In an effort for full disclosure, We. Loved. Antwerp. From pretty much our first day arriving in the most beautiful train station in Europe (seriously, look it up), we were all about it. Antwerp has stunning old world architecture mixed with a modern, almost-hipster vibe of cool coffee shops, brown cafes, open markets and lots and lots of tasty fried things. For centuries, it was a center for money, trade and intellect since before Henry VIII’s rule (which I happened to be reading about in the long-winded and not-very-rewarding Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel). I know we’re still a bit obsessed with Portland, OR (can’t help it – it was our first love), but Antwerp had everything we loved about Portland in a European setting. Can it get any better?
Oh, the beer! The fried food! The friendly people! I can wax on about it for days. We hit all the must-haves for food and drink, such as the world-renown Kulminator Café, with over 500 bottles available for purchase. Of course, we feasted yet again on that nectar of the gods, Westvleteren XII. The Saturday Market is lovely for perusing, but after surveying and copy-catting other Belgians, our quickly established Saturday routine became a morning workout followed by fried cheese and cava (balance). Being in a city for a month gives you the chance to find your local spots and become a “regular,” albeit a short one. Ours was in a plaza featuring a giant statue of Neptune a short walk from our apartment, surrounded by happy Belgians drinking beer and hot tea in the 45 degree weather – because a little cold shouldn’t stop you from enjoying outside.
Due to Belgium’s incredible train system and relatively small size, we were able to venture out and explore the other cities quite often and quite cheaply. Mechelen, a small city 30 minutes out of Antwerp, hosts a climbable St. Rumbold’s Cathedral tower, where we viewed the city below, as well as Antwerp to the North and Brussels to the South. We also kept seeing this weird falling man on all the flags throughout the city, only to stumble upon its gigantic likeness. Naturally, shenanigans ensued. Side Note: Apparently, it’s a doll they toss up in the air during celebrations? Oh, those whimsical Belgians!
After that, it was all wine tastings in Brussels and bar-hopping in Liège and crowd-side-stepping in Brugge – which was exactly what everyone warned us about. As you can see in the movie, Brugge is absolutely beautiful, but inundated with people (theme park for adults, as it's said).
Also, my mom came to visit us! I felt it appropriate she get to see us in a city that felt like home more than any other place we’ve been. We had waited to do all the main sightseeing with her, so we clambered all around Antwerp, marveling at the statues and boats and buildings and merriment, then swiftly made our way to Amsterdam.
Another captivating city, Amsterdam beckons to be promenaded about in. The canals, the changing leaves in autumn, the coffee, the sweet smell of the air (*side eyes*), the towering Dutchies, the lackadaisical way they ride their bikes (Sitting on the rear rack with ease and grace? Portlanders! Why do we not do this?). After previously wondering if it would be a place we could stay for a month, we decided that yes, yes we definitely could.
And of course, seeing Mom was the highlight of the month. So often, I feel a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to missing my family. The homesickness usually only wells up after a long phone conversation with my sister, or facetiming with my Mom, or texting funny anecdotes with my friends, or seeing something that makes me think of my Dad. Being able to actually hug and lean on Mom’s shoulder (what moms are for), show her how Travis and I are in our element, and get to share our wanderlust and explore gorgeous cities together was irreplaceable. Here’s to more – I love you, Momma!
In summation, Antwerp. Oh, you. We’ll come home to you, I promise.