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Trip Report My brief, but wonderful, trip to Belgium

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I got to tag along on a business trip with my husband to Antwerp, Belgium. While he was busy with meetings, I went to explore. I was surprised by how very much I liked this country. It is quaint and picturesque and very easy to see as a solo traveler. Every day I would head to the (beautiful) Antwerp train station and easily take a train to where I wanted to go. We were only away a week (total), but I got to see some great sites. I love Flemish/Dutch art, and I got to see a lot of it; it was wonderful.

Antwerp

Grote Market/Groenplatz – these were picturesque areas to walk around. Nearby, we walked to the castle on the waterfront. The architecture of Antwerp is interesting.

Museum Mayer Van Den Berg – Nice, small art museum. Peter Brueghel is one of my favorite painters and his “Mad Meg” was here.

Rubens’ House. This was the home of the artist Peter Rubens. While his paintings aren’t here, it was an fascinating look at how the wealthy lived in Antwerp during Rubens’ time.

MAS Museum – this museum had many different interesting exhibits/displays. I viewed a collection of the highlights of the Antwerp Art Museum, which is closed for renovation for several years. I like Pre-Columbian art, and I was surprised at how large of collection they had here. There were masks from Oceania, religious artifacts and art from the worlds’ major religions, and items from Antwerp’s history.

I learned about this museum in an unqiue way. While going through passport control at the Brussels airport, we were asked where we were going and what the purpose of our visit was. My husband told the officer he was in Antwerp for business and I was along for pleasure travel. The officer asked me what I planned to do, and I told him I wanted to visit a lot of art museums. He told me about several museums – including the MAS, of which I was not familiar. I’m glad I saw it.


Brugge

What a beautiful, quaint, story-book place! I visited on a Monday, so the major museums were all closed. I enjoyed wandering around the pretty streets, medieval architecture and Market and Berg Squares.

Market – this is the large square with the Belfry (did you see the movie, In Brugge? You’d recognize this!) The architecture surrounding this square was great – almost like a Disney façade.

The guidebooks said that it is rare for temps to go below freezing in Belgium in the winter – but we hit a very cold spell. The temps did not go above freezing for our entire trip! It was so cold that Brugge’s famous canals were frozen over. Instead of seeing boats glide by, I saw tourists standing on the frozen canal taking pictures.

Basicila of the Holy Blood – this church contains a relic – a vial said to contain drops of the blood of Christ. I walked up the winding staircase to the pretty church and viewed the vial. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I was strongly moved by this sight.


Den Bosch (s-Hertogenbosch), the Netherlands

My favorite artist is Hieronymus Bosch and this town is his birthplace. Even though it is a small town, through the amazing train network in this area of Europe, I was able to get here in about 2 hours with only one train transfer.

Saint John’s Cathedral – this is a massive gothic Cathedral, with amazing stained glass windows and flying buttresses. I would have loved to climb the tower and view all the statuary and gargoyles on the roof from above.

The Hieronymus Bosch Art Center. The Bosch Art Center is in an old church. You can start on the top floor, which gives a great view over den Bosch - including a terrific view of the back side of the Saint John cathedral.

Here, all of Bosch's works are replicated in life-size high quality photographic reproductions. (There are no originals of his paintings). The cost of admission (only 6Euro) includes an audio guide that gives a little bit of info on each painting. Some of Bosch's works are triptych's - and they were also reproduced faithfully, showing the paintings on the back of the panels. One is allowed to open and shut the triptypch's to see what they look like open and closed. I liked this hands-on approach, which is obviously unthinkable with the originals.

Throughout the museum there are huge whimsical but faithful re-creations of some of Bosch's creatures - hanging from the ceiling and in corners around the museum.

In the basement, there is a life sized replica of what Bosch's studio might have looked like.

I would have liked to wander a bit more around the town than I did – I really only saw the area around the Cathedral and missed the main square b/c it was *freezing*. I think the high was 22 that day.

Brussells

Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium

This was a relatively small art museum, but I loved it – some works by Bosch, Brueghel and other major Flemish/Dutch artists are on display here. I visited this in the morning and then met a friend of mine that I met at my gym who now lives in Belgium and she toured me around a little bit.

Grand Place

This square is AMAZING – it is definitely one of the most dramatic and beautiful ones I’ve seen in Europe. We were cold, so we ducked into have some hot tea in a pretty hotel on the square. We passed another hotel (don’t recall the name) with an ornate Baroque lobby. If I was not with my friend, I would have missed interesting things like this. She also pointed out part of the original wall surrounding Brussels (Brussels used to be a walled town) and the fancy clock near the train station. We also went into a nice church about a ¼ mile from here, but I never learned its name.

We had a great crepe lunch. I offended the waiter by asking if our dessert crepe was made with Nutella. I was told they use CHOCOLATE, not Nutella. What a stupid American I am. But the food was wonderful! My friend also took me for some amazing chocolate:

Pierre Marcolini

This chocolate was fabulous. My friend said it is her favorite. I asked her why anyone would go to Godiva while in Belgium (I find Godiva sickly sweet), and she told me that the Godiva chocolate in Belgium is different than that in the US.

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