Monday, August 6, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

Kyle and I hit the road last Wednesday for our longest road trip yet.  Our final destination was London to visit Kyle's bro and our new sister-in-law and to be a part of the beginning of the Olympics.  We were pretty ambitious and decided to drive there (I guess we're partial to road trips), so Brussels, which is halfway between Stuttgart and London and just a five hour drive, seemed like a perfect place to spend some time to break up the long trip.

Brussels is a gorgeous city.  It's also the headquarters of the EU, making it the unofficial capital of Europe. We stayed two nights at a cool and very small hotel called the Welcome Hotel.  Each room is themed after a different non-European country.  Our room was "Zanzibar," and was very cute.  (That's probably the closest we'll ever get to seeing Zanzibar!)  It was in a great location to be able to walk to the major sites.

I think the most impressive site in Brussels was La Grande Place; the large town square.  It's considered to be one of Europe's most beautiful squares.  It's surrounded by the town hall, elaborate guild halls, a museum, and of course, outdoor restaurants, and of course, chocolate shops!

We also saw the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, and the less notable Manequin Pis.  It's a fountain of a little boy peeing, and for some odd reason its become a symbol of the city.  I think all of the tourists standing around the fountain are probably thinking the same thing, "Why are we taking a picture of this?"

Notre Dame Cathedral
The imposing and stately Law Courts of Brussels
  Belgium is known for their fabulous chocolate, french fries, waffles, and also the beer.  Kyle and I took a tour of the last traditional lambic brewery in Brussels.  It looked like it probably did 100 years ago!  We got to take a tour and do some tastings of the lambic and grueze.  (Richie, we bought some to try with you when you're here in a couple of months!)

After walking our legs off trying to see as much of the city as possible on Thursday, we continued our trek to London Friday morning.  We drove about an hour and twenty minutes to Dunkirk, France where we would catch the ferry to cross the channel.  The ferry was the most economical choice to cross the channel, and also the coolest.  The ferries were much bigger than I thought, and looked kind of like small cruise ships.  The ride was about two hours and we could spend our time eating at one of the restaurants or coffee shops, shopping duty free, or hanging out on the observation deck outside.  The coolest part was seeing the white cliffs of Dover as we neared England.

It was a bit chilly!
Canterbury is right on the way between Dover and London, so we thought we might as well stop to see the famed Canterbury Cathedral.  The town of Canterbury is everything you would think of and English village.  The cobblestone streets were lined with tea rooms, pubs, and cute shops.  It was busy and exciting with the town gearing up for the Olympics.  The Cathedral was absolutely beautiful.  There were plenty of guides that were more than willing to tell you the history around the Cathedral.  Canterbury was where Thomas Becket (Saint Thomas of Canterbury) became a martyr and later a saint.

The village of Canterbury
The gorgeous cathedral

From there is was about an hour until we reached the outskirts of London.  We got there the day of the opening Olympic ceremony, and we were so surprised not to hit any bad traffic at all.  (That was a blessing since Kyle had to drive on the WRONG side of the road!!  But he did an excellent job with the help of my back seat driving :-)  Luckily I found a website called so we knew ahead of time exactly where to park.  The GPS took us about ten blocks away from the parking spot, and due to the lack of street signs and the non-existence of visible street addresses, it was tricky to find, but we found it eventually.  It was a ten minute walk from there to Cory and Lynn's apartment.

We showed up to their place bearing gifts from Stuttgart and some American treats from the commissary.   Their apartment is very nice a new, and of course has an art gallery in the lobby.  (Very them!)  It was awesome to catch up since we hadn't seen them since their amazing Presiden't Day weekend wedding in Tulum, Mexico.  (Thanks for the pics, Lynn!)

Some German/American treats!

That evening we headed out to a local pub and had a good ale along with some fish and chips.  It took a while to get our food and it was getting close to the start of the opening ceremony, so we scarfed down our food in about ten minutes and ran to their friends' place to watch the opening ceremony.  It was fun to get a British perspective on the ceremony.  They loved the queen jumping from the helicopter!  You could also see the fireworks at the stadium from their window.  Pretty sweet!

Saturday Cory and Lynn indulged us in our tourist desires.  We had breakfast at their awesome local Saturday market and then headed downtown.  We started at the Tower Bridge to see the impressive Olympic rings.  We wandered down the Thames and through another really awesome, delicious smelling market where I was super stoked to find the beer I've been craving all summer.  (If you can find it, check out the Koko Brown from the Kona Brewing Company.  It's perfect in the summer!  I love German beer, but it's hard to by any beer in Germany that isn't German!  They're very proud of their brew.)  There were some fun events set up along the river for the Olympics.  We made our way down to Big Ben and Westminster and then to Soho.  It seemed like the longer we walked, the more crowded it got.  It was fun to be a part of the Olympic excitement!  We even managed to catch up with Lynn's cousin for a happy hour later that day.  In the evening we were so tired of walking, we got carry out from the restaurant on the street level of their apartment building.  (Thanks Cory, for helping us out with our laziness!)  We mustered up the energy to go to a party at their neighbors place that night.  They had an awesome terrace that probably had more square feet than the actual apartment.


Sunday we slept in before we headed to see some Olympic action near the stadium at Victoria Park.  We didn't luck out as much with the weather, but that didn't stop us.  Victoria park was set up with games, food,drinks, big screens, and a Ferris wheel . Kyle and Cory raced in gerbil balls (aka zorbs) and showed off their athletic abilities.  Cory was a gymnast with his flipping style and Kyle was a sprinter with his no-nonsense approach.  Unfortunately, their socks ended up really wet after that wand they both sported their socks hanging out of their back pockets for the afternoon.  We took a ride on the Ferris wheel and got awesome views of the city and the stadium.  We were pretty hungry after that, so we got lucky enough to find a table under a big umbrella to drink dome beer eat some fish and chips, and watch gymnastics and diving as it rained off and on.  We would have loved to be able to go to an event, but apparently you have to be loaded to afford to go.

That evening we had some really good Indian food before we went to the theater to watch The Dark Knight Rises.  That movie theater was pretty sweet, and I heard the movie was good.  (I admit, I fell asleep.  It was a tiring weekend!)

We headed back to Deutschland Monday morning while Cory and Lynn headed back to work.  Kyle and I drove straight through this time.  We hit some traffic in Brussels during rush hour, but other than that it went very smoothly.  It was a beautiful drive through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and then back to Germany.

What an amazing whirlwind of a trip!  I think our next trip needs to be relaxing and involve a beach, the Mediterranean, and a cruise :-)

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