B&A’s Benelux Journal

November 5, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:45 pm

cubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehouses cubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehousescubehouses

In the Blaak neighborhood of Rotterdam, there is also a lot of interesting modern architecture. The most prominent beyond cubehouses is the enclosed town market hall.
Read Amy’s post below for a good summing up of our trip.

Hollaaaaaaa!…. nd

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 4:07 pm

So the last leg of the trip has been in the Netherlands. We stayed in a really artsy place in Amsterdam called Hotel Not Hotel, where our room was concealed by a ….(wait for it)…… bookcase! Yeah, like the bookcase in Young Frankenstein. Because we’re that cool. Actually, it made for quite a small room, and all the artsy rooms are so small, they pretty much have to resort to a big communal bathroom, like in a hostel, so it wasn’t so totally swanky. But still! It was cool.

Overall, Amsterdam was certainly an interesting city. Lots and lots of bikes, which rrrreeeeeeeaaaalllllyyyy took some getting used to as a pedestrian. And yes, loads of fun things are legal there that aren’t legal in ‘Murica. There are indeed canals everywhere, as well as cheese and old, gabled buildings. But it’s still a bustling, modern city, crawling with people. Also, crawling with museums. To be truthful, I got a little museum’ed out, but I am very grateful for the excellent art we saw in Amsterdam. I think some of the art really made the hustle and bustle and crowdedness of Amsterdam worth it for me. There were several Dutch masters at the Rijksmuseum, including four Vermeers (more than any one spot in the world) a respectable number of Rembrandts. Brandon has already talked about the Van Gogh House, another wonderful site for art. It was one of THE most crowded places we’ve been to on the entire trip (second only to Versailles), but I still loved hearing his story. Personally, I think my favorite art spot in the city was Rembrandt’s house. Not a lot of his work there, other than etchings, but there’s something special about being in the spot where an artist worked. Especially an artist like Rembrandt, whose work so dramatically embraced light and dark.

Other prominent art stops in the Netherlands include a museum in Delft dedicated to Rembrandt’s “companion” artist, Vermeer. Also known for his elegant treatment of light on the canvas during the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer has always been one of my favorites. The museum — holding none of his works — did a fine job of analyzing his works and extensively discussing his techniques. So fascinating! In the small city of Haarlem, we checked out the Fran Hals House, a Dutch master known for his lively portraits.

The other half of Amsterdam that really helped me view it as more than “The City Where Everything’s Legal” or “The City Where Everyone Rides a Bike and Is Therefore Better Than You” was its history. That is, the opportunity to learn about all of Holland’s history while you’re visiting the Netherlands. The Anne Frank House is the classic, of course. I know it’s kind of cliché to cry about Anne Frank stuff, but whatever! I did. Yes, I think part of me was super emotional about it because Emily and I were in the play together, and we lived and breathed these people and their story for two or three months, and then actually being in the space… Back to the Rembrandt house experience, it’s the power of being in the same space a person occupied, walking the same floor, looking out the same windows… I can’t explain it. And for me, walking through the Annex was more than the sad story of one girl and her family; it reminded me that they and all the victims of the Holocaust were not just monuments or martyrs but real people. It got me.

The other big historical museum in Amsterdam was the Dutch Resistance Museum. Very thorough and informative, basically about life in the Netherlands in WWII but particularly focused, of course, on the Resistance Movement. (There was also an superbly well curated exhibition on food during wartime. It was amazing!!!) The Anne Frank House and Resistance Museum were perfectly rounded out, though, by a visit to the Corrie ten Boom House in Haarlem. This side of the story showed us a clear picture of what life was like for the people doing the hiding. It was also a moving experience.

Aside from art and history… Oh yes, the food! We found a list of “15 Foods to Try in Amsterdam,” and boy did we valiantly try to conquer all of them. I think we got through eleven. Damn, was it all delicious. Featuring lots of cheese, fried things, Indonesian foods… So yummy. Yes, Dutch cheese is as good as everyone says.

All right, I’ve reached the point where I’m rambling about food, so I’ve got to rein it back in. Last big thing unrelated to all of that: We’re ending the trip in a nice little city called Delft, and from Delft, we hopped over to Rotterdam this morning, mostly just to check out some of its famous architecture. Mainly, the one thing we just had to see was the commune of dwellings called Cube Houses. Only, not the kind of cube-shaped houses where the bottom of the cube is on the ground; oh no, these cubes are propped up on a corner, suspended on a pole. The designer wanted them to look like… geometrical trees, I guess. It’s actually really, really cool. Maybe Brandon will upload some photos, since pictures speak a thousand words or whatever. Anyway, it was a cool thing to do on our last day.

