This article is by Sourabh Datta Gupta
26.9-27.9.17. Kolkata (20 10 hrs – IST) -Mumbai-Amsterdam-Brussels (15 00 hrs BST) – Brugge
06.10.17. Amsterdam-Zaanse Schans-Merken-Valondam-Amsterdam-Delft-The Hague-Amsterdam
08.10.-9.10.17. Amsterdam (11 40 hrs)-Delhi- Kolkata
We (Mohua and I) took 9.20 pm Jet Airways flight (from Dum Dum Airport, Kolkata) to reach Rome via Mumbai. Today is Shasthi (Tuesday) of Durga Pujo. I had three consecutive days of sleepless night due to pandal hopping for Durga Pujo.
We left home at 4 pm and took the Park Circus flyover (via Gariahat flyover) and reached airport really fast in an hour or so. We reached Mumbai at around 12 10 am.
Our next connecting flight is at 2.40 am. When we reached Amsterdam after 8.30 hours – it is 7 am local time. In the airport I saw many souvenirs from Van Gogh museum. Later I learnt that the price is exactly same as what you get in the Van Gogh Museum. So you can buy it from the airport as well without being ripped off.
Our next connecting flight of 40 minutes, to Brussels, is at 1.40 am. It left 20 minutes late, at 2 pm by KLM, code sharing partner of Jet Airways, by a small airplane – City hopper. I considered myself quite lucky to get the direct flight from Kolkata. The price I paid is Rs 37,500/- return fare, per person. Of course I bought the ticket almost a year back!
There is a train which goes straight to Brugges directly from Brussels airport , but we missed it. So we had to go to South Station or Midi (French) or Zuid (flemish) station of Brussels to go to Brugges. Belgian Rail operates trains every 15 min from the airport (Level -1) to Brussels’ three main stations. The 3 main train stations in Brussels are – North or Nord or Noord, Central or Centraal and South or Midi or Zuid. The fare is € 8 for 20 minutes train ride ! The exchange rate at the moment is 1 Euro = Rs 76 !! My friend Marjolene suggested that I buy a 10 ride Rail Pass for anywhere in Belgium for 77 Euro. Since we are buying it from Airport, we have to a pay an extra Cess or Diabolo of 5 Euro each i.e. we paid in total 77+10 = 87 Euro for unlimited 10 rides in Belgium for 10 days.
Whenever you travel we had to write the details of our name, date, destination etc on the same form/Pass.
Alternatively, Brussels can be reached by train much more cheaply via Zaventem village (dorp) station, which is within easy walking distance from the airport. At € 2.90, the fare is 3 times cheaper than the ticket from Brussels Airport Station to the city. This is because the expensive Diabolo Surcharge on airport trains does not apply here.
You can also take STIB bus – the buses depart from airport level 0. The ticket price is €4.50 from the vending machine next to the bus stop, or €6.00 on board. You can buy a Discover Brussels Card .
Alternatively the bus tickets sold by De Lijn are not valid on other means of public transport within Brussels. It costs only €3.00 on board
The Northern part of Belgium is called Flanders – they speak Flemish , a dialect of Dutch and Southern part is called Wallonia , they speak French. Dutch speakers may have some difficulty with the Belgian Dutch accent of Flemish.
Brussels is the only city where the street signs are in Flemish and also French, apart from English. Although officially bilingual, the lingua Franca of Brussels is French – although it is in Flanders part. Brussels is the head quarters of EU. It is Bruxelles in French. It is still relatively rare to find written tourist or general information in English, although the situation is improving greatly.
It takes 70 minutes to reach Brugges by “fast train”. We reached Brugges at 6.40 pm. From the train station we took a bus to reach Langrei – where our host Bruno stay. We met a Nepali lady in the bus. She said there are 900 Nepalis in Brugges.
Brugges is in the Western side of Belgium. It was a very important port in the 14th Century. It is called Venice of the West. Later the port got silted and importance of the place, diminished.
The shooting of famous Bollywood (Hindi) cinema (PK) took place in Brugges. The city is really exquisite.
After checking in at Bruno’s house, we left for dinner by walk. Our house is near a canal. You have to walk 3-4 minutes from the bus stop on a cobbled stone road, to reach Bruno’s house.
First we went to Carrefour, which has just closed (at 7 pm). So we went to the market square to have our dinner in an Italian Restaurant. We had Pizza.
There are two rates – for dining in the restaurant (7.5 Euro) and another for take away (5 Euro). It is like Coperto in Italy. We got to know that French Fries is actually Belgian Fries. The US army, during the second world war, heard people speaking in French, in French part of Belgium (Wallonia) and having Potato Fry. So they thought it is France and called it French Fries. At the market square we had French Fries from a kiosk owned by a Nepali. Since the Frites is fried in Beef fat – Mohua opted out of it ! After that we returned back home.
