Europe Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Come explore the new Fodor’s Forum
    by ibobi Fodor's Editor | Posted on Dec 4, 17 at 08:03 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 संपर्क SKYPE EMAIL ☎ 1~888~260:2909 Password Reset SKYPE Tec*h care
  2. 2 First time italy, 12 nights. What to do
  3. 3 Help me pick a destination --- Please!
  4. 4 London: Stunning New American Embassy
  5. 5 Help me get excited about a week in Portugal
  6. 6 Is a quick stopover in Bern worth it with 3 kids?
  7. 7 Is the scenery in South Italy worth the trip by train
  8. 8 Overwhelmed with planning! Need help from Italy experts.
  9. 9 New Years in France
  10. 10 Looking for Paris Rental Apt.
  11. 11 Help me with an affordable hotel in Barcelona
  12. 12 Italy: Hotels on the Amalfi Coast; Orvieto; Perugia; Florence; and Siena
  13. 13 Trip Report Rome - Naples - Paestum - Salerno - Ravello Trip Report
  14. 14 Hip Pocket Wifi
  15. 15 Amalfi as a home base for the Amalfi Coast
  16. 16 Lisbon stay - Olissippo Lapa Palace vs NH Collection Lisboa Liberdade
  17. 17 Trip Report Paris November 2017
  18. 18 Best area to stay in Amsterdam for a first time visitor
  19. 19 where to buy baby gifts in paris?
  20. 20 What is your favorite Greek Island?
  21. 21 Trip Report Winter ... UK Finland Sweden. (Live...ish)
  22. 22 Help needed for Bergamo to Venice journey
  23. 23 Spain.... 2.5 Weeks... Need Help!
  24. 24 August - Croatia, Italy, Malta
  25. 25 Four Nights in Nice--What should we do?
View next 25 » Back to the top

Trip Report Thanksgiving Week in Germany and Belgium

Jump to last reply

My DH (M) works often in Frankfurt, and I have joined him four times; we’ve enjoyed seeing many places in Germany together via a car, and I’ve taken over a dozen trips via train for solo visits to cities and towns. In September of this year, he scheduled another 2-week work trip in November, the two weeks before Thanksgiving week. We discussed my joining him after his work, spending Thanksgiving in Europe, but we just couldn’t decide if it was a good idea.

Cons: As his retirement approaches, we have to consider the financial impact of European travel. He’d be tired after 2 weeks. Although 2 of our grown children were not going to be in town for Thanksgiving, we’d miss having Turkey Day at home. It’s cold and dark and probably wet in late November there. We didn’t have any “must-see” or “must-re-visit” destinations that we could get to in a week.

Pros: As I still teach and am not planning retirement for at least a couple years, my travel is limited to my breaks, so I’d have the time. M’s air travel costs would already be paid for on his business trip.

Then in late September, my father died on his 88th birthday. As M and I drove back after the funeral, we had a chance conversation with a stranger during our lunch stop. It seems he was taking his first trip to visited extended family since his wife had died a few months earlier. “We were going to travel, but she got sick, and now she’s gone.” When we got back in the truck, M said, “OK, I’m taking us on some trips!”

I had already made a list of some ideas of where we could go from Frankfurt, and as we drove on, we decided to go to Belgium for at least part of the week. So when we got home, M made my airline reservations (and requested to upgrade me with some of his system-wide upgrades), and I made more definite possible routes. I’d long been interested in Ghent, and M wanted to show me Aachen and also a little German town, Monschau. When we got our itinerary/route determined, he made hotel reservations in Hilton or Marriott properties where available and secured a rental car. I did on-line research, including on Fodor’s, got a Rick Steves guide to Belgium, and made tentative daily plans which weren’t very packed and would be flexible. The weeks flew by, M headed to Frankfurt for work, I finished up all those necessary pre-trip deeds and packing, and my departure day arrived.

Saturday to Sunday—Travel and Arrival

My flight to DFW was on time and eventless. I had not been upgraded on the DFW-FRA flight, but at the gate about 5 minutes before boarding began, my name was called and –yay!—I was seated in Business. That flight was also on time and generally eventless, except it was the bumpiest trans-continental flight I’ve ever had. There were a couple times when the plane did that icky drop thing, and your heart is in your throat. The lady in the cubicle next to me woke up enough to hold that emergency bag to her face for a long time. I don’t get scared while flying, but I was a bit fearful a couple times. But we landed a little early before 8:30 AM, the processing went quickly, my bag was there, and I found M waiting for me.

(Meanwhile, M had checked out of his business hotel and turned in his rental car to Enterprise; he spent Saturday night at the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport, as from this hotel it was convenient to just walk over to the terminal to meet me the next day. Sunday morning he checked out and went to get “our” rental car from Budget. The arrangements with that company for a car ended up not being convenient or good at all, so he went back to Enterprise and ended up with the exact car he’d just had for 2 weeks, which was terrific because he liked it and was familiar with the GPS and all its other details. It was a Mercedes-Benz C-class. He cancelled the Budget reservation.) And so our week began!

