…And we’re off! – 26/27 May 2019!

Our ten week adventure begins. Yes, 10 weeks. Countries to include, Netherlands 🇳🇱 (our favorite), France 🇫🇷, Austria 🇦🇹, and Germany 🇩🇪. One of us will be spending 6 weeks in an archive in Rouen France, the other will be nursing a broken proximal humerus 🤕 on the coast 🤗. Together we will be exploring, as able, different parts of these countries.

We tend to explore areas that may not be on the typical travelers journeys. Yes, we do hit the more familiar ‘tourist’ sites, but rather we like to see, and more so experience, that which we find along the way.

The following posts will mostly be photos and some random comments, thoughts and musings, and perhaps a bit of pontificating along the way.

Thank you for joining us! – the 2 Travel Guys, Michael and John.

p.s. from John: I know it’s July, And, I finally have the posting app able to talk with WordPress on my iPad. (Slow internet and xml/rpc errors.) Now, I have a lot of catching up to do!!

Public Transportation in the Netherlands

Public Transportation in the Netherlands

In addition to the trains, many people use trams and buses to get around the Netherlands. Trams can be found in the main cities, and buses travel all over the country. This post covers the public transportation options in the cities we have visited over the past 2 years.

In Amsterdam, a company called GVB is responsible for tram, metro, and bus tickets. There are four ticket offices located at main stations in Amsterdam—Amsterdam Centraal, Bijlmer ArenA, Lelylaan, and Zuid—where you can purchase tickets and get route maps and timetables. Be advised that GVB’s website states there is a 0,50 charge for counter transactions. You can also purchase tickets at many shops throughout the city; check the GVB website for a full listing. In addition, some, but not all, tickets can be bought on the tram or bus itself. Another option for travel in and around Amsterdam on GVB-operated transport is the I Amsterdam city card, which allows unlimited travel for 24, 48, or 72 hours.

Tickets for public transportation in Amsterdam come in a variety of forms to meet the needs of residents and tourists alike. You can get a ticket that is valid for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 consecutive days. GVB ticket offices and service centers sell all variations, including children’s day tickets. The GVB webshop and automatic ticket machines sell 1, 2, 3, or 4 day tickets. If you wait to purchase your tickets on the tram, tram personnel only sell 1 or 2 day tickets and children’s day tickets. If you happen to have an OV-chip card (discussed here), these are also valid on Amsterdam’s trams, buses, and metros. As for the ferries that leave from behind Amsterdam Centraal, these are free to all.

In Rotterdam, the trams, buses, and metros are run by a company called RET (Rotterdamse Elektrische Tram). RET sells 1, 2, or 3 day travel cards, valid for all three methods of transport. These are only available at metro stations, RET sales points, and information desks. Rotterdam also has its own Rotterdam Welcome Card which gives you unlimited public transportation for 1, 2, or 3 days, as well as savings on local attractions, museums, restaurants, and clubs. If you wait to buy your ticket on the tram or bus, you can only purchase a 1-hour ticket from the driver.

In Den Haag, HTM runs the public transportation for the city and the surrounding suburbs, including Delft. Like in other cities, if you have an OV-chip card, this is the easiest way to travel in Den Haag. HTM also sells 1-hour and 1 day passes for adults and children.

There are, of course, single tickets available from all of these companies. If you are renting a car or a bicycle, these may be the best option for you if you aren’t using public transport often. All day tickets in the Netherlands end at the end of the day, usually around 12:30am, and are not valid for any nighttime bus service.

If you don’t want to take the train between the main cities or if you want to travel to a city not serviced by trams, metros, or city buses, there are other bus companies that will get you where you’re going. Arriva, Connexxion, and Veolia Transport are other bus companies that service small towns and offer city to city transport.

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 3)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 3  – Berlin, Germany
Pictures coming soon….

Train to Berlin
After three days in Hamburg, we took an ICE high-speed train to Berlin. In under 2 hours, we arrived in Berlin at the new central train station. Opened in 2006 on the site of the former Lehrte Station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof came to symbolize the reunification of Berlin and handles approximately 1,800 trains daily.


Berlin Pass
As we frequently do when visiting a city for the first time, we purchase the city’s tourist pass, which for Berlin is the Berlin Pass. Possessing this pass will get you unlimited travel on Berlin’s public transportation system, free entry to 60 attractions, free travel on the city’s hop-on, hop-off bus tour, and a free cruise on the River Spree. Even if you don’t visit everything that’s included, which, in reality, is highly impractical, the pass is well worth its price if you have a few days to spend in Berlin.

If you get the pass early enough, they will ship it to you, but it costs 25 euros to ship to the USA. We chose to save that money and picked up our passes for free once we arrived in Berlin. The redemption point is on Museum Island outside the Humboldt Box at Schlossplatz 5. If you aren’t staying within walking distance to this location, you will need to purchase a bus/metro ticket or take a taxi to get you there.

For the purposes of public transport, German cities are divided into zones which are either numbered or lettered. In Berlin, these zones are labels A, B, C, D, and E. The city center is within zones A & B, but the Berlin Pass gives you unlimited travel in zones A, B, & C, which is great if you want to venture outside of the city. We did exactly that on our first day by going to Wannsee.

Wannsee is the westernmost suburb of Berlin, with a population of around 9,000, and can be reached by taking either the S1 or S7 transit line. Its lakes are known as the premier recreation and bathing spot in western Berlin. But the suburb gained notoriety in 1942 when a lakeside villa, purchased by the Nazi Security Force from Friedrich Minoux, who was a German industrialist and financier, hosted the Wannsee Conference. The purpose of this conference, led by Reinhard Heydrich, the Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, was to ensure the cooperation of administrative leaders in the implementation of the final solution. Under the pretext of resettlement, Heydrich proposed the forcible removal of Jews from their homes into concentration camps, principally in Poland, where the vast majority of the Jews were murdered. The villa, opened in 1992, houses a museum and a memorial and is free for all to visit and to learn about the about the conference. The main exhibition is in German, English, and Hebrew. The juxtaposition of a lakeside villa in a peaceful suburb with the historical significance of the building itself highlights how such a brutal regime forever changed the suburb’s atmosphere.

Our hotel was near the Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin. Lined with many cafes, name-brand shops, hotels, and restaurants, this street was the hub of commercial activity in western Berlin when the city was divided after World War II. Reunification brought about competition with major avenues in eastern Berlin.

Berliner Dom
The Berlin Church, located on Museum Island and included in the Berlin Pass, is an Evangelical (Protestant) church that has technically never been a cathedral since it has never served as a seat of a bishop. The current building, completed in 1905, has a pipe organ with 113 stops and is played by a 4-manual console.

River Spree Cruise
As mentioned earlier, a river cruise is included in the Berlin Pass, which leaves from the Alte Börse Pier. This hour-long cruise operates from the end of March until the beginning of November and travels between the former east and west sections of Berlin. Commentary is in German and English. As we traveled down the Spree, it was quite evident from the differences in architecture of where the erstwhile division of the city was.

A large public square in the Mitte district of Berlin, Alexanderplatz derives its name from an 1805 visit of Russian Emperor Alexander I and originally served as a cattle market outside the city limits. The square gained notoriety during the Weimar Republic (1920s), alongside Potsdamer Platz, as the center of Berlin’s nightlife. During the 1960s the square became a pedestrian zone. On the square’s periphery stands the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), and the World Time Clock, a continually rotating installation, shows the time throughout the world.

Berlin’s Olympic stadium in the Charlottenburg district, included in the Berlin Pass, is easily reached via the U2 or S5 transit lines and is currently home to the Hertha Berlin Football Team, but the stadium’s origins date back to the Nazi era. When the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 games to Berlin, the initial concept called for a restoration of the German Stadium. But once Hitler came to power, he ordered Werner March, alongside March’s brother Walter, to construct a new stadium, which was built between 1934 and 1936. This new stadium’s capacity was around 110,000 and had a special seating area for Hitler and his compatriots. Hitler used the torch relay and the games themselves as a giant propaganda piece for the Nazi regime. It was at these games that Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals, becoming one of the most memorable parts at the 1936 Olympics. The stadium has also hosted the 1974 and 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Brandenburger Tor
One of the best known locations in Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate, built on the site of a former city gate on the edge of Pariser Platz, which is where the American and French embassies are located. Located in the Mitte district at the intersection of Unter den Linden (an east-west avenue lined with linden trees along which many notable buildings are located) and Ebertstrasse, King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia commissioned the gate as a sign of peace, and it was completed in 1791. The quadriga (a chariot drawn by 4 horses) sits atop the gate driven by Eirene, the goddess of peace. The Brandenburg Gate was damaged during World War II, and after the Berlin Wall was constructed, neither East nor West Berliners had access to it. The refurbishment of the gate began in 2000 and was completed 2 years later.

