Diamonds (and chocolate) Are A Girl’s Best Friend!

When I planned my European getaway, I was going to be in Paris on February 15 and I thought, oh it’s too bad I won’t be there on Valentine’s Day.  However, I had no idea I’d be in another romantic city, which was also a great place to be for Valentine’s Day.  I was in Antwerp, and I was surrounded by diamonds and chocolate!  Can you ask for a more appropriate setting?  I think not!   Antwerp is considered to be the diamond capital of the world, with 70% of all diamonds coming from Antwerp.  You can find any type of diamond your heart desires, and in the process learn all about what is most important when choosing the right cut, color and clarity.  Diamondland is the place to go to learn about everything you need to know.  You can go in anytime and ask to be seen upstairs, where you can watch the people at work and also ask any and all questions.  For novices, it’s a great place to go to learn about what aspects are really important in choosing a diamond and if you are ready to make the big purchase, there is no shortage of stones from which to choose.  In addition to your standard designs, they even had ones in the shape of an animal if you are just that close with your pet!  The diamond trade has been going on in Antwerp for more than 700 years.

In addition to it being the place to go for everything diamond related, it ‘s also a big shopping mecca, with Meir being the most famous shopping street in Antwerp. As you take in all the modern European shops, you can enjoy buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.  If it’s a nice day out, relax at one of the cafes with outdoor terraces.  While Antwerp is a bustling city, people tend to go at a more relaxed pace.  With the various districts, you will sure find something for everyone’s interests, from antiques and collectibles to vintage designs and gadgets of the fifties and sixties.  There are also some really delicious restaurants such as Het Pomphuis and Zuiderterras on the River Scheldt, and when the weather is nice, you should take a cruise.  The port of Antwerp is currently the second largest port in Europe and the most important gateway in Europe.  There are also some great museums and churches to visit, so hopefully you will have more time than the one day I spent there, but I did get a taste for the great city and I know I’d definitely go back.

A perfect place to stay while in Antwerp is the Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel, which is right in city center across from the train station, making it very convenient if you are coming or going somewhere else in Belgium.  We were running out of the hotel in Bruges to catch the train to Antwerp and by mistake I left all of our Rail Europe passes at the hotel!  We thought we would have to go back and get them, but the staff at the Radisson Blu was so helpful and arranged for them to be sent to us the next day.  They definitely made my life a lot easier and were so helpful.  The lobby is sleek with a great bar and restaurant and they serve an expansive breakfast, known as the best in the city.  They also offer free wifi, which is always a big plus when traveling.  I’ve stayed at Radisson Blu hotels before and I really like the brand.  I’ve stayed at their properties in Scandinavia and now in Europe.  You can rest assured you will always be getting a quality hotel with good service and accommodations.  For more information on Antwerp and everything Flanders, check out

Fall In Love in Bruges!

We took the easy train ride from Brussels to Bruges, which took a little over an hour, and after less than a ten minute cab ride, we arrived at the Hotel Casselbergh, which was our oasis inside the romantic city of Bruges.  With a gym and spa that included a sauna and steam room and an area to relax that was free for all guests, it was nice to take time out to rejuvenate after running around in the cold for a few days.  The rooms were modern and the beds comfortable!  You can also enjoy the delicious buffet breakfast with an array of breads, jams, lox, cheeses, as well as your traditional items you’d find at home.  

Before I traveled to Belgium, everyone was asking me if I was going to go to Bruges and said I needed to see the movie, “In Bruges.”  I can now see why it was the setting for this and many other movies.  The city is comprised of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture and has a deep history which you can learn about through one of the city tours or purchasing a 48 city pass that allows you to explore the museums and historical sites for either free or a discounted price.   When the weather is nice, you must enjoy a canal ride around the city and don’t forget to stop by the Minnewater, where the beautiful Bruges swans hang out. Because of the beautiful surroundings, it is mostly referred to as “the lake of love,” the Dutch word “Minne” meaning love.

