Sunday, March 10, 2019


Today we took train from Amsterdam and came to Brussels Midi. The train was Thalys which along with Intercity Express (ICE) and TGV is the another high-speed train company. We witnessed confusion over which is our coach and seat and same with other passengers. So much for high speed that coach number were not marked on coach or on platform. The interiors of the train were all red which was gaudy. We got down at Brussels-MIDI station. We took a cab which had to go around a lot where our hotel was located due to Donald Trump's visit on that particular day to Brussels. Cab dropped us close to hotel where road was blocked. We then lugged our luggage to hotel.
Our train to Brussels

Red Interiors
After check-in we walked to Grand Place which is center of Brussels. To go there we had to pass in front of Royal Palace of Brussels which is palace of the monarchy of Belgium. We had bought Brussels city card which came with free entry to museums which we utilised by visiting Palais du Coudenberg which is adjacent to Royal palace. Apart from exhibits depicting history of Belgium, in the underground it has medieval palace foundations with excavations on display.
Bus stop signage

Royal Palace

Brussels Museum
From there we passed Mont des Arts park which was beautiful and came to district housing Grand Place. There are several other museums around this location and each building is a gorgeous to look at. Grand Place is a huge city square completely encircled by elegant historic buildings dating back to the 14th century. These buildings house city hall which has a tall tower, museum, restaurants and eateries and shops on the ground floor.

Brussels historic district

Mont des Arts park overlooking the grand place tower

Mont des Arts park

Going towards Grand place

Street signs

Going towards Grand place square

Huge galleria

At Grand place square

Historic buildings at Grand place
Close by is Manneken Pis which is a bronze statue of naked boy literally pissing i.e. water flowing out of private part, of course it is provided by a water pipe. Somehow it has become a huge attraction over a period and there was huge crowd to take picture. There is so much obsession with this statue that its replica is everywhere including a statue made of chocolate in waffle shops!

Mannekin Pis
Belgium is famous for Chocolates, Waffles, Fritters. There were plenty of shops selling Belgian chocolates, fritters, waffles. The waffle stores were overflowing with hundreds of types of toppings they came with. We just tasted a simple waffle which was good and filling. We also tried fritters from a shop called Belgian frites. Belgium is where Tin Tin comics originated. I have never read them but I heard they are very good. A friend asked me to buy a souvenir and there is only one store in the main area which I passed by thinking I will buy in the evening. But when I came back, it was closed. No other shop had any TinTin souvenir.
Tintin Exclusive Store

Waffle ship with numerous toppings

Belgian fritters
Next we decided to go to Atomium which is a huge metal structure formed like an Iron molecule structure with atoms as the vertices. Its a strange edifice. It was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair (Expo 58). The edges of structure house escalators and vertices have exhibition rooms. There was lot of interesting exhibits inside with sprawling view of Brussels city from all sides. We took Brussels metro to go there. It was quite hot in the afternoon and we had to wait in queue for a while before we could go upstairs due to crowd. The edifice was old and had limited capacity in lift or upstairs but the vision & design was marvellous which stands today as one of the main attractions after 60 years.

View from Atomium

View from Atomium

Inside Atomium

Endless escalators
From Atomium we took the tram and came back to Grand place. The place has come alive in the evening with some musicians doing live performance on streets and general gathering of tourists and locals. We hung around for a while before returning to our hotel.

Ghent, Bruges
Next day we had full day tour of medieval city of Ghent and Brugges which are west of Brussels. While planning we were keen to visit Antwerp which is another important town of Belgium but we had skip it. We had booked this tour as well on viator and we had to come to Grand Place to board our bus. Our guide was a gentleman who narrated entire historical significance of the towns. We first arrived at Ghent. Ghent is situated at the confluence of the Leie and Scheldt rivers. During the Middle Ages it was a prominent city. In the 18th & 19th century it got rich due to textile industry. Today it’s a university town and cultural hub. Attractions near city center include a row of guildhalls called Grslei, 12-century castle Gravensteen, Belfry tower, a UNESCO heritage and other beautiful buildings. Ghent also had a ring of canals which reminded of Amsterdam but it wasn't that grand.

