4-23-19 Amsterdam The Hermitage and Portuguese Synagogue

On Monday we boarded our new home, The River Empress,

The River Empress

for the next 11-days cruising along various rivers from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland ,stopping along the way at eight different spots on the rivers. Prior to leaving Amsterdam, however, we were treated to a private visit to the Hermitage Museum. This is an Amsterdam based extension of Russia’s famed Hermitage Museum housed in the former Amstelhof, a classical style building from 1681.

Here we are in front of the Hermitage

Tsar Peter (1682 – 1725) had a special relationship with Amsterdam,  having lived in the city for several years. He founded the very first public museum in Russia, and some of the exhibits at the original Hermitage were items he acquired in the Netherlands. Therefore it only seemed natural to create an extension of the famous Hermitage in St Petersburg in Amsterdam. The Museum was opened about 10 years ago with a rotating exhibit staying for 6-months then being replaced with an entirely new exhibit of items.

One of the first galleries we entered was filled with Old Dutch master paintings.

Multiple old Dutch Master paintings and shields of wealthy patrons
These paintings were huge! Not of royalty, but of Citizens.
Governors and Governesses of the Charitable Works Dutch companies. Cared for orphans, widows, poor.

Many of these painted were completed in the late 1600’s and depicted various Guilds of the time. It seems groups of men would band together for a common cause and then want to have their portrait painted to commemorate the group. The person who paid the most was the more important in the painting while those with lesser means were depicted more in the background. The room holding these paintings is huge – as is required to be able to exhibit these paintings some of which are quite large.

Spotlighted exhibits had a couple of paintings, one by Rembrandt depicting dissections.

This was Rembrandt’s depiction of dissection of a thief as by the famous Dutch anatomist.
Drawings of muscle and skeleton were studied by artists as well as physicians.
Anatomy dissection was a group activity where people paid to watch from an amphitheater

Any criminal or a stillborn child could be used for anatomy dissection, as it was believed they would not be going to heaven.

Around another corner was Donna Nuda – oil on canvas, transferred from panel by Leonardo da Vinci. It seems Catherine the Great bought this painting in 1779 from Sir Robert Walpole as a work by Leonardo.

Donna Nuda by Leonardo da Vinci
Does anyone look at Her smile?

The Musée Condé in Chantilly, France, has a drawing that bears many similarities to this work and that Leonardo specialists largely attribute to the master himself in 2017. Over ten versions of the Donna Nuda exist in various collections. The Hermitage version is the best of them all.

William of Orange plaster bust 1816  He promoted an independent Netherlands.
Anna Pavlovna of Russia – Crown Princess of the Netherlands plaster 1816
This was the church hall where services were held when this building was a Seniors Home

Next was an exhibit of the Green Room Malachite pieces which helped make up the Malachite room in the royal Russian palace.

Some of the many wardrobe pieces stored at Hermitage in Russia , displayed in wedding room.
Solid disc of malachite , clocks, vases, eggs, were on display, the walls of malachite remain in Russia

The stone was considered to be therapeutic for stress relief. It was where all royal princesses were prepared for marriage.

Swan, embattled, compare with painting in Rijksmuseum
The Threatened Swan (c. 1650) by Jan Asselijn held in the Rijksmuseum

We had the place basically to ourselves for a few hours and it was lovely for sure. The central exhibit contrasted ancient works with modern aspirations of the same theme.

Medieval St. George and Dragon
Compare with 19th century painting
19th Century St. George April 23 is his day, and that of our son Jason’s birth.
This lion was just stalking outside the Hermitage near the kinder museum

After our visit to the Hermitage we walked over to the Portuguese Synagogue – a late 17th-century Sephardic synagogue completed in 1675.

Front of the Portuguese Synagogue built by those expelled from Spain and Portugal, with Navigation and mercantile knowledge

This was one of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Europe during the Dutch Golden age and their very large synagogue reflected this. The wood for the arc was jacaranda from Peru. The synagogue remains an active place of worship. The building is still without electricity and all services are held under candlelight.

Inside the Portuguese Synagogue Note the Jacaranda wood arc
Over 600 candles are needed to light the Portuguese Synagogue

After our tour, we returned to the boat to settle in for dinner and the evening’s entertainment.

4-22-19 The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

There are over 50 different museums in Amsterdam. Top amongst them is the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. However, there are a lot of others including Rembrandt House, NEMO Science Museum, the National Maritime Museum, MOCO Museum, the Cheese Museum, the Houseboat Museum and a bunch of others. As it was impossible to get tickets for Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum was sold out we were pleased to get tickets to the Rijksmuseum.

Entrance plaza to the Rijksmuseum Museum

The Rijksmuseum is a large national museum is dedicated to the arts and history of Amsterdam. Sunday, after our friends Gloria and Jerry arrived, we gathered everyone and walked to the Museum for a visit. Located in Museum Square and close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum and the Concertgebouw it is an impressive building filled with lovely art.