With many romantic accommodations ranging from your traditional hotels to bed and breakfasts to suites in larger mansions, you’ll find the perfect place to make your stay special.

In additional to the historical and beautiful sites, there are probably more chocolate shops per square mile than anywhere I’ve ever been.  Lace is also popular in Bruges and many stores carry very nice handmade items.  If you are looking for any kind of beer or beer glass, check out the 2be store for all your chocolate, beer and honey needs! 

The food in Bruges was spectacular.  For lunch we enjoyed a traditional Flemish dish of beef stew, perfect after walking around during the cold winter day.  Dinner was at Restaurant Cafedraal which was also the setting for the fight scene in the movie, “In Bruges.”   I think that dinner was one of the best meals I had while in Belgium and the service (we had Igor as our server) was really friendly and personable.  I had oysters from France that were so plump and yummy and then the cod with steamed vegetables that just fell off the fork into my mouth so smoothly!  My friend had the bouillabaisse and as an appetizer, a dish consisting a homemade pasta, fresh tomatoes, Spanish ham and grated parmesan cheese.  I am not a huge beer drinker, but of course when in Belgium, one must try the local brews.  I decided to go with a cherry beer called Liefmans, which has been around since the 1600s but can only be found here, and for someone who doesn’t like beer, it was a great option!  My friend opted for the Duvel.  

So if you are looking for a charming, romantic getaway with great food, ambiance and people, definitely put Bruges on your list and enjoy a perfect mix of exploring, eating, drinking and relaxing!  To find out more about Bruges, please visit

Waffles, Chocolate and Beer…Welcome to Belgium!

I flew out to Brussels Wednesday evening for  “Brusselicious 2012,” the year Belgium is showcasing the gastronomy of the region.  The kick off of the event starts today, but we already  got a head start yesterday with a chocolate workshop and tasting with Laurent Gerbaud at his delicious chocolate shop.  It was the perfect afternoon activity to cure the jetlag.  While sipping an espresso and tasting the various chocolate covered fruits, chocolates mixed with nuts, learning about the three different types of chocolate and the importance of making chocolate with the finest ingredients with very little sugar, I was quickly on a high and enjoying Brussels already!  Laurent’s shop is a must visit, as he has quite the background and when you go in, you should ask him how he got started and where his career has taken him up until opening this shop a couple of years ago.  He’s quite interesting, extremely friendly, and a very talented chocolatier!

After the tasting, I explored the city with visits to the musical instrument and Jewish museum.  At the musical instrument museum, one can plug in and listen to instruments from many different eras from all around the world.  The Jewish museum was also neat, but all in French, and I unfortunately never studied French,  so I could just look at everything, but didn’t always know what I was looking at.  However, it was still very interesting to see.

The shops around Brussels range from your typical souvenir stores to quaint European boutiques.  There are markets most days of the week including a fruit and vegetable and seafood market, as well as a tradition flea market with second hand goods.

As I was beginning to crash from my chocolate and caffeine high, and the jet lag was setting in, it was time for dinner and of course I had to have the traditional mussels and frites at the restaurant, “Taverne du Passage,” where we also sampled some incredible appetizers local to Belgium.  They make their own mayo which can be used with the french fries, a shrimp and tomato appetizer we enjoyed, and just about anything else you’d like to spread it on.  It’s definitely not your jar of mayo you’re used to in the states.  As I was walking the streets after dinner to see the famous Manneken Pis (a fountain of a  young boy who is doing his thing: there are a few theories as to the meaning behind him), I passed some incredible waffle places, and if I wasn’t so full from dinner, I would have gladly tasted any one of them.  However, today is another day!  Unfortunately, the fountain was not flowing, because it is just that cold here.  It’s not usually this cold in Brussels, but a lot of Europe is currently experiencing a cold snap.

I’m about to run off to a Brussel Sprouts cooking workshop and lunch and will report more later as well as add pictures!