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Christmas Markets Along the Rhine 2014

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Pre-trip: Brussels & Bruges, Belgium

Join us on this extension to experience the many delights of Brussels, Belgium. Once a sleepy village that grew up around a chapel on an island in the Senne River, Brussels is now a thriving city and the headquarters of NATO and the European Union. An included city tour, visits to porcelain and chocolate workshops, and free time to explore will give you a unique chance to experience this timeless capital city. And a day trip to neighboring Bruges allows you to explore that wonderfully preserved medieval seaport city.

It's Included:
Accommodations: for 3 nights at the First-Class The Hotel Brussels or similar
3 meals: 3 breakfasts
Included tours: Brussels, Antwerp, and Bruges city tours; porcelain workshop visit in Delft
Exclusive services of an experienced Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers
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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Europe. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact arrival and departure times.

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    Upon arrival today, you’ll be escorted on a walk in the vicinity around your hotel, followed by time to relax and explore Brussels on your own. This evening, join your Program Director and fellow travelers for a Welcome Drink. The rest of the evening is yours at leisure to make your own discoveries.

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    After breakfast, join your group for an Orientation Briefing, during which your Program Director will go over the details of your upcoming trip and answer any questions you may have.

    Then we’ll begin our tour of the city. Brussels is known for two specialties—the production of delicious chocolate and the creation of beautiful and delicate lace. Set off this morning on an excursion to delve into these Belgian delights and to discover Brussels on an included city tour.

    First, you’ll visit a family-run chocolate factory to see fine Belgian chocolate being created. Chocolate arrived here in the 1870s, following Belgium’s colonization of the Congo and its cocoa plantations. Traditional Belgian chocolates are filled with creams, liqueurs, nuts, or a special dark chocolate called ganache. Today the finest chocolates, characterized by a smooth, velvet quality and a rich flavor, are produced in Brussels. At the factory, you’ll see a chocolate-making demonstration and learn about the painstaking process from cocoa bean to delicious chocolate confection.

    Then set off on a tour of this lovely old city. See the buildings of the European Union and the Atomium, an enormous steel construction representing an iron atom with nine spheres connected by corridors. Pass by the impressive Cinquantenaire Arch, the Chinese Pavilion and Japanese Pagoda, and the Royal Park. Everywhere, you’ll see the beautiful architecture of the city and the Art Nouveau style represented by the famous architect, Victor Horta. Your tour ends in Brussels’s Grand Place, the famed market square and heart of medieval Brussels. The square is dominated by the magnificent 15th-century Town Hall, with its hundreds of little statues, and ringed with 17th-century buildings and guild houses with their golden inlays.

    You can remain here for lunch on your own, or return to the hotel with the motorcoach.

    The afternoon is free to explore on your own. You may want to visit the Royal Museum of Ancient and Modern Art, which houses a special section on the well-known Belgian surrealist, Magritte. Or perhaps you’ll visit the Bruparck, an amusement park featuring (among other things) “Mini-Europe,” a permanent outdoor exhibit of small-scale, precision-made replicas of Europe’s most famous architectural achievements.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    This morning, board a private motorcoach to Bruges, one of Western Europe’s great medieval cities. Originally a ninth-century fortress built to protect the Flemish coast from marauding Vikings, Bruges today retains its reputation as one of the best-preserved Old World cities on the continent. Its museums hold some of the oldest and finest collections you will find anywhere, and its narrow, winding streets meander through the city beside a centuries-old canal system. You’ll discover “The Venice of the North” on a guided walking tour, led by your Program Director.

    Then enjoy another classic Belgian discovery—lace—as you visit a local lace shop. Lace-making has a long history but came into its own in the 15th century. Lace was intended to replace embroidery. Unlike embroidered clothing, lace pieces could be changed as fashion changed and attached decoratively to different articles of clothing. Belgium soon gained a peerless reputation for fine lacework. In the 17th century, Belgian lace was prized throughout Europe. As you'll find on today's included tour, lace-making endures as a "cottage industry," employing about 1,000 workers, most between the ages of 50 and 90, and there are numerous family-run businesses throughout the city. You'll visit a lace store that showcases beautiful antique lacework as well as intricate tapestries.

    Then enjoy lunch on your own and free time to make your own discoveries.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast begin your motorcoach transfer to Antwerp. Located on the banks of the Schelde River, Antwerp is Belgium’s major port and has been commercially important in European trade since the eleventh century. Like Amsterdam, it is one of the world centers for diamond trading. In spite of damage suffered during both World Wars, Antwerp remains a city of beautiful historic architecture dating to the 16th century.

    You’ll explore Antwerp’s well-preserved Old Town, built around the Grote Markt (Town Square), and graced by the lovely old Town Hall and beautiful guild houses. Marvel at the elegant spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady, graced with masterpieces by the great painter Peter Paul Rubens, who lived here in the 17th century. Stroll along the Meir (Antwerp’s main shopping street), lined with wonderfully elaborate historic buildings.

    Next, we’ll continue on to Delft, visiting a porcelain workshop to learn more about delftware, the iconic, bright blue glassware of the region. After lunch on your own and free time to explore Delft, continue on to Amsterdam where you will join your fellow travelers for your main trip.