Archive for » June, 2010 «

Hotel review: Ibis Dinant, Dinant, Belgium

Booking an Ibis hotel online couldn’t be any easier as the website is well laid out and easy to negotiate. Just type in your destination, click on a particular brand of hotel (or any/all), list your dates, fill in your details, and three clicks later your room is booked.

If you should need to cancel, and I have frequently changed my plans and done just that, it’s a matter of typing your confirmation number, click cancel, click confirm, and that’s it. You can cancel up to 4pm on the day of arrival.

Ibis hotels are part of the Accor group which includes the hotels chains of Sofitel, Mercure, Novotel and Etap, among others.

Dinant is a pretty little town which lies astride the River Meuse, around 35km south of the city of Namur in Belgium. It’s only a few miles from the A4 motorway between Brussels and Luxembourg, and is convenient for visiting the Ardennes region of southern Belgium

The hotel is pretty easy to find. It sits on the main road running through the town, just on the edge of the main shopping area and adjacent to the casino.

We had a bit of a problem trying to park outside the hotel but this was due to the fact that some of the car park was not quite finished and therefore spaces were at a premium – I’m sure it’s fine now.

We didn’t have a reservation but there wasn’t any problem getting a room and the person behind the desk was very helpful – we were registered in minutes.

The reception area merged into a large lounge with a section housing some PC’s and faxes etc. A little further on, there was a bar area with picture windows overlooking the river, and further still, a small cafeteria/restaurant.

The elevator was immediately across from the reception desk so, formalities completed, we headed for our room on the third floor.

The hotel has 60 rooms spread over 4 floors.

As with most chains, Ibis rooms are all quite similar so, once you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. It’s one of the things I don’t like about them – there’s no sense of excitement, or apprehension, wondering what the room will be like. Conversely, knowing what you’re going to get means no feeling of disappointment when the room doesn’t quite live up to expectations either.

The room was spotless and decorated in an pale tangerine colour which was quite warm and inviting. We had two twin beds (pushed together) with bedside cabinets – phone, clock/radio etc. – a work station/desk/dresser with internet link and plenty of lighting – there were 4 or 5 spotlights,

Cooking guidelines to please your family

There is an old saying which I first heard in childhood but have never forgotten, essentially stating that, “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time; but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” How true a saying this is in so many areas of life but I would say especially so when it comes to the issue of cooking to please your family. “I don’t like broccoli!” “I don’t like Brussels sprouts!” How often do such cries ring out in dining-rooms and kitchens around the world? I am sure that we are all familiar with them from some stage in our lives.

So how do we go about at least trying to please all of the people all of the time? I would suggest that there are a number of tactics we can employ.

The easiest and perhaps most obvious one is the one which I would least recommend. That is to simply not make the broccoli or the Brussels sprouts or whatever it may be that leads to such a furore at meal times. It certainly makes for a peaceful time – but what are the drawbacks? Firstly, we are denying other family members the enjoyment of a specific dish or ingredient which they may be particularly fond of. Secondly, it is almost a form of surrender to the whims of probably (but not necessarily!) a child. This is not in the long term, therefore, a road which we should wish to do down.

The second (and second least recommended option) is to allow the person who “doesn’t like” a certain item simply to omit it from their plate. This is fine if we are talking only about a vegetable for instance, but what if it is the entire dish that is being referred to? Are we facing making a completely different meal for one person from what the rest of the family will sit down to? Hardly desirable, especially if we have already had a long, hard day.

There is another saying which I like and that is, “Variety is the spice of life!” So many of us are fond of using spices in our cooking these days – do we remember that most important spice of all?

Consider a food item that a member of your family is not keen on facing at the table and why this may be the case. Let us use broccoli – that old favourite “dislike” – as our example. I genuinely believe that the main reason people do not like broccoli is that they are used to having it served to them totally over-cooked. Broccoli should be still firm when cooked, not so flimsy that it falls apart when we attempt to put it on the plate! If this is not the case, however, try serving it in a different way. Blend it in to essentially a sauce and drizzle it around some cauliflower. Broccoli and cauliflower go very well together and a little bit of imagination and creativity can make all the difference in the world.

