Historic Architecture in Antwerp

After arriving at Antwerp Central Station, we set out for a day of city exploration. Our visit to Antwerp was sunny, relaxing day trip filled with dramatic architecture, hidden alleyways and plenty of Belgian beers. One of my favorite parts of the day was getting lost in exploring the details of Antwerp's historic buildings which range in style from medieval to gothic, baroque and renaissance and my personal favorite, art nouveau.

Here's a collection of a few monumental buildings that caught my eye... 

Antwerp’s story features a long history, dating beyond the middle ages. The prosperous river port created a city that flourished in culture and trade. A successful diamond industry supported the affluent community that financed a thriving art scene, including painters like Rubens. Much of the architecture around the city center still reflects the Antwerp's dynamic history featuring medieval cobblestone alleyways, brick packhouses with wooden windows, and elaborate golden age architecture of the Grote Markt that shimmers in the sun. 

 

Looking for more? To join the conversation, visit this post on Instagram. 

Weekend Wanderings: Florida's Best Beach

With the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Florida's 1,350 miles of sandy, sunny, palm sprinkled coastline offer innumerable beach going days. As you can imagine, upon my return to the

Sunshine State

blue skies called my name and I flocked to the beach as much as possible.

You may think that with so much coast, it'd be hard to pick a favorite beach spot but for me, there is only one beach. Playa Linda aka "The Best Beach" between my friends and I. Unlike other eastern shores, cars are (thankfully!) not allowed at Playa Linda as it belong to a protected marine area belonging to the

Canaveral National Sea Shore

. And for those of you interested, clothing is optional in some areas too.

Twenty-four miles of undeveloped coast plump with

sea turtle nests

 during the spring and summer months.

No cars, no houses, no shops. Just beach... as it should be. 

Playa Linda is literally means a beautiful beach as you can see right here...

After receiving news of my acceptance to all three of my graduate school applications in the Netherlands (!!!) I knew my Florida beach time would soon come to a long pause, so I quickly opted to soak all the sunshine (Yes. All. Of. It.) and headed to the beach almost weekly before my time ran out. This was somewhat of a challenging endeavor what, with all the bits and pieces that come with moving abroad (again!).

Before flying back to Holland, I spent one more day at Playa Linda following a morning of paddle boarding close by. An impending storm was headed inland and once a few rain drops sprinkled down, the other visitors packed up and left one by one. Eventually, we had the entire beach all to ourselves...

I'm writing this post back in Amsterdam and watching the gray clouds drizzle. I can't help but think back to the salty sea breeze, sun pinched skin, warm sand between my toes back in Florida. I love Amsterdam but the lack of sunny days will always be a struggle for me here. Rainy days may lend credit for my productivity but I'm wishing you sunshine where ever you are!

Weekend Wanderings: Camping at Ginnie Springs

Florida's springs have attracted visitors dating back to the 16th century when Ponce de Leon trekked around searching for the Fountain of Youth, a fabled, magical spring in St. Augustine. While I definitely wish even one of the more than 900 fresh water springs in Florida really were full of mermaids and magical powers, the clear blue waters and surrounding greenery is enchanting enough for me. I've visited a hand full of springs across my home state and recently added Ginnie Springs to that list. From scrub and pine to manatees and mangroves, driving a few hours north or south in Florida and you'll find a completely different ecosystem!

With our camping essentials ready, we packed up the car and headed north towards Ginnie Springs. This natural Florida spring along the Santa Fe River near Gainesville boasts 72-degree water year-round, making it a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, cave diving, and tubing down the river (our favorite).

Ginnie Springs is actually a group of six natural springs nestled on about 600 acres of family owned land. Once the home of Timucuan Indians, their arrow heads and pottery shards can still be found around the site today. Fun fact: Ginnie Springs is such a popular spot for divers that even Jacques Cousteau has paid a visit!

Ginnie Springs was a great location for a much-needed weekend getaway. I love camping in Florida. There's a natural solitude felt when you're surrounded by a canopy of trees. Fortunately, we arrived early enough on Friday to snag a campsite with the river in view. We filled our days with fishing, morning walks, afternoon swims and tubing down the river. In the evening, we cooked on the grill and enjoyed late nights talking around the fire. And of course, we ate plenty of s'mores! If only the droves of drunk university students slamming whiskey and blasting terrible music could have also embraced a few moments of silence to hear the wind whistle through the trees. Oh well.

On our second night of camping, we made it back to our site after a long, relaxing day of tubing. Dusk was on its way, so we grilled up a piece of spicy teriyaki marinated salmon for a gourmet outdoor dinner. With our meal prepped and beers in hand, we finally enjoyed a cozy moment (no obnoxious party music... yet!) He was fishing while I snapped a few pictures and settled down with my book, using our tubes as a comfy reading nook. There we were, under a canopy of trees, the sun setting, the smell of food on the grill... Camping success! ...For at least 10 minutes.

