Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Day 8: The End of the Short Road Trip

Note: The pictures are small to help with the load time of this page, but just click on them to enlarge them to their high resolution glory. Oh, and the normal tech news commentary will return after my vacation.

We are back in Stuttgart at last! I'm anxious to show everyone the amazing things I've been seeing out here so I thought I'd real quickly try to post some highlights from the past 5 days, the first of two road trips we have during our vacation (the second one will be almost twice as long and cap off the vacation). We'll be doing some day trips over this weekend, and then we'll head to Rome on Monday (I believe we're doing Rome, Florence, Paris, and Versailles in 10 days).

We drove on Saturday, as I had said in my last post, to Brussels (Bruxelles), Belgium. What is the first thing that any sane person does when they get to Belgium? Get a genuine Belgian waffle. We opted out of the ones with crazy toppings on them for the standard, chocolate doused ones. It was definitely the best waffle ever:

Anyway, driving through Brussels is a real pain in the ass and much of the city seemed kind of slum-ish to me. However, the market square and the surrounding area was really cool and we happened to be there during the Brussels Jazz Festival so we were treated to good music while walking around and trying Belgium's famous chocolate and chips (French fries), as well. We also saw their famous lace and the peeing statue (I didn't upload that picture because it's not that impressive). At night, the buildings in the town square were all lit up:

The next day, we headed for Ghent (also in Belgium) after our "continental" breakfast at the hotel. 3 star hotels are not always what you expect them to be, this one was definitely not that great and they played very strange music that sounded like it came from the 70s (and probably did) during breakfast. Anyhow, Ghent was a really cool place. At the center of town were some towering churches that overlooked a really cute canal:

We sat in for the end of mass at St. Bavo's Cathedral and got to meet the Bishop of Ghent! He spoke English (the native language here was Dutch, though it was French in Brussels) and remarked that we must be Mexicans since we said we were from Texas (he said this with a chuckle, but not sure if he was kidding? I do look Mexican, as does dad). What was really awesome about this Cathedral was that it housed the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which is a truly awe-inspiring piece of art. Definitely worth seeing if you ever go to Belgium.

The next stop was Brugge (also in Belgium), but we stopped at a coastal city called Ostend (Oostende) on the way and had a nice stroll along the beach there:

People there strangely ate raw, dried fish as a snack. I think there was a boat race going on there that weekend, as well. After our short jaunt we proceeded to Brugge, which was a very charming little city. At first glance, the buildings were just incredible in the Markt (their main square):

It also had the narrow streets characteristic of these places in Belgium that were so fascinating to us:

Oh, and when strolling through these streets, where the shops were closed, my mom was wildly surprised by this sight (I wonder why):

We made it back to our "hotel" in Brussels that night and drove off to Waterloo the next day, which wasn't too far off. This is, indeed, the famous Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated for the last time. I think we all learned more about the battle than we ever cared to know, but all the artifacts we saw (like actual sabres and skulls and stuff) was really pretty neat. We climbed the top of Lion's Mound, a memorial to lives lost in the battle established where the Prince of Orange was wounded:

From there, you could see the battlefield, which has been preserved quite well:

I took a panoramic of it, but I can't stitch them together until I return to Houston. Anyhow, after taking in like 4 museums, a couple of short films, a 360 degree panoramic painting of the battlefield (3rd largest painting in the world), and walking up over 200 steps to the top of Lion's Mound, we proceeded to Koln (Cologne), Germany. This was more of a modern city than most places we had been to, but it was still pretty awesome and its skyline was dominated by the Dom (Cathedral):

That's just the night shot though, take a look at it in the daylight:

This is probably the largest church we've seen thus far (it takes several pictures to show all the sides of it, and the attention to detail was truly phenomenal), but being Romanesque in its style it wasn't quite as grand on the inside as on the outside as opposed to the other churches we had seen. It was mostly just ornate stained glass on the inside (though we saw this in several churches):

What was also incredible was that this cathedral's relic was a chest containing the bones of the Magi (the three wise men)! It was gold and beautiful on the outside, and obviously we couldn't see the inside but to be so close to something like that just sends chills up your spine:

After walking around a bit more (and arguing with my mom about having to pay to use the restrooms in Europe), we then drove through a couple of small towns and ended up stopping for dinner in Trier (in Germany). This ended up being a hidden jewel though as you can likely tell from this shot:

They had a really unique-looking church also (it looks like a castle, I think) called Trier Cathedral, which was built in a Gothic style (from reading a nearby placard) and was protected by its own walls and gate!

As if the outside wasn't interesting enough, check out what we saw when we snuck inside:

Unfortunately, they were closing and kicked us out, but I was glad that I managed to sneak in that picture! We managed to head to Wiesbaden afterwards to stay at a hotel there the night and then this morning we headed to Bingen to catch a boat that would take us down the Rhine River all the way to St. Goar. This was a common sight on the way:

The scenery was gorgeous, though the weather was hot, and featured many castles, quaint towns, churches, and vineyards. One of the stops that the boat we were on clearly took after Kramer from Seinfeld:

I took about 200 pictures so obviously there's a lot I'm leaving out (especially pictures of churches, inside and out, since the center of each town/city is a giant church), but it's really hard in any case to capture the beauty of these places. It's something you really have to see to believe and appreciate. It's been a fun, though exhausting, few days and I have no idea what the plan is for tomorrow yet. I'll definitely try to post again before Monday since then I'll be out of Internet access for 10 days. Bon soir!


k2d_returns said...

Hi Elton,

This is Jamie from, I was taking a look at your pictures (and I have to say yours turned out better than mine), I was in and around Praha, Belgium, Switzerland...etc a few months ago and must have caught the rainy season. It looks like you're having a wonderful time. Europe is definitely not like the states at all and it's quite refreshing to just get out there and see what's going on around the globe. Bring back some Belgium truffles!

Elton said...

Glad you enjoyed them! Thanks for stopping by!

It's always tricky getting the right shot with a Digital ELPH, so I think they came out pretty good overall. The only problem is that now it's starting to get quite hot over here! I heard that May/June is the best time of year to visit these places though, so that was part of why we went at this time.