Tuesday, February 27, 2024

10+ Artsy & Cool Reasons To Visit Tampa, Florida

By Jacquelin Carnegie
(photo: VisitTampaBay)

You may have arrived in Tampa on your way to St. Pete Beach or to get on a cruise, but it's worth adding a few days to experience the cool, cultural activities and the very-friendly locals:
All year long, Tampa has an amazing array of festivals. But, in March, culture is showcased--the arts, music, and film: 

(artist: Lissa Hatcher)
Gasparilla Festival of the Arts - gasparillaarts.com
Art lovers will bliss out at this terrific weekend festival featuring every kind of artwork imaginable: paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, prints, glass art, and jewelry. The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park becomes a wonderland of talent highlighting work by some 250 artists, including work by emerging artists & spotlighting local artists. Even spray-paint artists get to show off their vibrant style in the "Carmada" section. And, if you feel talented, pick up a brush to add some flourish to an old van. Another highpoint of the festival is The Art Collectors in Training program. Without the influence of adults, kids are encouraged to view and purchase a selection of festival artwork (most under $10) in a kids-only gallery.
Gasparilla Music Festival - gasparillamusic.com 
Hiss Golden Messenger
This cool, progressive music festival showcases talented local musicians, great popular bands, and headlining acts. The fest takes place in the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park with the Hillsborough River as a backdrop. In addition to great music, there's lots of family-friendly fun and local food vendors. Money raised from the festival supports music education in the Tampa community and helps provide scholarships for music students.
Gasparilla Film Festival - gasparillafilmfestival.com
This annual festival presents around 115 films, including premieres of international and regional features, documentaries, and short films. In addition to screening blockbuster movies with top-name actors, the festival highlights independent films made in Florida. There are also special tributes, master classes, panel discussions with film-industry bigwigs, and an impressive gathering of celebrities.
Tampa Museum of Art
120 W. Gasparilla Plaza; Tel: 813/421-8380; tampamuseum.org
This is such a lovely museum with collections dating from
Laura with Bun, Plensa,
Tampa Mus of Art
ancient to modern, augmented by terrific special exhibitions. Admire Greek vases and outdoor sculpture by such luminaries as Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, then have a bite at the museum’s riverside café. At night, the shimmering colors of “Sky (Tampa)” by artist Leo Villareal light up the museum's facade, creating another work of art.
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
1630 E. 7th Avenue Ybor; Tel: 813/221-2222; fmopa.org
Photography fans be sure to visit this fantastic museum that features stunning work by internationally-acclaimed photographers, 
now located in the historic Kress building in Ybor City. 
University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum
3821 USF Holly Dr; Tel: 813-974-4133; http://bit.ly/24TYHTG
The collection features contemporary graphics, works on paper, sculpture, and photography.
Fourth Friday  (Year round, 4pm-9pm) Free with lanyard.
Downtown Tampa's arts and culture venues stay open late with free admission or discounts, and special programming. There's live music, restaurants offer special deals, and you can take refreshing beverages in Sip & Stroll cups with you on walks along the Tampa Riverwalk. Pirate Water Taxi provides complimentary rides. (For sports fans, visit the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team in MacDill Park and the Tampa Bay Lighting ice hockey team in Cotanchobee Park.)
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
1010 N. Macinnes Pl; Tel: 813/229-7827; www.strazcenter.org
This amazing performing arts complex offers a little, quality something for everyone: a Broadway series, Opera, Comedy, Dance, and the Florida Orchestra, doing both wonderful classical and Pops concerts.
Tampa Theatre
Tampa Theatre (photo: Amy Martz)
711 N. Franklin St; Tel: 813/274-8981; tampatheatre.org
Opened in 1926, the theatre is pure kitsch--a faux, Mediterranean palace covered by a night "sky" of twinkling stars. It's a glorious reminder of the lavish movie houses of yore and the perfect spot to see a film, concert, or special event. You can also take a Balcony-to-Backstage tour.

