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Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

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Our rental house in Soriano nel Cimino circled in white

You’ve probably realized by now how much we loved renting apartments in Europe. I’m going to write a post soon on why and how to find a good one, but this post of our favorites is mostly for us so that we can remember the great times we had in these apartments.

If you click on the city names, you’ll be taken to the current listings with more pictures and information in case you’re interested in staying there too. The prices I list are what we paid at the time, including any service charges and cleaning fees. The prices for some of them, especially the ridiculously cheap ones, have since gone up as they become more established and build up positive reviews, but there are always great deals to be had almost anywhere with some digging and luck. And most offer significant discounts for longer stays, whether a week or a month. These rentals are in no particular order since I found it too hard to rank them.

 

Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island ($62 USD a night, sleeps 4)

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I’ll start with the Postman’s Cottage, which is where the postman used to stay when he came to the western side of Kangaroo Island to deliver mail. Now it’s part of Flinders Chase National Park and rented out to visitors. I already gushed about the fun old-fashioned wood stove and other appliances here.

Favorite part: the koala we found sleeping in a neighboring tree

 

Budapest, Hungary ($47 a night for 6 nights, sleeps up to 4)

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I had to drag myself outside to go sightseeing because I loved this apartment so much. It was beautifully decorated and the friendly, helpful owner obviously put a lot of thought into making the experience as comfortable as possible for us. She also gave us a free bottle of Hungarian wine. The location right next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral was amazing.

Favorite part: high ceilings and huge old-fashioned European windows provided tons of light

 

Vienna, Austria (well, we booked that studio but the landlord gave us this bigger one for the same price of $63 a night for 2 nights)

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This apartment was spotlessly clean and full of gadgets, like the fancy TV and stereo system and the espresso machine (unfortunately without any espresso included).

Favorite part: The best gadget of all was the shower. Scott and I still talk about that shower. It had a built-in radio that you could tune while taking your shower and all sorts of features with different sprays and even a steam sauna function. Did I mention we loved that shower?

 

Bruges, Belgium ($29 a night for 4 nights, sleeps 2)

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The price we got on this cottage was pretty ridiculous for the area. Technically it was a little outside Bruges and required a car to get to, but even with having to rent a car it was cheaper than it would have been to stay inside Bruges without a car. It felt like our own little cottage out in the countryside with a pretty patio and garden, chickens out back who we fed all our leftover pasta to, friendly neighbors down the road, and big corn fields all around us. The owners even gave us Belgian chocolate, two beers, and a bag of cuberdons (a cone-shaped Belgian candy).

Favorite part: the idyllic setting

 

Paris, France ($53 a night for a week-long stay, sleeps 2)

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This was the first apartment rental of our trip so it holds a special place for us. It was a tiny studio but used its space very efficiently so it felt cozy instead of crowded. It felt like our own Parisian pied-à-terre.

Favorite part: its location in the heart of Latin Quarter on a street surrounded by open-air markets, bakeries, crepe stands, and restaurants

 

Autrans, France near the French Alps ($39 a night for 3 nights, sleeps 4)

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Autrans is a picturesque little village that comes alive during the ski season. We were way too early for snow, but we enjoyed the wooden paneling and rustic ski chalet feel of our cottage (on the far corner with the white car in the picture above). The people there were incredibly friendly, and the owner introduced us to all of his family and eagerly showed us around. He was so excited to give us six fresh eggs from his own chickens that he dropped the egg carton and broke all of them while trying to put them in the fridge. He gave us more, but what a waste of delicious eggs! You can read more about our stay in Autrans and Burgundy here.

Favorite part: proximity to the hikes in Vercors Regional Natural Park

 

St. Boil, France in Burgundy ($63 a night for 4 nights, sleeps 3)

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We rented a cottage in the Burgundy wine region that had been fully renovated but also incorporated details like stonework from the area that was thousands of years old. The owners were a chatty Belgian couple who gave us a couple of Belgian beers when we asked them for recommendations on where to go in Belgium later. They even made a polished YouTube video of their cottage that I’ve included below.

