Our first stop was Antwerp, Belgium, which turned out to be fantastically cute.
As this was already Day 4 of the trip. I'd lost count of the churches we'd visited, but the Cathedral in Antwerp (if that's the right term -- it's hard to keep track of where the Protestants won) has a memorable bunch of Rubenses in it (if that's the plural of Rubens).
That evening we drove to Bruges, Belgium, the quintessential European-ness of which must be what Rick Steves imagines when he lies awake at night.
I found the beer list at the bar across from our hotel entirely acceptable.
J and Lynne enjoyed a Belgian cherry-based beer known as kriek. Traditionally, these are made with lambics, sour beers that are air-fermented naturally (occasionally, even outside). Lately the form has been corrupted by making them not with cherries but with cherry juice or even corn syrup, so you have to be careful to avoid the overly sweet stuff (tip: stay away from the mass-produced "Kriek Max"). Jon and I, meanwhile, went deep into the list, making up for an absolutely horrible InBev-owned Jupiler at dinner with a small-brewery Vicaris tripel and then an excellent Prearis quadruple. (I could devote a whole entries to the glory of quads ...)
The next day was our only full day in Bruges, so it was time to pack in the cliches.
The views after climbing the famous Belfry were worth it, even if the sky reminded us a little too much of Salt Lake.
Next up was Michelangelo's Madonna and Child sculpture -- you know, the one from Monuments Men. Somehow it was a bit smaller than the movie makes it out to be ...
Only in Europe:
Our cultural quota met, it was now time to get serious about what really matters in Belgium: waffles, chocolate, and beer.
Look, this is a family-friendly blog, but some pictures are too good to pass up.
This shop made us momentarily homesick.
We toured the local brewery, the Half Moon (the Bruges Zot blonde is delicious).
Here I am after learning they don't make an American Double IPA.
Every shot in Bruges is jigsaw-puzzle-worthy.
Ok, maybe not this one.
I know that Europe has a lot of old churches, but you'd think the Crowne Plaza could treat the 1,000-year-old church it's built on (destroyed by Napoleon) a little more soberly. Still, I did score some free Pringles.
Delft is another beautiful city, sort of a quiet Amsterdam-light with its own canals, and it was also home to Vermeer. The Vermeer Center may not house any of his original pieces, but it does let one pose in his paintings.
Fast forward through a few churches and mausoleums for founders of the Dutch state -- one of which gave us a free coffee for being under reconstruction (and which afforded us one of the few semi-warm outdoor Kuchenpauses of the trip)
It's rare nowadays that I discover a new kind of beer I've never heard of, but (after continuing my quest to try all of the official Belgian Trappist breweries), I stumbled upon a Mouselare Beer, an old spiced Belgian Pale Ale variety not too far from a tripel. This one was from the Klein Duimpje Brewery, and was absolutely delicious.
The next morning we said goodbye to Jon and Lynne and took an easy train to the Hague — easy in theory, as we managed to take an incorrect train and waited for ten minutes at some random suburban station. (And while we're on the subject of Dutch trains, be sure to bring plenty of Euro coins. The station in Delft only has kiosks [no people], and the machines only take European-chip credit cards or coins -- no bills. And when we had tried to book online, the Dutch railways asked for our Dutch bank number. Guess they expect Americans to travel with coin sacks ...) Anyway, our first stop in the Hague was the Mauritshuis, which houses such famous paintings as Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring and View of Delft, and Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. And hmm, have I ever mentioned that I like Dutch ice scenes?
A lot of (attempted) humor on this blog comes from complaining about something or other, but it's been hard to complain about much at all from this trip, train station pay machines aside. And any day that includes cake in a European art-museum cafe is a good one.
The last main stop in the Hague was The Panorama, a museum built to house the work of late-nineteenth-century artist Hendrik Willem Mesdag. His traditional seascapes are delightful.
Out last stop was the beach.
Ok, actually we were still in the Panorama, which mainly exists to house Mesdag's enormous, room-sized, 360-degree panorama of the town of Scheveningen on the North Sea Coast -- an early experiment in virtual reality. We loved it, just like the whole road-trip, and it made me determined to visit the Frisian Islands. Something very funny happened on this road-trip, but the problem is, none of us can remember what it is. I'll change the title when we do
I guess Scheveningen looks a little different today.