Merde

I’ve managed to make it back to the States, and I assure you, my mother is sleeping better than ever now that I’m back in a place she knows. Thoughts of Europe still linger in my mind; the food, the sights, the history, the clothes,  I love it all.

It is so nice to be back in Texas. I am still living out of a suitcase here in my parents house, but I have my own bed, and I can shower without having to figure out how to use the shower or get burned by scalding hot water. I have not been out to eat as of yet, but maybe tonight, I will get some Tex-Mex in my system and truly feel as if I am back home.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July (Independence day here in the U.S). Normally, I’m either not in Texas for the event, and when I am, I go to the Seales to celebrate (pop crackers). Sadly, since they’ve moved, and my parents no longer get U.S. T.V, I’m stuck at home; most likely re-packing for my flight that leaves on Tuesday for Indiana.

Merde. Indiana, I had almost forgotten about that.

And it is back to reality…hopefully I can get back to regularly posting.

La Vie en Rose

Today is going to be my last full day in Europe and I’m glad that I will be spending it somewhere I know decently well… Bruxelles!

I apologize for not writing about my trip here, but I promise, I’ve written about it elsewhere, and if you care to hear/read about it, I have a book and can print one out for you upon request. I’ve decided that there are certain cities that I like (Paris, Rome, Firenze, Brugge) and others that are so-so (Amsterdam, Venice, London). Some that are great for only visiting (Italian cities), and others that are impossibly romantic and make me want to live there (Paris, Brugge).

Despite the wonderful time I’ve had here, thoughts of what lie ahead still come by me. In about a week, I’m moving to Indiana, and have to root myself there and find a new niche for myself. The only thing for certain is that now, more than ever, do I want to move to Paris. I don’t know how, when (hopefully before I’m 30 and after my French has improved, and I’ve gotten an PhD), or what I will be doing, but I will do it.

Today, I will live it to the max; eating Belgian waffles, dousing myself in espressos and cafes, indulging in chocolates, shopping the sales (the economic crisis has caused the sales period to start early), and breathing deeply my last day here in Europe.

A bientot tout le monde!

Last day in London and Chaos in Paris

My final day in London was abbreviated as I had a train to catch in the late afternoon to Paris. By this time, I had done quite a bit of walking about the city/sightseeing, and had seen a few plays. I decided to spend the day visiting museums. After breakfast, I checked out of the B&B and headed to the British Museum.

There was so much to see in the museum, I could have easily spent weeks in there. I instead took a cursory glance at everything and left after 3 hours. By then, it was early after noon and I decided to spend the rest of the day visiting specialty shops on Picadilly. I enjoyed another meal of tea, scones, and muffins, and soaked in the bustle of the streets. After a couple of hours, it was time for me to head to the station to catch my Thalys train to Paris.

In the end, I felt as though London is like another city in the States with people speaking in a different accent. There are McDonalds and Starbucks on every street corner, the people always seem occupied, and I felt that an overall sense of character was lacking.

Here are some photos of London.

The ride from Paris to London was not long, but the hour time change made me feel as if I had traveled long. It was late when I arrived in Paris, and I wanted to make sure I arrived to the B&B in Paris while it was still light out. I had booked a B&B called Hotel de Lille in Paris and printed out directions to the B&B. Unfortunately, there were 2 Hotel de Lilles in Paris, and I had printed out directions for the one I wasn’t staying at. After arriving at the wrong hotel, I got directions on how to go to the other hotel and walked to the other hotel.

In the U.S, dates are written Month/Day/Year. In Europe, dates are written Day/Month/Year. After arriving at the correct B&B, I was informed there was not a room for me; I had booked my room for April 6, 2009 instead of June, 4, 2009. I just about peed in my pants… what was I to do? It was already 22:00 and finding a decently priced hotel in the area so late was surely going to be difficult and tiring. The Madame in charge of the Hotel was kind and made me feel safe. Her son offered to give me a ride to an apartment that was being rented out for the same price. She told me to grab dinner, and that everything would be taken care of.

