Well a lot has happened since we last blogged. Where to begin?? Our next destination after our Ritter Sport Day was Schwaebisch Gmuend, a beautiful little town east(ish) of Stuttgart. We went there for sightseeing but also to check out two more factories: the Weleda plant (Weleda is a company that makes very high quality, natural skin and body care products) and Schleich, which manufactures figurines like smurfs (for all those 80’s people out there), as well as replicas of animals and people (like knights, dragons, princesses, etc.- stuff you find at Chapters, etc.). Colin was supposed to come with us but decided he’d take a break from train travel and hang out with his oma and opa for the day. The town was beautiful. Lots of great architecture to admire and beautiful nature surrounding the town, as well. We enjoyed a nice walk around the town, some fine cuisine and a good cup of coffee, with a shared goblet of ice cream to round things off. We then bussed up to the Weleda plant just to find that it was closing a few minutes later. Too bad but no matter. Instead, we took the opportunity to burn off some calories and took a nice hike through the beautiful nearby forest back into town and off we went, back to Stuttgart. The night was then spent resting up and getting all of our bags ready for the next leg of our trip, namely a quick jaunt to Belgium. No factories had been viewed but the with the nice weather we had that day, we were not disappointed. On the 11th, up early, we’re given a kind lift to the Stuttgart Bahnhof and off we go to Leuven, Belgium. Colin, Mitch and I are subjugated to a long and pretty complicated day. Most of the high-speed ICE trains have been pulled from their tracks due to technical problems with one of them the previous day, so we need a good dose of patience and running around to get from point A to B. But we finally arrive at our destination, only an hour later than originally planned. Not bad for a crazy day. The three of us head to my friend Anja’s to say a quick “hello” and then off to the Hotel Binnenhof to drop off our things and rest for a sec., then off again to explore the pretty town of Leuven and grab a bite to eat (Italian tonight with a great view down onto one of the main squares in the town). It’s been raining a lot today but luckily, we seem to have been able to escape being in the middle of the intermittent downpours. The 12th: Overcast but we still decide to head into Brussels for the day. Great city but too much rain that day… To make the best of the situation, we check out a couple of things on foot before boarding a bus for a 2 and a half hour city tour with two photo-op stops. None of us are big on the “packaged tour” thing but this does the trick under the circumstances. Our tour guide is great and we get a thorough explanation of the city’s history, main architectural and cultural attractions, as well as gain a good understanding of the politics surrounding this country. Problems between the two main linguistic groups: sound familiar?? There are some pretty comparable issues going on within both Canada and Belgium. At the end of the day, we head home pretty exhausted. Mitch decides to stay at the hotel to snooze while Colin and I head to my friend Anja’s to finally get to meet her significant other, Jan, and their new baby daughter, Anne. A delicious meal is cooked for us – a thoroughly enjoyable evening for sure. The 13th: Thank God the weather has improved!! And we’re off, back to Brussels to check out what we missed the day before. The three of us start out by taking the metro to the military museum and spend a good hour and a half in there. Talk about fantastic! The place is huge and crammed with a phenomenal selection of weapons, uniforms and lots of the bigger things too like tanks from all over the world, ships (most are smaller replicas but there are also a few full-sized ones), as well as a huge hanger filled with fighter planes from everywhere, including Canada. Suddenly, all three of us feel our patriotism come out 🙂 We could have stayed in there much longer, of course, but the rest of Brussels beckons us onwards. So back onto the metro and into the city center to see the famous Manneken Pis (the little guy peeing) and little, he is. It’s a tiny black sculpture of a little boy peeing into a fountain. Like the Mona Lisa, you expect something bigger, with all of the fame surrounding these things and then you get there and laugh and wonder what all the fuss was about. Well, it’s a must-see so a five minute pit-stop to snap a photo is still worth it. Then off to eat some delicious Moules et Frites (mussels and fries) with a pint of Kriek (cherry beer – don’t knock it ’til you try it!) for me and Croque-Monsieurs (grillled cheese with ham sandwiches) for the boys, with a beer for Mitch and a taste from our beverages for the younger man (when in Rome 🙂 ). We then head back to Leuven to join Anja, Jan and Anne for a walking tour of Leuven (thank you J + A!) and then a delicious plate of tapas at a local resto-pub in downtown Leuven into the night. Nice conversations were had and Colin spent some time honing his drawing skills and showing us his art work. A perfect way to round out our trip. The 14th: Time to eat breakfast and check-out. Mitch, Colin and I grab our packs and head back to the train station to begin our journey back to Germany. The trains are all running normally again and so we make good headway. In Cologne, we stop to see whether we can still jump on a boat to tour down the Rhine together but we find out that the tour we want only runs once a day and we’ve missed it. We grab a brochure with the goal to take this trip before we leave the continent. Back on the train and it ends up being a beautiful, scenic ride anyhow. We travel along the Rhine for miles and admire the castles, palaces and beautiful monasteries scattered on both sides of the river. Finally, we arrive back at Stuttgart, jump on the S-Bahn to Plochingen and the train back to Wernau. Once there, we settle down to beverages, coffee and mineral water and wait for the rest of our party to join us. Mitch and I then head back to our living quarters to get organized for our departure the next day. The 15th: Lots of hugs and “good-byes” as Mitch and I leave Colin with his dad for their time together. And now to Mitch’s entry….