Quanta Basta

Sometimes traveling can feel like home. For us Il Borghetto in San Gimignano definitely feels like home. Seventeen years ago Monsieur and I came here with G and Pops to celebrate respectively our first and their 35th wedding anniversaries (shhh we were child brides). Back then we vowed to come back, it only took seventeen years. What were we waiting for?

The view of the Pergola and the valley beyond from Il Borghetto

Il Borghetto is owned by the Bimbi Family. Sandra and Riccardo are sister and brother and along with their lovely partners (and spouses) Simona and Nicola, they have lovingly restored a 15th century villa on the hillside below San Gimignano in Tuscany. Overlooking vineyards and olive groves, they have created a little slice of heaven. Converted into several self-catered apartments, the Bimbi’s are the consummate hosts. After 17 years, we were welcomed back with open arms, hugs and kisses.

Three nights a week, the matriarch of the Bimbi family Silvana, creates a traditional Tuscan meal for the guests to enjoy. To this day the best meals I’ve ever had were made by Mamma Silvana and served by Simona, Nicola and Sandra under the pergola at Il Borghetto. Lovingly selected Tuscan wines accompany and never disappoint. Everyone is made to feel like a special guest at the Bimbi’s home. Stories and laughs, delicious food and an amazing view make for the most memorable evenings.

Monsieur with a plate of Silvana’s papardelle with ragu
GG and the Godfather on their terrace at Il Borghetto

One of our evenings, the family arranged for a cooking class. As fans of Italian cuisine we were all about learning how to re-create some of these dishes. Patrizia our teacher, brought fresh ingredients from her garden including her own homemade Limoncello (spoiler alert: its boozy!). Paired up with 3 other delightful Canadians, a sweet Brit and charming American we set to work with Patrizia at the helm. We made zeppole with zucchini flowers (a savory doughnut), zucchini stuffed with meat sauce and handmade gnocchi with a tomato, ricotta and basil sauce. For dessert an apple tart with just a hint of limoncello for flavour. Patrizia taught us that Italians only eat what is in season, hence the zucchini heavy menu. The tomatoes for the sauce were from her garden last summer, she canned and preserved them herself. The garlic oil we made was using last season’s garlic from the braids in her cellar as this season’s garlic was still a week away. She taught us that the essence of Italian cooking is really “Quanta Basta”, my new favourite Italian phrase. “How much salt Patrizia?” ”Quanta basta!” she replied. Just enough. Literally a pinch… unless you need more than a pinch, just some. You know, quanta basta!

Patrizia and Team Quanta Basta
Little baby handmade gnocchis

For dinner, our partners and travelling parties joined us for the feast. Enjoying Patrizia’s wine selection, we were all very impressed with ourselves that we MADE all of it. Time will tell whether we can successfully recreate this meal without Patrizia’s watchful eye.

In this part of Central Tuscany, you can’t swing a dead something without hitting a charming hilltown. San Gimignano is perhaps THE most charming of the lot and is just a 10 minute drive from Il Borghetto. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Gimignano is a walled medieval town with about a dozen of its incredible towers still intact and in use. Since we were here 17 years ago its clear that San Gimignano has definitely been added to the map of must sees in Tuscany. It took us 3 tries to actually get here, the first two attempts thwarted by overfull parking lots. Our bad, we kept arriving in time for lunch. We learned that the early bird gets the parking spot and the table for six.

A view of San Gimignano and its towers

Sangi is a cute collection of charming shops selling local ceramics, leather goods and linens as well as wine bars, gelato shops and lovely trattorias. Sandra and Simona sent us to an incredible restaurant called La Mandrogola. Off the beaten path, behind the main street on Via Diacceto (which is only wide enough for a scooter) we were charmed by the sweet terrace and delicious Vernaccia de San Gimignano recommended by our server. Her response when we asked for a recommendation ”Why wouldn’t you drink the wine from here?” Of course, she was absolutely right. I can’t remember what we ate, but I’m sure it was pasta and steak and tomatoes and cheese. All I know is that it was yummy and that we were charmed yet again by boundless Italian hospitality.