Museum Island
In addition to housing the Berliner Dom, Museum Island is the cultural heart of the city. It is here that you’ll find five major state museums: the Altes Museum (Antiquities), the Neues Museum (Egyptian and Prehistory), the Bode Museum (sculpture and Byzantine art), the Pergamon Museum (Middle Eastern art and Islamic art), and the Alte Nationalgalerie (19th century paintings).

We went to 3 of the museums, all of which are part of the Berlin Pass. We walked right into the Bode Museum and the Altes Museum, as these are less visited than the extremely popular Pergamon Museum, for which we waited 90 minutes just to get in the door. Due to the importance of the items on display in the Pergamon Museum, entry is controlled and only a certain number of people can enter at one time. So be prepared to wait to get in unless you arrive prior to the museum’s opening time. Also, be sure you are in the correct line. Museum Island has a ticket booth, whose line snakes alongside that for the Pergamon Museum. If you already have your tickets, don’t waste time in the wrong line.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum
One of the popular museums you won’t find in the Museum Island area is that of Checkpoint Charlie. Originally called “Checkpoint C”, this was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing during the Cold War. (Charlie stems from the NATO phonetic alphabet.) A copy of the original guard house is on display in the middle of road outside the museum, and you can get your picture taken with guard impersonators – this is if you dare cross the street with the traffic. There is no crosswalk at the guard house.

The museum is well worth a visit if you have any interest in the Cold War era. On display are many photos, videos, and methods people used to cross the border, including a mannequin stuffed into a car’s hood. There are also exhibitions on the struggle for human rights and on NATO. You can either sign up for a guided tour in German, English, or French, which must be done in advance, or follow a self-guided tour. This is one of the few museums that is open every day of the year.

Berlin Wall
One of the most recognizable aspects of the Cold War was the Berliner Mauer, or Berlin Wall. The wall, whose construction began on 13 August 1961, totally enclosed West Berlin from both East Berlin and East Germany until its reopening in 1989. Demolition began the next year and was completed in 1992. The East German leaders referred to the wall as the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall”, which equated West Germany and NATO members with fascists. During its existence it is estimated that around 5,000 people attempted to escape, with an estimated death toll of between 136 to 200+.

While 2 smaller sections of the wall still remain, the open-air Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse stretches 1.4 kilometers and is divided into 4 sections. In the first section called “The Wall and the Death Strip”, the Documentation Center chronicles the political and historical situation surrounding the wall’s construction. The Chapel of Reconciliation, located in the second section called “The Destruction of the City”, was rebuilt on the church’s original site, which was originally located in the inaccessible “death strip”, the area of land between the two walls through which people tried to cross in order to escape. The original church was blown up by the East German government in 1985, but the land was returned after reunification with the proviso that the church was rebuilt.

As you walk along the memorial, plaques on the ground commemorate the locations of tunnels people dug to aid in their attempts to escape East Berlin. They stand as a sobering reminder of the actions people will undertake in order to avoid living under a totalitarian regime.

Käthe Wohlfahrt
Germany is known for its Christmas markets held each winter holiday season in many cities, towns, and villages. But if you happen to be in Germany whilst these markets are not occurring and if you are a fan of Christmas ornaments, see if the city you’re in has an outlet of the Käthe Wohlfahrt chain of stores. There happened to be one near our hotel in Berlin, which was a two-story wonderland of holiday scenes, traditional and modern ornaments, coo coo clocks, and other holiday items. The main store is in a small town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is in northwestern Bavaria. The only branch in the USA is in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Located on Tauentzienstrasse, Das Kaufhaus des Westens (Department Store of the West) is the largest department store in continental Europe and has over 380,000 articles for sale. Originally opened in 1907, each of the store’s 8 levels is dedicated to a different type of merchandise. The top floor is a buffet restaurant that can seat around 1,000 people. While it may not be the best place for a full meal, it is a great place for a slice of cake or some other dessert and a drink.

Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building houses the German Parliament, and visitors can walk around the roof terrace and glass dome. In order to visit the roof, you must register in advance. You cannot just go and visit when you want. There are two ways to register. There is an online option on the Bundestag’s website, which will have you choose a date and time and will require the full names and birthdates of anyone interested. If you register in person once you get to Berlin, you can do so at the Service Center on the south side of Scheidemannstrasse. You must register at least 2 hours in advance if there are spots available; you must have a passport or identity card if you are a citizen of the EU; you must all be present at the same time to register. Once registered, you’ll receive an invitation for entry, and you come back at that time with your passport/identity card and the invitation. You won’t get in without it. They are actually very strict on this.

While this may seem like a process, and it is, it is well worth the time it takes. The views from the top of the Reichstag are amazing! We went in the late afternoon and had clear views of all of Berlin. Once you are on the roof, you can spend as much time there are you want. Plaques inside the dome chronicle the history of the building, including the fire of 1933 by Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist. The Nazis used the event as propaganda that communists were trying to overthrow the regime.

Next Stop…The Netherlands (coming soon)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 2)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 2  – Hamberg, Germany
Pictures coming soon….


After arriving in Hamburg, we purchased our public transportation passes and made our way via Hamburg’s S-Bahn to Dammtor Station where our hotel was. Hamburg is divided into zones, and most tourists will be fine with an AB zone ticket; only if you need to go far outside the city will you need an ABCDE zone ticket. Hamburg’s public transportation company, HVV, does not sell multi-day tickets unless you need at least 7 days. Your best option is the Tageskarte (day card). It comes in 2 versions. The first is an all-day card good for 1 adult and up to 3 children under 14 years old. The second is known as the 9-Uhr-Tageskarte. It is valid only after 9 a.m. (after morning rush hour) for 1 adult and up to 3 children under 14 years old. However, if you are traveling with up to 5 people of any age and will always be traveling together, you can purchase a 9-Uhr-Gruppenkarte, which is cheaper for 2 adults than individual tickets. Again, it is only valid after 9 a.m., and all users must always travel together. But this last option can save a couple over 4 euros a day vs. 2 individual all-day cards.

Our hotel was located next to Dammtor Station, outside of which we saw a Kindertransport Statue. German for “children’s transport”, the statue commemorates a rescue effort that occurred in the nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II, during which approximately 10,000 Jewish children from all over Central and Eastern Europe were placed in foster homes, hostels, farms, and schools in the United Kingdom. In addition, around 1,400 children were brought to the United States. In 1939, influenced by Kristallnacht attacks in Germany, the Wagner-Rogers Bill aimed to admit 20,000 Jewish children into the U.S. through an increase in the immigration quota, but the bill failed in Congress due to an anti-Semitic Senator from North Carolina who blocked the bill from ever being voted upon. Often these children were the only members of their respective families to survive the war.


After storing our bags at the hotel, we walked down Colonaden, through Gastav-Mahler-Platz, to Jungfernstieg. This is a large commercial area where you can find shops like Apple, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès. The Jungfernstieg borders the Binnenalster (Inner Alster), from where you can get hour-long cruises, but more on that later.

Miniatur Wunderland

One of the main reasons we stopped over in Hamburg for two days was to go to Miniatur Wunderland. This is the largest model train display in the world and one of the most successful permanent exhibitions in Germany. The attraction, housed in a former warehouse along the Elbe River within walking distance of the Baumwall U3 station, is open 365 days a year. It is so popular with tourists and locals alike that the attraction’s website actually offers visitors a wait time predictor based on the number of pre-purchased tickets on a given day. Wait times in the mornings can easily exceed 1.5 hours. We reserved a time late in the day—after 5 p.m.—and walked right in when we got there. I would not suggest visiting Miniatur Wunderland without a reservation, and if you can avoid morning hours, do so. If you go in summer, closing time is between 10 p.m. and midnight.

We spent about 2 hours exploring everything Miniatur Wunderland has to offer and actually debated about going back a second day. Even if you aren’t into model trains, the attention to minute detail in every area of the attraction is something to be appreciated. You can see the employees working on new sections and see the massive computer displays that control the multi-level attraction. There are seven sections: the cities of Harz and Knuffingen in Southern Germany, Austria/Alps, Hamburg, America, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the Knuffingen Airport, which is the newest part to open in 2011. The construction teams are also working on opening two new sections: Italy and France. But there is no opening date for either section.

