We had a fabulous time, despite train delays and breakdowns, and severe weather. Antwerp was delightful. We figured we'd be able to find an Italian restaurant for dinner, then were astonished to discover there are about 15 of them around the cathedral, so it took us a while to choose, but we decided on Da Giovanni and were pleased with our choice as the food was terrific and the staff very friendly. The cathedral itself was stunning - it's gone straight into my Top Five Cathedrals of All Time - and the print museum, oh my goodness, anyone who has any interest whatsoever in anything to do with books or writing needs to go there immediately. It is set in the large town house which belonged to the family who ran one of the world's earliest printing businesses for the around three centuries, and they ran it from their house so you can see where and how they lived and worked, and stand in one of the world's first bookshops, and next to the world's oldest surviving printing presses, and see where the proofs were corrected - using marks we still use today - and many, many other fascinating things. Fascinating even to me, and I'm not usually interested in things historical.
The best thing about Amsterdam was the excellent bar 'In De Wildeman' which was a few doors along from our hotel. It's housed in a former distillery dating from 1690, has around 200 beers available, is non-smoking and has no music but lots of very sociable locals. By our second visit we were treated as regulars, and one of the bar staff from Friday night greeted us like old friends when we found her drinking in there on Saturday night. (It has to be a good sign when people choose to spend their leisure time in their workplace.)
We did some culture, too: The Hermitage, with its exhibition of artefacts from nineteenth-century Russian aristocracy, which was interesting and nauseating in equal parts. My Paramour and I would both have liked some social commentary, some recognition that there were other facets of society - merchants got the occasional look-in, but that was all. We went on to see the Rodchenko photographs, in the hope that they might provide an antidote, but they didn't, really, although they were still worth seeing.
Then on Sunday we were off to Brussels. Neither of us had ever visited the city before, and I'd done no background research, so we stopped at the tourist information point at the station and a very helpful woman explained the metro system, gave us a map, and showed us the locations of some museums and the cathedral. We took a metro into town, left our bags at the hotel (walking open-mouthed through the Grand Place on the way), and headed for the musical instruments museum. They have a fabulous collection, although we would both have liked more information about it, as there was very little. Then we went to the cathedral, which had a good crypt but wasn't a patch on Antwerp's. A delicious hot waffle from a van provided interim sustenance, then back to the Grand Place for a drink at the Roy d'Espagne. This had been recommended by a friend of a friend, and we were glad, mainly because it has just become a non-smoking bar which was a relief as there doesn't seem to be a smoking ban in Belgium.
After dinner we went to a bar which we had seen advertising live music, and sat by the door in case it was dreadful and we needed to escape. Two musicians came on, a singer and a guitarist, and did three sets of some of the best jazz I have ever heard. We shot up to the front after the first track and spent the rest of the evening there, enthralled. The singer's name is Mariana Tootsie, and she was terrific. The guitarist was Jerome Van den Bril, and he was excellent too. It was a wonderful, unexpected end to a really good trip.