Amsterdam, Paris, London, Scotland & Reykjavík,Iceland

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earlene

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We are traveling to Europe next month and I am looking for some recommendations of what folks who have been to some of these places would say would be lovely to visit/see/experience.

Although I have been to Paris, London & Edinburgh (one day only, so barely there at all!), I have never been to Amsterdam or Iceland. My husband has never been to Europe at all, so it will all be new to him.

We are putting together our lists of places to visit and then will compile them to set a more detailed itinerary. So any recommendations from locals or frequent visitors are extremely welcome.

Museums will of course be on our list, including the Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool. I had no idea it existed at the time of my visit; I think it was fairly new and not yet well established. Anyway, I'd like to go there. And I want to see some plays, especially Shakespeare, but whatever is good will do nicely.

I'd like to show my husband Père Lachaise and Jim Morrison's tomb, but also Chopin, Molière, but I have always wanted to go to Montmarte, and I'd like to see the Catacombs, too. And the Pantheon to see Victor Hugo's tomb. But I think too many cemeteries in one city would freak him out. But of course the museums and the Cathedral. And hot chestnuts while strolling the Champs Elysees is high on my list. (I think October should be right for chestnuts along the Seine. Not enough time for it all and I haven't even seen his list yet.

Please make recommendations of anything you found unforgettable, extraordinary or even if-you-have-time-it's-a-great-place-to-visit spot.

Thanks in advance.
 

dibbles

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I've only been to Paris once, but my favorite museum of the 5 or 6 we visited was Musee D'Orsay. I'd leave Montmarte on the list. Notre Dame is beautiful and if you go there, find Sainte-Chapelle - it is spectacular. Be sure to go upstairs, and try to go when the sun is shining. The whole room is stained glass. One of my favorite memories is buying a toasted Margherita baguette from a street vendor (also near Notre-Dame) and standing on a bridge overlooking the Seine while we ate. We took a boat ride on the Seine. I was there in January and it was lightly snowing. It felt magical. And for sure roasted chestnuts! Have a wonderful trip.
 

szaza

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How long will you be staying everywhere? I grew up in the Netherlands, so you can ask me anything about Amsterdam and the surrounding area's ;)
It seems like you enjoy cultural activities, the most well known museums are Van Gogh museum, Rijskmuseum and Rembrandthuis. Those are all in Amsterdam.
https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en
https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
https://www.rembrandthuis.nl/en/
There's also the Anne Frank museum. You'd have to reserve tickets about now if you still want to get in, because it's wildly popular and honestly, it's just an empty house. It's nice to see the place to make the book come more to life, though. So I'm not sure if I should recommend it or not..
At Leidseplein there are always street artists, which makes for a nice athmosphere (also close to lots of restaurants and 3 theaters) but it's a pickpocket hotspot, so be aware!
Dutch food is generally either boring or unhealthy. Traditionally people used to eat potatoes, meat and vegetables. The most typical dutch plate is probably potatoes mashed with kale and served with smoked saussage. Of course you should try stroopwafels if you've never had them (caramel cookies) and maybe also poffertjes (mini pancakes), speculaas (sort of gingerbread) and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkels) while you're at it ;) Something else typical dutch is to get a "krotet" out of the wall - there is this thing called Febo that has walls of food where you can take out a hot snack. If you're not that into boring old potatoes or fast food, don't worry there are lots of restaurants that serve anything but Dutch cuisine:D I'd recommend finding an Indonesian restaurant to try "rijsttafel" (literally rice table - a table full of rice and side dishes).
If you're staying a bit longer you could also visit some places outside of Amsterdam (Amsterdam is nothing like the rest of the country). You could go to Delft to see how they make delft blue ceramics. Lots of tourists also go to either Zaandam or Volendam, those are 2 small towns that are very typically Dutch (I've only been to Zaandam once and thought it was the pinnacle of Dutch-ness, but I've heard Volendam is even more so - though it's also more touristic).
If you're considering going further away, Leeuwarden is the cultural capital of Europe this year, but it's about 2hours by train or driving. They have a very nice Esher exhibition until october 28th and lots of cultural events (concerts, performances,...). From Leeuwarden it's not that far anymore to the islands, which I always enjoy visiting, although I've only been there in summer. It's a good place if you want to get away from it all and for a long walk along the beach, maybe even spot some seals (some people even walk to the islands during low tide and collect seafood on their way - though it might be too cold for that in october), but I'd only recommend going there if you have enough time.
Other cities that I like to visit are Groningen, Utrecht and Maastricht, although these are also pretty far away for Dutch standards (nothing is really far - it's a tiny country).
If you consider travelling by train, let me know.. The Dutch railways always have lots of promotions going on, but their promotions website is only in Dutch, so I can look up a good value ticket if you need one;)
If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask!
 

