If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium Part 2


A Norwegian Transatlantic Cruise to Europe from New York City Part 2

This transatlantic cruise sailed late April 2019. This is part two which involves the the excursions in Ireland, France, England, Belgium and Amsterdam. In light of the ongoing Corona Virus Pandemic, obviously all ships are forbidden to sail. When it's safe to cruise, I wouldn't hesitate to do a trip like this again. In fact, I was booked on a transatlantic trip from New York City to Barcelona with stops in Portugal and Spain which was canceled due to the virus. So travel with me across the Atlantic and on to Europe, from the safety of our homes. And here's hoping we can travel again, soon. 

The Norwegian Pearl
 
After the 7 days to cross the Atlantic we would be making ports of call in Ireland, France, England, Belgium and finally, the Netherlands. Each excursion gave us about one day to explore. The ship offered a multitude of excursions but do your homework, sometimes a third-party company offers a better price and a more interesting itinerary. The major bonus with booking a ship’s excursion is you’ll never miss the boat. If you’re not back in time from a private excursion the boat will leave without you.

Dublin, Ireland

Temple Bar, Dublin
Dublin is a very walkable city so we chose to explore it independently as opposed to a tour. We did take advantage of Norwegian’s bus from the cruise port into town and it left us off at the corner of Merrion Square, right in front of Oscar Wilde’s house

Oscar Wilde's House
Using the GPS on our phone we worked our way into town and made our first stop at the National Gallery of Ireland

National Gallery of Ireland

What a gorgeous space. A couple of my favorite paintings were The Liffey Swim by Jack B. Yeats and Woman Writing A Letter by Johannes Vermeer. There were Rembrandts, Picassos, Turners and Monets - an impressive collection.

Trinity College

From there we walked down to Trinity College to view the Old Library and the Book of Kells - the famous 8th century illustrated Gospel book in Latin. Lesson learned: Book tickets in advance. The line to enter was endless.
 
Views of Ha'Penny Bridge from inside of The Winding Stair

Heading towards the Liffey River which divides the city we approached the Ha’Penny Bridge. A pedestrian bridge crossing the Liffey, this ornate metal structure was built in 1816 to replace dangerous ferries that chugged vicariously back and forth, overcrowded with passengers. To escape the throngs of tourists we ducked into The Winding Stair bookshop directly across the street and discovered they had a charming restaurant on the second floor with a great view of the bridge. Once a meeting ground for artists, musicians and writers, it closed in 2005 but Elaine Murphy bought the iconic spot and left the bookstore as is for historic value but revamped the restaurant. 

The Winding Stair Charcuterie
Focusing on fresh, local ingredients sourced from the island, she offers Irish comfort food bumped up quite a few notches. The Irish charcuterie board with homemade bread, pickles, and relish plus a couple of pints of Porterhouse Red Ale were delicious and gave us the strength to carry on.

Christ Church

We walked a bit and spotted the famous and very crowded Temple Bar. Fearing we’d never make it back to the boat if we enjoyed another ale or two, we moved on and unexpectedly found Christ Church Cathedral built in 1030. We missed the timing of their melodious bells but you can check their site for days and hours and hear a sample of what they sound like. Making a full circle back to Wilde’s House we strolled through the lush and beautiful St. Stephen’s Green and through to Merrion Square where there’s a life-size statue of Oscar Wilde. This being our meeting-up point to return to the ship, we realized we were pretty early so we strolled on and stumbled upon the National Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History
Two floors of fascinating exhibits with a charming gift shop. Added note: both museums in Dublin were free to enter.

Le Havre, France - Giverny and Ruen

Monet's Famous Bow Bridge

Years ago, I was overwhelmed by an extraordinary exhibit of Claude Monet’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This showing cemented my love of the impressionist’s paintings, especially his work centering around his gardens and pond on his property in France. So, when I realized that an optional excursion to his home in Giverny was a possibility, the decision was a no brainer. I could have taken a long bus ride to Paris or traveled to the beaches of Normandy, but I had to see Monet’s home for myself.

Monet's Home

In 1883, Monet traveled through Giverny by train and found the beauty of the landscape intoxicating. He rented the house, which he would eventually purchase in 1890. He created his gardens and built the Japanese foot bridge over his pond. He even imported the water lilies from Egypt and South America.