Pops and his rental car

Il Borghetto is a fabulous home base to explore Tuscany. Situated half way between Florence and Siena along the A1 Autostrada, its easy to get around in a rental car (you definitely need a rental car here). Just be sure to navigate by town and not highway numbers. In 17 years, the advent of Google Maps meant for far less navigational disputes on our travels. Volterra, Monteriggioni, Barberini Val D’Elsa are all easy jaunts. Pisa, Arezzo, Montalcino and the Tuscan coast are slightly farther afield but still very easy day trips from the Villa.

We decided to stick closer to home this time, pooped after our Paris departure and power sightseeing in Florence, we only chose to visit Siena (totally worth it – the Piazza del Campo and the Duomo are amazing to see). We also found the charming Barberino Val D’Elsa on the recommendation of an Italian waiter in Paris and had great pizza at both the Cafe Bijou and Triocco. The latter has a terrace overlooking the valley, lovely spot.

Piazza del Campo in Siena
The view from Barberino Val D’Elsa plus a cheeky photobomber

We’re grateful for Google reviews this time around. Before we choose a restaurant, we always check the Google review rating. Nothing under 4 stars, the closer to 5 stars the better. We’ve never been disappointed. This rule applies to the coffee shops all the way up to the Ristorantes. We also have a rule never to eat close to the tourist attractions. Walk a block or two off the beaten path and you’ll see the Google ratings jump.

The luxuries of Il Borghetto are not found in daily room service or a Michelin star. They are found in the warm welcome of the Bimbi Family. The genuine and heartfelt hospitality is unmatched in any other place we’ve stayed. Saying goodbye we couldn’t help but feel sad and a little teary. Like long lost friends, our only lament is that we waited too long to return to Il Borghetto, next time we won’t wait so long. To quote Patrizia, Il Borghetto is for us Quanta Basta – just enough and so much more.

A teary farewell to the Bimbi’s at Il Borghetto

Aunt Flo

(Editor’s Note: For those following along, our stops in Carcassone and Les Baux de Provence actually took place before we left Paris. Italy is the beginning of our ”hard travel” period of 3 months on the move every few days to a week. Just in case anyone is confused by the chronology. I know I am!)

It was finally time to say Au Revoir to Paris and Buongiorno to Italy! Hard to believe that we were already bidding farewell to our home away from home in the 2nd Arrondissement and heading out to begin three months of heavy traveling.

In 2005 we traveled to Italy to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We fell in love and vowed to return. Back then we started cooking up our plan of an extended stay in Europe and hoped that one day we could realize that dream. So it made sense that the next country where we would spend the most time would naturally be Italy. Craving La Dolce Vita, we have booked a month in Italia and the first stop is Florence.

Santa Maria della Fiore (aka The Duomo) in Florence

After experiencing Florence for the first time in 2005 on an afternoon trip fighting the hordes of tourists on bus trips, we knew we needed to come back and spend a few days. With such a short stay here (and in most cities) we’ve taken to booking tours so we can try and capitalize on the time and soak up the local sites/ sights (which is it?). For Florence we booked a tour called ”Walking in the Footsteps of the Medici”. The Medici were the Godfathers of the Renaissance. By creating a positive and open society, Cosimo I was a patron of artists and architects like Donatello and Brunelleschi. Our tour started at Palazzo Vecchio and the epic Piazzo della Signoria with its many statues and most famously the replica of Michaelangelo’s David (the original has been moved indoors for safe keeping at the Accademia Gallery). Along the way our guide pointed out the many towers of Florence, with the most famous and perhaps the tallest here at the Palazzo Vecchio, but in fact there are lots around Florence of varying heights. She also pointed out the many bridges between the buildings that are common here and in other Tuscan towns, built for the nobility to walk from house to house without having to brave the dirty, smelly and plague ridden streets below. The concept of ”never burning a bridge” comes from these passages as warring families would burn bridges between their homes and towers when they fell out with each other. Pretty interesting.

