Posts Tagged ‘Maggritte’

Belgium

Monday, August 16th, 2010

July 20, 2010 (Tuesday) – July 25, 2010 (Sunday):

We’re on our way overseas from Ireland to continental Europe heading to Belgium. We booked a room on the overnight ferry from Rosslare, Ireland to Cherbourg, France. From there, we’re on a train through Paris towards Brussels. To our amazement, what they call a ferry was not anything we had imagined. I was picturing some rink-a-dink transport ferry that I’d typically see in the states. But the ferries here (at least the overnight Irish ones) are essentially short-term cruise ships. Several decks (I think I counted 10), with several restaurants, a shopping gallery, and even a movie theater. In addition, there were several floors of rooms, ranging from a 2-person sleepers to full-on 2-bedroom suites. Pretty nice.

Anyway, as it turns out, our first full-day in Brussels happened to be Belgium’s National Day (i.e., their Independence Day). As we were walking around Brussels there were booths and activities set up around the capital that displayed their military prowess, including real tanks and a fighter jet. Essentially everything was a military recruitment ruse for the young-uns’. All countries are the same. Support your country, support your troops.

As we walked around Brussels, we came to their Grand Place (their magnificent central square) and marveled at its splendor. A typical European town square with beautiful surrounding buildings. The architecture and fine details of its facade was spectacular. Equally impressive were the town squares of Antwerp and Bruges, to which we made separate day-trips later in the week (more on these cities later).

Also enjoyable in Brussels was the Magritte Museum. It housed a large collection of his works from early in his career as an advertisement poster artist to his works in the last years of his life; all told, spanning close to 70 years.

Of course, being in Belgium we had to sample their mussels and trappist beers (in addition to their waffles and frites). We stumbled upon a quite touristy stretch of streets with restaurants lining either sides. (For those in SF, think Beldon Alley times more. For those in LA, use your imagination). Anyway, despite the obvious tourist population, the mussels were good. And to quote Miriam, “they weren’t smelly”. Which apparently is the standard by which good mussels should be judged.

One of five days in Brussels was spent taking a day trip to Antwerp, about a half-hour train ride from Brussels.

The main area of Antwerp was all easily viewable by foot, with the sites interesting to us being the De Kathedraal and Grote Markt (market square). The Cathedral was impressive both architecturally and by the works of art it housed. The more famous paintings that the Cathedral housed were Peter Paul Rubens’ paintings “The Raising of the Cross” and “The Descent from the Cross”.

On one of the other days we took a day trip to Bruges. Apparently there was a “famous” American movie made several years back, “In Bruges”. ¬†It seems the Bruges-y people are so proud of this movie that when you walk into their tourist info office right at the train station, their wall is lined with the movie poster and even have copies of the DVD for sale. Go Colin Farrell!

Anyway, Bruges seemed somewhat surreal to me. I don’t know why, but for some reason, as we walked through the little town, I kept getting this feeling I was walking around Disneyland. There were no roller coasters in sight, but the series of canals/waterways and picturesque “Old European” building-fronts seemed quite similar to what is replicated in parts of Disneyland. Good for Disneyland, bad for Bruges? Regardless, I really liked the feel of Bruges. We had lunch on the Stevin’s Square under the tree-lined plaza (no mussels this time, chicken). Browsed through their farmers market and picked up delicious, sweet cherries. Took in the sights of their old monuments, churches, and belfry. Had dinner overlooking the Markt (yes, mussels this time, again). All-in-all, a pleasant day-trip. A good escape from a capital city like Brussels, and from a more commercialized town like Antwerp.

Throughout our stay in Belgium, we tried to take advantage of trying all different kinds of Belgium, and specifically, trappist beers. Be it at bars/restaurants or picking them up from the local supermarket and drinking them back in our hotel room. Other than re-confirming our enjoyment of Belgium beer (and their lovely high alcohol content), we learned that there are only six true (Belgian) trappist beers (beers made by monks at their monastery): Chimay, Orval, Rochefort,¬†Westvleteren, Westmalle, and Achel. See…and who says drinking can’t be educational.

That’s all for Belgium. We’re off to Amsterdam.

To view more pictures from Belgium, click for Brussels or Antwerp or Bruges.