Brussels Belgium

Our trip through Western Europe took us to some interesting places and Brussels has to be one of my favorites. Brussels has about 19 Districts to it and each one has its own look and feel. In order to see and explore them all, you would probably need to stay at least two weeks. We did not have that kind of time, and as such, we drove directly through the European Quarter to the historic center where it all began.

In the center of Brussels you will find price worthy hotels of every nature. It is worth noting that in this area you probably should go with a place that has three or more stars just for safety reasons alone. In a city this size, like imagine the size of New York, if you pick the cheapest hotel you will probably wind up in an area where something bad could happen to you. I assume you would not go to New York and stay in the cheapest of places either, for similar concerns. We paid about $130.00 for the three of us to stay in a hotel in the historic district in the center of the city. They did not offer parking but, gave us a map to the best parking garage in the area where, upon our checkout we would have our parking ticket partially validated so, we would receive a discount on the parking fees. The price of the room did not include breakfast.

After we saw our room, we felt that it was possibly not the safest, and the building itself was done so strangely that we swore it could have possibly been an old brothel that was converted into a hotel. The room itself was clean, the beds were comfortable enough and the bathroom was quite large. Five main problems here were that: The windows looked out onto the dirty rooftop which, was a giant square completely surrounded by adjoining buildings. The windows were a bit on the broken side, it was hard to get them open and then they only opened on one side. After the rain stopped, it was hot and humid up there. There was no air conditioning at all, just two small portable fans that were already broken, stored in the room guest use. There was no minibar and as such, no place to put any kind of drinks, to get them cold, except the window ledge outside which, at the time, did not help us. The door to the room was thin, flimsy in nature and the lock was similar to what you would find on any inside door of the most cheaply made, basic house here in Europe. There was not any extra security features for the door on the inside of the room, just the key that fits into the lock that, you could only turn once. We decided to just hope for the best experience in this hotel and we left for the evening to go explore the area.

EATING IN THE CENTER

We stepped out onto the street in front of the hotel and were pleasantly surprised that the rain had gone from cats and dogs to a slow drizzle. We made a big circle around the area to see what we could film and to look for a place to have our dinner. We found a mall within a ten minute walk that was directly across the street from The Royal Theater. We went inside the mall to look around and found a grocery store with good prices where we bought some drinks to take back with us. We also found a very nice chocolate shop where we purchased a small box of specialty chocolates. We did spend a bit more on those than we would have liked, I believe they were about fifteen Euros so close to twenty US Dollars. As it was a trip about experiences and Belgium is famous for their chocolate, we decided to go ahead spend the money. I will say that we had that box of chocolates for many days afterwards and each time one of us ate one of them…we were again reminded how different the chocolate in Belgium really is. We left the mall with our purchases, headed back to the hotel to drop it all off.

After leaving our hotel again with just the essentials, our mission was to find a restaurant we could all agree upon for dinner. We found a place that is as American as it gets, Pizza Hut. Now imagine you were me; out of the U.S. for over ten years, someone who loves American style pizza but, has not seen it in all that time and you came across a Pizza Hut by accident. You know you would be going in there! So, oddly enough, I had told my son Adrian about Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza, about two weeks before our trip and he did not forget that conversation. He was up to the challenge of trying out his first, real, American style pizza. He loved every bite of it and would rather eat that than; every other kind of Italian pizza that, he has tried so far here while, living with us in Italy. Our bill for dinner was about thirty Euros. I had a salad, we all had large drinks and had ordered the biggest stuffed crust pizza on the menu. Full and happy, we headed out into the wet atmosphere.

BRUSSELS AFTER DARK

Once the sun begins to set in Brussels you notice a completely different vibe in the center. It goes from being a place where the locals work and tourists shop and eat, to a place where they wander around looking for a party. There were many more street performers and musicians out at night than there were during the day but, I am sure that the rain and the fact that it was a weekday also played a part in that. While out wandering, we passed every kind of shop, cafe, restaurant and snack place that a tourist could possibly want or need. We finally found “The Grand Place” and decided to look around.