Favorite part: the amazing view of the vineyards for miles around

 

Florence, Italy ($36 a night for a bedroom and breakfast in a shared apartment with the owner)

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We mostly rented private apartments for ourselves, but I wish we had done more shared apartments after meeting our Italian host Daniele. He was incredibly nice and friendly, providing us a giant breakfast every morning (including vegetarian “cold cuts” for us) and making a fantastic dinner one night while we chatted with him and his girlfriend. He normally had free bikes to rent as well, but they had been stolen right before we arrived, so he even gave us a good bottle of wine and a box of Italian cookies as an apology.

Favorite part: getting to know Daniele

 

Soriano nel Cimino, Italy ($100 a night 2 bed/bath for 1 week, sleeps up to 6)

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This was definitely the fanciest place we stayed in as we had planned to share it with Scott’s mother and stepfather, but unfortunately their plans fell through and we ended up there by ourselves. It was beautifully designed by an architect with giant windows and a rooftop terrace. I’ve already talked about it quite a bit here.

Favorite part: the views of the medieval hill town

 

Naples, Italy ($52 a night for one week, sleeps 2)

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Our large apartment on the top floor had a terrace with olives, grapes, sage, and tumbling purple flowers and provided a great view of one of our favorite cities. The terrace was even connected to a cave (although they told us not to go inside because it was dangerous). Our neighbor was a dog we nicknamed “The Scruff” and down the street we could buy the best pizza we’ve ever had for $5. You can read more about our love of Naples here.

Favorite part: everything except the mosquitoes

 

So those were our ten favorite vacation rentals. We enjoyed a lot of others as well, but they didn’t quite make the top ten. Next up: a post on why we chose to rent places so often and how to find a good one.

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Wandering in Belgium

So I might have eaten a little too much in Belgium, but I still had a good time there walking around some of its beautiful cities. Our first day, we took a high-speed train from Paris to Brussels and spent just a couple of hours in Brussels before picking up our rental car.

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We arrived on sort of a strange day. The normally pricy public transportation was free because we happened to visit on the one day out of the year that Brussels had a car-free day (although we didn’t really end up taking advantage of this). The beautiful central square, the Grand Place, was hosting a big Mexican festival with huge puppets, while nearby a parade of Scotsmen played bagpipes. Is it just me or does the Scottish guy on the right with the awesome mustache also remind you of the giant Mexican puppet above? In any case, we still managed to get some Belgian beer and waffles at the festival since the greasy taquitos and pale guacamole there were pretty sad-looking. It’s been way too long since we’ve had good Mexican food – I think the last time was in Ubud, Indonesia a few months ago.

After enjoying some bagpipes and mariachi music (yeah, I didn’t really get the connection), we picked up the rental car and drove to Bruges, where we stayed in a really cute cottage outside of town with a sweet golden retriever named Mabelle (sp?) as a neighbor down the road.

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Now Bruges is definitely pretty and lovely to walk around in, with old historic buildings and seven swans a-swimming down the canal, but during the day it is jam-packed with tourists. Tourists crammed into boats going down the canals, riding horse-drawn carriages running you off the road, and crowding around buildings snapping photos. I know, I’m a tourist, too, but I don’t want a ton of other tourists around making it hard to walk and driving up prices! It was much better at night, though, when the day-trippers had left and it was a lot more quiet and peaceful to stroll around.

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We enjoyed Bruges at night but ended up liking Ghent (a city only 55 km from Bruges) better. Still beautiful with canals and old buildings, but with fewer tourists. Plus it’s a fun university town and vegetarian-friendly as the “veggie capital of Europe” with Thursdays proclaimed veggie day, which we appreciated.

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Pretty, right? At least when I’m eating unhealthy food, I tend to be enjoying the sights and walking around a lot while eating it, so I figure that just about cancels each other out. Trust me, I’m a doctor. And good thing I assume this principle also applies in Italy, where we headed next after Belgium…

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Vegetarians may have to dodge meat-filled entrées in Belgium, but have no fear, there’s an endless supply of Belgian beer, chocolate, fries, and waffles to stuff yourself with instead. It’s my fault entirely, but after one too many “fries for dinner” meals, my stomach and arteries thanked me for leaving Belgium after only four days in this beautiful country.

 

Frites

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There’s debate as to whether the idea of deep-frying slices of potatoes originated in France or Belgium, but all I know is that in Belgium, stores that sell fries, or friteries, are pretty much everywhere you look. The Belgian fry is a solid thick-cut fry that to be honest didn’t strike me as particularly unique or amazing compared to good steak fries in the U.S. What’s different are the toppings – most places offer at least a dozen different sauces to order with your fries. The assortment above includes curry ketchup, mayonnaise, and raw onions. I know, it sounds terrible, but it was actually pretty good. The picture is dark because I enjoyed it late at night while I sat in a square in Bruges and listened to a carillon concert.

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The next day, we went to a restaurant in Ghent that offered a large selection of veggie burgers, and Scott was puzzled when I only asked for a small order of fries after he had offered to split them with me. Luckily I had done some internet research before going so I knew that their fry portions were huge. The picture above is of their “small” fries with a side of creamy pepper sauce with whole peppercorns. Sadly enough, I wasn’t able to finish them – I shudder to think how many fries are included with the XL portion they sell.

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This angle shows a little better just how high the pile of fries were – look, I cut off the top because I couldn’t fit them all in the picture! The burgers in front are a falafel burger and a spinach burger.

 

Chocolate

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Once I got enough fat into my system, I decided it was time for some sugar, too. Belgian chocolate is world-renowned for good reason. I liked being able to pop into one of the many chocolate shops lining the streets to try just a couple small pieces.

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The supermarkets also had high-quality chocolate bars made by famous Belgian chocolate makers with better prices, so that ended up being my favorite (and most budget-friendly) way to get more chocolate. I also enjoyed drinking hot chocolate in Belgium because it’s made by melting solid pieces of chocolate into milk.

 

Waffles

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The waffles in Belgium have deep pockets to catch any delicious toppings you might want to put on top of them, but I started off with an unadorned cinnamon waffle that was still delicious.

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My favorite was the liege waffle, which had sugar on top that became caramelized when stuck in a waffle iron. This one’s obscured by the chocolate on top, but you can still see the caramelized sugar in the closest bottom corner.

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This waffle was topped with powdered sugar and homemade frozen yogurt with blueberries. Toppings for waffles often included different fruits, chocolate, and fresh whipped cream.

 

Beer

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This was more Scott’s thing, but he loved trying different Belgian beers. Apparently each beer gets served in a glass specially designed to maximize its deliciousness. The first time we went to a Belgian bar Scott pretended like he was ordering one beer each for the two of us, but really he ended up drinking most of both.

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He tried to say it was my fault that he had to end up drinking both beers, but I found him out when we went to a bar the next day and he still ordered two beers after I ordered a hot chocolate for myself. We enjoyed the setting here because we got to sit near an old castle.

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The problem with drinking all that beer, though, is that free public bathrooms are hard to find in Belgium (and much of Europe, for that matter). Fortunately for the men in town, we found this “bathroom” conveniently located next to a bus stop in Ghent. Sorry, guys, no number two, though (see the picture of poop with a red line through it).

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You can see by this picture just how exposed you are in this setup. Little old ladies with white hair hobbled right past Scott while he was using it. One gentleman was horrified that I was taking pictures of Scott and warned him that some crazy Asian lady had gone too far. When Scott laughed and explained that I was his wife, he shook his head in disgust and walked away.

While we thoroughly enjoyed eating and drinking in Belgium, I have to admit that I felt a little gross afterwards (my fault, Belgium, not yours). For instance, I love state fairs, but I’m prone to eating way too many fried things on a stick there. I would probably die within a year if I went to state fairs every day or celebrated Halloween all the time, so it was probably for the best that we left Belgium after only a few days. Unfortunately, writing this post now has me craving waffles, fries, and chocolate.

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