Originally founded in The Hague in 1800 it was moved to Amsterdam in 1808 and was originally located in the Royal Palace. The current building was first opened in 1885 and reopened in 2013 after a ten-year renovation.

The library within the Museum was quite spectacular all by itself
A Windmill on a Polder Waterway 1889 by Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël . This really reflected the windmills we visited previously in our trip.
Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680
Janeen enjoying our day at the Museum

It is the most visited museum in the Netherlands with over 2.2 million visitors annually.

This tin-glazed earthenware violin cannot be played, for it is a decorative object. When the collector John Loudon purchased it for a record 1500 guilders in 1876, this violin was considered to be the absolute masterpiece of Delft earthenware. The modeling and painted decoration certainly make it an exceptional object.

Displaying over 8,000 objects of art and history from the total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200 to 2000. Among the collection are pieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Vincent Van Gogh.

The Meagre Company (1633–37) by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde
The Threatened Swan (c. 1650) by Jan Asselijn
Vincent Self-portrait 1887 . Vincent moved to Paris in 1886, after hearing from his brother Theo about the new colorful style of French Painting. Wasting no time, he tried it out in several self-portraits. He did this mostly to avoid having to pay for a model. Using rhythmic brushstrokes in striking colors, he portrayed himself here as a fashionably dressed Parisian.

WE spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the Museum trying to follow the Highlights Tour.

Rembrandt (ca 1630) Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
The Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt . This is actually a daytime march – not a night scene.
Dueling pistols made in the workshop of Jean Le Page in Paris in 1815. The case came into the possession of Lt Henry Sagermans of Brussels shortly after the Battle of Waterloo. Sagermans claimed the pistols were found in Napoleon’s travel carriage that had been abandoned near the battlefield.
Captured Ordnance 1750 to 1850

This tour was supposed to bring us to all the most significant pieces in the collection and thus to get us through the place without having to camp overnight.

Here we are – proof we were there.

4-20-19 Amsterdam – Touring on our own

Did you know that more than 25% of the country of Netherlands is below sea level and more than 50% of the country lies less than three feet below sea level?   Well I didn’t, but it is something that is very apparent when you see all the dikes and waterways around the country.

A large large lake was created by placing a dam across the Amstel  river

Amsterdam, the capital city, is built entirely on poles driven almost 11 meters into the soil made up of clay and fen (fen is a type of wetland dominated by peat). Furthermore, today’s Amsterdam rests atop 10 layers of ruins (or at least one source I read states).

More modern buildings along the canals too.

Our first river cruise of this trip started here but we didn’t do much touring in city  as the first off-boat excursion was to the Keukenhof gardens (see 4-8-19 Holland at Tulip Time for more info). This time, we are here a full week prior to our second river cruise so we are booked into the Hilton Hotel and just doing whatever we want.

Our first day, after getting all settled into our room, we walked to the Hop on Hop off Bus/Boat tour of Amsterdam.

Here we are on our canal boat tour.

There are two different boat tours of the canals, each lasting over an hour. It seems this ‘Venice’ of the north has over 165 canals and more than 1,200 bridges.

The buildings all have changed occupancies over the years – warehouses became apartments, apartments became stores, never staying the same.

The canals are lined with trees and very typical canal houses or old warehouses from the Golden Age (17th century). Along the way the commentary points out various historic or iconic buildings and generally it was a sunny, relaxing time on the water.

The facades of the buildings were all different
These buildings are called the Dancing houses – they seem to lean – well they don’t have many vertical lines that is for sure.
More shots of the Dancing houses

With all the canals, there are approximately 2,500 houseboats.  Residents occupy most of them but some are available for rent by visitors.

There are a variety of different styles of houseboats for sure.

Plus there is one houseboat just for cats, another that is a Museum about Houseboats. These houseboats are not cheap.

The houseboat on the right is actually on a concrete ‘boat’ much less maintenance.

A recent sale of one in good condition one was over a million euros!

Bicycles – there are LOTS of bicycles in Amsterdam and beware the riders.

OK, there are a lot of bicycles in Amsterdam

Current estimates indicated there are something like 880,000 of them in the city – and in a city with about 800,00 people. Some estimates say around 60,000 bicycles are stolen each year and literally thousands of them end up in the canals each year.

Whole families use these things – take your kids to school or go shopping.

You really have to watch where you are walking or you will end up in a bike roadway and in deep trouble .

