Belgium: Bruges

July 5th, 2015. Belgium, Europe
Houses

Houses

Bruges is officially one of my favorite towns in Europe. It is small, old, clean, well maintained, has windmills and easy access to the sea, and is smack in the middle of a huge area of farm land. We were there for three nights, and I felt that was plenty. On our first full day we rented bicycles from the nearby hostel and rode northwest to Damme on small farm roads. We stopped for lunch on the back patio of a local restaurant, and then rode back into town through the tree tunnels.

On our second day, we walked around town, went on a brewery tour, had lunch in town, and then walked around some more. It was the perfect escape town, and if I lived in Brussels or Amsterdam or even Paris, I can imagine going there for a weekend getaway.

Cool Nik

Cool Nik

Our lunch spot

Our lunch spot

Farmers

Farmers

Trees & Canals

Trees & Canals

Tree Tunnel with grassy path

Tree Tunnel with grassy path

Tree Tunnel with Canal

Tree Tunnel with Canal

Tree Tunnel with bike lane and Nik

Tree Tunnel with bike lane and Nik

Our B&B for the weekend

Our B&B for the weekend

Cast Iron Pots?

Cast Iron Pots?

Cityscape

Cityscape

A monastery with tree houses

A monastery with tree houses

Bruges

Bruges

Shopping Street

Shopping Street

City Market

City Market

Antwerp, Belgium: Unexpected Gems

July 2nd, 2015. Belgium, Europe
The most ornate elevated train I have ever seen

The most ornate elevated train I have ever seen

We went to Antwerp without knowing much about the city, so everything was unexpectedly pleasant! The people were nice. The buildings were beautiful. The food was decent. Basically, it was exactly what I hoped a mid-sized European city would be with the highlight of Art Deco additions to many of the older stone houses.

Turrets

Turrets

Wrought Iron

Wrought Iron

Grand corner buildings

Grand corner buildings

Window detail

Window detail

Brick & stone

Brick & stone

The street of art deco

The street of art deco

Favorite color

Favorite color

Stone

Stone

Shapely

Shapely

Pedestrian Tunnel

Pedestrian Tunnel

It seems like this should be more than a car park

It seems like this should be more than a car park

North

North

East

East

South

South

West

West

Museum Ann de Stroom

Museum Ann de Stroom

Grote Markt

Grote Markt

Grote Markt

Grote Markt

Seeking shade

Seeking shade

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

Old shopping center

Old shopping center

The tunnel at the end of the tram line

The tunnel at the end of the tram line

Cemetery building

Cemetery building

Antwerp Train Station

Antwerp Train Station

The Netherlands: Dordrecht

June 29th, 2015. Europe, Netherlands
Villa Augustus

Villa Augustus – view from our table at the Restaurant

After Amsterdam, we took a train ride out of town for a weekend at Villa Augustus. The Villa is a 5 minute bus ride from the central train station, and as the bus pulled away and we stood on the sidewalk, Nik said, “Whoa! Look at that cool brick building.” And I replied, “I know…that’s where we are staying!”

The hotel/market/restaurant/event space/garden is housed in an 1882 water tower and pump house that was built to provide municipal water for the town of Dordrecht. The facility was functional into the mid 20th century, but sat vacant for a while before the current owners reinvented it as a design hotel. The main building alone is magical with 37 beautifully appointed and unique rooms, but it is also surrounded on all four sides by gardens and greenhouses. These supply most of the fresh produce and herbs for the restaurant and market housed in the adjacent and more modern (1940s) pump house.

The hotel, market, restaurant, event space, and garden each draw their own crowd. Visitors wander the gardens without stepping foot into the restaurant. People sleep in the old basin of the water tower without ever buying produce from the market. Guests walk straight to the Lemon house for a wedding without even realizing there is an Italian garden out back. I wanted to do it all. Before we even dropped off our bags, Nik was pointing to the broccoli plants and pear trees. After we dropped them, we criss-crossed the vegetable garden before finding a terrace seat at the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we continued to explore the grounds before heading up to our room. After relaxing a bit, we went to the market to buy a pint of hotel-made rhubarb sorbet which we shared on a bench sitting next to the greenhouse where the rhubarb was grown. Then we climbed the exterior stair tower to the top before strolling through the rear gardens. Then we went back to the restaurant for dinner, but this time we chose a seat inside and watched the chefs do their magic as families and couples dined all around us. Afterwards, we retired to our room for a little while before walking out again into the garden for sunset. This place is everything I have ever dreamed a hotel would be. It is a destination for everyone, young or old, moneyed or not, couples or families, singles or sisters. It is unpretentious and affordable. The staff is kind and does not get in the way of you enjoying your day. The place also teaches anyone who wants to learn about edible gardens. It was a dream come true, and I hope to find more places like this. Or perhaps I’ll create a place like this of my own one day.

Garden Roses

Garden Roses

Garden Pears

Garden Pears

The view from our room

The view from our room

The Italian Garden out back

The Italian Garden out back

Gardener's Shelf

Gardener’s Shelf

Dusk

Dusk

The water tower from the Italian Garden

The water tower from the Italian Garden

Photo Editing

Photo Editing

On our second day in Dordrecht, we walked into town to explore the historic center. On the way we found typical apartment buildings filled with families slowly beginning their Sunday. Once in town, we found most of the commercial area shuttered for the day which created a calm and somewhat abandoned feeling to the streets. We didn’t mind because it meant that we had fewer obstacles to maneuver around and could see the buildings better!

Apartments that remind me of my grandfather's 1950s house

Apartments that remind me of my grandfather’s 1950s house

Dordrecht Entry #1-2

Dordrecht Entry #1-2

Steel Bridge

Steel Bridge

Dordrecht Canal

Dordrecht Canal

Dordrecht Entry #3-4

Dordrecht Entry #3-4

Dordrecht Canal House

Dordrecht Canal House

Dordrecht Canal

Dordrecht Canal

After our walk, we enjoyed Villa Augustus some more by strolling through the gardens, relaxing in our room, having dinner at the restaurant, sharing another pint of rhubarb sorbet, and watching the sunset from the stairs.

It was a truly amazing weekend, and if you ever find yourself in The Netherlands, spend at least 2 nights here. You will thank me.

Useful Info:
Villa Augustus

Nik’s Blog: 5 Days in Amsterdam, 2 Days in Dordrecht