szaza

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I've only been to Paris once, but my favorite museum of the 5 or 6 we visited was Musee D'Orsay.
Oh yes! Musee d'Orsay is definately worth going! The Rodin museum is also very nice and if you want to add another cemetary to your list, the grave of Napoleon at Hotel des Invalides is also impressive.
 

Miki

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Amsterdam is not an example of Holland, its very touristy, having been born there and lived there I can say it used to be heaps better than it is now. Utrecht is touristy as well but much easier to be in, quaint streets and houses, a beautiful cathedral like church where you can, for a fee, go up and see the view. Where ever you go, have a wonderful time, it sounds like you're going on a whirlwind trip!
 
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How long will you be in each country, earlene?

If you have the chance, visit a Dutch street market. They're busy but so fascinating, nothing like our N. American markets. In Amsterdam, I recommend taking a canal cruise. It's fascinating to see how the Dutch use the water to their advantage. Along those lines, to see how the Dutch cope with and use water, the Deltawerks (Delta Works) is amazing to see. If I remember correctly, there is an information center and there may be tours as well.

I second Utrecht; it's one of the oldest cities in Europe. I was there when it celebrated its 1000th anniversary.

For me, a highlight of one trip to the Netherlands was Muiderslot, a castle turned museum. Definitely worth a visit.

Speaking as a tourist (though my parents are from NL, I've only ever visited), the Rijksmuseum was a disappointment because we were in a hurry. You need time to go through it. We did see the Night Watch (Nacht Wacht) but it was through thick glass and rather underwhelming, to be honest). We did visit the Anne Frank house and it definitely put the book/diary into context. I found it a bit depressing, though... understandably, I think.

One place I've wanted to visit but never had the opportunity is Madurodam, a city of miniatures. From Wikipedia: Madurodam is a miniature park and tourist attraction in the Scheveningen district of The Hague in the Netherlands. It is home to a range of 1:25 scale model replicas of famous Dutch landmarks, historical cities and large developments.

And as far as Dutch food goes, there is good Dutch food. It isn't all potatoes and kale. If you visit a market, there will likely be a waffle vendor; do try them. They're amazing just off the griddle. Just don't burn your tongue. Dutch pastries are amazing; see if you can find a bakery and peruse some of the goodies. If you see Slagroom Truffles (whipped cream truffles), try one. I tried for years to recreate those and never could. So good and so addictive. I will agree with szaza, though, about the Indonesian Rijstaffel. It's amazing!

Pannekoeken, or pancakes, are really good. They're not like N. American pancakes; they're more like large crepes and can have sweet or savory filling and they're not a breakfast food. The seafood in NL is amazing, too. Personally, I'm not a salted herring fan but a lot of people love them. Kroketten (croquettes) are a fun snack. Szaza mentioned poffertjes (mini pancakes); if you have the chance, do try them. They're street food and usually served with butter and icing sugar.

I also agree with szaza regarding Leeuwarden and northern Holland. That's where my family is from originally. I've not been to the islands there but, from what I've heard and read, it's beautiful.
 

szaza

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One place I've wanted to visit but never had the opportunity is Madurodam, a city of miniatures. From Wikipedia: Madurodam is a miniature park and tourist attraction in the Scheveningen district of The Hague in the Netherlands. It is home to a range of 1:25 scale model replicas of famous Dutch landmarks, historical cities and large developments.

And as far as Dutch food goes, there is good Dutch food. It isn't all potatoes and kale. If you visit a market, there will likely be a waffle vendor; do try them. They're amazing just off the griddle. Just don't burn your tongue. Dutch pastries are amazing; see if you can find a bakery and peruse some of the goodies. If you see Slagroom Truffles (whipped cream truffles), try one. I tried for years to recreate those and never could. So good and so addictive. I will agree with szaza, though, about the Indonesian Rijstaffel. It's amazing!

