Holidays in Europe: Belgium, France and Amsterdam

Today’s prompt is: Tell us about a time you celebrated a holiday abroad.

If you’ve been keeping up with my #indie30 entries, you read a little about my Christmas in Belgium (click) when strangers were so kind to me during my time there.

I had actually gone to Paris, Amsterdam and Belgium on that trip. It was just months after my separation from my ex-husband. I wanted to do something for myself and on my own. I had a dream I went to Belgium and loved it, so I went to Belgium – and loved it. Since they are so close to Brussels, I decided to take in Amsterdam and Paris while I was there.

I started in Brussels:

The light shows in Grand Place are beautiful
The chocolate creations in Belgium are astounding. The time it takes to make these sculptures – I don’t have that kind of patience!
Beautiful Grand Place
Another view of Grand Place
It is not a lie that Belgian waffles are delicious

And went to Ghent, which was beyond charming:

Well except Gerald the Devil’s Castle. I’d describe it as ominous. “Gerald the Devil” killed four of his five wives. He got his in the end. His fifth wife killed him.
View from Sint Michiels bridge – Taken from one of the main streets in Ghent, you can see the Gravensteen fortress flying the Ghent and Flaunders flags. I LOVE this shot. Towns like this just don’t exist in the US.
St. Baaf’s Cathedral  and Belfort towering over Ghent

Then off to Bruges/Brugge (depending on personal taste for the spelling) – which was my absolute favorite part of this trip:

Entering Begijnhof. I was in love with this place. It was very spiritual and peaceful. See the trees leaning toward the church? There is a legend behind this. I don’t want to spoil it, so go there yourself and tour so you can find out!
Resting my feet at one of the beautiful canals
Venice of West Europe
Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc (Sugarbaker’s Chocolatier) – their chocolate was divine. I brought some beautiful creations back for everyone. People STILL talk about it all these years later.
One of the views from the Belfry

Then off to Paris:

It was cold and rainy this day – Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile
This was just before I went up into the Tour Eiffel for lunch. The server was so incredibly rude declaring that Americans could not understand the fine delicacy of raw oysters, and unfortunately, it was a realization of the stereotypes that come with Paris. I explained to him I am from Florida and we eat them all the time as a way of life. He was shocked. It set the tone for my time in Paris, unfortunately.
View from Tour Eiffel on a rainy day
La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre – It is beautiful here. Inside and out. The trek up the hill through Montmartre and seeing all of the artists displaying (and selling) their work was the most interesting part of this trip for me. In the church they do not allow photos. I went to put my camera away and someone who worked there grabbed my arm, shook it and scolded me, “No photos.” Again, it saddened me that the people of this city were proving the stereotypes true.
I loved this display of trees on Champs-Élysées. I was trying, very hard, to find simple things to make me smile at this point of the trip. Minutes before, I was in a shop and had a horrible encounter with someone working there. Three strikes you’re out, Paris. I resigned never to return to Paris, though I did years later. I believe in second chances. Unfortunately, my opinion didn’t change. I find it overrated and dirty. I much prefer Belgium, but if I’m near Paris I prefer to stay in Chantilly instead.

I left Paris early, and excitedly, went back to Belgium, where outside the train station a very kind stranger saw that I was cold, moved me to the front of the cab line because I was a guest in his country and sent me on my way.

I decided to go ahead and leave to Amsterdam the next day…

In Amsterdam I met an African student and we toured the city together for an entire day. We ended our evening in a little cafe’ chatting with other travelers. Til this day I kick myself for not getting a picture of the two of us together.

I love the houseboats there
I love the irony in this shot – Red Light District (see the red lights?) and a church at the end of the street.
Church of St. Nicholas greets you when you get off the train
Love this shot of Westerkerk

After my time in Amsterdam, I went back to Brussels for a couple of days before departing back to Florida, where I lived at the time.

Manneken Pis – There are many stories surrounding this little guy. It’s vulgar, but funny. And the townspeople and tourists love him all the same
It was Christmas Day and I was wandering Grand Place trying to see if anywhere would be open for an early dinner. A restaurant owner invited me in and insisted I eat in his restaurant as a guest in his country. He wouldn’t take no for an answer! He then implored me to join his family and friends. What a contrast to Paris. There I was, feeling a bit deflated after my interactions in France, about to go back to the reality of an impending divorce and among total strangers in a place I had a dream of, but had known very little about. And I was having the the time of my life! I remember thinking to myself, “I have not laughed like this in so long.”
Again, I wish I would have taken a photo of him, his family and all of us together. I was living in the moment, though. I put the camera down and just took in what was going on. Perhaps the memory and what it conjures for me is better than a photo.
The food was delicious.
This was my dessert. You’ve seen this photo before. What flavor.
He did take a photo of me before I left…It was the last photograph on my camera taken in Belgium.
After a delicious email with wonderful company
I have not returned to Belgium, but it forever lives in my heart. It was only a total of a week I spent there, out of almost two weeks in Europe, but I went back to Florida with a lot of sadness. I wanted to stay. Alas, life and responsibility won out, but what I learned about my ability to be independent on that trip has stayed with me always. It also taught me that you should live your dreams – not just dream them. It certainly paid off for me.
For more travel eye candy, visit the #SundayTraveler link-up by clicking here.