France, 2018

Our driving trip through northern France

Belgium

Monday, April 30, 2018 — Keukenhof Garden

We got an early start this morning and left the ship around 7:30. The HAL shuttle got us from the port in Rotterdam to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in a little over an hour. We picked up a car, a silver Alfa Romeo Giulia, from Hertz. It’s okay—the seats are more comfy than our Prius but it has some quirky features. The built-in navigation got us where we were going today but it’s tedious to put in a destination. The weather was chilly with a steady rain almost all day. We first went to the Keukenhof Garden in Lisse, Netherlands. The number and colors of the tulips is amazing. There were huge crowds and the biggest danger was the umbrellas. We stayed for a couple hours and left for our hotel in Brussels, a distance of about 200 km. Before we left the gardens we discovered that Jay’s phone was missing. It’s a mystery as we had it in the car with us. We notified the Lost and Found at Keukenhof Garden but aren’t hopeful of their finding it. We’re staying at a funky little hotel in Brussels and the rain is making it unpleasant to be out. We walked to a nearby cafe and had Belgian waffles for dinner. Tomorrow we may have to find some sprouts (groan). The manager of the hotel told us they had snow in Normandy today. Wish we could trade this rain for the weather back home!

Keukenhof Garden

The India room at the Brussels Welcome Hotel

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 — Brussels

We went out this morning to find an ATM and the Chicago Cafe for breakfast. We found the ATM okay, but had to stop and ask for directions to the cafe at a hotel. Barbara missed a step and fell in the hotel after the desk person helped us but she didn’t seem to hurt anything. Perhaps it was a good reminder to watch more carefully, as it’s better to fall on a carpet than a cobblestone street. We didn’t know when we booked the room for Brussels that today, our only full day in Brussels, was a public holiday (Labour Day) and many places wouldn't be open. We walked to Central Station where the hop-on, hop-off bus route begins. First we did the red line, and as we had the front seats in the upper level, we didn’t get off at any stops. We were given earbuds to listen to the commentary, which was available in 8 languages. This is a city where many residents are multilingual. Before we started on the blue line, we walked back toward Grand Place and found a WC where we paid .50 euros each to pee. We got off the blue line on stop 4, which was the Atomium. This unusual structure was built for the 1958 World’s Fair but is now a museum. The ticket lines were very long as the site was incredibly crowded. We just took time to take a few pictures and then hopped back on the next bus. Many of the pictures below aren’t great, but not bad considering that many were taken from the bus. We went to the Grand Place twice on foot. It has a complicated history, first constructed in the 1400s but destroyed and rebuilt a few times. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. This old part of the city is only a few blocks from the modern city with steel and glass buildings. Brussels is home to the headquarters of the European Union and European Commission, as well as being the capitol of Belgium. The EU just moved into a new building about 18 months ago that features a glass box that looks like a glowing lantern. The audio commentary for the bus ride said there are 5,000 diplomats living in Brussels. Some other facts about Brussels: 1) Karl Marx lived in Brussels when he wrote the Communist Manifesto. 2) Vincent Van Gogh wanted to be a preacher and came to Brussels for a 3 month trial course. He didn’t get accepted for more training, so decided a few years later that he would “follow his heart and throw himself into his artistic work.” It’s probably safe to say the world is better for his decision. 3) There are about 2,000 chocolate shops in Belgium. Today was such an improvement weather-wise, with some sunshine and gentle breezes. The city is really busy, and although the high temp today was only in the upper 50s, there were people eating and drinking at sidewalk cafes everywhere. There’s live music in front of St. Catherine’s church about a block from our hotel and the place is still rocking. We had pizza and a Belgium beer for dinner. Grimbergen is an Abbey beer that was made by monks but is now made by breweries in Belgium and France. We’re very tired tonight and our legs hurt—probably because most of the 5.5 miles we walked today was on cobblestone streets. 

The Senne

Grand Place

Brussels Town Hall

Brussels Cinquantenaire

Grand Place

An unusual Starbucks

Charlemagne

European Commission

New EU headquarters (building with brown windows)

Atomium

Manneken Pis statue

Grand Place

Grand Place panorama by Jay

Labour Day (May 1) celebration

Wednesday, May 2,2018 — Bruges

We had planned to eat breakfast at the Welcome Hotel in Brussels, but they had a water pipe break and the manager suggested a place a couple blocks away. The eggs and bacon were fried together and didn’t come apart unless you cut them. They were served with a delicious baguette and coffee for only €7. We packed up and left about 10:30 for what we thought was about an hours drive to Bruges. We were slowed down for a long time and finally saw that something had taken out a section of guard rail on the A10 in the opposite direction. The traffic backed up in that direction was about 10 km long. When we got to Bruges, the navigation system was hard to figure out. It would say first right at the roundabout, or stay left at the fork, and we hadn’t seen any roundabouts or forks! It did get us to the Botaniek Hotel, and to our surprise our room was ready. Veronica and Brend are the managers/owners (?), and are very nice. Brend, the husband who’s from the Netherlands, loves to chat about Bruges. Our room is tiny but charming. We unloaded our bags and drove the car a short distance away to an underground car park. The day was sunny and nice, so we decided to do the canal boat trip first. It lasted about 30 minutes, with the driver doing commentary in several languages. It was a very pleasant boat ride, although you lost the sense of where you were as there are many canals, turns and bridges. The lady next to Jay had a striking hair color—a wine color that you can see in a couple of pictures. After the boat ride we walked around trying to find a pub where Rick Steves suggested we have a Straffe Hendricks (strong Henry) beer. We found it, but it wasn’t going to open for another hour, so we backtracked and ended up having a Bleu Cheese Madness burger at Ellis Gourmet Burger. We ordered the Belgian fries (served with mayonnaise instead of ketchup) and Stella beer to go with it. Very tasty. We then walked around the Market Square looking for a good chocolate store. We bought a box of mixed chocolates at la Belgique Gourmande. They’re very good and probably won’t last long. By late afternoon it started to rain, so we went back to the hotel, intending to rest a bit before going out for dinner. Our legs are aching and we’re not very hungry after all, so may just have a quiet night in our room. The wifi has worked well both in Brussels and Bruges, and it’s so nice to have after using the internet on the ship.

Boat ride

Buildings along the canal

Jan Van Eickplein church

The Church of Our Lady

Buildings along canal

St. John’s Hospital and the Church of Our Lady

Along the canal

Lots of bridges

Along the canal

The Church of Our Lady

Provincial Court building on Market Square

Market Square

Botaniek Hotel, Room 9

Bruges from our room

Bruges from our room (Belfry tower)

This is the end of the Belgium portion of the blog. The next section will be about our travels in the Normandy region of France. Click on the “Normandy” tab at the top of the page or click here .

© Jay 2020