Travel Experience: Brussels, Amsterdam, and The Baltics
Travel Consultant Pam’s FAM Trip
Travel consultants are fortunate to learn about the world through the lense of Familiarization (FAM) Trips. In turn, they pass this knowledge on to you.
This time, Pam put together some information that can be useful to you if you’re planning to travel to these areas. Check out her personal preferences, tips she learned, and recommendations she has.
I flew from Portland, Oregon to Brussels on Delta via JFK. For the first two nights I stayed at the Brussels Hilton.
While in Brussels, I visited several museums. A highlight was the Magritte Museum, which had some of the artist’s paintings. Another is the Museum of Musical Instruments. An interactive museum that displayed musical instruments from the middle ages onward. In front of each instrument was a set of earphones so you could hear the instrument playing. Which I found very informative.
Before I left, I purchased a Benelux Pass which came in handy. I used it several times to take day trips. I checked out Brugge and Ghent and traveled to Amsterdam from Brussels. Then, while I stayed in Amsterdam I saw Delft and Giethoorn! (I also used it later on to get to Amsterdam’s airport before heading to Stockholm.)
From Brussels it’s easy to combine a day trip to Bruges and Ghent, which are on the same train line. I took an early train to Bruges and walked to the historic city from there. In Ghent the historic area is much farther from the station, so I had to take a taxi. Both cities have very well preserved medieval centers.
I took the Thalys train to Amsterdam and stayed in the Renaissance. This was a very nice hotel, located a bit of a walk from the train station. After a night there, we went to an apartment we had rented near the University.
Amsterdam has a transit pass you can buy. It includes travel on the local ferries, the bus system, the trams, and the metro system. It was super easy to use and very cost effective.
While in Amsterdam, I visited the Ann Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Getting tickets ahead of time for the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum made it convenient. It’s absolutely essential to get tickets ahead of time for the Ann Frank House. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and generally sell out within a week. This is especially true during the summer season. All tickets are for sale online, it isn’t possible to get tickets at the door.
Did a couple of day trips from Amsterdam. Took the train to Delft which was very charming. The old town is picturesque, and you can visit the Delft pottery factory. I did a separate day trip to Geethorn by train – this was through the countryside and very pretty. Lastly, I did a day trip to Edam by bus where you can visit the cheese shops.
The next part of the trip required us to fly from Amsterdam to Stockholm, and immediately boarded a ship. Traveling by sea is the best way to see the Baltic. I sailed from Stockholm to Helsinki to St. Petersburg for 2 nights, then on to Tallinn and back to Stockholm.
Helsinki is a design center and easy to get around by tram. There is a single tram line that circles the downtown area from the harbor and stops near the major sights. We visited the Rock Church and did a harbor cruise there, as well as some of the design stores.
St. Petersburg is lovely. When you arrive by ship, you’re allowed to visit for 72-hours without requiring a Russian visa. You can stay on board or, if you travel there by ferry, you can stay in a hotel. You’re not allowed to go sightseeing on your own, even if you have a prearranged hotel and local guide.
My first day, I went on a tour to see all the sights within St. Petersburg. Which included the Church of Spilled Blood, the Hermitage, and St Peter and Paul Fortress. The second day was a drive out of the city to see Catherine’s Palace and the Peterhof.
The stop in Tallinn was also very interesting. Tallinn is full of hills. You can start at the top of one of the overlooks, and work your way down through the winding streets. It was very well preserved and had some charming outdoor squares and cafes.
Ending in Stockholm, a highlight was the Vasa Museum. The ship, Vasa, sank in the Stockholm harbor during the 16th century. Then raised from the water in the 1960’s. Since then it’s been restored and now sits in a building that was designed for the ship. You can go up 5 floors and see the ship from different angles. There was also an interesting display about how the preservation was done.
Another highlight was walking around Gamla Stan. An island that is the oldest part of Stockholm, and taking a bus out of the city to visit the Royal Palace and gardens.
Staying at the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport is very convenient. There is a footbridge that connects the hotel to the main terminal, after you exit the secure area. Staying here saved me from a 5am departure from Stockholm.
Checking in the following morning at the Amsterdam Airport was very slow. So, I do recommend that people arrive at least 2-1/2 hours ahead of flight time. The process for checking in was confusing and getting through security was slow. The airport is huge and once through security it can still be a long way to the departure gate.
We hope you got some valuable information and maybe some inspiration!
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