The Diamond Capital

As the local saying goes, there is Antwerp, and the rest of Belgium is just a parking lot. This being only my second stop in Belgium (after Dinant), I don’t think I can comment on this quote just yet. However, I can tell you what to eat, what to do once you get there, and perhaps most importantly what to avoid!AntwerpI cannot even describe how much I adore food, so leading with the top Belgium foods just makes sense. There are 4 essential food groups when in Antwerp: Waffles, Fries, Chocolate and Beer (some would also argue muscles, but I’ve been told they were much better in Dinant). Tucked in the shadows of Europe’s first skyscraper lies a tiny booth where you can purchase the best waffles in all of Antwerp, called, go figure, “The Smallest Waffleshop”. Go there! Run, don’t walk, they are amazing! Pro tip: If you want to eat like a local, don’t add any toppings, it really is sweet and delicious enough naked!WaffleMultiple locals told me about their favourite fry shop, Frituur LO, and a fun way to get there was to pass through St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel (I’ll come back to the uniqueness of this tunnel in a bit). The locals will probably curse me to my grave for saying this, they were only OK, not great. They had much better fries at Simit Sarayi just two blocks away from Central Station. Sure the ambience is sub-par, but the rest of the food was decent for the price. Frituur LO is close to the river’s edge, allowing you to enjoy fries while watching the boats go by or listening to the church bells in the distance.Frituur LO FriesWhat better way to end your day with some Belgium chocolate for dessert, yum! You can find shops everywhere in the downtown core to purchase the traditional chocolate hands of Antwerp. Or you can go to a local grocery and pick up the cheap and local Cote D’Or.  In between fry sessions, and to give your feet an extra break, Belgium beer is simply a must. I enjoyed the beer and ambience at Elfde Gebod. It is a tad….odd…on the inside. Instead of typical paintings or coat of arms, they have religious statues and other religious artefacts crowded in every nook and cranny. Very unique and touristy, but I loved it!Elfde GebodNow that you are full, you’ll need to burn off those calories with some activities. Though there is quite a bit to do in Antwerp, you really won’t need more than 2 days. A unique activity is the underground sewer canal tours at De Ruiens, you can do this led by a guide, on your own with an Ipad (90 mins) or on a boat (15 mins). Do note that this books up way in advance so get your tickets ASAP. Also carry a flashlight, and maybe bring something to cover up the lovely smell…De RuiensOther great museums to note include The Rubens House (great with a combination ticket for  Mayer Van Den Bergh which in my opinion was actually more impressive and less busy), Diva Antwerp Home of Diamonds (fantastic if you are into jewellery and antiques), and the stunning Cathedral of our Lady, which was quite beautiful with a small crypt underneath . If you want to go for a bit of a walk check out The Red Star Line Museum for personal stories of immigrants coming to North America, or the MAS Museum (Museum aan de Stroom).  Heads up that the Panorama at the top of the MAS museum is free and open until midnight, making it the perfect spot to watch a sunset. Overall most of the museums were worth their cheap admission price and filled with interactive activities. Keep in mind not a lot of English is offered so you may be given a tour guide to refer to while walking around.MAS MuseumIf you are into markets like me, then you will have lots of options in Antwerp. There was practically a market every day we were there! At Groenplaats on Thursday, the Friday Market at the historic city centre (for furniture and other random findings), and on Saturday the fresh food market at little Paris and the Antique market at Lijnwaadmarkt (only a few tables but prices so low it felt like stealing – we bought some fantastic silver antiques).Steen CastleFor some more free entertainment check out the beautiful Central Station of course, Steen Castle (pictured above, great for a view and photos), walk through the Diamond district (really a few blocks of jewellery stores), stroll through the boutique shops downtown, check out the red light district (yes they have one), or learn from a local on a PWYC walking tour. I also thoroughly enjoyed riding the original wooden escalators from 1933 in St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel under the Scheldt River! The underpass is about a 15-minute walk (572 Meters), or you can bike it!St. Anna's Wooden EscalatorsWhile walking around be sure to look out for hands in Antwerp! Legend has it there was a giant in the city who forced people to pay a stipend to cross the river. If the populace could not afford the fee he would cut off their hand and disposed of it in the river. It is said a Roman Soldier killed the giant and threw its hand into the river, hence the name of the city Antwerp, which means hand throwing.HandsWhether you choose to veg out basking in the sun on a patio, walking under the cranes along the harbour, or touring museums, you will be pleasantly surprised in Antwerp. So eat up. Drink up and go explore!

Want to know more? Check out my Youtube video 15 Things To Do in Antwerp (in under 3 minutes) HERE!

Did I miss anything? Have any questions about Antwerp? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

Holidays Abroad

Happy Valentine’s Day! Sending love, hugs and chocolate kisses from Amsterdam.
IMG_9352(LR,PS).jpg
Living abroad is exciting and very fulfilling. But what they don’t tell you in the pamphlet is that it can also be lonely, especially during holidays. It can be very challenging trying to celebrate one of your favourite traditional festivities when it is not as popular abroad. Thanksgiving and Halloween are great examples of this. Though slowly picking up in popularity, they are still not big social holidays in The Netherlands. Don’t get me started on finding cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie! Even though we did find a Halloween party for expats, we were the only ones dressed up in costume while on public transit – maybe they thought we were crazy? Then again, it is Amsterdam!
IMG_20171009_190042_446
On the flip side, you also get to participate in new holidays, such as Kings Day or Sinterklass. It’s not every day you see “Santa” arriving by boat and then riding past you on a white horse, or over one million people all dressed up in orange. So if abroad, try to immerse yourself in the local cultural traditions as well as maintaining your own.
IMG_20171205_113502_877
Not to worry, I have been able to find some heart shaped desserts in Amsterdam at Leef, though St.Patrick’s Day decor seems nonexistent!? Has anyone seen this anywhere? Most stores are prepping for Easter now!
20180214_122638_edited.jpg
Want to know more about my thoughts of living abroad? Check out my feature online in Expats of Amsterdam here: http://expatsofamsterdam.nl/country/canada/dutch-blood-veins-also-made-feel-home/. So grateful to be part of this! Also, a big thank you to kvdvphotography.com for the Valentines photoshoot, and the white vintage sweater found at Treasure Hunters Amsterdam!

