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Trip Report Trip Report - Brussels, Finland, France and Switzerland Part 2

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Brussells is a typical large European city, but for us lacks the excitement factors of Paris, Rome etc. The hop-on-hop-off bus tour is an ideal way to learn the local history, and get an idea of the sights. With these tours, we generally ride the whole circuit to get a feel for the city, then use it the rest of the day to return to the places that most interest us. We delighted in the Atomium (most unusual!), Sablon Church and park opposite, and Place Louise law courts building. We happened to visit on Brussells National Day, so greatly enjoyed seeing the pomp and ceremonies involving the military and royal family.

Amiens was our base for exploring the WWI grave sites. The Australian memorial at Villers-Bretonneux is extremely moving, and the Australian memorial park at Le Hamel with its trenches and storyboards tells the history of the area in great detail. We could easily have spent another couple of days touring the war history in the area.
Amiens Cathedral is said to be larger than Notre Dame in Paris, and has a superb sound and light show on summer evenings. The commentary is given first in French, then the show is repeated directly afterwards in English. The lighting is most spectacular; to give any detail would give away some of its impact – suffice to say that if you are visiting the city at the right time of year, make sure you don’t miss a performance!

Strasbourg is a very pretty European city, and the old town is easy to explore by foot. Public transport (bus and tram) works very efficiently through the city and suburbs. The Cathedral dominates the town, and the sound and light show that’s held each evening in summer is an absolute delight. Each session lasts around 15 minutes, and we found that if you stay for more than one session, the light display is repeated, but different sound is used. The solo recorder player was particularly haunting.
The canal cruises and mini-train rides are both well worth doing; they cover slightly different territory, and each historical commentary compliments the other. Petit France within the old city is very commercial and touristy, but also has pretty garden boxes and half timber buildings.

Day trips from Strasbourg: Strughof Concentration Camp is a somewhat confronting experience, but one we wouldn’t have missed. Even with all the reading on the subject I have done, I still was amazed and horrified by the stories of life in the camp. For all its terrible history, the area is now a place of great natural beauty and tranquillity – a demonstration of how well nature eventually triumphs over the treatment it receives from mankind.

Metz is a truly beautiful garden city, with distinctive honey-coloured stone used in the monuments and building. The local Tourism Centre map is ideal, with different coloured trails to follow, depending on your area of interest. One of our group is a Knights Templar enthusiast, so we visited the Chapelle des Templiers. If you go, be sure to look down into the gratings that are set into the grassed area around the temple – one contains the excavated burial places of 3 of the knights. The temple is now part of a fine arts complex, so there is no history of the site available from them. The Palais de Justice Esplanade and the gardens around the Lac-aux-cygnes are particularly spectacular.

Colmar has to be one of the prettiest little villages along the Route du Vins – a day spent travelling these roads in the Voges Mountains outside Strasbourg is a very beautiful experience. Take a detour up to the monastery at St Odeile; free entry and fantastic views from the mountain. Molsheim is another little village with a pretty town square.

For those who revel in the shopping experience, a trip to the Auchan Hypermarket is a must – our shopping for groceries entailed walking up and down so many aisles with the trusty trolley getting more and more full. After an hour and a half we had managed to find plenty of fresh food, but hadn’t covered half the store floorspace . . . the clothes, electrical goods, hardware etc was too much to contemplate!
Continued with same title, Part 3

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