Understand the History
Belgium is a low-lying country on the South of North Sea and South East of England. Belgium is the heir of several former Medieval powers, previously named Belgae (or Belgica reference to the Roman Empire period).
After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the territory that is nowadays Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was part of Lotharingia.
This is the origin of the Low Countries, a general term that encompasses present-day Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The powerful German emperor and Spanish king, Charles V, was born in the Belgian city of Ghent and ruled from Brussels. Many places in Belgium are named after him, including the city of Charleroi .
Belgium was briefly a part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, a large Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, comprising the whole of the Low Countries. However, the religious opposition remained and the split was aggravated by political differences between Belgian liberals and Dutch aristocrats. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 after a short revolution and a war against the Netherlands.
It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II and has many war graves near the battle zones, most of them are around Ieper (in English – Ypres, with Yperite another name for mustard gas due to intensive use there, in the first World War).
Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish people (ethnic German) of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
Belgium consists of 3 federal regions, listed from North to South:
Flanders : The northern, Dutch-speaking region of the country. It includes well known cities like Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges.
Brussels : The bilingual capital region of the country and headquarters of the EU.
Wallonia : The southern, French-speaking region, incorporating a small German speaking region in the east near the German border. The Walloon provinces are (from west to east): Hainaut, Walloon Brabant, Namur, Liège and Luxembourg.
Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during the town’s Golden Age, roughly the 14th century, remains intact and the old centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th century belfry or bell tower, where the bell still rings on a daily basis. With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination and get a bit overcrowded during holidays.
Belgium’s area is 31,000 sq Km or 1/3rd of my State of West Bengal, but population is only 11 million or 1.1 Crore, which is 1/9 th of my State.
Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during its Golden Age ( around 14th century), remains intact and the old centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th century belfry or Bell Tower. With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination.
Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during its Golden Age ( around 14th century), remains intact and the old centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th century belfry or Bell Tower.
With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination.
Then we went to the Belfry or Bell Tower. The shooting of famous Hindi movie PK took place here (in the movie a show of Amitabh Bachchan was taking place) in the market square. You have to Climb the 366 steps to go to the top of the 83-metre high Bell tower. Since hardly anybody is going to the top, we did not go to the top, by paying 8 Euro. We walked for some time in the square and went to the Town Hall.
From there we went to Groeninge Museum. It enjoys an international reputation for its rich collections of Flemish Primitives and Renaissance works by artists from the region.
This museum no doubt holds the crème de la crème of oil painting from the Middle Ages, including canvasses from the likes of Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling that depict medieval Bruges – while maintaining a realistic approach.
Van Eyck’s The Madonna with Canon van der Paele or Gerard David’s The Judgement of Cambyses is famous. The term primitive is misnomer. It is not primitive by any stretch of imagination. During Bruges’ Golden Age, the 15th century, the fine arts prevailed. In the wake of the prestigious Burgundian dynasty, the great Flemish Primitives made a name for themselves. The world-renowned artist Jan Van Eyck, Hans Memling are part of Flemish Primitive or Netherlandish painting belonging to that era, with a distinctive style during 15th and 16th Century, especially in the flourishing cities of Bruges, Ghent, Brussels etc, all in present-day Belgium. The recurring theme of the painting is not religious.
Another museum nearby is Saint John’s Hospital Meuseum. It has nothing to do with hospital . But it was closed. There are some “primitive paintings” over there also. Just across the street is Church of our lady. Michelangelo’s world famous ‘Madonna and Child’ can be found in the Church of Our Lady. It came here during his lifetime. This was also closed too.
Then we visited Arentshuis museum. The top floor is devoted to the work of the versatile Bruges-born British artist, Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956). His work belonged to many different schools: social realism,Vienna Secession, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and modernism. He painted with oils, tempera (or Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting), and water colours.
Most of the allies are cobble stone road.
Cycling is a common mode of transport here. We did not see so much cycling in Italy where we went last year. After the tour we went back home. We met a lady called Ilsa, friend of Bruno, who has been to Kolkata and stayed almost a month. She learnt Vipassana Yoga in Kolkata. Mohua cooked Egg Curry for them and taught them how to do it.
So he is staying here legally, unlike Pakistanis, who are illegal immigrants. This is what Ilsa, Bruno’s friend, also told me. In fact there is a Nepali neighbourhood ! Just like Bangladeshis in Italy. The first place we went is Sint-Niklaaskerk or St Nicholas’s Church (Kirk in Scottish means “church”). It is a mixture of surviving Romanesque elements of the Flemish architectural style, known as Schelde Gothic. The impressive 13th to 15th century church was paid for by Ghent’s wealthy medieval merchants and guilds. The tower is one of the “3 towers of Ghent” – in fact, it was the first of the 3 to grace the city skyline.
