September 09, 2004

Made it to Switzerland on time

Day 6: We spent the day in Bruges. Wow! If you only had one day to spend in Belgium, go here! It's about an hour by train from Brussels, and less than a 10 minute walk from the train station to the center of town. The entire town is beautiful. It looks like how I imagine a medieval town to be: the streets are narrow and paved with stones, the houses are quant, and a canal runs through town. We walked around for a few hours, looked in some very old churches, and debated about buying some lace (in the end we didn't.) We were successfully tempted to buy some chocolates (yum!) We took a short canal tour, which was very pleasant. Bruges looks more like Amsterdam than it does Brussels, which makes sense since it's further north. Most of the canal houses were similar in style to those in Amsterdam, except they were shorter (2-3 stories) and wider (3 windows instead of 2). We also didn't see any furniture hooks. At the end of the day we each had several glasses of the local beer (excellent) and a croque monsieur and frites.

Day 7: We walked around the center of Brussels, saw the Mannekin Pis, an art museum, and ate waffles. Brussels overall was a bit of a disappointment. It lacked the charm of Bruges (see below) and the refinement (and charm) of Paris. It's as if no one really felt any pride for the city.

We spent the early evening resting; I read in the bathtub while Gary took a nap. Dinner was at a lovely local restarant recommended by our host at the B&B. So far the best place we've eaten at in Belgium. (And we've learned that when your host says a particular place is good, it's best to follow his advice!) I had a wonderful beer (biere d'abbeye blonde) that tasted almost like honey. It went well with the veal ribs.

Day 8: We decided to go through Luxembourg instead of Paris, and stayed the night there. We didn't arrive until the middle of the afternoon, so there's a lot we didn't see. Our first goal was to find a hotel, which we did rather easily. Gary read about one in the Eurail guide book, and they had an opening. We were smart and left most of our bags at the train station, which made walking to the hotel much less stressful.

We took a tour of one of the casements (original city wall and fortification). It was old. Very old. Over 1000 years old, in fact. As an American, things this old just blow me away. Most of the people wandering around town seemed oblivious to how old their surroundings were. I guess after years of living in Europe, it's just another old church or ancient wall or fortification, nothing special. We also went to a few very old cathedrals (not as old, only 800 years or so) and wandered around the old part of the city.

We found a crowded restaurant for dinner and wound up eating next to a couple from Idaho, part way through a biking tour of northern Europe. My French and the phrase book I had failed me and we ate thinly sliced raw beef for dinner. It was, well, different. Boeuf cru; I should have guessed it would be raw from the word crudites, but I was misled by the menu listing steak tartare elsewhere. We made it up with a wonderful dessert, some sort of chocolate dish with cherries.

Day 9: Today is Gary's birthday, and we have made it to Bern! We took a 5 hour train from Luxembourg. Gary and I were almost separated at the border to Switzerland; the train schedule said the train would stop in Basel for 20 minutes, so when it stopped, Gary went out to find an ATM (euros are not used there) and some food. He returned a couple of minutes later, empty handed, saying there was nothing around except a passport control gate. A minute or two after he got back on the train, we started moving again! Apparently it only stopped at the French passport control track for a few minutes, then moved on the the Swiss track for 20 minutes. Luckily he had his passport with him (and even more luckily he got back on the train before it moved to the Swiss side!)

Our hotel, the Metropole, is very close to the train station (something like 342 steps, but we didn't count.) Across the street is a related hotel with a laundry room (Gary just left to check the dryer) and a few internet terminals. We looked around a local grocery to get some food and were almost trapped inside. In fact, we still haven't figured out how to leave without buying something. We were forced to buy cheese and sausage! How terrible is that?

Posted by Jen at September 9, 2004 08:05 AM