May 262015
 

Early Wednesday morning, we got up in Brussels, drove confusedly through the downtown area until we found whatever passes as a highway in Belgium. Then we drove a long way to Paris. We had lunch at a gas station. Once we got to Paris, we encountered the insanity of French drivers. Brussels ranks #1 in my experience for “Most difficult to navigate.” Paris ranks #1 in my experience for “Most terrifying to drive in.”

We spent two days in Paris.

Paris!

We got into our hotel around 10:00 AM. The hotel sucked (except for the room). We spent the remainder of the day walking from sight to sight in Paris. Paris is a big, sprawling city. We walked 18 miles (28.8km). I was impressed by how large and numerous the public parks are.

We walked into the Jardin du Luxembourg and discovered the scale of the map we were using. Then we rerouted toward Notre Dame. It was another magnificent church! We happened to get there shortly before Mass, so we meandered a bit and then attended. I learned that Mass in French makes as much sense to me as Mass in English. It sounded nice, though. This may be the first time I’ve gone to church on vacation. Did you know that construction started in the 1100s?

We then walked around that island and saw other ancient, magnificent buildings. We left the island and visited the Louvre. The Louvre is a monstrosity.

The Louvre, pictured with our home and our neighbors, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Cathedral of St. Michael, my workplace and its surrounding parking lot, Soldier Field, and a god damn aircraft carrier.

We decided to go in because the lines were short, and we were quickly overwhelmed. We spent most of our time navigating. We hit a few major items (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc), and then bolted. KrisDi wanted to walk through the park in front of the Louvre, but it’s even bigger. We walked through part of it.

We walked on and had a light lunch of wine, bread, and cheese. We walked by other magnificent and ancient architecture, such as the Acadamie Nationale de Musique and the Royal Palace. We walked and walked and saw and saw. We headed to Au Petit Panisse for dinner, based on Northwood’s recommendation (he’d been there a few weeks earlier — they remembered him, and they seated us exactly where they sat). Then our camera battery died, but we still had 5km to walk back to the hotel. We planned a route past more magnificent, ancient architecture.

The next day, we resolved to use the Metro and walk less. Consequently, we only hoofed 12 miles. We hit the Eiffel Tower and Trocadero before breakfast. Then on to the Arc de Triomphe (elevator out of service, about 1,000 steps to the top), down Champs Elysees to the Grand and Petite Palaises. Then on to the Hotel Des Invalides. Then lunch, a Metro ride to Sacre Coeur (with about 1,000 steps to get to ground level from the train), and short and powerful rainstorm that caused tourists to stampede into whatever building was nearby (mostly Sacre Coeur). The Metro back toward the hotel, followed by a snack of wine and croissants plus a short trip to a wine store before (what we consider) a late dinner at La Mamma.

We headed back to the hotel to drink our remaining beer and our bottle of wine and try to stay awake until we left for Charles de Galle Airport around 3AM. We discovered the rental place was closed until 4, so we had to do a night drop; we also discovered Lufthansa’s counter didn’t open until 4:30, so we had to stand around nervously as our 6:20 flight time approached. That’s a weird airport, man.

KrisDi was so tired she fell asleep while chewing on a croissant on the plane to Frankfurt. We both slept on the flight from Frankfurt to Seattle.

May 252015
 

Sunday morning in Stuttgart, we got up a little bit early, got our little Yaris out of the hotel‘s parking lot, and drove to Brussels. This was our longest stay (not counting work days in Stuttgart) — we were there for about three days.

Pictures in Brussels

We stopped for lunch in a place called St. Vith during our drive in. What I learned on the drive in: (1) A Yaris can get up to about 175 kph (109mph); (2) Even if you drive that fast, minivans will pass you in Germany; and (3) Every little town has a steeple that suggests a magnificent church.

Once we got there, we checked into our hotel and learned that “Brussels Fest” was going on a few blocks away. We wandered through this, and then wandered some more. We bought some world class beer at random convenience stores, had the store open the beer for us, and then wandered while drinking the beer. We bought waffles and visited the Grand Place. This was my first taste of magnificent ancient architecture, and it elicited gasps and “wows”. The town hall is the centerpiece; built in the 1400s and about 315 feet tall. At night, they lit up the Grand Place with colored light, which was pretty cool.

