3 European cities in 5 fabulous days

The sun hadn’t even come up when I realized it was going to be one of those days. During the hour drive from home to the airport, my flight had gone from being 20 minutes late, to delayed many hours, to no seat but a supposed ticket on another airline. In the end, it all worked out, but my head hurt by the time I boarded the flight. The plan was to visit London, Brussels and Amsterdam over the next five days (that’s right, three fabulous cities in five days) and I hoped this was not a sign of things to come. It wasn’t; and I was happily reminded how much I love traveling by train.

Amsterdam

I’ve logged thousands of miles on the rails, by myself during college breaks and with my kids. They were babies when we rolled through Japan, toddlers when we took on the Swiss Alps and headed for the teenage years when we zipped through England and Scotland. I’d forgotten how easy it was. Eating baguettes with cheese and Nutella while in motion and actually being able to carry on the small Swiss Army knife that helped prepare many a gourmet meal.

First stop: a day and a half in London

You can step off the plane and hit the ground running. It’s easy to roll a bag onto the Heathrow Express and connect to endless possibilities via the London Underground. I checked into Brown’s Hotel, and decided a walk would be the best way to combat jetlag and get a jump on what was still the beginning of a new day. In ten minutes I was in front of Buckingham Palace; next stop St. James Park.

I was even able squeeze in some shopping at Covent Garden before hunger, exhaustion and the timing of the right tube station just steps away brought me back to Brown’s Hotel for afternoon tea. The English Tea Room has two Tea Sommeliers on hand to answer questions. Built in 1837, Brown’s Hotel is London’s first hotel. It’s where Alexander Graham Bell made the first UK telephone call and where Rudyard Kipling wrote the “The Jungle Book”.

I resisted the strong desire for a nap and instead headed on the Underground to see London from the highest point in the city. The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe and its top, on floors 68 to 72, offers views up to 40 miles across London’s skyline.

After a good night’s sleep, the Tate Britain did not disappoint and I was impressed they offer free WiFi, but the highlight of the day was exploring East London with Alternative London Tours. The street art scene is exploding with famous, think the likes of Banksy, Space Invader and Stik, along with some maybe soon to be famous artists. Spend some time taking it all in and you’ll see how history and culture can impact art.

Street art

Up next: Brussels via Eurostar

Eurostar is the high-speed passenger rail service linking the United Kingdom with mainland Europe. Operating out of London’s St. Pancras International Station, trains run at speeds of 186 miles per hour, meaning it took me just two hours and one minute to get from London to Brussels. I only had to arrive 30 minutes before departure, it took next to no time to clear security and customs and I rolled my bag right on board. Anyway you do the math, it was faster and easier than jumping on an airplane. And fast was what I needed. I had just one day in Brussels. Amsterdam was the first thing on tomorrow’s agenda.

A quick drop of my bag at Hotel Amigo and I was on the move. I wish I had time for both a chocolate tour and a beer tasting tour, but I made getting some chocolate to bring home a priority and even managed to have a glass of Kriek (sour cherry beer) with lunch. As I made my way to the famous Manneken Pis, a bronze statue of a boy urinating into a fountain that according to lore is said to have saved the city from fire, I discovered more and more of the 40-plus comic frescos scattered throughout Brussels. You’ll meet Belgium’s most famous comic strip hero Tin Tin more than once as the comic strip trail leads you across the city and by many of those other famous attractions like the Grand-Place and Brussels Royal Palace.

Chocolate tour

Last stop: Amsterdam

It took less than two hours for my Thalys train to cover the distance from Brussels to Amsterdam. There are more bikes than people here and according to locals it’s not unheard of for folks to lose their bikes simply because they forgot where they left it. That carefree thought process pretty much sums up the nice tempo of life in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum was as amazing as everyone said it would be, but just wandering was the highlight of my short stay. The amazing fish and chips for lunch at the NRC Restaurant Café, the vibrant flower market, the lively Rembrandtplein and stroopwaffles at the Albert Cuypmarket made covering so much ground enjoyable.

Flowers

All I could think of was sitting down when I finally made it back to my room at De L’Europe, but the view of the Amstel River and historic Amsterdam kept me glued to my windows when I should have been getting ready for the long haul ahead on my flight home to the US in the morning. Was I looking forward to it? Well, that depends on how you look at it. I dreaded getting my rolling bag plane ready, but the lengthy nap I could take once I put on my headphones and buckled in; that made being stuck on a plane actually sound pretty appealing.

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