The last week has been all about the Benelux nations, or at least the 'Be' and the 'Lux' parts - I figure I can save the 'Ne'therlands (ie Amsterdam) for a long weekend once I'm living in the UK.
As I said in the last post, I spent most of the week in a post Switzerland come down and I don't really have much to reflect from for the week- I have a vague recollection of seeing things and trying out food, it just never sunk in.
First stop was Belgium. I put Belgium on the list as a lot of people said they were surprised how much they enjoyed it and how good the food was. So I headed out to Bruges (which is meant to be a highlight) with my agenda being;
Doing the free walking tour
Try the chocolate
Try the fries
Try the waffles
Try the beer
Try the mussels
Here's a quick rundown:
Walking tour: Excellent, run by the hostel. The guide was cool and actually seemed to be enjoying it instead of rushing us through the sites and was able to have a laugh with us.
Chocolate: Good, but a little overrated. It all seemed too dark for my liking. Better in Switzerland.
Fries: Brilliant. For those who don't know, you can by them from little carts or cafes and you have a massive choice of sauces to choose from. I went for the traditional mayo, curry tomato and finally, meat sauce. That one reminded me of chips and gravy from Legs N Breasts and I got a little homesick.
Waffles: Average, coulda been anywhere.
Beer: I got so lucky, the weekend I was there was the 1st annual Bruges Beer Festival. The problem with Belgian beer is there are over 200 varieties to try, which is compounded by the fact that some of the best have strengths up around the 15% mark. It sneaks up on you too, so you have 4 or 5 and you're on the floor. With the festival you paid 10 Euros and got a glass and 7 tokens to swap for sampling. Perfect! I tried all the ones that had funny descriptions: 'Banana and Chocolate' or 'Citrus and Coriander tones' (beer ******ers) and I'd still say wheat beers are the best. I finished off with a beer brandy, which tasted nothing like beer, but I was able to pick out the orange flavours and at least 3 out of the 5 supposed herbs that were infused into the spirit (that last part might be a lie, it was 4).
Mussels: I totally forgot about sampling mussels and white wine until the day I left and noticed a place selling them. At least I got 5 out of 6 (and that ain't bad) -
That's about it for Belgium. I liked that it was so flat that a vast majority of people biked everywhere and how all the cyclists had their own lanes and the respect of traffic and pedestrians, it pisses me off to think about how opposite the mindset is in Hobart to that sort of thing. I also like how everyone on bikes just yells at tourists when they walk in their lanes, and the local kids play a game called 'Hit the Tourist'!
From there I headed to Luxembourg, most notable for the fact that nobody seems to go there, which is great - no large tour groups, no queues, no overpriced food vendors etc. I can't fathom why it misses out on the tourist hordes. The Old Town is really well preserved and fairly easy on the eye, the city is right on a cliff edge looking over a river/gorge that has lots of nice walking paths and it's so small, take a bus or drive for 15 minutes and you're in the countryside or a little traditional village.
I think one of the reasons it's off the backpacker trail at least is due to it's proximity to the more traditional places to visit, pretty much half way between Paris and Amsterdam (both of which I'm yet to visit). I know when a lot of people head to Europe they have these places in mind, but it genuinely surprises me how many people don't step off the well trodden trail at least once. If I had a dollar for every time I hear, 'I've been everywhere, London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Berlin...' in response to the 'Where have you been' question, well, I'd be able to travel for a bit longer than originally planned.
Anyway, back to Luxembourg. I spent 4 nights there overall - 2 in Bourglinster, a little village 30 minutes out of the city due to the city hostel being fully booked by school kids and 2 in Echternach, known as 'Little Switzerland', god only knows why. Bourglinster was good, as it had every backpacker who had planned on going to Luxembourg, but couldn't get into the town hostel, all 8 of us! Then I headed to Echternach, to the big 100 bed custom made hostel, and there were about 10 people the first night, 3 the second! At least I got a massive dorm room all to myself which made a nice change. My days there were spent hiking round the various trails - Wolf Canyon was excellent, but I don't think my photos will do it justice. I think it was here I finally stopped sooking about not being in Switzerland any more. About bloody time too.
Then I left and just like that, another week was gone. It's sort of crap that after last years 9 month marathon, it still feels like I just left home a week or 2 ago.