Summer Vacation '19 (Part 2): Brussels & Amsterdam
Port: Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Official languages: Dutch (also called Fleming), French, and German
From the port, we booked a guided tour to head into Brussels. Brussels is the capital of Belgium and considered the capital of Europe. Both NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and EU (European Commission) have headquarters here also.
Our first stop was the Atomium. Atomium was built in 1958 and stands at 335-feet tall resembling a giant iron crystal magnified by 165 billion times. Guests are able to go up into the nine spheres and tubes via elevators, stairs, escalators, for a panorama view of Brussels. Unfortunately due to time constraints, we were unable to go to the top.
If you look closely, you can actually see maintenance workers up on the structure which, according to our tour guide, is very very rare.
This was super cool to see in person. Photos definitely does not do this any justice.
Can we talk about how green Belgium is? This area really gave me Versailles vibes with lots of greenery, walkways, and views.
From the Atomium to the city center of Brussels, we passed by the EU's headquarter.
Actually there were tons of traffic, so my dad was busy snapping pictures of important landmarks as I was snapping pictures of Nick with his Monster drink... with the EU behind him.
Fun fact: This specific Monster Energy drink is found exclusively in European countries and named after an Italian motorcyclist, Valentino Rossi, who is nicknamed "The Doctor".
If you are like myself and thought that the only monarchy family left is Queen Elizabeth II and her family, you and I are very wrong. We passed by the Royal Palace of Brussels (Palais Royal de Bruxelles), the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgium, Philippe of Belgium and his wife, Queen Mathilde of Belgium. I have a video on my Instagram if you go to the Belgium highlights for a better view of the palace.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is the main catholic church in Belgium where the monarchies hold their coronations, weddings, and funerals.
From the Cathedral, we walked down to the Grand Place where most of our time will be spent. Like most European cities, there is that one square that is the heart of the city. For Brussel, it is the Grand Place. There were lots of vans/trucks unloading for a beer festival going on that weekend, so our pictures won't be grand ;)
Standing at 300 feet tall is the Town Hall, or Hotel de Ville, which was the former city council's meeting place for this free trade town. On top is a golden statue of St. Michael slaying the devil.
King's House, or Maison du Roi, is the City Museum. Out of all the buildings in this square, this building was gray and had a Gothic facade. The surrounding buildings are much more grandiose because they have gold trimmings and plaques incorporated into the structures somehow.
Galeries Royales St. Hubert - oldest European shopping mall that is in still open today. It is glass-covered with lots of shops, cafes, even people living in apartments upstairs.
Another iconic sight that I was also excited to see today was, of course, a statue of a little kid peeing into a fountain. Manneken-Pis, Dutch for "Little Pissing Man", was originally a fountain to provide drinking water, but then it started to symbolize Bruxellois being unpretentious and rebellious. Over the decades, the little guy, no pun intended, has been knighted by King Louis XV, saluted by French soldiers, survived a bombing, and have collected over 900 outfits.
On this day, Manneken-Pis was wearing his birthday suit.
My mom still jokes that we went to Europe to get peed on LOL. But honestly, if you know, you know.
We had to stop by La Gaufrerie for some Belgium waffles.
A selfie with the mural of Tintin, Belgians' favorite comic book hero, escaping down a fire escape. A few buildings in Brussels will have these huge comic-strip panels. This was the only one we saw.
With a little shopping done, we are back at the Grand Place.
Like I have mentioned, the Grand Place might not look too beautiful when we went, but every two years in August, they will have a Flower Carpet event. During this event, the whole square is covered in begonias making it look like a huge flower carpet. Definitely google pictures, it is really breathtaking.
Our time in Belgium short-lived, but I learned so much about the city of Brussels thanks to our tour guide, Frank. He had me belly laughing the whole time. He is a former history professor that had lots of funny jokes.
Back on the cruise and ready for another jam packed day tomorrow.
Port: Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Official language: Dutch
Often times Holland and Netherlands are used interchangeably which is inaccurate. There are twelve provinces in the country of Netherlands and two of the provinces are called North Holland and South Holland.
