Part 4 - Amsterdam Redux by Adam Stern

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Spent the end of our trip back in beautiful Amsterdam. Stupidly hot outside, so predominantly wandered the streets with frequent stops for drinks and air conditioning. Took a siesta back at the hotel because we were MELTING in the 36 degree heat, and watched “In Brugge” which was even better the second time... since we had just been there the day before.

Had some great meals, shopped for gifts, and soaked up the last moments of this really amazing trip. It could only have been better if it was longer and if we didn’t miss the kids so much at this point.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lovely plane ride back with the opportunity to pick out 2 more ceramic dutch houses - LOVE KLM - and arrived back to a beautiful sunny evening in Vancouver. Excited to pick up Maddy 12 hours later and Gabe another 24h after that.

Part 3 - Bruges by Adam Stern

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We arrived in Bruges the previous night via train from Utrecht, and found our way to the Hotel Navarra for an 11pm check-in. The hotel looked very nice, but really… all we needed was a bed in an air-conditioned room. Which we were given. Good night.

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One nice sleep-in later, we awoke to a sunny morning and we were off to explore the magical city of Bruges. 

Wow

Deb has been telling me about this charming place for years, and it did not disappoint. Straight out of a fairytale. We walked cobblestone streets enjoying the centuries-old architecture, canals, and castles. 

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First stop, breakfast at “Le Pain Quotidien”, a lovely spot with a beautiful garden patio in back. A nice meal, accompanied by cappuccinos served with Belgian chocolates. The temperature quickly began to climb, but… we were in Bruges. So no worries.

Next stop, a brewery tour at “De Halve Moone”, one of two working Bruges breweries that offer a glimpse behind the curtains. We had a wonderful guide who showed us how the beer is made, and explained how they crowd-funded a 4km pipeline from the brewery to their bottling/distribution plant through underground pipes. Participants in the successful campaign receive beer for life — once a year on their birthdays, or for the big spenders, every single day.

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After indulging in a wonderful sample on location, we headed out for more - just taking Bruges in, wandering the streets and lanes, walking around Lake Minnewater, known as the Lake of Love, taking lots of photographs and being full-on tourists.

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After a quick siesta back at the hotel, it was time for WAFFLES. I was not leaving Bruges without completing the tasty trifecta of chocolate (breakfast chocolate! Check), beer (check), and waffles. Deb did a quick search on where to find the best in town, and the one that caught our eye was called “Lizzie’s”.

Lizzie’s waffles were mind-boggling. I have issues with sense of scale when even trying to describe the PIZZA-SIZED confections that were presented to us, after choosing our toppings - cherries, ice cream and hot chocolate sauce for me, white chocolate and caramel for Deb. 

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Waffle-pocalpyse. 

We took a moment, heads buzzing from the sugar, then were off to one of Bruges’ main tourist attractions, the famous Belfry Tower (Have you seen “In Bruges”? If not, we won’t ruin it for you). But… oh no! We were literally 5 minutes too late to join the cue for the day. Somewhat disappoined, we quickly rallied and decided to go for it in the morning.

We walked a bit more, until we felt we could ingest something again. TripAdvisor pointed us down an alley to a cool little bar called De Garre. I tried their tasty house brew and Deb sampled a peach beer. Yum.

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Off to dinner in the main square. We “walked the menus” until we settled on one of the several patio’d establishments, and tucked into mussels, fries, appetizers and more beer. yes, I did most of the tucking. 

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Ready to pass out from the eating, beer, heat, and a full day of walking, we made our way back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

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The next morning, we hit the Belfry at 9:30am to climb it before having to catch our train. We can now say we did it, and it was a fun quick climb up the 366 stairs, but frankly a disappointing view at the top behind a wire mesh grid. I guess they saw “In Bruges” too. 

Back to the hotel to check out, and off to the train station.

Bruges. Amazing. And done. 

Part 2 - Bike Trip by Adam Stern

Day 4: Train to Haarlem and start of bike tour - Haarlem to Leiden

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We were sad to leave the Sir A’dam behind, but onward. Caught the train to Haarlem which took about 20 minutes, then waited for Peter Voss, the owner of Tulip Cycles, to meet us at the station.

