Anniversary in the Low Countries

Celebrating one year as a married couple! It’s been a wonderful year with a lot of changes in our lives. We’ve had our ups and downs, and we’ve become closer in this last year. To celebrate that year together we decided to go to the Netherlands and Belgium.

Our trip started at the Shenzhen airport. We wanted to take the ferry from here to the Hong Kong airport to avoid the crowds. The first “interesting” event of our trip happened here. As I was washing my hands in the restroom, a little four year old ran in and pushed me aside and started to wash his hands. There was no excuse me or explanation for his behavior. There was no guardian with him. I asked him why he pushed me and then he flicked water at my face. At that point my irritation at this boy was at the tipping point and I flicked water back to him—I know juvenile. I scolded him and left, which he then subsequently ran after me and flicked water at me again! Jun at that point came to see what the problem was and cooled down the situation before things descended into a water fight.

After that incident there were no other issues as we got on the ferry to Hong Kong and waited for our flight to Amsterdam. There subsequently was just a lot of lines and waiting.

Day 1

We got into Amsterdam early in the morning. After the long wait in immigration we took the train to the hotel. We did our initial check-in, but because it was so early we had to wait until the afternoon to get our room. We left our luggage and decided to explore the central part of Amsterdam. We took the train to Amsterdam Centraal station. From there we started to wonder around the city. We first went through the Red Light district in the early morning. As we walked we saw a number of different bakeries; we decided to stop and get some cheesy bread. It was great to have so much choices in relation to cheese. With good cheese being expensive and limited in China, it was exciting to try so many different kinds of cheese!

Our walk continued through the city. We didn’t really have an intended destination, but we just wanted to wander and experience the city. We ended walking through some neat neighborhoods, such as the Begijnhof. We eventually found our way at the Rijksmuseum and got to see some impressive examples of Dutch masters and decorative arts. The museum was amazing! To see some of Rembrandt’s most important paintings was exciting.

By the time we were done with the museum it was mid-afternoon. We went back to the hotel to finish check-in. When we got to the room we were both excited to go and take a shower and to take a short nap.

Afterwards we took a walk around our hotel and to find a place for dinner. We walked through a number of nice neighborhoods and ended up at a seafood restaurant. After dinner we took the train back to the hotel and ended our first day by falling into a deep sleep.

Day 2

On our second day we first went to the Anne Frank House Museum. The museum is located in Westermarkt—a really nice neighborhood. The museum itself was sobering and beautifully executed. The museum tends to tell the story as is without embellishing the facts. The reality of it is that the truth of what happened to the Frank family is sad. That such atrocities can happen is painful to know, but the museum dealt with it well. We were impressed with the museum and left with a greater appreciation for life.

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From there we had lunch at a pancake restaurant. We had Dutch pancakes with different toppings. I was so excited to have these pancakes and enjoyed them immensely. They were great!

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Jun and I decided that from the restaurant we would take the train to Zaanse Schans. There’s a historic outdoor museum there. We traveled a little north of Amsterdam to see this outdoor museum. It’s a really neat place. If you’re not interested in actually going inside some of the buildings to see the inner workings, that’s fine because the outside area is actually free. It was just nice to walk around and see the place. There are a number of windmills there. These windmills come from all over the Netherlands; it creates for a fun sight to see the different types of windmills in one place. We also got a chance to try cheese and to wear clog shoes. It was a fun place. The autumn weather was crisp and cool; walking around it was enjoyable.

Afterwards we went to Zaandam, a town between Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam. We just walked a bit and admired the architecture. We also did a little shopping. We went a little overboard with buying tea. We were pleasantly surprised to find quite a variety and cheap prices.

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By then we were ready to have dinner. We went back to Amsterdam and found an amazing Indonesian restaurant: Indonesian Kitchen. Since Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, Indonesian cuisine has found a place in Dutch culinary culture. The restaurant was located in the basement of a building and was quite small. Only maybe thirty people could be seated at one time. The staff was quite nice her. We decided to have the chef taster menu. It was four courses of different Indonesian delicacies. With each course the staff would explain what it was eating. It was quite an enjoyable experience.

After dinner we went back to our hotel to end the day.

Day 3

On this day we decided to go see Muiden Castle. To get there we took a train to Weesp, the nearest station to Muiden. We were then going to take the bus over there, but when we got there we saw that the bus wouldn’t be coming for an hour. Jun and I decided to walk there. It was longer than we had expected, but we did get to see a bit of the Dutch countryside.

When we got to Muiden it was like walking into a postcard of a European village. It was a picturesque community. Also adding to the idea that it was a postcard was the lack of people that we saw. It was interesting to basically have the place to ourselves.

The castle itself was really nice. It’s not extravagant or big as some other European castles, such as Neuschwanstein in Germany. What it did have was charm. The gardens and the chambers of the castle were nicely done and the information was presented in a way that was fun. Some of the signs are designed for children. There’s a leading question that a kid may ask. My favorite was, “Are there sharks in the moat?” The response was cheeky and kid friendly. I really liked that the people in charge of designing the exhibits presented the information in a manner that would get children interested in history.

After the museum we had lunch in Muiden. We had typical Dutch/Western fare at a nice restaurant.