Then we went to see Sint-Baafs kathedraal or St. Bavo’s Cathedral or Sint-Baafsplein. Its exterior is Romanesque (Romanesque art is the art of Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 12th century, or later, depending on region. The preceding period is known as the Pre-Romanesque period. The term was invented by 19th-century art historians), Gothic and baroque architecture. There are priceless paintings and sculptures, including “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, completed by Jan van Eyck in 1432. Other art treasures in the cathedral include Rubens’s restored “The Conversion of St. Bavo” from 1623. The admission is free. It is a very tall Cathedral.
Just in front of that is Belfry or Bell Tower and Cloth hall. In Italy Bell Tower is called Campanile . The Belfry begun in 1313 and completed in 1380. We took the lift to the Belfry’s top, 66m high, to see the bells and take in fantastic panoramic views of the city. You have to pay 6€ to go up!
Like Brugges, we did a Canal tour. It lasted little more – 40 minutes. A cruise on the canals is a good way to view the city’s highlights and the tour is highly recommended. You have to pay 7 € for the ride.
Then we went to see Het Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts), Sint-Veerleplein .It was built by Count Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, soon after he returned from the Crusades in 1180 with images of similar crusader castles in the Holy Land. There is a torture chamber inside. You can view relics of the chamber in a small museum in the castle. We went up to the ramparts of the high central building, from which there are great views of Ghent’s rooftops and towers. Entry fee is 8€ .
We walked all along in Ghent. There is no need to catch a bus / tram to go to these places. They are all walking distance from each other.
We had some famous Ghent Cones/Noses. It seems there is some jelly inside. It costs 2 € for 100 gm.
There is a Carrefour (what Walmart is to USA, Carrefour is to France) shop here. The prices are quite reasonable in Carrefour. I did not see Walmart till date ( in Italy or Belgium). I bought Foccacia bread and salami. We had lot of waffle . They typically costs 25 € per Kg. The plane vanilla waffle costs only 12 € per kg.
We had some Chocolates, especailly Trufle. Sadly I am not too fond of Chocolate. Some white Chocolates too – which is my favourite ! They are really good.
After that we left for Brugges by train. I went to the most photographic spot of Brugges , which I missed yesterday.
Mohua had to rush to cook cauliflower for Bruno !
I walked all the way to our house from the Brugges Station.
Today I was planning to go Ostend. It is not very far from Brugge. Ostend is a city on the Belgian coast. It’s known for its long beach and promenade. Ostend is not very far from Dunkirk , it was the basis of famous movie Dunkirk – which was rose into prominence during Second World War. In fact Ostend was also a important army base.
Another plan was to go to Ypres in French or Ieper in Dutch, pronounced as Eeper, is a town in the Belgian province of West Flanders. It’s surrounded by the Ypres battlefields, where many cemeteries, memorials and war museums honour the battles that unfolded in this area during World War I. Ypres, was infamous for one of the most deadliest wars (World War I) between Germans and Allied Forces – where allied forces died like ants. After being destroyed in the war, many important buildings were carefully reconstructed. It is said that after the fire in Ypres Cloth Hall, people came from Belgium to see the High Court of Kolkata , which is itself a replica of Ypres , to re-construct it in Belgium !!
It was scrapped since it would have been very complicated, since we have to leave for Antwerp today in the afternoon. We have to cut it too thin. Rather we went to see the Brugge, little more intimately.
We went to see the windmill side near the back side of my Bruno’s house. I saw a Yoga centre there !
After quick lunch, we left for Antwerp by train, at 3.45 pm, from Brugge. It is the diamond capital of the world. On the way we met a girl (Engineer) from Pune. She has a 9 year child. She is basically from Delhi, but her husband is from Pune. She was in Antwerp in the morning and came here to see it. She is on an official tour. She works in Atlas Corporation. She came here without knowing almost anything! She has not even heard of the name of Tintin !! When we reached Antwerp it was 5.30 pm. Our friend Marjolein came to the station to receive us with her daughter Rose with her cycle cum Pram. We walked all the way to home.
They made Vol-au-vent for us. For recipe click here : http://mohuadg.blogspot.com
We had our dinner together and chatted quite some after dinner and went to sleep.
01/10/2017 – Sunday
Today we had some special breakfast . They keep chopping board on the table. Like Bruno’s house tables are made of wood and is sometimes used as an extension of plate. They keep bread on the table. There were 2 types of bread : Pastel and Tiger (possibly because of the look of the bread) and various types of cheese ( kept on the table) – Parmesan, Gouda (it is name of a place in Netherlands), one special cheese from France : which is apparently the best of the lot. For me all of them are good.