The Grand Place is in itself a treat for the eyes during the day and at night; with all of its lights and the fun ambience in full swing, it becomes a place that everyone seems to be drawn to, like moths to light. There was a troupe of street dancers performing for a very large crowd and how they were able to do their moves on the cobblestones is still a mystery to me. Their music and the noise from the crowd was loud enough to be heard two streets away. I am sure when they were done that, they left the area with their pockets lined in silver. We left the dancers, walked the square in the middle of The Grand Place, taking notes on what to check out in the morning.

On the way back to our hotel we found an Archeological Site that was partially obstructed by construction of a nearby building but, from what I could see it was called Bruxelle 1238 Museum. It was on a side street between a few restaurants and a church. It apparently can be visited during the day and is the site of a Franciscan Monastery that was founded in this area in the year 1238 as well as the tomb of Duke John the First of Brabant. It was rebuilt several times after being destroyed and then finally disappeared as the new modern era was built over the top of it. I thought it was interesting just because of the way it was situated in the middle of the street with reinforced glass over it and a door with steps leading down under the street. There are many, many, many things out of the pages of history to see and experience in Brussels. It is my opinion that, these historic sites and other museums are very well put together and should be seen by as many people as possible. These types of activities are a treat for the eye and the mind and the prices to get in can be very cheap if you do your research. In this case, you can buy a “Brussels Card” which gives you access to all of the museums and other sites around Brussels (over 40 museums alone) for the starting price of twenty-six Euros per person. You can purchase either 24-48 or 72 hour passes. These passes can also be purchased to include public transportation or the hop-on/hop-off tour bus rides to be included.

CONCLUSION

Brussels is a great city with many things to see and do and it can all be done on a budget. If you are planning a trip to Europe I would hope that, you would consider adding Brussels to your list of cities to visit. It has a fantastic and rich history. With the exception of the sketchy looking locals, the rest are a friendly lot who, for the most part, understand and and speak English. Plan wisely, read hotel reviews online, book all tickets online as it is always going to be cheaper that way and you too will have a great time in Brussels!

LUXEMBOURG CITY THE AMERICAN CEMETERY AND MEMORIAL AND TRIER

During our trip of Western Europe by car, there were many things and places that we specifically wanted to see. Of some of the more important places, Luxembourg and Trier, Germany were pretty high on our list. No matter where you go in Europe, you will find unbelievable historic sites and here we will begin with Luxembourg.

Luxembourg is a very small country that, today, borders Germany, France and Belgium. Today most people living here are living in the south of the country near the border with France. After his conquest of the area, in 50 BC this area became on of the three main provinces of Gaul which incorporated what are known today as Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Of course there have been many finds in the area proving that people inhabited the area in pre-history at least as far back as the 13th century BC. There are many old fortresses still in the area today that started out as Roman fortresses and as the years rolled by were refurbished for use by the then ruling families, countries or parties but, the first real mention of Luxembourg is from Julius Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic War in 58 to 51 BC when he mentions the Treveri people who were cooperative with the Romans and adapted more readily to Roman civilization. Since that time, this area has been passed down, won over, or given to so many different rulers that someone could spend weeks sifting through its complicated past.

In any event, Luxembourg today is something to behold with its mix of quiet neighbourhoods, colourful buildings, busy main streets and squares. Its bridges and valleys of green are wondrous treasures for the eyes and mind. We started our real tour in the area of the train station where we found ample parking for reasonable prices. We walked up from the parking area and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a big city. There are many streets in the area that are lined on both sides with shops and restaurants as far as the eye can see, of which, you will find great prices on everything that you could want or need.

As far as entertainment in the area goes, the sky is the limit. There are museums of every kind, guided tours of the mines, archaeological tours, nature tours, food and wine tours, castle tours, hiking tours in the area and tours of the neighbouring towns. You can take in a movie at the local cinema, find a pub in a quiet area and listen to some live music, go to an art opening or a local discotheque and get your groove on. As far as the prices go, as long as you are doing as the locals do, you will save money so, make sure to do your research on places to go and things to see.

There are many ways to save money on accommodations in the area. One is to look for an apartment to rent outside of the city and use the local buses to get around the area. With this option you will either have to eat out or, you can save money in that regard by shopping for your own food and drinks and do much of the cooking yourselves.

