FOUR EUROPEAN COUNTRIES IN ONE DAY?

 

Some may roll their eyes when they see the title of this post and maybe hark back to the old movie  “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium”. The fact is that in some places four countries in one day can be almost unavoidabe, especially if you are following the directions of a GPS with an upper class British accent who we nicknamed “Mum”. She was standard equipment with the BMW built Cooper Mini Clubman my partner Stella and I had rented in Amsterdam. She told us with so much authority to “prepare to turn right” that to disobey would be almost like disrespecting the Queen.

To backtrack, after touring the Netherlands, we made our way to Germany to visit old friends in medieval Bad Bentheim. We then found ourselves in the town of Trier after spending a night in the charming town of Cochem on the Mosel River. Maybe the local Roman ruins prompted our desire to see the huge and wonderfully preserved Porta Nigra, a two thousand year old, almost perfectly preserved gate to the old Roman city of Colonia Trierum. Or maybe it was too much fine German Mosel wine. In any event the Porta Nigra is huge and covered with carvings and architectural features dating back millennia, well worth our visit.

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Porta Nigra, Trier

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Vianden, Luxemburg

Of course right next door was Luxembourg, a country I had never visited. This part was located in the heart of the Ardennes Forest and we set our sights on Vianden a fairy tale village set on the River Our, with a medieval castle overlooking the town. It looked like it came right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with its round towers and conical roofs. The swans crusing the river, cobblestoned winding streets and quaint cottages only furthered the illusion.

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By now it was time to head back to Holland. The next day we decided to drive to the southernmost Dutch province of Limburg. To do this we consulted “Mum” who confidently guided us through Luxembourg, then to Germany, then back into Luxembourg followed by Belgium. We stopped for “lunch” at the Belgian town of Malmedy. I guess you could call it lunch though it consisted of extraordinarily good (and cheap by Canadian standards) Belgian chocolates and Belgian waffles. I also decided to try the Belgian sparkling wine but suggest that maybe the French still do that a bit better.

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At the Leonidas chocolate store in Malmedy, Belgium

Heading out from Malmedy the GPS once again led us into Germany where we visited another gorgeous medieval village, Monschau. Stella had assured me that this was the home of the famous WW I German fighting ace, The Red Baron, with whom I had always been fascinated. It was not.

For the record Monschau is still worth a visit…and the Red Baron was born in Breslau.

Moving onward, thanks to Stella’s sharp eyes, we spotted the remains of the Siegfried Line, a many kilometers long structure ,with concrete “dragons’ teeth” designed to prevent Allied advances during the Battle of the Bulge in WW II. It didn’t work. I would never have known what this structure was as it is unmarked by the Germans, so I forgave Stella for the Red Baron fiasco.

Finally “Mum” led us back into Holland and we entered the town of Valkenburg. By now it was getting dark so we set “Mum” to searching for a place to lodge of the night. Thanks to her we ended up staying in a fabulously spooky, real castle (Castle Geulzicht), the next day exploring even spookier caves known as far back as the ancient Romans.

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Statue carved into the cavern walls in Valkenburg

So, yes, we really did travel through four European countries on one day. We were not however trying to just get as many countries under our belts as possible. These were mostly back country roads with some real and unexpected treasures. It wasn’t the fastest way from one destination to the next though likely the shortest as the crow flies…but we had a fabulous time. I guess we have “Mum” to thank for that.

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