Here are Five Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Tampa, plus:
Tampa Riverwalk - Extends along the waterfront for 2.5 miles and is a great place to stroll, bike, or just relax by the river. Exit points lead to museums, historical monuments, hotels, and restaurants. At night, Riverwalk becomes a work of art, lit up with changing colors.  

H.B. Plant Museum
401 W. Kennedy Blvd; www.plantmuseum.com
Railroad baron Henry Plant made Tampa Bay the commercial hub of Florida’s west coast in the late 1880s. The museum is housed in what was once the glamorous Tampa Bay Hotel, now a National Historic Landmark. The original, opulent, Victorian-era furnishings and artifacts provide a glimpse into Florida’s burgeoning tourist industry. 

Ybor City National Historic Landmark District www.yborcityonline.com 
In the late 1880s, Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and German immigrants came here to work in the thriving cigar factories, most of which closed by the 1960s. Today, with many of the historic structures renovated and restored, Ybor City has become a tourist attraction for its cafés, restaurants, and nightlife.
You can still see cigars made by hand in some of the small cigar shops along 7th Avenue. Take a tour to learn more about the history.
José Martí Park (1303 E. Eight Ave; open, M-F, 8am-1:30pm) - Set foot on Cuban soil without a passport; since 1956, this little park has been Cuban territory.
Columbia Restaurant (2025 E. Seventh Ave; Tel: 813/248-4961; www.columbiarestaurant.com) - Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrants, Florida’s oldest restaurant serves traditional Cuban and Spanish specialties, then dishes up a fantastic Flamenco show.
Dine in Style: Tampa's creative food scene is gaining recognition. Try some cool spots for a meal such as: 
The Refinery
Oxford Exchange (420 West Kennedy Blvd; oxfordexchange.com) - Great for breakfasts, brunch & lunch.
Be sure to taste test the many local Tampa brews such as "Florida Cracker" or "Reef Donkey."
Making Your Visit Easier:
While most people drive, there are transportation options, including some fun ones: 
Gasparilla Pirate Fest (photo: Bruce Meyer)
Pirate Water Taxi (Tel: 813/223-7999; www.piratewatertaxi.com) - This hop-on-hop-off water taxi makes 16 stops. Visit the aquarium, museums, restaurants and parks, and learn a little Tampa history while onboard.
TECO Historic Streetcar - Ride the streetcar from Downtown, to Channelside (where the cruise lines dock; there's lots of shops & activities), and on to Ybor City.
Tampa CityPass - If you're travelling with kids, the Pass gets you into the zoo, two aquariums, Busch Gardens, and the science museum.
Tampa Bay has an amazing array of activities for the whole family and sports fans will be in seventh-heaven.
Where To Stay: Plenty of choice accommodations such as:
Aloft Tampa Downtown (100 W. Kennedy Blvd; Tel: 813/898-8000; www.alofttampadowntown.com) - A hip hotel for twentysomethings; if you don't care about service, it's a very convenient location.
Horizontal#20, Sandra Gottlieb, FMoPA

Le Méridien (601 N. Florida Ave; Tel: 813/221-9555; lemeridientampa.com) - If you do care about good service, this is a lovely spot in a renovated, former Beaux Arts-style courthouse.
Epicurean Hotel (1207 S. Howard Ave; Tel: 813/999-8700; epicureanhotel.com) - A great spot for "foodies" in the trendy Hyde Park district.

