The Netherlands, September 26 – October 5, 2014

Traveling home from my recent educational trip to the Netherlands I reflected back on the nine days I had just experienced. I was in awe of the many wonderful places I visited and the people I had the pleasure of meeting. The Netherlands is the perfect country for so many interests including art, architecture, flowers and gardening and history.

This trip was hosted by Edwin Groeneweg, Owner/Managing Director of The Dutch Travel Advisor. Edwin’s company specializes in custom private tours through the Netherlands. Edwin and his team have insider access to many exclusive, unique experiences not available to the general public. It was a great experience for me to see the Netherlands through the eyes of my clients.

My journey began in The Hague which is a comfortable one hour shuttle ride from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. While The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government, Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands.

I was pleasantly surprised by this intriguing city. It offers a unique combination of history, art and architecture dating back as far as the Middle Ages. The modern skyline and historic city center are perfect partners. Along with the government buildings, there are many monuments, historic districts, and its geography is highlighted by the beautiful North Sea coastline. The Hague is known as the ‘Royal City by the Sea’ and is the home of the Dutch monarch. Several former royal palaces can be found in the city. There is vast selection of great restaurants, coffee houses and night clubs. The Hague’s shopping is as varied as the city itself, ranging from luxury department stores and international top brands to cozy little streets filled with boutiques and specialty shops. It is loaded with internationally renowned art and culture. I strongly suggest spending a few days in this wonderful city when visiting the Netherlands.

During my first two days in The Hague I stayed at Hotel Des Indes. This opulent hotel is a Luxury Collection Hotel by Starwood. Originally built in 1858 as a city palace and converted to a hotel in 1881 Hotel Des Indes has 92 rooms and suites that offer a perfect combination of history and luxury. Hotel Des Indes is situated in the centre of The Hague on a leafy square in the heart of the government and diplomatic district. A variety of antique shops, museums, restaurants and theatres are within walking distance.

Our first full day in The Hauge we ventured out on foot for a walking tour that included several museums. Our first stop was the Mauritschuis Museum exhibiting many paintings by Dutch masters including Johannes Vermeer (The Girl with the Pearl Earring), Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Paulus Potter (The Bull), Hendrik Willem Avercamp and other 17th century painters.

From the Mauritschuis Museum we took a short 10-minute walk to the Escher Museum. The building was the former Palace of Queen Emma, who used it as a winter palace. It is now a permanent museum dedicated to the work of world-famous Dutch graphic artist Escher (1898-1972). Prints, sketches and archive material are displayed over four floors of this beautiful historic site.

The afternoon included a guided visit to the spectacular Panorama Mesdag Museum. The “Panorama” is a cylindrical painting, more than 14 meters high and 12 meters in circumference. This vista of the sea, the dunes and Scheveningen Village where painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag in 1881, with assistance from his wife Sientje Mesdag and several other painters of The Hague School. It is the oldest 19th century panorama in the world in its original site.

We continued on to the Gemeentemuseum. The heart of this impressive building, designed by the famous Dutch architect Berlage, contains the well-known masterpieces of The Hague School and the world’s largest collection of paintings by Piet Mondrian, culminating in his final work, Victory Boogie Woogie.

From the Gemeentemuseum we drove through the beach resort Scheveningen stopping at the world-famous miniature city Madurodam. Scheveningen is the largest beach resort in the Netherlands with a new 1.5 miles long boardwalk, a sandy beach and a wide variety of beach front restaurants. Madurodam is an incredibly detailed and accurate model detailing many highlights of the Netherlands on a 1:25 scale. The miniatures and their stories come to life in Madurodam. There is so much to see and do here. It is a fun attraction for all ages.

Dinner our second evening was at the four-star deluxe Park Hotel. This hotel is located in the back garden of Palace Noordeinde, the working palace of King Willem Alexander.

The next morning we drove 90 minutes east of The Hague to visit to the Hoge Veluwe National Park, the largest national park in the Netherlands. Inside the park is the home of the Kroller Muller Museum and Sculpture Garden. The museum boasts the largest private collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world with almost 90 paintings and more than 180 drawings. The museum is set in one of Europe’s largest sculpture gardens. This outdoor gallery contains more than 160 modern sculptures that blend into the natural background.

We continued our tour with a short drive to the picturesque village of Otterlo where we experienced a traditional Dutch lunch at the De Waldhoorn Cafe.

