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9 Planning Your Trip

Sasha Heseltine FrommerMedia ePub

9

Planning Your Trip

Granted, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges are not hard cities to come to grips with; they are containable in size, they have excellent public transportation systems, and most people speak English. Nevertheless, all trips overseas benefit from some advance planning, whether it is organizing accommodations or making a sightseeing itinerary. This chapter is designed to help you on your way, but don’t forget, if you get stuck, the local tourist organizations in all three cities pride themselves on being able to solve any conceivable travel conundrum.

The information in this chapter is intended to cover trips to all three cities so it’s valuable reading whether you are visiting one, two, or all three of them. Yet, close together though they are, each city has its own unique traits. For additional help in planning your trip—when to go, what the weather’s like—and for more specific on-the-ground resources in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges, see the “Essentials” and “Fast Facts” sections in chapters 4, 6, and 7.

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Medium 9781628871265

3 The Best Neighborhood Walks: The Old Center, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring, The Jordaan, and Jewish Quarter.

Sacha Heselstine FrommerMedia ePub
Stroll through The Old Center, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring, The Jordaan, and  Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter.

Biking in the Jordaan neighborhood. The Old Center Take a stroll through the medieval core of old Amsterdam, the epicenter from which the city expanded outwards in the 1660s. Here you’ll find the oldest and narrowest houses, ornately decorated facades, and one or two surprises in a confusing tangle of narrow streets that’s a world away from the gridlike regularity of the Grachtengordel (Canal Ring).

START: Tram 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 14, 16, or 24 to Spui.The Begijnhof garden. Begijnhof. Entered through an ornate gate off Spui, this cluster of photogenic gabled houses around a leafy garden courtyard is the perfect place to feel the ambience of old Amsterdam. Black-painted no. 34 is the city’s oldest house, built around 1455, and is one of only two timber houses remaining in the city. Amsterdam was a destination for religious pilgrims and an important Catholic center before the Calvinist rebellion and Alteration in 1578.

The Begijnhof was a hofje (almshouse, see p 50) built to offer devout women (beguines) the option to live independently of husband and children, and without becoming a nun, at a time when such a thing was unheard of. The hofje remained in operation for centuries after the changeover of the city from Catholicism to Protestantism and the last beguine died in 1971 at the age of 84.

The Engelse Kerk (English Church) dates to 1607 and is used today by British ex-pats. Opposite the church, at no. 30, is the Begijnhofkapel, a secret Catholic chapel dating from 1671 that’s also still in use today. The Begijnhof is now a residence for seniors.  30 min. Spui and Gedempte Begijnensloot. No phone. Free admission. Daily 9am–5pm. See All Chapters
Medium 9781628872163

2 SEVILLA

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

Statuary in the Catedral de Sevilla.

Sevilla is Andalucía’s largest, most self-assured, and most sophisticated city—the hometown of the passionate Carmen and the lusty Don Juan. Style matters here. Almost every Sevillana owns at least one flamenco dress to wear during the city’s famous April fería—or to a friend or family member’s wedding. It may also be the most ornately decorated city in Spain. No country does baroque like the Spanish, and no city does Spanish baroque like Sevilla, where the style represents the hybrid offspring of Moorish decoration and the Catholic insistence on turning every abstract curlicue of Islam into a Christian angel’s wing. Sevilla has been Andalucía’s center of power and influence since Fernando III of Castilla tossed out the Almohad rulers in 1248. But Fernando wisely left Barrio Santa Cruz intact, and the tangled ancient streets of the Judería still make the medieval era palpable. As the first major city in the heart of Andalucía to return to Spanish hands, Sevilla has a markedly Christian countenance. The city is studded with churches and former convents funded by the riches that flowed into the city from its 16th to 18th century trade monopoly with the New World.

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Medium 9781628870640

5. HAMBURG & THE NORTH

Donald Olson FrommerMedia ePub

5

HAMBURG & THE NORTH

Every nation seems to have a north–south divide, and Germany is no exception. Travel up here from even northerly Berlin and you’ll notice a difference—the salt tinged breezes off the Baltic Sea, the distinctive brick gabled houses favored by Hanseatic merchants and seafarers, a preference for herring and other fish, the long winter nights and long summer days, the palpable presence of Scandinavia. Our coverage focuses on two of northern Germany’s standouts, the dynamic port city of Hamburg and medieval Lübeck, an architectural treasure trove.