Oh yes! I've always wanted to go to Madurodam too! :D

I have a recipe for slagroomtruffels that I really like, if you are interested.. It's funny that you consider them to be Dutch, since in my mind they're typically Belgian (just like all waffles that are not stroopwafels) but then again there's a lot of overlap and shared history between the countries and also lots of food that is considered typical/local in both countries.
 

earlene

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Thank you dibbles, szaza, Miki & Misschief! I wanted to include how long we'd be in each place, but I didn't have exact numbers for it all. Maybe I still don't, but here's a rough estimate. Hubby is remaining flexible for the middle part of the trip, which is rather unlike him. I am the spontaneous traveler and he is the plan-it-all-out (to the minute detail) type of traveler, so it's nice that he has learned flexibility.

Anyway we leave Chicago on Oct. 2. Spending 3 nights in Amsterdam. Train from Amsterdam to Paris. 3-5 nights in Paris with at least one day trip to Versailles. Train from Paris to London 3-5 nights in London. Train from London to Bath. Rent a car in Bath. 2-3 nights in Bath or Taunton. Day trips to Stonehenge & Port Isaac and the Cornwall Coast, and a National Park. Train from Bath to Glasgow. Rent a car in Glasgow & drive to Ballater. 3-4 nights in Ballater, Scotland (timeshare). Day trips from Ballater to Balmoral Castle, National Park & not sure what else. Return Car to Glasgow & fly to Iceland. 24 hours in Iceland, then fly back to Chicago.

So, yes, it is a whirl-wind trip. But Hubby keeps saying we can alter the middle and it's really only the beginning and the end are set in stone due to the airline tickets.
 
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Oh yes! I've always wanted to go to Madurodam too! :D

I have a recipe for slagroomtruffels that I really like, if you are interested.. It's funny that you consider them to be Dutch, since in my mind they're typically Belgian (just like all waffles that are not stroopwafels) but then again there's a lot of overlap and shared history between the countries and also lots of food that is considered typical/local in both countries.

I would love a recipe. The only reason I consider them Dutch is that NL is the only place I've had them. :)
 

szaza

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I would love a recipe. The only reason I consider them Dutch is that NL is the only place I've had them. :)
I got this recipe from a book called chocolate according to cote d'or (my own additions in parentheses).
You need:
500g chocolate (more or less)
125g butter, room temperature
250ml whipping cream
100g castor sugar
1 vanillabean (I actually use 2-3 stalks of lemongrass instead)
pinch of salt
cocoa powder

Cut the vanilla bean open and add it to the whipping cream in a small pan. Also add a pinch of salt.
Bring the cream to a simmerand let it steep for about 15min. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve the sugar and let the mixture cool to room temp. Remove the vanilla bean.
In a separate bowl, whip the soft butter with a hand mixer. Slowly start adding the cream -be sure it's at room temp to avoid separation- while continuously whipping until you get a smooth, pipable, creamy texture.
Put the cream in a piping bag and pipe small dots or stripes as you prefer. (Don't make them too voluminous, you want a nice cream/chocolate ratio. I like to add a hazelnut by piping a tiny dot, putting a hazelnut on there and pipe a bigger dot that covers the hazelnut)
Let the cream solidify in the fridge for about 4 hours.
Temper(*) the chocolate and dip the hardened cream in the warm chocolate (don't let them stay in the chocolate too long or they'll melt) and dust with some cocoa powder.

*I've messed around with a kitchen thermometer, but hated it.. The best way for me to do it is melt 3/4 of the chocolate you need in a double boiler, take the chocolate pot off the bottom one and stir in the room temp chocolate bit by bit until it starts to take a long time to melt the solid chocolate (but it still has to melt). At that point, take a clean knife and dip it in the chocolate. If it hardens out within minutes and looks shiny, your chocolate is ready! If not, you might want to add a bit more solid chocolate or if it doesn't melt anymore you'll have to start over. Good thing with this recipe is that even if tempering didn't go as well, you won't see because of the cocoa powder
 

szaza

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Thank you dibbles, szaza, Miki & Misschief! I wanted to include how long we'd be in each place, but I didn't have exact numbers for it all. Maybe I still don't, but here's a rough estimate. Hubby is remaining flexible for the middle part of the trip, which is rather unlike him. I am the spontaneous traveler and he is the plan-it-all-out (to the minute detail) type of traveler, so it's nice that he has learned flexibility.

