Amsterdam, Belgium & Paris

We’ve worked with Beth and Bob on trips for a few years now and it’s always exciting to plan another adventure! Belgium has long been on their bucket list and we finally managed to pull it off. Despite some rainy weather and a head cold, they had an amazing time — which just goes to show, it’s all in the attitude! Here is their review of the long-awaited Belgium, Amsterdam & Paris adventure:

Thank you for planning an amazing, happy-memory-filled vacation for Bob and me! Not one glitch to report. 🙂


The Amsterdam hotel (Park Centraal Amsterdam) upgraded us for free to their tower suite. It had panoramic views of the city (park, canal, street) and was really lovely. The king bed was circular and very comfortable. There was a large soaking tub and large, all-glass shower. And, it was very quiet (a plus in a large city).

The hotel in Paris (Hotel du Louvre by Hyatt) was superb. We opened the window and there was the Louvre! Couldn’t beat the location and the service from the staff was outstanding. Super quiet room and spacious. Immaculate in every way.

The Portinari in Bruges was adorable, themed to The Son of Man with appropriate colors and art on the shower wall plus a bowler hat lamp and large ceramic green apple. It still makes me smile thinking about it. The glass wall and open shower were really unique. This was also a quiet, restful place with a wonderful staff.

In Brussels, the hotel (NH Brussels Grand Place Arenberg) was quiet and the staff was the best of all the ones we stayed at. The included breakfast was plentiful, a wide variety of fresh food, and lovely. The location was just right for us….a short walk from the train station and close to lots of restaurants and shopping. The bathroom needed a makeover and maintenance, but it may have been just our room.

Getting Around

Getting around by the train system was super easy. We had help purchasing the tickets when we needed help. In Antwerp, we got off the train too early, thinking it was our stop and not realizing there were 2 Antwerp stations.

It was a happy mistake: 1) the train station was breathtakingly gorgeous; 2) we were able to grab some snacks to take with us; and 3) the info desk pointed us to the platform where we boarded 20 minutes later for a direct train to Bruges. Our first ticket had us changing trains twice so it was reduced to 1. No problems to report with drivers or taxis.

[Photo Credit: Call me Fred via Unsplash- Antwerp Centraal Station]

The flights were uneventful. At Logan, they implemented a change at security where we walked alone by a dog and then didn’t have to do any of the usual security/scanner stuff. No removing items, no liquids check, nothing. The same was NOT true in Paris, where we were back to the old ways and I swear they checked our passports at least 6 times. Even when I purchased a bottle of water in the airport store near the gate, they asked for my passport. At the gate, an agent walked around and asked to see everyone’s passports as we were sitting, waiting for them to begin boarding. We read up on it and it appears to be random, but it’s not helpful when one is tired and sick.

Yes, sick. On day 2 we both developed head colds (not COVID). In Bruges, we stopped at a pharmacy. Then we did everything we planned to do on the trip except eat well. Because we couldn’t taste anything, it seemed pointless and we ate just to eat. To make the best of it, we ate our light meals in the parks so we could people-watch too. We stopped at many chocolatiers in Belgium and I took home a rolling backpack full of chocolate. The congestion lingers so I’ve been staring at the dining room table, waiting for the day I can start to dig in.

What to Do in Amsterdam & Belgium

We did canal rides in Amsterdam, Bruges, and Ghent. With the fall foliage, all were especially pretty. It rained every day during the trip but not constantly or heavily so we timed the boat rides during the breaks.

[Photo Credit: Danielle via Shared Adventures – a view from the canal in Amsterdam]

We saw a college graduation in the Grand Plaza of Brussels, on the steps of City Hall. It was so unique and then the downtown was swarming with happy people.

Our brewery tour in Bruges that would give OSHA nightmares. We loved it; it was fun but a little dangerous.

We climbed the bell tower in Bruges and the bell tower in Ghent – beautiful views below.

Museums didn’t disappoint The Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Groeninge (really just to escape the rain) and the Mannekin Pis Museum (also impromptu, to avoid rain), and Choco-Story.

The cities’ architecture, shops, and streets were all so picturesque and we were content just walking around most of the day.

We downloaded walking tours for Bruges, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Ghent. Bob’s apple watch clocked us at 34 miles before we got to Paris. My running shoes were too broken in so I stopped at a Sketchers in Amsterdam and bought a new pair. That helped for sure.

