Sunday, August 16, 2009

Germany and Belgium: Summer Holiday 2009

So, here we are in Cologne, Germany. We're riding around on an open air bus taking a tour. It's a bit cold. Seeing some nice sights. Then, we glance at the ticket. There are coupons for free beer. Score!

Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

But, first, let's back things up a bit. After having departed Copenhagen, TJ, Mike and I drove South through Denmark into Germany. Usually, we take the ferry from Rødby to Puttgarden. We decided to check out the scenery in Denmark this time around (and we're frugal). Lots of pastures. Lots of windmills (modern and old). Once in Germany on the autobahn, TJ got into a driving groove. And we raced towards Cologne.

Over 90% of Cologne was destroyed in World War II. The exception was Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). I had visited the city and church 10 years ago. On this trip, we went up one of the church towers. At the top, 100 meters up, you get a good sense of just how big this church is. I had some nice video of the interior of the church, but that is gone as I mentioned in my last post.

After the bus tour, we headed toward the first of three bars to redeem our coupons (but 1, get one free). Now, Cologne is the home of Kölsch beer. Kölsch is traditionally served in small (0.2 liter) glasses so that the beer remains cold when you drink it.

The next evening, TJ's colleague, Frank, took us to a large local beer house where the wait staff is known for being surly. And where you have to cover your beer with a coaster. Or else the staff will bring you a new beer unsolicited when your glass gets low. TJ found this out firsthand. Frank also took us to a restaurant where I had a schnitzel. I always have to have a schnitzel when I go to Germany.

The next day we drove South from Cologne along the Mosel River with its restored and ruined castles. We toured one of the few preserved castles, Burg Eltz. Then, we headed through Luxembourg (blink and you'll miss it) and into Belgium.

Now, I had been through Brussels before (on a train from Berlin to Amsterdam), but had never stopped and explored the city. I wish I had, but was glad for the opportunity this time around. I love Brussels. Beautiful city. And very French. In fact, the city, which was remarkably clean, reminded me of Paris. I could have wandered around there for days.

But, our time was short so we had to make the best of it. Upon arrival late in the afternoon, we headed for the Grand Place, a large market square in the heart of the old city. We caught a nightly light show on the facade of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) pictured above. The Baroque and Gothic styles of the buildings surrounding the square is decadent. It's almost too much. Almost. Like the food. Mussels are quite popular in Brussels. And tasty.

On the way back to the hotel, I was more than tempted by a Belgian waffle. Soft, warm, with a scoop of ice cream and some caramel sauce. That really hit the spot after an evening of sightseeing.

The next day, we visited a few more sights including the Palais Royal de Bruxelles (The Royal Palace of Brussels) and Cathédrale Saints-Michel-et-Gudule (St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral).

Belgium chocolate. Quite famous indeed. And delectable (if you like that kind of thing). There were shops with elaborate displays of chocolates. Two-meter high chocolate fountains. There's even a museum, the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, which Mike and I toured. And then there is chocolate-covered fruit. On a skewer. In Brussels, you can find decadence in all forms. take your pick.

For more photos of our trip to Germany and Belgium, click here.

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