Anyway we leave Chicago on Oct. 2. Spending 3 nights in Amsterdam. Train from Amsterdam to Paris. 3-5 nights in Paris with at least one day trip to Versailles. Train from Paris to London 3-5 nights in London. Train from London to Bath. Rent a car in Bath. 2-3 nights in Bath or Taunton. Day trips to Stonehenge & Port Isaac and the Cornwall Coast, and a National Park. Train from Bath to Glasgow. Rent a car in Glasgow & drive to Ballater. 3-4 nights in Ballater, Scotland (timeshare). Day trips from Ballater to Balmoral Castle, National Park & not sure what else. Return Car to Glasgow & fly to Iceland. 24 hours in Iceland, then fly back to Chicago.

So, yes, it is a whirl-wind trip. But Hubby keeps saying we can alter the middle and it's really only the beginning and the end are set in stone due to the airline tickets.

Your trip sounds lovely @earlene !
I just wanted to advise to buy the train tickets between Amsterdam and Paris well on time, because the price goes up if you book later (prices for Amsterdam-Paris range between €55 and €135 depending on when you book).
It is also possible to book a stop over of a few hours in Brussels, which is on your way. Of course I'm biased because I've lived there for 2 years, but I really like the city and it's nice to see the difference between Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. I'm travelling a lot by train in Belgium/Holland, so again if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!;)

Reykjavik is not a big city, so one day is enough to see most of it, but of course Iceland is mainly known for it's stunning nature..
Within Reykjavik I would definately recommend taking a "free" walking tour. You learn a lot about the city and Icelandic history. https://citywalk.is/
If you're super lucky you might be able to see the northern lights, so be sure to keep track of the forecast: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
If the forecast is good, try to get out of the city to a place that's as dark as possible and that's not overcast, because you can't see the lights behind the clouds. We went out to a lighthouse at the edge of the city one night for an (unsuccesful) aurora hunt (we saw them a few days later outside of town). Apparently there are also good (dark) places for aurora spotting not too far from the airport.
Also, the airport is far away from Reykjavik city. You could get a tour bus to take you to the city, but renting a car for a day will give you more freedom. I'd also recommend keeping this in mind when booking your hotel (either close to the city or close to the airport, depending on your flight schedule).
The blue lagoon is another tourist hub that's not too far and absolutely stunning, but very, very pricey. You'll be sure to sleep on the plane if you decide to go there though! It's soooo relaxing:)
 

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The D'Orsay museum is wonderful. If you go to the Louvre, don't try to see it all in 1 day- that's impossible. If you get a Paris Passlib card (parisinfo.com), you can get into many sites in Paris for less money. Enter the Louvre from Rue Rivoli- tourists don't know about the entrance and it is faster. When you go to Notre Dame you will be near Sainte-Chapelle. It is directly opposite Notre Dame at the opposite end of the plaza. You must go through security because it is in the city hall complex. Don't eat at any place within 1 block of this area- food is not good. When you go to Versaille, you can take the RER to the end and walk about 3/4 mi to the palace. Enjoy!
 

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I live in north west england and I would say that although I absolutely love Scotland and have had some amazing holidays up there only a few places really stood out for me. isle of mull and near by but i dont remember it specifically but i do remember visiting lots of islands on that coast and stayed in a place called oban but we also visited the isle of iona and is what my niece was named after so it holds a special meaning to me and generally the West coastal area is a beautiful place to visit. Loch Tay and Fife went to visit my sister when she lived and went to st andrews uni and although i didnt think much of the town itself considering lots of rich toffs and is very much considered an elite univercitygo there the outskirts are much nicer. if you get the chance I would highly highly recommend visiting the lake district in the north of England my family keeps a boat on ullswater and waking up to that kind of scenery is one of a kind surrounded by hills one called and very well known is hellvylln it's about an hour away from the Scottish boarder and is defiantly worth a visit if I can find it I'll post a photo up of the view I wake upto while visiting the boat.
random fact for you can't remember which but one the star wars films had a scene filmed around the ullswater valley area and it's often used for military jets for training because of it basically being one valley after another for the majority of the entire county.
 