Our cruise ported in Rotterdam, Netherlands which is the second-largest Dutch city in the South Holland province. To get to Amsterdam, we booked a bus that was transfer only to take us to and from Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Each way was around one hour, however we hit slight traffic so our trips were slightly longer.
Amsterdam is the biggest city of Netherlands in the North Holland province. There are two capitals of Netherlands, one is Amsterdam, the other is the Hague.
Since we didn't book a tour, only a transfer, we had a good 3-4 hours to explore the city which time flew by.
We were very intrigued by Amsterdam, to say the least. This city can easily offend some and those that are coming with little ones.
Dam Square - center of Amsterdam and where the city got its start in the year 1250. Nowadays, it is a touristy square and home to pigeons.
Traditional clogs (klompen) or wooden shoes are a huge part of Dutch history. Clogs are water resistant to protect from wet climates and the sturdiness helps guard against sharp objects. They are still popular amongst those that work in agriculture in rural areas.
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a picture with the yellow clog.
Royal Palace (Koninklijk Huis) - located at the Dam Square and former City Hall. Another fun fact, Netherlands also has a monarchy. This is one of the four official residences of King Willem-Alexander. There is a balcony above the entry door where city leaders appear for announcements.
Anne Frank House - where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis after the Nazis occupied the Netherlands. Unfortunately, we did not go inside, but I would love to reread her diary and visit one day.
Amsterdam is known as the "Venice of the North", this city has 165 canals and 1281 bridges.
It is also one of the most bicycle-friendly cities where 80% of Amsterdammers own a bike and more than half ride theirs on a daily basis.
And more pictures, because we couldn't get enough of the canals or all the bikes. The canals gave me major anxiety because there were no railings to stop anything or anyone from falling in. Also be cautious around bicyclist and crossing streets, they will sound their horns if you're in the way.
Eduard Douwes Dekker (Multatuli) - Dutch writer known for his satire of the abuse during colonization of present day Indonesia.
Coffeeshops and cafes are all over Amsterdam. Coffeeshops and cafes are not the same, I repeat, they are NOT the same! Coffeeshops sell coffee and marijuana; cafes sell alcohol and food. We obviously didn't go into a coffeeshop or cafe, but below is the Bulldog, a famous coffeeshop. My dad was more intrigued by the amounts of Mercedes being used as taxis.
More touristy pic.
Ending this blog with a bang talking about the Red Light District. I'm sure this area is a lot more popping at night, but during the day, it wasn't too wild. Prostitution is legal in Netherlands, but not on the streets, therefore in Amsterdam, these ladies are standing behind windows, store front, in their bikinis. We saw a few ladies during our short visit.
Pictures are not allowed here, and I read that they will not hesitate to throw urine on someone who is daring enough to take pictures of them. Hence, my weird angling hoping my dad is quick with this picture.
Back in Rotterdam where the buildings are much more modern compared to Amsterdam. Nick and I spent our afternoon here at a foodie place, very similar to our Anaheim Packing District. It was great to submerge ourselves into the Dutch lifestyle and culture. We definitely aren't in the States where soda readily available because these eateries only sold craft beer, fresh squeezed juices, and milk. Nick and I downed two jugs of milk :-D
Overall, we really enjoyed both countries and the different cities that we got to explore..
I enjoyed Brussels because parts of the city felt like we were back in Switzerland. Our guide was hilarious and informative. Nick really enjoyed the gold on the buildings making the Grand Place feel nice and elegant. What we both didn't enjoy was the preparation of the beer festival for that weekend ruining the vibe of the square. I wished we had more time for sights and Belgium eats, but it is what it is.
Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam... there are no words to describe this city. This city has everything - history, canals, bikes, shopping, multiculturalism, prostitution, legalized marijuana, tulip fields, Mercedes for taxis. I'm not going to lie, and you can disagree, but Amsterdam felt more "dirty" in the sense that they accept things that are generally taboo in a lot of other countries. I know for sure that we won't be returning to this city with family or kids. This is a party city, and you just don't mix the two worlds together.
We finally have a day at sea tomorrow to relax and catch up on sleep. The day after, we will be exploring Hamburg, Germany with two special guests.
Thank you for taking the time to read our travel blogs.