Belgium October 2013

Trip Report

Belgium October 2013          

A girl, her hubs and a suitcase…………..

Day 1 Gent

Grab your favorite Belgium beer, pull up a chair and join me for Day One of Brooke and Frank’s Belgium Extravaganza. We arrived here today after an absolutely flawless and uneventful flight on Jet airlines. I highly recommend this Indian Airline. They could not have been friendlier and more efficient. We picked up our cute little Astro  5 speed vehicle and Frankster assumed duties as chauffer.  We were greeted into the wonderful world of Belgium with dreary grey skies and a balmy 57 degrees. It has been raining here for over a month-so we were grateful to be spared from that as Frank acquainted himself to the trafficy roadways.

    We are staying at Europa Hotel (http://www.europahotel-gent.be/en/ ) . It is a little off from the city center, a brisk 20-30 minute walk, but it is located right on the canal. It is on a bucolic, quiet suburban street, right next to an elementary school. It is modern, clean, comfortable and has free parking. Driving through the labyrinths of city streets was very confusing as we entered this historic city. But with Frank’s keen driving and our trusty Garmen we arrived in one piece. 

When we arrived at the hotel, quite early, 4 hrs. earlier than check in-the hotel accommodated us  and allowed us to go to our room. Both of us exhausted by the fatigue of  travel we pulled the shades and slept for several hours. When we awoke, we made our way leisurely towards the city center.  We followed the canal, walking along the water. Dodging bike riders, tram cars and automobiles. We sat waterside, taking in the briny smelling -glass like water, shimmering with lights of the Friday night bustle.  College kids nearby drinking cheap wine and smoking funny cigarettes, blowing off week long stress.  We made a daring move and decided to eat at a crowded charming Fondue restaurant called gent’s fonduehuisje (http://www.gentsfonduehuisje.be/). We were escorted upstairs through a narrow treacherous staircase that I would not want to negotiate after one beer.   We dunked our crusty French bread into the bubbling vat of cheesy loveliness alongside  deliciously, delicately sliced fresh fruit.  Accompanying my meal of sloth was a tasty sparkling, alcohol free apple cider. Frank had the traditional Belgium beer. It was a unique meal, in a lovely setting. Having said that, we have mutually agreed we would only partake in this type of activity once a decade. 

After maneuvering our way down the staircase of death, we ventured out into the streets of Gent (http://www.visitgent.be/en/home) Gent is a historic city rich in modern beauty and architecture. The tree lined streets, with leaf covered sidewalks are quiet with the exception of a speedy bicycler whizzing by. The 3 story townhouses with unique architecture, tease the observer with open windows-showing off the splendors of these modern beauties. Alongside an occasional castle shadows the street. It is truly a surreal environment, and I was not really prepared for the cultural eye candy. 

Day 2

It’s story time my traveling comrades. This morning Frankster and I were experiencing time zone confusion and awoke somewhere between the hours of 4 and 5 am. It is 6 hrs.  ahead here (tomorrow is actually Daylight savings-score one extra vaca hr.-wahoo) We felt it best to seize the day, although it was still dark outside. Our hotel has provided breakfast for us, so we began our early morning with some fresh, tasty Belgium breakfast. A still life picture awaited us of fresh fruits, delicate pastries and all the usual accompaniments. We walked into the damp still morning as the blue sky started to emerge.  We walked to Citadel Park (http://www.visitgent.be/en/node/8791/?context=tourist) a beautiful park, nestled in the city. We were the only ones in the park with the exception of AFLAC’s Belgium’s cousins quacking away. We sat on a bench pond side, and as if on cue, the reddish and gold hue leaves sprinkled down in a silent air raid, littering the moist earth. There was a Hue Heffner-esque grotto which prompted Frank and his monkey climbing ways to scale the funky shaped rock. But, alas after a swift bump to the noggin-those escapades ended quickly. We were taking our time waiting for the museum to open. First ones in the door-That’s how the Edells play the game.

