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Dusting Off an Old Post: City Hopping in Western Europe (December 2011)

This second post in my ‘old post’ series is about western Europe. In December 2011, after having celebrated Thanksgiving in the US of A, we flew to Europe to spend the winter holidays. Our main activity was visiting Christmas markets and cities. In one month’s time we made it to eight major cities in western Europe. 

There will be two posts about this chapter of my life. Each will include a brief description of the places we went to, but the real focus is totally on photography! The four cities in this post are Dublin, Brussels, Cologne and Antwerp.

After an eight hour flight from Boston we arrived in Dublin at 5am local time, without having slept at all. We had arranged a layover in the Irish capital, so we could explore this first city on our tour of western Europe. We knew there would be the risk of having a jetlag. And guess what, we did have a major jetlag! Despite this physical inconvenience, we still had twelve hours to spend until our next flight.

So, we booked a bus ticket to a hop-on hop-off bus. As touristy as those buses may be, they’re also an easy way to get around a new city, get your bearings and see and/or visit all major attractions in a short period of time…

Graduates Memorial Building in Trinity College.
Graduates Memorial Building in Trinity College.

Molly Malone statue and leprechauns on Grafton Streets, Dublin.
Molly Malone statue and some friendly leprechauns.
Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin, Ireland.
Statue of Oscar Wilde.
Saint Patrick's Park, Dublin.
Saint Patrick’s Park.
Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland.
Temple Bar.
Lord Edward Street in Dublin, Ireland.
Lord Edward Street.

Dublin is so interesting and half a day isn’t nearly enough to explore the city. I had the same feeling in Singapore, where I had a twelve hour layover too, a couple of years ago… So I guess the only option is to go back sometime!

After an exhausting day in Dublin and a short evening flight to Brussels, we spent the night in a nice hotel. I had never really visited Brussels, except for the national football stadium (I refuse to say soccer!) and some museums. It’s a shame really. After all, I am Belgian and I didn’t even pay a proper visit to my own capital until I was 25 years old…

The city centre is fabulous. People sometimes say that Brussels has one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe and it’s easy to see why.

Town Hall in Brussels, Belgium.
Town Hall.
Guild Houses on the town square in Brussels.
Guild Houses on the town square.

We spent the afternoon walking around the city, taking in the sights and passing all the classic and famous landmarks (except for the Atomium, which isn’t really within walking distance of the city centre).

Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula, Brussels.
Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula.
Brussels Park, Belgium.
Brussels Park.

The ‘comic book route’ leads past thirty comic murals in the city. Brussels is where comic book characters such as the Smurfs and Tintin were made up.

Tintin murals on the Comic book route in Brussels, Belgium
Tintin mural.

The Rue des Bouchers is one of the most characteristic pedestrian streets in Brussels. It’s filled with cafés and restaurants.

Rue des Bouchers in Brussels.
Rue de Bouchers.
Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium.
Royal Palace.
Royal Saint Hubert Galleries in Brussels.
Royal Saint Hubert Galleries.
Manneken Pis in Brussels, Belgium.
Manneken Pis.
Architecture in Brussels, Belgium
Beautiful architecture.

We visited our first Christmas market in Brussels. There are several markets at squares all over the city. It’s so much fun to just stroll through the city and occasionally stumble upon another Christmas market!

Christmas markets in Brussels.
Christmas markets.

During Christmas time, a visit to one of the best and possibly most famous Christmas market is a must-do. I’m talking about the one in Cologne. What I love about Christmas markets is the atmosphere, hundreds of people wearing warm clothes, eating all kinds of food and drinking glühwein or schnapps.

After a quiet day at home and shaking off our jetlags, we drove to Cologne, which is just across the German border.

Christmas markets and the Dom in Cologne, Germany.
Christmas markets and the Dom.
Wrapped up entrance to a museum in Cologne, Germany.
Wrapped up entrance to a museum.
Wooden figures in a Christmas market stall in Cologne
Wooden figures in a stall.

The Kölner Dom is an impressive cathedral in the middle of the city. It’s stunningly massive.

Kölner Dom, Cologne, Germany.
The Dom, an incredible piece of architecture.
Cologne Cathedral by night; Germany.
Cologne by night.

The next day we went to Antwerp. I love Antwerp. It’s only half an hour from where I live (I live in the province of Antwerp). The city is sometimes called the ‘diamond capital of the world’. They say that about 80% of all diamonds pass through Antwerp at some point.

Diamond shop in Antwerp, Belgium.
One of dozens of diamond shops.

As a kid we used to go to the Antwerp Zoo a few times per year. It opened its doors in 1843, which makes it one of the oldest zoos in the world. We didn’t go there this time though. Way too many other things to see and do!

It’s a fantastic city with many features: medieval architecture and legends, a castle and cathedral, lots of museums (the house where painter Peter Paul Rubens used to have his workshop is a fantastic museum now), a big shopping street, the great Scheldt River and a gorgeous town square.

Meir in Antwerp, Belgium.
Meir, the big shopping street of Antwerp and the most important one in the country.
Rubens House in Antwerp.
The Rubens House, the former workshop of Rubens.
Groenplaats in Antwerp, Belgium.
Groenplaats, one of the many beautiful squares in town.
Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp.
Christmas tree in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady.
View of Antwerp, Belgium.
View of Het Steen, Antwerp’s castle, from a ferris wheel.
Lange Wapper and Het Steen in Antwerp, Belgium
Lange Wapper statue near Het Steen.
Town Square and the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium.
Town Square and the Cathedral of Our Lady.
Art inside the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp.
Art exhibition inside the Cathedral.

And last, but certainly not least: the wonderful town square of Antwerp.

Antwerp Town Square, Belgium.
Town Square.

To be continued…

UPDATE: In part two we’re visiting Bruges, Amsterdam and Berlin!

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