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Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands

We made our first visit to these four beautiful places this fall and came away with some information we hope will be helpful for others.

We flew into Brussels on September 9, then took a train to Bruges. Our first discovery was that on the information boards in the Brussels train station, there were no trains to Bruges. We were told to take a train to Brussels Nord and then a train to Ostende; Bruges is the stop just prior to Ostende. Be aware that if you need to use the bathroom in the Bruges train station, it will cost 50 euro cents. Luckily we had brought some euros with us so didn't need to find an ATM.

Once in Bruges, we took a taxi to our B&B (Gallery Yasmine, highly recommended). The owner was wonderful, very helpful, and baked amazing breads for breakfast every morning. She sent us down the street to the oldest bar in Bruges, Vlissinghe, for lunch .... onion soup and our first Belgian beer.

While in Bruges, we took a tour of Flanders Field with Quasimodo tours (also highly recommended). We enjoyed great food at Cambrinus and the Black House restaurants. We did all the usual tourist stops (museums, De Haalve Man brewery tour, canal boat) and ate chocolates and waffles and those amazing French fries. But our favorite times were when we wandered away from the main streets into the quiet, picturesque neighborhoods, finding little bakeries or cafes with no tourists at all.

From Bruges, we went to Luxembourg to trace my husband's roots. His great-grandfather was born in Diekirch, so it seemed it would be a good base. Diekirch is a nice little town, with the excellent Museum of Military History -- a truly amazing collection of World War II vehicles, uniforms, armament ... much of it abandoned after the war and collected by people in the area, stored in barns until the museum was created. One of the most interesting museums we have ever seen. Absolutely worth a stop if you have any interest in World War II. We had an exceptionally good dinner (mussels and shrimp) in Diekirch, at Restaurant Esplanade, just down the street from the museum.

Unfortunately we had neglected to pack our IDP so we could not rent a car here as planned. But the excellent Luxembourg public transportation system came to our rescue. For 4 euros per person per day, you can travel anywhere in Luxembourg on train or bus. Our hotel manager (Hotel du Parc) helped us with the sometimes-complicated transfers but we were able to visit most places on our list -- some ancestral villages, plus Vianden (for the castle) and Clervaux (for the Family of Man exhibit), both worthwhile.

We found that Luxembourg is a lovely, pristinely-clean country, with green rolling hills and friendly people. We learned that Ettelbruck would be a great base for exploring it, if you are driving or especially if you are not, as it seems to be a transportation hub for trains and buses in Luxembourg. All of our day trips connected through Ettelbruck. It's just about 40 minutes from Luxembourg City, and much more budget-friendly. It's a great little town, with lots of restaurants, a nice plaza (with good gelato!), and a market every Friday morning. We loved this little town.

(to be continued)

Posted by
1917 posts

On September 20, we took a train to Boppard, Germany. We had heard about the Rhine in Flames fireworks display in Oberweisel that evening, so we checked in to our hotel (Rhinehotel Lilie, right along the river), had an early dinner and headed back to the train station. On the way to Oberweisel, the train quickly filled with people (many in costume) until it was standing room only. The train stopped at St. Goar and everyone got off! I stopped a lady and told her we were going to Oberweisel for fireworks and she said, "No! Fireworks here." So we got off too. People were lining the river, staking out good spots for the show.

We tasted some new white wine, which we enjoyed. It was sweet, and bubbly ... reminded us of Fresca. Then it started to rain. We all ducked for cover. It rained intermittently until dark. Around 9 pm, a parade of lighted riverboats started down the river. Then Rheinfels Castle (across the river) "caught fire," with red lights shining on it and smoke pouring from the top. Then came four fireworks displays .... from behind the castle, from a barge in the river directly in front of us, then down the river to our left and right. About 45 minutes of the most spectacular fireworks we had ever seen.

We enthusiastically recommend that anyone in Germany at that time of year make an effort to see Rhine in Flames. It would have been good to stay IN St. Goar or St. Goarshausen, with preferably a balcony facing the river, in case of rain. Or, alternately, look into the river cruises. A quick internet search turned up 70 riverboats now booking for next year's Rhine in Flames, which will be September 19, 2015 in St. Goar/St. Goarshausen. http://www.firework.rhine-river.com/stgoar/ It was fun to be among the crowds along the shore but a riverboat might be fun as well.

From Boppard, we visited Braubach to see Marksburg Castle. If you take the ferry to Braubach, there is a shuttle that can take you up to the castle but you must reserve it in advance. Our ferry arrived in Braubach at 12:20, we looked in vain for the shuttle and then ran up that hill to the castle to make the 1 pm English tour. It's a worthwhile castle to see.

We also took the Rhine cruise from Bingen back to Boppard. Highly recommended. As for Boppard, it has a really good tourist information office. We had great coffee and desserts at Cafe Baldeau. And we had two great dinners at Weinhaus Romerburg.

Our next stop was the Mosel. Our preferred hotels in Cochem were already booked, so we were lured to nearby Ernst (Haus Schwartzenburg) by the promise of homecooked meals and free bus/train/ferry tickets. Ernst is really not much of a town ... we only found a church, a bank, a coffeeshop, and a lot of B&B's along the river. But the meals were great and the owners of our B&B could not have been more helpful.