As it happens-sadly we were the second ones in the door. But, no fret- no other patrons were seen during our Museum shuffle. The museum we were visiting is Museum Voore Schone Kunsten, or as the locals call it MSK. (http://www.mskgent.be/nl) A lovely museum on the grounds of the park, vastly large, with massive open space, comfortable seats in every room, and more importantly, very enjoyable art. A significant portion of the museum consisted of Flemish masters-artists from this region. There is a restoration in progress in the museum of the Gent Altarpiece-which you will hear more about tomorrow. But, it is an important religious and historical work of art that holds great significance. We used an audio guide to assist with the tour and found it easy and informative. Exhaustion, jet lag and mind mush began to settle in, so we took a much needed coffee break in their lovely café and sat on the terrace outside. The weather was absolutely glorious and we were informed that it is unseasonably warm and unusually sunny. Um, thank you and yes-I will have some more, sir. After the much needed caffeine injection (which I never, ever drink, except in rare emergencies-and YES- this was one) I was running up those museum steps like Rocky, ready to tackle some early 19th century .

We left the museum-thoroughly satisfied and leisurely walked back to the hotel. We took a light nap in preparation of this evening’s main event- A Night at The Opera.  We took a taxi to the opera house. (https://vlaamseopera.be/en/#!/) The production we were seeing was Tristan and Isolde.  The one detail that prevented us from truly following the production was it was sang in German and translated in Dutch. I was very lost on the story line, but I closed my eyes, let the music settle over me. It was a stellar orchestra as well as a sopranic delight.  After the opera, we went to a local Italian restaurant called Pane and Vinno. (http://www.pane-vino.eu/) It was packed to capacity and apparently very popular. We slid in a table and took in the young, hip crowd. Frank had Lobster with pasta – a bib would have been quite helpful (and a hose). And, I had pizza with eggplant.  The meal was delicious, not greatly expensive and very satisfying.  We walked back to the hotel, in the cool autumn night, reminiscing about the fine evening.

 

Day 3

Hello-it’s Brooke your friendly blogger reporting for duty.  Let’s discuss the amount of steps my poor tootsies did today. According to my pedometer 23,696 steps. As we speak, they are propped up, throbbing, even with the 4 Motrin coursing through my veins. But, never you mind- I am on vaca, living life to the fullest, and if a little foot pain is my crisis of the day, I think we are in good shape. So, this morning we awoke with the wind howling, the sky black and the rain pelting down. No sunny skies today-but again, a minor annoyance in the scheme of things. After an enjoyable breakfast we drove in our cute little Astro to Bruges. Bruges (http://visitbruges.be/en/index.php/ )is an adorable little medieval town stuck in a time capsule. It is also swarming with camera snapping tourists, tour groups hogging the sidewalks, and throngs of people congesting the streets. Fortunately,  for us, this was our second time there and our visit was very purposeful. On our last visit, there was a museum  we wanted to go to-but it was closed for restoration during our stay. Being that we were only 40 minutes away-we had to put this on our to do list.

We arrived in Bruges in pouring rain. Armed with umbrellas did not help us as the strong winds were flipping them inside out. We made our way to the Groening Museum.  (http://www.vlaamsekunstcollectie.be/ ) It is a moderate sized museum consisting of Flemish artists. It was very crowded, but the masses moved rather quickly. We spent a couple hours there satiating our previous disappointment from the closure. After the museum, we picked a nice scenic spot overlooking the canal and had a light lunch of sandwiches. The sun popped out for a couple minutes-just enough to make our picnic perfect. We made a quick stop at a chocolatier shop, indulging in Belgium’s version of crack- battling our stubborn umbrellas against the assaulting weather.

We drove back to Gent and succumbed to a short nap. After the nap, we walked back through the cobblestone streets to Saint Bavo’s  Cathedral. (http://users.skynet.be/sintbaafskathedraal-gent/EN_welcome.html) It is a cathedral erected in the 1200’s. It is not the most beautiful church I have been in-but it does hold the altarpiece I mentioned in yesterday’s blog.  The altarpiece was painted by Jan Van Eyck in 1432 purposely for this church. It has an extensive history that Frank researched at great length for months. Briefly, it was stolen many times-once by Napoleon, once by the Nazis (even hidden in a Polish mine shaft at one point!). After World War II it was returned to its rightful place and is the national pride of this country.  As we entered the church, a choir welcomed us like angels in harmony. It was short-lived , as the concert was ending-but very enjoyable.  

