A three day weekend provided me a unique opportunity to explore a few neighboring countries by car. The journey brought me to France, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands. Most European countries have a work holiday on Easter weekend, so travel by plane is tremendously expensive. As a result, I got to experience a good old-fashioned European road trip. We took my little diesel Pugeot, I assume most of my readers are not familiar with this French car brand. It’s a very tiny European style hatchback – manual transmission, ancient knob based AC, and no cruise control. The bright side is that the little manual diesel engine gets good gas mileage but the downside is that it’s not very luxurious. It barely fit our tow carry-on pieces of luggage in the back but drives mostly reliably.
We started our journey in the little car late on Friday. We took the road less traveled on our way to Reims, France. (Ask me to pronounce Reims sometime and prepare to have your mind boggled.) This path was selected because it was the shortest route (i.e. it consumed the least amount of gas) and avoided the expensive French toll roads. This sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this resulted in us winding around isolated narrow country roads of France that have no lights, and it was dark. I’m still thankful we stayed on the road and didn’t hit anything.
Our hotel room in Reims was clean and adequate. It was also along the main road in Reims. For those
of you who don’t know, Reims is the major city within the Champagne region of France. The cathedral there had some of the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen. My travelling companion mentioned that it’s always smart to have breakfast in France, and she was right. You just don’t find croissants like that in the US or even in Belgium. After breakfast, we strolled around the small city to view some of the landmarks near the hotel. We passed through a park, saw the cathedral, did some shopping and tried to take a light lunch. I say TRIED because our light salads ended up being quite heavy. I regret nothing.
After strolling through Reims, I went to Epernay. Epernay is the location of most of the caves (wine cellars) of the companies that produce champagne in the region. The town was mostly quiet (it was Easter weekend), but we managed to find one winery open for tastings. I tried all types of champagnes: rosé, pinot noir, chardonnay and blends of the two. I especially liked trying the pinot noir champagne as I am more accustomed to chardonnay based bubbly. After buying a few bottles, we moved on. There wasn’t much to see in the valley because it was far too early in spring for the sea of grapevines to bud, leaving the valley looking barren but full of potential. I would love to see it later in the year during the growing season.
I made it to Ecthermach, Luxembourg by mid-evening. There really is not much in the area but scenery. Try thinking of middle northern Minnesota. My hotel was on the boarder of Germany and Luxembourg. I could clearly see German soil from my room. The hotel was rustic, homey and had a lovely five-course dinner. A carafe of local wine and a big meal full of variety kept me happy all evening.
In the morning, I drove the meandering road that runs along the border of Luxembourg and Germany. The scenery was quite stunning and I stopped frequently to take pictures. The destination of this day trip was the castle city of Vianden. The city itself seems almost entirely focused on the restored castle that overlooks it. Turning your car into the valley that overlooks the castle is stunning. The castle was rebuilt from ruins in the 1970s with great care. The result was a structure more beautiful and polished than the medieval one in Bullion, BE. It was a wonderful tour that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a trip in the area. The restoration even included a few furnished rooms set up like they would have been a few centuries ago.
After the castle visit, I headed out of the valleys of Luxembourg and on to Cologne, Germany. Cologne was leveled almost entirely during WWII, so it is an unusual mix of old Europe and a modern city. A few untouched structures remain in the city’s old quarter near the Rhine, so that is where most of my visit was focused. As usual, I tried some local cuisine, and I was particularly fond of the sausage and strudel. Beware in Germany; if you just ask for a beer, you might just end up with 50CL (a quart). The shopping in Cologne looked fantastic, but unfortunately just about everything was closed for Easter Sunday and Monday. I’m particularly bitter about an amber necklace I saw in a window that I was never able to try on or buy. Most of my time was spent visiting the open area near the river and the heart of the city.
On the way home from Cologne, I drove through the Netherlands. That counts, right? Also on our way
home, I stopped at an outlet mall to visit a Desigual store. The designer takes a mix of modern and classic Spanish themes and colors and smashes them together to create their signature riot of color and texture. I couldn’t find a dress that suited me, but I found a few other things I really liked.
After such a long weekend, I returned home exhausted, but I was thrilled to see so much of Europe in just a few days.