Rocky Mountain High

I am reblogging this because it shows a part of Canada that really interests me as a geographer. Canada definitely has everything from mountains to grizzly bears and a fascinating traditional heritage.

You can imagine how excited I was when my friend suggested we take a drive to Banff, about an hour and a half from Calgary. The excitement grew as we…

Rocky Mountain High

5 Reasons To Visit Brussels

As I continue to reflect upon some of the wonderful places that I have visited by train, I wanted to suggest Brussels. For me, I pick countries that I can get to without using aeroplanes as my real intention is to be more ecofriendly. My last journey to Brussels was at Christmas time and so now is a good time to share my experience. You may end up wanting to visit during the festive season.

Brussels is relatively affordable and certainly cheaper than Switzerland or Luxembourg, but I also love those places very much. Here are my reasons for considering Brussels as a holiday destination in winter.

1) The Christmas Market

The market had 250 wooden stalls spread across the city.

Browsing the Christmas market was lovely because of all the scents and mouth-watering delights. There were so many continental meats and Vegan offerings as well as all my favourite sweet treats such as crepes and chocolates. At the far end is a Big Wheel which slowly rotates to give you a brilliant view of Brussels. We went straight to the wheel and then mused past the market, absorbed in the seasonal vibe.

2) The Grand-Place

You have to visit the Grand-Place during the daytime and at night. It is the historic city centre where government and city buildings sit around a beautiful pedestrianised square. This was definitely a hub of activity and the nearby streets had plenty of shops and restaurants offering a range of cuisines.

One of the beautiful shopping arcades with plenty of chocolate shops included.

At night time, the amazing Christmas tree and lights set a fantastic scene and at the heart of the square was a very detailed and intriguing nativity set. The reason I suggest going to Brussels in winter is to witness their incredible displays and lights. The place just represented Christmas perfectly.

Such a delightful and atmospheric city centre.
A detailed and well lit nativity scene.

3) Mini-Europe

I first saw Mini-Europe on an episode of Travel Man (Channel Four) and was totally inspired by it. It looked so cool that it became a must-see on my little trip to Brussels. Although it was winter, a fresh walk around the intricately made mini-buildings and waterways of Europe was pleasant and enlightening. It gave me ideas of other places in the continent that I still needed to explore. From a little Colosseum to a mini Eiffel Tower, this place had everything.

4) Atomium

This attraction was right next to the Mini-Europe venue and was an intriguing feature in the Belgian skyline. Constructed in 1958 for the Brussels Trade Fair, this 102m stainless steel structure is absolutely fascinating. You get to take a lift into the central sphere and then use escalators to access the other globes. Each one is unique and together they make a brilliant museum whilst having incredible views over this remarkable city.

5) Tintin

There are many murals and paintings throughout Brussels and many contain images of Tintin. Herge’s famous cartoon character is synonymous with Brussels and is celebrated in a museum and shop. We visited the beautiful little shop which was littered with Tintin memorabilia but we never had the chance to visit the Herge museum (maybe next time).

I like how the paintings on the walls celebrate diversity. The picture above was in the LGBT district of town. Below is an impressive painting of Tintin on a mission. These fabulous images add more intrigue to an already busy city, full of history, culture and Christmas.

Being just a two hour Eurostar train ride from London, Brussels is an easy to get to destination. I went before Brexit kicked in and the pandemic started so I cannot tell whether prices have remained the same, but when I went it was very affordable. I stayed about a fifteen minute walk from the centre in a lovely hotel which had everything I needed. You are able to use Uber to get around when you don’t feel like a walk, but I enjoyed plodding through the streets which were full of atmosphere and vibrancy, instead.

If you enjoyed this post please consider following my growing blog. For another post about a visit to a European city, check my Paris feature here.

5 Reasons To Visit Paris

Continuing my articles about places I have visited without needing to fly, here is a post about staying in beautiful Paris. Paris is a city that I have been to many times. Originally I caught the ferry from Dover to Calais and these days I get there by train.

Travelling by EuroStar is very efficient from London and Paris’ Gare du Nord station is just two hours and fifteen minutes away. I usually find myself in the buffet carriage throughout this journey, often during the twenty minutes that the train spends whizzing through the tunnel, deep under the English Channel.

Paris is magical to me because it is filled with wonderful memories. I took a group of close friends there for a special birthday and have also been there to celebrate New Year before.

Here is my list of five reasons why you should take a trip to the enchanting city of Paris:

1) History

France is a country which used to have a royal family but now has a president instead. Paris has many leftovers from its regal past, including such beautiful buildings as the Palace of Versailles.

On the day that I went there it was incredibly busy and we were on a bus tour so I opted to look around the magnificent gardens rather than spend time inside the building. The gardens were expansive, packed with fascinating fountains, statues and floral displays. Of course the palace is not only a previous seat of kings and queens but also the venue where they agreed a settlement at the end of the First World War (The Treaty of Versailles 1919).

2) Tours

As soon as I got to Paris I wanted to do a bus tour of the city and take in some of the incredible views. Open top buses are brilliant because you get great pictures (when the weather is good) and can pop some earphones on and listen to an audio tour at the same time.

I believe the bus tours Paris provides move around four quadrants of the city and I recall covering most of the important sights such as the Arch de Triumph, Notre Dame and The Louvre.

There are also plenty of boat tours daily which leave from various sites around the city. I have done a boat trip almost every time that I went to Paris and learned something new every time.

Notre Dame Cathedral before the tragic fire. (Reasons to visit Paris)

3) The Eiffel Tower

This incredible structure is what most people associate with Paris. Standing 324 metres high, the cast iron marvel first opened in March 1889 to the public. It is layered like a wedding cake in tiers and you can choose how high you want to go.

Last time I took the endless stairs to the first level and then caught the lift the rest of the way to the top. As well as being an excellent viewing platform for the whole city, there is a sense of achievement when you reach the top, able to reflect upon the historical significance of this landmark.

4) Disneyland Paris

It would be wrong of me to mention the French Capital without a reference to the nearby Disney resort. Having never been to any Disney parks before, I was so happy to visit this one on a cold February day. It was full of magic and intrigue and left me wanting to come back for more.

Me, absolutely frozen but totally enjoying Disneyland.
The stunning fireworks and light show. ((Disneyland Paris)

My favourite part of our brief visit to Disney was the amazing firework display at the end of the evening. Somehow the Disney imagineers manage to create a series of video projections that celebrate Disney movies from throughout the ages, all inter-spliced with colourful fireworks and set to a rousing Disney score.

You can find some incredible Eurostar Disney deals on the DisneyLand Paris website. There are always opportunities to go straight to Disney by Eurostar, which is an option I might take in future as I certainly want to spend lots more time there.

5) Museum

Paris is a wonderful setting in which to enjoy some fascinating museums. Going to the Louvre is a must-do activity but remember that it is always closed on a Tuesday. Such an expansive place is hard to explore in just one session.

The one picture that everyone wants to see. (Reasons to visit Paris)

Having viewed the Mona Lisa portrait and many other delightful paintings and statues, I also had a lovely time taking in the incredible architecture.

Another brilliant museum is the Musee D’Orsay which has collections of paintings including those by Monet and Renoir. It also has a variety of sculptures and furniture from different historic periods.

The Musee D’Orsay (affordable and educational)

I feel as though I could talk about Paris all day long. In fact I may end up following this article with a future one about some of the lovely features that I have yet to mention. Here is another article that I wrote about a visit by train to Luxembourg which also involved changing trains in Paris.

I hated saying goodbye to Disneyland Paris.

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