I guess you’ve wondered where I’ve been?
I spent about 3 weeks in Belgium and the Netherlands in the month of April. Couldn’t have asked for better weather as far as a tourist is concerned. Mostly sunny days with cool temperatures. I left Paris on Saturday, April 5th by high speed train. This high speed service is called the Thalys and most of its runs go from Paris and hook you up to Brussels and Amsterdam with stops in between. So, in less than 2.5 hours I was whisked away from Paris Gare du Nord (North Station) to Antwerpen Central Station. Let me say that a country that uses 2 names for most cities can make it confusing for the tourist depending on which part of the country you are in. It’s Bruxelles or Brussel, Anvers or Antwerpen, Bruges or Brugge, Liege or Luik. French is the first and Dutch the second. You left Antwerpen in the morning and came back to Anvers in the evening and it was the same home base. Speaking of, Antwerp made a nice base. There was only two of us and we had a nice large 2 bedroom apartment so we each had our own room and privacy for two weeks. The apartment had a very nicely stocked kitchen, a nice supermarket a couple of blocks away and the train station about a 10 minute walk away. Very convenient. We had one lazy day when we did our laundry but we were on the go the rest of the time. Our first tour of Antwerp was going to look for the start of a bike race. Those of you familiar with races may know of it, the Scheldeprijs. We went and saw the teams being introduced, caught a glimpse of the start, went and had lunch and then caught a bus just outside of town to catch the finish and trophy presentations. For those that care, Marcel Kittel, a German rider, won the race. We also went to the end of the Paris-Roubaix bike race. That race finished in the Roubaix velodrome and we had a prime spot. A really nice English guy named Ian, yes, stereotypical, but that was his name, who walked with us to the velodrome and back. We didn’t have a great map of Roubaix and the town was utterly dead except for the area just outside the velodrome so he was very helpful to us. A Dutchman, Nikki Terpstra, won Roubaix. We also visited Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and regrettably, Liege. The only saving grace from Liege was that they had a photo exhibit displaying the last 100 years of Liege-Bastogne-Liege bike race. However, like Roubaix, if you don’t have a specific reason for going there, DON’T! Liege had a few buildings that were nice but they need to learn a bit from Bruges when it comes to marketing their town. Bruges was a magnificent town with picturesque views around every corner and a tourist information center with free maps at the train station. Brussels and Ghent were also very nice towns with plenty to see. Antwerp also has some very nice tourist sites. If you are not diamond crazy, you should hit the Rubens House the Cathedral and Mayer Museum. The Belgian people were also very cordial and helpful.
In the Netherlands we had friends that took us in and were super nice to us. We went to the town of Maastricht in the South of the Netherlands to meet a friend and see the Amstel Gold race. Philippe Gilbert won that race. This was my friend’s friend and he greeted me like he’s met me before. He picked us up from the train station, showed us around town, let us stay at his home and took us to the start and dropped us off at the finish. Super nice guy. The town of Maastricht is beautiful, quaint and compact. We almost had a national incident when my travel partner left his bag on the commuter train from Valkenburg to Maastricht after the race. He started feeling unwell and was just out of it and left his bag behind not realizing it until we went to pay for our dinner that we were going to eat on the train to Amsterdam. Luckily, the nice people at the sandwich place called the train service people and he recovered his bag when that same train was on its way back 10 minutes after we realized the bag was gone. Close call. We then smoothly made our way to Amsterdam without further delays. It was a whirlwind day so I would like to go back and be a tourist for a few days.
My Amsterdam friends are some of the best people you could meet. They opened their home to us and gave us the keys to the castle. I’ve known them for years and they are the kind of friends that you could not speak to for a long time but when we get back together it’s like we were just hanging out last week. Unfortunately, our stay in the Netherlands was too short. We were only in Maastricht overnight and in Amsterdam 4 nights. Amsterdam is fantastic. I feel very much at home there and I suppose I’ve been enough times that I don’t need a map most of the time. We didn’t even go to the Red Light District, which I’ve seen but my friend has not. Well, he’ll just have to go back. We saw mostly touristy things but still did not hit all we wanted to hit. We went to the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh and then we went to a few squares, hit a few bars, breweries, pubs. My Dutch friends are so cool, they got up at 5 a.m. to get us to the airport. I offered to take a taxi but they are too cool to let me do that. Despite that, they told me I can come back and visit again. I’m lucky. I’m so lucky, I got upgraded on my Virgin flight from London to L.A. where I’m writing this update. It’s pretty cushy but not $6,000 cool, so I’m glad I got the free upgrade. I was just expecting to be in Premium Economy, which is what I had originally booked but when i was at that gate I was told I had a seat change. I didn’t even realize that I got the upgrade until I got on the plane and they directed me to my seat. Now I’m going to take advantage of the full flat bed and take a nap. Sweet dreams. I’ll send a link to the photos this weekend.