Chris_S

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oh and judging from past experience on trains too and from London I would definatly recommend specifically booking seats otherwise you could be stood up the entire journey. if you are going anywhere near think it's Plymouth they have the remains of an old battle ship they lifted from the sea bed can't for life of me remember the name of it think it was a Tudor ship possibly the Mary rose. as mentioned in my last post the lake district is a lovely area and is a national park and it's about half the way from Liverpool to Edinburgh also Wales in general has some absolutely stunning places Snowdon national park being one the better known. By the way when I said I'm from north west England I live in Wigan (greater manchester/lancashire) and Liverpool outskirts aka Merseyside is about 20 minutes drive from where I live but I don't suffer from a dodgy Scouse accent. If you end up visiting Liverpool definatly recommend the docks area (albert) but do your research on Liverpool it's got some seriously dodgy areas worse than most British towns and cities. if you like history of industrial times Wigan, greater Manchester and Manchester itself have some absolutely fascinating history and we (Wigan) have lakes called flashes which have actually formed from collapsed mines. Last of all don't whatever you do expect nice weather when visiting England at that time of year it's very unlikely and make sure you have plenty waterproof clothing you will need it.
 

earlene

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Thank you, treker54 & Chris_S.

Treker54, I learned that about the Louvre when I went there the last time. We were there for a full day and it seem like we barely scratched the surface. My husband also figured at least one day for the Louvre. How much time would you recommend for the d'Orsay? I generally like to spend at least half a day in smaller museums, but some are so large a full day is required. And then some, like the Louvre and the Smithsonians (US) require multiple days to really do them justice. How would you categorize the d'Orsay?

We were talking about what to bring clothing-wise and I personally haven't gotten beyond only-what-I-can-hand-wash-&-dry-overnight. I wanted to bring only one bag (a dry bag, which keeps everything inside dry in the rain, etc.) but Hubby said he paid for one checked bag each, so now I am re-thinking what to bring. It may still be the dry-bag, but I don't know if I can trust airline baggage personnel not to cause some sort of rip or tear with rough handling and I'd hate to have it ruined.

But I won't be bringing the giant heavy coat I brought with me the last time. It was plenty warm for the snow that I experienced, but way too bulky for an entire trip. I may just bring my light-weight rain jacket (with a hood) to layer over other clothes for warmth. I think for me the hardest part of choosing what to bring is going to be shoes. I hate wearing anything other than zorries/flip-flops, although I do own other shoes, I rarely wear anything except zorries for weeks on end.

Thanks for the warning about areas of Liverpool. Is the area where the Beatles museum is located a fairly safe area?
 

Chris_S

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yes that area will be fine it's not that all areas are bad the city center is fine too and never felt unsafe but I don't really like cities so always far more careful than I probably need to be. If you are driving about and the area seems a bit off then chances are it probably isn't the nicest of areas and its best avoided it's usually pretty obvious but you'll be fine im sure if your walking it's very unlikely you will even get within walking distance of the rougher areas. Chances are if you got mugged you probably wouldn't even understand the accent and wouldn't know what was even going on :D;):rolleyes:.Weather wise i suppose it depends what your used too really if you are used to cold wet envoroments then youll be fine if not best pack a few extra layers just in case I find a base layer, tshirt then hoody or windbreaker and thin waterproof normally enough i used to cycle whatever the weather and that's all I ever wore even in snow
 

treker54

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You could do the d'Orsay in half a day. It is well arranged and very comfortable. I travel to Paris with a roll aboard suitcase. Comfortable flat shoes, Traveler's Line from Chico's (wash, rinse, hang and go). I wore a raincoat with a removable liner-this kept me warm in January. Minimal makeup and simple hair styling and small hoop earrings. I bought scarfs and earrings as gifts and to dress up my outfits.
 

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I'm green with envy! I looooove to travel, but my sick cat is holding me hostage. :( Of the places that you've mentioned, I've only been to Amsterdam and Reykjavik. Amsterdam was a whirlwind of a bus tour. We had a long layover on the way to Spain and decided not to spend it in the airport, so found a bus tour that left from the airport, and hopped on. There were no stops, just riding through, but it was a beautiful, very early winter morning, and I thought it would be a lovely place to return to some day with more time. I'm sure you will enjoy it.

I went to Iceland on a 3 day weekend. My girlfriend found a trip for $389, including airfare, hotel and breakfasts!!! We didn't spend a lot of time in Reykjavik itself, we found some bus tours out into the countryside. Iceland is clean and beautiful. Everywhere you look, it's like a post card. With only 24 hours, it's hard to do much, but if you do get out of the city, I hope you can get to see some of the Icelandic horses. I think that may have been the highlight of my trip there, animal lover that I am. I also remember the best yogurt I've ever had. If you fly Icelandair, I also remember delicious salmon, free drinks and two movies, although that was some years ago. Biggest surprise about Iceland...so few trees. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Have a wonderful time!!!
 

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