Copenhagen: A Delightful Homebase in Nyhavn Harbor

One annoying thing about all the travel I did this semester was the planning: coordinating flights, hotels, food, and sightseeing took a lot of time and effort. Often, I would try to crank out a bunch of trips all at once, going on a spree, for instance, of booking hotels. This meant that, by the time I actually arrived in each destination, I had pretty much forgotten why I had once chosen that particular hotel. Location? Price? Amenities? Who knew. Those details had long ago blended together in a blurry, jumbled travel-planning vortex.

That was not necessarily a bad thing, however. In fact, it happens to be why I had one of my favorite moments of the semester in Copenhagen.

On the plane from Brussels to Copenhagen, I thumbed through a guidebook, taking special note of Nyhavn Harbor. The harbor certainly has plenty of history, dating back to the 17th-century, but I was interested in it for another reason: it looked really, really beautiful. Like, insanely so. With its ships set against a backdrop of brightly colored buildings all in a row, Nyhavn could not have appeared more picturesque. I made a mental note to check it out as soon as possible.

I headed toward my hotel in Copenhagen, rolling my suitcase down the cobblestones behind me, iPhone map firmly in hand. One right turn, I realized, and I would be on the street where the hotel was located. So I turned right, and there it was:

Nyhavn Harbor.

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As it turned out, I had booked a hotel right on the harbor. I hadn’t even realized it until that moment (or perhaps I had realized it, months before, but I had long forgotten about it by that point). It felt like an incredible stroke of luck: I get to wake up here every morning and come back here every night? Really? Well alright. If you insist.

I loved having the harbor as my home base in Copenhagen, as it was an easy walk to the subway, to Strøget (Copenhagen’s long, bustling pedestrian street), and to the Little Mermaid statue. It was also just a pleasant place to be, not to mention a super pleasant place to photograph. Rather inadvertently, I had wound up right where I wanted to be.

On my last night in Copenhagen – which also happened to be my last night of my entire semester abroad – I was in my hotel room, packing. I had put off packing for as long as humanly possible (as I tend to do), and I had to be up early in the morning to catch the first of the three flights it would take to get me back home. I peeked out my window to catch a glimpse of the harbor, as I had grown accustomed to doing during my stay in Copenhagen. I saw this:

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My jaw dropped. The sky was the most amazing, vibrant shade of orange I had ever seen. I abandoned my packing immediately, throwing on my shoes and coat and heading out for one last stroll through lovely Nyhavn Harbor. That night, I wound up going to bed way later than I had planned, of course. But you know what?

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Worth it.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 126

The weekly-ish roundup of internet finds:

  1. “It’s like FourSquare, but for your education. If you were a wizard.”: Syracuse University Turns to Harry Potter to Motivate Business Students.
  2. If they hadn’t put C.J. at #1, I would have revolted, so that’s good. Also, I love that Mandy is #113. But Leo should be #2, Ainsley should be higher, and Amy should be lower: A Definitive Ranking of Every Character on The West Wing.
  3. I personally think they taste gross, but this is an interesting read anyway: The Greatest Trick Capitalism Ever Pulled Was Making You Want a Pumpkin Spice Latte.
  4. #2 and #3 are the story of my life: 14 Things Overthinkers Say and What They Actually Mean.
  5. “I smell like a baby in a damn meadow”: If Nick Miller Quotes Were Motivational Posters.
  6. Gorgeous: Recipes Suspended in Air.
  7. Insert cry-laughing emoji here: #NewSATQuestions.
  8. Heh: If Social Media Was Made For People Who Hate People.
  9. She’s the best: 16 Times Leslie Knope Made the Whole World Happy.
  10. This is adorable: Here’s Tom Brady’s Resume from When He Didn’t Think He’d Make It in the NFL.