Canal around buildings

Built in 1669

Street scene

Belfry tower
Bruges is another medieval town with city center as UNESCO heritage site. It is distinguished by its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. We arrived at Bruges at lunch time. Our guide took us inside the town and we had our lunch at a restaurant. We could already see the beautiful old building and criss-crossing canals and boats carrying tourists. After that we went on a small walking tour of the town on the cobbled streets finally emerging at Markt area. It is a square with two prominent buildings Belfry which is a bell-tower and City Hall with lot of activities including a traditional horse-cart ferrying tourists. We finally went for boat ride through the canals. The canals criss-cross the town and there are several pedestrian arched bridges for boats to go through. The buildings were red-bricked with sloping red-tiled roofs with stepped-edges with hanging flowering plants or creepers. The boat ride was quite enjoyable.
Gorgeous canals with ducks

General scene at Brugges overflowing with tourists

Canal busy with tourist boats

Canals busy with tourist boats

Belfry at Markt square

Scene at Markt square

Rows of medieval buildings
We left the town and headed back to Brussels which we reached in 1.5 hours and we again headed back to Grand Place. Today there was huge crowd due to a Jazz performance which was going to take place. At sunset just before dark, the buildings around were subtly illuminated in different hues which made them look beautiful.
Buildings illuminated at Grand place

Jazz performance at Markt square
On the last day we also purchased few Belgian chocolates for family & friends. That brought end to our Belgium trip.

Saturday, March 09, 2019


Day 1
Next day we were to go to Amsterdam via Oberhausen Hbf where we were to switch train to board Inter City Express (ICE) going from Hamburg to Amsterdam. There was only a gap of 8 minutes between arrival of our train and departure of ICE. Though gap was just few minutes we trusted on German train network to not delay us. In Switzerland, it has been said that you can time your watch by train movements. I thought may be same effect would be there on German trains. BTW, I have heard story of even Swiss trains being delayed on normal days. We had to catch the train Koln West station. We caught a cab to the station. We were on platform waiting for train hoping the train to come on time but it failed to show up on time. It came around 20 minutes late. I was still hopeful that it may cover up time or incoming train would be delayed as it was also coming from some other station. But by the time we reached we were 30 minutes late and our ICE had departed. Who says trains run late only in India! 

We approached the DB (Deutsche Bahn) office, who carved an itinerary for us and gave us a printout. We were to take another train to Arnhem crossing over to Netherlands and from there another train to Amsterdam. There was no issue of tickets but we were a little worried about our tour to Kukenhoff on the same day. But the moment we got down at Arnhem, the adjacent platform had train ready to depart to Amsterdam and conductor was shouting "Amsterdam, Amsterdam" and calling people to board. We boarded and had a sign of relief. By now the weather had changed and it was sunny. Netherlands being english speaking country it became so easy to communicate as we had to with folks on the station. We were booked in Holiday Inn close to Sloterdijk a suburb of Amsterdam and on realising that the train would go beyond Amsterdam passing Sloterdijk, we cheered up and enjoyed the beautiful countryside. We reached our destination and walked to our hotel which was adjacent to station.
Waiting at Koln West station

Our rescue train to Amsterdam
Our station for next four days

Our station for next four days

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) train

After readying up we were back at station to go to Kukenhoff for which we had to first take a train to Schiphol which is also the main international airport of Netherlands, home of KLM airlines. From there, there are fixed route buses to go to Kukenhoff. We had booked the end-to-end bus and entry package from Kukenhoff's website and today was the last day of this season, so we didn't want to miss or delay it. We reached there with plenty of time to explore. This was Sunday and last day brought lot of crowd but not stuffed.

