A Mini Europe Tour

A Mini Europe Tour

INTRO

Two years and three months. That’s how long we had been discussing on taking this trip with my closest friends. See, time’s a b*tch and the older we get, the less we have of it to spare. But this is not one of those failed attempts to get yourself off the couch to take that plane. We actually planned and timed it amazingly well, and despite our numerous attempts to coordinate on a 2-day trip in the past, we made this 7-day Europe Tour count! 

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We visited Venice of the North, the city of lights, the gateway to Europe, the quirkiest city of Belgium, as well as the capital of Europe. As always, press the play button below and enjoy this adventure from our point of view.

CHAPTER 1: The Arrival In Brussels

The tour started from the capital of Europe, Brussels on the 21st of September 2019. Andreas, Giannis and Makis flew from Greece to Brussels. They had an early morning flight, which means no sleep. Or does it?

I went to pick them up from the Charleroi airport, at around 8 am on a Saturday (thanks for that). The first time in Brussels always has to include the basics: Grand Place, Parc du Cinquantenaire, Atomium, good food and a solid night stroll in the city centre. I have been living in Brussels for more than two years and all I can say is that it’s a city that absorbs all kinds of vibes. It’s that type of city that can host any spirit. 

After lunch, we started roaming and tried to make the most out of that (rare) sunny day. We hopped on the metro to reach the De Brouckère station, which is right next to the Grand Place. The Grand-Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) is the central square of the City of Brussels. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. It is surrounded by the guild houses, the City Hall and the Maison du Roi. We actually stayed there until the sunset, as there was a mexican folk concert and the buildings that you can shoot are infinite.

We ended the night with a visit to Brussels’ famous beef restaurant, Colonel. There we tested for the first time ever the most delicate and expensive beef of the world, the Kobe beef. After that, we were guests of Brussels’ vibrant nightlife and consumers of just some of the 700 different kinds of beers. 

The second day we had an early morning. We had our first coffee of the day next to the European Commission building, in the Schuman roundabout. We walked from there, over the bridge of Rue de la Loi, to reach Place Luxembourg where we visited the museum of the European Parliament. Then we walked back to the Parc du Cinquantenaire, a large public park, in the easternmost part of the European Quarter in Brussels. The centrepiece triumphal arch was erected in 1905 replacing a previous temporary version of the arcade by Gédéon Bordiau. The structures were built in iron, glass and stone, symbolising the economic and industrial performance of Belgium.

Another metro ride, and we reached another symbol of Brussels, the Atomium. With it being a unique creation in the history of architecture and an emblematic vestige of the World Fair in Brussels (Expo 58); the Atomium is the most popular tourist attraction of the Europe’s Capital. It represents an iron crystal structure of 9 atoms and is symbolic of the peaceful use of the nuclear energy. Should you ever visit Brussels, definitely put a pin on that.

CHAPTER 2: Amsterdam – Venice of the north

 

Oh the Dam. With the beautiful canals, local coffee shops, tiny and beautiful boats. Things were pretty normal so far, but that would not last long. After all, it’s Amsterdam. There’s always a story after every trip there. Some think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin (John Green). 

We left Brussels very early on Monday morning heading to the car rental company to pick up our car for the next 5 days. Of course what we had paid for was not available and we had to settle with a french Renault Clio, which was not even returned yet by the previous guys and we had to wait for approximately one hour. In any case, we didn’t want to start the day on the wrong foot so we went on our way to the Dam. Once we reached, we parked in an underground parking which cost about 40 euros per day. I guess parkings in Amsterdam are built of gold. The day was still young and we had so much to discover, but first we went to check in at our hotel. Now I wish I could describe how bad this thing smelt and seemed, but you will have to take my word for it. We were not there for a luxurious stay however, we wanted to live the experience to the most. Some of us maybe more than others..

Amsterdam is synonymous with its canals, and one of the best free things to do in the city is get out and get lost among them. The city is centred around the UNESCO-listed Canal Ring, where the three main canals – the Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht – form a horseshoe shape around the 17th-century historic heart of Amsterdam. And that is what we did for the rest of the morning. We enjoyed a coffee on a beautiful local corner cafe. Had our lunch in one of the many fast-food restaurants available, as the Dutch are not well known for their cuisine. 

Moments before the storm

One thing I should mention… there’s a lovely mix of vibes in Amsterdam. Old and new, villagey areas and busy commercial districts – it’s somewhere where you really CAN have the best of both worlds. Hang out by the quiet canals, or hop on a bike and zoom around the city taking in the architecture, views and all that makes the city special. No doubt you’ll soak up plenty of Amsterdam’s buzz along the way. Since we were satisfied with the exploring part already, we decided to jump on the party side. It was around 6pm, we still had around 2 hours of sunlight left and then lights out, and Amsterdam switched to night mode. What’s the best way to enjoy Amsterdam by night other than weed? Some of us had smoked before, some had never even had a normal cigarette. The one thing that no-one had tried was the space cake.

And so it begins. We went and bought a piece of cake each. The instructions were very clear on the portions that should be consumed. We followed them strictly, but we did not see any results within the first hour. So we thought we had been scammed and decided to devour the whole thing at once. (Found out this is something you should not do when you’re eating a space cake). The night was starting to fall and the first neon signs were already lit. The red light district was getting more and more crowded and we were ready to explore the Dam by night. 10 minutes in, and we are starting to feel dizzy and missing parts of the space-time (if that was ever possible). We decided to head to the hotel to calm down and go back later. From 8pm to 8am we were in the hotel. I doubt that any one of us has memory of what exactly happened in there. All that we’ve gathered 1 year later from videos and discussions is vomit, panic attacks, endless laughter, and the deepest sleep ever recorded. I cannot describe Amsterdam’s nightlife as we never experienced it. We checked out early in the morning and left in a bitter-sweet mood for Rotterdam. Here are our last “normal” pics taken from Amsterdam.