The next day (Monday), we went out for a late-feeling breakfast at Peck 47, which was good. We walked on to the Cantillon brewery. The tour is fascinating, self-guided, and 7€.  I recommend you read about them. They’re a well known, world class, sour beer brewery. We randomly met up with 7 other midwestern Americans, with whom we shared 11 750ml bottles of Cantillon beer. We spent ~4 hours here, and I loved it. Afterward, we went to Moeder Lambic to regroup and decide what to do with the rest of our day. We decided to wander around and look at more magnificent architecture. At a bar called Monk, we found Westvleteren 12 for 9.50€ — the cheapest we saw it anywhere. At some point in these two days, we picked up some beer, mostly more Cantillon and Westvleteren 12, 8, and Blonde (6). We drank a little bit of it in the hotel room that night.

Finally, on Tuesday, we went out to look at more magnificent architecture. We saw Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church, and the Palace of Justice, and the Royal Palace after breakfast. Then we went to lunch at the Bier Circus. Then, we finally actually actually visited the Cathedral of St. Michael. I say “Finally” because I drove by it five times without noticing it — it was on the left side, and my attention was on the right, as I had circled our hotel looking for a parking spot. We went back to Monk (and another Westvleteren 12) that night, and then to a place near there for a seafood dinner. Of course, I had mussels. We went to Toone afterward. Then a bit more beer in the hotel room.

What did I learn and/or observe in Brussels? (1) Brussels is a dirty city. They leave their garbage out everywhere. (2) It is easier to find a bar serving beer in the morning than a restaurant serving breakfast. (3) The drinking scene in Brussels is exactly my style; walk into any joint, and everyone has a beer — and most of them have different beers. And most of those beers are world-class. (4) After a certain amount of magnificent architecture, you start to look at magnificent architecture and think to yourself, “Oh gee. More magnificent architecture.” (5) People in Brussels (and maybe all of Europe) seem more relaxed than in the US. (6) The US is a baby country (chronologically).

May 242015
 

I went to Stuttgart on May 3rd. I arrived on May 4th. I attended the Control Show for my work from the 5th to the 8th. KrisDi arrived on the morning of the 9th. We spent a day in Stuttgart.

These are pictures from the entire stay.

Fruhlingsfest

Control Show was a giant collection of quality control companies. Since I’m pretty nerdy and I understand the domain, it was somewhat interesting. My work there was a bit dry, however, and I wasn’t sad when it was over.

We ate lots of deep fried meats and lots of bread. We drank lots of beer. My friends/tormentors convinced me to ride a bicycle to the show on one day. On Friday, we (coworkers/friends and I) bailed early and went to Fruhlingsfest, which (randomly) coincided with our trip. We drank more beer (~4 liters), and ate more food, and made our way back to the hotel room. The next day, KrisDi showed up and my dear coworkers went their separate ways.

KrisDi and I first got to deal with (1) lost luggage and (2) an attempt to charge us an extra 3500€ (yes, three thousand, five hundred) on our car rental. Both of these dramas were averted fairly easily and without much effort from us besides patience. Afterward, KrisDi and I wandered around downtown Stuttgart for a while, and then we went to Fruhlingsfest again. The next morning, we drove to Brussels. That’ll be the next post.

What did I learn? German is harder to pronounce than Japanese. There are different sounds. Those umlauts are no fun. The rules are not consistent. I likened pronunciation to “Beating up the inside of my mouth with my tongue.”

May 032015
 

I successfully kept myself and the kids alive. The house was in relatively good shape. Everyone ate stuff, although the eating was not as good as when KrisDi is home. Everyone slept, although some notable persons may not have slept enough. Everyone went to their appointed locations at the designated times. Tantrums on all three sides were thrown, but not so bad as I might have guessed.

KrisDi made it back, presumably better educated than when she left.

We had a short, busy day of normal life before I flew off all on my own again. I’m currently on a plane to Frankfurt. So I’ll be on my own for a few days before KrisDi joins me and we have a short vacation