Generally every morning they have Muesli with Milk. This is true for most households, I guess. The milk is not so smelly there. My friend has a coffee machine and makes Cappuccino just like the one we have in Cafe Coffee day. I want to buy one like this in Kolkata !
After that we left for the city tour . They left for the zoo with the kids. We bought the hop on hop off tour which is valid for 2 days for only 15 Euro each. We got down near the river front and after strolling around the river , we went to see St Paul’s Church with gothic and baroque structure, which is really nice – the wooden panels inside are very nice. Such wooden panels are rare inside a church. It is free. Some people were playing violin inside the church . We saw there is some music in the evening too (composed by Mozart). There are some paintings of Rubens inside the Church. I saw some painting by famous Tintoretto here after Venice ! This area is called Grote Market. It is the Central Market place.
Next we went to see the biggest cathedral – Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwe-kathedraal). One of the most impressive and largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe, built in 1351 it stands over 400 ft tall. It also houses some of Rubens’ most famous paintings. Entrance fee is 6 euros. We did not go inside.
Then we went to the bus stand to take the hop on hop off bus. We took the bus and got down at Peter Paul Ruben’s house – Rubenshuis . The house of painter Peter Paul Rubens (a Baroque painter) is now a museum of his life and artwork. Entrance fee is €8 . Ruben’s is the most famous artist of Antwerp, if not of Belgium. A Ruben’s painting is there in Marble Palace in Kolkata. I have seen of his pictures in Florence too. Peter Paul Rubens unlike others, like Van Gogh, made lot of money. He was a good investor. He made many houses. He went to Italy too. His drawings were also influenced by Italian artists of that era.
After that we went to the Port area. From that port approximately 1.5 million or 15 lakh people left for USA. Antwerp was famous for textile industry. It was a prosperous city.
In fact of 90% of polishing of diamond is done here, since the time of King Leopald. In fact it is gradually being shifted to Dubai , we were told. This is the hub of manufacturing, unlike Brussels – which is the centre for service industry. Brussels is a multi lingual city.
Our next destination in Doel (Pronounced as Dool). We took a Barge to cross the River Scheldt, where Simon is waiting for us in his car.
I got to know Doel from my friend Sudipto. Even they have not heard much of this area. It is like Singur of Antwerp. To make way for a port , they tried to relocate local people.
Doel is a village in Belgium- located next to the port of Antwerp, Europe’s second largest seaport. Nearby is one of Belgium’s nuclear reactors. Doel is about thirty minutes (30 Km) from Antwerp by car.
The village of Doel dates back over 700 years. Within this graffiti filled village, you still see traces of a rural Belgian town. Within Doel, you’ll find the oldest stone mill in Belgium, dating back to the 1600s. The ancestral home of Peter Paul Rubens, is also located in Doel. There are a few other notable buildings from the 1700s.
Life in Doel has been largely quiet over the years, until the decision to build a nuclear power plant nearby . The residents of Doel successfully fought it off. However, when the decision was made (by a state funded corporation) to try to expand the port of Antwerp in the late 1990s, the residents fought against the acquisition. They say a second container dock isn’t necessary since the previous one, which opened in 2005, is being used to less than a fifth of its capacity (the corporation disputes this figure). However, many Doel residents took a “voluntary payout” to leave Doel in 2000 to get a better value for their property. Those who stayed have been offered some money over the years, however the land is now devalued. A collective of residents and others, passionate about saving Doel have banded together to create Doel 2020 to attract street artists to come to Doel to paint artwork. They have a tuned it into a graffiti filled village. What an unique way to protest !
Power plant and 17th century windmill on the Scheldedijk co-exist. The plant is located on the bank of the Scheldt, near the village of Doel in the East Flanders, very near the Dutch border.
Many houses were sealed by Govt.
To know more , read https://www.theguardian.com
However some residents are apparently coming back. Marjolene’s friend has a cafe in Doel. They are actively involved in this protest. We chatted with them and had some coffee.
They even gave a CD to us. We went to their house, just beside the windmill and river .
It is 10 minutes walk from their cafe – where activists meet to discuss their strategy (I think). There is an eerie feeling when you walk around the place. It looked like a necropolis. We were told some people are coming back. It is an unique experience. There is wind mill and Nuclear Power plant side by side. A study in contrast.
It is indeed unique. The windmills does not work. After that we left for some snacks with them in a nearby village. We had French fries , Croquette.
Then we left for Antwerp.
There are many Moroccans in Antwerp, unlike Brugge. There are many people of Arabic origin. We saw many woman with hijab in Antwerp. Many Morccan has married a Belgian. When we went to Doel yesterday , they took the help of a Moroccan lady beside their house and paid 5 Euro per hour for baby sitting. When we came back we saw the lady in their home.
