Monday, April 26, 2010

Europe Trip Part 3 - Luxembourg

You may have mistakenly attributed my most recent posting hiatus to my planned London trip, but I'm sorry to report that Eynafywhatever successfully screwed that up for me. Instead I spent last week going to class and writing a paper for my final literature grade, and then on the weekend I went with the London group to one of the girl's grandmother's beach property about two hours away in Cantabria in a town called Suances. That was really fun, and although London would have been better because I would have gotten to play translator for the Spaniards, I'm glad we at least went somewhere. I'll probably tell you guys about that eventually, though I might be back home by then . . .
Anyway for now we're going to talk about Luxembourg. Or to be more specific, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (just so you don't confuse it with all the other Luxembourgs out there). I wanted to include this country on my European itinerary because it's a place that fairly few people have been to, and I'm something of a travel elitist. This was also my reason for visiting Andorra later in the same trip, and my (brief) stays in these exotic destinations made me realize that the reason not a lot of people have visited them is because there's just not that much to see. So now that we've started off on a positive note, I'll comment on my Luxembourgish voyage.
My train ticket from Brussels was open each way, so I got up around 9 and caught the 10 o'clock train. It's a three hour train ride to Luxembourg (the name of the country, but also its capital), which I passed by sleeping. At this point I actually sleep better on trains/planes/buses than I do in hostel beds (or my bed in Amparo's apartment), which is just as baffling to me as I'm sure it sounds. The train station in Luxembourg is pretty far from the old town center, so the first thing I did when I arrived was walk over a mile in the cold. (What's up with snow in Europe in the winter? Come on!) Along the way I saw some buildings, which I know is really nondescriptive, but I bet there are pictures with captions around here somewhere . . .

Haha when I got on the train I was like "Wow, this is a really nice train!" until 20 minutes later when the guy checked my ticket and kicked me out of the first class car. Oops

General Omar Bradley's headquarters, as you have probably already read above

Building across the street from General Omar Bradley's headquarters; which is pretty much what the headquarters looked like too

View of the two previously mentioned building across the gorge (gorge? the space between two hills) that separates new Luxembourg from the older part of town

Don't be fooled, future Luxembourg tourists! This casino is actually a contemporary art museum!

Luxembourg's National Monument

One of my main objectives was to tour the casemates, a series of tunnels in the hill the old town is built on that have led Luxembourg to be called "The Gibraltar of the North", but they are closed in the winter, much to my dismay. I spent an hour or so wandering around the town, which is picturesque enough, albeit fairly small, then caught a bus with the intention of going out to the Modern Art Museum outside of town. While on the bus, though, I decided to just stay on the bus and go back to the train station to catch the next train back to Brussels, which left at 4, so I could get back and have dinner and see a few more things there. So my total time spent in Luxembourg was about 3 hours. Luxembourg, like Okracoke, it seems, is a place that takes more time to get to than you will end up spending there.

Got creative with a statue of a fox and some church towers

One of the Grand Dukes, presumably

The Grand Duke's Palace. In case you're wondering, yes, I did walk around all day laughing at the word "duchy" in my head. Challenge yourself to think like a 5 year old, and you'll get it.

Government buildings, with no apparent security since some random tourist was just walking around in their courtyard
(Hint - it was me!)

A church in the old town

The entrance to the Cathedral

"Everybody stand back, I'm gonna chop this Ark of the Covenant in half WITH MY BARE HANDS!!"

The main tourist plaza, with a Pizza Hut and a Chi-Chi's. According to Wikipedia, they closed all of the North American locations of Chi-Chi's after a Hepatitis A outbreak started at one of their Pittsburgh restaurants. And you thought this was just a travel blog! Be careful reading this, you might just learn something. About now defunct Mexican restaurant chains . . .

Said plaza also sports a Quality Burger Restaurant. I would have taken a picture of the actual historic building on there but it was completely covered in scaffolding.

Der Big Rösti appears to be a cheeseburger with a hash brown on top, finished off with bacon and mayonnaise. How does McDonalds in Luxembourg have this and those in the US don't?

A very imposing post office

They have weird stop lights in Luxembourg

So weird I took a second picture to prove my point

Luxembourg train station. Maybe I should have put this at the beginning of the post, right after I arrived. But I took this picture as I was leaving.

Hehe, Abfahrt

Awesome, I've never been on a train with a hallway on one side and cabins before!

Yeah, this looks more appropriate for what I paid for the ticket

I got back to Brussels after 7 and got of the train a station early so I would be closer to the Grote Markt. I found a kebab (cheap food, European style) and had a much too large plate of gyro and french fries, before wandering around the tourist restaurant district looking for a bar that has the Guinness World Record for most different types of beer, well over 2,000 at last count (Délirium Café, look it up when you're in Brussels). And after a few trips down memory lane courtesy of my friend Samuel Adams I went back to the hostel to get some rest before going to Paris the next morning.

