CONTENTS: Day 0: A Canadian Departure (Page 1) Day 1: Stormed in Maastricht, Screwed in Belgium (Page 1) Day 2: Luxembourg from Top to Bottom (Page 2) Day 3: Dunes, Dams, and Depraved Santas (Page 3) Day 4: The Deer of Den Haag, the Minions of Leiden (Page 4) Day 5: Old Birds and New Turbines (coming soon...) Day 6: Bobbejaanland (coming soon...)
In July and August of 2019, I joined TPR on a big huge trip across Europe. You've probably already read some stories from our journeys, in TRs by Chuck, Larry, A.J., and Erik. Now, better late than never, I might as well get started on my own.
This might have been my most complicated vacation ever -- 12 countries, 12 theme parks, 9 flights, 4 currencies, and 2 rental cars, all on a continent that isn't my own. And yet, those are the things that made the trip such an experience. I travel around the US a lot and frequently go to out-of-the-way destinations, and my biggest goal for this Europe trip was to do the same thing overseas. Sure, I visited Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Munich, but I also visited St. Vith, Vlissingen, Sigmaringen and Soelden. Never heard of those places? You'll learn about them in this thread, eventually. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes me a year or two to finish this TR, but this is my big project now, regardless of any 2020 travel -- so I'll get there at some point.
I organized the trip so that I'd have multiple days to do my own travel both before and after the official TPR trip. So, it will be a few updates before I get to any theme park content, which will begin with Day 6 at Bobbejaanland. Oh, and since I never did a TR or posted any pictures from the 2016 TPR Europe trip, I might just find an excuse to include some of the best of those in here too.
That's enough of an intro. Onward to the misadventures.
Thursday, July 11, 2019 Day 0: A Canadian Departure
Booking round-trip airfare across the Atlantic is a tricky thing when you're flying in and out of two different airports, and those two airports are hubs for members of different airline alliances. I was heading into Amsterdam at the start of the trip, which is a hub for KLM and its SkyTeam partners. I was departing from Munich at the end, which is a hub for Lufthansa and Star Alliance. To keep costs down, I'd have to book flights on the same alliance on both legs -- but which to choose? Ultimately, Star Alliance made the most sense, which enabled me to take Lufthansa and United on the way home from Germany. That left me with just one good option for the first leg of the trip -- an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Amsterdam.
I'll spare you all the awful story of spending hours on hold with United because they were too stupid to actually send my reservation number to Air Canada, resulting in my tickets being cancelled over and over again. Almost a year since that debacle, I still haven't forgiven United for it.
On to the pics for this time-change-shortened day in the air.
This trip begins where the 2014 TPR US trip also began -- at the Cincinnati airport. Which is in Kentucky.
Amazon is taking over.
Insert some sort of condescending joke about Allegiant here.
Fun fact: this plane had just come in from Paris. Less fun fact: I did not go to Paris on this trip.
Mr. Redlegs is honestly kind of creepy.
My flight to Toronto was on-time, and hey, Air Canada was a new airline credit.
Caught my plane on the way in for a picture.
A farewell to Cincinnati.
Blue tarps and felled trees mark the path of an EF4 tornado that hit Dayton, Ohio, in May 2019. A very big deal, but I won't get into the rest of that here.
It's one of my trip reports, so there will be cloud pictures on occasion.
Arrival in Toronto.
-.-- -.-- --..
(rest in peace, Neil Peart)
So, I arrived in Toronto, promptly missed my turn to skip customs, and exited the secured area like a chump. Thankfully, the security lines were short, and within 10 minutes I was riding on what has to be one of the fastest moving walkways in all of existence.
I guess this is art!
The International Pier at the Toronto airport was extremely crowded, with lots of European flights about to make their departures. I thought it would be very American of me to have a burger for my last meal before leaving the continent. It was a rather pathetic burger, and I am disappointed in my selection.
Big plane eat little plane.
Lots of Canadian airplanes in Toronto.
This one counts as foreshadowing.
This one is my actual airplane.
Next stop: The Netherlands!
On-time to Amsterdam.
New plane credit: a Boeing 777-300ER.
...and I had an entire row to myself! Not just the three seats next to me, but all ten! That's like hitting the jackpot on a long-haul.
The sun set. I tried to sleep. I was mostly unsuccessful. Oh well. Onward to Europe.
Friday, July 12, 2019 Day 1: Stormed in Maastricht, Screwed in Belgium
What better to do upon arrival in Europe, having just lost 6 hours on an overnight time change, and exhausted anyway coming off a set of midnight shifts? How about renting a car and immediately driving two hours south on an unfamiliar road system in bad weather?
