London, Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris

Europe Travel Blog

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October 23, 2008, Brussels via London
Another trip to Europe started bright and early for our morning flight out of Tucson. I work for an airline serving Tucson and I have the opportunity to fly as a non-revenue stand-by passenger, but it seems like the flights from Tucson are always overbooked. Therefore, I purchased tickets ahead of time for Marcella and me that would get us to Chicago for the international flight. We arrived in Chicago at just after 2:00 pm. There is a flight directly from there into Brussels but since that one was looking full, too, we decided to take advantage of the light flight loads into London for our arrival point into Europe. From there, we could use the Eurostar train through the Chunnel, which serves both Paris and Brussels.

Friday, October 24, 2008, in London
There were 4 flights from which to choose, and we opted for the second flight since that had space enough in first class for us. After a slight delay, we arrived in London at 8:45am Friday morning. We had plenty of time before our train, so we took the Piccadilly line of London's Underground to stop off at Piccadilly Circus. From arrival at the gate to emerging from the Underground stop was 1 hour and 45 minutes. A shorter option to get from Heathrow Airport into the city is to take the Heathrow Express train which drops you off at Paddington Station, but the Underground is much cheaper if you have a little more time to spare. After spending an hour or so at Piccadilly Circus, we boarded the Underground again for the short hop to St. Pancras International Train Station.

The Eurostar train service to continental Europe:
Rail transportation into continental Europe is provided by the Eurostar train through the English Channel tunnel, or "Chunnel." It departs from the St. Pancras International Train Station, which is accessible from the Underground. We simply continued on the Piccadilly line to reach it. Signs direct you to the check-in desks, which you must use at least 30 minutes prior to your train's departure. The doors to the platforms open 20 minutes before departure. There is a large waiting area below the platform level with a little cafe. A Eurostar ticket comes with a reservation for a specific coach (train car) and seat number. The coach numbers are indicated by decals on the ground next to the tracks. In Brussels, small flagposts are used to identify the coach numbers.

I wanted to experience being inside the Chunnel, since it was my first time, but I was too busy watching movies and enjoying the meal service on the flight to London to sleep any. So I couldn't help but doze off soon after leaving London and didn't wake up until we were about 20 minutes outside of Brussels. C'est la vie.

The Eurostar arrives at the Brussels Midi train station. We stepped from the tranquility of the train into a large mass of people in the train station, but we found the Brussels metro, or subway, entrance after just a little walking around. Marcella helped me determine that the transit map of Brussels that I had was a combination of metro lines and surface trams, and she found the right lines to take to get us to the de Brouckere metro stop a few minutes walk away from our hotel. Once we got to the hotel, our exhaustion go the better of us, so we decided to call it a day and get some sleep.

Saturday, October 25, 2008, in Brussels
The preferred language of Brussels is French, based on the number of people speaking it and the signage around the city. However, German, English, and Flemish are also widely spoken. I was looking forward to having a real Belgian waffle while I was there, and there were numerous waffle stands in all directions. The most popular way of eating one is either topped with whipped cream or chocolate and simply eating it with your hands.

One place we decided to see is the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee, or the Belgian Comic Strip Museum. We already knew that comic strips are very popular in Belgium and The Smurfs (or Les Schtroumpfs as they are called locally) were created there. Along the way to the museum we passed through Place de la Monnaie where an exhibit honoring the 50th anniversary of their creation was set up with Smurf displays, statues, and costumed people walking around. The museum also had a special exhibit on the blue characters which runs through November 16, 2008. After the museum we went through Grand Place, also called Grote Markt. It's one of the most beautiful public squares in Europe. The buildings of the square once held government offices, but now they are mostly restaurants and shops.

Walking a little further took us the the Manneken Pis statue. Its name implies exactly what it is. It's a statue of a little boy peeing. The story goes that a fire was raging in Brussels many many years ago, and a brave little boy decided to join the fight to extinguish the fire by peeing on it. He is now immortalized by a statue at the corner of Rue de l'Etuve and Rue du Chene about 250 meters southwest of Grand Place.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008, Brussels to Luxembourg
We checked out of our hotel and walked a little more through the city, eventually passing by the central train station and Saints Michel et Gudule Church before arriving at Parc de Bruxelles. I had hoped to see the Royal Palace there, but we were on the opposite side of the park and couldn't see it through the trees. We didn't want to walk all the way there, and the subway stop was right in front of us, so we went straight to the train station.

Buying tickets there at the train station was a process. First I went into the "travel center," an enclosed area with a long line of ticket windows. I learned that I had to visit a little kiosk with a computer screen to have a number issued to me, and then wait in the zone indicated on the ticket. I watched for my number to appear on a board which then told me the number of the ticket window to visit for my purchase.

The train to Luxembourg was direct and took about 3 hours. We were then in the city that was the highlight of this trip. Luxembourg is truly a beautiful city. It's in a country of the same name that is a little smaller than the state of Rhode Island. The city sits atop a sandstone plateau that is cut by a shallow valley formed by the Alzette River. I was impressed by the beauty of Salzburg, Austria, earlier this year, and Luxembourg, while a little more urban and bustling, is just as nice. After stepping out of the train station, you'll find yourself in a busy part of the city. There are offices as well as stores and restaurants that compete for your attention. Our hotel was within walking distance of the train station, so it was nice to get checked in quickly.

Many things that you might want to see in Luxembourg are within walking distance. The two main streets leading to the old part of the city are Avenue de la Gare and Avenue de la Liberte. Either route will get you into the quieter and more beautiful parts of the city within 15 or 20 minutes. Along the way you'll pass over a bridge spanning a narrow valley formed by the Alzette River. Below is an area worth exploring once you've strolled the cobblestone streets of the city up on the plateau.

Monday, October 27, Luxembourg to Paris
While spending the morning in Luxembourg, we made our way onto Montee de Clausen to see the Bock Casemates, a network of subterranean tunnels that originally served as staging areas for horses and the soldiers who protected the city. From outside the Casemates you have a wonderful view of Luxembourg while looking across the valley.

Visitors to Luxembourg can take the Wenzel Walk, which is a self-guided tour of the historical parts of the city. Along the route, signs set in the pavement indicate the way to many of the city's landmarks. It will take about 2 hours to walk the entire route.

We waited until the last minute to check out of the hotel. We wanted to stay in Luxembourg longer, but we had plans for the one o'clock train to Paris. Unfortunately, that train was full in second class, and first class was a little too expensive for us, so we opted for a later train that made a change in Metz, France. That put us in Paris about two hours later than planned, so it was just after dark by the time we were on the Metro to get to our hotel. The reason behind going to Paris was simply to catch the flight back home, but we figured that we'd have some time to take a quick journey to the Eiffel Tower and/or the Arc de Triomphe. However, it was dark and a light rain was steadily falling, so it was more attractive to stay in the hotel and go to sleep early to get enough sleep for the morning flight overseas. At least we'll have the opportunity to travel to Paris again for a longer visit. To get to the Charles de Gaulle Airport, we first took the metro to Gare du Nord (north train station). From there, it was necessary to take the RER B3 train to CDG. From the Gare du Nord, it was about a 35 minute trip before arriving at the airport.
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