Day 10. Van Gogh to Bruges.
The day began with an unenviable task--pack up our bags to leave the Andaz in Amsterdam. We finished packing and set our bags by the room door for a 2 PM checkout.
Down the Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal) street to the tram station. We grabbed pastries and water from one of the many bakeries in the area and they were great. We ate them standing at a rail outside the bakery and watched the tourists go by and waited on the tram.
A short ride over to the van Gogh museum and a 10 minute walk. We realized that we should've taken advantage of the concierge at the hotel, as there was a 30 minute wait to get in the museum. This seems to be a must for Amsterdam, as there are queues outside every major attraction.
The van Gogh museum is very nice. It covers his early years with his family, through his time in Paris, down to Arles in Provence, being committed to the sanitarium at St. Remy and his final days. There are many good works at the museum and the learning materials are nicely done.
The downsides for me were few of his major works are there. They are either in private collections, at the MoMA in New York City, at the Orsay in Paris, or scattered about. Also, the place was crowded with tourists wearing the spoken guide. They would standing in front of each painting for minutes at a time, staring blankly at it, waiting for the audio cue to tell them to move on. But that seems to happen at all museums these days. But, the van Gogh museum is definitely worth the price of admission.
We finished in the museum about 1:00 and stopped by the Hard Rock cafe to get a couple of cloisonne pins. Then back to the hotel to check out. We left our bags with the bell desk and walked down the street 300 feet (100 m) to a cafe. We had a variety of things, but Jackie's "pancake" was wonderful. I'm going to break out the crepe maker the moment we get back and try to reproduce this. It's a crepe with bits of bacon cooked into the batter and finally some local cheese shred on the top to melt. It looks like a thin crust pizza, but it's soooo much better.
As we finished our meal, it started to rain. Good thing it's only a short walk back to the hotel.
So here's where our trip gets interesting. For the next few days, we have no idea where we were staying. I have a car rental waiting at the Amsterdam airport, but no destination and no place to sleep for the nice. I talked to the bellman, a nice young man named Menno, about a direction to go. I mentioned that I was thinking about the ancient Belgian city of Bruges (broozh) and he said that would be his number one recommendation. He gave us some other ideas for places to stay. I booked a room for us all at the Crown Plaza in Bruges, and away we went to get our rental car.
The car is a Peugeot 308 Touring wagon. It resembles a Subaru station wagon somewhat in that it has 4 doors and a reasonably ample cargo area. The interior is comfortable and it has a sunroof. It has a 5 speed manual transmission and I'm enjoying shifting gears.
With Jackie at navigator, we left Amsterdam rush hour traffic behind us. Driving in Europe can be scary the first time, but if you're equal parts aggressive and polite, you can handle it. The drive to Bruges took about 2 hours, with Jackie guiding me expertly through Den Haag (The Hague), Rotterdam, and around Antwerp on fast highways and ring roads. The kids slept in the back seats while Jackie and I chatted. The last 15 miles into Bruges were not on 4 line highway, but 2 lane local roads. The houses in this part of Belgium are both old and new, but all look nicely maintained.
At the edge of Bruges, we drove through a stone gateway, which perked everyone up. The city is old stone buildings, canals, and cobbled streets. We got into the city about 8:45 and a 5 minute drive found our hotel. We parked and checked in.
After dropping off our bags, we walked out into a setting sun and looked around for food. We realized we were all starving and footsore, so we made a bee-line to the Irish pub just around the corner from our hotel as their kitchen was still serving food. Elijah and I had their version of Shepherd's Pie, which arrived as almost a work of art. Steaming and full of meat, potatoes, gravy, and carrots. Jackie had a half pint of Guinness while I went for a cider/lager mix with a dash of Cassis (currant) liqueur to sweeten it up.
Not much walking around this evening as we decided to look around in the morning. Even as a "slow" day walking, we managed to get in 11,800 steps.
Tomorrow, explore Bruges, then head "somewhere". Perhaps Luxembourg. I put the idea to the kids to help me decide. After showing them ideas like castles, world war battle fields, cathedrals, or museums, they are noncommittal. I think they hope I will just say "Let's go to Disney Paris". I'm holding that playing card until Friday.