[Photo: Walking Around Ghent]


We felt like we had run a marathon by the time we got to Paris so it was funny (!) that we had difficulty getting to our hotel because of a 10K road race. The taxi driver ended up telling us to get out and walk (because the roads were all detoured). We had to cross the race route twice, with our luggage click clacking on the cobblestones, and working our way up to the hotel. This was the only hotel where our room wasn’t immediately available but they gave us a “salon” to freshen up. It had a shower, sink, toilet, toiletries, towels and wash cloths, robes…very very nice. They stowed our luggage and we walked away from the crowds to the Tuileries, where we settled in for coffees and croissants. And ice cream. Because ice cream helps when you are sick! And it did!

In Belgium Beth showing off her chocolate- shopping bags in the Brussels Shopping Mall

Thanks so much for helping us have such an enjoyable vacation. Yay! We finally made it to Belgium!!


An Epic “Escape”

Christina and Chris were celebrating their second wedding anniversary, and contemplating the reality of starting a family at some point in the future, and wanted to go cram in as much of Europe as possible before “settling down”.  Because Chris is a teacher, their summers are flexible, so Christina blocked a few weeks out of work and they sat down with me to plan an epic adventure. In the span of three weeks, they did a pretty good job of exploring Belgium, Italy and Greece. While you might not want to replicate their breakneck pace, you could take their tips and suggestions (below) and make any one of these three countries into a very nice vacation on its own:

Our European Escape

Although our trip was just over a three-week span according to the calendar, it feels like my husband and I were away for months!  Now looking back at the photos and reminiscing about the adventures from the beginning of our trip, the moments already feel like a lifetime ago.  I am so grateful for this feeling and for your expert planning for our travels abroad!!


Mons, Belgium was the first destination on our whirlwind tour.  My dad has been living there for just over a year now, and we joined my step-mom, brother, and Loofa (my dad and step-mom’s bichon frise) for five fun-filled days.  We sampled beers in every town and city, reveled in the chocolate, and devoured the waffles.  We began our time together in the city center of Mons, and then branched out to Tournai, Waterloo, Brussels, Ostend, Bruges, and Ghent in the following days.  Each place reflected its roots – French speaking Wallonia or the Dutch speaking Flemish countryside.  A Flemish city always seemed to be organized and clean!

two people and a puppy in front of the canal in Ghent BelgiumSome highlights include Notre-Dame de Tournai, the cathedral in the center of the city, and Tournai’s large open city square with rows of fountains, the museum and Lion’s Mound overlooking the countryside at Waterloo, the Grand Place in Brussels, the expansive beach at Ostend, the architecture and beauty of Bruges, and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child.  This sculpture is remarkable for a number of reasons, one of which is that it was the only sculpture to leave Italy during Michelangelo’s lifetime.  (I can’t believe how fortunate we are to have seen both Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Bruges and the Pietà in Rome on the same European trip!).  We took a hilarious and wonderful horse-drawn carriage tour of Bruges while in the city, as well!

CD - BrugesI was least familiar with the places to see in this country, relying mostly on my dad for our itinerary.  I did, however, consult your Destination Guide email that introduced us to Belgium via the web.  This was a great resource!  Because of this email, my family specifically decided to take our last full day together to travel to Ghent, Belgium.  The city was described as a “less-touristy” Bruges, and we were excited to explore it as a family.  It did not disappoint!  The city offered a castle, boat tours along the city’s canals, and a beautiful skyline of medieval architecture.  There is a wealth of history in Ghent, and we only just tasted a sample!

a happy group in front of the unique architecture of Tournai

Belgium is beautiful.  I may have underestimated it because of its size, but it has so much to offer!  I am very grateful for the time we were able to spend together exploring this lovely country with my family.


After a farewell breakfast with my family, Chris and I were off to our first stop in Italy – Venice!  Ann, your instructions and maps for transportation from the airport to our hotel were clear and incredibly helpful – thank you!  We spent the evening wandering the streets, eating dinner, and people watching in Piazza San Marco.  The next day we traveled by water taxi around the canals and took one to the island of Murano.  In addition to watching some very skilled glass blowing demonstrations, we ate our best gelato here!  We grabbed a late afternoon snack of wine, cheese, and charcuterie at this local well-rated hole-in-the-wall type place that was amazing (Hostaria Vecio Biavarol)!  After this we wondered the streets some more, ate a delicious dinner, and took our long-anticipated gondola ride.  A perfect introduction to Italy and the days to come!