After visiting the altarpiece, we walked around the city center. It was Sunday evening, and there was a quiet hum in the city. Everybody tucked in for the weekend and getting ready for the start of a busy week.  We stopped at a place called Lucy Chang (http://www.lucychang.be) specializing in Noodle and Thai dishes. I had a mammoth sized bowl of Veggie Rice Noodle soup. Piping hot and chuck full of crunchy veggies, it was a yummy slurp fest. Frank had the traditional Pad Thai. It was an economical meal that was filling and healthy. The  only drawback –and actually this has been a common theme-is no credit cards-and, no tap water. Both of these issues-sorry to say- affect my tipping generosity. Just something to be mindful of if ever traveling to this region.

With bellies full of food, we made our way back in the dark evening. I am sorry I am lacking in any witty stories, tales of European histrionics, or Belgium hijinks. But, folks we are only on Day 3- and tomorrow we will be in France—–so one never knows…..

Day 4

19,702 steps (if you are keeping track) 7 miles!!!

Raindrops

Raindrops are such funny things.
They haven’t feet or haven’t wings.
Yet they sail through the air,
With the greatest of ease,
And dance on the street,
Wherever they please.

– Anon.

Reporting live from Lille, France (pronounced “LIL”) it’s your friendly blogging couple Brooke and Frank. This morning we wrapped things up in Gent, checking out of our lovely hotel. Some positive things I would like to report about Europa Hotel. Very good service, great breakfast and free parking. I was very pleased with everything regarding the hotel. So, we set off for Sanctuary Wood Museum in Ypres, Belgium. (http://www.ypres-1917.com/hill62.html) About an hour drive from Gent. The museum is a sobering reminder of the horrors of trench warfare that took place during World War I 1915-1917. On our journey to the museum, we traveled through farms and open fields of countryside. The museum was full of interesting facts, terrifying pictures and barbaric war weaponry. It was packed with indifferent school age kids loud and rowdy. The most interesting thing in this museum are the original trenches that were left there as an open air memorial. As I wondered the grounds, I could almost hear the battle cries. And, as the cold rain pelted down on my face, I could scarcely imagine the harsh conditions these brave young men endured.  The field we were traipsing through was sacred ground. The silent echoes of these courageous men lives on in this field where many of these men died. We left the museum in silent appreciation for the freedom we have.

The rain started to come down pretty heavy after that –as we made our way to our hotel in Lille, France. Other than circling the block no less than 17 times, our arrival was uneventful. The 17 times of circling the block was due to a major lack of parking spaces. But, fortunately for us I think we took the only last spot available.  Lille, France is right on the border of Belgium and France. We are staying at a lovely boutique hotel in the center of town called L’esplanade. (http://www.esplanadelille.com/en/) It’s a 3 story brick townhouse with beautiful, modern studios. Our room is a spacious studio with all contemporary furnishings. We plopped off our things and made our way to Palais des Beaux-Arts Museum. (http://www.pba-lille.fr/) It took us about a half hour to get there. The rain came in cool bursts then retreated. The wind at times was monsoon – like. The museum holds many works of art by Masters such as Goya and some lesser known artists. But, the real treat is the basement floor which was all German Medieval and Italian pre-renaissance art. It was very enjoyable and made the whole visit worth it. We took a small break in the café and had some coffee and spent 2 hours there.

After the museum, we went out into the wet, windy evening and walked through the bustling city streets. The smell of tempting street side waffles hung in the air. There was every store you could imagine, shoppers out in droves. We walked and walked and walked-looking for possible dinner options. Apparently, the amateurs we are forgot dinner does not happen until late in France. So, we searched and searched. After much debate, we finally found a café/brasserie called Le Square (http://www.le-square-d-ramis.com/). A nice eclectic pub with good service and FREE tap water J. Dinner was pub grub with the highpoint being a decadent appetizer of a deep fried ball of brie accompanied with tasty jam chutney but from there it kind of petered out. (No photographic evidence remains)

After dinner, we walked back in the cool wet air-a rain reprieve for now.

Day 5

No wifi !

So, I will continue to write, but you may receive this a little late.  Today we awoke at a ridiculously early hr.  due to a jacked up nervous system from coffee ingestion, biological geographical confusion and a snoring husband.  Well, sweetie-if I am up-then so must you. I took a scolding hot luxurious shower-leaving my beloved and probably the rest of the hotel with cold, anemic droplets. I heard cursing and angry yelps coming from the bathroom, feeling remorse but extremely refreshed. Our breakfast was offered in the room next door, colorfully decorated, with vivid paintings and interesting conversation pieces. The owner is an architect or designer of sorts. His furnishings and details were a fine example of his craft. Breakfast was an array of beautiful French pastries, freshly squeezed orange juice and baguettes of bread- with deep craters of flaky crust, buttery, salty dough and truly one of the finest gifts the French have shared with us. It is a prime example of simplicity at its finest.