A lovely guy, Peter introduced to our bikes - nice, comfortable commuter 8 speed bicycles. Our trip for the next 5 days was guided by GPS. As soon as he mentioned that there were 6 buttons and the arrow was non- directional, I entrusted the GPS to Adam:) It was actually quite straightforward in the end - we essentially followed the pink line! Peter would take our luggage from town to town so we could just enjoy the cycling.

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The Netherlands is connected with 22,000km of dedicated bike lanes. It’s absolutely incredible. we left Haarlem and worked our way west towards the coast. Gradually the landscape changed from pretty towns and canals to sand dunes and beaches, as we turned southwest to head along the coast. It looked a lot like PEI. After a couple of hours we stopped along at a small beach town called Noordjwick, and had a really tasty lunch while enjoying people-watching and the breeze off the ocean.

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Satiated, we got back on our bikes and continued along the coast, ultimately turning inland to head to Leiden. Wish there was a way to adequately describe the peaceful beauty of cycling into this beautiful town. Canals, flowers, architecture, all frozen in time. We made our way to our accommodations  at The Baroness - a cute small boutique hotel with only a few rooms. We showered, changed, and headed out towards the centre of town for dinner. 

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Throughout the town, painted on the exteriors of old buildings, are 101 poems in different languages. This was just one example (pic) that made us think about the political and social climate in the USA now.

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We found a small restaurant called Noroc in a beautiful little alley off of the main canal. They were closing soon after we arrived but the owners warmly welcomed us and we had a great time talking to them while we ate. The husband was excited  to hear we were from Vancouver, as he had been trying to convince his wife to travel to Vancouver Island for a “wild” wilderness adventure. After dinner we wandered around the main canal area which was bustling with waterside cafes, bars and restaurants. There was even a Hudson’s Bay in Leiden!. Went to climb a castle tower to get amazing views of the city. Ultimately we stopped at a canal-side cafe for cappuccinos accompanied by mini ice-cream cones as the sun set over the city, and then headed back to the hotel for the night. Completely charmed by this town!

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Day 5 - Bike from Leiden to the Hague and Delft

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Unfortunately not a great sleep.  The heat wave was coming and the air-conditioning unit was not great. Had breakfast downstairs in the hotel, packed our bags to be ready for pick up, and headed back on our bikes towards the coast, to pick up the path we had been on the day prior. More beautiful oceanside beaches and dunes. Stopped to get some drone footage deeper into the pathway.

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Beautiful temperature in the shade, getting hot in the sun. Arrived at The Hague after a couple of hours, quite hungry and thirsty. We parked our bikes around the main square and found a nice restaurant to have a drink and some lunch. Once we were re-nourished we spent some time walking around. The Hague is a bustling beautiful city, 60% of the people here are in civil service.  Makes one want to go back to  school and learn foreign languages to be able to work in this environment. We pondered - one day, might we get to see Trump tried here, in the International Criminal Court?

After wondering the town centre for a while we got back on our bikes to head to Delft. We hit some bike lane construction along the way which meant we needed to essentially ‘portage’ our bikes and ride some canal-side single track for a little bit, but easily found our way into town. Once again a beautiful, peaceful ride into a REALLY QUIET town.

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We checked into “Royal Bridges Hotel”…. long stairway up for our tired legs:)

And.. no AC to be found. Starting to worry a little about that as the heat is definitely rising. We were now becoming seasoned travelers through towns in Holland - go outside, look up, find the Church tower and head in that direction to find the central square and food.

It was soooo quiet in Delft. We couldn't figure out why this beautiful little town wasn't overrun with tourists - though we weren’t complaining!! Sat down at a restaurant in the square and had a functional dinner with very nice company from a gentleman from Turkey who was motorcycling through Europe. Wandered around the square after dinner, stopped in a cheese shop for some tasting:) Then headed back to the hotel for the night.

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Day 6: Delft to Gouda

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Adam: “I don’t think that the term “Royal” means the same thing as in North America”. Terrible sleep as there was no AC and it was getting hot - so had to open the windows leading to bugs and noise. Suspect that lack of AC not usually an issue here but we were definitely in the middle of a significant heat wave.

Had breakfast in the lobby - unfortunately the coffee machine broke before our 2nd cup so we walked down the street to a funky cafe to load up.

