I took a budget airline (Wizz Air) from Cluj-Napoca to Brussels. It went to the Charleroi airport, which is a bit outside of the city, so I had to take a bus in to get to my hotel. Worked out just fine and saved me money, which is always a plus. At this point in the trip I’ve basically given up on hostels – I’m not at all interested in the partying, don’t care as much about meeting people, and I have hotel points to burn so why not. Yay for credit card bonuses!
I took a cab from the bus station to the hotel because I have no idea where I am, felt quite happy with that decision when it started raining 2 minutes later. Checked in and immediately headed out to get some dinner. I went to a small bistro on a side street that had some excellent reviews; the hostess said “We can seat you if you promise to be finished in an hour.” I assured her that was not a problem – doesn’t she know with Americans the usual problem is slowing down enough to enjoy the food? I order Carbonnades Flamandes, we are in Belgium after all. It’s pretty good. Also get a local beer that was fine, but I’m not enough of a beer person to tell you about its quality. Ah well. Walked around a bit after dinner, it’s staying light pretty late so I wanted to see a bit of the city.
The next day I took the train to Bruges. Love the trains here, so easy (once you figure out how to read the signs anyway) and affordable and convenient. Bruges was…underwhelming. Honestly at this point I’m…not in the mood for anything, really. I’m meeting my parents tomorrow and lots of people the day after that, and I can’t really focus on anything else. Still, I walked around Bruges and took some pictures (meh), ate some local french fries (yum!) with mayonnaise (eh), and just relaxed. Back to Brussels and some last minute laundry.
Checked out of my hotel the next morning, took a cab to the train station where I dropped my bags in a locker. I still had several hours before mom and dad arrive by train (through the Chunnel, exciting) so I just wandered the city for a bit. I did stop at a little food truck selling freshly made waffles with chocolate. Trust me, it tastes even better than it sounds. Made my way back to the train station, walk around several times before discovering that international trains arrive in a different area. Finally found it and waited and met my parents! It was pretty incredible to see them finally, after nearly five months of basically not seeing familiar faces. Quite exciting.
So as many of you know, the reason I was meeting my parents at all is that my grandfather is buried in the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland. He was killed in November 1945, when my father was 11 months old. In an extraordinary display of gratitude, the Dutch people have adopted every single grave of a service member in this cemetery and come to visit them, put down flowers, and say thank you. 70 years after the fact, and they are still coming. Last year, my father reached out to the family that adopted my grandfathers grave and began communicating with them.
Over these few days in Margraten and Maastricht, my parents and I, my brother and (pregnant!) sister-in-law, and many people from our extended family and friends visited with the Naaijkens; visited my grandfathers grave; and watched as several thousand Dutch people came to honor the American Memorial Day. My father spoke at the ceremony which was attended by the Prime Minister, ambassadors from all over Europe including Germany, and the general currently serving as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. It’s absolutely one of the most moving experiences of my life. I don’t really know how to put the experience of those days into words – it was emotional and amazing in so many ways.
After our time there, I went with family and friends to spend several days in Amsterdam. We walked around the city and ate very well (crepes! chocolate! Indonesian food! cheese! more crepes!) as well as cultured ourselves a little bit. And we saw windmills of course. I also may have gone to a ‘coffeeshop’ with my brother and my mom. *whistles* Sadly, this little family adventure was over all too soon and I said goodbye to everyone.
At this point in time, my travels sped up. I only had a few weeks left until I would be returning to the US, so I moved quickly. Train ride to Munich, Germany, where I ate delicious sausages from an outdoor market and wandered around a bit. Another train ride to Budapest, Hungary, where I connected with my cousins who were traveling for a few weeks. Budapest is a really fun city that I definitely want to get back to some day. Interesting history and architecture, lots to see and do, some tasty food. I went to a market where every other stall was selling paprika for tourists, so of course I bought some. Please don’t break open in my suitcase.
Quick train ride to Vienna, where I went out for…Chinese food, because that’s what you do apparently. I kid. It was late and there weren’t a lot of options by the hotel. Took a tour of the Opera House (I was underwhelmed honestly), tried some pastries (OMG), and wandered. Met my cousins the next day (we were going the same places but on a different schedule) and we managed to find the house that my great-grandmother was born in! It’s still there, although it’s some kind of office now. Pretty cool to think about the history and travels involved. Had a very fancy dinner to celebrate.
One more train ride to Prague, which was my very last stop! Bittersweet for sure. Prague is another excellent city that I absolutely want to go back some day. Great for walking around, good photographic opportunities, and pretty tasty food. At one point I was walking down a street and suddenly there was a ton of yelling and people chanting and cops in riot gear, and I nearly panicked wondering what I had gotten into. Then a loud voice yelled ‘Cut!’ and it all stopped, they were just filming a movie scene. Phew. Had a final dinner with my cousins (Vietnamese food, appropriate for my trip I guess?). Early (early!) morning cab ride to the airport next day, looking at at the sunrise over the city. I’m going home. Boo. Yay. Boo. Yay.