Belgium beer is famous and you get maximum varieties of beer in Belgium. We left for a Pub with my friend. We tried 4 types of beer. I only liked one. I am told there is sweet beer too ! In it there is no alcohol. Here the concept of “Eto or Jutha” does not exist. People are drinking from the same glass. My friend knows that I am from India, so she politely asked me, if it okay to have it from the same glass ? I said no problem. We drank from the same glass and tasted all of them. The pubs are the places – where people meet and chat here . It is part of social life – like Cafe Coffee Day. It is not as rowdy as a British pub – according to my understanding.
Brussels is less than 1 hour (~50 minutes) from Antwerp by train (7.5 Euro). Our base is Antwerp. Though initial plan was other way round. After discussion with our friend, we changed our plan.
There is a wonderful Grand Place or Central square in Brussels. There is a Cathedral , Town Hall (Stadthaus), Belfort / Clock Tower in that square. There were bombardment during world war, but somehow it survived.
Today being Monday , most of the museums are closed. We managed to go one museum though. We met 3 middle aged woman , who have bunked their office to see the city !
But walking around the city is indeed a pleasant experience. Manneken Pis , meaning “Little Pisser” in Dutch) is a landmark bronze sculpture in the centre of Brussels (Belgium), depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy ,the Elder and put in place in 1618. The current statue is a replica , which dates from 1965. The original one is kept in the Museum of . Manneken Pis is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels.
When we were walking along the street of Brussels, we heard a little boy shouting excitedly Kuifje – when he saw a Kuifje hoarding. Tintin is called Kuifje (Kaifey phonetically) in Belgium
Today Mohua prepared Cauliflower, Dimer Dalna or Egg Curry and Payesh or Porridge for them. Mohua bought milkmaid from an African shop. They have raisin, black pepper, Indian spices in their home in huge quantities (almost a Kg) . So we did not have to buy anything else. In fact they have an Indian cook book in their house. They made beef steak for us. They also made mashed potato. They have given milk, black pepper, butter in the mashed potato. Normally they don’t eat well done Beef. They like to eat rare or bit raw. But for me, they made medium . The beef is not smelly. According to them, beef sold by Moroccan is bit smelly. They buy it from Carrefour – which is not smelly. I would not have been able to tell whether this is beef or Pork – if I did not know. It tastes good. In fact they did not give any oil in the steak. The oil came from the fat in beef itself, used for frying. They put it in the steak griller (check grill).
Then they put on some sauce on it made from onion, butter, cream, Pepper. Some people add coleslaw made with cabbage, carrot and mayonnaise. You can get very good beef from Australia for steak (in fact grass fed cows taste better than corn fed cows. These are also written in the packet !). You have to marinade the beef with black pepper and salt.
One can do the same thing with Basha Steak (marinade with lemon juice, black pepper, chilli flakes and paprika)
Today we again we left for Brussels. First we went to a cartoon strip museum . The comic culture of Belgium is very strong. I learnt a lot about Asterix. There is a separate museum of Herge – where details on Tintin will be found. It is quite far from centre – we could not get there. Because of strong IPR or copyright rules, there is not much of Tintin here in this place.
After that we went to see the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – shopping arcades. There are some world famous Chocolateries like Marcolini and Neuhaus. But they are very very expensive. We therefore decided not to buy it.
Very near to these chocolate shops, there is a famous Eat Street. There you will find rows of restaurants. We had our dinner at the Eat Street. We had Mussels (molluscs with a brown or purplish-black shell). We also had it in Turkey beside Bosphorous (selling on the street). We had Paella (or Spanish Fried rice) along with Shrimp (or Prawn as Americans call it).
Then we went to see the Bozar on the advice of Arnold, from Belgium Embassy, India. The Centre for Fine Arts is a cultural venue in Brussels. Often referred to as Bozar. It is like Academy of fine arts of Kolkata. The art gallery closes at 5.30, so we could not see it. Two museum where we went yesterday, is very near to Bozar. We met the CEO of Bozar. He has been to India. He went to Bhuj, Gujarat.
The size is huge and price is quite reasonable.
We walked for some time in the place which is famous for diamond. But they were closed. We saw some Indian shops and Bangladeshi shop on the way.
After reaching home we found that Simon is sleeping. Our friend is yet to come back from her pottery class. We went to sleep little early, since we have leave early tomorrow.
Belgium is famous for Macaroons, Chocolates, Waffles apart from French Fries.
We saw Indonesian day being celebrated. In the open space a concert will take place soon. Bozar is into two parts. One part is the gallery and performance part. Other part is the shopping complex. The art gallery closes at 5.30, so we could not see it. Two museum where we went yesterday is very near to Bozar. We met the CEO of Bozar. He has been to India. He went to Bhuj, Gujarat.