HAMBURG

285km (177 miles) northwest of Berlin

Hamburg’s is a tale of two cities…or three, or four. Germany’s second largest city, after Berlin, and Europe’s second-largest port, after Rotterdam, has so many facets that visitors stumble into one fascinating cityscape after another. The copper-roofed tower of old baroque Hauptkirche St. Michael’s rises next to glass and steel office buildings. The port, with its wharfs, cranes, dry docks, and a flotilla of ships coming and going day and night rambles along the banks of the Elbe River as far as the eye can see. A maze of canals laces through the old city, lined with sturdy brick warehouses where Hamburg merchants once stashed carpets, tea, and the other lucre of trade. These days boldly designed high-rise corporate headquarters—Hamburg is a media capital and industrial center—are the powerhouses of wealth and influence. Elegant 19th-century facades along the shores of the Alster, the shimmering lake at Hamburg’s center, and Jugenstil (art nouveau) villas scream bourgeois comforts; smart-phone-toting Armani clad execs carry on the legacy of well-fed Middle Age burghers who made fortunes after Frederich Barbarossa declared the city a free port in 1193. Then there’s Hamburg’s underbelly—the infamous Reeperbahn, the sleazy avenue where “Hiya sailor” is the anthem of easy virtue. The stag partiers and other denizens of the night who dip into this slice of lowlife are onto something—Hamburg might be business-minded, even stuffy in places, but it can also be a lot of fun, whatever your notion of a good time is. That might also mean gazing at an Expressionist canvas in the Kunsthalle, or watching Hamburgers haggle over the price of cod at the Fischmarkt, or cruising past architectural stunners in HafenCity, a brand new waterfront quarter. As you get to know Hamburg, you will be surprised at just how easy it is to succumb to this city’s charms and how many there are.

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Medium 9781628870602

15 Favorite Moments

Donald Olson FrommerMedia ePub

Even in the midst of constant change, “Berlin bleibt doch Berlin,” which means Berlin always remains Berlin. No other city in Europe has experienced the kind of rapid change and renewal that Berlin has since the Wall came down in 1989. Yet Berlin has held on to its identity and is back to being the trendsetting, party-loving German capital. Whether you’re exploring Museum Island’s world-renowned museums, taking a somber tour of the city’s war and Wall memorials, or checking out the pulsating nightlife, Berlin will excite and entertain you in a way few other cities can.

 

Zooming up to the Reichstag’s futuristic cupola. Book an early-morning tour of Norman Foster’s glass dome. Ascend the spiral ramp to a platform that affords far-reaching vistas over Berlin, from the Brandenburg Gate to the Siegessäule. Go to Page.

Getting wild behind the wheel of a Trabi. Go, Trabi, go! Pick your dream machine, pull the choke, and feel your two-stroke splutter past landmarks from the Fernsehturm to the monumental Karl-Marx-Allee. These cult GDR cars are the coolest way to enjoy the sights of Berlin’s “Wild East.” Go to Page.

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Medium 9781628871326

The Savvy Traveler

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

The Metro stop near Torre Agbar.

Before You Go

Government Tourist Offices

In the U.S.: 60 E. 40th St., 53rd Floor, New York, NY 10165 (  212/265-8822); 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 956, Beverly Hills, CA 90211 (  323/658-7188); 845 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 915E, Chicago, IL 60611 (  312/642-1992); and 1221 Brickell Ave., Ste. 1850, Miami, FL 33131 (  305/358-1992). In Canada: 2 Bloor St. W., Ste. 3402, Toronto, ON M4W 3E2 (  416/961-3131). In the U.K.: 79 New Cavendish St., 2nd Floor; W1W 6XB, London (  207/317-2010; www.spain.info/uk/TourSpain). A full list of Spanish tourist offices worldwide can be found at www.spain.info.

The Best Times to Go

March to May and September to late October are perhaps the best times to visit Barcelona, with fewer crowds than in summer. Weather-wise, however, almost any time of year is the right time to go. Although humid, Barcelona is as hot in summer as Madrid and the south. In August, much of the city shuts down as residents head for the beaches. August is the major vacation month in Europe, and traffic from England, France, the Netherlands, and Germany to Spain becomes a stampede. November to February can be pleasantly temperate, crowds are nonexistent, and prices drop for hotels and airfares. But some coastal resorts, especially on the Costa Brava, shut down during this slow season. The Christmas season in Barcelona, beginning in early December and extending through the first week of January, is especially festive.

