I’m ensconced in a little nook at Amsterdam Schipol airport, two functional power outlets all to myself, waiting for a flight to London. I’m on a month long trip to Western Europe that has already taken me to Belgium and now The Netherlands, and will soon bring me to England and France.
In early January I’m participating in a course in Grenoble, France on innovation and technology. It’s a school program, and I will get credits towards my degree. We’re a big group from Kenan-Flagler, Duke, and George Washington, and best of all, my best friend Eric, who is at Duke, will be in the group as well. Because of this course, I decided that I could use winter break, which started earlier in December, to put together a longer trip to Europe. The original plan was for my brother to join me on the earlier end of the trip before I head off to Southeast France, but he could not get off work. In stepped my dad, and we decided to visit Belgium and The Netherlands. He departed back for New Amsterdam this morning, and I’m now waiting for the next leg of my journey – New Years in England with my English camp friends.
When I was one year old my parents left me in New York with my nanny, Ingrid, and spent two weeks in England with friends of theirs. At the time my mom was managing an optometric exchange program with Belgium, and at the tail end of their trip they took the hydrofoil from England to Belgium and spent three days getting shuttled around the country by the friendly optometrists of Belgium. They look back on the trip fondly, and this was my dad’s first time back in Belgium since that brief trip 27 and a half years ago.
I had some travel problems and got to Brussels a day late. My dad had already been there for a day and a morning by the time I got in. That first day we spent strolling around central Brussels and seeing some of the sights. He’s actually a very good travel partner for me in the sense that he also loves history and old buildings and can tolerate viewing some artwork from time to time. The artwork is part of the history, after all.
That first day in Brussels was damp, chilly, and foggy. It proved to be an augur of the week to come. Since arriving in Europe I’ve seen very little of the sun, and it’s been chilly and rainy at times. It’s also been alternating between rain and snow today in Amsterdam. I knew it was going to be chilly on this trip, although I had hoped for sun. I suppose I was being naïve. On the brighter side, my President told me that it’s so cold in the US at the moment that there is no longer global warming. A merry Christmas to me in Europe then!
The second day in Brussels we went to Bruges, which happened to have been the first stop in my parent’s tour of Belgium. Bruges has been a highlight of the trip. I’ve known of Bruges since seeing In Bruges a number of years ago. I love the movie, and Bruges sure looked like a beautiful, and historical, place to visit.
Our day in Bruges started with a city tour that helped us orient ourselves and understand the history of the city a bit better. I was actually quite surprised by the size of the old city. I thought it was much smaller – really just village sized by today’s standards. However, it’s a large old city center with many residents still living within the old borders of the city. I learned that Bruges was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe during the late medieval period. It rivalled in size Paris and certainly London at that time. I suppose the best part of Bruges was just soaking in the gothic purity of the whole place and the pleasantness of the meandering canals and the haphazard layout of the cobbled roads. In addition to the stops on the tour we climbed the belfry (a must for any In Bruges fan, I suppose) and we also went to the Frites Museum. Yes, we went to a museum dedicated to the fried preparation of an Incan tuber. I think the most interesting part was an explanation of the origin of ketchup. You’ll have to visit Bruges and the museum to hear the story.
In Bruges we also started tasting as many Belgian beers as we could, both of us being fans. According to the locals, Colin Farrell was quite the fan himself during the filming of In Bruges. I gravitated towards the tripels while my dad stuck more with the ambers, browns, and wheats. The tripels are great, but they sure do pack a punch. In the end, one of my favorite tripels turned out to be a Dutch beer I had in Amsterdam! I’m working on another blog post about my time in Amsterdam and will post that in due time.
Our second day in Brussels was a museum day. In 1880 Belgium hosted a National Exhibition to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a country. They constructed an utterly massive exhibition complex in an urban park, complete with a triumphal arch in the middle of the property. The colossal exhibition halls (I can’t emphasize enough the sheer size of these structures) now house the AutoWorld automobile museum, the Belgian Military Museum, and a museum with various artifacts from antiquity and other regions of the world. AutoWorld was very cool and had hundreds of vehicles, from the earliest models in the late 1800’s to the modern day. The military museum seemed a bit out of touch with reality, and was so enormous that it almost seemed like a massive yard sale where absolutely everything from the depots of the Belgian militaries throughout the years was strewn about for display. The third museum was also a bit lackluster, although it had a scale model of ancient Rome the size of a large room. That was cool.
After only three two full days in Belgium for me it was time for us to move on to our second stop, Amsterdam in The Netherlands.