Europe offers a wide variety of sights, sounds and cultures. As an American traveling in Europe, it is mind-boggling when you realize the longevity and age of the buildings and treasures. It is a wonderful trip through history. This summer, we took advantage of a work trip Barry had in Europe to explore. Hear more about our time in Germany in this blog post; but today, we share our time in Belgium, France and Austria.

Sunset at Brussels, Belgium
Brussels sunset from over the Mont des Artes garden

Belgium is a small country with a lot of history and character. Brussels is a fairly typical large governmental city as the official capital of the EU. However among its official sites and very large buildings, it has retained its wonderful history and an immensely quaint town center. The Grand-Place is a wonderous showcase of medieval architecture and grandeur. While many of the buildings date back to the 15th century buildings, it is still very lively with restaurants serving Belgian beer, a Starbucks serving java, and visitors from all over the world. The square seems almost a microcosm of the country – medieval yet also very vibrant and modern.

Town Hall in Grand-Place on the left. We were thrilled that Jason joined us for a week on his way to Slovenia. Here we are in Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert. The bikes made an interesting sculpture over Mont Des Arts garden.

Not far from Brussels, Bruges is one of my favorite cities to visit and a wonderful place to spend a long weekend. A very walkable and compact city, you can see windmills, visit centuries old churches, and enjoy their speciality (and one of my favorites) mussels and frites. This city built around its canals is very full in the day, but the day crowds leave in the evening so it is a lovely place to stroll and enjoy the cafes.

One of the most photographed corners of Bruges along the canals
One of the most photographed corners of Bruges

The town center has two main squares connected by a lovely street filled with shops selling souvenirs, chocolates, and other treats. The two squares house the ancient city hall, still used for official business and weddings as well the Basilica of Holy Blood, where the venerated relic the Holy Blood of Jesus, was brought to the bishop by the Count of Flanders after his Crusade in 1150. The Basilica stands next to the castle formerly for the Count but now the City Hall where business and weddings still carry on.

Top and right – the Gothic Hall at the medieval City Hall, one of the oldest in the country tells the story in pictures around the room.

Of course, the canals of Bruges are a fantastic way to explore the city and learn more about these ancient buildings.

The canals of Bruges

Jason and I visited Ghent which is similar to Bruges, but with more university students and less tourists. Its canals seem to have more function besides offering tours as a way to get goods around the city or as floating cocktail parties on private boats. The Cathedral of St. Bavo, built in 13th century, towers over the main square while a castle dating back to 1180 rises above an ancient square that once hosted the marketplace and the burnings of those caught in the Inquisition. The castle is a well-preserved view of medieval life and admission includes a humorous audio to tour you around. Make sure to look for the royal toilet which hangs over the canal.

Barry had an appointment in England, but we decided to head to Nice where we were all three meeting to go to the third place game of the Women’s’ World Cup Futbol 2019. We cheered on Sweden as they beat England in a great game. Of course, no visit to Nice is complete without seeing the rocky beaches, eating gelato and enjoying the small side streets.

In Paris, Jason decided we should visit the Louvre. This enormous castle houses so many treasures that you are advised to plan the trip and see only a small number of exhibits. While we planned a shorter trip focused on a few key pieces, we had a quick-paced day enjoying many more treasures. It is amazing what you will find when you get lost and realize all the halls and stairs don’t connect.

Two of the more famous ladies of the Louvre – little Mona Lisa who is swamped with admirers and Venus de Milo. The left bottom is part of the indoor sculpture garden.

An accidental find while lost – the Code of Hammurabi. Jason and I trying to decipher it. Also, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Of course, Paris is a city for walking as something is on every corner and for enjoying great food. It is also a city of magic as we discovered on a street corner waiting for a traffic light when we looked behind us to find two acquaintances from our home town. Small world indeed!

Notre Dame's restoration
The famous Lady undergoing restoration after the fire.

My favorite part of many cities, as you know if you follow us, are the bookstores. Paris is home to the famous Shakespeare & Co., which was just down the quay from our apartment. This bookstore once housed writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and still has a beautiful upstairs area where writers and readers collect to talk about books. Next door, they added a lovely coffee shop which I had a chance to enjoy several times on our visit.

While we had no business taking us to Austria, Barry wanted to take a side trip to photograph Hallstatt, a lovely lakeside town in Austria. This was a welcome rest at the end of our month-long trip as it allowed us to relax and just enjoy the cooler temperatures and pleasant small village where salt was the main product. Barry enjoyed the chance to be creative and capture the amazing title photo.

A beautiful view from the hill above Hallstatt

The Bone House in the Catholic Church cemetery houses the skulls of generations of families. Due to the limited space for graves, the tradition was to bury over others and save the skulls which were decorated by family members.

Salzburg was our last city before heading home and we only had a couple days there. Luckily it is easy to get around and a good walk enables you to see most of the key sites. A favorite site, Mirabell Palace, offered me a chance to share a favorite scene from Sound of Music with Barry as we Do Re Me’d our way around the garden.

Later that evening, we paid tribute to the city’s favorite son, Mozart by attending a quartet concerto in the Marble Hall, a room Mozart and his sister once played. A beautiful marble staircase led to the gold-filled room located inside the palace, truly a room fit for royalty though actually once used by the King’s mistress.

Madonna statue at the Domplatz outside the Salzburg Cathedral
The Domplatz outside the Salzburg Cathedral features a statue of Mary that lines up perfectly with the crown over the church entrance.

We enjoyed our European adventure and look forward to returning. While sometimes work gets in the way of life, sometimes work provides great opportunities. This was definitely the latter!

debracbenton Europe, Travel

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