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The road to USk Amsterdam via Bruges...

Saturday - Day One

I woke up in my amazing hotel room feet away from one of the picturesque canals that dominate Bruges. I had arrived on a evening Eurostar service to Brussels the night before and the morning provided my first daylight views of the city where I was staying for a few days before moving on to this years Urban Sketchers annual world symposium in Amsterdam. Off first to the main market square, Markt, to find the tourist office for suggestions of a walking route around the city. I decided to sketch some of the amazing historic buildings surrounding the square before joining an informative and entertaining free tour of the city by Lander of Legends Tours. After my experience in Israel last month, I find these walking tours give an invaluable initial overview of a city. Then back to the square to complete a series of sketches focusing on landmarks and terraces that define the character of this impressive heart of the city. After a tasty Belgian beef stew at a local restaurant, I returned to Markt in the evening to an outdoor music concert that really brought the space alive - a great Saturday evening in this almost ridiculously picturesque city.

Sunday - Day Two

A chilled Sunday starting at Jan Van Eych Plein for a sketch along the canal - Bruges is proving perfect as a pre-symposium city. Perfect for sketching and enjoying a few chilled days in such a pretty setting. I’ve found Belgium on every trip to be such a pleasant place to just be. The first sketch started with a rough water colour base and then pen over the top. The watercolour paper is very rough and challenging to draw on, so I was unsure how it would turn out. As ever I found that if your persevere, it eventually works. You just have to relax and see which direction it takes you. A bit like a metaphor for life in a way lol. Then a sketch over a delicious lunch and then a walk to ‘the view' of Bruges at Rozenhoedkaai. I couldn’t resist another sketch here sat amongst never ending stream of tourists getting boat trips. A promise of a glass of local beer at the end kept me going! Then off to the third day of the music concerts in Markt where both the Belgians and foreign visitors were having a fun evening.

Monday - Day Three

Time to walk a bit further out to the boundaries of the city and the beautiful park areas around the Reie canals. The beautiful lake at Minnewater (Lake of Love - rewind to Love Valley in Cappadocia last month! Is this the year of love or something?!?!?) was a ‘must sketch’ spot. The view back towards the city with the famous resident swans in the foreground is stunning and I attempted a watercolour to capture a feeling of the picturesque scenery. Then a pleasant lunch and a further wander through the city, scribbling a vibrant main tourist street. A return to the hotel gave me an opportunity to try a pencil sketch of one of the northern canals with the cute Hotel Ter Brughe in the foreground. Finally dinner in one of my favourite little squares at Jan Van Eyck Plein before packing, ready for an early start tomorrow.

Tuesday - Day Four

The 'moving day' to Amsterdam albeit with a short stop in Antwerp on the way. I visited the Belgian city a few years ago and didn’t get the chance to visit the zoo there. I have designed a couple of zoo exhibits in my 'day job' as an architect and I try to visit different zoos whenever I travel.

Antwerp Zoo is conveniently located adjacent to the stunning Centraal Station and I spent a couple of hours wandering around the picturesque zoo gardens on a beautiful summers day.

After a quick sketch inside the zoo, I spent an hour or so sketching in the main square capturing a part of the beautiful station facade with the giant Ferris wheel in the foreground.

Then off to Amsterdam and straight to the hotel followed by fun dinner with many of the UK urban sketchers.

Wednesday - Day Five

A more organised day of sketching ahead - many of the Uk crowd had decided to go to see a sketch demo down at the imposing historic tower of Montelbaanstoren. The demo was already busy when I arrived, so I chose to sketch the tower from a delightful position on the corner of two canals. I chatted to several other people from around the world - the symposium is really fantastic for this. Then I met up with my friend Elisabeth who leads the Oslo group and we had a great lunch in another beautiful part of the city. We were joined by another friend of hers and we went over on the ferry to catch up with the Uk group at the Eye Film Museum where I sketched the skyline of the city. Then a final quick sketch from the other side of the river and quickly back to the hotel to change to go for a few beers with Wils and Max, who I had met in Tel Aviv last month and live in Amsterdam - such a small world!

Thursday - Day Six

It was always going to be a hot one today and it certainly was - one of the local organisers I was chatting to, joked that everyone had been praying for good weather a little too much! The day started wandering down the Singel canal from the hotel to Spui where I found the sketchcrawl group and other friends. I chose a shady position by the canal next to a lovely cafe with a marvellous view of canalside houses. I was joined by a friend and we chatted as we sketched alongside a few sketchers from France. A few of us went for a chilled lunch in the main square before returning to watercolour the mornings sketch - I felt so slow in this heat - one of Amsterdam’s hottest ever days! Then on to the Amstel area for one final sketch of the day. I chatted to so many people that I struggled to finish before sunset before moving on to the ‘drink and draw’ session at a local bar where I caught up with so many friends. I actually met many people whose work I had only ever seen online. These symposiums are one of my highlights of the year and I’m looking forward to next year already, wherever it might be. We should all know tomorrow! Finally a group of us went out for a fabulous Thai meal before I returned to my really hot hotel room for sleep between very loud thunderstorms!