Fountain of Neptune in the image of Cosimo de’ Medici I at Piazza della Signoria

Along our tour we did a speed visit to the Uffizi Gallery. While not as big as the Louvre or Musée D’Orsay, the Uffizi is sizeable and has many important works by the Italian masters. Most people come here to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus but my favourite was his Spring. We were happy for the guide who snuck us around line-ups and fast-tracked us through the boring parts. Lets face it, no matter how much of an art-lover you are all museums have boring parts!

We ended the tour at the Medici Chapels. Built as a Mausoleum and memorial to the Medici Dynasty, the family is all buried in these epic Chapels. Michaelangelo’s Sacristy with many unfinished works is worth the price of admission and the Chapel of the Princes is equally amazing. The Medici held much power here in Tuscany and in fact across Europe as preeminent bankers and within the Catholic Church with Princes, Queens and Popes counted in their number.

Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi
Look up in the Chapel of Princes at the Medici Chapels

We were very lucky to connect with Monsieur’s cousin D, who hosted us at the Westin Excelsior Hotel’s incredible rooftop bar with a 360 degree view of the city. Florence is breathtaking and the vantage point from here is amazing. Its worth the €20+ price for cocktails just to be able to take in this view and see all the sites (seriously… sites or sights? Both work!) from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio and the Tuscan villas beyond.

What a view towards the Pitti Palace! From the rooftop of the Westin Excelsior

D was our food guide, arranging for us to have dinner at Cantinetta Antinori. Inside the Villa of the Antinori wine family (a name that’s been in the wine business here in Tuscany since 1184), we had a great dinner in the courtyard. If you’re heading to Florence, make a reservation now! You won’t be disappointed. This is where our month long pasta eating contest started. There will be no Atkins diets here in Italy my friends!

At Cantinetta Antinori, its all about the wine of course and kids drink free!

This early June trip is coinciding with a heatwave and drought. While Italy is hot in the summer, we arrived to temperatures well over 30 degrees. This makes it a bit tough trying to get out and wander for sure. We tried to walk to the Pitti Palace (another Medici masterpiece) to enjoy the Boboli Gardens, but we quickly realized that our arrival at the gates of the Palace was nowhere near the entry to the Gardens. The thought of walking for another 20 minutes in the opposite direction of our hotel just to find shade was too daunting. So we called an Uber and headed back across the river to the air conditioning.

The Little Kid was very keen to see Galileo’s Finger at the Museo Galileo. The rest of the crowd wasn’t as interested, so Monsieur and I did not want to disappoint and off we went. You’ll be shocked to learn that there was no line up to enter this museum and we were able to breeze through in about 30 minutes. Lots of globes, lots of telescopes, some interesting models of the various baby birthing positions (“Euw GROSS!” said the Little) and finally Galileo’s finger. A bizarre relic to be sure, but how could we miss it?

Galileo’s Finger

Florence is truly an outdoor museum. Everything is breathtaking. The sounds of the bell ringing from the tower at Santa Maria della Fiore just makes me happy (as a matter of fact, I always get a little thrill when I hear the church bells here in Italy – they are so pretty).

Here in Florence we start the busiest part of our European tour. We’re on the move a lot (more on the logistics later) so we’re all feeling ready for a day or two off. Next stop: Tuscany!

A Week in Provence

Following our stay in Carcassonne, we wanted to add another stop and Provence seemed like the best idea. Just 2.5 hours by car from the fortress town, we set up camp at the Western edge of Provence at Les Baux de Provence. Another incredible fortification town, we stayed at the sweet Baumanière at the base of the hill. If the Visigoths were going to invade, we’d be the first line of defence. Armed with the stinkiest of cheese and the palest of rosés, I’m sure we could distract them from their conquering ways.