After lunch we drove 40 minutes to Oosterbeek where we visited the Airborne Museum. This facility reopened in September 2009 after a large renovation. It is housed in the monumental Hartenstein Villa which was the headquarters of the British Airborne Division during the Battle of Arnhem which took place in September 1944. There are a large number of photographs, video with footage of the battle, authentic uniforms and equipment, weapons and other objects from both the Allied and German forces.

From Oosterbeek we drove back to The Hague and spent a night in the five-star Hilton Hotel. This hotel is situated in the old city center and embassy quarter, just a few steps from the Dutch Parliament, close to high-end shopping and many museums.

We had a lovely dinner this evening at the boutique Carlton Ambassador Hotel which is only a five-minute walk from the Hilton The Hague. The Carlton Ambassador is an elegant boutique hotel surrounded by old chestnut trees. The 88 rooms are all tastefully decorated and several floors are newly renovated.

Day four began with a 45-minute drive to Aalsmeer and a privately guided visit to the Flora Holland flower auction, the largest flower auction in the world with approximately 21 million cut flowers and more than 12,000 varieties being auctioned each day. With Edwin’s assistance arrangements can be made for my clients to go backstage for a behind the scenes tour of how this massive and amazingly synchronized operation functions.

We continued our study of the world’s flower trading capital with visits to private growers. This was a unique experience as such tours are not open to the general public. I have the wonderful opportunity to make similar special arrangements for my clients.

The first grower/nursery we visited was a Chrysanthemum grower. This family-run company Arcadia has a large variety of Chrysanthemum, which they cut throughout the year.

The second company we visited was a spectacular private Rose grower. This family-run company Olijrozen specializes in breeding, propagation, production and marketing of cut roses and pot roses.

After our morning of many flowers we continued on a short drive to Lisse, the heart of the bulb district and had a very special lunch in the private home of the Huang Family located just steps away from the famous Keukenhof flower exhibit. The Keukenhof gardens cover 70 acres where roughly 8 million bulbs are planted every year. The Keukenhof is only open between mid-March and mid-May every year as this is the time the bulbs are blooming. More than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths fill the pavilions that feature different themes during this time of year. In May Keukenhof features the Flower Parade. The world-famous Flower Parade features more than 20 floats made of beautiful blooming flowers. Guests can take a wonderful boat trip around Keukenhof through the bulb fields. The boat trip lasts 45 minutes and guarantees beautiful photographs. There are also over 30 flower shows that take place between late March and May that showcase the boundless creativity of the Keukenhof arrangers.

From Lisse we continued on a 45-minute drive to the historic village of Delft, home of Johannes Vermeer and Delft Pottery. Delft is located between Rotterdam and The Hague. I fell in love with the charm of this small, historic town.

Before starting a walking tour of the city center we made a stop at the Delftse Pauw, one of the two remaining Delftware manufacturers in the world. As 95% of all produced Delftware in the world is imitation this was a very special stop. Delftware pottery is an iconic symbol of the Netherlands. Originating from the city of Delft in the late 1600’s this iconic blue and white pottery is made from a clay mixture covered with a tin glaze after removal from the kiln. Delftware craftsman paint the traditional decorations on each piece of pottery entirely by hand.

From the Delftse Pauw it is a short drive to the medieval city center. We strolled along the canals and the grand monumental merchant’s mansions on our privately guided walking tour. Delft is one of the best preserved examples of a medieval Dutch city with rich historic and cultural heritage. Delft is also the city of Johannes Vermeer, Dutch master artist of the Girl with the Pearl Earring.
From Delft we took a 20-minute drive to the architecturally rich city of Rotterdam. This is a city of many faces: a tough port city, a trendy nightlife city, a sophisticated shopping city, and a hip artistic city. Above all, Rotterdam provides the most incredible architecture in the Netherlands.

We stayed in Rotterdam for one night at the NHOW Hotel which is located within “The Rotterdam” building, the largest in the Netherlands. This very contemporary hotel opened in January 2014 and is located on the Wilhelmina Pier which also houses the cruise terminal. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas had just arrived while we were there for a three week refurbishment. Views from the hotel of the Maas River and the Erasmus Bridge are stunning.

Day Five began with an architectural tour of Rotterdam. This city is divided with amazing opportunities to compare the areas of Rotterdam that were bombed during WW2 on one side of the Maas River to the historical areas that were untouched on the other side. It truly is quite a unique contrast and tells a special story of the post-war era in Rotterdam.

Our next stop was a visit to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. The museum houses a unique collection of paintings and sculptures. In addition, the collection of prints and drawings is one of the best in the world. The collection includes beautiful works by Bruegel the Elder and Rembrandt as well as Impressionism and Modernism in the paintings of Monet, Van Gogh and Mondrian. I was particularly interested in the works of the Surrealists Dali and Magritte. Art is not limited to the museum’s interior as the museum has a wonderful outdoor sculpture garden.