Introducing variety in to your cookings will please your family in other ways as well. They are unlikely to come to the table knowing that, “Tuesday is beef night,” for example, in expectation of what is to be served rather than in anticipation. It can create a whole knew joy in the eating experience and in the cooking one as well. Do you enjoy making the same old dishes every time. Variety in this way can therefore please and revitalise the cook as well as the diners!

I very much hope that anyone who knows these issues in their home will choose the third of the above methods for pleasing their family at mealtimes and put that spark of pleasure and joy back in to each such occasion.

Holidaying in the Uk: London, Birmingham and Manchester

A millennium of history together with an unparalleled range of sporting and cultural attractions make the UK one the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

London:home of cool Britannia

One of the true great cities of the world, London is a year-round tourist mecca. Few cities can offer the wealth of historical and cultural splendour that London does. From the pageantry, pomp and ceremony of the royal quarter to the sheer elan of the theatres and clubs and shopping, London is a world unto itself.

transport:getting there and getting around:

The UK has excellent transport network of domestic flights, coaches, and railways. There are ferries from Europe and Ireland and trains from France and Brussels via the Channel tunnel. London is the center of the UK rail network with seven major lines converging on the capital.

Climate

The weather is the main preoccupation of the British and with good reason – it’s so unpredictable. The capricious nature of the weather can result in some surprises and it’s wise to be prepared for anything. But on the whole, the climate is temperate. Temperatures in summer range from 14-30 Celsius. In the winter, temperatures plunge to 1-5 C, the days are short and dark and frosts and snow are the order of the day.

accommodation: from cheap stays to luxury resorts

Check on the internet for the range, location and cost of hotels in London

events

Other than all-year round concerts, sports events, plays and shows, there are world-famous annual events too. For sports fans there’s Wimbledon in May and classical music buffs can attend the proms, a series of concerts in the Royal Albert Hall during August.

If you enjoy a touch of pageantry, you can enjoy the changing of the guard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace at 11:30am every day in summer and every other day in winter. And if you’re there in April, don’t miss the trooping of the colour on the Queen’s birthday.

Birmingham:city of a thousand delights

Once called the ‘city of a thousand trades’, Birmingham is now home to the UK’s second largest population and a gateway to the heart of England. Birmingham is now home to a broad array of visual and performing arts, music and theatre from such institutions as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

transport:getting there and getting around:

From London, you can reach Birmingham in just 2 hours and 30 minutes along the M40. Birmingham International Airport (BHX) connects with many far-flung destinations including Dubai, Chicago and New York. Birmingham is also a hub for long-distance rail and coach services. Birmingham New Street Station is the major train station. For long distance coaches, the coach station in Digbeth. Local buses are boarded at the Bull Ring bus station. Birmingham also has an extensive network of cycle routes.

Accommodation: from cheap stays to luxury resorts

Check on the internet for the range, location and cost of hotels in Birmingham.

events

*Birmingham social and entertainment calendar is filled with concerts, art exhibitions, and comedy shows. Here are just a few of the most popular.

*With a large Irish population, one of the years most exciting events is the St Patrick’s Day Parade Festival held in March.

*September ArtsFest: This is the UK’s largest free arts festival. It draws over 100,000 visitors each year.

Manchester:soccer mecca and cool, green metropolis

Famous now for its high-profile soccer teams, Manchester is another British city with a history dating back to the Romans.

transport:getting there and getting around:

Efficient transport services make Manchester the gateway to the North of England. Trains regularly connect with London Euston. Journey time is around three hours. National Express coaches serve Manchester from a variety of destinations. Manchester International Airport connect with a range of domestic and international destinations. Public transport in Greater Manchester includes buses, coaches, Metrolink trams, and the local rail network.

accommodation: from cheap stays to luxury resorts

Check on the internet for the range, location and cost of hotels in Manchester

events

*Manchester Jazz Festival 21 – 28 July, citywide. The best contemporary jazz from the north and beyond.