Sunday—Monschau, Germany

In May 2017, M’s work had required him to visit some businesses near Monschau, Germany, in the Eifel Mountains, and he thought it so charming, he wished he could show it to me. And now he could! About a 3-hour drive got us to the edge of Monschau to the Carat Hotel, but we couldn’t check in until 3 and its small parking lot was full, so we found a street-parking space across from the hotel—but the parking ticket machine wouldn’t work. Wouldn’t work for the German-speaking man who tried it right after us, either. So we went on our way, but M was a bit concerned he’d get a ticket—but he didn’t.

It was cold and damp; that became the motif of most of the week. (When I left Texas, it was nearly 90; it was less than half that in Monschau—it takes some adjustment!)

We walked downhill toward the middle of old Monschau, which has limited access by car. It is a late-Medieval town of half-timbered houses and slate-covered buildings around a maze of winding cobblestone streets. Much of the 300-year-old center of town is unchanged since being built (but nicely preserved). The Rür River races through the middle, cutting a deep cleft in the rocky terrain, and the town’s houses and shops are perched on many levels. Small bridges cross the River at different spots, and a 13th c. castle (now a hostel and music venue) sits above the city. Monschau’s main industry in the past was based on textiles; today it depends on tourism, but M said also some time back, some businessman/men lamented how all the young people had to leave to get jobs, so he (and others) started an industrial area on the edges of the city. It was through this industrial/business area that M learned of Monschau. I don’t think Monschau shows up on most lists of what to do in Germany for non-Germans, but I recommend it. In better weather, the attractions of lots of nearby hiking and water-sports on the Rür keep it very busy, I think.

Our plan for today was to eat at a couple places on the river; walk around the streets taking pictures; maybe find the glass-factory I’d found recommended; and go to the mustard-mill, Senfmühle, to get some more mustard M had really enjoyed. And that’s what we did.

About noon we tried to go to Zum Haller, but they weren’t open for lunch; across the narrow lane, also perched on the river, is the Rür Cafe. This old building was actually moved a little during some WWII bombing, but it survived. Upstairs we were seated by a window with a river view and we got some warm, filling, and tasty chicken soup. The couple who run it, Bridget and Jürgen Thieman, seem to be about the only employees—he cooks, she seats and serves—and she doesn’t speak much English and the menu is in German. But it’s a pleasant place with good food (M had enjoyed a more substantial dinner there before).

Then we strolled along the river, bridges, and lanes for a while. It never really rained. Using Google, M navigated us to the glass-blowing shop Glashutte Monschau, which is in an area with other shops; the glass pieces were bright and pretty, but nothing suited my taste really. Glass-blowing demonstrations are available for a price, I think; I peeked through a door and could see an artist at work, but we didn’t spend much time there. Then we walked back to Senfmühle, and got a couple crocks of mustard.

By this time I was tiring, and we could check into our room, so back to the hotel we went, moved the (un-ticketed) car, and had a rest in the comfy room. The Carat Hotel is quite conveniently located with a great staff. Highly recommended.

In the dusk-light we took a 10-minute walk back down into the center of town to the Zum Haller, now open for dinner. This is a very welcoming restaurant with friendly, English-speaking staff, a bilingual menu, and good food; we had schnitzel (which M gets tired of sometimes but hadn’t eaten much in his 2 weeks at work) and enjoyed looking out over the river. After dinner, we just headed back to the room for an early night to bed!

Next up: Belgium

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the encouragement; part of my fun in traveling is sharing, and it helps to know someone received my words!

    Now, on through Germany into Belgium:

    Monday—Vierson and Antwerp

    After a nice early breakfast at the hotel, we drove toward our next destination, glad that the fore-casted possible ice and snow had not appeared.

    M is restoring a 1975 VW Beetle, and some parts he’s finding hard to find. One such part he could only find as being sold from a shop in Vierson, Germany—which is 60 miles/90 minutes north of Monschau and 160 miles/3 hours from Antwerp. So he arranged to purchase the part from Hoffmann Speedster, he made sure they’d be open on this Monday morning and would have the part, and we got there not long after opening. Buying the part was easy, even though the clerk spoke no English; and with a little bit of hand-gestures and some Google translate, the gentleman there also found a used cardboard box that would hold the part, which was just wrapped in plastic. (M had done a lot of research about whether the spoiler-in-some-box would meet American Airlines requirements and be counted as checked luggage; having a box, at least, that met the size requirements was a step.)

    Then we drove on, in deteriorating weather, to Antwerp. German, Dutch, and Belgium highways are great. They are well-lit, well-marked (it does help to know the languages, of course, which we don’t, but M has done enough German driving to be familiar enough), well-maintained. And having no big billboards makes the drives more pleasant.