(Image via)

An Afternoon in Antwerp

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As I mentioned before, Brussels was not exactly my favorite city, so during my time there, I decided a little daytrip was in order. Given Belgium’s tiny size, there are an abundance of options for taking a quick trip, but I settled on Antwerp, Belgium’s second largest city. While Antwerp is known for two main things – being a port town and having a huge diamond industry – those weren’t really the focus of my time in town.

Instead, I was content just to wander around the heart of Antwerp’s old city, stopping to visit whatever caught my eye. Before I even began my exploring, however, I was impressed with something else: the train station, which was gorgeous! I, apparently, wasn’t the only one who thought so, as Newsweek named it the fourth best train station in the world.

I left the magnificent train station and headed toward Antwerp’s old town, where the main attraction was the Great Market Square. With its triangle-roofed buildings and flourishes of gold, it reminded me of Brussels’s own Grand Place, albeit on a smaller scale.

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I also peeked into the Cathedral of Our Lady, a Roman Catholic church constructed in 1521. Its stark white, impossibly high ceilings were impressive, as were its small collection of paintings – it even has a few pieces by Peter Paul Rubens.

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Other than that, I didn’t do much more in Antwerp, save eating a nice lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant (because, you know, who doesn’t think of Vietnamese cuisine when they think of Belgium?!?) Antwerp wasn’t the most exciting city I visited this semester, but it was certainly a cute one, and well-deserving of a quick stop.

Why Brussels Made Me Miss Bruges

If anyone has been keeping count, I wrote four posts about Bruges (see: one, two, three, and four). Yet Brussels – a larger city, the capital of Belgium, and the seat of the EU’s major institutions – gets this one measly post. Why?

The truth is…I did not love Brussels. It was a fine city, but it was also simply one of those places that I did not “click” with. My time there was pleasant but unremarkable, and, quite frankly, it was a bit of a letdown after the glory that was Bruges. I suppose it was inevitable: I absolutely adored the quaint charm of Bruges, and so Brussels was always going to have a tough time competing; to me, it just felt like any generic big city, and nothing more. So, while I am willing to be proven wrong (and I have been wrong about European cities before), for now, Brussels is pretty low on my list of favorite places in Europe. That said, despite my personal misgivings, there is still plenty to eat, see, and do in the city.

The Grand Place seems to be the center of all activity in Brussels – or all tourist activity, at least – and was one of my favorite parts of the city, crowds notwithstanding. The square is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, and it’s no wonder why, as the gorgeous, ornate buildings that line the square are quite impressive. And while, as I mentioned, Brussels would not necessarily be high on my list of cities to return to, I think it would be worth it to see the flower carpet that decorates the square each August.

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(If the Grand Place has one major fault, it’s this: it is almost impossible to get a photograph that encapsulates everything. The square is just too huge!)

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The other quintessential landmark in Brussels is an odd one: Manneken Pis, a bronze sculpture of a little boy peeing into a fountain. The statue dates back to 1619 and is often dressed in a variety of different costumes – there’s even a non-profit organization dedicated to selecting the tiny dude’s outfits! The statue felt to me much like the Mona Lisa: it’s really small, you have to fight through crowds to get to it, and you wind up wondering what all the fuss is about. Still, I suppose you have to see it at least once, so it’s worth a (quick) wander by.

Shortly after Manneken Pis, I made a left and then began to climb, heading to Brussels’s Upper Town. Here, I wandered through peaceful parks and peeked through the gates of the Royal Palace. There are also several museums in the area – none of which I visited this time around – including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Magritte Museum.

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I headed back down via a different route, passing through Mont des Arts on my way back into town. I loved this area for two reasons: first, because it was home to beautiful gardens and second, because it offered some lovely views looking down toward the lower part of town.

