Belgium and Holland on $150 per day

Well, I did not take many pictures on my trip, but there are a few highlights shown here.  The above photo is outside the town hall in Bruges, Belgium.

I did not take any pictures in Amsterdam, where I spent the the first two days.  I arrived in the morning and immediately went to work on the city.  I took the train from the airport to the central railway station, and spent the next 40 minutes searching for my hotel, which was advertised as being 100 meters from the station.  Unfortunately, it is a fairly large railway station and Amsterdam is a very confusing city for newcomers.  Actually, it was a very delightful walk as I looked for the "luxurious" France Hotel.  I was to remain basically lost in all of the cities I visited for the remainder of the trip.  These medivel towns have very confusing layouts!

Anyway, I was outside the Rijksmuseum by 10:45 am, waiting for it to open.  Amsterdam is incredibly beautiful.  There are canals everywhere, the architecture is grand, and they have pizza and Chinese food!  I visited all of the museums and churches I could get to for the next two days.  Everything was great.

The third day, however, was the undisputed highlight of the trip.  I managed to get a room at the Hotel Egmond, which Frommers listed as one of the two best reasonably priced hotels in Belgium.  They were exactly right.  The hotel is a very old house in a park on the south side of Bruges, along a lake that used to serve as a barge staging area.  The hotel was run by a middle-aged couple and came complete with afternoon tea in a parlor with a fireplace, breakfast, the whole nine yards.  Bruges is an extremely well-preserved town from the middle ages.  From about 1200 up until 1500 it was the richest city in Europe.  Much of the great architecture in the town dates from that time period.  It is criss-crossed with canals and is surrounded by a defensive moat, with gates at each of the crossings.  The streets are extremely narrow, with the characteristic houses built right one up against the next.  Even some of the churches and institutions are crammed right together.  The picture at the top, taken at the Grote Markt in the center of the city, is one of the only open spots in Bruges.  Here is a more typical view of Bruges:

Really, I'm not kidding, this is how much of the place looks.  I stayed here only one night, but I left late the next day so as to enjoy Bruges as much as possible.  I will definitely have to come back here some time.

Evening number 4 was spent in Castle Elsoo, in southern Holland.  I went here just for the opportunity to sleep overnight in a real castle.  I spent an enjoyable evening in this tiny town, but unfortunately the castle was not exactly what I was looking for.  It was more of a country estate, although they said it was built on the site of a former castle and the building did have a tower.  However, I was quite sure that the tower must have been built in the 18th or 19th century as a decorative motif, not as a defensive necessity.  Therefore, I did not consider this to be a true castle and did not take any pictures of it.  I will resume my search for a true castle when I return.

For my last evening I planned to stay in Amsterdam.  However, I absolutely could not get a hotel room and switched to Antwerp instead.  This turned out to be a great, great idea!  Antwerp was amazingly beautiful, and included such gems as Rubenshuis, the house where the painter Rubens used to live, and the Plantin-Moretus Museum, which turned out to be the single best museum visit of the entire week.  The Plantin printing house was one of the most famous publishers of the middle ages, and by a series of accidents the house and printing factory have been almost perfectly preserved for over 400 years.  They had all of the printing presses there, complete original furnishings of the mansion, and a library of extremely rare books.  The oldest manuscript was from the 9th Century (!).  And nearly all of it was completely open, very few display cases or roped-off areas. 

Here is a complete catalog of the pictures I took.  You can click on an image to enlarge it.

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I did a calculation of all my expenses.  Here they are, including air fare.  I think I did pretty well for a 6-day vacation:

Expense Date Amount Crncy USD
France Hotel--two nights Amsterdam 08-Feb-00 260.00 nlg $ 113.54
Phone bill--France Hotel 08-Feb-00 35.25 nlg $ 15.39
Unknown 07-Mar-00 7.50 nlg $ 3.28
Train--Schipol to Amsterdam cs 07-Mar-00 6.50 nlg $ 2.84
Rijksmuseum--Amsterdam 07-Mar-00 15.00 nlg $ 6.55
Dinner--Amsterdam 08-Mar-00 12.00 nlg $ 5.24
Van Gogh Museum 08-Mar-00 15.50 nlg $ 6.77
KoninKlijk Paleis Amsterdam 08-Mar-00 8.00 nlg $ 3.49
Scheepvaartmuseum-Amsterdam 08-Mar-00 17.00 nlg $ 7.42
Dinner--Brugge 09-Mar-00 865.00 bef $ 20.66
Hotel Egmond--Bruges 10-Mar-00 3125.00 bef $ 74.64
Historiche Zalen--Stadhuis Bruges 10-Mar-00 100.00 bef $ 2.39
Groeningemuseum--Bruges 10-Mar-00 200.00 bef $ 4.78
Gotische Zaal Stad Bruges 10-Mar-00 100.00 bef $ 2.39
Museum van het Heilig Bloed 10-Mar-00 40.00 bef $ 0.96
Train--Maastricht to Elsloo 10-Mar-00 5.50 nlg $ 2.40
Train Ticket--Bruges to Maastricht 10-Mar-00 880.00 bef $ 21.02
Maastrich/Antwerp train ticket 11-Mar-00 41.50 nlg $ 18.12
Scheepvaartmuseum (Steen Castle) 11-Mar-00 100.00 bef $ 2.39
Plantin-Moretus Museum 11-Mar-00 100.00 bef $ 2.39
Antwerp Cathedral 11-Mar-00 70.00 bef $ 1.67
Vleeshuis Gunsttarief 11-Mar-00 50.00 bef $ 1.19
Book at Plantin-Moretus 11-Mar-00 210.00 bef $ 5.02
Coca Cola 11-Mar-00 50.00 bef $ 1.19
Chocolate bar-Antwerp 11-Mar-00 18.00 bef $ 0.43
Train--Elsloo to Maastricht 11-Mar-00 5.50 nlg $ 2.40
Pizza--Antwerp 11-Mar-00 390.00 bef $ 9.31
Rubenshuis Museum 11-Mar-00 100.00 bef $ 2.39
Hotel Elsloo--Estimate only 11-Mar-00 200.00 nlg $ 87.34
Train--Antwerp to Schipol 12-Mar-00 970.00 bef $ 23.17
Hotel Alfa de Keyser--Antwerp 12-Mar-00 3916.00 bef $ 93.53
Plane ticket to Amsterdam     usd $ 275.00
Parking--O'Hare     usd $ 50.00
         
      total $ 869.28