Brussels Cathedral by night

Mmm . . . tastes like AMERICA

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Europe Trip Part 2 - Brussels

Might I actually write two blog entries in one week? Make sure you don't miss the Amsterdam update below this one, since I'm sure you guys are all accustomed to checking the blog every month or so to see if there's anything new . . .
Well I caught my train to Brussels at 8:30 and by the time I arrived, navigated the metro, and asked for directions at a nice hotel to my hostel (came with a free newspaper!) it was around 11:30. I checked in and left my bags, then grabbed an awesome free map written by Brussels residents and targeted at young people with all the major sights but also insider tips on cool places to check out. Judging by it's location relative to the hostel, I headed first to a parking garage. I'll tell you why later, let's check out a bunch of pictures from the morning.

Wall outside the train station, Belgians are really into cartoons. There's a comic strip museum, and if I'm not mistaken they actually invented the Smurfs (or pitufos, as they are called in Spain)

Waffle bus!

Today's first Belgian waffle, but not the last . . .

Parking 58, but why would any tourist go to a parking garage?

Because if you go to the top you can see all of Brussels, of course. Off in the distance is the Atomium, built for the 1958 World's Fair and kind of a symbol of the city.

More free panoramic view of Brussels

After coming down from the Parking 58 I walked a little ways down a major boulevard and arrived at the Brussels Stock Exchange. According to my map, this is the place where all the protests and public gatherings are held in Brussels. There are two official languages in Belgium, French and Dutch, and all of the signs are in both. Therefore according to said signs this is the Bourse/Beurs, and in my head I kept calling it the Bors Bors and sounding like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets (Bork Bork Bork!). Enough silliness. I got lunch at a sandwich shop next to the Bourse/Beurs where much to my dismay they didn't put my fries on top of my sandwich like they did for all of the Belgian customers. I don't know what clued them in that I was an American, other than all the pointing and broken French I used to order. Then I walked into the tourist center of Belgium.


The Grand Place (Grote Markt), main square of Belgium even though you'd be hard-pressed to find an actual Belgian in it.

One of the nicest squares I have seen, though. It's completely surrounded by guildhalls (previous picture) and public buildings, and the architecture harmonizes together nicely.

Brussels Town Hall, begun in 1401. It wouldn't fit in a normal picture, so I opted for this view looking up the tower.

Maison du Roi, though I don't think the king ever actually lived in it, since it's also referred to as the Breadhouse. Now it's a museum about the history of Brussels, in which I learned that Parking 58 is built on the site of the former port. And then they buried the river Senne, and built the Bourse/Beurs on top of part of it.

I asked some policemen to take my picture in front of the Breadhouse, and this is what I got. Then I asked them to do it again and get the building in it too, and they told me they weren't photographers, and that I was lucky I got one picture. So sorry to interrupt you in the middle of your double homicide/kidnapping investigation (slow stroll around the perimeter of the square chatting, the whole time I was there), officers.

Another symbol of Brussels, the Manneken Pis. Everyone tells you it's really tiny, but I wasn't expecting it to be this small.

Statue close-up. Sometimes they dress him up in donated outfits (like national costumes of many countries), and in the museum in the Breadhouse they have a room with all the outfits on display.

Waffle number two for the day, this time with chocolate. I won't dare to say one was better than the other, 'cause I love me a Belgian waffle in any form, but one of them was definitely messier.

I walked up the hill and tried to visit the Magritte Museum, showcasing the works of surrealist painter René Magritte, but unfortunately you need reservations. He's the guy who painted the portrait of the man in the bowler hat with an apple in front of his face, and lots of other weird pictures of men in bowler hats, along with other things. I made the most of this disappointment and saw the other sights in this area, including the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, before taking the metro a few stops to go to a car museum I happened to notice on my map (best map ever! I gave it to some Argentinians I met in my hostel in Barcelona when they told me they were going to Brussels). So there's your brief narrative for now.

Awesome name for a hotel, but you pretty much have to paint your sign like this too

At first I thought this was the palace, but it's actually a church.

View of the town hall in the distance from the steps of the church

The actual Royal Palace

Cathedral of Brussels

Some saint - I couldn't decide if he had a golden palm frond or a golden sickle.

Very realistic stained glass windows

Found out what R.I.P. stands for. Probably wouldn't want a skull and crossbones on my tomb, though.

Hahaha in the name of VADER! Oh Dutch, I'm out of the Netherlands but you still find ways to entertain me.

Autoworld - I paid two euros more for the priviledge of taking pictures, so you can bet I got my money's worth.

Enormous old camping vehicle. It even has a back porch, like old trains that presidents used to ride around the country on.

The Urkelmobile, actually a BMW Isetta

This car is also a boat.


Brussels also has a triumphal arch, albeit less famous than the one in Paris.

As you can see from my previous photo of the arch, it was getting dark by the time I left Autoworld. That's nature's way of telling me that it's the end of sightseeing time and the beginning of eat and get drunk time, so I took the metro back to the area of my hostel to try to find a traditional Belgian restaurant. And I succeeded. Enjoy these last three pictures, and I'll try to write about Luxembourg as soon as possible, which will be even sooner if this volcano succeeds in messing up my London travel plans on Tuesday.

Hmm, I think this place might serve lobster . . .

Traditional Belgian dish whose name I had no hope of remembering from the minute it was told to me. Pretty similar to other traditional dishes in Northern Europe - mashed potatoes, some meat, and other assorted vegetables that I don't eat.

Sweet hostel beds, each with their own reading light and electrical outlet