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While in Brussels, it seemed obligatory to eat mussels; unfortunately, though, I wasn’t in the city at peak mussels seasons. The first restaurant I tried to order them at told me that I could have them, but that they didn’t recommend it since the mussels weren’t at their best right then. I opted for another dish, but the next day, I decided to head for a different restaurant and just go for it; I wanted mussels in Brussels, dammit! So, I did indeed eat them (at L’Estaminet du Kelderke). They were good, but not necessarily great. Still, when in Brussels…

I also made sure to snap up some other Belgian favorites while in Brussels, such as:

Raspberry-flavored beer:

Waffles:

French fries:

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And, of course, chocolate. Much like Bruges, there are chocolate shops everywhere in Brussels. Each shop is super fun to browse; I loved seeing all the unique flavors, creative concoctions, and beautiful packaging at each place. Of course, I made sure to grab a few pieces for myself and also nabbed a fancy-schmancy box to take home for my family.

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(Manneken Pis is even creepier in chocolate form, right?!?)

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Finally, while I generally don’t write much about hotels here, the place I stayed in Brussels deserves a mention. I stayed at Hotel Welcome because – I’ll admit it – I once saw it on an episode of Samantha Brown. Still, it’s no wonder my gal Sam featured it on her show, as the hotel is pretty cool. At Hotel Welcome, each room is named for a different country and decorated to match. There aren’t room numbers; when you get your key, the front desk will simply tell you: “You’re in Peru.” As for me, I started my stay in Cuba:

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On my last night, the front desk kindly offered to upgrade me to the Tahiti room – an unexpected but welcome perk, as it allowed me to see an entirely new set of decór. In fact, I wish I’d gotten to poke around in all the rooms.

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While my stay at Hotel Welcome was a fun experience, my overall stint in Brussels was, sadly, a bit less than I had hoped for. Ultimately, though, I don’t think I can complain too much, as I got to travel to a lot of amazing places this semester and it was all but inevitable that each one would not be a winner. I certainly didn’t hate Brussels, but nor did I feel any sort of “magic” there like I have with other destinations – and that’s okay, as I had more than my fair share of magic elsewhere.

Bruges: A Few Things to See, from Medieval Cathedrals to Rickety Windmills to Belgian Art

When it comes to Bruges, my two greatest recommendations would be this: take plenty of time to wander around its too-cute-for words streets and make sure to eat well. But if you are a traveler looking for actual, concrete things to do and see in Bruges, there are plenty of other ways to spend your time, from museums to churches to windmills (of course there are windmills! It’s the cutest town on earth!). Here are a few of the ways I passed my time in Bruges.

Grote Markt:

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Grote Markt is Bruges’s main square, the heart of the city, and probably everyone’s first stop upon arriving in town. The square is lined with colorful, triangular-roofed buildings and is home to the medieval bell tower (dating back to about 1240) and two pretty sweet frites stands. Whether you want to be active and climb up the 366 steps of the belfry or simply relax and people watch, this is the place to be.


Basilica of the Holy Blood:

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Head to Burg Square (a few minutes’ walk from Grote Markt) to find the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Catholic church built in the 12th-century. The church contains both an upper and a lower chapel, but it is the upper chapel – with its stained glass, gorgeous murals, and golden altar – that people come to marvel at.


Church of Our Lady:

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Pretty much the last thing I would have expected to encounter in Belgium was Michelangelo, yet there he was – or, rather, there his sculpture was – tucked away in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. On the whole, I found the church’s interior a bit unremarkable (granted, large chunks of it were under construction at the time of my visit), but it’s worth checking out if only to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture. The gardens just outside the church are also lovely.


Chocolate Window Shopping:

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While I only set foot in one chocolate shop while it Bruges – the lovely Dumon – that didn’t mean I couldn’t admire the city’s many, many other chocolate shops. In fact, chocolate “window shopping” is incredibly fun in Bruges, as many stores have super creative – and mouth-watering, naturally – displays in their storefronts.


Begijnhof:

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Bruges’s Begijnhof was built in the 13th-century and was originally home to Beguines, religious women who lived together in semi-monastic communities (but didn’t take any formal religious vows). Today, the complex includes a convent for Benedictine nuns – and is also much-visited by tourists. The area – with its white buildings surrounding a peaceful, serene courtyard – is a lovely addition to any stroll through Bruges.