Kukenhoff is an expansive, 19th-century park, open from March to May, showcasing multicoloured Dutch spring flowers especially Tulips. We Indians see this Tulip garden in iconic song Dekha Ek Khwab from movie Silsila starring Amitabh Bachchan & Rekha. It was probably misunderstanding that I was expecting Tulips standing in the fields but they were all gone. The field was now tilled and there was not a blade of grass. Nevertheless, the park itself was full of colorful flowers, bushes, shrubs and trees curated in a manner that it was lovely all around. The whole area had promenades built around flower beds or orchards, around lake or trees where one could take amble, stroll, admire the flowers and pose for photographs. Kukenhoff is deluge of pretty, lovely and tranquility. There were so many varieties of flowers that I got tired taking pictures and gave up sometimes. There was an information centre which depicted and explained the history of Tulip mania in Netherlands. We loitered around, took umpteen pictures and tried to soak in the surroundings. Pictures or videos are not enough to capture the ambience, the tranquility, fresh and aromatic air.
Entry to Kukenhoff

Windmill inside
flowers bounty 
flowers bounty

pretty scenes

pretty scenes are common
make it still
flowers in bounty
flowers bounty
In the evening finally people started to retreat and park preparing to close for the season that we had to say goodbye to this wonderful place. We went back the same way, bus to Schiphol and then train back to hotel. That ended an adventurous day with beautiful memories.

Day 2
Next day first half was tour to Zanse Schans, Volendam and Marken. We took the train to come to Amsterdam Centraal station and walked 5 minutes on Damrak street to come to meeting point and obtained our tickets against viator pass. Soon we were escorted to our buses with guide and off we went to Netherlands countryside. 

Zanse Schans is the place where historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses were relocated to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village. We had an hour to explore the place. It was picture postcard setting of historic windmills against blue skies and green water. The guide showed us the mechanism of how the windmill worked and oil was made.
Traditional Windmill

Zanse Shans village with clear blue water due to reflection from sky

Inside Windmill

Windmill at the shore

Windmill and the traditional house

series of windmills

Windmills from far
Netherlands or Dutch as country was one of the most powerful in Europe. Netherlands is flat country which is on average just about at sea level and some parts even below sea level. The windmills were developed to harness wind power to drain and channelise water. The windmills pre-date even industrial revolution having being developed in 16th century. There has been danger of whole country getting flooded by North sea water which historically. In early 1900s, they finally built a 32-km Afsluitdijk, a dam or causeway to shut off north sea inlet into the bay. Over period, the salt water was drained and infusion of fresh water by river and rain turned the lake into fresh water which they named as IJsselmeer. Then they built another dijk to split it into another smaller lake called Markameer. Netherlands is abundant in water and water management is top priority for country. One can witness this extensive water management in extensive canal network, aqueducts which are visible in Amsterdam and countryside. You are never far from a canal in Netherlands! And adjacent to canals you invariably find cycle or bike lane.

From there we went to village of Volendam famous for its cheese making. Volendam is at the periphery of Markameer which seem like sea but calm. Apart from Cheese, its also a fishing town. The houses at Volendam were typical red tiled with sloping roofs, a quaint, beautiful town. It has just one street with market and lining the lake and also leading to jetty. There were plenty of tourists around. We tried the local delicacy Kibbelish which is nothing but fried fish fillet. We also bought Cheese and Honey mustard dip from here which we brought back all the way to India and relished it. We roamed around in the market and had brunch at one of the restaurants. After this, we took boat ride over Markameer to town of Marken.