The most fascinating part was the airport. After over 6 years of constructing every piece on site, the airport showcases 40 different aircraft, including a Cessna and an A380, taxiing independently from the airport to the runway, taking off, and landing. Each plane is equipped with lights and realistic turbine sounds for take-off and landing. Also of note is the Switzerland section, which is spread out over two stories and 2,691 sq ft. The Matterhorn model is almost 20 feet tall, through which visitors can pass to see the display from above.

Planten un Blomen

In central Hamburg, just south of the Dammtor train station, is a botanical garden whose name translates to “Plants and Flowers”. Originally designed as a zoological garden, the area was converted into a recreational area in the 1930s. The garden contains a tropical greenhouse, a rose garden, a tea pavilion, and the largest Japanese garden in Europe.

Alster Lake Cruise

As we have done in most of the cities we’ve visited, we took a cruise. In Hamburg, these are not river cruises, but cruises of the Alster Lake. This is a great way to spend an hour seeing the mansions that dot the lake. While there are more options in the summer season, winter cruises can also be taken on enclosed boats. These leave from the Jungfernstieg Pier.

Musical Theatre/Opera House

If you enjoy musicals or classical music, Hamburg is the place to be in Germany. Hamburg plays host to both permanent musicals and limited-run productions, and most of the city’s theatres are in the city’s harbor district, which lines the Elbe River. For fans of classical music, Hamburg is currently constructing a new performance arts theatre called the Elbephilharmonie, located right on the Elbe River. After several delays, the new building, which will also house the Westin Hamburg, should be open by January 2017.

Next stop, Berlin! –> To continue, Click here

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 1)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 1  – Copenhagen, Denmark
Pictures coming soon….

Background Info

Soon after returning from our April trip, I was curious about going back to Europe sometime in the fall. Airfare prices were outrageously expensive (over $1,100 each) into the main European hubs (Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, and London), so I started looking at alternate airports into which we could fly. Three Scandinavian airports (Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo) were around $450 per person cheaper for round trip tickets than the major cities. We ended up paying around $650 per person for round trip Orlando-Copenhagen, connecting in New York (JFK) and Amsterdam. So we picked Copenhagen since we could take the train into Germany and onward to the Netherlands.


After an extremely quick connection at JFK airport (40 minutes), during which my bag did not make the transfer, we landed in Amsterdam around 6 a.m. and connected to Copenhagen some 3 hours later. We arrived in Kastrup, where Copenhagen’s airport is, just before 11 a.m. After passing through customs, we purchased our Copenhagen Card at the train ticket counter. The train ticket counter at the airport handles not only the local trains, metro, and buses, but also all of the tourist information as well.

The Copenhagen Card is available in 4 versions (24, 48, 72, and 120 hours) and includes unlimited public transport (metro, bus, and local train) for the duration of the pass. It also includes admission to 73 museums and attractions, including Tivoli Gardens (but not to ride the rides; there is a supplement to be paid at Tivoli if you want to upgrade). We highly recommend purchasing this pass if you are interested in the museums and attractions offered since you’ll save a lot of money.

Our hotel, about a 15-minute walk from the Dybbølsbro train station, was located across the street from the Sydhavnen canal and near a shopping mall, the Fisketorvet. Since our room was not ready until 3 p.m., we had some time to kill. So we went to the mall to have lunch and to walk around. When hotels in Denmark inform you that your room will not be ready until 3 p.m., they really do mean it. As it turns out, the housekeeping manager manually enters each room into the system at that time, and not a minute before – literally. Also, hotels in Denmark have a 25% sales tax on them. So if you do go to Denmark, either be prepared to pay the hefty tax or to find alternate accommodation.

Designmuseum Danmark (Danish Design Museum)

After resting for a little bit once we got into our room, we headed out to visit the Danish Design Museum. We took the local train to Østerport Station and walked along the southwestern border of the Kastellet, a 17th-century star-shaped fortress. We turned right onto Bredgade and found the museum on the left. This was about a 15-20 minute walk.

Housed in a rococo-style hospital constructed during the 1750s, the building was renovated during the 1920s to convert it into a museum. Displaying exquisite examples of Danish industrial design, decorative arts, and applied arts, the museum’s collections, library, and archives compose a primary resource and research center for Danish design. The museum’s gardens, the Grønnegård, is open during operating hours and hosts theatrical performances during the summer.

Seeing that my luggage had not arrived by the next morning, we returned to the mall so that I could purchase some replacement clothing. After this, we ventured into downtown Copenhagen.

Christiansborg Slot

On the island of Slotsholmen stands the Christiansborg Slot (Christiansborg Palace). Visitors with the Copenhagen Card can enter the Royal Reception Rooms, the Theatre, the Ruins, and the Stables free of charge; otherwise adult tickets cost DKK 150 (approximately $23). The Danish Parliament, the Danish Supreme Court, and the Danish Prime Minister’s Office use this multipurpose complex, some parts of which the Danish monarchy also uses. The current complex, built between 1907 and 1928, stands on the original site of Absolon’s castle built in 1167. It is the only building in the world to house all three branches of government: judicial, executive, and legislative.

Agnete and the Merman

After touring the grounds, we did what we now try to do in each city: take some sort of cruise to see the city from a different perspective. Beside the cruise company’s ticket office stands Agnete and the Merman, a group of underwater bronze sculptures located in the Slotsholm Canal next to the Højbro Bridge. The figures portray a merman and his seven sons with outstretched arms, pleading with Agnete to come back. The work is based on the ballad “Agnete and the Mermen”, which is one of the manifold fairy tales found in Danish folklore.

The Grand Tour Cruise

Taking visitors on an hour-long cruise, the boat passes through idyllic canals and the city’s harbor. A live tour guide, as opposed to a prerecorded audio track, narrates the journey in Danish, English, and sometimes a third language (German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian). Our particular guide gave the tour in Danish, English, and German. For holders of the Copenhagen Card, the cruise is included, but you must embark at the station beside the underwater statue garden on Gammel Strand, not the one in Nyhavn.

Along the way you’ll see the Copenhagen Opera House, the Nyhavn area, the Royal Yacht, the city’s former port, and the Little Mermaid statue. While you can roll the windows up to stand up during the journey, when the boat travels under some of the bridges, you’ll have to sit down as the clearance is less than 6 inches between the boat and the bridge at some points. As we have experienced many times now, we cannot recommend river or canal cruises enough as a way to take photos you otherwise would have no access to take, to gain a different viewpoint of various attractions, and as a way to see things without walking all over the city and becoming tired.

After the cruise we walked the main pedestrian area of Copenhagen: the Købmagergade. This street is one of the main shopping streets in Copenhagen and intersects with the other main shopping street: Strøget. We took Købmagergade about ten blocks to Kultorvet, a square lined with many restaurants. We chose the Italian restaurant on the north side of the square and had a very delicious meal outdoors. Afterwards, we made our way back down to Strøget and walked toward Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square).

Copenhagen Pride

Unbeknownst to us, the square in front of Copenhagen’s City Hall was hosting Copenhagen Pride. The city was decked out in rainbow colors; even 7-11 printed special coffee cups with rainbow colors on them to celebrate. The square had about 30 booths displaying products, food items, and a music stage. We then headed down H. C. Andersens Blvd. where a statue of Hans Christian Andersen was. Across the street was Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens

Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tivoli Gardens is the second-longest operating amusement park in the world. Opened on 15 August 1843 under the name Tivoli and Vauxhall, as an homage to the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris (itself named after Tivoli in Rome) and Vauxhall Gardens in London, the park possessed buildings constructed in the imaginary exotic Oriental style, flower gardens, a theatre, and mechanical amusement rides. When the Nazis occupied Denmark, Nazi supporters burned many of the gardens’ buildings, but temporary buildings were quickly built and the park reopened within weeks.

The park is best known for its wooden roller coaster, Rutschebanen, which is controlled by an onboard operator so that the ride won’t gain too much speed on the hills. There are three other roller coasters and various thrill rides. In addition to the rides, Tivoli serves as a venue for the performing arts and plays an active role in Copenhagen’s cultural scene. Visitors with the Copenhagen Card can enter the gardens for free, but to ride the attractions, you must purchase a supplemental ticket.

The next morning, we took the 5:20 a.m. direct train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, Germany. The main reason we booked such an early train was the price, which was cheaper than the next train leaving two hours later by about 20 euros per person. We also wanted to get the five-hour train ride out of the way early in the day so we would have more time in Hamburg to explore.