From Ernst we took our free ferry to Beilstein. It looks like a fairy-tale village, with Disney-like crowds when we arrived! But many of them were on a tour bus, and when it left, the town was much more manageable.

Our real reason for visiting the Mosel was the Strassenweinfest (new wine festival) in Neef, on September 26-27. Unfortunately when we arrived in early afternoon of September 26 they were just setting up. We were greeted with empty tables. We could smell bratwurst but never did find it. We decided to try some new wine. The white was all gone, so we ordered two glasses of new red wine along with an onion tart (zwiebelkuchen). The tart was delicious but the wine was brand new, just 2 days old, and really not drinkable. We soon gave up and went back to Cochem, where we found a good wheat beer and dinner.

(to be continued)

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1917 posts

The next day we headed for our final stop, Amsterdam. We absolutely loved our gorgeous room, in a canal house on the Prinsengracht canal, a B&B called "Bij tijn op de Gracht". They only have 2 rooms (suites, really) so you must book early. Some steep stairs, but also gorgeous views and fabulous breakfasts. Huge bathroom, with large tub, double sinks, separate large shower. Spectacular.

We only made one day trip out of Amsterdam, to the Waterlands. We took a bus from the train station (walk through the station to the back and up some stairs). There are a couple of buses going to different areas of the Netherlands with a "hop on, hop off" concept. Ours was 10 euros per person; it took us to Edam and dropped us off. We could stay as long as we want, then went back to the bus stop. The buses are on a frequent (20 minute? schedule) so it was a short wait til a bus took us to Volendam, where we had wonderfully fresh fish for lunch. We took a ferry (not included with the bus ticket) to Marken, to visit the wooden shoe factory. We had brought tracings of our granddaughters' feet. The "klompenmaker" chose the correct wooden shoes for each of them (and they were perfect, when we got home). He then demonstrated to us how wooden shoes are made, and gave us the demonstration shoe he made, plus its mate. We then took the bus back to Amsterdam. Fun day.

FYI -- once a week, there is a free concert at the concert house on the museumplein (just past the Van Gogh museum). It is usually held on Wednesday but was on Thursday the week we were there. It starts at 12:30 but people start lining up at 11:30. We heard two pianists on our visit, which was lovely, plus fun to be in the concert house for free!

Our b&b had a perfect location, in the 9 Little Streets area, just a few blocks from the Anne Frank house, maybe 15 minutes from Dam Square or the museumplein. We walked everywhere and really loved just wandering through Amsterdam. Our neighborhood was filled with lots of good restaurants and bars. Down the street was Restaurant 't Zwaantje, where we had great mussels. And on October 4, when it was time for us to sadly leave, we just walked down the street to catch the bus to the airport.

Posted by
527 posts

Thank you for the trip report. I especially appreciate the information about Luxembourg; I flew out of the airport last year and, after spending the night before my flight in the city, I thought spending a couple days in one of the smaller towns might be interesting on a future trip. How easy was it to get along without speaking the French/Luxembourgish language?

Posted by
1917 posts

Everyone we met on this trip (including all of the small towns in Luxembourg) spoke English very well. You shouldn't have any problems at all.

I found it gratifying to see how much the people of Luxembourg appreciated our help in World War II. They welcomed their American liberators by waving homemade 48 star US flags, made in part from cut-up Nazi flags. An American flag still flies outside the military museum in Diekirch. And as an American tourist, I was made to feel very welcome.

Posted by
359 posts

Great trip report. I especially enjoyed reading about Luxembourg, as I have family roots there also and hope to go one day. Your info about Bruges was helpful as well. My husband would enjoy the day tour you described as he is a veteran. We both have interest in WWII history.

Posted by
1917 posts

Thanks! I hope you do make it to Luxembourg someday. There's a website -- luxroots.com -- that is working on genealogy, if you want to explore that. We didn't find any new info on my husband's family but they are expanding their database, so you might have better luck.

Posted by
1353 posts

Charlene,

That was really a great trip report! Makes me want to go back to the Rhine in the fall.

Posted by
4684 posts

Just to say that you shouldn't usually need to travel to Brussels North to catch the train to Bruges, I assume there was some engineering work on the day you travelled.

Posted by
4684 posts

Oh, sorry, I see you were travelling from Brussels Airport station, not central Brussels.

Posted by
1917 posts

Right. We had just gotten off the transatlantic plane, and it was a little confusing for us to look up at all the schedules, and Bruges (or Brugge) was not mentioned. A ticket agent quickly sorted it out for us though.

Posted by
1 posts

Thank you so much for sharing! This was really useful and well written. I am especially excited about the fireworks festival, I'd not heard of that one before but I am now adding it to my list and can't wait to go! Cheers :)

Posted by
3 posts

I thought I'd read that you can now go direct BRU-Brugges and back via train. Is that a new route or do I have that wrong?

Posted by
8889 posts

hanspeter, you can get from any of the 3 main stations in Brussels (Bruxelles midi, central and Nord) directly to Brugge. The problem was Charlene was not at any of these stations, she was at Brussels airport station. If you are travelling from the airport to virtually anywhere you need to first get a train into the city centre (the 3 above-mentioned stations), then get a train to where you actually want to go.

As with any train, you need to know either the train number of the final destination, because that is what will be posted on the departure board. A little knowledge of local railway geography helps.