Our second stop was Cinque Terre.  We stayed in La Spezia, which was a great choice – especially with our luggage (thank you Ann!).  We took the train to Manarola for dinner on the first night (the local trains are very easy to navigate here!).  We ate a delicious meal and then explored the town, hiking to see the views at sunset.  We took the ferry the following morning to get from town to town. We didn’t hike as much as we would have liked, but we hit the beaches at Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore instead!  We spent our final evening hours walking the streets of La Spezia, which is a very lively town in the evening!

a man with arms wide and the cliff side town in Cinque Terre Italy behind him

We took a train to Florence the next day.  Our hotel was very close to the train station and perfectly located for exploring the city.  Again, you gave us a wonderful recommendation to try the Central Market in Florence.  This was our first stop – and it was huge!  We grabbed a quick, delicious lunch from the upstairs floor that was filled with a number of great Italian restaurants.  We met our Accademia tour guide in the afternoon, Brenda from ArtViva.  Having now seen the David twice, I can attest to the value in touring the Accademia with a guide.  Brenda gave many more insights about the sculpture than I knew on my own, and hearing her talk about the details with the David in front of us was incredible.  After the tour, we ended up buying tickets to an opera for that night, held in a small church.  We were skeptical of our purchase when we first saw the venue (it was so small!), but the talent was impressive!

The next day we actually decided to book a day tour in Tuscany with Walkabout Florence – we couldn’t resist!  Even though we were disappointed to cut our time in Florence, we ended up being very happy with the tour purchase.  The tour took us to Siena (Florence’s “rival” city from years past), an organic farm and vineyard in the Chianti region for a Tuscan lunch and wine tasting, San Gimignano, and a final stop in Pisa!  The whole experience was wonderful, from learning about the horse races in Siena to the delicious meal at the vineyard to the spiraling, sea-legs-like climb of the Leaning Tower.

The following morning we took a high-speed train from Florence to Naples where Fabrizio picked us up for a stress-free transfer to Sorrento.  Along the way, we had scheduled a tour of Pompeii.  Our tour guide Barbara introduced us to the ancient city.    It is terrible to think of the fate of these people, but I am very thankful we were able to see this historical site in person.  Fabrizio was kind enough to wait for us at a coffee shop (and keep our luggage safe!) while we toured with Barbara.  He finished our transfer with the drop off at our hotel in Sorrento.  Chris and I were excited about this hotel because of its rooftop pool!

the cliff side town of Positano lit up at night Since we only had a little over a day to see the Amalfi coast, we split our time between a bus ride to  Positano on our first evening and a boat tour around the island of Capri the next day.  Positano was gorgeous!  We hiked up and down the town, dug our toes into the black sand, and grabbed a Spritz from a cliffside restaurant before taking the bus back to our hotel.  Capri was also stunning – offering grottos of orange, green, and blue that you can tour with a group or by renting your own private boat.  We decided to go with the group tour for the cost savings, and toured the entire island of Capri, including a stop in the famous Blue Grotto.  After our island tour, we took the ferry back to Sorrento with enough time to hit our hotel’s rooftop pool and explore the town famous for its limoncello.

The next day we took a morning transfer and train to arrive in Rome by noon.  After checking into our beautiful hotel, we explored our surroundings – including a stop at the Spanish steps!  Our first night in Rome was our two-year anniversary, so we ate dinner at a restaurant picked out by my husband.  He did a great job researching!  We had wonderful service and a mouthwatering meal at Matermatuta (we highly recommend this spot!).

We woke up bright and early the following morning for our CityWonders’ Vatican skip-the-line tour.  Having visited the Vatican before (but without a guide!), I was looking forward to the insights we would learn as part of the tour group.  We were not disappointed!  Not only were we able to “skip-the-line” and listen to our knowledgeable tour guide, we were able to enter the museum before it even opened!  The early start time of the tour was totally worth it – and it included a skip-the-line tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, too.  Chris and I even climbed the dome afterward!  After this we actually went back to our hotel to nap – which helped us enjoy the evening of sightseeing around the city.

Our final day in Rome we did a tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum with CityWonders. This tour was very informative and also let’s you skip-the-line! After the tour we tried to hop on a tour bus of the city, but I wouldn’t recommend this bus to others.  The line for the hop-on, hop-off bus tours was long and the ride itself was not as informative or enjoyable as we would have liked.  After we “hopped off,” we wandered the streets of Rome to sightsee and grabbed a later lunch before heading back to our hotel for our transfer to the airport.  We were off to catch our evening flight to Greece!


Our private driver was waiting for us (even with our delayed flight!) and drove us to our city center Athens accommodations.  Everything went smoothly, allowing us to get a good night’s rest before our 8:30am walking tour of Athens the next morning.