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Delft is famous for a couple of reasons: One is Delft pottery which looks like this:

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It is made and hand-painted here. The second is that it is where Vermeer is from. We were still a little “museumed out” from our last day in Amsterdam so we decided to forego the Delft Factory tour and go to the Vermeer Exhibit. Vermeer is one of Adam’s favourite artists!

The famous Lost Vermeer.

The famous Lost Vermeer.

The exhibit doesn’t have any originals. Instead they have very high quality reproductions and a great audio guide with lots of information on his tremendous use of colour and lighting. Because they aren’t originals, you can get up very close to see the fine details of his work.When you look at his paintings, he frequently has his subject lit by sunlight coming through a window to the right of the scene. There was also an incredible short film about how one of his paintings had been restored. Unbelievable combination of art and science needed to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

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We got back on our bikes around 12:30 and headed out of town towards Gouda. The landscape was much different than the past couple of days: We started out along a beautiful tree lined shaded path The path then headed through vast pastoral, agricultural fields.

We came upon the De Rotte, which is a large canal that runs through Rotterdam. There were windmills along each side of the water, and along the edge there were docks to moor the small boats out for the day, or to have a snack or swim. Really wished we had our bathing suits with as we were pretty sweaty by now… but none-the-less stopped for hydration and a banana on one of the docks. Adam did some cool time lapse photography while we sat taking in the serenity of this place.

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Back on our bikes after about 30 minutes to finish our ride. Deb definitely bonked, so the rest of the ride was a little slower than usual:( We followed the GPS and the path led us to the water where we had a ferry crossing! That was a surprise, but really smooth.

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Rode into Gouda to the Best Western which was REALLY nice! AIR CONDITIONING!! Showered and rested for a bit and then headed out for dinner. Found a restaurant in TripAdvisor called Buiten Even + Drinken. Lovely shaded courtyard with great food. We ate A LOT. We had CHEESE and ICE CREAM because we are in the home of GOUDA!! AND WE ARE CYCLING A LOT!!! Wandered the streets which were also really quiet (where IS everyone?) then back to the hotel to crash.

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Day 7 - 8: Gouda to Schoonhoven to Utrecht

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Got an earlier start today as the temperature was rising. After our experience yesterday with insufficient calories while on the road, we made sure to grab some sandwiches from a local cafe after breakfast, then headed out of town.

Cycled through more beautiful, bucolic landscape and arrived at Kinderdijk which is a UNESCO heritage site known for 19 18th century windmills, a pumping station and dikes that help control flooding. Many, many photo opportunities.

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We stopped along the path at a small dock, put our feet in the water (AHHHH) and had a picnic watching the ducks and small boats float by, with the windmills in the background. When you see pictures of Holland on-line, this is likely where many of them are taken.

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After a nice break and some more water, we got back on our bikes for the last 10Km to Schoonhoven. Unfortunately had to do most of this across an unpaved path through farmland which was a little rough. Also pretty dry and dusty… we were really spoiled by the paved paths so far this trip. I was also getting the increasing feeling that we REALLY NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THE SUN! It was about 32 degrees and no shade in sight. Had another surprise ferry crossing and made our way into town. Schoonhaven is a very small and quaint town known for making silver. Only one hotel in town called the Belvedere. A small place with a nice restaurant, with a large patio along the water. Showered and grabbed a snack and then wandered the town. Our skin colour had definitely deepened several shades since the morning.

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Had a nice dinner on the patio while the sun set, then packed it in for the night. No air conditioning and poor sleep as we were dealing with the mosquitos due to the opened windows. It would have been impossible to keep them closed without suffocating. 

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After breakfast we set out on our last day of cycling to Utrecht. This stretch was mostly through small, quiet picturesque towns, which afforded a small amount of shade. Other than a short chocolate bar break we cycled pretty much for 3 hours straight. The final part of our route led us through the town centre which was bustling with tourists and locals. Utrecht was much larger than the past few towns, with large chain stores in addition to local businesses. By the time we arrived we were pretty hot, tired and truthfully cranky and not strong in the decision-making department. We found the train station where we were to meet Peter in a few hours, locked up the bikes and walked back into the main area of town for some food, water and rest.

