hear about the rest of the honeymoon.

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Thanks all! And Harold, thanks for the tip--I will do that!

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Thursday 8/3

This was the first travel day of our trip as we were on our way to Brugge. After our breakfast and checking out of the B&B, we made a quick stop at the Amsterdam Rubber Duck Store for some fun souvenirs and then headed to Amsterdam Centraal Station. I had reserved the Thalys from Amsterdam to Antwerp and we figured out where to go without much difficulty. It was a little overwhelming being in a European train station for the first time, but by the end of our trip it felt like we were pros at it. The station in Antwerp is gorgeous and I was really glad I routed us that way instead of through Brussels. In Antwerp we changed trains to a Belgium local route and arrived in Brugge mid-afternoon. We did get a bit turned around/mixed up in Brugge when we left the train station. We initially thought we might walk to our B&B but we were feeling tired and it was about a 30 minute walk, so we decided to hop on a bus. Unfortunately, we think we got on the wrong bus somehow so we got off and just walked to the B&B after all. It was a little stressful for a moment but really no big deal in the long run—we just weren’t paying attention to the direction of the busses.

The B&B we stayed at was called Absoluut Verhulst and it was FANTASTIC. The hosts, Frieda & Benno, are just so incredibly kind and such wonderful people. The location was excellent and only about a five minute walk into the center of town, but still felt peaceful and quiet. Our room was a decent size and very comfortable. The only downside was that our en suite bathroom was down a flight of pretty steep stairs. It wasn’t a big deal for us, but I could see that being an issue for some people. Anyway, Frieda & Benno gave us great information about the city and some recommendations on where to eat. Our first night, we ended up stopping into a pub called Cambrinus and having some of their excellent house brewed beer and a charcuterie plate earlier in the evening. We then just walked around and explored a bit before sitting down for “dinner” at a restaurant called Punta Est. We were pretty unimpressed with the food there but we also ordered poorly—the husband saw nachos on the menu and was intrigued so he ordered them and what he received was a basket of tortilla chips with some sort of guacamole-esque creation on the side. We think it was just pureed avocado mixed with mayonnaise, maybe. I ordered a burger and the patties were basically breakfast sausage patties—definitely not beef. It wasn’t bad, just not at all what I was expecting. Brugge was definitely not the culinary highlight of our trip as you’ll see in tomorrow’s report, but I blame that more on us making silly choices than anything else! We took it easy and went back to the B&B and to bed after dinner tonight, knowing that we would have a full day of enjoying Brugge ahead of us tomorrow!

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Sorry for the delay--here's the rest of my Belgium report!

Friday 8/4

Breakfast this morning prepared by Frieda & Benno was excellent. We had bread and spreads, cheese, ham, fruit, yogurt, fresh scrambled eggs with bacon, tomato & cheese, orange juice, coffee... perfection, and left us ready to take on the day.

We started our day by meandering over to Markt Square and hopping in line to climb the Belfry. We waited about 20 minutes before entering and I actually really liked their automated system--whenever someone came out through the turnstiles, it would light up green and someone else would be able to enter. It was very windy at the top and overcast but we still had fun and thought it was worth doing. Next, we visited a few churches: the Basilica of the Holy Blood and then the Church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo's Madonna & Child. Neither of us are at all religious, but we enjoyed seeing the art and architecture of these beautiful buildings and neither was very crowded.

For lunch, we had a reservation at De Halve Maan brewery. The tours were all sold out but we still had a nice lunch and some good beer. My husband had the Flemish beef stew which was excellent, and I had the steak which was fine but nothing to write home about. We followed lunch with a stroll through Minnewater Park and then a walk back in the direction of Markt Square to try our first real Belgian waffles from Chez Albert which were so delicious! I got the one with warm cherry compote and we took them over to the square to find a place to sit and eat. This may have been the best thing we ate in Belgium. :) After our waffles we walked to the windmills to check those out and then went back to our B&B to rest a bit--we were over 15K steps for the day already and still had a walking tour planned that evening!

After a little rest (and some McDonald's--don't judge, we were in a rush and it hit the spot!) we went back out to meet our walking tour with Legends of Bruges. We did the Bruges by Night tour with Simon as our guide and we really enjoyed it quite a bit. Simon had a nice balance between history, some ghost stories, and just pointing out interesting buildings and bars. The only thing is we wished we had looked at the tour route earlier because we ended up covering a lot of the same ground that we had already walked earlier in the day on our way to the windmills--but this time we had interesting commentary so it was fine! After the tour we all got a free half-pint of Jupiler at the Bauhaus hostel & bar which had a fun vibe. We weren't feeling too much like staying out and/or drinking much though, so we headed back after our beers and crashed for the night.