Then we went back to Amsterdam to visit the Van Gough Museum. Talk about a drastic difference from the castle. The number of people at the museum dwarfed what we had seen at the castle and the town. But the museum was amazing. To see so many of Van Gough’s artwork was just wonderful. It was quite an enjoyable experience.

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After that we took the train to Haarlem to walk around that city. It’s an interesting place that has some nice examples of Dutch architecture. We got to see Windmill De Adriaan along the Spaarne Riverhe, and we walked by the old city gate of Amsterdamse Poort. The city center had an amazing church, Saint Bavo Church, which was huge as well.

After having walked around the city, Jun and I were ready for dinner. Since our hotel had a kitchenette, we decided to go to the grocery store and make dinner ourselves. We bought a number of things that we couldn’t easily get in China and made ourselves a really nice dinner. It ended up being a nice way to end the day.

Day 4

Today we decided to travel south to Delft, The Hague, and Rotterdam. The weather overnight had been bad and caused some disruptions to train service. So we had to be a bit creative in figuring out how to get to Delft. It ended up not being an issue and we got to Delft in the late morning. Delft is such a cute city. The canals that go around the central area creates for some nice neighborhoods. And the city’s center was full of nice architecture.

The main reason we wanted to go to Delft was to visit the Royal Delft Experience and see how the porcelain was made. The museum was quite nice and we got to see people actually producing the porcelain. We got to see some nice examples of Delft ware for practical and ornamental purposes. We ended up buying a nice vase as a souvenir.

After the Royal Delft Experience we had lunch in Delft before we went to The Hague. At The Hague we went around the central area of the city. We walked by the Binnenhof, a government building that’s quite impressive. We saw the Peace Palace. I really enjoyed that since it’s been in so many television shows and movies. Then we walked a bit around the shopping areas of The Hague.

From The Hague we went to Rotterdam to have dinner at the Markthal. It’s a modern example of how art and architecture can blend to create a communal space. The building curves to create an open interior. On the interior wall is a natural scene of flowers and insects. And on the ground are different stalls selling fruit, cupcakes, nuts, sushi, and so many other things. It was a neat place. We ended up having dinner at a Greek restaurant. It was a nice way for us to end our day.

Day 5

On this day we took the Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels. It was a nice ride. I got done with some school work, and Jun was able to get some things done for work as well. When we got into Brussels our hotel room wasn’t ready. We went around the city to explore areas such as the Palais Royal and the Grand Place. As we were walking we had lunch at a Belgium tavern restaurant. From here we learned that mussels are something to be eaten here. So we had a lot of mussels for lunch, as well as shrimp scampi and cheese croquettes.

The best thing that we had on our explorations of the city was trying the different chocolate and waffles here. We tried different types of chocolate at places like Leonidas and Neuhaus.

By the mid-afternoon we ended up at the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur, the fifth largest cathedral in the world. It was a more modern example of ecclesial architecture; it was quite serene inside. Afterwards we went back through the central part of Brussels and had more chocolate before going back to the hotel.

Once we checked-in it was early evening and we decided to call it a day and just got some sushi for dinner.

Day 6

We went to Bruges on this day. It was a rainy day, but it created a relaxing and calm atmosphere as we walked around the city. We first went through Minnewaterpark before heading to Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk where we got to see one of the few example of a work by Michelangelo outside of Italy. “Madonna with Child” was a beautiful sculpture. The other parts of this museum were also quite nice. I even learned that people used to paint the inside of tombs.

From there we went to a small family owned restaurant and had more mussels and beef stew. It was quite good and the family was really nice and hospitable.

After lunch we went to the Belfry. We climbed the many stairs to the top and had some nice views of the city. We also got spritzed by the rain as it was quite windy up there. But it was nice to see the city. We also got to see the clock and chimes working inside the Belfry. On our way down we saw some different rooms. Apparently the Belfry was once used to house the city’s treasury and served as a type of attic for the city.

From there we went to see some different kinds of windmills at the outskirts of the old town. That was neat to see. Also from there we could see into the center. When I saw the Belfry and another church tower I was struck by how much it reminded me of the two towers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Belfry was quite huge.

By then it was getting late and Jun and I decided to slowly walk back to the train station. On the walk we stopped to get some Belgium waffles. As we were doing this we got to witness a strange performance art piece that was focused on a car with a diver driver inside. As the car stopped it would shoot out water at the surrounding people. It was interesting and fun to see!

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Back in Brussels Jun and I went and bought some chocolate to bring back to China and had dinner at La Dolce Mia, this amazing Italian restaurant on Rue Haute. The owner was a nice guy who I kind of flummoxed with a bit too many questions in English. In the end our dinner was quite nice and we had a nice meal to end our trip in Brussels.

Day 6

This day was technically our last day in Europe, but it was mainly a travel day. We woke up early and took the first train from Brussels to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Then we had to wait through so many lines at the airport before we were able to get to our gate. Our flight was delayed. When we got to Mumbai for our connection we had to run to our gate to catch our flight. Because the flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai was delayed our checked bag didn’t end up on that plane. In Hong Kong we waited for our bag to only discover it hadn’t showed up with us. We thus had to make a claim for our bag and hope for the best.

From the airport we went back to Shenzhen. We got home and took our showers and had a late lunch/early dinner. As we were eating Jun got a call from the agency dealing with the bag. They had found it and were delivering it to our apartment at that moment. So we were able to get the bag the same day!

And that’s how our trip ended…

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