Germany & BENELUX

It’s autumn.  It must be time for Germany.

But this time, I’ll be expanding my travels to places outside of Germany after my great trip to France last year.  The plan is to hit the BENELUX countries–Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg–as well.  I’ve not been to any of them yet, so this will expand my horizons.

I’m excited to be seeing something new, but am also anxious to return to Germany to see family again.

Once again, this will be another fly-drive trip.  I fly from Cincinnati to Frankfurt, pick up a car at the airport, and hit the road.  This is also another one of those “make-it-up-as-I-go” trips.  The only lodging reservations I have are for a night in Brussels and for the night before I leave for my return flight home.

DSC05734Even though I may not have any reservations, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a general idea of what I want to see and do.  The Mosel River valley is on the list; I have a friend with friends who run a Belgian beer-tasting room in Brussels; Bruges, I’m told, is a “must-see”; and I want to visit Oldenburg, the namesake of Oldenburg, Indiana, the next town over from where I live.

Here’s the overall route:

18 September 2010

I arrived in Frankfurt in the morning, picked up my BMW 3-series, and headed west to the Rhine and Bacharach.  The drive was pretty easy and scenic, and I was able to get out and wander the streets of half-timbered Bacharach to stave off the effects of jet lag.

Bacharach was charming with its cobblestone streets and abandoned church on the hillside.  The walk along the Rhine River was good for me.  The fresh air, sunshine, and sights all helped keep me going.

Bacharach
Bacharach

It wasn’t long, though, before I knew that I needed to find a place to stay.  I’ll usually avoid American chain motels in Europe, but a Best Western near Koblenz had a bed that was calling my name, so I checked into it using my improved German skills, and crashed for the night.

19 September 2010

Woke up with a heavy fog covering the hillsides of the Rhine Valley.  Fortunately, my hotel was above it, looking down on it, so it made for an interesting sight.  By the time I finished breakfast and checked out of the hotel, the fog had dissipated.

Deutsches Eck
Deutsches Eck

My drive took me into Koblenz proper.  I was keen on seeing the Deutsches Eck–a large monument to Kaiser Wilhelm where the Mosel and Rhine rivers converge.  It was a very interesting place to just sit back in the sun and people watch, both on land and on the many river cruise boats and barges that sailed past.

In the center of town, there was a small fountain with a mischievous boy atop it who every few minutes would spray unsuspecting fountain admirers below.  It was rather humorous watching people get soaked.

From Koblenz, I headed up the Mosel through towns like Cochem before stopping at Burg Eltz for a tour.  The castle has been in the same family for 30+ generations and is pretty well maintained.  In fact, so well maintained that there were cranes and scaffolding around large parts of it, taking away from its appearance from the outside.  The tour of the interior was far superior to that of what I experienced at Neuschwantein on my my 2007 trip.

I continued my leisurely drive along the river, landing in Bernkastel-Kues for the evening at the Hotel Bären.  (Hotel Bears–there were teddy bears everywhere in the hotel and–get this–even Gummi Bears on the pillow instead of mints!)

20 September 2008

Bernkastel-Kues
Bernkastel-Kues

I wandered the streets of Bernkastel-Kues, taking in the sights.  Half-timbered buildings’ walls curved after centuries of supporting the weight of the upper floors.  Of course, this was the tail end of grape harvest season for the famous Mosel wines, and Federweißer, a very young, sweet wine was abundant.

Back in my car, I drove to Trier to see the oldest city in Germany.

Porta Nigra, a stone gate to the city, was erected around 180 A.D.  It always amazes me to see structures that have been around for that long.  The cathedral on the town square was beautiful in its simplicity.

Porta Nigra, Trier, Germany
Porta Nigra, Trier, Germany

Later in the afternoon, I drove through Luxembourg on my way to Dinant, Belgium for the night.

The hotel had a little bar in the lobby area, and there was a father-daughter pair who were from Scotland who had been traveling the Continent for several months.  So between the two of them and the bartender, we had a great evening of conversation, comparing notes about travels, countries, and life in general.

Before heading off to bed, the bartender gave me a free, 750 ml bottle of “Delirium Tremens,” a Belgian beer that had pink elephants on the label.  The two beers I had at the bar made me loopy enough with their high alcohol content, and there was no way I was going to pop open the cork (yes, it was like a champagne bottle), and enjoy the rest of the beer, lest I be seeing pink elephants into the night.