After spending some more time, we left for Antwerp. Whenever we had the opportunity, we tried it. It is available everywhere.
You have to walk for 15 minute to reach the station . Since we have a luggage, we took the tram. The footpath is quite broad. The minimum tram fare is 3 Euro. It is cheaper, if you buy Brussels card, provided you make at least 10 rides. Our train is at 6.45 am and will reach Amsterdam at 9.06 pm. The booking has been done long back. The fare is 75 Euro for 2 people.
After reaching Amsterdam, we took metro, just beside the station to reach New Market. From there we walked for few minutes to reach our Ton’s house, beside a Canal.
He is an artist. He went to Kolkata in 2016. One very interesting thing is, I did not find any locking system in the toilet, unlike what we see in India. Only the main door has a locking system. People keeps various types of chopping board here. The knives are attached to a magnet in almost all the houses. Here I did not see fan, in any house (including the houses in Belgium). The windows are closed vertically, unlike what I see in India.
We saw cycles all over the place.
We went to the market, to book next two days tour. We were supposed to go to Van Gogh’s museum with him, by walk. But Mohua had a pain in her leg. So we had to take a tram. The tram fare is same 3 Euro. I did not see the famous Dam square – which falls on the way. The Van Gogh’s musuem is very nice. The entry fee is around 15-20 Euro , if I remember correctly. But some famous pictures are not displayed here .e.g. Starry night, Peter Tanguay, Post Man, Paris Cafe, Red Vineyard.
There is a souvenir shop here, but they are very expensive unlike Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, Russia. I bought some pictures (Corn field with crows, Starry night) in a shop just outside the museum – which is also not cheap.
I learnt many things in the museum, which I did not know before. Vincent’s brother Theo also died within a year. It is because of the effort of his sister-in-law, the pictures were stored. He wrote 830 letters to his brother. He was a prolific writer. Some letters were written in the morning and once again in the evening. Within 1 day it reached Theo ! What is not very well known – he is one of the most learned of all the painters – he could speak French, English fluently.
Just beside Van Gogh’s museum is Stedelijk Museum – museum of modern Art. We saw picture of Matisse, Chagal. Pictures of Monet or Picasso was not there. Since Ton has an appointment today, he gave his museum ticket to us. If you have this card, then entry is free.
Rijksmuseum is nearby. After reaching Rijksmuseum, we found it is closed. Nightwatch is here. Then we left for home and went to a Thai Restaurant with Ton and given him a treat. The Thai restaurant is quite good (run by a Thai). Then we had ice cream. There is red light district just beside the canal. Our host took us to the red light district, which is very near to the restaurant. From brothels to sex shops to museums, the Amsterdam Red Light District has it all. But contrary to what a lot of people might think, the Amsterdam Red Light District has a very friendly atmosphere and isn’t as dangerous, as it used to be. There is red light district tour too.
Amsterdam prides itself, and rightly so, on its liberal and tolerant attitude, embracing the fact that people may be into prostitution, soft drugs and pornography. And that it is only human. So instead of criminalizing everything, they enjoy the honesty of it all. Nowadays, prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, but not on the streets. That’s why prostitutes in Amsterdam stand up behind a window and have their own room. The name of “Red Light District” comes from the red neon lights that highlight the 300 windows – where women are working.
Today we left for Giethoorn. This is like a little Venice. The village is fully accessible by boat. There is hardly any road. In fact Amsterdam has more canals than Venice. It is quite far from Amsterdam. It is difficult for a solo traveller to go there. I took the help of a tour company. It is so peaceful and has such simple beauty, that it hardly seems real. You can gently glide along small canals, past thatched-roof farm houses. It is so calm that its nickname of the “Dutch Venice” may give a false impression of size and crowds and commercialism. Giethoorn is in the province of Overijssel in the east of the Netherlands.
The tour company gave us 2 hours in the village and took us to a canal tour. We saw a Protestant church. The bride/groom come to the church (Netherlands is mostly Protestant) to get married by boat. There is a honeymoon boat too.
Now it is becoming Touristy. We had our lunch here. It is quite expensive here. We returned home at 5.30 pm. Then we went to the Dam Square and met an Indian couple. We chatted for some time. I had some special food of Amsterdam – Ossenworst – it is a smoked raw beef sausage – inside a bread. Today I went to the red light district with Mohua one more time. There is art gallery in the red light district too.
Flemish is a dutch dialect , so most people in Netherlands understand Flemish. It is easy for us after coming from Belgium to understand various terms. They use lot of kh. They don’t have any signature dish. They have generally French influence. They also eat lot of burgers. They also have waffle – which is quite different from the one in Belgium. Here there are many Frites (French Fries) shop too. But here it is bit thick. We did not see too many chocolate shops unlike Belgium. But we saw many cheese shops. The Gowda cheese from Netherlands is very famous. Its price depends upon its age. It is quite expensive. We saw a cheese museum . There is a sex museum too. ! Today we saw a Bangladeshi souvenir shop in Dam square. He is in Amsterdam for last 33 years. We bought some souvenirs from his shop.