There is a castle tower in the city that reportedly has fantastic views. Around 400 stairs up. We considered over lunch but… nope. Not going to happen now - too hot  and tired. Debbie had a giant merengue from a cool bakery where we sat in the shade and people-watched. Then we moved literally across the street (too tired to move further) to a cafe where Adam had some ice cream.

We wandered around the town window-shopping, until it was time to meet Peter back at the train station. We exchanged our bikes for our luggage, had a nice chat and thanked him for an AMAZING 5 days.

225km of cycling through a beautiful country. Outside of the need for AC in some of the hotels (which from what we understand isn’t usually needed) we couldn’t imagine a better way to enjoy discovering a new country.  I was worried that Adam might not like Brugge (our next stop) as much as I had hyped it over the years, as the places we had seen were so truly beautiful. Got on the train and headed in that direction to find out!

Part 1 - Amsterdam by Adam Stern

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Off to Amsterdam. A spectacular overnight flight on KLM, first time on this wonderful airline. Comfortable, great service/hospitality, a few “Flying Dutchman” signature cocktails. Before leaving the aircraft we were presented a gift: we could each choose one miniature version of a storied Dutch building, filled with Bols Jenever (Dutch Gin). Each building has a number on the back, corresponding to an online catalog that shows the actual building and its history. Our trip was off to an excellent start.

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We landed in Amsterdam a little over nine hours later, with very little sleep under our belts in spite of the comfortable flight. Ah well, off to Amsterdam Central train station.

Every time we’re in Europe it’s painfully obvious how much better the train system is than anything we have here. We hopped a “Sprinter” from the airport which took us to the Central station in about twenty minutes. Once we arrived, it took us a few minutes to get our bearings - but then quickly realized we could see our hotel directly across the water from where we were standing. 

The A'DAM Tower and EYE Film Museum.

We hopped a free three minute ferry across the river to Amsterdam-Noord and the A’DAM tower, where our hotel, the Sir A’DAM awaited us. A revitalized office tower that once housed the corporate offices of Royal Dutch Shell, it’s now a hip multifunctional tower including offices, cafes, restaurants, and our amazing home for the next few days. 

 

A’DAM is the iconic tower that many Amsterdammers immediately recognize as part of their city. It’s a catalyst for the regeneration of the Overhoeks area – and Amsterdam North is becoming a definitive part of the city. Not long ago, the New York Times called the region the “red-hot art neighborhood” and Amsterdam’s new creative center.The name A’DAM stands for ‘Amsterdam Dance and Music’, which reflects the business of the owners and main tenants: ID&T, AIR Events and MassiveMusic” - from http://adamtoren.nl/about/

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Time to head to our room. "Why write about this", you ask? "Why waste my time reading about elevators"? Because, Dear Reader, these were no ordinary elevators. Each one had its own theme — one based on David Bowie’s iconic Major Tom, one a more psychedelic affair, and our home for the next minute or so - a full-on disco including lit-up coloured square dance floor and mirrored disco ball. Playing "Le Freak". Deb was in heaven.

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We landed on the seventh floor, after considering another elevator ride (but we needed a nap, stat). Our room was comfortable, decked out with music paraphernalia (including a jade-green Gibson Les Paul mounted on one wall), and… it came with our very own turntable and a selection of vinyl! We put on some Meatloaf, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, and more. After a nap that is. 

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Awake after a few hours of needed rest, it was time for our initial exploration of the city. We ferried back across the river to stroll the canals in the Amsterdam evening. I fell in love with the city almost instantly - beautiful, creative, liberal, diverse, seemingly accepting of all.  And a place that truly looks like the best of the postcards of travel blogs/vlogs/sites — beautiful, quirky homes lining peaceful canals, holding houseboats and various watercraft (yes, including the odd party-boat… more on that later).

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We stopped at a random outdoor restaurant on one of the canals and had a delicious dinner, including our introduction to Bitterballen - falafel-sized fried finger food, storing some type of delicious concoction (meat? Cheese? Other?) that we dipped in mustard and happily munched on, washing it down with a Kriek (Sour cherry beer) or two.

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Now THAT’S a day one.