We left Lille with grey skies and cold pelting rain. The sun has popped out momentarily during this trip, a meteorological tease of what could be. Again, it is a minor issue-but does complicate matters and creates a need for adaption. Which-if the Edell’s are anything-ADAPTABLE we are. We drove approximately an hr. to Crupet, Belgium.  Our journey now takes us to Southern Belgium.  The topography started to change as we entered this region. High, jagged mountain rock and winding, elevating narrow streets was our scenery. Massive trees with thick trunks –jetting out their interloping branches like Marines criss- crossing their swords in salutation.  We arrived at our hotel Le Moulin Des Ramiers.(http://www.moulindesramiers.be/ ) It is an old mill factory-with an old mill bursting through the interior through a couple floors. It has quaint farmhouse charm with exposed stone walls. Our TOTALLY French hostess greeted us and we were left literally with a game of charades to carry on any kind of conversation. Frank was pulling his ear in a sounds like motion-as our hostess continued to carry on in French, oblivious to our clueless state.  

We drove to the next town over called Dinant. It was a harrowing drive-turning and weaving through cow pastures and zipping by farms.  We again found the last free parking spot and walked down towards the water. Dinant is a waterside village, picturesque with old world charm. Towering over the water is mountains with castles and turrets dotting the landscape. We dined at a restaurant called Chez Bouboule Le Roi des Moules.( http://www.chezbouboule.be/)  A darling restaurant, overlooking the water that specialized in Mussels. The menu was completely in French and the amateur that I am had an extremely difficult time negotiating what may be vegetarian. The sweet family sitting next to us-your typical French nuclear family, with 2 obedient adorable children sensed my difficulty and proceeded to order my vegetarian meal for me. Discussions were had between waiter, chef and my new friends-it was settled-I would have tomato soup and a salad. If it were not for them-I could possibly be eating terrain of duck liver.  Thank you sweet French Family. Frank got the mussels, which came in a huge pot-steamy and pungent. It came with a big bowl of French Fries-a standard pairing for this dish. Frank plucked those babies out of their garlicky shells, slurping and glugging with enthusiasm.

After lunch we debated whether to partake in rest time and indulge in a nice nap. Or take advantage of the time and go into town and do our laundry. 10 days is a long time and too much to pack-so we always incorporate this much needed task at our halfway point. We chose the latter and schlepped into town with a suitcase full of dirty clothes. We washed our clothes at the local Laundromat (W@ashin);even washing clothes on vacation is fun!

When we returned to the hotel, we enjoyed an in room picnic of fine French bread, Belgium cheese, olives and grapes. Frank enjoyed the local beer. It was a yummy meal, economical and enjoyable. After dinner, I indulged in a hot bath, followed by crummy French programs and now early to bed.

Day 6     

Still NO WIFI L

But, don’t you worry I ‘ve got your travel memoirs right here-ready for you when you desire. Today was a smorgasbord of remembrance and history, followed by some city sophistication, with a dollop of art and culture.

We woke up to the first sunny day on our trip. The sun streaming through our windows was our friendly wake up call. We had a tasty breakfast of some fine French pastries and then set out for our day. We drove to Marsdrasson memorial  in Bastogne, Belgium. It is a World War II memorial commemorating those who fought and lost their lives in the famous “Battle of the Bulge”. Our destination was approximately 40 minutes from our hotel. Bastogne is perched on a  big cliff of earth, suspended precariously. The monument itself is somewhat utilitarian but honors all the individual states within the U.S. There is a spiral staircase that leads to the top with beautiful views of the horizon and village below.  We wondered around the grounds, taking advantage of the sunshine and beautiful day.  Making an impromptu decision we chose to drive to Luxembourg. We had done a fair amount of research leading up to the vacation and resolved that in particular Luxembourg had to be cut out.