Within the City there are a number of museums, but we haven’t ventured into any of them yet – several are part of our upcoming River Cruise agenda and at least one, Rikjs Museum, we are doing when our friends Gloria and Jerry arrive on Sunday and on Monday we are going to the Hermitage. Of course one of the most well known museums is the hidden room of Anne Frank – yes, Diary of Anne Frank fame. This place is by reservation only and it books 2 months in advance – so no chance of that for a visit (although, I admit it wasn’t on my to do list anyway). The Van Gough museum was also sold out for the week.

Over the centuries, many religious buildings have been built in Amsterdam, including a number of important and stunning churches that are still standing today.

The Westerkerk Church was built between 1620 and 1631 in Renaissance style
The tower of the Westerkerk is the highest church tower in Amsterdam, at 87 meters (±286 feet). It is crowned with the Imperial crown of Austria of Maximilian.

Several of these incredible churches rank among the oldest surviving buildings in the city, whereas others were completed in response to the Reformation in the 17th century.

The Oude Kerk Church is the oldest building and oldest parish church founded circa 1213.

Once we finished the water tour we stopped at the Central station to buy a metro pass.

Central Station – a major hub for buses, trains and on the water side boats.

This pass  is good for all buses, trams and even ferry boats, and can be used for outlying areas as well, if you pay extra. We have tried out the 2 5, 7, 12 and 24 tramlines, so far.

We also got a recommendation from the front desk for Janeen to schedule a pedicure and manicure to last through mid-May. While in the nail salon neighborhood, David discovered the “hidden” post offices of Amsterdam, and found postal workers to be informative, happy to help, and the source for most stationery store products.

Just sitting by the canal having a cold one.
And yes, there is a windmill in Amsterdam

In our strolls out for breakfast coffee, we see green space everywhere, required by the city since the 16th century. The 21st century city plants a tulip bulb for every single citizen of Amsterdam! Add to that, pots of tulips in front of every hotel, parkways planted with daffodils and narcissus, blooming rhododendron, hyacinth, camellia as well as tulips at every flower shop with residential flower boxes spruced up for spring, and Easter will be filled with flowers.  All in all a very pretty city.

 

 

 

 

4-12 & 4-13-19 Antwerp & Brussels

So, it’s been a while since we have updated our blog and we have traveled along several different rivers stopping along the way at Maastricht (where we didn’t get off to join the walking tour of the town);

This looks a lot like John Wayne – without the hat of course – not sure what it was trying to be on the streets of Antwerp.

Antwerp and finally Brussels. Along the way we watched the world go by on our riverboat and enjoyed beautiful weather the entire time.

The River Queen was our home for a week of lovely times on the River.

While most passengers toured  Maastricht ,we chose to pass and stayed on the boat for a day of leisure (well, we did do a load of laundry) and relaxation. Once everyone was back on board we motored on to Antwerp.

The Guild houses on the square in Antwerp.

Antwerp is a major port city in Belgium on the River Scheldt with history dating back to the Middle Ages.

Local artwork about a children’s tale.

Best know for the centuries old Diamond District where thousands of traders, cutters and polishers work on virtually ALL the worlds’ diamonds. Unfortunately they don’t give out free samples. In addition to Diamonds, the City is a major shipping center and was the home of the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.

Our walking tour included the sights, sounds, and smells and yes, even the tastes of Belgium.

In every town we have stopped there is always a record store selling a WIDE selection of music.
Yes, there were a lot of beer joints in town.

On our walking  tour we sampled some grey shrimp, a unique Flemish sea product described as the ‘queen of seafood’ .They are less than an inch long when peeled, have a greyish-pink color and a more pronounced taste than the traditional pink shrimps.

Grey Shrimp – tasty treats.

We followed this with an Elixir d’Anvers herbal liquor that has been produced since 1863 – this was known for its good digestive and beneficial properties and was used on horses to prevent colic!

Tossing down her Elixir d’Anvers.
Elixir d’Anvers herbal liquor

After this, on to waffles, whipped cream and coffee – yum is all I can say here.

waffles, whipped cream and coffee

Of course, along the way we saw lovely sights including several Rubens paintings in the

The Cathedral of Our Lady is Roman Catholic started in 1352 and, although the first stage of construction was ended in 1521, has never been ‘completed’.

Cathedral of Our Lady – actually four different paintings are on display in the church.

The Raising of the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens

The Central Square is lined with Guild Buildings (recreated after all the bombing from WWII) very lovely with their ornamentation and gilding.

David and Janeen in the central square of Antwerp.
The Guild houses on the square in Antwerp.
Janeen way ahead of the group on our way back to the bus after our walking tour in Antwerp.
The bus followed us along as we traveled from port to port

After Antwerp it was on to Brussels (again) where there was another tour (we skipped) and the final day on the ship. Our goal, when back in Brussels was to take the shuttle  bus into town to get CHOCOLATE (and a special box for K.B.) at the Neuhaus store.

Janeen with our chocolate treasures from the Neuhaus store in Brussels.

After the final cruise dinner, the next morning we took a taxi to the train station and boarded the 9:52 train to Amsterdam.

Another life boat  ring picture for our collection

4-10-19 Baking Sausage Rolls and Vincent Van Gogh

As one of the options for the day, UniWorld had arranged for a local baker to take us in hand and show us his shop, teach us to make a sausage rolls and give us an introduction into the local baking world of Heusden.

Heusden was first mentioned in the 11th century and has had a rich history with a number of castles dotting the area (we didn’t get to any sadly). Our day was focused on meeting the local baker, walking from the boat to his shop and learning a bit about what it means to be a baker, businessman and parent in this little spot along the river.

Baking, not in a tent like the British Baking Show, but at the shop of Lucas Vermulen in the village of Heusden was on tap for todays adventure.

Lucas pointing out the name of his shop on the door.

Lucas Vermeulen, our guide and baker, is at least a fourth generation baker and purchased his current location 8 or 9 years ago. Originally it was a small shop but over time he has expanded his capabilities and purchased adjacent properties to expand the physical footprint to accommodate his expanding business.

A unique take on a baguette

We started off with a cup of coffee and general introduction by Lucas. However, we were only give a few minutes before the instructions began.

Lucas showing us how to do it.

First up was to see how he makes a sausage roll.

The raw ingredients

Admittedly the hard part was already done for us – the dough had been made, allowed to rest and was ready for us to flatten out to accommodate the sausage. So, after about a 5 minute introduction, we were all given 5 dough balls and 5 pieces of sausage with instructions to flatten out the dough, get the sausage inside and roll them – using both hands – so the sausage was fully enclosed and the dough sealed.

Janeen made lovely sausage rolls
David and his ready to bake rolls. Note the round “ball”. It seems the ability to make a roll was beyond him.

After getting these done, they were all collected and taken to the proofing area to allow the dough to rise again and the baking to be completed.

Lucas at the proofing oven – a walk in room.

While this was underway off we went for a tour of his facilities. As he has expanded, and purchased adjacent properties, there were slopes, steps, small rooms and hidden corners to go around. To make things more exciting the shop experienced a power outage so the lighting became an issue!

After seeing the stacks of flour; large mixing areas; stacks of completed breads;

Here we make large loafs of bread
Janeen with all the lovely hair net ladies

walking by the large ovens, we got back to where we started and were given a bag with our finished sausage rolls.

Here’s Davids attempt at a sausage roll.
Here’s the receipt for the sausage rolls – of course it is in Dutch so good luck.

Needless to say, while they were tastier, the presentation wasn’t as good as a professional might have completed. However, all in all a delightful experience.

Janeen and Lucas after our baking adventure

About a month ago, we were in Saint Remy France where we walked in “Vincent’s Footsteps” to places where he set up his easel and painted various pictures. Saint Remy came after he left the village of Nuenen so it was interesting to see a part of his earlier history. This time we followed our guide to various spots in the village where he did the same thing – over two years producing around 500 paintings, drawings, sketches and watercolors.

The part of the home Vincent used as his studio for two years.

Unfortunately none of his works are on view in the village as most are in the museum in Amsterdam. However, the Van Gogh Heritage Centre did a great job of highlighting his time in this village.

Vincent came to Nuenen to stay with his parents, a pastor in the local church. During his time in the Village he produced one of his first major works – the Potato Eaters

Vincent’s Potato Eaters – a very dark work for sure.

and there was information about its creation as part of the museum.

Potato Eaters in the Park

This is a three-story building that illustrates Vincent’s life until the time he left

All things Vincent while he lived in Nuenen are in this building

Nuenen in 1885 and includes a short film illustrating how his first masterpiece, the Potato Eaters came to be made.

Just one of the displays inside the museum

Although there are NO actual Van Gogh paintings in the village, statues, viewpoints of paintings and village views are of interest.

The house where Vincent’s parents lived is just across the road from the Vincentre and still houses the minister of the local (protestant) Dutch Reformed Church. In the garden at the rear of the house is where Vincent had a studio and painted most of the works completed in the village.

Other stops along our walk included the park where a three dimensional representation of the Potato Eaters has been created along with a statue of Vincent.

Vincent Van Gogh in the park

It is clear that this village doesn’t have a lot going for it beyond the history of Vincent’s 2 years living in the place, but it does have the name of Jason’s friend Aardaaple for a street.

Jason’s friend, Chris Aardapple liked this picture.

4-9-19 The Windmills of Holland

Tilting at windmills not allowed today – Don Quixote would be busy here fighting off all the Giants (windmills) at Kinderdijk.

Marching down the river…

Kinderdijk is a group of 19 monumental windmills (they once numbered close to 150) in South Holland. Our bus from the boat took about an hour to arrive but the ride was enjoyable with our guide pointing out significant items along the way – thatched roof homes, locations of the original dikes and historic buildings.

We drove by a number of homes with traditional thatched roofing.

The various windmills were built in the early 1700’s (1738 or so) and were designed to drain this flood-prone patch of polder (reclaimed land once under water) keeping water out of the area.

There is a line of these going along the water.

This is the largest concentration of old windmills and one of the best-known tourist sites. When we arrived it was windy and a bit chilly but beautiful. Yes, there were some other folks but generally not as crowded as I might have expected. The location of these windmills are at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers. As early as in the 14th century the first reclaimed land had been settled. With the use of windmills to pump the water “up” and over dikes the area of the Netherlands has just about doubled by reclaiming land from the sea. While flooding is very much an issue, the windmills are not the primary pumping sources anymore what with modern pumping stations taking the load.

A view from across the water.
It’s hard to express how dramatic these things are to come upon.

Over the years, windmills have decreased in importance but still provide assistance should the need arise to pump water “out”.   Windmills actually come in two configurations – pumping of water and grinding of grains. All 19 of the windmills that are part of this World Heritage site are still operational, which equates to a necessary 60,000 revolutions of the sails every year; many have been handed down from one generation to the next and are privately owned.

Wooden shoes of course

Our visit included a tour of a water-pumping mill, Museummolen, while in operation.

Yes, we were there!
Impressive

Of course, in the day, it was no simple task operating by hand those windmills.  It was usually a family affair, with upwards of a dozen children (a handful were often lost during infancy, hence the high birth rate) providing the labor needed to run the mill and farm the reclaimed land.

According to the information provided, the children slept in every nook and cranny not devoted to the operation of the windmill.

The family who lived in the windmill

The babies usually slept with or near the parents.   An alcove in the living room/kitchen served as the master bed.

Here’s the living room, bedroom, kitchen and family room.
The master bedroom
Stove, fire place and source of heat for the place

We caught a glimpse of the Dutch fortitude in the picture of the Hoek family, residents of the Museummolen in the early 1900s.

Miller Cees Hoek (1873-1957) was left a widower with 13 children in 1916 when his wife, Alie, was hit by one of the sails of the windmill while trying to save one of the children.

Janeen looking into the “living room”. The ladder  is up is behind her where the people are waiting.
Pots, pans and all the storage was around the middle section. Cooking was done in a separate building.
This thing was moving right along!
It took a lot of trees to make the mechanism for these giants

Water management in the area is now handled by the Overwaard pumping station courtesy of three giant diesel-driven Archimedes screws that are capable of moving 1.35 million liters per minute.

This is the modern version of the windmill
Progress obviously lacks the charm of these iconic Dutch landmarks.

 

All in all a very interesting day spent learning about windmills and their operation.

A drawing of the “works”

 

 

 

 

4-8-19 Holland at Tulip Time

On Sunday, after our train ride from Brussels,

Brussels Midi Station becomes familiar as we catch the 9:52 to Amsterdam twice.
European train travel, comfort at 200 mph.

we boarded the UniWorld River Boat, River Queen for our adventure Holland and Belgium at Tulip Time.

Capt Arthur keeps the Queen floating through canals and rivers.

The River Queen is not a new boat but has all the essentials – clean rooms, nice beds, nice lounge with full bar and of course a dining room with way too much food at all meals. This particular river cruise is only offered 3 or 4 times during the year – always hoping it will be at the height of the tulip bloom and spring in abundance everywhere. Well, we scored a home run. Not only is the weather just about perfect but also spring is underway.

The first off-ship adventure (Monday) was a bus ride to Keukenhof Gardens. Keukenhof means Kitchen Garden in Dutch but is also known as the Garden of Europe. This is one of the world’s largest flower gardens situated in South Holland about 45 minutes from Amsterdam.

This was the first display we saw after entering the Park.
This reminded David of a flower meadow – lovely mix of colors.

The Gardens, which has become a destination and park, is privately owned and covers an area of 32 hectares (that’s about 80 acres for my US readers) and plants approximately 7 million flower bulbs annually. The place is open mid-March to mid-May and we toured the grounds at a beautiful time for sure.

Flower Power!

The Keukenhof features a variety of different garden styles – English landscape, historical garden, water garden, Japanese country garden and a variety of other areas.

Flower Power Citroen surrounded by cut flower arrangements.

Each year a theme is chosen and various displays are created  on that theme. This year it was Flower Power – bright colors, hippies, peace signs and music were all part of a display. Beatrix pavilion dripped with every kind and color of orchids.

Lots of Orchids

In the center of the garden was a large green house – filled with color beyond imagination.

Willem Alexander Pavilion carefully exhibits hybrids, tall, short, striped, gigantic and black..very dark purple.