Beautiful Baumanière with Les Baux in the distance

Les Baux is a lovely home base from which to explore Provence. Just 40 minutes from Avignon, 20 minutes from Arles and only an hour from Aix-en-Provence, this area also is where our favourite french town is located. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is home to just under 10,000 residents and is a charming place with lovely restaurants, shops and a fabulous (and vast) market on Wednesday mornings that literally fills the streets of the old town.

We had been on the go pretty much non-stop since Venice, so we were very happy to arrive in a place where the pace was decidedly less hectic than Paris. With summer arriving early in Europe, we were also happy to enjoy some warm, sunny afternoons by the pool. The only trouble were the uninvited guests…

Provence is home to some of the most voracious mosquitoes we’ve ever seen including the Tiger mosquito. These things are seemingly active all day and night and aren’t satisfied after one bite. They are hungry little suckers and they will bite you over and over again. Monsieur and the Little are very prone to very itchy reactions so we didn’t make a move around Provence without locally acquired bug spray (we liked the Cinq sur Cinq brand) and anti-itch cream. We put the Little to bed with a dose a Benadryl to help ease the itchy swelling.

Our hotel is home to a famous three Michelin starred restaurant called Restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière, which certainly looks lovely. But as you’ve probably gathered, we’re into more simple cuisines. Instead our favourite spot in the area is Bistro Pieds Dans L’Eau. Yes, you got that right. We’d rather eat at a place called Bistro Feet in the Water instead of a three Michelin star restaurant. Pieds is a charming place located at the main gate of the town, with a large patio which in the heat of summer offers tables in the fountain where you can literally cool your heels over lunch. Pieds is a crowd-pleaser for our gang. Offering a simple family-style service, we loved the whole roast chicken and lasagna. No one complained and the only reason any food was left on the table was because of the hefty portions. If you do come here, be sure to save room for their house made desserts. The Little ordered the Rum Baba which arrived with an extra shot of rum on the side just in case it wasn’t rummy enough already.

No time to take pictures of our plates until after we’ve eaten. The food is that good at Bistro Pieds Dans L’Eau. PS we kept our shoes on this time….

The market in Saint-Rémy is a common occurrence in many (all?) cities and towns across France and Italy as far as I know. The produce, the cheese, the bread, the salami, the local herbs and salt, the leather sandals, the knives, the olives, the olive oil, the preserves, the sundresses… you name it, someone has set up a stall and is selling it. Its worth planning a visit to a town for market day. Parking is a challenge, but lunch will be a treat.

In addition to being a charming little town, Saint-Rémy has some interesting history. It’s origins are traced back to Roman times and the nearby ancient ruins of Glanum, eventually leading to the development of the settlement of Saint-Rémy. The birthplace of Nostradamus, the town was also home to Van Gogh for a time while he was a patient at the local Saint-Paul Asylum. Here he painted the very famous Starry Night and Lilacs to name just a few.

Speaking of Van Gogh, we also took a ride down to Arles to see its well preserved Roman Coliseum and Amphitheatre. Van Gogh lived here for a couple of years and painted his famous Cafe at Night. The cafe is still there, painted yellow and now serving some pretty mediocre fare for slightly higher prices than its neighbours on the square. We ”took one for the team” and had lunch on the Terrasse. Luckily a fellow traveller warned us that they only accept cash so we were able to cobble together enough Euros to pay the bill.

The café in Arles made famous by Van Gogh, still with its yellow awning. Not sure if the burger is as good as it was back then.

In our effort to avoid the Michelin stars, we ventured out for some dinners. Trying to stay close, we enjoyed a pile of pizzas at Pizza Brun in Maussane-les-Alpilles. A tiny little take-out restaurant with a collection of patio tables on the sidewalk outside, everyone was happy with their thin crust pies. We also discovered Chateau d’Estoublon just 10 minutes down the road from our hotel. A beautiful Chateau, d’Estoublon is a winery and olive farm and home to a great restaurant with a creatively named restaurant, Table. We had a lovely dinner on the terrace overlooking their beautiful gardens.