But, curiosity won over and according to our navigation system it was pretty close. We arrived in the city of Luxembourg a half hour later, and it was only midday. We parked our car without incident and made our way through a beautiful park.  The park zigzagged across the city and spit us out in the hub of the center. We walked around, visited the helpful tourist office, who suggested an Indian restaurant close by. The Star of Asia (http://www.starofasia.lu/) Upon entering the aromatic restaurant, with an overpowering bouquet of Indian spices our mouths started to water. As the lovely owner, shook his head sadly at us that they had just closed. I made my best sad face, asking for another restaurant suggestion-when the gentleman, waved his hands in a dismissive fashion and escorted to us to a table. We consumed delicious, hot spicy vegetarian dishes. After the meal, the owner shared with us some interesting facts about Luxembourg . This was one of the few conversations we have had on our trip, as the language barrier has been pervasive. Our lunch experience and friendly banter was very enjoyable.

After lunch we walked around the city and happened upon the Museum of National History and Art  (http://www.mnha.public.lu/). My entrance was free due to my student status and Frank is a senior here-so our entry fee was peanuts! The museum itself is quite interesting architecturally, an open space 5 floors full of interesting scientific facts about civilization. We used audio tours which contributed to thought provoking details. There was a special exposition featuring a local artist from the impressionist period named Jean Schaack. The paintings were beautiful  and colorful. I especially enjoyed this portion of the  museum. In total, we spent about 2 hrs. there.

We left the museum and walked through the city, moving towards the water. The most spectacular view awaited us. There is a large wall fortifying the city back from medieval times. The cliff high walls circles the city and below, flickering in the evening light was Roman ruins, a beautiful garden and illuminated bridges from end to end. It was the highlight of my day, and possibly the trip so far. We lingered a while, swearing we would return to this city-someway-somehow. Reluctantly, we left knowing we had to drive 2 hrs. back to the hotel. (by the way, at this point our computer battery died and not one picture was captured for the majority of the day. LLL

We arrived back at the hotel, calling it a fairly early night.

Day 7

Some interesting facts about Belgium………

  • There are over 800 different kinds of beer in Belgium
  • Belgium claims to have invented the French fry
  • Belgium has the least amount of McDonald’s than any other country
  • Belgium has legalized euthanasia
  • Belgium has mandatory voting and education up to 18 years of age
  • The Belgium highway is the only man-made structure visible from the moon due to all the lights

This morning we left Crupet and drove towards our final destination Brussels-where we will spend the rest of our vacation until we leave Monday morning. Except we had one last stop we needed to make in the region. Somehow, I got it in my head I wanted to visit the Bister Mustard Company.( http://www.bister.com/EN/index.asp) In my research I had read something regarding a tour of the Mustard factory, and in my delusional fantasy I pictured an abbey or a monastery deep in the woods of Belgium. Monks crushing mustards seeds with a mortar and pestle, walking barefoot with Gregorian chants harmonizing in the background, soothing waterfalls flowing with gardens of orchids and flamingos walking through the  sacred grounds. I pestered Frank to the point of harassment , whining and moaning until he relented. We drove our 7 miles to Namur Belgium-to the industrial park, that housed a red brick building that resembled an old school house. Workers wearing  hair nets, resembling Laverne and Shirley took smoke breaks. I knocked on the door, and a bewildered woman questioned what we needed (in French). I told her I was here for a tour. She said this was not possible-that only groups of 15 or more could obtain such a privilege. Groveling and disappointed I inquired about a gift shop, and she escorted about 5 feet where a shelf of mustard sat. Excited with my findings (even though there were no monks slaving over my  jar of liquid gold) I was still happy. 

After my enticing acquisition, we preceded our journey to Brussels. Entering Brussels around noon, the city was swelling with people, traffic horrendous and a very confused navigational system. The plan was for Frank to drop me off at the hotel with all the bags, Frank would drop off the car, and meet me at the hotel. During the car exchange, somehow the Garmin was lost. The good news is we had it during the much needed driving excursions. The bad news is some worker at Avis Rental Car is now driving around with our Garmin.  This cannot be proved, so we will not dwell on it. Plus, Christmas is right around the corner. A casualty of travel  , a minor one in the scheme of things. Having had a wallet stolen in Madrid, a jacket lost in Venice, a camera bag in Rome, and most recently a converter 2 days ago-it is the way of travel-it happens.

Our exquisite hotel Le Dixseptieme (http://www.ledixseptieme.be/) is located in the hub of the city. It is finely decorated, very cozy, centrally located, and has very friendly staff. We ventured out to explore the city, walking the cobblestone streets, with the scent of French fry grease wafting through the air. French fries and waffles are the bookend carbohydrate staples of this culture. Although, I have not seen any obese individuals-oddly enough. We attempted to stop for an indulgent waffle-tempting pictures of ice cream melting over the doughy sweet delight. But, the tacky tourist task seemed gluttonous. There was no food group we could place this-so with whatever discipline we had left we exited the overpriced crowded establishment. We stopped for coffee later on to refuel.