The tour group was the two of us and four Australian friends.  We were happy to have them along since our tour guide was not the chattiest!  It was relaxing to walk to the major sites in Athens, including the Parliament building with its symbolically dressed guards, the first modern day Olympic stadium, the Temple of Zeus, and the Acropolis.  Once at the Acropolis, we were on our own to explore.  We spent time on the mount itself – a massive example of Grecian achievement – and followed the tour with a visit to the New Acropolis Museum.  This museum was incredibly well done!  If you visit Athens, this museum is a must-see!  For the remainder of the day, Chris and I grabbed a late lunch and then toured the city streets that night.

a couple in front of the blue and white houses of Santorini GreeceEarly the next day we flew to Santorini!  Thank you so much for booking us a gorgeous, newly renovated resort in Fira!  The location was a small hike to the main streets of Fira town, but completely worth it for the peacefulness of the accommodations.  We loved it!  We enjoyed the pool and amenities at the resort first, and then walked into the town of Fira to explore and have dinner.  After a day of on-and-off rain (so rare for the island!) the sky surprised us with a gorgeous sunset while we ate dinner on the cliffside of Fira.  A relaxing, beautiful first day in Santorini!

a man on a donkey climbing up the steeps steps in SantoriniOn our second day, we woke early to catch a cable car down to the pier.  I would highly recommend taking a cable car in the early morning!  We had no line and barely had to wait before our car zipped us down the cliffside to the pier.  We strolled along until we found what we were looking for – donkeys!  We heard about taking donkeys up the cliffs of Fira, and we couldn’t resist!   The weathered Greek men practically tossed us onto our donkeys (or rather, mules, we realized), and off they trotted!  No instructions or warnings of how to ride them, we barreled up the donkey path – almost running into pedestrians and other donkey/mule riders along the way.  The experience was hilarious and definitely one of our favorites from the trip!

After we dismounted at the top of the cliff, Chris and I took a public bus to Akrotiri to see the famous Red Beach.  It was beautiful to see the contrasting red rocks with the deep blue water.  That evening, we took a public bus again, but this time to the other side of the island – to Oia.  Not only did the town offer gorgeous views, it hosts the majority of the iconic Greek Isle “postcard” landmarks.  Only eating our dinner paused my picture taking!  It truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

a stunning sunset of the bay with a restaurant balcony to the side in Oia Greece

The following morning we packed up for our final transfer before heading home!  We took the SeaJet ferry from Santorini to Mykonos.  Everything went smoothly with our transportation, and we were in awe when we arrived at the Myconian Imperial Hotel!  The service treated us like royalty, toured us around the amazing facilities, and left us to enjoy complimentary refreshments in our beautiful hotel room.

All of our meals at the resort were delicious – from the free buffet-style breakfast, to the lunches at the poolside restaurant, to the main dinner restaurant with the gorgeous views, to the amazing sushi restaurant that took reservations until midnight.  Definitely worth every penny!  We made use of the free shuttle to the main town one evening, caught the sunset with the famous Myconian windmills, and ate a traditional Greek meal at the quaintest restaurant, To Maereio.  We highly recommend this small, hidden eatery!  It was interesting finding the place though because the streets of Mykonos were designed to confuse pirates – and it definitely is easy to get lost!

On our final day, we had reserved a horseback riding excursion through the hotel.  Our guide, Angelika, was wonderful and so patient with us as we learned the ropes (literally!) of horseback riding.  We had a wonderful experience – the only downer was that the pictures made it seem like we would be riding along the beach the whole time (and even in the ocean!).  We actually rode on a trail to and from the beach, with a small amount of time on the beach itself.  Granted, I guess the horses really like to roll around in the sand when it’s hot!! So Chris got some action when he had to quickly jump off his horse to not be a part of the backscratching party, hahaha! Thankfully he was fine – and it now makes for one of our most hilarious stories from the trip!

Before heading home, we basked in as much Grecian sun and Aegean ocean water as we could!  We spent a total of three days at our resort on Mykonos, and it was the perfect way to relax, refresh, and reflect on our trip before returning home.  We’re so happy we booked this trip with you, Ann!  We would’ve never booked such a beautiful place for ourselves at the end of our trip, but it was the perfect way to top off our amazing adventures in Europe.

All in all, this trip was EXACTLY what we were hoping for and looking forward to – it was the trip of a lifetime!  Thank you so much for making it possible!

