Five years ago I had the fortune of travelling to Europe for 15 days with my wife. We were part of a group tour which was organised by a famous tour operator of India. We had many exhilarating and breathtaking moments up the London Eye, Eiffel Tower in Paris, cruise along the Rhine in Germany and the canals of Amsterdam, gondola ride in Venice, St Peters Basilica and Trevi Fountain in Rome. But this narration is based on 24 hours’ experience of my stay in Europe.
Hotel Ibis: August 8, 2012. Au Revoir Paris
It was fifteen past eight in the morning. After breakfast and a little stroll, we pulled our travel bags and gathered near the coach. The real tour of Europe, which can be best seen over land, started that day. Coach Captain Liandro, loaded our luggage and we occupied our seats, where a daily rotation plan was followed to allow each passenger to have a maximum number of view points each day.
Would anyone believe that in a single day we were to travel through two countries of West Europe culminating in the Dutch city of Eindhoven the same day! Interestingly the twilight period in Europe starts around 9-15 to 9-30 in the evening. Soon we were on the highway. Wheels rolled on and gradually gathered momentum and beautiful French countryside passed by the window. The wheat crop was already harvested and packed to be transferred to the market. Small settlements, beautiful lush green patches of coniferous trees and streamlets appeared at intervals.
It was a long drive of about four hours from Paris to Brussels. Beautiful small cottages appeared on the scene adding beauty to the landscape and we hardly realised that we have already entered the city limits of Brussels with unusually quiet streets, with almost no pedestrians in sight.
When the tour manager announced — “Friends we are in Belgium now”, many of my fellow passengers got up from the slumber. I was struck by the sleeping beauty of a vibrant city and I wondered how could a capital city, which is also the Headquarters of European Union, could be so quiet. Contrary to my belief I found all the cities of Europe to be very quiet and thought every time where all the people have gone! But through experience of travelling through Europe I learnt that all the European cities have same characteristics. To me, even Paris was no exception.
We were taken to a well-decorated double-storeyed restaurant, Au Paris des Indes, for lunch, adorned with a huge Ganesha idol, idols of other Indian Gods and Goddesses, and lovely Rajasthani paintings. A pleasant surprise was awaiting us when my wife told me to grab a bowl to have rice pudding. I was speechless when someone standing near the door on way to the kitchen, spoke to me in Bengali. I was overjoyed, someone speaking in Bengali, that too in Brussels. He then narrated the fascinating story of his coming to Belgium, some 30 years ago in search of fortune. The street in front of the hotel was otherwise very calm and quiet with the occasional bustling of small beautiful cars. We got into the coach and began our orientation tour of Brussels. Brussels is a major centre of international politics and is the seat of European Union, secretariat of Benelux, and the Headquarter of NATO.
On way to the most important landmark of Brussels, the Grand Place, we had glimpses of the Municipal museum and the Royal Palace of the King. The Royal Palace, situated in front of the Brussels Park, has a grand location in the centre of Brussels, but it is not the residence of the King and the Royal Family.
Brussels, known as the “European Village”, is famous for beautiful parks, museums, sidewalks chocolate and beer. Liandro parked the coach near a beautiful park.
After the announcement by the tour manager how to go around the Grand Place; we alighted from the coach and started walking slowly for a two-hour long leisure trip.
The Grand Place, grown from a medieval market, is a huge square and is the most sought after destination of Brussels, which was declared as the UNESCO heritage site. The Grand Place has a number of important landmarks with fascinating combinations of the Gothic and Baroque style of architecture.
The Town Hall is a towering 315-foot structure with the statue of St. Michael. Close to this, in a narrow alley in the corner of Rue de L’Eture and Rue de Chene, the small bronze statue of a peeing boy, Mannekin Pis. According to legend, this is a symbol of protest by a small boy against a tyrant ruler. The Grand Place (in picture) has a number of souvenir shops. We visited a number of them and tasted strips of cheese and chocolate, but I bet our Indian products are at par, if not better than world famous Dutch varieties.
After a prolonged and leisurely stroll and window shopping in the beautiful Grand Place, adorned with beautiful Gothic structure buildings and quaint cafes, when we came back to the coach, it was already drizzling. We were now ready to say good bye Brussels, one of the most beautiful city I have seen during my entire tour of Europe. The wheels rolled on and are we are ready to encounter the fascinating Netherlands.
On the way, we visited Atomium, a great structure of stainless steel consisting of huge spheres representing the concept of an iron molecule enlarged 165 billion times. Originally built for Brussels Expo in 1958, this 102m high structure has nine 18m diameter spheres about the size of a large apartment.
Each of these spheres is connected by tubes. Five of these have exhibits and the topmost has a restaurant and from there one can have a panoramic view of Brussels.
With entry tickets, tourists can have access to five of these. There are a beautiful fountain and lovely flower beds up front. The surrounding is breathtaking with thickly wooded trees, many of these with lovely purple coloured leaves, though I could not identify a single species, very natural for someone coming from a tropical country.
Our destination for the next two nights at Eindhoven was NH Koningshof, located at Veldhoven, which is a 15-minute drive from the city centre. Set in a lush green surrounding, the hotel has a sprawling property. It took some time for our tour manager to find out where we were booked for two nights. All because of the fact that the hotel premises have got a number of building blocks .The hotel was so large that it took a long walk through beautiful corridors to find our respective rooms on the second and third floor.
It was almost quarter past nine, so we refreshed ourselves with fine Brazilian coffee came down to the dining hall. A surprise was in store for us. I was amazed to see hot samosas. The tour manager introduced the man behind the scene, the Indian chef, who cooked everything for the Indian guests that evening. After dinner, we went to bed early to get refreshed for another long trip tomorrow. With 500 comfortable guest rooms, 120 rooms for different functions, many restaurants with the special cuisine, is an ideal conference hotel. At the time of our stay, there was International Conference on Environment.
The Netherlands, literally means Low Country, with half of its area barely 1m above the sea level. When we think of the Netherlands two things come to our mind — windmills and tulips, which were from Asia. Eindhoven is the home of Philips Sport Vereniging (English- equivalent Philip Sports Union). The world famous brand, Philips, is a multinational electronics company, originally founded in Eindhoven in 1891 by Gerard Philips, and the headquarters of the company was shifted to Amsterdam in 1997.
Next morning we woke up around 6-30 to find a cool misty morning with a mellow sun gleaming through the canopy of conifers down to the green grass laden with dew drops. It was so calm and quiet outside. It was a serene beauty. We were very excited to venture into the typical Dutch country.
After checking out at the counter I came out of the main lobby and started taking some pictures of the beautiful surrounding.
Coach Captain was ready with his GPS setting from Eindhoven to The Hague. After passing through green belts and very quiet streets the coach finally was on the highway to The Hague. After a little while some odd structures, along both sides of the highway drew my attention. To our utter surprise, we were told by the tour manager that these are noise absorbing barriers! I never knew anything like these were to be seen on European highways. We were heading to Amsterdam, famous for windmills, tulips, and canals. The entire trip of Europe shall be remembered for all time to come.