21 September 2010

I headed into the center of Dinant to check out its riverfront buildings, and I parked near a church.  As I was wandering in the area, more and more cars were piling into the parking lot where I was at, and I quickly realized that I had parked in what I think was a staging area for a funeral procession.  I hopped into my car and escaped just before they sealed off the lot for the memorial service in the church.  Who knows how long I would have been there otherwise.

Dinant, Belgium
Dinant, Belgium

During my conversation in the bar the previous night, I learned about Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville, not far from Dinant, so I headed there.

There’s not much left of the abbey itself other than the stone walls exposed to the elements and the ivy climbing up them.  But the ruins and the well-kept grounds made for a very serene and introspective visit.

I continued towards Brussels with a stop at the memorial at Waterloo, being foolish enough to climb the 226 steps to the top of  “La Butte du Lion,” a mound of earth shaped in a pyramid 41 meters tall.  The lion at the top is a memorial to the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands, who is said to have fallen at that spot during the battle.

La Butte du Lion, Waterloo, Belgium
La Butte du Lion, Waterloo, Belgium

Brussels was next.

I was super lucky at the hotel.  They had only a handful of free parking places, and I was able to park in one of them.  As soon as I checked in, I turned around and headed out to see the sights.

My first impressions of Brussels: Big.  Modern.  Business.  Government.

But then I started exploring, and made it into the Grand Place and the buildings surrounding it.  Unfortunately, they seemed to be preparing for some special event in the plaza, erecting stages and other fencing, detracting from the sight.

Wandering past lace and chocolate shops, I eventually found my way to the beer tasting room that my friend’s friends owned, only to find it closed.  Bummer.

I explored the streets of Brussels into the early evening and called it a night.

Brussels, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium

22 September 2010

I headed out of Brussels in the morning for the short drive to Bruges.

Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium

Bruges had much more charm to me than did Brussels, with its canals, bell tower, and central square.  I even gave Belgian “frites”–french fries–a taste, complete with the dollop of mayonnaise.  Of course, I had to follow that up with some delicious Belgian chocolate as dessert.  (Not one of my finer lunches, I admit…)

After spending the day in Bruges, I worked my way to the northeast for my first trip into the Netherlands.

I had purchased a local map and was on a Quixotic quest to find windmills.  It wasn’t long before I saw my first few as I was driving down the highway, but it took a bit of effort on some quite narrow country lanes to get up close to one.  The residents of the home gave me a good look-0ver as I photographed their windmill, but I kept my distance.  (Perhaps it would have been more polite to engage them before taking photos.)

I found a nice little resort-style hotel on the edge of the Dwingelderveld National Park near Spier.  They only had a junior suite available, and I took it for 120 € for the night.  A bit pricey, but it was one of the largest rooms I’ve stayed in.  Ever.

23 September 2010

DSC06116
Dieverbrug, Netherlands

My quest for windmills continued near the towns of Dwingeloo, Dieverbrug, and Diever.  All three towns were immaculately maintained and groomed.  And quaint.

I did manage to find a few more windmills and then began my journey to check out Oldenburg.

Diever, Netherlands
Diever, Netherlands

Oldenburg is a university town of 160,000 people, and it had a very nice feel to it.  I went to the visitor center and explained to the guy there that I was visiting from Oldenburg, Indiana, and we had a fun discussion about that.  I bought a couple of trinkets in the center for my friend back in Oldenburg, Indiana, and then hit the streets.

There’s a beautiful park across from the small “palace” that was worthy of a nice afternoon stroll.  I also stumbled across a nice bookstore where I found more information about Oldenburg, Germany to bring back to Oldenburg, Indiana.

Late in the day, I left town and landed in Kassel for the night.

24 September 2010

Kassel was just a place for me to crash on my way to Bamberg.

Bamberg’s town center is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and understandably so.  The architecture, the city hall on the island in the river, the history–all made it a compelling place to visit.  It’s someplace that I’d like to return to someday.

Bamberg, Germany
Bamberg, Germany

In the evening, I began my journey back towards Frankfurt for the flight home, stopping in Würzburg along the way.

25 September 2010

It was good to see Daniel, Martina, and the girls again on this trip.  We took a little trip to the town center where we had a nice Franconian lunch, and then up to the Marienfestung above the Mainz River.

After the little tour, I headed back to Frankfurt for my flight out in the morning.

26 September 2010

Had an uneventful trip back to Cincinnati.

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