Buildings, Balls, Birthdays and Belgium

By - February 24, 2004 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

Alright, so I have two weeks of blog to catch up on. I’m not making any promises here because my memory is terrible. I’ll do my best at remembering but feel free to e-mail me any questions you may have too. So we left off on Valentines Day…

My Valentine’s Day gift was Andrew making me supper. This was his first cooking attempt in Holland and without a BBQ. He settled on a stir-fry so we decided to do the Dutch thing and go to the Albert Cuyp market for supplies. The AC is a HUGE street market that runs every day except Sunday. It is about a km long and you can get virtually everything there; Veggies and fruit, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, spices, clothes, fabric, toiletries, plants, furniture … you name it, chances are you can find it there. We strolled through, invigorated by some fresh, hot spring rolls and found everything we needed…and then some. My two favorite stalls were the spice stall (literally any spice, herb or tea was available here) and the Tapas stall … we went a little nuts here and got hummus, babaganoush and cheese stuffed hot peppers (delish). We also bought veggies, fruit, fish, tea and breads. You can see the pic of our purchases in the photo section.

After the market there was one more stop I wanted to make. We went to Nieuwmarkt, the Asian section of town. I wanted to go back to the Asian grocery and pick up some more Miso… I ended up with more than miso but it was fun.

The rest of the day was a relaxation day for me and a cooking extravaganza for Drew. He did a fabulous job, by the way. The stir-fry had tons of veggies and shrimp from the market. Very yummy indeed.

Sunday was a bit of a patchwork of things we wanted to see and do. Our first stop was Rotterdam … ok so some of you are well aware that I had a bad first impression of Rotterdam (Andrew Roode). We won’t go there except to say that Rotterdam was bombed heavily in the war and therefore is very modern looking. Many parts of it could be any generic North American city. There was one area I hadn’t seen and wanted to explore. The old quarter where the artists colony is…. I wanted to see the Cubes.

The Cubes are rather hard to describe so I suggest you take a look at the pics if you haven’t already … basically they are Cubes with one point cut off, tipped sideways and stuck on a column, then they are mashed together with a bunch of other cubes and pushed so that they tip forward…and people live in them…Between the Cubes is a sort of courtyard area that you can wander through. It is surprisingly peaceful. Surprising because the Cubes are also situated over a major street. Just as I was marveling as to how people could live in these things, we discovered the museum Cube. Basically one gentleman who lives in the Cubes, opens his house up when he’s home and charges a euro for you to take a look through. Great idea since anyone would be curious what these things look like inside … Well, they are small… claustrophobics need not apply. Also if you are afraid of heights, don’t wash dishes here because you are looking straight down at the street below. The stairs are narrow and the bathroom is tiny. By far the coolest room is the little pyramid on top. This was a sitting room with windows all around. The view is basically the other cubes, but also the street and depending on which cube you live in, I suppose the water as well. All in all, quite fascinating but definitely not for me.

Our next stop was Delft, another place I had been already but Drew had not and I thought he might like it. It’s a fairly small city, with a nice downtown and main square. It is of course famous for the hand painted pottery, mainly in blues but also available in other colours. True hand-painted Delft is wickedly expensive but also one of a kind and very beautiful. Unfortunately, this time of year, the factory is not open to the public. We did drive over to check it out and it is quite huge. We had a mediocre lunch on the main square, explored the Royal Delft shop and then headed out of town.

Our next event of note was our Wednesday night football game. Football here, for those of you who don’t know, is what we call soccer. There is also a football team here that plays what we know as football. The Dutch call it American football … they have cheerleaders which I’ll get to. The game we went to see was the Dutch (oranje) vs the Americans. This is like the All-star team for Holland. The stadium we were in was the Ajax stadium. Ajax (pronounced I-ax) is the Amsterdam team and you can’t actually go to their games at the stadium unless you are a member of the club. Back to the Oranje … why orange? I dunno. It is, accept it and move on. Because the team is called oranje, of course all of the fans wear orange. And we are talking day glow orange here. So basically it looks like a stadium full of hunters and death-row inmates (could be actually). And they are nuts! Frankly I think all hard-core sports fans are nuts but it is definitely infectious. Anyway of course my camera died before the game even started but there are a couple pics of the field. The game was pretty good. The first half, no one scored. Then we had the American Football cheerleaders … definitely wouldn’t make it in the states … these were no Laker Girls. They looked like they were having fun and I guess that’s what counts, but frankly, they sucked. Jenn, you would have laughed your butt off. Anyway, second half, Oranje scored, USA didn’t. We won, the world was happy (well, the Dutch anyway) and we went home. Only it wasn’t quite that easy. A tram had derailed on our route and caused a huge traffic jam. It was cold, we were tired. We had no idea what was going on. After 2 trams getting us part way and a lot of waiting, we finally gave up and got a cab. Not a great ending to a pretty fun night.