The fascinating thing about this train, however, was the fact that from Rødbyhavn, Denmark to Puttgarden, Germany, the train travels in the hull of a ferry. The ferry contains railroad tracks on which the train rests during the 45-minute journey across the 18-kilometer wide Fehmarn Belt, a strait that connects the Bay of Mecklenburg and the Bay of Kiel in the western section of the Baltic Sea. Passengers must disembark the train once it is secured in the ferry, which has two restaurants, a convenience store, a duty free store, a currency exchange desk, and several observation decks. Prior to docking in Puttgarden, passengers get back on the train to continue their journey to Hamburg.

Originally envisioned as a bridge, there is a proposal to bore a 3-part tunnel similar to the Chunnel connecting France and the United Kingdom to link Denmark and Germany. Initial plans set completion for 2018, but domestic and EU funding pushed completion to 2024. Denmark will build the tunnel with support from Germany and Sweden, aiming to cut about an hour of travel time between the countries.

We’re off to Hamburg, Germany! –> To continue, Click here

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne, Bonn, & Düsseldorf – April 2015

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne, Bonn, & Düsseldorf – April 2015

While we probably wouldn’t have gone back as quick as we did, I had enough frequent flyer miles to get both of us round trip tickets to Europe on Delta. We originally were going to spend 2 weeks in the south of France, visiting Marseille, Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. After having booked our flights, however, certain events in and around Marseille influenced us to adjust our itinerary. We decided to return to the Netherlands for a few days and to spend a week in Germany.

With our new round trip flights in and out of Amsterdam secure, we continued our tradition of upgrading to the premium economy seats on Delta. While the food and service is parallel to the rest of the economy class, the main difference in the extra leg room. On Delta, you get up to an extra 4 inches of leg room, which on international flights makes a big difference in comfort. We also try to reserve the bulkhead seats, which are located in the first row of premium economy. While you cannot have your carry-on baggage in front of you during takeoff and landing, the absence of a reclining seat in front of you is worth the extra price alone.

I also began to search for hotels in various cities and to monitor train ticket prices. As with previous trips, I used hotels.com to book all of our reservations since its loyalty program rewards you with 1 free night for every 10 nights stayed, with the free night being valued at the median price of the 10 nights.


As with a lot of reward travel, the flight times can be somewhat restricted. We ended up arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport around 11:30 am, which we found to be a much better experience that arriving during the early morning rush (any time before 9am). Not only was it quicker to go through passport control and customs, but since we knew the hotel room wouldn’t be ready until at least 2 pm, there was really no need to rush to get to the hotel. We opted to have lunch in the airport mall area. Since Schiphol is a major domestic transportation hub, not to mention the airlines, the airport has its own mall in it, complete with grocery store, restaurants, clothing shops, bookstores, and 2 Starbucks.

Our hotel for the next 2 nights, the Best Western Premier Hotel Couture, is located in the southwest part of the city, in a neighborhood called Westlandgracht, which happens to be the name of the canal in front of the hotel. The hotel’s location is far enough out of the city center so that you don’t pay the exorbitant markup many hotels charge for being in the city center, and the #2 tram stops right outside the hotel’s entrance. The hotel is also within walking distance (about 5 minutes) of the Heemstedestraat metro station. Since we didn’t need to go all the way into Amsterdam just to come all the way back out to our hotel, we took the train to Amsterdam Lelylaan Station, transferred to the metro for 1 stop to Heemstedestraat, and walked the rest of the way to the hotel. Since our room wasn’t ready, we stored our luggage and headed into Amsterdam.

In keeping with my new obsession, we set out to find the entire collection of Starbucks mugs for the Netherlands. Using the 9292.nl app, we found the next train from Amsterdam Centraal to Hilversum, a quick 20 minute train ride. Like most Starbucks outside of Amsterdam, the one in Hilversum is located in the train station. While not a large city by any means, Hilversum is where the main Dutch television and radio stations have their studios. We then hopped the next train to Utrecht, only 15 minutes away. We then went to Arnhem and Nijmegen before returning to Amsterdam for dinner.

A quick anecdote: Starbucks manufactured the original Nijmegen mug with a picture of a bridge that is really located in Arnhem, which we found out, after talking to the barista at the Nijmegen Starbucks, caused an outrage amongst the populations of both cities. The incorrect mug was taken off the market, and the correct bridge appeared on the new version of the Nijmegen mug. But, you can still purchase the first version on resell websites, which is where I got mine. So I have the complete 11 mug series for the Netherlands.

Keukenhof Gardens

The next day we went to Keukenhof Gardens. Feted as one of the largest flower gardens in the world, Keukenhof is also known as the Garden of Europe. Every year from mid-March to mid-May around 7 million tulip bulbs are planted covering close to 79 acres. Located in the town of Lisse, which is southwest of Amsterdam, visitors can travel to the gardens via dedicated bus service from Schiphol Airport, Leiden Centraal, and Haarlem. Depending on your point of origin, you may want to purchase a train + bus + entrance ticket sold on Keukenhof’s website. For a flat fee, you can travel roundtrip to/from any train station in the Netherlands to Schiphol, Leiden, or Haarlem, transfer to the bus, and enter the grounds. The price for this ticket is €35,00 for 2016 and really only offers visitors a discount on train travel if their point of origin requires more than 40 minutes of train travel. Otherwise, I would advise just paying for each leg of the journey separately to save money. Admission to the gardens is €16,00, so for the roundtrip ticket to save you money, your travel price needs to cost more than €19,00. You can find out the exact price of your trip by visiting the 9292.nl website.

Situated on 15th-century hunting grounds, Keukenhof attracts visitors from around the world and for good reason. It’s a site to behold. The gardens visitors see today were established in 1949 as a way for tulip farmers to display their hybrids and to boost the Dutch export industry. Different varieties of gardens and garden styles are presented each year, including an English garden, a Japanese garden, a historical garden, and a nature garden. Each year a specific theme is chosen which is showcased not only throughout the grounds, but in the main display hall. There are several restaurants and several display hallslocated on the grounds, all of which have Wi-Fi connectivity for free. While touring the gardens themselves, however, there is no or extremely limited connectivity.

Regardless of when you visit during the blooming season, it will be crowded. It is quite difficult to take pictures (other than close-ups, of course) without having people in them, although it can be done if you arrive early. To see everything on display, you should budget at least one full day, and this is not an exaggeration. We were there for over 6 hours and did not see everything. If you have the time, we would suggest 2 days to experience everything the gardens offers.


The next morning prior to leaving for Rotterdam, we walked around the Museumplein where the Rijksmuseum is located. We were planning on going inside the museum, but the line was quite long, and we didn’t want to wait. If you have the chance, I would suggest purchasing your tickets to the Rijksmuseum online and printing them out. It will save you a lot of time, and you can just walk right into the museum, store your bags at the coat check desk, and then enter the exhibits. (We did this on the next trip.)


Then we walked over to the Westermarkt area, which can be reached with tram lines 13, 14, & 17. This is a square between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht where the Westerkerk (West Church) is located.Two tourist attractions are here. First, the Anne Frank Huis, which many visitors want to see, and second, the Homomonument (Gay Monument). Anne Frank’s House is where Anne Frank and her family hid from the German occupiers during World War II. Both humbling and fascinating, you can walk through the multi-level house and experience what this family did. I went through the house back in 1995 on my first trip to Amsterdam, but John has never been inside. The main problem with the old house is that it is not accessible to those with mobility issues. There are extremely steep and narrow staircases visitors have to maneuver to go from one level to another in the old house. The new building, located next to the old house and housing the café, museum, and the current exhibition, is accessible. If you arrive early, you won’t have to wait too long to get in, but the line to enter can quickly become over an hour long.

The Homomonument, proposed in 1979 and finished in 1987 due to the time it took to raise the €180.000 to pay for the site’s construction, is the world’s first monument to memorialize those persecuted because of their sexuality. Made out of 3 large pink granite triangles, each measuring 10 meters on each side, the points of the Homomonument point to 3 symbolic places in Amsterdam. The first points toward the National War Memorial in Dam Square; the second points toward Anne Frank’s House; the third points toward the headquarters of COC Nederland, the Dutch gay rights group founded in 1946.


After the morning outing, we picked up our luggage and took the afternoon train to Rotterdam for the next 3 nights. Rotterdam is the financial hub of the Netherlands and is where the Dutch stock market is located. Not knowing the city at all, I knew we wanted to be centrally located, and I found a great deal on a concierge room at the 5-star Manhattan Hotel Rotterdam located just opposite the Rotterdam Centraal train station. Upon arrival, again, we knew the room wouldn’t be ready. We stored our luggage, purchased a 3 day unlimited RET pass from the front desk, and returned to the train station, which has—you guessed it—a Starbucks where I got the Rotterdam mug. While we waited for our room to be ready, we took the metro to Den Haag, where I bought that city’s mug. Then we took the train to Leiden, a short 10 minute journey, where I bought that city’s mug as well. By the time we got back to the hotel, the room was ready.

Markthal and Cube Houses

One of our favorite things to do while traveling is seeing how the city’s residents live, where they shop, and things the normal visitor might not see. The Markthal is one of those places. This building is a multi-use space where people live and shop for food. The upper floors contain apartments, and the ground floor houses 96 different food vendors. The Markthal also has several restaurants, a grocery store, a liquor store, and a drugstore. The airy architecture and interior painting help to distinguish this building. We had several meals here over the course of our 3 night stay.

Across from the Markthal is one of the architectural wonders of Rotterdam: the Cube Houses. Designed by Piet Blom, the cubes are tilted at a 45 degree angle and rest on a hexagonal pylon allowing people to walk underneath.


After the Markthal, we took the tram (line 8) to Euromast. Located next to the Parkhaven, a harbor off the main river that runs through Rotterdam, the Nieuwe Maas, the Euromast is 185 meters high. At a height of 100 meters is a restaurant and a two-level observation deck. From here, you can ride the Euroscoop, a rotating, glass-enclosed ride that takes you the additional 85 meters to the very top of the Euromast. The Euroscoop is included in the price of admission, and the view is amazing. But if you suffer from vertigo, you may want to forgo this part of the attraction. The Euromast is open late for those who want to see the city at night.

Right beside the Euromast is the Sjømannskirken, a Norwegian church serving the needs of Norwegians living in Rotterdam. While not open to the public outside of service times, behind the church is Het Parc, spacious garden through which anyone can walk.

Den Haag & Delft

The next day we took the metro
E-line to Den Haag and went to Scheveningen, which is a popular beach with the Dutch. While it was certainly too cold to actually swim, a leisurely stroll down the boardwalk on a sunny day is a great way to relax. All along the beach, restaurants offering many cuisines line the boardwalk. Most have glass partitions to keep the wind and sand out of the outside dining area. There are also indoor seats for very cold days. One of the highlights of the beach is the newly renovated pier. Originally opened in 1959, the pier has 2 levels: an enclosed lower level and an open-air upper level. A fire damaged the pier in 2011, and it went bankrupt in 2013. During our visit the pier was closed, but there are plans to reopen it after extensive renovations.

We then took the tram from Den Haag to Delft and visited the Royal Delft Museum. The tram will take you to the train station in Delft, but from there you have to transfer to a local bus or walk to the Royal Delft Museum. We chose to walk through town, which ended up being somewhat out of the way, but we saw some very architecturally interesting buildings. Once we got to the museum, we opted not to take the tour, but looked around the shop for a while. We walked back to the train station via another route which was much shorter than the original route we took. We then took the train back to Rotterdam.

That evening we walked around the harbor in Rotterdam by the Nieuwe Maas and took pictures of the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge). Named in honor of Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch Renaissance humanist, social critic, and theologian, the bridge connects the north and south sections of Rotterdam. The bridge opened in 1996 and is a combined cable-stayed and bascule bridge. The bridge’s single pylon helped to earn it the nickname “The Swan”.

The next morning we had breakfast at Bagel and Beans. We then got the train to Hoek van Holland to visit Het Keringhuis. Near the entrances to all the major waterways from the North Sea, the Dutch have constructed storm surge barriers to eliminate the possibility of the Netherlands being flooded in the event of a major storm. Het Keringhuis is one of these surge barriers, and since 1996 visitors can see how the barrier works via a behind the scenes tour. The exhibit, which received a complete overhaul in 2010, demonstrates how the barriers (1 on each bank of the river) would protect the low-lying nation were a ferocious storm to arise. The hour-long tour, given in English on the weekends, allows visitors to walk around the grounds and to walk under one of the massive barriers. The only challenge to visiting Het Keringhuis is its location. From Rotterdam, you take a local train to Hoek van Holland, which is the nearest train station. From the train station, you either have to walk or take a taxi, as the barriers are 2 miles from the station. And we walked it – both ways. If you choose to walk it, opt for the path along the raised dyke as opposed to walking through the city itself; it will save you about 20 minutes.



After 5 nights in the Netherlands, we took an early morning train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam Centraal, where we transferred from a Dutch train to a German ICE (Intercity Express) train for our 3 hour trip to Cologne, Germany. The ICE is a German high speed train, equivalent to France’s TGV. We got our one-way tickets for €39,00 each by booking directly with Deutsche Bahn. We purchased what is known as a Sparpreis Europa (Saver Fare Europe) ticket and is available for journeys to/from Germany from/to 16 other European nations. These tickets are not available for all trains and come with specific restrictions, like the inability to transfer the ticket to another train at an earlier or later time without incurring a fee. But if you plan your trips like we do, these cheap fares will save you a lot of money on train travel in Europe when compared to buying a Eurail Pass, which is a great deal if you are the type of traveler who wants to come and go as you want.

Our ICE called at Amsterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem, Oberhausen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Frankfurt. Once we got to Cologne, we purchased a public transport pass for a week that would get us to the neighboring cities of Bonn, Aachen, and Düsseldorf. KVB is the company that runs public transportation in Cologne, and it partners with VRS to allow people to buy 1 ticket that covers both the local and regional trains. In Cologne, like most other German cities with more than just bus service, there are S-Bahnen and U-Bahnen. The former operates above ground, and the latter runs underground.

The first afternoon in Cologne we went to the Cologne Cathedral. Then we went to the Starbucks at the Cologne train station where I bought 10 mugs.
img_2410-109152906_stdThe first night in Germany we wanted to have a German meal. We asked the hotel concierge for suggestions and ended up going to Hausbrauerei Päffgen. Something we didn’t know prior to going in, but quickly learned, is that people seat themselves in Germany. If there’s an open table, you can have it. But you have to watch out for small cards on the table that signify that the table is reserved from a certain time. The food was good and hit the spot.


The next day we took the S-Bahn (S16) to Bonn. You can also take S18 to Bonn, but this route is inland while S16 runs along the river. With our KVB/VRS combination ticket, we had unlimited travel between Cologne and Bonn. S16 took about an hour to reach Bonn, but traveling along the Rhine River for most of the way was worth the extra time.

When we got to Bonn, we walked past the Bonner Münster, a Catholic church built between the 11th and 13th centuries. This is one of the oldest surviving churches in Germany. The church once served as the cathedral used by the Archbishop of Cologne. We walked through Münsterplatz and found the Bonn Information Center located on Windeckstrasse, right next to TK Maxx. (Yes, this is Germany’s version of the American store TJ Maxx.) We bought a city map and picked up some brochures, then set out to find Bonn’s most famous tourist attraction: Beethoven’s House.

Beethoven’s House

Having been a lover of classical music since the 1980s, it had always been a dream of mine to visit the birthplace of one of the best composers to ever live. After a 15 minute walk from the information center, we arrived at Beethoven-Haus at Bonngasse18-26. If you don’t want to walk, you can also take either the 62, 66, or 67 tram to Beethoven-Haus.
Founded in 1889, the Beethoven-Haus Association works to promote, to preserve, and to memorialize the composer’s life and work. The museum and archives house the largest collection of Beethoven’s work in the world. In addition to the museum, the adjoining digital collection contains more than 6,100 documents and over 1,600 audio files which can be accessed on site or via the Beethoven-Haus’ website (in German and English). Visitors must store all bags in the lockers provided since the only thing you can carry with you is a camera. Some of the ceilings in the house are quite low; at 6’2” I found myself ducking frequently to avoid hitting either the ceiling or the archways between rooms. There are guides throughout the museum to show you the advised route to take through the rooms.

After we visited the Beethoven-Haus, we wanted to grab a quick lunch. We found, by chance at the end of Bonngasse, a city market where various food carts and restaurants were. Ironically enough, the area is simply called Markt. This section of Bonn is completely pedestrian, so you will have to walk through it to get there. We chose to eat at a wurst food truck, where I had and enjoyed my first currywurst. At the eastern end of the Markt stands the Bundesstadt Bonn – Altes Rathaus, the old city hall.


