Waffles and Friets

The forecast for today was solid rain and when I woke up it was pouring, and didn’t stop whilst we had breakfast here in the apartment. It was also cold, so I’d pretty much mentally already written the day off and thought to myself we will be lucky if we can just find a nice cafe to grab a coffee, maybe a waffle then come back and watch Netflix for the day.

The rain actually started to ease off just as we walked outside, so we bought a bus ticket for the day and took it to the centre of Bruges and went to the Lace museum which had some excellent displays on the history of lace making in the region. It’s incredibly detailed slow work and some of the videos they showed of experts working by hand were just a blur of hands and fingers. Amazing stuff

The detail in this is amazing
Old School way of lace making

Before we actually got into the old town, we had to wait for a barge to cross through the lock near our apartment.

After the lace museum we needed coffee so found a place near the centre that did coffee and lunch. Coffee was not the greatest I’ve had but wasn’t terrible.

By now the rain has actually gone and blue sky had made an appearance which was a real surprise so we high tailed it over to the canal to do a canal cruise before the rain returned. This was the highlight of the day, it really is a pretty town from the water and the bridges are low. Be prepared to duck in some sections if you are tall. Not that we really had to worry

Typical canal cruise boat

Next we went to the Friets (chip) museum, which if I’m honest is a bit kitschy and overrated. You learn a bit about the history of the potato and how central fries are to the culture of Belgium. Best bit is they have a restaurant in the basement which does amazing chips. In Belgium and the Netherlands Mayo is the condiment of choice and it’s delicious on chips. They also do an amazing curry ketchup here. We all shared a serving of traditional chips. They are as good as they claim.

You can pretend to fry plastic chips in the museum
Yes, I would like fries with that actually.

So what do you do after a serving of chips cooked in beef lard? You follow it up with a waffle chaser to make sure you have all the main food groups covered. We had strawberries on one of the waffles, and that’s a fruit so we must be doing ok

We decided to head back to the apartment for a while before heading out for dinner. We had some amazing food worthy of its own blog post, coming soon.

Nice part of Bruges
Visited a chocolate shop or three

Here in Bruges?

A relocation day for us today. It was raining a little in the early morning but no where near as bad as it’s been on other days. We had ordered a taxi to pick us up at 10am, and we still had plenty of time, so off we went to get coffee from the great little place next door.

Savouring the coffee i’d noticed a few bikes go past with blue front tyres. I’d seen a lot of those around and thought it must be some Dutch trend or something so decided to google it. Turns out it’s a bike subscription service kind of like Netflix, you pay up to €20 a month and you get a bike, and the company deals with all maintenance, replaces it if it gets stolen etc. would be great if you were in the Netherlands for a few months.

Even though I’d asked the hotel to book the taxi, I had a strange feeling when he wrote the details down he had missed something, so double checked and sure enough it hadn’t been booked. The lady at the font desk just booked us another one, and I couldn’t quite believe it when the taxi showed up and it’s a Tesla Model X (for those that don’t know, this is a all electric SUV with gull wing doors). These are super expensive cars, but since they are all electric the Dutch government has some sort of subsidy to promote zero emission, so they are reasonably common as Taxis in the Netherlands

Our ride to the station

Train was on time, but since this train goes from Amsterdam all the way to Brussels and meets up with the Eurostar so it’s popular and quite crowded. Luckily we got on early and managed to find room for all our luggage. We are following the “how to get to Bruges” guide from seat61.com and he recommend changing trains at Antwerp rather than Brussels since the next train we are to get is direct. He is correct, Antwerp is a way easier station to navigate and hardly anyone else got off which made it easier.

Slight panic as we left a travel pillow on the train, So I jumped back on the train to grab it. For a moment I thought I might be stuck on the train and be hurtling towards Brussels with rest of the family stranded in Antwerp, but I made it off in time.

Train from Amsterdam to Antwerp
Train goes at a great pace, just under 300kph

Apparently the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of food in the world after the USA. On the train you go past kilometres and kilometres of greenhouses, they are everywhere

Greenhouses right near the tracks


Our train from Antwerp to Bruges
Plenty of space in this local “intercity” train between Antwerp and Bruges

We got into Bruges and just jumped in a taxi to our Airbnb. It’s just on the edge of the old town and has a supermarket etc very close by. The Airbnb owner showed us the place and gave us a few tips for the area.

