Since it was just Christmas, let's learn how to say Christmas and other related words in Italian:

Buon Natale                                         Merry Christmas
(Bwohn Na-TA-lay)

Il 25 di Dicembre                                  December 25
(ill ven-TEE CHEENG-kway dee Dee-CHEM-bray)

Un regalo di Natale                               Christmas Present
(Oon re-GA-lo dee Na-TA-lay)

Il albero di Natale                                  Christmas Tree
(ill al-BER-o dee Na-TA-lay)

Babbo Natale                                         Santa Claus
(Ba-BO Na-TA-lay)

Felice Anno Nuovo                                 Happy New Year
(Feh-LEE-chay An-NO New-O-vo)

Grazie della visita e Buon Natale a tutti!


The Palace of Versailles is a palace so naturally the furnishings and decor are fit for a king. How opulent? Just looking at the ceilings of the various rooms, I came away with the knowledge of why the French citizens revolted causing the French Revolution of 1789.

Impressions begin the minute you enter the palace. The first room you see is the two-story Royal Chapel with a gorgeous painted ceiling by the painters Jouvent, Coypel and La Fosse:

Move on to the Hercules Room. The ceiling painting, done by Lemoyne over a period of three years (he killed himself after it was finished), shows Hercules being crowned a god:

Love ruled at Versailles. In the Venus room, couples would cavort beneath the Greek goddess of love (on the ceiling), who sent down a canopy of golden garlands to ensnare mortals in delicious amoré:
Decorated with a military flair, the Mars Room's ceiling, painted by Audran, Jouvenet and Houasse, has the Greek god of war in a chariot pulled by wolves:


In the Apollo Room, the throne stood on a central platform beneath the ceiling showing the sun god driving his chariot across the heavens:

There's also the Queen's antechamber ceiling: 
The coronation room's ceiling:

And of course, the room of all rooms which isn't really known for its ceiling, the Hall of Mirrors. Here, Le Brun executed the most important work of his career as the king's chief painter.

  • Château de Versailles is closed on Mondays.
  • Also closed on 1/1, 4/5, 5/1, 5/24, 11/1, 12/25.
  • 11/1-3/31: Open Tuesday thru Sunday from 9:00-17:30.
  • 4/1-10/31: Open Tuesday thru Sunday from 9:00-18:30.
  • You should use your Paris Museum Pass at this museum.
  • For various other ticket options, visit the website.
  • Photography is allowed.



Well, it was recently that time of year where stores decorate their windows for the holidays. Walking down Michigan Avenue (aka The Magnificent Mile) in Chicago on my way to work during the Christmas holidays, I was reminded of the photos that I took of different window displays during my recent trip to Europe. Ever since we bought the fancy Nikon, I've been experimenting more with the subjects I'm photographing and the composition.

In Brussels, I really liked this display of wine goblets in a window...

And in Brugge, this housewares store had a very colorful window display...

Of course, in Amsterdam, you would see these for sale:

If you aren't sure what time it is in Brugge, check out this display:

Also in Brugge, every other window display is:

or this:

Being in Delft, you have displays of knock-off Delftware (with images of paintings by Vermeer who is from Delft):

And of course there are the food displays.


Multiple flavors of gelato:

Which are created into concoctions like this: 

You can get one of these at DaVinci Ice Cream located at 34 Geldmuntstraat in Brugge.

You simply cannot visit Belgium without trying the chocolate.
The chocolate shops are as common as the lace shops:

Dumon Chocolates in Brugge cannot be missed!

And in Belgium, chocolate comes in all shapes and sizes:



In the middle of central Amsterdam, located between the busy pedestrian-only Kalverstraat and the main traffic road of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal is a cluster of small homes surrounding a garden courtyard that has sheltered women since 1346.

The Begijnhof itself was not a convent, but an almshouse for pious laywomen (begijnen) involved in religious and charitable work, part of an order called The Beguine.

The beguines' ranks began to swell during the Crusades, when so many men took off, never to return, leaving society with an abundance of single women. Later, women widowed by the hazards of overseas trade lived out their days as Beguine. Poor and rich women alike turned their backs on materialism and marriage to live here in Christian poverty. In 1578, when Catholicism was outlawed, the Dutch Reformed Church took over many Catholic charities like this place. The last begijnen died in 1971, but the Begijnhof still provides subsidized housing to single women in need, so their privacy needs to be respected.

There is a statue of one of these charitable sisters in the courtyard:

Photo: © www.begijnhofamsterdam.nl

Photo: © Jim Forest


She faces the wooden house at #34 Het Houten Huys, one of only two surviving timber houses in Amsterdam built in 1425. (Timber houses were prohibited from being built after 1452 after a series of disastrous fires.)

The brick-faced Engelse Kerk was the Beguine church until 1607, when it became Anglican. The Pilgrims (strict Protestants fleeing persecution in England), stopped here in tolerant Amsterdam and prayed in this church before the Mayflower carried them to religious freedom in America.


Down Mariastraat away from the high-trafficked tourist sights in Brugge is another charming and restful enclave with low, white-painted gabled houses, most of which date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The houses are set around cobbled walkways shaded by tall trees and a spacious patch of grass.

