Well! We just returned from less than 30 hours in Antwerp, Belgium over the weekend. A weekend trip to another country is one of the reasons we selected Paris as our home base for the year; the central location is a springboard to so many locations whether you’re driving, flying or railing (our favorite, of course).
We were on the Thalys train by 7:25 Saturday morning bound for Antwerp, the inspiration being a chance to see a friend who is the conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Yes, we could also drive to Milwaukee to see him conduct, but how much fun is that?!?! So once we had a concert date in hand, we snatched up some train tickets and were on our way.
Now, when you’re looking for accommodations in Europe for a family of five (or even four or three), it can get tricky. Most hotels have rooms for two which would require us to find two, if not three, rooms. Pricey and not real convenient. So we’ve been using vrbo.com a lot which has been great to find more of an apartment-like setting that is suitable for our family. But for one night, that seems a bit much. We certainly weren’t going to need a kitchen or the additional space so what to do?
Well, Tom and I went back to our previous life of inns and bed-and-breakfasts. We loved traveling this way in our younger days, so much so that the reason for our move from Florida to the Twin Cities in 1996 was to find a lake resort/inn/b-and-b to buy and run. Life changes a bit, kids arrive, and dreams take different shapes. But we thought this quick trip would be a great way to introduce our own children to this style of travel. Best decision. It made the trip.
Son and Timur met us at the train station (side note about the train station: remember one of the first huge flash mobs on Youtube of hundreds of people dancing to a Do-Re-Mi remix? Yep. It was in the beautiful Antwerp station. Look it up. It’s great fun!). We knew we didn’t have a lot of time to explore so they were ready with some metro tickets, plotted out a variety of routes for us on the city map and sent us on our way. But not after some hot cocoa, hot teas and speculoos cookies.
For the next few hours, we explored shops, ate Belgian waffles, entered the Cathedral, ate Belgian fries, and posed on and around a variety of statues in Grote Markt, the center “square” of Antwerp. Saw a little wedding party and a roving band and many, many pubs and cafes that looked to be the place to be for the evening.
Mid-afternoon founding us heading back to the b-and-b to change clothes for the matinee. We were at the theatre before 3 where we met our friend’s sister (she lives in Amsterdam) and found some center seats near the back for a great view of this eclectic cinema house. The concert was just a little over an hour with no intermission; just perfect for us. The music was beautiful and the orchestra was outstanding (knowing the conductor helps us think so!). I’m always so impressed with talent in the world. People are truly amazing.
We went back to our friend’s apartment for a bit so he could relax before dinner. We were also joined by a friend of his that worked under him in Hong Kong. He is currently a conductor in The Netherlands and is responsible for the musical fanfare that will be taking place when the new King takes the throne in the spring. Apparently the current Queen is quite particular so he is ready to be on his toes! We had a fantastic Italian meal just around the corner from his apartment. It was great company and so nice to spend time with someone we don’t get to see very often. Our kids are lucky to be in the presence of some people that have had some amazing journeys in their lives. I hope it keeps them inspired to all the world holds.
We walked and metroed home by about 9pm with the kids enjoying some of the games and puzzles at the b-and-b while Tom and I just enjoyed a lazy Saturday evening that turned into a lazy Sunday morning.
And then there was the breakfast portion of the b-and-b. The food. The food just kept coming…pancakes with every topping imaginable, fresh rolls, salmon, cheeses, meats, cereals, omelets, Turkish bread from the neighbors, and the smoothies! Amazing! I miss my blender. 😦
But it was the company that made the morning. Son and Timur travel all over the world, mostly on bicycle. In fact, Son biked around the world when she was 21 including a ride through Wisconsin! The reason Wisconsin made the list? Well, wouldn’t you know? She wanted to see Milwaukee because of Happy Days. Isn’t that a hoot?!?! So we had to listen to the theme song and talk to the kids about Fonzie, Richie, Potsy and “jumping the shark”. Ah, those season-ending jumps that Fonzie took. Anyway, Timur biked with his two daughters, ages 10 and 13, from Antwerp to Paris this summer which they loved and are now planning to do a U.S.A. 4-month bike trip down the East Coast and then the West. They love Disney and had an old EPCOT Center book on display as well as a Tower of Terror Hotel Privacy Please sign on the bathroom. And when we left later that afternoon they had Belgian chocolates for our train ride home. It was a great connection, one we hope to keep, and we’ll certainly pass it along to others that plan to head that way. I think the kids enjoyed their first b-and-b experience and were especially intrigued by Son and Timur’s costume business…Timur having made a plaster cast on Saturday afternoon for someone that is creating a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume for an event in Asia next year. That spawned a whole other conversation and we had forgotten the “Turtles” were named after Renaissance artists, all of whom the kids know about now. Life is strange, isn’t it?
After breakfast, we walked to the MAS, a very new and inventive museum on the river. I have to say, it was one of the most beautifully presented museums I think I’ve ever seen. The way they told the stories was so creative and original that even though there aren’t any famous pieces in the museum, the museum itself is breathtaking. Something new around every corner. It was a great surprise.
We were back on the train by 14:33 with Belgian waffles (and Starbucks) in hand. Two hours later we were home. Another country, another language, another once-in-a-lifetime.