I don’t really have anything profound or moving to offer here at the end of my last post. I’ve learned a lot on this trip, and I’ve seen some beautiful things, and I’ve consumed many delicious foods and beverages. And let’s not forget the whole reason we initially made this trip… the wedding. That was so special, and I’m really honored that we got to experience it, as well as all the hospitality that came along with meeting Charlotte’s friends.

November 4, 2016

The End of the Tour

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 6:00 pm

Tomorrow is the last day of our trip; we will visit Rotterdam and Delft. I am most excited about seeing the cube houses in Rotterdam. In fact, that may be the highlight of the entire trip for me.

We spent quite a lot of time in Amsterdam, and though it was bursting at the seams with things for us to do, the highs just didn’t match those of Brussels or Paris. Actually, my favorite things in Amsterdam had to do with food: a special exhibit in the Dutch Resistance Museum featuring videos of celebrity chefs preparing dishes using the food available during times of Dutch hardship during WWII; a “rice table” meal at an Indonesian place (due to the Dutch colonial past, Indonesian food is huge in Amsterdam) meaning rice and eight different dishes are brought out to share; and a tutored cheese tasting with wine.

I actually preferred touring Corrie Ten Boom’s house in Haarlem to Anne Frank’s “house” (Otto’s offices with the secret annex), which showed the other side as the Ten Boom family were the hiders rather than the hiding, and if I must include a museum on this list it would be Our Lord in the Attic, featuring this Catholic church hidden inside someone’s home from the time when Catholicism was illegal in Amsterdam. Actually, maybe the best thing in Amsterdam was where we stayed, in the most awesome hotel of all time. Our room is hidden behind a bookcase (actually a little twisted after visiting the Anne Frank museum); another room is inside this tram car!

November 2, 2016

Antwerp & Ypres (Ieper)

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 3:47 pm

Though we’re currently in Amsterdam, I wanted to at least touch on our previous stop: Antwerp. It has been called “Belgium’s Second City” or “The Capital of Flemish Belgium.” Parts of it definitely have a more modern, typical metropolitan feel, but, like most of the cities we’ve been to, the historic heart is more unique and “time machine”-y. I actually found Antwerp to be generally less impressive than the other cities in this regard, but we saw some cool stuff anyway. One quirky and fun place is an old publishing house, where we got to see (and learn about) some of the earliest printing presses ever in existence. We also learned about fonts!! Surprisingly interesting. The other main highlight of Antwerp is Rubens. You may be familiar with the term “rubenesque,” to describe women of a certain shape and size. Well, that comes from Peter Paul Rubens, whose pleasantly plump second wife was the model for much of his work. In Antwerp, you’re able to see more of his religious art, so everyone shows less skin, haha. But still, he had a great way of bringing people to life in his work.

The other big chunk of our Antwerp leg was actually a day trip we took to Ypres. Brandon wrote a bit about it already, so I’ll try not be redundant. Basically the WWI fighting at Ypres (roughly 10% of all WWI deaths happened there) is what inspired the timeless poem “In Flanders’ Field.” This museum did an amazing job of providing thorough, clear, and creative info about the circumstances leading up to the war, then about what life for the soldiers was like, from recruitment to fighting and beyond. I think part of what made the museum so moving was that it was so well designed and well curated. You were able to be totally sucked into the world of 1914 Belgium while never really feeling like you were reading museum placards or looking at dusty relics behind glass. It was immersive, so you could focus on the story of the war. I also loved the way they put so much focus on the people of the war. All of the people! Officers, privates, Germans, French, Belgian, British, colonial troops, men, women, nurses, doctors, chaplains, civilians… Everyone was represented. It really humanized the whole thing. The museum is called In Flanders Field Museum, and I think it was a stroke of genius that they waited until nearly the end of the museum to display the famous poem. It got me. Right in the feels, as the kids say (or said; I can’t keep up). After all the ups and downs of the town’s story and Europe’s story as told in this war… it took my breath away.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

November 1, 2016

[insert clever song line or movie quote about Paris]

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 3:42 pm

Yes, yes, yes, Paris. Or should I say… Oui, oui, oui, Par-ee. We spent a couple days in the City of Lights/City of Love. It was a whirlwind, but much more a whirlwind of guided talks and museums and churches than a whirlwind of love or even lights. Quick rundown of the major sights we saw: Sainte Chapelle (small, old church with beautiful interior), Notre Dame cathedral, Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, that bridge with all the locks, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre neighborhood, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre’s “Greatest Hits,” a good chunk of the Pompidou, two Michelin star restaurants, Arc de Triomphe, and Versailles. There was other stuff, but those are the ones most likely to resonate with you, gentle reader.

For me, the Eiffel Tower was more impressive that I remembered it. (Friendly reminder that I had traveled to Paris before. Brandon had not.) It’s latest assortment of lights that turn on at night is truly beautiful; so sparkly and breathtaking! But I also did not remember the sheer size of it and the sense it leaves you of the marvels of modern humanity and our engineering. It really did impress me quite a bit! Best word I can think of it “breathtaking.” Which I’ve already used, but I’ll use it again.

I must also confess that another one of the most touristy sites in Paris really surprised me, and this was one I had NOT had the pleasure of seeing before. It was…… (drumroll…….)…………. the Mona Lisa! Or La Joconde. I’d been told, “She’s smaller in person than you think,” but I found her to be just the size I’d imagined she’d be. I think it was something about he warmth of the colors Da Vinci used and the ease of her posture and her smile… I felt so drawn in and so comforted by it. Like slipping on your favorite hoodie and slippers on a snow day and indulging in the most perfect cup of hot chocolate. It was that kind of comforting for me.

Other Louvre highlights for me were Venus de Milo and — centuries younger but meant to imitate the same style — Micehangelo’s The Slaves. Something about the expressiveness and the balance of strength and delicacy in marble sculpted into the human form… It forces you to focus on the shape the body occupies in space, rather than its colors or details or facial expressions, like in painting. I am blown away by how those sculptors can breathe life into stone like that. Amazing.

Let’s see… what else in Paris impressed me…. Oh! Michelin restaurants! Okay, yes, I know it makes us sound so frou-frou and fancy-pants. And I really did feel like my pants increased their fanciness by at least 50% as soon as we walked into these places. The food was amazing, as was the service. I also was impressed by the actual restaurants themselves. By that I mean, the dining spaces, décor, place settings, etc. It’s like the atmosphere made the food taste better. I think that’s kind of a country-mouse thing to say, but I’ll own that.

Though I had had one or two experiences in the past of snooty Parisian interactions, I will have to say that I was particularly impressed by the friendliness and politeness of everyone we dealt with in our few days in the fair city. Hotel staff, restaurant staff, touristy site employees, etc. People were very patient and kind with my broke, terrible French, and very few had any issues switching to English, if my French couldn’t get us through any longer.

On the “less than glowing review” side of things, Paris is still a city: dirty, smelly, crowded, etc. Though I’ve lived in a European city, it was a small one, and it was only for a year. I would have to admit, if pressed, that I really am a laid-back, slow-paced kind of person, and while I can grit my teeth and survive a day in the big city, the effort leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed once I flop back down on the hotel bed at night. I’m not cut out for it. And to be honest, this whole trip is kind of a variation on that same theme: we really are focusing mostly on cities on this trip, so it requires that I be in a different head space and energy space.

Ah well. I think those are enough Paris highlights for now. Since Paris, we spent a couple days in Antwerp (back in Belgium), and we arrived today in the bustling city of Amsterdam. Each leg of the trip will warrant their own posts; I’ll try to get caught up on those the next couple of days. Thanks to all of you reading back home (probably mostly just our parents, haha; love you guys). I’m thinking about all of y’all a lot and how all of you are part of making me the laid-back country mouse I am! (Also, I tell myself that every time I eat an extra pastry or piece of chocolate, it’s “for so-and-so back home.”)

Final thought: If any of my phrases or sentences seem off, there has been some crappy hip hop/rap playing in our hotel lounge the whole time I’ve been writing, so if I ended up typing any song lyrics while writing about travel… SORRY!

Moved to Tears

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 2:58 pm

Over the past two days, two very different museums formed some of the most profound experiences in my travels, in my life. It is hard to bring me to tears, so my experiences were unexpected and powerful. The first was the In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres, Belgium, which in addition to triggering a powerful emotional response (reading the poem in context kicked it off and several other items in the exhibits were subsequent triggers) also caused me to deeply and existentially question on all fronts my positions on war. Never before have I so deeply pored over every word in a museum, and I thank this museum greatly both for honoring these people and for giving me cause to think deeply.

The second was the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. Vincent was very close to his brother Theo, who kept him afloat financially and supported his art throughout his life. After Vincent’s death - the culmination of tumultuous mental illness - Theo pledged to advocate vor Vincent’s art and get it the audience it deserved (Vincent only sold one painting in his entire life), but Theo died six months later. Theo’s widow took up his cause, and thanks to her tireless efforts, the world knows Vincent Van Gogh’s art. Her son has kept up the crusade, and the museum’s existence is due to his efforts.

October 29, 2016

Long-awaited for…

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 5:45 pm

Well, we’ve been here over a week (originally typed “year”), and I have blogged once. ONCE. I’m so sorry. (For all my devoted fans. Hahaha.)

Since I last wrote, we have journeyed through more of Brussels and surrounding towns and cities, and we have ventured over to Paris. I’ll try to reminisce on some of the things that really stood out for me. Hit the highlights, I guess.

Bruges. I have been to Bruges before, but I do not remember being as charmed by it before as I was this time. I know, I know, it’s all touristy and whatnot, but everyone just shut up. Bruges is kind of like that city I loved in Vietnam, Hoi-An: both cities fell out of industrial and economical relevance, so they kind of just hibernated until they got discovered by tourists and have been reinvigorated as recreations of past days. I love those “frozen in a past time” kind of towns, no matter how touristy they get. Anyway, I particularly loved the bell tower of Bruges. Annoying climb up on of those Medieval spiral staircases, but it was SO worth it to get to the top and not just hear but WATCH the bells chime away while someone played the carillion a few stories below! Back on the ground, we meandered the cobblestone streets, leaned over the canal walls, and enjoyed a number of delicious beers.

The next day, we checked out a town that our tour book (written by the incomparable Rick Steves) does not acknowledge, Dinant, Belgium. I do so enjoy the colorful, narrative-driven walks and touring tips that Mr. Steves offers in his books, but I have to admit that I feel a certain rebellious energy when I stick it to the man and go somewhere off the beaten path. Dinant greeted us with gloomy, gray weather, almost Scottish in nature. The drizzly skies provided a dramatic backdrop for the stark rock-carved Citadel and dark, looming onion dome church. The drama is amplified by the fact that the train station is actually on the other side of the river from the village, so you pull up and see this unique scene waiting for you in another realm. It’s a fun walk across the river, though, because the bridge is lined with colorful saxophone sculptures, an homage to the town’s most famous Adolphe Sax (the instrument’s inventor).

In addition to the photogenic features of Dinant, the Citadel offers some interesting perspective on the town’s more somber history. One of the most intense stories — and arguably what may have put Dinant on the map outside of the world of music — is one about how a platoon of German soldiers basically slaughtered hundreds of civilians there in the early days of WWI. It was really a chilling story, and it definitely gave that old, stony citadel a haunted feel. Anyway, Dinant overall was sleepy but had some great surprises.

The rest of that day was summed up in BEER. I won’t go on and on about all that. But trust me, it was delicious. (And Cantillon Brewery still makes beer in, like, a 14th century way of brewing, which includes only using yeasts that come into the beer from the air. FROM THE AIR, PEOPLE.)

Tuesday found us on an EEEEAAAARRRRLLLYYY train to……… Luxembourg! That’s right, one of those tiny countries you learned about in middle school geography class that is little more that a city and its suburbs. At first, neither Brandon nor I were much impressed, beyond the novelty of hanging out in a city-state. We toured a big church, dined on some delicious hot chocolate (seriously, folks, if we’re not drinking beer here, we’re drinking hot chocolate), and perambulated along some of Luxembourg’s elegant streets that offer nice views of this city that seems perpetually perched on a hillside. All nice things but not mind-blowing. But then… then we discovered the Casements. I think Brandon has pretty well described them and raved about them himself, so I won’t be too redundant on that. But I will just say that it was a pretty unique experience. We enjoyed scurrying through the beehive-like tunnels and underground trails, and I really liked the “cannon holes” you’d occasionally stumble upon, offering new stunning views over the lower part of the city. It was really special and really fun.

Mid-week, we hit up Ghent, a Belgian city I had never visited before. For me, Ghent fell on one of my “slump days,” when I could not imagine doing any more walking or touring or picture-taking or museum-brochure-reading or ANYTHING. So I was in Zombie Mode. Still, it had some impressive architecture, and I enjoyed learning about its history as Europe’s cultural epicenter in The Good Ol’ Days (like… the 13th century). I’m sure hot chocolate was consumed at some point. One of the most important stops on the entire trip, though, was in the next town over, Melle: The Delirium Brewery. Okay, technically its name is Huyghe Brewery, but most Americans know it for its most famous line of beers, Delirium. You may know them for their Tremens, Nocturnum, and/or the pink elephant in their label. Anyway, we ended up having a private tour, and it was amazing. I’ve never toured a brewery that has such extensive production but still makes quality beer. I’ve also never toured a brewery that gave me such generous “samples” as part of the process, haha. AND! We got to say hello to the master brewers, just because they happened to be hanging out that afternoon. It was a great afternoon, and you can durn well bet I bought a T-shirt.