*Manchester Pride. 17 – 27 August Manchester’s annual gay festival.

*Manchester Food and Drink Festival in October celebrates the finest Mancunian food and drink.

*Manchester Christmas Lights Switch-on in November at Albert Square. Celebrate the beginning of the festive season.

Shopping For Dogs In The Toy Group

The average future dog owner does not own acres of property. They don’t have a fenced backyard or thousand of square feet inside their home. They haven’t thought about their possessions being coated in dog hair or the bags they’ll need to purchase to pick up Fido’s poop. They just see a sweet little face with big paws, and wouldn’t that little diamond-studded collar look so cute on her? Are you an average future dog owner? By selecting a smaller dog, especially one in the Toy dog group designated by the AKC, getting your sweet little puppy will give you less heartache down the road.

There are many advantages to purchasing a smaller dog, or a Toy dog. If you live in an apartment, your little pooch will be able to stretch its legs each day just by running around. When you do take your dog outside to use the bathroom your cleanup will be much easier (if you live in a city that requires you to tidy up and scoop the poop). Being able to control your pup is easier too. Remember how your arm nearly came out of your socket when your German Shepherd saw that squirrel? Never again! You’ll also save money in food cost. You won’t have to purchase dog food in the fifty pound bags and lug them up three flights of stairs to your food-vacuum mutt. And speaking of vacuuming, that’s something you’ll be able to avoid, especially if you choose a shorthaired dog. Some of the Toy dogs have longer hair and require regular grooming. If you plan to breed or show or dress your Toy dog, this will be something you are aware of and are looking forward to.

Disadvantages to owning a toy dog seem to center around the “idea” of them. You want the idea of a big dog for security reasons. And with Toy dogs weighing on average 5 pounds (bitches’ weighing even less) that isn’t mentally reassuring. But these little ankle biters are just as protective as a big hound. In fact, small dogs are downright fearless. Men don’t want to own a Toy dog because small dogs are meant to lie on Grandma’s lap and in the purse of Paris Hilton. This isn’t the case! These miniature tail-waggers have boundless energy in spurts and can bring back a tennis ball with the best of them.

Getting a purebred dog is a fine idea and when you purchase a purebred, you have a good idea of what they’ll look like when fully grown and what to expect from their bloodlines. But rescuing a fleabag stray is a noble thing to do, and whichever pair of eyes and wagging tail you fall in love with is all right. People may consider all small dogs to fall into the “Toy dog” category, but according to the AKC the Toy list is as follows: Affenpinscher, Brussels Griffon, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, English Toy Spaniel, Havanese, Italian Greyhound, Japanese Chin, Maltese, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Pinscher, Papillon, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Poodle, Pug, Shih Tzu, Silky Terrier, Tiny Fox Terrier and the Yorkshire Terrier.

There’s More to Do at St Pancras Then Just Board a Train

Saved from demolition in 1960 by the famous English poet Sir John Betjemen, St Pancras International Station was re-opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 6th November 2007 after £800 million restoration programme.

Located in Central London, St Pancras is a stunning and architecturally amazing building that has more underground tunnels than any other London Station. During the six year restoration programme, 150 years of dirt and grime was painstakingly removed from the brickwork, the new roof was fitted with 18,000 panes of self cleaning glass and 20,000 litres Barlow Blue paint, an exact colour match to the original paint work was used on the station’s iron work.

New pieces of artwork were specially commissioned including one of Sir John Betjemen who in addition to saving St Pancras from demolition also helped it achieve Grade I listed status. Another statue, an eight foot high bronze of a couple enjoying a loving embrace is situated underneath the famous St Pancras Clock.

Also saved from demolition in 1960 were The Chambers, a Grade I Gothic Building which fronts St Pancras Station. At a cost of £100 million, the Chambers will be transformed into 67 private apartments and penthouses and a luxury 5 star hotel. Expected to open in 2009 the hotel, to be called the Renaissance St Pancras will be owned and operated by Marriott International and will feature 245 bedrooms, eight meeting rooms, a ballroom as well as health and leisure facilities.