I walked around the block and found Cafe Louise (now my cafe in Paris) and enjoyed a pasta primavera dish. After a full meal, I headed back to the B&B and waited for MMe Drey’s son to pick me up and drop me off at the apartment. He came soon enough and took me to the Gare de Lyon area where my apartment was. The apartment was nice; clean bed/sheets, warm heating, and hot showers. I had the best sleep that night.

-P

London Day 2

When I woke up on my second day in London, I knew I had to see another play. I rode the Underground to Southwark and rushed into the Shakespeare globe. I bought tickets to see 2 plays; a Romeo and Juliet matinee performance and a ticket to see As you like it in the evening. The tickets were only 5 pounds per play, but the catch was that you had to stand through the entire play. I settled bought the standing tickets and then set off to do more exploring. I took the tube to the National Gallery and tried to soak in the artwork surrounding me.

After this, I walked to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards at 11:30. After being unimpressed yet again by Buckingham Palace, I left in search of a traditional English Tea service. Alas, Fortnum and Mason (a famous tea parlor) came across my path and I realized I was too early for high tea, instead I settled for merely a cup of tea and headed by foot to the Shakespeare globe. By the time I arrived to the globe, I was thoroughly hungry and I stopped at a Turkish restaurant across the street. The restaurant (TAS) had the BEST food ever.

After my meal, I went to the Globe and watched Romeo and Juliet… I must say that ‘watched’ is certainly an understatement; I felt as if I were in the play, living the story. By the end of the play, everything about me felt wonderful… except my feet, standing still for 3 hours is no joke! It was nice to finally walk around, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to walk around and warm up before the next play (As you like it). I walked from the Globe to St. Paul’s Church and was fortunate enough to walk in during a choral rehearsal. The church is truly grand; the ceilings high, the walls barren and ambiance somber. The sounds of the choir reverberating and echoing through the halls added to the experience and a took a moment to sit and soak it all in. I realized that the next Shakespeare play would start soon, and I wanted to grab a coffee to warm up. I remembered seeing a Starbucks across the street from the theater so I headed back up to the Globe area, bought a coffee, and made my way back to the standing pit.

As you Like it was even better than Romeo and Juliet. The play was lighthearted and that may have been why I liked it so much. By the end of the play, my feet were killing me, I took the tube from Southwark back to Victoria, found my way back to the B&B and crashed.

London- Day 1

I tend to forget how big London really is; 12 million people live in London and the sprawl of London has now gotten its own sprawl. I took the Eurostar train from Brussels in the morning, and once my train arrived in London, I set off to find my B&B. After some trouble finding the place, I left my luggage at the B&B and set off to explore.

I was fortunate to have found living quarters close to the centre of it all and after some short while of walking, I ran into Westminster Abbey. Despite the high tariffs for entry, I went inside and I was amazed by the grandeur of the abbey. It was a bit surreal to be standing near the tombs of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, and several others. I felt at peace in the abbey and felt that the money spent to see the inside was well spent.

After leaving, I walked to the Thames (where the main attractions are) and saw the Parliament buildings and the London Eye. I knew that the London Eye would provide a good view of the city, and allow my feet to rest, so I walked to the queue to buy tickets. I entered the queue and realized there was a 2 hour wait to get tickets. Fortunately, a man standing in line wanting a refund for a ticket asked me if I wanted to go on the Eye and buy the ticket from him. I was a bit skeptical buying the ticket initially, but he explained that he purchased the tickets online and that his wife was afraid of heights and didn’t fancy going to the top. I saw the online confirmation, and the distressed look on the mans face, so I decided to take him up on the offer… with the condition that he sell me the ticket for 10 pounds instead of the original price of 17 pounds. He agreed, and I got my ticket with little hassle.

It was high noon by that time and the sun was in full force. I decided riding on the Eye at the time was not a good idea, I instead walked to Leicester square and bought 1/2 price tickets for the evening showing of Les Miserables. After buying my ticket, and enjoying Leicester sqauare, I took the Tube to walked to Piccadilly Circus and enjoyed perusing the shops.