    But driving in Belgium and German inner cities, in the old towns we were in, is a…nightmare! Even with accurate GPS help, there are so many bicycles, pedestrian zones, street-side parking, bicycles, narrow streets, bicycles (did I mention there are lots of bikes?)—these areas weren’t designed for auto use, and retrofitting them has made the areas somewhat accessible but not convenient. Especially the first time you are there. M navigates the areas he knows around Frankfurt quite well, but coming into Antwerp in mid-day in the rain was tough.

    The hotel had sent info about where to park—in an underground pay garage across the square—but the GPS wouldn’t locate it at first. But then, there it was—Indigo Groenplaats. Down we went, and around, and found one of those tiny spots which are the norm in European indoor garages. The entrance to the Hilton was accessible from here, so we went up and were actually able to check in a bit early. This Hilton on the Groenplaats, a square right in the middle of the old town, is a lovely hotel with the expected Hilton amenities and welcome. Our room was roomy enough and had sufficient outlets; we carry a small power strip in case not, but number of outlets is still something M gauges a room by!

    After a brief rest, we headed out into the yucky day; it was misting/sprinkling/lightly raining all day, but we donned our Gore-Texes and went looking for lunch. I had watched a lot of You-Tube videos as part of my last-minute prep for visiting Belgium, most of which were silly or unhelpful. But on one of them, Frituur No.1 was recommended, and it also showed up on some other lists, so we headed to it, not far away. So our first (of many!) fries in Belgium were from this small place, and we got them with a stew meat in gravy sauce on top. It was delicious and warm; they have a few booths next to their counter (most business must be take-away), and it was a good spot for lunch out of the rain.

    Then we just wandered around a tiny bit on a walk much shorter than I’d expected; the day’s drive in the rain and through the maze of streets had depleted M’s energy, and I hadn’t started my first full day with that much energy anyway! Plus—did I mention it was too damp for comfort? We went to the cathedral, but as there is a fee and there was nothing inside to really draw us, we just took a peek. All along our walk, the architecture with the medieval fronts and the many statues and cobblestoned streets were lovely. We made it to the water front and took a few pictures (including of the castle and the giant) and turned back. Somewhere along the way we stopped in a couple shops for a few pieces of chocolate. There are chocolate shops on every block, sometimes several, in all the town centers we were in! We got hot chocolate at Sofie Sucrée ---they gave us hot milk with cream and we stirred in morsels of dark chocolate—callets packaged by Callebaut--to melt---yum!

    We went back to the hotel in the late afternoon before dusk to rest—and to take care of the most aggravating red tape. Before I joined M, he’d gotten an email from the Antwerp Hilton with information about parking---and about the necessity to register all cars driven into the LEZ (low emission zone) or risk a huge fine. He’d need auto make, year, VIN number, EU mission class, and I don’t remember what else. But we wouldn’t have “our” rental car’s info until we actually rented it. I researched all I could about this registration process, and M consulted a German colleague. They identified all the info on a German registration that would be needed for the Belgium form. And it seems you have 24 hours from entering the LEZ to register the auto’s info on-line. So in Antwerp, M gathered all the info he thought he’d need and proceeded through the steps; at one point, it required a photo of the registration, too, which M had thought to take, so he did have that available. M received an email later that the car is now registered. And once a car is registered, it doesn’t have to be again, so if that car ever goes back to Antwerp, its driver wouldn’t have to go through the paperwork. It’s not a simple step for visitors with cars from any other country. I understand the impetus behind such zones; many German towns have them, and so you have to make sure the rental car has the proper sticker on it. Supposedly Antwerp’s on-line system is easier for non-Belgium-car-drivers to get okayed than it is in Germany for non-German-car-drivers (I think you have to buy stickers). But it takes away some of the appeal of staying in the town’s center—unless using public transport, which I know is the point in some way. Anyway, it left a bit of sourness about the whole Antwerp experience.

    After that paperwork (well, computer work) and a rest, we headed to a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, de Bomma (Grandma’s) Restaurant. It was only about 10 minutes away; it was great. The walls are covered with hundreds of photos of grandmas of all nationalities, shapes, sizes, and ages! The food was terrific. We both chose a Flemish stew which had very tender meat in thick and creamy and flavorful gravy. That plus the “mash of the day” (mashed potatoes with bacon, broccoli and onions) made a wonderful meal. And so to bed.

    Next: More Belgium and even a bit of France!

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Texasbookworm, I'm amazed at the need to register your car for Antwerp. If you have an old diesel, you cannot drive into town, but all other cars are fine. Nobody registers recent cars. You'd have to have a pretty old diesel or an old-time classic car to fall under the limit. Perhaps it's a requirement for foreign cars? Though I haven't heard about it from Dutch people who visit Antwerp either.

    Antwerp is a bit of a mess with all the roadworks in the center of town. GPS is useless; use the 'waze' app to get around.