Most notably the new central London home to the Eurostar, providing high speed train links from London to Paris, Brussels and Lille and two other train operators, East Midlands Trains and First Capital Direct, St Pancras is also a great place to meet a friend for a drink, to admire the architecture or to go shopping. Boasting Europe’s long Champagne Bar at 90 metres, it also has 82,0000 square feet of retail space to keep even the most ardent shopper happy for hours.

Source:

BBC

Wikipedia

Europe Tour Planning Makes Travelling Easy

The multi-cultural diversity of Europe can make it a tough task to plan your tour in the continent. Each of countries comprises within the second largest continent has something to offer to its visitors be it France, Greece, Italy, Spain, England, Germany, Brussels amidst other. If you are caught ?up in this web, then its time you take on some professional assistance to help you chalk out the tour to Europe. To begin with you can write out your interests such as would you prefer to view scenic beauty or would like to go to a more historic place and many more. Finding out the aspect that you would be most interested in, can be a deciding factor in your tour planning to Europe. This is because; it isn?t possible to visit all the countries in the Europe at one go, and thereby one needs to be selective as per the choices he or she intends to indulge in.

By means of Europe tour planning, you would be able to locate numerous places of interest that can enthrall your entire traveling experience. The planning procedure is an essential step that can make traveling a truly smooth journey and ensure measures to avoid problems that may arise while you travel. In short, being unplanned while travelling can prove to be quite disastrous. Just imagine that you land to an unknown city, without any reservation for accommodation. Where would you go? What if it?s the peak season, and all accommodation are booked in advance? The simple answer is that you would be stuck. On the other hand, if you have done your tour planning for your Europe travel, you would not have to worry about any such things, and enjoy the stay in the particular destination that you chose.

With the emergence of online services providers, you could get assistance in tour planning for your Europe travel at a mere click of a button. But it is suggested that before availing the services of online providers, kindly go through its terms and conditions so that you are well-aware of its functioning and avoid any confusions.

Jasons Born is offering advice for quite some time. Having completed his Bachelor of Science in Travel and Tourism Business Management from Institute For Tourism Studies(IFT). He provide useful advice through his articles that have been found very useful. To find Europe Tour Planning, europe travel, europe travel guide, europe travel planning visit http://www.tourtoeurope.net/

Belgium: Sweets, Fun And Relaxation

Belgium chocolates and Belgium waffles have made this small European country famous around the world. But Belgium offers more than just sweets and breakfast items. In fact, Belgium is known for hosting more street and music festivals than any other country in Europe. After all, this is where the Saxophone was invented, by Adolph Sax, in 1846. Belgium’s historical sites, small towns, and peaceful countryside make it an excellent destination for inquisitive travelers.

Belgium is both multicultural and multilingual. Flanders, in the north, is a land surrounded by canals that hosts medieval art cities such as Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. Wallonia, in the south, leads you to the hills of the Ardennes, countless castles, and the cities of Liege, Namur, and Tournai. Brussels, the capital, is one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities, home to the European Union, NATO and the Atomium monument. All these cities and regions are connected through a train network that makes it easy and simple to hop on and hop off at your desired destination.

What to do?

Christmas in Belgium, with Christmas markets in Brussels, Bruges, Liege, Antwerp and in other cities, is really an experience you cannot miss. Every winter, Brussels features a magical decor, superb Christmas market, illuminated Big Wheel, roundabouts, street activities, music and the famous skating rink. Winter in Bruges is a month long celebration of the holidays with carillons concerts, Christmas markets and processions making it an original Christmas wonderland.

Looking for something to do during your vacations? Belgium has become the hot destination in Europe for the 20-30 something set. Students and young travelers are gathering at cities like Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven and Namur for stylish shopping, inexpensive hotels, great food, and a pulsating nightlife.