One of the highlights of Rotterdam for me was a visit to the SS Rotterdam, the first steam ship of the Holland America Line. This vessel has been preserved as a masterpiece of cutting-edge 1950’s design. Life onboard was like living on a film set…carefree and stylish. The ship has been returned to its former glory and is moored in its home port of Katendrecht and operates as a four-star hotel. We enjoyed a delicious lunch on the Lido Deck followed by a privately guided tour by the Hotel Manager. Several areas of the ship are perfectly restored with authentic furnishings in their original glory.

We said goodbye to Rotterdam this afternoon and continued on a 2.5 hour drive south to historic Maastricht, the oldest city in the Netherlands. Maastricht is full of beautiful historic districts, good restaurants and plenty of art and attractions. We were able to see the majority of the city on foot. Churches, city walls, monumental merchant houses and big squares blend in perfectly with a wide variety range of shops and restaurants. Maastricht offers a wonderful experience for foodies with several Michelin-starred restaurants, vineyards and an extensive range of regional products and dishes.
A highlight for me was to visit the Basilica of Saint Servatius where The Key of the Holy Saint Servatius is housed. It is said that the key was handed by the apostle Peter to the Holy Saint Servatius. This medieval object also serves as a symbol for the Key to the Gate of Heaven.

We spent two nights in Maastricht at the Kruisherenhotel. The former Kruisheren cloister dating from the 15th century was created by the internationally renowned interior designer Henk Vos and now stands as one of the most spectacular hotels within the Netherlands. Together with the monumental gothic church, this complex has been transformed into a designer hotel with 60 modern rooms with a restaurant located at the mezzanine in the nave of the church.

That evening we made a short 10-minute drive to the amazing Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located In the magnificent Jekerdal valley, just on the Belgian border, this is the only terraced castle in the Benelux. The beautiful Baroque gardens of the 17th century castle are divided over four levels; the highest terrace offers a wonderful view over of the gardens and the magnificent valley.

The next morning we headed out for a privately guided walking tour to see the highlights of Maastricht. We stopped for lunch at Harry’s Restaurant within the Beaumont Hotel. The Beaumont Hotel is located in the elegant district of Wyck, steps away from the historical city center.

The next morning we said goodbye to Maastricht and took a 20-minute drive to the village of Valkenburg for breakfast and a site inspection at Chateau St. Gerlach, a member of the Relais & Chateaux hotel family.

We continued on with short drive to the city center of Valkenburg and took part in a privately guided tour through the Velvet Cave and Castle Ruins. These sites enable visitors to form a realistic picture of the once powerful fortress which for many centuries dominated the surrounding countryside. The history of the Castle originates in the year 1115 and continued through 1672. What remains today are the weathered fragments of walls and towers that were once a very powerful medieval fortress of the Lords of Valkenburg.
During WW2 the Velvet Caves served as a shelter for Jewish people, locals and American soldiers during the German invasion. The cave contains a treasure of impressive mural carvings, inscriptions and exceptional sculptures fashioned into the soft marlstone walls. From mid-November through late December the Velvet Cave is host to an underground Christmas market.

From Valkenburg we enjoyed a scenic drive to Margraten. It was here in Margraten that we visited the American War Cemetery. This site is the second largest American cemetery in Europe. The tall memorial tower can be seen before reaching the site, which covers 65.5 acres. From the cemetery entrance we were led to the Court of Honor with its scenic pool reflecting the tower. Stretching along the sides of the court are the two Tablets of the Missing on which are recorded the names of 1,722 who lost their lives in the service of our country but rest in unknown graves. Beyond the tower containing the chapel is the burial area, divided into 16 plots where rest 8,301 of our military dead, their headstones set in long curves.

From Margraten we drove 2.5 hours north to Amsterdam. I love the mixture of beautiful historical architecture and modern amenities this city offers.

During my first two nights I stayed at the 5-star deluxe Conservatorium Hotel. Standing on the famous site of Amsterdam’s former Sweelinek Conservatory of Music, the Conservatorium opened at the end of 2011. This magnificent Neo-gothic building was originally built at the end of the 19th Century and has been transformed into a contemporary luxury lifestyle hotel. The hotel is ideally located in the heart of the city’s major museum square and is close to the fine shops, restaurants and cafes.

We had a lovely dinner at The Grand Amsterdam, part of the Sofitel Hotel Collection. This 5-star luxury hotel is beautiful and high on my recommendation list.