For dinner we took our hotel hostess recommendation and went to a lovely place named Restaurant de L’Ogenblik  (which translates to “The Moment”).  To get there,  we had to walk through an intimidating area-where restaurant owners groveled for patrons-like desperate car salesmen. Menus colorful and deceptive displaying all of Belgium’s finest delicacies. Pink tablecloths adorned the outside tables, as hungry tourists eager to throw these vultures their money -sat anticipating their $40 euro appetizer. We scurried past these money traps-  to our suggested restaurant. It was a beautiful establishment, Michelin rated and very popular. It had a Belgium charm, sand lay sprinkled on the floor –an old Flemish custom dating back to the days when patrons chewed tobacco and spit on the floor.

Dinner started with crunchy, crispy French bread with an alarming size slab of butter. I ordered the “flower pot” which was a beautiful mosaic of vegetables seasoned to perfection, with potatoes au gratin- cooked to precision-that has caused me to raise the bar quite high. Frank had a steamy seafood bouillabaisse that he seemed to enjoy. It was an expensive meal- but very special and delicious. After dinner, we strolled the streets, kids and teenagers following the traditions of their U.S neighbors decked out in their Halloween duds.  

Day 8    

All Souls Day

Well, we are nearing the end of this fabulous trip. 2 days left….Today we awoke fairly early and stopped at a local café for coffee. We went to St. Michael and St. Gudula  Cathedral (http://www.cathedralestmichel.be/) for morning mass. It shadows the block from where it stands. The church bells greeted us as we entered. It is a fairly simple cathedral with the exception of elaborate stained glass windows. There was a significantly large gathering as it is a religious holiday here. If you are unfamiliar with All Saints Day-or All Souls Day, it is a day basically to commemorate the dead. It is considered a day of obligation, where everyone that can should honor the dead in some way. The service was multilingual-French and German-neither which helped us. But, honoring the dead to me is a universal language, so not all was lost. The choir sang angelic hymns , hypnotic and  entrancing ; I thought of those whom I have lost and the ones near to me that hold my heart. As the Priest spoke his sermon, I made my own dialogue in my head. The traditions and practices that followed are all new to me, as Catholicism is not my religion (although-it is my husband’s).  But, I appreciate all religious differences and found the experience calming on my spirit and soothing to my soul.

After the hour long service, we ventured out getting to further know the lay of the land. We strolled through several beautiful, manicured parks. The city was still quiet and the peaceful walk was a nice transition after the reflective morning. We stopped at a popular lunch hangout called Traiteur Picnic Sandwhicherie   (http://www.traiteur-picnic.be/). We enjoyed a  pizza-thankful for some rest and food.

After lunch, we found ourselves slightly turned around and lost. We wandered through a lovely area where it was all antique shops. Finally, a friendly gentleman helped redirect us as we headed back to the room. Our plan was to figure out our next adventure-but instead we took a luxurious 2 hr. nap.

Waking up refreshed we wondered out for some more exploring. Eventually leading us to dinner time. At this point it was close to 9pm. The city was hopping, the night just beginning for most. We decided on a Spanish Tapas place called Le Bar Tapas (http://www.baratapas.be/centre/).  A cozy restaurant, adorned in hanging hams and comfy window seats we found a table amongst the crowded diners. The place was vibrant with activity, young people out with their friends, rowdy with laughter and giddy with alcohol. We ordered an array of vegetarian tapas for me and a fish assortment for Frank, as well a fruity sangria and a Belgium beer. The food was delicious, hot, human sized portions. Not overly filling-but more than satisfying. It was cramped quarters, noisy and congested-but that all added to the unique experience.

