Holland - On The Right Track in the Off-Season
'New Attractions & Museums by Rail'
It's a land of bicycles, wooden shoes, windmills, art galleries, friendly people and good food. Think RAIL for travel in Holland. This concept is foreign to Canadians, where great distances and sparse population ties us to our cars. But the Dutch have their train system down to a fine art, travelling in comfort, from city centre to city centre. It couldn't be better. The ticket agents speak English. The large yellow timetable displays are easy to read. No reservations are necessary. Just buy your pass before leaving Canada, board the train and enjoy. Dutch people do it every day.
Holland has the densest railway network in Europe. Amazingly, all tourist attractions can be reached by train. The frequency of trains and the short distances to travel, make it fun. Holland Rail pass, Eurail and Europass must be purchased in Canada and are available from Rail Europe Inc., DER Travel and KLM.
Tickets bought on the train are much higher priced. Rail Idea for tourist attractions offers combined train travel, public transportation and entrance fees, considerably cheaper than buying separate tickets. These include zoos, museums, theme-parks, events, the Keukenhof and the Wadden Isles. Schiphol Airport is also a railway station. Every 15 minutes a train leaves for Amsterdam Central Station. If Amsterdam is not your next stop, there are 4,000 trains departing daily to 400 destinations. Save money by sharing a Train Taxi for trips to and from 111 stations. It costs 7 NLG or $5.75 CAN per person in the station, but more from the driver. Utrecht - Canal-Side Footpaths are Unique The city is about 2000 years old and lends itself to a fascinating walking tour either with the use of a Walkman or one organized by the VVV.
Railroad buffs must visit the Dutch Rail Museum housed in a former railway station. Ever had the urge to change signals, switch tracks or ride on a diesel? This is it! Open to the public are 60 locomotives, wagons and carriages. A signal house allows visitors an excellent view of the yards as well as the chance to switch rails and signal lights.
The National Museum van Speelkiok tot Pierement (from Music Box to Barrel Organ) was truly the most fun I have ever had in a museum. Automatic musical instruments are exhibited in the largest Gothic church in the city, the Buurkerk (citizens church) which was completed in 1456 and taken over by the Reformation in 1550.
Our guide loved her job. She played some of her favourite music boxes, clocks and organs which included rousing Dutch polkas, Viennese Waltzes, and contemporary music. Sometimes the music had everyone singing. Charming street or dance hall organs belted out ballroom favourites. Some were not as fortunate as these having been chopped up and used for wood in WWII. St. Catharine's Convent Museum gives a clear pictures of Holland's religious heritage. It houses extensive collections of paintings, religious relics, statues and church robes from the 8th to the 20th century. The Domkerk (Cathedral) and Dom Tower. This magnificent Cathedral was started in 1254 and took three centuries to build. The 365-foot tower provides the best views of the city of Utrecht. The carillon, with its massive 50 bells, can be heard throughout the city.
A walk along the old wharves is Utrecht's greatest tourist attraction. These waterside foot paths are unique. Constructed centuries ago to provide access to the cellars of the canalside houses, they have been turned into restaurants, boutiques and craft shops. A boat trip along the canals is the perfect way to enjoy this medieval town. Hotel Park Plaza is a comfortable hotel just a 5 minute walk from the station. A scrumptious breakfast is included with the room. For an elegant meal try Polman's Huis on Hoek Jansdam & Keistraat. Maastricht - 2000 Years Old.
My fondest memories of Maastricht are of a pub called In Den Ouden Vogelstruys. Eight of us were having a lively discussion. An older gentleman, filled with curiosity, said, 'You speak English. Where do you come from?' We each named our city but when I said, Vancouver, Canada, he replied,' I love Canadians'. He was so sincere I had to ask him why. 'Those Canadian soldiers were so good to us. You know, we were starving and they gave us their own rations. Such nice men. Yes, I love Canadians'. I will never forget his sincerity. Many Dutch people told similar stories about the liberation of Holland and their admiration for our soldiers.
Another reason for remembering Maastricht was our guide, Barbara. This was a tour like no other....a whirlwind. She just loved her city so much that she wanted us to see everything. Did she move! If we stopped to take a picture we had to run to catch up. But her enthusiasm was contagious.
Maastricht lies at the southernmost tip of the Netherlands, Belgium to the west and Germany to the east. Built on the rivers Meuse and Jeker, it traces its roots back to Roman times. The centre of the city is especially attractive because of its historic buildings which are protected by law. A walking tour of the city is meant to take 2 hours but two days would be better. Fortifications of the medieval city are still obvious with their massive thick walls. Climb aboard and cruise the river Meuse. The trip takes an hour but you can leave to see the caves and catch the next boat to continue.
The Caves of St. Pietersberg are unique underground chambers. The Romans, and all who came after them, carved out huge chunks of marl, a limestone that is as easy to carve as soap, but hardens on exposure to air. Many buildings are constructed of marlstone, leaving the caves riddled with some 200,000 passageways. During WWII they served as a refuge for great works of art hidden from the Nazis. The two most interesting churches are The Basilica of Our Lady which dates to the 12th century and the Basilica of St. Servatius, which dates back to 1000.
The Bonnefanten Museum of Art and Archaeology opened in 1995. On display are finds dating from 250,000 B.C. to the Middle Ages and artwork from the Middle Ages to today. The Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza on the riverfront, is a modern, deluxe, five-star hotel. Many of the rooms have balconies or terraces. A lively bar and lounge overlooks the river and there are three excellent restaurants.