Augment your visit to Tampa with time at St. Pete Beach at the Don CeSar or TradeWinds. Or, extend your stay before or after a cruise. Port Tampa Bay homeports the cruise lines: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean,  and Norwegian America.
Getting There: Delta and JetBlue offer frequent, convenient flights into Tampa.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Beyond the Beach: 5 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Curaçao

By Jacquelin Carnegie
The island of Curaçao, in the Dutch Caribbean (formally the Netherlands Antilles), is right next to Aruba and well worth a visit. This island has beautiful beaches and a fascinating history. 
(photo: Curaçao Tourist Board)
Plus, it’s outside the hurricane zone! In addition to lounging on a beach chair, you can visit Curaçao's beautiful capital, Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with lovely, restored Dutch colonial buildings, great shopping, waterfront restaurants, and interesting historic sights. If a destination wedding appeals to you, get married in the oldest synagogue or in a beautiful old church. Already got kids: go on an ostrich safari. Into wellness: try herbal remedies. Interested in history: visit an anthropological museum and take a culinary/cultural walking tour, then head back to the beach and relax.
Culinary/Cultural Walking Tour
Floating Market
(image: Baselmans)
(Clarita, claritahagenaar@hotmail.com; Cell/WhatsApp: 005999 684 0373) - A wonderful way to explore Curaçao's culture is through food. Go on a culinary stroll through the historic, old town of Willemstad, stopping for a fruit smoothie in the Otrobanda neighborhood before crossing the bridge into the Punda district. Check out the fresh fruits and veggies at the Floating Market, examine the day’s catch at the new Round Market. Then, have lunch with the locals at the Old Market (Yvonne di Plaza’s booth is a good pick).

Den Paradera: Dinah Veeris’ Botanical Garden
Seru Grandi Kavel 105A, Banda Riba; www.dinahveeris.com 
Dinah Veeris provides traditional, Caribbean herbal treatments by propagating over 300 species of wild medicinal plants in her botanical garden. Visit and try some of the remedies from herbal creams to coconut soap.
Aloe Vera Farm  
Kura Hulanda's beach 

Kaminda Mitologia 138, Willemstad; www.curaloe.com
Aloe Vera contains more than 75 nutrients. The gel is considered a “miracle cure” for the skin and the juice is recommended as a nutritional supplement. Learn how it’s harvested and processed and pick up some pure aloe products.

The Curaçao Ostrich Farm 
(photo: Ostrich Farm)
West Groot Sint Joris, Santa Catharina; curacaoostrichfarm.com
If you’re traveling with kids, take a “photo safari” ride through the farm and learn all about these weird and wonderful birds; it’s a fun and educational experience. Afterwards, if you’re brave enough, chow down on an ostrich burger in the lovely open-air restaurant.

Kurá Hulanda Museum
Klipstraat 9, Otrobanda, Willemstad; www.kurahulanda.com
After soaking up some rays, spend time in this fascinating, anthropological museum. The exhibits focus on the predominant cultures of Curaçao offering a world-class chronicle of the Origin of Man, the African slave trade, West African Empires, Mesopotamian relics and Antillean art.
Market (artist: Jan "Jakke" Francke) -
Landhuis Daniel

Art Galleries - Take home some meaningful souvenirs; artwork by local talent: curacao-art.com
Gallery Alma Blou (Landhuis Habaai, Frater Radulphusweg 4, Otrobanda, Willemstad; www.galleryalmablou.com) - This gallery has a lovely collection of Curaçao paintings, photographs, pottery, sculpture and handmade jewelry.

Landhuis Bloemhof (Santa Rosaweg 6, Saliña, Willemstad; www.bloemhof.cw) - Built in 1735, this
 (artist: Herman van Bergen)
plantation (landhuis) has been a venue for art exhibits since the 1950s, showcasing local and international artists.
 The gift shop has unique, local, handmade crafts, paintings, and souvenirs. 