After dinner, we walked in the drizzling rain, stopping in a Belgium dark chocolate establishment.  Because as we all know-a little dark chocolate is good for the body……

Day 9

Story  time. ….Bring your pillow, grab your blankie and come close. Belgium has been rainy, grey and unpredictable as far as weather goes. For the most part, it has not interfered, but it has halted some of our plans. Today we awoke to the damp air, like a moist blanket over the city. We skipped breakfast and walked over to the Royal Fine Arts Museum of Belgium (http://www.fine-arts-museum.be/en). We arrived right as it was opening, with a small line assembling.  The museum is a huge open space, easy to manage and loaded with German Renaissance art. We used English audio guides which were quite helpful. The art was abundant, enjoyable and informative. We stopped at the halfway point and enjoyed a light sandwich and a sweet snack in the café. Frank purchased me a lovely pair of earrings as a sweet memento and we continued on the tour.  In total we spent 5 hrs. there. It took up the majority of the day and left us mentally tired and ready for rest.

We walked back to the hotel taking in the views from the higher grounds. Brussels is a multi- level city, with elevating tiers like a concrete wedding cake. From one level, you can eye another. It is an easy city to learn and our hotel is conveniently centrally located. We grabbed a light snack and took a much needed nap.

When we awoke, we ventured out to the city with a dinner recommendation from the helpful hotel concierge. We were craving Greek food, and Brussels seems to accommodate every desire and hankering  since it is a culturally diverse area.  We dined in a charming restaurant – on a picturesque street  in the Sablon area.( http://www.santouri.be/) The neighborhood is more residential and lacks the riff raff of the French fry addicts and waffle eaters.  The host led us up a rickety set of narrow steps and pointed to a corner table. There was a mild language barrier going on, and some mild confusion but we were able to order with only  a couple snafus. I had a vegetarian platter, lacking the major Greek components, but it was tasty and enjoyable. Frank had a fish dishing swimming in a creamy  sauce.  We restrained from dessert and ventured out.

As we began walking, the rain came heavily down. We were unequipped with an umbrella and proper cover. We huddled under a restaurant covering as patrons gawked at us. We made our way back to the hotel, ending the evening early due to the weather.

I forgot to mention some of the tourist highlights we have seen in Brussels. Grand Place(http://www.brussels.be/) is the center of town- the square where all the action is. It is surrounded on all sides with ornate buildings, pricy shops, chocolate stores from end to end, and the meeting hub for everybody. Another major attraction that baffles me to no end is the Manneken  Pis (http://www.brussels.info/peeing-boy/) . The statue of the peeing boy brings out camera snapping tourists in droves. Chocolate shops with carved out statues, cork screws, and every novelty one can imagine with this untasteful little creature.  This is purely my opinion  and no offense intended- just a  confusing curiosity.

 

Day 10     

LAST DAY

Well, it’s about that time folks when all the Euros are gone, full and bloated and ready to go home. It has been a lovely experience and a great country. Today we awoke crawled out into the damp morning darkness. We picked up a quick croissant and made our way back to the Belgium Fine Arts Museum. There are several parts to the museum, Ancient (which we did yesterday) Modern, the Margitte and a special show featuring Roger van der Weyden-an early Flemish painter from the 15th century. We paid for the special show and also the modern museum. Frank had studied these pictures for several months as he is an art buff and was enthusiastic to see the paintings first hand.

The van der Weyden show was exceptional. We used audio guides and wondered through the exhibit. It took about 2 hrs. We broke for lunch stopping in the museum café again. We had some nice hot split pea soup and quiche for Frank, a Panini for me.  We rested our feet and our minds, then took off for the remainder. We were disappointed to find out that almost ½ the museum’s paintings, and ALL the 19th century –impressionist paintings were in the basement locked up. They are opening another museum next month to incorporate these. So, we went back to the paintings we saw yesterday-seeing them with fresh eyes.  We became quite good friends with a helpful volunteer at the information desk who shared our same disappointment.

We ventured back to the hotel with the dreary rain coming down. Made a quick souvenir stop and back to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s early AM flight back home. Tonight we will be going to the opera hall (http://www.lamonnaie.be/en/)  for a symphony- War Requiem.    

Some CHEERS & JEERS for the trip:

CHEERS

Gent at night

Our fondue extravaganza

Our awesome room in Lille,France

The French pastries!!!

the fresh squeezed orange juice in Lille, France

Palais-des Beaux Arts in Lille

The Trench Museum Sanctuary Woods

Crupet,Crupet,Crupet!

Luxembourg at night

Museum in Luxembourg

All Saints Day Mass

Spending time with my cutie pie Husband

JEERS

Gas prices!

Weather! Rain!

Worthless U.S. dollars exchange 

Anyways, it was a lovely trip and I feel I thoroughly absorbed Belgium.

Love from your traveling twosome

~B & F~

 

 

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