When KLM announced their 1997/98 low season special package to Holland in the fall of 1997 we didn't hesitate to book our trip. Through March 31, 1998 KLM is offering a package that includes round trip airfare from North America to Amsterdam and 3 nights accommodations in an Amsterdam 5 star hotel. Package prices start at $539 per person from northeast USA cities. Our package price from Florida was $639. Considering the posted room rate for the Hotel Pulitzer where we stayed was $228 to $288 a night the package price is an exceptional deal.
Both KLM flights were great. Not too full, lots of attention from the cabin crew and food that was above the norm for air travel. The three movies on the return flight made the 9.5 hour flight bearable. I would not hesitate again to fly KLM, they are now #1 on my preferred list of airlines, no USA carrier comes close to their economy class service.
Benelux Tourrail Passes were purchased prior to our departure for our travels in Holland and Belgium. At a total cost of $243 for our 5 day passes it was a worthwhile money saving investment. We tracked our rail travels and what 2nd class fares were, our overall savings amounted to over $200.
Our first three nights in Amsterdam were at the 5 star Hotel Pulitzer on the Prinsengracht Canal near DAM Square. The hotel is comprised of over 30 canal houses that are all interconnected as the hotel, yet maintain their individual characteristics as individual homes on the outside. Very pleasing accommodations with an outstanding breakfast buffet that was included in the package as well as helpful staff throughout the hotel.
We decided to use the CANAL BUS to move around the city. Glass covered boats that cruise the canals and stop at strategic locations on the canals is a very economical and unique way to see the city. You can also board the boats with beverages and a picnic lunch if you wish, as tables are provided for your comfort and use. Purchase your ticket first thing in the morning and it's good until noon the next day for a cost of $9.75 per person.
Traveling through the canals at night was really a unique experience with the bridges outlined in lights and the inside of the canal house illuminated. Running times vary depending on the season, in winter they stop around 7PM. You can also use the trams ( street cars ) to move about at $1.50 per person or buy strip tickets for use on any public transportation in Holland.
For a nice ride around Amsterdam take tram #20 which starts and ends at the Central train station, an all day ticket cost around $6. The Amsterdam Historic Museum at 92 Kalverstrat shows the development of Amsterdam with guidebooks in English it's a very interesting and informative way to learn the history of the city. A 2 for 1 admission coupon is included if you buy a ticket on the CANAL BUS, a savings of $5.50. The Rijksmuseum is the depository for all the Dutch masters, except for Van Gogh's which are housed in the Vincent van Gogh Museum down the street. All these sites as well as the Hotel Pulitzer are on the route of the CANAL BUS.
Needless to say there are a number and variety of great restaurants in Amsterdam. A traditional Dutch meal is the specialty at Haesje Claes at 273 Spuistraat. Dinner for 2 with cocktails, dinner ( sausage, pork roast, red cabbage, potatoes, etc. ), dessert and coffee came to $40 and was excellent. The special at Kantjil & de Tiger at 291 Spuistratt is a 11 dish Indonesian rice table which is an assortment of meat, vegetable and rice dishes. The Tiger coffee is spiked with home brew ginger liquor and goes great with the multi-layered cinnamon cake. Total cost for dinner including cocktails was $51. A lighter fare can be had at the Pancake Bakery at 191 Prinsengracht, only a short walk from our hotel. The specialty is Dutch pancakes with an offering of various toppings, my favorite was the sliced apples and powdered sugar. The homemade soups were delicious. Dinner with desert and coffees was around was around $25.
A day trip to Delft, only an hour away from Amsterdam is worthwhile. Known as the prettiest little town in Holland there are a number of things to do: just walking around the streets, antique shopping and a trip to the De Porceleyne Fles pottery showroom and shop will keep you busy for the day. At the pottery shop, where they make the famous Delft Blue, bargains are numerous on the mark down and clearance tables. A large pipe tobacco jar was had for $14, and it's a numbered limited edition. The shop is a 15 minute walk from the center of town and is located at 196 Rotterdamseweg. If you are in the market to buy some Delft pottery the prices in Amsterdam stores are lower, except on the noted close-out and specials at the factory. We found the Delft Christmas ornaments in Amsterdam even lower that the duty free stores at Schipol airport. The restaurant Spijshuis de Dis on the square at 36 Beestenmarkt offers up traditional Dutch dishes. Homemade mushroom soup and Grandmother's pork filet with vegetables were delicious. Dinner for 2 was $34, the restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.