As Monet said, “I’m good for nothing except painting and gardening.”




What I wasn’t expecting was how much I enjoyed touring his home. 




Left as if he were still living there with his family, you really got a sense of what life must have been like back when he was working and inviting fellow artists to enjoy his property and discuss the current art scene.

Moulin de Fourges


The tour included a lunch, just fifteen minutes away at Moulin de Fourges. Inspired by Marie Antionette’s hamlet constructed at Versailles, the picturesque watermill restaurant is beyond charming. It was like stepping into a fairytale. We were a large group so we were seated in the converted barn and served a three-course meal where endless bottles of red and white wine were flowing. I’d definitely return to have dinner in the main watermill.

Ruen
And from lunch we traveled to the Medieval city of Ruen with its original half-timbered buildings. 



Probably best known as the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, Ruen is the capital of the Normandy region. 

Gros Horloge astronomical clock
The charming city also has the Gros Horloge, which is an ornate astronomical clock which sits on a renaissance arch located on the rue du Gros Horloge. Also of note is the astonishing Ruen Cathedral of Notre Dame, built in the 16th century with its enormous nave. Many will recognize its front façade because Monet loved to paint this structure.

Tilbury, England

 
Leeds Castle
Tilbury cruise terminal is located at the mouth of the Thames River. From here we had several shore excursion options. One was a day trip to Canterbury which is famed for its Tales, Cathedral and charming shops. Sounds nice but it wasn’t grabbing us. Or there was a transfer into London, twenty-five miles away. Both of us had been to London before. And there was a trip to visit Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle won. 



Leeds Castle is located in Kent. From the entrance area of the estate, there is a winding walkway that meanders through the Queen Alexandra Gardens following the River Len. Situated on five hundred acres, it’s a botanical garden and bird sanctuary full of lush and mature plantings including alders, willows, and birch trees that create a majestic background for the spring flowers such as, daffodils, narcissi, anemones and bluebells. There’s a Segway tour of the grounds if you like and if you have mobility issues there’s a trolley tram from the parking entrance to the Castle.



The first stone castle was built on this site in 1119 and over the centuries generations of Kings and Queens have lived at Leeds. From 1517 to 1523 Henry VIII made extensive renovations so that he and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, could live in the dwelling comfortably. But by 1552 Leeds transferred from Royal ownership to civilian. 

In 1926, Lady Baillie, a socialite at the time, bought the estate and her renovations and design choices are what you see in the more modern rooms today. Upon her death she donated the castle and grounds to the Leeds Foundation for all to enjoy. Still, there are areas left untouched and/or restored that allow you to experience Henry and Catherine’s life at Leeds.


On the property is the Castle View Restaurant offering just that - amazing vistas of the castle. Behind the restaurant is a fascinating if not unusual Dog Collar Museum exhibiting collars spanning the past 500 years. Beyond that is the Culpepper Garden, the maze and grotto, as well as the Bird of Prey Centre and the Lady Baillie garden.

Bruges, Belgium


On a gloriously sunny day, we hopped into a van at our cruise terminal in Zeebrugge, which drove us into Bruges. Again, a very walkable city, we headed down Katelinjestraat towards the center of town. We passed one charming establishment after another and made the obligatory visit to a Belgium waffle shop. 


Afterwards we stopped on an ancient stone bridge and watched as a boatload of people gracefully floated underneath us. It’s such a touristy thing to do but it felt right so we headed into Boten Stael at Katelijnestraat 4 and spent ten euros each for a thirty-minute canal cruise. 


It was totally worth it. Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage city and we passed by gorgeous houses along the canals as well as major points of interest like the Church of Our Lady... 


and the Belfry of Bruges, which is a Medieval Bell tower constructed in 1240.



If you dare to climb its 366 steep and narrow steps, you’re rewarded with a magnificent view of Bruges and beyond. Plus, the carillon houses 47 chiming bells. Originally the tower operated as a warehouse and market in the Middle Ages. The tower also anchors the Markt Square which is truly the heart of this city.


There were scores of museums to visit, from diamonds to the Belgian fries. But it was such a beautiful day that we chose to play hooky and grabbed a table for two at La Civiere D’Or restaurant in Markt Square, ordered a fine lunch and happily people watched the international crowds streaming by.

