A Day Trip to Lier and Mechelen

Located just outside of Antwerp, Lier and Mechelen are two small villages filled with their own history and charm.  Separately, they can be seen in half a day, but due to their proximity I decided to combine my journey and visit both towns.  For anyone looking for things to do outside of the city, it is absolutely worth it to visit these places.

Transportation: Get a day pass for €7, which includes access to all city buses and trains. Lier and Mechelen are in the same province as Antwerp, so transportation is included under the same ticket. From Antwerp Central Station, Lier is a 15-minute train ride and Mechelen is a 20-minute train ride.

De Lijn is Belgium’s railway service, plan your trip with their route planner here.

Lier

After arriving by train, the best way to get to the center of town and explore Lier is by foot.  Just follow Antwerpsestraat over the bridge until you reach a big open square, here you will find Grote Markt and Town Hall, all of the other sites are just a short walk away. 

Town Hall and Belfry Tower: The Belfry was built in 1369 and is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Lier, the Town Hall was later constructed in 1741. Inside there is a tourist information center and a free public restroom, which is kept very clean.  Access can be found on the left side of the building.

Front of Town Hall

Stadsmuseum: €4 entry. Upon entering the staff warmly greeted me and gave me an information card in English, though much of the museum is in Dutch.  The museum consists of three rooms and displays a nice collection of Pieter Bruegel’s works.  In the last room you will see a 3D printed replica of the Woolly Mammoth skeleton discovered in Lier in 1860, the real skeleton can be found at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels.  Located just up the street from Town Hall, this is a great place to stop in and learn about the city’s art, history, and traditions. 

Gevangenenpoort: Also known as the prison gate, this Medieval structure was built in 1375 and is the only remaining gate of the original city wall.  It was used as a prison until 1930, but now stands next to a hotel and opens up to a lovely street filled with cafes and restaurants and the Zimmer Tower and Museum.

Zimmer Tower: Originally built in the 1400’s under the name of the Cornelius Tower, this monument was restored by astronomer Louis Zimmer, who also added the Jubilee clock in 1930.  The clock is quite a wonder, with 12 unique dials all representing different astronomical events, like the phases of the moon and the solar cycle.  The tower was listed as a protected monument in 1980 and the Zimmer Tower now stands next to The Zimmer Tower Museum.

Jubilee Clock of Zimmer Tower

Begijnhof:  Also known as the Beguinage, this enclosed collection of buildings was built for spiritual women (beguines) to reside in during the Middle Ages.  These women were able to lead self-sustaining and unrestricted lives within these walls for hundreds of years, from the 13th century until 1994 when the last beguine died. 

This is 1 of 13 Beguinages that can be found across Belgium, and are such an integral part of the country’s history that they are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Inside the walls you can find St. Margaret’s Church, a garden within Calvary Hill, an old convent and more.

Street in front of St. Margaret’s Church

When I visited in the middle of February, I felt lucky that the quaint little neighborhood was virtually empty, only to see a few locals leaving and entering the buildings.  I was able to take photos of the cobblestone streets and old houses while enjoying the history of this site.

Mechelen

To get to Mechelen from Lier, there are multiple buses that will take you, but the 560/561 to Mechelen are the most consistent lines and come every 30 minutes.  All buses pick up at Lier Markt/Grote Markt across from Town Hall, the bus stop is easily spotted and the ride is about 35 minutes.

Like Lier, I found Mechelen to be very walkable, although it is a little more car friendly and has a decent transportation system.  When I arrived in Mechelen I started off in Grote Markt, which was steps away from the main sites I wanted to see and gave me a chance to take some photos, relax, and read about the town mascot.

Direction Post featuring Obsinjoorke

Obsinjoorke:  Right in front of City Hall, is a small bronze statue with the most adorable and quirky background story.  He represents drunkards and womanizers, and is shown being tossed in the air as a form of punishment.  As I continued on, I was excited to see a large, bright yellow version of this statue across from St. Rumbold’s and again on a nearby post.  I don’t know if there are more Obsinjoorkes around town, but he can also be seen in Mechelen’s Ommegang, their annual religious procession.

Obsinjoorke displayed in front of St. Rumbold’s Cathedral

Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral and Tower:  Named after the Christian missionary Saint Rumbold, this gothic style cathedral began construction in the 13th century, and the tower was added during the final phase from 1452-1520. The tower was never completed due to financial deficits, although there were structural concerns as well.  Currently the tower stands at 97 meters with 514 steps to the top and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The cathedral and tower are usually open to visitors, but have closed their doors indefinitely due to the Coronavirus.

