I have started to form an unintentional habit of celebrating my birthday in increasingly cool places. Last year my birthday party was with all of my friends in Argentina at the top of an oddly lavish sky scraper. At one point, we literally set fire to the building. Afterwards I was banned from the party room which was a shame because it was the most beautiful view I encountered in Buenos Aires.
This year, the circumstances were different but resulted in an equally entertaining outcome.
My brother lives and works in Washington DC. He is five years older than me and looks nothing like me. We have a lot in common (love for travel, similar tastes in food) but would absolutely hate to do each others job. (He works for the US government and I work online.) Because of his job and location, I only see him when we are both traveling.
He is the most talented travel hacker (think airline miles and hotel points) that I know so whenever I get the opportunity to meet up with him, I know it will be an adventure.
This time we found ourselves in Brussels, Belgium. I don’t think either of us really knew why we chose this city, but we had heard Belgium had both good waffles and good beer. We spent much of our time in the city investigating these rumors.
As it turned out they were correct on both counts. (Good work Belgium!)
On the morning of my birthday, my brother and I woke up late and made our way to a “beer tour” that my brother had read about. On the way to load up on waffles, my brother mentioned some of the other cities he had thought about meeting in. He brought up Luxembourg and casually noted he didn’t think it was that far away.
Normally, I am the one to make crazy suggestions but this time it was him.
“Want to skip the beer tour and go to Luxembourg instead?”, he said with a smile?
“Umm, where is Luxembourg?”, I questioned.
“I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in Liechtenstein?”
I had never heard of Liechtenstein but I knew what my new birthday plan was :-)
We loaded up on waffles, went to the train station and bought the first two tickets to Luxembourg.
As we stood waiting for the train, I mentioned that we should probably figure out which country were were heading to. We both started laughing and worked to figure out how to figure out where we were actually heading. (Neither of us had Internet access or a map.)
We knew it was an International trip (as judged by the train ticket) and I thought we were headed to Germany.
I eventually thought to check the clock app on my iPod and found our answer. (When in doubt about cities, iOS offers a worldtime zone tab in it’s clock app)
Luxembourg is in the country of Luxembourg, the second smallest country in Europe (behind the Vatican).
Our train arrived and we hoped on. :-)
We traveled through the outskirts of beautiful Belgium and two and half hours later we arrived in my brother’s 30th country.
Luxembourg, Luxembourg was beautiful and tons of fun. We started out by sampling the local beers and by getting lost walking around the city. We were impressed by how green and gorgeous the modern city was. The women were beautiful (although rude) and the food was quite good.
The old city reminded me more of a giant park than a flourishing city. It was fantastic.
That evening, we hoped back on the train to Brussels in order to catch our next flight. We were heading to Budapest which this time, we both knew was in Hungary.
I had low expectations of Budapest before we arrived. I pictured a city which had been great in the past but was now suffering from lack of maintenance and care. Luckily, I was wrong.
The city was modern, well-kept, blossoming and full of life.
Most importantly, it also had the best food of the whole trip. It’s streets were lined with pubs and restaurants and the prices were on par with what I normally pay in the States. (A nice change from the other countries I have visited that use the Euro.)
My brother and I talked life, politics, Internet, family and happiness. We got mad, happy and drunk. It was the best trip I have taken while in Europe and I was thankful I got to share it with my brother.
My life tends to take me to all sorts of extremes and it is helpful to have a point of reference.
My brother has joined me on many of my adventures and always helps me to keep it in perspective. We have very different lives but we share a common past. We grew up very modestly and eventually through a lot of hard work and passion enabled ourselves to do what we love. He has taught me a lot about appreciating life and more importantly has helped me reaffirm the tremendous value of spending time with family. That in itself is really more than I could ask for from a birthday present.
I am writing this from my co-working space in Barcelona. By the time I post this, I will be in Munich. :-)