After lunch we walked to the other reason for day trip to Bonn: the Haribo Store. Located a couple of blocks south of Markt on Am Neutor, this is the sole store in the world for Haribo products. There are 5 factory stores in Germany, but this is the only store front. This two-story shop sells everything Haribo makes, including merchandise. John is a huge Haribo fan, so going to Bonn without visiting the store would not have been acceptable at all.

After the Haribo store, we took regional train back to Cologne. We went to eat at an Asian restaurant on Breite Strasse. For dessert we found a gelato shop at the corner of Tunisstrasse and Breite Strasse where you can get a scoop of gelato for 1 euro, which is a great deal.

Kölner Seilbahn

The next morning we took the Kölner Seilbahn, a skyway gondola that crossed the Rhine River. On a clear day this trip affords visitors fantastic view of Cologne from above. Even though it was a cloudy day when we went on the cable car, the journey still gave us amazing views. From a practical standpoint, it is much cheaper to purchase a roundtrip ticket than a one-way ticket. But an even better deal is a combination ticket that includes the Seilbahn, the Zoo, and the Aquarium. These combination tickets must be purchased at the Kölner Seilbahn.

Kölner Zoo

Located across the street from the Kölner Seilbahn is the Cologne Zoo. If you’re into animals or just want to leave the busy city behind, the Cologne Zoo is a great place to spend a couple of hours watching animals from all over the world. The zoo offers visitors the opportunity to watch animal feedings throughout the day; check the zoo map you get at the entrance for exact times. We got to see the animal keepers feed the penguins. We also spent time at the flamingo and hippo exhibits.

Botanical Gardens

The botanical gardens are located right next to the zoo, which if you’re looking for a free activity, is a great way to spend some time. A full visit will take about an hour or so, depending on how long you spend in each section.


Chocolate Museum

Just south of the city center, on an island in the Rhine River, sits the Schokoladenmuseum (Cologne Chocolate Museum) presented by Lindt. The museum traces the history of chocolate from the Aztecs and Mayas, through the Baroque Age and the Industrial Revolution, to the refined chocolate industry of today. The visit is well worth the 9 euro price of admission, and the museum sells family tickets for 25 euros for 2 adults and all of the couple’s children under 16. Also, if you happen to visit the museum on your birthday, your admission is free!
As part of the production tour, visitors have the opportunity to make their own piece of chocolate bark (at an additional cost). You can customize the bark as you wish from a variety of toppings and the type of chocolate used. There’s also a café where you can sit and have a dessert, or a shop where you can purchase all sorts of treats.


The next day we took the train to Düsseldorf to get the Düsseldorf Starbucks mug. After striking out at the Starbucks in the train station, we asked the barista where another one was. She directed us to the one on Blumenstrasse off Königsallee. As it turns out, Königsallee (King’s Alley) was Düsseldorf’s equivalent to Avenue Montaigne in Paris. All of the high-end designers have stores along this street which is divided by the Stadtgraben (City Canal).

After walking the length of Königsallee, we walked into the pedestrian section of the city and found an open-air market on the Marktplatz. Lined to the north by the Altes Rathaus and to the south by the city’s municipal building, this open-air market offers not only food stands, but food trucks and home goods shops with plants, herbs, and artisan soaps. We even found a food stand selling Florida grapefruits.

While we didn’t spend a lot of time in Düsseldorf, we know it’s a city we would like to return to at some point in the future. We then took the regional train back to Cologne.

The next day we returned to the river area and took an hour-long cruise down the Rhine River. The docks for the river cruises are located just north of the Deutzer Bridge. We took the one-hour panorama cruise (Panoramafahrt Köln), which is a great way to see all the city’s main sites. We are big advocates of any type of city cruise as both a way to relax for approximately an hour and not have to walk and a means to see all the major tourist sites. We would advise doing these cruises on a clear day so that you can take clear photos. The day we went, the sun was shining, and there were few clouds in the sky.

Old St. Alban Church

After the cruise, we walked around the old center of Cologne and happened upon Old St. Alban Church. Originally constructed around 1172, the church was refurbished during the Middle Ages, and the church’s tower was built in 1494. The outer façade was completed in 1896.
The church suffered a near-complete blown out from a bomb during World War II, and it was not rebuilt. Only some of the outer walls and inner support beams still stand today. In 1954, the region’s Cardinal asked that the ruins become a memorial for those lost during the war. In the church’s interior, a reproduction of the sculpture “Trauerndes Elternpaar” (Grieving Parents) was installed in 1954. Since churches were supposed to be safe havens during the war, many parents would send their children to the church for safekeeping. The sculpture, situated in the middle of the ruins, is of a grieving father and mother kneeling who have realized their children have died as a result of the bombing.

NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln

This museum, housed in the former headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo between 1935 and 1945, is the largest regional memorial in Germany for Nazi victims.
In the final months of the war, several hundred people were murdered in the building’s courtyard. The museum is also dedicated to historical research and teaching about Cologne’s history during the Nazi era. The permanent exhibition depicts the political, social, and communal life in Nazi Cologne, and the temporary exhibit while we were there displayed the architecture of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The jail cells in the building are some of the best preserved in Germany since the building did not suffer much damage from Allied bombings. As with all sites of remembrance in Germany, admission is free. The German government pays for the operational budgets of all memorials as part of its wartime reparations. In 2000, the museum received a special recommendation for the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award.


After our time in Germany, we still had two nights before we flew back to the States. We took the train back to Amsterdam and stayed at a hotel near Schiphol Airport. After checking in, we took the complementary shuttle to the airport to walk around and have dinner.

Panorama Terrace

While at the airport, we found the observation deck, which is located before security. Visitors can go up to the airport’s roof and have dinner at the diner or spend time on the open-air panorama terrace, which overlooks the airport’s aprons. On the terrace, there is a life-sized Fokker 100 that visitors can enter at no cost. This airplane used to be in operation, but has been converted into an aviation experience, complete with air traffic control recordings, the original plane’s seats, and views into the baggage hold.

Zaanse Schans

On our last day in the Netherlands, we went to see the windmills at Zaanse Schans.
There are 2 ways to get here. You can take the train to the Koog-Zaandijk train station and walk through the town of Zaandijk; the walking portion takes around 20 minutes. You can also take the 391 bus from Amsterdam Centraal, which runs every half hour.

This area houses windmills, houses, barns, and museums constructed in the typical Dutch wooden style that date to the 18th and 19th centuries. You can easily spend half a day here walking through the old village, shopping, and visiting the windmills. While it is free to walk around the village, some of the windmills and the museum charge admission fees. Also, you should check the village’s website to make sure the attractions you want to see are open as not everything is open every day.
One of the highlights to us was the Museumwinkel Albert Heijn. This is the original Albert Heijn supermarket, now ubiquitous throughout the Netherlands that opened in 1887. It contains the original furnishings and stock from the 1880s. The shop was moved to Zaanse Schans from its original location in Zaandam.

Brussels, Amsterdam, & Paris – October 2014

Brussels, Amsterdam, & Paris  October – 2014

Soon after we returned from our ten-day trip to Paris, we wondered when it would be feasible to return to Europe. I started looking at various dates in the fall since we wanted to spend more time near Disneyland Paris. While searching for flights and getting the trip’s budget together, I decided to check other airports in Europe—both to see if they were cheaper than flying into Paris directly and to give us the chance to see another European city.
As it turned out, flying into Brussels was over $300 cheaper than flying into Paris or Amsterdam. So we decided to book the 2 week trip with return airfare in and out of Brussels airport, and the rest of the trip would be done via trains (Thalys and TGV).


We flew from Orlando to Brussels via Atlanta, and like 99% of the flights to Europe from North America, we landed in the morning. After getting through passport control and customs, we took the local train to the Gare du Midi/Zuidstation (South Station) and transferred to the 2/6 metro line after getting our 3 day public transport pass. Our hotel was near the Botanique/Kruidtuin metro stop in the north part of the city. As is the case with most people who arrive in Europe on a morning flight, we had to check our luggage at reception. Then we set out to discover this multilingual and multicultural city, which is home to the European Union, NATO, and some amazing chocolate.