Ok, so the next great day was Friday, my Birthday! Yup, I’m still 24! heh. Andrew took the day off so we could do fun b-day type things. Our first stop was the not so fun b-day blood clinic. It went fine and actually I didn’t feel a thing. I had just commented on how easy it was, as we were walking away, when I realized I was bleeding all over my sweater. Once that was under control (did actually get the stain out later too) we walked down the street to my next errand. I wanted to develop a couple rolls of my slide film, just to make sure my camera was working properly. The photographers at home will get a kick out of this next bit … the rest of you feel free to skip ahead. Ok, so you know how you get used to going to the one camera shop you trust and it’s hard to just walk in somewhere new and hand over you film … Well, my experience was rather interesting. I had done a bit of research on-line because I didn’t want to just take it any old place. The place that I settled on was on our tram line and recommended to professionals. So I walk in and it’s a big posh room … with nothing in it but a counter … no cameras, no film. Just a counter, a sofa and a couple of photos on the walls and the place is BIG. Kind of like going to a really posh clothing store where the models come out wearing the clothes… Anyway I go to the counter, do my thing and they say it will be ready in 2 hours … 2 hours!!! Not weeks, not days, Hours!! for slide film! Anyway by now I’m thinking I’m going to be paying BIG bucks for this. Save you the suspense … it was 5 euro a roll. 11.40 euro total for 2 rolls. They came out great btw and I’ll be taking more there this week.

Ok, back to more interesting things … what I wanted to do on my b-day… I wanted to go to FOAM the Foto Museum of Amsterdam. It was a nice spot and had 2 major exhibits going. One on a Dutch photojournalist that was excellent and another on Man Ray and Lee Miller that was very interesting. It contained lots of contact sheets as well as prints so that your could see his original crop marks and notes. Quite neat. Then we went to the English bookstore to get a book on Barcelona (yes we are going at the end of March). We found that and Andrew got a computer book and he got me the latest Jamie Oliver cookbook. Then we picked up the film, dropped stuff off at home and went for my b-day supper. It’s been tradition the past few years that we go for Indian food on my b-day so we found a great Indian restaurant and ate so much we literally hurt when we left. The food was delish.

The next morning we got up bright and early and headed to Belgium for the Third and final time. This time we had reservations at a cheap hotel for the night so we could actually see some things without having to rush home. Our first stop was the Atomium. This was built for a worlds fair and is now kind of a symbol of the city. It’s basically a huge blow-up of an iron molecule. Inside you take an elevator to the top and have views of the city. Then you take a series of escalators down through the various spheres where there are art exhibits. It’s rather odd but an interesting, one time sort of thing. We avoided all of the other tourist traps at the fair ground, except to have an over priced lunch.

Then we headed to another part of the park where the Japanese and Chinese pavilions were left as museums after the worlds fair. These were both beautiful inside and out and the pictures show them better than I could describe so take a look.

Afterwards, it was high time to find our hotel. We drove around a bit and I remembered something about it being near a church. Well we found it, and what a church to be near. After checking in to the hotel, we had to check out the Basilica. It is an ENORMOUS art deco style church and is absolutely breath taking inside. The simple lines and domes to me are much more beautiful than the over the top gothic style of many of the grand churches here. There was some fantastic stained glass and the view from the top of the church rivaled the view from the atomium.

We decided to head down to the grote market again for supper and be herded in to one of the many restaurants there. I had a very tricky to eat stuffed crab and Drew opted for mussels. We then went back to our chocolate shop to stock up and back to the hotel. We had picked up some little cakes at the bakery across the street and I had my b-day dessert a day late.

The next morning we went back to the bakery for breakfast and then got on the road to Waterloo. We went to see the Butte de Lion a huge grass pyramid with a lion statue on top, commemorating the Napoleonic war. After climbing a gazillion stairs we had a nice view of the surrounding farm land. Vowing never to climb things again (a vow I seem to keep making and breaking on this trip) we headed to Ghent.

This city came highly recommended by Drew’s colleagues and we weren’t disappointed. The city boasts four magnificent churches, some fantastic old architecture and a castle. We had to see the castle for ourselves. So after a very nice lunch at a little coffee house we went trekking through the castle. Well, that blew my stair vow again but there was a beautiful view of the churches from the castle walls. There was also an exhibit inside showing various medieval torture devices (lovely). After the castle we went on a short but interesting boat tour of Ghent. It was interesting to see the buildings from the water level. .

After Ghent we had one last mission… and it was a difficult one. We wanted to find where my great-uncle was buried in Antwerp. My Grandfather Fair’s brother had been a signalman in the war and was buried in a graveyard in Antwerp. We had vague directions from the Canadian Government web site. Frankly it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I think the directions had been written when the graveyard was instated, as none of the streets seemed to exist any more. It took an hour or more of searching until we found the graveyard… and it was closed. Well, never being one to let little things like locked gates stand in the way of a mission… we parked the car (illegally). To actually get to the grave we had to: 1). Rescue a very grateful dog 2). Scale the fence and 3) avoid the police. All of that is true, but not really that dramatic. A woman and her dog had gotten stuck inside the graveyard when they closed the gate. She was waiting for a friend to come and help her lift the dog out. We helped and the puppy was very happy to be free again. Then we hopped the fence (I figure if they really didn’t want us in there, they would have made it taller). Finding the actual grave was much harder. We had a number V.D.63 which didn’t seem to correlate with anything. I finally figured out that V actually meant 5 and Drew discovered that the graves were more or less in chronological order. Finally we found it. I have to say, as far as eternal resting places go, this one was beautiful. It was right by a canal and the graves were very well tended with herbs planted around them. Very peaceful and lovely. As we hiked back out of the driveway we noticed the police driving by and were worried they would stop and check out our car so we jumped behind some trees. They didn’t stop and we made a clean getaway with pictures for evidence.

Then we settled in for the long drive home. Both of us were exhausted but it was a very fun and interesting weekend.

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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+
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