Published: October 25th 2007October 23rd 2007 Two hours regular
An iron atom magnified 165 BILLION times
= 120 km/h) driving in a southerly direction moved us from Amsterdam, cross an invisible border and into Belgium
. We were on a three-day road trip with Mama Marcia and Ton and Brussels was within our sights. But Ton insisted that Arthur, an old friend, was the ideal person to demo the city to us. Arthur was easy to like. He was a smart older man with an awefully funny dry sense of humor. His sharp, inquisitive eyes surveyed us thru big spectacles. Arthur was driving now and he pulled up in front of 'The Atom' - an interesting building built for the 1958 World Expo. Now revamped into exhibition halls, museums and restaurants, the sci-fi structure is a replica of an iron atom magnified 165 billion times
. Into Brussels proper we went.
Known for its chocolate, waffles and beer (especially the beer brewed by the monks), Brussels was paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth. We had to physically restrain Mama Marcia from releasing her inner shop-a-holic
all the while struggling to keep up with Arthur. Every city need an icon; a hero of sorts. And just like Gotham City has Batman, America has
Paris Hilton and Smallville has Superman, Belgium has 'Manneken Pis'
. The little urchin is known worldwide although non-Europeans may not know his origins. The doll-faced youngster strikes a pose permanently 'pee-ing'
. On special holidays the city dresses him up and, in appreciation, he pees wine or beer. Thousands of tourists stream thru the little commercialized street each year for a peek. So revered is Manneken Pis that he is mounted on a pedestal with a gawdy shrine of sorts and watched over by half-a-dozen security cameras. It was all a bit overdone for such a naughty, tiny twerp but don't let Belgians hear you say that. They simply love Manneken Pis. Everywhere was crass commercialization: Manneken Pis Fries, Manneken Pis Ice-cream; Manneken Pis this; Manneken Pis that. We bolted before the huge group of camera-wielding Chinese tourists.
The Grote Markt (Big Market) was a picturesque square surrounded by masterpieces of buildings centuries old. There was this one building that was particularly interesting. A well-trained eye could spot a striking but, paradoxically, complimenting contrast in its architecture. One half of the building was Gothic styled with its trademark crosses and gargoyles while the other was built in Renaissance style which
Luxembourg and Belgium
played up curves. Legend has it that when the architect spotted the 'mistake'
in construction, he leapt from the spire to his death. But even here, surrounded by quite possibly the most impressive array of structures in any single place in Europe, Manneken Pis made his presence felt. From the aweful stench we could tell that the little scallywag had spent considerable time here. We finished up the tour by visiting the Cathedral to St. Michael and St. Gudula which had awesome acoustics and then strolling back to the car. Dinner was a noisy, happy affair by Anne, Marc and Family and it was finished up with samplings of stinky French and Belgian cheese
Our three-star accommodation, sponsored by Mama Marcia and Ton (since we couldn't afford anything that grand) turned out to be over the highway. But the beds were super comfortable and soon the 'zoom zoom zoom' of passing cars faded into bliss.
From our hotel in Arlon, Belgium it was only a few minutes before we sped in Luxembourg via the quiet Belgian village of Martelange. Ton stocked up on some fine wines and a bottle of Guyana's El Dorado, we ate and hussled into
the city. Clean, green and organized, Luxembourg city appealed to us. Plus the city-wide wi-fi 'Hot City' setup added the cherry on top. The city's fortress walls and immaculate gardens provided leisurely strolls and picture-perfect moments. From the city we drove thru numerous residential neighbourhoods and back alleys before coming to Diekirch. Just a huge, walk-thru shopping mall, Diekirch was chocked-full of specialty shops, restaurants and people walking dogs. Shanna, then and there, realised how much she missed Panic and she took to photographing each and every dog much to Vibert's chagrin.
Being border hungry and just to push the envelope and enhance the experience, we drove into Germany. The roadside speed-limit indicators disappeared altogether even in this rural part of 'Deutschland'. This was farm country. Narrow backroads meandered thru massive fields of green and small villages before climbing up and into a dark, forested area. We only
got lost twice before reaching Holsthum - a tumbleweed kind of place. Food was scarce in Holsthum but, from the round, red faces staring at us, we could tell that there was no shortage of beer. No food!!!
That promptly ended our flirting with Germany and we drove back over the
border to Vianden in Luxembourg. One restaurant seemed to be the drawing card and we found out why after packing away unhealthy portions of delectables. Waddling thru the streets we caught the tail-end of the town's medieval celebrations around a nearby castle before piling into the car and roaring off in the direction of our 3-star hotel over the national highway in Belgium.
"Tot Ziens Amsterdam" Our time was up
. One wonderful month had vanished leaving only lasting memories and a bitter-sweet taste for two world travellers. We had sampled a fine selection of Holland and a few neighbouring countries all from contrast-filled Amsterdam.
And you can say that Amsterdam is wet, cold, smoke-filled and lewd and you'd be right. Say what you want as long as you also say that Amsterdam is vibrant, fluid, historic, unique and captivating. We'd like it better if it weren't as wet, cold, smoke-filled and lewd but anything less and it simply wouldn't be Amsterdam
Mama Marcia and Antonio dropped us off at Schipol and yet again the "I-want-to-go/I-don't-want-to-go" feelings surfaced and we knew that we weren't good with 'goodbyes'.
BMI Baby soared above the gray morning clouds pointing its
nose towards Cardiff, Wales. Immediately, we started plotting and scheming on how to 'live up' this second crack at Wales. We owed no less to ourselves and to 462 fellow world travellers.
Mama Marcia and Antonio. We felt and appreciate the love.
Jenny and John
JP of "they callin' me" fame
Anne, Marc and Family
Arthur and Family
There are more photos below