Hello and Happy Memorial Day! As many of you are preparing for summer vacations, Andrew and I recently returned from ours—nine days in Europe! Well, obviously not all of Europe. How did we narrow down our choices? Our main thing was skipping countries that we each had previously visited. New experiences and no emotional baggage, ya know? So we nixed places like Paris (for which I’m still loudly cursing Andrew’s ex-wife.) Of course, there was a silver lining. We landed on Belgium and Amsterdam!
It was beyond awesome to be neck-deep in design, art, and culture for a week—a welcome change from my hectic day job. While we dutifully did some advance planning and research, Mother Nature and the Forex Gods also smiled down on us. Brussels was not the soggy city that co-workers had warned me about, and the dollar held its own against the euro (hooray for not having to pay $8 for a Coke). The locals were friendly and spoke English. And it seemed almost everyone in Amsterdam was tall, thin, stylish, and attractive enough to be a model. (Perhaps a combo of crazy good genes and all that cycling!)
Now are you dying to see pics? You don’t really have a choice First up, Brussels at its best:
Cosmopolitan capital: I bet this is what you think of when someone mentions Brussels. Yes, it’s considered the capital of the European Union, but there’s a whole lot more to see than bland government buildings.
Orange lines: I liked the geometric detailing on the façade of the Théâtre Résidence-Palace, part of an EU-related building complex near our hotel.
Gray and red at the Grand Place: Majestic, right? This is the main market square in Brussels. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site whose historic City Hall and guild houses date back to the 14th century.
Milling around the market: one of the elegant guild houses on the square. I liked how the pedestrians seem frozen in time.
Butter up: Maison Dandoy is a lovely Belgian cookie shop founded in 1829. It’s located on the Rue au Beurre (literally Butter Street). You can gain 5 pounds just walking in.
Naming rights and delicious bites: I’d read about this place before we left and insisted we eat lunch here as an homage to Andrew’s last name. (Plus, Andrew’s a ham and they serve Silly Beer!)
On the menu: fresh and unforgettable food. (Portobello mushroom waffles, anyone?)
No mall chicks allowed: the ornate Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is the oldest shopping mall in the world, built in the mid-1800s. It’s all very civilized.
Drooling over Delvaux: this Belgian brand is the oldest luxury leather goods manufacturer in the world (you thought it was Hermès, right?). That yellow “Le Pin Allure” shoulder bag tormented me with its €1,200 price tag. Did I give in? All will be revealed in a future post.
Fancy fox on the box: another shop in the Galeries was Pierre Marcolini, a high-end chocolatier. They did a limited edition collection of macarons with French fashion label Maison Kitsuné. I loved the whimsical branding (“kitsune” is the Japanese word for “fox”).
Little blue people: did you know that Brussels boasts the world’s only Smurf store? It’s part of the MOOF (Museum Of Original Figurines). The Smurfs (“Les Schtroumpfs”) were created in 1958 by Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, a.k.a. Peyo. (Yes, there are about four ridiculous-sounding words in this caption.)
Headless blue angel: I spotted this bit of graffiti at a construction site. The photo is a tad blurry but it’s a good and gritty contrast to the saccharin Smurfs.
Daily delight: imagine having bouquets like these brightening up your neighborhood sidewalk everyday.
Leisurely pursuits: the 74-acre Parc du Cinquantenaire was commissioned for the 1880 National Exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian independence. I liked the feminine flower beds set against the imposing archways.
Spring fling: yours truly laughing in front of pastel landscaping. (Btw, how great is my Kate Spade cross-body bag? It saved me from having to wear a frumpy “money belt” à la Rick Steves.)
Wicked whips: Autoworld is a vintage car museum located on park grounds. It was more like a vast showroom with hundreds of vehicles on display. I’m no gear-head but thoroughly enjoyed it. C’mon, everyone loves sexy cars.
I woke up in an old Bugatti! (thank you, Ace Hood): the Type 44 from 1927.
The “Brown Bugatti” that’s in fact blue: in 1952, French sculptor Jacques Brown built aerodynamic fiberglass bodywork around a 1930s-vintage Type 57 chassis.
Hipster heritage: motorbike from Belgian company FN (Fabrique Nationale de Herstal). I was half expecting a skinny tattooed dude with a beard and man-bun to skulk into my shot.
Serene side streets: I loved the picturesque buildings and architecture near our hotel on the Place Jourdan.
Teal appeal: the accent trim color on this house caught my eye and complements its pink-painted neighbor.
Two sites we missed: the Pantone Hotel and the Fashion Art exhibition at the European Parliament Visitors’ Center.
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Next up: the charming towns of Ghent and Bruges…