Looking for rest and relaxation? Belgium offers you the original Spa. Located in the middle of the Ardennes and surrounded by forests and rivers, the city of Spa is famous for the mineral springs that initiated the hydro-therapy industry centuries ago. In addition, Belgium offers 67 km of coastline along the North Sea in the Flanders region where you will find beautiful beaches such as De Panne, Ostend, De Haan and Knokke-Heist.

Where to eat?

Trendy cafes throughout Belgium are crowded with students and young professionals. In most places you will find Brussels legendary “frietkots” where they serve Belgian fries for those who want to hang out after the restaurants close. For those blessed with a sweet tooth, Belgium can be paradise offering exquisite chocolates, pralines, and waffles. For more information, here is a complete list of restaurants.

Visas & Documents

Visas for stays of no more than 3 months are required by all except EU/EEA nationals and citizens from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, United States, United Kingdom and other countries. A uniform type of visa, the Schengen visa, is issued for tourist, business and private visits. All visas cost either US$44 (short stay; up to 90 days) or US$64 (long stay). For more information, contact the Belgium embassy or consulate in your country.

Terrific Antwerpen Has Captivating Parks

When seeking a spirited mecca, Antwerp tourism opportunities are ideal. Antwerp tourism options give the traveller a custom to experience fine eating options, to see extraordinary locations of importance, and to drink in the rich past of the center of Antwerp in Belgium. Fabulous, uniquely styled architecture, inviting and welcoming stores, magnificent ancient monuments, numerous art galleries, an abundance of , and myriad enlightening activities await the visitor of Antwerp. In addition, getting around the place of Antwerp and to mixed destinations of importance is amazingly easy, thanks to the myriad forms of public transportation accessible to guests and borough inhabitants.

As with legions other locales in historically rich Belgium, Antwerp has a magnificent olden days. The area is a paradise for those who think the world of literature, art, or even architecture as seen in spots like the Rubenshuis, the Plantin Moretus Museum, and the Cathedral of Our Lady, respectively. Since it is the diamond capital of the world, one might ask where one can buy some terrific diamonds. As mentioned earlier, 3/4ths of the world diamond trade happens in Antwerp, so the question is misleading, as one may buy diamonds just about anywhere in Antwerp. The terrific would never be in question either as the pride of the province exists in the diamonds one brings home.

Alongside from the casual stroll and site-seeing, there are other frolic and insightful activities that you could do in Antwerp. Indispensable tours in Antwerp include the Port Antwerp trip. The port is the 2nd largest in Europe and the 5th greatest in the world. This port was one of the instruments of free trade in Europe as it welcomed goods from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The Antwerp Ghostwalk is a center itineration that explores the darker side of Antwerp. The peregrination tells the collapse of Antwerp due to a succession of wars before present it turned around and became termed it is nowadays.

The Pelgrom comes to mind as a divergent form of pleasure. It is a building that has a phenomenal pub underground. It also boasts the “poortershuis,” a remake of a 17th century meeting community. One other thing of note when it comes to pleasure is the little obvious view of the conurbation skyline when one takes the pedestrian tunnel in St. Jansvliet. It is simply breathtaking to see how the diamond capital of the world sparkles at night. The view is nothing short of dazzling. For shoppers, seeing the Meir is a fine idea, especially for those looking for brand heading items.

Antwerp stands out from the rest of Belgium when it comes to food. While Brussels is outstanding for its chocolate, Antwerp has a delicacy called “smos” which is made out of bread. It is difficult to say where the ultimate “smos” is, as every character in Antwerp has a unlike opinion about it, but one famed store is Jean-Pierre. The friendly members of public of Antwerp will gladly direct the day-trippers to a suburb near the university where the notorious, “smos” is served.

The preferable restaurants in Antwerp do not offer Belgian food, unfortunately. The common food offered is just like the other locales with regard to ethnic food.

Antwerp’s past events as a trading hub allowed it to accumulate humanism and past disparate from other metropolitan areas in Belgium. Present, Antwerp is going back to top form economically. Antwerp is one of the rare tourist ports in Europe that is classic and active, ready to bring its spontaneity in the new century.

