(click on the name of the town for pictures)
Glenda and I have been traveling again, and I thought I would share a few of our experiences with you.
We decided to do the following: Two weeks in Belgium, two days in Luxembourg, and remainder of our three weeks in Paris.
We decided to see how it would be to stay mostly in one place, so we picked Gent, Belgium. This is in the Flanders section of Belgium, west and slightly north of Brussels. It is strategically located close to Brussels, Brugge and Antwerp. And Belgium has one of the best train systems in the world. Glenda went on-line and found us a 'bed and breakfast' in Gent that was very close to the old city. It was actually a suite, a converted coach house.
So off we went. We left on Easter Sunday, at 5pm and had a direct flight to Paris and arrived about 10 the next morning. After getting a gate - not an easy task at De gaulle Airport - and clearing customs, we were ready for the train to Brussels. We didn't even go into Paris, but just caught the Brussels express from the airport.
I love the high speed trains in Europe. This one gets to Brussels in 1 1/2 hours. This is not a bad time because I think the distance is about 200 miles The train averages well over 100 mph and reaches top speeds almost twice that. It is fun to see the train run alongside a freeway and be moving more than twice as fast as the traffic.
We got to Brussels Midi station (there are 3 train stations - more of that later) and checked on trains to Gent. This should have been a 30 minute ride but we made the mistake of not checking close enough and got on a local that must have made a stop about every two miles and it took us over an hour to travel the 45 or so miles to Gent. We tried very hard not to make the same mistake again, we looked for express trains. This wasn't difficult since there is a train from Gent to Brussels (and Gent to Brugge) about every 20 minutes. Even on Sunday, the schedule remains the same.
So -- we arrived in Gent and set up shop. We had an entire house to ourselves, two floors. The living room and kitchen on one floor and the bedroom and bath upstairs. Unfortunately the 'living room' floor was actual one flight up, the ground floor was storage and a laundry room and things, but we had a private entrance.
We made side trips about every other day, to Brugge and Brussels. We explored Gent, which has a lot to offer itself. Gent is about 550,000 people and it is a busy place, with a good tram system. We found the food market, in a shopping center no less, and the bank (ATM machine, the only way to go to exchange money). We arrived on Easter Monday, which was a Belgium holiday, so the ATM machine was out of money, but I had about 100 Euro left over from last year, so we were OK.
We stayed long enough in one place to get a feel for the locality and get to know the neighborhood. We ate at a little falafel place around the corner and got to know the young Lebanese guy that ran it - shops and stores in Gent seem to stay open about as long as the staff is there - one shift - and then they close down. Food places often close in the afternoon and many don't open for dinner until 6:30 or so. Another store where we had a speaking acquaintance was the local quick food market. It was run by an Indian couple.
This part of Belgium was easy for us to adjust to, most people speak some English, many speak it very well. The official language is Flemish, which is Dutch with an accent, and French is the official language for the southern part of Belgium. In the eastern part of the country there is an area that speaks German. Most people in Gent speak Flemish as their main language but know a lot of French and speak English and German as well.
And this came in handy, since we had an adventure we didn't expect.
Max, Glenda's son, lives in Prague. He was scheduled to come to Gent on our second Wednesday there and spend a few days. Unfortunately, the night before he arrived (by bus, the London express from Prague to London goes right through Gent), Glenda got sick. This was nothing new, but a flare up of an old problem, Gall bladder. Usually before she would be sick for 5 or 6 hours and be in bad pain and throw up and then be OK, but this time the pain didn't go away. Max arrived and Glenda stayed sick. She tried to tough it out, but it didn't work, so we went to the emergency room at the local hospital. We got there about 3pm on a Friday afternoon, she was admitted about 5 and they operated at 6:30. The procedure for gall bladder has been simplified over the years, but it is still surgery. She was back in her room by 10:30PM and was released from the hospital the next afternoon.
As you can imagine, this slowed her down a bit -- a lot actually. We took it very easy the rest of our trip, but the surgery was necessary, there was no way that she could have traveled by plane in her condition.
It is kind of a traveler's nightmare, to get sick or have an accident and be forced to go to a foreign hospital, but our experience turned out very well. Most of the people in the hospital spoke English - at least some English - and all of them were just super nice to us. One of the first things anyone would say would be "Are you on holiday?" and then sympathize with us when we said "Yes." I still have no idea how much it cost. The hospital refused to take any money - they said they would bill us at our home address, and so far I haven't heard from them. So if you are going to get sick and need a hospital or surgery - Belgium is a good place to do so. **Later note - we received the bill and it was about 1/4th of what it would have been in the US. Insurance paid a good part of it. All in all - it worked out well**
We skipped Luxembourg and went straight to Paris the following Tuesday for four days before we came home. We stayed in a new part of town - new to us - the 7th Arrondissement - Paris is divided up into smaller units. This unit contains the Eiffel Tower and several museums. As it turned out, we were limited on our museum visiting and made only one, the Rodin museum, but I took lots of pictures of the Eiffel Tower.
I plan to post the pictures on this site, a few at a time and I will keep you informed. **Later note - the Begium pictures are now all in place. I will post the Paris pictures later. **