While I find the Brussels Metro system to be difficult to understand, the Tube in London is the easiest and most efficient way of getting around. I took the tube often in London as I had bought an unlimited 3 day pass and I wanted to get the most of it. London is also very big and walking from place to place is difficult.

It was still quite sunny outside, so I decided that I would walk by Buckingham Palace before riding on the London Eye. My favorite things in London are the parks. I walked through Green Park and arrived at the Palace and was a bit underwhelmed by the dullness of the palace. I spent all of about 10 minutes there to take a few photos and left. Not too much excitement or fuss to be made.

I then ventured off to the London eye and enjoyed the opportunity to give my tired feet a rest and see a great panoramic view of the city. After the ride, I walked along the Thames and got a feel for the city. The path along the Thames is full of interesting places; modern art museums, fish and chip pubs, cute shops, churches, numerous bridges, and a theater… the Shakespeare globe.

I was in awe and loved walking through the city and nearly lost track of the time. I hopped on the Tube from the London Bridge station and rode to Picadilly Circus to watch the play: Les Miserables.

The play was absolutely wonderful. I liked it so much, that I decided that I would see another the following day. After the play let out, I wandered a bit in the Soho district and when I was sufficiently tired, I took the Tube back to the Victoria station, walked back to the B&B and fell fast asleep. A great first day in London!

-P

Strasbourg

The gang decided to split up and I decided to go on a small trip to Strasbourg. Strasbourg is a cozy town with an odd mix of German and French cultures and cuisines. THe city has a cathedral in the centre that is in the gothic style and is even called the Notre Dame cathedral of Strasbourg. Since it was a European holiday, the city was filled with local tourists and the streets were full of people and lively. We walked around the city and got a feel for the old style Gothic architecture, the medieval architecture, and then saw post WWII clean-ups.

The food is also quite decent. I thought that it would be difficult to find vegetarian food in France, but the Alsace region is known for their tarte flambees (pretty much a super thin pastry pizza). I had veg flambees for both lunch and dinner and indulged in a Nutella crepe for a mid-afternoon snack. The Europeans know how to eat… now I just need to figure out their secret to staying thin!

After lunch, we crossed into the German/French border; now with the EU in place, crossing countries was a breeze sans customs and it was a bit disappointing to not even see a flag to distinguish the German side from the French side… only the Loire river.

We came back to the bed and breakfast for a wine/grape juice tasting and then went out for dinner. I decided to try the Munster cheese, and I will have to say that I will never be a cheese kind of gal… at least not the French cheese type.

Here are some photos from Strasbourg

Here
are some from Colmar

-P

Visit to the Alsace region

Colmar is in the Alsace region of France which is known for their wine and cheese production. We are all staying at a charming bed and breakfast built in 1603 that is owned and run by a family that produces fabulous white wines.

Following our arrival into the town yesterday evening, we went out for dinner, chatted, and walked around the city. I seriously feel as if I am in Disneyworld! The homes are built of large wooden beams and most are at least a few centuries old and lean in one direction or other.

Today was filled with hiking. We all had breakfast in the morning at the B&B and shortly after left for a hike in the Vosges mountain area. The views were spectacular and so was the weather and the ambiance. I felt so peaceful and connected with the earth. After hiking for a couple of hours, we stopped at a cafe in the middle of the valley that is famous for their Munster cheese (cheese I detest). I enjoyed an omlette while others in the group devoured the cheese and we left again for our climb back up to the apex of the mountain. I love this part of France; it is clean and simple… that’s how I like things in life to be.

Life doesn’t get any better than this.

-P

Amsterdam – Day 2

My final day in Amsterdam was full of walking. I noticed a sign for a free guided tour at the hostel so I decided I would check it out in the afternoon.

Since Amsterdam is full of canals, I thought that a boat ride on the canals would be a nice way to start off the day (I made the incorrect assumption that an early morning boat ride would be less crowded). I made my way to the boat excursion booth and paid 9 Euro for the 75 minute ride. I hopped on the boat along with a Parisian couple. Within 5 minutes, a Chinese group of 23 decided they wanted on the boat as well. In total, there were 26 passengers and 1 driver, 23 of which spoke only Chinese, and boy could they talk. I realized then that I had gotten suckered into a tourist trap, but I decided I’d make the most of it. I learned a lot about the history of the city and seeing it from the boat provided a different perspective.

