Masters and Artisans 2 - Frequently Asked Questions
Holland and Belgium are 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States. Like most European countries, Holland and Belgium have daylight saving time which lasts from April to September. It moves its clocks ahead an hour in late spring and an hour back in the fall, corresponding roughly to daylight saving time in the United States, but the exact dates vary. When it's noon in Amsterdam or Brussels, it's 6 a.m. in New York and 3 a.m. in San Francisco.
NEW YORK CITY
There are many great things (chocolate!) to bring back with you from Holland and Belgium, so make sure you have space left in your suitcase, so pack light. You do not need formal clothing for this trip. Some people like to dress up if they are visiting high-end restaurants, but this is optional. They only ask that you don't wear sneakers or jeans.
Visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a valid passport, but visas are not required for Americans, Canadians or Australians visiting for less than 3 months. If you are a citizen of another E.U. country, you do not need a passport, only an identity card. Your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after the date you intend to leave the European Union. Before traveling abroad it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another in your suitcase.
ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION
This tour starts in Amsterdam International Airport (airport code AMS) and ends in Brussels International Airport (BRU).
The tour starts at 3:00PM on Thursday, May 2, 2024 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and your flight should arrive no later than 1:00PM. That means that you'll probably depart North America on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for private airport transfers on arrival in accordance with your flight arrival time, and you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Amsterdam.
On Friday, May 10, 2024, we'll have a group transfer from Bruges to the Brussels International Airport, where the tour will end at 8:30AM, so your return flight should leave no sooner than 10:30AM on May 10, 2024.
If you need assistance with pre- and post-tour arrangements, you can contact the Sights and Soul Travels' wonderful travel agent: Lisa Francois. You can contact Lisa through her travel portal: https://www.labelletravel.com, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 910 660 0960.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones) drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
SINGLE SUPPLEMENT AND ROOMMATES
To avoid paying the single supplement, we offer guaranteed roommate matching, and we will try to match you with a roommate of similar age. Otherwise, there are several single rooms available on this tour, but they tend to fill up early. Please keep in mind that all shared rooms are non-smoking.
THE TRAVEL GROUP
The Holland and Belgium tour group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the Tour Director. The minimum group size is 10 women + the Tour Director. However, because we have only 12 rooms available on this tour, if there are a lot of people requesting a single room, we may have a smaller group. In addition to the Tour Director, the travelers will be assisted by private local guides, museum docents and bus drivers, who will be sharing their insights about Holland and Belgium with the group throughout the tour.
In general, Holland and Belgium are safe destinations. You don't need shots, most food is safe, and the water is potable. It is easy to get a prescription filled, and nearly all destinations have English-speaking doctors at hospitals with well-trained staffs. Travelers from Canada and the United States must pay for medical services rendered, but will be reimbursed by their travel insurance. There are very few health problems encountered while traveling in Holland and Belgium. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels. Otherwise, they won't make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
The public drinking water in the Netherlands is safe to drink. Some people prefer the bottled water, called generically "spa water", available at restaurants, hotels, cafes, food stores, and kiosks. If you do order bottled water at a restaurant, you will have to choose between natural (without gas) or carbonated (with gas). Quite often, cafes tend to provide a glass of natural water.
The most important thing to remember about public toilets in Holland, apart from calling them toiletten (twa-lett-en) and not restrooms, is to pay the attendant. He or she has a saucer where you put your money. Toilets usually cost only about 0.30€ (50¢), and the attendant generally ensures that they are clean. In the primarily French-speaking Brussels and in Wallonia in Belgium, toilets will likely display an H or HOMMES (men), and an F or FEMMES (women); in Dutch-speaking Flanders, it'll be an H or HEREN (men), and a D or DAMEN (women), or there'll be a graphic that should leave no doubt either way. Be sure to pay the person who sits at the entrance to a toilette. He or she has a saucer where you put your money, usually around 0.50€ (80¢) so you should always have some coins in the local currency.
Both Holland and Belgium are generally safe places in which to travel, but petty crime has risen in the last few years. The most common menace, especially in large cities like Amsterdam, is the plague of pickpockets. Travelers can become targets of pickpockets and purse-snatchers, particularly at popular sites, in restaurants, and on public transportation. In general, visitors should carry limited cash and credit cards and should leave extra cash, credit cards, and personal documents at the hotel safe. A common ploy is for one person to distract you while another steals your wallet, camera or bag. However, there’s no need to travel in fear. Taking a few simple precautions will minimize travelers’ chances of being ripped off. Photocopy your passport, credit cards, plane tickets, driver’s license, and other important documents – leave one copy at home and keep another one with you, separate from the originals. A hidden money belt remains the safest way to carry money and valuable documents. Take only what you need on busy sightseeing days and use the hotel safe.
In Amsterdam, it's safe for groups of women to go around in the city's famed (or notorious) Red Light District, assuming they can stomach seeing other women serving purely as sex objects, but a young woman on her own, particularly after dark, could be subject to at least verbal harassment, and misrepresentation as a "working girl." All other red light zones in Benelux cities, and especially those in Brussels, are best avoided by women. Holland has long enjoyed a relaxed attitude to exposing nontrivial amounts of the undraped female form, a recent government DVD, part of a now-mandatory "education" for would-be migrants, portrays going topless at the beach as an integral part of Dutch culture. The Catholic Belgium always was less relaxed about this, and remain so.