As a word of note: Belgium is a nation divided along linguistic lines, resulting in the proposal by some Belgians to make 2 nations out of current-day Belgium. While this idea is just a proposal, visitors should be aware of these differences. People in the northern part of the country speak a dialect of Dutch called Flemish, or Vlaams. People in the southern part of Belgium speak standard French with a few variants in vocabulary and phonology. In the far eastern part of Belgium, the official language is German, rendering the country officially trilingual. However, these linguistic divisions have had massive implications in the nation’s political and social spheres, so much so that English has emerged as the lingua franca in metropolitan areas. Brussels is officially bilingual (French and Dutch), but French is the main language of the city due to its European Union and NATO ties. But, everyone we encountered also spoke conversational English. So those wondering about any communicative problems can rest easy, although a few words of French do go a long way in establishing a rapport with people.

Grand Place
We walked through a nearby mall, had lunch, and made our way to the Grand-Place/Grote Markt, which is the central square in Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is surrounded by Town Hall; the Breadhouse, which contains the Museum of the City of Brussels; and ornate buildings that once served as guild halls for various guilds. Today, the ground floors of the guild halls are occupied by restaurants, shops, and a Starbucks, at which I continued to amass my Global Icon collection. The surrounding streets still bear the names of sellers of butter, herring, coal, and cheese, just to mention a few. Voted the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010, the Grand-Place plays host to a flower carpet every 2 years in August covering over 19,000 square feet in an intricate flower display.

After exploring the area, we returned to our hotel and checked in. Since we were tired from the overnight flight, we rested for a while before heading out to grab dinner at a Greek restaurant. We walked around the area, which is completely pedestrian, and explored some of the shops. We found a great candy store called Sucx, where we got some licorice and sour candies. Having been up for 24 hours, we called it a day early and headed back to the hotel.

Botanical Gardens
The next day we started by walking through the city’s botanical gardens, which were a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The multi-level gardens no longer have the many sculptures that once dotted them, but this green space in Brussels’ financial district offers a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the nearby chaos.

We then went to Mini-Europe and the Atomium, 2 attractions located within walking distance of each other near the end of the 6 metro line or at the end of the 7 tram line (Heysel/Heizel). Opened in 1989 and operating from March to October, Mini-Europe contains reproductions of monuments within the European Union at a 1:25 scale. It takes about an hour to walk through the approximately 350 buildings and 80 cities, some of which have live action trains, mills, cable cars, and airplanes. Some countries are represented more heavily than others, with Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany having the most to see. The park is a great way to spend 60-90 minutes, is suitable for everyone, and is a must-see if you’re ever in Brussels.

Next to Mini-Europe is the Atomium, a building originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and which underwent a 2 year renovation from 2004 to 2006. The structure’s 9 spheres are connected by tubes 3 meters in diameter (containing stairs, escalators, and an elevator) so that they form the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Visitors can go through 5 of the 9 spheres housing exhibit halls, convention space, and a restaurant at the top. The other 4 spheres are not open to the public due to a lack of vertical supports. The elevator takes visitors to the highest sphere where a 360 degree observation desk offers vistas, on a clear day, all the way to the North Sea, the Netherlands, and France. There are permanent and temporary exhibits on display in the various spheres. In order to see everything, however, you will walk up 80 steps and walk down 167 steps. These areas are not accessible for those with limited or reduced mobility as wheelchairs cannot access these areas. Only the panorama sphere is accessible by elevator.

Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History
The next day we went to the European Commission building at the Schuman metro stop. We couldn’t go in, but walked around it. Then we went to the Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire Militaire/Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgesechiedenis (Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History), which had a temporary exhibit on World War I. The museum is located just east of the Schuman metro stop in the Parc du Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark. Being a historian of the time period just before the outbreak of the Great War, I was quite interested in seeing the temporary exhibit, which also discussed the Parisian World’s Fair, a topic on which I’ve published. I thought the exhibit was well laid out and offered varying perspectives regarding the lead-up to and during the war.

European Parliament
While most of the European Parliament is inaccessible to visitors, they can visit the Parliamentarium, which is housed in the Willy Brandt Building. This interactive exhibition explains the history of the European Union, lets visitors take a virtual tour of Europe, and hear from Europeans about their perspectives on the EU. The exhibit is fully accessible to those with mobility challenges, to the blind via multilingual Braille maps, and to the deaf via multilingual sign language videos and induction loops. The Parliamentarium is probably the most inclusive attraction we’ve ever visited.

After 3 days in Brussels, it was time to take the high speed train to Amsterdam. We booked tickets on the Thalys from Brussels South Station to Amsterdam Centraal. The train also calls at Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Schiphol Airport. We arrived in Amsterdam after 1 hour and 20 minutes.

If you arrive in Amsterdam by train, odds are that you will arrive at Amsterdam Centraal, the city’s main train station. While there are other train stations in Amsterdam, most international trains terminate here. Outside and to the left of the tram loading zone is the Visitor Information Center, where you can get free maps, make hotel reservations (if you haven’t done that already), and buy tickets including the I Amsterdam card, which is what we purchased for 3 days. We then took the tram to our hotel, the Golden Tulip, in the Bos en Lommer district of West Amsterdam.

After having walked around the city and becoming familiar with its layout, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum, which is located on the Museumplein, along with the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. We arrived less than an hour before closing time, and thanks to the I Amsterdam card, we skipped the single ticket line and walked right in. While we like museums, we aren’t the type of people who sit and linger at specific paintings. We completed our visit to the museum in under 30 minutes and entered the gift shop just as the last group of people were being allowed in for the day.
We then walked around Museumplein where you can buy the typical souvenirs such as magnets, postcards, key chains, T shirts, etc. This is where we found the cheapest postcards in the entire city. There is a shallow pond in the center of the square overlooking the Rijksmuseum and the grassy knoll.

Canal Cruise
Included in our I Amsterdam card was the City Canal Cruise which lasted 75 minutes. The cruise has an audio guide in 19 languages and departs across from Holland Casino near the Hard Rock Café on Stadhouderskade. If you don’t have the I Amsterdam card, pre-purchased tickets are €14,00, and the normal price is €16,00. Even though it rained a little bit during our cruise, I would highly recommend this for visitors since it gives you an overview of the canal ring, goes through the Jordaan and past Anne Frank’s House, out to the IJ, and past City Hall.

Located on the 4, 9, or 14 tram line is Rembrandtplein, a square named after the famous artist who owned a house nearby. It is lined with restaurants, bars, and a flagship Starbucks store. In the square itself, as part of the celebration of Rembrandt’s 400th birthday, are bronze-cast sculptures which form a 3D version of the painter’s famous “The Night Watch”.

Natura Artis Magistra
This large zoo near Rembrandtplein can be reached by trams 9 & 14. Open every day of the year, this zoo offers visitors the chance to see a myriad of animals. Tickets may seem a bit expensive, with anyone over 10 years old being €20,50 and children between 3-9 being €17,00, but zoos in Europe are not supported by government grants or subsidies. Therefore, they have to charge more than you would normally pay in the U.S. That being said, it was worth every cent.

Het Verzetsmuseum (The Resistance Museum), located across the street from the entrance to the zoo, chronicles the Dutch people’s efforts to resist Nazi rule. If you have the I Amsterdam card, admission is included. There is also a free audio guide to use during your visit. There are permanent and temporary exhibits, including a “junior” exhibit showcasing Dutch children and their experiences during World War II. As a historian I thought the exhibits were well laid out and clearly explained what life was like in the Netherlands during the war.

This walkway along Entrepotdok Canal is a residential area located next to the Verzetsmuseum. Since we like to take pictures of bridges, this area offered us the opportunity to snap a picture of a canal bridge.

Science Center NEMO
NEMO is an interactive science center located near the Amsterdam Centraal train station. Priced at €15,00 for everyone over 4 years old, this attraction is free if you
have the I Amsterdam card. This multilevel center offers visitors the opportunity to discover the science behind light and sound, to see how math and shapes influence the world, and to experience the importance of water. While mainly geared toward children, adults will find this center fascinating and educational. A must-see is the roof terrace, which affords visitors with wonderful vistas of central Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Tulip Museum
The history behind this much-loved flower is the subject of this museum located on the Prinsengracht in the Jordaan district. First discovered by plant hunters of the Ottoman Empire, the tulip’s fame rose during the 1500s. Eventually finding its way to the Netherlands, the Dutch made tulips famous the world over. We opted to pay a visit after seeing the hour-long line at the Anne Frank House. While it only takes about 15-20 minutes to see everything here, it’s well worth the visit and is included on the I Amsterdam card. They do have tulip bulbs for sale, but make sure you ask for those approved for import to the U.S. if you decide to purchase some since the USDA has strict import regulations on plants.

Flower Market
Along the Singel by the Koningsplein is a vibrant flower market that sells many types of flowers. As with the tulips, make sure what you purchase is approved for export to the U.S. Otherwise, you risk having your purchase confiscated upon your return at customs.