Provence is idyllic. Sunny and warm, with beautiful vistas and delicious wine and food. The olive groves are plentiful so be sure to bring home some delicious olive oil. We were too early for the lavender and sunflower fields but have seen them in the past, they are incredible to see. We marvelled at the massive rosemary plants worked into the gardens at Baumanière. We enjoyed the tranquility and our kids enjoyed the swimming pools.

Monsieur and the Pops hoofing it up through the town of Les Baux

Battle Royale

For their eleventh birthday, the Little Kid (who is now much less little) requested that we all go to Carcassonne.  GG & Pops have now joined us so we were a tidy little group of six.

Nothing makes an ancient castle more luxurious than an inground swimming pool!

Carcassonne is located in the Occitanie region of southern France about halfway between Toulouse and the Med.  We decided that it might be simpler to fly to Toulouse from Paris as the train wasn’t direct and required a change in Bordeaux.  Well, after the hour long car ride to CDG and an almost 2 hour delay departing Paris the train looked way more appealing than what was supposed to be a short flight.  Anyways… we finally made it to Toulouse, picked up our rental cars and made our way the hour long drive to the medieval city of Carcassonne.  

This was our second time to Carcassonne, the first time was 3 years ago when we stopped for an hour on our way from Provence to our friend’s wedding in Auch.  We were so amazed, we vowed to return for a few days so we could really experience the town and the Little decided that it should be their birthday trip.

It worked well that we could line the trip up with the arrival of the Grandparents as we knew that the Pops would love this place.  And at last we were back.

Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to Gallo-Roman times around 100 BC.  It was a stronghold for the Visigoths and the Cathars before falling into the hands of France.  An important battlement built to protect the crucia trade routes from the Mediterranean and all countries to the south through to Northern Europe and the Atlantic coast.  Now it’s THE place to buy arms for your kids!

The birthday kid sporting the latest in medieval armoury for children

Seriously! Every piece of medieval weaponry, with the exception of perhaps a full size trebuchet, are available in kid-sized replicas in every other shop within the city walls.  Battle axes, cross bows, swords, helmets, shields, you name it.  Everything your little Chevalier in training might need to be able to learn the ways of medieval warfare.

Our Little picked up a Battleaxe last time that never really recovered after we had to dismantle it for the flight home.  This time, they opted for a wooden crossbow complete with suction cup arrows.  The crossbow lasted about a day and a half before the trigger broke off.  Not exactly medieval quality.  We certainly would have lost the town in a siege had we been left to defend it with these subpar weapons!  We don’t even need to mention how gullible we were to drop almost €40 on this piece of crap!

Armed to the teeth for an awesome birthday

We decided to have the full Carcassonne experience and chose to stay at the Hotel de la Cité within the walls of the fortress.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but in fact what we found inside was an utterly charming and comfortable respite from the hordes of tourists outside our window.  A beautiful courtyard, filled with songbirds and a swimming pool.  Plus there was champagne and chocolate mousse cake to celebrate the birthday!

Nutella crepes for the birthday breakfast

The highlight of the trip was our tour guide Remi, who steered us around the fortress showing us how the architecture was as important as the army defending it.  The amazing loopholes built into the walls for archers to aim their arrows, the death holes inside the massive gates where they could drop rocks on unsuspecting invaders below, the crooked drawbridge that defended against battering rams and advancing cavalries.

At the gate to the city

I asked the Little Kid mid-tour how they were liking their birthday trip so far.  “Oh my GOD” they said.  “I had no idea that this whole place is just about DEATH.”

How right they were.  Neither did I.  Perhaps not the ideal spot to celebrate an eleven year old’s birthday but nevertheless, here we were.  At least the hotel served some mean Nutella crepes for breakfast!

Carcassone is impressive.  You can see how Walt Disney used it as visual inspiration for his recreations of fairy tales.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in this part of Europe.

