|Subject: Trip report - Haarlem, Bruges and Paris|
We arrived back on Sunday from four weeks away.
In our three nights in Haarlem, we visited the Floriade, Haarlem museums (Frans Hals, Teyler's) and Amsterdam. The Floriade is an oddity, with some gardens but other displays about urban planning and environment. We enjoyed Haarlem. It is a nice size, has a lovely main market square, easy access to the airport and to Amsterdam. Our hotel Joop's Inner City was okay for the price (75 euros). We enjoyed the Jordaan district the most.
On our way to Bruges by train, we visited Antwerp for lunch and a brief walk to see the guildhouses. An attractive town with lots of students.
Bruges (Brugge) is beautiful and full of tourists, naturally! Restaurants are relatively pricey but our b&b (Dieltiens) was lovely and only 50 euros. Apart from the absolutely lovely town, the highlight was the Jan van Eyck special exhibit tracing the influence of Eyck and Netherlandish artists in Europe. Paintings are organized by connections and themes. Other buildings we enjoyed were the Beginhof with its simple buildings encircling a green and the churches, in particular Jerusalemkerk built by the Adorne family. Best of all was walking the canals and crossing the humpy-backed bridges late in the evening.
>From Bruges, we daytripped to Brussels. We walked a lot as usual, from St. Catherine's Square to the Palace to the Sablon to the Art Nouveau area. Dinner on rue des Bouchers at Aux Armes de Bruxelles was more than just good food - this restaurant street is an energetic people-watcher's delight.
>From Bruges, we walked to Damme along the canal. Damme used to be a large port town, important enough to host a royal wedding. Now it is a quiet town with a few restaurants and some secondhand book dealers.
We visited Gent on our way to Paris vis the Thalys. The highlight there was the retable of the adoration of the Lamb at the cathedral by Jan van Eyck and his brother. Well worth a journey. We also visited Museum schone Kunsten to see some Bosch paintings and had a lovely meal at Brasserie #t Klokhuys, Corduwaniersstraat 65. Gent, an important medieval city is an attractive town with guildhouses and busy pedestrian shopping streets.
Contrary to our expectations, taking the Thalys with a rail pass was not expensive. Our second class seats cost 10 euros per person, including the reservation fee. Be careful though - on our first attempt to book them, we were told that only first class was available at a much higher fee. After a coffee break and with a different ticket agent at the station, we were able to book second class on a later train on the same day.
Paris was wonderful! We walked kilometers every day exploring different arrondissements. There is too much to tell since we were there for three weeks. Sainte-Chapelle stands out, though!
We also attended a small Travelziners GTG with Gavin and Cheryl Crawford and Jonathan Chimene at La Gavroche. We talked until long after the last Metro train!
On our last day, we participated in an interesting Paris Walks Hemingway walk in the Mouffetard where we saw buildings that were associated with Hemingway, James Joyce, Orwell, Rabelais, and more.
Museums we visited included the Louvre (twice), Marmottan, Orsay (get a museum pass!), Picasso, Dali (not worthwhile), Cluny (beautiful tapestries, Army (WWII) and Carnavalet.
Carnavalet used to be on the museum pass but isn't anymore - it's free! Although the layout is a little odd, it has some fascinating pictures documenting local history and some beautiful furnished rooms, including a fabulous Art Nouveau jewelry shop by Mucha, an amazing ballroom from the Hotel Wendel and a private room from the Cafe de Paris. The museum also has rooms that belonged to famous people (Marcel Proust#s bedroom), objects that belonged to Marie Antoinette, Zola, and others. Fine furniture from Louis XIV, Regency, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Directoire, etc. Paintings and scale models that illustrate history: (contemporary paintings of great fires, the tennis court oath, a balloon ascent, building of the Metro, etc.). Souvenirs of the siege of Paris (bread in a jar, a carrier pigeon#s feather, etc.) and china made to commemorate important events (tea cups with a picture of a guillotine!). All this in a wonderful Marais hotel particuliers.
Day tripped to the Loire using the TGV and Acco-Dispo shuttle van service (recommended). The garden at Villandry when viewed from the lookout was a definite wow! The shuttle service worked well. There is a pre-set itinerary for each day and you are driven to each one with a commentary about each. Usually you get a group discount on the entrance fee. And then you are on your own and must report back to the arranged pickup location at a specific time.
We would recommend a guided tour of Versailles. We took the first one available that day, on the private life of the king and were escorted by a knowledgeable guide. The grottoes in the gardens were the highlights for us. See the paintings in the Grand Trianon illustrating them and then go to see them!
We visited Chartres for the interesting Malcolm Miller tour of the cathedral. One of the windows has been restored recently and is wonderful. Chartres itself is an interesting town and repays the wanderer.
We used our last day of our train pass on a TGV trip to Dijon and Beaune. We had considered closer places but with the fast train, it takes as long to go to Dijon as to Rouen. The Hotel Dieu medieval hospital was definitely worthwhile.
We also visited Giverny to see Monet's garden on a Sunday. When we saw the queue for admission we were worried that the gardens would be too crowded. However most people seem to move through them very quickly and slow-pokes like us could enjoy them! SNCF, the French train company has leaflets with train and connecting bus timetables (neither are frequent) as well as estimates of taxi fares. We took the last train back in the evening and we had to stand for the 45 minute train journey.
Frances Toronto, Canada