A dream honeymoon for “foodies”

Who says a honeymoon has to include sunshine and palm trees? The only really necessary ingredients for a memorable honeymoon are two people in love …. but a shared interest, hobby or passion makes it even more spectacular. Check out this trip report from clients Tim and Lydia who just returned from a “foodies” dream honeymoon in  Belgium:

Hi Ann,

Everything went wonderfully, and we got back just in time for Hurricane Sandy.  Here are the highlights of the many things we enjoyed while there:


The Marivaux Hotel: the interior is modern but elegant and since it’s a former cinema, the meeting rooms are named after famous people from movie history.  The room was very spacious for a city hotel, and was comfortable and clean. Breakfast was excellent as well. From the hotel it was an easy 15-minute walk to Grand Place, the museums, and other sites. We like walking a lot and you get to see the sights that way, but there was also a public transit option for people who didn’t want to walk, or if the weather is bad.

a plate of meats and cheeses and beer in Belgium

In Brussels we went on a beer tour where we got to try eight different beers, as well as some frites and cheese. One of the stops was at a bar in a quaint old historical puppet theater. The guide was very knowledgeable, funny, and gave us some great advice on the do’s and don’ts of Belgian beers. We also have a new favorite Belgian beer – Tripel Karmeliet.

With the rest of our time in Brussels we went to the Renee Magritte museum, followed some of Rick Steves’ self-guided walks, took in some of the Art Nouveau architecture, and the EU Parliamentarium, which was a surprisingly impressive museum on the history of the EU.   We also made sure to eat lots of Belgian food and had waffles, frites, mussels, carbonnade a la flamande, and tried chocolates from as many of the chocolatiers as possible – Neuhaus, Wittamer, and Pierre Marcolini were the favorites.

Dinant/Meuse River Valley

Renting the car to head out to the countryside went very smoothly, though we did take an unintentional scenic detour through an industrial bit of Charleroi.

Dinant is a beautiful town on the Meuse River valley. The town is small and quaint. We stayed at the Hotel Ibis. It was more bare bones than the other hotels we stayed in, but did the job. It’s like the “Ikea” of hotels – lower cost, clean, and modern. The best part was its location, it’s right on the river and we had windows right onto the Meuse River.

Dinant was a wonderful home base for exploring the Wallonian countryside. It’s a little more off the beaten path for English-speaking tourists, so knowing some French definitely helped.  It was a bit off-season, so there wasn’t a lot going on and it felt a bit deserted at times, but it was relaxing. We took in the views from the Citadel above the town had an excellent dinner at the Jardin de Fiorine that had local game – deer, boar, and wild duck!

From Dinant, we visited two Trappist monasteries that produce beer, Chimay and Rochefort. Some advice for others who make look to go there in the future – it was surprisingly difficult to find the visitor center. Do not follow the signs for Chimay, which lead you to the town center, follow the signs for the Scourmont Abbey. Once you are able to find it, Chimay has a visitor center set up where you can pay 6 euros to see a small museum about the beer and the monastery and get a tasting of a Chimay beer that is only available at that site. We also walked around Scourmont Abbey and got to see the grounds, chapel, and even a few of the monks. There is also a restaurant there where you can sit and sample all of the Chimay beer and cheese. In the town of Rochefort we found a local restaurant to taste the Rochefort Trappist beers and a local specialty, the Jambon d’Ardennes. From Dinant, we also went to the Caves of Han, which were absolutely breathtaking and I would recommend them to anyone who goes to that part of the country.


In Ghent we stayed at the NH Ghent Belfort.  The hotel was really nice, modern, and right in the middle of the historic part of the city. For our honeymoon, they gave us chocolates and a very nice room with a great view and alcove.

Ghent is a fairly large city with a big university, so there are a lot of great restaurants. The bicyclists are crazier than any I’ve seen, so we were glad not to have the car still with us.  Once again, we used our trusty Rick Steves guide to wander and learn about the historic sites in the city. In Ghent, we went up to the top of the belfry and visited the Design museum.

As with the rest of the cities, the food was excellent. The trendy restaurant area is called Patershol, which was a five-minute walk from the hotel and we ate there all three nights. We had amazing meals at Brasserie ‘t Stropke (the lapin a la flamande was unbelievable) and Casa de las Tapas.

From Ghent we took a day-trip to Bruges. Trains run 3-4 times an hour and take only 25 minutes. In Bruges, we again used our Rick Steves and wandered the historic old town and took a boat ride in the canals. He highly recommends the tour of the brewery De Halve Maan. He did not steer us wrong, even if you’ve been on a lot of brewery tours, this one is absolutely worth it.

We finished our trip with a Guinness in the Dublin airport.

Thank you so much for everything!  We’ve already been referring our friends to you and will definitely get in touch with you again if we are looking to plan another escape!

–          Tim and Lydia

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)