We said farewell to Lynne on her journey home to Sydney, in business class no less, and we made our way to St Pancras International Station to catch the Eurostar to Brugge.Our train trip was nice and relaxing and we arrived in sunny Brugge where we lost our way looking for our accommodation, but after getting directions and a lot of effort dragging our luggage around on cobblestones, we found our hotel.Our room was tiny, but neat and tidy with a good bathroom, so it was OK for us.Brugge is a lovely old town and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.We walked around town for a while, then took a canal tour which gave another view of the Medieval and Flemish architecture, quirky buildings and residences.After our boat ride, we followed some noise to a lively, popular pub where AC/DC was playing very loudly.Everyone was having a great time and some people were dancing - it was great fun.We then did some more touring on foot before finding a nice café for dinner where we treated ourselves to some genuine Belgian Waffles which were delicious.
We spent the next morning roaming around Brugge which has some beautiful shops, particularly chocolate shops.It's only a small town, but there were about 10 shops dedicated to chocolate.There a lots of winding laneways, some of which reminded me of Diagon Alley with their awnings and old-style shop windows.Some of the buildings are from the 1500s and 1600s and are in very good condition for their age.The churches are the tallest buildings and are wonderfully ornate.We then battled with our bags again and made our way to the railway station for our trip to Brussels.
In Brussels we took a taxi to our accommodation, and faced yet another narrow flight of stairs to our room with our big bags.It is a nice room and close to the centre of the city.We did a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city this afternoon, which was great and very informative.Brussels is a large cosmopolitan city with many lovely buildings, but also some great modern buildings as well.We did lots of walking as well, mainly because we kept getting lost!
The next morning we visited the Atomium, a spectacular silver structure in the old Brussels Expo area.We took the very fast lift to the top and had a great view of greater Brussels and could see how far it extends.There are some beautiful parks in this area too, so we had a bit of a wander before returning to our accommodation to collect our bags and going to the railway station for our train to Amsterdam.Tonight was the first of 13 nights in our cabin on the River Duchess and we were really looking forward to being settled in one room for a couple of weeks.
Disaster struck - Ian's small backpack was stolen on the train from Brussels to Amsterdam.He normally kept his passport and our other travel documents in his large backpack, but today decided to put them in his small backpack for ease of access.Therefore, he lost his passport, credit and debit cards, some cash and our European train tickets.We reported the theft to the Amsterdam police, and spent nearly two hours at the police station.The police were sympathetic to our problem, especially since we needed to board the ship that afternoon, and needed passports to do so.They tried to contact the cruise people, unsuccessfully, but did make contact with the Australian Embassy in The Hague to set up an appointment for Ian the next morning at 9am.Armed with the police report, we boarded the ship and the cruise director, Ingrid, assisted Ian in cancelling his credit cards using the ship's phone to ring Australia.It was a very stressful time for us and not a good introduction to Amsterdam.
Ian then set out for The Hague by train at 7.15am the next morning and was on the doorstep of the embassy at opening time.Because Ian had spoken to them the day before, they had already done half the investigative work on his background overnight, and so were able to process him and issue a new passport within an hour and a half.They even organized a taxi to get him back to the railway station in time for his train back to Amsterdam so that he would not miss the ship's departure at 1pm.
In the meantime, I joined the ship's tour group to the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam, which I loved, especially seeing the original works of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals.The gallery is undergoing extensive renovations so the display was reduced significantly, but this was OK as we only had an hour there.We then did a canal cruise of Amsterdam.The canal was littered with debris from the national celebration day the week before.It was a lovely way to see the sights of Amsterdam with its beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) buildings, the houseboats, the bridges and the many churches and steeples.It is a really lovely city, and despite our unfortunate experience, a place we could visit again.
When we returned from lunch today we found an invitation from the Captain to join him at his table for the Captain's Dinner tonight.The captain, Michael Hofman, is a nice fellow who talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger with a lisp.The crew were very sorry and embarrassed about our introduction to their country, and so to give us a positive experience we were given this special honour, with two other couples - one from New Zealand (very nice) and the other from Canada (rude and insensitive).We had a great time chatting with the Captain, the Cruise Director, Ingrid and the Hotel Manage, Doris, who also joined us for dinner.Of course we were given special attention by the serving staff, and our drinks were refreshed frequently.We had a special photo taken of everyone at the table and, at the end of the night, were presented with a copy of it and a memento menu signed by the Captain and the other two staff members.
We loved Brugge and Brussels, but of course we have mixed feelings about Amsterdam.It was a terrible feeling when we realised our cash, credit cards, train tickets and Ian's passport had been stolen.It was made worse because there were warning announcements on the train to be alert to thieves, so we felt foolish as well.On the positive side, the police were incredibly sympathetic and helpful.They tried to contact the cruise ship and our Australian banks, without success, but were successful in arranging an appointment the next morning for Ian with the Australian Embassy in The Hague, a 45-minute train ride from Amsterdam.Also, when we arrived at the ship, Ingrid, the Cruise Director, was exceptionally helpful and allowed us to use her phone to ring our Australian banks to cancel our cards.The Captain was willing to make an extra stop the next day if Ian was not able to board the ship in Amsterdam - he would stop at Ulrecht, if necessary - this was extremely generous of him.Due to the Embassy's efficiency, Ian was able to make it back to the ship in time for departure.So, while we saw the bad side of human nature thanks to thieves, we also saw the best side thanks to the Dutch Police, the Australian Embassy staff and the cruise ship staff.