As it turns out, the tubes were randomly set on top of a fire ant mound and I only read a few pages before the sting of fire ant bites set in... all over my bum! This is what happens when pants don't replace a bikini at the end of the day. Ouch! For someone as clumsy and accident-prone as myself, I'm honestly not even surprised by topical injuries anymore. Going outside, there's a 99% chance something will sting, bite or bruise me and admittedly, half the time the culprit is myself. But to get hurt while sitting down!? The is what happens when you're a very clumsy human.

I hope that you've ever bitten by fire ants, but if you have then, you're already aware that they swarm in masses and that the result isn't pretty. Excessive itching aside, at least our evening feast of salmon and couscous was delicious enough to distract from my mishap. Pretty sure that I earned a few extra s'mores that evening too! 

Curious about camping at one of Florida's many natural springs? Check out dozens of locations

here

.

Want to see inside Ginne Springs? Take a look at this video!

Weekend Wanderings: Camping at Fort De Soto Park

My time away from Florida sparked a tendency to day dream about camping on the beach and relaxing under the stars with a salty ocean air whirling around. Having grown up in the Sunshine State, it was easy to let blue sky fantasies take over my mind while peddling throughout the maze of Amsterdam's canals, during far too many overcast days. So, when Annelies, flew over for her first Florida visit, we knew camping on the beach would be on the agenda!

Fort De Soto is actually a Park we used to frequent while growing up and having a Dutch visitor in town from Amsterdam was the perfect reason to trek down to the Gulf Coast for a quick camping get away. You can reserve a site in advance and $35 will get you a view of the water but unfortunately, we discovered jumping in was not an option.

After a few days of camping together last summer at the Best Kept Secret Festival we had our night-in-nature game plan down. She worked on the tent while I gathered fire fixings, like dried palm fronds for kindle and prepared our afternoon picnic spot. Everything was effortlessly set up long before sunset and we sat along the water for an afternoon of bird watching, fizzy drinks and foot long Publix Subs (a Florida staple) while enjoying warm and sunny Florida afternoon. Perfection!

Once the sun began to lower, we walked a few yards back to our site and continued our afternoon happy hour. Flashlights, card games and extra layers to protect were all packed, along with a handful of other things we probably didn't need but threw in the trunk anyways. We were prepared, we had everything... except for the graham crackers.

Noooo!

The irony of this missing ingredient was that I'd promised Annelies for over three years that, "When you visit America, we will go camping and make s'mores!" Okay, so what if she had no clue she was missing... the American Girl Scout inside me was still disappointed for making such a rookie mistake!

Laughing at our minor loss, we lit up the fire and roasted marshmallows on a stick with a bit of chocolate stuck on top, voilà! However, a few rounds of that gooey mess made it clear why those dang graham crackers are so crucial for proper s'more formation. Either way, we enjoyed lovely night for camping complete with a glowing fire, full bellies, a competitive game of Uno and lots of girl talk in our little palmetto sanctuary....

... Until an evil cackle rang out through the night. Annelies shrieked and I shouted, "Daaaamnit! Raccoons!"

Ugggh. I absolutely loathe raccoons, with their creepy paws, brazen attitudes and menacing behavior (like when they killed a few of our darling backyard chickens). Those sneaky bandits are no friends of mine!

Turns out, our French camping neighbors thought it would be a good idea to ignore the signs that read, "No cooking after dark" and leisurely decided to begin grilling food close to midnight. A serious camping no-no, especially when you're in Florida palmetto scrub crawling with raccoons.

I mean, duh. 

The saga unfolded as Annelies honked the car horn while I attempted to scare off the varmints with projectile debris. Those chunks of palm fronds sure came in hand as makeshift boomerangs, ha!

Unfortunately, we exhausted effort only to discover the scoundrels didn't even flinch (people, stop feeding the raccoons!) Eventually, most of them reluctantly shrugged off into another section of palmetto scrub or probably a trash can. We counted 8 or 9, casually stroll out of the trees and over to the site of our French neighbors who, from the sound of things were completely horrified. We overheard them shouting as they threw everything in their car, flew into their tent and zipped it up with haste. Needless to say, the French were gone first thing in the morning and became the joke of all the redneck fishermen in the surrounding area.

Sharing a common distaste for the pests, we wet down the fire and took our card game back into the tent. The moral of this story... if you're camping at Ft. De Soto keep all your food locked up and be prepared for an onslaught of raccoons (they even returned again at breakfast time, yuck!) 

Given the wicked noises and chaos of it all, Annelies was disturbed by her first raccoon encounter. Looking back, this is a pretty funny story to retell together, we must have looked so ridiculous!

The next morning we woke up with the sun, had breakfast under the palm trees and scared off a few more varmints en route to stealing our orange juice. During our morning stroll around the park, we found huge, red hibiscus, a welcomed variety after being in the land of tulips for so long.

Given the overcast weather that morning, we decided it was best to pack up and head to St. Petersburg for an afternoon of wandering and a tasty lunch at Taco Bus. If you're in the area, don't pass up the chance to grab a bite at this popular food truck. You know I never pass up a taco opportunity and having heard great recommendations for their beer battered fish and butter nut squash tacos for years, we took our chance. I gotta admit, Taco Bus definitely lived up to the hype!