Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tourist in My Own Country

After a week of running errands and taking care of health check-ups, Mark joined me in my home country Belgium for two weeks of “vacation”. Of course, there was the usual business to attend to (what did we expect?), but we managed to visit many friends and family members, adding up to an extremely busy schedule. While I used to be treated like a princess on previous visits, Mark’s infrequent presence (once every five years at the going rate) turned us into a temporary "queen and king".

Every time we showed up at somebody’s house, good company awaited us and sumptuous portions of traditional dishes were served, whether it was for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We got to savor many of Belgium’s favorite foods, beers and treats and never felt as full as we did on one particular “combined visit” day! From pastries at my parent’s to a whole breakfast buffet at my cousin’s, from “stomp en worst” at my other cousin’s to Bouillabaisse soup at my aunt’s, from lasagna to sweet and sour chicken at friends’ places to a wonderful and extensive high quality lunch at a restaurant for my oma’s 90th birthday. I think we are done eating for a while… after Thanksgiving!

Despite the cold and grey weather (I saw the sun for a whole five hours, all on the same day, before Mark arrived, and Mark saw her for a full 5 minutes), we took a few daytrips with the help of friends, family and my mum’s car. Mum was so accommodating that she took days off to be with us or lend her car. With Rosy and Peter, we visited Brussels’ biggest landmark, the atomium. There are several exhibitions in the spheres, reached by escalators, and the view from the top can be amazing in better weather. Unfortunately, it rained that day, so we couldn’t explore much beyond the Expo ’58 attraction.

My cousin Griet and her husband Wim wanted to return the favor from their visit to Irie, exactly one year before. They treated us to a whole bunch of delicacies and showed us around Antwerp on a historical walking tour. Together with their kids Sam and Eva, we went to the top of one of the biggest buildings of town, coincidently Wim’s work place. The view was unbelievable and special. The rain held off until we returned homeward, after a quick glimpse at the totally and impressively renewed Central Station.

On another cold and crappy day, we took a little drive around the countryside of Belgium and Holland, with stops in the very cute town of Damme and tourist attraction number 1: picturesque Brugge. Every ten minutes or so, we had to dive into a museum or other heated structure to take care of our numb face and hands. Taking pictures was hard, but we nevertheless enjoyed the sights of historical buildings, canals and windmills.

Our personal highlight was a “weekend” away in the small country of Luxemburg, new to Mark and me. After three hours of driving, we reached the foresty environs of the Luxemburg Ardens. Our first stop, Esch-sur-Sûre proved to be a very idyllic valley town in the bend of a river. The houses of villagers were cozily grouped together, dominated by castle ruins and a watch tower on a rocky hill top.

After lunch, we gazed at the impressive castle of Vianden. The well maintained “house of the dukes” is perched on a hill and could be taken out of a fairytale book. Mark and I decided to have a look inside as well, taking in some historical facts, artifacts and information. Some of the rooms sported ornate era-furniture, giving a good impression of the life of the rich in the earlier centuries. Our drive continued to touristy, but attractive Echternach with its big abbey and green surroundings, called Little Switzerland. Just for the sake of it, we crossed the river to set foot in Germany. Dark arrived around 5 pm, a good time to head over to our basic, but affordable hotel in France.

Sunday, November 21st, brought more grey skies and frigid temperatures. Mark and I were determined to make a walking tour in Luxembourg, the capital of the country. It wasn’t too hard to find free parking (hurray for Sunday), but keeping warm was more of a challenge. At a pretty fast pace, we crossed squares surrounded by historical buildings and walked the old walls of the raised city. The vistas across the river and beneath the walls were incredible. We couldn’t agree more with the name “prettiest balcony of Europe” when we took in the scene.

Not much later, we descended the hill and entered the Pétrusse valley, an oasis of peace and nature in the midst of the busy capital. Foot paths bring you past a very old chapel, built against the rocks and underneath two immense arched bridges. We finished our tour without freezing to death and regretted not being able to just hang out and take in the views a bit more. Especially the area in Grund seemed to deserve more time. Luxembourg has a lot to offer and a status to maintain. I wouldn’t mind coming back here in the summer one day, but for now, I was happy to be “traveling” again!

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