I flew JetAirFly to Brussels. I had never even heard of them before, but they are clearly a TUI/Thompson company, so I figured they'd be ok. It was kind of like flying in the 90s. There was no online check-in. There was no in-flight entertainment that I could see. There was actually some legroom. I slept the whole flight, but I think they may have served food to those who were awake.
Upon arrival at BRU, I got asked more questions at immigration than I've ever been asked before. I guess she couldn't find my last EU exit stamp in the mess that is my passport, and thought I was overstaying my welcome. I grabbed a train to Gare du Norde, and then waited for the cafes to open. It's cold here, and so I'm happy to sit someplace with a little warmth. Plus, I got a hot white chocolate, which was amazingly smooth and delicious. The only bad part is that I'm never going to be satisfied with a hot (brown) chocolate ever again in my life.
I went to go get my MegaBus that I very proudly paid $2 for. Yes, that's 1/4 the cost of the 15 minute ride from the airport to Gare du Norde for a much longer ride. Yay megabus deals! The bus just kind of picks up from where all of the international buses pick up, so there are no signs and you just have to know where to go. There are no schedules posted, but the area is small enough that if you just go there 20 minutes before the bus leaves, you'll find it. I was still exhausted from my only sleep being on the short plane ride, so I was completely passed out the first hour or so of the ride. I awoke to the gorgeous Belgian countryside. The cows were nibbling on the fields of bright green. Occasionally, the highway would have a barrier of deep pine-green trees hedging in the noise to keep the villages quiet. I decided to stay awake to watch. Also, the bus has good wifi. Even the bathrooms are nice and they put good toilet paper in there, not the super-thin kind some cheap places try to get away with. Real stuff, like you'd have in your house. I'm pretty sure I'm getting my $2 worth just in charge for my phone and laptop, nice TP, and wifi, forget the comfy seats, gas, driver, and whatever other costs it takes to get from place to place. (The wifi is good enough that some people here are having some sort of business research meeting over at one of the tables.) I have to say, I highly recommend MegaBus. I'm really happy with this experience. I know that at some point, we crossed from Belgium into Luxembourg, but either I wasn't paying attention, or there wasn't a big sign, because I certainly didn't know when that was.Upon arrival in Luxembourg (city), I dropped my bag at the baggage storage (all the way at the end of a platform, keep going until you think you've gone too far, and you're there). It's about the cheapest baggage storage I've ever used at only 3 euro per day.From there, I got a map at the information center and walked towards downtown. I was hoping to find a snack on the way, maybe street food. And then I saw the ad. I try to avoid the “American Embassy” as much as possible in my travels, as I don't even like to eat there so much in the states. But, the McCamembert nuggets and the trufflecreme sauce that came with the wedge fries was just too intriguing. I caved and entered. The McCamembert nuggets turned out to basically be mozzarella sticks in “hamburger” shape as opposed to “hotdog” shape. They didn't taste of camembert at all, had the stringy texture of mozzarella, and were rindless. I'm surprised they can call them camembert at all, given that it's a protected name. The wedge fries were much better than the regular Golden Arches fries in the states, in my opinion. And the trufflecreme sauce was basically just mayo with bits of black floating in it. If you paid really good attention to your palate and imagined a bit, you could taste the truffle flavor. Conclusion: interesting, but not really worth it.From there, I continued into town. The lady had said it was a 15 minute walk, but it felt like a lot less. I wandered around a bit, just to get my bearings and get a feel for the town. In my wanderings, I ended up happening on Notre Dame cathedral- pretty, and the Ducal Palace- nice. The Ducal Palace is not as ornate as many palaces are, but the spires on the roof were pretty. Also, there was only one guard out there doing the “solemn guard” thing. Perhaps Luxembourg isn't quite as ostentatious about their royals as other countries because they've been ruled from afar for quite a bit of their history. Or, perhaps they just are less wasteful.I learned about the history of Luxembourg at the Luxembourg City Museum, which is about a block from the Ducal Palace. The first several floors take you through the founding of the city (over 1000 years ago, a royal fell in love with a mermaid and buit his city here for her), to the warring middle ages, where Luxembourg was known as “the Gibraltar of the North” because its geographic position made it impossible to conquer, except occasionally by extended seige, when they ran out of supplies. The displays are all in English/French/German/possibly some other languages, and they do a really good job of showing the evolution of the country and what various empires it was part of over time (Spanish, French, Hapsburg, Netherlands, and more). I enjoyed the first floors immensely. The top floor is the temporary exhibit, which did not have signage in English, but it was interesting to see what local artists made anyway. One of the highlights was a full-room mural that seamlessly incorporated the floor into the mural. It really made you feel like you were in Old Luxembourg.The next place I headed was the casements, which is the “must see” sight that everybody recommends. I agree with them that it is a very unique site, which I'm guessing is why it's a UNESCO world heritage site. Basically, Luxembourg used to have huge battlements and city walls to defend the city and keep invaders out. Then, as part of some treaty, they got declared impartial, like Switzerland, and had to tear down the walls. The casements are what's left. They're basically a series of caves and tunnels that were dug out under the rock to help in defense. Some areas have standard arrow slit windows for shooting at attackers. The whole area is a bomb shelter. Because it's all coarsely dug out of rock, the ground is very uneven. Some of the staircases are extremely narrow, and some ceilings are short. If you're not steady on your feet, get claustrophobic, or are tall and can't duck a lot, I don't recommend it. Otherwise, it's quite fun to get a little lost in the labyrinth of tunnels and explore where each of them comes up. Some of the stairs were quite challenging due to the steepness, narrowness, and slope that had been worn in by years of use. I can't even imagine trying to ascend in a full suit of armor. If one guy at the lead tripped, it would be like human dominoes, with nothing to stop them. But, the casements did give me a good feel for what it would have been like to defend the city.From there, I looked at my map to see what else looked interesting, as there weren't a ton of tourist sites in the city. I decided to head over to Kirchberg, as it didn't look that far.It's actually not that far as the bird flies, but first, you have to go down to the river, then cross the river, then climb up a huge hill. It was a pretty hike thorough some nice neighborhoods, and it gave me a sense of how “real people” lived in the city, but it would have been much nicer with a hiking buddy, as it took a lot longer than I expected it to take. Once at the top of the hill though, I had about as great a view of the city as you can get.I have to say that while the city is nice and there are a few spots with cute views, a lot of the views aren't that great, just because the city isn't that pretty. There's nothing majestic about it, nothing pastoral, nothing quaint. It's like early Pittsburgh or something in that it's hilly and kind of gritty. The Drai Eechelen Museum was what I climbed all that way to see. It is housed in another part of the city's defenses that weren't torn down. The building itself was really interesting, and again, I learned more than I really wanted to know about the history of Luxembourg, although this museum was much more focused on the warfare aspects. It contained all sorts of weapons, military uniforms, and even a guillotine.At this point, I was tired, my feet were tired, and I was not about to walk down some crazy path to get back to the point where I had to climb up to the city. I took the bus back to town, with the intention of doing something else. But, I didn't really see anything super-interesting on the map. So I went to the grocery store. Those are always interesting.I got a huge loaf of freshly-baked artisinal-style bread with all sorts of interesting seeds in it, a large chunk of some blue cheese, and a large chunk of mimolette cheese, each for about 2 euro. Even with drinks, it was super-cheap and waaaay too much food. But that was ok, I had seen an old lady sitting outside since the morning when I came past, and I went and shared with her. For some reason, I love making friends with people I don't share any language with. I don't know what my problem is. She spoke some sort of half-Romanian, half-Italian to me and I spoke Spanish to her, so we got along ok enough, but it was very amusing. I appreciated hearing her story and about her life in Luxembourg and Bucharest. At the end, I think we were both very full and very satisfied with the meal. She gave me the very European kisses on both cheeks before we separated and I went to the train station.I retrieved my luggage and waited around for a while, until the bus came. One warning to people using the station- they charge for the bathrooms. I have a big issue with public places that do that, and maybe we can all shame them into not charging, or at least not requiring exact change. Anyway, this bus was comfortable and clean, but didn't have outlets to power my electronics, didn't have wifi, and didn't have a bathroom. Plus, it cost over twice as much!!! (Ok, 5 euro for several hours ride is actually a very good price, but compared to this morning's deal, it feels like a ripoff.)Again, we border-crossed (this time into Germany) at some point, but I certainly didn't know when. At some point, I looked out the window and the signs had switched from French to German, but that doesn't necessarily mean that was when we changed countries, as Luxembourg uses both (as well as Luxembourgish). This bus ride had some scenic spots, but was a lot less pastoral. It went through more cities and wasn't on the highway as much, at least at first. Later, we were in a prettier area, but it was getting dark, so it was hard to see. After switching buses at Hahn Aiport (a great bathroom break), I arrived at Frankfurt Main airport. Thanks to the magic of technology (wifi+tripit+skype), I was easily able to call the hotel and figure out where to stand for the free shuttle. I'm staying at the Mercure because it's close to the airport, but also because I got a great deal. The hotel is much nicer than where I usually stay- the rooms have a desk and armchair, the restaurant and bar looked fancy, even the minibar had nice champagne flutes, plus it even has a pool. It's really nice to have some space and some luxury, considering last night's sleep was on the plane and a bus.