I would definitely return to Bruges for a longer visit.

Amsterdam, Netherlands


Central Train Station

Our last stop was Amsterdam and I had booked us an apartment through Tripadvisor for three nights. From the cruise terminal it was a short walk to Amsterdam’s Centraal Train Station and out front on the Stationsplein, was the I Amsterdam Visitor Centre. Their City Card allows you to visit 70+ museums, ride public transportation for free and enjoy a canal cruise and you can purchase cards that last 1 to 5 days. Amsterdam is totally walkable or if you dare, you can bike it, but we really used the free transportation to zip around and see as much as we could during our three-day visit.




The lovely Art Apartment we rented was on the edge of the Jordaan Neighborhood. The owners are Robert and Anna and five generations of their family have owned this property and it's something you can feel. It's a living, breathing home full of good memories. We had the second floor-thru apartment while the family had the other floors. It had a sense of calmness and security, knowing who else was in the building.

Rijksmuseum

First up, I had made advance reservations online to see the All The Rembrandt’s exhibit at the Rijksmuseum. The show was free as was the museum with our I Amsterdam card. 2019 marked the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death and in honor, the museum displayed 22 paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 best examples of Rembrandt’s prints, together in one location. I particularly loved the miniature sketches he made quickly on the streets of the everyday man, woman and child. 

Rembrandt street sketch

They were breezy, effortless and spectacular. And of course, there were his larger works, like the famous Night Watch.

Rembrandt's the Night Watch

For an upscale dining experience consider the Blue Spoon with its modern Dutch cuisine & award-winning cocktails. The décor is eclectic and you can choose from their tasting menu or order a la carte. Make sure you try their gnocchi with egg and truffle and their beetroot bloody Mary.

For the next two days we ducked in and out of as many museums as we could handle. Must sees are the Van Gogh, Ann Frank’s House (book tickets in advance!), the very cool Nemo Science Museum which looks like Noah’s Ark, and if you have time and visit in the Spring, make a day-trip to Keukenhof Gardens. Not just tulips, it’s a breathtakingly sumptuous botanical garden.   


We took advantage of our free canal cruise via the city card and it was so relaxing after all our running around. It gave us a unique perspective of the city with a lot of added history provided by the captain. And right where the canal cruise begins and ends, in front of the Centraal Train Station, was Loetje Centraal restaurant. Located on the water, it was the perfect place to grab a bite of traditional Dutch food while watching the boats and people go by. 


Nightlife never stops in Amsterdam and most of the bars are located on Reguliersdwarsstraat. My favorite watering hole was PRIK and I had the great pleasure of chatting with owner Gerson Van Eck and asked him, “What do you attribute the success of the bar to?”

The crew at PRIK
“The key of PRIK's success is our bartenders. No attitude, genuine interest in people and making people feel welcome and at home. During the week Prik is Amsterdam's gay living room where you can hang-out, relax and enjoy our signature cocktails and finger food. In the weekend it turns into a party place, when we take out a lot of furniture to create a dancefloor and have good DJ's. Oh, and Prik in Dutch means fizz or bubbles, very innocent indeed!”

The last day of our trip was spent walking along the Nine Streets area. Stretching from the Singel to the Prinsengracht canals, the shops, galleries, canal houses, and restaurants in this neighborhood are delightful.  

MOCO
Two final museum stops: MOCO (Modern, Contemporary and Street Art) which housed very important works of Banksy, Warhol, Basquait, and Haring and Rembrandt’s House and museum. Located in the Jewish Quarter, this was his home from 1639 to 1659.  

Café de Sluyswacht

Across the street is the quaint Café de Sluyswacht. The structure was built in 1695 as a home for the sluice master, who was in charge of operating the lock, which controlled boat traffic and water flow through the canal. Now it’s a picturesque bar - great for coffee, drinks and pub snacks.

So, the end of an epic journey. Would I do a transatlantic cruise again? In a heartbeat. Was it sensory overload? Honest, not really. But it was a great tasting, like a smorgasbord, of different cities in multiple countries. Some I've had my fill of, others I can't wait to visit again.


Bon Voyage!

2 comments:

  1. Love this trip...makes me want to go on a cruise!!!

    ReplyDelete