After exploring Curaçao, you might fall in love with the place and each other. No matter what your religion, you’ll find a wedding planner to help you organize the big day.
Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel (Hanchi di Snoa 29, Punda, Willemstad; www.snoa.com)
This is the oldest synagogue continuously used for religious services in the Western Hemisphere. It was built in 1732 by a Sephardic Jewish community that relocated from Amsterdam. With its sand floor, cobalt-blue windows, dark mahogany interior and candle-lit, brass chandeliers, it is just stunningly beautiful.
Fort Church (Fort Amsterdam, Punda, Willemstad; http://bit.ly/2I8cjWv) - Built in 1769, this is Curaçao's oldest Protestant church.
Carnival (Jan-Feb) is a great time to visit 
(photo: Curaçao Tourist Board)

Basilica Santa Ana (Breedestraat 31, Otrabanda, Willemstad; http://bit.ly/2D4qrfy) - Founded in 1752, Santa Ana was elevated to basilica and co-cathedral status by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

Where to Stay: There are all kinds of accommodations in Curaçao (www.curacao.com) from rental apartments to resort hotels. Here are two nice options:
Kurá Hulanda Village 
(Otrobanda, Willemstad; www.kurahulanda.com) - This is in Willemstad's Otrobanda neighborhood, a beautifully-restored section of town lined with little townhouses, that has the feel of a small European village. The Kurá Botanica Hotel is a stunning place for a unique, in-town experience.  (It's an adults-only property.)
Kura Hulanda
Sandals Royal Curaçao 
(Santa Barbara Plantation, Porta Blancu, Nieuwpoort; http://bit.ly/1k0fyvp)
This is the new Sandals resort, a great location on 44-secluded acres. The hotel looks out on Spanish Water Bay and the Caribbean Sea.  There’s great Scuba diving and water sports, pools, a private beach, tennis courts, and hiking & biking trails. Private bungalows and more. If you’re into golf, it's next door to The Old Quarry, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Pete Dye.
Getting There: Flights on American and JetBlue from the USA; KLM from Europe.

Willemstad, Curaçao (photo: Rodry)
Editor's Note
a) Since 2010, the Netherlands Antilles no longer exists as such. Curaçao is now autonomous, but there's still Dutch influence. b) The currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder (florin), but the dollar is widely accepted. c) The local languages are Dutch and Papiamentu (Curaçao creole), but almost everyone speaks English and Spanish.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Beyond the Beach: 15+ Artsy & Cool Things To Do in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun (photo: Enrique Brener)
By Jacquelin Carnegie - (Cancún, Mexico) Cancun is a great get-away destination; it's easy to get to from almost anywhere. You already know about the fantastic beaches and amazing water sports. Here's some suggestions to make your stay even more interesting:
Before Cancun became a world-class resort destination, the area was the center of Maya civilization for thousands of years. Maya culture is known for its sophisticated astronomy and mathematics, impressive architecture, and unique art. In addition to visiting archaeological sites from the past, experience Maya culture today:
Maya crafts

Visit a Maya Village
EcoColors Tours
Many descendants of the ancient Maya still live in the area. Visit an authentic Maya village and experience their traditional ways. Enjoy a meal of typical foods and swim in a cenote (the Maya believed they were entrances to the underworld). You can also do a visit to the Coba archaeological site and the Nohoch Muul pyramid, the tallest on the Yucatan Peninsula with great views of the jungle.
Sacred Maya Journey (May)
Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park 
Sacred Maya Journey
Sacred Maya Journey, oarsmen
In ancient times, the Maya made a pilgrimage by sea in canoes from Cancun to Cozumel to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility, childbirth, and the moon, who controlled the tides; patroness of fishermen. Nowadays, this incredible voyage is recreated according to Maya tradition. You can observe the sacred ceremonies and watch the 30 canoes--paddled by Maya and international volunteers--be blessed and depart at dawn; an awe-inspiring experience!
Museo Maya de Cancun (Maya Museum)
Boulevard Kukulkan, Km 16.5, Hotel Zone, Cancun (Open: Tues-Sun, 9am-6pm; Fee: bring pesos) Designed by Mexican architect Alberto García Lascurain, this very modern building is a portal to the past--centuries of Maya culture on display: pottery, jewelry, tools. Three exhibit halls illuminate Maya history, art, and archaeology. There's also an impressive archaeological site, San Miguelito, on the museum grounds.

