While my brother, David, was visiting, we wanted to take him somewhere fun. We had thrown around ideas of driving to Germany but just couldn’t seem to make it work. After much delay, we decided on a quick trip to Belgium.We drove down on a Tuesday morning and arrived in Antwerp in time for a late lunch. I have to keep reminding myself that service in Europe is just not as fast as it is in the States. After our ninety-minute lunch, we quickly headed to the diamond museum. Unfortunately they did not allow photographs inside the museum. What I didn’t know before moving here is that ninety percent of the world’s diamonds pass through the streets of Belgium, mostly Brussels, Antwerp, and Bruges, and they have been for hundreds of years. The streets of Antwerp leading up to the Diamond Museum were sprinkled with diamond stores. I can only image the kind of security systems in those streets and streets of shops. We managed to get a quick picture of Antwerp Central Station before heading off to Bruges for the night. I'm anxious to go back as I've heard inside Antwerp's train station is beautiful.It was a wonderful drive between Antwerp and Bruges, mostly countryside. We stayed at a delightful little hotel in central Bruges.
The hotel staff was quite friendly and everything was within walking distance, which is convenient since parking in Europe is a nuisance! The next morning we headed to the grote markt. Nearly every major European city has a central market place called a grote markt. This area is used for special events, Kerst markts (Christmas markets), and general market booths set up during the week with fruits and vegetables stands, antiques, fabrics… Of the few that we have been in, I can without exception say they are beautiful and charming. Bruges was no different. The Bruges town hall (stadhuis) is located on the grote markt along with its clock tower and many picturesque shops and restaurants.Bruges even has horse-drawn carriage tours.
On warmer days, the streets are lined with tables outside the eateries (unless, of course, you're at one with a darling little girl inside a tree decoration somewhat resembling the Eiffel Tower).
While on the subject of food, let’s talk fries. It’s been hard to find good fries since leaving the States. However, Belgium apparently has great fries, which would only be appropriate since they were the ones who invented the fries, not the French. The theory on this side of the pond is that American soldiers during World War 1 loved to eat the fried potatoes their French-speaking Belgian comrades were eating, and since they spoke French, they must be French, thus the fries must be French as well. Here they mostly refer to them as pommes frites. They serve them in this cone-shaped cup and even have French fry cup holders at your table.
So near and yet so very far...
Waffles. Mmmmm. Oh how our family loves waffles. Nearly the last week we were in Saudi our trusty waffle iron died a sudden death. It was, after all, my great grandmother’s. However, after a sad memorial and tribute, we realized we were moving the the waffle capital of the world! Of course we’d be able to find a replacement and one that was even 220. Wrong. That search has not been as easy as I thought. Luckily my friend, Camilla, has loaned us theirs on a (very) long-term basis until we find one (that does not also double as a sandwich maker). Is there anything wrong with wanting one that is simply for the purpose of making great waffles?! When we made our last minute plans to head south, our mouths began to water at the prospect of having an authentic Belgian waffle. After perusing Bruges for a good part of the morning we found a nice place that could fit all eight of us and ordered our waffles. Keeping in mind Europeans do not eat waffles or pancakes (pannenkoeks) with maple syrup, we ordered ours with Belgian chocolate sauce. Can I just say, YUM! Dano and David had theirs with strawberries and powdered sugar. Someone else was playing photographer so we didn’t get enough great shots…maybe we’ll just have to go back for more.
Then there’s the chocolate. Not only is Belgium known for their diamonds, they are perhaps better known for their chocolate, which is why I think it could very well be a girl’s best friend. Diamonds and chocolates. And while I don't fall into the cliched category, I can definitely appreciate the beauty of the diamonds and the sweetness of the chocolate. There was chocolate everywhere we turned! Since you can’t smell it or taste it, the pictures will just have to suffice until you come visit.
My brother patiently waits in a chocolate shop surrounded by the good stuff.
After satisfying our waffle craving and checking out of our hotel, we headed out to the last exhibit we wanted to see in Bruges. Along the way, we realized that Belgium has windmills, too, and had to stop to see them and climb one.
Each year Bruges holds an annual Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival. This year the theme was Disneyland Paris. For four weeks, ice artists and sculpters from China, Canada, the United States, Sweden, Netherlands, and Belgium come to Bruges and carve out amazing works of art out of snow and ice. These are a few of the pictures we took of the absolutely amazing display. Unfortunately, the camera cannot quite catch all the intricacies of the human hand. We could not think of a major Disney picture that was not represented at this festival. After walking around in a chilly 24 degree tent, the kids took part in a thrilling ice slide carved into Cinderella’s castle, followed by hot chocolate for everyone. I think that did the trick to warm us all up again.
It was a fast, fun get-away. We barely scratched the surface on these two charming cities, which only ensures a subsequent visit.