We've just got back to The Netherlands for a brief stop after a week in Belgium, where we had a fantastic time. We were there for the Graspop Metal Meeting, an annual three day metal music bonanza held in an obscure area of North-eastern Belgium for around 100,000 bogans from all over Europe [and two kiwis!], but also spent time travelling around falling in love with tiny Belgian cities.
The music part can come in another post because there was too much awesomeness, and these posts keep getting longer and longer as it is...
*Antwerp: on the way to Graspop we spent a day in Antwerp, mostly just wandering around taking in the city. We went inside the Onze-Lieve Vrouwkathedraal [Cathedral of our Lady], which dominates the city skyline, and it was huge and very impressive inside. Antwerp's greatest son, Peter Paul Rubens [a very famous seventeenth century Flemish artist] has a number of works displayed inside as well.
*Bruges: We took off to the Western side of Northern Belgium [Flanders] straight after Graspop, and within two minutes walk of the train station, we found our new favourite town in Europe. This place is phenomenal. It has a reputation for being the best-preserved medieval city in Europe, and completely deservedly so! It is full of tiny narrow streets, large gothic buildings, two big beautiful central squares, medieval designed houses, fantastic parks, and the ruins of the medieval town fortifications. We had a fantastic time just walking around and exploring, stopping for the occasional picnic in one of the parks to sample a few tasty [and cheap!] Belgian beers from the supermarkets. We did a brewery tour, of the last brewery left in Bruges - [the narrow streets, though fun for walking around, don't make for the easiest mass-transportation of beers in a modern context, so most of the breweries have shut down or moved out of town.] It was really interesting to see both the pared-down, stainless steel, lights and buttons and levers modern brewing room, and the four floors of copper and barrels and vats and pipes that it used to take to produce beer there. We also got to go out on to the roof of the brewery and take in the fantastic view. Included in our tour was [of course!] a beer-the brewery was called Brugse Zot and they only make two varieties now, a blonde and a dubbel, and the blonde they serve on tap is unfiltered - but it was delicious. So much so, that we tried the dubbel as well - intense and tasty.
*Ghent: We spent two days in Ghent, which isn't as well-preserved as Bruges, and has actually tried to improve it's reputation as a tourist destination by 'creating' medieval buildings, most of which were built in the early twentieth century and are not even remotely authentic. All the same, it was another beautiful town, and had a series of fantastic huge cathedrals/churches. It also has the advantage of possessing it's very own castle [which has, apparently, been 'creatively restored' but is still awesome.] We took a tour around the castle, which included a large selection of torture instruments - wow those medieval jailers must have had some sick ideas! We also poked around the massive botanical gardens located in the outskirts of the city, very cool.
*Brussels: We took a day trip to Brussels on the way back to The Netherlands, and spent it crossing the city taking in the sights. We saw the European Parliament, the Palace of Justice, a number of huge, impressive churches, and of course, that bizarre Belgian symbol - Manneken Pis -the statue of the little boy peeing [Manneken Pis is Dutch for 'little man pee' - great.] We also found out that there is actually a corresponding little girl statue, called Jeanneke Pis, erected by a restaurant owner in 1985, but as the restaurant has closed down, she no longer pees, but she's still there, and still bizarre!