Thursday, May 8, 2008

Brussels + Antwerp

Six days in Brussels and Antwerp: The quick 1.5 hour train ride from Paris Gare du Nord to Bruxelles Midi station was misleading. Though the language is the same in Brussels and Paris, I found these two cities to be totally different and distant, as if I had flown north to Scandinavia or something. Upon our arrival my favorite game was to say, quick, look around and tell me what city you think you’re in. This sounds inane, and I guess it was, but honestly it was a tough question because it is such a diverse and international city, without any sterotyped identity like Paris or Amsterdam for instance. Brussels was a pure surprise—and a delightful one. We were expecting to be bored and take an earlier train back to Paris but instead, I found myself scanning real estate ads and considering looking for a job. We may have lucked out and it’s true that there are slight, uncontrollable occurrences on a trip that can make it a positive, so-so or bad experience. Our trick was perhaps the location of our hotel-out of the city center but only a 5-minute tram ride or 15 minute walk so that we were away from the touristy traps and were able to see a neighborhood that you would likely miss otherwise. The White Hotel is a new, design hotel. Definitely not the best example of this trend but it combined the design simplicity of the Standard Hotel in LA and invited local artists to make a piece for each room. The concierge, who otherwise was not the most friendly, did do us the favor of pointing us in the direction of the Quartier Chatelaine, where we retreated each evening after a long day shopping and art viewing, to eat in a quiet, local restaurant. Fantastic flea markets, the Bozar museum and bookstore, chocolate, beer, the lovely gardens at the Palais Laeken, Antwerp’s fabulous design and designer shops, easy transportation, and an energy that was open and friendly all combined for a relaxed and fun adventure. Ironically we arrived in what felt like winter, with a hailstorm and all, and left in mid summer, with blue skies and cafés filled with people sipping beer or white wine. This was maybe false advertising for Belgium, to see it in such beautiful weather, forgetting the many bleak winter months, but nevertheless I hope to make it back again soon. Here are some pictures.

No comments: