Benelux 5/12

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Europe's "low countries" - Belgium, the Netherlands & Luxembourg...

Luxembourg: Neümunster Abbey view from the Corniche

I set up a "sanity vacation" in conjunction with a spring business trip to Amsterdam. The trip was originally planned to be a photo safari in South Africa, but a shoulder injury while hiking in March forced me to dial back my plans to someplace that wouldn't require constant lifting of a camera with long, heavy lenses. All of these shots were taken with my D700 coupled only with its 16-35mm f4 lens. I've been to Brussels and Amsterdam before, so I spent most of my time in day trips to Luxembourg and cities in the Netherlands and Belgium that I've never been to. "Benelux" (Belgium, Netherlands & Luxembourg) is often referred to as Europe's "low countries", dubbed that name because they have few mountains and in some cases are below sea level. The weather was beautiful, with typical May temperatures and just a little rain.

Sunday May 20th - Enkhuizen, Netherlands

 

After good flights from LA through London to Amsterdam, I had plenty of sleep to hit the ground running on Sunday. On the advice of a friend who used to live in the Netherlands, I took a train ~45 minutes northeast to Enkhuizen, home of the Zuiderzee (South Sea) museum. It's made up of an indoor and outdoor museum, covering over 15 acres. Crowds were sparse because of threatening rain (which never materialized), so I had good opportunities to photograph the various villages (large picture right & four pictures below). Returning to Amsterdam in the late afternoon, I took a long walk from central station to my favorite Irish pub, Aran's, for dinner.

Enkhuizen, Netherlands: Zuiderzee outdoor museum

Zuiderzee museum village

Zuiderzee alley

Zuiderzee museum worker

Zuiderzee museum courtyard

 

Friday May 25th - Brussels, Belgium

 

Monday through Thursday were my work days in Amsterdam, but once Friday arrived, I was off to Brussels on the morning high speed Thalys train. Arriving at Brussels south station just after noon, I bought a day pass for the metro system (6€) and took it to the Trone stop near my hotel, the Brussels Renaissance. After a quick turnaround at the hotel, I continued north on the metro to Madou where I began my city walk. Passing by the Place du Congress (first picture below), I stopped for some foreign language Magic cards for my son before visiting the Comic Strip Museum. Brussels has a strange affection to comic strip characters, being the originating spot for the Smurfs and Tintin. There are comic strip character statues all around the city (second picture below - with a guy really checking out that character's behind). After some touristy photo stops at the Manneken and much lesser known (thanks for the tip, Ben) Jeanneke Pis statues (combined in the third picture below), I walked to the Grand Place where I settled in for a leisurely outdoor dinner while the Brussels Jazz Marathon played on stage (fourth picture below). Stopping for Belgium's best chocolates at Galler along the way, I returned to my hotel via the metro for the evening.

 

Place du Congress

Checking out Brussels'

outdoor comic strip art

It's a pisser: Manneken

and Jeanneke Pis

Grand Place: view of Jazz Marathon

from my restaurant table

 

Saturday May 26th - Luxembourg - The Wenzel Walk

 

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world, but has the world's highest GDP per capita. Made up of a half million people and covering only 1000 square miles, it is a highly developed place with a rich history. Luxembourg City is the capital and center of action. I woke early Saturday morning, ate a good breakfast at the hotel, then walked a block to the Brussels-Luxembourg train station where I caught the 9am train to Luxembourg City, arriving at 11:40am. There was supposed to be a tourist office at the train station, but there wasn't. In fact there wasn't much of anything except for construction. I had counted on getting a map there and had inadvertently left my GPS in my hotel room in Brussels, so I had to wing it finding my way to the city center. I went straight down the main street, which turned out to be wrong, costing me a couple of extra miles of walking and an hour of wasted time. The missing piece of information - turn right out of the train station and the city center is 15 minutes away. Once I found my circuitous way to the city center, I also found a tourist information office that was open, got a map and was on my way.

 

My goal was to do the "Wenzel Walk", which is a 3 mile circular trek up and down the river valley that Luxembourg City is built on. It's dubbed "1000 years of history in 100 minutes". Starting into the valley, the views from the Corniche (large picture top of page left) gave a hint of what was to come. Descending to the valley floor (first picture below) was an easy walk (second picture below) with plenty of photo opportunities. Crossing the river (third picture below), the walk continued up the other side of the valley. Because of construction on the Rham Plateau, the walk was very poorly marked on the far side of the valley (fourth picture below), but armed with the brochure from the tourist office I pieced together the pathways and found my way to the end of the walk. A very worthwhile trek. I took a public elevator back up to the city center at about 3pm where I located a recommended pizza restaurant, Bachus, only to find that their kitchen was closed from 2pm until 6pm. Most other restaurants had the same time constraint, so I roamed for a while longer before finding a place at was open. After a good late lunch, I walked the 15 minutes to the train station where I caught the 5:20pm train back to Brussels, arriving at 8pm. I enjoyed a dessert of Belgian chocolates and Belgian beer at the hotel before retiring for the night.

 

Wenzel walk

descending

the valley

Wenzel walkway

Wenzel walk

valley floor

Wenzel walk far side

of the valley looking

back toward Corniche

 

Sunday May 27th - Ghent, Belgium

 

Ghent is the fourth most populous city in Belgium and was a real pleasure to visit, reminding me a lot of Bruges farther north, but without the massive throngs of tourists. Ghent is filled with many small squares instead of one grand square as in most other European cities. I was better prepared for Ghent than I had been for Luxembourg City, armed with a map, my GPS and a printed copy of Rick Steve's walking tour. It turned out that all I needed was Rick Steve's walking tour to see everything and thoroughly enjoy Ghent. I woke late after a long restful sleep, ate breakfast at the hotel, then walked a block to the Brussels-Luxembourg train station where I bought a 9€ return ticket for Ghent. Connecting through central station, the trip northwest from Brussels to Ghent took about 45 minutes. At Ghent's train station it was easy to buy a tram ticket to the city center (1.20€) which put me right in the middle of everything, facing Saint Nicholas church at Korenmarkt (first picture below, with all the major towers of the city in a row). After a walk through Saint Nicholas' interior (second picture below), I continued east to the Belfry. Most of the way up the Belfry was by elevator, making it an easy ascent for some great views of the city (third picture below looking west, fourth picture below looking east). Continuing east, I visited the largest church in town, Saint Bavos, but their obnoxious, ridiculous no-photograph policy kept my camera in its case. Inside, Van Eyck's "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" alterpiece was impressive along with a huge carved wood pulpit and an alter painting by Rubens of the town's patron saint.

 

Ghent Korenmarkt Square

view of major towers

St Nicholas church

Belfry view west

to St Nicholas

Belfry view wide toward St Bavo's

 

Continuing on Rick Steve's walking tour, I headed away from the main squares into some less traveled spots. The city hall building was old, but very ornate (first picture below). Just past the city hall was tiny Werregarn Straat, dubbed Gaffitistraat because it is the one place in the city where graffiti is allowed. Its three blocks were fascinating to the photographer in me. My favorite shot is the second one below, sporting "if you fall I'll be there - floor" on the pavement and a wealth of other messages all over the walls and fence. Continuing through Friday Market Square with its socialist workers buildings, then the trendy Patershol district, I turned back along the canals to Old Fish Market Square (third picture below), joining with locals (and a few other tourists) to enjoy the food, beer and Belgian waffles served up by stores lining the square. After my snack in the square, I headed back to the tram stop, crossing the bridge at the Castle of the Counts (fourth picture below). Returning to Brussels in the early evening, I got off at central station, walked a few blocks north and enjoyed my last dinner in Brussels at 7 Nations Pub on Rue des Bouchers - Brussels' "restaurant row". All-in-all, a very worthwhile second choice "sanity vacation", given my shoulder injury - South Africa will just have to wait.

 

Update 9/15 - I made it! Click through to my South Africa and Dubai pages.

 

Ghent city hall & Belfry

Ghent Graffitistraat

Old Fish Market Square

Castle of the Counts

Home Up Austria & Czech Rep. 5/01 Belgium 12/01 Benelux 5/12 Berlin & London 12/98 Central Europe by rail 8/10 Cologne & The Rhine 9/02 Düsseldorf & Kempen 3/12 Greece 11/06 Greece 1/03 Ireland 3/01 Frankfurt 12/02 Italy 4/00 Italy & Zurich 8/09 Netherlands 12/00 Paris 9/95 40th Birthday Paris & Burgundy 2/12 Poland 10/13 Scotland 8/02 Spain 8/03

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