Our thoughts are with the people of Belgium today

I am in a beautiful old Breton city on the edge of the English Channel tonight. It is called Roscoff. If you ever have a chance to come here, I promise you’ll love it. I’m here because tomorrow morning I’ll take a ferry from here to Plymouth England.

Many of you wrote to me today asking if I am safe. I am far from harm. I appreciate your thoughts and concern. I turned on the TV about 9:00 this morning (4:00 a.m. for those of you in the East) and have been following the terrible news out of Brussels all day. Is there an answer to terrorism when young people are willing to strap a bomb on themselves and die?

I have many beautiful pictures taken today to share with you, but this isn’t the day for that. Peace!


Leaving Antwerp


The reborn café in Antwerp’s Central Station

I’ve had a good two weeks in this fine old city. It has a plentitude of the things I enjoy most when I travel: surprises around every corner, ancient places, great art, good food at low prices, nice people (and the bonus — these people all speak English!). I would recommend time here to anyone looking for those same qualities in a destination. I would probably not recommend doing it in January, but that was the only time it fit into my schedule and the weather wasn’t so bad on most days.

Antwerp has a long history with many ups and downs. The visitor enjoys the artifacts of the good years: the medieval cathedral, the 17th century when it was a center of trade in Europe, the late 1800s when ornate buildings popped up along the Meir, and apparently now. Building is going on everywhere now. Shopping in Antwerp is excellent, including many the big name international retailers and famous couturiers such as Channel. The city is filled with restaurants and I found their prices to be much lower than comparable prices in the U.S. restaurants.

Yesterday I discovered another big and glorious surprise: a beautiful turn-of-the-20th-century building turned into a fashionable shopping mall, right in the center of the city. It’s called Stadsfeestzaal. In Dutch Wikipedia tells me it was built in 1908 and that the mall was developed in 2004-07. I’ll show you rather than tell you this beautiful old space that’s been recycled for the 21st century.


It was hard to capture the elegance of this magnificent old building which has been brought back to life using only the camera in my phone.


The elegant portal gives a hint of what is waiting inside,

I’ve mentioned before the ornate railroad station that serves the center city. I went there yesterday to meet the caretaker for the apartment I rented in Antwerp. Gloria led me to an extraordinary café on the upper level that I’d failed to notice. She said the place had been closed for years and had only recently been restored and reopened. It was really lovely as the picture at the top of this post shows.

I’ve already told you how much I enjoyed the Mayer van der Bergh art museum, the Red Sail Line museum and the Plantin-Moretus museum as well as the stunning cathedral. I’ll just be a bit more practical here and mention that the part of Antwerp that tourists will want to visit is very walkable and also has an easy-to-use (but expensive) bus and tram system. (The tourist offices sell a ten-trip pass that lowers the cost o a ride more than 50%.) Antwerp is a good base for seeing much of Belgium and Holland — rail travel is easy (though not cheap) and the trains run on time. The main Tourist Info office and the TI in Central Station were very helpful and staffed by pleasant people; the museum pass was a good value.

I have loved wandering the twisting old streets and finding ancient brick buildings around every corner. I hope I’ll have an opportunity to return to enjoy Antwerpen again.



A quick trip to Holland


The Mauritshuis Museum, den Haag, the Netherlands

I’ve just completed an art-lover’s pig-out! In two days I toured the greatest art of the Low Countries at three fantastic museums: Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museums in Amsterdam and Mauritshuis in the Hague (real name: den Haag). I think I’m in sensory overload!

My Sunday afternoon was spent at the Rijksmuseum. It’s one of the world’s great art museums, showing almost exclusively the works of Dutch artists. The building which dates from 1885 underwent extensive remodeling for about ten years before reopening in 2013. In front of the museum is a fun sculpture that proclaims “Iamsterdam” – it’s a favorite for tourist photos.

Amsterdam is an enormous, crowded city and has been so for centuries. Yesterday as the sun came up around 8:30 I walked for about a mile from my hotel to “Museumplein” – the area where three great art museums are located adjacent to one another. There were probably ten times more commuter bicycles than cars, Bikes are famously the main mode of transportation there! (They are sneaky devils! They make no noise and before you know it they’re zooming by at your heels!)

The VanGogh museum was my morning destination. The museum tells the sad story of the life of Vincent Van Gogh who suffered from depression and ultimately committed suicide at the age of 37. He really only painted the pictures for which he is so well known in the last two years of his life. In his career, which lasted less than ten years, he created more than 2100 works of art and never sold one. The museum features several self-portraits and a few of the more famous works, such as his sunflowers.

van gogh self portrait

van gogh sunflowers

I next took the train to den Haag, the capital city of the Netherlands. This appears to be a happening place! Since George and I were there 15 years ago several very tall office towers have popped up around the old center city. I’d love to have had more time there. My destination was a museum called the Mauritshuis. This is a small museum with some of the greatest works of art. This museum was begun with the king’s donation of his art collection many years ago. It’s displayed in a beautiful 17th century mansion. This is probably my favorite museum, in part because it is small and in part because every item shown is superb. Here are two or three works you may recognize and you can see more by clicking here

girl with the pearl earring - Vermeer

The “girl with the pearl earring” by Johannes Vermeer.

Goldfinch - fabritus

The “Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritus.

Rembrandt self-portrait

Rembrandt self-portrait

I had an easy train ride “home.” Tomorrow I leave for Lisbon!


A Walk in the 17th Century

In the 1600s Antwerp was one of the richest and most important cities in Europe. Take a walk with me through its streets, seeing just a few of the many reminders of its glorious past.