We went to see various places by a conducted tour. We had no other option left. We left at 8.45 am.First we went to see Zaanse Schans windmill village. The Dutch people are pioneers of windmill. First windmill was found around 400 years ago. They used the wind energy from windmill to cut woods by saw. Some times they use windmill to extract oil. Sometimes to transport water. So it has various usages. The number of windmills in Netherlands is maximum in the world. We saw one of them in action. We saw the whole process. They can move the blades of windmill 360 degree to capture wind from any direction! If the wind power is low, then they open the sails to capture even a low wind. That is why, it was the first industrialized country. It is a very windy country.
Then we left for Merken by our bus. It is famous for wooden shoe. Holland is probably one third of Netherlands. The meaning of Netherlands is Low land. It is generally below sea level. The highest point in Netherland is only 350 metres. They have also reclaimed land from sea. They are pioneer in this too. Since it is often inundated with water, so the foot becomes moist. That is where wooden shoes come handy. Many people still have wooden shoes in their house. People buy these wooden shoes at a fancy price of 40-50 Euro. We bought a small replica. Here you can see the clog makers at work in the wooden shop workshop, and learn about the history of wooden shoes in the museum.
The we left for Volendam by a 20-minute ferry cruise. It is famous for cheese. Both merken and Volendam are fisherman’s village. There we saw live demonstration of cheese making. The process takes 4 weeks to become baby Gouda. More the age , more is the price. There were lot of cheese tasting. We bought a cheese with a smoky favour. It tastes like Sausage.
We tried their famous Kibbeling : traditional battered and fried fish nuggets made of Cod fish, commonly served with a mayonnaise-based garlic sauce or tartar sauce. In Volendam houses looks almost similar. Only the door is different. So it is jokingly said that when people get drunk, they recognize their house by their door !
After that we returned back to Amsterdam and then we again left for famous white and blue pottery or ceramic town of Delft. We know that china is the father of Ceramics . However, in the 17th century they learnt the technique in Delft. Before that they used to import from China. We saw live demonstration. Either it is hand made or machine made (printed image transferred ) and bake the earthen material in oven and image gets transferred. The handmade one is quite expensive.
Then we went to the Delft village and spent around 1 hour. There is a nice church here. Hardly any Europeans goes to church these days. That is what our guide said. This is exactly what I heard. The church is maintained with money from public. The entry fee is 5 Euro. We did not go inside.
Then we left for The Hague (Den Haag (phonetically Hekh) by our bus. That is what Dutch people say. We saw the city mostly from bus. Then we got down at International court of Justice – the Peace Palace. I have heard so much about The Hague. The whole city is exquisite. While looking at the city, I remembered what I read in a book written by Suniti Kumar Chatterjeee, when he travelled Indonesia with Tagore. It seems to be true whatever I saw in Bali. He said, Dutch would not have killed indigenous art , unlike British. They are better in appreciating art. Had they ruled us, probably our heritage would have better preserved. Most foreign embassies in the Netherlands are located in the city. The Hague is now considered the world’s judicial capital. We passed by Binnenhof, seat of Parliament, the Royal Palace .
After your tour of The Hague, we left for Madurodam miniature city/ park, where you will find perfect to-scale reproductions of famous Dutch castles, Dutch landmarks. You can also see a miniature airport : where the planes are moving, miniature trains are moving. Madurodam was named after George Maduro, a Dutch law student , who fought the Nazi occupation forces as a member of the Dutch resistance and died at Dachau concentration camp in 1945.
Then we left for Amsterdam and reached at 8.45 pm. Exactly 12 hours after start. Our tour is basically a two in one tour. We had wonderful pizza from a very nice restaurant near Dam Square, after reaching Amsterdam, for 4.9 Euro – which is enough for 2 people.
It is always crowded and we went to this restaurant previously.
Cannabis, Marijuana is freely available in Amsterdam – since it is legal ! In fact it is famous all over the world for its openness.
The density of population of Netherlands is more than India. So we give wrong excuse that we (India) cannot do anything, because of our huge population. But any student of Demography knows what is relevant is density of population – and not population..
First I will go to Rijksmuseum or Rembrandt museum which will open at 9 am. After that I will come back to our house. We will go to an exhibition of artists in this area with Ton. Instead of an exhibition being held in a gallery , it will be held in artists house ! The entry fee in Rijksmuseum is 17 Euro. For me it is free because of my friend’s car. It is quite big.