I’d love to go ahead and talk about Paris, but I think I need to get to bed. I’ll write about some of our Paris experiences tomorrow.


Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:36 pm

We did all the things in Paris. We also had our two “splurge” meals of the trip, lunches at Michelin-starred Relais Louis XIII and l’Agape. Both were good, but Louis really wowed… this soup and this sea bass were the best things I’ve had on this trip. We’re mostly being pretty “cheap” with food on this trip which enabled us to do these two meals in the capital of the Michelin Guide.

The ossuaries in the catacombs were probably what impressed me most. Yes, those are all bones. I was expecting to not be very impressed with the Eiffel Tower, but being up close, it really blew me away. I was also surprisingly impressed with the Louvre, but more with how things were displayed; the Pompidou’s modern art is more my speed, personally. On the other hand, Versailles underwhelmed, especially compared to the royal palace in Madrid. I did however enjoy walking through Marie Antoinette’s “hamlet” where she lived “like a peasant in the country,” despite having servants to do everything for her.

Overall,Paris was great. The people were much more friendly and hospitable than I had expected. We’ll certainly be back as part of a larget France trip; this was only meant to be a taste. Now we’re in Antwerp. We haven’t done anything here yet (we have three nights), but the train station sure impressed. I also really like our hotel - which is a member of the “Tryp” chain by Wyndham; it’s their hip and trendy looking line of properties.

October 26, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:32 pm

Tomorrow we head to Paris, after spending six days in Belgium. We will actually return to Belgium after our quick 3-day jaunt to Paris (I insisted we visit Paris since it is only 70 min away by train but we will certainly return to France for a longer stay in the future). In my opinion, the best thing we have done thus far is the Casements du Bock in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. This is a fortress built into the cliffs overlooking the city which have tunnels running throughout which you can explore. I am a little kid at heart and this was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. I might as well just come home now.

But, if I had, we would not have experienced the excellent hospitality of Jose, our guide at Huyghe Brewery in Melle, who took us on a private tour of the brewery where Delirium Tremens is brewed. Speaking of hospitality, we also say goodbye tonight to our incredible hospitality of our hosts in Brussels, Marie and Renaud.

I hope Amy will post soon, because my posts are boring.

October 24, 2016

A Marriage and a Funeral

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 3:17 pm

This trip marks my first attendance of a wedding outside the United States. It was grand in scope and pomp. This trip also marks my first attendance of a funeral outside the United States. My trusty Canon PowerShot spontaneously died in the middle of our visit to the Atomium, and is now permanently stuck with the lens out. The trip just won’t be the same without you, buddy.

We saw lots of pretty things. Here are some. Brussels’ Grand Place; the fireplace at Bruges’ cold courthouse; the view from Bruges’ belfry; Dinant; and the view from Dinant’s citadel.

This will be the theme of this blog: I will post pretty pictures. Amy will provide colorful narration. Also, I will drink more beer.

October 21, 2016

Nous sommes ici!

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 5:24 pm

Is that how you say “We are here” in French? I ought to look that up.

Well, folks, we are here. In Brussels. I had forgotten what a truly beautiful city it is. So much culture and so many beautiful buildings! It would also appear that I had forgotten how crazy tired I get from trans-Atlantic overnight flights and how hard it is to push yourself through that first day to get a relatively normal sleep schedule. Whatever; I’ll get over it.

We checked out a few top-notch museums today: the Musical Instruments Museum and the Belvue museum. The former is pretty self-explanatory, I believe, but I will add that it was awesome!! I learned so much, and they had an excellent audio guide system that played samples of lots of the instruments and their representative musical styles. The second museum there, Belvue, is basically an interactive, thoughtfully laid out, brief history of Belgium and Brussels. For having hosted a Belgian exchange student in my home and having traveled here twice before, I was shocked by how little I had knew about the country. This was an excellent museum that truly made learning fun. It also helped inform my understanding of this country as a whole. I’m glad we checked that out on our first day here.

The rest of the day was taking a couple of self-guided leisurely walking tours, with the help of our friend and travel writer Rick Steves. Everything wrapped up this evening with a relaxed dinner at the home of Marie and Renaud, friends of my exchange sister Charlotte who are graciously housing us during the Brussels portion of our stay. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness and hospitality.

Well, the beer and wine and overnight flight and say of touring have all caught up with me, so I’m declaring it bedtime. If nothing else, I need to rest up for all the merriment we’ll be making at Charlotte’s wedding tomorrow!!! So excited!

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