  • Report Abuse

    OK I just read up on this; Belgian and Dutch cars don't need to register, but other cars do, as the authorities don't have those details automatically when reading the numberplates.

  • Report Abuse

    Tulips--Yes, foreign cars must register; Ghent will add this requirement in a few years, and perhaps others will. If the hotel hadn't advised us, we might be looking at a fine. Best to check for updated regulations and requirements for every place one plans to drive, I guess. Drivers beware!

    Tuesday—Antwerp and Ghent

    There were two museums in Antwerp I was interested in, but both were closed on Mondays—the Rubens House and the Plantin Merebus, a museum in the 16th c home of an influential printer. I’m not a huge Rubens fan, but I do love books, and M loves books and machines, so we opted for Plantin Merebus Museum for our Tuesday morning. We didn’t get up early, had a breakfast at a nearby McD’s, and checked out, taking our luggage to the car. Then we walked to the museum; it was not quite as wet as Monday. We got there a little after opening at 10.

    This museum was terrific. In my prep for this trip, I had learned some about Antwerp’s importance in the early years of printing and bookmaking; I did not know anything about this important man, Christophe Plantin, who in the mid-1500’s became a very important book printer. I guess in a nutshell I learned that this was the first place anyone approached printing/bookmaking as an industry, using multiple machines and many employees. There are lots of well-preserved machines, presses, and tools for the early bookmaking process, and I loved seeing all this. It makes me appreciate what happens when I press this key---“e”---in Times New Roman, and it shows up in a nano-second. There are hundreds of years of toil and craft behind what is for me a simple keystroke. There are also hundreds (at least) of books and other printed material. The museum is in the large, rambling family home, preserved in a large part as it was in the 16th century. Interesting ceilings, tapestries in many rooms, some Rubens portraits, leather wall-paper with gold-leaf on it—even without the printing paraphernalia, it’s a fascinating look at how the super-wealthy lived then! And there’s a 36-line Gutenberg Bible; we’ve seen several Gutenbergs and so were glad to see another of these priceless, unique treasures. It’s the only museum in the world on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We spent about 2 hours.

    It was time for a late lunch; we’d thrown around the idea of finding waffles, so M located a restaurant that had some high ratings, and we took a walk away from the old-town center and along a major bustling modern street. At Waflehuis Van Hecke we shared a warm ham and cheese sandwich and a great waffle piled high with strawberries and cream. (M was expecting something sweeter and stickier, but we enjoyed it.) Then back to the car parked under the Groenplaats which was being transformed into a skating rink in preparation for the Christmas market scene. This meant that square, which is probably quite picturesque and charming, was not really accessible and was full of scaffolding, machines, workers, rafters for the rink, etc.

    Between being there in yucky weather and during the construction phase of the Market, we didn’t get to see Antwerp at its most picturesque. But we are glad we spent what ended up being about 24 hours. We’d highly recommend the places we ate; we loved the museum; we’d recommend the Hilton. However, driving into the city center is not fun (and I was just the passenger) and involves finding parking, navigating the tiny, windy streets, paying parking fees, and ----registering your vehicle.

    So, on to Ghent, where we had reservations at the Marriott on the Leie River/canal/quay. That hotel had sent us some parking instructions, too, but we again had a little trouble inputting that into the GPS. But we set off on the about-an-hour drive. We hoped to be able to check in a bit early and walk to St. Bavo’s Cathedral by 3. We were in the Ghent area by 2 or so, with the GPS saying we were 15 minutes from the parking lot M had picked. Well, an hour later, we were still looking for it. We’d gone around in circles, stopped and called the hotel, and finally got Google maps on his phone to re-route us; we arrived safely and parked in the Marriott garage underneath. (On subsequent trips, we found the hotel much more easily.)

    The Marriott is wonderful—lovely building (all new inside—only the facades on the canal/quay are original), nice staff, beautiful big room overlooking the river/canal. Each of the canal-view rooms is different. It was a splurge for us, but worth it.

    We were not going to have time this day to make it to the cathedral, so after a brief rest, we set out on a walk, using the Rick Steves guide on an abbreviated stroll past some of the major old-town sites. We crossed the Grasbrug bridge and walked through Korenmarkt. We admired some of the churches, former guild halls, former Post Office/now shopping mall, the Mason’s Guild Hall with its stepped gable, the tall 14th C. Belfry, the confused-architecture Town Hall, the new City Pavilion, and the lovely Dutch Theater. We passed through nice squares and past gardens, noting many corner niches, all amidst lovely buildings. In the large Vrijdag Markt square, we noted the statue of Ghent’s hero, Jacob van Artevelde, a businessman in the 14th century who negotiated with the French and English to keep the important wool trade safe. We passed through the colorful graffiti street, Werregarenstratje. We took a short walk down a bit of Baudelostraat which has some beautiful gabled facades. We came to Gravensteen Castle, sitting stately and gray on the river, but we never did find time to enter. Maybe next trip!? Then we another look at the lovely riverside (quayside? canalside?) area in front of the Marriott before going in for a short rest. These wide pedestrian spaces next to the water, with reflections of gables and towers and lights in the river, were my favorite things to photograph here, at all times of the day, from our hotel window or while walking. (And all that sight-seeing took about an hour—the main sites in old Ghent are pretty close to each other.)

