So, the car ride out of Lucerne was pretty much full-on Annie trying to coerce Justin into stopping in Milan..
“Honey, I’ve never been to Milan.. Love, we’re driving right through.. I love Italy what if we never come back?!”
He’d break about 45 minutes outside of the city and thought he could prove his wife wrong in that there wasn’t anything to see. Ha. While not as lovely as Florence, Milan was still able to add to her love affair with Italia. So we park the car in the first lot that we find in the (what we assumed was) center of town and begin our trek around the city to see the sights in pit-stop number two on our way to Verona. We spot a tower and figure, ‘hey, that must be something important.’ Ends up that we’re walking next to the beautiful Sempione Park on our way up to the 15th century Sforza Castle, one of the largest citadels in Europe. Psh. J and his ‘nothing to see’. A of course made friends with the first musical street performer we come across..
Wandering through the castle’s renaissance courtyard, we find one of the entrances with a long boulevard on the opposite side. The trek continues down the street and leads us to the Piazza del Duomo, where Annie with all of her inner strength fights the urge to say, ‘see, told ya.’ But she doesn’t need to, he knows, he knows. It was a good pit-stop, the square is dominated by the Milan Cathedral, the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the most important example of Gothic architecture in the country. This guy that takes six centuries to build is just as grand on the inside, but unfortunately the cathedral ushers don’t let A in since she’s in shorts.. Women in shorts are forbidden, men in shorts are fine.. What year is this?
After J makes a quick run through the inside our eyes turn to the left of the cathedral where we find a giant glass covered walkway – the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II is the worlds oldest shopping mall – but we were hard pressed to notice the shops while looking up at the ceiling the entire way through.
The little trolley car at the stop on the other side reminded us of our days back on McKinney Avenue in Dallas. We smile, and think, ‘yeah, we’d much rather look at them in Milan’ while we make our way back to our chariot. Next stop, Verona. Annie promises her husband no more pit-stops on the way.
Via our friend Doris we’ve found out about this awesome map of Brussels made by Use-It. It’s a free little guidebook of sorts made up by young locals to point out some of their favorite spots in the city, keeping you in the cool, not too touristy parts. We’ve been whipping out our Brussels one every once in a while to get some ideas on new places to try out or areas to stroll through, so we were excited to find out that they’re a Europe-wide sort of thing. In Belgium they’ve got all the big cities – Antwerp, Bruges, Gent and Leuven – but also a name we hadn’t seen come up all too often: Mechelen. So one slow Sunday we figured we’d give it a go and visit this place that finds itself about halfway between Brussels and Antwerp.
Now that we’ve built up this map you’re probably assuming that we’re checking off all the hot Mechelen spots. Well, no. Who knows what happened (ok, it was because Doris hand delivered the Brussels one and the tourist office doesn’t find itself in our living room) but we ended up in the town mapless. Comme d’habitude. Our first stop was St. Rombold’s Cathedral, mainly because we could spot the tower from where we parked and figured it’d be in the center of town.. And if that tower looks a little unfinished to you, it’s because it is. They stopped when the town ran out of money way back in the 16th century and it’s stayed a flat-top ever since. Inside we found a corner full of gossiping statues, presumably talking about whoever went broke.
Cleanest. Belgian. Town. Stuff was almost shiny, and the city had flowers almost anywhere they could fit them. It did have a little emptiness to it though – the place felt like it was made for way, way more people. But it was a Sunday, sunny, and holiday season so it’s not too far fetched to think that the residents had vacated their pristine little town for the beaches. The extra space gave Annie some time to practice her cartwheels. Or maybe all the locals are at the spots we should have known about if we had our Use-It map..
Do you ever get to 2pm on Saturday and you’re just like, ‘we gotta get outta here’? It happens to us a lot..we’ve just gotta explore, stat. Especially with this crazy Belgian climate. We wake up in the morning, look at the map and do a very scientific-like calculation of driving time x amount of sun x temperature. Similar to The Day Tripping Bowl of Destiny, but less fancy. That’s how we ended up in Tournai last Saturday. Well, we showed up and were still lacking a bit on the sun, and it was still a little on the chilly side so our walking was limited to the area to just around the cathedral. That was fine because we still got to cross something off of our UNESCO list, but the rest of this little town we’re going to need to save for a sunnier, warmer day..but, really. these photos are some of my faves, so I wanted you to have a peek..
look who we found in Austria (I didn’t dress him up like that)
After a fun and educational (I rarely put those two together before becoming European) jaunt around Munich, we took a two hour drive southeast to Salzburg, Austria. And then fell in love. We dropped off our bags at this ADORE-able hotel, said ‘hi!’ to a familiar looking face, and strolled across the river to downtown. It was Christmas Eve, so everything was closed but all of the lights were lit so we navigated well.
