Germany, Belgium & Luxembourg - 2001
I recently returned from a 14 day trip to Germany, Belgium & Luxembourg. Half the trip was spent traveling in Belgium & Luxembourg and the other half with friends and relatives in Germany. Since we had taken a family trip to Germany last December my wife agreed to let me take a quick trip if I could find the right price. I shopped the net and finally found a good price on Air Canada for $450rt from Seattle to Frankfurt via Toronto. I bought the ticket before the tragic events of September 11th but decided to continue with the trip anyway. The lines at Seatac airport were horrible to check in, but once checked in the lines went fairly quickly. The flight was surprisingly full yet uneventful.
Arrived at 7:00am in Frankfurt. You now go through customs before you get your luggage, but other than that no new procedures. Get my bags and walk out into the main terminal, man I love the smell of Germany! Even the airport smells like Germany. Silly, but just something I really took notice of this time.
I booked a mid-size car ahead of time through Auto Europe which ran me through National car rental. I got to the counter and asked for a diesel and they gave me an Opel Zafira, which is a cross between a mini van and a car.
Being my first trip without the family I was hoping for something a little more sportier, but that was the only diesel they had on stock.
Headed towards Mainz and then South on B40 to my wife's hometown of Kirchheimbolanden.
Once in Kibo (Kirchheimbolanden) I headed for the Aldi markt for some Fa shower gel, a six pack of Fanta and a case of Bischoff bier.
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While in Aldi I bump into my wifes aunt, hug and struggle to talk as her English is not good and my German is also not the best. Still fun to see a friendly face so quickly.
From here I drive a few blocks to my good friend Jurgens house. His house was actually a tavern back in the 1800's, so I feel right at home here. I will be staying with Jurgen for the 2 weeks and he will be traveling with me on my trip to the Benelux. I still can't believe the Germans get 30 days vacation. One of my 2 suitcases had nothing but gifts for all the relatives, however this works out great since I always bring so much back. I give Jurgen two packs of Mag Light flash lights from Costco, a Mariners championship T-shirt and Jelly beans. Its now close to noon so we walk downtown to a small guest house we frequent called Miranos. I have Jäger Schnitzel and fries with an Alt bier.
After lunch we drive a few miles along B40 to the village of Winnweiler. Winnweiler is where the Bischoff brewery is, and I wanted to purchase a few items for my collection back home. Lately I have started collecting menu boards for my garage wall.
They didn't have any for sale in the gift shop, however she made a phone call and a few minutes later a man showed up with a very nice metal menu board. They sold it to me for just DM25. I was thrilled! From Winnwieler we drove a few more Kilometers to the castle at Falkenstein, enjoyed the fall colors and than continued back home to Kibo. That evening I want to visit some more close friends in town. We usually stay with them but since I was alone and Jurgen is single I thought Jurgens might work out better. At Tom & Petra's I dispensed more gifts. Beef Jerky, Jelly beans and Halloween M&M's, BBQ sauce, Mag Lights, Hot Wheels for the kids and lots of Pajamas with feet for the children. Most German homes have tile or wood floors which can be chilly in the winter, yet most childrens PJ's do not have feet. Thus these are always a popular request when we come. Spent 3 hrs that evening just talking and drinking Bischoff. Thats what I really love about Germans is their ability to just sit and talk for hours and enjoy each others company. To bed at 10:30 and up at 7:30 the next day. So far no real Jet lag, thank God!
Up at 7:30 after a great nights sleep. Unusual as I usually wake up around 3am my first 2 nights. Jurgen lives in what I call a row house. Its one of the old homes you see that is attached to the other homes next to it along the street. It was originally a tavern in the 1800's. The bottom floor is garage and cellar, the next floor is living room, kitchen, bathroom and the top floor under the roof is 3 bedrooms. The building is old and creeky, just the way you like it. lol After I got back I was telling my wife how lucky I feel to get to see the inside of so many different German homes. Its one thing to see a guest house, its another to see how they actually live.
Since Jurgen isn't up yet I decide to walk the 2 blocks to the Bakery and buy some Lauge Brotchen (pretzel rolls) and then go next door to the bakery for some mixed meats and butter cheese. Once again the smells are overwhelming and wonderful.