    M had found a recommendation for Du Proges Restaurant, right across the canal on Korenmarkt, about 5 minutes away. So we set out about 5:00; at the restaurant they asked us to make a reservation, so we did for 6; in the meantime we found a snack of fries (really good ones) at Frituur frans Hooiaard near the Grasbrug and enjoyed them standing under the heater in front of its counter; we people-watched and admired the lights on the buildings on the canal and on many of the other squares and streets and bridges nearby. It was cold, but I was already loving this city. At 6 we were seated and attended to most graciously for our wonderful dinner; M had tender and delicious steak (and fries which he’d tried to refuse, but as they said, they serve fries with everything in Belgium!) and tasty mixed vegetables. I had a chicken stew—waterzooi--that was tender and flavorful; an excellent choice. We had a short walk, still admiring how beautiful the city looked all lit up, back to the comfort of our lovely, spacious room.

    Wednesday--Dunkirk, Flanders Field, and more Ghent

    When we first began considering itineraries, I thought we might make a day trip from some spot in Belgium to the beaches of Dunkirk; I also hoped to see something from WWI. But that seemed a bit ambitious, and after we settled on Ghent as a base, I thought we’d just spend our 2.5 days seeing Bruges and Ghent. But M decided we should try to get to the beaches, and he was willing to drive, especially after he saw the condition of the roads in Belgium and how close Dunkirk and Flanders Field were, so we planned a road trip for this day.

    We hoped to be on the road as soon after a 7:30 am McD’s breakfast as we could. So we were in McD’s, about 5 minutes from the Marriott, at about 7:36; about 25 minutes later, we left with our not-so-fast breakfast! (We were order #1; order #2 got angry and left without his food. It seems the kitchen is on a different floor; the hot food arrives on street/counter level via a dumbwaiter.)

    M had done a little research and wanted to go to the beach where the wreck of the Crested Eagle can be seen at low tide; the Crested Eagle was a paddle steamer that during Operation Dynamo took on 600 men at Dunkirk but, after departure, was bombed and caught fire on May 29, 1940, and was driven aground at Zuydcoote, and 300 men died. I found out low tide was about 9:45 this day, and we set the GPS for that area (Bray Dunes/Zuydcoote). The drive was pleasant and less than an hour--and the sun had come out! When we got in the little village next to the beach, some road work caused a detour, but, as we could practically see the dunes, we just navigated toward them and found the parking lot.

    This ended up being a highlight for both of us. From Dover we’ve looked across the Channel on a clear day to Calais; we’ve walked the beaches of Normandy; now we were on the beaches of Operation Dynamo. The wide beaches and the blue sky were beautiful; walking to the remains of several ships, visible at this low tide time, was moving. We spent about an hour. We decided not to go any closer to Dunkirk itself, which was visible from where we were, as our time was a bit short to squeeze in what we wanted this day. Also we had read the Dunkirk 1940 Museum was closed until April, so we just appreciated seeing what we did.

    Then we plotted our next destination, the American Cemetery at Flanders Field. We looked for some toilet facilities and also something for luncheon; there was nothing open along the beach this cold November morning. Somewhere in one of the little towns along the route, we found a truck stop (but no gas) and got some chips, sandwiches, and cokes. (And paid for the toilet—you always need to have some change in Germany and we found also in Belgium to pay for toilet use—either to go through a stile or to give to an attendant.)

    The American Cemetery is rather small (about 6 acres), in the middle of a developed business and residential area; it was not, in its surroundings, like the ones we’ve visited in Luxembourg and Normandy (or in the US). But I found it to be beautiful—well-kept, well-tended, well-signed. Dedicated in 1937, there are 368 Americans buried here, most of whom died liberating Belgium in 1917-18; 43 missing are also commemorated. M especially liked the wonderful information center, as he knew much less about WWI than WWII. It was a wonderful stop—and the sun stayed out!
    It was about another hour back to Ghent; for this arrival, we still had to navigate the winding, full-of-bicycles, narrow streets, but we arrived at the hotel garage much more easily!

    It was about 2, so we then traipsed directly to St. Bavo’s to see the Ghent Altar Piece; the audio guide is wonderful, and this one site alone is worth a trip to Ghent. There’s a plethora of info about this most-stolen-piece-of-art created by the Van Eycks that I won’t repeat here; I was pleased to be able to enjoy this; we spent about an hour here. Then we found some hot chocolate. I didn’t note where all we got chocolates or hot chocolate. One chocolatier that we found in several places was Leonidas,; their pieces were scrumptious. And the chocolates we bought at independent shops were also great. I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere!