Groeninge:

I love a good art museum, and the Groeninge definitely fits that bill. The museum moves chronologically through Flemish art, so as you walk through each room, you can see the styles evolving over time. On the day I visited, the Groeninge was also extremely quiet and peaceful, without large crowds gathering around the paintings – and since that seems like a rarity for most major art museums these days, it was certainly something I appreciated.


Stadhuis (Town Hall):

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Bruges’s town hall – located on Burg Square, near the Basilica of the Holy Blood – is also impressive. Buy your ticket and head upstairs to find the Gothic Hall, dating back to the 19th-century and containing some spectacular murals. There are also adjoining exhibits with historical documents and treasures, but I found myself content to primarily stay in the Gothic Hall, soaking up all the gold-leafed gorgeousness.


Windmills:

On my last morning in town, I headed to the outskirts of Bruges to find the four windmills. It was about a twenty minute or so walk from the center of town (many people also choose to bike it), and along the way, I spent a lot of time peeking down the tiny side streets, obsessed with photographing the brick buildings and cobblestone lanes. As for the windmills themselves, they were also worth poking around. While you can climb up some of them for a small entry fee, the steep, rickety staircases freaked me out just a bit (perhaps a lingering effect of climbing similarly treacherous stairs on my De Halve Maan brewery tour), so I was content to admire them from below.


And there you have it: a list, though certainly not exhaustive, of what to do in Bruges. Like I have hinted at before, I happen to believe that anyone could happily spend a trip to Bruges doing little more than eating waffles and drinking local beers, but there are many other options for passing the time if you want to burn a few calories in addition to inevitably consuming them.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 125

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. Hah: How You Eat on Instagram Vs. How You Eat in Real Life.
  2. For sure: Real Life Disney Princes Would Be Horrible People.
  3. Well done: Kate Davis Covers “All About That Bass” with an Actual Bass.
  4. 73 Questions with Anna Wintour. This is great – and all the other entries in the Vogue interview series are delightful too (see: Sarah Jessica Parker, Olivia Munn, Blake Lively, and Daniel Radcliffe).
  5. “Williams is underloved because, at times, she has been unlovable and, in the end, mostly unrepentant about it—something that might be admired as iconoclastic in a male athlete, but rarely endears women to a wide audience.” This is an interesting read: Serena Williams Is America’s Greatest Athlete.
  6. Love her: J.K. Rowling Had the Perfect Response to a Homophobic Troll on Twitter.
  7. Some inspiration for when it comes time to name the Wi-Fi network at my next place: 50 Funny Wi-Fi Names That Will Make Your Neighbors Smile.
  8. Some clever marketing right here: Amy Dunne of “Gone Girl” Has a Creepy Pinterest Account.
  9. Awww: Little Boy Gives Unknown Girl Foul Ball During Red Sox Game.
  10. I want to plan a trip to the UK and just visit all of these: 21 Absolutely Charming Tea Rooms You Have to Visit Before You Die.

(Image via)

Bruges: A Foodie’s Dream

After returning home from my semester abroad, I got to talking with my dad about Bruges. He had visited Belgium in the ’90s while traveling for work and remarked that he had some of his very best meals in Bruges. To that, I could only nod my head in agreement, because I had noticed it too – Bruges is a city filled with fantastic places to eat.

To some extent, this surprised me. While I knew I would love the street food in Bruges – think waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries and fries heaped with mayo – I didn’t realize that the restaurant scene would also be so solid. Meals were always something to savor in Bruges, whether they were of the grab-a-waffle-and-go variety or the sit-down restaurant, finer dining type. It is a town tailor-made for eating well (but not for counting calories) if I ever saw one. Here are a few favorite spots.