Lady Carcas at the gates to the city

A Free Woman in Paris – Part Deux

I’m sitting in our Parisien apartment, suitcases packed up and ready to head out in the morning to start the rest of our adventure. Our last day in Paris wasn’t spent in a spectacular fashion. Just a cafe lunch at the same place we visited the day we arrived and some errands. Walking back from the drycleaners, I tried my best to drink it all in.

Living in Paris for the past three months, I’ve enjoyed the sparkly Eiffel Tower moments and incredible Louvre-y art moments and fascinating historical site moments. But the things I enjoyed most of all were the mundane, normal, every day moments. The way the waiters all wear down vests when its cool. The smell of exhaust from the scooters when the light changes green and they all take off from their pole positions. The fact that you need to package and weigh your produce before you hit the check out in the grocery store. The thoughtfulness of women who always carry a tote bag for their shopping so they don’t need to ask for a plastic bag. The sight of the searchlight atop the Eiffel Tower swings over our apartment every few minutes every night. The reality that people greet one another with a Bonjour before they start any conversation or transaction. The feeling when you fumble through a restaurant order in French and the waiter is just so proud of you for trying. The clinking of wine bottles being dumped into the recycling bin outside the restaurant back door across our courtyard. The cool breeze that hits you the minute you get close to the Seine or the feeling of the gale force wind whipping all the way from La Defense, through the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees, up the Jardin des Tuileries and into the Cour Napoleon at the Louvre whipping up the dusty pea gravel.

GG and the Little mastering the art of crossing the street in Paris – you have to give them the hand or they won’t stop!

If anyone wondered what my goal was living in Paris for this time, it was all of this. To experience Paris with all its ups and downs and marvel at all its incredible beauty.

Tomorrow, we’ll head out and won’t be back in France again on this trip. We will of course be back sooner rather than later, but I will always appreciate this time here to try to feel like a local. To have someone ask me for directions and be able to give them, in French. To have mastered enough of the French language to be able to crack a joke with the taxi driver or the waiter. To know shortcuts to get places. To ”have a guy” where we get our roast chicken/ bread/ berries/ flowers. To know which streets have the best trees to walk along on a hot day. To know which cafes will have a table for you on a sunny day.

I loved our days walking up and down Rue Montorgueil or Rue des Martyrs picking up things for dinner. I loved the fleeting moments when I got lost, only to walk a little further and know exactly where I am. I loved stumbling upon awesome things like Porte Saint Martin or the amazing Village of Saint Paul in the Marais (sign me up for any tour that starts with ”The Secrets Of…”).

Kids on the Seine

Living in a big, bustling metropolis was a lot for us Vancouverites. But we figured out how to manage on foot, to buy only enough groceries that we could carry, to find the best and closest dry cleaners etc etc. We coped with living on the 4th floor (aka 5th floor in North America) with only a phone booth sized elevator which is now currently broken – wish us luck with the suitcases tomorrow! We survived French plumbing and electrical. We learned to live with the smells and sounds of a city full of life. The constant sirens – one guide reminded us that they just turn them on to show off.

We’ve packed up our winter clothes and school supplies and sent them home to Vancouver. We’ve cut ourselves down to two suitcases and four rolling carry-ons. We’ll see how we manage! But European rental cars are not forgiving on space and schlepping on and off trains can be daunting with more than one bag each.

The bags are packed to head to home

Monsieur and I have travelled a lot in our lives and we love it. But even with the experience of travel and for me being on tour, we forgot that while its exhilarating and amazing it can be equally exhausting and stressful. Moving around a lot means new beds every few days and it means packing and repacking bags. It means not quite eating the way you’re used to. It means being able to go with the flow when things don’t go as planned or as expected. It means missing home and routine more than you ever imagined. Every day we feel grateful for this opportunity and try and roll with the punches when it gets a little rough.

For now we say “À bientôt” to our Parisian home and look forward to all the new experiences and adventures awaiting us on the road.