Nice large apartment
Local area

After stocking up on some supplies we headed into the centre of the old town for a look around and grab some dinner. Our AirBnB host recommend a place with great ribs, so we thought we would try that

Walking into Bruges

As we walked out of the restaurant, it had started to rain, not sure where the clouds rolled in from since we had blue sky (for once) when we walked out but raining it was. We just jumped in the first taxi we saw and headed back to the apartment.

Coffee and Dinner

For breakfast we started our day at our favourite place next to the hotel. I love watching the bicycles just seem to glide by, lots of ducking and weaving but never any crashes.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the hotel is slightly out of town but has great transport links to everything. Being a modern building there are no worries about narrow and steep staircases that are common in Amsterdam

Hotel near Amstel Station

We have seen a lot of theses tiny tiny “cars” everywhere. Apparently they are only for people who are someway mobility impaired. They can drive them on bike paths and park them on footpaths.

Here is a pic of the train we took today up to Zannse Schans.

For dinner tonight we went back to the same restaurant just on the water near our hotel. Nice little building. Emma had the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen I think and it was only €10

Zaanse Schans For the Day

We doubled down on our Dutch culture today and headed slightly north west of the city to a little town called Zaanse Schans. Over the past 50 years many old buildings and windmills have been relocated here from other parts of the Netherlands and it’s become a bit of a tourist Mecca.

There are at least 4 working windmills here, making oils, grinding grain and colours for dye and paint or cutting timber. There is also a clog maker, bakers, spinners, multiple mini museums and a boat cruise you can do which takes about 30 minutes. The mill grinding paint dye is the only one left in the world making them this traditional way

We started by purchasing a boat cruise ticket (€10 each) then bought a ticket that granted us entry to 4 windmills and their museums (family ticket €24).

Going inside a working windmill is quite amazing. During the 17th, 18th and half of the 19th century until steam power became widely available these were the most powerful machines on the planet, and apparently the Zannse area of Holland was the most industrial part of the world with so many windmills. Nowadays what one linseed oil windmill can grind and produce in a year, a modern factory can do in 10 minutes.

Grinding down pigment for paint
Some of the timber drive gears
Heating grain to remove linseed oil
Electronic mouse that pops out and freaks you out when you pass
Dutch cheese making
Weaving loom to make traditional sail cloth
Traditional weavers house
Clog factory
Clogs and more clogs
Chicken in the cheese shop!
The bakery there does delicious pastries
Some of the houses seen from the water

Getting to Zannse Schans was easy. You can get a bus from Centraal station, but that takes an hour. It’s less than 30 minutes of you get a train to Zanndijk Zannse Schans station. It cost us €10 per person direct from where we are staying at Amstel station. From the station it’s about a 10 minute walk to the centre of the village

We were there on a Monday and it was quite busy. It would be packed on a weekend. I wouldn’t bother getting there any earlier than 10am as that was when most things started to open. I

Dutch Kitch

Rembrandt and Dirk

Today was yet another horrible wet windy and cold day, at least we had planned in door things…

We first stopped for Coffee at the little Brazilian Cafe next the the hotel. Today really is the polar opposite of what Brazil would be. The warm coffee was very welcome. I’m still surprised at how lucky I’ve been with the good coffee so close to the hotel. If only we were so lucky with the weather.

We headed off to the Rijksmuseum, which is really easy for us to get to using the number 12 tram which leaves directly from the front of our hotel and stops directly opposite the museum.

I was really surprised how much I enjoyed the museum. Found some really interesting things. The main attraction is Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” which as far as popularity goes, is the Dutch equivalent to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, except it’s about 100 times bigger.

Most normal art lovers would be disappointed today as the art work was sealed off and had a big scanner in front of it. The museum are scanning the picture at the millimetre by millimetre level to analyse how to clean the painting and to see how it was constructed. Being a super tech geek, I thought this was amazing and chatted with one of the staff who showed me some of the things the scanner was finding

Scanner in font of the painting :-

3D vision of part of the scan, showing the paint details at millimetre level. They are also analysing the exact contents of the paint.

So just how many people are looking at the art here today ?