    Then until dusk-fall, about 4 even on this clear day, we wandered around taking some more pictures—until our Sony DSLR died. Camera error. Shutter failure? We’ve probably taken 100’s of 1000’s of pictures with it over its 5 or so years, but we didn’t expect it to die! Anyway, thankful to have 2 cell phones with good cameras for rest of the trip, but…..(Back home, we retrieved the photos off the memory card, so no photos lost.)

    We had picked out a different recommended restaurant, but it was not open, so we decided to just go back to DuProges; M tried to use their on-line reservation system, but it said they had zero tables available the whole night, which didn’t seem possible. So a little before 6, we arrived in person to check, and they seated us right away. And more fine meals we had; M had salmon and I had their version of a Flemish stew. All good.

  • Report Abuse

    Great report. We were in Belgium and the Netherlands in late October on a river cruise. We loved Antwerp and Ghent. We had wonderful walking tour guides. We saw the outside of your Marriott. Ghent is one of my favorite cities. I, too, had a diy hot chocolate. Yummy.

  • Report Abuse

    Thursday--Bruges and Thanksgiving in Ghent

    After another McD’s breakfast (this one a little faster, as we weren’t quite so early), we drove to Bruges, a fairly easy drive along mostly highway; it was gray again with showers promised. We arrived at the train station area and found the multi-level parking garage around 9:15. From there we walked about 5 minutes to the bus station. I had read in Rick Steves’ guide to do this; if you park in that garage, you can get free round-trip bus tickets from this area to the center of town. We waited less than 10 minutes for the proper bus (my mind gets increasingly sieve-like concerning numbers, so I don’t remember which—the ticket agent at the bus station directed us). The ride to the market square was less than 10 minutes, I think.

    At the Markt, they were beginning to set up for their Christmas Market; I imagine it’s a spectacular one. The buildings around the Markt are from the 19th century and lovely; there are flags and statues, with the Belfort standing over all since about 1300.
    I only had 2 “goals” this day; one was to see a Michelangeo statue in a church, but the first was to secure some chocolates!

    One of the recommended shops was just a block or so away and opened in 5 minutes. So we made our way to Dumon Chocolatier. Inside the just-opened shop, a young lady behind the counter, surrounded by glasses and counters of all sorts of chocolates, greeted me in excellent English. On the floor below, another tiny room lined with chocolate-displaying shelves, an older lady was vacuuming. The young lady began to explain about different chocolates and then called the other lady up, and she bustled up to greet me heartily—this is the proprietor, Madame Dumon. She showed me a box already prepared of assorted chocolates, but when I asked if I could just choose, she said of course and helped me pick out various dark chocolates with her recommendations! She has been in this shop since 1961, she said. As we talked, with the young lady helping the translation some, I mentioned that this was Thanksgiving Day for Americans, and they were interested and asked me to explain. So that was fun. And the chocolates---well, they even exceeded my high expectations. Go there. (I read there’s another Dumon Shop in Bruges, but Madame Dumon usually stays at the Eiermarkt 6 site.)

    Then we followed a Rick Steves walking tour from his Belgium book (which is now all crinkled from getting rained on), but it started to more steadily but lightly rain, so we didn’t linger or do it fully. We passed through Burg Square and went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood briefly. We crossed a few cute bridges over canals. We found the “Tin Tin Chapel” in “2 Be in Brugge,” a gift shop in a 15th century house; outside it is the alleyway that holds the Beerwall; M had a rest while I got a couple little pins for my daughter, who read Tin Tin as a child and is still a grown up fan.

    We made it to the Church of Our Lady, my only other real goal of the day, with a bit of confusion on my part about tickets—you get them across the street at the ticket office at the entrance to Sint-Janshospitaal; we just got tickets for the church, so that we could see the Michelangelo sculpture. It is glowingly white and sweetly serene. And then right across the nave hangs a Caravaggio—on our trip to Rome in February, finding his art became a sort of quest for me, and now I found one I didn’t even know about! The church is lovely, and I’m glad we took the time. We could have stayed longer, but an extensive remodeling project has a significant portion blocked off.

    As we left, the rain was worse and we were hungry; we didn’t have any destination or plan; I noticed Ellis Gourmet Burgers and thought that might work, so we ducked in out of the pouring rain, got seated quickly, and greatly enjoyed our burgers—I had a classic cheeseburger and M had a skinny (no bun) lamb burger with guacamole, cheese, and more. Delish. (They have about 8 locations, including one in Ghent close to Du Progres.) And when we had finished lunch, the rain had stopped! There were some Christmas Market stalls being set up and some already open in the area in front of Ellis Burgers, so we looked around. Then we headed generally back to the Markt, but we took one slight detour. Somewhere I had found waffles recommended from Oyya - Ice on Noordzandstraat 1,so we found it. Wow. M pronounced it Best. Waffle. Ever; we got it with vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate sauce (the sort that hardens), and whipped cream. We ate standing outside in the now dry afternoon light and made a yummy memory of Bruges!