An-“twerkin’”

I was doing a little research to see which artists might be playing Paris while we were here. One of our family faves, Dua Lipa was scheduled to play on the Little’s Birthday but alas we had already booked a trip out of the city for that day. However, we saw that Miss Lipa would be playing in nearby Antwerp, just a short 2 hour Thalys train ride away. We thought, why not? We could check Belgium and Dua off our list.

Miss Lipa is about to hit the stage in Antwerp

We decided to just make it a quick overnight. The Thalys train is easy and fast. Within 2 hours, we were on the platform at Antwerp Centraal trying to figure out how to escape the behemoth station. We found our way out, completely missing the beautiful station above. After an almost disastrous run in with a chain of bicycles (watch out, they do not stop) we managed to hail a taxi and head for our hotel.

Antwerp Centraal and apparently a Russell Crowe look alike

Antwerp is a mix of old and new together. Driving to the hotel, we were amazed at the new and old architecture intermingled. Our hotel was located conveniently in the old town. We dropped our bags and headed out on foot to check out the city. We arrived just in time for the Leather Fetish Festival! It was great to see such a liberal and LGBTQIA+ Positive city.

Old Town Antwerp is a lovely maze of cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes. No one was interested in the Moules, but we did jump in with both feet and enjoyed the Frites! We were completely flummoxed language-wise. Flemish, Dutch, French – all blended. Antwerp’s proximity to the Netherlands made it more Dutch-y… not the Tim Horton’s doughnut. We remembered our Danke’s and did our best. The only real trouble we had was back in Paris at Gare du Nord. We were trying to find our departure platform on the board, but it seemed that the two Thalys trains listed didn’t stop in Antwerp, but they did stop in Anvers. Guess what… Anvers = Antwerp in French. And don’t forget the other name, Antwerpen. Well, there was our first foray into Belgium’s multi-faceted languages.

Antwerp/ Antwerpen/ Anvers is lovely and charming

We wound our way to the riverside and realized that in addition to being the centre of the Diamond industry, Antwerp is Europe’s second largest seaport and has a long naval history. The medieval fortress of Het Steen still standing on the shore of the Scheldt River was very impressive. Interesting to see the many new apartment buildings overlooking it as well as the statue of Lange Wapper, a local legend. Without knowing the story, it does look like a giant with two dudes looking up his skirt.

I gather Lange Wapper didn’t wear underwear?

Before the concert, we needed to grab a quick dinner. With the help of Google and their reviews (our rule is to never eat anywhere without 4 stars on Google), we found a lovely Greek restaurant called Mandraki at Kaasrui 13, around the corner from the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady. The food was great and the service was fun. We even managed some light conversation with some locals who were very friendly and welcoming.

Dua was playing the second of two shows at the Sportpaleis, Antwerp’s big arena. She was fantastic and the audience was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen. Maybe its Antwerp, maybe its Dua, maybe its because people have been starved of live music for two years. I’m not sure, but it was a riot. People danced and sang along to every song from the minute she hit the stage. To be fair, Dua’s got plenty of hits so there was no need to dig into any deep album cuts to fill time. At the 90 minute mark, Dua took her encore and we made a quick escape to try and get a taxi. We had luck and 15 minutes later we were all happily tucked into bed in Antwerp.

A seemingly happy Dua Lipa fan

The next morning, we had a few hours before our return train to Paris so we headed out on foot for a bit of breakfast. We found a tiny cafe called Love at First Bite, run by two lovely women and were treated to an outstanding breakfast including Belgian waffles of course! After breakfast we decided to just wander a bit and get lost. We stumbled on a fabulous market of arts and crafts in Grote Markt (Great Market Square) in front of the gorgeous Antwerp Town Hall, a stately and stunning Renaissance building. The market was great fun to explore, with unique and cool finds. We loved the beer garden area complete with a hot dog vendor and a live DJ. What a way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

Lucky stumble upon the Swan Market at Grote Markt

Soon, we were back on the train to Paris marvelling at how much we loved lovely Antwerp with promises to return.

The sweet statue of Nello and Patrasche in Antwerp