L’Estaminet:

I chose L’Estaminet for a late dinner on my first night in town primarily out of convenience, as it was located just around the corner from my B&B. Luckily for me, it turned out that the restaurant serves up great food. I tried a kriek, or cherry-flavored beer, which is basically the perfect beer choice for someone with a slight aversion to the stuff (or, if you want to be less charitable about it, a “wimpy choice” in the words of my dad). For my meal, I had a Croque Madame. I Instagrammed my dinner (I mean, obviously), and the caption I included there is the best summary of how much I enjoyed the restaurant: “I’ll say it: this was better than any Croque Madame I’ve ever had in France. #wellplayedbelgium”

Getting there: Park 5, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 33 09 16


De Vlaamsche Pot:

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Tucked away on a tiny street not too far from Bruges’s main square, De Vlaamsche Pot was a gem. What I loved most was the overall atmosphere of the restaurant, from the chairs painted bright red to the checkered tablecloths to the leafy, lovely courtyard I was seated in for my meal. The food was also good (which is the most important thing, I suppose); I ordered the chicken vol-au-vent, which was perfect for warming up on a drizzly Bruges day. The prices seemed a bit high, but you do get huge portions – so overall, I would say De Vlaamsche Pot is a fair value for the money.

Getting there: Helmstraat 3, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | + 32 3 250 34 00


Chocolatier Dumon:

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Sampling chocolate is, of course, a must in Bruges. The only problem is: which chocolate shop to choose? I based my pick on the descriptions in my guidebook and wound up at Chocolatier Dumon – and it was a good choice (hashtag thanks, Rick Steves). The selection at Dumon was overwhelming and the chocolates were not labeled, so I decided just to have them put together a mixed box for me. Not only was my collection of chocolates quite cute, it was also tasty. Was it better than my beloved Swiss chocolate? That, my friends, is a delicious toss-up.

Getting there: Eiermarkt 6, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 34 62 82


De Hobbit:

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I will admit that I chose De Hobbit primarily because of the Lord of the Rings reference in the restaurant’s name, and not because I had a specific craving for the food there. Nevertheless, while I would not classify this as my favorite meal in Bruges, it was a pretty good one. My chicken skewers and salad were a solid choice for a lighter meal and, as always, fruit-flavored beer did not let me down: I loved my framboise.

Getting there: Kemelstraat 8, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 33 55 20


Chez Albert:

Located just off Grote Markt (Bruges’s main square), Chez Albert cooks up waffles smothered with whatever delicious topping you would like. While there were many options (think fruits, nuts, and sauces galore), I went with a classic: chocolate and whipped cream. It was delicious but quite rich; next time around, I would be tempted to try just a plain waffle, which I suspect is plenty yummy on its own.

Getting there: Breidelstraat 16, 8000 Bruges, Belgium


Grote Markt Frites Stands:

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In the shadow of Bruges’s medieval bell tower lie two thoroughly modern developments: french fry stands! Much like the fries in Amsterdam, these guys come drenched in the mayonnaise of your choice. My recommendation? Head to the nearby benches to enjoy your fries and people-watch all the folks passing through the bustling square.

Getting there: Just under the bell tower in Grote Markt


De Koetse:

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My final meal in Bruges was a good one: lunch at De Koetse. I went with the prix fixe lunch: mussels with garlic butter to start, steak with Béarnaise sauce for my main, and a chocolate mousse to finish. I loved it all – particularly the mussels – and, as usual, was a bit overwhelmed with the portion sizes (a trend in Bruges, it seems). I also appreciated the service at the restaurant; every waiter who dropped by my table – and there were a lot of them! – was friendly and efficient.

Getting there: Oude Burg 31, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 33 76 80


As I mentioned before, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Bruges – and the vibrant food scene was a large part of the city’s appeal. What I found especially wonderful was that you can get delicious stuff whatever your price range may be; there is a range of options from cheap food stands to pricier splurge meals, and all of it is good. If you are looking to eat well, I would classify Bruges as a can’t-miss foodie stop in Europe.