Delightful Day-Trips To Take On Your Visit To Brussels

Brussels is superbly located for quick-trips to several charming cities in Belgium. The three day-trips in this article have been highlighted because of their proximity to Europes capital.

Antwerp

A little over half an hour by train from the very heart of Brussels is the busy city of Antwerp. If you have a longer stay in Brussels, you’ll want to experience a day here to enjoy it’s interesting fashion shops and nice mix of good value restaurants. If you fancy a stay overnight then the abundance of good, clean hotels will be a welcome sight – particularly as they charge significantly less than you’ll pay in Brussels. You can book a hotel from the tourist office in the town centre of Grote Markt.

The equivalent of Grand Place for Antwerp is it’s pleasant Grote Markt square. Here are some of the must-see sights in Antwerp if you’re only about for a short stay:

- After checking out Grote Markt amble over to the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal – one of the most impressive medieval churches to be found anywhere in Belgium, Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal dates back to the 15th century.

- Museum lovers will enjoy Maritime Museum, Rockoxhuis Museum, Momo (a museum dedicated to fashion), Plantin-Moretus Museum and Museum voor Schone Kunsten (art).

- Quite similar to Brussels, there are no shortage of restaurants and cafes in Antwerp – however it is significantly cheaper to eat.

Bruges

Bruges is slightly farther away from Brussels than Antwerp, but still conveniently placed for a day-trip. It takes about an hour to reach Bruges by train and it’s well worth the effort when you consider the beauty this well preserved medieval city has to offer. Because of this, Bruges can often be packed in peak season and it can be difficult to obtain accommodation so be sure to book a place in advance if you plan to spend the night. Being a tourist hotspot, eating out in Bruges can be somewhat more expensive than other places in Belgium, and the food tends to cater to the mass number of tourists that flood the city during peak times.

Once you step into the heart of Bruges, it’s not surprising to know that it’s one of the most visited places in Belgium – there’s wonderful medieval charm here, including ancient building, narrow winding streets and a quaint network of criss-crossing canals.

- Make sure you take a romantic boat ride along the cities beautiful canals. You can get a ticket for under six Euros.

- Bruges has two segments to it’s centre-square – the Markt and the Burg. The latter has some of the most interesting buildings in Bruges including the Heilig Bloed Basiliek, the upper & lower chapel and the Stadhuis (town hall).

- Bruges offers a choice of worthwhile museums such as Groeninge (displaying a fine collection of Flemish art from as early as the 14th century). The Gruuthuse Museum is another that museum lovers will enjoy – set amidst a grand medieval mansion Gruuthuse offers an exquisite collection of art & tapestry.

- St Salvatorskathedraal is a gothic cathedral that dates back to the 13th century.

- Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk took over two hundred years to build and this sprawling church of our lady dates back to the thirteenth century.

- Two of the grandest sights in Bruges are the Stadhuis (possibly the grandest town hall in Belgium, initially built in 1376) and the Belfort (also dating back to the 13th century) which towers over the Markt in the grandest of ways. It is here that the towns charter is kept.

- The Markt is one of the two central squares of Bruges city centre – an open market has been held here as long ago as the tenth century.

- In case you didn’t pick up enough chocolate in Brusses don’t fret – Bruges has more than enough Belgian chocolate shops to keep your cravings satisfied.

Ghent

Ghent is severely under-rated as a tourist spot. With it’s quaint town centre comprising narrow canals, cobbled traffic-free streets & a fine castle and cathedral it’s a very alluring place to plan a day-trip to. It’s also just a half hour train ride from Brussels.

Here are the must-see sights in Ghent if you happen to come for a short stay:

- The fabric of Ghents town centre was built in the 13th and 14th century. Like Brussels It’s easy to navigate through Ghent thanks to a comprehensive and well run public transport system. Your first port of call should be to the impressive Stadhius (the largest town hall in Belgium) which dates back to the early 15th century. Close-by, the Belfort was built in the 14th century and offers stunning vistas over the city.