Cheese at Cheesefactory

Market street

Street hugging Markameer

Near the jetty

Sail boat in Markameer
Marken is an island in Markameer. It is famous for Wooden shoes called clogs factory. After getting down at jetty we walked our way to the Wooden shoes factory. We were shown the entire process of making the shoe from the wooden cut. The person showed us to cut, shear and machine the wooden clog. Netherlands being wet country, the clogs were best suited to wade through the slush grounds and fields.
Jetty at Marken 
Marken town

Clogs as decorative pots

Wooden shoe factory
Our bus which had dropped us at Volendam was here to pick us up and take us back to Amsterdam. The entire road route was beautiful with green fields and houses and invariably there was a canal and a cycle track alongside the main road. Several people even in the country ride bicycle. Who wouldn't in such an environment. We returned back to Amsterdam by lunch time. We had a quick bite and we were ready for our next tour, the second tour of the day was to The Hague, Delft and Madurodam. 
Our tour bus

Beautiful countryside
Delft is a university town and famous for Delftware. Royal Delft Blue is one of the oldest factory which produces earthenware in traditional way. The articles are made from clay found in this region then they are heated, painted by hand and finally baked to produce beautiful crockery and other articles. In olden days, due to Dutch maritime prowess, these items were sought after and could be found world over as collections by the Royals. The host took us around the entire factory showing us the different phases of production. Even now artists paint the wares by hand with special colors. The articles were displayed in plenty and available for sale as souvenir. It is worth admiring how traditional skill has been preserved and enhanced and held as matter of pride. We bought our souvenir. After the factory we were dropped at Delft Market Square. Located here is tall Nieuwe Kerk, a Protestant church. On the opposite side stands the City Hall. We roamed at the square and few alleys behind. Like Amsterdam, the town also has network of canals and houses adjacent to them. Delft was really a pretty town.
Royal Delft Blue factory

Articles at display

Beautiful vase
Nieuwe Kerk

Back alleys

Athlete practicing in canal!
The Hague is a important city of Netherlands. Its Gothic-style Binnenhof (or Inner Court) complex is the seat of the Dutch parliament, and 16th-century Noordeinde Palace is the king’s workplace. The city is also home to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, headquartered in the Peace Palace, and the International Criminal Court. Notice the name of the city has "The" in its name. We did not stop anywhere and drove through it while the guide explained us the importance of the city. We only stopped at ICJ to take pictures.
Street in The Hague

Street in The Hague
Peace Palace, ICJ
Madurodam is an exhibition of miniature world depicting 1:25 scale models of famous Dutch landmarks and other exhibits. It would be a fun place for kids to explore. There were simulations which were actually working. We missed having our son here. The attention to details and all the exhibits working like train, ship etc. were incredible considering that park was built in 1952.
miniature world

train station

After that we returned back to Amsterdam and bus dropped us at Damrak where we had begun. We roamed around a bit but returned back to our hotel being tired from two tours.

Day 3
Next day was tour of Amsterdam. We again booked city tour with boat option. We came to Amsterdam Centraal station and walked to the bus top. The bus was a double decker one. We took one whole round looking at the sights and did not get down anywhere. We were back in an hour. 
Amsterdam Centraal station
Walking towards Damrak
One of the main canals
cycling is the main mode of transport


Typical street


In next round, we got down at Amstel Hotel stop and went to Maritime museum. The museum apart from indoor exhibits has a huge replica of VOC (Dutch East India) ship on display which is visible from outside. It was a grand ship with high masts and network of ropes and flags fluttering at the top. We visited the main museum which depicted the rich maritime history of Dutch. Recall that Dutch were the first to come to India than British. In the indoor museum one can see a wide array of nautical instruments, maps, types of boats, tools, photos, videos and more. A lot of interactive screens and activities to immerse one into the learning process, along with a different type of atmosphere and vibe in each room. 
Dutch VOC ship

Commanding the ship
National Science Museum

VOC ship with flags fluttering
We again got into bus and got down as Gassan Diamonds but did not go inside. We walked from there to Waterlooplein Flea Market. The makeshift shops were selling everything from clothes, bags, trinkets, pictures paintings. While walking we experienced how common are canals and bicycles in the city crossing the canals over arched bridges for low boats to pass through. There was a canal in the middle, flanked by two small streets and then row of houses was standard. The bridge, railing and windows of the homes decorated with vases & flowers. Some wide canals has boats berthed like houseboats where people live. On sunny days, people get out full blown and travel on the canals using tourist or personal boats. The beauty was oozing out of every view and I got tired of taking pictures and just enjoyed the view. 

