We’re down to three weeks, and while our transfer and home leave plans are still a bit up in the air, it is no longer possible to duck the rapidly approaching reality of our imminent departure from Rwanda.
The Ardennes Forrest covers a sizable portion of southeastern Belgium, spills over into neighboring Luxembourg, and extends into parts of Germany and France. Castles and other medieval ruins dot the landscape, extensive networks of subterranean caverns lie hidden in the Ardennes mountains, and Trappist monks continue to follow centuries-old recipes to brew perfect beer and make sumptuous cheese in abbeys scattered throughout this rugged corner of Europe. In other words, we expected to find a little slice of heaven and, despite our unpleasant reception in Dinant, the Ardennes did not disappoint.
More than historic and charming Bruges and much more than gloomy Ghent, our fondest memories of Belgium were forged in the tiny riverside town of Dinant in the heart of the Ardennes, a forested region of ruggedly beautiful terrain that encompasses parts of four countries. And this is despite the fact that Dinant greeted us with the worst weather of our two-week European trip.
Our last night in Bruges we were joined by a good friend who had taken the train all the way from Cambridge to meet up with us. Unfortunately, we had committed to spending the following weekend with other friends in Luxembourg, so we only overlapped for one night. We had chosen the Grand Duchy as our rendezvous point simply because none of us had ever been there before and were pleasantly surprised to discover that Luxembourg has quite a lot to offer. The capital is pleasant and scenic, but does not really have enough attractions for a full weekend of sightseeing. The rest of the country, however, is simply magnificent and definitely merits a leisurely visit.
Comparing Bruges and Ghent half a century ago, a friend recently told us that he liked the latter better because it felt like a real city where ordinary people lived. Bruges, on the other hand, struck him as a tourist city that existed solely for the enjoyment of foreigners. We’re sure that a similar charge could be leveled against Bruges now. As visitors to this magnificently beautiful city, however, we could not help but be completely taken in by its many enchantments.
We had a fantastic 48 hours in Amsterdam – the first stop on our whirlwind European tour – despite doing very little actual sightseeing. The primary goal for our jaunt through the Low Countries was to catch up with friends and eat and drink well, and we accomplished both aims in spades during our brief stay.
Admittedly, we did not do nearly as good a job facilitating Munchkin’s photography during our recent trip to Europe as we had the first time it had occurred to us to put a camera in his hand. During our travels in South Africa the camera had proved a good motivational tool that got Munchkin through some difficult hikes. This time around, Munchkin did not need the extra encouragement, so we mostly forgot to bring it along on our excursions.