Central and Western Europe

We got the travel bug and we got it bad, going to Europe TWICE in 2014… In the Summer 2014 we flew into Belgium, rented a car at the airport deciding that we were going to tour Europe for a few weeks as we had overspent so much on trains while in Spain at the beginning of the year…

Brussels, BELGIUM:
Brussels was gorgeous and a place I plan on returning in the future. The locals are friendly, and excited about tourists boosting their economy which makes traveling there all the more fun. Almost everyone spoke at least a little French so it was easy for us to get by without learning the native tongue (although it’s always fun to try). There was incredible art located all throughout the city, outside (in the form of statures, graffiti, large sculptures and wire birdcages), in galleries, on the street, painted windows- amazing.
We stayed in the Theater district and parked our rental car illegally for the entire time we were there (Hello first (but not last) international ticket…which I still have not paid).
The theater district was home to our eclectic colorful hotel riddled with fuzzy pillows and with a great view of the bathhouse across the street, we watched some deals go down and had a pretty eventful first night.

Brussels has a beautiful main town square which is surrounded by castle-like buildings converted into coffee shops, wine bars, and eat-out resto’s, we had great service almost everywhere and the weather was perfect.

The city was diverse in both culture and terrain, with streets that wound and scoured hillsides. One street we loved was nicknamed the “Comic Mile” there were characters in sculptures and painted on the sides of buildings by artists; real strange.

Atop one mountain we scaled was the Royal Palace and  the Palace of Justice- the largest Courthouse in the world(pictured) it’s goliath design was apparently very controversial in the 1800’s.Architecturally gorgeous and equipped with a great panoramic view of the city.

We drove from Brussels to Bruges, stopping in Ghent for Lunch assuming that it would be a quaint little place that would do for us what we needed. It ended up having a gallery (we can’t go anywhere without checking the galleries and used book stores) SMAK- which housed my favourite piece of art (outside the building was a water truck with a hose leading into the building…we assumed construction or piping issue etc. The hose was hundreds of feet long and led across the floor of the gallery, up a staircase, and on the second floor of the gallery it lead to a single potted plant it was dripping water into- demonstrating waste etc. it. was. PERFECT.) 

We strolled in the rain to a used book store where J picked up some first editions.. and in full Kass fashion I refused to leave until I saw a castle that wasn’t a Starbucks (not so easy in this university town) whose motto seemed to be “Take something beautiful and reappropriate as garbage” BUT we found it, and I left a happy little bird.

Bruges, BELGIUM:
Bruges seemed much more tourist trap then Brussells had, we were staying near the train station in a horrid little place that included a shower WITH A GLASS WALL next to the bed. Everywhere was walkable however there were peddlers in the streets at all times trying to prompt us into getting their transportation. The Bruges city center was historical and the majority of its’ medieval architecture is intact.

Bruges is the Capital of West Flanders and is referred to by locals as the Venice of the North because it is one of the three canal based northern cities.

Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of our Lady, whose brick spire makes it one of the world’s highest brick towers/buildings. The sculpture Madonna and Child can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo’s only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime-so that’s neat.

The city still employs a full-time Carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis, and I have no idea if that’s what we saw, or an imposter. I guess I don’t need to know.

Less than fond memories of this city include: incredibly bloody feet on my part resulting on a quick little dip to buy shoes (I travelled almost exclusively in inappropriate attire at this point in my life, this trip being the game changer for that habit).

On one patio wine night an English band named “the smooth” was in Belgium raising street change and we got a few free shows.

Alright, here we are in the Capital of South Holland,  where the Permanent International Court of Justice is located and is a center now for international legal arbitration (into it).
Like the rest of the places we seem to go it had some interesting art and some things that I’m not sure if they were art but I took them to be, including a building that had large steel letters spelling “something strange happened here” on the side.

We went to the World forum and took sunset shots of the flags (pictured) and screamed at each other outside the Peace Palace. It was pretty, but one day here was enough as it’s mostly a business hub and I’m not so into politics

Now we’re in North Holland, Amsterdam the Capital of Netherlands was visually gorgeous, it is another 17th Century Canal City and they were EVERYWHERE.
Navigating it was really odd as instead of the gridlike streets I am used to the city was a pinwheel, based around the stock exchange; once we(he) mastered the map it was ok.
So I could talk for hours about the buildings from the 1300’s and the huge museums and wonderful parks we saw…but mostly people just care to know that we went to an expensive sex show on hallucinogens and then strolled from there through the Red Light district.

This was a place with a Gun Museum and a weird crowd (as expected) and is not somewhere I would need to see twice, but am glad I got to see it in my 20’s.

Prague, Czech Republic:
Now we’ve made it to the historic capital of Bohemia, when we arrived there was a Metal Festival in town which made the crowd one that totally skewed my perception of what Czech people we like in fashion and attitude. Hilarious.

There were great patios and stone buildings, an interesting museum or two, outdoor sculpture parks and lots of street graffiti. We saw the John Lennon Memorial Wall at night and it seemed to turn into a hippy shanty after dark, with Buskers and bongo drums and weed.

We walked the city and saw some great views, one race up a hill resulted in accidentally finding the best view trying to outrun each other, we ended up at the Prague Castle which had an incredible view of the city from which we picked out a few spots we would go down to find including:  The Charles Bridge, The Senate (which had an Owl Aviary and a wall of Stalactites imitating limestone in the Wallenstein garden (pictured)

Prague was wonderful.

Vienna, AUSTRIA:
With such a large population it had probably the best shopping of the trip so far, we did our city walk after dark and had some midnight church views.

We stayed in a palace hotel in the city center and paid hundreds of dollars for parking. We had room service for breakfast both days and lunched at the Central Viennese Café. Vienna is also the place where I had a panic attack. On the largest Ferris Wheel in the World. It had a great view (pictured) but my shrieks could be heard across the land.

After this we had the other freight of driving the Autobahn a highway with no speed limit. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I can’t decide yet how I feel about this, but I will say, we didn’t see any accidents and whomever wanted to drive slowly stuck to the right lane… seems like it could be an OK system, not great for my heart though.

Note: Vienna had so much more German speaking than I anticipated.

Innsbruck, AUSTRIA:
This drive into Switzerland was gorgeous. I hate to say it but my favorite part of the whole trip was this 9 hour drive. When we began to see the alps and the fog descending and people rock climbing everywhere… it was beautiful. The whole atmosphere changed and there were bodies of water EVERYWHERE. Several times we pulled off the road to sightsee, and in this tiny town we stopped for lunch we saw some wonderful views. Not a place to stay overnight, but definitely a place to see.

This place. For our stay in Switzerland we picked the smallest alp town we could find. The majority of our trip was large European cities and I was ready for some nature. Also, it’s Switzerland… who needs shopping with a view like that? We stayed at a family run bed and breakfast on a mountain and hiked each day we were there. It was freezing and I was not prepared. This was a summer trip and I wore a lot of skirts. I also tried to jump a waterfall and of course fell in. No one is surprised.

I do not want to say too much more about Switzerland, the pictures can do the talking. but I will say, GO.

Following this trip we had made a decent little circle of this part of Europe and could quickly make the drive back to Brussels for one last night before returning our rental BMW and flying back to Canada.

See Below for notes…

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If there is one (but really there are hundreds) thing I could take away from this trip it’s that travelling with a rental car improved the quality of the vacation IMMENSELY. There is no way we could have done anything close to this amount of sightseeing and cover the distance we covered in the short amount of time if we were travelling by train. Having tried that in Spain we know that it is not the money saver it’s advertised to be and renting a car for two weeks was significantly cheaper & more enjoyable.



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