Amsterdam - The City of Bridges
Amsterdam, the capital is built around a concentric network of 200 canals spanned by over 1200 bridges. The best way to see the city is to take a canal tour. The narrow fronted merchant's houses date back to the 17th century, characterized by ornamental gables. In contrast, award-winning modern architecture in the business zones transforms the city into a cosmopolitan international business centre.
Live-and-let-live, tolerant and liberal are the adjectives that best describe Amsterdam. For centuries it has been the refuge of the oppressed. Steeped with culture and history the city now boasts 53 museums, 61 art galleries, 12 concert halls and 20 theatres. A special canal boat links 16 of the museums. A few hours with a guide from the VVV office is an excellent introduction to the city.
Experience the thrill of staying at the Grand Krasnapolsky Hotel on Dam Square, a five-star conference hotel. Its Winter Garden restaurant is memorable both for atmosphere and excellent food.
The Circle-Tram goes past almost all the tourist attractions in Amsterdam. One leaves every 10 minutes, from 9.00am to 7.00pm. A ticket entitles you to unlimited use of the tram. Have it validated, then stay seated until you come to the museum or monument you wish to visit. The 32 stops are numbered and each number lists the attractions near that stop.
No matter how limited your time, visit the Rijksmuseum which contains the world's largest collection of paintings by the Dutch masters including The Night Watch by Rembrandt. The Vincent van Gogh Museum with 200 paintings, traces the artistic and psychological development of the great impressionist.
The Frank House where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary, is visited by 600,000 tourists a year. The Hiding Place is left as it was after the Nazis arrested the family and confiscated their belongings. Posters, pictures and videos outline the events from Hitler's rise to power in 1933 to the liberation of the death camps in 1945. 100,000 deported Amsterdam Jews never returned. Otto Frank was the only survivor of the Hiding Place. It is ironic that he was a German officer in WWI. For two years the Franks lived in fear, confined to the attic. From the back window I viewed their world, dominated by the Westerkerk. The carillon rings out every 15 minutes and is mentioned by Anne in her diary.
The Red Light District where legal prostitutes work and pay taxes, is on most people's sightseeing agenda. The windows are outlined with red fluorescent lights and the women, dressed in leather or lace, sit at the windows waiting for customers. The city is captivating, especially at night when the canals and bridges are lit with millions of tiny lights.
The Holland of fondest memories lies just outside Amsterdam... the dikes, the windmills, wooden shoes, tiny harbours filled with sails, flower fields and sandy beaches bordering the North Sea. Think RAIL for a day trip from the city.
In Amsterdam don't miss:
Gallery by gallery you see how a fishing village becomes a major city.
Jewish Historical Museum:
Give yourself lots of time to appreciate three stories, Jewish identity, Jewish religion and culture and Jewish history in the Netherlands.
Our Lord in the Attic:
Built in 1661, the church was hidden in the attic, because of a law which lasted for 200 years, preventing services in any other religion but the Dutch Reformed Church.
Floating Flower Market:
A stunning mass of flowers along the Singel Canal. From permanently moored barges, stall after stall sell brightly coloured blossoms, bulbs and potted plants.
The official residence of the royal family though Queen Beatrix and her family live in The Hague.
A 14th century garden surrounded by houses that date from the 16th century. The begijnes, devoted their lives to helping the poor. Nearby is a secret Catholic chapel built in 1671, still in use.
These are found everywhere. Popular local haunts. Serve Dutch brews and Jenever, Dutch gin. Popular for locals and tourists.
The Pancake Bakery:
Prinsengracht 191, for the best crepes in town.
Winter The Amsterdam Way:
each Nov 1 -March 31 includes the Amsterdam Culture & Leisure Pass, 31 coupons for free or reduced admission to the leading museums, restaurants, etc.
Call: 1-888-GO HOLLAND
My Text here
The Netherlands - When You Go
Air: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines /Northwest Airlines direct flights from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg via Minneapolis. Ottawa and Ouebec City by bus to Montreal. Schiphol Airport is the gateway to Europe. European Escapades brochure available for great savings on holidays.
Visitor Information Centres: Watch for signs’ VVV’. Efficient, well organized - 400 offices in Holland.
Currency: The Guilder, abbreviated as NLG or "Dfl". CAN $1.00=NLG 1.40
VAT Tax: For purchases over NLG 300 spent in one shop in one day. Watch for "Tax free for Tourists" logo. Claim refund at airport.
Clothing: Smart casual wear during the day. For evening, jacket and tie for men, dress for women.
Electricity: 220 volts. Need transformer and two-prong, round-prong adaptor.
Language: Dutch. English is spoken everywhere.
Documents: Canadians only require a passport.
Time to Go: "In-season" means mid-April to mid-October. Peak season is July and August. Maritime weather is never extreme. To avoid crowds and reduce costs try shoulder-or off-season travel. However, the bulb fields burst with colour, mid-April to mid-May.
Getting Around By Train:
For Holland use the Holland Rail Pass. Fast, efficient, clean, always on time.
Call: 1-888 GO HOLLAND
For travel in Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Benelux Tourrail Ticket is a good buy.
For travel throughout Europe the best value is the Eurailpass with 17 countries participating. Must be purchased before leaving Canada.
Call: (800)-361-RAIL or http://www.raileurope.com
Taxis: Tip included in metre price. Train Taxis save money but must be purchased in the station ..7 NLG (about $5.00 CAN).
Netherlands Board of Tourism
25 Adelaide St. East, Suite 710
Toronto, Ont. M5C 1Y2
Tel: (416) 363-1577
or fax: (416) 363-1470
Call: 1-888-GO HOLLAND
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