They have divided the floors according to various era : 1100-1600 , 1600-1800, 1800-2000. of course I was more interested in 1600-1800, because of Rembrandt. There is huge crowd in front of nightwatch – the size of picture is huge. At least 15 ft by 15 ft by my untrained eye ! While framing the size got reduced. If I am not mistaken Godard made a film based on Night watch. He did not give the name Night Watch. When it was found or restored it was initially thought it was showing night time. But rather it is a dimly lit room . A light was falling on the picture – which proved it was actually day time. There was no electricity in those days.
There was picture of Rembrandt in that picture too. This picture showed aristocrat as well as ordinary people. The brightly lit woman is probably his wife. The relative position of each person showed his status. He was famous for lighting in his picture. Below the picture is written ” Can you guess what is the value of the picture?” Then it was written at the bottom – not for sale
! There are pictures of other artists too – like Vermeer – his contemporary. I got to know Rembrandt was in Antwerp too. He was very fond of picture of Rubens. Antwerp was also very famous for art. These pictures were mostly not mythological pictures – real life pictures were there. Some pictures of Van Gogh was there too.
I came back at home (New market) at 1.10 pm by tram. Like Belgium the fare is very expensive – 3 Euro is the minimum fare – I think it is a flat fare. Previously the centre of the city was Dam square. Although it (Ton’s house) is a very old part of the city, still is called New Market , since many shops were relocated from Dam square to New Market.
Anyway I left for exhibition with Ton to different houses in New Market. First we went to a big municipal Corporation exhibition hall , then we left for the exhibition in various artists houses in New Market. There are many artists who stay in New Market. The exhibition is very interesting. There are not too many people visiting this exhibition, understandably. We hopped from one house to another house. One of them was a sculptor too ! On an average price of pictures were 400-600 Euro. Median is 500 Euro. Some were even 2000 Euro. If you compare it with exhibitions in Kolkata , it is realatively cheaper. They put red dot if a picture is sold. So prices are almost same ! Mind it , it is a very expensive city. Even coffee on the street is 3 Euro. No frill dinner for two people is 30 Euro without beer. people were offering tea or cold drink.
Taught gave a treat from a very famous chocolaterie – Puccini on the way. It was very expensive.
Then Mohua and I left for Rembrandt’s house. Mohua did not go with me for pain in her leg in the first part. Rembrandt’s house is only is only 4-5 minutes walk from his house. So it is obvious the name New market is an oxymoron ! His house was constructed in 1932 .
There is no lift in his house. The house opposite his house is from 1820. So 100 year house is no big deal. Here the tax of a house WAS (not any more) calculated on the basis of width of the house. That is why most houses were huge in depth, but not in breadth. This has created an unique architecture of the city houses , like Belgium. Not exactly Baroque. Here house is called Huis and it is joined with the name of person. So it is called Rembrandthuis. The entry fee is 13.5 Euro per head. Rembrandt paid a fortune to buy this flat, more than the market price. He was not only a painter , but he was also an investor. He used to collect to stuffed animals, shells etc. But he became bankrupt after 15-20 years and left this house and stayed in another house on rent, after this house was auctioned. Around 8000 of them were catalogues and restored. He even invested in other artists picture. The house is 3-4 storied . But not a very big house. His huge artefacts were on display. People were not very happy with nightwatch. He was good at portrait also. But after nightwatch he did not get commissioning for quite some time.
After this we did a customary Canal Tour. It is a 1 hour tour. There is a hop on hop off canal tour for 20 Euro. But for one hour you have to pay 16 Euro. For paucity of time we could not do it.
After returning back to home , he gave us a treat in an Indian restaurant (North Indian)- Kohinoor. This one is his favourite.His favourite dish is Chicken Tikka Masala.The taste is good. it is owned by an Indian and waiters were all Indian. We even had papad. The chicken Tandoori costs a bomb – @ 15.75 Euro. It is not as good as India. I told him for the first time in my life, I am having Indian food outside India (in an Indian restaruant). Our bill was 54 Euro.
Here ticket @2.9 Euro is valid for 1 hour – which is valid for Metro, Tram and Bus. It is not valid for train. At the metro station somebody suggested that instead of going to Central station (our initial plan and change) , it is better to go to Zuid (or Midi is South , like Belgium), from where it is possible to reach Schiphol in 7 minutes. However the fare is 4 Euro each for 7 minutes ride. The person who gave me this direction is from Surinam. His forefathers were from Indian . His name is Bhaijan Ramgoolan. I told him President of Maldives is also a Ramgoolan. He goes to Surinam once a year. Surprisingly he knows Hindi and his father also knows Hindi. We saw many Indonesian and Surinamese in Amsterdam, which were dutch colony.
We reached Airport in time.