Taylor's Vein Man, MUSA
Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA, Underwater Museum) Cancun commissioned British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor to create an underwater sculpture museum within the National Marine Park as a tourist attraction with an environmental objective. Taylor's stunningly-beautiful sculptures form artificial reefs, attracting marine life. Under the sea, the sculptures transform as they're covered in algae, barnacles, and coral growth. See for yourself on a snorkel &/or glass-bottom boat tour in the Punta Nizuc section. And, if you've ever dreamed of learning to scuba dive, now would be the ideal time!
NoseGo's mural
Colorful Wall Murals: By bringing Mexican and international artists together, two projects have resulted in interesting public art, brightening up walls and buildings, as well as raising awareness:
On Holbox - The IPAF Public Art Festival created murals promoting the art and cultural richness of the region. On Isla Mujeres - Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans Project, with help from PangeaSeed, international street artists created works to encourage environmental activism to protect oceans, sharks, and endangered marine life.
Museo Maya


Wine & Food Festival (Nov): Top Mexican and international chefs come together with sommeliers from the best wineries of Europe, Mexico, and regions around the world to offer cooking demonstrations, tastings, and special dinners. Musical entertainment accompanies the events adding to the festivities.
Riviera Maya Jazz Festival (Nov): Enjoy some of the world's best jazz and R&B artists along with local musicians.
El Dia de Muertos
Festival of Life and Death Traditions - Xcaret (Oct/Nov): While we make merry on Halloween, the Mexicans and Maya celebrate El Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and Hanal Pixán (the Mayan Day of the Dead) usually on November 1st and 2nd. The celebrations honor ones dearly-departed relatives with special foods and lively rituals; truly fascinating--and fun--to experience. Be Entertained: Most of the hotels in Cancun have great entertainment and for classical music lovers, OperaMaya offers an International Music Festival in June.

Whale Shark
The Cancun area is teeming with wildlife and is on the migratory path of many species. When Whale Sharks congregate in the area (June-Sept), go on a Swim with Whale Sharks or participate in the Whale Shark Festival in Isla Mujeres (July). During the Sea Turtle nesting season in the Mexican Caribbean (May-Nov), most of Cancun's resorts participate in the Baby Turtle Release program (ask at your hotel); the big release is on Isla Mujeres. The Yucatán jungle is one of the few remaining natural habitats of the jaguar, but even with an experienced guide, there's no guarantee you'll see one. A better bet is a visit to Xcaret's jaguar island.
Public Art Fest, Holbox
Where To Stay: There is every type of accommodation imaginable in Cancun, for every budget from deluxe to backpacker. The Westin Resort & Spa is nice & affordable. For an all-inclusive, there's Club Med Cancun.
The Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach is in a great spot. Enjoy live jazz at the award-wining restaurant Le Basilic or partake in a fascinating Mexican history/culinary experience at La Joya's "The Table."
If you can afford it, the NIZUC Resort & Spa is knockout. (If not, at least have lunch at their La Punta Grill & Lounge).
When looking for art, activities, and hotels, keep in mind that the Cancun area, in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, includes the islands of Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Holbox, along with the seaport town Puerto Morelos. Cancun is part of the Riviera Maya. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

10+ Artsy & Cool Reasons To Visit Paris in the Fall/Winter (& All Year Long)!