 

More flowers – planted in old jeans.
One eighth of the beds in Willem-Alexander pavilion that 2 of the 100 gardeners tend daily.
I would not know where to begin to describe the range of tulip eye candy.

Just walking through that space was a thrill of color. Other bulb flowers, such as daffodils, hyacinth, narcissus and crocus spring up through the “lasagna” planting (placing bulbs at different depths so the blooms are staggered) in the gardens keeping each change of season colorful.

A daffodil display worthy or a poem.
Janeen’s favorite lilies graced pots at a pavilion entrance.
“turban” whites next to crazy lily tulips, golden tulips peeping through
Hyacinth and golden narcissis announce Easter is coming.
Forsythia still blooms to greet the pink ladies with purple hyacinth attending.

It is clear this Garden changes day by day and it would be interesting to come back in a week to see what has bloomed.

David might allow this tulip to equal his love of red poppies.
Always a crowd ready for tomorrow.
Lilies and sunflowers spilled sunshine out of carefully tended pots.
Tiptoe through the tulips, or the gardener in the background will have to cut you?
A Valentine bouquet of color hybrid.

After walking around for a few hours it was time to head back to the Boat. Once we returned, it was time to have some lunch and relax for the rest of the day.

4-6-19 Brussels Delicious Tour

Belgium – it must be chocolate time, or waffle time, or even beer time – all of which were part of a walking tour we did on our last day in Brussels. Starting out at the Brussels City Tours Office

The front of Brussels City Tours – where all the magic is coordinated.

with our guide Jasmine (the same guide we had for our day trip to Bruges).

Jasmine and Valerie in the office of Brussels City Tours

First stop was to walk along the Royale Galleries – a shopping area with three distinct areas.

The really expensive shops are here.
Glass covered so all weather shopping is possible

This glass-roofed arcade is made up of three areas – The Queen’s Gallery, the King’s Gallery and also the Princes’ Gallery. We found it to be filled with high-end jewelers, luxury watches, fashion apparel, beauty products, decorative accessories, gift ideas, delicious pastries, delicate biscuits, but also the best chocolates in the country!

Our first stop was right inside the door at Godiva.

We did get a sample at Godiva

Started in 1926 this chocolate place is known around the world but we only stopped to watch strawberries dipped into chocolate before moving down the lane past several different chocolatier places to visit Neuhaus.

Pierre Macolini Chocolatier – just another place to enjoy this elixer.
The Chocolates by Mary are also quite good.
A small sample box – only about 38 euros or so

Neuhaus, started in 1857, opened the first store in the Royale Galleries and it has been operation ever since. One of its major claims to fame is that the founder’s grandson invented the chocolate praline – a decadent chocolate cream ganache center inside a chocolate shell.

Our Neuhaus “guide” for our tasting experience.

Our visit included a tasting session of various chocolate (coco in the raw, white chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate) pieces to taste the differences. It was a quick interlude and quite enjoyable.

Some of the items available at Neuhaus.
15 to 25 euro Small gift boxes for every occasion

Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to buy anything (just as well actually) but they did point out there was a store in Washington DC we could visit! (although he also said it would be cheaper to buy another suitcase and fill it  in Belgium then to buy chocolates from the store in DC).

Easter is coming
Yes, Easter is coming for sure.

Next up was a stop for a traditional  light and crisp waffle along with a taste of a local cherry beer.  This is NOT  the round, sugar loaded waffle our hotel served, and is also called Belgian. We popped into this shop, got seated and were served almost immediately. Along with our waffle and cherry beer were a couple of macaroons.

Waffle and cherry beer with a couple of macaroons

I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture of the store as a remembrance of where we were! The waffle was wonderful, sprinkled with powdered sugar along with the cherry beer was nice.

Along the way, our guide, Jasmine continued to give us insights into the various stores – pointing out all the expensive ones I might add – and telling us the history of the place. Very interesting.

One of the most well known locations in Brussels is the site of Manneken Pis a statue of a little boy peeing into the fountain. We had visited it previously so certainly knew all about it. However, we didn’t know there was another statue – Jeanneke Pis – where a little girl in short pigtails, squatting and urinating on a blue-grey limestone base.

Jeanneke Pis

This is on a narrow cul-de-sac and protected behind iron bars. This statue was created in 1987 three hundred years after Manneken Pis , as part of a medical foundation opening. She is smiling audaciously .

Next up was the Grand Place. We had wandered around the Grand Place previously (see 4-3-19 Brussels Walking around and learning the City) so we had some prior information.

Here we are in the Grand Place.

However, Jasmine talked about the various guildhalls, what has happened over the years and how the area had changed.

Did you know that Karl Marx lived in Brussels for two years and wrote some of his most powerful philosophy here. This plaque was on the wall of one of the guild houses

Next stop biscuits. Invented by the monks in the middle ages we sampled what is called Pain à la Grèque – or ‘Greek Bread ‘( a sugar bread distributed to the poor) along with several ginger  savory biscuits (cookies to you and me).

