As promised, here is Part Two to “My 40th Year of Exploring LAND.” Like I said before, the end to My 40th Year of Exploring LAND was actually just the start of an 18-day, 3-country and 10-city adventure. After an amazing time in the Netherlands, I hopped on a morning train from Amsterdam Centraal and headed to Brussels, Belgium.
Three days in Brussels only gave me a small taste of the country, but I needed time to rest for the next long haul. Although my visit was brief, I was able to add some new Belgian beers; to my growing list of favorite beers. Oh, and let’s not forget about the frites, waffles and chocolate!
A few of my favorite things from Belgium….
Oh My Gosh Bruges
Of Course Waffles, Beer and Chocolate
My thoughts on Belgium…. I made Brussels my base camp and stayed at the Renaissance Brussels Hotel in the European Quarter; I took day trips from there. I found both Brussels and Bruges enchanting. The Palace, along with all of the lovely public parks that are several centuries old, are wonderful. The mixing of old-world charm with a few modern touches made Brussels a delightful place to explore. This city is definitely one best explored on foot, and a metro card is not needed. Bruges is a beautiful, medieval town surrounded by canals, parks and lovely churches. The train from Brussels only took an hour and Bruges can be explored in a half of a day.
If you go….
* In some cases you have to pay to potty. Have coin Euros on hand for public toilets.
* I stayed near Parliament, which was close to everything but, away from tourists.
* Let your diet plans go! The Flemish people like their carbs and beer!
* Belgian style beers have always been my favorite and you will not be disappointed. With over 450 different varieties in the country, the possibilities are limitless. If you are a lightweight, pass on the beer because most have an 8 percent or higher alcohol content.
* Oh myyyy, brush up on your French! I was not ready! I knew a little Dutch but was soon confused when they went full-out French on me. In Brussels, 90 percent of folks speak French and 10 percent Flemish. Seeing signs in English are rare and, if you find one, English is located at the very bottom after French, Flemish and German. The rest of the country is approximately 50 percent French and 50 percent Flemish.
*All in all, grab a map and explore. I found Brussels easy to navigate even with my limited French and their limited English.
Moving onward! I heard Paris is lovely in the spring, so I boarded a Thalys high-speed train and headed to France. For this leg of the trip, my brother decided Paris had to be his first introduction to Europe, so he hopped on a plane to help me discover France. Ten grand days in France and I was in love. There are many things to love about France, but here are a few of my favorite things….
Amazing Cuisine and Introduction to Calvados
Chateaus and Western France
Mont St. Michel
One of my favorite things that I wasn’t able to capture in pictures is leur joie de vivre! Let’s just call it the French zest for life. Their passion for food, how they savor the perfect cup of coffee or glass of wine, their laid-back attitude, and how they socialize with family, friends and even strangers like me truly touched my soul. I fell in love with France! It’s a country I will never get tired of and will always be a part of me.
My thoughts on France…. France is huge; leave Paris and you will discover a whole new fascinating world. To explore this captivating country, I made Paris, Blois and Bayeux my base camps.
France is remarkably beautiful and diverse. The food varies from region to region and I had some of my most enjoyable meals and dining experiences outside of Paris. There is this notion that the French are not open or inviting. That was not my experience at all. I found that when you try to speak a little French, they open up and are warm and welcoming. The culture and history are incredible, and being able to see buildings and infrastructure over 800 years old, is just mind-boggling!!
If you go…..
* Leave Paris after a few days and tour some of the other regions (I explored Normandy and the Loire Valley)
* Train travel is the best way to go for stress-free transportation. Europe is truly leaps and bounds ahead of the United States when it comes to commuter trains.
* I was able to navigate through regions with limited knowledge of the French language, but i regret not finishing the Rosetta Stone. After meeting some locals, I wanted to know more about them and their lives, but I wasn’t able to communicate as well as I’d have liked.
* If you have seen one massive Catholic Cathedral in the world, you have pretty much have seen them all. The smaller ones are more interesting and less crowded. In my personal opinion, if you’ve seen a cathedral in South America or Spain, it will be very similar to what you will find in France or elsewhere in Europe. Also spend time at some of the smaller museums, like the Musée d’ Orsay, it was a highlight for me.
* Sometimes you need to throw away the travel guides and ask other travelers and locals. Use the travel books as a guide and research tools only.
* Patience, patience and more patience. The French move at a slower pace, so be prepared for dinner being a two-hour experience, at minimum. I can now appreciate the experience; again, it is about savoring the simple things in life.
* If you, like me, are a coffee enthusiast and need it to get your morning started, and like being mobile with your coffee, I suggest you bring a travel mug with you. Learned my lesson, after being told “the French are more sophisticated than that. We do not do to go cups!”
“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent in the ideas of living.” ~Miriam Beard