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Morning in Paris (artist: Maja Wronska)

“Paris in springtime” is the cliché, but there’s no bad time to visit this vibrant city. In fact, Paris' Fall/Winter cultural calendar is chockablock. Plus, just imagine how wonderful Christmas and New Year’s are in the City of Light!
While great art is on view all year long in Paris, many of the museums open major exhibits in October that stay on view until the end of January or longer. Here's a sampling of some exhibits worth seeing before they close--many in “starchitect”-designed buildings:
Fondation Louis Vuitton
8 Ave du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, 16 th arrondissement; www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr; Metro: Les Sablons (FLV exit, then a lovely 10- minute walk or take the Shuttle from the Charles de Gaulle Etoile stop)
FLV's Frank Gehry-designed building is worth a visit no matter what’s on view, but most of the time it features not-to-be-missed, blockbuster exhibits.
Current Exhibit: Mark Rothko (until 4/2/24) - The ultimate retrospective for lovers of Rothko’s work. It features iconic masterpieces and lesser-seen works, drawn from leading, international museums and private collections. A knock-out, comprehensive presentation of one of Modern art's true masters.

Quai Brandly
27 Quai Branly; 7th arrondissement; www.quaibranly.fr; Metro: Alma-Maceau
This is such a terrific museum, plan to spend the whole day here. In the very-modern, Jean Nouvel-designed building the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas are highlighted, along with fascinating temporary exhibits (plus, up-close views of the Eiffel Tower from the garden). Current Exhibit:
President of Togo (artist: Kehinde Wiley)
Kehinde Wiley: A Maze of Power (until 1/14/24) – The fabulous artist Kehinde Wiley did President Obama’s portrait. This exhibit is dedicated to a group of innovative portraits he did of African presidents.

Centre Pompidou
Place Georges-Pompidou, 4th arrondissement; www.centrepompidou.fr; Metro: Hôtel-de-Ville, Rambuteau
Whether you love or hate this Renzo Piano-designed museum, there’s great views of the Eiffel Tower from the escalators and always terrific, comprehensive exhibits. Current Exhibits: Picasso Endlessly Drawing (until 1/15/24) – Featuring 1,000 artworks; Chagall At Work: Drawings, Ceramics and Sculptures 1945-1970 (until 2/26/24), etc.

Other Current Exhibits: Musée Orsay - Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise: The Final Months (until 2/4/24); Musée d'Art Moderne - Nicolas de Staël (until 1/21/24); Musée du Luxembourg - Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso (until 1/28/24).

A number of fairs and festivals add to the busy Fall calendar of events:
Paris+ par Art Basel (October) - This major art fair showcases offerings by top, international galleries. 
Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées, Holiday Lights

Paris Photo (November) – This is Le Mois de la Photo. In addition to the photo fair, there are over 100 photography exhibits all over town. 

Festival d'automne (www.festival-automne.com) - This annual festival celebrating the arts--dance, theatre, music, film, and visual art--runs from September through December. The events take place in a variety of Paris venues highlighting exceptional work.
Festival d'automne (Bel/Mengual Dance)

European Heritage Days (www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr) - On the third weekend in September, historic sites--public monuments and private buildings--offer free admission. This is a unique chance to visit some of Paris' most prestigious places.
La Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre (www.fetedesvendangesdemontmartre.com) - Montmartre’s vineyards date from 390 B.C. Every year, during the first week of October, Montmartre’s Wine Harvest Festival is celebrated throughout the neighborhood with a parade, wine-tasting booths, food stalls, music, dancing in the streets, and fireworks. It’s a fun time to plan a trip to Paris.
Fete des Vendanges
Portes Ouvertes (Artists Open Studios) - While most Portes Ouvertes take place in the spring, a few are in the Fall/Winter such as: Ménilmontant (Sept); Père Lachaise & La Goutte d’Or (Dec).
ParisLocal (November) – Discover local, Parisian artisans ranging from ceramists and jewelers to pastry chefs and cheese markers, etc. 