    Back in the Market, we waited for maybe 15 or 20 minutes for a bus, had the short ride and short walk to our car, and had a dry drive back to Ghent, where M had a rest, but I walked around revisiting some “familiar” spots and taking pictures again—both because we weren’t positive we’d be able to retrieve the ones on the camera and because this day’s light was prettier than we’d had on Tuesday. I also looked for some souvenir; there are not a lot of such shops in the old-town Ghent area; I did find some made-in-Belgium Christmas ornaments.

    Then it was time for –Thanksgiving Dinner! The Midtown Grill restaurant in the Marriott had a special menu offering an “American style” Thanksgiving Feast. For a hefty price. But we said, how many times are we going to celebrating Thanksgiving in Belgium? Probably once! So we had their feast. It was a 4-course meal with wine parings; first two courses were red snapper, then pumpkin soup. The main course was a delicious cut of turkey breast (with some stuffing-like thing which was fine but not your Southern cornbread dressing!) with some vegetables. And a pecan tart for dessert. It was pleasant, relaxed, and good. We’re glad we did it.

  • Report Abuse

    Friday—Aachen

    Years ago M had been to Aachen and really enjoyed a walk around, especially in the cathedral. So off we set, leaving Belgium with fond memories (and several boxes of chocolate!).

    Our hotel was not in the center of town, so we planned to park as near to the center as we could and spend time in the center, at least seeing the cathedral, and then make our way to the hotel.

    So M picked a garage (even garages get ratings if you Google them--he avoided the one that was reputed to smell like…a toilet). The little less than 3-hour drive was pretty dry and smooth. We arrived at the peak of lunch rush-hour. At the parking garage, there were lines at both the entrance gates; the board that shows how many spots “frei” kept toggling back and forth from “one” to “none.” We could see cars exit, and then one by one cars would enter. I think we sat maybe 10 minutes but then found a spot. As I said earlier, finding parking is something you have to consider if driving, much more than in most of the US, we have found.

    Anyway, M plotted us a short walk into the city center. Along one street, we noticed a nice, art deco front on a building and stopped to read the lettering and admire it—a “Schwimm and Bade Halle”—Elisabethhalle. A gentleman approached us and, after realizing we spoke English, began to tell us in English what this was and invited us in for a look around. It is a bath house built in 1918 and still very nice inside; the warm pool was full of swimmers this cold day. I knew Aachen was a “bad” city, known for its hot springs, but I don’t think that this pool is spring fed. Anyway, it was a friendly introduction to Aachen.

    Then in the center—it was packed. Kids everywhere. Groups of kids with teachers. Groups of teenagers. Oh, it’s the first day of their Christmas Market! So we got to see Aachen’s market, completely unplanned. This was both great and a bit…disappointing. Markets are lovely and fun, but they do attract a HUGE crowd and the stalls do interfere with the “normal” look of things.

    M took me to the Subway he’d eaten at before, a quick bite for old time’s sakes. It’s right across the street from the Elisebrunnen pavilion.

    Then we had a look around, at the Christmas market stalls which were open and some fountains and statues on our way to the Cathedral to check on a 2 pm English tour. Once there, we were re-directed to the Dominformation office a little bit away; there, we got our tickets for the tour in about 45 minutes and were told to meet back in this place. So we wandered around a little more; the Christmas market stalls seemed to sprawl around all over the place, so we had plenty to engage our senses. It was still not raining this day!

    From the Dominformation, we were led by Bella back to the Cathedral, and she gave an excellent about 45-minute tour and talk. M had just wandered around by himself before; he told Bella he got a lot more out of his visit this time thanks to her. So definitely take a tour. It’s a beautiful cathedral full of history—and relics and a throne. Glad we made it.

    After that, we didn’t have anything else definite to see, so we just wandered the market stalls until about 4:30, when it was time to decide what we would do about dinner and driving to the hotel. M’s not fond of driving in the dark, but there didn’t seem to be much choice for restaurants near our hotel. One restaurant in the center of Aachen that I’d found good reviews on—Zum Goldenen Eisenhorn—was just about 5 minutes from where we were standing, discussing our next move, so we went there. They had lots of tables reserved, but they were able to seat us at 5 at a table they’d need at 6. M had schnitzel; I had sauerbraten; the meals, the service, and the atmosphere were terrific. A winner.

    Then we walked back to the parking garage in the early dark, admiring the market now in its lit-up prettiness. Then on to the hotel—the Hampton Inn in the Tivoli area, recognizable because it’s purple. It was fairly new and we had a fine room; M had to move the car from the convenient (but temporary!) parking place right in front to a parking garage across the street, but he said it was well-lit and it worked out fine. The next morning after a very good breakfast, he asked the man at the desk why the hotel is purple. Turns out Mr. Hilton himself had an architect design a house for him; he liked his work and asked him to design the Hampton Inns in Germany (now about a half a dozen); the purple color didn’t mean anything other than just being a way to make the hotel stand out.