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3. The Best Neighborhood Walks: Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz, Museum Island,Kreuzberg, Kurfurstendamm, Unter den Linden

Donald Olson FrommerMedia ePub
This tour leads from the green expanse of Tiergarten to a forest of skyscrapers in Potsdamer Platz. Following the River Spree, take in the neoclassical grandeur of Schloss Bellevue and the modernist elegance of Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Ambling farther south brings you to Kulturforum’s stellar galleries showcasing Rembrandt and Picasso. START: S-Bahn to Tiergarten.   Siegessäule. One of Berlin’s most visible icons, the Siegessäule (Victory Column) towers above the Grosser Stern traffic circle and is crowned by a golden statue, nicknamed “Goldene Else” by Berliners. You need to get up close to this monument to Prussian war victories to appreciate its ornate murals and mosaics depicting the battles of the 19th-century Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian wars. Feeling sprightly? Hike up to the platform for vistas across the treetops to central Berlin. 30 min. Go to Page. S-Bahn: Tiergarten. Schloss Bellevue. Pass through the woodlands linking Grosser Stern to Schloss Bellevue. Stroll across the neatly clipped lawns to reach the three-winged facade of this beautiful baroque palace. Built in 1786 for Prince Ferdinand of Prussia, it has been the official residence of the German president since 1994. Supported by Corinthian columns, the gables are embellished with allegorical figures that represent agriculture, fishing, and hunting. 20 min. Go to Page. See All Chapters
Medium 9781628871920

6 SORRENTO & THE AMALFI COAST

Stephen Brewer FrommerMedia ePub

6

Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast

The beautiful Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast have been tempting travelers ever since Ulysses sailed by. He was forced to fill the ears of his sailors with wax and to tie himself to the mast of his ship to withstand the alluring call of the Sirens. Today, the pull of the sea and imposing rock-bound coast remain as compelling as they were in Homer’s day. Even though it’s besieged by tourists, graceful old Sorrento is a lovely place, perched high atop a cliff gazing across the sea toward the isle of Capri. The spectacular but nerve-racking Amalfi Drive (SS 163) heads vertiginously east, clinging to cliffs and rounding one bend after another until it comes to Positano, a tile-domed village hugging a near-vertical rock, and then to Amalfi, a little seaside town that was once the center of a powerful maritime republic.

As transporting as the green hillsides and azure seas are, as much as the scent of lemon and frangipani entices, the charms of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are no secret. You’ll do yourself a favor if you schedule the pleasure of a visit for the early spring or fall, before or after the summer crowds, and even then accept the fact that you will not have this slice of paradise to yourself.

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Medium 9781628870268

7. The Best Nightlife

Joseph Fullman FrommerMedia ePub

Nightlife Best Bets

 

Best Dance Club

Fabric, 77a Charterhouse St. (Go to page)

Most Diverse Entertainment

Madame JoJo’s, 8–10 Brewer St. (Go to page)

Best Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott’s, 47 Frith St. (Go to page)

Most Wacky Decor

Callooh Callay, 65 Rivington St. (Go to page)

Best Modern Speakeasy

69 Colebrooke Row, 69 Colebrooke Row (Go to page)

Most Unpretentious Clubbing

Plastic People, 147–149 Curtain Rd. (Go to page)

Best for Secret Drinking

The Lamb, 94 Lamb’s Conduit St. (Go to page)

Best Views

Vertigo 42, 25 Old Broad St. (Go to page)

Best Historic Pub

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet St. (Go to page)

Best for Blues

Ain’t Nothin’ But . . ., 20 Kingly St. (Go to page)

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Medium 9781628870725

6 BARCELONA

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

6

Barcelona

The Catalan language has a verb that must have been invented for Barcelona. “Badar” translates (more or less) as to walk around with your mouth wide open in astonishment. You’ll be doing a lot of that in Barcelona. The city’s artists have always had a fantastical vision—from the gargoyles along the roofline of the cathedral, to Antoni Gaudí’s armored warrior chimneys on La Pedrera, to the surreal amoeboid sculptures of Joan Miró. (They’re on a roof, too.)

Barcelona really is an original, with a unique history, language, gastronomy, and sense of style. When Madrid was still a dusty fortress village on the Río Manzanares, Barcelona was a force to be reckoned with on the Mediterranean. It has been at the intersection of cultures—Iberian, Roman, Visigothic, Moorish, French, and Aragonese—for 2,000 years. Today it is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalunya, forever chafing to leave the federal fold of Spain but enjoying near-country status within the European Union.

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1 The Best of Amsterdam, Brussels & Bruges

Sasha Heseltine FrommerMedia ePub

1

The Best of amsterdam, brussels & bruges

Although they’re miniscule countries, and neighbors at that, Belgium and The Netherlands are light years away from each other in culture, language, and tradition. Belgium is fractured along an historical divide, expressed in the constant regional and political bickering between Dutch- and Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. The Netherlands is also ruptured, but only geographically, between three great rivers: the Maas, the Waal, and the Rhine.

Diversity is the greatest asset of The Netherlands and Belgium, a state of affairs reflected in the three great cities of Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges. Amsterdam is tolerant, open-minded and accepting of its multiracial heritage. Brussels is fast catching up, with the presence of the E.U. headquarters turning parts of the city into a polyglot almost as cosmopolitan as London. And delightful little Bruges sits back and looks beautiful, its multilingual natives graciously welcoming of the onslaught of mass tourism that each summer brings.