The Rijksmuseum have an App you can download. On a whim I searched “Australia” and the following will be obvious to any kid of the 60s or 70s who studied the explorers of “Australia” or should I say “New Holland”

Yes, it’s actually the real Pewter plate Dirk Hartog nailed to a stick on an Island off Shark Bay when he “discovered” Australia. Apparently they don’t teach this in the current primary school curriculum.

Here it is up close. It’s seen better days….

We also had a look at the Delft ware collection. Apparently this (unplayable) violin was considered the height of the design skill

There were some plates with interesting designs to suit all tastes. I could spend hours inventing witty captions for this picture

The museum has a lot of exquisite dolls houses from the 17th century, (these were not toys) so it’s given historians an excellent example of what items were in 17th century (well to do) houses

So you are considering travelling to Amsterdam during the off season to avoid the crowds? I don’t advise it. There might be less people overall, but all of them are trying to use the cloak room to drop off their jackets at the same time. This isn’t something you need to worry about in summer. Check out the picture below, I wasted 30 minutes on both drop off and pick up here

Ahh, but the restaurants and cafes are less busy in the off season I hear you say….. but… in summer you can use all the seating on the footpath on the street. We had trouble finding any cafe or restaurant at lunch with spare seating inside. Last year in summer I had no issues at all. In summer most cafes have triple the amount of tables available

We eventually found one, I had a Sate chicken pizza which was delicious. Sharon had a Shwarma plate. Emma has the Dutch equivalent of a chicken Schnitzel.

After warming up and drying out, we checked out the Diamond Museum next door to the Rijksmuseum. Great little museum going over the history of diamonds and the role the Netherlands has played in the trading, cutting and polishing of them.

I think the diamond skull will give me nightmares for weeks to come

After the big lunch we were not really hungry, but no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to FEBO a unique Dutch fast food chain where you look at food in a window, deposit some coins and take your food. I’ve heard that fast food isn’t the only unique Dutch thing that gets displayed in shop windows in certain parts of the city…

Yes, it’s a red light, it’s a window in Amsterdam but it’s not what you think

Insert your coins

Push the button :-

And you get your little bit of fried Dutch goodness. A happy ending for sure

Coffee, Beer and Bikes

Today was absolutely the best day we have had weather wise on the entire trip. First day in two weeks where it didn’t rain at all. Started the morning by grabbing a takeaway coffee from the little cafe just outside the hotel here in Amstel. I was surprised at how good it really was.

I was booked on another bike tour with Mikes Bikes, so we all wandered north later in the morning to where the bike company is. This was a “Beer and Bitterballen Tour” that goes south of the city to a nice beer garden.

Sharon and Emma spent some time looking around the markets then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Dutch Resistance Museum, before meeting up with me for coffee then the pizza cruise.

The bike ride was excellent, it covers over 20km and you get to see some of the farmland and some of the rather expensive looking houses and house boats just outside the city limits.

We sampled about 5 pots of local beer, all of it quite good. The little fried meatballs go perfectly with beer. The Dutch really know how to do some awesome fried food.

On the bike tour we stopped at a few places and learnt about how the water is pumped out to keep the land below sea level dry, history on the windmills and how the government sponsors communities to keep some of the old ones maintained.

Of course they stop for the standard Dutch photo opportunity

I’m not using my phone whilst riding, I’m

Sure everyone believes me

one of the stops along the way

Just outside the beer garden

the brewery with the beer garden

The beer and Bitterballen

This whole area is about 4 metres below sea level.

The route where the tour went :-

This about sums up the trip so far

Coffee then Pizza Cruise

Tonight we did a pizza and canal cruise though Amsterdam. I did the same one last year, thought it would be a bit crap but it turned out to be awesome, so brought Sharon and Emma onto the same one this year. The cruise lasts about 1.5 hours, you get a pizza, ice cream and unlimited alcohol. The cruise goes past all the main sites, the bridges, red light district, house boats, Amstel river etc.

On the way to the cruise we walked past my favourite Amsterdam Cafe (Black Gold Amsterdam) so I picked up a coffee. It was just as good as I remember from last year. If you are ever in Amsterdam, hunt this place down.

Amazing Coffee in Amsterdam :-

Cruising under one of the famous bridges

The famous window houses in Amsterdam

The dancing houses :-

One of the many thousands of house boats