Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back to Brussels

Last month we found ourselves hopping on the train for another quick weekend trip to Brussels. One of the reasons we went was to see the Royal Palace, which is only open only during the summer. The "Heaven of Delight" room is quite a sight ... you can't take pictures inside, but you can see some at this site. The ceiling is covered with thousands of wings from Thai jewel beetles ... truly bizarre.

We spent some time exploring Brussels' art nouveau architecture. Here you see the Musée des Instruments de Musique. We went up to the top floor cafe to see the view of the city, but decided we'd leave the exhibits for another visit. Another stop was the Musée Horta, the home and office of one of the most influential art nouveau architects, Victor Horta. The outside is deceivingly simple; the inside is another matter (click on the museum link to see indoor pictures).

We also did a lot of walking around, taking in the Grand Place (which you see poking up in the vista) and the Marolles market. We really like the statues of various guilds in the Place du Petit Sablon ... like this guy -- got the wine & the fish, let's party!

Speaking of party, we seem to be on a roll in seeing stag parties wherever we go. The chicken groom-to-be even stopped for a photo with the two of us (which we'll keep for our private collection). And in a repeat of our last trip to Brussels, we saw a marching band again, this time in a military/veterans procession to the Grand Place. Add to that a couple of drinks at our favorite Brussels witch-themed bar, and some great Belgian food, and it made for a perfect weekend escape.

Come back in about a week for our next post from our recent travels to Germany.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Deep South

The province of Limburg, squeezed between Germany and Belgium, is the only part of the country that has rolling hillsides. We took a weekend to explore some of the unique sites, avoiding the main town of Maastricht (as we'll surely venture back). The Maas river (pictured above), which goes through Rotterdam on its way to the North Sea, cuts through much of the province.

Our first stop was the town of Thorn. The main draw is the "picturesqueness" of the whitewashed buildings in the town center that surround the old abbey church. The town itself dates from the 10th century; the church from the 12th (although like most old churches it has undergone a number of changes).

From Thorn we headed to the town of Arcen, famous for its Kasteeltuinen (castle gardens). Really more of an "estate" than a castle, the gardens are quite extensive.
Fall hadn't quite taken hold yet, so many of the roses and other flowers were still in bloom. There are also some small animal exhibits; among others we saw cranes, antelope, and capuchin monkeys (all pictured below; click to enlarge any photo). There's also a pic on our daily blog.

We stayed in the small town of Kessel. We had a neat room in what looked like an old stablehouse next to the castle ruins. We picnicked by twilight next to the castle along the river Maas, watching the muskrats in the river and listening to a production of "Romeo & Juliet" being performed inside the castle (in dutch, which was quite novel for us).

The next day we headed down to the Netherlands American War Cemetery in Margraten. The only American military cemetery in The Netherlands honors the soldiers who fought in this region during WWII. To see more, here's a post from our daily blog.

On our way home we skirted into Belgian Limburg (yes, just to confuse you, both countries have a Limburg province).
Rochelle was able to enjoy one of her favorites ... mussels ... and with apologies to the dutch and french, she still insists that Belgium does them best.
And I was able to enjoy one of my favorites, Belgian beer ... with apologies to just about every european country, Belgium wins here too, if you like unique flavorful beers.
Tongeren is dominated by its 13th century gothic church. Next to the church is a WWI monument, topped by small children or cherubs that almost look like they're playing with war implements. Pictured below are some detail shots from the church and the memorial (sorry for the blurry crop).
Come back for our next post on 15 October when we return to Brussels.