- It took approximately six hudred years to complete St Baafskathedraal – Ghents most prolific and oldest Cathedral and some parts of this gothic masterpiece stretch back to the twelfth century.

- Ghent has some stunning listed buildings (many of which are a thousand years old) and you can see many of them in and around the area that runs from St Michielsbrug to St Baafskathedral.

- Gravensteen Castle was constructed in the eleventh century and it’s one of the most prolific landmarks of Ghent. Closeby are the Museum voor Sierkunst en Vormgeving (with various displays depicting Ghent life over the past couple of centuries) and the fish market (Vishmarkt). There are alternative museums to visit – Museum voor Schone Kunsten has a large display of art dating back to the 14th century while the Bijlolemuseum is held in a building that was first built in the 13th century.

- Pop in to Vrijdagmarkt, a pleasant market & restaurant area peppered with market stalls and quaint cafes/bars.

- Stroll along the river Leie for one of the most pleasant walks available anywhere in Belgium.

- Ghent has a large selection of restaurants, cafes and bars and they range from pokey student type affairs to more elegant and expensive offerings. The south of the city is known for its student population so you’re more likely to find a youthful crowd here. There’s a reasonably wide selection of choices throughout the city – from traditional Belgian fare to Thai, Italian and Asian.

- If you’re planning on staying the night you should be able to find a room that meets your requirements. Accommodation is typically fairly easy to secure (except for July when the town hosts Gentse Feesten). It’s possible to secure a basic room from as little as 25 euros – or if you’re able to afford something more extravagant you could kip in style for 400 euros.

If your stay in Brussels extends to a week or more, you should certainly consider a day-trip to at least one of these wonderful Belgian cities.

Chocolates, Beer, Bikes & Barges – Belgium & Holland

We arrived to cosmopolitan Brussels with 3 lost bags and 1 missing person. One suitcase went to Moscow but all caught up eventually. Janice and I are led a perfect size group of 39, not too big to get lost in or too small for comfort.

Each July trip draws school teachers who have loyally followed me around the world and they do love Europe. We began with a light orientation tour in the historic heart of this capital, followed by a tour of the Chocolate Museum. I found this boring, but the tastings were great.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium. After breakfast, we began our morning walking tour of the 17th century Grand Place. It was actually 8:30 Sunday morning and I marveled that in over a dozen visits here, I’ve never seen this place so empty. It echoed in silence as tourists slept and the locals were gone for holiday. Sunlight brilliantly flooded the gothic cathedrals, classical facades and art nuveau houses. We were alone and it was breathtaking.

Monday we toured this proud and regal city that is revealed in its royal palaces, cathedrals, museums and monuments. We see the headquarters of the EU and site of the 1958 World’s Fair with the massive silver Atonium. We photograph the Mannekin Pis. [I never understood the love of this small bronze statue but it represents Brussels. Perhaps it's found in the irreverence of the artist.]

Paula was our guide for several days here. Her stellar knowledge brought the history of Belgium to life, particularly the time when King Leopold purchased the Congo as his personal playground. Paula deeply cared for her work and later invited us to visit yet another chocolate factory, but fully sated, we declined.

For free time we dispersed into tiny alleyways to intentionally get lost. Some searched out beer halls or hot sugar waffles, as others shopped for tapestries at give-away prices.

Things become a bit blurry from here. I’d taken some great notes on napkins throughout and managed to loose them all enroute. But memory serves well as we head to the capital of Flanders and enchanting Bruges.

This town is a complete UNESCO World Heritage Site with a tranquil character that can’t be described. The people have done so much to protect its medieval feel, it provides the magical affect of stepping back into time. It is called “Little Venice” and we enjoyed a boat cruise through the veritable maze of old canals that led to the Lake of Love.

We strolled through ancient squares lined with houses of gabled rooftops and various cathedrals of holy this and holy that.

