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Travel diary: Germany and Belgium, May 2019

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A few years ago, I wrote about a German food inspired menu that I prepared for my family for the holidays, not knowing at that point when I would be able to visit the country myself. That changed in May when an unexpected work trip came up. A meeting was scheduled at one of our offices near Frankfurt for a project that I was participating in and, conveniently, a few colleagues I was looking forward to meeting were also based in the same office. The timing was perfect, my schedule was open, and I was able to get the approval to go.

My trip was for the purpose of, well, to work, so I didn’t get to head into Frankfurt much for sightseeing or plan trips to any other major cities nearby. I was originally hoping to find time to check out the Museum of Communications and the Kleinmarkthalle farmers and vendor market in Frankfurt, among other things, but ended up working late hours during most of the week. Missing these wasn’t too disappointing since I was looking forward to the few personal days at the end of my trip the most: a visit to Belgium.

My German language knowledge is about on par with my French: not great. I know about a dozen words or phrases, so not much to have a good conversation. I couldn’t communicate that well with the taxi drivers so found by my second day in Germany that getting a rental car would make for a much smoother process. Contrary to what I heard about Germany before my trip, driving wasn’t difficult and many of the highways had speed limits, putting my previously held American perception of the Autobahn as this crazy driving experience to bed.

One thing that did amaze me, and a friend told me about this long before my trip, was how fresh much of the food tasted. As a coffee lover, it was awesome to have options for espresso and lattes from all of the coffee machines in our office and nearly everywhere I went, without needing to go to a coffee shop or cafe. I didn’t have to go to a Starbucks once during my entire week and a half trip—which is shocking for anyone who knows me well, since I’m a huge fan and I stop often for cold brews and iced Americanos during the work week and when traveling here in the States. Salads seemed much fresher and crunchier, too, and reminded me of how the veggies that I grow in my own garden at home and buy locally from farmers markets taste.

After my week in the Frankfurt suburbs, I hopped on an ICE international train Friday night, headed to the Brussels Midi train station. The train station was about a mile from where my hotel was booked for the coming few days. After a few days of rainy weather in Frankfurt, the weather was perfect for my trip to Belgium. I had a few locations and things of interest jotted down, and tried to make at least one reservation in advance, otherwise no strict agenda, which is how I try to travel these days.

My mission, however, was clear: to enjoy as much beer, chocolate, waffles, and various French foods as I could (as well as a great book I picked up at the airport bookstore, Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, a true story about the Theranos corporate fraud disaster. Highly recommend it.)

And that’s, more or less, what I accomplished.

With the exception of Weihenstephaner, I find Belgian beer to be better than German beer any day of the week. In Belgium, it was a dream, of course, find some of the freshest tasting beer I’ve had in a long time. I sampled ample amounts of Leffe, St. Bernardus, Le Chouffe, Rodenbach, Triple Karmelite, and others from cafes and pubs I stopped at along the way. I walked around virtually everywhere I went (helped to offset some of the beer and chocolate), and ate outside at any chance I had.

In addition to Brussels, I had a goal of fitting in a day trip to Bruges and Ghent on Sunday. If I had another day added on to my trip, or was departing from the Brussels airport Tuesday morning instead of taking the train back to Frankfurt Monday night, this would have been possible. With the time I had, I decided to spend it wisely and not rush around from thing to thing more than necessary. I picked the train to Bruges that Sunday, a 26 Euro round trip ticket for first class after taxes and fees, and passed through Ghent—one to keep on the list for next time, since I’ve heard that the museum of modern art is worth a visit.

Brussles and Bruges are similar and I suppose typical for European cities: filled with old, narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways; beautiful buildings with unique architecture; outdoor dining on street-side cafes popping up every few feet or so; and typical tourist-trap shops and activities, not uncommon for what you’d find in any popular destination these days though.

Aside from just walking around and taking in the beautiful weather and sights, in Bruges I fit in a stop at Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres near the canal to enjoy a flight of beer. I also visited Brown Sugar, a confectionary shop selling homemade marzipan and nougat in every flavor imaginable. Since Dave is a huge fan of marzipan, I bought some of the natural (plain) flavor so he could sample a little part of my trip, too, once I got home. I selected the pistachio nougat and figs & dates nougat to bring back, too, since I love just about anything with pistachios and figs.

On Monday, my later afternoon train took me back to the Frankfurt Flughafen Hauptbanhof, where I stayed the night near the airport since my departure back to the U.S. was the next morning. Even though I was there the better part of 10 days, I only saw just a little considering that it was primarily a work trip. My next trip would hands-down involve a car rental for a longer period of time to tour around outside of the major cities to make more brewery visits in Belgium. I’m hoping Dave and I can take a trip back to Germany in November to see the Christmas markets. Maybe something to look forward to for next year…

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