Europe Trip 2023

September 2023
50 years ago I went on my first trip to Europe. On that trip I travelled solo, with a backpack, stayed in youth hostels and lived on $5/day! This time there’s two of us, carrying suitcases, staying in hotels and lucky if we can survive on $250/day! Read more
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  • 12.6kkilometers
  • Day 2

    And the Journey Has Begun

    September 2, 2023 in Belgium ⋅ ☁️ 23 °C

    We are now in Bruges, Belgium. It was a long journey yesterday. The trip started at 2 pm, picking up Laura from work and then driving to Victory to pickup Emma and drive to the airport. 22 hours later, after one long and two short flights, two short bus rides, two train trips and a whole bunch of walking we arrived at our hotel at 9 pm local time. It all went very smoothly with only minor delays in the flight to Vancouver and train to Bruges.
    After I had a nice hot shower and Laura relaxed, we then went downstairs where I had a big Belgium beer and Laura had a special fruit juice blend in the hotel bar. We finished the day with a walk to a small snack bar not far from the hotel for some fries and a frikandel.
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  • Day 3

    Sweet Sweet Bruges

    September 3, 2023 in Belgium ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    Today started with an all you can eat breakfast I thought was included in the price of our room. While just starting to feast on the huge selection of food and drink offerings I was asked my room number. After looking it up, I told was that we hadn’t paid for the optional breakfast. No way was I going to back out now. Too hungry! I didn’t even ask the price. When Laura came down soon after I told her what had happened. She also saw what was being offered and decided to go for it anyways as well. We indulged as much as we could in the litany of choices. The pleasure didn’t come cheap. But, sometimes in life that just doesn’t matter.

    We spent the rest of the morning touring the town on foot using a free app that has a variety of walking routes featuring the city’s highlights. We chose one that is about 5 km long and guides you to the city’s most impressive historical buildings and features, many dating back as much as eight centuries! The stops of interest all included a short written description to give you insightful information.

    Around noon we headed back to our hotel, grabbing some food at a grocery enroute to make ourselves a lunch. Laura searched out a bike rental place nearby and, after our lunch break, we walked there to see if they had a bike for each of us to use. They did, and it only cost us about $30 for both bikes. And we could keep them until closing at 7 pm.

    With the bikes we headed to Damme, about 6 km away. We followed along a beautiful, flat, paved and shaded path to get there. Once there we parked the bikes and walked around to see this historic little town. Before heading back on our bikes we found a table for two at an outdoor cafe and relaxed and had a cold beverage while watching the world go by.

    Near our hotel is a Chinese restaurant with a menu posted outside. Already yesterday I had noticed that they serve my favourite Indonesian bami and nasi dishes. Laura was interested so we went there for dinner. We both ordered Nasi Goreng with Chicken. The food was good but very pricey, and we didn’t like that we had to pay for water. Not sure if that is typical for all Belgium restaurants.

    Brugge is a beautiful place to be. Unless you’re diabetic! The number of shops selling delectable sweets is incredible! Waffles, macaroons, nougat … chocolate, ice cream. I resisted all the temptations except for the beautiful macaroons being sold in a stand at a market. My mom use to bake them and they were always one my favourites! So, I had to buy a couple. I did well though because I would have got a much better deal by buying five!
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  • Day 4

    Bruges to Bunnik

    September 4, 2023 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☁️ 24 °C

    When we arrived in Bruges, it was at the end of a very long journey. We were tired and really looking forward to reaching our hotel. But we still had to get there from the train station. It was “only” a kilometre along a flat route so we thought no big deal, we’ll walk. We didn’t realize, however, that the tiny wheels on our suitcases don’t work well on rough cobblestones. Well, Bruges is all cobblestones!

    So, last night we scouted out a better route from the hotel to the train station. It was a bit longer, but allowed us to avoid the really rough cobblestone sections where we had to carry our suitcases. We got to the station nice and early and found a little coffee bar where we had our morning coffee followed by bread and buns for breakfast.

    The train trip to Bunnik went quite smoothly and included the amazing, high speed Thalys train on the section from Antwerp to Rotterdam. Once in Utrecht we found a small grocer in the train station where we picked up a yoghurt granola fruit bowl, smoothie and a pack of cheese for lunch.

    It was a twenty minute bus ride and then a ten minute walk from the train station to the StayOK hotel where will be staying for the next four nights. After a few minutes to rest and relax, we went for a short walk in the woods near the hotel and then into the little town of Bunnik to buy dinner items at the AH grocer. We found an excellent packaged falafel salad big enough for the two of us. I made the mistake of buying a Karne Melk to go with it. Took one sip and into the garbage it went! I thought it was a low fat milk, but it tasted like a sour milk.