Cheers,
Melissa

Switzerland: Zurich, Rhine Falls & Schaffhausen

Zurich is a picturesque place which you can visit within a couple days, making it a perfect weekend getaway location. Filled with museums, shopping options and churches, you will have plenty to do. Along with filling your day with activities, you can also fill your stomach with cheese and chocolate. Though, be warned that though flights may be on the cheaper side, dining and drinking in Zurich is quite expensive (I’m talking 30 dollars for 2 glasses of wine here). But if you don’t mind forking out some money, go for it and don’t let it deter you.

I suggest you start your Zurich visit at the Salt & Pepper Shakers (nick name of the towers at Grossmunster Church). Though quite simplistic inside, you can pay 5 Swiss Francs to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city. Another popular church is Fraumunster, which has a free courtyard filled with frescos that I recommend checking out, as it was originally a former abbey for women founded back in 853. Zurich also offers lots of museums and galleries, or you can just enjoy walking up the hilly cobblestone paths of Altstadt (Old town). Feel like a workout? Climb up the mountain to check out the University and then enjoy a tea and a view at bQm Culture Café & Bar. You know I love free tours, and I thoroughly enjoyed http://www.freewalk.ch/zurich/. They were friendly, informative, and brought us into places I may not have discovered on my own (such as an old Swiss bank now a building for boutique store owners).

Once you’ve worked up an appetite you can satisfy your taste buds with the traditional fondue or raclette at places such as Swiss Chuchi (which offers a choice of gluten free bread by the way), or check out the oldest continuously open vegetarian restaurant in the world (according to Guinness World Records) at Hiltl. I recommend the Tatar, it’s worth the price tag. Be sure to try some champagne truffles, meant for New Years but such a delightful treat. Also order the Flambe with Firewater at Zueghauskeller (your instagram will thank you for it), or go for upscale cocktails with friendly service at Nachtflug (stone walls of over 700 years, combined with a modern interior).

Excursions outside of Zurich can be pricey (starting at 60 dollars a person, up to the high hundreds); but another option is to take the train 1 hour out of the city to Rhine Falls. You can spend hours there walking around the falls, or visiting Laufen Castle (which also offers a platform at the bottom of the falls to get a closer view of the water). In the summer they offer boat rides, but in the winter you can enjoy some delicious mulled wine in a winter wonderland. Rhine falls formed in the last ice age and is the largest waterfall in Switzerland with quite a spectacular view (weather permitting). More information can be found here: http://www.rheinfall.ch/en/yourvisit.

One stop away from Rhine falls is Schaffhausen. It is worth the trip! A cute medieval town that you can walk through within hours, that offers a lot of authenticity. In the winter, and on a weekend, not much is open. However you can check out sites such as Kloster Allerheiligen (former monastery), Munot (which is free and surrounded by vineyards, with a great view of the city), lots of unique water fountains, and more.

Due to weather not all of our plans were followed. However, here are some more suggestions on other activities to do in Zurich: The Urania Observatory: Old Crow (for some whiskey options), Gerold Cuchi Umbrellas, and Uetliberg the Top of Zurich. Did I miss anything? Want to learn more? Let me know!

Have you been to Zurich? What did you think? Any suggestions on where I should travel next? Be sure to leave a comment below!

Cheers,
Melissa

Dinant, Belgium

Just had a short visit to the to the Belgium town of Dinant, right on the River Meuse. This very old town is known for its landmark, the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame de Dinant. Right behind it, at the very top of the mountain, is the Citadel of Dinant. You can take a cable car to the top; however, “we” chose to walk it. All 408 steps of it, to walk off the calories from our beer of course. It is worth the climb though, as there is a small interactive exhibit to experience and a breathtaking view.20171111_152107Dinant is also known for Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone from the early 1840’s, its Trappist Leffe beer, delicious chocolate of course, mussel’s for dinner and the couque de dinant. This sweet treat is made of just flour and honey and is not intended to be bitten into. Instead, you break off pieces and suck on it. Or maybe dip it in some tea. Yum!IMG_4445This cute little town was very picturesque, with a few surprises along the way, such as the Rocher Bayard rock and the hidden ruins de creve-coeur. The ruins were a bit of a hike, and maybe not the safest thing to do in the rain, but well worth it. To get there you also walk through a tiny medieval town, and it’s only about a 30 minute commute from downtown. Some other tourist activities included beer tasting at Maison Leffe and exploring the caves at Grotte La Merveilleuse.IMG_4870-EditDo note that as this is a small town, and if you go in low tourist season, most outdoor water activities are closed. There is not much of a nightlife, as things shut down very early, and it is also very difficult to find places for an early breakfast, so feel free to sleep in. A free but fun activity to do is to walk along the river. Check out the colours and architecture of the locals homes, take pictures of the scenery, and breathe in the fresh air, while sampling some fresh Belgium chocolate of course!
20171112_122306
Where should we go next? Any suggestions?
Cheers,
Melissa

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