Another option is to look for a B&B in the area, eat your breakfast there, take some snacks for your excursions and do research for local restaurants in the area with good prices. As an example, we found a “Dinea” buffet style cafeteria in the top floor of a local store shopping mall where they had an excellent selection of food and drinks and the prices were very decent for the amount of food you get and I will say that everything was absolutely delicious. Other than these two options, you are looking at paying hotel prices ranging from Thirty-two Euros per person, per night – up to Two Hundred Euros per person, per night where breakfasts may or may not be included.

LUXEMBOURG AMERICAN CEMETERY AND MEMORIAL

We really wanted to come and pay our respects to all of the American soldiers who died in this area during WWII. We found it an easy drive from Luxembourg City into the beautiful countryside where we found the American Cemetery. Here we found a large parking area and a guarded entry. Upon entering you will find the offices on the left in case you are looking for assistance. To the right you will find a building that has the cleanest public bathrooms in all of Europe. As you walk through the path between these two you will find the actual memorial that is surrounded by a well kept lawn, pruned bushes and lush trees. In the center of the memorial is the Chapel where you can either take the steps or the sloped ramp.

On our visit there was a family who had brought their Grandfather who was a Veteran of that war. This man was not able to walk well and with assistance from the person in charge he was taken on a respectful personal tour in a golf cart. It was very humbling to see this man returning here just so he could pay his respects to the men he fought along side of who had not returned home to their families. While in the Chapel, I could hear this man telling his guide and his listening family his memories of the war and in one of those memories I became overwhelmed and overcome with grief for all of those who died fighting and their families who never saw them again. When I finally regained my composure, I said a few prayers there and went outside to finish looking around. We walked one of the main paths going down through all of the graves, I explained to my son why we were there and why it was so important for us to remember all of these men and pay our respects to them. While we were there we experienced so many emotions and we had this feeling that in that place the air was much heavier and the ambience was really palpable.

TRIER

We left the cemetery and headed for Trier, Germany. Trier is a mere thirty minutes from this area and we thought we should show our son some of what it has to offer. Trier is a city that is divided by the Moselle River which runs through the region. Down by the water you can find some lovely restaurants and shops, places where you can rent a boat or pay for ferry rides. To get to the main part of the city you have to drive down a long winding road and drive across a very long bridge. Parking fees here are relatively inexpensive and there is ample parking throughout the city. Once you cross the bridge, if you take a right onto the first main street, you will be able to find the historic center of town where you can find the Porta Nigra. The Porta Nigra was built in 170 AD by the Romans who occupied this and many other areas at that time. It was the North Gate of the city and the most pristine example of Roman architecture that exists in all of Europe today. At the time it was built, it was one of four gates and together with walls between them, kept the occupants of the city safe from invaders or others who would do them harm. The other gates along with most of the outside walls were all dismantled in the middle ages with the stones and metal bits being reused for other buildings within the city. During the middle ages, the Porta Nigra was home to a hermit monk named Simeon who cared for the building and helped the locals. When Simeon died, the locals decided to turn the majority of the gate into a church and build a monastery next to it. It was kept like that for many hundreds of years until Napoleon decided to close both and wanted to tear it all down. The locals played on his love for his Roman ancestry and he made sure to restore the Porta Nigra to its original form, thus ensuring it would survive for generations to come.

Just a short walk from this area you will find a brand new statue dedicated to Karl Marx, the famous communist philosopher, who was born in Trier two hundred years ago. As of the time of this article, just up the street from the statue is a large museum where you we found a Karl Marx Exhibit on display. It is also possible to take a tour of the house where he grew up.

One minute from the Marx Statue, is the pedestrian area of the city where you will find hundreds of shops and many restaurants and cafes. In the middle of the pedestrian zone is a very nice mall called the Galleria Kaufhauf. There you can find every item a person could possibly need for themselves, others or their home. The prices and quality of everything here are very good and they reflect well on what you would find in a typical German household. At the very top level of this store you will find a great cafeteria with excellent prices and public bathrooms.

CONCLUSION

This area of Europe is fantastic for those who want to frugally explore historic events and sites. No matter where you go, you will find beautiful scenery, friendly locals and excellent deals for those who like to shop.