I wanted to tour some of my old haunting grounds today, so we head SW via Kaiserslautern (K-town) to my old post in Miesau. Because of the increased security we are not able to get on post, but it's just nice to see the front gate and the barracks from the road. I was stationed in Germany from 89-92, spending time in Miesau, Darmstadt, Giessen and Wildflecken near Fulda. From Miesau we drive the back roads West toward Homburg. The day is sunny and the fall colors bright. What a perfect time of the year! Once in Homburg I wanted to visit some old ruins I remember touring years ago while in the army. Following the signs towards the ruins we come across the Karlsberg brewery. Once again I ask for a menu board and am rewarded with a very nice wood board, this time for only DM15. A bit of advice for those who collect beer mugs, the prices at these brewerys is very, very inexpensive. Anytime I see a brewery I stop in and buy a mug or two. From the brewery its just a short drive up the hill to some very old ruins with a great view for miles.
From Homburg we drive East to K-town for a little shopping. K-town isn't a tourist town but is still very nice in its own way. Lately they have extended the pedestrian shopping district and updated many roads. Parked by Karstadt and walked to the FCK (Kaiserslautern) soccer team store. FCK is having a dream season very similar to that of the Mariners in Seattle. Only 1 loss against 5 wins and leading the hated Bayern Munich. In the store I buy a very nice soccer jersey for my 7 yr old son, for DM 30 more they put his name and number on the back. Total cost was DM99 but well worth it. Since I have been back I don't think a day has passed that he hasn't worn the shirt. From here we walk the market platz. Is there a better way to shop than to be outdoors with all the people walking the cobblestoned road with no cars? Everyone seems so happy and relaxed enjoying the German national sport, people watching from cafe's. Bought a German book of Grimm fairy tales for my wife Monja to read to the kids and bought my daughter Nissa a book to help teach her to tie her shoes. From here we walk towards an old pub we used to frequent called the Hannen Fass on St Martins Platz. I walk in and look around, memories rushing through my head. I purchase a mug for old times sake. We have lunch just outside at a cafe called St. Martins under a large tree. Again, Jäger Schnitzel and fries with an Alt bier. Sat there for 2 hours eating slow and enjoying watching the people walk by. The sun, the large tree, the brisk breeze and the sound of a fountain, what a great time!
That evening I visited some more friends, Heidi & Wolfgang. They live in an old farm house in the tiny town of Orbis. Like many German families, their parents live downstairs and they live upstairs. Left gifts of 4 pairs of Wrangler jeans for Heidi and a nice flannel shirt for Wolfgang. From here we drove a little North to the town of Alzey for a pub my wife had told me to visit. You walk down under the place to the pub. The roof is coved and very dark with white "chirstmas" lights, each table having a candle for light. The music was great and the beer even better! One of those places you really can't describe but a great evening of beer and chat. Back to Kibo for a few more beers at the Copacabana and then on to Maximus for another beer. Before walking home we stop at a small Turkish stand and get a Donner Kibob for dinner.
The next day we leave for Belgium via a short stop in Köln or Cologne
Up at 5:30, couldn't sleep due more to excitement than jet lag. Rainy, dreary morning as we head towards Köln (Cologne) via Alzey & Koblenz. Still raining when we arrive arround 10:00am. Like most tourists we head straight for the Cathedral. Crowds were very small due to weather and time of the day. The inside was truly magnificent and incredibly huge. I have been in many churches throughout Europe but never one quite so big. We decided to take the hike to the top, paid our DM8 and laughed at the sign saying "no lift". After about 250 steps we were dying for a lift, especially when you realized you were less than half way up. There are over 500 steps to the top in a tight spiral which really makes one dizzy when walking back down. Even though the weather was overcast the view was still amazing. Once back down we toured the room with the church treasures and then headed for a pub to try a local treasure called Kulsch. Its a beer that all Germans seem to associate with Köln, although I'm told you would not dare try and order this beer just a few miles away in Bonn. The beer was good, but I'm sure the long climb up and down the tower helped enhance the flavor. After the beer we walked around town and then down to the water front. Enjoyed the hour or so in Köln but decided to get going towards Brussels.
We drove the back roads towards Aachen on the German border. We noticed quite a few horse ranches in the country around Aachen. Continued into the Netherlands and than Belgium via freeway. Noticed more street lights than I have ever seen along a freeway. Stopped at a small town along the way to get cash and a bite to eat. Don't remember the town but noticed how meticulous everything was. The town looked like garbage had never touched its streets, the buildings looked like dirt never touched their walls. There were red bike paths along EVERY road, and people actually used them. What I love about Belgium and Europe is that people of all ages and all classes ride their bikes. You see an elderly lady riding back from market with her basket full of fruit or a business women riding to work. We found a small cafe and had lasagna and a Pils. Encountered our first difficulty trying to figure out the tip when the exchange rate is 45 to 1.