The first day of travel brought me to Limburg, the southeastern-most of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands. I visited the provincial capital of Maastricht, before turning my attention to some Dutch and Belgian geographic points of interest. It quickly became one of the weirdest travel days I've experienced, but I'll let the photo captions tell the story.
The first thing I see upon looking out the window above European waters is what I'm just going to assume is some kind of pirate vessel overtaking a larger ship. At least that's the version in my head.
The Dutch shoreline awaits.
Roads I'd soon be driving on.
On the ground at Schiphol. Oh, we'd grow to hate Schiphol by the end of the trip, but at this early stage it was still on my good side.
Heck, when I won the lottery and got selected for a secondary luggage screening by the Dutch police or whoever, they were at least polite as they looked through my stuff to make sure I wasn't doing anything suspicious.
(I'm 2 for 2 on getting doubly-screened upon arrival in Europe...)
The car rental process was a little more complicated than I'm used to in the states, and I found it beneficial to do two things. 1) Go through a third party -- I used AutoEurope. 2) Pay for all the insurance stuff up-front, so they don't try to hose you down at the counter. In the US, you can get away with just declining everything, but that's a riskier proposition overseas.
Here's my ride for the next 5 days -- an Audi Q2. Getting on the Dutch freeways and driving off felt kind of strange at first, but I got used to it fairly quickly. I prefer self-navigating while driving in the states, but I learned to trust the on-board navigation system here.
I arrived in Maastricht!
...and I was immediately doused in a thunderstorm. Oh, how fitting.
So, while the lightning struck outside, I took refuge inside of With Love Burrito -- a Chipotle-ish spot on the city's main square.
I have no idea if this is normal for The Netherlands, but I ordered a medium spice level, and it was too hot to finish. Ouch.
...and the rest of the spice levels and sauce names are too funny not to share.
This was a cool scene -- a gigantic old Dominican church has been de-religioned and turned into a bookstore (Selexyz Dominicanen).
Enjoy the architecture while browsing for a novel, or having a drink at the cafe.
It's a neat way to re-purpose a cool building.
A stage was set up for a concert, soon to be performed, by the famed André Rieu. He's clearly a really big deal in Maastricht.
On the city's walk of fame is this guy. Yes, this guy. Apparently, he even appears on stage with André Rieu sometimes!
And if you're reading this and you're too young to remember Mambo No. 5, bless your heart.
Trying not to lose sight of the fact that I've been roaming Europe for all of a few hours, and just soaking in the different scenery.
One thing you learn quickly about cities in Europe -- the churches often have tall towers, and those towers are frequently accessible to the public. See the big red one? That's Sint-Janskerk, and the tower is open.
To get to the top, you have to climb a 200+ step spiral staircase, and it's ridiculously steep and narrow.
About halfway up is a small art gallery. I think this is Simba?
At the top of Sint-Janskerk.
The passageways at the top are narrow and fenced, but with cut-out holes big enough to fit a camera lens.
Some views over Maastricht.
The stage is about set for André Rieu.
Something kind of hypnotic about this picture of the seating area -- and yes, every attendee gets what I presume is an André Rieu-branded bottle of water.
More views over the city.
Maastricht is about as far south as you can go in the Netherlands, and it's certainly the furthest south of the country's larger cities.
It's got its fair share of old architecture, but there's some new to go along with it.
Cobblestone streets are common in Europe. They look great, though they're a bit tricky to walk on at times.
This is De Bisschopsmolen! A water mill that has been operational since the middle ages.
It makes me think of the Frontier Trail at Cedar Point.
More old stuff -- walls and fortifications on the south end of the city.
Another view in Maastricht.
Lots of Dutch cities have extravagant gates on the edges, such as the Helpoort here, which dates to 1229.
Cannons and stuff.
Maastricht is on the Meuse River.
It's cloudy and ugly outside -- which, to be honest, is going to be kind of a theme of the first 5 days of this trip.
I got rained on three times in Maastricht, all in the span of about two hours.
But, with more thunderstorms coming in, I tried to pick up the pace a bit.
Another view over the Meuse.
A symmetrical shot of a bridge on the Meuse.
Kind of impressed by whoever got the graffiti at the top of the bridge.
Another old portal/gate thing on the edge of the river.
Cafes and restaurants, not doing much outside business thanks to the weather.
It's very common to see boats passing by with the owners' cars on top of them. That's not something I really see in the US.
More passing boats in Maastricht.
This is a cool arch bridge.
This is a cool statue thing.