During the Masters and Artisans tour in Holland and Belgium, we will travel by a private bus. We will also walk a lot. While in Kinderdijk, we will ride bicycles for about 5 miles on a bicycle path along the canals. You can opt out of this activity and take a cruise along the canals instead. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 5 miles throughout the day, sometimes on cobbled streets and uneven surfaces. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles, both buses and boats, without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is busy. You must be prepared for a couple of full days and some early starts.
Holland and Belgium, with their long North Sea coasts, have a typically moderate marine climate. The sea’s influence ensures that it is not too cold during winter, not too hot during summer, and there is always sufficient moisture in the air for a shower. Rainfall is unpredictable and can happen at almost any time, so don’t forget to pack your umbrella! The best time to visit begins in April and May (when the average temperature is 63 °F degrees and days are very long.
Holland's and Belgium's cities have Internet access available in internet cafes, hotel lobbies and in some public places. Internet access in rural areas may be available, but it varies widely. Cellular phone coverage is generally very good in Holland's and Belgium's cities and metropolitan areas, although expect limited coverage in remote or mountainous areas. All hotels where we’ll be staying have WiFi Internet available for their guests.
Voltage in Holland and Belgium is 220 volts AC (50 cycles) and the plug is the typical European plug with two round prongs. Many stores in North America sell the appropriate transformers and adapters, and they can also be purchased on arrival at the Amsterdam airport. If you bring a hair dryer, it should be a dual-voltage one, and you'll need an adapter plug. Any heat generating appliances that you bring need a transformer, and they may still not work properly with the different voltage.
Dutch people speak Dutch, but English is the second language of Holland and is taught in school from the early grades. The result is that nearly everyone speaks fluently, particularly those providing tourist services, whether hotel receptionist, waitperson, or store clerk (cab drivers might be another story). Belgians speak either French or Dutch (you may hear it called Flemish), and a tiny minority in the east speaks German. Many Belgians speak two or all three of the national tongues but, since language is a sensitive subject in the land, they might not be willing to do so. English is in effect the second language, and it is taught in the schools from the early grades, with the result that many Belgians speak fluently.
The Euro, the single European currency, is the official currency of both Holland and Belgium. Each Euro is divided into 100 Eurocents. Some people like to bring local currency with them when traveling to a foreign country, but it is not needed, and depends on what you're comfortable with. We believe that the easiest way to get local currency is on arrival at the airport ATM. ATMs are common throughout both Holland and Belgium. You'll find them inside and outside all banks, in major shopping centers, in supermarkets and gas stations. NOTE: Holland uses the "chip and pin" type credit cards more than any other European country, although all tourist focused establishments (gift shops, museums, restaurants) gladly accept American "signature only" credit cards. However, if you don't have a "chip and pin" card, you may not be able to complete your transaction in places that are serving primarily locals (grocery stores, gas stations, parking garages).
Restaurants', drivers' and guides' gratuities are included in the Masters and Artisans tour price. While dining on your own, it's good to know that the Dutch government requires that all taxes and service charges be included in the published prices of hotels, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, salons, and sightseeing companies. Even taxi fare includes taxes and a standard 15% service charge. To be absolutely sure in a restaurant that tax and service are included, look for the words inclusief BTW en service or ask the waiter. But Dutch diners often leave some small change as an additional tip, especially if service has been exceptional. It is customary to leave 15% or "rounding off" on larger bills to the nearest 1€. Good taxi service merits a tip of 5% to 10%. Hotel chambermaids should be left about 2€ per night per room. Bellhops and doormen should be tipped 1€ to 2€, depending on the services they provide. In Belgium, the prices on most restaurant menus already include a service charge of 16%, so it's unnecessary to tip. However, if the service is good, it's customary to show appreciation with a tip. It's enough to round up the bill to the nearest convenient amount, if you wish, rather than leave a full-fledged tip. Otherwise, 10% is adequate, and more than most Belgians would leave.
What to buy in Holland: Ajax memorabilia (Ajax, the local football club is among Europe's elite teams and lots of merchandise is produced, Ajax souvenirs can be found at shops throughout the city); Cheese (there is indeed no cheese like Dutch cheese. For the best big chunks of Gouda, goat or sheep cheese go to Cheese & More on Leidsestraat, for gourmet cheese try Reypenaer (Singel 182), our personal favorite is Oude Amsterdam Kas, Old Amsterdam Cheese, sold at all local cheese shops); Clogs & Wooden shoes (it’s a typical tourist thing to do, but if you really want a pair, try Otten & Zn in De Pijp); Delftware – (we’ll be stopping at the factory in Delft, and Delfts Blauw (blue porcelain) is sold everywhere in Amsterdam); Stroopwafels (it looks like a gooey biscuit that's been run over, but it's delicious, and one of the most exported products among people visiting their friends and family abroad, because it's small, easy to transport and very tasty, you can find them at any supermarket and most souvenir shops).
What to buy in Belgium: chocolate (our favorites are Laurent Gerbaud and Mary, and please note that Belgian pralines contain fresh cream inside a delicate chocolate shell, so they are highly perishable), Speculoos gingerbread, perfumed soap, tapestries from Tournai, lace from Bruges, Speculoos Spread (the texture of peanut butter with a decadent caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg aroma).