Thursday, April 20, 2006

Easter Roadtrip Roundup

For the Easter long weekend, and an extra day either side, we did a tour of Benelux - Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. The plan was to see a bit of each, but we didn't make it too far into Belgium. That didn't matter though, because we were coming back in 10 days time anyway.

Here are links to each day in our trip:
Day 1 & 2:
Netherlands - Amsterdam to Den Haag
Day 3: Netherlands, Germany - Den Haag to Aachen
Day 4: Luxembourg - Clervaux, Vianden to Luxembourg City
Day 5: Luxembourg - Moselle Valley to Brussels
Day 6: Belgium - Brussels

It was a really spectacular trip, reminiscent of our honeymoon, when we also hired a car and set off with only rough plans. It was great to get out of the big European cities and see the country side.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Easter - Brussels

Day 6

The last day of our Easter trip! We woke up in Brussels and had most of the day to explore around before our flight out.

First stop Mannekin Pis. Exactly what it says, it is a boy doing pee pee. He is a nationally recognised statue that even has his own wardrobe. Throughout the year he dresses in different clothing to mark national days or events. Today he is in his national guard's outfit!

Why stop at one urinating figure? Jeanneke Pis is the female version that was erected 'in honour of loyalty'. A fairly obvious connection, we would have thought... Man's best friend also gets a statue with Zinneke Pis, although he is a bit less animated, if you know what we mean. Mannekin Pis is in his Boy Scout outfit in this picture!

Guild halls, which along with the town hall, encompass the Grand Place (central square). The guildhalls were destroyed in 1695 and have been subsequently rebuilt.

More of the guild halls.

The Hotel De Ville. The Brussels town hall is built in gothic style and was spared during the 1695 French bombardment. This was more so due to luck, rather than any aesthetic value, since it was actually the target of the raids. Another interesting point about the building is that it was built in sections. The left hand side was built in 1402 and the right hand side built in 1444. Only problem was that when it came time to build the right hand side there wasn't enough room to make it the same length as the left hand side - hence it is 5 windows shorter.

The finishings on the guild halls is very intricate. Each hall is decorated in figures that depict the trade of the guild.

Tintin, the inquisitive reporter-come-sleuth, lived in Brussels. Herge, who created him, was also from Brussels. Liam got the chance to re-live some of his favourite childhood stories.

Palais de Justice. The huge law courts is an imposing building, as it was designed to be. It is on a hill above the main centre of Brussels, and it looks down upon the town as a symbol of the power of the law.

Just a small portion of the main hall of the Palais de Justice. There are many court rooms leading off the corridors around the hall. On the day we visited, most of the courts were in session. There were also art students, or just artists, littered all over the building, sketching the architecture or statues.

Place du Petit Sablon. These well manicured gardens have many statues throughout. On the walls that define the garden there are 48 bronze statuettes that depict the medieval guilds.

Palais Royal. The palace is no longer a royal residence.

Belgium parliament buildings.

Cathedrale des St Michel and St Gudule. The twin-towered church has been used for royal weddings and has been visited by the pope. It took over 300 years to build.

The magnificent pipe organ in the church. We were lucky enough to have the organist practicing on the day we visited, so the church was filled with musical hymns.

The pulpit is sculptured from wood. It depicts Adam and Eve been driven out of Eden by skeletons. This is one of the most impressive pulpits we have seen so far.

Pavement cafes in the alleys off the Grand Place. Most of the cafes have fixed menus and there is constant bartering and bickering between maitre d's to fill the tables. We picked a cafe and had dinner there before catching a train to the airport.

So that concludes our Easter travels. We definately cover a lot of ground during the 6 days and loved every minute of it (even the traffic jam in Belgium!). We would love to see more of all of these countries, especially Luxembourg but the rest of Europe calls!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter - Luxembourg City, Moselle Valley

Day 5

Today we woke up in Luxembourg City. The city is situated on the cliffs of the Petrusse and Alzette Rivers, which converge in the centre of the city.

Cobble-stone town squares, with well kept buildings and plenty of Luxembourg flags flying.

Looking down the Petrusse, at the Viaduc (bridge). The Petrusse is the smaller of the two rivers, and it is more like a creek.

The view from Viaduc looking back up the river.

Pont Adolphe (another bridge) and Place de la Constitution (gardens and flags).

Liam and the Pont Adolphe.

Us, the Pont Adolphe (again!), and Place de la Constitution.

Alzette River is more substantial and it is lined with parks, bridges and buildings as it winds its way through the gorge. The church is Neumunster St John's.

Another view of the Alzette River.

Kelly at a 'window' of the Bock Casemates.

The Bock Casemates are in the Bock promontory of the gorge surrounded by the Alzette River. A castle was built on the top of the cliffs in 963. Over the years it was built up by the various conquerors (Burgundians, Spaniards, French, Austrian's and Germans) and it eventually became known as the "Gibraltar of the North". They are a maze of damp rock rooms and passages carved into the cliffs by the Austrians around 1740. The caves were used to house armies and weapons and was used as recently as WWI and WWII as bomb shelters for the locals. They really are amazing to see because it would have taken so much work to carve them out.

One of the busy market streets of Luxembourg.

That afternoon we left Luxembourg City to head to the Moselle Valley. This is one Europe's smallest wine regions, and it is also one of the prettiest. The Moselle River sweeps through the valley and also forms the border between Luxembourg and Germany.

Kelly contemplates the German side of the river.

Liam had his big beer and Kelly has her big champagne. Since it was Easter Monday, the caves or wine cellars (rock wall behind Kelly) weren't open.

St Martin is one of the popular wineries of the area. They make a good glass of bubbly (cremant) and some white wines. The winery has a nice eating area that is only a road width away from the Moselle River. Quite a relaxing place to have a glass or two!

The vineyards stretch right to the edge of the road all along the valley.

More vineyards.

A panoramic view of Luxembourg.

So ended our stay in Luxembourg. It was a pity to leave such a beautiful country after only two days. We started off on our long trip up to Brussels, which included an hour and a half of crawling along the highway through roadworks. Eventually we made it to Brussels and our accommodation, after nearly driving through the pedestrianised town square.

Continue to Day 6...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter - Luxembourg

Day 4

The next leg of our trip took us through the small, tucked away country of Luxembourg. It is a beautiful country with many gorges, forests and cute little towns. We started in the north where the the Ardennes cross Luxembourg.

First stop was the town of Clervaux. The town consists of a church, castle and a monastry on the hill above the town.

The castle, perched in the middle of the town.

The benedictine abbey of St Maurice. The monks here are well known for their Gregorian chants. Luckily we arrived in time to see a service taking place in their chapel. The chapel has excellent acousticis and the monks' chanting sounded wonderful.

Outside the benedictine abbey of St Maurice.

Next stop was the very small town of Esch-Sur-Sure. The town has a population of approx. 240 people and the Sure river runs directly through it.

The Sure River.

One of the few streets of Esch-Sur-Sure and a view of the town from the castle ruins. The three pictures below are different views from the castle. The castle was built in 927 and is currently being restored. In the third photo you can see what is left of the castle today.

This was without a doubt the most beautiful town we saw in Luxembourg. Vianden has many narrow cobble-stoned streets and the stunning castle you can see in the picture.

The Vianden Chateau (Castle) and the streets of Vianden.

The castle sits very high above the town.

Liam's beer ad! And our first taste of Luxembourg beer.

Tonight's accommodation was to be in a hotel that we booked in Luxembourg City Sud. The name makes it sound like it is in the southern part of Luxembourg City, right? As it turns out it was actually 12km out of the city, so instead we stayed in a hotel near the train station, which actually is on the south side of Luxembourg City.

Continue to Day 5...