The highlight of this trip for me was our 2 hour city tour on bicycles. We looked like a motley crew as we headed out into narrow cobbled streets and over countless bridges. As I peddled, I observed the group behind me. One woman is nearing 70, two are smoking cigarettes, Janice is talking to America on her cell and one unmentionable crashes into a car! She had to pay the driver for damages on the spot.

It took complete concentration to cross the busy tram tracks. That morning we rode through Vodelpark and the Red Light district.

It was interesting to see the prostitutes as they just woke up to get their coffee dressed in jeans and sneakers Holland is the land of the free. With prostitution legal, my group is most inquisitive on this matter. We laughed as Marilyn said, “Suzy, they all ask questions on sex. Are they frustrated?”

I arranged a professional guided walking tour of the Red Light district in the oldest part of Amsterdam for the world’s oldest profession. Since the 1400′s, seamen would dock here to unload. Guides Gabriel and Shuert boldly led us through alleys of half clad ladies. No photos allowed. We’re told that some fear it’ll go out on the web.

Our guides explained that some women are forced here nowadays and some are simply ashamed. Ladies differ in size, shape and color as we strolled through different quarters.

On one street they’re all obese. We learned to identify the transsexuals by two things surgery can’t change an Adam’s apple and a straight waist.

Tastes differ; the oldest woman here is 76 and only works in summer. Only half use protection and monthly health checks are required

There are around 1000 prostitutes working 500 windows. They pay $200 to rent a window for 6-8 hours, and can make up to $600 per day. They pay taxes and can write receipts for services rendered. If the curtain is closed they are not on break.

The area is flooded with tourists. Men pay $60 for 30 minutes, yet statistics reveal the average time spent is just 6 minutes.

We crossed “Pill Bridge” named for the drugs pushed there and then toured the Erotic Museum with photographs and “tools of the trade” dating back to the 17th century on display.

As I pondered and stared at a metal chastity belt, Gabriel said “that blacksmiths always had a spare key which came in handy when the husbands were away at sea.”

She also insisted the Dutch were far less promiscuous than Americans. I was concerned about my ultra-conservative teachers but nothing seemed to shock them. After awhile, our senses were over saturated and it became dull.

The saddest sight was seeing a “heroin hooker”. She was emaciated with glazed eyes and so many track marks that she had to shoot it now under her tongue. Police cameras were everywhere 24/7, there is little crime and we felt totally safe.

Pot and hash are legal here in over 400 “coffee shops” that sell joints and “ganja-space milkshakes.” Locals told me they felt Americans were oppressed by too many rules and can’t understand how our drug companies can sell meds on TV.

Enough on the wild side, this is also the art capital of Europe boasting more museums per square foot than any other city. Marilyn gave us a quick art lesson in a nutshell. She explained that this is the 400 year celebration of Rembrandt (1606-2006). He came from a family rich in windmills. As a child, he was an expert sketcher.

Later in medical school, he did anatomical drawings of corpses from criminals. He studied more and soon rose above the Dutch masters with the ability to capture light and shadows in paint. He always began with a black canvas.

Though blessed with enormous artistic talent, he couldn’t manage his finances. He died penniless and was entombed in a pauper’s grave.

Many think they’ve seen Europe, but miss the countries with the most charm. Here we were enveloped by history, culture and all that the Old Continent should be. Also this wasn’t a typical EU vacation with endless museums and cathedrals, but a creative itinerary which provided large fun.

Everyone’s favorite stop was Bruges, but for me Amsterdam was an urban masterpiece. I found the Dutch far friendlier than other Europeans.

This visit rekindled my love for the Netherlands, that tiny country with 2 names. This time I looked through new eyeballs with my teachers who were experiencing their first trip abroad.

It was a wonderful group of travelers and one couple connected whom we later labeled “The Honeymooners” and rummor has it they will be married 7/7/07 in Rome.

In flight home on Delta, I noticed among my sleepy group that some were munching on their chocolates that were meant for gifts back home. And once in line at US Customs, some were proudly wearing their new, brightly painted, uncomfortable wooden clogs. I just have to do this trip again.