Dams and Twerps Part II

Posted by on August 31, 2016 at 11:01 pm :: No Comments

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.

Antwerp's Centraal Station is the prettiest train depot I've ever pulled my luggage through.

Antwerp’s Centraal Station is the prettiest train depot I’ve ever pulled my luggage through.

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.

The grandeur of the Cathedral of Our Lady took nearly two centuries to finish.

The grandeur of the Cathedral of Our Lady took nearly two centuries to finish.

The Cathedral of Our Lady's Gothic nave is enormous.

The Cathedral of Our Lady’s Gothic nave is enormous.

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.

The Brabo Fountain is centrally situated in Antwerp's Grote Markt.

The Brabo Fountain is centrally situated in Antwerp’s Grote Markt.

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.

The canals in Bruges are surrounded by well-preserved building from the Middle Ages.

The canals in Bruges are surrounded by well-preserved building from the Middle Ages.

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.

The Markt in Bruges has served as the town's center for over a thousand years.

The Markt in Bruges has served as the town’s center for over a thousand years.

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.

Bruges' Stadhuis dates back to around 1400.

Bruges’ Stadhuis dates back to around 1400.

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.

Although not the best picture, it will have to do because there aren't any others of Jason and me together in Europe.

Although not the best picture, it will have to do because there aren’t any others of Jason and me together in Europe.

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.

In Bruges, I relished the tastiest mussels I've ever eaten.

In Bruges, I relished the tastiest mussels I’ve ever eaten.

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.

The Hotel de Ville was completed in 1455. It is commonly regarded as the most splendid civic building in Belgium.

The Hotel de Ville was completed in 1455. It is commonly regarded as the most splendid civic building in Belgium.

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.

The Grand Place is encircled by gilded guildhouses.

The Grand Place is encircled by gilded guildhouses.

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.

The Manneken Pis is unimpressively small but his cheeky stream makes him endearing.

The Manneken Pis is unimpressively small but his cheeky stream makes him endearing.

Space invaders don't usually attack via urine but when in Brussels...

Space invaders don’t usually attack via urine but when in Brussels…

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.

Guildhouses form one side of Antwerp's charming Grote Markt.

Guildhouses form one side of Antwerp’s charming Grote Markt.

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.

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