Beguinages:  I have to confess that I stumbled upon this place by accident while I was on my way to the brewery and only walked through briefly.  The Beguinage that existed outside the city walls of Mechelen was destroyed in 1560, the Beguines moved on to make a new neighborhood within the walls, and that’s how the Large Beguinage came to be.  Although it is included as a UNESCO site with the other Flemish Beguinages, I found this one to be quite unextraordinary, though it has it’s own unique history.

Het Anker:  With records dating back to 1369, this is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium.  Being founded by a group of Beguines, it makes sense that it is located on the Northern side of the Large Beguinage.  The brewery was managed by these women until 1872, when the Van Breedam family purchased and renovated it.

This brewery is the sole reason I decided to come to Mechelen due to it’s vast history.  Tours are available, but the spots do fill up quickly, so its best to make a reservation ahead of time.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a tour as I waited until the last minute, but I did have a chance to have enjoy a meal and try one of their Gouden Carolus beers at the brassiere upstairs.

Getting back to Antwerp: The best, and most reliable way to get back to Antwerp is by train, which takes between 15-20 minutes.  Trains leave from both Mechelen-Nekkerspoel and Malines/Mechelen station.

After returning back to my hostel, I was completely worn out from visiting to two towns in one day. Although it was completely worth it and I fully recommend visiting one or both of these cities. There is so much history and beauty hidden throughout Belgium, getting out of the 4 major cities is a great way to see discover it.

For more information, go to visitlier.be and visit.mechelen.be

Exploring Florida: Shingle Creek Regional Park

Last week while staying at my brother’s house in Kissimmee, we visited Shingle Creek Regional Trail and Park for the first time. It’s funny that in the four years that he lived there, we never knew this place existed.  We were amazed that this trail filled with nature and history was right in his backyard this whole time. 

View of shingle creek with trees and palmettos on each side, reflecting in the water.

We parked and started at the historic Steffee Homestead, which was rebuilt in 1911 after the family’s original home was burned down.  In this area, there is also the caretaker’s cabin, Steffee Landing, and other historical structures.  Kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and bike rentals are available at the paddling center, but it is currently closed due to Covid19. 

From here the trail goes in two directions. One way leads under Vine Street and to the Welcome Center and History Museum, where parking is also available.  The other direction is a bike trail that takes you toward the airport. The hiking trail is approximately 1 mile, but the bike trail branches out in different directions and is expected to be around 32 miles total once completed.  For those interested in paddling, there are two launch location at Babb Landing and Steffee Landing. We went ahead and followed the hiking trail, which eventually lead us to the Pioneer Village.

4 historic buildings on open field, surrounded by wooden fence
Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek

The Pioneer village has parking as well and can be visited for an admission fee of $8 adults/$4 children. Tours are also offered every Wednesday and live history events with re-enactors are hosted every Saturday.  Though we were happy to see the village from the trail. 

For anyone looking to avoid crowds, the trail is lightly trafficked during the week making it easy to socially distance.  With the weather starting to cool down in Central Florida, it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy this place for yourself.

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam

Houseboat parked across tall buildings on canal

I usually have a good reason why I want to visit a new country or city, but the sole purpose of my trip to Amsterdam was to see the Jonas Brothers on their most recent tour.  I stayed in Amsterdam for 3 days after spending a week in Belgium. I figured if I was going to fly all the way to Europe to see my favorite boy band, I might as well make the most of my trip.  However, I quickly realized that one could easily spend a week in Amsterdam.  It’s just as hip as I’d imagined, with people that are diverse and laid back, and an endless amount of things to do.  

These are just some of my recommendations for anyone who has a few days in the city. Feel free to skip to the end if you’re just looking for some basic information.

1). Take a Free Walking Tour

Free tours are the best ways to get advice and learn about the place you’re visiting.  Amsterdam has a few options, including a free food tour, free red-light district tour, and a few general city tours.  I went with Sandeman’s free tour that started in Dam Square, went through the canals, the Jewish quarter, and ended after seeing Anne Frank’s House.  The tour guide gave us a history on how the city of Amsterdam was built, important historical figures, civil rights issues and more. 

To see which tour works best for you, check the sites below.

https://www.neweuropetours.eu/amsterdam-walking-tours/

https://freewalkingtoursamsterdam.com/

Remember, that even though these are free tours, tips are appreciated so bring some cash with you.  You will also need it for the €1.55 tax required by the city.

2). Anne Frank House

I couldn’t actually get tickets to this due to poor planning and maybe a lack of effort.  Tickets can only be purchased online for a specific date and time slot.  It’s recommended to buy tickets as far in advance as possible as they sell out quickly.  A small number of tickets go on sale the day of at 9 a.m., but the queue can take a long time to process from what I’ve heard, so best of luck!  Due to Covid-19, the museum isn’t as busy as usual and have tickets available 3 days in advance.  They are currently open and are taking the necessary precautions to protect visitors, it is expected that all guests will respect the measures put in place.

To buy tickets and get more information, click here.

3). Van Gogh Museum

This is a can’t miss on your itinerary!  It’s a very impressive collection of Van Gogh’s work, and is the largest in the world.  With three levels, you can see the progression of his style from early on in his career to his last days.  Most people know Van Gogh as leading a life of despair, but this exhibit highlights his achievements, growth, and genius as an artist.  Not only is his work on display, but an intimate view into his life. Get tickets directly from the museum’s website here.

4). Vondelpark

I came here to relax and take in some nature after my visit to the Van Gogh Museum.  Because it’s located in the Museum Quarter, it’s the perfect place to take a break and enjoy the views or one of the cafes.  There are also many activities hosted here throughout the year, including concerts and shows at the park’s open-air theatre during the summer months.

5). Bloemenmarkt

Bouquets of unbloomed tulips

Also known as the Flower Market, it showcases one of the beautiful things that The Netherlands is known for, tulips.  This floating market is lined with stalls selling produce, tulip bulbs, and various souvenirs.  The prettiest shop in the row is Stin’s, located at the end. Keep in mind that this isn’t a big market, but it is worth it to look around and take some photos.  Just on the other side of the walkway, cheese shops line the street, where you can get samples or bring something home.  I fully recommend stepping into every shop and tasting every single cheese available, you’ll find some unique flavors like lavender goat cheese.

6). Explore Jordaan

This is the most popular neighborhood in Amsterdam, and with good reason.  Boasting a rich history of its own, it’s filled with charm, culture, and plenty of art.  One can freely walk around the narrow streets and canals, or take a tour of the area.  I found myself wandering the area and taking a look through some of the galleries. Eventually I stopped into a nearby café for pancakes and a latte.  It’s also here where I stumbled upon The Houseboat Museum, a cute place to stop in for €4.50.

7). Foodhallen

This is for the foodies.  I came here hungry and tired on my first night in Amsterdam and was revived by the atmosphere, this is where I realized how great the people in this city really were.  The crowd was super chill, and there were so many great food stalls, including ones with vegan and vegetarian options.  There’s dim sum, Mediterranean, tapas and more to choose from.  You can order a few dishes, pick up a drink from one of the bars, and find a seat.

Some other good sites and information to keep in mind:

Other Attractions: There are still a few sites that I didn’t have the chance to visit, but heard great things about from locals and other travelers.  The Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House Museum, and the Albert Cuyp Market are all well recommended and might be worth including in your itinerary.

Vegan/Vegetarian Eats:  I was amazed at the options available for plant-based diets.  Vegan Junk Food has four locations throughout the city and the food is fire, their colored burger buns are an instagrammable bonus.  There’s also Vegan Sushi, Meatless District, and McDonald’s has a decent veggie burger if you’re in a rush. 

Transportation: A GVB pass includes transportation on tram, bus, and metro. It can be purchased for 1-7 days, I bought a 3-day pass for €19 at the metro station when I first arrived by flixbus.  You’ll want to use the rail to get around, it’s efficient and the most sustainable mode.  The I Amsterdam city card is another option that includes transportation as well as free or discounted entry to many museums and attractions, though it is pricey, so do the math on what attractions you want to visit to see if it is worth it.  Follow this link to their website to find the most accurate information.

Red light district courtesy: If you’re exploring the area on your own, please refrain from crowding around the brothels to marvel at the sex workers. This can often times deter customers from entering these establishments and cause the women to lose out on profits. Not to mention that this behavior is kind of rude, just take a tour or read up if you’re curious.

Drinking water: Fountains are easily accessible throughout the city, and the tap water here is the safest to drink in all of Europe.  For those flying in and out of Amsterdam, this includes all of the tap water throughout the airport according to the AMS website and airport employees.

Where I stayed: Meininger Hostel. They have dorm and private rooms available, and felt more like a hotel to be honest.  There are great amenities, a nice restaurant and bar, and it is conveniently located next to a small Brazilian café and Amstel Station.