Amsterdam to Brussels, April, 2016
(Mark and Vicki have been traveling pretty much full time since they retired in 2008 and sold their home in Missoula, Montana. They RVed in Europe starting in 2009 for five years in their US Roadtrek, sold it in 2013, and then bought a European camper in 2015. So far, about 36 months in Europe. Mark blogs frequently with lots of pictures at www.roadeveron.blogspot.com. Vicki's more practical guide to their travels is at their website www.TheRoadGoesEverOn.com.)
Back in Amsterdam with our European camper and very excited about the next four plus months. Rene at BW Campers had our 2001 Fiat Rotec camper all inspected and repairs made. The Dutch have a very rigorous annual inspection, and our little camper needed wheel bearings, brakes adjusted, new wipers, etc., and we had the oil changed. Registration for 6 months was 699E and liability only insurance for 4 months 550E. The Euro is currently $1.13 which is great compared to the past but not as good as the $1.06 it dipped to last spring.
We spent the first two nights at Amsterdam Bos Campground on the south side of town unpacking and trying to stay awake. Nine hours of time change from California really takes its toll. We like the Bos as it is near the airport and Rene's (and lots of other storage places) but it is very expensive to get into central Amsterdam from there as it requires a bus and Metro ticket or about $18 a person round trip. The weather was very nice—sunny and 60 degrees--so our second day we drove to nearby Keukenhof Gardens. We have visited dozens of gardens in Europe and England, and this has no comparison. Well worth the 16E each plus 6E to park. Yes, we could have just driven around and seen the bulb fields, which are terrific, but Keukenhof is so much more than tulips and the plantings and indoor flower shows say over and over that these folk are in a class by themselves. It is only open for six weeks a year until May 16th so you do need to plan your trip around it.
After Keukenhof we moved to Gaaspar Campground on the east side. No reservations needed this time of year. However, most of the Amsterdam campgrounds sponsor rock concert weekends at various times in the summer so you need to be aware of that. Gaaspar does reservations by email with no deposit so getting them ahead is a good idea. It is 1/4 mile to the metro and then a straight shot into central station. We bought a 3 day ticket for 17E each, though we only used the extra tram rides when we went to the Rijksmuseum. First day we did the canal boat (sit on the left) which we hadn't done since 1979. It is a great orientation to the city. Then we walked the Jordaan District with lunch at San Pedro Argentine Steak House. We had been wanting to try one of the Argentine steak houses as they are all over the city—a fine bargain for 10E with salad and fries. Day two we went to the Tuschenski Theater and did the 10E audio tour with coffee and tea at the end. If you like Art Nouveau or Art Deco be sure not to miss this. It wasn't in our guidebooks, which is a shame. Lunch was at Kantjil and Tijger , an Indonesian place. Ours was a late lunch so we were able to get a table with a short wait. The food was terrific. Rather than a mini Rijs Table we had the build your own meal for 11E. Between the two of us, we had everything on the Ris Table at 2/3 the cost. We even had leftovers and sprang for the coconut ice cream with mango syrup. Food was way better than Sama Sebo last year. We decided to go back to the Hermitage Museum as the exhibition was Spanish Masters from the Hermitage. Basically this museum has a huge collection of Dutch group portraits (like the Night Watch) and then rotating exhibits from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
Third day was even colder and wetter so we went to the Rijksmuseum with about 20,000 other folks. Our museumkart that we bought last year still had a month to go, so free to get in and a joy to skip the lines. You must check any large bags so try to use the lockers as the line for the bag check both coming and going is always really long. The Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc rooms were all mobbed but moving in from left or right avoided the 10 deep tour groups in the middle, and I was a happy camper. Lunch at the museum was good, skimpy, and pricey but about what it would be at a museum cafe in the States when you figure tax and tip are included in the 17E chicken salad or herring platter.
We had tickets for the Heronimus Bosch 500 Anniversary exhibit in his home town of s-Hertogenbosch about an hour south of Amsterdam, so drove down and stayed at a restaurant/hotel De Leygraaf that had overnight RV places with electric for 11E. They also had over 50 Belgium beers including Westvleteren at 15E a bottle, but if you want to sample “the best beer in the world” and certainly one of the hardest to get, here is an opportunity. For our trip into s-Hertogenbosch we drove to a Transferium-park and ride-where 4E a day parks your camper and gets you a free bus ride into the center of town. The Bosch exhibit was terrific and the town quite nice with whole streets devoted to restaurants with sidewalk cafes and a very interesting late Gothic catherdral. It had a travelingexhibit with a reproduction of The Shroud of Turin of all things. Unfortunately, no English translation for all the many displays. We had thought about going back to Amsterdam for the King's Birthday on the 27th—a huge festival, lots of music venues and wall to wall table sales as well as an old day drunk. Highly recommended but with temps in upper 40s and rain predicted we decided to drive on towards Brussels.
We don't really have a campground guide for this area and were relying on the 2015 ACIS discount card guide. The first one was at a Safari Park—couldn't find any sign of a campground. Seven miles further on we tried Spenkkkkk, which last year was suppodisely open in April. Arriving just after 6 we parked in the parking lot as the reception was closed. Next morning they told us they really weren't open yet except for the year rounders and no charge.
We followed the smaller roads to Brussels and camping at Brussels Camping and Caravan Club Park on the east side. We had emailed in advance and so knew they were open and public transportation available. This campground is run by volunteers and is quite small. Per night rate with tax for two is 18.50E but we needed the 3.50E extra for electric as we had found no place to get propane, and we definitely needed heat with lows predicted to touch 32 at night. The metro is 2 miles from the campground with a couple of bus stops available closer. One of the reasons we hadn't visited Brussels over the past 7 years was lack of facilities for campers.
We planned two days in Brussels for sightseeing. Bus was 2.5E each and then 2.1E for metro each way. Most sights are within easy walking distance of station. We really enjoyed the Old Master's Museum, especially for its collection of the Bruegels and opther Flemish masters. It is particularily neat to see Bruegel the Elder's painting of Census at Bethlehem within a few steps of his son's copy of the same painting. They also had lots of additional Bruegel information in computer kiosks. Their museum shop was also excellent and included lots of Mucha things at fair prices. We didn't go the 20th Century Museum, but then we can always come back. Then off for a quick visit to the Grand Place (which is almost done with cleaning—what a sight it will be when the last of the scafolding comes down.) We had an early dinner at Leon's of Brussels—a favorite mussel place of Mark's in Paris and then strolled the arcade to buy chocolate.
After a much needed day off (it is very rainy and chill still.) We had bought online tickets for the bus Art Nouveau tour that occurs every Saturday morning. So excited about it. Next month we will let you know how it went.