After the boat ride, I went to Vondel Park and ate a panini I bought cheaply at a deli. I soon meandered through the southern part of the city around posh shopping districts. I went to a cafe to buy some coffee and met a couple of people from the states who were also touring Europe. It was nice to talk to Americans with the same silly accent as me and who were just as excited about traveling as I was.

After leaving, I walked north to get to Dam square where the free tour was going to happen. I liked the ambiance of the city. The historic homes make the city feel like a village, and the outdoor bulb sellers made me feel as if I were walking in a postcard of Holland.

I was expecting the free tour to be mediocre, but I actually learned a lot about the city, and got a bit of a feel for the Dutch mentality. It was interesting to learn that homes there are taxed by width, and that the narrowest home is merely 1.04 meteres wide! Walking in these homes is also a bit of a challenge due to the narrow halls and steep stairways. Moving furniture up through the homes without a lift would also be a pain, so they placed pulley systems at the gables to allow for large furniture or stock items to be transported. Who knew?

By the end of all of the walking, I felt as if I had seen what I wanted to see, I ended up sitting on a park bench, ate some ice cream, and studied the map of all the places I had gone. Because the city was small, I was able to cover the inner city thoroughly. Knowing that the Amsterdam train station is complex, I headed off early to the station to make sure I was on the platform in time.

Needless to say, I made it back to Brussels happy and safe.

Here are some pictures of my adventures in Amsterdam

Now I’m off to Colmar, France for the next 4 days. I’ll try and post again soon.

-P

Amsterdam – Day 1

My last couple of days have been spent in Amsterdam. I had arranged to stay there for 2 full days because I thought the city was big based on hype and online reviews, but it is actually quite small.

I took the Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam and arrived in Amsterdam at 11 am. I was too cheap to buy the city maps that were for sale at the train station, and I figured that since the hostel I was staying at wasn’t too far from the central station, that I’d manage to find it okay. WRONG.

Unlike modern cities that are planned, Amsterdam is an old city that just sort of ‘happened.’ the roads meander through the city and it is only outside of the city limits that a grid-like system exists. I somehow managed to find an English bookstore and the guy working there pointed me in the right direction.

I found the hostel, and moved in. Up to this point, I had never stayed in a youth hostel before, I’d only heard and read about them. For 21 Euro a night inc. breakfast, it was a steal. I was placed in a room of 20 girls and the room could not have been more than half occupied. The girls were quiet and respectful at night, I got a free map of the city, the beds were comfortable, and the sheets were soft and clean… I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

After unwinding, I meandered around the city, first walking through the red-light district (which is absolutely fine and safe in the daytime) and got lost for a while and found my way to the Anne Frank House. I think getting lost in a city like Amsterdam is the best way to see the city. You see cafes and delis that normally would escape your eye if you were on a metro or in a car, and you get the true feeling that you are a local.

I had read The Diary of Anne Frank as a child and had imagined the way her house would have looked. I was surprised at how large the house was and was impressed by the secret life the family had to live.

After leaving the Anne Frank house, I again walked the city a bit and on my way, I found a knitting shop! I ended up purchasing an Addi Clik set for my mother (they are more than double the cost in the States) and shared some thoughts on knitting with the nice counter clerk.

I’ve forgotten to mention up to this point that the city is gorgeous! It was built on canals and everywhere you go there is a canal of water following you on the side. The roads are flat (except for the bridges going over the canals) and bicycling is a breeze as a result. The city is infested with bicycles and in addition to theft, parking is a problem.

The forecast beforehand had scheduled rain and cold weather for the days I spent in Amsterdam, but I was fortunate to not catch any rain… just cloudy weather. By the end of the day, my feet were tired from walking the city and dodging bicycles, so I went back to the hostel and retired early.