  • Report Abuse

    Saturday—Monschau again—Christmas Market!

    When we were planning this last day’s itinerary, M didn’t have anything in mind between Aachen and Frankfurt. I investigated some possible stops and found a couple that might be interesting; the option of staying the morning in Aachen was on the table, too.

    But then, M discovered that Monschau would open its Christmas Market on Friday—yay! A plan for Saturday presented itself. So we left Aachen for the hourish drive to Monschau; we wanted to arrive early, as we’d read how the town fills up on these Market days, so parking is an issue and people even have to park in a nearby town and be bused in. So we got to Monschau about 9:30 and parked in the very same spot, across from the Carat, we had on the Sunday before, only this time, the machine did work, and we paid for a spot until 1.

    (On the drive in, we noticed again some conical/pyramid-shaped concrete things, stretching in long lines across the fields, through people’s yards, fences and treelines. We noticed several of them, and this time we stopped to take some pics. A bit of Googling revealed that these are remnants of the Siegfried Line which Germany erected in the 1930’s on the German borders near France and Belgium.)

    So then we just had a great, if pretty chilly, time for 3 hours, wandering again the charming town. We climbed some, toward the Haller ruins (not all the way to the top), for a look over the rooftops. The stalls were opening, some early and most by 11, the “official” opening time. We got some hot chocolate. We found an indoor market with some hand crafts (so I bought one small Christmas ornament from the potter herself). We had some lunch from one of the food stalls—rather crunchy flamkuchen and some quite tasty sausage and fries. There were mustard “udders” hanging over the tables—condiments in bottles suspended tip down so you just squeeze to put the condiment on your food. Funny.

    This little town does its market well—decorations everywhere, Christmas trees and Santas, plenty of food and drink stalls, “regular” stores open and inviting and easily accessible, plenty of sit-down restaurant options, Christmas music playing—and all seen by walking its cobblestoned lanes among half-timbered houses set on hills next to the Rür River crossed by little bridges. It’s wonderful. It got very busy by the time we left.
    About 1 we had to head out of town and on to Frankfurt, about 3 hours away. At the Hilton Garden Inn at the Squaire next to the airport, we checked in and took our stuff to the room (including the big box with his car part), then he had to go return the car.

    That evening we just walked to a couple stores at the Squaire—the Rewe grocery and some other little shop—and got salads and fruit and a sandwich to eat in the room. M wrapped his box well with packing tape he’d brought and hoped it would get shipped ok. We packed up and got to sleep at a decent hour; we’d need to leave the room by 7 am for our 10:30 flight.

    Sunday—Trip Home

    We both woke up before the alarm; M read his email; oh no! Flight delayed 3 hours. He’d already been rebooked for 1 pm flight, and a later flight from DFW that still got him home before too late. But I’d been rebooked for….MONDAY! So he called his Concierge Key number, and they were able to book me on the same flights he was on. Good grief; then we saw the fine print which seemed to say that we’d still need to check in an hour before our original flight or we wouldn’t get on rebooked flight--??? We jumped up and got ready and went to the AA desk to check in. They didn’t have any issue with his box at all. They booked us on 2 different flights out of DFW in case we didn’t make the earlier one. We went to the AA lounge and read and waited for a couple hours. I did not get upgraded.

    But in any case, about 1we were on our way, M in Business (and flight went fine) and me in a seat with extra room, Main Cabin Extra; it is more comfortable since I had more leg room, but the seats don’t recline much, so there’s not much sleeping done! And the food is not as good as in business, but it was ok all in all. M asked one of the flight attendants he’s met more than once to check on me, and she did a few times.

    At DFW, where we now had about 90 minutes, we had new boarding passes and those orange expedited cards waiting on the wall; we hustled to Global Entry and that went fast; we got to the luggage claim where stuff was already arriving, and we got the box and 2 bags very quickly and rechecked them. There was not much line at customs, and we got through security quickly, too. We even had time to go to the AA lounge for a bit.

    Our flight left on time and arrived about 8:30; M’s box came off looking fine; but no bags. Turns out they’d been tagged with the later flight number, and we hadn’t thought to check when we rechecked them in DFW. So we went home; we greeted the dog, thanked the kids via phones for taking care of stuff, got the pictures off the broken camera, and fell in bed. The bags arrived the next day and AA delivered them to our house, and our trip was done.

  • Report Abuse

    You are welcome; part of the way to ensure that "memories continue" for me is to write up our experiences before the details become too fuzzy. And then I use that TR for the text in "scrapbooks" (created digitally but printed out) of our trips.

    And if our experiences can help or entertain other travelers, our travels have even more meaning. We have been often helped by Fodorites.

13 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.

Advertisement