Amsterdam Day 2

GREAT sleep after being awake for 24 hours yesterday! Woke up to a sunny morning and grabbed breakfast downstairs in the hotel. Funky, soulful music at the Sir A'dam all the time, which made it extra enjoyable. Then out to meet up with the “Dam Boat Guys” for a tour of the canals.

We wandered the streets gazing at the architecture and canals and beautiful vistas everywhere. Had a coffee at our meeting spot and were VERY thankful we didn’t end up sharing a boat with the group of obnoxious American teenagers at the next table who were also waiting for a tour.

The Dam Boat Guys tours operate boats with a maximum of 10 people at a time (much more preferable than the large boats crammed with dozens of people we saw otherwise). We cruised around the canals getting pieces of historical information and facts about the city:

The Dam Boat Guys Canal Tour.

Fun Facts:

-The centre of the city is a Historical Site, so the architecture cannot be changed - which is why it remains so charming.

-Cycling is the main form of transportation. There are 60% more bikes than cars and dedicated bike lanes everywhere. It is extremely safe to cycle here - you truly don't need helmets and there aren't altercations between cyclists and cars (very different from Vancouver).

Bicycles. Everywhere.

-Bicycles are stolen an average of 4x over ones’ lifetime.

-Many of the houses were painted oxblood centuries ago, which identified them as being affected by the Black Plague. Home owners today aren't permitted to change the colour of the original paint.

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-12000 bicycles are pulled out of the canals each year.

-The canals used to be filled with sewage until 1987, when they were completely cleaned out. Now they are clean enough to swim in, and the Queen actually joins in once per year on the “Amsterdam City Swim” - held to raise awareness and money for ALS.

-Amsterdam is currently experiencing a drought with no rain since April. This has resulted in the water level dropping in the canals to such an extent that seawater needs to be pumped in to accommodate.

-“Love Bridge” is dedicated to all the victims of AIDS. Legend has it that if you kiss you partner while passing underneath, your love will last forever.

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We enjoyed the tour overall. We were pretty hungry when we finished and went in search of food, ending up at a smoothie place where the server was literally adding one mint leaf AT A TIME to a customer's order, only after weighing them. We left. Found another place for lunch, and then came across The Cheese Museum!!

Lots of delicious samples, including truffle gouda (I watched Deb's head explode - A.) and aged smoked gouda ... which were unbelievable.

Time for dinner. Following a suggestion from the hotel concierge, we walked to "Springaren", a lovely canal-side restaurant, and sat outside for an excellent dinner -  multiple small dishes served on a wooden plank with delicious rye bread.

Time to call it a night. Back to the hotel for sunset and drinks along the water.

Impression of Day 2 overall: WE WANT TO LIVE HERE.

Day 3: Museums and Sea Bass:

Started  off the day with a nice breakfast at the hotel and headed out for a day of museums. First, The Anne Frank House. Really hard to put into words… just an incredible exhibit combined with walking through the actual house. Sobering. Bought a copy of her diary for the kids to read when we get back.

We then headed to Museumplein which is a public space surrounded by three museums and a concert hall, and home to the (in)famous IAmsterdam sign.

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Had a bite to eat and went to Rijksmuseum. Didn’t do the audio tour, but saw some original Vermeers, Rembrandts and Van Goghs. It’s a huge museum and a bit overwhelming. Hung out for a bit in the park and rested before our late afternoon booking at the Van Gogh museum. Did the audio tour and it was really, really fantastic. Very well laid out and the tour made it feel like a personal experience. 

We were pretty “museumed-out”, tired, and hungry - and decided to try another one of the restaurants recommended to us by the concierge - Pesca. Amazing. Super cool concept where you check in, they give you either some prosecco and a beer - then you move along to what is essentially an open fish and seafood market.

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Each item is prepared differently and you choose whatever you like in whatever amounts - you just pay by weight. Then you go to a wine and beverage person who helps pick out drinks. The fish and sides are prepared and you're notified with a pager when each dish is ready.

The food was outstanding. We had the house specialty, a salt roasted sea bass which was to die for. Picked it clean!!!

Wandered back to the hotel really full - but still enough room for a drink and waffle with ice cream on the deck of the hotel.

Did we mention we WANT TO LIVE HERE?