Dams and Twerps Part II
The details of our days in Europe continue in this spectacularly captivating post. Well, it’s spectacularly longwinded at the very least.
Day 4: Going, Going, Gogh
We woke up early to check out the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum holds 200 of Van Gogh’s paintings and 500 of his drawings. It was a pretty remarkable place with some fascinating insights into a creative and complicated man.
After Gogh, Jason and I headed to Antwerp. This required just a 1.25-hour train ride, which sounds easy enough until you add in luggage, unfamiliar public-transportation systems, and incomprehensible languages. Then, a short jaunt quickly spirals into the fatiguing realm.
However, our exhausting relocation didn’t keep us from checking into our Antwerp hotel and then promptly checking out Onze-Lieve Vrouwe Kathedraal or the Cathedral of Our Lady. This magnificent church dates back to 1352 and features works by masters like Peter Paul Rubens. Plus, you can walk through its crypt. Yes, the Cathedral of Our Lady was stunning, artistic, and creepy.
Day 5: Lace and Chocolate
We spent the following day in a place that hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages, the town of Bruges. Bruges was enormously wealthy until the River Zwin silted up in the 15th century, which completely halted its development. The last five centuries have passed Bruges by but the tourists haven’t and for good reason. Bruges oozes old-world charm from its arched bridges to its colorful medieval buildings.
Our first stop in Bruges was the Markt, its 13th-century market square. Then, we took a half-hour tour of the canals on a motorboat before checking out the Gothic Hall in the Stadhuis and the massive 16th-century alabaster, wood, and marble chimney next door in the Brugse Vrije.
Next, Jason insisted on getting a Bruges waffle, believed to be the best waffles in the world, and subsequently insisted on spilling it all over himself in the middle of the Markt. Nicely done Jason!
At the Heilig Bloed Basiliek, we saw one of the holiest relics in Europe. The Basiliek’s sacred phial was brought to Bruges during the crusades and is believed to contain a few drops of the blood of Christ.
Afterwards, we visited Kantcentrum. Belgium was once known worldwide for its exquisite handmade lace. Although lace is now made by machines, the craft of lacemaking has not been entirely lost in Bruges. At Kantcentrum, we witnessed bent 90-year-old women tossing bobbins faster than our eyes could follow. It was kind of amazing.
After being thoroughly impressed by Bruges’ lace artisans, we walked down to the Begijnhof and Minnewater lock gate. Yes, Bruges also once had a sanctuary for non-nun-non-non-nun ladies. I guess it was pretty “in” to be a nun that wasn’t a nun 700 years ago.
Our last mission in Bruges was very critical. We needed to buy lots of chocolate. We accomplished this task with finesse. Between our endeavors in Bruges and Brussels, we came home with over 10 pounds of cocoa goodness. If you are nice to us, we might share… maybe.
Before we caught the train back to Antwerp, we stopped for dinner at a Flemish café. Jason decided that herrings are better suited to unpickled waters but the local fare suited me fine. I especially enjoyed the mussels I ordered; they were the best I’ve ever eaten, mostly because they didn’t taste like sand and kelp had been added as flavoring agents. As yummy as they were, I couldn’t gobble all of the roughly 50 I was given.
Day 6: Cathedrals and Pis
The next day we took another train, this time to Brussels. In contrast to some of the other towns we toured, Brussels felt busy. It was still worth the visit though.
We went from the train station directly to the Grand Place. This square offers 360 degrees of historical and architectural brilliance. Its Hotel de Ville and town hall were built near the end of the 15th century and its ornate guildhouses were added in the 17th. We didn’t know where to gawk first.
On our next stop, we checked out a whiz kid. The Manneken Pis is a two-foot-tall statue of a boy relieving himself into a pond. This tiny urinator has become a symbol of Belgium, like a cheeky leaky Eiffel Tower. The Manneken Pis has also become an ambassador for Belgium. He regularly receives outfits from dignitaries worldwide; he wears three such ensembles a week on average.
After the wee whizzer, we ate lunch at an “American” joint called Rachel. Perhaps you can guess our reason for picking this particular restaurant. Its burgers and bagels didn’t seem very familiar to us but they were quite tasty. We watched the couple next to us cut their hamburgers up using forks and knives with amusement and then did the American thing. Yup, we made a mess.
Later, we stopped by the Cathedrale Sts Michel et Gudule. Though not as impressive as the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, this church contains some beautiful stained-glass windows and a huge baroque pulpit. Plus, it gave Jason the chance to visit another crypt. That made him happy… and me uneasy.
We spent the rest of our time in Brussels shopping (More chocolate needed to be purchased, obviously.) and walking around the Quartier Royal where the Parc de Bruxelles, a green created in the 1770s from a duke’s hunting grounds, and the royal palace are located. The park’s tree-lined paths, mossy statues, and peaceful fountains were a quieting break from Brussels’ bustle.
Return next week for the particulars of our fascinating return to the Netherlands. Hey, someone might find it fascinating; there are a lot of boring people out there.
A Few Traveler Tidbits
Renting a car is not necessary in many parts of Europe and, frankly, probably increases stress. Jason and I did not get behind a wheel at all during our stay. We took trains, trams, and metros everywhere, along with using our footsies plenty. This worked out pretty well but we did experience a few tense moments while trying to navigate these unfamiliar transportation systems, like when we took the metro going the wrong direction. (They go both ways… who knew?) Or when Jason randomly decided to jump on a train that wasn’t even coming in on the correct platform because his phone told him to. (Tip to men: always listen to your wife over your phone.) It’s not easy to use a system you know nothing about, especially when its signs are in a language you don’t speak. But we never veered too far off course.