Finally, I’ve seen many images of Jesus but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that expresses His love as well as this sculpture of Jesus and his brother John. (Rockoxhuis, Antwerpen)



Images of the Past


I like classical art and the centuries-old art of the Low Countries is my favorite. (The phrase “Low Countries” refers to Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, which are together sometimes also referred to as BeNeLux.) This part of Europe has been a battleground frequently in centuries past. It has a long history of being controlled by other powers. The Spanish were here the longest (1579-1714) and perhaps had the most influence.

It is the art created in what is now Belgium and Holland before and during the period of Spanish control that I like best. Unlike Italians who painted religious works to be displayed in churches, the Flemish artists of the Low Countries often painted the life around them. With almost photographic realism their art shows us the villages and neighbors of the artists – we see how our ancestors lived 500 years ago. And I like that.

Peter Bruegel is perhaps the best known for these “genre” paintings. He was only 44 years old when he died but he had compiled a large body of work. From his art we can see with photographic clarity life in a village in Belgium in the mid1500’s. (The picture above is called “Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap” and was painted in 1565.)

I’ve seen quite a lot of this art in the days I’ve spent in Antwerp. Yesterday I went to a small museum called Museum Mayer van der Bergh where I viewed an excellent collection of ancient Flemish art compiled by one man in the 1800s. Probably the best known piece is Bruegel’s painting known as Dulle Griet – or in English as Mad Meg. From this point forward I’m quoting a Wikipedia article about this painting.


“Griet was a disparaging name given to any bad-tempered, shrewish woman. Her mission refers to the Flemish proverb: She could plunder in front of hell and return unscathed.

“Bruegel is thus making fun of noisy, aggressive women. At the same time he castigates the sin of covetousness: although already burdened down with possessions, Griet and her grotesque companions are prepared to storm the mouth of Hell itself in their search for more.

“While her female followers loot a house, Griet advances towards the mouth of Hell … Griet wears male armor — a breastplate, a mailed glove and a metal cap; her military costume is parodied by the monster in a helmet beside her, who pulls up a drawbridge. A knife hangs from her side, while in her right she carries a sword, which may refer to the saying: “He could go to Hell with a sword in his hand.” A book of proverbs published in Antwerp in 1568 contains a saying which is very close in spirit to Bruegel’s painting: One woman makes a din, two women a lot of trouble, three an annual market, four a quarrel, five an army, and against six the Devil himself has no weapon.

Very strange, isn’t it? Want to see more of life in 16th century Belgium? Go to this site, from which I copied Mad Meg.

How did we ever survive without the Internet?


My Life in Antwerp


It occurs to me that some of you may like to hear a little about what my life is like here. I’m staying in an apartment that I arranged on AirBnB. Like many rentals at that site, it’s quite inexpensive – under $50 a day for a three room apartment with a large kitchen. (You can see it here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6672914). It’s heated by lots of old radiators and so it’s kept me warm through several very cold days. Appliances are small and often rare in Europe. This apartment has the typical 3-foot-tall refrigerator but it also has a washing machine (!!!) which in theory also dries but hasn’t for me. Astrid, the landlady, recently added a dishwasher but it’s not connected yet and I really don’t need it. The apartment is in a building that probably dates from the mid-1800s (pictured above). My only concern/complaint is this: the apartment is on the third floor at the top of 48 very skimpy, narrow stairs.

The apartment is in the part of town called “Eilandje” which is Dutch for “Island.” This is the old port district that’s in the process of being rehabilitated – a process that began around 1980, was probably slowed by the Great Recession, and is now in full bloom! There is construction everywhere around me, most of it on high-rise apartment buildings. Yesterday afternoon the view over the bit of water visible from my kitchen was nice so I took the picture shown below. It also shows a bit of the pair of 15-story apartment buildings clad entirely in metal. Rather odd, I think.


The “Eilandje” district is at the north end of old Antwerp, but it’s an easy walk of a mile or less to the center of the oldest part of town. Buses are nearby and take me to the train station or to the historic district. There are lots of small restaurants in this district. One I’ve dined at twice is just around the corner. It’s called “Den Hut” (which I think means “the hut” – Americanisms are everywhere in the local language). It’s “trendy” with mostly vegetarian dishes from a variety of nations. The young chef is very good and friendly and his food is fine. I especially like his shrimp & broccoli in Thai noodles.

Barbara asked me what the name “Antwerpen” means. Here’s Wikipedia’s very complete explanation of three different answers, edited for brevity:

  1. According to folklore the city got its name from a legend about a giant river. He exacted a toll from passing boatmen, and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river.[7] Eventually the giant was killed by a young hero named Silvius Brabo, who cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch hand werpen, akin to Old English hand and wearpan (to throw), which has evolved to today’s warp.[8]
  2. A longstanding theory is that the name originated in the Gallo-Roman period and comes from the Latin antverpia. Note that the river Scheldt, before a transition period between 600 to 750, followed a different track. This must have coincided roughly with the current ringway south of the city, situating the city within a former curve of the river.[9]
  3. However, John Lothrop Motley argues, and so do a lot of Dutch etymologists and historians, that Antwerp’s name derives from an ‘t werf (on the wharf, in the same meaning as the current English wharf).[10]

You can read the complete explanations here if you like along with a history and description of the city: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antwerp.


American - Copy

PS: I did find one other American in town. He’s shown above. Try to guess how I knew he was an American and enter you guess in the “Comments” section below. The right answer might win a prize!