Thursday, October 16, 2014

Road trip!

Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady), Antwerp, the Netherlands
One of the things many North Americans can't get over when they visit Europe is how close everything is. Drive for an hour or two, and you can be in a different country from where you started, not a different state.

(The converse is true, of course. Twice, I've heard friends talk about Europeans who've come to, say, Winnipeg and asked their Victoria-based friends to come meet them there. Or have visited northern Vancouver Island and then asked if they could take a day-trip to the Rockies. Um, no.)

Willem and Els in Antwerp
It had just rained (as you can see), but we seemed to bring good weather with us everywhere we went.
Willem and Els, our Utrecht hosts, suggested a trip to Brussels, Belgium, which is only two hours' drive away -- and we were happy to go along. We stopped for lunch at the Grote Markt (town market) in Antwerp, and stayed overnight in Brussels, so we'd have a little more time to explore the city.

I just love European markets. They are busy, bustling, colourful -- and incredibly photogenic! Also: smelly.

Cured meats.

Willem at lunch
After a quick lunch, we headed for Brussels. That is where our plans hit a hitch.

Our visit happened to coincide with the annual Autoloze zondag "Car-Free Sunday" -- no cars were allowed into the downtown area. This was a problem for us because our hotel was right downtown, walking distance from the Grand Place. But the hotel would not allow us to cancel or change our reservations.

We stopped at a police barricade and showed our passports (except me, I had somehow not clicked to the fact that we were going to another country!) and were told we could drive in, but that we had one hour to make it to the hotel. Ordinarily, that would have been fine (I think), but moving was a nightmare. Bicycles, strollers, pedestrians, roller-bladers -- the streets were packed with people celebrating the day. There were no lanes blocked for cars and buses, and the bikes and pedestrians strolled blithely in defiance of cars.

Some of the younger cyclists were quite irate, waving their fists at us and (kindly) pointing out that we were in a voiture and should get off the road.

Eventually, of course, we made it to the hotel (where the reception staff claimed only to have had one week's notice of the event). After a quick turnaround, we hopped a tram and hurried to the Horta Museum, which closed at 5:30.

Horta Museum -- the two houses in the centre,
23-25, rue Américaine in Saint-Gilles, Brussels
Horta depicts architecture and interior design at the very height of the Art nouveau era. Unfortunately, photography in the museum is not allowed. I love the organic lines and nature references of art nouveau and thoroughly enjoyed the visit, though I don't think I could live with that much ornamentation; anything that could be decorated was, from walls to ceilings to toilet bowls. Everything done with the utmost skill.

Just look at the detail!
When they finally kicked us out of the museum, we made our way back to the Grand Place for a quick visit before dinner.

Naturally, I had to try a Belgian waffle in Belgium. While I nibbled my treat, we walked past this building, a former department store that is now a museum of musical instruments.

More elaborate art nouveau detail
By this time, I think all the others were getting frustrated with my continually stopping to take pictures. My aunt made a few comments about "just experiencing" the moment, rather than trying to capture it, but photography is part of how I experience things.

I bought some Leonidas chocolate here.
It will not surprise you that this was a really high-end (i.e., expensive) shopping gallery.

There were plenty of tourist-trap restaurants on our way back to our hotel, but we opted to eat lightly at the hotel -- I had a tomato soup that was decidedly not Campbell's.

The following morning, Els worked in the hotel room (she had a presentation to give the following week) while Willem, Winkie and I roamed the city.

More fabulous architecture awaited us.

More art nouveau, but with geometric details that point towards art deco.
Just around the corner, homes of the wealthy faced a park.

Then we headed back to the Grand Place, where we met Els for lunch.

The Grand Place, Brussels
Then we headed back home, via Liège, Belgium (or Luik, pronounced lowk, in Dutch), where we took a few minutes to see the very modern train station, designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Walking inside the building was . . . ineffable.

It was like being inside a machine, or inside a nautilus shell.

After this, we returned home to a simple dinner and a good, long nap.


  1. The architecture is just incredible. I can't get over it. There just does not seem to be buildings like that here. although I am sure we do have some churches, and of course Parliament.
    And I say, don't stop taking pictures!! Now that I have a DSLR, I am the one lagging behind too. But I don't bring it every trip - I do try to have some adventures that are just about experiencing.

    1. I was just thinking the same thing: I need to be a tourist in my own town more often. I actually see things differently when I have my camera around my neck. But it is heavy, so I don't bring it with me everywhere.


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