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Eurfirst Trip to the Netherlands

Updated October 6, 2007

Recently, the Netherlands has developed an image as the place to party in Europe. For many students, a stop in Amsterdam allowed them to pursue hedonistic pleasures that were freely available in the "coffee houses" and red light district of the city. Those places became attractions even for tourists who did not participate but there is much more to the Netherlands and the city of Amsterdams than you'll find in those seedy sections of town.

Amsterdam is a city with friendly people, great food and world class museums. And as you leave the city, you'll be delighted by the charm of the country's farms and small villages. Holland is no longer the country of windmills that we learned about in the Hans Brinker story, it is a modern country easily visited on a well-planned road system.

Amsterdam

The most historic parts of town are a short walk from the city's main train station. If are staying in the city, try to find a hotel near the train station which will make it easy for you to get to the many attractions in the town. The hotels in the area are a short walk to may of the museums and attractions in the area.

In summer, Amsterdam is a great city for walking. Its northern location provides long hours of sunshine and relatively pleasant weather. But the town is not far from the North Sea, so even on warm summer days, you should be prepared for a brief rain storm--carry and umbrella or light rain jacket.

If you enjoy great art, Amsterdam has wonderful art museums. We spent our museum time at tne checking out the works of Van Gogh. Located in the main part of town, the Van Gogh museum does a wonderful job of showing the progression of the artist's style over time.

A pleasant way to start your visit is with a boat tour of the canals. Low, narrow boats pass each other as they head down the watery paths to the most scenic destinations along the canals. Our guide, like most residents of Brugge, was multi-lingual, speaking Flemish, French, Spanish, German and both American and British. As we made our way down the canals, he told his stories in each language, adding entertaining wisecracks about romance in this charming town. There are many different points of departure for the cruises but the prices are extremely reasonable whereever you board. It seems that the guides don't make much on the ride itself, but appreciate the generousity of tourists who are expected to tip as they leave the boat. Our guide's good nature warranted generous compensation but we felt the excursion would still have been a bargain at double what we paid.

At sometime during the day, climb the Belfort (bell tower) that reaches almost 300 feet above the Markt square for a panoramic view of the city and countryside. If the weather is generally clear, you'll see the the major shipping canals that connect with the North Sea. Look for the windmills on the outskirts of the old city and enjoy the charm of the square below. For us, this was one of the most beautiful views in Europe, even though it was somewhat cloudy when we reached the top. A definite must-do.

Hours of wandering the quaints street can stir up your appetite. There are many restaurants offering various types of foods...most seem to have some French influence. Try a pot of mussels with "pomme frite" (fries) cooked in a traditional wine sauce. Served in a pot that provides more than enough for two, the succulent mussels should be accompanied by one of the local brews. For dessert, which is how the locals consume them, have a Belgium waffle topped with ice cream or fruit and whipped cream. Remind yourself that you've climbed almost a quarter-mile (don't get too exacting) and complete the day's consumption with a few carefully selected truffles. This will definitely be a diet-busting day but one you will savor forever, or until you can get back to do it again.

If you plan your trip early enough, you can find lodging at bed and breakfasts located within the heart of the city for a fairly reasonable price. If not, there are other B&Bs on the outskirts of town. You'll be surprised to find very clean, reasonably priced rooms in the Brugge area if you do a little research. A short drive from Brugge, you'll find de Camerling Bed and Breakfast whose gracious hosts will serve you a savory and hearty breakfast and give you great suggestions to make your time in the region enjoyable.

But if you want to stretch your budget or would like to spend some time relaxing on the sandy shores of the North Sea, head to the beach resorts about 10 kilometers north of Brugge. Another well-kept secret in Belgium are the long beaches and coastal towns that draw local tourists for the summer holidays. We stayed in a clean, well-maintained campground just a short drive from both Brugge and the North Sea for less than $13.00 a night which included state of the art showers and excellent facilities.

Like The Netherlands, Belgium is an ideal place to bike. The 2007 Tour de France missed the narrow streets of Brugge but visited nearby cities on the coast and raced through the beautiful countryside around the quaint town. With the summer temperatures in Belgium, riding through the region is easy and enjoyable. There are many rental locations both in Brugge and on the coast, and it would be a comfortable ride from the dunes to Brugge.

Canal in Brugge

A Canal in Brugge Tower above Town Square in Brugge

From Tower above Town Square in Brugge

Campgrounds near Brugge

Ghent

Like Brugge, Ghent is an ideal place to take a short canal cruise to begin your visit. The medievel architecture and history remind you of the importance of Ghent as the trading center of the Flemish textile industry.

One of the major attractions is the castle of the Count of Flanders built during the 12th Century. Fortified to protect the counts from angry subjects and invading armies, the castle is well preserved and open to modern tourists.

Throughout Europe, you can climb to the top of belltowers for a bird's eye view of the city below. An elevator makes the journey to the top of Ghent's belfry easy; if you haven't been to the top of a tower in other cities, try to get to the top of the Belfry in Ghent. As you look across the city's rooftops, you'll get a new perspective on life in medieval Europe as well as the modern beauty that Europeans enjoy each day.

In the evening you can get a different perspective on Flemish life as you enjoy the flavors of locally brewed beers. Be warned that some of these beers are exceptionally strong, often containing as much alcohol as distilled liquors. Near the castle, you'll find many pubs serving local ales and lagers. Just be certain you have a good plan for getting back to your hotel or campground.

All of Ghent comes together in the last week of July to celebrate its culture. If you are in town, plan to spend an evening celebrating with the natives as their music and dance fills the streets.