We can be in Europe very quickly via the Eurotunnel, much more civilized than lumbering about on a big ferry. It only takes 35 minutes to cross and you don’t need to get out of your car. Belgium is a hop, skip and jump away when you reach Calais and we were soon on our way. We decided to call into Bruges first for a spot of lunch. We ate just off the main square where the a tragic scene in the film ‘In Bruges’ is set. Bruges is quite touristy, but quaint nonetheless and we spent a couple of hours meandering the ‘Venice’ of Belgium. If you travel onto Antwerp be aware that the traffic is always horrendous getting into the city, so allow extra time. Our sat nav in the car gets a bit confused in city centres, bless it, so it took us a while to find the hotel. It has underground parking which is a bonus in such a great location hotel. The 4* Hilton Antwerp is perfectly located for a walk around the fashion district and the main attractions of the city. We opted for the Executive Rooms which allow access to an Executive Lounge with complimentary drinks, snacks and free breakfast. It also has an outdoor roof terrace, while not offering a direct view, does give you a great aspect of the Cathedral and rooftops. There are sunbeds and plenty of seating.
Highlights of our trip to Antwerp were the great shopping area (of course) behind the hotel and a trip to the Art Museum there. Unfortunately we were stranded by the little land train that takes you on a tour around the city. The old gent who was the driver neglected to tell us not to get off because he would not let us back on. When we tried to board, he refused to stop the train and our eldest son, D, ran after it, trying to alert the driver. The passengers on the train must have thought they were filming an excerpt from ‘Indiana Jones’ the way my son was singlehandedly trying to stop the train. The train did not stop and we were resigned to walk back to our hotel.
Vinyl shops are good in Antwerp, we bought Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures and Nirvana – Never Mind.
After three nights in Antwerp we drove out to Lille to stay the night. I had read about Lille Modern Art Museum (LaM) in Villeneuve D’Ascq that had a vast free outdoor sculpture garden featuring artists such as Picasso, Alexander Calder, Lipchitz and other 20th century luminaries. It was idyllic.
Picasso sculpture Lille
Our favourite was the perspex wind chimes that were suspended on a grid of iron poles. Bells attached in the breeze made a wonderful sound as the wind blew softly. It is well worth paying to go into the art gallery featuring many 20th century artists including a very intriguing movement of Art called Brut Art started by Jean Buffet in 1945. This museum has the largest collection of Brut Art in the world. After touring the garden and museum we were ravenous, but the lovely on site restaurant had finished serving so we had to head into Lille.
It was the weekend of the Brocante, but that had been cancelled due to fears of a terrorist attack. We didn’t know it, and nor did about 3 million other people. It was impossible to get near our hotel to park so we had to park up in a multi story underneath the train station. We dropped off our bags in Best Western Lille which was supposed to be 4* but was not. It looked like we were in the middle of West Side Story as the Jets shouted at the Sharks across the street. Yes we were in the middle of gang warfare. Headlocks and fisticuffs were acted out in front of us so we decided to go and get something to eat and hopefully the opposing factions would have calmed down before we returned. Trying to get food at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon in Lille (even during the cancelled brocante) is almost impossible. Firstly, because it is so busy but also because most of the bars and restaurants stop serving at 2 ready to open again at 7. Quelle Domage! We eventually fell upon a Pain Au Quotidien where we got food to satisfy our souls. Things did not improve at our digs and we saw hotel guests almost get into a fight. If you were looking for trouble you had come to the right place. My fight was with the mosquitos who surprisingly had got into our room during late summer and hung out waiting for the next victim. Mr B is a virtual smorgasbord for mozzies so was in a foul mood upon awakening. Breakfast, however, was rather lovely with plenty of fresh croissants, eggs if you wanted them and great coffee. That is not a hotel I would either recommend nor revisit.