While Paris is magical all year long, during the holiday season the city sparkles. Hundreds of decorated trees line the boulevards, the window displays are all aglow at the major department stores, and there are Christmas markets galore hopping with activity. That’s in addition to several concerts in an assortment of lovely churches and other locals. Plus, New Year’s eve fireworks over the Arc de Triomphe on the magnificent Champs-Elysées boulevard and a light show from the illuminated Eiffel Tower!
Galeries Lafayette

Where To Stay: Here are some great options
Getting There: French bee - This low-cost carrier has routes to Paris with great fares from the US: currently, New York (Newark, EWR), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) & Miami (MIA) with 
friendly flight attendants and on-time flightsCoach is quite comfy, but you can opt for a Cosy Cabin &/or a Maxi Leg seat. There’s Basic, Smart & Premium pricing. Depending, Seat/Luggage/Meal might be add-ons for a fee pre-booked online, but you can bring your own meal and get a free seat-assignment at the airport, just paying the luggage fee in advance. Another French bee advantage: The flights fly into Paris Orly (ORY), a smaller and easier-to-navigate airport than Charles de Galle, with several transport connections to the city center. You also get through Customs faster here! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

5 Great Day Trips from Brussels, Belgium

By Jacquelin Carnegie 
(photo: VisitBrussels)
Brussels is a lovely little city to explore with over 100 museums, plenty of wonderful restaurants, and the delightful Dansaert shopping district. Famous for its food and beer, comics and artists, you'll have a great time. But, Belgium is a small country—it doesn’t take more than an hour by train to visit most of the major highlights—so plan your trip to take advantage of all the country has to offer. It's easy to get around by train, bus or rental car.
Belgium has two regions: Wallonia, which is French-speaking, and Flanders where Flemish (like Dutch) is spoken. Don’t fret; many people also speak English.

Art in the Park
(photo: Folon Foundation)

Fondation Folon
Ferme du Château de La Hulpe, Drève de la Ramée 6 A, La Hulpe; www.fondationfolon.be
Jean-Michel Folon was a fabulous, 20th-century, Belgian painter, illustrator and sculptor. While not as well known as his compatriot, the surrealist painter René Magritte, both liked to paint men in hats. Folon's celebrated work--beautiful watercolors, posters on behalf of important causes, and whimsical sculptures--is displayed in Château de La Hulpe’s ancient farmhouse in Solvay Park, about a half-hour from Brussels. After you’ve viewed the collection, enjoy lunch at the adjacent café, Taverne de L’Homme Bleu, and take a stroll through the magnificent park.
Getting There: TEC Bus: #366 from Ixelles: Etangs d'Ixelles on Ave. du General de Gaulle in Brussels to La Hulpe Etang Solvay, about an hour. In the park, follow the path that leads to your left, signage to the Fondation is limited. I’m a firm believer in public transportation, but this trip is easier by car (about 30 minutes) and you could combine it with a visit to Waterloo, ten minutes away.

Living History: A Bad Day for Napoleon
Waterloo Battlefield
Route du Lion 315, Waterloo; www.waterloo1815.be
(photo: Waterloo Battlefield)
It’s always thrilling to be in a spot where world history was made. The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most important in European history. It marked the fall of Napoleon and paved the way for a new era of peace in Europe. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blücher and 350,000 soldiers met on this battlefield, which has been preserved in its original state. You can take a tour, see reenactments, and learn more about the events leading up to the battle. But, you don’t have to be a military history buff to enjoy a visit to this beautiful and fascinating sight.
Getting There: Train: From Brussels Midi train station to Braine L’Alleud about 20 minutes. Then, walk or taxi to the Waterloo Battlefield Visitors’ Center. TEC Bus: #365a or W outside Brussels Midi station to Route de Nivelles, not Waterloo stop, about 45 minutes. (This trip by car is about 30 minutes from Brussels.)

