Thursday, 15 September 2016

Benelux trip – Prologue

I have mentioned in 2013 Europe Epilogue that I would love to return to Europe if there is cheap airfare. We almost visit Eastern Europe in Mar 2016 but due to hubby's work commitment, we forfeited our Lufthansa air tickets of $736.

Swiss Airline is having irresistible airfare to Europe from $777 with the addition of Boeing 777-300ER into their aircraft fleet. I was so tempted and persuade hubby to visit Central Europe in May 2017. Then I plan another trip to Europe this year and decided on Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands & Luxembourg) after discussing with my sis who will be my travel partner for this trip. We have split the planning so I will research on Luxembourg and Belgium while my sis will research on Netherlands.
Destinations in Benelux

As Swiss airline flies direct from Singapore to Zurich, it involves transiting in Zurich before continuing to other European cities. As the open jaw ticket is about the same price as the round trip ticket, it's make sense to buy an open jaw ticket to save travelling time and save on the transport cost back to the starting point.

Luxembourg card comes in 1, 2 or 3 days card and includes free access to over 70 museums and free train and buses on the national public transport network. The Luxembourg card is available from the Tourist Office in Luxembourg city or can be purchased online with a postage charge of €3. As there is no Tourist Office in the airport, I decided to purchase it online as the single trip bus ticket (€2) from the airport to hotel is included in the Luxembourg card. I received the card in registered mail within a week after ordering online.

From Luxembourg, we will be taking inter city train to Brussels which takes 3hr. Advance booking is not necessary since the train departs hourly and no seat reservation is required. The train from Luxembourg will stops at all the 5 stations in Brussels: Bruxelles-Luxembourg, Bruxelles Schuman/Brussel Schuman, Brussel Noord/ Bruxelles Nord (Brussels-North)Bruxelles Central/ Brussel Centraal and Bruxelles Midi (Brussels-South).

Prior reservation and booking for intercity train within Belgium is not required hence I will be purchasing the train tickets on the spot. There is a rail pass which cost €76 and is valid for 10 journeys in 2nd class within any destination in Belgium. This can be use by 1 or more passengers. However I did not purchase the rail pass as the total trips we will be taking is less than 10 journeys so it's not worth purchasing.

In Brussel, we will get around using Metro. I will buy single trip ticket instead of Metro pass since we will be only taking 3 Metro rides. In Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp, we will get around using tram and bus. I have calculated that Lijn card (€14 for 10 rides) is cheaper compared to single trip ticket which cost €3. 

In Bruges, I will be getting the 48 hours Brugge City Card which included free admission to many attractions and include canal boat ride (sailings guaranteed from 1 Mar to 15 Nov). The Brugge City Card can be purchased in Bruges at the official tourist information offices: Historium, Station and Concertgebouw (Concert Hall). 

Then from Antwerp to Amsterdam, I have booked the Thalys train which will takes 1hr compared to intercity train which takes 2hrs. The reservation opens 3 months in advance and fares start from €29. As we only confirmed this trip 2 months earlier, the cheapest fare was not available. Although the fare which we booked is €8 more expensive than the intercity train, we still proceed with booking Thalys train to save travelling time.

We will be getting the OV-chipkaart and Unlimited GVB travel ticket (48 hours) from Amsterdam Schipol airport. The OV-chipkaart works like our Ezlink card and is valid for bus, tram and train rides. It has a non refundable deposit of €7.50. We will be using Unlimited GVB travel ticket in Amsterdam and OV-chipkaart outside Amsterdam.

My sis has purchased the tickets for Madurodam online since it's €2 cheaper. She has also bought the tickets for Amsterdam highlights (Adam Lookout, Blue Boat and Heineken Experience) online to avoid the queue.   

Throughout the 14 days trips, we will be staying at the ibis hotels except in Brussels. I have budgeted S$100 per room per day and the hotels which we will be staying is within 10 min walking distance to the train stations except the hotel in Amsterdam. We choose not to stay in Amsterdam Central as the accommodation is at least S$200 per night. We end up booking 5 nights stay at the airport Ibis budget hotel which is 15min train ride to Amsterdam Central. Since we will only be spending 2 days in Amsterdam Central with the remaining 3 days at Hague, Haarlem and Zaanse Schans, we save significantly even after deducting the transport to and fro Amsterdam Central. Breakfast is not included in all the hotels except ibis Styles Luxembourg Centre Gare.