Our first morning in Amsterdam we began our tour at the famous Rijksmuseum. This newly renovated museum holds one of the largest collections of Rembrandt paintings in the world. The Night Watch is one of his most famous works located within the museum.

From Rijksmuseum we walked only 5-minutes to the famous Van Gogh Museum. With over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 750 letters by Van Gogh it houses the world’s largest collection of works by the famous Dutch artist including top pieces like Sunflowers, The Bedroom, Almond Blossom and The Potato Eaters.

We then continued with a short walk to the historical canal belt where we boarded the Bell Epoque Salon Boat. This experience of gliding along the historic canals while sipping cocktails and nibbles was another major highlight of our trip.

From the beginning of the 20th Century until the early thirties salon boats were built in the west of the Netherlands in the Friesland. These boats shared features such as a load water line; an elegant body and a beautiful body of teakwood and mahogany. These boats were used for transport of people on the Frisian lakes, the river Vecht and the Amsterdam canals. Salon boats were nicknamed notary-boats or doctors-boats because the owners were typically well- to-do citizens like doctors, notaries or lawyers.The boats were an easy and classy way to get to their clients or patients.

After our cruise we headed to the Hotel Pulitzer, a Luxury Collection Hotel by Starwood where we enjoyed a site inspection and wonderful lunch in the courtyard. Overlooking two of the city’s most picturesque canals, Prinsengracht and Keitzersgracht, the hotel is ideally located in the middle of the old city center of Amsterdam close to the Royal Palace, museums, theatres and shopping areas. The hotel consists of many 17th and 18th century canal houses that have created a truly unique hotel. There are 230 room and suites, no two of which are identical.

From the Hotel Pulitzer it is only a 10-minute walk to the well-known Anne Frank House. It is the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her diary during World War II. This experience was emotional for me and added incredible meaning to this historical real-life story. Quotations from Anne’s diary, photographs, films and original objects illustrate the events that took place there.

The museum tells the history of the eight people in hiding and those who helped them during the war. Anne Frank’s diary is among the original objects on display. There was a line over two blocks long to see the house but thanks to The Dutch Travel Advisor we had pre-arranged tickets and were able to walk right in.

We continued the tour with a 5-minute walk to The Dylan for a site inspection, cocktails and dinner. The Dylan is located on one of the nicest canals in Amsterdam; the Keizersgracht (Emperors Canal).This luxurious boutique hotel has 40 luxurious rooms (restored in 2014) and suites. It also hosts one of the best restaurants in Amsterdam, Vinkeles.

Our last day in Amsterdam began with an interesting walk through the city center. We saw historical sites that most tourists and even local people have never seen thanks to Edwin, The Dutch Travel Advisor and his insider connections. We learned about 17th – 20th century gable architecture, interiors (period rooms), garden history and how the merchant families lived. We visited a private 17th century almshouse, a summerhouse and several coach houses with beautiful Louis XIV faces, in combination with some gardens on the “Golden Bend”, one of the most picturesque areas in Amsterdam.

The last stop on our walking tour of Amsterdam was the famous Rembrandt House. Rembrandt lived here from 1639 until 1658 at which time he went bankrupt. This museum owns one of the world’s most important collections of Rembrandt etchings. Edwin arranged private paint making and etching sessions that showed us the very techniques that Rembrandt used so many hundreds of years ago.

We had lunch and a site inspection at the beautiful Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. Once wealthy merchant mansions built during the golden Age, this luxury hotel is situated on the UNESCO heritage protected Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal) and is within walking distance from luxury shops, museums and theatres.

From the Waldorf we continued on a 10-minute walk to the Hermitage Amsterdam. The Hermitage Amsterdam is a dependency of the Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, Russia. We saw the lavish exhibition “Dining with the Tsars”. This impressive collection consists of eight magnificent porcelain and cream ware services that convey the lavishness and beauty of the balls and banquets of the Tsar’s court.

My last night in Amsterdam was at the Andez Hotel. This five-star boutique hotel is located in a perfect location in the historic center of the city. Set on the site of the former Public Library on the Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal), part of the iconic city’s ring of canals, this 122-room hotel is surrounded by the cultural scene of the lively Jordaan district and the charming Nine Streets, filled with art galleries, unique specialty shops and trendy fashion boutiques.

Our farewell dinner was hosted by the 5-star deluxe Hotel De L’Europe which is centrally located, right on the Amstel River. Thank you to my hosts at The Dutch Travel Advisor for a truly unique, special visit to the Netherlands. This educational trip will better assist me with providing my clients a luxury, insider experience in this beautiful country.

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