Wrapping up our Tauck adventure in Brussels
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Today, guests disembarked Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire in the port of Maastricht as the cruise portion of our Belgium & Holland in Spring itinerary draws to a close. But there’s still one more full day of touring ahead of us, as we travel to Brussels and the Hotel Amigo.
There were many goodbyes to the fabulous crew of the Inspire, and to our Tauck Cruise Director Steve, who will stay with the ship and welcome the next group of guests onboard as she turns and heads north back to Amsterdam.
Luggage was collected for us from outside of our rooms and brought separately to Brussels, while we disembarked and boarded three motorcoaches for the three-hour drive to the city.
About 90 minutes into our drive, we stopped at a truck stop along the highway (a TEXACO, ironically enough) for a bathroom break and a stretch of the legs. Next door was the swankiest Ibis hotel I’ve ever seen, and it was nice to get out and have a little stroll.
I heard a few guests were told by the gas station’s management to not take photographs inside with their iPhones, though I waltzed in with a DSLR and no one said anything to me. It’s an odd policy for a place that sells beer and porn side-by-side newspapers and potato chips. Speaking of, if you’re here, try the Paprika-flavoured potato chips. They’re great.
In Brussels, we battled traffic like I have never seen before. When I think of popular European cities that are busy even during the ‘off-season’, I think of places like London, Paris and Rome. But Brussels is every bit as busy as Paris, with throngs of tourists disembarking from motorcoaches at every turn. There’s also absolutely tons of traffic.
The Hotel Amigo is very Tauck. It’s elegantly decorated, but in an understated, unobtrusive fashion. It has 154 guest rooms and 19 suites that are universally spacious, along with the inviting Bar Amigo and Bocconi Restaurant.
My room was more spacious than I was expecting – always a good thing. Complimentary bottled sparkling and still water were also a nice touch, as was the wi-fi internet access. By the time I got to my room, my luggage was already there waiting for me. But I wouldn’t be doing much in my room today other than changing and sleeping: I had a whole city to explore!
Brussels is, as you might have heard, full of chocolate – though not all of it is Belgian. Flipping over the wares in most stores showed chocolates that were made in France, and a few had even been imported from the UK. It’s a good lesson to always look at the back of the label to find out where your souvenirs are actually made.
If you’re in the market for good Belgian chocolates, I’d personally recommend Pierre Marcolini. The boxes they come in alone are pretty swank, and the prices are very reasonable for real Belgian chocolate. They’ve got a shop in the picturesque Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert five minutes from Tauck’s Hotel Amigo.
Opened in 1847, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is similar in concept and design to other 19th-century shopping arcades in Europe, like the Galleria Umberto in Naples and its famous counterpart, Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II in Milan. Spanning two city blocks and separated by a single street in the middle, it’s a fun place to walk through, and definitely the place to be if you’re after chocolates. Or, Tintin. The famous French children’s character is well represented here.
The only issue I have with Brussels – apart from the traffic – is how shockingly rude some of the citizens here are. I discovered that when, along with four other Tauck guests, we dined at a local restaurant-pub just off the main square.
We ordered five beers and I did my best to communicate in both French and English (French is most widely spoken in Brussels as opposed to Dutch), but the grouchy-looking man who was serving us was having none of it. He brought our beers after much humming and hawing, then disappeared.
An hour passes, and we’ve long since finished our respective pints. We’re anxious to order some food, so we attempt to get the waiters attention. At every opportunity, he ices us out completely – even when one member of our party got up, strode across the room and asked if we could order. The answer: a shrug of the shoulders, followed by a walk away.
Fifteen more minutes pass, and we’ve had enough. Two people stay behind and pay the tab while the rest of us go one street over to another pub.
Here’s the kicker: the second pub, called Manneken, was much nicer in terms of décor and food, and the young waitress and waiter serving us couldn’t have been happier or nicer. So you just never know. A few shopkeepers were nice and conversational, but most were simply indifferent, which was in stark contrast to the rest of Belgium and the Netherlands.
But that’s the beauty of travel: you fall in love with places you’ve never been to, and learn there are others that don’t really do it for you. Such is life.
Tonight, we had one last dinner together along with our Tauck guides Joeri, Yenner and Zsofia. Cocktails were served promptly in the lobby of the Hotel Amigo at 6p.m., and dinner followed at 7p.m. in a private dining room off the Lobby Bar. As part of Tauck’s all-inclusive policy, even at the hotel, all drinks with dinner and the cocktail hour were provided complimentary to guests.
It was a wonderful way to wrap up this journey that we have all been a part of for the past week and a half. Everyone met as strangers last Monday in Amsterdam, but now leave as friends.
As my second Tauck river cruise comes to a close, I’m more certain than ever that the company is one-of-a-kind. Arthur Tauck, Sr. founded the company in the mid 1920’s, and much has changed since then. The world is a very different place now – one of uncertainty, change, and quite often, fear.
If Arthur Tauck Sr. wouldn’t recognize the world around him, he would no doubt recognize today’s Tauck, for it embodies every one of the principles he set out to offer: a friendly, convivial group of likeminded people coming together to see the world.
Tauck continues to expand and grow, and the launch of the gorgeous ms Inspire and her sister, ms Savor in June, are part of that expansion. But it’s the personal touch with Tauck that makes all the difference, from the guides, staff and directors who give up their personal time to go location scouting for new itineraries to the company’s attention to detail at every turn.
In a world without pause, Tauck really does make every moment count. And that’s endlessly special.
Tauck's MS Inspire - Belgium & Holland
|April 7, 2014||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Arrive Amsterdam; Embark Tauck's new ms Inspire|
|April 8||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Private river cruise through Amsterdam's Canals; visit the Rijksmuseum; tour Keukenhof Gardens|
|April 9||Hoorn, Netherlands / Enkhuizen, Netherlands||Walking tour of Hoorn or visit to Alkmaar. Walking tour of Enkhuizen & open-air Zuiderzee Museum.|
|April 10||Arnhem, Netherlands||Choice of tours - De Hoge Veluwe National Park exploration with Vincent Van Gogh at the Kroller-Muller Museum, or tour sites associated with the WWII airborne assault on Arnhem.|
|April 11||Rotterdam, Netherlands||Tour of Rotterdam & its museums, or optional excursion to the historic city of Delft.|
|April 12||Veere, Netherlands / Middleburg, Netherlands.||Exploration of Veere or excursion to Neeltje Jans Delta Works to learn about the country's storm surge barriers. In Middleburg, enjoy time exploring on own.|
|April 13||Antwerp, Belgium / Ypres||Orientation walking tour through Antwerp's historic city center & visit the Red Star Line museum. After lunch, Tauck Exclusive tour to Flanders to observe the centennial of World War I with dinner and a private visit to the In Flanders Fields museum.|
|April 14||Antwerp, Belgium / Hasselt, Belgium / Maastricht, Netherlands||Drive to Margraten to see the Netherlands American Cemetery. Tauck Exclusive Lunch at Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guided visit to Maastricht & free time in the Old Town.|
|April 15||Brussels, Belgium||Disembark ms Inspire & travel to Brussels for a full day of sightseeing. Overnight at the Hotel Amigo.|
|April 16||Brussels, Belgium||Onward journey home.|