Itinerary for this trip:

Day 1: Reach Luxembourg at 10.05am (GMT+2)
Attractions: Monument of Remembrance, Casemates Bock, Neumünster Abbey, Barrio Grund, Corniche and old town, Viaduc (Passerelle), Place Guillaume II, Hotel de Ville (City Hall), Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Grand Ducal Palace
Accommodation: ibis Styles Luxembourg Centre Gare (€72)
Transport & Pass: 2 days Luxembourg card (€20)

Day 2: Vianden & Echternach
Attractions: Trinitarian church, Vianden Chairlift, Vianden Castle, Echternach Old Abbey, Echternach Town Square
Accommodation: ibis Styles Luxembourg Centre Gare
Transport & Pass: 2 days Luxembourg card

Day 3: Brussels
Attractions: Parc du Cinquantenaire-Jubelpark, Espace Léopold (European Parliament), Place Royale (Royal Palace of Brussels), Palais de Justice/Justitiepaleis (Law Courts of Brussels), Atomium
Accommodation: Maxhotel (€59)
Transport & Pass: Train from Luxembourg to Brussel Noord (€41), Single trip metro ticket (€2.10 per ride)

Day 4: Brussels
Attractions: Jeanneke-Pis, Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule (St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral), Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Grand Place-Grote Markt, Manneken Pis, The Bourse
Accommodation: Maxhotel

Day 5: Ghent
Attractions: Sint-Elisabeth Begijnhof, Het Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts), Patershol, Kraanlei, Graslei, Het Groot Vleeshuis, St Michael's Bridge, Korenmarkt Gent (Post Plaza), Sint-Niklaaskerk (St Nicholas's Church), Stadhuis (Ghent Market Hall), Belfort en Lakenhalle (Belfry and Cloth Hall), Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo's Cathedral), Langemunt (Shopping Street)
Accommodation: ibis budget Brugge Centrum Station (€54)
Transport & Pass: Train from Bruxelles Nord to Gent-Sint-Pieters (€14), Train from Gent-Sint-Pieters to Bruges (€6.60), Lijn card (€14)

Day 6: Bruges
Attractions: Grote Markt, Belfry, Brug Square, Stadhuis, Basilica of the Holy Blood, Choco-Story Museum, Lumina Domestica (Lamp Museum), The Friet Museum, Ezelpoort (Donkey's Gate)
Accommodation: ibis budget Brugge Centrum Station
Transport & Pass: Lijn card, Brugge City Card 48 hours (€47)

Day 7: Bruges
Attractions: Koeleweimolen (Koelewei Mill), Sint-Janshuismolen (Sint-Janshuis Mill), Diamant Museum, Brewery De Halve Maan, Beguinage, St. John's Hospital, Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk (Church of Our Lady Bruges)
Accommodation: ibis budget Brugge Centrum Station
Transport & Pass: Lijn card

Day 8: Antwerp
Attractions: Cogels Osylei, MAS Museum aan de Stroom, Vlaaikensgang, Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal), City Hall/Old Market Square (Stadhuis/Grote Markt), Saint Paul's Church (Sint-Paulusparochie), Carolus Borromeus Church (St. Carolus Borromeuskerk)
Accommodation: ibis budget Amsterdam Airport  (€62)
Transport & Pass: Train from Bruges to Antwerp (€15), Lijn card Thalys from Antwerp to Schiphol Airport (€40)

Day 9: Zaanse Schans, Amsterdam
Attractions: Zaanse Schans Windmills, Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam, A’DAM Lookout, Heineken Experience 
Accommodation: ibis budget Amsterdam Airport
Transport & Pass: OV-chipkaart

Day 10: The Hague
Attractions: Madurodam, Statue of Willam of Orange, Binnenhof, Ridderzaal, Noordeinde Palace, Museumcafé Panorama Mesdag, Vredespaleis (Peace Palace)
Accommodation: ibis budget Amsterdam Airport
Transport & Pass: OV-chipkaart

Day 11: Amsterdam
Attractions: Zevenlandenhuizen, Rijksmuseum, Begijnhof 34, Schuttersgallery, Bloemenmarkt, Munttoren, Church of Saint Nicholas, Trompettersteeg, Singel 7, Python Bridge, De Gooyer
Accommodation: ibis budget Amsterdam Airport
Transport & Pass: Unlimited GVB travel ticket 48 hours (€12.50)

Day 12: Amsterdam
Attractions: Albert Cuyp Market, NAP bezoekerscentrum, Nationale Opera & Ballet, Houseboat Museum, Electric Ladyland Fluorescent Art, Torensluis, Royal Palace Amsterdam
Accommodation: ibis budget Amsterdam Airport
Transport & Pass: Unlimited GVB travel ticket 48 hours 

Day 13: Harleem, Depart Amsterdam at 8.05pm (GMT +2)
Attractions: Corrie Ten Boomhuis, Hofje In den Groenen Tuin, St. Bavo Church, Town Hall Haarlem, Haarlem, Station
Transport & Pass: OV-chipkaart

Budget for this trip is S$2,400:
- S$550 for accommodation
- S$300 for transportation
- S$200 for admission fees and pass
- S$850 for meals
- S$500 for souvenirs & shopping
>>Day 1: 16 Sep 16