Jasmine sharing some information in the biscuits shop
Lots and lots of biscuits
Some of the molds and biscuits in the shop

Along the walls were various molds that have been used by the shop for who knows how long.

Along the way to see Manneken Pis, it was clear the city had become much more crowded from our earlier visits. Today he was dressed differently and it was crowded so we didn’t stay long.

Manneken Pis in an entire new outfit
Manneken Pis was crowded this day.

Next up, the lady  with the hat counting her change

Janeen hiding behind the woman counting her change.
Jasmine with the Madame Chapeau

and other sites along the way ending up to sample some Brussels cheese

The cheese shop
Very strong cheese served with onion

and finally some fresh fish (fried calamari) at the historic fish market.

The final snack, fried calamari

This ended our  delicious tour . Jasmine did a wonderful job of taking us around, sampling some of the treats of the City and giving us a better understanding of the City she has shared for three decades.

Het Zinneke – part of the family of pissing statues in Brussels

 

 

 

4-4-19 Bruges Belgium – A UNESCO Heritage Site

Bruges, located about 62 miles west of Brussels, and thus much closer to the North Sea, is one of the most enchanting cities of Belgium. UNESCO declared the entire city a cultural heritage site in 2000. Bruges received its City Charter in 1128 – so it’s been around a while.   As with all cities it has had its ups and downs over the last 1000 years or so, being under control of French dukes, Spanish/Dutch masters and German/Austrian incursions. After 1965 the original medieval city experienced a renaissance. Restorations of residential and commercial structures, historic monuments, and churches generated a surge in tourism and economic activity in the ancient downtown area. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts resulted in Bruges being designated ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2002. It attracts some eight million tourists annually but, according to our guide, we had arrived during a quiet time so there were not the crowds she usually encounters.

To start our tour, we gathered together with City Tours guide Jasmine and fellow tourists from Indonesia, South Korea and NYC. Seven of us were driven in a Mercedes van (with our guide) from Brussels to Bruges arriving around 11:00 or so to beautiful weather! It had been raining recently but the entire time we were on our tour it was lovely – some clouds but lots of sunshine and cooler temperatures.

Just starting out on our tour at the bridge over the canal.

First up was a walking tour across the Bridge over Lovers Lake and through the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde – a community of pious women beginning in 1244 – now a priory of Benedictine nuns who live and work in the buildings.

Benedictine nuns live in the houses surrounding this area.

The entrance building was at one of the bridges and is dated 1776.

Here’s the building dated 1776.

From there we walked along various cobblestone streets and found ourselves at the dock for a 30-minute boat tour of the central city canals aka, Little Venice.

The fountain, with the horse head, was specially made for the horses in Bruges who pull carriage rides.

The boat went through several of the canals while the guide pointed out historic buildings along the way.

Our guide pointing out something.
These buildings have a wood face  since the 1920s- not typical for the area.
The Weather Van has different letters for the compass directions,  Z (S) O (W)
A selfie on the boat trip with my lovely wife.

It is clear there has been a lot of work done to preserve the area – evidence of cleaning, new paint and scaffolding activities were evident.

Buildings along the boat ride.
One more shot of that church tower.
We went under or over a number of bridges in this “little Venice”.
Nice coloring of the buildings in the late afternoon sun.

One of the local landmarks is the Church of Our Lady with its tower of 379 feet and is the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.

Here is that  bell tower they keep talking about.
The exterior of the City Hall with all its gilded decorations.

Our guide pointed out this “brick mountain” tower on the boat ride as well as several times during our tour. This church has a sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504 (we didn’t go to see it however).

Our next stop was to walk through some of the shopping areas, visit the fish market and a quick visit to Church of the Holly Blood.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood where we saw the relic.

The church houses a venerated relic of the Holly Blood

The Relic was on display for 2 hours each day.

allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea  and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders in the 12th century. The basilica in Burg Square consists of a lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel, dedicated to St Basil the Great, is a dark Romanesque structure that remains virtually unchanged. The venerated relic is in the upper chapel, which was rebuilt in the Gothic  style in the 16th century and renovated in the 19th century in Gothic Revival style.

Modern sculpture honoring the carriage horses of Bruges.
I have NO clue why I took this picture on the side of this van but who would expect a surfboard craftsman to be in Bruges?

Now it was time for lunch, a little shopping and a cold beverage.

The group along the way with our guide, Jasmine.

Our break was in the Market Square – a large area with a fountain in the center and lots of restaurants around.

Horse drawn carriages ready to go.
Proof we were at the Market Square in Bruges!

Buildings around the square included Stadhuis (City Hall and a 13th century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and 272-foot tower with panoramic views.

Here’s our group after our tour.

After lunch we headed back to our coach passing ,more interesting buildings, bridges and waterways. All in all a beautiful day to visit this historic town.

4-3-19 Brussels Walking around and learning the City

On Sunday (3-31) we dropped off our rental car and took a flight from Bordeaux to Brussels. The flight was only an hour or so but the change in temperature was almost 15 degrees. We landed around midday and the wind was blowing but the skies were clear. Eventually we figured out we needed to take a shuttle (bus) into the city. Once we got there, the taxi guys were unwilling to take us to the hotel – it was only 900 meters or so and they wouldn’t have made any money from us. So off we went pulling our three bags towards our hotel.

After 900 meters (or thereabouts) we did find the hotel – Be Manos – a family owned place really geared towards the business community but also part of the Best Western chain. We were upgraded to a superior room that was nice – largish sitting room with separate bedroom.

We had decided that the first thing we would try and do is the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tour of the City.

On our bus tour!

We splurged and bought the two-day pass thus allowing us to take both the Blue line

Janeen on our first day on the bus tour.

and the Red Line.

Here’s David!

The first day out was beautiful – clear blue skies with a high around the upper 50’s or so. From our hotel it was about 1.4km so we walked it finding our way along various business and residential streets until we ended up at the Grand Place. One interesting stop was the Pasionaria – a megaphone for migrants.

Janeen giving a shout out to the community.

This permanent artistic installation represents a monumental mouthpiece from which you can give a shout out to the City.

The Museum of the City of Brussels.
The Grand Place, towards the King’s House
From right to left- Le Roy d’Espagne, La Brouette, Le Sac, La Louve, Le Cornet, Le Renard. Starbucks is on the first floor of the third bldg from the left.
From right to left- Le Cerf, Joseph et Anne, L’Ange, La Chaloupe d’or, Le Pigeon, Le Marchand d’or
From right to left- L’Étoile, Le Cygne, L’Arbre d’or, La Rose, Le Mont Thabor

The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and is surrounded by opulent guildhalls as well as the city’s Town Hall and the King’s House.

Here we are in the Grand Place

This is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. On our visit it was not very crowded and we found a Starbucks for some coffee. Along the way to the Grand Place we did find Mannequin Pis.

Manneken Pis dressed for graduation with Mortar Board hat and logo uniform.

Manneken Pis is a landmark bronze sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed and put in place between 1618 or 1619. The current statue is a replica that dates from 1965 – the original is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels.

A saxophone for Manneken Pis on the 200th birthday of Adolphe Sax 2014
Manneken Pis dressed as Dracula

The day we arrived it had on a Cap and Gown costume. It seems this guy has over 900 different costumes and they are rotated as per a schedule posted on the gates every few days.

Proof we were there!

Once we found the tour bus, we climbed to the upper level and started our Blue Line tour. This is the longer tour, parallel to the industrial Port Canal at the start and end.

The Ixelles Ponds are two freshwater ponds in the Brussels municipality of Ixelles.
Another view of the ponds of Ixelles.

After crossing over and heading north, the scenery improved, next to the royal forest and Parc de Laeken, residence for the royal family. After circling around the

Atomium – built for the 1958 Worlds Fair

Atomnium sculpture, constructed and installed in 1958 for the Brussels Worlds Fair, and now a museum, we headed south again toward the Basilica and Parc Elizabeth

Flagery Place Art Deco architecture
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

which acts as a mall to the church.   The Blue Line tour on a sunny day produces different views than the Red Line tour on a cloudy day, but the photos tell the story.

Basilica on the hilltop looking down the mall
World War I memorials in Europe are much more dominant than in the new world.
Waffle House – everything you could ever want could be put on top of a waffle.
Too many choices.
Museum with Brugel paintings and other regional artists
The Musical Instruments Museum is a music museum with over 8,000 instruments. The building was a Department Store , iron art deco design
A street musician just across from the Music Museum.
It was great walking along these streets on the way to post cards.
This is the Hall of Justice – the entire building was covered with scaffolding.
The Triumphal Arch and its perfectly symmetrical colonnades in the Parc du Cinquantenaire
Just one of a number of streets we zipped along on the bus tour.

Of course we had to eat while we were doing all this touring.

Janeen having a few mussels with Belgian Frites
Chez Léon Restaurant Family-owned restaurant, established in 1893, known for regional cuisine including mussels & fries.- lovely meal here.
Janeen checking out the menu, which included Chimy Trappist Belgian beer
They were kind and de-boned the sea bream for me.
Black and White sausages with apple and potato and beer
Waffle Dessert – couldn’t wait to take the picture dug in immediately.
View of the kitchen and our waiter’s backside.

Next up a visit to Bruges by coach and then on to Amsterdam by train.