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Report 121: Three Months in Holland

By Marta (Moderator) from Washington State, Spring 1996

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Page 5 of 8: Brussels and Amsterdam

April 30, 1996 The weather has been absolutely amazing since we have arrived. We arrived and it was sunny, but very cold. The trees were very barren and the leaf buds had no sign of life. But a week went by, the weather warmed up and it seems as if spring is exploding here in Holland.

In just a period of two weeks many of the trees are leafing out. Some of the flowering trees are both blooming and leafing at the same time. The daffodils opened up and are almost finish. The tulips are just starting. The weather is still sunny this third week but the wind has changed and there is a chilly wind from the North Sea. But it has been wonderful for walking in the cities and viewing the gardens.

Last weekend was our city weekend. We noticed in the Dutch newspaper and in the English paper, The European, that the royal greenhouses built by King Leopold of Belgium were open for 1 month. He asked, as part of his last wishes, that the greenhouses be opened to the public for a period of 1 month every year. The greenhouses are located on the royal estate in the outskirts of Brussels. A perfect reason to go to Brussels.

We decided to do just a day trip. We caught the train bright and early. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to go to Brussels. We got to a stop in Antwerpen (Antwerp) and the train stopped. We waited and waited. Soon there was an announcement and we gathered there were technical difficulties on the train and we were to switch to another train. Everyone piled off the train and soon a small engine came along and pushed the train away. We waited. Then there was another announcement and everyone started moving to another spoor (train platform). We have had this happen a couple of times already and we have learned to just follow the crowd. It's amazing how well you can read the crowd and guess where to go.

We got off at Brussels North (Noord) station and went to find our way to the greenhouses. Getting around in Northern Europe is very easy. We knew from the article in the paper to take tram 52 and we asked at an information booth what stop for the greenhouses. Many people speak enough English to be able to tell you what you need to know. Soon we were off to a new area of Brussels. The tram went through the Arabic area of Brussels. Many women from the Middle East with their heads covered. Soon it was our stop and we walked a short bit to the Greenhouses.

The greenhouses were very popular. There was a long queue to get in and through the green houses. They were huge. One of the greenhouses must have been 4 blocks long. The sides and tops were covered in old fuchsia plants that were arched over the top and their blooms were hanging down. It was beautiful. We finally came out to the grand greenhouse. It was a large greenhouse with roman pillars about 2 stories high which was topped with a large glass rotunda. It is quite spectacular. Next it went out into an Orangerie which is a large room where orange trees were grown which were popular in the late 1800s. There was also a long banquet room that would have held 200-300 people. We exited out to the grounds and could see the palace where the current Royal family of Belgium lives.

Next we went back to the old part Brussels to the Grand Market. This is a large square with ornate building surrounding it. Many of the building were originally guilds and are now restaurants and cafes. The specialty of Brussels is mussels so we stopped for a lunch of steamed mussels and a beer, Leffe Bruin on tap.

Next we had to pick up some Leonidas chocolates and I wanted another beer. We went to a cafe and sat in the square and watched the sun go down. We walked a bit more around the area, had some wonderful ice cream and finally back to the train.

That was Saturday. Sunday again was very sunny, but a bit cool. We had planned to go bike riding to the beach and through the bulb fields. We didn't get to the train station until about 12 noon and learned all the bikes were rented for the day. We were very disappointed. Since we were at the train station, we decided to go Amsterdam instead.

Amsterdam was fun as usual. The stores are now open on Sunday in Amsterdam. The Dutch now considers Amsterdam a resort ‘or’ holiday location and Dutch laws allow the stores to be open. It is quite crowded in Amsterdam on Sunday.

We walked down the main shopping street, looked in lots of bookstores. Next we went to the Begijnhof. This is a wonderful enclosed square off one of Kalverstaat and Spui that was a home for nuns. It includes one of Amsterdam's hidden churches. Many of the buildings are from the 16th-17th century.

Next, of course, we had to visit the flower market. George bought some sweet peas to put on the balcony trellis. Next we headed off for Leidseplein. We noticed as we were walking that there were a lot of people with red and white on. We realized that there was some gathering of the Ajax (the Amsterdam soccer) team. We later found out that Ajax had just won the division and it was a gathering to celebrate the victory. Lots of people, lots of police. We stuck around for a while and then left for the Jordaan area and a walk along Prinsengracht. We stopped in a bar for another Leffe Bruin and decided to stay for dinner. It was good. I also had a Brand Maibock which was light but a had a nice floral taste as a Maibock should.

We headed back to the train exhausted but quite happy.

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