Looking north on the Meuse, a view of a different side of Maastricht.
Before I departed Maastricht, I made my first grocery store visit, and found myself in Stroopwafel heaven.
...and on my way out of the parking garage, it's absolutely pouring yet again, extending the dampness of my day a little longer.
As the storm began to break, I made my next stop at an interesting geographic two-for-one.
These flags represent the countries of The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany -- which all come together at the furthest southeast point in The Netherlands.
The observation tower in the background was closed, but the real purpose for my visit was right in front of me.
This monument marks Vaalserberg, the highest point in the mainland Netherlands, and the highest point in the province of Limburg, at about 322 meters above sea level. Credit granted for Netherlands Provincial Highpoint #1!
It's not /technically/ the highest point in all of The Netherlands, thanks to some of their islands in the Caribbean.
(the dirty little secret is that the actual high point is down this path a ways, but who's paying that much attention?)
Oh, and there's a distant view of one of those storms that got me earlier.
The second point of geographic interest is this monument, which marks the exact triple point between Belgium, Germany, and The Netherlands.
So, that brings me to a total of three countries visited so far in Europe.
From there, I drove south into Belgium, and that's when things started to go awry...
I arrived at my next stop, in a remote area of eastern Belgium, a long ways from anywhere. This place is called Signal de Botrange.
Signal de Botrange is the highest point in all of Belgium, at about 694 meters above sea level. My first legit national high point.
See the little hill behind the stone marker?
Apparently, Belgium was embarrassed that their high point reached "only" 694 meters.
So, they built a hill and a staircase...
...and called it 700.
That's cheating. You can't do that.
A view from the high point. See my little white vehicle?
Yeah, it's disabled.
We've got some problems.
About a minute or so before I arrived at Signal de Botrange, my tire pressure light came on. I pulled into the lot, realizing that it was past 7PM and I was about a million miles from anywhere. I was hoping I'd find that the tire was just a little low.
No such luck. I got out of the car and immediately heard an audible hissing sound coming from the left front tire. It didn't take me long to find the reason -- a screw had punctured the tread, and it was losing air fast.
I didn't really have much of a choice but to call the rental company to get their roadside assistance -- which first required me learning how to dial a phone number in Belgium. My phone data wasn't working great, but I was able to use my hiking GPS to give the guy on the phone my exact location. From there, I had to wait about 90 minutes for help to arrive.
An older Belgian gentleman pulled in with his bright yellow service truck, and it was clear he knew very little English, and I knew very little of any of the languages spoken in this corner of Belgium.
Oh, but he knew one English phrase.
I showed him the tire, and his immediate response was "OH S***!"
I was expecting him to declare the car undriveable, but he did not. He pumped it full of air, and directed me as best he could to follow him. I did so -- choosing to trust this guy I'd never met, in an unfamiliar country, and not really having any clue where we'd end up. After about 15 minutes of driving, we pulled into his shop -- which seemed to be even further into the middle of nowhere. Like, outside of the work he was doing, the soundtrack to the evening was mooing cows.
He took off the tire. I snapped this picture to remember the moment.
There's his service truck!
As it turns out, the tire was punctured by not one but TWO screws. I think that realization provided the one time that this guy and I connected. As it turns out, laughter at misfortune is universal.
So, I'll give this gentleman a lot of credit -- he repaired the tire and it held up for the rest of the next 5 days.
He charged me 25 Euros, though I'm not exactly what for, and then gave me the two screws to keep as a souvenir.
I figured out my location and plotted my path toward my final destination for the night, arriving a couple hours later than I'd hoped.
This was my hotel in the Belgian city of St. Vith (Sankt Vith).
I've never been at a hotel like this before, but I loved it. I booked online and received a code via email. I opened the door to the entryway, punched the code into the panel on the wall on the left, and a slot opened up -- with my room key inside.
There's no clerk and no front desk. It's the quickest check-in I've ever had.
St. Vith is a very small municipality in the tiny German-speaking section of eastern Belgium. It's way off the beaten path, but worked as a stop-over for my plans the next day.
Tired, but wanting to get out and de-stress after the tire incident, I wandered into the city's main square -- where, uh, something was going on.
Yep, it's Friday night, and St. Vith is throwing a full-on party.
While a DJ played a set from the stage, hundreds of people gathered around. Food trucks were set up (I got a nice pulled pork sandwich) as well as drink tents. The music was varied, but I distinctly remember taking one of these pictures during a spin of the /explicit/ version of DMX's "Party Up (Up in Here)".
Yep, I'm tired as hell, and I'm ending my night at a Belgian dance party. What a start.
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