Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How Much Belgium Can We Squeeze Into a Day?

After a decent night's sleep in what was probably the fluffiest bed of the trip, Mark and I got up and made our way over to the little cafe where we had lunch the day before to grab some breakfast. I forget exactly what I had, but I do know that it involved a bowl of coffee and some toast slathered in some delicious dark chocolate spread (which was the consistency of peanut butter and so good that I bought a jar of it). I didn't put the chocolate sprinkles (jimmies) on my toast, tempting though it was...I figured I already had enough sugar.

Since this was our one full day in Belgium, we wanted to see as much as we could. And rather than drive, since the train station was right next to our hotel, we decided to take the train. We got our tickets, hopped aboard, and a little while later, found ourselves in downtown Brussels.

I'm not sure what was up with the Smurfs all over the place, but it did make finding the train station later a lot easier.

We wandered past a few blocks of delicious smelling candy stores and made our way over to Grand Place, the central square of Brussels. The tall tower on the left is the Town Hall. There were tons of people wandering around, and a few vendors selling flowers on the far side of the square.

We wandered through some side streets full of stores, and eventually made our way over to...

...the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. It was gorgeous, open, and even better - since it was a Sunday morning, there was a mass in progress!

There weren't too many people inside, but what you can't see too well is the guy totally rocking out on the organ on the upper left side of the picture. It was incredible to hear that kind of music in a cathedral like this. Crazy.

After checking out the cathedral for a bit, we wandered through a few more stores and wound up in an outdoor fair of sorts. Turns out that Brussels is a candidate to be named European Green Capital for 2015, and there were all sorts of environmentally friendly plant displays and vendors handing out free snacky things. 

There were also trees covered in yarn with headphones hanging down from the branches, because nothing says green like artificially covered trees. Mark said that the headphones were playing some sort of artsy environmental message kind of thing. It was actually a neat display, though.

After loading up on chocolate to bring back with us it was still only early afternoon. We decided to grab an early train back to Antwerp to finish out the day closer to the hotel. Apparently everyone else in Brussels had the same idea. The train was standing room only by the time we got there, so we spent the entire ride back to Antwerp squished with at least ten other people in the space where the doors open at the stations. We wound up squished against another American couple for a while; they live in Washington state and were on their way to Haarlem, just a bit west of Amsterdam. We compared travel stories, which helped make the ride go by faster, and at one point we all got to pet a fluffy little dog that some man was holding as he waited to get off the train at a stop. (Since the dog was jammed in my face and was sniffing me, I figured it was fair game to pet without asking permission.)

We eventually got back to Centraal Station, wished the other couple a safe trip to the Netherlands, and made a quick stop at the hotel. Next up: lunch!

We weren't too far from the older part of Antwerp, so we walked over and found a place to grab lunch. I'm not sure if it was all the walking or the crammed train ride back that made me so hungry, but these burger patties were fantastic. This was also my first taste of Kriek's - cherry beer. SO good...it barely tastes like beer; it's more like a fizzy cherry drink with a slight hint of beer. (I actually found this back here in the US!)

After lunch we spent a while walking through some more little side streets full of shops...including lace shops that do not appreciate when you eat waffles from the waffle shop next door in front of their window.
[Sign says: PLEASE Do not eat your waffles in front of the window.]
No waffle eating for you!!

The weather was gorgeous and there were tons of tour groups wandering through the streets and square; we had fun people watching for a while and listening to some music that was floating over from a street off to the side. We wandered over that way and found...

...this guy! He was playing an awesome street organ.

And thanks to the magic of intarnets, you get to listen, too!

We eventually made our way out to the river and walked along the water for a while. The huuuuge tower in the distance is the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Along the way, we found Het Steen, the trippiest castle ever. Het Steen translates to the stone castle. It was built in the early Middle Ages and at one point was a prison; now it's kind of hard to say what it is because it used to house a museum but now seems to contain a cafe and some sort of childrens' program that involves making bizarre collages semi-related to marine life. I should have taken more pictures while I was in there, but I think I was trying too hard to figure out just what the heck was going on. 

It was pretty cool to wander through such an old building, though.

We walked the length of a boardwalk-type thing, then started winding our way back toward the hotel. Along the way we found St. Paul's Church. 

If you step through a set of doors off the side of a street, you wind up in a small courtyard called the Calvary. It's a bunch of fairly graphic statues depicting the last days of Christ. 

They don't sugarcoat anything here, that's for sure!

The interior was really pretty, and there was even a museum off to the side with all sorts of paintings and jewels and other important church things. I think there may have even been a crown in there, too. 

The ceiling was one of my favorite parts.

After wandering through the church for a while, we were getting a little tired of wandering. At least, I know I was getting a little tired of wandering and just wanted to sit down for a minute or two. Thankfully the hotel wasn't too far away.

We wandered past Town Hall...

...and I'm not sure what this was, but there were some kids playing kickball between the poles, which was kind of funny. We eventually got back to the hotel, repacked our bags for the drive back to the Netherlands in the morning, then went out to (delicious) dinner at a little Italian restaurant near Centraal Station. I'm sure we could have spent a week in Belgium and still not have scratched the surface, but I think we did pretty good for only having a day and a half!

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