Saturday 8/5

We left Absoluut Verhulst after another lovely breakfast. I was a bit sad to leave Frieda & Benno; they are such great people and we really enjoyed our time with them and would stay again in a heartbeat. After breakfast we walked over to the Wassalon to do some laundry and then walked to the train station to catch a train to Brussels where we were staying for the night. The train was painless and we arrived in Brussels and checked in to the Alma Grand Place Hotel, which was very barebones but perfectly fine for what we were looking for--simple with easy transportation to the airport and close to the main sights since we really only had one afternoon in the city. I might not stay there again for a longer stay, but the staff was very friendly and for one night it was fine.

For the most part we just walked around this afternoon as we hadn't planned anything specific--we saw the Grand Place and the Mannekin Pis and got some amazing chocolate. For a late lunch, we found a place called Bia Mara which served all different types of fish & chips and was quite good. After some more just walking and wandering, we ended up sitting at the Little Delirium bar for a flight of beer--this was probably my favorite thing we did in Brussels.

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The staff was really friendly, the beer was great and the people watching was excellent. We did witness a weird incident where a car started driving down the pedestrian-only street and a bunch of locals took off after it--we didn't see what happened because we figured we might want to just walk away but some of the men who had chased the car started pounding on the windows and seemed very upset.

For dinner we just ended up getting takeout Indian food down the street from our hotel and having a relaxed night--we were feeling pretty tired and didn't end up getting much sleep at the Alma for some reason.

I feel like my report for Belgium is not as interesting or detailed, but we really, REALLY loved it there and can't wait to go back. I saw some comments when I was researching for our trip about Bruges not feeling like a real, living, authentic place--I know a lot of people find it very touristy. I'm not sure if we just got lucky or what, but we didn't have that experience at all. Aside from not having great food experiences there (which is totally due to us just not doing our research/not planning things out), we loved Bruges. All of the people we met were great, our bed & breakfast was excellent and we just loved that it was a place you could explore entirely on foot without feeling the need to have a detailed itinerary since everything is so close together. The beer was also wonderful! We would definitely consider using Bruges as a home base to take some day trips the next time we visit and overall just really enjoyed our time there!

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I am sorry your food experience in Bruges was not good. We also ate at Cambrinus and my husband said what he ordered was his best meal of our whole trip. Our second dinner was recommended by our B&B hosts and was fabulous seafood. You'll just have to go back!

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We were pretty unimpressed with the food there but we also ordered poorly—the husband saw nachos on the menu and was intrigued so he ordered them and what he received was a basket of tortilla chips with some sort of guacamole-esque creation on the side. We think it was just pureed avocado mixed with mayonnaise, maybe. I ordered a burger and the patties were basically breakfast sausage patties—definitely not beef.

This is the European take on "Mexican" food and burgers in a nutshell - you nailed it! "Nachos" usually means Doritios-type chips with their version of "salsa" (a sweet tomato sauce) or "guacamole" (yes, avocados and mayo, if you're lucky they use real avocados instead of a powder mix) and burgers, at least in Germany and apparently Belgium, are often a mix of beef and pork, in a very fine mince, frozen patties put on a grill at a restaurant. If you want good burgers in Europe you have to really seek them out from places doing American-style freshly made patties with a coarse grind. Ironically Amsterdam has a GREAT burger joint along those lines.

Great trip report so far! You liked Brugge more than me, but it certainly has it's charms, and Amsterdam just has to be experienced. Walking the Jordaan is the best. If you go back I can recommend my favorite brown cafes - the ones with the best bitterballen!

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Hi everyone--I had created a post sharing the link to the vlog my husband and I put together for the first part of our trip for our families--I wanted to share it here since so many of you have been so helpful. It was removed because posting YouTube links is not allowed on the forum, but I was told I could let you know that you're welcome to private message me if you're interested in checking it out. I hope this doesn't come across as spammy, but a number of you commented that you enjoyed watching it and that you were looking forward to part 2 (which will be the Italy section of our trip that we're working on editing now), so I just wanted to offer to share it with anyone who is interested.

Thanks and I apologize if anyone thought I was trying to spam or self-promote! Just wanted to share a "trip report" in a different way.