I recently returned from a European vacation, visiting former exchange students and their families.  My husband and I enjoyed warm hospitality and knowledge about their respective country’s histories.  The world becomes smaller and more personal when these exchanges occur.

Some perspectives include the high level of efficient public transportation (buses & trains); a “mediterranean” diet (fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of meat and dairy, and red wine); and compact housing.

A home-cooked breakfast in Wermelskirchen (near Cologne), Germany in the backyard garden

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is the capital of the European Union (EU). Brussels is known for its cuisine as well as its historical and architectural landmarks; some of them are registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Main attractions include its historic Grand Place, Manneken Pis, Atomium, and cultural institutions such as La Monnaie and the Museums of Art and History. Its architectural style is called Art Nouveau, inspired by Victor Horta. Other architectural styles are Art Deco, Neoclassical, and Gothic.

The legend is Brussels was surrounded by enemies who pretended to retreat, but in reality were hiding gunpowder. A little boy named Julien saw the burning fuse and quickly peed on it. Out of gratitude, the city made a statue in his likeness.

Namur, Belgium

Namur is the capital city of its province, Namur, as well as its region, Wallonia. A citadel overlooking the two rivers, the Sambre, and the Meuse was built in the middle ages and is now a popular tourist attraction with stunning views.

A view from the Citadel in Namur.

Housing near the rivers’ edge consists mainly of apartments/condominiums.  However, when outside the city limits, small plots contain duplexes or single family houses.  Most are made of stucco or brick and have tiled roofs.

Duplex in Sambreville

Bratislava, Slovakia

In 1993, Bratislava became the capital of Slovakia after separating from Czechoslovakia.  It is situated along the Danube and Morava Rivers.  It is the only national capital that borders two countries, Austria and Hungary. Bratislava is the political, cultural, and economic center of Slovakia.  It has several universities, and many museums, theatres, galleries and other cultural institutions.  Many of Slovakia’s large businesses and financial institutions have headquarters there.

Street Sculpture

Slovakian President’s Home & Office

Homes are on the smaller size. Originally, the communist system allowed one apartment for each family at no charge.  Under democracy, some families remodeled their apartments and then sold them for larger units.

Minimalist bedroom style

A favorite place to eat in Bratislava. Say hello to Patrick.

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is both a capital city and a county in Hungary. It is considered by travel guides as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  According to a legend from the Middle Ages “Buda” comes from the name of its founder, Bleda, brother of Attila the Hun.  

In 1849 the Chain Bridge linking Buda with Pest was the first permanent bridge across the Danube, and in 1873 Buda and Pest were officially merged with the third part, Óbuda (Old Buda), creating the new metropolis of Budapest.

Chain Bridge links Buda with Pest

Matthias Church was built in the Gothic and Gothic-Revival style

Hungarian Parliament, completed in 1904, is in the Art Nouveau style

Contemporary Living Room

Budapest’s urban and suburban areas allow contemporary and modern architecture.

A contemporary suburban home

The more one travels, the more one sees the world as one unit. People all over want the same things:  a safe and happy life for their families.

I thank all our hosts for the extraordinary experience of getting to know you, your history, and your culture.  You are always a part of our family.