Behind the downtown area, there was a hill with a castle-type thing at the top (we still have yet to learn what exactly it is). Backstory: I packed workout gear just in case the hotel(s) had a gym (just go with it, it makes me feel better). Climbing up the hill: J was the adventurer who wanted to see if we could get to the top and I was the one complaining about how steep it was when he reminded me about who brought the gym clothes. ‘but at the gym, there’s music to pump me up!’ So, up we climbed, him singing something he made up. Continue reading
So, we have this book. It was a wedding gift from Mr. and Mrs. Smith. A travel book for the Benelux region (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and our plan is to highlight everything we mark off and keep notes in it, so that it’s completely filled and then when we head back to the states, we can give it back to them along with a book from another area of the world and say ‘ tag. you’re it.’ Wouldn’t that be fun?!
Totally. So, Sunday we opened said book to a random page. Ypres, Belgium. Never heard of the town in our lives. Let’s go!
Driving up, it felt like any ole country suburb. Then we got to the gates. A brick wall lining the city. Like back in the day, with a moat and everything. Once you entered the city, the entire town had the same medieval feel.. complete with ponies (ok, they’re rides for the Christmas market, but still).
Ypres is known for its horrendous battles, the worst being WWI. Every last bit of the city was torn to shreds. They rebuilt it from the original plans, so its a fairly new old town (props to the travel book for the info). There are war monuments and cemeteries on many corners, the biggest being the Menin Gate that that the British built in the city.
And this just clicked in our heads, the British gave the rose window at St. Martin’s Cathedral as a gift too.. There’s some sort of love affair going on with Britain and Ypres.
The center of the town and skyline are dominated by Lakenhalle – or the Cloth Hall, one of the largest commercial buildings from the middle ages. The complex includes a 70m belfry that is one of the 56 inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was built to keep watch for threats to the town. Oh, and was tall enough to throw cats from. Really. The thing was used to throw cats from the top, and now they celebrate the tradition every three years (now using stuffed animals).. makes sense.
We’re crossing things off Mr. and Mrs. Smith.. Get ready!
I’m still in Paris mode because, let’s be honest, we never should have left. I’m totally planning our retirement there, unless of course, we stumble across a city just as cool but warmer and drier.
Our part of Europe is quite rainy, so a sunny day is always welcomed with way more appreciation that I’m used to. I was confused why our Croatian friends made a big deal about how to find the sun in Belgium, but then all too quickly found out what they meant. So, we were thankful when the clouds held off long enough for us to walk along the river banks (scoping out our retirement island).
I’d say it’s a must-do when you’re here. Take a break from checking off the sights on your list and just stroll near the water….much more romantic. The Seine intersects the fast-paced city and the two remaining natural islands. One of the islands holds the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s quite stunning to look up and see the Cathedral at a bend or two. We stopped to watch one of the locks on the canal – did you know there are NINE locks on the Seine?! That’s alotta locks. Thanks engineers!
Firstly, I have a (large) touch of claustrophobia. I’ve been known to jump out of elevators as the doors are closing because there’s too many people. I about freak out when I can’t get my shirt over my head quick enough….what if I get stuck and my hands are just flailing around in the air and there’s an emergency? And don’t even get me started on tunnels….so pointless. so dangerously pointless. (I know, I know, Minke, they serve a very important role in the Brussels transportation system. But bridges are good too.) I’m tense even thinking about it. And I hope all of my friends survived the Dallas park opening over the indeed pointless new downtown tunnel….I’m completely convinced that they did not account for all of the weight that the park is supposed to hold. Okay….
So secondly, on our trip to Luxembourg, we visited the Casemates du Bock. The Luxembourg fortress. The first tunnels were dug out in 1644 for underground defenses below the old castle..lots of canons and storage area for explosives. The entryway stairs lead down to the huge archaeological crypt. More stairs lead down through dungeons to the casemates themselves, a series of long tunnels down into the rock parallel to the road above. Crazy cool.
the two gold towers in the distance are the European Union Court of Justice
The views looking out from the fortress were incredible..
But then we got to these stairs. Y’all. These stairs weren’t playing around..
what? whoa. no!
J went down them and left me up top. And I tried to go down them, I really did. But there were people coming up and they were going so slow and then I thought I heard more people and then other people were just standing looking at me while I kept calling J’s name and they were getting too close to me so I ran to a window-sorta thing for air and then J came up and said it wasn’t worth it. Phew! But, really. I tried.
dun dun dunnn
But we made it outta there.
And, hey, we got to cross off a site on the UNESCO world heritage list!
Just in time for Halloween..