Dam Square
The Dam Square is the historical center of Amsterdam, the site upon which a dam used to control the flow of the Amstel River. The west side of the square is flanked by the Royal Palace, which once housed the City Hall from 1655 to 1808, when it was converted into a residence. The National Monument, an obelisk dominating the square, memorializes the victims of World War II. There is also the flagship store of the retail chain De Bijenkorf (The Beehive), on the north side of the square.

Red Light District (De Wallen)
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the Red Light District, which is located east of Dam Square. This (in)famous part of the city, filled with sex workers and coffee shops (that don’t serve coffee), also contains the Oudekerk (Old Church). The Netherlands has long been at the forefront of legalizing, but controlling, certain habits that more conservative people may find offensive or morally compromising. Prostitution is one of those parts of life that is ever-present, but rarely affords its workers the proper health and social services needed. The Dutch government offers these services, requires sex workers to undergo regular health checks (which the government pays for), and requires health certificates before a sex worker can lease a room. Similar to marijuana, the Dutch feel it’s better to regulate a particular habit and make a tax off of it than to make said habit illegal and spend tax dollars on policing it.


After three days in Amsterdam, we took the Thalys from Amsterdam Centraal to Gare du Nord in Paris. The three hour trip is a great way to travel between the two capitals without having to worry about flying. If you book your trip when the booking window opens, which at the time of this trip was 3 months and has since been extended to 6 months, very cheap fares can be had. Yes, it does lock you into specific travel dates, but it sure beats paying full price for the journey, which can run more than airfare.

For this week-long stay we opted to stay outside Paris near Disneyland Paris in the town of Val d’Europe. Like the first trip to Paris, we bought a week pass on the Navigo card that covered all 5 zones in the Paris region. Our hotel, which is classified as a “good neighbor” hotel with Disney was situated one train stop away from Marne-la-Vallée, where Disneyland Paris is located. Why did we stay so far out of the city? We wanted to save money on a hotel room and wanted to be closer to Disneyland Paris.

Le Jardin du Luxembourg
Located in the 6th arrondissement, Catherine de Medici created this garden during the 1610s as a complement to the Luxembourg Palace, her new residence. Today, the French state owns the building, and the French Senate meets there. The gardens include an apple and pear orchard, a puppet theatre, and over 100 statues, fountains, and monuments. There is also a large playground for children and a vintage carousel. While we were there, many of the flowers were in bloom.

Medici Fountain
Designed in the form of a grotto, Marie de Medici, the widow of Henri IV of France, commissioned the fountain’s construction in 1630. After having fallen into ruins, Napoleon Bonaparte had the fountain restored by the same architect who designed the Arc de Triomphe, Jean Chalgrin. From 1864–1866, the fountain was moved to its present location, and sculptures were added to the end of the fountain.

Centre Pompidou
Also during this trip we didn’t spend as much time visiting museums since we did most of the ones we wanted to during our last visit to Paris. The one museum we missed last time and wanted to make sure we saw this time was the Centre Pompidou. This museum houses a vast collection of contemporary art from the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition to the museum’s permanent collection of modern art, which at times seems a bit much for my tastes, there was a temporary, retrospective exhibit on the architecture of Frank Gehry. On display were over 200 drawings, models, and supporting materials on over 60 works. The exhibit also featured a video showing an interview with the architect.

We also spent time walking around the museum’s environs, exploring the Marais district, which was once a swamp. Today it hosts both a vibrant Chinese population and is the hub of the LGBT community in Paris. Approximately 40% of the LGBT-owned
businesses, restaurants, and bars are in the Marais. One of our favorite restaurants in Paris is in the Marais, an Italian restaurant we’ve now visited 3 times. I know a lot of people visit Paris for its vast food offerings and world-famous dining establishments. But honestly, we find French food to be a bit bland for our tastes. So we seek out other options.

Tour Saint-Jacques
This tower, located in the Marais district of Paris and built between 1509 and 1525, is the only remnant of the 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, which was destroyed in 1797 during the French Revolution. The tower is considered a national historic landmark. Surrounding the tower today is a small park.

Tour Eiffel
Like we did during our first trip, we went back to the Eiffel Tower. While we didn’t go up the tower this time, we spent more time walking around the area, including the quays bordering the Seine.
Another highlight of the trip was the Seine river cruise. There are several companies that run river cruises, usually about 45 minutes in length, during the day. These companies also offer dinner cruises, normally starting sometime after 6pm. This is a wonderful way to get pictures from a different perspective of the many buildings that line the banks of this famous river. All river cruises start near the Eiffel Tower & Trocadéro area. There is usually indoor and outdoor seating on the boats, but the outdoor seating is sometimes without commentary, which if you don’t know what you’re looking at can be a disadvantage. I would advise having some type of map, either paper or electronic, so you will know which buildings you pass. Also, the cruises make a U-turn after passing either the Ile de la Cité or the Ile Saint-Louis, which affords you the opportunity to take many pictures of Notre Dame.

Disneyland Paris
Like we did on our first trip in April, we wanted to visit the Disney parks, mainly to return to the North-African themed buffet restaurant. What we did find out is that the French are unaccustomed to buffet restaurants. The ability to eat to excess is not only contrary to the rich culinary traditions of France, but also serves as a commentary to the American way of life since buffets are ubiquitous in the States. The Disney Village also has the closest Starbucks to our hotel, and anyone who knows us is aware of our affinity for coffee and ever-growing mug collection. This time the parks were decked out with Halloween decorations.

Champs-Elysées & Rue Montaigne

Parallel to our first trip, we walked the Champs-Elysées and Rue Montaigne again. Always popular with tourists, the Champs-Elysées is the main thoroughfare north of the Seine.





Louvre & Tuileries
After having spent half a day exploring the treasures of the Louvre during our first visit, we decided not to go back into the museum portion of the building, but we did return to the food court for lunch. It offers a wide variety of food styles—Moroccan, Greek, Chinese, and Italian— just to name a few. It also has a McDonald’s, which the French call McDo, an espresso bar, and a Starbucks.

We then spent some time in the Tuileries, the Louvre’s adjoining gardens. Located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, Catherine de Medici created the gardens in 1564. They were opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park after the French Revolution. Some very famous sculptors have works displayed in the gardens, including Louis Auguste Lévêque, Jules Ramey, and Auguste Rodin. At the west end of the gardens is the Musée de l’Orangerie, which houses impressionist era paintings, and the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, which houses modern and contemporary art.
The gardens are quite popular with tourists and locals alike. Many locals spend time outside when the weather is good because of the small living spaces in which many Parisians live.

The Seine River has the unique distinction of being the only river in the world the flows between 2 bookshelves. This is due to the bouquinistes that line the river’s banks. These booksellers vend used and antiquarian books on the right bank from the Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre and on the left bank from the Quai de la Tournelle to the Quai Voltaire. The tradition of second-hand books began during the 16th century on the Pont Neuf, but were driven out due to the monarchy’s fear that certain markets were not subject to official censorship. The bouquinistes were only reinstated after receiving governmental approval.
In 1859, Paris’ city government granted concessions allowing bouquinistes to sell their goods at specific points from sunrise to sunset. Each vendor was entitled to 10 meters of space. It was in 1930 that the boxes known today became a permanent feature. Today, the bouquinistes are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sell everything from old journals and magazines to stamps, post cards, and magnets. These boxes are a treasure trove of material, especially for cultural historians.

Named after the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, the Pigalle area of Paris borders the 9th and 18th arrondissements. The region is known for its adult shows, sex shops, and theatres. This is where the Moulin Rouge (Red Windmill) is located. Many famous artists have lived in this district, including Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Maurice Neumont. Josephine Baker also opened a night club in the area.

Tour Eiffel at Night

On our last night in Paris, we returned to the Eiffel Tower, this time at night. After sundown, the tower’s lights make it stand out against the Parisian skyline. Also, at the top of the hour, the tower’s strobe lights sparkle for 5 minutes. This is definitely a sight to behold if you have the chance.




The day before we flew back to the States, we had to make our way back to Brussels since we had round trip tickets from there. So we took the TGV from Marne-la-Vallée to Brussels. We splurged and got first class seats for the 90 minute journey through the countryside. The train only stopped at Charles de Gaulle airport on its way north. We spent the night near the Brussels South train station, and took an early local train to the airport for our return flight.

Special note: While this posting was written after the recent horrific attacks in Brussels, the events described herein happened in October 2014.