CHAPTER 3: Rotterdam – The Gateway To Europe

Often overshadowed by Amsterdam (they have an intense rivalry), Rotterdam is a funky little port town that prides itself on its unique architecture, port area, art, food, and modern city center. The city is one of the most multicultural in the country and has an array of free festivals and concerts throughout the year. Since Amsterdam did not leave us with much energy, we had a walk around Rotterdam, crossed the Erasmusbrug (English: “Erasmus Bridge”), had some lunch, took various photos and left to return to Brussels to rest. What I noticed while holding a camer pretty much always in those 7 days, is that Rotterdam had so many hidden gems to capture, and such an interesting and unique architecture, that makes it a must visit destination for urban photographers. This is what inspired me to shoot countless protraits, some of which can be found below.

CHAPTER 4: GHENT – The Quirkiest City Of Belgium

My dearest, me beloved magical Ghent. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province, and the second largest municipality in Belgium, after Antwerp. There is something magical about Ghent that enchants you and attracts you no matter how many times you visit. Could it be the canals, the boat rides, the castle? Could it be that the people in Ghent are so welcoming that it makes you feel like home? What makes a good home actually? Good food? Good company? We had both even though the weather was not our ally. But know what? I think the rain suits the city. From the street waffle shops, to the castle tour, to the amazing Frites Atelier (voted for the best fries in Europe), Ghent was everyone’s favorite city amongst all that we visited.

In Ghent we met a group of student girls making an amateur video on the favorite songs of people in Ghent. Little did they know that Makis was about to sing a greek folklore song that only a handful of Greeks barely know.

We had our afternoon coffee at the beautiful Moris bar, where the fireplace was lit and the atmosphere has never been cosier. There, and already tired from the last 5 days of roaming, we had our most honest and open discussions ever, even though we’ve known each other for more than a decade. If you ask me, that’s home. People to whom you open your heart, in the city that encourages you to do so.

Thank you Ghent, once again, you delivered.

CHAPTER 5: Paris – The City Of Lights

We see it in movies, in videos of romantic songs, travel vlogs, and somehow we all crave it even though we’ve never tasted it. The word’s about Paris. One of the most visited cities in the world and one of the most romantic cities in Europe. It’s a beautiful city, easy to walk around, with an interesting history, and with lots of things to see and do. You can never be wrong with Paris. We started early on Thursday morning, picked up our coffees and snacks and hit the road. It was no more than 2 hours when we crossed the borders and entered France. What an incredible thing the EU borders, what an advantage we European citizens hold and how little do we exploit it.

The first day was full, busy and expensive (sorry Paris). We arrived at the hotel, left our luggages and without second thoughts we jumped on the metro to go see the Eiffel Tower. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Constructed from 1887–1889, it was initially criticised by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The tower is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and the tallest structure in Paris. All in all, it is a glorious reward after a long trip. We would come back later the same night for the light show.

If you’re not cheating, by now your music must be over. Here’s another song we kept replaying during the trip.

We devoted the day to walking, exploring the city centre, the Arch de Triomphe, the Notre Dame (unfortunately still not repaired from the recent fires and thus not open for visits), the famous walk along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and its ridiculously expensive fashion shops.

Paris, France

The next and last day, refreshed and rested we left the hotel headed to the Louvre museum. There, we enjoyed a StarBucks and wandered around the endless paths of history, art and revolution. The magnificent, baroque-style palace and museum sits along the banks of the Seine River in Paris. The Louvre’s collection includes Egyptian antiques, ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, paintings by the Old Masters (notable European artists from before 1800), and crown jewels and other artifacts from French nobles. Without question, the Louvre’s most famous work is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” who enchants hordes of visitors with her enigmatic smile. This small, iconic painting — it is only 53 by 77 centimeters, is covered with bullet-proof glass and flanked by guards, so we could not get close look but just the sight of it was enough.

We saved the best of Paris for last. Montmartre is a little place like a village with authentic charm in the north of Paris (18th arrondissement) on the hill of Montmartre (la butte Montmartre).

It is different from the other districts of Paris because of its atmosphere. The famous Sacre-Coeur basilica is located at the top of the hill and, there, you can have a magnificent view of Paris.

In Montmartre, we enjoyed getting lost in its narrow streets to feel the cultural and artistic life and the sweetness of this neighborhood. And of course the unique view of the whole city of Paris from uphill. Probably because it is picturesque and apart from the real Paris, Montmartre has always attracted bohemians, political radicals and artists. Picasso, Dali, Toulouse-Lautrec and other famous artists lived in Montmartre. And we made it there right before a huge storm came and chased us all away. All in all, a day well spent.

CHAPTER 6: The Finale

We drove, we saw, we lived, we laughed, we fought, we ate and we tasted each part of Paris, Ghent, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Brussels possible in 7 days. It will be a memorable experience, one that will set the stepping stone for the next adventure. Life was meant to a great adventure and close friends. I’d even call them brothers. Thank you for one of the best weeks of my life.

Andreas

Makis

Giannis

Panos

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One Comment

  1. Ήθελα να κάνω το ίδιο τουρ! Πάρα πολύ ωραίο άρθρο.. 🙂 Εύχομαι πολλά τέτοια!!

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