Next stop for 3 days was Brugge, Belgium which is another picture post card town, circled by a canal and lots of interesting sites and things to do. The trip took 3 hours by train from Amsterdam and we stayed in a newly remodeled 3 star hotel called the Hotel Ensor. Reservations were made when we arrived at the local city tourist office located in the market square at 11 Burg( VVV signs are used through out Holland to identify these offices) for no charge. The hotel ( at 10 Speelmansrei ) was located near near the city center and a 15 minute walk from the train station. Our room was priced at $53 a night including the buffet breakfast. A Medieval city there are a number of sites to see including some windmills at the edge of town, one of Michaelangelo's marble creations called " Maddona and child ", and picturesque canals and churches. The Italian restaurant " Le due Venezie " in the city center at 2 Klein St. Amandstraat served up some outstanding dishes including homemade Minestrone soup, mushroom pizzas, desserts and wine all for $33, an outstanding value for the quality and quantity of food. A great little tearoom / coffee shop called Laurent at 79 Steenstraat serves outstanding large cups of hot chocolate to go along with your Belgian waffles. Lunch for 2 was under $10.
We then traveled east through Belgium to get to Valkenburg, Holland. If you take the 3 hour train ride from Brugge make sure you get on the last three cars because they split the train in Landen and the first three cars go to Genk, Belgium. We learned the hard way, but did have a nice lunch in Genk while we waited for the train to take us back to Landen. Valkenburg sits in the tiny area of Holland the sits between Belgium and Germany and is a hidden treasure. Populated by the Romans because of the thermal springs and maze of caves it is a nice change from the big cities. Our three star hotel in the center of town was the Hotel de l'Emperor at 32 Grotestraat Centrum where a room was $60 a night including breakfast. Roman castle ruins as well as a Christmas Arts and Crafts show held in one of the caves was our main entertainment for the day we spent there. We enjoyed two outstanding meals at the Restaurant 't Poortje at 4 Grendeplein in the center of town. Entrees included Weineerschnitzel, mixed meat brochettes, pan fried potatoes, warm cheese sald with cranberry dressing along with cocktails and desserts. Average cost of evening meal for 2 was $35, another outstanding buy.
TIPS & TRICKS for traveling in the Benelux countries.
Ask for ice when you order soft drinks or other cold beverages, if you don't you won't get any - must be rationed.
Always carry some small pocket change so you can use the toilets, almost everywhere charges a minimal amount ( ten cents to a quarter ) to use the facilities - including museums, department stores, train stations, etc. The only exceptions appear to be hotels and restaurants.
Throughout Holland and Belgium's larger cities try the HEMA Department stores which have outstanding cafeterias for lunch or afternoon snacks. Large cups of coffee ( Grote Kaffie ) and the pastries are great. We had the pea soup at several locations for lunch on chilly days along with ham and cheese sandwiches. Lunch including beverage and pastry was around $12.
No need for travelers cheques, ATM's are not scarce and offer an exceptional exchange rate.
Coffee shops in Amsterdam are where you go to smoke pot, not drink coffee!
Tax and tip are always included in restaurant and bar bills.
Most restaurants and bars require a $20 minimum charge before they will accept your VISA card for payment. This is not noted on the menu or drink listing, if in doubt ask.
Bread and butter are an additional charge on your restaurant bill, not included with the meal as is the custom in USA. In most restaurants the entree is sufficient and soup and or salad aren't necessary unless you are famished.
Pack an umbrella in your bag as well as a face cloth.
Make sure to allow enough time to do some duty free shopping at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport. Some bargains are to be found in cigars, whiskey, Dutch gin, cordials, chocolates, watches and high ticket items. New SEIKO watches were 10 to 15 percent less than local store prices.