Retail Therapy and our First Taste of Belgium

By - January 19, 2004 (Updated: June 18, 2009)

Ok, I have a lot of blogging to catch up on. First of all is my Thursday night shopping excursion. Boys, feel free to skip over this unless you want to learn about Dutch shoes….

As I’ve mentioned, Thursday night the shops here are open late (usually until 9pm) so we decided this would be a good time to go shopping. When Andrew got home from work we hopped on the tram and got off in Dam Square. This square contains, among other things, the palace, Mme. Tussauds and Bijenkorf. Bijenkorf is the famous Dutch department store, kind of like an Eaton’s or Harrods. We did the requisite run through but like Eaton’s and Harrods, everything was severely overpriced.

My mission was to find of pair of what I call “witch toe” boots, which are the rage in Europe right now. The toe extends several inches beyond where your real toe is inside the shoe and come to a very narrow point. The effect rather than making your feet look huge, actually makes them look slimmer and your leg look longer. So with this quest, we set out down Kalver-straat. I was excited and eager to find my boots.

Well, I started off excited anyway. As we walked I found a similar phenomenon to the malls at home. Girls, I know you hear me on this. All of the shops either cater to the teeny-boppers who want to be scantily clad in their size 1 pants or to rich old ladies who want to pay over 200 euros for a blouse. Being in neither of these categories I quickly became discouraged. Then disaster struck. I actually found a pair of boots in a shoe store that fit the bill, and I discovered my formerly blood-clotted leg is still too swollen to zip into boots. AHHHHH! After figuring out that I am a size 39 here, I tried in vain to zip several pair of boot over my calf. I left the store dejected and with no more desire to shop.

Just when I thought all hope was lost, I spotted it … Vroom and Dressman. You’ve heard me mention it before I’m sure. My current handbag came from there in November. Well, if I couldn’t have shoes maybe I could console myself with another bag. As I walked in, the first glimmer of hope shone: a purse covered in St. Bernards. Cutest bag I’ve ever seen. Hope carried me to the second floor and to the shoes. KORTING! read the sign. And there they were, my boots, in brown and only ankle high … The zip test … and yes they zipped!!! They were on the high end of my price scale but I couldn’t resist.

Then I saw the shoes… light brown suede, pointy toe, strappy and perfect for summer. Another good fit and these ones had a red sticker. Not being able to resist the sale I clutched both boxes with some encouragement from my hubby who was ready to spend any amount on shoe therapy at this point to cheer me up. I headed to the cash with bag and shoes in hand, expecting to pay 150 euro or more, and then it happened … the icing on the shopping cake … additional discount at the register and my total was only 70 euro!!!

Happy at last, we headed to the Bloemen markt to refresh our now wilting tulips. We found some gorgeous Callas in orange and red and some orange and purple parrot tulips that matched perfectly. Then Andrew, with the help of a guidebook, found us a fabulous Mexican restaurant for a late supper. I’m not talking tex-mex here, this was mex-mex, run by two Mexicans. The food was divine and the atmosphere was cozy. A disappointing day, saved by good food, gorgeous flowers and a fabulous Sale.

Bruges Blog

Saturday we had our first trip out of the country. We were headed to Bruges, Belgium on the advice of the trusty guidebook. We were told to expect a picturesque town and loads of photo opportunities. Besides photos, our goal was consumption: Beer, waffles and of course chocolate. We had a very early start since there was a lot of driving ahead of us. We were on the road before sun-rise, sans coffee, as there is no concept of drive-thru coffee here. It was grey and misty, as per normal, so we were hoping the rain would spare us enough time to explore the town.

As we arrived in Belgium, our hopes were not that high. The area we were driving through was industrial and rather bleak. The countryside was similar to The Netherlands, without the picturesque canals. And of course, there was the road we were traveling on. It was not the smooth pavement of The Netherlands, but concrete. Ka-thump … Ka-thump … Ka-thump … Ka-thump. At this rate we would both need to be put in traction.

Finally, as we approached Bruges, the concrete streets gave way to cobblestones (no less bumpy but defiantly prettier) and the factories gave way to beautiful houses and the occasional mansion of castle proportions. We passed through a gatehouse and into the heart of Bruges.

