Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Road Trip: Toussaint

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We (me + 3 other girls) had the day after halloween off and so we decided to do what any other sensible person living in Europe would do. We went on vacation. After looking at several destinations and modes of transportation, we decided to rent a car. I wanted to rent a Panda. If only because I think that a car called a Panda is the most hilarious thing in the world. I mean think of the marketing: step into my speedy, sexy new . . . panda? Or want a ride in something slow, predictable and apt to munching on bamboo, well we have just the car for you. . . a panda! The panda didn't work out much to my chagrin, but we did get an awesome Megane.

The Megane was kickass, a blue beauty with a credit-card looking key. So cool. Though I admired all of the cars I did not get to drive. Why would a licensed and perfectly capable American girl not have to share the workload of driving in Europe? Well let's just thank the stars for never learning how to drive manual. I was the co-pilot and the worthless backseat rider. It was awesome.

The itinerary:
Reims->Luxembourg City->Chateau Bourscheid->Aachen->Brussels->Brugge->Reims

My take on each destination:

Luxembourg City
I don't know why I have never known or heard that the city is in a gorge and is awesome. You hear people say that, "It's a beautiful city" (check); that, "It's a great place for walks/hiking" (check); or that, "It's a great place to get in touch with nature" (check). But somehow people left out: "It's a beautiful multilayered city with amazing nooks and crannies to get lost in, and is maybe one of the most breathtaking views in Europe." No one ever told me. It was a wonderful surprise.

The hostel in Luxembourg is AMAZING. It's newly renovated and thanks to my little lonely planet travel guide we got to sleep in their highly stylish bunkbeds. When I say "highly stylish" I am not being sarcastic. They were hot. DINNER WAS Delicious, they had stuffed peppers for vegetarians and even a veggie lasagna. The hostel food was badass. Included b-fast: yum, yum, yum.


Chateau de Bourscheid
We made this stop on the way to Aachen. It was pretty cool. After driving around some foggy winding roads and one of our friends getting attacked by stinging nettles, we arrived at the 1,000 year old castle. Slightly disappointing was the fog that covered the surrounding valley (a valley I'm more than sure is breathtakingly beautiful; especially in the fall when all the leaves are colorful). We got to storm that castle. No one was supervising and so we were allowed to just walk around the area. That was cool. It felt like exploring. For a minute I felt like a real archeologist*.

As we walked around the meeting point of Germany, Beligum, and the Netherlands, you really can't help but see the different influences on the city. People were speaking in French, Dutch and German (and as always: English), and we got there on a bustling day, Friday. We were on the lookout for waffles, gingerbread, beer and Charlemange as we walked around and ending up going to this really cool coffeehouse called Leo van den Daele.

 It was made of a combination of merchant houses put together to produce a rambling multi floor coffeehouse with a lot of crazy antiques. We had strudel, gingerbread, and some other treats all while enjoying some great German beer. We left there in search of food and more drinks and we ran into a dilemma: it was only 4 pm. We would run into this problem all week. Because of the drizzling weather and our early starts, we would check out the sites and be finished around 4-5pm each day. We were always faced with the awkward question of what to do until 7/8pm (dinner time!) without going back to the hostel (most of the time they were a bit out of the way). In Aachen we would this beer place that was amazing. We had our first drink at 4:30 and dinner done by 7:00.

 We decided to leave and go to the BAD AACHEN. I had never been to a German bad (thermal bath) and was so excited to go. We were really nervous about the bathing suit situation (naked or not) and brought everything with us (bathing suits . . . forgot the towels), but soon realized it's more like a swimming pool deal. Saved! If you ever go to Aachen go to the baths. It was so cool. You could swim outside in the hot-tub like swimming pool without even feeling cold. Or you could sit under steaming waterfalls and relax. It was amazing. They even have a meditation room. A softly lit quiet place to relax in with some chill music. It was one of the highlights.

I didn't know what I thought Brussels would be like. Maybe I thought it would be like D.C. slightly sterile with all the important government buildings. But Brussels was lively. It was lively in the most wonderful way. There were lots of people in the Grand Markt and we got to see the Mannekin Pis, the symbol of Brussels and a statue of a little boy peeing. Every once and awhile you would see a comic come to live on the sides of buildings, that mixed with European institutions makes an amazingly quirky city.
I dug it. I also dug my fries drowned in my spicy mayo sauce. Oh yes, and restaurants that make paying customers pay for the toilet are -pun intended- crap, I'm looking at you: Roi de l'Espagne.

As Kristyn had read "Brugge is the Venice of the north", we took a canal tour of the city. Thank goodness, in this little picturesque city canal tours are only around 5 euros, unlike their overpriced friend in the south. We got to see a Michaelanglo, touch the coagulated blood of Christ (for a small donation of course), a Benedictine nunnery and eat some waffles.

One of our friends, a beer connoisseur of sorts, had one goal: to get to 't Brugs Beertje, a beer haven of more than 300 Belgian beers. 3 of us (one being a designated driver and coincidentally a non-beer drinker) had 4 each. This was purely educational as we felt the need to each have a sip of all 12 beers.

We waited all day and got into the bar exactly as the doors opened at 4 pm. Within 10 minutes the place was packed! It was great and we made it home that night safe and sound.

Distanced travel: 1,120 kilometers.

Pictures are here: http://flickr.com/photos/geniusb/sets/72157603045233671/ 

*this is slightly lame, but so true. Ok. it's more than slightly lame. Leave me alone.


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