Brugge's Begijnhof has occupied this same site since 1244, since its founding by Margaret of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders. Its full name is the Prinselijk Begijnhof ten Wihngaarden (Princely Beguinage of the Vineyard) because Philip the Fair, King of France, placed it under royal protection in 1299 (no one can explain the vineyard bit). The Beguines lived pious lives, doing charity work, but they were not nuns and could leave the community to marry. A Liège priest encouraged widows and unmarried women to live in communities to do the pious acts especially caring for the sick. The last of the Beguines died in 1928; the nuns seen here today are Benedictine sisters whose order took over the site in 1930. However, they have adopted the habits once worn by the Beguines.

Thank you for visiting,

A Great Europe Trip Planner 

Unless noted, photos were taken by me.



A piece of information I've recently discovered is that in Amsterdam the strippenkaart is now obsolete.

In previous posts I wrote about using strippenkaarts on the trams throughout Netherlands, both throughout Amsterdam and when we took the tram from Den Haag and Delft.

However, now the OV Chipkaart ("OV" stands for Openbaar Vervoer which simply means public transport in Dutch) is in the process of becoming the new national public transport ticket in Netherlands and will be used on trains, metros, buses and trams. Amsterdam becomes the second Dutch city to make the OV card the only valid means of payment for public transportation. Rotterdam made the change in 2009.

This "smart card" system is slowly being rolled out throughout the country and since June 2010 (right after I returned from my trip), it has been mandatory to use on public transport in Amsterdam.

The smart card works using an embedded chip and passengers need to check-in and check-out at the start and end of the respective journeys. This is done using the special free-standing card readers
installed at platforms and on buses and trams.  There are also gate barriers in place at some metro and train stations.

There are 3 types of OV chipkaarts available: 1) Personal (for Dutch residents only); 2) Anonymous; and 3) Disposable.

The Anonymous cards are reusable, either by loading up to a €30 credit or by buying a specific travel product such as a 1 day ticket. This can be done at the service desks or at the vending machines in the stations.

There are a number of different ticket options for visitors depending on how long you are staying and where you wish to go.
  • Anonymous OV-chip card: You can buy one of these cards for €7.50 which lasts for 5 years. You can use the card as a re-chargeable "e-purse" which can be credited with up to €30. The card is used to check-in and check-out of a journey and the correct fare is deducted from your card's balance based on distance travelled.
  • Single Journey: This can be bought as a "disposable" OV card and is valid for 1 hour's travel. It costs €2.60 (or 2 for €5). It is not really good value if you are just travelling 1 or 2 stops on a tram.
  • Unlimited Travel Tickets: These are valid for a set period of times and allow you to travel on trams, buses and the metro. There are a number of different periods available for purchase depending on how long you visit the city. The longer your ticket, the better value it becomes. Current prices are:
           24 hours        (1 day)       €7.00
          48 hours        (2 days)     €11.50
          72 hours        (3 days)     €15.50
          96 hours        (4 days)     €19.50
          120 hours      (5 days)     €23.00
          144 hours      (6 days)     €26.00
          168 hours      (7 days)     €29.00

These tickets come as a disposable OV chip card or alternatively can be loaded onto an anonymous chip card. The 24-hour disposable ticket can also be bought on board trams and buses.
  • Amsterdam All-in-1 Ticket: This ticket type is very useful for tourists coming by air as it includes a return ticket (2 singles) between Schiphol airport and Amsterdam as well as an unlimited travel pass for up to 4 days. This saves a little money off the train fare and you won't have to take the time to buy a ticket to the airport.

           24 hours      (1 day)           €13.20
           48 hours      (2 days)         €17.25
           72 hours      (3 days)         €20.85
           96 hours      (4 days)         €24.45

This ticket can only be purchased at the Holland Tourist Information desk at Schiphol Airport near Arrivals Hall 2. They are open between 07:00 and 22:00.

  • Unlike a strippenkaart, multiple-person travel is not possible. Every individual must have their own OV chipkaart. You are able to buy an anonymous card and give it to someone else to use.
  • A single fare with the disposable card in Amsterdam is €2.60. This is more expensive than using the e-purse on the personal and anonymous cards.
  • When using the e-purse, there will be a standard flat charge for boarding (€0.78 in Amsterdam) and the journey will be calculated on distance travelled (€0.104 per km) rather than the old zonal system. If you need to make a connection and board within 35 minutes of check-out you will not be charged the €0.78 base fare again.
  • When you check-in, a deposit (€4) is taken off the e-purse balance. When you check-out, the cost of the journey is deducted but you get the deposit back. If you fail or forget to check-out, you will lose the €4 deposit which will likely be more expensive than the journey cost! If you have 12 failed check-outs in a 2 week period, the card is disabled and it can only be restored by visiting a customer service desk.
  • If you are saying goodbye to someone at a station and not traveling you can check-in and check-out for free as long as your stay is within 20 minutes.
NOTE: Click on the following links for more information on public transportation in Amsterdam.