A Passion for Fashion
(photo: Dries van Norten)
is a hidden gem. Known for diamonds, which are just dull stones until cut and polished, this city became famous for the "Antwerp cut," said to give diamonds more sparkle. Browse the diamond district near the beautifully-restored Central Station, but purchase only from a reputable shop with the "Antwerp's Most Brilliant" label (www.awdc.be). Antwerp is also a fashion center thanks to the now-famous “Antwerp Six,” a group of avant-garde fashion designers (Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee) who burst onto the scene about 30 years ago and put Antwerp on the fashion map. Shop-till-you-drop in the lovely Sint-Andries neighborhood. Even better, go with a personal shopper. You'll want to stay longer than a day.
Shops: Louis (Lombardenstraat 2) - The store that launched the Sixers’ careers; Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) - Dries van Noten’s flagship store. 
Personal Shopper: Go with style consultant Tanguy Ottomer (Beroepsbelg; Tel: +32(0)3 430 23 30; http://beroepsbelg.be; half & full day rates)
Dine: Het Pomphuis (Siberiastraat z/n) - Delicious meals in a spectacular setting. De Lokeend (General Belliardstraat 11) - A unique dining experience for groups of 12+; diners in a fabulous, private home.
Stay: Lots of options from nice hotels to campsites. Park Inn (Koningin Astridplein 14) - Hip & conveniently-located.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Antwerp, about 30 minutes.

Chocolates & Canals 
(photo: @mgdlnvlgr)
Famed for its medieval city center and canals, Bruges is now more popular than ever. The downside is hoards of tourists and local shops turned into tourist traps. To experience Bruges’ true beauty, rise early and/or stay up late to stroll the cobblestone streets free of the maddening crowds. But, nothing can spoil chocolate—there are some 40 shops to choose from. Start at the Chocolatier Van Oost (Wollestraat 11).
Dine: Cafedraal (Zilverstraat 38) - Delicious regional and seasonal dishes.
Stay: Plenty of lovely hotels and B&Bs to choose from. Pand Hotel (Pandreitje 16) - For a splurge, try this fashionably-decorated spot.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Bruges, about an hour.

Beauty Beyond Measure
(photo: Nataša Pavlović)
If you have time for only one day trip from Brussels, let it be this one. Ghent is the real deal. It has everything Bruges has--canals, unbelievable architecture--just on a slightly larger scale with fewer tourists. Take a boat ride on the canals. Admire the cityscape of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical architecture. Marvel at the magnificent, 13th- to 17th-century guildhalls along the banks of the canals. Wander around, then relax at any number of lovely, sidewalk cafés, taverns or brasseries. But, be sure to stay for nightfall when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated.
Dine: Mosquito Coast (Hoogpoort 28) - Inexpensive & in a great location overlooking the canal; Korenlei Twee (Korenlei 2 ) - A bit more stylish; Café Theatre (Schouwburgstraat 7) - Elegant, right next to the opera house; known for its Moëlleux, a cake with melted chocolate inside.
Stay: Several splendid places to choose from. Ghent Marriott (Korenlei 10) - An historic building with a hi-tech interior, right in the heart of it all.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Ghent (Sint-Pieters station), about 35 minutes. Then, Tram #1 into the center city, 7 mins.

Transportation Options in Belgium
Train/Bus: Brussels has three train stations (Brussels Centrale, Brussels Midi, Brussels Nord). The trains you’ll need for most of these trips leave from Brussels Centrale; the trains are frequent and inexpensive. Schedules & fares: SNCB or Rail Europe. The TEC Bus is also very convenient. Car Rental: All the major rental car companies are in the Arrivals Hall at Brussels Airport and, in the city center, at the Brussels Midi train station: Avis, Hertz, Europcar, etc. Travel in style: Hire a car and driver from Fun Cars or Modern Car
Magritte, La Décalcomanie
Making Your Trip Easier: City Cards give access to museums, public transport, special discounts, etc. They are useful if you plan to cram in a lot of sightseeing, but are less beneficial if you intend a more leisurely trip: BrusselsCard, Antwerp CityPassCityCard Ghent
BeroepsBelg - Offers all kinds of interesting tours in several Belgian cities.
Getting to Belgium: Brussels Airlines has just upgraded its fleet to offer more transatlantic comfort. 
Bon Voyage!