Signal to turn left

Flea market

Boat and Bicycles

Love lock

Park vehicle (boat) on the road (of water)

After enjoying the view by walking around, we thought of taking boat to go around. The tour provides both bus and boat option with two routes for boat. After looking at the map we walked to Amstel HoHo stop and waited for boat to show up. We had to wait quite some time but being in front of a intersection of multiple canals with width there was lot of boat action to witness. Finally our boat arrived and we were off. 
At HoHo stop for boat

National Opera house

Boats galore
We got down at Amterdam Centraal. From there walked to Dam square which is a big square with National monument and flanked by number of impressive buildings like Royal palace, Madam Tussad's wax museum etc. We tried fritters here as well. The one selling them at Damrak was surprisingly Mannekenpis which is in Brussels but surprisingly claiming to be No. 1 Fries in Holland. Anyhow, they just had 110 types of sauces.
Madam Tussad Damrak

Dam Square

Busy street around Dam square

Shopping street

Number 1 Holland Fries
We hung around till evening. Our plan today was to visit Red Light district which is famous in Amsterdam. As against the thoughts it would invoke, its safe to walk around that part of town, not embarrassing and even dedicated tours are conducted. It is part of liberal culture that Amsterdam is known for. After going through some alleys and watching the glitz and glamor we were done for the day and came back to our hotel.
Going to Red light district

Red Light district area
Day 4
Last day at Amsterdam was dedicated for Museums. We started from our hotel this time by bus and came to Rijksmuseum which is the national museum of Netherlands. Today the weather was cloudy, not as sunny and beautiful as previous days. There is a huge "I amsterdam" display nearby which was photo opportunity. The museum was grand with highlight being a huge multi-level library. During my travel, I find going to art galleries as wasted opportunities as we never have enough time to absorb and view the displays. But then we can't go to each and every museum like this otherwise a single life would not enough. I think about this to solace my mind.
I amsterdam


Inside Rijkseuseum

From there we were back again on the boat this time on second boat route. We spent considerable time locating the stop but took us through amble walking which was good. We got onto the boat which went through a different route. There are two major boat routes and we took the one other than the previous day. On this route we got to see houseboats i.e. boats where people live in the canals. This is legal and boats pay taxes. The bus & boat were both equipped with commentary which one could listen. The earphones were liberally given out. The commentary was available in 4 and more languages. Makes one wonder how well equipped are the tourist operators are. We finally came to Amsterdam Centraal.
Trying to find our boat embark point

Typical houses in the central part of city

House boats

Canal junction

Tourist boat

Boats parked
 After lunch we booked ourselves with a bicycle tour. Being in a city of bicycles we didn't want to miss that experience. We had booked a bicycle tour on the net the previous day. The pickup was close to Centraal station and we walked to it. We gathered into a group of 10 people from different nationalities. The guide explained the whole drill and requested me to be the last to make sure group is escorted well. We went through some of the internal streets stopping at some vantage points while our guide explained some of the points of the tour. Eventually got a bicycle handle bell as gift and souvenir for waiting on the group.
Cycle group
Amsterdam is home to Heineken beer. There are bars strewn all around where one can have a quick beer. There are tours to experience beer culture of Amsterdam. This being fourth day in Netherlands, we spent a lazy evening at Dam square and ate at an Indian restaurant for dinner and came back to our hotel. Not before I tried the beer at its home in a road side beer bar. Unlike India, it is as easy and cheap as water to drink beer which is exactly I did.

At Home
By the end of this trip to Netherlands it become my favourite place among all the places I have visited in the world. A small country with natural challenges but where all citizens are aligned to live a quality and enriching life, this is what we end up with. Netherlands is surprisingly a Monarchy with a King but parliamentary democracy. The royal family I am told is not snobbish but understands their place and responsibility and conducts themselves well. No wonder this tiny country holds a prominent place in the world and among the best countries to live in. So long Netherlands.