Starting to get late in the afternoon so we decide to skip the back roads for now and take the freeway into Brussels. Arrive around 4pm, rush hour! What a nightmare! I have only seen driving like this in the movies, something one imagines in Rome or Paris but never have I seen such chaos in person. Red lights mean nothing and traffic circles are enter at your own risk. Also, there are no straight streets in Brussels, only windy, curvy streets with hidden street names. It took us 3 hrs to find our hotel. Our hotel was the Renaissance on Rue du Parnasse 19. A typical corporate hotel which I normally avoid but since another reader had persuaded me to cancel my reservations at the Hotel Mozart I decided to try Priceline.com. I got a room here for $60 a night when a normal room costs $125. However the location was not good and would only suggest staying here if nothing else is available. After a shower to wash the stress and sweat from the traffic away we take a bus into the Grand Place. By now its dark and the square is lit up in all its glory. For those of you that have not seen the Grand Place it is a truly magnificent baroque square with cafe's around the entire place.
The alleys were lit up by many restaurants offering seafood and outdoor seating. Even though its now 9pm the place is still humming with activity. We have a few beers and then decide to find the Manneken Pis, a very old statue of a young boy pissing. Quite often the boy is dressed in costume, however tonight he is in his natural state.
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After a few more beers we take a taxi back to the hotel. Having been to Brussels once before back in 1990 I probably won't return again. The Grand Place and the alley ways as well as Europes first covered mall are all very interesting and pretty, but the city is just too big and overwhelming for me and I couldn't wait for day 4 to see Waterloo and Brugge. If you are in the area I would suggest spending half a day to see the Grand Place but I wouldn't put Brussels on my "must see" list.
Took a good hour just to find our way back out of Brussels. This morning we are heading just a few miles south to the town of Waterloo.
Waterloo is one of those places in history you hear about but somehow never really think of as a real place. The actual battleground and monument are about 2 miles south of town. The monument marking the spot is a huge grass pyramid with a large lion statue on top.
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Once again, steps! Over 200 to the top. My thighs still hurt from the 500 step climb in Köln. The view was nice but it just felt neat being in such a historic place. Once down we toured the shop and then went next door to a round building with a painting in the round showing the battle. A very worth while stop if in the area, in fact for some reason I put this stop as one of the top 3 highlights of my trip.
From Waterloo we take back roads towards Brugge via Ninove, Dudenaarde and up north towards Ghent. Wonderful countryside, very clean with lots of corn, sheep and dairy farms. Belgium seems to have a lot more homes on the outskirts of town, much like in America. I'm so used to Germany were all the homes are clustered into the village and nobody lives outside the village. Anyway, the drive was very scenic and relaxing. Definitely better than taking the freeway. We arrive in Brugge around 2pm.
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While driving the ring circle around the town you can see the canals with the barges and the windmills along the canal. We find a bridge into the old town and somehow drive directly to our hotel, the Hotel Adornes.
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I swear you feel guilty driving on the old cobble stone road and crossing the rustic stone bridge to get there, but it is fun.
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The hotel I found while researching the web and we were very pleased with it. Our room was on the 2nd floor, room #4. A very nice rustic room with a very modern bathroom. Our windows opened up with wonderful view of the canal below. Parking was one block away in an underground garage. After unpacking we stroll the few blocks towards town, stopping at T Klein Venitic to have a beer and watch the boats float down the canal with tourists. We did a little shopping, stopping in a store that sold nothing but beer and wine. Bought a few interesting beer bottles for my collection back home. Had another at Aquarel in a small square next to of all things a Pizza Hut. Great spot to people watch however. That evening we had a tasty dinner at a restuarant just off the main square called Tavern Curiosa on Vlamingstraat 22. Its a nice restuarant that is in a basement with coved ceilings and candle light, very much like the pub in Alzey. Had Osterich steak, fries and 2 Triple Brugge beers. Later that evening had 3 more beers at the small pub just across the bridge from the Adornes hotel we stayed in.
Day 5 we head for the Belgian coast