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Medium 9781628870602

4. The Best Shopping

Donald Olson FrommerMedia ePub

Shopping Best Bets

 

Best for Vintage Fashion

Waahnsinn, Rosenthaler Strasse 17 (Go to Page)

Best Flea Market Finds

Flea Market, Strasse des 17 Juni (Go to Page)

Best for CD Bargains

Space Hall, Zossener Strasse 33 (Go to Page)

Best for Diva Bling

Gallery Schrill, Bleibtreustrasse 48 (Go to Page)

Best for Designer Dogwear

Koko von Knebel, Uhlandstrasse 181 (Go to Page)

Best for Fair-Trade Toys

Barefoot Berlin, Kreuzbergstrasse 75 (Go to Page)

Best Urban Streetwear

EASTBERLIN, Alte Schönhauser Strasse 33–34 (Go to Page)

Best for Unique Truffles

Confiserie Mélanie, Goethestrasse 4 (Go to Page)

Best Department Store

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Medium 9781628870268

4. The Best Shopping

Joseph Fullman FrommerMedia ePub

Shopping Best Bets

 

Best Time to Shop

During the August and January citywide, month-long sales

Best Shot at Last Season’s Designer Threads

Pandora, 16–22 Cheval Place (Go to page)

Best High-End Jewelry

Ritz Fine Jewellery, 150 Piccadilly (Go to page)

Best Fun & Vintage Jewelry

Hirst Antiques, 59 Pembridge Rd. (Go to page)

Best Sugar Rush

Artisan du Chocolat, 89 Lower Sloane St. (Go to page)

Best Children’s Toy Store

Honey Jam, 2 Blenheim Crescent. (Go to page)

Best Place to Score Stuff from Other People’s Attics

Grays Antique Market, 58 Davies St. (Go to page)

Best Foot Forward

The Natural Shoe Store, 13 Neal St. (Go to page)

Best Place to Find Out Where You Are

Stanfords, 12–14 Long Acre (Go to page)

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5 Side Trips from Amsterdam

Sasha Heseltine FrommerMedia ePub

5

side Trips from amsterdam

The Netherlands may start with Amsterdam, but it certainly doesn’t end there. This crowded little country has much more up its sleeve, from the stately pleasures of genteel Hague, which is after all the country’s political capital, to the laid-back charm of Haarlem. You can step back in time to visit a Holland almost forgotten at the open-air museums of Zuiderzee and Zaanse Schans, or look to the future among the gritty, urban architecture of Rotterdam. There are chart-topping art museums to discover in virtually every city, beaches to stroll in Scheveningen, and blazes of color to admire in the bulb fields of Lisse.

Most of the side trips suggested below can be achieved as a day out from Amsterdam; however if you really want to get a feel for the ultra-modern vibe of Rotterdam or the provincial gentility of The Hague, then a stay of at least 1 night is recommended, so a couple of eating and sleeping options have been included in both cities. You might choose to spend an entire day among the flower displays at Keukenhof (only open btwn. Mar and May) but others may prefer to see iconic Holland in a day, combining Keukenhof with a visit to the exceptional Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. Likewise a jaunt to the pottery factory at Delft or the botanical gardens at Leiden can easily be appended to a stay in either The Hague or Rotterdam.

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Medium 9781628870640

7. ON & OFF THE ROMANTIC ROAD

Donald Olson FrommerMedia ePub

7

ON & OFF THE ROMANTIC ROAD

For many travelers, Germany hits its high notes along the so-called Romantische Strasse, or Romantic Road, a scenic route that rambles through much of Bavaria. The 350km (220 miles) of specially marked lanes and secondary roads wind from the vineyard-clad hills surrounding Würzburg south through an unfolding panorama of beautiful landscapes interspersed with small medieval cities. To the south, the road rises through foothills covered with verdant pastures, lake-splashed countryside, and groves of evergreens to the dramatic heights of the Alps that divide Germany and western Austria. As if all this scenery weren’t enough, these final stretches of the road lead to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, two of the fantasy castles built by the legendary King Ludwig II in the second half of the 19th century.

Officially, the scenic route the German government drew up after World War II takes in 28 towns and villages. We take a few liberties and veer off the Romantic Road to also include some fascinating nearby places that are too good to miss—among them Nürnberg, a city that all in one swoop encompasses medieval and Renaissance splendor, the horrors of World War II, and the successes of Germany’s postwar rebuilding. We also detour east to Regensburg, a little city that was untouched by the war and as result comprises one of Europe’s largest swaths of medieval architecture. In the south, we wander off the Romantic Road to take in a section of the Bavarian Alps around Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

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