On a gloriously sunny day, we hopped into a van at our cruise terminal in Zeebrugge, which drove us into Bruges. Again, a very walkable city, we headed down Katelinjestraat towards the center of town. We passed one charming establishment after another and made the obligatory visit to a Belgium waffle shop. Afterwards we stopped on an ancient stone bridge and watched as a boatload of people gracefully floated underneath us. It’s such a touristy thing to do but it felt right so we headed into Boten Stael at Katelijnestraat 4 and spent ten euros each for a thirty-minute canal cruise. It was totally worth it. Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage city and we passed by gorgeous houses along the canals as well as major points of interest like the Church of Our Lady (www.visit-bruges.be) and the Belfry of Bruges (www.museabrugge.be), which is a Medieval Bell tower constructed in 1240. If you dare to climb its 366 steep and narrow steps, you’re rewarded with a magnificent view of Bruges and beyond. Plus, the carillon houses 47 chiming bells. Originally the tower operated as a warehouse and market in the Middle Ages. The tower also anchors the Markt Square, which is truly the heart of this city.
There were scores of museums to visit, that featured everything from diamonds to Belgian fries, but it was such a beautiful day that we chose to play hooky and grabbed a table for two at La Civiere D’Or restaurant in Markt Square, ordered a fine lunch, and happily people watched the international crowds streaming by. I would definitely return to Bruges for a longer visit.
Our last port of call was Amsterdam, and I had booked us an apartmentt for three nights. From the cruise terminal it was a short walk to Amsterdam’s Centraal Train Station, and out front on the Stationsplein was the I Amsterdam Visitor Centre (www.iamsterdam.com). Their City Card allows you to visit 70+ museums, ride public transportation for free, and enjoy a canal cruise. You can purchase cards that last 1 to 5 days. Amsterdam is totally walkable, or if you dare, you can bike it, but we really enjoyed using the free transportation to zip around and see as much as we could during our three-day visit.
The lovely Art Apartment (www.art.apartment.nl) we rented was on the edge of the Jordaan Neighborhood. The owners are Robert and Anna and five generations of their family have owned this property and it’s something you can feel. It’s a living, breathing home full of good memories. We had the second floor-apartment while the family had the other floors. It had a sense of calmness and security, knowing who else was in the building.
First up, I had made advance reservations online to see the “All The Rembrandt’s” exhibit at the Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl). The display was free as was the museum with our I Amsterdam card. 2019 marked the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death and in honor, the museum displayed 22 paintings, 60 drawings, and more than 300 best examples of Rembrandt’s prints, together in one location. I particularly loved the miniature sketches he made quickly on the streets of the everyday man, woman, and child. They were breezy, effortless and spectacular. And of course, there were his larger works, like the famous Night Watch.
For an upscale dining experience consider the Blue Spoon (www.bluespoon-restaurant.nl) with its modern Dutch cuisine & award-winning cocktails. The décor is eclectic and you can choose from their tasting menu or order a la carte. Make sure you try their gnocchi with egg and truffle and their beetroot bloody Mary.
For the next two days we ducked in and out of as many museums as we could handle. Must sees are the Van Gogh (www.vangoghmuseum.nl), Ann Frank’s House (www.annefrank.org; book tickets in advance!), and the very cool Nemo Science Museum (www.nemosciencemuseum.nl), which looks like Noah’s Ark. If you have time and visit in the Spring, make a day-trip to Keukenhof Gardens (www.keukenhof.nl), but not just for the tulips, it’s also a breathtakingly sumptuous botanical garden.
We took advantage of our free canal cruise via the city card and it was so relaxing after all our running around. It gave us a unique perspective of the city with a lot of added history provided by the captain. Right where the canal cruise begins and ends, in front of the Centraal Train Station, was Loetje Centraal restaurant (centraal.loetje.nl). Located on the water, it was the perfect place to grab a bite of traditional Dutch food while watching the boats and people go by.
Nightlife never stops in Amsterdam and most of the bars are located on Reguliersdwarsstraat. My favorite watering hole was PRIK (www.prikamsterdam.nl) and I had the great pleasure of chatting with owner Gerson Van Eck and asked him, “What do you attribute the success of the bar to?”
“The key of PRIKs success is our bartenders. No attitude, genuine interest in people and making people feel welcome and at home. During the week Prik is Amsterdam’s gay living room where you can hangout, relax, and enjoy our signature cocktails and finger food. During the weekend it turns into a party place, when we take out a lot of furniture to create a dance floor and have good DJs. Oh, and Prik in Dutch means fizz or bubbles, very innocent indeed!”
The last day of our trip was spent walking along the 9 Streets area (www.de9straatjes.nl). Stretching from the Singel to the Prinsengracht canals, the shops, galleries, canal houses, and restaurants in this neighborhood are delightful.
Two final museum stops: MOCO (www.mocomuseum.com), which houses very important works of Banksy, Warhol, Basquait, and Haring; and Rembrandt House Museum (www.rembrandthuis.nl). Located in the Jewish Quarter, this was his home from 1639 to 1659.
Across the street is the quaint Café de Sluyswacht (www.sluyswacht.nl). The structure was built in 1695 as a home for the sluice master, who was in charge of operating the lock, which controlled boat traffic and water flow through the canal. Now it’s a picturesque bar, great for coffee, drinks, and pub snacks.
The end of our epic journey was upon us. Would I do a transatlantic cruise again? In a heartbeat. Was it sensory overload? Honestly, not really. It was a great tasting, like a smorgasbord, of different cities in multiple countries. Some I’ve had my fill of, others I can’t wait to visit again. Bon Voyage!