Well, first things first, we explored by car, which is to say we got lost trying to find a place to park. That taken care of we headed for the main square. As promised, it was breath-taking. Digital and film cameras snapping we wandered about. We decided to take a trip up the belfry that dominates the square for a Birdseye view of the city. We paid our admission and started to climb…and climb … and climb … (I am so out of shape and the swollen knee wasn’t helping) I was beginning to wonder if it was worth it, as my claustrophobia was kicking into high gear as the spiral stairs became increasingly narrow. Finally after the 366th step we made it. And it was well worth it. It was a perfectly clear view of the town and made for some gorgeous shots.

Going down was much faster although no easier on the knees and the claustrophobia was not helped by the people passing on their way up. When we finally reached the bottom we decided that we deserved some lunch.

We headed for the pancake house, as recommended by our guide book, in search of waffles. They had stopped serving them and what they had on the current menu was out of our price range. Serendipity found us the perfect spot around the corner. It was beautiful inside, the service was friendly and we had the best waffles I have ever tasted. Andrew chose banana and chocolate and I had mixed fruit. They were as beautiful as they were delicious. Unfortunately in our haste to taste, I failed to take pictures (you can’t be on the job all of the time.)

Bellies full and bladders empty (always take advantage of restaurant bathrooms in Europe as it’s usually the only place you don’t have to pay and they are typically very clean) we headed in search of our other quest items. First stop (other than the requisite browsing) was the Arti-choc (haha) Choclaterie. Oh my God ladies, the smell alone would kick your hormones into overdrive. I purchased a box of assorted hand made chocolates (see the picture and weep) and Andrew bought a bag of mocha beans (yummy and caffeinated). Two down one to go.

We found a beer store and the owner was kind enough to give us a quick overview. Andrew picked up a sample pack and a few others and I hit the flavoured beers. Since I enjoyed the cherry beer I had before I picked up raspberry, peach and grape. (So far I’ve had a raspberry and the peach and both were yummy.) Our quests fulfilled and daylight slipping away we decided to head back to the car (making many photo stops on the way).
We rounded the corner and noticed some Tintin figurines in a window. We looked up and found ourselves in front of the official Tintin shop! So present for Charlie taken care of we found our car and headed home.

After crossing back into the Netherlands (blessed land of signage) we proceeded to get lost in Breda looking for a place to have supper. It ended up being the Sate Hut (things on sticks are good to me) and we had the best sate I’ve had so far with rice and veg. A nice ending to a great day.

Artis Zoo Blog

Since Saturday had been a long one, we decided to not set the alarm Sunday. When we rolled out of bed and looked outside, there was a strange sight indeed … blue sky, with this large, round, bright shiny thing in it … My God, it was SUN! For the first time since we arrived it was sunny! So we gathered our things, hopped on the tram and headed to the Zoo.

Artis is Amsterdam’s zoo and it is the oldest in the country. It’s been here since the 1800s. It’s definitely nothing like the mega zoos that are popping up over North America, but the animals are well cared for and have surprisingly large enclosures and the zoo architecture is part of the attraction.

Many of the animals are what you would typically expect to see in a zoo. Big cats (my personal fav), elephants, giraffes, polar bears, monkeys and the like. There were a lot of birds, many we had never seen before, including pink pelicans (pictures for Amy). We were also lucky as there were many new babies to view, including: a chimp, a gorilla, wallabies, a giraffe and some baby turtles. Of course, being the first sunny day in forever, and a Sunday, the zoo was busy. Lots of screaming children and haggard looking parents. You had to constantly be on guard so as not to get run down by a stroller or stampeding children. Nevertheless, we were very impressed by the zoo and I shot several rolls of film and tons of digital pics and videos will be on the site.

We headed home once the zoo closed and I made us a warming potato and leek soup to stave of the chill from being outside all day. It was a fun and relaxing Sunday.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
The 🍁🍂🍃 colours here... 😍 - 2 days ago

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  1. Pingback: Caesar and the Ice Palace | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

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