Much smaller than I expected, Antwerp was pretty much destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. After walking into the city from the River Scheldt, you can see what remains of the castle/fort now being restored to become part of the cruise port entry hall along with remnants of the original medieval city walls. Long an important port city, Antwerp was occupied by Germany during the war, briefly liberated, and then virtually destroyed as the Nazis tried to keep the valuable port away from Allied armies. For six months, more than 2,000 V-bombs fell on the city and the surrounding area, until the American anti-aircraft gunners were finally victorious.
My daughter and son-in-law convinced me to watch the 2008 Colin Farrell movie In Bruges before coming here. I can’t say I would ever recommend anyone watch that dark crime/dramedy, but I did find myself looking around for landmarks. Of course, the majestic town belfry tower does play a significant role in the movie. I was planning to climb to the top of the tower – but when I found out it was 366 steps, well, eating mussels and frites sounded like a much better plan.
Bruges is lovely. One of the prettiest European cities I’ve visited. With scenic canals draped with weeping willows, this beautifully restored medieval town has a thriving Grote Markt (main square) and many smaller squares lined with cafés, waffle shops and every type of store imaginable, including one of my favorites, Desigual. There were lots of trees and colorful flowers. Belgium is famous for handmade lace and Bruges is considered the place to buy it. Handmade lace is literally a dying art and it was interesting to see detail about how lace is tatted. Only women between 50 and 90 are left making the famous (Bobbin) lace; they must have amazing eyesight for this level of detail work.
It was a bleak morning when we walked into central Ghent, overcast, cloudy, and cool. Restoration has come a bit late to this city and as a result, a lot of newer construction is mixed in among the old. The castle/fort Castle Gravensteen was imposing as were the churches such as St. Bavo Cathedral and the Town Hall. This is a big city with 250,000 residents, once a very significant trading town built on the confluence of the Scheldt and Leie rivers. Today it is still an industrial town, but now the focus is on things like Volvos and steel production.
Soon after we arrived, we came across a street vendor selling a locally favorite candy called Ghent Noses. I had to try one. This multi-flavored, cone-shaped candy is pretty much all sugar. One was plenty. I will stick with chocolate; chocolate shops and lace shops were around every corner.
Spending an afternoon at the Floralia Flower Show outside of Brussels was heavenly. Even if there were no flowers, who wouldn’t love visiting the grounds of the historic Kasteel van Groot-Bijgaarden. The immaculately landscaped 14-hectare park features beautiful lawns in every direction, shady paths for strolling, and a covered bridge. Birds were singing and flowers, naturally, were everywhere.
The show runs annually for about a month from early April until early May with more than 500 varieties of flowers. I loved the flower-peacock, think we could try that in Miami?
It was an explosion of color, take a look: