Help me plan my 'adult family' trip to Belgium & Germany.
May 10, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Questions inside. This is also related to the FIFA World Cup.

Background: I was planning an solo trip to Germany during World Cup time as I am a huge German national team fan and have been in Europe during the last 2 World Cups and its simply heaven on earth to me.
My parents had been wanting to go to Europe as a retirement celebration and so asked if they could join me instead of doing their own thing. They are in their early-mid 60s. My mom is Mexican American and has already explored her Mexican and Spanish roots and now thinks it would be fun to see my dad's family country of origin: Belgium. None of us have ever been and hear its nice so we are adding it. Added bonus that the Belgium national team is supposed to be very good this year, though I am not as familiar with them as I am the Germans.
My brother-in-law is a beer nerd and also a soccer fan like me, and my sister is pregnant with their first child, so they decided they want to join the trip as it may be their last big vacation before becoming parents. The 3 of us are in our early-mid 30s. So I want to be places that are 'grown-up' enough for my parents and pregnant sister, but young and lively enough for me to enjoy beer and soccer with locals.
Soooo thats the background of this adult family trip! On to my questions:

Question #1, how to plan with the games in mind. (For those reading who have no interest in the World Cup but have Belgium and or Germany travel knowledge, please skip to question #2)
Does anyone have strong predictions for the G and H group winners? We will be arriving in Brussels on June 25. We need to be in Munich July 5th to depart, so Belgium for the first week, Germany for the 2nd. If Germany wins their group I will want to cut over to Germany on the 30th to watch the match. I'm thinking Cologne or Dusseldorf as they are near the Belgium border. Which city is more fun? If they place 2nd and Belgium wins their group they will play each other, in which case I don't know where I will want to be! Thoughts? I was pretty certain Germany would win their group over Portugal but now I am nervous since Bayern Munich lost to Real Madrid recently, which saw Ronaldo facing Neuer. My faith in Neuer has been rattled.

We are also thinking of a day trip to Amsterdam for the Dutch team's match assuming they get 1rst or 2nd in their group--any predictions there? I actually do not like the Dutch team one bit but should be fun anyway. Random question, if I wear my Mexico team jacket will I get dirty looks or worse over there? Or is Mexico exotic and underdog enough for it being cheeky and not insulting? (I am American, but live in Los Angeles and we are Mexico fans here)

Question #2 We arrive in Brussels June 25. We have 5 or 6 nights in Belgium. We aren't sure whether to make Brussels the homebase or Antwerp. Can we see both Ghent and Brugges in 1 day? We also want to take a day trip to Amsterdam, is it possible to add Harlem and Liden to the day trip? This really doesn't give us a whole lot of time to see either Brussels or Antwerp. So who has the better waffles? And I don't like sweets so I'm talking waffles that are great on their own. It also doesn't give us a ton of time to try beers all over the place, so what is the 1 BEST brewery to go to?

Second leg: renting a car to explore Germany. I'm thinking Cologne to Nuremberg to Munich to Fussen. We only have 5 or 6 nights, so we can't stay in all these places. I really want to see the Christmas village in Rothenberg and my mom wants to see the castle in Fussen. I also hear Burg Eltz is a cool castle (on the Rhine up near Cologne I think?)
My main question is: Where should we stay at night? Should we make Munich the homebase and take day trips or should we just stay in a different smaller town each night? Is this all too much for 5 days?

Thanks and apologies for the scattered nature of this post!
posted by hellameangirl to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
If Germany wins their group I will want to cut over to Germany on the 30th to watch the match. I'm thinking Cologne or Dusseldorf as they are near the Belgium border. Which city is more fun?

Düsseldorf's old town has one of the highest concentrations of bars in Europe.
posted by sukeban at 1:13 PM on May 10, 2014

Cologne has all the breweries and is astoundingly friendly, go to the Pfaeffgen Brauerei and stay at the Stapelhauschen
posted by runincircles at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2014

I'm German, but from Berlin and with zero interest in soccer. I have heard people say that Cologne is basically so boring you can see the whole town in one day, and that their beer sucks. (I don't drink beer, so I wouldn't know. The authorities will also be here any second to take away my German passport. Kidding.)

Burg Eltz seems like a pretty big castle (I don't think I've been there, but my days near the Rhine were when I was a kid), but there are many castles along the Rhine, so if you can't make it to that specific one and just one a castle, you should be fine. You'll go see Neuschwanstein (that's what you mean when you say "castle in Füssen", right?) anyway, right?
Rothenburg seemed like a big tourist trap to me when I went there, but if it's your only chance to experience Christmas in Germany, by any means go.

I think you should stay near the places you visit. Nuremberg and Munich are pretty far apart, you'd lose a lot of time to go back and forth to your hotel. I can't tell you if it's too much for five days - I've seen Japanese tourists do even more, but you also have your parents with you - how fit are they, and especially your pregnant sister?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:01 PM on May 10, 2014

A German who doesn't like beer or soccer!? How dare you!
Yes, Neuschwanstein. And I'm aware of the touristy aspects of a lot of these places but thats ok. I've been to Berlin twice (once for work and again for world cup last time) and it was great but on the modern side. I really want to see the romantic and mid-evil parts of the country this time. And I LOVE Christmas despite being an atheist (well technically I love the German winter traditions that pre-date Christ haha)
We are all pretty fit. My parents are not athletic exactly but trim and walk a bit everyday. My sister will be 5 months pregnant and her doctor says thats the best time to travel. That said the 3 of them will probably go to sleep pretty early, which is why I want to stay places that have sightseeing during the day but I can break off at night (either alone or with bro-in-law) to drink and watch games with fun people.
posted by hellameangirl at 2:19 PM on May 10, 2014

Antwerpen, Ghent and Brugges are all infinitely more pleasant and interesting than Brussels. I would base in Antwerpen or Ghent.

A day trip from Antwerpen to Amsterdam is possible, but adding Haarlem and/or Leiden is too much IMHO.

Most "Belgian" waffles are slathered in something sticky and sweet. Don't eat waffles, eat frietjes instead.

In Antwerp there's a Gollem bierlokal. The menu must have 200 beers on it. Any "normal" Belgian bar will have only 100 or so. ;-)
posted by humboldt32 at 5:58 PM on May 10, 2014

Another one voting that you spread your accommodation out rather than base in Munich: while driving in Germany is super efficient you are still talking some big distances, and your days will get eaten up with travel time.

Be aware that the nights of big football games the traffic can be SUPER crazy, as in people driving around erractically, honking horns etc. Which can affect a) getting anywhere and b) getting to sleep (I speak from previous World Cup experience!) Not something you can do anything about, but worth keeping in mind.

If this is your family's only trip to Germany, sticking to the 'traditional'/touristy things is fine. It has been over a decade since I visited Neuschwanstein but the day we went it was not all that crowded - we got there early.

One thing to remember, especially for your parents and pregnant sister - a lot of areas in Germany you will be walking on uneven surfaces/cobble stones. It can be a bit of a handful if you are not used to it, so remind them to wear good walking shoes. Plenty of 'normal' people in Germany get around in sneakers/walking shoes so don't jeopardize safety and comfort for the sake of style.
posted by Megami at 12:55 AM on May 11, 2014

Brussels isn't really nice to visit on anywhere near on the scale that Antwerp, Ghent, Brugge, Leuven, or Sint-Truiden are in Flanders, but it is a lot better connected to each of them by train than Antwerp is. Brussels also has the Délirium Café, next to the jeanneke pis, which has the largest beer menu in the world by some margin.

Brugge is at least a day trip to wander around the city, and so is Ghent. There seems to be an oddly instinctual urge in tourists from the US and east Asia to see everything, even at the expense of experiencing anything, in fantastically short amounts of time leading to vacations spent on trains or at airports. European tourists do the same in the US, but I think its an instinct worth fighting.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:15 AM on May 11, 2014

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