I had a fabulous opportunity to travel to Europe again. My sorority, Phi Mu, has been organizing trips for alumnae for years, and I always try to attend these trips when I can. It’s the perfect opportunity for some interior design travels and inspo! 

Several friends, some of whom are also clients, and I decided to depart on a river cruise in Belgium and Holland dubbed Dutch Waterways. We were excited to embark on this spring voyage to explore both new and familiar destinations. I’m excited to share my travelogue with you and the interior design inspiration I found along the way. 

Starting Solo in Belgium

I have been to the Netherlands several times and was excited to return to Belgium for my first stop on this trip. Since the cruise began in Antwerp, the best arrival city was Brussels. The town is mainly French-speaking, and being a Francophile, of course, I was interested in spending some additional time there. So, I went early and enjoyed a leisurely visit to the area.

While in Brussels proper, I booked a photoshoot. Since I often travel alone, I don’t always have a lot of photos of me with the sites. I take loads of pictures of houses, architecture, art, and decor, but I am not in many of them. I spent Easter morning with a photographer going around Brussels and getting pictures in some of the iconic places such as La Grand-Place, the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert, and other picturesque spots. This was a fun opportunity, and not only was it quieter than usual, but we also had a touch of sun. While I love Europe, you don’t travel to Northern Europe for the weather. Every day that wasn’t rainy and cold was a treat. Actually, most days were pretty chilly. I didn’t bring a hat and gloves, thinking it would be significantly warmer than when I was in Europe at Christmas. While that was true, I ended up buying a cute hat and put my hands in my pockets a lot! Here are a few of the shots:

Some of My Favorite Stops in Brussels

Another highlight in Brussels was the Magritte Museum. I enjoyed seeing so much of his work laid out all in one place. We also have several of his pieces on view in Houston at The Menil Collection and MFAH. It was interesting to see his illustrations and graphic design, which I didn’t even know about. Here’s a charming photo of the famous Belgian surrealist.

The Menil Collection

Of course, I could not skip the beer and chocolate experiences, which were really fun. The Belgians are very serious about food and drink, specifically frites (which they never call French fries), chocolate, and beer. Learning more about the history and the production of these specialties was fun, as were the tastings. Filled chocolates, which they call pralines, were invented in Belgium.

Another treat included a delicious lobster lunch. I had seen a restaurant that specializes in lobster while walking to yoga each day. I adore lobster and could not resist the half lobster soaked in champagne and truffle sauce. It was divine, and I was full the whole day despite having done two pretty hard workouts!

I was happy practicing my French every day and engaged in several architecture and design discussions with various people during my visit. I had been boning up on industry terms in French and made good use of my newfound vocabulary.

My First Visit to Luxembourg

I spent a full day in Luxembourg, which was charming. The city features classic bridges and towers over a flowing river below, providing an iconic European vista. I visited a local artist’s studio, at the recommendation of a gallery attendant, and saw how Jacques Schneider creates graphic art based on the highlights of the country. He turns his designs into everything from paintings and stickers to jean jackets and even cookies. It was very fresh and modern. I purchased a small tray with his version of the city’s crest.

Luxembourg 2

The drive from Brussels to Luxembourg was quite long, but we enjoyed taking in the charming agricultural areas, which are now full of turbines and solar panels. Our drive home from Dinant took us along the Meuse River, a beautiful spot dotted with lovely houses and villas along the water’s edge.

Connecting with Friends in Luxembourg and Belgium

One of my friends who is building a lake house joined me on the European tour. I referred her to her architect, so we enjoyed picking out ideas here and there that she could consider incorporating into her new home. She met me in Brussels, where we had a beautiful dinner at La Villa Lorraine the night before we left for the ship. 

We booked a car to take us to Antwerp and were lucky to have time to stop in the UNESCO-recognized Leuven, home to what’s considered the most beautiful town hall in the world. Both the cathedral and town hall are of a high Gothic style and are incredible. 

We met our fellow Phi Mu alumnae while boarding the Amadeus Riva. The ship was very nice, fairly small in the cruise ship world, carrying only about 200 passengers and crew. However, they made great use of the space. The dining room and lounges were comfortable and attractively designed. I really liked my cabin. It had a huge window and closet, a small desk and bar, and a nice-sized bathroom for a ship. I felt right at home all week!

We toured Antwerp, which is still in Belgium but decidedly more Dutch. Brussels, on the other hand, is definitely more French in flavor. The next day, we visited Bruges, which is famously intact, nearly exactly like it was in the Middle Ages. It was spared during the wars and has a very Medieval feeling. We climbed the belfry and learned the importance of the various chimes and bells. They rang the bells for daily life, signifying things like the start of work, mealtimes, and the end of the day. They also used them for celebrations and warnings.

Finding Interior Design Inspiration While Traveling

I went into numerous home and design stores. Two cute, casual stores I had already experienced in Switzerland last year — HEMA and Flying Tiger. HEMA is from Amsterdam, while Flying Tiger is from Copenhagen. Both have lots of fun home items, casual clothing, paper goods, gardening & plant supplies, and party decor. We saw these stores in several of the cities and went in each time. They were great places for local snack options to stock our rooms. I bought some delicious truffle crackers (have you noticed I love truffles?) to have with wine on the ship and some tasty local candies such as chocolate-covered marzipan and stroopwafel cookies.

Of course, churches were a huge focus. The architectural style in Holland is quite different. Nearly everything was made of brick rather than stone. Being below sea level, they have rich sea clay that is great for making bricks as well as being very fertile for agriculture. They are inventive in their brick use, often alternating colors and making decorative borders and corners. In fact, we did a little bit of that in our current renovation in the Heights Historic District. I remember the builder and architect discussing the brick details and calling it Dutch brick.

I also found it interesting that the glass used in Protestant churches was usually just clear, light green, and light violet. It was in small round or square shapes and leaded. The stained glass in Belgium that I saw was the classic, bright, and glorious multicolor windows depicting religious scenes.

The Dutch Countryside, Canals, and Tulips 

We cruised the canals and admired the green Dutch countryside with the many happy sheep and cows. Another highlight was going through the locks and drawbridges, of which there were many!

Keukenhof Gardens

As we traveled towards Amsterdam, we visited small villages, also full of canals. The Dutch have mastered water. In the town of Veere, you could walk along the top of the dikes, look to the waterways on one side, and clearly see the town was below sea level on the other. 

While I mentioned the weather was pretty chilly and very windy everywhere, we were lucky to have a few days without rain. The highlight when it came to the weather was a serendipitous sunny day for our visit to see the tulips. Not only did we get the sun, but the tulips were also at their peak. It was magnificent. In fact, things were blooming throughout the trip but seeing the fields of tulips and then visiting Keukenhof Gardens was glorious.

Reflecting on Another Wonderful Adventure

Trips like these are a delight and truly inspire me and my work. From discussing design in different languages to visiting clients in historical and beautiful locations, I find it all inspiring. Until next time, find your own inspiration, or call us, and we’ll help you discover it.

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