    We will be doing more shopping for meals because the cost of eating out is ridiculous! Basically, what we pay for a meal in dollars at home, we pay in Euros here. Which means that it is costing us 50% more. So, for example, at our hotel, they have fish and chips in the restaurant for 17 euros. That translates to over $25! We’ll not forgo meals in restaurants entirely, but we’re quite happy to make them ourselves as well when the opportunity presents itself.
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  • Day 5

    Castles and Mansions Bike Tour

    September 5, 2023 in the Netherlands ⋅ 🌙 24 °C

    After an all-you-can-eat breakfast at our Bunnik hotel, we rented bikes today. The hotel recommended The Castles and Mansions route. We thought it was a good one so I downloaded an app linked to the route, packed a lunch and away we went! It was supposed to be a 60 km circular route beginning and ending back at our hotel.

    We cycled the 80 km route with our heavy heavy cruiser bikes, boasting saddles wide enough for an elephants behind and a frame strong enough to support one, in about seven hours. We did not race the course, snapping photos along the way and making pit stops for beverages and to eat our lunch. With the extra 20 km of unplanned side trips it took us about 7 hrs. It was a very enjoyable ride!

    We got home in time to relax, shower and eat a packaged dinner we had picked up at the AH in Bunnik on our bike tour. We each had a beverage after dinner and played some cards at a table in the outdoor eating area of our hotel and then retired to our room feeling a bit sore after the days ride.
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  • Day 6

    A Day in Dordrecht

    September 6, 2023 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    This morning we picked up our rental car in Utrecht. As we were about to leave I noticed that I couldn’t get my phone to map the route to Dordrecht where we going to spend the day with family. I asked the fellow at Hertz who was showing me the car for instructions. He gave me a few to get me on the route, but failed to tell me about the navigation system built into the car. Soon we were lost. I discovered that the car had a functional mapping system, but it was in Dutch. Fortunately, I was able to bumble my way to the settings and change it to English. We were on our way! Sort of. The system seems to have chosen for us the most scenic route to Dordrecht, not the fastest. However, we arrived soon enough that we were still able to do all that Jessica and Ruben had planned for us. And, that was a lot!

    On arrival, we were greeted by Jessica, Ruben, Peter and Atie. Jessica soon picked up their son from school and after a bit of socializing at the house we walked into town and went for lunch at a very nice restaurant. It offers a variety of meals made using mostly ingredients from their own garden just outside the restaurant. After the lunch meal, we then walked through that garden and over to one of the canals in the centre of town where we went on a narrated boat cruise along the main waterways. Dordrecht is a very old town and has a long and rich history as a significant port.

    After the boat tour we walked over to one of the only remaining windmills in the area. It still functions, and volunteers use it to grind various grains into flour. A mixer is used to combine the grains which are then sold in the store inside the base of the windmill. I was able to ascend several steep staircases to view the gears and ingenious mechanics that are used to convert wind into the mechanical energy used to turn the large grinding stones. We were able to get a nice view of the city from the deck located on the outside of the windmill, just below the sails.

    After visiting the windmill, we walked back to Jessica’s house where Ruben was busy preparing a bbq dinner for us. Laura and her fiancée Martijn had arrived to join us for dinner. Ruben is a very good cook and we were served roast with grilled vegetables and shrimp. Following dinner we had a beverage and an ice cream and just sat around in the back patio talking.

    Ruben helped me download the Google road map for most of the Netherlands onto my phone and then connect my phone to the rental car’s screen using Apple AirPlay. It was amazing. Made it home in half the time it took to get to Dordrecht!
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  • Day 7

    Maastrich and Scheveningen

    September 7, 2023 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    First stop today was in Rotterdam. I wanted to take Laura to see Duivenvoordestraat where I was born. I was surprised to see that the entire block of apartments is gutted with no one living there. I suppose the plan is to do a restoration. We did a short walk in the area where my grandmother used to walk to do her shopping and so on.

    From there we drove to Massluis, where my cousin Ton and Cor are living. I have never been there to see their apartment. They recently did a renovation, and it is very nice. Ton had asked what we would like to do and I had suggested that we could have lunch in a local restaurant with some Dutch food on the menu. Instead, Ton made us a delicious pea soup and we ate lunch there.

    Following lunch we went on a long walk throughout the town to see the various points of interest. We also stopped at a waterfront restaurant where we had a cold beverage. Back at the apartment Ton served us a delicious Dutch baked good while we sat on his back rooftop patio.

    When we left Massluis we drove to Scheveningen, which is an Oceanside community near den Hague with a huge sandy beach, which is very popular among the Dutch and other Europeans. It has numerous restaurants on the beach, as well as a large casino. We walked quite a distance along the beach and then back to where we had parked the car.

    To end the day we drove to Amersfoort, which is a very picturesque Dutch town. I had hoped to arrive before dark so that Laura could see the town and the plan was also to find a place to grab some dinner. Unfortunately, we arrived too late and it was dark. However, I did find a place that served Bami. So, that was our dinner!
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  • Day 8

    Bunnik to Cologne

    September 8, 2023 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    After one last all you can eat breakfast we drove our rental car into Utrecht to catch a train to Cologne in Germany. To save lugging our luggage around I dropped Laura off near the train station and continued on with the car to the drop off location.

    Unfortunately, the rental company had just that day changed their drop off location from where I had picked up the car originally. They did provide directions, but they were not very clear and when I arrived at the destination, the rental office was nowhere to be found. It took a number of inquiries and a phone call to finally figure out that the office was a distance away from where the car was to be parked.

    Once I had finished with the rental company, I walked back to where I had dropped Laura off, and together we went to the train station and boarded our train in the direction of Cologne. We had a few transfers to make along the way, and eventually we arrived in the early afternoon.

    We had a couple of hours before Laura’s friend, Klaus would come and pick us up so we found a locker in which to store our luggage and then proceeded to do a short walking tour. We started by going inside the huge Cologne cathedral. And following that we walked towards the river, and followed along a short promenade.

    Klaus arrived in his Volvo and drove us out to his house in the outskirts of Cologne. We relaxed for a while and then he made us a delicious pasta dinner. After dinner we went for a walk through the area in which he lives and went to a pub for a drink before heading home again.
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  • Day 9

    Bike Tour of Cologne

    September 9, 2023 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    We woke this morning to the smell of bacon frying. Klaus was busy making us an egg with fried onions, tomatoes and bacon. After breakfast we put on our biking shorts and headed out to tour the area on bikes Klaus had borrowed for us. The route Klaus had planned took us through a wooded area near his home on the outskirts of Cologne down to the shores of the Rhine River. From there we followed a bike path that hugged the shoreline and took us many kilometres to a point where we were able to take a small ferry across the river and continue cycling along the city side of the river. We took a break for a drink at a restaurant overlooking the river.

    Once in the city we took a bridge back across the Rhine that had a railing absolutely covered with thousands of locks! We now followed along a section of bike path directly across from the city centre where we got a great view of the cityscape including the Cologne Cathedral. Continuing along this side of the river we eventually arrived back at the point where we had originally arrived at the river. We took a short rest break and then rode to an outdoor pub near Klaus’s house where we had beers and dinner. I was rather hungry because all we had had to eat on the 60 km journey was a banana and a few pretzels!
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  • Day 10

    Cologne to Basel, Switzerland

    September 10, 2023 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Today is another travel day. The plan was to break the trip into two legs with the first being a scenic route along the Rhine River from Koblenz to Mainz. Unfortunately, the German rail system seems to be experiencing problems and many trains are being delayed or cancelled. Such was the case this morning. So, we decided to forgo the scenic leg of the trip and go for the direct option: a high speed train direct from Cologne to Basel.

    On arrival in Basel, we lugged our luggage about 2 km from the train station to our fabulous Hotel Spalentor. We were given a free upgrade for reasons unknown and have a spacious, luxurious room for the next two nights. It is a few steps away from one of the three remaining, original city gates that used to protect the city of Basel over 400 years ago (see photos).

    Following a shower and brief rest, we headed out on foot to find a restaurant for dinner. Wow, talk about pricey! We settled on a small cafe with falafels in a pita wrap for Laura and I had a chicken donair. It was delicious. Along with a soda each, it cost us $50! And that was a deal compared to some other restaurants we checked out. Tomorrow we’ll be looking for a grocer.

    We ended the day with a circular tour down to the Rhine, over the bridge, along the river and back via a different bridge and walk along the other side. Lots of beautiful old buildings and narrow, cobble stone streets to explore still tomorrow. Also, we were able to watch countless people bobbing along in the water holding on to their Wicklelfisch bags. These brightly colored swimming bags hold your clothes and valuables dry, and were invented right here in Basel.
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  • Day 11

    Day in Basel, Switzerland

    September 11, 2023 in Switzerland ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Today, in Basel, we walked around the old city using an app with a feature where it would bring up an audio recording whenever you walked past a significant sight on the walking route. Following that we spent the afternoon at the Basel Zoo. It’s not located far from our hotel and we were given a free transit pass by our hotel that we can use for all public transit, including to the airport tomorrow. The Basel Zoo has a very impressive collection of animals in well designed enclosures. We saw all kinds of wildlife including rhinos, a lion, a silverback gorilla, hippos, giraffes, zebras … monkeys, chimps, orangutans.

    Not going out for dinner today. Found a good little grocer near the hotel and bought salads. Also bought a beer for later tonight in our comfy hotel room! We did go for an added little walk to see the city Rathaus after we finished our dinners. Really enjoyed exploring the Old City of Basel.
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